Chapter 6

Clinging to Self

The Buddha taught that there is no self and therefore it was very appropriate that in all the holy sites Acharn Sujin reminded us of our clinging to a self. She said:

“We say that there is no self, but do we understand by insight knowledge realities as nama dhamma and as rupa dhamma? Nobody can change their characteristics, they have no owner. We have to listen in order to understand their characteristics and if there is gradually more understanding, sati will arise. It is the task of sati to be aware, not our task.”

We cling to ourselves, to our actions, speech and thoughts, but we do not notice this. When we listen to the Dhamma or read a sutta, is there not an idea of self who is doing this? The test is always at this moment. Only panna can eliminate clinging to the idea of self and all kinds of lobha, “we” cannot do this. There are different ways of thinking of ourselves. We may think of ourselves with wrong view, ditthi, or just with clinging that is unaccompanied by wrong view, or with conceit, mana. There are eight types of citta rooted in lobha, lobha-mula-cittas, four of which are accompanied by wrong view and four without wrong view. Conceit can accompany lobha-mula-citta that is without wrong view, but it does not arise all the time with these types of lobha-mula-citta 1. Wrong view is eradicated at the attainment of the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the streamwinner, sotapanna. However, he can still think of himself with attachment, or with conceit.

We have accumulated these three ways of clinging to self for aeons. Attachment to sense objects, kamaraga (which is lobha cetasika), wrong view, ditthi, and conceit, mana, are latent tendencies, anusayas, that are very persistent. Latent tendencies are subtle defilements that lie dormant in the citta and do not arise with the citta, but they condition the arising of akusala dhammas time and again. Acharn Sujin referred to a Sutta about lobha in the “Kindred Sayings” , the “Resident Pupil” (IV, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Fourth Fifty, Ch 5, § 150), where lobha is compared to a resident pupil, a companion one lives with, and to a teacher, who tells someone what to do. Lobha is our life-long companion, it follows us everywhere. Lobha can also be compared to a teacher, who, as Acharn Sujin said, suggests going here or there, and who is followed by citta who obeys the teacher. There is seeing and then clinging, there is hearing and then clinging, there is thinking and then clinging. She said that we know the coarse lobha, but not the more subtle lobha. For example, when we are seeing now we may not notice that we like what we see, but still, there may be a subtle clinging to seeing or to visible object. We often do not notice it when there is akusala citta, in particular when attachment or anger are not strong. When our objective is not dana, sila or bhavana, our actions, speech and thoughts are motivated by akusala cittas, and these are bound to be lobha-mula-cittas very often. When we, for example, are just daydreaming, we may not notice it when there is lobha. We read in the Sutta of “The Resident Pupil” that the Buddha said:

Without a resident pupil, monks, and without a teacher this righteous life is lived. A monk who dwells with a resident pupil or dwells with a teacher dwells woefully, dwells not at ease. And how, monks, does a monk who has a resident pupil, who has a teacher, not dwell at ease? Herein, monks, in a monk who sees an object with the eye, there arise evil, unprofitable states, memories and aspirations connected with fetters. Evil, unprofitable states are resident, reside in him. Hence he is called “co-resident”. They beset him, those evil, unprofitable states beset him. Therefore he is called “dwelling with a teacher.” So also with the ear... the tongue... the mind... Thus, monks, a monk who has a resident pupil, who has a teacher dwells not at ease.

The opposite has been stated about a monk who dwells without a resident pupil and without a teacher. He dwells at ease. Acharn Sujin asked someone of our group who had gone shopping whether “the teacher” had told her to go to the market. Everything is dhamma, lobha and dosa are dhamma, but we still consider them as “my lobha”, “my dosa”. We had a Dhamma discussion sitting on the grass near the great Stupa in Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon to his five disciples. There were many people going around the Stupa and Burmese pilgrims were beating a drum and chanting to express their respect to the Buddha. After our discussion we were also going around the Stupa three times with lighted candles. Instead of thoughts of reverence I happened to have thoughts of dosa because of something that worried me. However, I remembered a conversation I had with a friend who had told me that we do not necessarily have wholesome thoughts at the holy sites. It is very natural that there are also akusala cittas. Then I considered that it did not matter to have dosa. Later on Acharn Sujin reminded me that even such thoughts can be motivated by lobha: someone may like it that he is unconcerned about his dosa. This shows again how easily we can be deceived with regard to ourselves.

