Most Venerable Bhikkhuni Dr. Longyun Shi
Abbess of the American Bodhi Sea Buddhist Association – USA, the first non-America born Buddhist to receive the certification in the United States, Buddhist Scholar, Practitioner, and Educator
A Textural Analysis of Buddho….
Buddho in Pāli means the one who knows, the Buddha, the awakened, or that which is awake. This paper will discuss how the term buddho (or Buddha in English) is applied in the Pāli Canon, later commentaries, and the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition, in order to examine the depiction of the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition as “an unbroken lineage of transmission going back to the Lord Buddha and the several thousands of its enlightened persons supposedly produced by Buddhism in the long course of its history,” which has been problematized by Grzegorz Polak. The paper is organized into two parts: the first part examines the definition and the functions of buddho in the Pāli Canon and the later commentaries, and the second part analyzes buddho in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition.
The Definition and Functions of Buddho
In the Pāli suttas, Buddhānussati rarely occurs by itself, but rather in a set of three, four, five, six or ten recollections, usually. The Aṅguttara Nikāya contains the only part of the Pāli Canon where the Ten Recollections are presented as a list. They are a set of meditation themes that highlight the positive role that memory and thought play in training the mind. Recollection is “anussati” in the Pāli language. The first one of these Ten Recollections is the Recollection of the Buddha, described as below: One thing—when developed and pursued—leads solely to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. Which one thing? Recollection of the Buddha (Buddhānussati). This is one thing that— when developed and pursued—leads solely to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. The Buddha is said to have given the teaching on the Recollection of the Buddha when he was staying among the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu in the Banyan Park. During the three-months retreat, one day, Mahānāma, a senior monk following the Buddha, asked a question related to practice. He was concerned about the time after the three-months retreat, when the monks would dwell in the forest separately: how should they continue to practice independently of each other, without the Buddha? In response to Mahānāma, the Buddha required the monks to concentrate on the six qualities. The first recollection was “recollect the Tathāgata”: There is the case where you recollect the Tathāgata: Indeed, the Blessed One is pure and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge and conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine and human beings, awakened, blessed.
From the description above it can see that the term “Buddha” in the Recollection of the Buddha in the Pāli Canon means Tathāgata. The term Tathāgata, a Pāli word recorded in the Pāli Canon, appears frequently and is used by Shakyamuni Buddha when referring to himself. Piya Tan has explained this term in his article: “The term Tathāgata is the most important and pregnant of the numerous epithets of the Buddha. Its special importance is not only due to the fact that the Buddha himself uses it most frequently in reference to himself, but it is also used by others to address him.” The Recollection of the Buddha plays a significant role in the practices recorded in the Pāli Canon. The Buddha claimed that one should develop this recollection in the four postures: walking, standing, sitting and lying down, even while one is busy at work or in a home crowded with children. The technique of practicing while concentrating on the Recollection of the Buddha is mindfulness with the Enlightened One’s special qualities as its object. The special qualities of the Buddha are described as below: That Blessed One is such since he is accomplished, fully enlightened, endowed with (clear) vision and (virtuous) conduct, sublime, the knower of worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed. The later commentaries, for example the Visuddhimagga, point out that the nine virtues of the Buddha are as below: Iti pi so bhagavā – So, too, is he the Blessed One, for, he is – araham – (1) arhat – sammā, sambuddho – (2) fully self-awakened one – vijjā, caraṇa, sampanno – (3) accomplished in wisdom and conduct, sugato – (4) well-farer, – loka,vidū – (5) knower of worlds – anuttaro purisa, damma, sārathī – (6) peerless guide of persons to be tamed, – satthā deva,manussānam – (7) teacher of gods and humans, – buddho – (8) awakened – bhagavā ti – (9) blessed.
