11: Graduation System

What is the graduation System? Why was it needed?

We found after 4 years of practicing Buddhism, that we were unable to judge the progress we made in these years. We found our education system very effective in telling our progress and also motivating us for further progress.

The graduation System that we devised to judge our progress is similar to our educational system. This will help us to measure our progress and also motivate us. But there is a difference. Here we will have to judge our progress for ourselves as no one else can know what progress we have made. This chapter provides us the necessary progress guidelines.


Level 1(1 yr): We are aware of all our actions and are able to avoid breaking any of the precepts in action.

Level 2(2 yr): We are aware of our speech in addition to our actions and are able to avoid breaking any of the precepts in action and speech.

Level 3(3 yr): We have achieved above level and are aware of all our thoughts and are able to avoid breaking any of the precepts in thoughts.

Level 4(4 yr): We are aware of all our thoughts, speech and actions through the day and are able to avoid breaking any of the precepts in action, speech and thought. We maintain awareness all the time.

Level 5(5 yr): We have achieved above levels and are able to meditate properly and for at-least 1 hour per day for at least 4 days per week. We now understand the importance, benefits and procedure for meditation.


Level 6(6 yr): We have achieved above levels and are free from greed, anger and ignorance. Ignorance in the sense that we now that all things in this universe are impermanent, that there is no permanent entity as soul and there is dukkha in attaching to things conditioned by impermanence and concept of permanent soul

Level 7(7 yr): We have achieved above levels. We understand the cycle of karma better. We understand karma better, i.e. we are aware our such and such an action will bear good or bad or no future implications.

Level 8(8 yr): We have achieved the above levels. We understand the different world systems, that of humans, gods, demons, hell, animals and hungry ghosts. We know what kind of action brings one to a particular world system. We understand the impermanent nature of all the world systems. We can empathize with the sufferings of each world system. We are thus motivated to grow above these world systems to be free from sufferings.

Level 9(9 yr): We have achieved the above levels. We know all the 12 links of dependent origination. We know which cause has which effect. We are able to intercept on at least one of the links and are able to break the cyclic cause and effect relationship and thus are very near to achieving Nirvana. Thus we know and act such that all your actions, speech and thought are free from cause and effect. All our karmas are now non-volitional i.e. not involving desire or craving.

Level 10(10 yr): We have achieved the above levels. We have now attained Nirvana and can see the world as it is. The world as impermanent, with no concept of self and the world full of sufferings caused due to ignorance to see the truth. Thus free from ignorance all actions, speech and thoughts are perfected. We are now an Arahant. But wait! Be cautious! We may not have achieved Nirvana and will be lethargic and can drift back from this stage. So we must maintain our awareness and maintain the state where all our sufferings have ended because of our wholesome acts or acts not involving desire. We may still have to suffer physical pain as our human body has a tendency to decay, old age and death. We may also have to suffer for our bad karma in the past but no new karma is created.

The years mentioned against each level is to give an idea of the amount of effort one needs to put at each level to attain Nirvana. Thus with proper efforts we can achieve Nirvana in 10 years or less or more depending on our efforts and grasping of insight and acting upon it and also on the level and effort in meditation. We may not achieve complete perfection in each level unless we go to the next level. E.g. our actions and speech will not be perfect unless we reach level 3 where our thoughts are purified. Our thoughts will not be pure unless we are totally aware all the time of all our thoughts in level 4, which will not be perfected unless in level 5 our meditation is perfected and we have trained our mind to monitor itself.

10: Rebirth:

Rebirth is transfer of life from one physical body to another.

Normally soul is supposed to be a permanent entity residing in the body of a living being that differentiates it from non-living things. When a living being dies that soul leaves the body and finds another body to be reborn as another living being.

But in reality there exists no such permanent entity as soul. There is just a continuation of consciousness. Rebirth is in the form of continuous change in our body and mind. Thus we are continuously born and reborn. This concept is equally applicable to both form of rebirth that of rebirth in same life and after life. So you do not need a proof of rebirth for this chapter to be applicable to you.

Rebirth is a very important doctrine in Buddhism. Buddha refuted following doctrines as not true and will not lead to human development:

  1. One of nihilism that says that there is no birth after this birth. Thus there is no future opportunity to do good or rectify our bad karma.
  2. One of fatalism where one’s future is predetermined and there is no role of our will and no way to rectify our future.
  3. Where one’ future is determined by an act of external agent.

