Mental Development in Daily Life

by Nina van Gorkom | 2000 | 31,190 words

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Part 5 - The Eightfold Path

A. I understand that awareness or mindfulness is useful; but I still do not know how to be mindful in daily life. I feel I have no time for it; I have to do my work.

B. In the development of insight it is precisely our daily life, our work, ourselves we will know. We will know what they really are. However, it seems that while people want to know many other things, they do not want to know themselves. Are they afraid of knowing themselves? The Buddha pointed out that knowing ourselves is better than knowing other things.

We read in the 'Visuddhimagga' (XII, 82) about supernatural powers. The Buddha so acted that King Maha-Kappina and his retinue were invisible to the queen who had followed him with one thousand women attendants and who was sitting nearby. We read:

... And when it is asked 'Have you seen the king, venerable sir?, he asked: 'But which is better for you, to seek the king or to seek yourself?' She replied 'Myself, venerable sir.' Then he likewise taught her the Dhamma as she sat there, so that, together with the thousand women attendants, she became established in the fruition of stream entry (sotapanna), while the ministers reached the fruition of non-returner (anagami), and the king that of a arahatship.

The development of insight is not something outside our daily life; it is precisely in our daily life that wisdom should be developed. There should be awareness of namas and rupas which appear in our daily life. Thus we develop the eightfold Path. If one says that one has no time to develop insight one has not understood what the eightfold Path is.

A. What exactly is the eightfold Path? Is it the same as mindfulness? Is it essential for the attainment of enlightenment? Will it makes us happier and does it help us to fulfil our duties better?

B. When we speak about a reality we should know what type of reality it is, otherwise we cannot have a clear understanding of it. What paramattha dhamma is the eightfold Path? There are four paramattha dhammas (absolute realities):

  • citta (consciousness)
  • cetasika (mental factors arising with the citta)
  • rupa (physical phenomena)
  • nibbana

The eight factors of the eightfold Path are cetasikas. They are sobhana cetasikas (beautiful mental factors) arising with the sobhana citta which is mindful of a characteristic of nama or rupa. In being mindful of nama and rupa the eightfold Path is developed. It is still lokiya (which literally means mundane) when the cetasikas of the eightfold Path do not arise with the lokuttara citta (the citta which experiences nibbana). When the eight cetasikas arise with the lokuttara citta, the Path is lokuttara.

You asked me whether the eightfold Path is the same as mindfulness. Mindfulness is one of the factors of the eightfold Path; it is called samma-sati or 'right mindfulness'. As we have seen, sati arises with a sobhana citta (beautiful citta). Sati is samma-sati of the eightfold Path when it arises with the panna which realizes a characteristic of nama or rupa appearing through one of the six doors. Any time a citta is mindful of a characteristic of nama or rupa which appears, the eightfold Path is being developed.

A. Thus the object of the eightfold Path has to be any characteristic of nama or rupa which appears through one of the six doors, is that right?

B. That is right.

A. I have read that the object of the eightfold Path has to be the four applications of mindfulness or 'maha-satipatthana' which are: the body, feelings, cittas and dhammas. Can sound be satipatthana?

B. Is sound real?

A. It is real.

B. Why is it real?

A. Anybody can experience sound through the ears.

B. Since sound can be experienced through the ear-door should you not be aware of it?

A. Yes, one should be aware of it.

B. Sound is an object of mindfulness or satipatthana because it is real and it can be experienced through a doorway. If there is mindfulness of the characteristic of sound more often, we will learn that it is only a kind of rupa; different from the nama which experiences sound.

A. What about unhappy feeling, is it also satipatthana?

B. Is it real?

A. Certainly.

B. Thus it is satipatthana. All realities which can be experienced through the six doors can be objects of mindfulness, they are satipatthana.

As regards your question whether the eightfold Path is essential for the attainment of enlightenment: it is essential; there is no other way. When one attains the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotapanna, the wrong view of self is eradicated completely. The concept of self can be eradicated only if one develops the wisdom which clearly knows that all phenomena in us and around us are only nama and rupa and nothing else but nama and rupa. Thus things will be known as they are.

You also asked me whether the eightfold path will make us happier, whether it helps us to fulfil our duties better. Our own defilements make us unhappy and at time we find life very difficult. In developing the eightfold Path we do not yet eradicate defilements but we acquire a deeper understanding of our life. When there is less clinging to the notion of self and thus less darkness in our life, it means that there is more happiness. When we understand more of our own life our relationship with others will change too. We will understand other people better and we will have more loving-kindness and compassion for them. When mindfulness is developed there are more conditions for wholesome cittas and wholesome deeds. When we do our daily tasks with kusala cittas do you not think that they are performed better?

A. You explained that the eight factors of the Path are eight sobhana cetasikas. Do all eight factors have to arise with with the citta which is mindful?

B. Not all eight factors arise when the citta is not lokuttara citta. When the lokuttara citta arises all eight factors arise with the citta.

A. What is the first factor of the eightfold Path?

B. The first factor is samma ditthi or right understanding. Without right understanding of nama and rupa and the way to develop insight we cannot cultivate the eightfold path. samma ditthi is the kind of panna which knows a characteristic of nama or rupa, appearing through one of the six doors.

We read in the 'Samyutta Nikaya' (Maha-vagga, Book XII, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, Chapter IV, par. 7):

Monks, just as the dawn is the forerunner, the harbinger, of the arising of the sun, even so is right understanding the forerunner, the harbinger, of fully comprehending the four Ariyan truths.

Of a monk who has right understanding it may be expected that he will understand as it really is: This is sukkha... this is the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha.

Wherefore, monks, an effort must be made to realize: This is dukkha, this is the arising of dukkha, this is the ceasing of dukkha, this is the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha.

