The Essence of the Tipiṭaka
There are only three essential points in the Tipiṭaka:
- The higher training in morality (adhisīlasikkhā).
- The higher training in concentration (adhicittasikkhā).
- The higher training in wisdom (adhipaññāsikkhā).
The essence of the teaching means morality, concentration, and wisdom. Keeping the five, eight, or ten precepts is called morality. Concentration means neighbourhood concentration (upacāra samādhi) and absorption concentration (appanā samādhi). Wisdom means insight knowledge (vipassanā-ñāṇa), path knowledge (magga-ñāṇa), and fruition knowledge (phala-ñāṇa).
Among these three essential practices, morality is of the arisen type because it is already done or presently kept. However, concentration and wisdom belong to the unarisen type of wholesome states. Although many people practise concentration such as recollection of the virtues of the Buddha (Buddhānussati), or mindfulness of the body (kāyagatāsati), they usually reach only the initial stage with the aim of getting merit. Their efforts are not sincere, not mature, so not even neighbourhood concentration is attained. The firm type of concentration necessary for liberation is still an unarisen wholesome deed. Many Buddhists count their rosaries chanting suttas, or reciting “anicca, dukkha, anatta,” but they fail to win insight knowledge. Although they accumulate merit, their insight knowledge is a sham as it cannot eradicate the perception of, and belief in, a person, a being, a self, or a soul. They fail to gain insight into psychophysical phenomena, or ultimate truths. Genuine insight, which means the complete, well-developed stage, is not attained by slack effort and weak wisdom. Therefore their wisdom is also of the unarisen wholesome type.
Even in the matter of morality, which has been classified as already arisen, many can retain it only for short periods, so they achieve only temporary morality. They fail to reach the full, stable stage called “samuccheda sīla — morality by cutting off defilements.” Only when one obtains stable moral conduct can one safely be said to be a truly moral person.
Regarding the precept of refraining from killing, most attain only momentary morality. The majority of people, if they observe the five precepts or this single one, achieve good conduct for a short period like a flash of lightning in the darkness. They get this moral achievement several times, but they lose it several times too. So their morality shows the characteristic of instability.
This is true. In countless past lives the attainment of momentary morality by restraint from killing has occurred frequently. One achieved the status of a moral person in many past lives. Yet these achievements in morality, being temporary, do not give real security and complete safety. This type of temporary moral conduct is superficial and unreliable. For example, today one may possess moral conduct, but tomorrow one may become shameless and immoral due to breaking a precept. Morality is achieved for one month only to be lost in the next. This uncertainty applies after death to. In this life one may be scrupulous, but in the next life one may be shameless. So a scrupulous monk, a good man, a moral person in this life may become a robber, a murderer, a thief, a hunter, or a wicked person in the next.
Even famous saints who have attained jhāna, and can fly in the air with their psychic powers, may become robbers, murderers, thieves, hunters, or wicked persons in their next lives. Though they encounter this rare dispensation, they fail to appreciate the significance of the unique opportunities now available. If they remain satisfied with temporary morality, they will be reborn as ghosts, animals, robbers, murderers, etc. They will suffer in hell due to the fallibility of their moral conduct, which is the characteristic of temporary morality.
This fallible, temporary morality is available even outside the Buddha’s dispensation. It exists naturally just like the world and its environment. It is common everywhere, and at all times. It even exists in other universes where no Buddhas ever arise, where the Buddha’s teaching can never be heard. In countless universes, many human beings, deities, and brahmās live without the benefit of the Buddha’s teaching. Yet they achieve the status of human beings, deities and brahmās as a result of this temporary morality. However, their moral conduct is impermanent, so they can fall down in moral status. The important point is that this common, temporary morality cannot be classed as true morality, which is available only during the Buddha’s dispensation. Temporary morality is not the true dispensation. Only the unique morality called “samuccheda sīla — morality by cutting off defilements” is the true, stable morality belonging to the Buddha’s dispensation. It means infallible morality, genuine morality.