Dialogue on Vipassanå
The Natural Way of Development
Questioner: Among the forty kinds of meditation subjects of samatha I prefer Mindfulness of Breathing. However, I understand that, by means of this subject, I cannot eradicate defilements, that I cannot realize the noble Truths and reach nibbåna.
Sujin: Through samatha defilements cannot be eradicated, nor can the noble Truths be realized and nibbåna be attained.
Q. : I think that peoples aim is to eradicate defilements and attain nibbåna. However, they do not understand what in daily life the cause of clinging is. They do not know when there is lobha. If someone just wishes to eradicate defilements without knowing them as they are, there is clinging to a result. Is it then possible for them to develop satipaììhåna?
S. : No, it is impossible.
Q. : Can we develop both samatha and vipassanå?
S. : People will know for themselves whether they are developing samatha or vipassanå. However, if there is no right understanding of these different ways of development, neither samatha nor vipassanå can be developed.
Q. : Could you please give some directions for the development of vipassanå?
S. : Nobody can hasten the development of satipaììhåna. The goal of satipaììhåna is the eradication of defilements. However, a person who does not know his defilements is not motivated to follow the way leading to their eradication. If someone would line up children who are ignorant of their defilements and tell them to eradicate defilements by the development satipaììhåna, they would not want to eradicate defilements. How could they then develop satipaììhåna?
All people, children and adults alike, have a great deal of defilements. If one would ask them whether they would wish to get rid of them, most of them would answer that they do not wish to. Therefore, one should not try to force others to develop satipaììhåna.
Some people, when they hear about defilements, may not like to have them, but do they really know their defilements? Attachment, lobha, is a defilement. Do people want to have lobha? They may not like the idea of having lobha, but actually, people like lobha each and every moment. This shows that one does not understand the characteristic of the defilement of lobha. We can find out whether we really understand lobha as a defilement or not. Is the food delicious? Are our cloths and the things with which we beautify ourselves nice? Is the music pleasing, the odour fragrant, the chair soft and confortable? Is what we touch agreeable? Although some people do not like the idea of having lobha and think that they should not have it, they can find out that citta likes lobha all the time.
The development of satipaììhåna is the development of sati and paññå. It is not: trying to have concentration, samådhi.
Q. : What is attå-saññå, remembrance of self?
S. : Attå-saññå is remembrance (saññå) with clinging to the concept of self (attå), thus, wrong perception of self. We do not need to have doubts about attå-saññå because we all are familiar with it. When a person has realized the noble Truths at the attainment of the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the streamwinner, sotåpanna, the wrong view is eradicated which takes realities for self, for beings or for people. However, there is bound to be attå-saññå if one has not developed satipaììhåna. There is bound to be ignorance and wrong view if sati does not arise, if there is no awareness of the characteristics of realities as they naturally appear through one doorway at a time. Wrong view takes the realities which appear for a compound, a whole, for something which lasts, for attå, self. If people do not know at this moment realities as they are, there is bound to be attå-saññå, the remembrance or perception that it is I who is seeing, and that what is seen is a being, a person, a self.
When someone has only theoretical understanding of realities that is the result of listening to the Dhamma, he is not able to directly understand nåma and rúpa as they are. He does not realize that what he sees and conceives as people and beings, is in reality only that which appears through the eyes. Therefore, we should time and again investigate the Dhamma we hear and study, we should ponder over it in all details. Only in this way the meaning of the words which designate characteristics of realities can be fully understood.
The wording that which appears through the eyes describing the characteristic of visible object is altogether appropriate. It explains that visible object is only an element (dhåtu) appearing through the eyes so that it can be seen. No matter what colour it is: red, green, blue, yellow or white, a bright or a dull colour, it must appear when it impinges on the rúpa which is eyesense. When someone, after having seen what appears through the eyesense, does not understand realities as they are, there is bound to be attå-saññå. He takes what was seen for people, beings or things. When people are absorbed in different colours, it causes them to think of a whole, of shape and form, and thus there is remembrance (saññå) of the outward appearance of persons and things. When it seems that one sees people, beings or things, there are in reality only different colours which are seen, such as black, white, the colour of skin, red or yellow.
If people would not interprete different colours or translate them into shape and form, they would not conceive them as beings, people or things. Therefore, when we see and we are then absorbed in the shape and form, in the outward appearance (nimitta) and the details of things, we should know that this occurs only because colour appears. When colours appear, we think about them, interprete them and translate them into shape and form of different things.
When sati arises and is mindful of realities and paññå begins to study and investigate their characteristics, one will begin to understand that the outward appearance and all the details of things, all the different colours, are only what appears through the eyes, nothing else. Then paññå begins to penetrate the characteristics of realities as not a self, not a being, not a person. If sati arises and is aware time and again, one will understand the meaning of the Buddhas words explaining that, by the development of the understanding of the realities which naturally appear, one will not cling to the outward appearance and the details of things.
