Part 11Letters from Nina
The Hague,15 February, '81
Dear Students in Penang,
You requested me to write about Dhamma as it can be applied in daily life.
We may ask ourselves about our goal in life. We all want happiness, but what is it? Can we find true happiness in life? Pleasant things we enjoy are susceptible to change, they are impermanent. We do not really see the impermanence of what is in ourselves and around ourselves, we cling to what is impermanent. We are slaves of the vicissitudes of life. One day we are praised and then we are glad. The next day we are treated unjustly and we are humiliated, and then we are sad. There are alternately gain and loss, fame and obscurity, praise and blame, contentment and pain. These are the eight 'worldly conditions' in our life.
We read in the 'Gradual Sayings' (Book of the Eights, Ch I, par. 6) that the Buddha spoke to the monks about the eight worldly conditions which obsess the world. He spoke with regard to those who have not attained enlightenment:
... Monks, gain comes to the unlearned common average folk, who reflect not thus: "This gain which has come is impermanent, painful and subject to change." They know it not as it really is. Loss comes ... fame... obscurity... blame... praise... contentment... pain.... They reflect not that such are impermanent, painful and subject to change, nor do they know these conditions as they really are. Gain, loss and so forth take possession of their minds and hold sway there. They welcome the gain which has arisen; they rebel against loss. They welcome the fame which has arisen; they rebel against obscurity. They welcome the praise which has arisen; they rebel against blame. They welcome the contentment which has arisen; they rebel against pain. Thus given over to compliance and hostility, they are not freed from birth, old age, death, sorrows, lamentations, pains, miseries and tribulations. I say such people are not free from ill.
We then read that for the 'ariyan disciple', who has attained enlightenment, the opposite is the case. He sees things as they really are and is not enslaved to the worldly conditions. Could we become an ariyan disciple as well? At this moment we are still 'unlearned, common, average folk'. We do not see things as they are, but we live with our dreams and fantasies. In order to see things as they are, we should know the difference between what is real and what is not real.
We may wonder whether the Buddha's teaching is not a philosophical system which deals with abstractions. On the contrary, the Buddha's teaching helps us to know ourselves, to know our different moments of wholesomeness and unwholesomeness. He taught the way to eradicate attachment, aversion and ignorance.
Our thinking about reality is conditioned by many ideas we acquired through our education and through the culture in which we are rooted. If we want to understand what the Buddha taught we should not hold on to our own ideas about reality and we should be open-minded to his teaching. Then we will notice that his teaching is completely different from our ideas about reality.
The Buddha taught about everything which appears now and which can be directly experienced. He did not teach abstract ideas. What appears now? Is it attachment, aversion or ignorance? Or is it generosity or compassion? In our life there are wholesome moments and unwholesome moments and these change very rapidly. We do not have one consciousness or mind, but many different moments of consciousness (cittas). When we, for example, perform a good deed there are wholesome moments of consciousness, but also unwholesome moments of consciousness may arise. Some slight stinginess may arise, which we only know ourselves and which nobody else may notice. There may be attachment to the person to whom we give something, or there may be conceit. If we do not know when there is a wholesome moment of consciousness (kusala citta) and when there is an unwholesome moment of consciousness (akusala citta) how could we develop wholesomeness?
Through the development of right understanding of the different moments of consciousness we will better know our own defilements and then we will see that the cause of all sadness and misery is within ourselves and not outside ourselves.
What are realities and what are imaginations? We use in our language words in order to make ourselves understood. However, we should know that a word sometimes denotes something which is real, which can be directly experienced, now, and that sometimes a word denotes an abstract idea. We should find out what the Buddha taught about reality, otherwise we will continue to be ignorant of what occurs in ourselves and around ourselves.
And then it will be impossible to eradicate defilements.
Moments of consciousness are not imagination, they are realities which can be directly experienced, at this moment. We can come to know our good and bad qualities when they appear. We have attachment or aversion with regard to what we experience through the eyes, the ears, and through the other senses. The experiences through the senses are realities. Seeing or hearing are not imagination. Before like or dislike on account of what we see arises, there must be a moment of just seeing. Is there seeing at this moment? It can be experienced, it is a reality. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, experiences through the bodysense and through the mind are different moments of consciousness which can be known when they appear.
Seeing is the experience of what presents itself through the eyes, of visible object or colour. Seeing is different from thinking of what we see.
Hearing is the experience of what presents itself through the ears, of sound. Hearing is different from thinking about what we hear. Thus, there are many different moments of consciousness which experience different objects.
Sound is a reality which presents itself time and again. Sound can be directly experienced, but sound itself does not know anything, it is different from hearing. Flavour can be experienced by tasting-consciousness, but flavour itself does not know anything. It is different from tasting-consciousness.
There are two kinds of phenomena in our life:
the reality which knows or experiences something, nama,
the reality which does not know anything, rupa.
