Just What is Dhamma?


Burmese-Pali Manuscript.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
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If you read enough Buddhist literature you will realise there is not just one Dhamma. The Dhamma that the Buddha taught is not the only one! This can come as a shock to some people but it need not be that way. Everything, from the smallest atomic particle, to the entire universe has its own Dhamma. Every individual person on our planet has their own Dhamma. The roses in you garden, the aphids that attack them and the treatment for those aphids that you use have their own Dhamma. Even your settee has its own Dhamma.

How can this be so?

Dhamma basically means “the way things are”. It’s as simple as that. The Buddha taught Dhamma on a global and cosmic scale, as well as on the day-to-day life scale. He taught how the world works, how suffering is the nature of this world in which we live, and how to escape from that suffering. That is his Dhamma. He taught the Dhamma of this three-dimensional reality. He taught its impermanence, it’s unsatisfactorinss and it’s escape. If we wish to escape suffering, then we best follow his teachings, otherwise we will only end up back here, or worse, if we do not.


Dhamma is how things are. It is their pure nature, it is their fundamental reality. Dhamma explains exactly what makes up the thing in question. Tied in with the concept of Dependent Origination, which is another fundamental concept, you can, with enough practice, understand the true nature of anything you put your mind to. The two concepts may seem difficult to understand at first glance, and I will cover Dependent Origination in a future post, but once you have grasped them, nature falls into place quite easily.

Dhamma does not have to be difficult. At it’s essence, it is incredibly simple, which is why the ‘Breath Meditation’ practice is so simple. Simple practices lead to the realisation of simple concepts. They lead to those ‘Ah! That’s how it is!’ moments. Those moments are another step closer to final liberation.

A friend of mine once told me she had been taught a meditative technique that involved watching a pebble grow. Now I never quite got that at the time, but it would be a wonderful practice now. To actually see a pebble grow does not mean you see it get bigger, but it means you see it’s nature and reality as it really is, thus the pebble becomes more than your mind thought it to be in the first place. The pebble is, basically, a pebble, but your understanding of that pebbles nature grows over time. You could use your settee, oven, fridge, best mate or the leader of your country as the subject of your meditation, but a pebble is nice and simple. It will yield the same results thus negating any emotional complications in your practice.

End Notes

As I said earlier, Dhamma explains the way things are. Atoms do what they do, cells do what they do, people do what they do, even nations do what they do. The world exists in the only way it can because of the nature of this three-dimensional reality. The human rebirth leads us to do what we do, whomever we are, and thus suffering takes place. Kamma acts in the way it needs to, whether good or bad, and 99% of the time no-one has a clue that this is the cause of their situation. To escape this round of rebirth and suffering one needs to follow the Buddha’s teachings. It may not happen in this lifetime, or the next, but if you start practicing now, then you have taken the first steps on the road to freedom.


The Dhamma of Meditation


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It is a mistake to think that being Buddhist means you must meditate. In fact the Buddha mainly kept meditation instruction for his closest followers and monks. He very rarely taught meditation to lay followers.

This wasn’t because he thought they would not understand, or not benefit from the pratices, it was because he knew that they had too many wordly concerns to be able to put in enough time for meditation to have it’s desired effects.

The Buddha taught Right Living to lay people, villagers and the like. Compassion, loving kindness, correct methods for resolving disputes. These are all genuine Buddhist practices that benefit all who practice them and all those around them. Right livelyhood is a big one. Earn your living honestly and with care. Dishonesty leads to suffering, Dukkha, for all involved. The dishonest person may not seem to suffer immediately, but they will, either in their current lifetime or a future one.

Causing no harm to any sentient being is also another important teaching for the lay observer. All sentient beings suffer in some way or another, and deserve our compassion and care. This reminds me of the Wiccan Rede. “An it harm none, do what thou wilt”. It may seem to be a licence to do what you want, but you just try living your life without harming anything at all! It is far more difficult (almost impossible) than you may think.