We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I, no. 27) in the Lesser Discourse on the Simile of the Elephants Footprint that the Buddha spoke to the brahman Jåùussoùi about the monks life. He said about the restraint of the senses:
He, possessed of the ariyan body of moral habit, subjectively experiences unsullied well-being. Having seen visible object with the eye, he is not entranced by the general appearance, he is not entranced by the detail. If he dwells with this organ of sight uncontrolled, covetousness and dejection, evil unskilled states of mind, might predominate. So he fares along controlling it; he guards the organ of sight, he comes to have control over the organ of sight....
(The same is said with regard to the other doorways.)
This kind of restraint can be achieved through the development of paññå which understands the realities that appear as they are. One will begin to let go of attå-saññå with regard to what appears through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the bodysense and the mind-door, in accordance with the degree of paññå which has been reached.
We should remember that no matter which topic or which detail the teachings deal with, it all concerns the realities of daily life. Sati should be aware of the realities which appear so that paññå is able to clearly understand their characteristics. This leads to the complete eradication of defilements.
We should listen carefully to the Dhamma, we should study and investigate the dhammas which are already appearing, which are our ordinary, daily life. We cannot yet immediately eradicate lobha, dosa, moha and the other defilements. People desire to eradicate defilements, but they should know that defilements can only be eradicated at the moment of enlightenment, when the magga-citta, path-consciousness, arises. First personality view, sakkåya diììhi, is eradicated, which takes the dhammas appearing through the six doors for self, being or person. Personality view is eradicated at the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the streamwinner, sotåpanna. After that stage has been attained, paññå should be developed further so that the following stages of enlightenment can be attained and defilements can successively be eradicated. These stages are the stages of the once-returner, sakadågåmí, the non-returner, anågåmí, and the arahat. Thus, paññå can be developed only gradually. One should not try to hasten its development, one should not believe that it is sufficient just to practise for a day, a month or a year, without even understanding the right conditions for sati. Actually, sati which is sammå-sati (right mindfulness) of the eightfold Path can only arise if one first studies and understands the characteristics of realities as they appear through the senses and through the mind-door. Then sammå-sati can arise and be aware, and paññå can begin to study and investigate realities which naturally appear in daily life, so that they can be seen as they really are.
The development of satipaììhåna is a threefold training (sikkhå):
training in higher morality, adhisíla sikkhå
training in higher consciousness, adhicitta sikkhå
training in higher wisdom, adhipaññå sikkhå
When sati is aware of the realities which are appearing, there is higher síla, síla which is more refined. Sati is aware of the characteristics of citta, cetasika and rúpa. It is aware of kusala dhammas and akusala dhammas before actions through the body or through speech arise 1.
Satipaììhåna is training in higher consciousness, which means concentration, samådhi or ekaggatå cetasika 2. When sammå-sati arises there is concentration on the nåma or rúpa which appears, on the dhamma which arises and falls away very rapidly.
Satipaììhåna is training in higher wisdom, because paññå investigates and studies in detail the characteristics of realities as they are appearing in daily life, so that they can be known as they are.
Q. : Everything you have explained is very beneficial for me at this moment. But, although I have some understanding of what I heard, my understanding is not yet sufficient. When I practise satipaììhåna I immediately cling to a concept of self who is making use of sati. I am only a beginner and, as far as I know myself, I have not even attained the first stage of insight which knows the difference between the characteristic of nåma and of rúpa, nåma-rúpa-pariccheda-ñåùa. What should I do to have more understanding?
S. : If someone tries to do something special with the aim to develop insight, his life will be very complicated. How can he act in the right way if there is still a concept of self who will do particular things? If people wish to do particular things in order to have more understanding, they are clinging. They cling to the understanding of nåma and rúpa which have arisen already. Satipaììhåna is the dhamma which is aware of whatever reality appears through one of the six doors, such as the dhamma appearing through the eyes, visible object, when there is seeing at this moment. Then satipaììhåna can be naturally aware and paññå can begin to study and investigate the true nature of nåma and rúpa.
Q. : How should we develop satipaììhåna when we are seeing?
S. : When there is seeing you can be aware and realize that what appears to seeing is a type of reality which only appears through the eyes. When we see hairs, a table, a chair, a pillar or a hall, we should know that what is seen is in reality only that which appears through the eyes. It does not appear through the ears, the nose, the tongue or the bodysense. When paññå has not been developed to the degree of knowing the difference between the characteristics of nåma and rúpa, this stage of insight cannot arise.
Q. : When I receive a Dhamma book about the practice in daily life I read it many times, because I want to be able to practise. However, all the time there is a concept of self, there is self who sees when there is seeing. I cannot realize that colour is rúpa, seeing is nåma. I keep on thinking about all that has been explained, but I cannot be aware of nåma and rúpa in the right way. Please, could you explain to me how to be aware?