When we speak of Rebirth in Buddhism, we must give reference to the three Universal truths relating to existence:

  1. Dukkha
  2. Anatta
  3. Anitya
  1. Dukkha: (discussed in chapter 2 under Four Noble Truths) is also translated as unsatisfactoriness. This unsatisfactoriness of our life is what gives rise to our Karma, which in turn is the cause for continuation of our life. Until our karma and desire for life are exhausted life continues.
  2. Anatta: is the concept of no soul or no self. As discussed earlier, there is no such thing as a permanent soul that is transferred from one body to another. Instead it is a continuation of our consciousness. This continuation of consciousness is not only on rebirth but it happens all the time for all living beings. From birth till death we are continuously changing both physically and mentally. Our thoughts, values, tastes, circumstances all change continuously. But there is a link between the changes our awareness, our memories, our link to the changing physically body and mind. This link of awareness and memories associated with life is what we call consciousness. As the link of consciousness exists from birth till death, the same continues even after death to the new body to form what we call rebirth.
  3. Anitya i.e. impermanence: We change, our relatives change, our friends change, our environment change, our situations change. They give us temporary illusion of permanence. We still consider these as permanent. We have grown up with this illusion and we even teach the same to our children.

Nama and Rupa: Illusion of permanent entity or Identity is given by “nama and rupa” or Mind and Form duality. We confuse Name or Identity with form, and Form with name or Identity. Our language plays an important part in misleading us into believing that the name and form are one. While the form keeps changing we give it the same name, giving the impression of permanence. A popular analogy from “Milinda-Panha” (Questions of king Milinda) is that of a river, we call the river with the same name while the water is continuously flowing and at no moment there is same water in it to be called the same river. So is it with us, we keep on changing but still are referred by the same name.

The same process occurs at the time of death and rebirth. Our body changes, our consciousness is transferred to other body, we are reborn. The process is nothing different that during we are alive. Another analogy from the same book “Milinda Panha” is that of milk – milk first transforms into curd, curd into butter and butter into ghee. Once milk transforms into curd, we do not call it milk. Similarly for butter and for ghee, we do not call it milk or curd or butter once it has transformed. Thus after rebirth we cannot call ourselves the same person we were before rebirth nor can we call ourselves a totally different person as we have the same origin.

Concept of Rebirth builds on the concept of Karma that we discussed in previous chapter. The cycle of karma and its result forms the basis for the cycle of birth and death. Rebirth need not take place into human beings only. A person can be born into any of the 32 world systems depending on the gravity of the karma performed during this lifetime and previous lives.

Nirvana and rebirth: There is an important relations between rebirth and nirvana. After attaining nirvana, there is no desire left, no karma left, no continuity of consciousness, body continues its journey to old age and death and there is no further rebirth. While on attaining nirvana there is no rebirth at consciousness level during the lifetime, after death even body ceases to be reborn.

Rebirth and Karma are two important concepts that must be understood properly. They form an important part of right understanding or Wisdom and a strong basis for why we must maintain morality.

9: Karma or Kamma

What is Karma?

Karma or kamma in simple sense is any action that can have a good or bad future effects. It is sometimes referred as cause eg. “Whatever is happening in your life is because of your good karma or bad karma”. Similarly karma is also referred as effect eg. “What is happening to you is your karma”. This is also the natural law of morality and not enforced by anybody. It works like all other natural laws.

All actions do not lead to effects in future. These actions with no future implications are non-volitional kamma (actions). These are actions that do not involve will or desire, like eating, drinking water, answering call of nature, walking, sleeping, etc. Thus only actions that involve will/desire/volition forms a karma and have future effects. Thus karma has a cause and effect relationship with our good or bad future, karma being the cause and our good or bad future being its result. This cause and effect relationship is also called as the Law of Kamma. This law also explains why some people suffer while some don’t, why some are poor and some are rich, why some are beautiful and some are ugly, why some are healthy and some are sick, why some are stupid and some are wise.

We will definitely argue that there are people doing all the wrong things and still living a happy life and there are people who do nothing wrong but suffer endlessly.

The law of karma is complex and we tend to forget what we have done. Also we never think of associating what has happened to what we have done. We also lack the ability of Buddha to link every karma to a past action, sometimes extending to infinite previous births (Jataka Tales are stories of Buddha’s previous births).

Factors affecting karma

  1. Kamma is a natural law and no one enforces this law, like Newton’s laws of motion, Thermodynamics, etc.
  2. Kamma cannot be transferred
  3. It does not end with end of present life.
  4. Everything that happens to us cannot be attributed to karma.
  5. Depending on cause, Kamma can be classified into
    1. Good karma,
    2. Evil or bad karma
    3. Neither good nor bad karma.
  6. Depending on the how the karma bears fruit it is classified as
    1. Weighty (serious karma – good or bad)
    2. Proximate (karma at time of death – which determines our next birth),
    3. Habitual
    4. Reserve (other than all three).
  7. Depending on time it bears fruit
    1. Present birth
    2. Next birth
    3. Subsequent births
  8. Depending on function it can be classified into:
    1. Reproductive (that which bears result),
    2. Supportive (they do not bear result but support the result of other karma),
    3. Obstructive (they reduce the effect of other karma) and
    4. Destructive (they nullify the effect/result of other karma).
  9. Not everything that happens to us can be attributed to karma.

8: The Insight Chart

Dependent Origination chart in Buddhism
Dependent Origination as Insight Chart

This Insight Chart is adapted from ‘Dependent Origination’ or ‘Wheel of Life’ chart ?

