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Kalama Sutta, Help Us!

Two Kinds of Language

Looking Within

Happiness & Hunger

The Dhamma-Truth of Samatha-Vipassana
For The Nuclear Age

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Everyday Language & Dhamma language

Lecture at Suan Mokkhabalarama, Chaiya
8 October 1966
Translated by Roderick Bucknell


Looking now more closely at things, we shall examine a word that relates to our day-to-day life - the word "work." In everyday language, the word "work" refers to earning a living. It is something we can't avoid. We have to work in order to eat, to fill the belly, and to satisfy sensual desires. This is unavoidable chore of earning a living is what is meant by the word "work" taken as everyday language. Taken as Dhamma language, "work" refers to mind training - kammatthana, that is, the practice of Dhamma. The actual practice of Dhamma is the Work.

Ordinary people, those who have not seen Dhamma, work out of necessity in order to provide themselves with food and the things they desire. But for the genuine aspirant, the person who has caught a glimpse of Dhamma, work consists in putting the Dhamma into practice. This kind of work has to be done sincerely, earnestly, and diligently, with perseverance and discernment. Many kinds of high qualities must be present if it is to be completed successfully.

The work of everyday language can be considered at a higher level. Though our work may be of a worldly nature, if we do it the right way, then ultimately that work will teach us. It will bring us to an understanding of the true nature of the mental life; it will enable us to recognize impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood (aniccam, dukkham, anatta); it will bring us to the truth, without our making any conscious effort in that direction. So in Dhamma language "work" refers to the practice that leads to the truth found right in one's own mind. Even the job of keeping the body fit and clean is a kind of Dhamma practice, insofar as it has to be done with a good, discerning, industrious mind.

In summary, "work" in everyday language means earning a living out of necessity; "work" in Dhamma lanugage means putting the Dhamma into practice. The word "kammatthana" (mind training) means work, good solid Dhamma practice. This is the meaning of "work" in Dhamma language.


Let us say something more about the Sublime Way of Life. In the everyday language of the average person who know nothing of Dhamma, the words "Sublime Life" (brahmacariya) mean no more than abstention from improper sexual activity. But in Dhamma language, Sublime Way of Life refers to any kind of purposeful giving up of mental defilement (kilesa) and to any form of spiritual practice which is adhered to rigorously. Regardless of what kind of practice we undertake, if we stick to it earnestly, strictly, and without backsliding, then we are living this most exalted way of life. sublime doesn't mean simply abstaining from fornication and adultery. This is how everyday language and Dhamma language differ.


Now we make a big jump to the word "nibbana" (nirvana in Sanskrit). In the everyday language of the ordinary person, nibbana is a place or a city. This is because preachers often speak of "Nibbana, the city of immortality" or "this wonder city of Nibbana." People hearing this misunderstand it. They take it to mean that nibbana is an actual city or place. What is more, they even believe that it is a place abounding in all sorts of good things, a place where one's every wish is fulfilled and everything one wants is immediately available. They want to get to nibbana because it is the place where all wishes are granted. This is nibbana in the everyday language of foolish people who know nothing of Dhamma. Yet this kind of talk can be heard all over the place, even in most temples.

In Dhamma language, the word "nibbana" refers to the complete and absolute extinction of every kind of defilement and misery. Any time there is freedom from kilesa and dukkha, there is nibbana. If defilements have been eradicated completely, it is permanent nibbana: the total extinguishing and cooling of the fire of kilesa and dukkha. This is nibbana in Dhamma language. In everyday language, nibbana is a dream-city; in Dhamma language, nibbana is the complete and utter extinction of dukkha right here and now. Think about it. In which of these two ways is nibbana understood by most people, in particular by the old folk who come to listen to sermons in temples?


Pressing on now, we come to the expression "path and fruit" (magga-phala).The expression "path and fruit" is so popular it has become hackneyed. Even ordinary people doing any old thing may refer to "path and fruit." As soon as something turns out according to plan they say, "It's path and fruit!" Even the most worldly of worldlings in the most worldly of situations will say, "It's path and fruit!" meaning that things have turned out as hoped. This is how the term "path and fruit" is used in everyday language.

But in Dhamma language, "path and fruit" refers to the destruction of dukkha and the defilements which give rise to it. To do this in the right manner, step by step, in accordance with the true nature of things, is the meaning of "path and fruit" in Dhamma language. People are much given to using the expression "path and fruit" in everyday speech. To distinguish this everyday usage from the special usage of Dhamma language, we have to be very careful.


Now we turn to a rather strange word, the word "Mara" (the tempter, the devil). The Mara of everyday language is conceived as a kind of monster with body, face, and eyes of repulsive and terrifying appearance. Mara in Dhamma language, however, is not a living creature but rather any kind of mental state opposed to the good and wholesome and to progress towards the cessation of dukkha. That which opposes and obstructs spiritual progress is called Mara. We may think of Mara as a living being if we wish, as long as we understand what he really stands for.

