By Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
In this talk, I will discuss a matter which is extremely important but which most people are inclined to regard as non-essential or as too troublesome to be concerned with. This extremely important matter concerns looking within, examining all things within ourselves.
Looking within is essential for an understanding of Dhamma or Buddhism. Failure, to look at things in the right way can be a barrier to understanding, as when two people disagree because one of them has failed to look at a question in a certain important way and so is not in a position to understand the point that another person is making. Disagreement is usually caused by two parties looking at the matter in question in two different ways.
If we are to understand the teaching of the Buddha, we must look within. The Buddha was concerned exclusively with things within, and his teaching is an account of what is to be seen when we look within. The teaching of suffering (dukkha) is important --as one of the four Noble Truths, as one link in the chain of conditioned arising (paticca-samuppada), and in other contexts, all of which exclusively concern suffering within. Unless we attempt to look within as the Buddha did, we have little hope of understanding the Dhamma and the teaching of the Buddha. Consequently, I regard this matter as one requiring detailed examination.
My previous three talks were also devoted to this matter of looking within. Looking at the inner life is what Dhamma is all about. We must look within if we are to make Dhamma one with our life. In my third talk, "The World Within," the explanation that I gave of the true meaning of the term "birth" also depended on this important point. Understanding Dhamma correctly is simply a matter of observing the important and relevant aspects of our inner life. It is essential that a person studying Buddhism should practice looking within.
Some people would say that this matter is too complex and that we would do better not to discuss it; they are under the impression that young people are not capable of looking within. That is the old people's view; they themselves would never look within so they try to make out that young people would never look within either. Nevertheless, we need not concern ourselves with that kind of talk. We need not concern ourselves with these notions about how different people look at things; we need concern ourselves only with how we may come to understand this most important of all things: Dhamma.
This brings us to the question: Why speak of a "without" and a "within"? I assume you will understand this yourselves. I don't imagine that you will need anyone to explain to you at great length that all things have these two sides, an outside and an inside, a without and a within. There is a word in philosophy --and in ordinary usage too-- the word "quintessence." "Quint" means "fifth", "essence" means "fundamental nature, true substance." "Quintessence" means "fifth essence." Philosophers spoke of four outward essences, the elements earth, water, fire, and air. These four were without. The fifth essence was not earth, not water, not fire, and not air, but something else again, something within, namely consciousness, the mental side of things. It is this fifth element or essence that we must take an interest in and come to understand properly and fully.
I ought to mention here that Buddhism recognizes a sixth essence, a sixth element. The first four elements are earth, water, fire, and air, and the fifth is the mind, the element of consciousness. The sixth element is "the void," the element of void-ness. It is also called "nibbána-dhatu," but the most straightforward word for it is "void-ness." So we have six elements: earth, water, fire, air, mind (vinnana-dhatu), and void-ness (sunnata-dhatu). Mind and void-ness are the fifth and sixth essences; they lie deep inside; they are "the within."
Thus, the looking within that we are speaking of means looking at the mind, looking at the ideas of "I" and "my" which are the causes of action good and bad. This is one aspect of Dhamma. As for the sixth essence, this is the state that is void of "I," void of "my," void of the idea of being "I" or belonging to "I" --in other words, void of all defilements. To be free of defilements is to be free of suffering, free of all the things that constitute suffering (dukkha).
That all these six things should be regarded as elements is completely sound; however, the average person is likely to consider this classification unfounded because he knows only the elements earth, water, fire, and air, or the elements of modern chemistry. He does not think of the mind and things even deeper again as elements; and as soon as he hears you call them elements, he is likely to lose interest. The word "element" (dhatu) as used here refers to things that really do exist, nothing more than that. The things without really do exist without; and the things within, which lie so deep that they cannot be seen, likewise exist. Since these deeper-lying things do exist, they too are to be counted as essences, as elements or potentials from which all things are composed.
For clarity of understanding I should add a few further words of explanation. In discussions of Buddhist principles it is often stated that there are ultimately only three elements: the form element, the formless element, and the quenching element (rupa-, arupa-, and nirodha-dhatu). Of these three terms, the first, "form element," refers to the physical elements, which have discrete physical extension, which can be seen, smelt, or felt. These taken together comprise the form element. The second, "formless element," refers to things that lack this kind of form, but which nonetheless have real existence, things that can be known only through the mind simply because they themselves are of the mind. These taken together comprise the formless element. The third, "quenching element," has real existence too, but it consists in the quenching or extinction of the remaining elements. When the first two elements --form and formlessness --reach this element, they are quenched; they become devoid of meaning as if they did not exist. So this quenching element is neither form nor formlessness; it is beyond them both. It cannot be said to have form or to lack form, because it is beyond both form and formlessness, which is why the Buddha called it the quenching element, or the nibbána element, or the void-ness element. But the clearest term is "quenching element."