On the day Buddha attained Nirvana, during his meditation, he saw the true nature of all things and why people are unhappy. He understood the dependent origination. One thing leads to other and it forms a cycle which is difficult to break without proper understanding. Buddha understood why some people are happy and some are unhappy and are suffering. What he found out after years of effort, he made it available to everyone to benefit. He found the nature of all things, the dependent origination and the path to Nirvana. Now it is on each of us to put in effort and be free from suffering.

The Dependant Origination:

1.  Ignorance – It is the root cause of suffering

2.  Volitional Activities – With Ignorance arises Volitional Activities

3.  Relinking Consciousness – With Volitional Activities arises Relinking Consciousness

4.  Name and Form – With Relinking Consciousness arises Name and Form duality

5.  Six Senses – Name and Form is accompanied by the Six Senses of Sight, Hearing, Taste, Touch, Smell and  the Mind emulates all other five senses.

6.  Contact – With Six Senses arises contact with their respective Sense objects that of Sight Object, Sound, Taste object, touch object, smell object and mental objects

7.  Sensation – With contact arises sensation

8.  Craving – With sensation arises carving

9.  Attachment – With carving arises attachment

  1. Kamma – Bhava – With attachment arises Kamma – Bhava, our reactions
  2. Birth – With Kamma – Bhava (our reactions) arises birth or becoming
  3. Old Age and Death – With birth arises Old Age and Death and all other related sufferings

There are two charts here. One is the original and lively pictorial chart in chapter on Dependent Origination, and the other, Insight Chart in this chapter, is the same chart mapped on the palm for better memorization and practice in daily life. Readers here have a choice to prefer the first chart or the second chart or both for different place and time. For being constantly aware of the dependent origination, we have had it adapted to be plotted on our Right Palm where we do not have to make any changes.

This chart shows how some people make their life miserable with their wrong thoughts, speech and action and how some people enjoy good life after freeing themselves of the root causes of suffering (Ignorance, greed and anger). It also shows the cause and effect relationship that makes our future good or bad and also how we can break the chain of cause and effect to become free of suffering and attain Nirvana.

Starting from the center of the palm,

1.  The three root causes of suffering ignorance, greed and anger depicted by the edges of inner triangle of the palm.

2.  Beings sliding down into life of suffering (marked by the dark arrow pointing down adjacent to line of greed in the picture) and Beings climbing up (Marked by a white arrow adjacent to edge of ignorance).

3.  The Six worlds (marked on the mounts of the palm) of that of Human, Titans or asuras, Gods, Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Hell beings.

4.  The Four fingers with their three phalanges each shows the twelve links of cause and effect relationships.

5.  The thumb which has control of all activities of the palm represents the Mara – The God of Death who does not the let the activities stop.

6.  The term Dependent Origination is also used for the 12 links forming a cycle of life & death or of each karma and its result. Each link is a cause for next link. We can stop the wheel/break the cycle by breaking any one of the 12 links. Thus the simplest way to attain Nirvana is breaking the cycle of karma. And breaking the cycle is breaking just one link. It is very easy, but to do that we need a lot of discipline and also right understanding. That brings us back to following the 8 fold path. This book will guide you through the process of freeing you from the cycle of karma. Of the 12 links we can observe 4 links being broken with each of the link being broken as we progress. Refer fig. 1 & 3. First fig shows the eight fold path on the palm, with action, speech, thought, awareness and concentration marked from top to bottom. Compare this with the 12 links in fig. 3. As soon as you start observing your actions and speech you start to break the cycle at the kamma-bhava (actions) link on index finger. When you observe your thoughts you break the cycle at craving link on middle finger as craving is followed by a flood of thoughts. With awareness you break the contact link on tip of ring finger as you are aware when there is any sense contact. You will observe how finer control is gained as you progress. With meditation you get still finer control of your karma on the little finger as your Volitional Activities are under control. Finally when you move towards your right hand and with insight you completely eradicate ignorance and you become finally free from the cycle of karma/wheel of life and move towards achieving Nirvana.

7: Dependent Origination

WheelOfLife or Dependent Origination Chart
Wheel Of Life, source:

The ‘Dependent Origination’ is also known as The ‘Wheel Of Life’ or Bhavachakra. It shows how and why beings suffer due to their karma or willful actions.
At the center of the chart there is

  • A pig with its ears falling over its eyes representing ignorance / delusion,
  • A cock who feeds continuously representing greed / lust
  • A snake representing anger.

All three animals are seen holding the other animal’s tail representing dependent relation between delusion, greed and anger I.e. Dependent on delusion arises greed/lust, with greed/lust arises anger and with anger arises further delusion. We can fall down far lower than what can be represented by these poor animals.
Next to it is another ring showing beings falling down in lower realms and beings rising in better realms – engrossed or freed from greed, anger and delusion.
Surrounding it are the six world systems or realms where a being can exist dependent on their karma.