S. : When there is seeing which experiences an object through the eyes, can you at that moment investigate the characteristic of the dhamma which naturally appears? It is essential to know how understanding should be developed, so that later on paññå can become accomplished to the degree of the first stage of insight, knowledge of the difference between nama and rúpa. First of all sati can be aware and study the different characteristics of nåma and rúpa which are naturally appearing through any of the doorways. Awareness is different from thinking about nåma and rúpa, from theoretical understanding which stems from listening to the Dhamma. Awareness of realities is not developed if you, while seeing, think about it with agitation, worry and nervousness; if you think with agitation that what appears is rúpa and that seeing is nåma. At such a moment there is no investigation, no study of a characteristic of rúpa or a characteristic of nåma. It is necessary to have first correct understanding of the characteristics of nåma and rúpa so that satipaììhåna can arise and be directly aware of them. You should understand that the nåma which sees is a reality which experiences something, that it has no shape or form and that it is non-self. It is not necessary to assume a particular posture in order to know realities. It is not necessary to stand first and then see, or to sit or lie down first and then see, so that you would know seeing as it is.
Satipaììhåna investigates precisely the characteristic of seeing as a type of reality which experiences something, not I or self, not a being or a person. When satipaììhåna arises and it is aware of the characteristic of rúpa appearing through the eyes, that characteristic can be investigated, so that it is known as only a type of reality, not self, not a being or a person.
Q. : The practice should be steadfast, not agitated, as you just said. Therefore, is it possible to use the method of satipaììhåna of breathing (ånåpåna satipaììhåna)? The subjects of satipaììhåna are body, feeling, citta and dhamma, but we can combine these with ånåpåna sati, mindfulness of breathing. I myself have given the name of ånåpåna satipaììhåna to this way of practice.
S. : It is mostly the desire for result which causes a person to look for a combination of several methods. He may not know how to develop understanding and tries therefore to use one method in combination with another one so that understanding (sampajañña) would become more accomplished. He believes that there is in that way no forgetfulness and that he can for a long time focus on one object. However, is that not clinging? People may well wish to focus citta for a long time on a particular object, but they cannot be mindful in the right way, they cannot be mindful, for example, of what appears through the eyes or through the other doorways. When people try to make citta concentrate on one object they are actually combining several methods of development because of clinging to result. It is not the development of paññå.
For the person who develops satipaììhåna naturally the aim is to understand realities and thereby to become detached from them. However, if one has no understanding yet one cannot become detached. Can you, while you try to make citta concentrate on one object, let go of desire? If you try to concentrate you do not develop paññå with the aim of understanding realities and becoming detached. If people try to do something other than developing satipaììhåna naturally, they will not know as they are the characteristics of realities which are appearing at this moment. Hearing is real, it appears naturally, and so it is with thinking, happy feeling or unhappy feeling; they all appear naturally, they are all dhammas, realities. If sati does not arise and is not aware of realities, there is not the development of satipaììhåna. What is the use of combining different methods of practice if there is no understanding of nåma and rúpa as they appear already through the six doors?
Q. : When I combine different methods I acquire more understanding of the three characteristics of impermanence, dukkha and anattå. They are explained in the textbooks I have read. I also have read about mindfulness of breathing and this helps me not to be distracted by other matters. If I have a problem which I cannot solve I apply myself to mindfulness of breathing. But if I try to think, seeing through the eyes is nåma, it is non-self, or, hearing is non-self, I feel confused. There is still self all the time, self who is acting, who is thinking. I feel confused and worried about that.
S. : If you combine different ways of practice you are bound to become worried, because there is no paññå which investigates and studies the characteristics of realities as they naturally appear. You said that the benefit derived from your way of practice is knowing the three general characteristics of realities: impermanence, dukkha and anatta. However, that is only textbook knowledge of the three characteristics. If you do not know nåma and rúpa as they appear, how can you know the three general characteristics of nåma and rúpa? They must be characteristics of the nåma and rúpa which appear, one at a time.
It is through insight knowledge, vipassanå ñåùa, that the three general characteristics are penetrated. There cannot be vipassanå ñåùa if one does not know the different characteristics of the nåmas and rúpas as they appear one at a time. If one does not know the difference between the characteristic of nåma and the characteristic of rúpa, the three general characteristics of realities cannot be penetrated.
Q. : How should one be aware? I know that sati is aware, but how? Should there be profound consideration or a more superficial consideration of the three general characteristics of impermanence, dukkha and anattå? Or should there be awareness only of softness and hardness? I have understood what you taught about the practice, I listened for two or three years. However, I cannot practise. I learnt about nåma and rúpa, but what are they? How should I be aware of them? I feel confused about awareness of dhammas at the present moment. There must be a special method for this. A special method is important. Should there be profound awareness or awareness which is more superficial, awareness for a long time or for a short time? But I take everything for self.
S. : This way of acting leads to confusion. You may try to regulate sati, to have profound awareness or a more superficial awareness, to have a great deal of it or only a little, but, as regards the development of paññå there is no special method or technic. The development of paññå begins with listening to the Dhamma, and studying the realities sati can be aware of, so that understanding can grow. These are conditions for the arising of sati which is directly aware of the characteristics of nåma and rúpa as they naturally appear. Since the nåma and rúpa which appear are real, paññå can come to know their true nature.
