Letters from Nina
March 2nd, '83.
In your last letter you asked a question about the difference between thinking of a reality such as hardness and direct awareness of it. Of course, there are questions which often preoccupy us. I will first quote from your letter:
I instantly want to locate hardness as arising in a particular spot. Just thinking, not direct awareness, but does thinking help us to understand more about hardness? Or can we only understand hardness at a moment of direct awareness, no locating or selecting? It seems that when we talk or think about hardness (or any nama or rupa) we immediately try to locate it. Maybe this is just the natural inclination; we think that we already know realities as they are. It seems that we have to refine our theoretical understanding of hardness... and then some moment of awareness, wherever and whenever it may be... just go on creating the conditions now.
There is thinking of realities and then another step has to be taken to immediate, direct, clear knowledge of them. We keep on wondering when this may happen and long so much for clear knowledge; we like to create the conditions for it.
First of all, before going more deeply into the steps which have to be taken, it may be useful to consider what our purpose is. Is there something wrong with our attitude? When we read the scriptures we notice that the Buddha reminded both monks and laypeople time and again of dana
(generosity), of sila (morality), of samatha and of the development of right understanding of realities. People knew already that dana, sila and samatha were ways of kusala, but when they had not heard the Buddha's teaching they did not know that through the development of the eightfold Path the wrong view of self and all other defilements can be eradicated.
We have heard the Buddha's teaching and thus we may understand, at least in theory, that there are only nama and rupa, no self, and then, when we see that it is wrong to cling to a self, our purpose will be the eradication of clinging to self. We may realize that we often think of 'self' and that we will continue to be dissatisfied in life because of our clinging to 'self'.
Then we shall be more urged to grasp every opportunity to think less of 'I,
I, I' , and thus we shall, more than we used to, also see dana, sila and samatha as means to be less selfish. When we give something away with generosity, we do not, at such a moment, cling to our possessions. If we hold on to what is 'ours' how can we become detached from the idea of
'self'? We may consider sila as a way of being more thoughtful to others, not wanting to hurt them. Sila comprises also helping others and paying respect to those who deserve respect. As to samatha, this is a means to cultivate wholesome thoughts and at such moments there are no selfish thoughts. When we are with other people we may remember to cultivate loving kindness and compassion. Or there may be opportunities to cultivate sympathetic joy when we rejoice in their good fortune. We cling to our body, but when we see a corpse we may realize that there are only rupas, empty phenomena, which do not know anything and do not belong to a self. We can then be reminded that also the living body consists of rupas which are impermanent and not self.
Studying the teachings and considering them is a necessary foundation for the development of vipassana. In studying the teachings we will understand more about the reality of sati (mindfulness) which is not self, and the reality of panna (wisdom) which is not self. Then we will be less inclined to just sit and wait for the arising of sati we are longing for. It is important to consider more our basic attitude, to get to know ourselves. Are we seeking ourselves, our awareness, our knowledge? We may think that we go the right way while we in fact keep on 'creating' conditions with an idea of self. The goal of the development of right understanding should be, from the beginning, to have less clinging to 'self'.
Sati and panna arise because of different conditioning factors. One condition is having listened to the right teachings, and this may have been also in former lives, although we do not remember that now. Moreover, accumulated dana, sila and samatha are conditioning factors. They are beneficial, since they can help us to become less selfish. We have to consider the teachings and practise them in daily life. We cannot fathom the many kinds of conditions which have to work together so that panna can be developed.
We were discussing about the step from theoretical knowledge to direct understanding which has to be taken. There is not just one step. It is a whole process of 'studying' characteristics of realities which appear now.
We may still try to 'select' the object of awareness, we may select hardness or visible object. We may keep on thinking about realities, and then the reality arising at that moment is thinking. When there is, for example, thinking about hardness, thinking experiences a concept. The reality of hardness is not directly known at that moment.
Do we know the reality of thinking? Is there thinking with lobha
(attachment) or dosa (aversion)? We know so little about thinking, we do not even know whether there is thinking which is wholesome or thinking which is unwholesome. How much selfishness is there with our thinking?
