The Three Truths - Nammar Sayadaw

Monday, 30 June 2008
The Three Truths
(Excerpts from Dhamma Talks by the Venerable Nammar Sayadaw)

Translated by Dr. Jenny Ko Gyi,
ITBMU, Myanmar.

There are three stages of truth:-
- conventional truth (sammuti sacca),
- ultimate truth or reality (paramattha sacca),
- noble truth (ariya sacca).
Conventional truth consists of names and concepts. Why is a concept called truth?
It is so called because it is not a lie.
For instance, there is this black thing coming. What is it called? It is called a buffalo.
According to the ultimate reality, a ‘buffalo’ cannot be found at all. The world calls it a buffalo. So it is not a lie when you also
call it a buffalo. Names therefore are conventional truths.
Will the crime of killing mind-matter called parents, and the crime of killing mind-matter called a dog be of the same degree?
Will merit gained from feeding mind-matter called parents, and merit gained from feeding
mind-matter called a dog be of the same extent? They will not be of the same extent.
Therefore these are called conventional truths.
Names therefore are true according to convention.
Those that actually exist are called the ultimate realities (paramattha sacca).
There are only four in the world that truly exist. They are:-
1. mind (citta),
2. mental states, or mental factors, or mental concomitants (cetasika),
3. matter or materiality (rupa),
4. nibbana.
The name ‘buffalo’ is true according to convention, but according to the ultimate truth, it is not there. How is it not there?
Press with the thumb, from head to tail, that which is called a ‘buffalo’. What is found? Only hardness is found.
Touch it with the palm. What is found? Only warmth and coldness is found.
Look with the eyes. What is seen? Only the black colour is seen. Is this black colour called a ‘buffalo’? It is not.
Is heat and cold called a ‘buffalo’?
Tap it with a stick. What will be there? There will appear sound.
Smell it with the nose. What is there? There is only scent. Is scent called a ‘buffalo’? It is not.
Lick it with the tongue. What will be there? There will be taste.
Is taste called a buffalo? It is not. Then where is the ‘buffalo’ to be found? It is not to be found.
It is not to be found. It is only what the mind thinks it to be. A ‘buffalo’ is therefore a concept, a name, a conventional truth.
Things that are actually found such as, hardness, heat, cold, eye-object or visible-object (ruparammana), sound
(saddarammana), scent (gandharammana), taste (rasarammana), are the ultimate realities (paramattha).
Paramattha truly exists. Sammuti is only names, concepts. Names, concepts, do not actually exist.
Are Sundays, Mondays, hot or cold? They are neither hot nor cold. Not having any character, they do not actually exist. They are
only names. But they are thought to exist, and are feared of as lucky days or unlucky days.
Take sugar on an unlucky day. Will it not be sweet? It will be sweet. Do meritorious/wholesome deed on an unlucky day, and
merit will be gained. Merit or a wholesome deed will not wait to give results because it is an unlucky day.
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Then an (astrologically) unlucky day is not to be feared. Only evil deeds are to be feared.
Take chili on a lucky day. The taste will be spicy hot.
An evil deed done on (an astrologically) lucky day is sure to give bad results.
(In Burma) days with lucky stars are chosen for the first day of building a house, or for marriages. But not all households that first
erected their house poles on a lucky day get wealthy. Not all marriages go without divorces.
Relying on good deeds alone is doing according to Buddhism. At the site of construction, invite monks to recite protective
verses, share the results of good deeds with guardian deities.
Mr. White, man, woman, deities, forests, mountains, sun, moon, directions, mornings, nights, caves, signs, are names,
It has been mentioned that mind, mental states, matter, nibbana are the ultimate realities.
When eye and visible object come into contact, eye-consciousness arises. This seeing is called eye-consciousness (cakkhu
vinnana) which is the ultimate reality.
There arises hearing when sound and ear-base come into contact. This hearing is ear-consciousness which is the ultimate reality.
Nose-consciousness arises when nose-base and scent come into contact. This smelling which is nose-consciousness is the ultimate
When the six types of taste, sweet, sour, spicy, salty, acrid, bitter, come into contact with tongue-base, tongue-consciousness
arises. This tasting which is the tongue-consciousness is the ultimate reality.