The methods of practicing the Recollection of the Buddha may have some heterogeneity. However, the two main ways to practice are: 1) simple, mindful recollection of the Buddha‘s “nine virtues,” and 2) mindful recollection of each of the nine virtues in turn. In addition, the Pāli Canon especially points out the benefits of habitual Recollection of the Buddha for the forest-dwelling monks: But I tell you this: If—when you have gone into the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building—there should arise fear, terror, or horripilation, then on that occasion you should recollect me: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge and conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine and human beings, awakened, blessed.’ For when you have recollected me, whatever fear, terror, or horripilation there is will be abandoned. Buddha advised countering fear with recollections of him, remembering him as enlightened, self-awakened, and a teacher to divine beings and humans. Thus, remembering the Buddha and his knowledge, excellent conduct, and ability to train those “fit to be trained” gives one pause to reflect and totally eliminate fear of the surrounding environment. Furthermore, according to the Aṅguttara Nikāya, Recollection of the Buddha (any of these Ten Recollections) not only protects people from the conditions of reacting with fear and terror, but also has leads to nibbāna. Employ memory to sensitize the mind to the need for training, to induce feelings of confidence and well-being conducive for concentration, to keep the topics of concentration in mind, to produce tranquility and insight, and to incline the mind toward the deathless when tranquility and insight have grown sufficiently strong. There is more sutta evidence as below: Bhikkhus, there is one thing that, when developed and cultivated, leads exclusively to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nibbāna. What is that one thing? Recollection of the Buddha. This is the one thing, when developed and cultivated, leads exclusively to disenchantment…to nibbāna.
As a Pāli source, however, the Visuddhimagga has a different standpoint on this issue. Buddhānussati is described in the book of Visuddhimagga as follows: “the recollection arisen inspired by the enlightened one is the recollection of the Buddha. This is a term for mindfulness with the Enlightened One’s special qualities as its object.” The author, Buddhaghosa, claimed that the recollection practice constitutes the preliminary stage of calming meditation. It only leads to access concentration (upacara samādhi). In order to attain the final goal of liberation, one needs to suppress and destroy the Five Hindrances and attain jhāna. On this point, Recollection of the Buddha is insufficient for attaining jhāna since reflecting upon the qualities of the Buddha is related to the kasiṇa, the first ten objects of meditation of the forty kammaṭṭhāna—it is a conceptually complex object of meditation. “In order to continue to be aware of them, the mind requires a degree of conceptual and discursive activity—vitakka and vicāra—that is simply not compatible with the stillness of jhāna proper.”
Buddho in the Thai Kammaṭṭhāna Tradition
What about the function of Buddho in the meditation practice of the widely known Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition, for instance? In the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition, using buddho as a meditation object plays a significant role in focusing attention. Does it have the simple meaning of “Buddha” and the same function as in the Pāli sources? Ajahn Kevali, a Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition monk, claims that “chanting as a practice comprises the two aspects of cultivating the mind in the way it is traditionally taught in Thailand.” These two aspects are the awareness-aspect of knowing one’s activities and the recollection-aspect of mindfulness. Does reciting buddho belong to either aspect? First, in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition, the most significant function of buddho is drawing the mind to attention. In the Thai language, it is called “kwam roo dtua,” knowing or awareness. As Ajahn Chah described, That awareness (knowing or awareness) which we call “Buddho” is like the parents of the child. The parents are the child’s teachers in charge of its training, so it’s quite natural that whenever they allow it to wander freely, simultaneously they must keep one eye on it, aware of what it’s doing and where it’s running or crawling to. In addition, this recitation method is a way leading to understanding the mind and the teachings of the historical Buddha: Meditate reciting… “Buddho,” “Buddho” until it penetrates deep into the heart of your consciousness (citta). The word “Buddho” represents the awareness and wisdom of the Buddha. In practice, you must depend on this word more than anything else. The awareness it brings will lead you to understand the truth about your own mind. It’s a true refuge, which means that there must be both mindfulness and insight present. Thus, the purpose of meditating on buddho is to calm the mind. Then insight into the characteristics of impermanence, suffering and not-self arises. It brings the practitioner to view things as uncertain and changeable. The main purpose of recitations that use it is to concentrate on the present, and the meaning, it seems, is not as important.