Generosity, kindness, aversion, seeing or hearing are mental phenomena or namas, they experience different objects. Sound, flavour, hardness, softness, heat or cold are physical phenomena or rupas, they do not know anything.
Everything which is real can be directly experienced through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the bodysense and the mind-door, thus, through six doorways. If we want to know whether something is real we should ask ourselves: can it be directly experienced and through which of the six doorways?
Namas and rupas are realities which can be experienced without there being the need to call them by a name or to think about them. Hearing is hearing for everybody, everywhere. We can give hearing another name, but the reality is the same. Sound is sound for everybody, everywhere. We can give sound another name but the reality is the same. Attachment is attachment for everybody, aversion is aversion for everybody. We can change their names, but the realities are the same.
There can be only one moment of consciousness at a time and it experiences one object. We may be inclined to think that namas can last for a while. We may believe that thinking, for example, can last for some time. What we take for a long moment of thinking are in reality many moments and they think of only one object at a time. Seeing is another moment of consciousness and it experiences only one object: that which appears through the eyes, visible object. After seeing there can be thinking of what we have seen, or there can be hearing; these are all different moments.
The Buddha taught that only one nama or rupa can be known at a time, when it appears through one of the six doors. We may understand this in theory, but now we have to prove this through the practice. This is not easy since we cling to our own ideas about reality.
Once I was having lunch with Khun Sujin, my good friend in the Dhamma, in a
Chinese restaurant in Bangkok. I was served a duck's foot and when I looked at it I had aversion. Khun Sujin said: 'Just taste it, try it, without paying attention to the shape and form'. I tasted it without paying attention to the shape and form. The taste was good. At that time I did not understand yet the full meaning of Khun Sujin's lesson, but she wanted to show me that the experience through the eyes is one thing, and the experience through the tongue quite another thing and thus another reality.
We join all the different experiences together and we think, 'I am eating a duck's foot'. Duck's foot is a concept of a 'whole' we form up in our mind, but it cannot be directly experienced through one of the six doors. We think of concepts time and again, but we should not forget that there are also realities which can be experienced, one at a time. For example:
there is the experience of visible object,
there is visible object,
there is attention to the shape and form and this is different from seeing,
there is aversion,
there is tasting, the experience of flavour,
there is flavour,
there is thinking of the flavour.
Gradually we may learn to distinguish between different realities and recognize them when they appear one at a time. Then we shall come to understand more clearly the difference between realities which can be directly experienced and concepts of 'wholes' we can think of but which do not have characteristics which can be directly experienced. I thought that I could see a duck's foot and I failed to understand that there are only different elements which can be experienced one at a time. Realities which can be directly experienced, one at a time, are called 'absolute realities' or 'ultimate realities' (paramattha dhammas). They are not abstract ideas, they appear all the time in daily life.
All realities which arise have to fall away, they are impermanent. We know that people once have to die and that also inanimate things cannot last forever. However, we do not really know that there is impermanence at each moment. A thing such as a cup seems to stay the same for some time, but in reality it consists of physical elements, rupas, which arise and fall away all the time. Rupas are replaced so long as there are conditions for it, a cup at this moment is not the same as a cup a moment ago.
In daily life we need conventional realities such as a cup we use for drinking. However, if we pay attention only to conventional realities the impermanence of phenomena will never be directly known and then we will continue to be enslaved to the 'worldly conditions'.
We can lead our daily life, talk to people, use all the tools we need, think about conventional realities, but at the same time right understanding of nama-elements and rupa-elements can be developed. The arising and falling away at each moment of a 'whole' such as a cup cannot be directly experienced, since a cup is a concept existing in our thoughts. When we touch a cup hardness is a rupa-element which can be directly experienced, through the body-door. The arising and falling away of hardness can be directly known by right understanding when it is more developed. That kind of understanding which knows impermanence not merely through thinking can effectively lead to detachment from realities.
The realization of the arising and falling away of namas and rupas is a later stage of the development of understanding. First there is thinking about the different characteristics of nama and rupa and then one starts to recognize them when they appear. Gradually one learns to be aware of their characteristics one at a time. One should remember that also awareness is a mental phenomenon which arises and falls away and does not belong to a self who could control it.
We cannot expect there to be many moments of awareness or mindfulness in the beginning, but at the moment there is awareness of a reality right understanding of that characteristic of reality can develop. My husband and
I had been invited to a restaurant where it was very cold. I had aversion towards the cold and I was inclined to say something about it. But I found that this is impatience and lack of consideration for our host and hostess.
I considered that the namas and rupas which arise are beyond control. They arise when there are conditions for their arising. We are always inclined to think that a self or person can be master of nama and rupa. Sometimes it seems that we can, but in reality it is not so. The experience of bodily ease or pain belongs to the eight 'worldly conditions' we are not master of.
