Editor's Foreword

Kalama Sutta, Help Us!

Two Kinds of Language

Looking Within

Happiness & Hunger

The Dhamma-Truth of Samatha-Vipassana
For The Nuclear Age

About Author

About Translator






Lecture with the Buddhist Studies Group
at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
15 December 1961
Translated by Roderick S. Bucknell

In this talk, I will discuss a matter which is extremely important but which most people are inclined to regard as non-essential or as too troublesome to be concerned with. This is extremely important matter concerns looking within, examining all things within ourselves.

Looking within is essential for an understanding of Dhamma or Buddhism. Failure to look at things in the right way can be a barrier to understanding, as when two people disagree because one of them has failed to look at a question in a certain important way and so is not in a position to understand the point that another person is making. Disagreement is usually caused by two parties looking at the matter in question in two different ways.

If we are to understand the teaching of the Buddha, we must look within. The Buddha was concerned exclusively with thing within, and his teaching is an account of what is to be seen when we look within. The teaching of suffering (dukkha) is important - as one of the four Noble Truths, as one link in the chain of conditioned arising (paticca-samuppada), and in other contexts, all of which exclusively concern suffering within. Unless we attempt to look within as the Buddha did, we have little hope of understanding the Dhamma and the teaching of the Buddha. Consequently, I regard this matter as one requiring detailed examination.

My previous three talks were also devoted to this matter of looking within. Looking at the inner life is what Dhamma is all about. We must look within if we are to make Dhamma one with our life. In my third talk, "The World Within," the explanation that I gave of the true meaning of the term "birth" also depended on this important point. Understanding Dhamma correctly is simply a matter of observing the important and relevant aspects of our inner life. It is essential that a person studying Buddhism should practice looking within.

Some people would say that this matter is too complex and that we would do better not to discuss it; they are under the impression that young people are not capable of looking within. That is the old people's view; they themselves would never look within so they try to make out that young people would never look within either. Nevertheless, we need not concern ourselves with that kind of talk. We need not concern ourselves with these notions about how different people look at things; we need concern ourselves only with how we may come to understand this most important of all things: Dhamma.


This brings us to the question: Why speak of a "without" and a "within"? I assume you will understand this yourselves. I don't imagine that you will need anyone to explain to you at great length that all things have these two sides, an outside and an inside, a without and a within. There is a word in philosophy - and in ordinary usage too - the word "quintessence." "Quint" means "fifth," "essence" means "fundamental nature, true substance." "Quintessence" means "fifth essence." Philosophers spoke of four outward essences, the elements earth, water, fire, and air. These four were without. The fifth essence was not earth, not water, not fire, and not air, but something else again, something within, namely consciousness, the mental side of things. It is this fifth element or essence that we must take an interest in and come to understand properly and fully.

I ought to mention here that Buddhism recognizes a sixth essence, a sixth element. The first four elements are earth, water, fire, and air, and the fifth is the mind, the element of consciousness. The sixth element is "the void," the element of voidness. It is also called "nibbana-dhatu," but the most straightforward word for it is "voidness". So we have six elements: earth, water, fire, air, mind (vinnana-dhatu), and voidness (sunnata-dhatu). Mind and voidness are the fifth and sixth essences; they lie deep inside; they are "the within."

Thus, the looking within that we are speaking of means looking at the mind, looking at the ideas of "I" and "my" which are the causes of action good and bad. This is one aspect of Dhamma. As for the sixth essence, this is the state that is void of "I," void of "my," void of the idea of being "I" or belonging to "I" - in other words, void of all defilements. To be free of defilements is to be free of suffering, free of all the things that constitute suffering (dukkha).

That all these six things should be regarded as elements is completely sound; however, the average person is likely to consider this classification unfounded because he knows only the elements earth, water, fire, and air, or the elements of modern chemistry. He does not think of the mind and things even deeper again as elements; and as soon as he hears you call them elements, he is likely to lose interest. The word "element" (dhatu) as used here refers to things that really do exist, nothing more than that. The things without really do exist without; and the things within, which lie so deep that they cannot be seen, likewise exist. Since these deeper-lying things do exist, they too are to be counted as essences, as elements or potentials from which all things are composed.

For clarity of understanding I should add a few further words of explanation. In discussions of Buddhist principles, it is often stated that there are ultimately only three elements; the form element, the formless element, and the quenching element (rupa-, arupa-, and nirodha-dhatu). Of these three terms, the first, "form element," refers to the physical elements, which have discrete physical extension, which can be seen, smelt, or felt. These taken together comprise the form element. The second, "formless element," refers to things that lack this kind of form, but which nonetheless have real existence, things that can be known only through the mind simply because they themselves are of the mind. These taken together comprise the formless element. The third, "quenching element," has real existence too, but it consists in the quenching or extinction of the remaining elements. When the first two elements - form and formlessness - reach this element, they are quenched; they become devoid of meaning as if they did not exist. So this quenching element is neither form nor formlessness; it is beyond them both. It cannot be said to have form or to lack form, because it is beyond both form and formlessness, which is why the Buddha called it the quenching element, or the nibbana element, or the voidness element. But the clearest term is "quenching element."

Please bear in mind this broader meaning of the term "element." Here it means much more than it does in the physical sciences, where it coves only the states of matter and energy, or the chemical elements. All the elements of modern science are covered by the form element alone. As for the other two elements, the formless element and the quenching element, you have probably never thought about them. Some of you have never learned anything about them and some have never even realized that they exist.

Coming to listen to this discussion of the Buddha's teaching on this subject is bound to make you wise by making you realize the existence of certain hidden things. These things are hidden to us, but they were not hidden to those who attained enlightenment, in particular the Buddha  himself. That is to say that for the Buddha the formless element and the quenching element were ordinary, familiar matters, easily comprehended and not especially profound. He knew about them just as we know about earth, water, fire, and air, or about the one hundred-odd chemical elements that modern researchers have discovered. It is necessary, then, to set up a new and more refined theoretical framework in which the term "element" has this wider meaning. The less superficial elements can be perceived only if we look within. If we are to recognize and understand them, we have to look within. This will bring us to an understanding of the teaching of the Buddha, the person who was an adept at looking within.

For a variety of different reasons, you have come here to do special research into Buddhism. Your Buddhist Studies Group exists for the purpose of bringing about an understanding of Buddhism. It is absolutely essential that this research and study be founded on sound Buddhist principles. We can't just study Buddhism however it happens to suit us, according to our own preferences and convenience. If we insisted on doing it that way, we would get very meagre results, we would waste a lot of time, and in the end we simply would have to call on you - indeed I entreat you - to practice looking within and studying within in order that you will gradually come to a deeper and deeper understanding of the fifth and sixth elements.


This looking within can be explained in term of two ordinary everyday words which are also special terms in the language of philosophy: the antonyms "objectivity" and "subjectivity." The term "objectivity", strictly speaking, refers to the condition that appears when we observe or experience from the perspective of purely physical things, the things which are acted upon. The term "subjectivity" refers to the condition that appears when we observe or experience mental things, from the perspective of the doer rather than the receiver of an action. We must define the meanings very clearly like this. The objective side is the physical side, the world of objects on which actions operate. The subjective side is the mental side, the world of the mind which is the "doer" of actions.

Two Kinds of Language (1) Looking Within (2)

Extract from "Keys to Natural Truth" - Buddhadasa Bhikkhu ,
translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu, Published and distributed by Mental Health Publishing, 14/349-350 M.10, Rama II Road, Bangmod, Bangkok,Thailand
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