How to Define the Dhamma?

Ajahn Amaro

How to Define the Dhamma?

When we talk about Dhamma, the descriptions can seem a little vague because we have to use terms that point to it but don’t exactly explain it. When the Buddha describes the qualities of the Dhamma, he uses terms like sanditthiko, akāliko and ehipassiko, meaning respectively ‘apparent here and now’, ‘timeless’ and ‘encouraging investigation’. That doesn’t give us a lot to chew on, does it?

The thinking mind wonders what Dhamma is, but it’s intrinsically hard to define because the ultimate nature of things is beyond the sense world. How can you imagine what is unborn, unconditioned, uncreated and unformed?

In trying to form a definition of Dhamma, the thinking mind and the imagination stumble over their own feet and the jaw drops open. It’s hard for the imagination to come up with an image other than empty space – although, that said, Ajahn Chah often used the alliterative Thai expression ‘sawang, sa-aht, sangoop’ (Bright, clean, peaceful) to describe the nature of Dhamma – purity, radiance and peacefulness – which sums it up quite perfectly.

The Dhamma is the fundamental nature of mind, of the physical and mental world of all things. The Dhamma is that which upholds, that which is the organic, integrating principle of the universe and the very substance of mind, the very substance of life.

And the Buddha arises from the Dhamma.

This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, The Breakthrough, (pdf) p.47.