We should know to what end we wish to develop the eightfold Path. Why do you want to develop it?

A. I want to develop it in order to eradicate all defilements such as anger, jealously, stinginess, and all other kinds of impurities- in other words, everything which is degrading and immoral.

B. People think that vipassana can solve all their problems at once and they think that defilements can be eradicated immediately. But haven't we been accumulating defilements of all kinds for countless life-times? And this being so how can we expect to eradicate defilements immediately? So long as we are not yet ariyan saints the aim of vipassana is to know the truth about ourselves, eradicating the concept of self. We have to be so very patient. We should not forget the sutta about the knife-handle (Samyutta Nikaya, Khandha-vagga, Middle Fifty, Chapter V, par. 101, Adze-handle), where we read that the Buddha said:

... Just as if, monks, when a carpenter's apprentice looks upon his knife-handle and sees thereon his thumb-mark and his fingermarks he does not thereby know: 'So and so much of my knife-handle has been worn away today, so much yesterday, so much at other times'. But he knows the wearing away of it just by its wearing away.

Some of the wrong view is eliminated each time there is mindfulness of nama or rupa but we cannot see how much is eliminated each day.

A. But when there is strong attachment or when we are very angry how can there be awareness at the same time?

B. When there is a lobha-mula-citta (a citta rooted in attachment) or a dosa-mula-citta (a citta rooted in ill-will), there cannot be a citta which is aware at the same time. But after the akusala citta has fallen away there can be a citta which is aware of the preceding akusala citta as only a type of nama.

A. We might be so annoyed by lobha or dosa that awareness is impossible.

B. People think that way because they do not understand the eightfold Path. Some people are so afraid when a strong desire arises that they flee from the reality which appears at that moment. They think that they should concentrate on their breathing. When one acts in this way or in some other way without awareness of the reality which appears at the present moment, one is not on the eightfold Path. When one develops the eightfold Path, which is also called the 'middle way', there should be awareness of the characteristic of any kind of rupa or nama which appears, even if it is akusala. That is the middle way.

A person who wants to flee from strong desire may see this desire as being particularly ugly, but does he realize that there is also desire when, for example, he enjoys a beautiful sight or a pleasant sound? One should realize the danger of this kind of lobha too, which is more subtle. Nor, perhaps, may such a person see the ugliness of moha-mula-cittas (cittas rooted in ignorance). He does not know when there is moha, because it does not arise with a pleasant feeling or an unpleasant feeling, but with an indifferent feeling. He does not know that when feeling is indifferent there can be an akusala citta. We should realize that moha-mula-cittas are dangerous too. When there is no awareness of realities there are countless moments of moha-mula-cittas. The moha of today conditions the moha of tomorrow; for how many more lives will we be ignorant of realities?

Before insight has been developed, we are inclined to think that there should not be mindfulness of akusala cittas, especially of those types we find particularly ugly such as cittas with strong desire or anger. If we think that it is impossible to be aware of their characteristics, we are not on the eightfold Path and there is no possibility that akusala will be eradicated. The middle way is not forcing, it is just awareness of whatever reality appears. Why should we be worried by the reality which appears, even if it is an akusala citta? We cannot change the reality which has already appeared, we should just know its characteristic. It is useless to go on worrying about strong desire or anger. But it is possible to know these realities as only types of nama, and to be aware of other realities as well which appear at such moments. Then one would realize how many realities one is still ignorant of. Is there ever awareness of indifferent feeling, or only of pleasant and unpleasant feeling? Do we realize it when there is moha?

A. I thought that the Buddha said that one should be aware every time one is breathing in and breathing out. Is that not true?

B. As long as we are breathing in and out there is still life. All through life mindfulness should be cultivated. In vipassana one does not select any particular object to be mindful of. There can be mindfulness of whatever kind of nama or rupa appears through one of the six doors in order to thus eradicate wrong view and doubt of the realities one used to take for 'self'.

In vipassana one does not have to concentrate on in-breathing and out-breathing; if one chooses the object of awareness in order to force sati, this will not lead to detachment from the concept of 'self'. When we speak of breathing, we are using a conventional term from everyday language. What are the realities which can be directly experienced when breathing? There can be awareness of phenomena such as softness, hardness, motion, pressure, heat or coldness when they present themselves through the door of the body, and they can be known as different kinds of rupa. namas and rupas appear, but there is no 'self' which can decide of which reality there should be awareness.

A. Thinking about what you said about awareness of nama and rupa, I can accept and understand that there is no self, but I cannot realize it. And sometimes I feel that there must still be a self which directs and makes decisions. Suppose that I decide today to study the teachings and to observe five precepts; I find it difficult to believe that there is not an ego or self that makes this choice, this decision.

B. So long as we are not ariyan saints, the wrong view of self has not been eradicated; there are yet conditions for the concept of self to arise. Awareness of namas and rupas will gradually lead to a clearer understanding of what things really are. Then we shall realize that decision-making is a type of nama arising by conditions. When wisdom has been developed to the extent that one can attain enlightenment there will be no more doubt about realities and there will be the clear comprehension that there is no self.

In order to cultivate the right path there must be from the beginning right understanding about the way of development. If there is some misunderstanding in the beginning one may go the wrong way for a long time. It may be very hard to find the right way again. If one continues having the wrong understanding, for how many more lives will there be wrong view? I know someone who said that namas and rupas have to be watched. Although he avoided mentioning the 'ego' when he spoke, it nevertheless appeared from his way of practice that he was clinging to the concept of self all the time. It was self who was watching his thoughts and his feelings.

From the beginning there should not be the idea of a self who is watching or who chooses an object of awareness.

All realities which appear through the six doorways can be the object of mindfulness. When


there has been awareness of different realities more often their characteristics will be known more clearly. Thus the eightfold Path will be developed.

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