Mental Development in Daily Life

by Nina van Gorkom | 2000 | 31,190 words

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Part 8 - Right Mindfulness

A. The wisdom which sees things as they are cannot be cultivated unless there is mindfulness. Is there anything we can do in order to have mindfulness so that later on panna will arise and know characteristics of nama and rupa?

B. Most people think that mindfulness of the eightfold Path is something other than attending to the characteristic of nama or rupa which appears at the present moment. At this moment you are sitting. Is there hardness? Can you experience it ?

A. Yes, I can experience it.

B. Hardness is only a kind of rupa which appears through the door of the body, it is not a 'thing' or a 'person'. When hardness is experienced as only hardness, a kind of rupa which appears through the door of the body, not 'self', then there is sati at that moment.

When hardness appears, there is also a reality which experiences hardness. It is not 'self' which experience hardness, but a kind of nama, different from the rupa which is hardness. When the experience of the hardness is known as a kind of nama, then there is sati at that moment.

Sati is mindfulness of the characteristics of nama and rupa which appear through the six doors. At a moment when there is sati, panna can develop and learn to see the characteristics of nama and rupa as they are.

Many people think that they have to do something special in order to have mindfulness, and that they can, after they have induced mindfulness, 'experience' nama and rupa; but this is not so. When one has listened to the Dhamma as it is explained by the 'right person', there are conditions for the arising of sati and thus panna can gradually develop.

Samma-sati, right mindfulness, is one of the factors of the eightfold Path. When right understanding (samma-ditthi) has been developed and it knows a characteristic of nama or rupa which appears, there is at that moment samma-sati as well.

A. But mindfulness has to be cultivated. Do we not have to do certain things, and abstain from other things we are used to doing in daily life, in order to have more mindfulness?

B. Studying the teachings, pondering over them, learning about the right way of practice, knowing the great value of mindfulness, these are conditions for mindfulness. When we have learnt that mindfulness arises because of conditions- that it is anatta (not self) - and when we have experienced for ourselves that we cannot induce mindfulness, we will refrain from doing special things in order to have more mindfulness.

A. I know what you mean. When I sit still at home and I try to be mindful, I cannot be mindful.

B. People who have right understanding realize that the aim of vipassana is knowing themselves, their daily life. Therefore they do not act in a way which is unnatural for them, in order to have more sati. They do not force themselves to sit still for a long time and wait for sati to arise. Is sitting still and doing nothing the natural thing for you to do?

A. No, I usually read, or write, or I am standing up or walking. I do many different things.

B. So, if you want to know your daily life, should you force yourself to do something which is not natural for you?

A. No, I see that I will know myself better if I do the things I have accumulations for and which I am used to doing. But how can one know realities, since the moment of sati is so very short?

B. The moment of sati is extremely short; it arises and falls away with the citta. Sati is impermanent and not self. Sati arises and fall away, but it can arise again when there are conditions. Thus characteristics of nama and rupa can gradually be known. If you do not realize that sati arises because there are the right conditions for its arising, and if you try to induce it, you can not know what sati is. In that case panna cannot be developed.

A. I notice that when I do something kusala sati arises more often. Are such deeds a condition for mindfulness?

B. Right understanding is the condition for samma- sati of the eightfold Path. Kusala deeds are helpful, but we should not assume that there cannot be awareness of akusala cittas as well. After an akusala citta has fallen away, cittas may arise which are aware of the characteristic of akusala. The Buddha said that all kind of reality can be known. Mindfulness should not be limited to certain times and places.

A. But is it not important for those who start to develop mindfulness to be in a special place?

B. It is right understanding which is important. In vipassana we come to know the six worlds.

There is the world appearing:

  • through the eyes,
  • through the ears,
  • through the nose,
  • through the tongue,
  • through the body-sense,
  • through the mind-door.

We should learn to distinguish between these six worlds in order to know the truth. There six worlds are everywhere, no matter where we are; there should be mindfulness of the nama and rupa which are those six worlds, in order to know the truth.

A. In the beginning, when there is very little awareness, people are likely to become impatient. We think that there will never be any result. Would it not be helpful to be in a quiet place, such as a meditation centre?

B. When people start to practise vipassana they are anxious to have immediate results. They want to experience nama and rupa as they are and to eradicate all defilements without delay. They become tense in the effort to control awareness and thus they are not on the right path. People who are on the wrong path do not have right awareness and they cannot develop wisdom.

Some people do not develop understanding of their daily life and thus they are not on the eightfold Path. I heard someone say that in vipassana he is tearing himself away from normal life. He calls his life without awareness his normal life and his life with awareness his 'meditation life'. The fact that he separates mindfulness from his daily life and considers it as something apart from it proves that he is not on the eightfold Path.

For many people it is difficult to understand that the eightfold path is the understanding of one's daily life. The eightfold Path is the 'middle way'. When one's understanding is more developed one will realize what the middle way is. One will know that there is no self which could hasten the development of panna. Walking the middle way means not forcing ourselves to things for which we have no accumulations. If we have no accumulations for a secluded life it is clear that such a life is not our real life, and thus we should not force ourselves to it on the assumption that panna will be developed.

