Dhamma is to be Practised

by S. N. Goenka

The following is adapted from the first in a series of 44 public talks broadcast on Zee TV.


Dhamma-loving gentlemen and ladies,

Come, let us understand what is Dhamma? What is the pure nature of Dhamma? What is the universal nature of Dhamma? What is the quintessence of Dhamma? If one does not understand the essence of Dhamma, how can one practise it properly? If one does not practise it, how can one derive benefit from Dhamma? Without practice, Dhamma will only remain a subject of intellectual discussion, debates and arguments. At the most it will become a subject of intellectual entertainment. We shall remain deprived of the benefits of Dhamma.

Dhamma is Dhamma only if one practises it. What should one practise? For this, it must first be clearly understood what Dhamma is. The simple definition of Dhamma is: the development a pure mind. The development of an impure mind is anti-Dhamma. Wherever there is Dhamma, there is happiness, peace and contentment. Where there is no Dhamma, there is only sorrow, agitation, restlessness.

When the mind becomes pure, the conduct of that pure mind is wholesome, virtuous. It causes benefit to oneself and to others. This is called sīla. It results in happiness to oneself and as well as to others. It brings good fortune, peace and harmony to oneself and also to others. If we practise pure Dhamma, there is not only happiness but also good fortune. Otherwise when the mind becomes impure, it is afflicted by defilements. Craving and clinging, aversion and hatred, anger and jealousy, lust and arrogance arise in the mind. The mind becomes very impure.

The conduct of an impure mind can cause only unhappiness because of its unwholesome conduct. It is the cause of sorrow to oneself and to others. Not only do we suffer but we distribute our suffering to others. The conduct of an impure mind will produce only suffering, sorrow and anguish. Forgetting this simple explanation of Dhamma, people get entangled in rituals and wrongly consider them as Dhamma: they consider some fast as Dhamma, they consider some festival as Dhamma, they consider some ceremony as Dhamma, they consider a particular attire, social custom, philosophical belief as Dhamma. The real meaning of Dhamma is not understood at all. And without understanding its meaning, one cannot apply Dhamma in life. And if Dhamma is not being applied in our lives and is not reflected in our conduct, we are only deceiving ourselves in the name of Dhamma.

When Dhamma is applied in our lives, applied in our conduct, only then is it beneficial. Otherwise if Dhamma remains the Dhamma of books, religious scriptures, and discourses like this one and is neither applied in one’s life nor reflected in one’s conduct, it is a great misfortune. If we practise Dhamma there is peace and harmony in our lives. But if we do not practise Dhamma, if it only remains a subject of discussion, how can we get any peace or harmony?

A great saint of India said­

"Kathai, badai, suṇai saba koī; kathai, badai, suṇai sab koī."

- "Kathai" people talk so much, they have become addicted to talking. They will talk so much about Dhamma. "Badai" those who speak have become addicted to speaking. They speak much about Dhamma. And "suṇai" those who listen have become addicted to listening. They keep listening to Dhamma talks. But just talking, just listening does not help.

By talking, by listening, inspiration should arise. By talking, by listening, one should gain guidance and then one should start walking on the path of Dhamma. If one starts walking step-by-step, one is practising Dhamma. If one does not practise Dhamma but only talks about it, only discusses and debates about it, if one only keeps explaining Dhamma to others, what will one gain? That is why the saint further said­

"Kathai na hoī, badai na hoī, suṇai na hoī, Kīyai hoī, o kīyai hoī."

-"Kathai na hoī" merely talking does not help. "Badai na hoī" merely speaking does not help. "Suṇai na hoī" merely listening also does not help. Then what is the solution? He says "Kīye hoī, O kīye hoī." One gets the benefit only when one practises Dhamma. If one does not practise Dhamma but merely keeps discussing it, what a great misfortune it is!

An example. It is the winter season. A man is shivering because of the cold. His coat, a very fine coat, is hanging on the peg and he is talking about it. He praises it lavishly, "This is my coat, made of fine wool, such a warm coat!" Instead of wearing the coat, the poor fellow keeps talking about it and keeps shivering with cold. In the same way, a suffering person just talks about the means to end the suffering instead of using it to end his suffering. What greater misfortune can there be!

Another example. There is a thirsty person whose throat is parched by thirst. She is very miserable. There is water nearby and she extols the water, she salutes the water, "O pond, you have provided such good water." But she does not drink, she does not put even a drop of water in her mouth. What greater misfortune can there be!

Similarly a person is miserable because of hunger. A plate of food has been placed before him. He praises the food, "What delicious food, what tasty food!" He salutes the food, he salutes the cook who prepared such delicious food. But he does not put a single morsel of food in his mouth. He continues to be tormented because of hunger. What greater misfortune can there be!

In the same manner, a sick person is restless, agitated, miserable because of his illness. He extols the medicine placed nearby, he sings praises of it, he salutes it. He salutes the doctor who prescribed that medicine. But he does not take the medicine. What greater misfortune can there be!

In exactly the same way one makes Dhamma merely a subject of conversation, an intellectual game that sometimes turns into heated debates and violent arguments. Then the quarrellers start shouting, "My religion is right, your religion is wrong. My religion is great, your religion is worthless." They start fighting, killing, committing arson, causing disturbance everywhere. Such behaviour proves that they have not understood Dhamma, which is the quintessence of all the religions. They have never observed the reality within. Has the mind become pure? Have the defilements of your mind been eradicated?