However, also when we do not feel well or when we are cold, awareness of realities can arise. There can be awareness of cold so that it can be known as it is: only a rupa which can be experienced through the bodysense. Then there is at that moment no notion of 'my feet' or 'the cold draught', which are not realities in the absolute sense but concepts we can think of. After a moment of mindfulness of a reality there will be moments of thinking of concepts. Thinking is real, it arises because there are conditions for its arising. There can be awareness of thinking so that it can be known as a kind of nama. When we remember the disadvantages of the eight 'worldly conditions' we can be urged to develop right understanding of realities.
This will help us most of all to be more patient amidst the vicissitudes of life.
Nina van Gorkom
Letters from Nina
June 28th, '82.
Thank you for your letter in which you explain why you think mindfulness in daily life is too difficult and why you think one should first achieve one-pointedness and calm before there can be any insight. It is a point one often hears and I think it may be of some use also to others if I bring up this point again for discussion for my other friends.
You write about mindfulness of all the namas and rupas of our daily life, such as seeing, visible object, hearing, sound, etc.:
Madame Sujin devised it for very busy people like yourselves who perhaps are constantly bombarded and beset by this type of stimulants. The mind, in these cases, must be overly busy and strained sometimes with overwork and its many official and unofficial duties and responsibilities with, of course, very little time to sit in restful, relaxing meditation.
You then continue and state that calm or pervasion of the mind is a rest so needed by the mind, and that calm must be cultivated through meditation.
About the business of life, I do not think it makes any difference whether one is rushing to social functions, one's relatives, or looking at the purple mountains, or sitting crosslegged in a meditation room. Our thoughts are always busy, one falling away, the next one arising. Even while one is
'alone', one is not really alone when there is still attachment which arises more often than one would ever have thought. When one is honest, is it not true that one always lives with one's thoughts, one's dreams, one's hopes and expectations? 'Self' is important, one wants the self to be successful, even in meditation and calm.
What is that calm then, so much sought after? Is it the true calm which is freedom from attachment, aversion and ignorance? Or is it a subtle attachment to relaxation? Attachment can blind us so much. How can we know whether there is the right calm or only what we take for calm? How can one check? Can we check whether there is attachment at this very moment? If we cannot check this now, how could we check it later on? The test is at this moment. There are many moments of seeing and then, very often, attachment to details and outlines, to concepts, even when we do not think of wishing. We like to see the familiar things around us, that is attachment already.
Is there an idea of 'I see', 'I think', deep-rooted in us? Does seeing seem to last for a while? When there are wrong ideas about seeing how otherwise but through mindfulness of seeing when there is seeing could wrong view be corrected? Does it seem that we see people and things? Do they seem to last?
Is there any other way to correct this wrong view but knowing the characteristic of visible object when it appears, of knowing the characteristic of thinking when it appears, of knowing all realities as they appear, one at a time? Should we not know the difference between seeing and thinking of concepts such as people or trees? Seeing and thinking are different cittas arising at different moments and they experience different objects. They arise and then fall away immediately, they do not last.
Are we inclined to think that it is too difficult to develop right understanding of realities in daily life because there is no immediate result of our development? Then one may be tempted to look for some other way, different from the development of right understanding in daily life.
Are we not always finding excuses not to develop it in daily life?
It is actually because of our defilements that it is hard to develop right understanding. If we cling to immediate results we will make it even harder.
Why don't we have the patience to develop understanding little by little, starting at this very moment? There are realities all the time and at least we can begin. We cannot expect to have full understanding at once of seeing, hearing etc. But what does that matter? When one is only intent on the present moment one does not worry about the many lives one still has to live in order to have full understanding. And anyway, we do not have understanding, it is understanding which develops and understands. I do not see any other way in order to know that it is the seeing which sees, not self. That it is the hearing which hears, not self. That it is the thinking which thinks, not self. There is no other way but knowing their characteristics when they appear. If one tries to concentrate on such realities, or thinks about them, or tries to direct phenomena there is thinking about stories and concepts but not the direct experience of the realities which appear. When we think of seeing, the characteristic of seeing cannot be directly experienced. And we shall keep on living in the world of thoughts only, with lobha, dosa and moha (attachment, aversion and ignorance).
It is good to remember that the Buddha repeated that it is 'no easy matter' to attain full knowledge. We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (II, Ch XXI,
Kindred Saying about Brethren, par. 6, 11,12) about different monks who attained arahatship. We read that the Buddha said about Kappina: (par. 11):
.... That monk is highly gifted, monks, of wondrous power. No easy matter is it to win that which he formerly had not won, even that for the sake of which clansmen rightly leave the home for the homeless, even that uttermost goal of the divine living which he has attained, wherein he abides, having come just here and now to know it thoroughly for himself and to realize it.