We already discussed many times what should be known by panna: any reality which appears through one of the six doors. But it may still be difficult to realize this in the practice. When, for example, hardness appears, what should panna know and how do we know that there is panna? When hardness presents itself, it is experienced by body-consciousness and then most likely by lobha-mula-citta, but we do not even notice this. When we realize,
'There is hardness', there may be subtle clinging. It should be stressed that panna should know hardness as only a kind of rupa; it should know this with a degree of detachment. When panna grows there will be more detachment. In order to know the falling away of what is only a nama or a rupa a higher degree of detachment is needed. It cannot be known in the beginning.
'Without studying realities which appear panna cannot grow', Khun Sujin so often repeated. It is not one step from theoretical understanding to clear understanding, it is a long process of stumbling and falling, then realizing that you are wrong and beginning again. It is important not to forget that sati is not self and that panna is not self. That means, when it is the right time for sati it arises already, it is aware already of hardness, visible object or whatever other object it may be. These moments are again conditions for the growing of panna which is not self, which arises when there are the right conditions for it. We may be able to admit the truth of:
"it sees, it hears, it thinks". But can we also realize: "it is aware"? This may be hard, if we are honest, we like to do many things to arouse sati, to create conditions, and we cling to an idea of 'my sati'.
Should we then be passive, just lazy, since it is no use to try? This is a question which is often asked. Can there be study with awareness of the present moment also while we ask such a question? Then we would know more about our different cittas. This is the meaning of 'study': making an effort to understand what appears now, but at the same time realizing that there is no self who can make an effort. When we see the urgency of eradicating clinging to the self, it is a condition not to waste our life away with akusala. There will be many opportunities for different kinds of kusala. When there is an opportunity for reading the teachings we will use it, tomorrow there may not be time, better do it today. Or, if there is no opportunity for reading, there are so many living reminders around us of the truth of Dhamma. Our own defilements, decay, sickness and death. The world of the sixth doorways. We may have discussed many times about visible object, which is not a person or thing. We may be surrounded by what we believe are people, but sometimes there may be a short moment of realizing that what appears through the eyes is not a person, just colour or visible object.
In this context I like to quote from your letter:
'Dhamma is completely about life. It is so simple that we all miss it all the time. Seeing now. Too easy. And because there is no great verbalisation it doesn't fit into our definition of something to be understood. I was drawn to the Dhamma because it was so straight forward, no nonsense. It really makes sense.'
Yes, the Buddha spoke about the six doors and the objects to be experienced through the six doors. No long theoretical treatises, because he taught about realities which can be directly experienced. How do you like the following quotation about feeling: 'Feeling is that which feels'1. It feels. That is all. The
'it' is very important though. Hard to detach from it, it is so much 'my feeling'.
We read in the 'Middle Length Sayings' I (no. 43, Mahavedallasutta) that
Kotthita asked Sariputta:
'But what is intuitive wisdom for, your reverence?'
'Your reverence, intuitive wisdom is for super-knowledge, for apprehending, for getting rid of.'
'But how many conditions are there, your reverence, for bringing right understanding into existence?'
'There are two conditions, your reverence, for bringing right understanding into existence: the utterance of another (person) and wise attention. Your reverence, there are the two conditions for bringing wise attention into existence.'
Listening to the right Dhamma and wise attention, that is, wisely considering the Dhamma we have heard. Realities have to be 'studied' so that panna can grow. Panna is for 'getting rid of', getting rid of wrong view and the other defilements.
The other day the Burmese Ambassador said to me, while we were standing at a cocktail party: 'If you don't try, you will not reach nibbana.' Now, such an advice one may take in the wrong way or in the right way. There may be clinging to an idea of: 'I shall reach nibbana', and an idea of self who tries. No matter how hard one tries, there may not be conditions for attaining nibbana. It is not very fruitful to think too much of nibbana, also the Bodhisatta had to develop wisdom for innumerable lives before he became the Buddha. However, we can take such an advice also in the right way. Nibbana is the reality which extinguishes defilements and we should not forget that it is urgent to develop the way which eventually leads to it. If we do not begin to develop panna now, panna will never grow. (This is also the meaning of the following sutta in Kindred Sayings (II, Ch XVI, Kindred Sayings on
Kassapa, par. 2, Careless), where Sariputta asks Maha-Kassapa in how far it is true that nibbana cannot be attained 'without ardour and without care'.
