A. I understand that in the development of Vipassana we lean to see things as they are. Seeing things as they are means: seeing nama and rupa as they are. So we should distinguish nama and rupa from each other more clearly. Rupa is that which does not experience anything. Can we say that nama is that which experiences and rupa is that which is experienced?
B. You say that rupa is that which is experienced. Your words imply that nama cannot be experienced. Nama experiences not only rupa but it experiences nama as well. Can you not notice it when there is a happy feeling, when there is aversion, when there is thinking? It is not 'self' which notices this, but nama. Nama knows nama at those moments.
A. In vipassana we develop awareness. Awareness is always awareness of something. I am not sure that I understand what awareness is.
B. The Pali term 'sati' is translated into English by 'awareness'. The word awareness might create confusion. When we say that we are aware of something it might only mean that we know or experience something- without there being sati. It is, however, not important which word we use to name the reality which is sati, but it is essential to know its characteristic.
Sati is a sobhana cetasika (beautiful mental factor) which arises only with a sobhana citta. Each sobhana citta is accompanied by sati. Sati prevents one from unwholesomeness. When we are generous there is sati with the wholesome citta; when we think of the virtues of the Buddha there is sati with the wholesome citta. When we develop insight and we realize a characteristic of nama or rupa there is sati with the wholesome citta. No matter whether we perform dana, sila or bhavana, there is sati with the wholesome citta, but the quality of sati is different at these different moments.
In the development of vipassana it is panna (wisdom) which knows the characteristic of the nama or the rupa which appears through one of the six doors, but this kind of panna cannot arise unless there is also awareness of the reality which appears. Sati in vipassana is awareness of nama and rupa.
A. How do I know that there is sati?
B. When characteristics of realities which appear are known, it is evident that there is also sati at the same time. When, for example, hardness appears and it is known as hardness, as only a kind of rupa, then there is sati which is mindful of that characteristic.
Realities appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind-door. These realities are not 'persons' or 'things', but are only namas and rupas. The visible object (colour) is not a 'person' or a 'thing', it is only a kind of rupa which is experienced through the eye-door. Seeing is not a 'person', nor is it 'self', it is only a kind of nama which experiences visible object. Sound is not a 'person' or a 'thing', it is only a kind of rupa which is experienced through the ear-door. Hearing is not a 'person', it is not 'self', it is only a kind of nama which experiences sound. Smell is not a 'person' or a 'thing', it is only a kind of rupa which is experienced through the door of the nose. Smelling is not a 'person', not 'self', it is only a kind of nama which experiences smell.
If sati is mindful of the realities which appear one at a time they can be known as they are: only namas and rupas, not 'self', In this way there will be detachment from the concept of 'self'. Thus we see that sati in vipassana is completely different from what we mean in conventional language by mindfulness or awareness.
It is important to realize the difference between the moments when there is no sati and those when there is sati. There is often forgetfulness of realities, but then sometimes there is sati. We will know the difference from experience. After there has been unawareness for many moments sati may arise. it is not 'self' which is aware of the characteristic of the nama or rupa appearing at that moment, it is sati. We cannot force sati to arise because it is a type of nama and not self. It can arise only when there are conditions.
A. We cannot be aware of nama and rupa at the same time, but I should like to know how nama and rupa are related to each other. When there is hearing there is also sound, which is rupa. When there is seeing there is also colour, which is rupa. Feeling is nama, but what kind of rupa causes feeling?
B. Do you want to have a theoretical knowledge of all namas and rupas or do you want to develop the wisdom which knows by experience the characteristics of the phenomena appearing through the five senses and through the mind-door? There are different levels of wisdom and we should find out what kind of wisdom we are developing.
There are several kinds of rupa, some of which are conditioned by kamma, some by citta, some by temperature and some by food. There are many kinds of nama. Nama can condition rupa and rupa can condition nama in many different ways.
A. Why do you use the word 'condition'? Is condition the same as cause?
B. When we speak about cause we usually think of one cause which brings about one effect.
There are, however, many different kinds of conditions for each nama and for each rupa. For example, when there is seeing, colour conditions the seeing by way of object. But seeing does not have only colour as its condition. Eye-sense, which is another kind of rupa, conditions the seeing too. In studying the teachings we shall know more about the different conditions and about how complex the process of knowing an object is.