The Buddha would not repeatedly say that it is no easy matter if there were some other way of developing which would be easier.There is ignorance of all realities which appear; ignorance is deeply accumulated and thus, how could it be easy to get rid of it?
In the Buddha's time there were many monks who had accumulations for jhana (absorption), and also the Buddha himself, when he was still a Bodhisatta had developed it, but he had found that this was not the way to enlightenment. When someone has accumulations for calm, what should he do? He should know the characteristic of calm as not self, as impermanent. Thus, he should see it as only a reality which arises because of conditions. And when there are conditions for akusala citta, also that characteristic should be known as not self. The
Buddha did not say that one should first develop calm; this depends on one's accumulations. And then, if one thinks that one has accumulations for calm, right understanding has to be very keen and sharp in order to know whether there is not a subtle attachment to self who is so calm. One can be misled one's whole life.
As regards the persons who are our teachers, one can listen to different teachers, but finally we have to decide for ourselves which way we wish to go in life. I have never liked the idea of obedience to a teacher. The Buddha said that there is no refuge outside, only the development of satipatthana can be one's refuge. A teacher cannot do it for you.
Khun Sujin is a good friend, not a teacher. She did not 'devise' any method, as you seem to think. She reads all the teachings and the commentaries, and suggests others to do the same and verify them for oneself. It is the Buddha who explained to be mindful of any reality which appears in daily life.
How then did I have the idea to listen to Khun Sujin? Because I found that she has practical advice which really works. I liked her insistence to verify everything myself. From time to time I pass Bangkok but most of the time I am on my own and I like it. I have the teachings, the scriptures, and my writing is a way to study and to be reminded to develop more understanding. If someone else has different accumulations and finds that he or she has to follow another way, I think that no arguments at all can stop that person; accumulated inclinations are so deep, so strong. They drive someone into this or that direction.
I just received a letter from Sarah with interesting quotes of her discussions with Khun Sujin about daily life. The suggestions are again so practical, so full of 'common sense' as we would say in conventional terms.
But they are the fruit of right understanding in daily life.
First I will quote a remark of Sarah. She first thought that she had to be in a quiet place and she lived for some time in a temple. She said about her experience:
The more I understood that it is impossible to control life because it is conditioned from moment to moment, the less inclined I was to follow a particular practice in order to try to have quick results in a special quiet environment. There is no sudden enlightenment without the gradual development of understanding and awareness, however much our wishful thinking would like to think otherwise. I understood more clearly, from my reading and considering with friends, that Buddhism cannot be separated from our daily life. Some people may be naturally inclined to living in a temple, but not everybody has such inclinations.... No matter where we live, we need to be aware of the realities appearing through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind at this moment. There is no other moment.... There is no moment when there is not a truth to be known. Greed, hatred, kindness, generosity, hearing and sound are not just words or labels, but they represent phenomena which can be understood with awareness when they occur.
As to Sarah's discussions with Khun Sujin, Sarah felt torn into many directions in her daily life in order to do her many different duties well.
.....Khun Sujin is emphasizing how it is not just understanding the problem, but understanding one's defilements which conditions that problem.... otherwise the understanding is very superficial; because the root is not the problem itself, but one's own lack of understanding and one's own defilements...
When we talked about the problem I found in certain social situations, when perhaps the conversation seemed uninteresting and I was wishing for another situation, Khun Sujin emphasized the importance of metta (loving kindness).
We have heard so much about metta and about its characteristic, namely, that it is the quality of loving kindness to all, to anyone we can help at the present moment. Yet we seem to forget and need to be reminded over and over again.
Khun Sujin kept asking, when I said I tended to think a lot about family and friends a long way off, 'What about the people around one now?'...
When there is a little metta to those around, one can see how much more happily or easily one's life begins to run and how we can see others as friends at such times (however unknown to us they may be), instead of looking critically towards them.
End quote. I would like to add something. One can understand more about metta if one sees that it all comes back to the citta now. Is it a citta with metta? Then there is friendship, no need to think of this person or that person. If one misses a particular person and likes his company when he is around it has nothing to do with metta, it is attachment. The difference should be known, only through mindfulness of the different characteristics.
When considering metta, metta is not to be limited to particular people or situations. I will continue quoting now:
One of the areas we discussed was the difficulty in frequent social contact, in situations involving many people. Khun Sujin referred frequently to the
'guests through six doorways'. She reminded us that there are uninvited guests all the time, and that we should learn to be more accepting and tolerant of whatever 'guest' (in this absolute sense) there is, in whatever situation we find ourselves, and this with more understanding....
I would like to add: then one minds less whatever reality arises, it arises because of conditions. When there are conditions for akusala it will arise and all that can be done is knowing it with right understanding. When there is more 'tolerance' one will not try to force a change of situation.... I quote:
Understanding helps to have less attachment and aversion, instead of just wanting to be happy and have the situation at will.... Whatever appears as anatta (not self) can condition right understanding with awareness. Then one will enjoy everything in one's life. Instead of wishing to have steady pleasant feeling all the time, or all good things in life, there can be understanding of the realities of ones life, and such understanding conditions its very growing.
