The topic of becoming, although it features one major paradox, contains other
paradoxes as well. Not the least of these is the fact that, although becoming is
one of the most important concepts in the Buddha’s teachings, there is no fullscale
treatment of it in the English language. This book is an attempt to fill that
The importance of becoming is evident from the role it plays in the four noble
truths, particularly in the second: Suffering and stress are caused by any form of
craving that leads to becoming. Thus the end of suffering must involve the end of
becoming. The central paradox of becoming is also evident in the second noble
truth, where one of the three forms of craving leading to becoming is craving for
non‐becoming—the ending of what has come to be. This poses a practical
challenge for any attempt to put an end to becoming. Many writers have tried to
resolve this paradox by defining non‐becoming in such a way that the desire for
Unbinding (nibbana) would not fall into that category. However, the Buddha
himself taught a strategic resolution to this paradox, in which the four noble
truth—the path to the end of suffering—involves creating a type of becoming
where the mind is so steady and alert that it can simply allow what has come
into being to pass away of its own accord, thus avoiding the twin dangers of
craving for becoming or for non‐becoming.
My first inkling that the resolution of the paradox of becoming was
strategic—and paradoxical itself—rather than simply linguistic came from
reading the following passage in The Autobiography of Phra Ajaan Lee. In this
passage, Ajaan Lee is teaching meditation to a senior scholarly monk in Bangkok.
One day the Somdet said, ... “There’s one thing I’m still doubtful about. To
make the mind still and bring it down to its basic resting level (bhavanga): Isn’t
this the essence of becoming and birth?“
“That’s what concentration is,“ I told him, “becoming and birth.”
“But the Dhamma we’re taught to practice is for the sake of doing away with
becoming and birth. So what are we doing giving rise to more becoming and
“If you don’t make the mind take on becoming, it won’t give rise to
knowledge, because knowledge has to come from becoming if it’s going to do
away with becoming.”
This book is essentially an attempt to explore in detail the ways in which the
Buddha’s own resolution of the paradox of becoming employs the very same
In the course of writing this book, I found it necessary to revisit themes
treated in some of my earlier writings. For instance, the topics of clinging and
Unbinding, treated in The Mind Like Fire Unbound, and kamma and causality,
treated in The Wings to Awakening, had to be covered again to give a full picture
of the causes of becoming along with a sense of the rewards that come when
becoming is overcome. But even though there is some overlap between this book
and those—in terms of points made and passages cited—I am treating these
topics from a different angle, posing different questions and arriving at a
different range of answers. Thus the discussion here, instead of being redundant,
adds new dimensions to what was written in those earlier works.
Many people have read earlier incarnations of the manuscript for this book
and offered valuable suggestions for improving its substance and style. In
addition to the monks here at the monastery, I would like to thank the following
people for their help: Ven. Pasanno Bhikkhu, Ven. Amaro Bhikkhu, Michael
Barber, Peter Clothier, Peter Doobinin, Bok‐Lim Kim, Nate Osgood, Xiao‐Quan
Osgood, Rose St. John, Mary Talbot, Ginger Vathanasombat, Barbara Wright,
and Michael Zoll. Any mistakes, of course, are my own responsibility.
He who's an Arahant, his work achieved,
Free from taints, in final body clad,
That monk still might use such words as "I."
Still perchance might say: "They call this mine."
Would such a monk be prone to vain conceits?
[The Blessed One:]
Bonds are gone for him without conceits,
All delusion's chains are cast aside:
Truly wise, he's gone beyond such thoughts.
That monk still might use such words as "I,"
Still perchance might say: "They call this mine."
Well aware of common worldly speech,
He would speak conforming to such use.
or better translation
"No knots exist for one with conceit cast off;
For him all knots of conceit are consumed.
When the wise one has transcended the conceived
He might still say 'I speak,'
And he might say 'They speak to me.'
Skillful, knowing the world's parlance,
He uses such terms as mere expressions."
One neither fabricates nor mentally fashions for the sake of becoming or un-becoming. This being the case, one is not sustained by anything in the world (does not cling to anything in the world). Unsustained, one is not agitated. Unagitated, one is totally unbound right within. One discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'
kowtaaia wrote:Is there really such a thing as 'desire for unbinding'? Surely, longing is in relation to the idea of it.
retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Kow,kowtaaia wrote:Is there really such a thing as 'desire for unbinding'? Surely, longing is in relation to the idea of it.
To use Element's quotation above as a backdrop, 'desire for unbinding' is a mental fabrication.
kowtaaia wrote:The point is that 'desire for unbinding' has nothing to do with the actuality of unbinding, only with the idea of it. The mind of desire has no relationship with unbinding.
kowtaaia wrote:The mind of desire has no relationship with unbinding.
"Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong resolve as wrong resolve, and right resolve as right resolve. And what is wrong resolve? Being resolved on sensuality, on ill will, on harmfulness. This is wrong resolve.
"And what is right resolve? Right resolve, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right resolve with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in the acquisitions [of becoming]; and there is noble right resolve, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.
"And what is the right resolve that has effluents, sides with merit, & results in acquisitions? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness. This is the right resolve that has effluents, sides with merit, & results in acquisitions.
And what is the right resolve that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The thinking, thought, resolve, mental absorption, mental fixity, directing of awareness & vaca sankhara of one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is without effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right resolve that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.
"One tries to abandon wrong resolve & to enter into right resolve: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort & right mindfulness — run & circle around right resolve.
The paradox is when the arahant has seen through the illusion of 'self' and ended craving & attachment, there is still forms of becoming or mental manifestion. However, these becomings are not dukkha because they are free from craving & free from attachment. They are pure undefiled aggregates functioning. The arahant or practitioner (one does not need to be an arahant) understands any thoughts of the mind are merely mental formations, they are sankhara, they are not self.
Drolma wrote:What are undefiled aggregates? I thought that by definition aggregates manifest via ignorance.
I have heard that on one occasion, when the Blessed One was newly Awakened — staying at Uruvela by the banks of the Nerañjara River in the shade of the Bodhi tree, the tree of Awakening — he sat in the shade of the Bodhi tree for seven days in one session, sensitive to the bliss of release. At the end of seven days, after emerging from that concentration, he surveyed the world with the eye of an Awakened One. As he did so, he saw living beings burning with the many fevers and aflame with the many fires born of passion, aversion, and delusion. Then, on realizing the significance of that, he on that occasion exclaimed:
This world is burning.
Afflicted by contact,
it calls disease a "self,"
for by whatever means it construes [anything],
that becomes otherwise from that.
the world is
held by becoming
afflicted by becoming
and yet delights
in that very becoming.
Where there's delight,
there is fear.
What one fears
This holy life is lived
for the abandoning of becoming.
"Whatever priests or contemplatives say that liberation from becoming is by means of becoming, all of them are not released from becoming, I say.
"And whatever priests or contemplatives say that escape from becoming is by means of non-becoming, all of them have not escaped from becoming, I say.
This stress comes into play
in dependence on all acquisitions.
With the ending of all clinging/sustenance,
there's no stress coming into play.
Look at this world:
Beings, afflicted with thick ignorance,
from delight in what has come to be.
All levels of becoming,
in any way,
are inconstant, stressful, subject to change.
Seeing this — as it has come to be —
with right discernment,
one abandons craving for becoming,
without delighting in non-becoming.
From the total ending of craving
comes fading & cessation without remainder:
For the monk unbound,
through lack of clinging/sustenance,
there's no further becoming.
He has conquered Mara,
won the battle,
gone beyond all becomings —