We should know what kind of wisdom we want to develop; do we want to develop only that knowledge which is knowing the truth in theory and thinking about it, or do we want to develop the wisdom which knows the truth by direct experience?
A. I do not understand the difference between thinking about the truth and the direct experience of the truth. How can we directly experience the truth?
B. The truth can be known from direct experience; however, it is not 'self' who knows it, but panna. Panna can know different characteristics of nama and rupa when they appear. When for example, we feel pain, this characteristic can be known. It is not necessary to think about the pain. When we start to think about the pain or we call it 'pain', the characteristic of pain cannot be known. Only the characteristic of what appears at the present moment can be directly known. Knowledge acquired from the direct experience of characteristics which appear is deeper than knowledge acquired from thinking about a phenomenon which has fallen away already or which has not yet appeared.
A. But pain can last for some moments.
B. It falls away immediately, but it can arise again and again. We think that pain lasts, as we cannot yet directly experience the impermanence of realities.
A. When there is seeing, the seeing is conditioned by the rupa which is colour and by the rupa which is eye-sense. Could I experience the rupas which condition the seeing?
B. It is important to remember that we can experience only the nama or rupa which appears at the present moment; not the nama or rupa which does not appear. It depends on one's accumulations and on the development of wisdom which types of nama and rupa one can experience directly. It is impossible to regulate which namas and rupas we should experience and in which order we should experience them.
A. Is it right that we should not name realities since the nama or the rupa has fallen away by the time we name it?
B. Is thinking of the name a reality? Does it appear?
A. Yes, it appears, it is a kind of nama. We cannot help it that this kind of nama appears.
B. That is right, it arises because there are conditions. Do you not think that this reality can be known as well? When there is seeing, the characteristic of seeing can be known. When the nama which thinks of the word 'seeing' appears, there is a kind of nama which is different from seeing. If we try to regulate awareness and think there should or should not be awareness of certain realities, we do not realize that awareness is anatta, not 'self'. Nama and rupa arise because of conditions; they are beyond control. If we try to control sati we will not know realities as they are.
A. I still think that it is better not to think of the names of phenomena. Am I right?
B. There is no need to think of their names; the characteristics of nama and rupa can be directly experienced. But if the nama arises which thinks of a name, we cannot prevent it; this is again another reality which can be known too.
A. I have heard that the four applications of mindfulness or 'maha-satipatthana' are: body, feelings, cittas and dhammas. How can I be aware in accordance with the four applications of mindfulness?
B. There is no need to think of the four applications of mindfulness when we are aware. We can develop knowledge only of the reality which appears at the present moment. The Buddha spoke about the four applications of mindfulness in order to show people that all namas and rupas can be the object of mindfulness. He did not mean that we should think of those four applications when we are aware. We cannot control which nama or rupa will appear; they are anatta (not self).
A. Can the so-called 'ego' be the object of mindfulness? In which application of mindfulness is it included?
B. Where is your 'ego' and what are its characteristics? How do you experience it and through which door? Do you experience it through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense or mind-door?
A. I do not experience the self. I can only think of the self.
B. We could think of many different things, but the reality of that moment is only thinking. In the development of insight we learn that thinking of the self and what we take for self is only nama and rupa which arise and fall away. There is nothing else besides nama and rupa. Since there is no 'ego' it is not included in any of the four applications of mindfulness.
A. What about realities outside ourselves? Those we do not take for self, is that right?
B. Can you give an example of realities outside ourselves?
A. I mean realities such as a bottle, a table or a chair.
B. A bottle, a table or a chair we take for things which stay so long as they are not known as different kinds of rupas which arise and fall away. To take something for 'self' does not merely mean that we think 'It is I', it means that we do not see it as it really is: as phenomena which arise and fall away. The wrong understanding of reality can only be eliminated if there is the knowing of the characteristic of the phenomena which present themselves one by one through the different doorways.
A. I heard of people who concentrate on the movement of the abdomen. They say that sometimes there is awareness of the arising and falling of rupa and sometimes there is awareness of the knowing of the arising and falling of rupa. Is this the right way of developing awareness?