This point also appears very clearly in other Ajahns’ teachings. For example, a reviver of the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition, Ajahn Sao, claimed that during meditation, the practitioner does not necessarily need to know the exact meaning of buddho. For example, when students asked Ajahn Sao, “What does buddho mean?”, his answer was, “Do not ask.” Another important teaching on this issue was given by Ajahn Chah. He told his students the techniques of facing pain: If it’s too painful to keep “BUD-DHO” in mind, then take the pain as your object of awareness: “Pain, pain, pain, PAIN!” on and on instead of “BUD-DHO.” Stay with it till the pain reaches its end, and see what comes up. The Buddha said that pain arises by itself, and it’ll stop by itself. Ajahn Chah’s teaching enables people to realize that the word buddho can even be replaced by other terms. Ajahn Thate pointed out that “Actually, if the mind is firmly set on the meditation word you’re repeating, then no matter what the word, it’s sure to work—because you repeat the word simply to make the mind steady and firm, that’s all.” Therefore, to practice using buddho, the key points are to ignore its exact definition and to attempt to train the mind to be one-pointed. Thus, according to Ajahn Dune Atulo, the main function of Buddho is: Have the mind give rise to a single preoccupation. Don’t send it outside. Let the mind stay right in the mind. Let the mind meditate on its own. Let it be the one that keeps repeating buddho, buddho. And then genuine buddho will appear in the mind. You’ll know for yourself what buddho is like. That’s all there is to it. There’s not a whole lot… This practical technique is simple, as described below: letting the atmosphere and the all-round-experience of the practice that you are doing take over all your heart and feelings in a way that is fully aware, just like when you consciously immerse yourself in the flow and atmosphere of the words you are chanting (without paying much attention to their particular meaning). As we have mentioned above, Buddho’s function is to focus attention, and its character is that it can be replaced. This function is called sampajañña in Pāli, meaning clear comprehension. It has the character of the first type of training: the awareness aspect of knowing one’s activities. However, this buddho mantra reciting technique is not only absent in the Pāli Canon but is also not mentioned in the Visuddhimagga, even though the Visuddhimagga is believed to be a comprehensive manual by many practitioners condensing and systematizing the ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬theoretical and practical teachings of the historical Buddha. “Manta” is the Pāli form of the Sanskrit word “mantra.” It actually often has the meaning of “Vedic Hymn.” It is an old word and occurs in the Ṛig Veda, where it refers to the poetic hymns to the wild chthonic forces of nature, which Indians think of as the Vedic gods. “Mantras are meaningless collections of sound whose importance lies in their phonemic structure, the most important among their formal properties rather than their descriptive or performative or pragmatic functions.”
There is no trace of mantra repetition in the Buddha’s original teaching in the Pāli Canon. This may be due to the reason that mantras were often taught by the Brahmins in the time of the historical Buddha. Since their practice of mantras led people to depend on their magic powers by encouraging one’s desires, this “practice with a mantra does not develop the perceptions of impermanence, dukkha and not-self so that liberation by wisdom, the fruit of complete enlightenment cannot be won with it.” Therefore, according to the teaching of the historical Buddha, he strongly discouraged this way to recite and use mantras. Below is an example in which the Buddha satirized the use of mantra as a way to burn off one’s evil karma and rid oneself of illness: (If) you get a rash all over your body, you are full of suffering and almost wish to pass away. At this time, you gave up right view and go looking for other solutions. There is quite a number of Samana Brahmans reciting mantras in one sentence, two sentences, three sentences, four sentences, multiple sentences and hundreds sentences. They attempt these recitations so they can lead themselves to be free from physical suffering. Actually, this is to seek impetrate and because they enjoy suffering. In this way, how can suffering be ended? However, later Buddhists were influenced by India and incorporated thousands of mantras into Buddhist works. The situation is complex since the explanation of mantra has to depend on the context, whether with regard to mantras used in the southern Buddhist countries. The function of “a mantra has a use rather than a meaning—a use in context.” For example, Buddho, Samma Araham and Anicca Dukkha Anatta—or in eastern countries, Avalokiteśvara and Amitābha. Reciting Buddho has differences from mantra reciting in Tantric rituals. The main emphasis of the Tantric ritual is to chant the mantra numerous times rather than understand it. When reciting Buddho as taught by Ajahn Sao, the practitioner similarly needs to pay no attention to Buddho’s meaning. However, the function of Buddho can be seen in the need for alertness. When reciting Buddho, quantity (the number of recitations) is not important; instead, quality, or the level of concentration, is central. In this sense, Ajahn Brahm has pointed out that Buddho is like a mantra such as OM. This notion of mantra as an ancient yogic idea is recorded in the Amŗtabindu Upanişad. However, reciting buddho is not a jhāna practice. Instead, it is just a way of training the mind to become concentrated and only leads to upacāra samādhi, as has been pointed out previously. Meanwhile, reciting buddho has prominent characteristics differentiating it from Buddhānussati (Recollection of the Buddha), even though both of these practices involve reciting the term buddho in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition. Buddhānussati can be used to develop the recollection