You should not try to regulate sati and try to make it strong or to make it decrease so that it is weak, or to make it superficial. If one acts in that way one clings to the concept of self and does not investigate and study the characteristics of the dhammas which appear. What are the realities which appear? A person who is not forgetful of realities can be aware of them as they naturally appear, he is directly aware of their characteristics. He does not try to make sati focus on an object so that it could consider that object more deeply, over and over again. Sati arises and falls away, and then there may be again forgetfulness, or sati may be aware again of another object. Thus, we can see that satipaììhåna is anattå. People who understand that all realities, including satipaììhåna, are anattå, will not be confused. If someone clings to the concept of self, he is inclined to regulate and direct sati, but he does not know the right way. If ones practice is not natural, it is complicated and creates confusion. If awareness is natural, if it studies and considers the realities which appear, there will be understanding, no confusion.
Q. : I do not know yet the characteristic of satipaììhåna. When I listen intently to your lecture, I understand the subject matter, the theory. There is also awareness while I have theoretical understanding, but I do not consider nåma and rúpa at that moment. I am not sure whether that is satipaììhåna or not.
S. : If we do not know that our life is only nåma and rúpa, we are bound to take realities for self. We are full of the concept of self and this can only be eradicated completely by satipaììhåna. Sati can be aware and begin to investigate the characteristics of nåma and rúpa which appear. In the beginning, when sati is aware, there cannot yet be clear understanding of the realities which appear as nåma and as rúpa. The understanding may be so weak that it is hardly noticeable. Understanding develops only gradually, it can eliminate ignorance stage by stage; ignorance cannot be immediately eradicated. It is just as in the case of the knife-handle someone holds each day and which wears off only a little at a time.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Middle Fifty, Ch V, § 101, Adze-handle) that the Buddha, while he was in Såvatthí, said to the monks that defilements can be eradicated by realizing the arising and falling away of the five khandhas. This cannot be achieved by not knowing, by not seeing. If someone would just wish for the eradication of defilements and he would be neglectful of the development of understanding, defilements cannot be eradicated. Only by the development of understanding, defilements can gradually be eliminated. We read:
Just as if, monks, when a carpenter or carpenters apprentice looks upon his adze-handle and sees thereon his thumb-mark and his finger-marks he does not thereby know: Thus and thus much of my adze-handle has been worn away today, thus much yesterday, thus much at other times. But he knows the wearing away of it just by its wearing away.
Even so, monks, the monk who dwells attentive to self-training has not this knowledge: Thus much and thus much of the åsavas has been worn away today, thus much yesterday, and thus much at other times. But he knows the wearing away of them just by their wearing away.
Understanding has to be developed for an endlessly long time3. Some people dislike it that sati and paññå develop only very gradually, but there is no other way. If someone is impatient and tries to combine different ways of practice in order to hasten the development of paññå, he makes his life very complicated.
Q. : What is the difference between the practice which is natural and the practice which is unnatural?
S. : At this moment you are sitting in a natural way and you may be aware of realities which appear, such as softness or hardness, presenting themselves through the bodysense, or visible object appearing through the eyesense. All these dhammas appear naturally. However, someones practice is unnatural if he believes, while he develops satipaììhåna, that he should sit crosslegged, in the lotus position, and that he should concentrate on specific realities. There is desire when a person selects realities which have not arisen yet as objects of awareness. He neglects to be aware of realities which appear already, such as seeing, hearing, visible object, sound, odour, flavour, cold, heat, softness or hardness. Even if there is only a slight amount of wrong understanding, it conditions clinging and this hides the truth. In that case paññå cannot arise and know the dhammas appearing at that moment.
People who develop satipaììhåna should know precisely the difference between the moment of forgetfulness, when there is no sati, and the moment when there is sati. Otherwise satipaììhåna cannot be developed. If one is usually forgetful one is bound to be forgetful again. Someone may wish to select an object in order to concentrate on it, but this is not the way to develop satipaììhåna. We should have right understanding of the moment when there is forgetfulness, no sati, that is, when we do not know the characteristics of realities appearing in daily life, such as seeing or hearing. When there is sati, one can consider, study and understand the dhammas appearing through the six doors. When someone selects a particular object in order to focus on it, he will not know that sati is non-self. When there is sati it can be aware of realities which naturally appear. When odour appears there can be awareness of odour which presents itself through the nose. It can be known as only a type of reality which arises, which appears and then disappears. Or the nåma which experiences odour can be understood as only a type of reality which presents itself. After it has experienced odour, it falls away. It is not a being, a person or self.
Q. : Is it true that the sotåpanna, the person who has attained the first stage of enlightenment, does not recognize his father or mother?
S. : The sotåpanna clearly realizes the dhamma which sees as a type of nåma. After seeing he knows what it is that was perceived, namely a person, a being or a thing he can think of. Thinking is another type of nåma which arises and then falls away. Is there anybody who sees and then does not know the meaning of what was seen? If that is the case the Buddha would not have recognized Ånanda or Moggallåna, or anything at all. Then there would be only the nåma which sees and no other types of nåma which recognize what was seen. However, dhammas take their own natural course, they are what they are. Apart from the nåma which sees there is after the seeing also the nåma which knows the meaning of what was seen.
The Characteristic of Dukkha
Q. : What should a layman do who wants to be free from dukkha? He may see that there is such a great deal of dukkha, that it is so terrible and that it occurs all the time, because people are born and they have to be born again and again. Is there a short way to become free from dukkha?