B. What we call abdomen is in reality many different kinds of rupa. Sati can be aware of only one characteristic of rupa at a time. For example, through the body-sense we can experience the characteristics of hardness, softness, heat, cold, motion and pressure, but we can experience only one of these characteristics at a time.
A. When we experience the rupa which is motion do we not experience the arising and falling away of a rupa?
B. In the development of vipassana there are many stages of insight (nana). The first stage is knowing by direct experience the difference between the characteristics of nama and rupa (in Pali: nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana). When this stage has been attained there is no more doubt about the difference between the characteristics of nama and rupa. Only at a later stage can the arising and falling away of nama and rupa be known. This stage cannot be attained unless the previous stages have been realized. How can there be the experience of the arising and falling away of phenomena if the difference between the characteristics of nama and rupa are not clearly discerned?
A. Is the arising and falling away of rupa faster than the movement of the abdomen?
B. Namas and rupas arise and fall away very quickly. Only when insight is highly developed can one experience the arising and falling away of nama and rupa.
Why should we concentrate on the abdomen? The whole day there are countless namas and rupas which arise and fall away. We may be aware of hearing and after that we may be aware of thinking, which could not arise unless hearing had fallen away. But we cannot yet experience the arising and falling away. Our knowledge of different characteristics has to become keener and keener.
A. How could this knowledge become keener?
B. Only by being aware of namas and rupas when they appear, one at a time. Is there not seeing now, or hearing now? If one concentrates on the movement of the abdomen one will not realize other characteristics of nama and rupa. We cannot help it that realities such as seeing, hearing or thinking appear. Should we not know their characteristics? Or should we continue to remain ignorant of them? If we try to concentrate on one nama or rupa we are clinging and this will not lead to detachment from the concept of self.
A. It seems that we have to be aware of such a lot of different namas and rupas.
B. We have to continue to be aware in order to become detached from the notion of self. It is not sufficient to be aware of only one kind of nama or rupa. There should be awareness of whatever reality appears. If there is the right awareness, without the concept of self which has awareness, there will be a condition for panna gradually to know more namas and rupas. There is no 'self' which can control anything.
A. I can see that it is useful to know in theory about the different between nama and rupa. But when we are aware of nama and rupa I am inclined to think that it is not necessary to distinguish between them; I doubt whether that will help us to become detached from the concept of self.
B. How can we have a precise knowledge of realities if we cannot realize the different between the reality which experiences something, feels or remembers, and the reality which does not experience anything? If we do not realize the difference between nama and rupa we confuse for example hearing and sound. Only one characteristic appears at a time. If we do not know which characteristic appears, hearing or sound, it is clear that we are still ignorant of the characteristic which appears at the present moment.
A. The reality of the present moment falls away so quickly, how can we ever catch it?
B. If we try to 'catch' a reality, we do not have the right understanding and thus the truth will not be known. Realities are experienced through the sixth door-ways, but if insight has not been developed we cannot clearly know which reality is experienced through which doorway. As long as there is no precise knowledge of the characteristics of realities , there can be no detachment from the concept of 'self'. When insight is more developed, panna will know which reality is experienced through which doorway.
A. Is it difficult to know that a reality is nama or that it is rupa? It does not seem very difficult.
B. You may think that it is very simple to know that seeing is a kind of nama, and different from visible object, which is rupa; but are you sure as to what appears at the present moment whether it is nama or whether it is rupa?
A. No, I am not sure. It seems as if seeing and visible object appear at the same time.
B. Awareness can be aware of only one reality at a time. If it seems to us that seeing and visible object 'appear' at the same time, then there is no sati, there is only thinking about phenomena. In our practice we have not yet developed the precise knowledge of realities such that they are known one by one. We know in theory that nama is different from rupa, but that is not the panna which leads to detachment from the concept of 'self'.
The different between the nama and rupa which appear should be known, but we should not try to 'catch' the reality of the present moment. We have only just started to develop insight- there cannot yet be a clear knowledge of realities. When characteristics have been experienced time and again, wisdom will develop until it is so keen that we do not take things for 'self' anymore.