  • Gods(Deva): They have everything they want and have a pleasurable life. They have a very long life which seems eternal. This world is again divided into 16 world ranging from angels to the highest Brahma Loka. But once their good karma has exhausted they have to return back into one of the lower realms. Here a white Buddha can be seen playing harp reminding the Gods that their stay is temporary.
  • Titans/Demi-gods/Demons(Asura): They have everything they want, including wealth and power, but still fight amongst themselves and with Gods for more. Here a green Buddha can be seen with a flaming sword in hand teaching them moral restraint.
  • Humans(Manushya): In this world human beings experience both pleasures and pains of all the other world systems. In addition Humans can have knowledge, will and ability needed to attain Nirvana and be free from suffering. This is why Human birth is fortunate and most suitable for attaining Nirvana among all the realms. This is also the reason why we must not waste this birth and mind our karma, and if possible try to attain Nirvana. We must also note that we now have the Buddha’s teachings – the guide, to attain Nirvana, which may in few 100 or 1000yrs be lost and the world may have to wait for the arrival of the next Buddha, which may be a very long long time. Here a yellow Buddha is seen teaching humans four noble truth and showing path to enlightenment.

Duggati:(woeful states)

  • Hungry Ghost (Peta yoni): They keep on lusting after things, but are unable to get it. It is represented by beings with large belly and small mouth unable to eat enough to fill their stomach. Even what little they swallow causes intense fire in their stomach and whatever they drink turns into blood. Here a red Buddha can be seen holding a bottle of potion to heal these beings and teaching them to be generous.
  • Hell (Naraka): Beings in this realm are tortured mercilessly. The hell is divided into hot and cold hells. Here Mara can be seen at the center holding a mirror in one hand and a weighing scale in other showing beings their deeds and giving punishment as per the weight of their karma. Here an indigo Buddha can be seen holding a lantern showing light of enlightenment in the darkness of hell.
  • Animals (Prani): Here beings lack knowledge about good or bad/right or wrong and hence are unable to control their karma. This is also the only realm visible to us with our limited senses. Here a blue Buddha can be seen with a book in hand imparting wisdom and virtue of ethical conduct.

It can be observed that while some beings experience pain and others pleasure, what is common is that the state is impermanent and leads to Dukkha/unsatisfactoriness and the only way out of Dukkha is Nirvana.
The outer ring is the 12 dependent links or the dependent origination.

  1. Avijja:There is a blind man walking with the help of a stick. It represents Ignorance/Dellusion.
  2. Dependent on Ignorance arises volitional activities. It is represented by a potter making a pot (forming own karma with own actions).
  3. Dependent on volitional activities arises relinking consciousness, represented by a monkey jumping from one branch of tree to another leaving half-eaten fruit for another, like our mind never still for even a moment.
  4. Nama-Rupa: Dependent on relinking consciousness arises name and form duality. It is represented by twins rowing a boat.
  5. On name & form depends our six senses(five senses + mind which can emulate all the other senses). It is represented by a house with five windows and a door.
  6. Dependent on the six senses arises contact of each sense with its corresponding object. It is represented by a man and woman embracing.
  7. Dependent on contact arises sensation or feeling blinding us from choosing right from wrong. It is represented by a man with arrow pierced in his eye.
  8. Depending on contact arises craving. It is represented by a woman offering a drink to a man.
  9. Depending on craving arises attachment, represented by a monkey plucking a fruit from tree – a reaction a result of craving.
  10. kamma-bhava :On attachment arises becoming represented by a man and woman making love and giving rise to new life.
  11. Jati: On becoming arises birth represented by a woman giving birth.
  12. On birth arises sickness, old age and death and all suffering related with life.

This ‘wheel of life’ can be seen rotated continuously by Mara – the symbolic God of death. Mara can be seen with three eyes four legs with claws and with sharp teeth rotating the Wheel of Life and not letting it stop.
Outside the wheel of life Buddha can be seen completely free from the Dependent Origination or the ‘Wheel of Life’ showing his disciple the way of Nirvana.

6: Meditation on Brahma Viharas

Karuna, Metta, Upekka and Mudita are four kinds of Brahma Viharas or heavenly abodes (or states of mind). Essence of any one of them cannot be grasped without knowing the other three Brahma Viharas.

Karuna: Karuna is compassion for all people and beings who are less gifted than us and are suffering. It helps us reduce our pride and greed.

Mudita: Mudita is Sympathetic joy or feeling joy in prosperity and happiness of others. This emotion is developed for people or beings better gifted than us. It helps us reduce our jealously.

Upekka: Upekka is Equanimity. It is, treating all people and all beings equal and accept others as they are. It helps us reduce our indifference.

Metta: Metta is love for all beings. We usually love only those we are related and like. But Metta is loving all beings without any conditions whether they are rich or poor, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, ill & diseased or healthy, whether we know them or not, whether they are humans or animals or other beings. It helps us reduce our hate and anger.

