with the Buddhist Studies Group
at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
15 December 1961
Translated by Roderick S. Bucknell
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 is 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
If we are to understand the teaching of the
Buddha, we must look within. The Buddha was concerned exclusively with thing
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
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 voidness. It is also called
"nibbana-dhatu," but the most straightforward word for it is "voidness".
So we have six elements: earth, water, fire, air, mind (vinnana-dhatu), and
voidness (sunnata-dhatu). Mind and voidness 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 nibbana element, or the voidness 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 coves 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 wise 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 meagre results, we would waste a lot of time, and in the end we simply
would have to 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 term 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 must 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.