Dhamma Reflection: Choice and Chance

revised on 2024-07-10

Dhamma education, its knowledge, and practice are the most difficult things to come by in the whole saṁsāra and cosmos. Without it, humans can’t transcend Dukkha and are unable to solve human-created sufferings and problems. Without Dhamma knowledge, every human becomes a blind and foolish worldling; otherwise, they would become wise and intelligent worldlings who could live their lives without harming others and nature, good for this life and the future to come. Blind and foolish worldlings only see one side of a coin, but wise and intelligent ones see both sides and never get lost. The wise, the sages, and noble beings discern the whole picture. Therefore, they never create problems and sufferings for themselves, others, and nature. The fools are the opposite. We can observe all the negative results in today's world up to international levels.

Why is Dhamma Education the most important in human education and knowledge? Because it teaches and trains humans to become virtuous, intelligent, wise, and noble beings. Worldly education and knowledge mostly teach and train humans for a livelihood and indulgence in sensual pleasure. Most humans only have short-sighted views, outlooks, and thinking. They get lost in their self (atta) views and defilements. So they nourish the self and defilements all the time. Dhamma teaches people to become intelligent, wise, and noble so that they see nature clearly and profoundly. For example, they know about the common characteristics of inconstancy, suffering, and the non-self nature of phenomena, which lead them to wholesome directions. Most importantly, they understand the nature of the mind and its working or active process.

Therefore, the education of the mind is the most important knowledge for humans.

Without this knowledge and training, humans create suffering for themselves, others, and nature. They can’t solve human problems properly and wisely. Humans are closer to their minds than any other things, animate or inanimate. They live with them all the time from birth to death and beyond in the whole of saṁsāra. Therefore, the Buddha is the greatest of all teachers – satthā deva-manussā-naṁ / teacher of gods and humans. The mind can make a man become a fool or wise. An untrained mind leads to chaos, problems, and suffering. A trained mind leads to harmony, peace, and happiness. An untrained mind is humans’ evil friend and enemy. A trained mind is humans’ best friend and savior. We cannot measure human dignity and greatness with status, power, money, and sensual pleasure. For worldlings, these things are dangerous because their minds are obsessed with defilements.

The following are about the nature of the mind as taught by the Buddha in the Dhammapada verses. From the Cittavagga –

Verse: 33 –

Quivering, wavering, hard to guard, to hold in check: the mind.
The sage makes it straight – like a fletcher,
the shaft of an arrow.

Verse: 34 –

Like a fish pulled from its home in the water and thrown on land:
this mind flips and flaps about
to escape Mara’s sway.
(Mara refers to Defilements or the Evil One)

Verse:35 –

Hard to hold down, nimble,
Alighting wherever it likes: the mind.
Its taming is good.
The mind well-tamed brings ease.

Verse: 36 –

So hard to see, so very, very subtle,
alighting wherever it likes: the mind.
The wise should guard it.
The mind protected brings ease.

Verse: 37 – | Wandering far, going alone, bodiless, | lying in a cave (the heart): the mind. | Those who restrain it: | from Mara’s bonds they’ll be freed. |

Verse: 42 – | Whatever an enemy might do to an enemy, | or a foe to a foe, | the ill-directed mind can do to you | even worse. |

Verse: 43 –

Whatever a mother, father, or other kinsman
might do for you,
the well-directed mind can do for you
even better.

The mind has great power, greater than Einstein’s equation E=mc2. The negative energy that can wipe out the human race on Earth is like hells. The positive power that can bring harmony, happiness, peace, and transcend all sufferings is like paradises. One of the important points to remember is that the untrained or worldling’s mind is full of defilements, and evil delights in it.

Dhammapada verse 116 –

Be quick in doing what’s admirable.
Restrain your mind from what’s evil.
When you’re slow in making merits,
evil delights the mind.