A. I still think that there are certain conditions which are not favourable to the development of mindfulness and which should be avoided. For example, reading books such as novels. If we read books which are not about Dhamma and which do not contribute to the improvement of society, the reading is not wholesome. Should we not stop reading books like that if we want to have more awareness?

B. When we read books which are not wholesome it shows that we have accumulations for reading them. It would be wrong to assume that in order to be mindful we should stop reading them; this would not help us to know ourselves and it would make us believe that we have no more akusala cittas. When there is awareness of the nama and rupa which appear while we are reading we are on the middle way; we are on the way to knowing ourselves better. There can be awareness of seeing as a type of nama; of knowing the meaning of what one reads as another type of nama. Or if we are absorbed in what we read there can be like or dislike; these are different types of nama again. Many types of nama and rupa may appear while we are reading. We should, however, first learn the difference between nama, the reality which experiences something, and rupa, the reality which does not experience or known anything. Later on there can be a more precise knowledge of the different namas and rupas. If there is mindfulness, including when we read, there will be less attachment to the concept of 'self'.

If we have accumulations for music or for painting we should not suppress them. While we play music or while we paint, nama and rupa appear through the six doors. Why can there not be mindfulness of them. In this way we will realize that there is nothing in our lives besides nama and rupa. We do not have to go to a secluded place in order to look for nama and rupa; they appear already.

A. But if we read unwholesome literature or take alcoholic drinks will it not hinder mindfulness? I doubt whether that is the middle way. It seems to me that there would be more akusala cittas instead of less.

B. When there is mindfulness there are kusala cittas instead of akusala cittas. Akusala cittas are bound to arise but sati can be mindful of the akusala citta. Sati will prevent us from akusala kamma path (unwholesome course of action) through body, speech and mind. With mindfulness more often there are less conditions for akusala cittas. We can find out for ourselves whether this is true. We will learn in the practice that even a moment of mindfulness, be it only a short moment, is very valuable, that it bears great fruit.

Someone who has developed panna to the extent that it can realize nama and rupa as they really are could become a sotapanna (streamwinner) even after having experienced akusala cittas. The panna is so keen that it can know nama and rupa as impermanent, dukkha and anatta , no matter which kind of reality appears. Wisdom is developed in daily life and enlightenment can occur in daily life.

When we are able to experience for ourselves that the Buddha's teaching of the middle way really is the only way leading to the end of defilements, our confidence in his teachings will increase and will keep on increasing. We should not be afraid to be mindful of realities in daily life. Then we will know ourselves more and more until finally there will be no doubt that what we took for self are only nama and rupa.

A. Sati has to be developed in daily life. But when I think of the day which has passed and I realize how little mindfulness there has been, I cannot help regretting the time I wasted. I know regret is unwholesome but what can I do about it?

B. People like to have a great deal of sati but they do not realize why they want it. The purpose is not: awareness without knowing anything. The purpose is: to see things as they are, to know that conditioned realities are impermanent, and that they are anatta. How can one see things as they are? By being aware of the reality of the present moment.

If the reality of the present moment is regret there can be awareness of that characteristic and it can be known as a type of nama. Then there will be less regret and more sati instead of regret. You will realize that all phenomena arise because of conditions and that it is of no use to regret the lack of sati.

A. Must sati always experience an object? I have heard it said that when sati is more developed it does not experience an object; that there is just stillness and peace.

B. Sati must experience an object. Sati is a sobhana cetasika (beautiful mental factor) arising with a sobhana citta. Each citta must experience an object and the cetasikas arising with the citta experience that object as well. Sati in samatha experiences an object; it experiences the same object as the citta which concentrates on the meditation subject. Sati in vipassana experiences an object; it experiences the same object as the citta it accompanies, that is: a characteristic of nama or rupa.

Most people like to have stillness and peace. Why do they want stillness and peace? Do they think that they can develop wisdom in that way? Deep in their hearts they do not want to know themselves; they just want tranquility. Vipassana is not tranquility. Vipassana is vipassana nana. Nana, or panna, is wisdom. Vipassana is a kind of wisdom; it is the wisdom which knows things as they are.

A. Can there be mindfulness while we are asleep? The Buddha has said that mindfulness should be cultivated at any time, even just before we fall asleep. I have read in the 'Satipatthana' (Majjhima Nikaya I, Mulapariyaya-vagga ) that the Buddha said to the monks:

And further, monks, a monk, in going forward and back, applies clear comprehension; in looking straight on and looking away, he applies clear comprehension; in bending and stretching, he applies clear comprehension; in wearing robes and carrying the bowl, he applies clear comprehension; in eating, drinking. chewing and savouring, he applies clear comprehension; in attending to the calls of nature, he applies clear comprehension; in walking, in standing, in sitting, in falling asleep, in walking, in speaking and in keeping silence, he applies clear comprehension. Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body....

