The Ballad of Liberation
from the Khandhas

Namatthu sugatassa

Pañca dhamma-khandhāni

I pay homage to the one Well-gone,

the Foremost Teacher, the Sakyan Sage,

the Rightly Self-Awakened One;

& to the nine transcendent Dhammas;

& to the Noble Saṅgha.

I will now give a brief exposition

of the Dhamma khandhas,

as far as I understand them.

Once there was a man who loved himself

and feared distress. He wanted happiness

beyond the reach of danger, so he wandered

endlessly. Wherever people said

that happiness was found, he longed to go,

but wandering took a long, long time.

He was the sort of man who loved himself

and really dreaded death. He truly wanted

release from aging & mortality.

Then one day he came to know the truth,

abandoning the cause of suffering &

compounded things. He found a cave of wonders,

of endless happiness, i.e., the body.

As he gazed throughout the cave of wonders,

his suffering was destroyed, his fears appeased.

He gazed and gazed around the mountain side,

Experiencing unbounded peace.

He feared if he were to go and tell his friends,

they’d say he’d gone insane.  He’d better stay

alone, engaged in peace, abandoning

his thoughts of contact, than to roam around,

a sycophant, both criticized & flattered,

exasperated & annoyed.

But then there was another man afraid

of death, his heart all withered & discouraged.

He came to me and spoke frankly

in a pitiful way. He said,

“You’ve made an effort at your meditation

for a long time now.

Have you seen it yet, the true Dhamma of your dreams?”

(Eh! How is it that he knows my mind?)

He asked to stay with me, so I agreed.

“I’ll take you to a massive mountain

with a cave of wonders

free from suffering & stress:

mindfulness immersed in the body.

You can view it at your leisure to cool your heart

and end your troubles.

This is the path of the Noble lineage.

It’s up to you to go or not.

I’m not deceiving or compelling you,

just telling you the truth for what it is.”

And then I challenged him with riddles. First:

“What runs?”

“What runs quickly is viññāṇa,

movements walking in a row,

one after another. Not doubting that saññās are right,

the heart gets caught up in the running back & forth.

Saññās grab hold of things outside

and pull them in to fool the mind,

Making it think in confusion & go out searching,

wandering astray.

They fool it with various dhammas,

like a mirage.”

“What gains total release from the five khandhas?”

“The heart, of course, & the heart alone.

It doesn’t grasp or get entangled.

No more poison of possessiveness,

no more delusion,

it stands alone.

No saññās can fool it into following along

behind them.”

“When they say there’s death, what dies?”

“Saṅkhāras die, destroying their effects.”

“What connects the mind into the cycle?”

“The tricks of saññā make it spin.

The mind goes wrong because it trusts its saññās,

attached to its likes,

leaving this plane of being,

going to that, wandering till it’s dizzy,

forgetting itself,

completely obscure to itself.

No matter how hard it tries to find the Dhamma,

it can’t catch a glimpse.”

“What ferrets out the Dhamma?”

“The heart ferrets it out,

trying to find out how saññās say ‘good’

and grasp at ‘bad’

and force it to fasten on loving & hating.”

“To eat once & never look for more?”

“The end of wanting to look, to know,

to hope for knowing more,

The end of entanglements.

The mind sits still on its dais,

discarding its attachments.”

“A four-sided pool, brimming full?”

“The end of desire, abandoning doubt,

clean, without a mote, & danger-free.

Saññās settle out, saṅkhāras don’t disturb it.

The heart is thus brimming, with nothing lacking.

Quiet & still, the mind

has no lamenting thoughts:

something worth admiring day after day.

Even if one were to gain

heavenly treasures by the millions,

they’d be no match for the true knowing

that abandons all saṅkhāras.

The crucial thing: the ending of desire.

Labels stay in their own sphere and don’t intrude.

The mind, unenthralled with anything,

stops its struggling.

Like taking a mirror to look at your reflection:

Don’t get attached to the saññās,

which are like the image.

Don’t get intoxicated with the issues of saṅkhāras.

“When the heart moves, you can catch sight

of the unadulterated heart.

You know for sure that the movement is in yourself

because it changes.

Inconstancy is a feature of the heart itself,

no need to criticize anyone else.

You know the different sorts of khandhas

in the moving of the mind.

“Before, I used to think that saññās were the heart,

labeling ‘outer’ & ‘inner,’

which was why I was fooled.

