20 April 2012

The Fivefold Niyāma

Music of the SpheresTHIS TEXT IS ALMOST CERTAINLY one that you have never read before because it comes from the traditional Pāli commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya ascribed to Buddhaghosa (ca. 5th century CE) and as far as I know there is no published translation.

It is interesting to me, and others familiar with Sangharakshita's Dharma teaching, because it is one of the source texts for the five niyāmas, or, more correctly, the fivefold niyāma. Using this list, which is not canonical, but first appears in the commentaries (probably in this commentary), Sangharakshita has painted a picture of conditionality as multi-layered. This is particularly important because it shows how kamma is not the only form of conditionality, and that events may have causes that are nothing to do with our actions. This has become particularly important in the literalistic West, especially under the influence of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who claim, in accordance with their tradition, that everything that happens to us is a result of our actions. This is certainly not the view of the Pāli texts (as discussed in my earlier essay Is Karma Responsible for Everything?). However the lack of translations has made it difficult for people to follow up the sources, and so I offer this one as a start.

Dīgha Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā (2.431)
Commenting on Mahāpadāna Sutta (D 14; PTS D ii.12) [1]: "It is natural [2], bhikkhus, that when a bodhisatta falls [3] from his Tusita (Heaven) form, he enters his mother's belly… this is natural." [4]
BUDDHAGHOSA [5]: says: 'ayamettha dhammatā'—here entering the mothers belly is natural (dhammatā) and is called 'this nature (sabhāva [6]), this certainty (niyāma [7]).' And the five-fold certainty [8] has these names: certainty of actions (kamma-niyāma); certainty of seasons (utu-niyāma); certainty of seeds (bīja-niyāma); certainty of thoughts (citta-niyāma); and the certainty of natures (dhamma-niyāma [9]).

This, 'the giving of pleasant consequences for skilfulness, and unpleasant results for unskilfulness', this is the certainty of actions. There is an illustration. The grounds for this are in the [Dhammapada] verse:
Not in the sky, nor the middle of the ocean,
Nor in a mountain cave;
Though terrified there is nowhere on earth,
Where one might escape from an evil action. [10]
Moreover once a woman quarrelled with her husband and strangled him. Then wanting to die herself she put a noose around her neck. A certain man was sharpening a knife and saw her about to hang herself. Wanting to cut the rope, he ran up to relieve her [calling] 'don't be afraid, don't be afraid.' The rope having become a snake he froze. Frightened he ran. Shortly after the woman died. Thus the danger should be obvious. [11] 
The trees in all the provinces acquire fruit and flowers etc. all at the same time [12]; the wind blowing or not blowing; the quickness or slowness of the sun's heat; the devas sending rain or not; [13] day blossoming lotuses whithering at night; this and similar things are the certainty of seasons. [14] 
From rice seed comes only the rice fruit; from a sweet fruit comes only sweet flavour, and from a bitter fruit comes only bitter taste. This is the certainty of seeds.
From the first aspects of mind and mental events (citta-cetasikā dhammā), to the last, each is conditioned by a condition or precondition (upanissaya-paccayena). Thus that which comes forth from eye-cognition etc. [15] is immediately in agreement [with that cognition]. [16] 
The shaking of the 10,000 world system when the bodhisatta enters his mother's belly and other such phenomena [associated with the life story of the Buddha as told in the Mahāpadāna Sutta], this is called the certainty of natures (dhammaniyāma). Certainty of natures is understood as consisting in this. This was primarily said, bhikkhus, because just this meaning explains dhammatā.