So we should guard our minds all the time; if not, it becomes the enemy. Because the mind will be controlled and influenced by the three unwholesome roots of greed, aversion, and delusion. These unskillful minds are our real enemies. They send beings to take rebirths in the four woeful existences (apāyas). In the Itivuttaka, the Group of Threes, sutta no. 88 – the Buddha mentioned the dangers of them.

“Greed (Aversion, Delusion) is an inside stain, inside enemy, inside foe, inside murderer, inside adversary.”
Greed (aversion, delusion) causes harm.
Greed (aversion, delusion) provokes the mind.
People don’t realize it,
as a danger born from within.
A person, when greedy (aversive, deluded),
doesn't know his own welfare;
when greedy (aversive, deluded),
doesn’t see Dhamma.
Overcome with greed (aversion, delusion),
he's in the dark, blind.


So we can see the great dangers and sufferings created by greed, aversion, and delusion. To eradicate them, we need the skillful mind power of heedfulness or sati, which can conquer and overcome them. To deal with these problems, the Buddha taught us how to guard the mind in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, sutta no. 117 – Ārakkhā Sutta, Book of Fours.

Someone bent on his welfare should practice heedfulness, mindfulness, and guarding the mind, not become excited by things that provoke lust; not be full of hate toward things that provoke hatred; not be deluded by things that cause delusion; and not be intoxicated by things that intoxicate.

The Buddha also taught the four powers (bala) that transcend the five fears with dangers, in the Book of Nines, sutta no. 5 – the Bala Sutta. The four powers are: wisdom, energy, blamelessness, sustaining a favorable relationship (saṅgaha vatthu).

① The power of wisdom

One has clearly seen and explored with wisdom the following qualities – (a) unwholesome and reckoned as unwholesome (b) wholesome as wholesome (c) blamable as blamable (d) blameless as blameless (e) those that are dark as dark (f) bright as bright (g) those that should not be cultivated as not to be cultivated (h) should be cultivated as to be cultivated (i) those that are unworthy of the noble ones (ariyas) as unworthy (j) those that are worthy by noble ones as worthy.

② The power of energy

One generates desire to abandon the negative qualities (as unwholesome, blamable, etc.) as mentioned above. One makes an effort, arouses energy, and applies one’s mind to strive for them.

One generates desire to obtain all the above positive qualities (as wholesome, blameless, etc.). One makes an effort, …… to strive for them.

③ The power of blamelessness

One engages in blameless bodily, verbal and mental action.

④ The power of sustaining a favorable relationship

There are four means of sustaining a favorable relationship: (a) giving (b) endearing speech (c) beneficent conduct (d) impartiality

The best gift is the gift of Dhamma. The best speech is teaching Dhamma to those who have an interest. Among beneficial types of conduct are – helping people to have faith in the accomplishment of faith; to have virtuous behavior, generosity, and wisdom.

Someone who possesses the four powers has transcended five fears with dangers.

These are: fear of loss of livelihood; disrepute; timidity in assemblies; fear of death; and fear of a bad destination after death. The Buddha Dhamma is very practical and useful in daily life. To have more benefits from Dhamma, it needs to reflect or contemplate Dhamma from study and experiences. The four saṅgaha vatthu are quite important for human societies up to the international level. Nowadays, men need more of these qualities because in this 21st century there are many man-made human problems and sufferings around the world.

Human beings who can develop the four powers in societies will live together with harmony, peace, and happiness. Nearly everyone fears death and a bad destination after death. Only with a good death can one have good destinations. Therefore, everyone needs to prepare themselves for this with sīla, samādhi, and paññā practice. Men calculate loss and profit in worldly matters such as – money, power, sensual pleasures, etc. In the same way, Buddhists should calculate loss and profit between mundane and supramundane matters. It is necessary to make a wise choice. Worldlings and noble ones see things differently. Worldlings only think and are concerned about the present life, but noble beings for the present and future to come. There are three kinds of relinquishing, but first we have to know, according to the Buddha and noble ones, what is valuable and essential (essence) and what is not.