With Ardour is in Pali atapi, which word is also used time and again in the
'Satipatthana sutta', in connection with 'sampajano satima', which means: with understanding and mindfulness. As to 'with care', this is in Pali 'ottappa', fear of blame. We read:
When, friend, a monk thinks thus: Bad and evil states that have not arisen, were they to arise, would conduce to my hurt-- and no ardour is aroused, this is to be without ardour. So also when he thinks: Bad and evil states that have arisen if they are not eliminated, would conduce to my hurt,- or: -
Good states that have arisen, were they not to arise,- or: - Good states that have arisen, were they to cease, these things would conduce to my hurt- and no ardour is aroused, this is to be without ardour.
And how, friends, is a man without care? When, in these four cases, he uses no care.
Thus it is, friend, that a man who is without ardour, without care, is incapable of enlightenment, incapable of Nibbana, incapable of the uttermost security.
And how, friend, is he ardent and careful? Even in each of these four considerations. Thus it is, friend, that a man who is ardent and careful is capable of enlightenment, of Nibbana, of the uttermost safety.
If we understand that 'evil states' are bound to arise when there is no
'right effort' with ardour and care, there will be a sense of urgency to apply oneself to kusala and above all to be aware of realities which appear.
There may be awareness of visible object, but we may not be sure about the reality which experiences visible object. When visible object appears there sure must also be a reality which sees. We may remind ourselves of this and then there is thinking, but thinking is also a reality which can be known.
If we do not select objects of awareness and just continue being aware of whatever reality appears there will also be conditions for being aware of seeing as a reality which experiences visible object.
A question which is often asked is how one can be mindful in daily life, when one is busy with one's work and quite involved in it.
One may cling to long moments of sati, but it is right understanding which has to be developed, with the aim to detach from the self and later on from all realities. It would be better not to think so much of having awareness or having long moments of it, it is bound to be thinking with clinging. Khun
Sujin often said, 'the test of the development of panna is in daily life.'
We have understood in theory about the development of understanding and now it has to be developed in daily life. If there is tiredness or boredom, we should know that these also are realities. We can never escape from nama and rupa in our life, they arise all the time.
You asked me whether there is a particular usefulness in my trips to
Thailand and my visits to Khun Sujin. These are opportunities to meet friends and discuss Dhamma, and I find a good example of someone who practices Dhamma particularly inspiring and helpful. What I just said about not losing opportunities for the development of understanding and for other kinds of kusala, this is practised all the time by Khun Sujin. We can learn from her not to despise any kind of kusala and to use it as a means to decrease clinging to the self, because this is the goal. The events of Khun
Sujin's daily life are so ordinary: shopping, playing scrabble with her sisters, taking her father out to luncheon and looking after him, watching the news on T.V. in the evening. This is daily life of a great number of laypeople, and right understanding can be developed no matter what one is doing. It can be practised, and this is proved. When someone needs a little encouragement or has a problem, even a problem in worldly matters, Khun
Sujin is always ready to help and speaks the right words at the right time.
Long discussions about Dhamma may often be too theoretical. Khun Sujin's own example and just a few words about Dhamma are more helpful. But in between her duties , Khun Sujin has time for reading the scriptures and commentaries, and Sunday morning she spends preparing her radio talks. We can learn from her not to put off things if there is an opportunity to do them now, such as for example studying the teachings and being mindful of realities. 'We never know what will happen tomorrow, or even the next moment', she said. If we realize that each moment arises because of different conditions, and is completely different from preceding moments, and following moments, it will help us to have a greater sense of urgency to study the reality appearing at the present moment.
I listened to an old tape made in Sri Lanka and heard Khun Sujin say:
'Even one moment of awareness is very precious, like a penny. When pennies are saved, they can become a capital. People are always very impatient, they just want to attain now in this life. But what about the reality now? One may sit without any understanding.'