Please bear in mind this broader meaning of the term "element." Here it means much more than it does in the physical sciences, where it covers only the states of matter and energy, or the chemical elements. All the elements of modern science are covered by the form element alone. As for the other two elements, the formless element and the quenching element, you have probably never thought about them. Some of you have never learned anything about them and some have never even realized that they exist.
Coming to listen to this discussion of the Buddha's teaching on this subject is bound to make you wiser by making you realize the existence of certain hidden things. These things are hidden to us, but they were not hidden to those who attained enlightenment, in particular the Buddha himself. That is to say that for the Buddha the formless element and the quenching element were ordinary, familiar matters, easily comprehended and not especially profound. He knew about them just as we know about earth, water, fire, and air, or about the one hundred-odd chemical elements that modern researchers have discovered. It is necessary, then, to set up a new and more refined theoretical framework in which the term "element" has this wider meaning. The less superficial elements can be perceived only if we look within. If we are to recognize and understand them, we have to look within. This will bring us to an understanding of the teaching of the Buddha, the person who was an adept at looking within.
For a variety of different reasons, you have come here to do special research into Buddhism. Your Buddhist Studies Group exists for the purpose of bringing about an understanding of Buddhism. It is absolutely essential that this research and study be founded on sound Buddhist principles. We can't just study Buddhism however it happens to suit us, according to our own preferences and convenience. If we insisted on doing it that way, we would get very meager results, we would waste a lot of time, and in the end we simply would have to abandon the attempt. No real benefit would come of it. So I call on you --indeed I entreat you-- to practice looking within and studying within in order that you will gradually come to a deeper and deeper understanding of the fifth and sixth elements.
This looking within can be explained in terms of two ordinary everyday words which are also special terms in the language of philosophy: the antonyms "objectivity" and "subjectivity." The term "objectivity," strictly speaking, refers to the condition that appears when we observe or experience from the perspective of purely physical things, the things which are acted upon. The term "subjectivity" refers to the condition that appears when we observe or experience mental things, from the perspective of the doer rather than the receiver of an action. We most define the meanings very clearly like this. The objective side is the physical side, the world of objects on which actions operate. The subjective side is the mental side, the world of the mind which is the "doer" of actions.
This all becomes much clearer if we go by the original meanings of the Pali terms. The word "citta," denoting the mind or the subjective side, translates literally as "builder, doer, knower, that which leads away other things." Rupa, denoting the physical or objective side, is literally "that which is built, that which is easily broken up or destroyed, that which is known, led away, or acted upon."
What we must do is practice looking at the subjective side, the mind. We have to look at the doer rather than the recipient. It should be clear that to go foolishly looking only at the objective side is to look at that on which actions fall rather than at the actor. This means that one becomes a slave, a slave and servant of objects. By contrast, to look at the subjective side, the mind, the doer, is to become the master, and to gain the upper hand. If you look at the objective side, you are looking passively; if you look at the subjective side, you are looking actively. So it is essential that we practice looking at the side which puts us in the advantageous position, the side which has the upper hand --the subjective side. This is the value of looking within.
Since the day we were born we have lacked proper training in both Dhamma and philosophy. From the day we were born right up to the present, we have been allowed to sink into materialism, to become infatuated with physical things, and we have looked only at the physical or objective side of things. It is as if we have refused to look at the opposite side of things, the loftier side. But nothing can ever come of just carrying on in the old way. Thus, we must make a new resolution henceforth to look at everything as winners, not as losers. This is why it is essential for us to practice looking at the subjective side of things, until we are able to make the state of things within reveal itself to us in all clarity and no longer be a mystery to us.
Let me clarify further this matter of looking without and looking within by using the most ordinary everyday terms. Looking without and looking within are exact opposites. The without and the within belong together and are inseparable because the things within are dependent on the things without. For example, the body is the basis or dwelling place of the mind; the mind depends on the body. Body and mind are inseparable, yet we can distinguish them as outer and inner, respectively. It is just like a piece of fruit, which has outer rind and inner flesh dependent on each other and inseparable. If we look only without, we see only the inedible rind; but if we look within we find the flesh, the part that is good to eat. If we can't distinguish flesh from rind, we can't eat. If we were forced to eat the lot, flesh and rind together, we would do so very unwillingly.
Thus, there is great benefit in being able to distinguish the within from the without, and then to look at the within. Looking within is essential, but let us not go so far as to develop a negative, cynical attitude toward the without. That would be an error as grave as ignoring the within. We have always to recognize the value of the outer shell, the without, just as in the case of a fruit. If a fruit had no rind or shell, the flesh could not exist. Without the rind, the fruit could not produce seeds or flesh, and could never develop to an edible and useful stage. The rind is essential, but to think the rind is everything would be altogether pitiful.