[1] dhammatā, esā, bhikkhave, yadā bodhisatto tusitā kāyā cavitvā mātukucchiṃ okkamati… Ayamettha dhammatā.
[2] Walsh "it is a rule"; or 'it is lawful'. The word dhammatā is an abstract noun from dhamma; so a first parsing suggests it means dhamma-ness. However which meaning of dhamma is being referred to. Translators and commentators agree that it is dhamma as 'nature' (i.e. having a particular nature) as when the Buddha says at his death vayadhamma saṅkhārā 'all constructs are perishable'; i.e. they are of a nature (dhamma) to decay or die (vaya). The text is saying that it is in the nature of things, the nature of the universe that the life events of the Buddha happen as they do. I have no wish to get into the theological debate that necessarily ensues from this statement, I merely wish to establish what the text says, and, following K. R. Norman's dictum, why it says that. If something is in the state of having a nature (dhamma-tā), then that nature (dhamma), is natural (dhammatā) to it. Hence we may translate ayamettha dhammatā as 'this here is natural'.
[3] Men die, but devas living in a devaloka (like Tusita) fall (cavati).
[4] The term dhammatā is then used to describe all the miraculous events of the Buddha's hagiography.
[5] Buddhaghosa is the 5th Century CE author of this commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya. He was born in Indian but worked in Sri Lanka.
[6] The word sabhāva later becomes a technical term in Mahāyāna Buddhism in its Sanskrit guise svabhāva. Here it just means 'state (of mind), nature, condition.' (PED)
[7] Niyama or niyāma the two are confused in Pāli, can be translated several ways. Obviously here it refers to something which just happens, something which always happens in the life of a Buddha, and which must happen. I focus on the last aspect here.
[8] pañca-vidha niyāmaniyāma 'certainty' is singular, and pañcavidha 'five-fold'.
[9] As we will see the term dhammaniyāma is itself defined in terms of the events described above as dhammatā.
[10] Dhammapada v.127 cited by number only in the text. This is the so-called 'law of kamma' or as here 'the certainty of actions' (see also Attwood 2008). This certainty was eroded as time went on, and eventually the Vajrasattva mantra became a way to circumvent any evil kamma, even the atekiccha: "incurable" or "unpardonable" actions (see also example A iii.146).
[11] As best as I can make out this is a magical allegorical story – the rope turns into a snake to prevent the man from saving the woman from being rescued and therefore rescued from the fate she deserves after having strangled her husband. That is to say that the results of actions are inescapable! See also note 10. above. Presumably the idea of a rope turning into a snake did not seem wholly improbable to the bhikkhu saṅgha.
[12] ekappahāreneva 'with just one blow'
[13] It is curious that modern translators often leave out the notion that it is devas who send the rain – they silently remove this supernatural cause and only allow that it rains.
[14] Sayadaw's (1978) 'caloric order' is clearly wrong in this case. What is intended is cyclic seasonal phenomena: the flowering and fruiting of trees in the same season throughout the land, winds, the heat of the sun at different times of the year, and the day night cycles. Indeed utu (Skt. ṛtu) means 'season, time' and can also refer, for example, to the menstrual cycle. I suppose one must concede that from the modern point of view the phenomena mentioned in the text are all related to the heat gradient in the earth's atmosphere caused by its movement around the sun and the tilt of its axis (which might therefore warrant the term caloric (from the Latin calor 'heat'); however the ancient Indians (even the medieval Sri Lankans) did not think in these terms in the 5th century. As I note above they see rain as being sent by devas!
[15] Meaning ear, nose, tongue, body and mind cognition.
[16] The point here seems to be the one made in the Mahātaṇhasaṅkhaya Sutta (M 38), i.e. from whatever condition cognition arises it is named after that. The cognition that arises on condition of eye and form is eye-cognition: (yaññadeva, bhikkhave, paccayaṃ paṭicca uppajjati viññāṇaṃ thena teneva saṅkhaṃ gacchati. cakkuñca paṭicca rūpe uppajjati viññāṇaṃ, cakkhuviññāṇan-t-eva saṅkhaṃ gacchati - M i.259). So a contact between eye and form does not give rise to ear cognition (the formula takes no account of synaesthesia). In a sense the point here is the same as the certainty of seeds: you can't have ear cognition from eye contact.

Attwood, Jayarava. 2008. ‘Did King Ajātasattu Confess to the Buddha, and did the Buddha Forgive Him?’ Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Vol. 15.

Ledi Sayadaw 1978. The Niyama-Dipani: The Manual of Cosmic Order.’ in The Manuals of Buddhism, trans. Barua, B. M., Rhys Davids, C. A. F., & Nyana. Bangkok: Magamakut Press. Online: http://www.dhammaweb.net/html/view.php?id=5

Subhuti. 2011. Revering and Relying upon the Dharma: Sangharakshita's approach to Right View. [A glimpse of Sangharakshita's recent thinking on the niyāmas as discussed with and recorded by Dharmacārī Subhuti.]
For more on the niyāmas in the context of the Triratna Buddhist Order see my friend Dhīvan's website.
For my work-in-progress on translating all the texts which mention the niyāmas see : The Fivefold Niyāma. [pdf]

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