Attachment to sense objects can only be eradicated at the attainment of the third stage of enlightenment, the stage of the non-returner, anagami. First wrong view of realities, ditthi, has to be eradicated before other defilements can be eradicated. We have the latent tendency of wrong view, ditthanussaya, and this can condition the arising of lobha-mula-citta (citta rooted in attachment) that is accompanied by wrong view. When we have studied the Dhamma we may have intellectual understanding of the Buddha’s teaching on nama and rupa, but we may still follow the wrong practice instead of developing right understanding of what appears now. Wrong practice is a way of wrong view, ditthi. We may engage in wrong practice without noticing this. We may, for example, believe that we should visit the holy sites and pay respect to the Buddha’s relics in order to have more sati of satipatthana. Acharn Supee reminded us that we may try to induce sati by acting in a specific way. That is not the right Path. He explained that the “teacher” lobha may tell us to follow special techniques in order to gain more understanding, but that this is not the development of right understanding of realities that are conditioned and appear now.

Acharn Sujin always stresses that we cannot do anything to have sati, it arises because of its own conditions. When we listen to the Dhamma conditions for the arising of sati are accumulated. However, we may still unknowingly try to be aware. It is panna that can detect such moments. Conceit, mana, is another akusala cetasika that can arise with lobha-mula-citta. When there is conceit we attach importance to ourselves. Because of conceit we compare ourselves with others: we think ourselves better, equal or less than someone else. However, also when we do not compare ourselves with others we may find ourselves important and then there is conceit. Acharn Sujin reminded us that even when we laugh, conceit may arise. When we laugh about the way someone else is dressed, there can be conceit: we may find that he is dressed in a funny way while we are well dressed. Also when we are with other people who tell us stories and we join in their laughter we may find ourselves important, we may attach importance to our way of laughing, our manners. Acharn Supee explained that when there is a sense of “me” and “he” there may already be conceit. Conceit may arise when we think of someone else who takes medicine while we do not have to take it; when we think of ourselves who perspire in the hot climate of India, while others do not; when we think of ourselves who have taken the food from the buffet table already while others have not yet; when we think of ourselves who visit the holy sites, while others do not. There are countless instances of thinking with conceit, but these are very intricate. When we have a thought of “me and the others” and our objective is not dana, sila or bhavana, very often conceit is bound to arise. Even when we think, “He sits there and I am here”, there can already be conceit, Acharn Supee said.

When we have metta, loving kindness, for someone else, we do not think with conceit, thus this is a way to have less akusala when we are with others. However, cittas arise and fall away very rapidly, and there may even be clinging to the idea of trying to have metta instead of conceit. Metta and conceit can arise very rapidly one after the other. Only panna can know these different moments. Acharn Sujin said:

“If we try to analyse different moments it is not panna, it is thinking. When there is more understanding there will be less thinking about ‘me’ all the time. We should think of other people rather than thinking of ourselves. Any time satipatthana arises, it is so useful. It is like a drop of water falling in a big jar, even if it is a tiny drop.”

In other words, eventually the jar will be filled with water, even if there is a little drop at a time. Even so, a short moment of sati is useful, because it is accumulated little by little, so that right understanding can grow.  We learn that all realities are anatta, but we have wrong understanding of anatta. We forget that the reality appearing at this moment is anatta. Acharn Sujin stressed the importance of truthfulness and sincerity. We should be sincere as to our development of understanding and not pretend to know what we do not know yet. Someone asked what an “upright person” is. Acharn Sujin answered:

“An upright person knows that dhamma is dhamma, non-self. One becomes an upright person by listening, considering and awareness. When satipatthana arises, and a person is aware of the characteristic that appears, studies it and understands it, he follows the right Path. He is not following another practice, different from the right Path. Gradually he studies realities and understands them, and he is not neglectful, so that insight knowledge can arise. He knows that he cannot select any object of satipatthana.”