S. : When someone says that there is such a great deal of dukkha, that it is so terrible, there is bound to be wrong view which clings to the concept of self. Only if there is no wrong view of self can dukkha become less. The Buddha explained that all the different kinds of dukkha can be eliminated according as defilements are eradicated stage by stage. So long as defilements have not been eradicated there have to be countless rebirths. So long as there is birth there is dukkha. The sotåpanna who has attained the first stage of enlightenment and has eradicated defilements in accordance with that stage, will not be reborn more than seven times.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Nidåna vagga, Ch XIII, § 1, The tip of the nail):
Thus have I heard. On a certain occasion the Exalted One was staying near Såvatthí at the Jeta Grove, in Anåthapiùèikas Park.
Then the Exalted One took up a little pinch of dust on the tip of his finger-nail and said to the monks: What do you think, monks? Whether is this pinch of dust that I have taken up on my finger-nail the greater, or the mighty earth?
The latter, lord, the mighty earth is the greater. Infinitely small is this pinch of dust taken up by the Exalted One on his finger-nail, not by a hundredth part, nor by a thousandth part, not by a hundred thousandth part does it equal the mighty earth when set beside it--this pinch of dust taken up by the Exalted One on his finger-nail.
Even so, monks, for the ariyan disciple who has won vision, for the person who has understanding this is the greater dukkha, to wit, that which for him is wholly perished, wholly finished; little is the dukkha that remains, not worth the hundredth part, not worth the thousandth part, not worth the hundred thousandth part when measured with the former dukkha which for him is wholly perished, wholly finished, to wit, a term of seven times 4.
So great in good, monks, is it to be wise in the Dhamma; so great a good is it to have gained the eye of the Dhamma.
Since the number of rebirths of ordinary people, who have not attained enlightenment, is countless, the dukkha which arises because of birth must accordingly be immeasurable, as you suggested in your question.
Q. : We all want to know what to do so that we can begin now with the practice of vipassanå.
S. : One should be aware of the characteristics of the realities which appear. When sati is aware of whatever reality appears, vitakka cetasika which is right thinking, sammå-sankappa, of the eightfold Path, touches or hits the characteristic of the object which is appearing. At that moment paññå can begin to study and to gradually realize the true nature of that object. In that way paññå can develop.
One may not be ready yet to consider and study the realities which arise and fall away again very rapidly. For example, when there is hearing, sati may arise and be aware of hearing, just for a moment, but one may not be ready yet to investigate that characteristic in order to know it as only a nåma which experiences sound. The nåma which hears has completely fallen away. In the beginning there is not yet clear understanding of realities such as hearing, but this is quite normal. Nobody can investigate the true nature of sound and of the nåma which hears, by trying to catch them or to get hold of them. However, the nåma which hears will surely arise again and if one develops sati and paññå, there can be awareness again of the nåma which hears.
Now, at this moment, sati can arise and be aware of one characteristic of nåma or rúpa at a time, as it appears through one of the six doorways. In this way paññå can gradually develop to the degree of clearly knowing the difference between the characteristic of nåma and the characteristic of rúpa. Paññå will, for example, be able to distinguish between the characteristic of the nåma which hears and of the rúpa which is sound. These are different characteristics and they should be known one at a time. Eventually one will become more familiar with the true nature of nåma and of rúpa and then the understanding of their characteristics will become more accomplished. No matter which type of nåma or rúpa appears, and no matter where, awareness and understanding of them can naturally arise, and that is the development of satipaììhåna in daily life. When understanding develops and becomes more accomplished, ignorance can gradually be eliminated.
Q. : After one has paid respect to the Buddha by chanting texts one may wish to sit and concentrate on a meditation subject. How can one do that with wise attention, so that there is no attachment nor aversion with regard to the meditation subject?
S. : When there is right mindfulness, sammå-sati, of the eightfold Path there truly is wise attention. It is not necessary to sit and concentrate on a meditation subject. When someone believes that he should sit and concentrate with the purpose of having sati, he has the wrong understanding that there is a self who could make sati arise at a fixed time. However, sammå-sati does not have to wait until one has paid respect by chanting texts. Who is paying respect to the Buddha? If someone does not know that the answer is, nåma and rúpa, he takes the realities at that moment for self. He has an idea of, I am paying respect, he clings to an idea of self who chants texts. Sammå-sati can arise and be aware of any reality which appears when we are paying respect or chanting texts, or at other moments, no matter which posture we assume.
Bhikkhu: I have a question on satipaììhåna. I have read that among the twentyeight rúpas, there are rúpas which cannot be seen, rúpas which cannot impinge, subtle rúpas, rúpas which are far, and so on. Could you explain about this?
S. : There is only one rúpa among the twentyeight rúpas which can be seen, and that is visible object which appears through the eyesense. Visible object can be seen and it is among the rúpas which impinge or contact (sappaìigha rúpas 5). There are other impinging rúpas: the sense objects, apart from visible object, which are sound, odour, flavour and tangible object, consisting of solidity (appearing as hardness or softness), temperature (appearing as heat or cold) and motion (appearing as motion or pressure). Furthermore, there are the senses which can be contacted or impinged on, namely, eyesense, earsense, smellingsense, tastingsense and bodysense. These eleven rúpas can impinge or can be impinged on, but they cannot be seen, whereas visible object can impinge and can be seen 6. The twelve impinging rúpas are coarse rúpas. They are also called rúpas which are near, because they can be investigated and known.
