A Long Way to Go
Paramattha dhammas, ultimate realities, are all that appears now. Seeing, visible object, hearing, sound, and the other sense-cognitions that experience sense objects appear in our daily life, also at this moment. They each have their own characteristic that is unchangeable and that is true for everybody. We can verify this when they appear and this is what the Buddha taught time and again. We read in the “Kindred Sayings” (IV, Salayatana vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Third Fifty, Ch 5, §152, Is there a method) that the Buddha said:
“Is there, monks, any method by following which a monk, apart from belief, apart from inclination, apart from hearsay, apart from argument as to method, apart from reflection on reasons, apart from delight in speculation, could affirm insight thus: “Ended is birth, lived is the righteous life, done is the task, for life in these conditions there is no hereafter’?”Insight refers here to arahatship, according to the Commentary, the “Saratthappakasini”. One can attain arahatship with this method, that is, developing understanding of realities appearing through the senses and the mind-door. In all the holy sites we visited Acharn Sujin explained about the way to develop understanding of the realities that appear at this moment. She stressed the difference between thinking of terms and words denoting realities and the direct awareness of nama and rupa, the development of satipatthana. She reminded us that we need patience to listen to the Dhamma, to consider it and to develop right understanding of realities. We have a long way to go in order to see realities as they are.
“For us, lord, things have their root in the Exalted One... Hearing it from him the monks will remember it.”
“There is indeed a method, monks, by following which a monk...could affirm insight... And what is that method? Herein, monks, a monk, seeing an object with the eye, either recognizes within him the existence of lust, malice and illusion, thus: ‘I have lust (raga), malice (dosa) and illusion (moha),’ or thus: ‘I have not lust, malice and illusion.’ Now as to that recognition of their existence or non-existence within him, are these conditions, I ask, to be understood by belief, or inclination, or hearsay, or argument as to method, or reflection on reasons, or delight in speculation?”
“Surely not, lord.”
“Are not these states to be understood by seeing them with the eye of wisdom?”
“Then, monks, this is the method by following which, apart from belief... a brother could affirm insight thus: ‘Ended is birth... for life in these conditions there is no hereafter.’
Again, as to hearing a sound with the ear... smelling a scent with the nose, tasting a savour with the tongue... contacting a tangible with the body... cognizing a mental object with the mind.... is that recognition to be understood by belief, or inclination, or hearsay, or argument as to method, or reflection on reasons, or delight in speculation? Are not these states to be understood by seeing them with the eye of wisdom?”
“Then, monks, this is the method by following which a monk, apart from belief... affirm insight.”
On the basis of her explanations and our discussions I would like to deal with some points stressed by Acharn Sujin and often raised by others. We may know in theory that seeing sees what is visible, visible object, but it seems that we see people all the time. We usually think of concepts with ignorance and clinging, we are totally absorbed in them. Only through the development of direct awareness of realities can we prove that what the Buddha taught about the phenomena of our life is the truth. However, we need a firm foundation knowledge of paramattha dhammas so that we can verify the truth of these phenomena.
Acharn Sujin stressed many times that there are three levels of the understanding of the Dhamma: the level of study, pariyatti, the level of practice, patipatti and the level of direct realization of the truth, pativedha. Pariyatti is the firm foundation knowledge that can be a condition for patipatti, the practice or development of direct understanding. If we only think about it that citta, cetasika and rupa are impermanent and that they arise and fall away, it is theoretical understanding that stems from listening to the teachings. Through the development of satipatthana, which is the practice, can the truth of what the Buddha taught be directly realized. The aim of the study of the teachings should be direct understanding of the dhammas appearing at this moment.
We should understand what satipatthana is and what the objects of satipatthana are. Satipatthana is the development of insight, vipassana, the direct understanding of all realities of our life, of citta, cetasika (mental factors arising with the citta) and rupa. Only one citta at a time arises and experiences one object. It seems that we see and hear at the same time, but when visible object is experienced, sound cannot be experienced at the same time. Acharn Sujin explained about the development of satipatthana when we were sitting on the ground in the Jeta Grove, near the place where once the Buddha stayed. In the Jeta Grove he taught the Dhamma to the monks and to the layfollowers who visited him daily. Acharn Sujin said:
“Dhamma is what is real, it has no owner. There are two kinds of dhammas: nama and rupa. Hearing and sound arise and fall away very rapidly, can we slow them down? Sati can arise and be aware of them. In the beginning there cannot be awareness of all realities that can be experienced through the six doors, because understanding has to be developed. Sati can arise and panna can begin to understand realities, there is no other way. Thinking arises in between moments of awareness and there is bound to be doubt about realities, because doubt has not been eradicated. When sati arises, panna must arise together with it. We should have understanding of the characteristics of realities and of satipatthana and this can condition the arising of sati and panna that directly understands nama and rupa. This is not intellectual understanding, but it is panna of another level that penetrates thoroughly the characteristics of realities, that realizes them as only elements, dhatus.”How do we experience the body? We think of our whole body but what we take for our body consists of different groups of rupas. The rupas that are the four Great Elements arise in each group of rupas no matter whether they are of the body or rupas outside, and these are: the Element of Earth or solidity, the Element of Water or cohesion, the Element of Fire or heat and the Element of Wind or motion. In addition to these four there are other rupas arising together with them in different combinations. Through touch three of these Great Elements can be directly experienced, one at a time, and these are: solidity appearing as hardness or softness, heat appearing as heat or cold, and motion appearing as motion or pressure. Cohesion cannot be experienced through touch, it can only be known through the mind-door.