It is true that right understanding begins at this moment, how otherwise could it develop? When we watch T.V. , it is daily life, it is the same as meeting people in daily life. We may think 'This is Susie, this is Tadao', and then we should realize that such a moment is not seeing. One can prove this for oneself, consider such a moment and come to know the different characteristics of realities. If different characteristics are not clear yet, they can become clearer. All this is 'study', study of realities, different from the study of books.
Another example: one cannot hear words. The moment of 'hearing' words, understanding their meaning, is different from the experience of just sound.
Also this can be 'studied', again and again. Khun Sujin often said: 'Begin again, begin again, until it is clear, just develop it.' How many opportunities of study do we let go by? Reading is different from merely experiencing visible object. When we read we are quite absorbed in the story, there is a great deal of thinking. But there must also be moments of seeing, experiencing visible object. This is daily life. So you see that we have a long way to go in order to have clear knowledge of realities.
Nina van Gorkom
Letters from Nina
July 15, '83.
Dear Khun Charupan,
When I was in Bangkok recently I was glad to meet you and my other friends again in Khun Sujin's house and also in the temple. I appreciate it that all of you help Khun Sujin to explain the Dhamma to others, be it in the way of printing books, transcribing Khun Sujin's radio talks or translating. The copies ofthe tapes made by Khun Sukol Kalyanamit when your group had Dhamma discussions in India are of great benefit to many people. I listen to them often. Khun Sujin told me that Khun Sukol sent one set of these tapes to a blind monk in Bangkok, but that the monk did not receive them. Instead of having aversion Khun Sukol rejoiced since he thought of the benefit which someone else who received these tapes would have. He then sent another set to the blind monk. The monk wanted to show his appreciation by arranging to send fresh milk to all those who would be present on Sunday in the temple
(Wat Bovornives) listening to Khun Sujin's lecture. I happened to be present when the milk was given and thus I could also rejoice in the monk's kind and thoughtful gesture. My husband commented that this sounds like a story from the suttas in the Buddha's time. He appreciated it that Khun Sukol, instead of being annoyed about the loss of tapes, thought of someone else's benefit. When there is wise attention to the object which is experienced at that moment, there can be kusala citta instead of akusala citta.
You asked my comment on a few Dhamma questions. These are questions we all have and I find it helpful to think about the answers since this gives me an opportunity to consider Dhamma. I shall repeat your questions and comment on them.
Question : What is the characteristic of fear and how can it be overcome? I have fear of old age, sickness and death. I fear sickness and death of those who are dear to me. I have many kinds of fears. I also fear an unhappy rebirth. So long as one is not a sotapanna (streamwinner, the person who has attained the first stage of enlightenment), one may be reborn in an unhappy plane where there is no opportunity to develop satipatthana. The good deeds one performs in this life are no guarantee for a happy rebirth. A bad deed performed even in a past life may condition an unhappy rebirth.
Answer : Unwholesome fear is a form of dosa, aversion. When dosa arises we do not like the object which is experienced at that moment. There are many forms of dosa. It may be a slight aversion or it may be hate, or it may take the form of fear or dread. When there is fear we shrink back from the object and would like to flee from it, or we may think with worry and dread about an unpleasant event which may happen in the future, such as old age, sickness and death, or an unhappy rebirth.
Fear arises so long as there are still conditions for its arising. It cannot be eradicated at once, only the anagami (non-returner, the person who has attained the third stage of enlightenment) has eradicated it completely. The development of right understanding is the only way leading to the eradication of fear. When fear arises it should be seen as it is: only a conditioned reality, not self. Fear is conditioned by ignorance and by clinging. We cling to all the pleasant objects and we have fear to lose them. We read in the 'Gradual Saying' (Book of the Sixes, Ch III, par.3,
Fear) about different names given to sense-desires, in order to show their dangers. One of these names is fear. We read:
...And wherefore, monks, is fear a name for sense-desires? Monks, impassioned by sensuous passions, bound by passionate desire, neither in this world is one free from fear, not in the next world is one free from fear.
Therefore 'fear' is a name for sense-desires....
In order to develop right understanding there should be awareness of any reality which appears and we should not reject anything as object of awareness. When fear appears it can be object of awareness.