When body-base and tangible objects come into contact there is cognition of heat, cold, softness, etc. This cognition of tangible
objects is body-consciousness called kayavinnana. This body-consciousness is the ultimate reality.
When mind-base and mind-object come into contact, thought arises. This thought is called mind-consciousness, mano-vinnana,
which is the ultimate reality.
Eye-consciousness, on cognizing pleasurable objects, gives rise to pleasant feeling.
This pleasant feeling, somanassa vedana, is a mental state called cetasika. This mental state can arise only when there is
eye-consciousness. Without eye-consciousness there can be no mental states. Mental states arise dependent upon
consciousness. This mental state is an ultimate reality that actually exists.
When eye-consciousness cognizes an unpleasurable object, unpleasant feeling arises.
This unpleasant feeling, domanassa vedana, is a mental state which truly exists.
When eye-consciousness is aware of the visible object, there is perception, such as perceiving white, red, yellow, etc.
This perception is sanna which is a mental state that truly exists.
When eye-consciousness is aware of a pleasant object, there may arise unwholesome volition such as desire to steal; or there
may arise wholesome volition (cetana) such as desire to offer to the Buddha.
Desire to do bad deed, or desire to do good deed, is volition called cetana which is a mental state that truly exists.
These mental states are the ultimate realities.
In the body, those that will actually be found are hardness, softness, heat, coldness, thrusting, motion, cohesion, flowing, and
the eye-base, ear-base, nose-base, tongue-base, body-base.
When earth element which is hardness pathavi, comes into contact with water, it changes and becomes mud, which has the
nature that is soft.
Again this mud, when left in the sun, changes, and dries up and becomes hard.
The hardness that is in our body also changes on exposure to heat during summer; there is sweating and the skin becomes soft.
This soft skin, changes on exposure to cold in winter, becomes hard, and the skin cracks.
The ultimate reality which is the heat element tejo, in the body, sweats in summer and become cold. It stops sweating in winter,
becomes warm. It keeps changing.
The air element vayo (in the body), is supportive air element and supports the body when staying still, and changes to motion air
element when moving about.
The ultimate reality which is the water element apo, when hot, becomes flowing element and sweats. When cold, this water
element stops sweating, and goes into a cohesive state.
The eye (seat of the eye-base), becomes red when hot. It becomes white again when soothing (cool) eye drops are used.
It changes when coming into contact with heat or cold. Because of this changing nature, it is called rupa – matter.
This nature which keeps changing is evident in the body.
In the aggregate called mind-matter or khandha, only the ultimate realities, namely, mind, mental states, matter, nibbana,
exist. If these ultimate realities (paramattha) are understood, and if names and concepts are no more clung to, then this
individual is called a good or virtuous worldling. How can it be known if one is still holding on to concepts? (Astrologically) does
belief in unlucky days are still feared of? Are days of lucky stars still relied on? Are unwholesome deeds feared? Think if
wholesome deeds are relied on? Sundays, Mondays are only names in the conventional truth, and have no essence. When
wholesome deeds are relied on, when unwholesome deeds are feared, then decide that you have overcome clinging to names
and concepts (pannatti). You have developed from being an ordinary worldling to a virtuous/wise worldling. Then be hopeful,
and try so that there is attainment of stream-entry (into the stream of noble persons, sotapanna, who have been delivered from
The true colour of a brass bowl cannot be seen if the rusty covering is not removed first.
Nibbana, the ultimate reality cannot be described without first removing the dust of defilements kilesa that covers it. These
defilements kilesa can be removed only when the four noble truths ariya sacca are understood and realized. Before explaining
nibbana the ultimate reality, the four noble truths ariya sacca are to be explained first.
‘Beloved sons who fear the danger of the samsara cycle of death and rebirth’, the Buddha says, ‘being covered by the darkness
of ignorance avijja, the four noble truths are not realized, wisdom does not arise. All beings innumerable have traveled afloat or
sunken, in existences innumerable, in the samsara cycle of death and rebirth’.
The four noble truths are:-
the noble truth of suffering dukkha sacca,
the noble truth of cause of suffering, samudaya sacca,
the noble truth of cessation of suffering, nirodha sacca,
the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering, magga sacca.
Understanding the four noble truths is knowledge of truth, sacca nana (nyana).