Most of our emotions love, hate, anger, sympathy, etc are for our personal need/greed or towards those we know or love. But these Brahma Viharas are emotions that are noble and encompass all beings and are non-selfish.
These help us overcome greed, anger, hate, possessiveness and jealously.  But these emotions or states of mind are uncommon in most of us. Hence they need to be consciously developed.

Metta meditation is a common practice in Buddhist meditation. You can practice meditation on these Brahma Viharas. Here is the instructions you can follow to develop these Brahma Viharas:

Begin by sitting comfortably in traditional meditation posture – legs folded, back straight and head lightly balanced on the shoulder. Those uncomfortable can sit on chair with feets flat on the floor.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath.  Observe each part of your body slowly from head to toe.  As you observe each part relax the part relieving any tension on that part.

Then mentally repeat these statements to develop Brahma Viharas:

  1. May I have
    • good health (to do all my tasks, support my family, help society and care all beings),
    • wealth (and all resources including money to meet my needs, my family needs and provide for the needy),
    • love & respect (for myself, from all relatives, friends and all people I know),
    • success (in all things I do and intend to do for myself, for my family and at my profession) and
    • mindfulness (and awareness of all actions, speech & thoughts at all time whether I am alone or with my family or at my profession)
  2. May my family including my spouse, children, parents, in-laws & brothers & sisters have good health… wealth… love… success… and mindfulness.
  3. May my neighbors, friends, colleagues and all people I know have good health… wealth… love… success… and mindfulness.
  4. May all human being from my community, my country, my neighboring countries and all other countries on this earth have good health… wealth… love… success… and mindfulness.
  5. May all beings visible and invisible, on ground and water and air, on earth and everywhere in this universe have good health… wealth… love… success… and mindfulness.

Now slowly bring your body to normal state observing it from toe to head and open your eyes.

This is a combined meditation to develop all the Brahma Viharas. You can change the instructions to develop each Brahma Viharas separately.

This meditation is also in tune with recent science behind brain entrainment, neurolinguistic programming, etc.

Health, wealth, love, success and mindfulness in these instructions are again associated with our five fingers. They are also different aspects of our life we must care for.

  1. Health is associated with little finger which is weaker finger.
  2. Wealth is associated with ring finger having our diamond/gold ring.
  3. Love is associated with middle finger. If you have already read the rest of the book “Attaining Nirvana”, then you are now ready to assign this finger a better and respectful meaning it deserves.
  4. Success is associated with index finger which is also associated with destiny.
  5. Mindfulness is associated with thumb. It was associated with drink/intoxicatants in thumbs-up position and loss of awareness. It reminds us to remain always mindful.

The five groups of people in the meditation are also mapped to the fingers, so you do not lose direction in the meditation.

  1. Little finger denotes you.
  2. (Engagement)Ring finger denotes your relatives.
  3. Middle finger (assigning it better meaning again) denotes all the people you know and love.
  4. Index finger denoting all human beings.
  5. Thumb (we assigned it to mara observing all world systems and not letting the Cycle of Samsara to stop) denoting all other beings.

5: The Practice Chart

Noble Eight Fold Path in Buddhism mapped on hand
Noble Eight Fold Path

The aim of this chart is to be aware of our deeds/karma as it is being done. In our daily life we are not aware whether what we have done is good or bad karma. With the help of this chart we can see all the karma that we have done after it has been done, like taking intoxicant, speaking lies, etc. After practicing it for some time, we will be at least aware of our actions  as they are being done. Awareness that we should change is important before we can change ourselves.

For practicing this figure is represented on the left palm, so that we can easily make markings on it with our right hand.(Left handed people can use this figure on right hand.).For attaining Nirvana, Buddha taught the Eight Fold Path, which is as under:

  • Sila: 1) Right Speech 2) Right Action 3) Right Livelihood
  • Samadhi: 4) Right Effort 5) Right Awareness 6) Right Meditation
  • Panna: 7) Right Thought 8) Right Understanding

With the help of the figure we can follow Sila and Samadhi aspects of attaining Nirvana. While Panna is left for the Second part of this Book, which will complete all aspects of attaining Nirvana.

The representations are as follows (Kindly re-read the details of each representation in previous chapters. Also see the figure as you read the rest of this chapter) :

The five fingers represent the five precepts or panchsheel (Ch.3).

  1. The little finger (weaker finger): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from killing or harming living beings.
  2. The Ring finger (With costly ring on it): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from stealing or taking what is not given.
  3. The (notorious) Middle finger: Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from sexual misconduct.
  4. The index finger (we use to ask someone to be quiet): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from speaking lies, or speaking ill of others.
  5. The thumb (Representing drink in Thumbs Up position): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from taking any intoxicants that affects the normal functioning of our mind.

Three other precepts not represented are followed by monks (We should try these in addition to above precepts at least once in a week or fasting days.)

  1. Abstaining from listening to music and other entertainment which affects our presence of mind.
  2. Abstaining from taking high and cushioned seat which makes us lethargic.
  3. Eating once a day but not after sunset, to maintain control on our greed.