We may have theoretical understanding of the fact that we cannot control any reality which arises and that we thus cannot control the rebirth-consciousness of the next life. However, we still may be troubled by fear of rebirth. It is love of 'self' which conditions this fear. We are worried about what will happen to the 'self' after we die and we are afraid that this 'self' will not be successful in the development of insight in the next life. The sotapanna does not worry about what would happen to a self, because he has eradicated belief in a self. Moreover, he has no more conditions for an unhappy rebirth. So long as one is not a sotapanna one clings to a self and there are conditions for an unhappy rebirth.
It is understandable that we worry about the possibility of developing right understanding in a next life. However, we should remember that a moment of awareness of a reality is never lost, it conditions the arising of awareness again, later on. Also awareness which arises now is conditioned, it is conditioned by moments of listening to the Dhamma and considering it in the past, even in past lives. Even so awareness which arises now, although it falls away, conditions awareness in the future since it is accumulated. Even if the next birth would be in an unhappy plane, where there is no opportunity to develop insight, there will be following lives again in other planes where the development of insight can continue. Even the Bodhisatta was once reborn in a hell plane, but after that life he was reborn in the human plane where he continued to develop satipatthana.
Unwholesome fear, which is a form of dosa, is harmful for mind and body.
However, there is also wholesome fear, which is fear of akusala and its consequences. This fear is different from dosa. Each kusala citta is accompanied by the sobhana cetasikas which are hiri, shame of akusala, and ottappa, fear of blame, fear of the consequences of akusala. When these two cetasikas perform their functions, there cannot be akusala citta at that moment. Wholesome fear of the danger of being in the cycle of birth and death can urge us to persevere with the development of insight until all defilements are eradicated. Then there will be no more rebirth.
When the Buddha was still a Bodhisatta he developed satipatthana with patience and perseverance in order to attain Buddhahood and thus to be able to teach other beings as well the way leading to the end of birth. The
'Mugapakkha Jataka' (VI, no. 538) gives an impressive account of the
Bodhisatta's heroism. He never was neglectful of his task of developing wisdom, since he had a wholesome fear of rebirth in Hell. He had to suffer severe tribulations, but he was always perfectly composed and never showed any weak point. When we are in difficult situations do we have perseverance to develop insight? Can there be awareness of any reality which appears through one of the six doors? We may find it difficult to develop right understanding when we are very busy or when we are with other people. We could consider such circumstances as a test or an examination we have to pass. If we fail we have to begin again and again. When we read the
'Mugapakkha Jataka' we can be reminded not to be neglectful in the development of insight. If we realize that it is dangerous to be in the cycle of birth and death there can be a wholesome fear which urges us to be mindful now.
We read in the 'Mughapakkha Jataka' that the Bodhisatta was born as the son of the King of Kasi and received the name 'Temiya'. He remembered that in a former life when he was a King he condemned people to death. As a result of akusala kamma he was reborn in hell. After that he was reborn as Prince
Temiya. When he remembered these former lives he decided that he did not want to succeed his father as King and therefore he pretended to be cripple, deaf and dumb. Five hundred infants born to the concubines of the King were his companions. When they cried for milk he did not cry, reflecting that to die of thirst would be better than to reign as king and risk rebirth in hell. In order to test him he was given milk after the proper time or not at all, but he did not cry. The nurses spent one year in trying him but did not discover any weak point. In order to test him the other children were given cakes and dainties and they quarreled and struck one another. The Bodhisatta would not look at the cakes and dainties. He said : 'O Temiya, eat the cakes and dainties if you wish for hell'. People kept on trying him in many ways but he was always patient and composed, realizing the danger of an unhappy rebirth. People tried to frighten him with a wild elephant and with serpents but they did not succeed. They tempted him with pleasant objects.
Performances of mimes were given and the other children shouted 'bravo' and laughed, but Temiya did not want to look and remained motionless, reflecting that in hell there never would be a moment of laughter and joy. In order to find out whether he was really deaf they let conch blowers make a burst of sound , but they could not through a whole day detect in him any confusion of thought or any disturbance of hand or foot, or even a single start. They smeared his body with molasses and put him in a place infested with flies which bit him, but he remained motionless and perfectly apathetic. When he was sixteen years old they tried to tempt him with beautiful women who were dancing and singing. We read: '...but he looked at them in his perfect wisdom and stopped his inhalations and exhalations in fear lest they should touch his body, so that his body became quite rigid.'