The noble truth of suffering is to be known, the noble truth of the cause of suffering is to be dispelled; the noble truth of
cessation of suffering is to be realized, the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering is to be developed.
When the noble truth of suffering is known through (development of) the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of
suffering, dispelling the truth of cause of suffering, and realization of the noble truth of cessation of suffering are done.
The noble truth of suffering dukkha sacca, and unpleasant or painful feeling dukkha vedana are to be differentiated and
separately understood. Painful or unpleasant feeling dukkha vedana is unbearable feeling in body or mind. This painful feeling is
absent when there is pleasant feeling sukha somanassa.
But the noble truth of suffering dukkha sacca is always present in all conditioned things irrespective of feeling (painful or
There are four kinds of the noble truth of suffering.
Sankhata is from the Magadha language. It does not have potential to take place by itself. It arises only when supported by causal
Due to the element which is the ultimate reality, there is no individual who is said to be the doer of wholesome and
unwholesome deeds. There is only cause and results; and there is no individual, no being, no ‘I’, no ‘others’ who bear the
results of good or bad deeds. There are no beings, but cause and result; there is impermanence, changing, arising and passing
away. View that there is nothing but cause and result effect is the view of the Buddha and noble persons (ariya).
Let us go on to the ultimate realities paramattha.
Eye-consciousness, without eye-base, does not have its own potential to arise by itself.
(Assuming) the eye-base is there, but if the visible-object is not there, can eye-consciousness arise? It cannot.
(Let us say) the eye-base and the visible object are there, but when there is no light, can eye-consciousness arise?
All three, eye, visible object, light are (supposedly) there. But if attention is not turned toward visible object, when there is no
attention (manasikara) will the eye cognize the object?
Before the combination of these four causes, viz., eye, visible-object, light, attention, was the eye-consciousness, that
cognized the object, there?
Another example will be given here.
Is sound always there in the gong? It is not.
But when struck with a baton, does sound not arise?
Before the gong was struck with the baton there was no sound. After it was struck, again there is no more sound. It is there only
at the present moment when the baton strikes the gong.
The eye-base is like the gong, the visible-object is like the baton. Light is like the arm. Attention is like effort exerted that
strikes the gong with the baton. Eye-consciousness is like sound. Sound arises only at the present moment. So also,
eye-consciousness arises only momentarily in the present when the four causes collectively support or condition its arising, the
four causes being eye, visible-object, light, attention. It is not always there. This nature is called conditioned, sankhata. There
is arising only when it is conditioned or supported by causes.
It does not have its own capability to arise. . Seeing this, there is knowledge of non-self (anatta). There is no such thing as
potential of self (atta), potential to do (karaka), potential to receive the deed (vedaka). Understanding this is knowledge that
there is no being (sunnata).
There there is nature which is viparinama.
An offspring that comes from the union of an Indian man and an Indian woman is also an Indian.
Eye-base, which is like the mother of eye-consciousness, changes and becomes red when it comes into contact with heat, or
becomes white when it comes into contact with cold. It has nature that keeps changing. Visible-object, which is like the father
of eye-consciousness, also, from being new, becomes old. It is of the nature that changes. How will the eye-consciousness, that
arises conditioned by these causes which have nature of impermanence, remain unchanged?
Does the eye-consciousness, after arising, remain permanent?
Does it not pass away when the eyes close?
From the nature that is arising (upada), it goes toward perishing. Is this not the nature of impermanence that keeps changing?
Let us go on to pilana which means ‘continually being tormented’. How is it tormented? In eye-consciousness, there is arising,
and with it there is danger that comes with rebirth (jati). There is the danger of ageing (jara). Then there is danger of perishing
(marana). There is continual torment by these three dangers; thus there is continual arising and passing away, with no time to
remain unchanged.
This nature which is constantly being tormented and wearied is pilana.
Pilana gives worries. For example if there is danger of bandits in a village, there will be no sound sleep, worrying if the house
will be robbed.
These three dangers which are the dangers of ageing, ailing, death, constantly accompany the three conditioned sankhata
dhamma, i.e. mind, mental states, matter. There is constant worry for these three. Even though (you) worry, nothing can be
done to prevent against these three. You will not be free from these. (You keep on) getting aged, you suffer from poor health,
you face death. These three dangers are constantly there.