I do not understand how there can be mindfulness while we are asleep. When we are dreaming there can be kusala cittas, but mostly there are akusala cittas. When we are in deep sleep and not dreaming there are bhavanga-cittas (life-continuum), cittas which do not experience an object impinging on one of the six doors.

B. If mindfulness is cultivated there can be mindfulness before we fall asleep. If there is no sati, there may be lobha when we are pleased to be comfortably lying down. Or perhaps we are worrying about the many things which have happened during the day and thus dosa arises. If there is no mindfulness of the realities which appear, we are likely to fall asleep with akusala cittas. If there is mindfulness just before we fall asleep there are conditions for mindfulness as soon as we wake up.

We do not know when we will die. If we develop mindfulness in daily life there are conditions for mindfulness shortly before death. The cittas arising shortly before death condition the rebirth-consciousness of the next life. Therefore we should cultivate mindfulness even at the moment before we fall asleep.

A. The Buddha said that there should be mindfulness when speaking and mindfulness when keeping silence . I find it very difficult to mindful when talking to other people.

B. You think that you cannot be aware because you still assume that in order to be aware you have to do something special. When you are walking, can there be awareness?

A. Yes, there is for example the characteristic of the hardness which can appear, or the characteristic of motion or pressure.

B. When you are talking is there no hardness; is there no movement?

A. Yes, there is.

B. Can there not be hearing and seeing too when you are talking? Do you have to stop talking in order to notice that there is sound?

A. No, it can be noticed while one is talking.

B. Can there not, while you are speaking, be awareness of sound, and can it not be known as only sound, a kind of rupa? While we are speaking there are many different realities appearing at different moments. We do not have to stop speaking in order to be aware. When we are talking about things which are not wholesome, when we are laughing and enjoying ourselves, we may think that we cannot be aware. But all realities are nama and rupa. Why can there not be awareness of them?

When you are in your office, do you often use the telephone? Are you mindful when pick up the receiver and speak?

A. When the telephone rings and I lift the receiver there are so many things happening one after the other. It is difficult to be mindful in the office,

B. Are there no realities appearing through the six doors? You cannot be mindful all the time,
but gradually you can become used to being mindful, even when you are in your office. There may be mindfulness when you take up the receiver and start to speak; then you may become absorbed in what you want to say and you forget to be mindful. But even though there can only be mindfulness sometimes, it is a condition for sati to arise more later on.

A. Some people think that when mindfulness has not yet been established it is necessary to be alone in order to cultivate it. Is that right?

B. When there is mindfulness of a characteristic of nama or rupa we are actually alone with that characteristic. Being alone in this sense has nothing to do with the place where we are. Even when we are with many people there can be awareness of nama and rupa. We do not have to break off our activities in order to be aware, because any reality appearing through one of the six doors can be the object of mindfulness. Thus even it we are with many people we can still be alone with the nama or rupa appearing at that moment. Whereas if we were to go to a secluded place in order to be aware we might not be 'alone', we might instead have craving for nama and rupa.

We read in the 'Samyutta Nikaya' (Salayatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Second Fifty, Chapter II, par. 63, 'By Migajala')'

At Savatti was the occasion (for the discourse)....

Then the venerable Migajala came to see the Exalted One.... Seated at one side he thus addressed the Exalted One:-

'"Dwelling alone ! Dwelling alone!" lord, is the saying. Pray, Lord, to what extent is one a dweller alone, and to what extent is one a dweller with a mate?

'There are, Migajala, objects cognizable by the eye, objects desirable, pleasant, delightful and dear, passion fraught, inciting to lust. If a monk be enamoured of them, if he welcome them, if he persist in clinging to them, so enamoured, so persisting in clinging to them, there comes a lure upon him. Where there is infatuation. Where there is infatuation there a lure there is infatuation. Where there is infatuation there is a bondage. Bound in the bondage of the lure, Migajala a, a monk is called "dweller with a mate"....

A monk so swelling, Migajala, though he frequent jungle glades, hermitages and lodgings in the forest, remote from sound, remote from uproar, free from the breath of crowds, where one lodges far from human kind, places suitable for solitude - yet is he called "dweller with a mate".

Why so? Craving is the mate he has not left behind. Therefore is he called "dweller with a mate."
But, Migajala, there are objects cognizable by the eye, desirable, pleasant, delightful and dear, passion-fraught, inciting to lust. If a monk be not enamoured of them.... the lure fades away.

Where there is no lure, there is no infatuation. Where is no infatuation, there is no bondage. Freed from the bondage of the lure, Migajala, a monk is called "dweller alone"....

Thus dwelling, Migajala, a monk, though he dwell amid a village crowed with monks and nuns, with laymen and women layfollowers, with rajahs and royal ministers, with sectarians and their followers- yet is he called "dweller alone". Why so? Craving is the mate he has left behind. Therefore is he called "dweller alone".'

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