End quote. I add: If I am honest, I like steady pleasant feeling and all good things in life, but I also know that this is an illusion. With Susie I like the four pleasant worldly conditions and I need to be reminded that they lead to sorrow. When I was on my journey through Indonesia with the princess and prince of the Netherlands, I did not like being overlooked, being unimportant. Yet I took up a sutta and was reminded by words I had heard over and over again. I quote: from Kindred Saying IV, Part VIII,
Kindred Sayings about Headmen, par. 11. We read that the Buddha asked Bhadragaka:
'Now what think you, headman? Are there any people in Uruvelakappa owing to whose death or imprisonment or loss or blame there would come upon you sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair ?'
'There are such people in Uruvelakappa, lord.'
'But, headman, are there any people in Uruvelakappa owing to whose death or imprisonment or loss or blame, no sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair would come upon you?'
'There are such people in Uruvelakappa, lord.'
'Now, headman, what is the reason, what is the cause why sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair would come upon you in respect of some, but not of others?'
'In the case of those, lord, owing to whose death or imprisonment or loss or blame there would come upon me sorrow.... I have desire and attachment. And as for the others, lord, I do not have such desire and attachment in their case.'
We read further on that the Buddha said that he would also know with regard to the past and future thus:
'...Whatever ill that has arisen in the past,--all that is rooted in desire, caused by desire. And whatsoever ill that will arise in the future,-- all that is rooted in desire, caused by desire. Desire, indeed, is the root of ill.'
I had to solve all my problems alone, Lodewijk was in Holland and I accompanied the princess and the prince on their journey for ten days. It helps to be reminded by words of the sutta and one can hear them over and over again. One is reminded of realities, it all depends on conditions what will happen next, gain or loss, praise or blame. But it is our own attachment, attachment to self one finds so important which makes us unhappy. The sutta reminded me to be aware of the present moment. When one sees that it is the only way to cope with life and when one sees how ignorant one is and how much one clings to the self, one is really motivated to go on developing right understanding. There are conditions for sati in daily life if one is really motivated.
Just now I had a conversation with my husband about the above subject. He heard of colleagues who had received honours which he had not received and he realized that he was jealous and that jealousy is so ugly; when it arises one may reason and reason but it will not go away by reasoning. I remarked that attachment to the self conditions very coarse akusala, such as jealousy. The sotapanna who has eradicated the clinging to the idea of self has also eradicated jealousy, through the development of the understanding of nama and rupa in daily life, and this is the only way. Then one can begin to understand one's life which is actually a moment of experiencing an object.
Sometimes the object is pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, it depends entirely on conditions. When one sees life as a series of conditioned phenomena, there will be less opportunity for jealousy. I remarked to Lodewijk that when one sees how one is overpowered by jealousy and other akusala dhammas one is really motivated to develop right understanding of nama and rupa and he agreed. I said that one can use such events as reminders to be aware now.
Thus, we have enough reminders in our daily life, if we only use them: our different defilements, the uncertainty in life as to the four pleasant and the four unpleasant 'worldly conditions', praise and blame, etc., the fleetiness of our own life and that of others, separation from what we like and the persons we like, so hard to bear.
I also discussed with Lodewijk his drive to work on and on. Is it all kusala, or is there also akusala? There is so much disappointment when the outcome of our work is not as we expected and then there is aversion. I quote a hearty remark from Sarah's discussions with Khun Sujin :
'...We forget that it is the thinking of ourselves, making ourselves important, conceit (mana) about the outcome of our work, instead of just doing what we can, that makes life difficult at these times.' ...Khun Sujin pointed out that one should consider why and for whom one is performing or doing one's job. Is it often our own ideals or ideas that we are more concerned to carry out?'
In other words, there is a lot of self in seemingly noble motives. Do we recognize that? It can be known through the development of right understanding. Panna can know everything, all the details of our life. Panna has to be keen, precise, exact. That is why phenomena such as seeing or hearing have to be known as well, they should not be overlooked. Does our life not consist of many moments of seeing or hearing? Is it not true that defilements often arise on account of what was seen and heard? Why then do we neglect seeing and hearing and why would one rather develop calm first?
Then one makes a long, complicated detour, one may be misled easily by clinging to calm. In the end one cannot get away not knowing seeing and hearing, why not begin right now?
Sarah discussed with Khun Sujin her clinging to concepts such as 'Adelaide', the place where she lives, and clinging to stories about people and situations she likes or dislikes. In reality they are only nama and rupa.