It is the same in other conditioned realities viz. mental states and matter.
In the dhamma, if one is understood, the others are to be understood likewise.
Only when these four factors are understood, is the noble truth of suffering understood.
It is to be understood that stomach ache, back pain, stiffness, etc. are painful feelings which even animals such as dogs, cows,
etc. also know. If the dhamma is realized when this painful feeling is known, then hell-beings will be the first to attain
enlightenment. (Some) say that unbearable (pain) is the noble truth of suffering. It is not. Unbearable pain is only unpleasant
feeling (dukkha vedana). The difference between painful/unpleasant feeling (dukkha vedana) and the noble truth of suffering
(dukkha sacca) are not easily known. Only when a true teacher is met is this difference understood. Some say that even the
Buddha-to-be had to undergo austere practices. ‘How can nibbana be attained without austerity?’ they say. These people are
(sighted yet) blind.
It is true that the Buddha-to-be underwent austere practices. But did he attain Buddhahood because of austere practices? Or did
he come not to know that these practices were self-mortifying (attakilamatha nuyoga)? And so did he not stop these, and take
fortifying food? Did he not become a Buddha after taking milked rice donated by Sujata.
(They) know Buddhahood was attained after the buddha-to-be had taken Sujata’s milked rice. Yet (they) are saying as if
Buddhahood was attained because of austere practices. Then are they not (sighted yet) blind?
Many think that the dhamma will be realized only when (one goes) to a forest, or into a cave.
The dhamma is not realized just by going to a forest, or into a cave. The dhamma is realized only when the teacher is a virtuous
person (sappurisa), and when the teachings are respectfully listened to. Dispel what should be dispelled, accept what should be
accepted. Dhamma is (to be contemplated) in mind-matter (khandha). Going to a forest, or into a cave, is only to find quiet and
solitude. The important thing is to find a true teacher.
Long ago in the kingdom of Amarapura (south of Mandalay), the king came to visit a stupa. On seeing the Irrawaddy (Ayarwaddy)
river, he asked his minister U Paw Oo if the minister could cross river. ‘By the glory of your majesty, I can do it’, the minister
Looking amazed, the king told the minister that he would watch the minister cross the river. Tucking in his lower garment (which
is the custom of Burmese men before climbing trees, etc. in a way which looks quite similar to sumo wrestlers) the minister
started running up and down the river bank, looking here and there. The king summoned U Paw Oo the minister and asked him
what he was doing, whereupon the minister answered that he had been looking for a boat to cross the river. And the king told
him that everyone could cross the river in a boat. ‘I am also a man among man, your majesty’, the minister replied.
If everything man assumes is right, then Buddhas need not appear in the world. What man thinks is one thing, what is there is
another thing, and Buddhas have to appear in the world. Only when (someone) lives differently, man is impressed. That is why
those with wrong views are doing well. The important thing is wisdom/knowledge. This knowledge is gained only when a true
teacher is sought, and listened to. Why is wisdom important? Because only wisdom can eradicate defilements (kilesa). Morality
and concentration merely support wisdom. Morality eradicates transgressive defilements only, and cannot dispel the others,
while concentration eradicates gross defilements only, and not the others. Only wisdom can dispel latent defilements.
When latent defilements are eradicated, the remaining defilements cannot arise.
Thieves and robbers take advantage of the dark of night to carry out their misdeeds.
The night is like ignorance (avijja). Thieves are like defilements. The more the ignorance of dhamma is, the more defilements
come to arise. Ignorance is therefore said to be the root, and when this ignorance is extinguished, all defilements are
extinguished. What is to be done when darkness is not wanted? The electricity is turned on.
Likewise, when darkness of ignorance is not wanted, light of wisdom is turned on. Only wisdom can conquer defilements. But
then, there are three types of wisdom/knowledge -
knowledge through perception (sanna),
knowledge through consciousness (vinnana),
knowledge through wisdom (panna).
By perception (sanna) (one) knows through learning, or from books, or from repeated hearing. Knowledge through perception
cannot get rid of defilements. It cannot even give defilements a headache.