The Bodhisatta looked with perfect composure and with wisdom at the beautiful women. While he was motionless during his trials and tests he was not idle, he was mindful. In order to attain Buddhahood he had to develop satipatthana with perseverance. He was mindful of realities, no matter in what situation. Although this is not mentioned in the Jatakas all the time, it is implied.
Finally the King was adviced to bury him alive. When the charioteer was digging the hole for his grave, Temiya was adorned by Sakka with heavenly ornaments. He then told the charioteer that he was not cripple, deaf and dumb. He became an ascetic and preached to his parents about impermanence:
'It is death who smites this world, old age who watches at our gate,
And it is the nights which pass and win their purpose soon or late.
As when the lady at her loom sits weaving all the day,
Her task grows ever less and less- so waste our lives away.
As speeds the hurrying river's course on, with no backward flow,
So in its course the life of men does ever forward go;
And as the river sweeps away trees from its banks upturn,
So are we men carried along by age and death in headlong ruin.'
He explained to his father that he did not want the kingdom, stating that wealth, youth, wife and children and all other joys do not last. He said:
'Do what you have to do today,
Who can ensure the morrow's sun?
Death is the Master-general
Who gives his guarantee to none.'
These words can remind us not to put off our task of developing right understanding of any reality which appears. The Bodhisatta was unshakable in his resolution to develop right understanding. Also when he was put to severe tests, he sid not prefer anything else to the development of wisdom.
Are we resolute as well? Or are we forgetful of what is really worthwhile in our life? Wisdom is more precious than any kind of possession, honour or praise.
After I had written about the Bodhisatta Temiya, I had an opportunity to practice patience and perseverance in mindfulness. That same evening my husband and I had to attend an official Rotary dinner. My husband was placed at the head table, but I was separated from him and placed somewhere else, at a side-table in the midst of people I did not know very well. There were moments of aversion but I also remembered Khun Sujin's remarks that it is so good to be 'nobody', not 'somebody'. We like to be 'somebody' but in reality there are no people, only conditioned namas and rupas. In order to become really convinced of the truth it is urgent to develop understanding of colour, sound, or any other reality which appears now. We had to wait for our food for a long time since there were many speeches. I remembered
Bodhisatta Temiya who was patient and composed in all circumstances. Since he saw the danger of rebirth in hell he never was neglectful as to the development of wisdom. He said to himself time and again when he was tortured: 'Worse than these tortures are the tortures in hell.' I had moments of dosa but I also remembered the conversation you had with Khun
Sujin in India about aversion and which I heard on the tape. You spoke about having aversion because you had awareness only of hardness and softness and not of colour or seeing. Khun Sujin said that thinking with aversion is also a reality, it is conditioned and beyond control, not self. Also aversion can be object of awareness so that it can be realized as not self. We should continue to develop understanding of each reality which appears and not leave out unpleasant realities. When the food was finally served that evening I had attachment to flavour, but also that reality can be an object of awareness. Although there cannot be clear understanding yet after only a few moments of awareness we can begin again and again in order to develop it.
Although the evening was not pleasant or interesting, when there is mindfulness time is not wasted. There were ceremonies such as the installment of the new board and the exchange of banners with visitors from other Rotary Clubs. I noticed that people attached great importance to such ceremonies, but then, don't we all attach importance to the events of our life: to what people say or do to us, to our likes or dislikes? So long as we do not see realities as they are, as only nama and rupa, we find ourselves very important and we are anxious about what will happen to the 'self'. The 'Mughapakkha Jataka' can remind us to prefer nothing else to the development of right understanding. When we consider the danger of being in the cycle of birth and death there can be, instead of unwholesome fear, wholesome fear so that we are urged to be aware now.
Next time I shall comment on your other questions .
Nina van Gorkom
Letters from Nina
19 July, '83.
Dear Khun Charupan,
Now I will proceed with your other questions.