Khun Sujin often advises not to try to change one's life, it is conditioned already, but to 'follow' it with sati. I quote from Sarahs letter:
...Following life with sati. This is another way of describing how there should be more awareness and understanding of the 'uninvited guests' through the different doorways. Instead of comparing or thinking of another situation, one can learn to follow what is conditioned already, and develop sati. If one is in a hectic work situation or feels one is torn in too many directions, as I suggested I felt, what can one do? Panic and worry obviously do not help.... Of course it sounds very easy when Khun Sujin says' just follow life with sati'. I started thinking or worrying about the same situations arising when I would return to Adelaide. She suggested
'cutting the story' with sati. A moment of awareness which is aware of thinking as thinking can help to make the story a little shorter each time.
If there is more consideration for others, what we are used to thinking of as the unpleasant situations can slowly become pleasant.
It is so obvious that real happiness in life is not a matter of following the objects of our attachment but helping to make others happy and fitting in with what they would like. Yet, even though we have heard this and it seems clear at a time, it is still such a change of direction that it is only gradually obvious on more than a theoretical level.
End quote. Cutting the story with sati. We live most of the time with our thoughts, our dreams, it is conditioned. But now and then there can be a moment of sati in between, and that is the moment there can be some understanding of what is real. Straight after this Khun Sujin speaks about consideration for others. Is there a connection of sati and consideration for others? Yes, very much so. When we begin to understand realities we find self less important. We accept situations as they are and this gives a sort of happiness which is not selfish, although there may be clinging again to this kind of happiness, but even that can be realized also. I found, during my journey with the princess and prince, that all this is true. It was my duty to consider their happiness in the first place, so I did not mind so much my own tiredness. I do not like hanging around souvenir shops, but this time I was pleased when the princess enjoyed it, even after a long day on the lake with boating and swimming. After that, she was shopping for more than two hours. During the long drives in the car I thought of our long trips in the bus together with Khun Sujin in India. I was reminded to be mindful of nama and rupa. I noticed how we are attached to every inch of our body and this reminded me not to neglect the hardness or softness which appeared, in order to know them as only rupas. I was also thinking of the happiness of the others which were in the company of the Princess and Prince, and those people did not always harmonize together, as may happen in a company where there are different people together on a journey. There were many opportunities to be a little more considerate for others. Sometimes I was very tired and not so happy, but then I remembered that it is not considerate to show an ugly face to others, and that helps. I sometimes have cocktail parties which are dull, but when there are a few moments of sati it is refreshing, unpleasant situations can become pleasant. Because then it does not matter so much any more where one is or with whom one is. Sati conditions patience with the different situations in daily life. This letter is becoming long, but I want to illustrate the benefit of sati for daily life; its aim is not quietness in a meditation room. How otherwise could we lead our daily life in a more wholesome way?
We should not underestimate a moment of right mindfulness of one nama or rupa at a time. We should not underestimate the process of accumulation of understanding. Khun Sujin spoke to Sarah about 'proximity condition', anantara paccaya. This is one of the types of condition among the 24 kinds.
Each citta which arises conditions the next one. For example, votthapana-citta, which determines in the sense-door process whether it will be followed by kusala cittas or akusala cittas is proximity condition for the succeeding citta. There are usually seven javana-cittas, in the case of non-arahats kusala cittas or akusala cittas. Each one of them conditions the succeeding one. I quote from Sarah's letter:
....She was discussing different conditions in order to help to see the nature of anatta of all phenomena. In particular, she was discussing anantara paccaya or proximity condition to point out how the moments of understanding
(of the namas and rupas) which succeed one another can lead to less clinging to 'Adelaide' as something or some situation. If there is more awareness that defilements also are not self, there will be less clinging to self. She pointed out that 'by not developing awareness whenever defilements arise, the defilements can rule over other dhammas'. It seems obvious, and we know so well in theory what reality is and what awareness is and yet so often seem to be 'back at square one' (It seems we have learnt nothing when it comes to the practice, N.)
Sarah's whole report about the different problems she experienced in the different situations of life seemed so familiar to me, they are the problems we all have, however much different our situations may seem to be. The situation is not important, we all have defilements and these cause us problems. With understanding of our daily life we can cope better with these problems and there are more conditions for consideration of others and more conditions for all kinds of wholesomeness.
Nina van Gorkom
Letters from Nina
28 July '82.
You just handed me some helpful points in your letter which I want to quote.
You point out that we forget that it is kilesa, defilements, which drive us on in daily life. When we like akusala we do not seem to see it:
...I don't think that we just have to talk about the problems of the day or the situation, but what about all those times when life is running so smoothly. That is when it is harder for Blanche and for me (and for me,
Nina!!) to see that even when life is comfortable (probably just more lobha) that is the moment when understanding is needed also. Tomorrow may fall apart, but today has been full of pleasantries, good laughs and good food, but I did not see any need to be aware during any of it....