So, you can definitely be Buddhist and not meditate. Don’t get me wrong, meditation leads you along the path far more quickly than if you do not meditate, but you do not have to, to be a Buddhist. Just try to follow the Five Precepts of the lay follower, and you will be doing very well.

The Five Moral Precepts are refraining from:

• harming living things.
• taking what is not given (stealing).
• sexual misconduct (adultery etc).
• lying or gossip.
• taking intoxicating substances (drugs or alcohol).

At the end of the day, those 5 precepts are no too demanding. Be honest, be sober, don’t put it about too much and don’t spread gossip. The main one is do no harm to living beings, which is why many Buddhists choose to be vegetarian, but the Buddha never taught vegetarianism, and he often ate meat himself, so that is purely a lifestyle choice should you wish to persue it.

The five precepts are an excellent start on your Buddhist path. Mindfulness and Metta meditation can come later should you so wish, but it is not necessary, nor is it written in stone. Basically the requirements are to be honest, nice, responsible and caring! No bad thing if everyone were to abide by it.


The Dhamma of Compassion

The Dhamma of Compassion:

Lotus Flower

Lotus Flower

Compassion is defined as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

In Buddhism we are taught to practice engendering compassion for ALL sentient beings. This means compassion for ants and slugs, as well as your family and friends. Even your greatest rivals, dictators, Trump and Blare, deserve our compassion. They all suffer as we do. They, especially animals and the likes of Trump and Blare, are ignorant of the Dhamma, they are ignorant of the effects their actions have, they are ignorant of the suffering they cause to other sentient beings. Even Theresa May deserves compassion although she is trying to destroy the NHS. She is causing untold suffering to millions, yet she is totally ignorant of the kammic repercussions she can expect; therefore she deserves our compassion.

Compassion can also mean saying ‘no’ to someone. It does not mean we have to bend over backwards to give everything we can to someone. Sometimes the greatest love you can show an individual is the ability to say ‘no more’. It hands responsibility for their predicament back into their own hands and helps make them a stronger and more responsible individual. Saying ‘no’ is not a bad thing, in the right context.

Many people have difficulty with the concept of universal compassion, believing that certain individuls do not deserve it, but this is a fallacy. We have all already been where those individuals are now in past lives. We have, and still do, deserve compassion. It is our universal ignorance of the Dhamma, and the kammic repercussions, that almost demands compassion should be shown. Care for our fellow-man and all other sentient beings is a must, no matter what level they are at, tramp or king, slug or elephant. We all deserve compassion.


Free Dhamma


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Ajahn Chah

Ajahn Chah

Free Dhamma is the best Dhamma, especially when it is good Dhamma and I cannot express my gratitude enough for the service that Forest Sangha Publications does for the Thai Forest tradition in particular, and the Buddhist faith in general. They are a publishing house that produces copious numbers of books and pamphlets on the Thai Forest tradition of the Ven. Ajahn Chah and his disciples. The quality and amount of information available is staggering considering you do not have to pay a penny for any of it. They obviously accept donations but they are not expected nor demanded.

Many of Ajahn Chah’s disciples have produced documents that can be ordered for free as well as translations of many of Ajahn Chah’s own teachings. I highly recommend you spend some time going through the library of available documents and ordering a few. I think they have a limit of three books per month, but there is nothing stopping you from ordering more once your first order arrives.

The series of books that form a collection of talks and teachings by Luang Por Sumedho are of particular interest as they cover the Venerable Ajahn’s career from meeting Ajahn Chah, to his retirement a couple of years ago.

Amaravati Monastery and Abhayagiri Monastery are the main monasteries that the monks and nuns come from who have contributed to the material that is available, but there are contributions from others at satellite monasteries. Whichever author you go for, I am sure you will be in for a treat. This is all Dhamma at it’s best, and it is aimed at the lay disciple primarily, so you do not need a PhD in Buddhist philosophy to understand what they are on about.

Please visit, please order and please donate. Your path to liberation will be made just that bit easier if you do.

May you find peace.