Now the heart’s in charge, with no concerns,

no hopes of relying on any one saññā at all.

Whatever arises or passes away

there’s no need to be possessive of saññās

or to try to prevent them.”

“Like climbing to the top of a truly tall mountain

and looking at the lowlands below,

seeing every living being.”

“Way up high, looking back

you see all your affairs

from the very beginning,

forming a path, like stairs.”

“Does the rise & fall of the river

accord with the Truth?”

“You can’t remedy the changing of saṅkhāras.

Fashioned by kamma,

they’re out to spite no one.

If you grasp hold of them

to push them this way & that,

the mind has to become defiled & wrong.

Don’t think of resisting

the natural way of all things.

Let good & evil follow their own affairs.

We simply free


Unentangled in saṅkhāras:

That’s what’s peaceful & cool.

When you know the truth,

you have to let go of saṅkhāras

as soon as you see their changing.

When you weary of them,

you let them go easily,

with no need to be forced.

The Dhamma is cooling.

The mind will stop

being subjected to things.”

“The five duties complete?”

“Khandhas divide the issues of fashioning

into five realms,

each filled with its duties & affairs,

with no room for any other,

because their hands are full—

no room even for fortune, status, praise, pleasure,

loss of fortune, loss of status, criticism, pain.

They let each of these follow its own nature,

in line with its truth.

The mind’s not entangled

with any of these eight,

because physical khandhas keep creating

aging & illness without pause.

The mental khandhas never rest.

They work like motors

because they must take on the kamma

of what they have done:

Good things make them enthralled & happy,

bad things agitate and darken the heart,

making it think without stop,

as if it were aflame.

The mind is defiled & dull.

Its loves & hates

are things it has thought up on its own,

so who else can it blame?

“Do you want to escape aging & death?

It’s beyond the range of possibility,

as when we want the mind to stop

wandering around and thinking,

when we want it to stay at one

and hope to depend on its stillness.

The mind is something that changes,

totally uncertain.

Saññās stay in place only from time to time.

Once we grow wise to the nature

of all five khandhas,

the mind will be clear & clean,

free from stain, with no more issues.

If you can know in this way,

it’s superlative,

because you see the truth,


and gain release.

That’s the end of the path.

You don’t resist the natural way

of the truth of things.

Poverty & wealth, good & bad,

in line with events both within & without,

all have to pass and vanish.

You can’t grasp hold of anything

at which the mind takes aim.

“Now, when the mind’s inconstant on its own

—aquiver, quick—and you catch sight of it,

that’s when you find the ultimate in ease.

Small things obscure our knowledge of the large.

The khandhas totally obscure the Dhamma,

and that’s where we go wrong. We waste our time

in watching khandhas so that we don’t see

the Dhamma that, though greater than the khandhas,

seems like dust.”

“There is, there isn’t. There isn’t, yet there is.”

“Here I’m totally stymied

and can’t figure it out.

Please explain what it means.”

“There is birth of various causes & effects,

but they are not beings,

they all pass away.

This is clear,

the meaning of the first point:

There is, there isn’t.

The second point, there isn’t, yet there is:

This refers to the deep Dhamma,

the end of all three levels of existence,

where there are no saṅkhāras,

and yet there is the stable Dhamma.

This is the Singular Dhamma, truly solitary.

The Dhamma is One & unchanging.

excelling all being, extremely still.

The object of the unmoving heart,

still & at respite,

quiet & clear.

No longer intoxicated,

no longer feverish,

its desires all uprooted,

its uncertainties shed,

its entanglement with the khandhas

all ended & appeased,

the gears of the three levels of the cosmos all broken,

overweening desire thrown away,

its loves brought to an end,

with no more possessiveness,

all troubles cured

as the heart had aspired.”

“Please explain the mind’s path

in yet another way,

& the cause of suffering in the mind

that obscures the Dhamma.”

“The cause is enormous,

but to put it briefly,

it’s the love

that puts a squeeze on the heart,

making it concerned for the khandhas.

If the Dhamma is with the heart

throughout time,

that’s the end of attachment,

with no more cause for suffering:

Remember this, it’s the path of the mind.

You won’t have to wonder,

spinning around till you’re dizzy.

The mind, when the Dhamma’s not always with it,

gets attached to its likes,

concerned for the khandhas,

sunk in the cause of suffering.