For the worldlings, they are craving and clinging to properties, their bodies, and their livings for sensual pleasure and indulgence. Properties, wealth, and power are subject to change and dangers. Physical bodies are subject to aging, sickness, death, unwholesome results of kammic debts, and other external dangers, etc. How do we use our whole life? Generally speaking, most humans use their whole life based on greed, aversion, and delusion for indulgence in sensual pleasures (all kinds), wealth, power, and fame. So after death, they can’t carry anything which is valuable and has essences, only kilesa garbage, and rubbish. Therefore, the doors to hells, the animal realm, and the ghost realm are opening and welcoming them.

On the other hand, for the sages, ariyans, and sutavā ariya sāvakas, they use their properties and wealth by relinquishing them with generosity and giving up (dāna, cāga).

They would relinquish their bodies with sīla and their whole life by living with Samatha and vipassanā bhāvanā (samādhi and paññā). They are the only wisest people making the true choices. Encountering the Buddha Dhamma, it is very important to make the right choices and take the opportunity or chance for the practice. Here, I want to introduce the Seliva (Serivāṇija??) Jātaka and its importance for making the right choice and its opportune moment. This jātaka (birth story of the bodhisatta) is quite well known to nearly all Buddhists, but mostly we overlook its important message by the Buddha. The reason the Buddha told this story is as follows. I based this story on a Dhamma talk by Sayadaw U Uttama (Sa-gaing).

A monk went into seclusion and practiced, but he came back without success. The Buddha heard this and admonished him for giving up the practice. He exhorted him for easily giving up the practice, which needed a lot of effort. Encountering the Dhamma and having the chances for the practice was not very easy to come by. It needed a lot of good conditions. If he missed the chances, he would regret it and encounter sorrow, pain, and grief, like the foolish jeweller Seliva. Wasting time on things with no value and essence is foolishness. How we spend our time in daily life is the most important question as a human. This is for the welfare of the present life and the future to come.

The Story

At that time, the bodhisatta was a wandering jeweller (a street vendor). It seems to be ornamented jewellery and not expensive ones.

One time, he and another jeweller named Seliva (i.e., the past life of the reneged monk Devadatta) went to a town called Aritthapura to sell their goods. They made an agreement between them. They could not go together at the same time to any designated places for sale. But as soon as one of them left a place after selling his goods, the other could go in for sale.

In this town, there was a poor family consisting of an old woman and her small granddaughter. They previously belonged to a rich family. Seliva was the first person who came to their place. When the young girl saw Seliva and his jewel ornaments, she requested her grandma to buy one or two for her. The grandma responded that she had no money to buy it. But the granddaughter told her they had an old bowl in a corner and it could be exchanged for some of the ornaments.

Note: In Burma, when we were young, there were some Indians who collected recyclable materials such as aluminium, bottles, papers, etc., in exchange for foods – such as beans, etc.

The grandma brought the bowl to Seliva, who checked it by scratching with a needle. With his experience, he at once knew it was a golden bowl worth a hundred thousand dollars. He was a dishonest guy and very greedy (maybe like some politicians and businessmen today). So he said to the grandma it was a useless bowl and not even worth a cent, and he threw the old bowl on the ground and left. In his mind, he had a selfish plan, which was to return and take the golden bowl in exchange for a very cheap ornament.

After he left the place, the bodhisatta arrived there. When the young girl saw his face and manner, she asked the grandma to try again for some ornaments because it seemed to her that the bodhisatta was a good person. After the bodhisatta received the bowl and checked it with a needle, he at once told them it was a golden bowl worth a hundred thousand dollars. He did not have enough money to buy it. But the grandma could not believe it and said to him it was his merit because the other man told her that it was a worthless bowl. Therefore, the bodhisatta could offer them anything he had with him. He told her he had 500 dollars and other ornaments worth another 500 dollars. He gave everything he had with him and asked for 8 dollars for the boat fee to cross the river. He took the scale with him as a weapon and quickly left the place.