aspect of mindfulness, and it serves in two situations. First, the historical dhutāṅgas monks do apply Buddhānussati in their daily lives, especially when they are in dangerous situations. For example, one day, Ajahn Chah encountered a wild tiger in the forest while he was doing meditation at night. At that moment, he recollected the Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. The recollection released him from fear and he returned back to silence. Second, another important situation in which Buddhānussati is applied is in meditation. When reciting the single meditation word “Buddho” is combined with the breath, the recitation may become too easy and monotonous, causing the mind to go astray and wander away from the task at hand. In this situation, recollection will play a role. It is a process of switching from the mantra buddho to buddhānussati. The practitioner needs to recall the meaning of the word Buddho. This application of thought to what the meditator is doing can prevent thoughts from slipping away and can bring attention back to the reciting. This method is called kwam ralueg dai in Thai, and the Pāli concept is sati, remembering or concentration. The practitioner applies the mind in reference to a specific task: the virtues or the teachings of the Buddha. This method is different from reciting the mantra of buddho. As has been mentioned, buddho recitation involves sampajañña, clear comprehension. Yet, this method is not widely used by Ajahns in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition. Thus, when people discuss buddho meditation, they usually reference it by considering it as awareness.
Even though the Pāli Canon forbids using mantras, the recitation of mantras or the repetition of certain phrases in Pāli is an extremely common form of meditation in the Thai tradition. The folk medicine practitioners in Thailand even use mantra therapies for curing patients. There is a Thai belief that to chant a mantra in Pāli is a method from the time prior to the Buddha. The way to practice is to gather the sound in the navel, through the stomach, lungs, and out the mouth. “There was no need to think about the meaning of the words; the power came from the particular vibrations they created. Vibrations are what make up the universe.” An example is the method of chanting jinapañiaraa discovered by Ajahn Somdet Toh, who was probably the most famous and widely loved monk in nineteenth century Thailand. There is a belief that to recite jinapañjara is good for harmonizing the blood. This practice is still popular in modern Thailand. Because of this cultural influence, the forest tradition added the mantra of buddho to mindfulness training. Nonetheless, the main difference between these two kinds of mantra applications is their purpose: the forest practice is more focused on the wholesome mind rather than the physical body. From the discussion above, people may realize that buddho in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition does not simply mean “Buddha,” as in the Pāli Canon. It plays multiple roles in the meditation process. In other words, it is neither a fully pure mantra nor buddhānussati. When buddho is the main subject in meditation, its function is to gather the attention. This is the main function of buddho in meditation and is similar to the function of a mantra. Meanwhile, when it is used as an assist to breathing meditation, it also plays the role of Buddhānussati sometimes, when the attention slips away. In this way, the functions of buddho are switchable. Thus, Polak claims that the Visuddhimagga states that the subject of meditation known as “the recollection of the Buddha” is developed in a completely different way from the buddho recitation. This statement points out that the major function of buddho is not the recollection of the Buddha in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition. The technique of reciting buddho has its unique characteristics compared with buddhānussati. First, it does not contain “other-power,” the power from the Buddha. The main function of reciting buddho requires concentration on one point. In the teaching of Ajahn Lee, he taught that during meditation, the practitioner’s mind should be on a single word, buddho. It means that one should bundle the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha into a single word. Therefore, during meditation, the meditator should practice one-pointed concentration without scattering his or her thoughts. He or she cannot disperse the attention to recollect the qualities of the Buddha, since he or she has to concentrate on this word. Therefore, receiving the “other-power” from the Buddha is not the main purpose of this practice. Second, the word buddho can be replaced if it is necessary. During meditation, the mantra of buddho can be replaced with a word such as “pain” due to a distraction in the body caused by feeling pain, for example. As long as the mind can maintain awareness, other objects also can be a “mantra.” In this case as well, to rely on other-power is not the key point. The case of reciting buddho in Buddhānussati is different. When the practitioner repeats the holy word of buddho in buddhānussati, he or she has to repeat it clearly and sincerely and recall the virtues of the Buddha; no other meaningless word can replace it, since this word relates to other-power. Third, the meaning of buddho does not play a significant role in the buddho reciting meditation. Occasionally, the meaning of “awakening/awareness” does serve as a reminder of the meditative quality that one is cultivating. Thus, during meditation, the practitioner does not necessarily need to know the exact meaning of buddho. This point also has been mentioned in the previous paragraphs. For instance, Ajahn Sao did not focus on the meaning when he taught reciting buddho. In this situation, if one does not even know the definition of buddho, how to recollect the Buddha and rely on his power? In contrast, with the practice of buddhānussati, one not only needs to know the meaning of buddho but also has to recall his virtues.