“So in brief, there’s suffering

& there’s the Dhamma

always with the mind.

Contemplate this until you see the truth,

and the mind will be completely cool.

However great the pleasure or pain,

they’ll cause you no fear.

No longer drunk with the cause of suffering,

the mind’s well-gone.

Knowing just this much is enough

to soothe your fevers,

and to rest from your search for a path to release.

The mind knowing the Dhamma forgets

the mind attached to dust.

The heart knowing the Dhamma of ultimate ease

sees for sure that the khandhas are always stressful.

The Dhamma stays as the Dhamma,

the khandhas stay as khandhas, that’s all.

“And as for the phrase,

‘Cool, at ease, & freed from fever,’

this refers to the mind that’s rescued itself

from the addictive error

[of correcting other things].

The saṅkhāra aggregate offers no pleasure

and truly is painful,

for it has to age, grow ill, and die every day.

When the mind knows the unexcelled Dhamma,

it extracts itself from its defiling error

that aggravates disease.

This error is a fierce fault of the mind.

But when it clearly sees the Dhamma,

it removes its error,

and there’s no more poison in the heart.

When the mind sees the Dhamma,

abundantly good

& released from error,

meeting the Dhamma, it sheds all things

that would make it restless.

It’s mindful, in & of itself,

& unentangled.

Its love for the khandhas comes to an end,

its likes are cured,

its worries cease,

all dust is gone.

Even if the mind thinks in line with its nature,

we don’t try to stop it.

And when we don’t stop it,

it stops running wild.

This frees us from turmoil.

“Know that evil comes

from resisting the truth.

“Evil comes from not knowing.

If we can close the door on stupidity,

there’s ultimate ease.

All evil grows silent, perfectly still.

All the khandhas are suffering, with no pleasure at all.

“Before I was stupid & in the dark,

as if I were in a cave.

In my desire to see the Dhamma,

I tried to grab hold of the heart to still it.

I grabbed hold of mental labels,

thinking they were the heart

until it became a habit.

Doing this I was long enthralled

with watching them.

Wrong mental labels obscured the mind

and I was deluded into playing around

with the khandhas—

Poor me!

“Exalting myself endlessly,

I went around passing judgment on others

but accomplishing nothing.

Looking at the faults of others

embitters the heart,

as if we were to set ourselves on fire,

becoming sooty & burned.

Whoever’s right or wrong, good or bad,

that’s their business.

Ours is to make sure

the heart looks after itself.

Don’t let unskillful attitudes buzz around it & land.

Make it consummate

in merit & skill,

and the result will be peace.

Seeing others as bad and oneself as good

is a stain on the heart,

for one latches onto the khandha

that holds to that judgment.

If you latch onto the khandhas

they’ll burn you for sure,

for aging, defilement, & death will join in the fray:

full of anger & love, obvious faults,

worries, sorrows, & fears,

while the five forms of sensuality

bring in their multifarious troops.

We gain no release from suffering & danger

because we hold to the five khandhas as ours.

Once you see your error, don’t delay.

Keep constant watch on the inconstancy of saṅkhāras.

When the mind gets used to this,

you’re sure to see the Singular Dhamma,

solitary in the mind.

“‘Inconstancy’ refers to the heart

as it moves from its labels.

When you see this, watch it

again & again,

right at the moving.

When all external objects have faded away,

the Dhamma will appear.

When you see that Dhamma, you recover

from mental unrest.

The mind then won’t be attached to dualities.

Just this much truth can end the game.

Knowing not-knowing:

That’s the method for the heart.

Once we see through inconstancy,

the mind-source stops creating issues.

All that remains is the primal mind,

true & unchanging.

Knowing the mind-source

brings release from all worry & error.

If you go out to the mind-ends,

you’re immediately wrong.

“‘Darkness’ comes from the mind

possessive of what’s good.

This possessiveness is thought up

by the mind-ends.

The mind-source is already good

when the Dhamma appears, erasing doubt.

When you see the superlative Dhamma,

surpassing the world,

all your old confused searchings

are uprooted and let go.

The [only] suffering left

is the need to sleep and eat

in line with events.

The heart stays, tamed, near the mind-source,

Thinking, yet not dwelling on its thoughts.

The nature of the mind is that it has to think,

But when it senses the mind-source

it’s released from its sorrows,

secluded from disturbances, & still.