Susie then proceeds saying that someone who sits in a quiet place can be just as infatuated by his thoughts as someone who is joining with his friends. In other words it is essential to know citta now, whatever one feels like doing, otherwise one takes for noble calm what is just selfishness, 'my calm'; attachment to an idea one takes for calm. A good point to remember is that also when life is smooth we need to develop understanding. When I am in a difficult situation, on the verge of tears, I may grab the teachings in order to find a consoling word to help me keep going. One ponders about it, it is helpful, but also when there is no trouble the Buddha liked to remind us: life is short, even now we are in trouble, going towards death without fail, there is decay in our body right now, our head is on fire and in such situation we do not delay to find a remedy. The remedy is knowing the truth of something which is right at hand: six doors. Thus, we really need the teachings, just as we need food every day. It should become a habit to take this food, a habit one should really cultivate. My food at lunch was so good (tempe with vegetables), while I was reading your letter and laughing at your touches of humor (you are always to me a person full of fun), and how easily we forget to know such moments for what they are: conditioned and passing, not self. You then quote Khun Sujin who says that, when we have a problem, it is important to understand, not so much thestory of the problem, the details, the situation, the people involved, but really the defilements which are the real cause of problems. You stress how we also cling to 'my dosa':
...life is basically running well for Tadao and I, until the next difficulty arises. And then I may once again be as swept away by 'my problem'...And somehow we even cling to the story of my problems and the negative aspects of life. I think we like to elaborate on the dosa side of life. I think we are very attached at times to our difficult or sad story and like to draw people's concern to us by elaborating only on these aspects of our day. I lived in the 'oh poor me' world for a long time and it is a difficult habit to break. We fail to see that the whole point of Dhamma is absolutely positive.
End quote. You then ask me about my remark, that one can understand more about metta if one sees that it all comes back to the citta now. Well, if we have no understanding of citta now, whether it is kusala or akusala, don't we misled ourselves most of the time, taking for metta what is in fact attachment? Like you just wrote, you prepare a meal for the one you love, mostly with attachment. We may think and write about metta, but what about it now? We usually forget about the present moment, but if there is less forgetfulness and thus also less absorption in all the objects which seem to assail us, there is more opportunity for metta. You remark about something you heard: how can we ever give up the idea of self if we can't give away things, and you ask whether this can be applied to metta. Yes, because metta is unselfishness; when there is metta, you actually give something to someone else: kindness, kind thoughts, kind words, or kind acts. Metta is one of the perfections the Bhodhisatta had to develop together with satipatthana in order to attain Buddhahood. Metta can soak loose selfishness. The development of right understanding of nama and rupas conditions more metta in life.
Metta goes out to all beings, it does not choose: this person, but not that person. You ask whether there are moments of thinking with metta. There are all the time moments of thinking about situations, persons, thus the thinking can also be done with metta instead of with akusala. Now you give another good reminder:
...I have some desire to be selective with whom there should be more metta.
Yes, I know, just be aware of whatever appears. Tricky, because we are so caught up in desire and only looking for future moments; future understanding and future awareness...Really, the learning can only be done from one point in place and time, here and now. I find that, once again, I am truly at the beginning....
Khun Sujin would say, so, begin again and again. Our life consists of beginning. You then write about the 'humbling effect of understanding':
Yes, the Dhamma is so practical and full of common sense. It can be seen everywhere in the teachings. Possibly we are not as concerned with the practical as we may wish to think and may look for something of the fantastic, something a little out of the ordinary, rather than this very ordinary moment of unawareness...
You then continue, saying that there can be wrong practice in a residual form, when we want to be successful, as I mentioned in reference to calm. Is there, not only as regards calm, but also in the development of understanding of nama and rupa, an idea of wanting to have success for ourselves? Alan Driver, when still a monk, used to say: 'what do you want awareness for, to show it to others?' This clinging to success makes us impatient. When there is impatience we can check: this comes from clinging, clinging to success. That is why we find ourselves too good to begin and begin again. You continue:
...This is where I think understanding has a truly humbling effect, because with the growth of understanding, and, can it be said, the 'lessening' of the self, one would become less concerned with the success of self.
I think if one is busy time and again to know the present, there will be less and less thinking anyway, and less thinking about success in the future. Understanding has a humbling effect, because one really gets to know better the moments of defilements. At first one may think: O, I do not really cling to a self, I understand all the Buddha taught. And then one may find out that there is such an amount of clinging one did not realize before one had. If one thinks that one has not much to learn the situation gets really dangerous.
I was quoting to Blanche the practical advice Khun Sujin gave us, and she replied that she finds it just common sense anybody could think of, and she asks: where is the Buddhist flavour? In order words, she misses the typical
Buddhist approach in such advice about the situations of daily life. This is an interesting point, and I try to go into it a little more. It is actually again: understanding of citta now, what I just wrote. Is that not the Buddha's teaching? To be more precise: understanding citta as only a conditioned reality, not self. This is the essence of the teachings. This understanding can eventually eradicate defilements. But this understanding can only begin at the present moment. Whether one likes to hear it or not.