Furthermore, there is a marked difference in that the mantra of buddho recitation is not suggested for use when attending the deathbed of someone who has not practiced buddho. This is another significant point of variance with buddhānussati, indicating these two methods are not playing the same roles during meditation. One example in Ajahn Chah’s teaching emphasized that it is important to concentrate on the breath when repeating the mantra of buddho in each moment and not to let the mind wander off anywhere; he did not suggest that we recite buddho for people on their deathbed if they have never practiced this method. He taught that, What are they going to do with Buddho? What good is Buddho going to be for them when they’re almost on the funeral pyre? Why didn’t they learn Buddho when they were young and healthy? Now with the breaths coming fitfully you go up and say, “Mother… Buddho, Buddho!” Why waste your time? You’ll only confuse her, let her go peacefully. Clearly, this opinion about “buddho” is totally opposite to the use of the method of buddhānussati. On the deathbed, most people are full of fear and hopelessness. One of the functions of Buddhānussati is releasing people from these negative mental situations; recollecting the Buddha can help people feel comfortable and peaceful and help them feel like they have something to rely on. As we can see, buddho plays a main function as a mantra in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition, and it has its unique characteristics. The repeating of buddho has no function of “other-power” in the meditation practice and emphasizes awareness. No matter if one knows the meaning of buddho or not, no matter if one recites the word buddho or another word, as long as one can be aware of what one is reciting, one’s mind will calm down and one’s heart will be completely filled with awakened awareness, according to the belief in Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition. Then genuine peace will come from the cessation of craving, aversion and delusion. Samādhi will occur naturally. The Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition believes that this is the noble path to gain wisdom and to reach the ultimate goal: to be free from suffering. In this study, Pāli canonical sources are reviewed with regard to the use of buddho and its various benefits; many methods are presented in the Canon for practicing what is known as buddhānussati, the Recollection of the Buddha. The positive effects of Buddhānussati are illustrated in the various methods recommended for focusing on objects such as the Buddha’s special qualities, praising the benefits of habitual Recollection of Buddha: the benefit of being protected from reactions of fear and terror due to outside conditions and of cultivating peace rather than detachment. Contrasting with this overall favorable support in the Pāli Canon is an alternative view by Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga that the recollection of the Buddha leads only to a preliminary stage of samatha meditation. The Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition has its own, unique meditation techniques. For instance, adding the mantra of buddho to the meditation appears neither in the Pāli Canon nor in other canonical sources, the Visuddhimagga as a significant example. Buddho recitation in meditation is unique to the kammaṭṭhāna tradition, but there is a long tradition of mantas use in Thai Buddhism. The Buddha did criticize the use of mantras if they were used for warding off evil kamma. Modern Ajahns speak freely of the wide use of mantras in Thai Buddhism and in society as a whole. Buddho was used as a meditation object without regard to the meaning of the word; in some cases, Ajahns said the practitioner could replace it with another word. It is because a nimitta has the function of focusing the attention that the word buddho is used.
As can be seen from the above observations, the characterization of the Ajahns in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition is as being holders of an unbroken lineage of transmission that has succeeded in surviving and communicating itself in a pure form is an unreliable one. However, although these Thai Ajahns were self-taught meditators in some ways, they still capture the heart teachings of the Buddha on the training of contemplation. The Ānāpānasati Sutta indicates a progression from focusing on the breath with full awareness to a state of increased calm and tranquility. The Ajahns in the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition also focus on purifying the mind and letting it be free from the Five Hindrances. Then, with the strength of concentration, discernment increases. This is the common way leading to the nibbāna in both teachings in the canonical sources and the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition. Thus, if we say the Thai kammaṭṭhāna tradition cannot at any rate be seen as going back to the Buddha himself, such a statement seems arbitrary, although the tradition does contain some elements that have very little to do with the original form of early Buddhist meditation.