Hardness or heat are characteristics of rupa, and these cannot be changed, no matter how we name them. We can experience the characteristics that appear without the need to think of them. In this way we can begin to consider in our own life what the Abhidhamma teaches. The Abhidhamma is not a dry subject that concerns theoretical knowledge, it deals with our life. We learn about nama and rupa through the study of the Abhidhamma, but this relates to daily life. Do characteristics of rupa such as hardness, softness, heat or cold not appear all the time whenever we touch things? The purpose of the enumeration of different namas and rupas is not merely to memorize them or to think of them, but to realize their true nature by the development of satipatthana.
Apart from the three rupas of solidity, heat and motion that can be directly experienced in daily life, there are in addition four rupas that appear all the time: visible object or colour, sound, odour and flavour. Also these rupas arise in a group together with the four Great Elements and other rupas. Thus, there are seven rupas that appear time and again in daily life, they have characteristics that can be directly experienced without the need to name them or to think about them. We do not have to think of sound or odour in order to experience them, they appear just for a moment and then they disappear. We cannot cause their arising, they arise when there are the right conditions and then they disappear. We cannot prevent them from disappearing, and they are beyond control, non-self. Development of right understanding leads gradually, from the very beginning, to detachment until the ultimate stage, when arahatship is reached. First there will be detachment from the wrong view of self and later on other defilements will be abandoned, but this is a long way. We have accumulated ignorance for aeons and therefore there cannot be right understanding immediately.
We are attached to the idea of my body, but, as Acharn Sujin explained, what is it that appears? When hardness impinges on the bodysense its characteristic can be experienced. Hardness appears and then falls away immediately. We know through remembrance (sanna) that we have arms, legs, and all the other body-parts, but these cannot be experienced, they are concepts that are remembered. When we truly consider that only one characteristic of rupa is experienced at a time when it impinges on the rupa that is the body-sense, and that it falls away immediately, we can understand, at least in theory, that our whole body we find so important does not exist in the ultimate sense. We think of “I” who is sitting, we are attached to the idea of a sitting posture. In the ultimate sense rupa does not sit. A posture is a conglomeration of rupas we can think of, but it is not real in the ultimate sense. We cling to the idea of my body that is sick or healthy, but the rupas of which the body consists arise and then fall away immediately, and they do not return. We can begin to consider rupas such as hardness, sound or visible object as they appear in daily life, but thinking, even in the right way, is not satipatthana, the development of direct awareness and understanding. It is a foundation for satipatthana. Acharn Sujin explained:
“When we touch something, hardness appears. The thinking of a concept follows instantly. Understanding develops if we know that hardness only appears at the point where it touches. The whole body does not appear, we just think of the whole body. What we take for our whole body is not my body, only hardness appears through touch. When one touches hardness one thinks that it is there all the time, but when hardness appears it must have arisen because of conditions. Whatever is real has conditions to arise; the rupa that has arisen and appears can be the object of understanding. Panna should be developed so that one will understand that at each moment there is no person there. Realities are not what we think them to be, we think of concepts on account of what is experienced. Understanding should be developed so that the level of pariyatti, intellectual understanding, conditions the level of patipatti, the practice, and that again the level of pativedha, the penetration of the true nature of realities. ”Some people believe that they should just practise, that study is not necessary, but it is necessary to know what sati and panna are, what the object of satipatthana is, and what the conditions are for their arising. As we have seen, the object of satipatthana is a paramattha dhamma, an ultimate reality, that appears, not a concept. We should not forget that sati of satipatthana is a cetasika that arises when there are the appropriate conditions, that it is not self. It is non-forgetful, mindful of the reality that appears, so that right understanding of that reality can be developed at that moment.
Sati can be of different levels of kusala, it accompanies each kusala citta, it is non-forgetful of kusala: it arises with dana, generosity, with sila, morality, with samatha and with the development of satipatthana. Only through satipatthana the wrong view of self can be eradicated. When we perform dana, sati accompanies the kusala citta that is non-forgetful of kusala, but when sati is not of the level of satipatthana, we are bound to take dana for “our dana”, for self. It is the same in the case of sila and samatha, if satipatthana is not developed, one is bound to take these ways of kusala for self.
