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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Extracts

After the learned discourse by Mr. S.N. Goenka and then further elucidation by Tandonji, I find myself in a great dilemma to say something on Dharma. But I will ask just this: When does this question arise? When do you ask the question: "What is Dharma?" That itself is a big question, because unless you ask this question, you can never know about Dharma.

The question comes after the needs of survival and procreation have been met. It comes when you have achieved a certain level of success or you have failed; then you ask "What is it? Why am I ... What is this existence?" and so on. When these questions arise then you try to find the answer.

But every time you try to find out you go for a shortcut. That shortcut is to believe in what others say. You ask your parents, or the gurus of your family, birth or sect—the easiest way—and you believe that you are Dharmic as Dr.S.N. Goenka said.

Just as there is a large number of people who believe they are Dharmic, there is also a large number of people known as non-Dharmic or adharmic.

Now, in the so called Dharmic category, those who say "We believe in this and this gospel or scripture" are again of two types. One type will say that they know it after reading or understanding, and there are others who believe it because it has been said by the guru or the head of a sect.

But of the so-called non-Dharmic people, there are three types. The first says, "I do not believe in anything like rebirth or god or whatever the scriptures say"; the second says, "I do not know"; and the third says, "I do not want to know." Now, those who do not want to know, you can’t help them; but those who do not know, at least they can try to know. But one who says "I do not believe" is free to learn or start thinking.

The trouble is with those who say "We know, and we believe." They have a lot to unlearn, and that causes a big problem.

Now, when you start asking the question "Why am I here? What is my object in life?" and so on, this itself is the fundamental question of life, which leads to inquiry into Dharma.

Those who fall into the trap of believing or following a certain sect or religion cannot rise in their level of consciousness. We all do many things unawares, many things by instinct, many things as animals would do, but once you are aware of your actions and feelings, only then can you know what is said.

Now this is the reason why Vipassana or meditation becomes important: you become conscious of yourself, you don’t have to believe what others say, but you have to know what is your feeling, what it is that you want, what it is that you have to achieve. If you know this, then the principles of life and rules of good conduct come to you automatically. You don’t have to be taught and no enforcement machinery is necessary.

As Tandonji mentioned, Aœoka found it necessary to make people realise these things in order to enforce the law, rather than impose it by punishment. Unfortunately in our educational system people are not trained to raise questions. When they are trained, they are given information, they are asked to remember and reproduce it. There is no time to think, there is no time to reflect. That is why we have people who know, but people who do not realise, people who are not aware.

-Mr R.S. Kumat, I.A.S., Chairman of the Board of Revenue, Rajasthan

The speakers so far have been talking about what is truth, what is Vipassana, what is Dharma, and how to live a life of Dharma. These issues are not being discussed for the first time on the Indian subcontinent. Everybody has different views because of the variety in our tastes, our likings, but all of us have to reach the same destination, like rivers meeting the ocean. This is our ancient heritage and this heritage has given a great quality of tolerance to the subcontinent. It is extremely unfortunate that today we see a decay in this value. Hence this seminar is very important.

As long as one does not make an effort to know oneself, one cannot progress or become liberated from the lower realms of life. I am very happy that we have gathered here to learn about Vipassana.

-Mr Madan Mani Dixit, Vice Chancellor, Royal Nepal Academy

I have had the impression, and maybe it’s a mistaken impression, that in some of the talks there was a kind of dismissal of religion as being sectarian. Maybe I am mistaken in having this impression, but I would like to take this occasion firstly to say a word for these religions, and secondly to make an appeal for the right kind of religion we need today.

Religions have been said—whether here or in other places—to be sectarian. I think we have to admit that there is a multiplicity of religions, and that there are real differences between religions. But I think that is different from saying that religions are sectarian. Sectarian means that we see our religion as the sole repository of truth, that we exclude other religions, and we are not open to them.

I want to make an appeal for this openness. Religions are different, and multifarious. I would admit that they are, in practice, to some extent sectarian. All the main religions mention the family of humankind and that God wanted all men to be one family. So they don’t want their message to go only to one particular group of people. Religions need not be sectarian, although they may hold that they are the path which they think is the right path for all.

I think it is dangerous to stress this sectarianism of religion because it could lead to indifference to religions. In my opinion we cannot be indifferent to religions, we have to be committed to them.

This is the UN Year of Tolerance, and therefore I think it is the year when we could renew our attitude to the other religions. For some time now I have been taking part in meetings between members of different faiths, trying to encourage an inter-religious dialogue. In 1994 I was pleased to attend a UNESCO conference in Barcelona, also attended by the Dalai Lama, on this very theme. The representatives of all religions sat together to discuss what we felt to be a common challenge: to go back to our sources and promote peace worldwide rather than war. It was agreed that between us we could mobilise considerable material and spiritual resources for the good of humanity. This declaration should be widely publicised and supported so that it can be submitted to the UN. We should accept that there is a lot of truth in the other religions, and that we have a lot to receive from them also. I think, and this is my message, that to be religious in today’s world, to be religious in a country as rich as India is in religious legacies, is to be inter-religious. To be closed is not really to be truly religious.

-Father Aelred Pereira, Mumbai

The real Dhamma teaches us unity in diversity. To adopt the way of inner understanding, the training and taming of mind is essential. For that Vipassana can help us.