In any case, to look without is to see only the outer shell; to look within is to see the real kernel. If a person only looks without, he is the slave of external objects; but if he looks within, he becomes the master of those objects. As I said the other day, sense objects --all the shapes, sounds, odors, tastes, and tactile sensations that exist-- are the world. As long as the mind is allowed to wander carelessly under the influence of outward-looking, it is a slave to objects, dominated by them, overpowered and dragged along by them as if it were being led along by the nose. As soon as the mind looks within, however, it becomes free, it cannot be led along by the nose, and it is in a condition of freedom from all suffering and torment.
Looking without prevents us from understanding Dhamma, and looking within enables us to understand Dhamma. Always bear this contrast in mind. Why should it be like this? Simply because this thing called Dhamma has to do with the within but is hidden by the without. In saying that Dhamma is hidden, I mean that it is a truth that is as difficult to see as if it were hidden. Dhamma is hidden by the without. We know only about the without; we don't get to know about the within which is hidden by the without. This is our ignorance. To put it simply, we are deluded, infatuated, pigheaded, stupid, worldly, thick, or however you care to describe it. In the language of Dhamma, this condition is called avijja (ignorance). So Dhamma is the truth that lies hidden in all things; it is the within of all things.
We could put it as I did a few days ago and say simply that the idea of "I" and "my" cannot be eliminated by looking without but can be eliminated by looking within. And why? Again simplifying somewhat, because this "I" and "my" is extremely well hidden, located deep within where we can't see it and don't know how to discover it. If we practice looking within, however, using the method taught by the Buddha, the habit of "I" and "mine" simply will reveal itself to us as clearly as do the things without. Looking within will reveal in all clarity that the "I" and "my" alone is the cause of all our chronic suffering. So the "I" and "my" must be killed off by using the right technique --for example, starving them until they wither and die of themselves, like animals penned up without food.
We might go on to make the point that to look without is to be stuck in materialism, while to look within is to go the way of idealism.* Materialism and idealism are opposites. These terms will be familiar to you so there is no need to spend time explaining them. Looking without is materialism itself and it inevitably brings the fruits of materialism --namely, endless slavery to material things and endless problems. Because of materialism, our modern world is full of trouble. No matter who is fighting who, each side is fighting for materialism. Each side may hold to its own particular variety of materialism --a cruder variety or a more refined variety; a very extreme, unmitigated, thoroughgoing materialism, or a very subtle, fine, barely discernible materialism --nevertheless they are all equally infatuated with materialism.
There is absolutely no way that the present crises in the world can be resolved other than through both sides curing their mad obsession with materialism and becoming more concerned with idealism. We must understand that which has nothing to do with materialism, and which is the highest ideal. We require an inner or spiritual idealism. There will then be no need to outlaw war. People will stop fighting of their own accord and begin seeking the true happiness which comes without any loss of flesh and blood or expenditure of materials. People will live in supreme happiness in what we might call an age of true enlightenment. Look at the cost of looking without and at the value of looking within. Do take an interest in looking within, in the one and only way of penetrating to Dhamma, to Buddhism.
If any of you already detest materialism and honor idealism, you ought to practice looking within according to Buddhist principles, which I guarantee will bring genuine benefits. I can't speak for other religious, although they may have the same principles. For the present we are speaking only of Buddhism, and we are asserting that the Buddhist ideal has nothing whatever to do with material things. It is far above material things. It is supra-mundane, beyond this world, beyond materialism. Infatuation with the world is the essence of materialism, so we most always look above and beyond the world.
There is another pair of terms that we often come across. They refer to two different manners of speaking to be found in the Dhamma. One is used when speaking about people and their affairs, about things, about the material side; it is called "everyday language." The other is used when speaking about the mind, about Dhamma; it is called "Dhamma language." Let us take as an example Mara the Tempter, the Buddhist Satan. If we have in mind a kind of demon riding an elephant or horse and carrying a lance or sword, then we are using everyday language. If, however, we have in mind those most dangerous and destructive things, the mental defilements --stupidity, greed, anger-- then we are using Dhamma language, the language of the mind and Dhamma. If you don't practice looking within, you never will recognize Dhamma and the language of Dhamma; you will know only everyday language. If you are particularly deluded, you may fall victim to the propaganda about making merit in order to get to heaven, or making merit in order to escape Mara's snare. But if you practice looking at things in the right way, and penetrate to the truth of Dhamma language, you become a knower of truth, and no one can deceive you.