She reminded us many times that the development of panna should be very natural, that we can learn about our own accumulations. We can take life easy, not, of course, as an excuse for akusala, but we should not worry about it. Lobha arises because it is accumulated, otherwise it would not arise. We have to be sincere, truthful. It is good to know our accumulated inclinations. She said: "If akusala does not arise, how can we know that we still have it?" Thus, we can learn from our akusala. This is the way to develop understanding.

Acharn Sujin explained in particular the different conditions for the arising of lobha, because it arises more often than we ever thought and we are inclined to take it for self. The Buddha taught twentyfour classes of conditions, paccayas, for the phenomena of our life, so that we can have more understanding of the truth of non-self. Nama can condition nama, rupa can condition rupa, nama and rupa can condition each other in various ways. Citta, cetasika and rupa cannot arise without conditions.  There are several conditions that operate at the same time when a reality arises. The object citta experiences is one of the conditions for the arising of citta. Each citta experiences an object, and there cannot be citta without experiencing an object; the object conditions citta by way of object-condition, arammana-paccaya. Some objects are very desirable and then one gives preponderance to them; they condition the citta by way of object predominance-condition, arammanadhipati-paccaya 2 . Only desirable objects can condition the citta by way of object predominance-condition, not unpleasant objects, such as painful feeling. Wholesomeness such as dana or the development of right understanding can be object predominance-condition for the kusala citta that esteems it and gives preponderance to it. A desirable object that is experienced can condition lobha by way of object predominance-condition. In the hotels where we stayed there was a large selection of delicious foods displayed on the buffet table in the dining hall. Each one of us selected different dishes. Acharn Sujin said:

“When you go to select food, what conditions the selection? When an object is so very pleasant, you will not let go of it, you want to have it more than anything else. When you see many different things and you select something in particular, this is because of the object predominance-condition, the object conditions one to cling to it. Lobha is so attached to that object.”

When we like an object, we may want to have it again and again, not merely once. We accumulate clinging to that particular object. That object conditions clinging by way of object strong dependence-condition, arammanupanissaya-paccaya 3; it has become a powerful inducement, a cogent reason for lobha. Acharn Sujin said:

“You may like a special kind of fruit, and it will happen again that you like it. That object becomes your strong dependence-condition for continuing to like it; you like it not just once. You want to have it again and again, and this becomes a habit. That is why we like different things.”

The teaching of conditions is not theory, we can understand conditions whenever they appear. We can know what object we like in particular and what object can be a strong dependence-condition for liking it. Thus, in the case of clinging, the object predominance-condition indicates that the object is highly desirable so that it conditions lobha to have preference for it. The object that is strong dependence-condition indicates that lobha becomes strongly dependent on it, that it is a cogent reason for lobha. These conditions do not operate only in the case of defilements, but also in the case of kusala citta.

There are several more conditions for the arising of lobha in daily life. We accumulate different tendencies, different likes and dislikes, because each citta that arises and falls away is immediately succeeded by the next citta without any interval. Each citta conditions the succeeding citta by way of proximity-condition, anantara-paccaya 4. That is why all our accumulated tendencies can go on from one citta to the next citta, from life to life. Another condition that concerns the way a preceding citta conditions the succeeding citta is the proximity strong dependence-condition, anantarupanissaya-paccaya 5. This condition is similar to the proximity-condition, but it is not identical. The proximity strong dependence-condition indicates how forcefully a preceding citta can condition the subsequent citta: the preceding citta is a cogent reason for the arising of the subsequent citta. Thus, with regard to proximity-condition and proximity strong dependence-condition there is a difference in the conditioning force that brings about the appropriate effect. When, for example, strong dosa, aversion, arises quite suddenly, we may ask ourselves how that could happen. Our accumulated dosa conditions the arising of dosa at the right time; the preceding citta is then a powerful inducement for the arising of such a degree of dosa at the succeeding moment. It has to happen, it is beyond control, because it is depending on the appropriate conditions. This is also true for lobha, and for kusala. Our accumulated tendencies are carried on from moment to moment in the series of cittas of which our life consist. This series must go on and on from this life to the next life, by way of proximity-condition and by way of proximity strong
dependence-condition. Nothing can arrest this chain of life except the dying-consciousness of the arahat, which is not succeeded by rebirth-consciousness.