-Mr Vidyaadhar Gokhale, Journalist, Mumbai

I have been listening to people talking about their experiences of Vipassana. Whatever I have heard about Vipassana has been inspiring for me.

Corruption and organised gangs are common today. For our society to become a better society, every person has to look at himself and improve himself. Dharma teaches us to become good citizens ourselves.

Another thing I would like to mention is the great job done by women in our society. They have been at the forefront of the moral upliftment and now if they are involved more and more in Vipassana, the future of our country will become bright.

-Mr. G. R. Khairnar, Mumbai

Clarifications have been requested from two quarters, and I will attempt to answer them.

Mr H.E. Dhagat has written, "Have I heard you correctly, that Gotama said that there is nothing beyond the sensory field for understanding Dharma? Is it not true that human life on a higher plane is always an effort to reach beyond the sensory field? If so, please reconcile the apparent contradiction in what Gotama seems to have said. Perhaps I may have heard wrongly, in which case, please elucidate the statement."

A very short time was allotted, so I will now explain in slightly greater detail. The Buddha said that Dharma is infinite. It is unfathomable. I mentioned that there are two fields of existence: mundane and supramundane. The entire mundane field has the characteristic of impermanence, as do the fields of five aggregates—that is, all material and mental objects. So do the six elements (earth, fire, water, air, ether, and consciousness) and the six bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin, and mind, and their respective sense objects). All have the characteristics of impermanence. This is the mundane field. And whatever is impermanent has the inherent characteristic of arising, passing away, decaying, dying, and this leads to suffering.

Now, when we come to the supramundane field, it lies outside the field of mind and matter. It is permanent in nature and it has the inherent characteristic of non-arising, non-decay, eternity, immortality. This leads to bliss. The Buddha had spanned both fields: he had experienced both the mundane field from niraya loka to arupa-brahma loka and the supramundane field. He felt that nothing lies beyond these two fields, that is, mundane and supramundane. Keeping this in view he mentioned that each one of these is governed by its own nature, whether of permanence or impermanence. So in this sense Dharma is all-pervasive. That is why he said appamano dhammo, that is, Dharma is infinite. So this is regarding the query raised by Mr Dhagat.

Also, Professor Tiwary has raised certain points about the definition of the word dharma. We find that in the atthakathas—that is the commentaries on the Tipitaka—it is written many times: Dhareti ti dhammo [that which is sustained is dharma.]

Going to the Indo-European period, this word dharma in Sanskrit is firm in Latin. "Firm" in English comes from firmamen in Latin. So dharma and "firm" both have the same characteristic: they are stable, permanent, not changing.

Another point was regarding the meaning "law of nature" ascribed to the word dharma. I feel that labels are not important, it is the contents that are important. The various laws that have been enunciated by Buddha, for example: whatever arises also has the nature of passing away; everything is impermanent. Many similar laws were enunciated by him. And he himself says: "I am dhammakayo. These are all the Dhammas, I am an aggregate of all these. Once you see all these things in me, you are seeing Dhamma." What he is propounding is only these universal laws. And he wants us to see him in this light only.

On the basis of our own realisation of Dharma, on the basis of Vipassana, we find the laws of nature enunciated by the Buddha to be true. We can only call them "dharma" in the widest sense of the term, that this supports us. It is on the basis of these dharmas that we can lead a happy and contented life.

-Mr S.N. Tandon, Delhi

I thought I could mention two or three interesting points. The first point is whether there is a conflict between religion and Dharma. By stressing Dharma are we saying that religions become unimportant? I won’t belabour that point, but I was reminded of a Sufi saint who lived in the earlier part of this century. He was speaking about spiritualism in general and saying that truth is universal. Somebody asked him "Why is it that you belong to the Islamic religion?" He said: "We need a vehicle for achieving the truth. Religion is the vehicle for achieving the truth, and it makes little difference whether you are taking the vehicle of Islam, or the vehicle of Christianity, or the vehicle of Hinduism. Ultimately the vehicle will lead you to the same path, namely, the Truth." I think that is a very perceptive observation which makes me believe that one need not be irreligious to follow the Dharma; I don’t think that there is a basic conflict.

The second point is about the question of religious tolerance, which was mentioned. There was a great leader who lived in the later part of the last century, Swami Vivekananda. When somebody asked him about religious tolerance, he said he didn’t believe in religious tolerance at all. He said that the word is a misnomer and that we should not encourage this concept of religious tolerance, because tolerance means that you are superior and you are tolerating some other religion. I think I will substitute the phrase "religious acceptance", in the sense that only the finder of the truth will realise that all religions are the same. In the sense that all the rivers lead to the ocean, I think that a degree of acceptance on the part of an individual is required that the religions are the same.

The third point that I want to stress is that we should not give too much importance to words and meanings. Ultimately, all the words have the meaning which we ascribe to them. Once you know the substance, words become irrelevant because they have no meaning in the dimension in which we are operating.

The final question I will ask is: To what extent will the following of Dharma be in conflict with whatever we do in society, and can Dharma and society be integrated? But that will be the subject of the next session. In fact Dr.S.N. Goenka started by saying that pure Dharma is not of relevance unless it is applicable in modern life.

-Mr N. Vaghul, Chairman, Industrial Credit and Investment Corp., Mumbai