Pursuing worldly knowledge from books is the result of knowledge through perception. These people are not eager to aim and
practice for deliverance from suffering, but are interested only in showing off their worldly gains. They do not have the least bit
of knowledge of religious awakening (samvega).
An individual with perceptive knowledge is like a baby. He is not one who should be sought. He only has knowledge that he has
gained from books.
Knowledge of consciousness comes with practice (patipatti). This knowledge is vast, and can extend from study and
contemplation of insight meditation, to attainment of path knowledge (magga, leading to cessation of suffering).
What one has studied through perception, one contemplates and practices, and there will come awakening. When stage of
awakening is not reached, it should be known that the practice is not up to the standards. When knowledge of awakening sets in,
(one) is not as impressed with worldly fame, worldly knowledge, as he was when he was a blind worldling. When (he) sees
someone for whom worldly gains are the main things, he becomes unimpressed with this person. He comes to choose who he
should follow. He comes to find dhamma talks and practices more meaningful. He only wants to listen to teachings of virtuous
people, and wants to avoid wicked people. He comes to be less impressed with ostentations, though he cannot totally cut these
There once was a man for whom making a living was difficult, work was hard. The wife, being poor, did not care to make herself
look beautiful. For the man, craving appeared to have become suppressed. ‘I just want to renounce the world. I stay home only
because of the wife and children. I have no more desire to be a householder.’
Hearing him repeatedly grumble the wife told him not to worry for her and the children, to enter monkhood.
‘Think about it. People respect you because I am here. If I am not here no one will respect you’, the husband says.
And the wife answered, ‘Do not worry. We were all born alone. Just think for yourself. You don’t have to worry for us. You can
become a monk now. You don’t even need to mention us.’
At this the man of the house said, ‘Even if you are not thinking about it, I’ll have to think’.
In this manner, there is desire to cut off (worldly attachments), but still cannot do it. This is knowledge through consciousness.
Let us go on to knowledge through wisdom called pativedha nyana. This is knowledge that can completely cut off all that are
wrongly clung to.
For instance a Burmese man dares not commence house construction on a day with stars that are astrologically unlucky. After
meeting a teacher he comes to know these are only concepts and is not afraid of these any more. He now dares erect the first
pole of the house (Myanmar custom). Daring to start a house on a day with unlucky stars is like path-knowledge (magga nyana).
Getting rid of wrong beliefs is like dispelling the truth of cause of suffering (samudaya sacca). Fear is like the noble truth of
suffering (dukkha sacca). When there is no more fear, he enjoys well-being. This is attainment of cessation of suffering (nirodha
From the beginning there have been those who are not superstitious about unlucky stars, and dare erect the first house poles on
astrologically unfavourable days. But they dare do it only because it is their custom. Then this is not knowledge through wisdom.
They dare do things because of greed, hatred/anger, delusion, knowledge, or they dare do things because it is their nature. Of
these only knowledge is valuable, the rest are not.
A worm, from birth, does not kill other beings, does not steal, does not commit adultery, does not tell lies, does not take
intoxicating drinks, it does not break the five precepts. But this is morality which is its nature, and so it cannot result in deity
planes. When someone dares do things because it is his nature, this also is not knowledge that comes with wisdom. Only when,
through knowledge, the wrong is known from right, does it become wisdom. These are the three stages of knowledge. Let us go
back to the noble truth (truth realized by noble persons).
Mind, mental states, matter that actually exist have nature that is sankhata (conditioned), viparinama (impermanence,
changing), pilana (tormented), santapa (always having three dangers, viz. ageing, ailing, death). When these are known, it will
be known that mind, mental states, matter have no essence, they are impermanent, they have nature that torments, that they
give worries.
When dangers of conditioned things come to be seen, (one) turns attention toward the cessation of conditioned things, toward
the unconditioned (asankhata), which is the ultimate element (paramattha nibbana).
When there is a dog chasing (you), (you) will think of escaping the dog. When conditioned things are known to be a mass of
suffering, there will come understanding that only the unconditioned, cessation of conditioned things, is free from dangers.
This is realization of nibbana, through knowledge of gotrabhu nyana (change of lineage knowledge) (from the lineage of ordinary
worldlings to the lineage of noble persons ariya).
When gotrabhu nyana thus realizes nibbana, the fearsome conditioned things are let go of. Thus letting go of conditioned things
is path wisdom (magga nyana).