Panna is a cetasika that arises when there are the appropriate conditions, it is non-self. It may arise with dana and sila, but it does not always accompany these ways of kusala. Panna always accompanies mental development, including samatha and vipassana. When we study the teachings and we acquire intellectual understanding of nama and rupa, sati and panna accompany the kusala citta. However, thinking of paramattha dhammas is not the same as direct awareness and understanding of the reality appearing at this moment, and this is satipatthana.
The development of satipatthana is a gradual process, because there have to be the right conditions for the arising of sati and panna of satipatthana. The right condition is the firm foundation knowledge of the teachings. Thus, study of realities of our life and considering them as they appear in our life. It depends on the individual’s inclinations to what extent he will study the details about citta, cetasika and rupa and the different processes of cittas, but a basic knowledge of realities is necessary. Each person is unique, there are no rules with regard to the development of understanding. But at the present time it has to be a development that takes a long time (cira kala bhavana).
Acharn Supee Thumthong
who teaches Pali in Bangkok remarked that when he studies realities he
keeps firmly in mind that the results become apparent only when the conditions
are fulfilled. If panna does not arise to realize the dhammas that appear,
it means that one's understanding about the dhammas at the pannatti level
is not firm enough. He said that if one truly understands this, one will
not struggle and strive for results. In other words, one will develop understanding
naturally and not force oneself,
trying to reach a level one is not yet ready for.
Acharn Sujin reminded us that people living at the time of a previous Buddha, the Buddha Dipankara, were very patient. We read in the “Khuddhaka Nikaya”, “Chronicle of the Buddhas” (II A, Account of Sumedha, vs. 71-75) that devas and men rejoiced when they heard that the Buddha Dipaòkara proclaimed Sumedha to be the future Buddha. We read that they said:
If we should fail of the Dispensation (teachings) of this protector of the world, in the distant future we will be face to face with this one. As men, crossing a river but, failing of the ford to the bank opposite, taking a ford lower down cross over the great river, even so, all of us, if we miss (the words of) this Conqueror, in the distant future will be face to face with this one 1.
They realized that the development of satipatthana takes a long time, that it takes aeons. The Bodhisatta had to listen to twentyfour Buddhas before he could attain Buddhahood in his last life. We can still study his teachings, but time will come that these disappear. There will be a future Buddha, Ariya Metteyya, and if we do not attain enlightenment in this Buddha era, we may have an opportunity to listen to his teachings. When Acharn Sujin spoke of the gladness and patience of people at the time of Sumedha, I said that I found it difficult to be glad about the prospect of having to wait for many aeons until panna is developed. But Acharn Sujin reminded us to have courage and gladness while developing right understanding. It is true, when panna arises there cannot be anxiety at the same time. Panna can be developed at the present moment and we should not think of the future and how long the road is; what counts is only the present moment. There is no self who can do anything and thus, it is of no use to think of an idea of “my progress”. Listening to the Dhamma, studying it and considering it are the right conditions for satipatthana.
We had Dhamma conversations in different places: apart from the holy sites, we discussed the Dhamma in hotel halls when waiting for the bus, in dining rooms and also in a teashop along the road when the drivers had to rest. I quote from a discussion in a teashop where we sat at a long table, drinking Indian tea. Acharn Sujin said:
“We say, everything is dhamma, but are these just words? How can we understand the characteristics of nama and rupa if there is no direct awareness of them? We are talking about seeing and hardness, but there may not be direct awareness of a characteristic, just one at a time. There is seeing now, but no awareness of it. When awareness arises we are beginning to understand seeing right now. There is no need to think about it whether there is awareness of this citta that sees or a past moment of citta that sees, that is thinking. There can be awareness of any reality that sees now. However, we should first study and understand what citta, cetasika and rupa are, so that there are conditions for the arising of awareness. If someone says that one should just be aware from the very beginning without study of realities, without knowing about the conditions for sati, it is wrong.Seeing sees all the time but there is no development of understanding of seeing, we are only thinking about seeing. Seeing appears, and this means that seeing at that moment is the object of satipatthana, and only in this way right understanding of it can develop. Panna begins to grow by understanding the characteristics of nama and rupa, and the characteristic of sati. The development of satipatthana should be very natural, if it is not natural one is on the wrong way. Someone is on the wrong way if he clings to an idea of self who can act in a particular way to make sati arise, instead of just understanding reality. Panna can understand any reality that has arisen because of its own conditions. We cannot know of what object sati will be aware, this is beyond expectation.”
By study, listening
and considering the Dhamma there can each time be just a little more understanding
and we should be grateful for that. It should be enough for the moment,
because, as Acharn Sujin often said, panna works it way. It is accumulated
little by little.
1. They will be face
to face with the Buddha Gotamma, who was previously the Bodhisatta Sumedha.