Question: I have awareness only of hardness or softness, but not of visible object or seeing. I think mindfulness of seeing is most difficult because there arises such a lot of clinging on account of what is experienced through the eye-door. Visible object seems to stay, it does not seem to fall away. Whereas sound seems to stop again after it has arisen. Is that the falling away of it? Awareness of sound seems to be less difficult.
Answer: It depends on the sati of which reality there is mindfulness. Sati is anatta, we cannot control it. Do we know what sati is? Or do we confuse it with thinking about a reality? Even when we believe that there is mindfulness of hardness there may only be thinking about it, about the place where it impinges, instead of mindfulness of only the characteristic of hardness. Are we sure when the nama which experiences hardness appears and when the rupa which is hardness? If we are not sure we still confuse nama and rupa. When hardness appears there must also be the reality which experiences hardness, but sati can only be mindful of one reality at a time. We would like to know clearly which reality appears at the present moment, nama or rupa, but this is not possible in the beginning. We may wonder how it is possible to be mindful of that which we do not know clearly. When we take sati for self it seems an impossible task to be mindful of different kinds of realities. However, sati, not self, is aware and sati is conditioned by many momentsin the past of listening to the Dhamma and considering it . When there are the right conditions for sati it arises and it is aware of one object at a time, either of nama or of rupa.
We cannot select the object of sati. It seems difficult to be aware of visible object. We may regret this, but when there is regret we should remember that even at such a moment there are realities and these can be object of awareness. If we do not reject any object of awareness there will be conditions for sati to be aware of different kinds of objects. Thus it will gradually develop.
You said that awareness of sound seems to be easier than awareness of visible object and that sound seems to stop after it has appeared. Can we be sure what stops, sound or hearing? Do we clearly distinguish sound from hearing, or do they seem to appear together? Then there is no right awareness yet of these realities.
When sound seems to stop, is there not thinking of sound which stops, instead of awareness of the characteristic of sound? Sound is a reality which can be experienced through the earsense. We do not have to think of it or name it 'sound' in order to be mindful of its characteristic. Sound is rupa, it does not know anything. It is quite different from hearing, the nama which experiences sound.
Nama and rupa arise and fall away, but how could their arising and falling away be realized when there is not yet clear knowledge of their different characteristics. Panna should be developed so that first nama can be clearly distinguished from rupa, and later on, when panna reaches a higher stage, the arising and falling away of nama and rupa can be realized.
We may believe that one reality is easier to understand than another, but in the beginning no reality can be clearly understood. Instead of deluding ourselves we should realize what we do not know yet. Then we will be urged to be aware of any reality which appears, without trying to control sati.
I would like to include in this letter also Dhamma questions I received from others.
Question: In order to lead a wholesome life is it sufficient to keep the five precepts? I feel that so long as one does not harm others there are no defilements. Is that right?
Answer: We may keep the precepts, but that does not mean that we have eradicated defilements. Only arahats are without defilements. We should develop understanding of our different cittas and then we shall discover that there are many more akusala cittas than kusala cittas.
There are different degrees of defilements, they can be coarse, medium or subtle. Evil deeds through body, speech or mind are coarse defilements. But even when we do not commit evil deeds there are countless akusala cittas and these are medium defilements. For example, attachment or aversion may not motivate an unwholesome deed, but they are still akusala and thus dangerous.
Akusala citta which arises falls away but the unwholesome tendency is accumulated and it can condition the arising of akusala again. The unwholesome tendencies which are accumulated are subtle defilements. Even though they are called subtle, they are dangerous. They are like microbes infesting the body, they can show effects at any time. So long as these tendencies have not been eradicated they can condition the arising of akusala citta and akusala kamma, and we have to continue in the cycle of birth and death.
Objects are experienced through the five senses and through the mind-door.
In the sense-door processes and in the mind-door processes there are
'javana-cittas', cittas which are, if one is not an arahat, either kusala cittas or akusala cittas. For example, when there has been seeing which experiences only visible object and does not know anything else, there can be akusala cittas arising in the eye-door process on account of what has been seen. These are beyond control and arise because of their own conditions. When we do not apply ourselves to dana, sila or bhavana, the javana-cittas are akusala cittas and most of the time we do not notice it.