The three  phalanges of each finger represent Morality (Sila) in action, speech and thought. As karma or intentional actions (discussed in next Part of this Book) are performed in thought, speech and action, the five precepts are divided and represented into three by the phalanges. This is so that we do not neglect or give less importance to karma performed in either thought, speech or action. Also as it is very difficult to change our source of livelihood if it has already been chosen or we had no choice, it becomes important that we follow the precepts in thought, speech and action so we have control of our mind and make our livelihood better. Those who have yet to choose their livelihood should choose it wisely as it affects our whole life, our minds and our practice.

The outer part of the palm connected to the fingers is used to mark our awareness or mindfulness in daily life. The marks are made from outside to inside. The markings are done like hour mark on a clock. For each hour that we are aware we make a mark indicating we were aware at that time of the day.  Also as we cannot properly represent a 24hr clock, we represent the marks with arrows pointing outwards as day for that hour and the same arrow pointing inwards as night and the mark having arrows at both ends as being aware for that hour both during day and night.

The circle in the center of palm shown in the figure is used to mark our meditation practice. A smaller circle is drawn for small period of meditation and large circle for longer period of meditation. Here again we draw another concentric circle for meditation done more than once during a day.

The long and bold arrows shown pointing from each finger towards center where we mark meditation is used to indicate the five hindrances that affect our meditation practice. These are

  1. Sloth & Torpor (Laziness): This line is drawn from the little finger – the weaker finger, which does very little work than the other fingers.
  2. Restlessness & Worry : This line is drawn from the ring finger, the diamond/golden ring in your finger giving you the cause for worry and restlessness.
  3. Sensual pleasure: This line is drawn from the middle finger, this is again the notorious middle finger associated with sensual pleasure.
  4. Ill-will: This line is drawn from the index finger, pointing to others, thinking evil of others.
  5. Skeptical doubt: This line is drawn from the thumb. The thumb in up direction says ‘go ahead’ and the same in down direction says ‘it sucks’.

4: Meditation

You have to let it all go, Neo, fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.


We have dedicated a separate chapter to meditation techniques recommended by the Buddha. Although there are many other meditation techniques that can get you concentrated quickly or get you into a higher meditative states, but can lead you to more attachment with self and lead you astray from the path of attaining Nirvana. Readers are recommended to read material from other sources for correct method of meditation.
There are basically two types of meditation – Samatha(Concentration) and Vipassana (Insight).
Vipassana or Insight meditation aims towards practically observing the realities of impermenence, anatta and dukkha internally and externally, to see things as they really are, and thus reducing our attachment and leading toward attaining Nirvana. Vipassana is best practised under the guidance of an experienced teacher and hence will not be covered in this book. You can enrol for a course on Vipassana at your nearest Vipassana Centre.
Samatha or Concentration meditation aims to calm the mind, reduce mental chatter and gain higher meditative states (known as Jhana). There are more than 40 types of Samatha (Concentration) meditation each with different goals and suited to different types of people. They are all covered in Satipatthana Sutta. Satipatthana Sutta is also known as the Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness.

1.  Mindfulness of body: Easy to break bad habits and also helps in improving awareness in daily life. We are aware of whether our hands are relaxed, the position of our head, whether we are leaning forward or backward, whether we are very relaxed or strained.

2.  Mindfulness of breathing: (Covered in Mindfulness of body but mentioned separately due to its simplicity and benefits) Very simple steps and easy to learn and practice. We are mindful of our breath as it comes in and also as it goes out.

3.  Mindfulness of sensations: We now when a sensation has arisen which helps in controlling our thoughts that arise as an effect of sensation. Whether the sensation is good or bad or neither good nor bad, without giving any reaction and just observing it with calm mind.

4.  Mindfulness of thought: We are aware when a thought has arisen and when it has ceased and thus controlling it on time and also leading to controlling our actions based on these thoughts.

5.  Mindfulness of thought objects: We now when a thought has arisen, how it continues and how it then ceases. How one thought gives rise to another thought. How  the arisen thought leads us to actions.

6.  Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditation: This meditation is done to reduce our anger and develop loving kindness towards all beings. Thus this meditation reduces hatred and generates love in us. Anger and hatred is one of the three root cause of suffering.

Five hindrances in meditation

1.  Skeptical doubt

2.  Ill-will

3.  Sensual Pleasures

4.  Restlessness and Worry

5.  Sloth and Torpor (Laziness)

3: Noble Eight Fold Path

You have been down there, Neo. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be…


Noble Eight Fold Path

Sila (Morality)

1.  Right Action

2.  Right Speech

3.  Right Livelihood

Samadhi (Concentration)

1.  Right Effort

2.  Right Awareness

3.  Right Meditation

Panna (Wisdom)

1.  Right Understanding

2.  Right Thought

1.  Right speech : what is right speech? Right speech is not speaking lies; right speech is avoiding idle talk or gossip; right speech is not slandering; right speech is avoiding harsh speech; thus anything spoken that is morally correct and not offending anyone is right speech.