No doubt you have often heard the story of how Mara came down from the Paranimmitavasavatti realm to confront the Buddha-to-be. This was the real Mara the Tempter. He came down from the highest heaven, the Paranimmitavasavatti realm, which is a heaven of sensual enjoyments of the highest order, a paradise abounding in everything the heart could desire, where someone is always standing by to gratify one's every wish. This is Mara the Tempter, but not the one with the ugly, ferocious countenance and reddened mouth, who is supposed to go around catching creatures to suck their blood. That is Mara as ignorant people picture him. It is the Mara of the everyday language of ignorant people who don't know how to recognize Mara when they see him.

In Dhamma language, the word "Mara" means at worst the heaven known as Paranimmitavasavatti, the highest realm of sensuality. In general it means any mental state opposed to the good and wholesome, opposed to spiritual progress. This is Mara in Dhamma language.


Now we shall say something about the word "world" (loka). In everyday language, the word "world" refers to the Earth, this physical world, flat or round or however you conceive it. The "world" as the physical Earth is everyday language. In Dhamma language, however, the word "world" refers to worldly (lokiya) mental states, the worldly stages in the scale of mental development - that is to say, dukkha. The condition that is impermanent, changing, unsatisfactory - this is the worldly condition of the mind. And this is what is meant by the "world" in Dhamma language. Hence it is said that the world is dukkha, dukkha is the world. When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truth (ariya-sacca), he sometimes used the term "world" and sometimes the term "dukkha" They are one and the same. For instance, he spoke of:

- the world;
- the cause of the arising of the world;
- the extinction of the world;
- the path that brings about the extinction of the world.

What he meant was:
- dukkha;
- the cause of dukkha;
- the extinction of dukkha;
- the path that brings about the extinction of dukkha.

So in the language of the Buddha, the language of Dhamma, the word "world" refers to dukkha; suffering and the world are one and the same.

Taken another way, the word "world" refers to things that are low, shallow, not profound, and fall short of their highest potential. For instance, we speak of such and such a thing as worldly, meaning that it is not Dhamma. This is another meaning of the word "world" in Dhamma language. "World" does not always refer simply to this Earth, as in everyday language.


Now, going a little higher, we come to the word "birth" (jati). In everyday language, the word "birth" refers to physically coming into the world from the mother's womb. A person is born physically only once. Having been born, one lives in the world until one dies and enters the coffin. Physical birth happens to each of us only once. This birth from the mother's womb is what is meant by "birth" in everyday language.

In Dhamma language, the word "birth" refers to the birth of the idea "I" or "ego" that arises in the mind throughout each day. In this sense, the ordinary person is born very often, time and time again; a more developed person is born less frequently; a person well advanced in practice (ariyan, noble one) is born less frequently still, and ultimately ceases being born altogether. Each arising in the mind of the idea of "I" in one form or another is called a "birth." Thus, birth can take place many times over in a single day. As soon as one starts thinking like an animal, one is born as an animal in that same moment. To think like a human being is to be born a human being. To think like a celestial being is to be born a celestial being. Life, the individual, pleasure and pain, and the rest-all these were identified by the Buddha as simply momentary states of consciousness. So the word "birth" means in Dhamma language the arising of the idea of "I" or "me", and not, as in everyday language, physical birth from the mother's womb.

The word "birth" is very common in the Buddha's discourses. When he was speaking of everyday things, he used the word "birth" with its everyday meaning. But when he was expounding Higher Dhamma - for instance, when discussing conditioned arising (paticca-samuppada) - he used the word "birth" (jati) with the meaning it has in Dhamma language. In his description of conditioned arising, he wasn't talking about physical birth. He was talking about the birth of attachment to the ideas of "me" and "mine", "myself" and "my own."


Now let's consider the word "death." Death in everyday language means that event which necessitates putting something in a coffin and cremating or burying it. But in Dhamma language, the word "death" refer to the cessation of the idea mentioned just a moment ago, the idea of "I" or "me". The ceasing of this idea is what is meant by "death" in Dhamma language.


Let's talk about the word "life." This word in everyday language, the language of immature people, applies to anything that is not yet dead, that still exists, moves about, walks, and eats. In the more precise language of biology, it refers the normal functioning of the protoplasm, of the cell and nucleus. The normal functioning and development of these is referred to as "life". This is an even more materialistic kind of everyday language.

In Dhamma language, "life" refers to the truly deathless state, the unconditioned, nibbana, life without limitations. This is life. If we are speaking everyday language, "life" has the ordinary familiar meaning. If we are speaking Dhamma language, "life" refers to the deathless state. When there is no birth, there is also no death. This state is the unconditioned. It is what we call nibbana, and what in other religions is often spoken of as the life everlasting. It is life that never again comes to an end. It is life in God, or whatever one cares to call it. This is the real life, life as understood in Dhamma language. 

Two Kinds of Language 1 Two Kinds of Languge 3


Extract from "Keys to Natural Truth" - Buddhadasa Bhikkhu ,
translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu, Published and distributed by Mental Health Publishing, 14/349-350 M.10, Rama II Road, Bangmod, Bangkok,Thailand
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