Perhaps too ordinary? Not fantastic, something out of the ordinary, as you just said? If there is no understanding that each moment is conditioned, that is has arisen already, that all that can be done is trying to understand it, to understand nama as nama and rupa as rupa, we may be choosy about what should be the object of awareness: this reality, not that one, not akusala, that is not a good object of awareness. So one chooses only calm, one does not want to know one's akusala, one misleads oneself, one lives in an artificial world one creates oneself. While on the other hand, it is so helpful for one's daily life, one's dealing with others included, to just begin to know the seeing as only a nama which sees, visible object as only a rupa, a reality which does not know anything, no person. To know that whatever is experienced is conditioned, whether we like it or not. It helps us to accept suffering, old age, troubles. All that matters is the development of understanding which can lead us on in the right way, to walk the right way in life. In this way one makes the best of one's life. One may see two people helping someone else, but the cittas are so different. One may expect something in return, or have selfish motives, be full of the idea of self. Another person may outwardly do the same good deeds, but his citta is different: he is mindful and realizes that that moment of helping is conditioned, only a nama, not self. Thus, his whole attitude is different, but someone else may not see any difference. The life of someone who develops satipatthana is very ordinary, just daily life, but, and this is the difference, there is right understanding, or rather a developing understanding. In this way one applies the teachings. This is very ordinary, common sense advice, it may seem. But if one knows the purpose of the teachings, such advice is really different. The development of right understanding of the present reality is not always mentioned, but it is implied. We should remember this when we read the Buddha's advice to laypeople; it seems almost too ordinary, but we should understand the goal of his teachings: purification through the development of right understanding now, always now, whether one likes to hear it or not.
One will be really urged to develop right understanding if one realizes that one is full of self, but if one does not know this, there will not be any urge. To be full of self: this does not even mean that one thinks of a self, it is the deep-rooted clinging to self which is latent and motivates many other kinds of defilements. Even if one does not think 'It is me, it is self' one can still be full of self. Don't we take the body as a whole, a body, instead of different ever changing phenomena? Don't we take the mind as a mind, a mind which sees and also understands the meaning of the concepts of trees and people after the seeing, instead of realizing the mind as ever changing phenomena, then seeing, then thinking, and they are all totally different. Seeing has nothing to do with thinking, although they may arise closely one after the other. I do not say that there is wrong view arising all the time, but is there not a deep-rooted wrong interpretation of reality? We cannot claim that we see realities as they are, that we know the difference between seeing and visible object, seeing and thinking of concepts. There is still such a lot to learn, and thus, why put it off? One loses precious time if one thinks one has to be calm first. One can wait for ever.
This letter is at the same time my answer to Blanche's last letter. Since I am almost going on leave I sent the letter to Sarah. I do not understand anything about the quotations from the meditation teachers, and thus I cannot discuss it. To me it is such a tangle: the citta which does not quiver, what is the meaning? Naturally everyone has to decide for himself what way he wants to go in life. But before one does that it is useful to have a foundation knowledge of all the realities, including calm, so that one knows exactly with what types of cittas calm arises. One has to know about the different processes of cittas, about the different cetasikas accompanying cittas. So hopefully the reprint of the Abhidhamma book will be sent soon from
Sri Lanka to Blanche. At the end of her letter I see some real concern to know the truth. Blanche felt that not too much time is left. It makes me think of the 'Sister' (in the Therigatha 57, Vijaya), who had been going around in circles, never finding what she needed. And then she heard about the elements, the namas and rupas and found that the clear, exact foundation knowledge is needed first. In the meantime it makes no sense to have discussions about calm.
We read in the Therigatha, that Vijaya, after she had attained arahatship, said:
Four times, nay five, I sallied from my cell,
And roamed afield to find the peace of mind
I lacked, and governance of thoughts
I could not bring into captivity.
Then to a bhikkhuni (nun) I came and asked
Full many a question of my doubts.
To me she taught Dhamma: the elements,
Organ and object in the life of sense,
And then the factors of the Nobler life:
The ariyan Truths, the Faculties, the Powers,
The Seven Factors of Enlightenment,
The Eightfold Way, leading to utmost good.
I heard her words, her bidding I obeyed.
While passed the first watch of the night there rose
Long memories of the bygone line of lives.
While passed the second watch, the Heavenly Eye,
Purview celestial, I clarified.
While passed the last watch of the night, I burst
And rent aside the gloom of ignorance.
Then, letting joy and blissful ease of mind,
Suffuse my body, seven days I sat,
Ere stretching out cramped limbs I rose again.
Was it not rent indeed, that muffling mist?
Nina van Gorkom