Clinging is likely to arise very often after seeing and after the other sense-impressions. After there has been seeing there may be thinking of concepts and also the thinking is akusala when we do not apply ourselves to kusala. It is often accompanied by clinging. Attachment can be accompanied by pleasant feeling or by indifferent feeling. We may not notice attachment when it is accompanied by indifferent feeling. We like to perceive all the familiar things around us, such as furniture or other possessions. We would not like to miss noticing them and this shows our clinging. When we are sitting, do we like softness? When we sit on a hard floor, there is bound to be aversion. Aversion is conditioned by clinging. When there is awareness of different realities we shall know that there are many more akusala cittas than we ever thought. It is better to know the truth than to deceive ourselves.
Even when we can keep the precepts and do not transgress them for a long time, it does not mean that we shall never neglect them. So long as we have not become a sotapanna, someone who has attained the first stage of enlightenment, there are still conditions for akusala kamma which may produce an unhappy rebirth. When there is, for example, danger for our life, we may neglect sila. Only right understanding of nama and rupa can eventually, when one has attained to the stage of the sotapanna, condition purify of sila to the degree that one never neglects again the five precepts.
Question: Although I know that gain, honour and praise do not last and can only arise when there are conditions for their arising, I cannot help being distressed when I do not get the rank or position I believe I deserve. What can I do in order to have less ambitions?
Answer: We are ambitious because we find ourselves important. Our clinging makes us unhappy. While we strive to get something there is clinging. Also when we obtain what we want we keep on holding tight. Clinging is the cause of endless frustrations. We want the 'self' to become more important but then it will be all the harder to eradicate it. If we think more of others the self will become less important.
We may have thought about the impermanence of conditioned realities, about the impermanence of all pleasant objects, but if we do not develop direct understanding of the realities which appear, panna is not strong enough to lessen clinging.
We should not only develop understanding when we are disappointed and unhappy, but we should begin right now. If we do not begin now, how can there ever be less clinging to the self? We cling so much to our body, but in reality there are only different elements, such as solidity, cohesion, temperature and motion. Hardness may appear and if there is awareness of it there can be understanding that it is only hardness, not a body which belongs to us.
Hardness is only hardness, no matter it is hardness of what we call the body or hardness outside. If there is awareness of it when it appears we will begin to see it as an element, not self. When understanding of nama and rupa is being developed we shall also see that realities such as honour or praise are only elements and that they do not belong to a self. Thus there will be more confidence in the Dhamma and we will consider the Dhamma more precious than honour or praise.
We can easily be infatuated by gains, favours, or flattery. They are treacherous, because they seem desirable, but they lead to misery. In the
'Kindred Sayings' (II, Nidana Vagga, Ch XVII, Kindred Sayings on Gain and
Favours) there are forty-three suttas which point out to us the danger of gains, favour and flatteries. They are as dangerous as a fisherman's hook to the fish, as a thunderbolt, as a poisoned dart which wounds a man, as a hurricane which hurls a bird apart. People who do not easily lie tell deliberately lies when they are overcome by desire for gains, favours and flatteries. We read in par. 10:
'Dire, monks, are gains, favours, and flattery, a bitter, harsh obstacle in the way of arriving at uttermost safety.
Concerning this matter, I see one person overcome, and whose mind is possessed by favours, another who is overcome and possessed by lack of favours, yet another who is overcome and possessed by both favours and the lack of them--- I see one and all, at the separation of the body after death reborn in the Waste, the Woeful Way, the Downfall, Hell.
So dire, monks, are gains... Verily thus must you train yourselves: "When gains, favours, and flattery come to us, we will put them aside, nor when they come shall they take lasting hold on our hearts."
In whom, when favours fall upon him, or
When none are shown, the mind steadfast, intent,
Sways not at all, for earnest is his life,
Him of rapt thought, (of will) unfaltering,
Of fine perception, of the vision seer,
Rejoicing that to grasp is his no more:
Him let the people call in truth Good man.'
Nina van Gorkom