The sixteen other rúpas among the twentyeight rúpas are the subtle rúpas. They cannot be seen nor are they impinging. Subtle rúpas are far, they cannot easily be discerned.
The Buddha explained about dhammas, realities, and people who develop satipaììhåna can verify them; they can know the characteristics of the dhammas which naturally appear, just as they are. However, the Dhamma is subtle and deep. For example, when a person learns that visible object is the reality appearing through the eyes, he may think that it is not difficult to understand this. But theoretical understanding is not the same as understanding of the characteristic of seeing when he sees. If he does not develop satipaììhåna so that paññå becomes keener, he cannot realize the characteristics of nåma and rúpa as they are. When one sees, visible object is experienced through the eyes, but what one sees one takes for people, beings and different things. Then doubt arises and people wonder what visible object is like, what characteristic it has.
Visible object is the reality which appears when our eyes are open and there is seeing, not yet thinking about anything. Then the characteristic of visible object can appear naturally, as it is. As paññå develops, one can become familiar with the fact that visible object which appears is not a being, person, self, or anything else. Visible object is only the reality which appears through the eyes, that is its true nature. If people are not inclined to study and investigate the characteristic of visible object, it will be impossible for them to let go of the clinging to the idea they always had of seeing, namely, seeing people, beings or different things.
Q. : What is the meaning of studying characteristics?
S. : When sati is aware and someone considers the characteristic of whatever appears, that reality can be known as nåma, which experiences something, or as rúpa which does not experience anything. Then one studies the characteristic of non-self of that reality. It is nåma or rúpa, non-self. This kind of study is different from thinking about terms or naming realities. When paññå is developed to the degree that it is more accomplished, it can penetrate the three general characteristics of nåma and rúpa: impermanence, dukkha and anattå.
Q. : When my eyes are open I am seeing, but I do not pay attention to anything else. How can there be sati?
S. : We cannot prevent the arising and falling away of cittas which succeed one another, that is their nature. When sati arises it can be aware of whatever reality appears naturally, just as it is.
Q. : For most people the aim of the development of satipaììhåna is to become free from dukkha. When paññå has arisen one will be free from dukkha.
S. : Freedom from dukkha cannot be realized easily. Paññå should first be developed stage by stage, so that ignorance, doubt and wrong view which takes realities for self can be eliminated. If people develop sati and paññå naturally, they will know that paññå grows very gradually, because ignorance arises many more times a day than kusala. This was so in past lives and it is also like this in the present life.
Q. : The problem is that when an object impinges on one of the doorways I am bound to be forgetful, I lack sati.
S. : That is quite normal. When sati is still weak yet it cannot arise immediately.
Q. : I have studied the text the monks chant in the morning, about the khandhas of clinging, upadåna khandhas. There is clinging to the five khandhas and this is dukkha. What does this mean?
S. : The five khandhas of clinging are certainly dukkha. So long as there is ignorance of the true nature of the dhammas which appear, there is bound to be happiness and sorrow. The arising of happiness and sorrow is a kind of dukkha, because at such moments there is no calm, no freedom from defilements. People do not know the difference between kusala citta and akusala citta when paññå does not arise. We all enjoy having lobha. There is no end to the enjoyment of lobha, unless paññå discerns the difference between the moment of kusala, when there is non-attachment, and the moment of lobha, when there is pleasure, amusement, desire, enjoyment or clinging.
When paññå does not arise, we enjoy defilements, we like to have lobha; it never is enough, no matter whether we experience an object through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the bodysense or the mind-door. Generally people do not know that such moments are dukkha, that they are harmful and dangerous. Thus, the five khandhas of clinging are dukkha.
Q. : If we are heedful when objects are impinging, for example, when visible object contacts the eye or sound contacts the ear, there will be neither happiness nor sorrow.
S. : There is not somebody or a self who could be heedful or force the arising of sati. When sati arises we can know the difference between the moment with sati and the moment without sati.
Q. : The five khandhas of the ordinary person must be the same as those of the arahat, but the khandhas of the ordinary person are still objects of clinging and this causes the arising of dukkha. When we gradually learn to be heedful when sense objects such as visible object or sound are impinging on the relevant doorways, do we develop satipaììhåna in the right way?
S. : One should remember that all dhammas are anattå, non-self, so that sati can be developed in the right way. One should know when there is sati and when there is no sati. When one has a concept of self who is heedful, satipaììhana is not developed.
Q. : The word anattå is difficult to understand. We can translate the Påli term attå as self and the term anattå as non-self, but we do not really understand the meaning of these terms. We may say that there is no self, but we still cling to the concept of self.
S. : What is the self?
Q. : We may assume that we are the self, but the Buddha states that there are only the five khandhas which arise together.
S. : The khandhas are not a person, not a self, but if we do not know that there are only the khandhas, we assume that there is a self.