2.  Right action : what are right actions? They are the panchshila or five precepts: avoid harming living beings; avoiding taking what is not given or avoid stealing; avoiding sexual misconduct; avoiding false speech; avoiding intoxicants.

3.  Right livelihood: earnings from noble source only i.e. Not earning through killing, stealing or cheating, or from any other immoral source. Right livelihood is necessary as it affects our daily life and can hinder our efforts at right speech and action. Also it is very difficult for salespeople to sell without some lies and some businesses cannot survive if shortcomings of their product or services are made public. Choose your livelihood wisely.

4.  Right effort: putting right amount of effort to achieve nirvana. Very little effort will take us nowhere and too much effort can lead to disappointment and lack of faith in achieving nirvana.

  • Also right effort is avoiding bad karma.
  • Right effort is preventing further bad karma from arising.
  • Right effort is developing good karma.
  • Right effort is maintaining good karma that has arisen.

5.  Right awareness: what is right awareness? What are we not aware of? Right awareness is being always aware of what we are doing. Basically it is avoiding day dreaming. But it is more than that. Usually while walking, sitting, driving and all the time we are awake, we are not aware what we are doing, how we are walking, sitting, speaking, etc.

But why is awareness so necessary? It is mostly due to not being aware that we do evil karma. Also it is because of no awareness that we do karma and become aware only after we have done it. Awareness is also necessary to follow the 8-fold path and hence also necessary to achieve nirvana.

  1. Right meditation or concentration: It is very difficult to meditate. Is meditation really necessary to achieve nirvana? We do not have time to meditate for long period. We also cannot meditate for long period as our daily life doesn’t give us enough time to practice such meditation.

Actually awareness is a type of meditation. It can and should be enough to replace the need for meditation. But awareness cannot give us finer control of our mind. Only meditation gives us higher level of awareness of working of our mind also known as meditative states or jhanas.  Meditation makes us aware of what, when and how our sensations transform into thought and thought into action. Thus meditation makes us aware of our karma which is the base for nirvana.

Most people doubt the effectiveness of meditation as the results are not as dramatic as they expect. Only long periods of meditation has any accountable effect. Then is it that laymen cannot really be benefited with little meditation every day?   Actually everyone can be benefited from meditation, only that the benefits of meditation can be seen only through awareness in regular life. As I have already said awareness is a type of meditation and not just that, without awareness meditation is of very little use. This is the reason why people cannot see the effect of meditation.

But like meditation, awareness is also difficult, but can be mastered with determination and discipline.

  1. Right understanding: right understanding is

i.Four noble truth – that there is dukkha, that desire is the root cause of suffering, that there is cessation of suffering and suffering can be conquered by following the 8-fold path.

ii. Dependent origination

iii. Karma

  1. Right thought: I have intentionally interpreted this for our thoughts as a “shila” or morality to complete the chart and also to emphasize the importance of our thoughts in our karma. But it is now time to explain the actual meaning of right thought.

Right thought is also interpreted as right view and also right vision. Right view is:

  • There is rebirth
  • That our karma affects our future life.
  • That nirvana can be achieved by anyone who follows the path.
  • That we are ourselves responsible for our future and it does not depend on an external being.
  • That attaching to everything impermanent causes dukkha.
  • That there is dukkha and we must realize dukkha as it is.
  • That there is no permanent soul and there is no substance in identity.

2: Basics & Four Noble Truth

Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.

–Spoon Boy

This chapter will give you the basic information you need to know to achieve Nirvana or to lead a life free from suffering. This chapter is also the base for the rest of the book. Actually Four Noble Truths in the title of this chapter is the base of teachings of the Buddha.

The  Four Noble Truths

Four Noble Truths is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Also this basic teaching is enough for a person to attain Nirvana. Buddha found the path to eradication of suffering. Following the path one can attain Nirvana and eradicate his sufferings. So we must first know what is suffering (This is the first noble truth). Then we must know the cause of suffering (the second noble truth) so that it can be eradicated. When we know the cause of suffering, how the suffering comes to an end (the third noble truth). When we know how the suffering comes to an end, we need to know what we need to do to eradicate our sufferings (the forth noble truth).

1.  Dukkha (Suffering): Dukkha or Suffering is the First of the Noble Truth. Also Buddha’s teachings revolve around suffering and accepting it as reality, as a truth, and eradicating it with knowledge and understanding. So what exactly is suffering? Suffering is, not getting what one wants. Suffering is, getting rid of what one doesn’t want. Suffering is, fear of not being with our loved ones. Suffering is illness, old age and death.

As suffering forms the base of the Four Noble Truth and Buddhism, Buddhism is often thought as a pessimistic religion. We can compare suffering as disease. Just like knowing the disease is not pessimistic but realistic as it will help us diagnose the disease right and help us get cured soon. Similarly knowing that suffering exists and knowing its nature we will be better able to eradicate our suffering.