The wholesome and unwholesome tendencies we accumulate today condition future moments of kusala citta and akusala citta. They condition these by way of natural strong dependence-condition, pakatupanissaya-paccaya 6, another condition among the twentyfour classes of conditions. We think of kusala and akusala that we performed as “ours”, but they are just dhammas, devoid of self, that arise because of their own conditions. We see that people have different manners, different ways of walking or sitting. This is due to experiences and tendencies accumulated in the past.  Thus, there are three kinds of strong dependence-condition:  object strong dependence-condition proximity strong dependence-condition natural strong dependence-condition

The Buddha realized the conditions for all phenomena of life thoroughly when he attained Buddhahood. All these conditions are realities, not terms, but the terms are needed to explain realities.  When we listen to the Dhamma the tendency to listen and to consider what we hear is accumulated from moment to moment. Right understanding can become an object strong dependence-condition: we see the value of understanding based on listening and this conditions us to listen again and again. We accumulate the tendency to listen and to consider what we hear, this becomes a natural strong dependence-condition for right understanding. The different conditions that play their part in our life are very intricate. Understanding that arises with the citta can condition the arising of a succeeding moment of understanding, not only by way of proximity condition, but also by way of proximity strong dependence-condition, anantarupanissaya-paccaya. The accumulation of sobhana cetasikas such as confidence, saddha and mindfulness, sati, and other wholesome qualities may be ready to condition that very moment of panna. When the accumulated conditions are sufficient they can condition higher levels of panna: stages of insight knowledge and even lokuttara (supramundane) panna, arising at the attainment of enlightenment, but “we” cannot induce this. It is most valuable to understand more about the different kinds of conditions that play their part in our life. This understanding will prevent us from following the wrong Path and it will help us to realize this moment as non-self, no matter it is kusala or akusala.

The Buddha exhorted people to eradicate akusala and to develop kusala, but can “we” do this? Acharn Sujin said:

“Is it correct to say that a self can eradicate akusala and develop kusala? Kusala is dhamma and akusala is dhamma, they arise because of their appropriate conditions. One does not like to have akusala, and one likes to have kusala, but can kusala arise often? If there is right understanding, it is a condition to have gradually less akusala, because one can be aware of akusala as akusala. But there is no self who wants to have kusala and to eradicate akusala. Kusala and akusala are anatta. We can verify for ourselves whether we can have kusala to the degree we wish or not.”

If there are no conditions for kusala, we cannot force its arising. There are many degrees of kusala that can eliminate akusala. It depends on the individual to which kind of kusala he is mostly inclined, to dana, sila, samatha or to the development of right understanding. We read in the “Dhammmapada” (Khuddaka Nikaya), vs. 183:

Not to do any evil, to cultivate wholesomeness, to purify one’s mind,- this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

This is a short text but deep in meaning. When we develop right understanding of all realities appearing through the six doors we “purify the mind”. Then we can see akusala and kusala as dhammas that arise because of the appropriate conditions and that are non-self. This understanding is the condition to refrain from akusala and to cultivate kusala.



1. In the second Book of the Abhidhamma, the “Book of Analysis” Ch 17, “Analysis of Small Items” different ways of craving have been explained in connection with oneself. One thinks of oneself with craving, with wrong view and with conceit. Craving, tanha, wrong view, ditthi and conceit, mana, are three factors that slow down the development of insight. They are also called papanca, diffuseness or aberrations. See my “In Asoka’s Footsteps”, Ch 4.
2. Arammana means object and adhipati means predominance.
3. Upanissaya means support or dependence. Arammanupanissaya-paccaya is also translated as decisive support-condition of object.
4. Anantara means without any interval.
5. This is also translated as decisive support of proximity-condition.
6. Pakati means natural. The natural strong dependence-condition is very wide, it also includes, for example, kusala that can condition the arising of akusala later on, or akusala that can condition the arising of kusala later on .