Q. : Although we know this, we still think, when we are seeing, that a self is seeing.
S. : That is so because we do not have yet clear comprehension of the true characteristics of the khandhas, as realities which arise and fall away very rapidly. They can be classified in different ways, namely, as past, present and future; as coarse and subtle; as internal and external; as far and near, and so on. If one can discern the characteristics of the khandhas, one will know that these realities which arise and fall away are only: rúpakkhandha (physical phenomena), vedanåkkhandha (feeling), saññåkkhandha (remembrance or perception), saòkhårakkhandha (formations or activities, all cetasikas other than vedanå and saññå), viññåùakkhandha (consciousness).
Q. : I have heard that the postures conceal dukkha. Please, could you explain this?
S. : All conditioned realities have the characteristic of dukkha. They are impermanent and therefore they cannot be a real refuge, they are unsatisfactory, dukkha. Thus, dukkha is not merely painful feeling. People who believe that dukkha is merely painful feeling think that, when they feel stiffness and assume a new posture in order to avoid stiffness, that the new posture conceals dukkha. However, any posture conceals the characteristic of dukkha if one has not developed paññå. What we take for the whole body or a posture are in reality many different rúpas which arise and fall away. They are impermanent and thus dukkha. However, people do not realize that, no matter they are sitting, lying down, standing or walking, there are rúpas all over the body, arising and falling away, and that these rúpas are dukkha.
It has been explained in the Visuddhimagga that the postures conceal dukkha 7. The meaning is that the characteristic of dukkha of the nåma and rúpa which arise and form together different postures is concealed, so long as one takes the body for a whole, for mine. The characteristic of dukkha is concealed so long as one does not know the characteristic of dukkha of one nåma and one rúpa at a time, as they arise and fall away.
When one asks people who have just assumed a new posture whether there is dukkha, they will answer that there is not. If they confuse painful feeling with the truth of dukkha, how can they understand that the postures conceal dukkha? There must be dukkha, otherwise it cannot be said that the postures conceal dukkha. If one has not realized the arising and falling away of nåma and rúpa, all postures, no matter they are connected with painful feeling or not, conceal the characteristic of dukkha.
If a person does not develop paññå in order to understand nåma and rúpa as they are, he has the wrong understanding of dukkha. He may believe that he knows the truth of dukkha when he ponders over his painful feeling, dukkha vedanå, caused by stiffness, before he changes into a new posture in order to relieve his pain. He cannot know the truth of dukkha so long as he does not discern the characteristic of non-self of nåma and rúpa. This is the case if he does not know the nåma which sees and colour appearing through the eyes, the nåma which hears and sound appearing through the ears, the nåma which smells and odour, the nåma which tastes and flavour, the nåma which experiences tangible object and tangible object, the nåma which thinks, happiness, sorrow and other realities.
Also the reality which thinks that it will change posture is not self, it should be realized as a type of nåma which arises and then falls away. If one does not know this one will not be able to understand the characteristic of dukkha. Only if one is naturally aware of nåma and rúpa as they appear one at a time, paññå can develop stage by stage, so that the noble Truth of dukkha can be realized.
Q. : When there is sati it seems that only dukkha appears, but I cannot separate nåma and rúpa when I experience objects through the senses and through the mind-door. I just have theoretical knowledge of different realities which appear one at a time through the different doorways. I went to a meditation center to gain more knowledge about the practice, but I did not study a great deal, I just practised.
S. : Are you satisfied with your understanding or not yet?
Q. : I am still studying, thus, I cannot say that I am satisfied.
S. : You said that you went to a meditation center in order to study and practise. However, when you went there you did not gain much understanding of realities. Is it then of any use to go there?
Q. : It is useful. When we are at home usually many akusala cittas arise. If we go to the meditation center we meet the right friend in Dhamma and we are in a quiet, peaceful place. Thus, there are conditions for the arising of many kusala cittas. I think that the meditation center is useful.
S. : There are four factors necessary to attain the stage of the sotåpanna: meeting the right friend in dhamma, hearing the Dhamma from that person, considering the Dhamma one heard with wise attention and the practice in conformity with the Dhamma. These factors are not related to a particular place where one should stay. We can compare the place where the Buddha stayed with the meditation center at the present time. As to the place where the Buddha and the monks stayed in the past, they led their daily life, making their rounds to collect almsfood, discussing the Dhamma, and performing their different duties in accordance with the Vinaya. The Buddha exhorted people there to perform all kinds of wholesome deeds. Do people in the present time who go to a meditation center practise in the same way as the Buddhas followers in the past or do they practise differently? If the cause, that is, the practice, is different, how could the result be the same? For example, Anåthapiùèika, a layfollower at the Buddhas time who had the Great Monastery (Mahå-vihåra) of the Jeta Grove constructed, did not have the wrong understanding that one could become enlightened only at that particular place. Layfollowers at that time attained enlightenment each in different places, depending on their daily lives.
We read in the Gradual Sayings(III, Book of the Fives, Ch XIX, §1, Forest-gone) that the Buddha said to the monks:
Monks, these five are forest-gone. What five?