2.  Cause of Dukkha (Suffering): Desire/attachment is the root cause of suffering. Desire to get wealth, get power, get love, get peace, get rid of disease and pain, get rid of poverty, get everything that we want and get rid of everything that we do not want. This desire causes in our mind Ignorance, lust (Greed) and anger – the base defilements of our minds that are cause of our suffering.

3.  Cessation of Dukkha (Suffering): With the cessation of desire, the cause of suffering, the suffering also comes to an end. This is the Third Noble truth.

4.  Path to Cessation of Suffering: By following the Noble Eight Fold path Dukkha comes to an end. The Eight Fold Path is grouped into three – Sila (Morality), Samadhi (Concentration), Panna (Wisdom).

Noble Eight Fold Path

Sila (Morality)

1.  Right Action

2.  Right Speech

3.  Right Livelihood

Samadhi (Concentration)

4.  Right Effort

5.  Right Awareness

6.  Right Meditation

Panna (Wisdom)

7.  Right View

8.  Right Resolve

Universal Characteristics of everything conditional:

Three universal truth: We have seen what is four noble truth. While the four noble truth gives us not just hope for the end of our sufferings, but also shows the path which can be followed to end the sufferings, the 3-universal truths is the only thing, the knowledge of which leads to end of suffering and to Nirvana. To really grasp the universal truths we need to understand and follow the four noble truths. So what are the three universal truths?

  • Anicca (impermanence): All things in this world is impermanent.
  • Anatta (No soul or substantialness): There is no permanent soul or substantialness in anything material or immaterial.
  • Dukkha (Suffering): There is dukkha in attaching to everything that is conditioned by mind.

Anicca: Anicca in english means impermanence. This is the first universal truth. Everything that has a beginning comes to an end. In this context everything is impermanent. Everyone knows that. Really? Do we really recognize that our friends, neighbors, relatives, family and we ourselves are impermanent? Do we recognize that our pen, books, dress, car, house, etc are impermanent when we interact with them? When we all know that our earth, moon, sun including our solar system are impermanent and have a finite life span, why do we all fight for petty impermanent things on earth? Wait! There’ more. Do you know that your thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, are impermanent too!

Anatta: Anatta means without self or without soul. It is a popular misconception that there exists a permanent soul within us that remains with us from our birth till death, and for those who believe, after death gets transferred to be reborn as another life. Instead, what we call soul is a continuous link of our ever changing memories or consciousness that is attached to our ever changing physical body. Let us experience it. Are you the same person you were 10yrs ago either physically or mentally? Are you the same person you were 5 yrs ago? Are you the same person you were last week? Are you the same person you were yesterday? Are you the same person you were 10 minutes before? The answer is obvious. No. Why? Because you have changed physically during this time. There has been a lot of biological changes inside you and the changes are continuous. This apart your likes and dislikes, your values, your thoughts, your personality, your knowledge, everything has changed. So how can we call ourselves the same person we were since childhood. How can we have a permanent soul, if it keeps changing so much? The point is, there exists no permanent soul, there is no self, there is no I, no me, no us, no them. It is just a name or identity we use for communication and identification purpose. It’s the duality of name and form that gives us the impression of permanent soul or self. We have been carrying this false concept all our life. What we call self or I is physical and mental link at a point in time. This has to be realized. This is Anatta.

Dukkha: Dukkha is one of the three universal truths. It is common to all living beings and hence Buddha’s teachings are applicable to all living beings of all world systems(discussed later) alike. We have already seen what is dukkha or suffering. We have seen dukkha as suffering, as not getting what one wants, getting rid of what one doesn’t want, not being with our loved ones, illness, old age and death.

Now we see Dukkha as unsatisfactoriness. Dukkha or  suffering or unsatisfactoriness which arises due our wrong understanding of Anicca and Anatta and Dukkha itself. We see impermanent as permanent and get attached to it, which causes Dukkha. We see Anatta or not self as Self and attach to things as my or mine or ours or theirs, this causes suffering. We do not realize Dukkha or suffering or unsatisfactoriness as Dukkha or suffering or unsatisfactoriness, which also causes Dukkha.

If each of our thought, speech and action is based on the realization of these three universal truth then there will be no further desire, no further defilements, thus leading us to our goal of Nirvana.

Five Precepts (Panchshila):

Morality is an important base for attaining Nirvana as mentioned above in Noble Eight Fold Path. These five precepts or panchsila provides an important and simple guideline for laymen about morality.

1.  Abstaining from harming or killing living beings.

2.  Abstaining from stealing or taking what is not given.

3.  Abstaining from sexual misconduct.

4.  Abstaining false speech, harsh speech, slandering and vain talk.

5.  Abstaining from taking intoxicants. (Intoxicant is anything that affects the normal functioning of mind).

There are three additional precepts followed by monks and in general not followed by laymen:

6.  Abstaining from listening to music and other entertainment which affects our presence of mind.

7.  Abstaining from taking high and cushioned seat which makes us lethargic.

8.  Eating once a day but not after sunset, to maintain control on our greed.

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