After the bodhisatta left, Seliva came back very soon, asking for the bowl. The grandma told him that, as he was dishonest and a liar, she had already sold it to the bodhisatta and showed him the ornaments and the money. As soon as he heard the bad news, his anger exploded, and he behaved like a lunatic. Throwing everything he had on the ground, he grasped his iron scale as a weapon and chased the bodhisatta as fast as he could.

At the bank of the river, the bodhisatta gave the boatman 8 dollars and asked him to row the boat as quickly as possible to the other side of the river. When Seliva arrived at the river bank, the boat was already in the middle of the river. He was shouting at the boatman to come back for him, but to no avail. Then he continued watching it until it was far away. At that moment, with great remorse, sorrow, pain, and grief, he thought, "I’ll never get it." With a broken heart, hot blood spat out from his mouth, and he collapsed and died there.

Devadatta’s strong grudge started from that life as Seliva to the bodhisatta until the great being became the Buddha Gautama. This is the danger and suffering of Dosa–Hatred. At the end of the story, the Buddha strongly reminded the monk of the rare chances and difficulties in having a human birth and practicing to transcend Dukkha in the round of existence. Therefore, he had to practice diligently to realize the four noble truths in this life, at least having a fixed destination (i.e., entering the stream). Otherwise, he would have great remorse like Seliva, who lost the golden bowl and his life.

The Seliva Jātaka offers us some important Dhamma points as food for the heart. We should reflect on it wisely for our benefits in worldly and spiritual matters. Most Buddhists know this remarkable story as the Buddha emphasized the honesty of the great being. It is partly true and not the most important point. According to the text, a bodhisatta who cultivates the 10 perfections in his round of existence never tells lies, always maintaining truthfulness (sacca). The Buddha also said someone who tells lies could do any unwholesome actions. We can also discern the dangers of suffering from the three unwholesome roots – greed, hatred, and delusion, which burn humans all the time. On the international level, there are a lot of competitions (unwholesome), greediness, hatred, ill-will, jealousy, etc., burning human beings like forest fires. Conflicts of war are becoming more violent, bloody, and cruel, with a lot of destruction.

For spiritual matters, it is more important. Seliva only lost his golden bowl and life. But for Buddhists, they lose the essence of Dhamma, which is difficult to come by, and if we make the wrong choice, we will miss the chance. And also, it could be a great loss because it's not certain for next time in the future. The future is unknown. There is nothing more important than the ending of dukkha.

Most humans are like the following story. A mother hen with its chicks is searching for food in a pile of garbage. Sometime later, a ruby gem comes out from the garbage. It doesn’t affect the animals. Later, a small boy who is playing near the area comes near the place and sees it. He picks up the ruby and plays with it but doesn’t know about its worth. A man passes by and sees the boy playing with the gemstone. He asks the boy to give him the gemstone, and he will buy some delicious chocolate bars for him. The boy agrees, and the man gets the precious stone.

The analogies: most humans are like the mother hen and chicks. They are ignorant about Dhamma and its value. Most of them have strong cravings and clinging to power, wealth, fame, and sensual pleasures. Chickens are searching and eating for food all the time.

I have had the chance to observe strayed or discarded animals like cats, dogs (pets), and fishes, etc. All of them are having difficulties searching for food to ease their hunger and survive.

The small boy playing with the gemstone is like the majority of ordinary Buddhists making merits for the sake of enjoying the results in the future. Practicing yogis who realize the Dhamma are like the man who gets the precious stone. These people are very rare indeed.

As Buddhists, we should never forget and always remind ourselves of the eight faults of inopportune moments (AN 8.29 Akkhaṇasuttam) and the five rarities (dullabha dhammas), (AN 5.143 Sārandadasuttam).

Delight in heedfulness.
Watch over your own mind.
Lift yourself up
from the hard-going way,
like a tusker sunk in the mud.

Verse: 327 (Dhammapada).

revised on 2024-07-10

  • Content of Part 16 on "Dhamma Talks by Mogok Sayadaw"

  • Content of "Dhamma Talks by Mogok Sayadaw"

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According to the translator— Ven. Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.

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