One is forest-gone out of folly and blindness; one out of evil desires and longings; one foolish and mind-tossed; one at the thought: It is praised by Buddhas and their disciples; and one is forest-gone just because his wants are little, just for contenment, just to mark (his own faults) 8, just for seclusion, just because it is the very thing 9.
Verily, monks, of these five who have gone to the forest, he who has gone just because his wants are little, for contentment, to mark (his own faults), for seclusion, just because it is the very thing-- he of the five is topmost, best, foremost, highest, elect.
Monks, just as from the cow comes milk, from milk cream, from cream butter, from butter ghee, from ghee the skim of ghee which is reckoned topmost; even so, monks, of these five forest-gone, he who has gone just because his wants are little, for contentment, to mark (his own faults), for seclusion, and just because it is the very thing-- he of the five is topmost, best, foremost, highest, elect.
Why were some monks dwelling in the forest out of folly and blindness? Some people think that once they are in the forest they will be able to realize the four noble Truths. Are those who think thus not forest dwellers out of folly and blindness? If a person has right understanding of which cause brings which effect, he will see that no way of life was more excellent than the life of the monk who had left the householders life in order to go to the place where the Buddha dwelt. This is altogether different from someones life in a meditation center where he goes just for a short period, out of desire to attain enlightenment. Some people believe that staying in a center for the practice of vipassanå, although it is not in conformity with their nature, will be the condition to realize the noble Truths. If that were true then laypeople who practise vipassanå in a meditation center should deserve more praise than the monks in the Buddhas time who were leading their ordinary daily life in accordance with the rules of the Vinaya, such as going on their alms rounds, listening to the Dhamma and discussing it, and performing the different duties of the Sangha.
Q. : If a way of life does not conform to a persons nature, should he force himself to act against his nature?
S. : People should consider cause and effect in the right way. A great number of monks did not live in a forest. The Buddha did not force people to develop satipaììhåna in a forest, in a specific room, or in any other place where they did not have to go for the performing of their tasks. It is true that the Buddha praised the forest life, that he praised a secluded life or whatever else was a condition for the non-arising of lobha, dosa and moha. However, he did not force anybody, he did not establish rules for the development of paññå. The Buddha clearly knew the different accumulations of people and thus he preached the Dhamma in such a way that his followers would listen and develop right understanding naturally. Thus, they would be able to eliminate defilements. He taught people the development of satipaììhåna in their daily lives, in conformity with their status, were they monk or layfollower.
When awareness arises and one begins to consider and study the characteristics of nåma and rúpa so that paññå becomes more accomplished, ones inclinations can gradually be changed. People will be less overcome by lobha, dosa and moha on account of the objects experienced through the sense-doors and through the mind-door. However, accumulated inclinations cannot be changed on the spur of the moment. Some people think that a meditation center should not be repainted, because that would be a condition for lobha. However, when they return to their homes after they have stayed in the center, they have their houses repainted, they plant trees and look after their flowers, thus, they follow their accumulated inclinations.
The Buddha taught true Dhamma (sacca Dhamma), so that people could have right understanding of cause and effect with regard to all realities. He taught the development of satipaììhåna so that paññå could become accomplished to the degree of eradicating latent tendencies. Latent tendencies have been accumulated from past lives on to the present life in the cittas which arise and fall away in an uninterrupted succession. Ignorance (avijjå), not knowing the characteristics of nåma and rúpa, and wrong view, diììhi, which takes nåma and rúpa for self, are latent tendencies. One takes all kinds of realities for self, no matter whether one sees, hears, tastes, smells, experiences tangible object, thinks, feels happy or unhappy. The only way leading to the eradication of latent tendencies is the development of satipaììhåna. This is awareness and investigation of the realities which appear so that they can be understood more clearly. Understanding is developed stage by stage. When paññå is developed to the degree of the first stage of insight, the defining of nåma and rúpa (nåma-rúpa-pariccheda-ñåùa), paññå can clearly comprehend the difference between the characteristic of nåma and of rúpa appearing at that moment. Paññå cannot be developed in trying to make dukkha arise by sitting, lying down, standing or walking for a long time, so that one has painful feeling. Paññå can only be developed by considering and studying with awareness nåma and rúpa as they naturally appear through the senses and through the mind-door. They arise because of their own conditions, no matter where one is.
1 Sati guards the six doors and can prevent the commitment of akusala through body or speech.
2 Sometimes citta stands for concentration.
3 The Cariyåpiìaka, the Basket of Conduct deals with the perfections the Buddha had to develop as a Bodhisatta, for a hundred thousand aeons and four incalculable ages. The Commentary, the Paramatthadípaní, states in the Niddesa, the explanation at the beginning, that among the requisites of enlightenment was the development for a long time, cira kåla bhåvanå. It adds, the development time and again, for a long time.
4 Seven rebirths.
5 Paìigha means anger or collision. Sappaìigha is with impact.
6 See Visuddhimagga Ch XIV, 74.
7 See Visuddhimagga, XXI, 4, footnote 3, where the Commentary to the Visuddhimagga, the Paramattha Mañjúså has been quoted about this subject.
8 To eliminate them.
9 He wants to practise what is beneficial.