The nature of saṅkhāras

when they appear

is to vanish.

They all decay; none remain.

Beware of the mind

when you focus on making it refined,

for you’ll tend to force it

to get stuck on the stillness.

Get the heart to look again & again

at its inconstancy, until it’s a habit.

When you reach ‘Oh!’

it will come on its own:

awareness of the heart’s song,

like a mirage.

The Buddha says the corruptions of insight

disguise themselves as true

when actually they’re not.

The awareness of mental phenomena

that comes on its own,

is direct vision,

not like hearing & understanding

on the level of questioning.

The analysis of phenomena,

mental & physical,

is also not vision that comes on its own:

so look.

The awareness that comes on its own

is not the thought-song.

Knowing the mind-source

& mind-moments,

the source-mind is released from sorrow.

The mind-source’s certain

automatic knowledge of saṅkhāras

—the affairs of change—

is not a matter of parading out

to see or know a thing.

It’s also not a knowledge based

on labeling in pairs.

The mind knows itself

from the motion of the song.

The mind’s knowledge of the motion

is simply adjacent mind-moments.

In fact, they can’t be divided:

They’re all one & the same.

When the mind is two, that’s called

Saññā entangling things.

Inconstancy is itself, so why focus on anyone else?

“When the heart sees its own decayings,

it’s released from darkness.

It loses its taste for them,

and abandons its doubts.

It stops searching for things within & without.

Its attachments all fall away.

It leaves its loves & hates,

whatever weighs it down.

It can end its desires,

its sorrows all vanish—

together with the weighty cares

that made it moan—

as if a shower of rain were to refresh the heart.

The cool heart is realized by the heart itself.

The heart is cool for it has no need

to wander around, looking at people.

Knowing the mind-source in the present,

it’s unshakeable & unconcerned

with any good or evil,

for they must pass away,

with all other impediments.

Perfectly still, the mind-source

neither thinks nor interprets.

It stays only with its own affairs:

no expectations,

no need to be entangled or troubled,

no need to keep up its guard.

Sitting or lying down, one thinks

at the source-mind: ‘Released.’”

“Your explanation of the path

is penetrating,

so encompassing & clear.

Just one more thing:

Please explain in detail the mind

unreleased from the cause of suffering.”

“The cause of suffering is attachment & love,

extremely enthralled,

creating new becomings

without wearying.

On the lower level, the stains

are the five strands of sensuality;

on the higher level,

attachment to jhāna.

In terms of how these things

act in the mind:

It’s all an affair of being enthralled with saṅkhāras,

enthralled with all that have happened

for a long, long time—

seeing them as good,

nourishing the heart on error,

making it branch out

in restlessness distraction.

Smitten by error, with no sense of shame,

enthralled with admiring

whatever it fancies—

enthralled to the point where it forgets itself

and loses its sense of danger;

enthralled with viewing the faults of others,

upset by their evil,

not seeing its own faults as anything at all.

No matter how great the faults of others,

they can’t make us fall into hell.

While our own faults can take us

to the severest hell straightaway,

even if they aren’t very defiling at all.

So keep watch on your faults

until it comes naturally.

Avoid those faults

and you’re sure to see

happiness free

from danger & fear.

When you see your faults clearly

cut them right away.

Don’t dawdle or delay

or you’ll never be rid of them.

“Wanting what’s good, without stop:

That’s the cause of suffering.

It’s a great fault:  the strong fear of bad.

‘Good’ & ‘bad’ are poisons to the mind,

like foods that enflame a high fever.

The Dhamma isn’t clear

because of our basic desire for good.

Desire for good, when it’s great,

drags the mind into turbulent thought

until the mind gets inflated with evil,

and all its defilements proliferate.

The greater the error, the more they flourish,

taking one further & further away

from the genuine Dhamma.”

“This way of explaining

the cause of suffering

chastens my heart.

[At first] the meaning

was tattered & tangled,

but when you explained the path

my heart didn’t move:

at respite, still, & at peace,

reaching an end at last.”

“This is called the attainment

of liberation from the khandhas,

a Dhamma that remains in place,

with no coming or going,

a genuine nature—the only one—

with nothing to make it stray or spin.”

With that, the tale is ended. Right or wrong,

please ponder with discernment till you know.

—Composed by Phra Bhūridatto (Mun)

Wat Srapathum, [Bangkok]