The tragedy of human life is that it is such a mystery to us who live it. The source, the basis, the meaning, and the purpose of our lives are unknown to most of us, which prevents us from living fully, wholly, happily, Although it should not and need not be so, distorted vision and out-of control thoughts turn ordinary life into a secret. Even this life which each of us calls "my own" is obscured by the confusion and turmoil of emotions, beliefs, opinions, and misunderstandings. Not knowing life, we live it incorrectly and in conflict with nature and its truth. Such living is stunted, cramped, petty, selfish, and sorrow-ridden. How are we to step free of that into the peace, coolness, and joy that we know is natural and right?
Certain beings are deeply moved to clear up this mystery and it tragic pain. The Buddha is one who succeeded perfectly, both for himself and for all humanity. His success came through the direct realization of the Dhamma, the Natural Truth which frees the heart from all misery and problems. As a natural consequence of his awakening, he dedicated his life to helping others awaken. In his own words, "The Dhamma has been preached well by us, thus: like something upside-down, it has been set right; like something closed, it has been opened; it has been proclaimed resoundingly; the ragged edges have been cut away."
Explaining and pointing out the way to Natural Truth is all one being can do for another, but it is enough to help us clear up the mystery of our own lives and find peace. Yet we often fail to understand his gift. This failure is caused by our opinions, lack of awareness, laziness, apathy, and so on. The keys in this book, then, are intended to help open a clear and liveable path through our confusion and weakness into a correct understanding of Dhamma (Natural Truth), so that the Dhamma in turn may illuminate lif, reveal its secret, and quench all suffering (dukkha).
There are five articles or "keys" here. The first, "Kalama Sutta, Help Us!" sets out a fundamental attitude of Buddhism: we should believe something only after examining it, thinking it through carefully, trying it out, and finding for ourselves that it is correct. The Buddhist path of wisdom is meaningless for those who ignore this principle; they turn it into something else. This key comes from a series of pamphlets recently written by Ajahn Buddhadasa and called "Saccasara From Suan Mokkh." (sacca means "truth" and sara means both "essence" and "message"). The translation here was begun by Dr. Supaphan Na Bangchang and finished by the editor.
"Two Kinds of Language," the second key, was translated in 1970 by Roderick Bucknell (at that time Ariyananda Bhikkhu) and has been long out of print. The third key, "Looking Within," was translated in 1978 by the same translator, and is now published for the first time. Both of these keys help us to apply the principle of the Kalama Sutta. "Two Kinds of Language" shows how to discriminate between the two levels of language which are intertwined in all spiritual speech and literature. Both levels of language must be acknowledged and understood if we are to benefit from the Buddha's teaching, and Ajahn Buddhadasa gives many examples of how to do so.
The third key shows us where to verify the truths taught by others. Here the Venerable Ajahn counteracts our tendency to be engrossed by external things and orients us in the direction of spiritual truth. He emphasizes that we must look beyond relative and superficial truth to find real truth. The key to doing this is "looking within." To help us begin this necessary introspection, he shows us the difference between observing external material phenomena and observing internal mental phenomena. Through the latter, the Dhamma may be realized directly and independently.
"Happiness & Hunger," the fourth key, was translated by the editor and originally appeared in 1987 in "Evolution/ Liberation, " a small journal produced, occassionally, at Suan Mokkh. The aim of this article is to clarify the proper motivation for Dhamma study and practice. We tend to ask of Dhamma what it is not meant to provide. Sometimes we even play at Dhamma. Those who seek happiness would do best to find out what they really want, and whether or not the Dhamma can provide it.
The last key here, "The Dhamma-Truth of Samatha-Vipassana for the Nuclear Age," is a recent translation by the editor. It discusses a few important issues which are regularly confused. First, the way of life taught by the Buddha is one unified path. If we unnaturally cut it into pieces, it cannot function spiritually. If we try to practice just this aspect or that, we will never realize even that fragment, let alone the whole Dhamma. Second, we create our own problems and suffering; therefore we must solve them ourselves. We should not let our personal truths get in the way of the real truth which frees us. Lastly, we live in an increasingly dangerous world; we have no time to waste. We must be vigilant and practice earnestly.
Many people have contributed to this book, beginning with Ajahn Buddhadasa and the translators. With the help of Dhamma friends who have read and commented upon the articles, I have done some editing, primarily to harmonize style and terminology, as well as to bring out Ajahn Buddhadasa's message as clearly as possible. After that, Rod Bucknell has corrected my corrections. Then, the Dhamma Study & Practice Group has seen to the business and technical arrangements. And now you have this book in your hands, which fulfills the wish behind everyone's Dhamma-dana (gift of Dhamma).
Finally, we should remind ourselves once again that the Buddha said, "I declare only dukkha and dukkha's quenching." This is another necessary key, yet we often read, study, and "practice" with other things in mind, such as getting this or or that experience, state, title, or status. Although this point is implicit throughout the five articles, we should discuss the word dukkha here in the hope that people will stop avoiding it. The importance of dukkha, in ordinary life as well as in Dhamma practice, tends to be taken lightly by some readers.
Dukkha may be understood in two senses; first, as a feeling of animate beings, and second, as a universal characteristic of all phenomena. In the first sense dukkha means "difficult to bear, hard to endure." The experience of this feeling - it's not an emotion - is never satisfying, pleasurable, or happy, and can reach extremes such as suffering and torment. The cause of dukkha is always some form of craving, attachment, and ignorance. In this sense, dukkha can be translated "suffering, misery, pain, stress." Correct Dhamma practice clears such dukkha, beginning with the cruder manifestations and ending with the dukkha so refined that most people never see it.
The second sense, broader and more subtle than the first, means "hateful appearance, ugly once seen." When penetrating insight reveals them for what they really are, all conditioned things are seen to be unattractive, ugly, hateful, undependable, and oppressive. Our normal vision always latches on to something as attractive, but the Dhamma Eye sees everything as mere illusion and deception. This second universal characteristic follows from and deepens the first, aniccam (impermanence). In fact, both senses of dukkha result from aniccam. All impermanent phenomena are in themselves dukkha (second sense) and are dukkha (first sense) for the mind that foolishly takes any of them personally. The second sense of dukkha can be translated "unsatisfactoriness, oppressiveness."
Once dukkha is understood, nibbana follows. Nibbana is the complete and utter quenching (nirodha) of dukkha, which can only happen after dukkha has been thoroughly penetrated. Literally, nibbana means "coolness" or "cool." It can be described as the cessation of greed, anger, and delusion; and as the ending of all craving, attachment, selfishness, and ignorance. When such "hot" states may arise again, nibbana is said to be temporary. Nibbana is permanent when there is no possibility that such states will arise again. The evolution from dukkha to nibbana is the sole issue of Dhamma practice. Nothing else is relevant, whether in this book or in life. Thus, our investigation of the following keys should be an investigation of what the Buddha described as the only thing he ever taught - dukkha and the quenching of dukkha. Then our efforts will bear the fruits of peace and freedom.
We thank you, the reader, for giving this book your attention. May all beings discover the way of natural truth and realize its fulfillment.