If the mind becomes pure, Dhamma will automatically be reflected in one’s conduct. Only then is it Dhamma. When the mind is not pure it is filled with anger, aversion and hatred. When one fights with someone, one generates only aversion, anger, hatred. Whatever one calls as one’s religion, one develops attachment towards it. What is happening in the name of Dhamma! Why does this happen? The answer is: we have forgotten to practise Dhamma and that is because we have forgotten the true meaning of Dhamma.

Dhamma is always universal, it belongs to everyone; it is boundless and immeasurable. When Dhamma is made limited and confined to a particular sect or group, it is not true Dhamma. Dhamma belongs to everyone. It is Dhamma only if it is universal. It is equally beneficial to anyone who practises it correctly. Whoever practises it is benefitted, irrespective of religion, nationality, language or colour. Whether one calls oneself Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi or Jew it does not matter. The practical benefits of Dhamma are the same. To practise Dhamma means to purify the mind and one’s conduct should be the conduct of a pure mind.

When the mind becomes pure, it cannot behave in an unwholesome manner, it cannot cause harm to anyone. It neither causes any sorrow to oneself nor to others. A pure mind fills itself with peace and contentment and produces peace and contentment for others. The nature of a pure mind is universal. It applies to all countries, all regions. Any person in any corner of the world who purifies his mind will find that Dhamma will automatically be reflected in his life. His life will change; it will be filled with peace and contentment.

Dhamma is perpetual, eternal. It is Dhamma only if it is eternal. If any person of any period whether of the past, of the present, or of the future purifies his or her mind and acts with a pure mind, then the person brings happiness to oneself and happiness to others. Such a person may be anyone, of any place, of any period. The conduct of such a person having a pure mind will be in accordance with Dhamma. If it is not so, then it is only a delusion in the name of Dhamma.

Rituals may be different in different societies, communities, gatherings; different religions may have different rituals. Clothes may be different; religious rites, festivals, customs, philosophies may be different. All these differences have nothing to do with Dhamma. Dhamma is universal.

How can we say that this is the purity of mind of Hindus or that this is the purity of mind of Buddhists or Jains or Muslims or Christians and so on? Purity is purity, whatever the label one sticks on it. And the peace and happiness that one experiences within because of that purity is also universal. What label can one stick on it? The peace and happiness that one is experiencing cannot be called Hindu peace and happiness or Muslim happiness or Buddhist happiness or Jain happiness.

In the same way evil is also universal. If one defiles the mind, if one fills it with aversion, hatred, deceit, jealousy, envy, arrogance, if one fills it with any impurity, one is bound to become miserable. Whether one calls oneself a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Sikh, a Jew, or a Parsi, one will become miserable. Whether one calls oneself Indian, Pakistani, Burmese, Sri Lankan, American, Russian, Japanese, or Chinese, if one generates any defilement one will become miserable. It is not possible for one to generate anger within oneself and to experience peace and harmony at the same time.

In exactly the same way, if one purifies the mind, then, as soon as my mind becomes pure, wholesome qualities such as love, compassion and mettā will arise. When the mind is full of love, compassion and mettā, it is impossible for misery to arise in the mind. As soon as the mind becomes pure and filled with compassionate love, it will become filled with peace and happiness. These wholesome qualities arise only when the mind is purified.

External appearances do not make any difference. A man who has a long top-knot and generates anger and aversion in his mind becomes as miserable as a man having a long beard or a man having long hair or a man with a bald head. Do these external pretensions make any difference? The important question is, "Are we practising Dhamma or not?" If we practise Dhamma, we shall be freed from misery. Otherwise, whether one wears yellow clothes or red clothes or black clothes or white clothes or one has removed all clothes, if one is generating defilements in the mind, one becomes miserable. Suffering knows no colour or external appearance. When one generates anger or aversion in one’s mind and acts against Dhamma, the law of nature, the punishment is instantaneous the mind is immediately filled with misery and agitation.

Whether one performs any ritual or celebrates any festival or believes in any philosophy, it does not make any difference. Dhamma is very simple: as soon as we defile the mind, we have moved away from Dhamma and we receive the punishment we becomes miserable immediately. And as soon as we purify the mind by getting rid of the defilements, we get the reward immediately, we experience real peace and happiness. So let us practise Dhamma!

When any person becomes pure, becomes a Buddha, becomes an arahant, is fully liberated from craving, aversion and ignorance, such a person is filled with infinite compassion. With great compassion he reveals the pure Dhamma. And not only does he reveal the Dhamma, he teaches how to practise it. There may be many who preach that we should purify the mind but how can we purify the mind? How can we change the defiled nature of the mind at the root where the conditioning of the mind takes place? How can we eradicate negativities at the depth of the mind? There is a technique to do this and we have to learn this technique.

The Enlightened One, Sākyamuni Buddha, discovered such a wonderful technique to purify the mind the technique of Vipassana. By practising Vipassana, defilements can be eradicated at the depth of the mind. But this scientific universal technique has to be practiced, and practiced correctly and seriously, and not just talked about and admired.

If one wishes to keep the body strong and healthy and free from disease, one has to do some physical exercise. To learn how to exercise properly one has to go to a gymnasium. To remove illiteracy, one has to go to a school. To learn medicine, one has to go to a medical college. To learn any science one has to go to some institute to learn it.

Similarly to learn the technique of purifying the mind, one has to go to a Vipassana centre and learn it from someone who is living a life of Dhamma and is knowledgeable in both the practice and theory of Vipassana the quintessence of the Buddha’s teaching. Every person has to make such an effort and exert himself in the proper manner. Anyone who does this is certainly practising Dhamma. As more and more defilements are removed by this practice, we become more and more established in Dhamma. We become increasingly happy and peaceful. Whoever learns to practise Dhamma and actually practises Dhamma experiences real peace, real happiness and becomes liberated from all misery.