It can also be said that the noble truth of cause of suffering ceases because the truth of suffering is known.
This is like monkeys jumping from one branch to another. Letting go of one branch, monkeys jump toward a new one.
Letting go of the old branch which is conditioned, path knowledge goes toward a new one which is the unconditioned.
How does fruition knowledge/consciousness (phala citta) arise? Fruition consciousness (phala citta) is a resultant consciousness.
Path consciousness (magga citta) has realized nibbana, has extinguished defilements; there is freedom from dangers. Because
the nibbana that has never before been realized has been realized, there is joy, sense of blissful well-being. This is fruition
consciousness. Enjoying well-being that comes with path, fruition, nibbana, is the benefit of the Buddha’s teachings.
It is therefore ‘svekkhato bhagavata dhammo’. The teachings of the Buddha lead straight to path, fruition, nibbana, and this is
svekkhata attribute experienced by wisdom.
When path knowledge has extinguished defilements, when nibbana is realized, there is arising of fruition consciousness that
enjoys the nibbana bliss. Between the cause which is the path consciousness, and the result which is the fruition consciousness,
there is no other consciousness. One arises immediately following the other, with no other consciousness in between, and this is
called ‘akaliko’, giving results without delay. This akalika attribute becomes one’s own experience (sanditthiko).
Only an object that is amazing and have never before been seen should be pointed at with awe exclaiming, ‘come, see’. Worldly
objects in the thirty one planes of existence have been met with in one life, or the other, and are therefore ordinary objects. In
which existence has the bliss of path, fruition, nibbana, been encountered?
If it can be done, should not this object which has never been seen in any of the previous existences be shown saying, ‘come,
This is why it is ‘ehipassiko’.
Man likes to carry with him lucky charms which cannot protect him from the dangers of ageing, ailing, death, and from the
dangers of resulting in woeful planes.
The bliss of path, fruition, nibbana, protects us from all dangers in the samsara (cycle of death and rebirth), and should always
be carried with us.
It is therefore ‘opaneyyiko’.
Worldly riches, viz. gems, precious stones, connect you with the five kinds of enemies, (such as thieves, robbers, etc.), and
when (you) die, (you) cannot take these with (you). Therefore they are not your true possessions.
Who can destroy the path, fruition, nibbana, that you have attained?
Once (you) have become a sotapanna (stream winner who has entered the stream of the first stage of deliverance from
suffering), there never is return to the stage of a worldling. This bliss follows (you) into the next existence. Cannot it therefore
be said to be your true possession?
It can be said, ‘paccattam veditabbo vinnyuhi’.
Then can you not experience the six attributes of the Buddha’s Teachings through wisdom, as if you see these with your own
Experiencing this, faith (saddha) in the Teachings become unshakable.
This is a characteristic of a sotapanna (one who has attained the first stage of deliverance from suffering, nibbana) – ‘dhamme
avecca pasado’.
He who understands the noble truth, sees the dhamma. (You), the wise who realizes the noble truth, always sees me, the
Buddha your teacher, although (you) may be (a hundred yojanas) away from me. He who does not realize the noble truth, is
blinded by ignorance, and holds wrong views. Even though he may look at me throughout his life, he will not see me.
When the dhamma with the six attributes is known, (one) comes to have unshakable faith in the Buddha knowing that only the
Buddha can expound this dhamma with the six attributes.
This is in line with the characteristic of a sotapanna, noble person, ‘buddhe avecca pasado’.
Samgha refers to the eight groups of noble individuals, four who have attained the four stages of path-wisdom, and four who
have attained the four stages of fruition. One who has become a samgha himself comes to have more faith in other noble
persons. Only when one has not achieved these himself will he not have faith in others.
This is samghe avecca pasado, a characteristic of a sotapanna. This noble person who has unshakable faith in the triple gems,
viz. Buddha, dhamma, samgha, will not have desire to break the five precepts.
This purity of morality when one does not break precepts is a characteristic of a sotapanna ‘ariyakantehi silehi samannagato’.
When one is in line with these four characteristics, one has become a sotapanna.
One yojana is approximately thirteen miles

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sayama,
    May I request you to post original excerpt in burmese.

    With due respect,

    Mya Soe