Dhamma Letters to Friends

by Nina van Gorkom | 2001 | 11,767 words

Edited by Pinna Lee Indorf The Dhamma Study Group 2001...

Letter 2 - A Letter To Lila

17 November 1976

Dear Lila,

You asked what the rupa is, when we worry.  You also wonder whether worry is kukkucca, and you wonder about the object of worry. 

 When you say, ‘What is the rupa?’ it is useful to make your questions more precise. ‘What is the rupa?’  Does it mean, ‘Which rupas are present, arising and falling away, while we worry?’ or, ‘Is rupa the object of worry?’ or, ‘What is the physical base (vatthu) of the citta and cetasikas while there is worry?’ or, ‘Are there rupas conditioned by worry?’

 First of all, when we speak about worry in conventional language, it seems we mean thinking again and again with aversion about something. Kukkucca means regret about something bad we did, or regret about something good we did not do.  This is also included in worry as it is used in conventional language, but, as I have said before, in conventional language it is used more widely.  I find with the study of cetasikas that hardly ever does the English translation of the cetasikas render the meaning exactly.  I always have to say, ‘In conventional language, it is used in a different sense, but as regards the reality of this cetasika, it is ....’

 Your questioning about rupa stems from your searching for the ways nama conditions rupa and rupa conditions nama.  You write, ‘Everything is nama and rupa,’ but you wonder how they interact.

 When we think, or worry, or are attached, for example, there are, in this plane of existence, the rupas which make up what we call ‘our body’ arising and falling away.  They are a condition for many cittas which are arising and falling away.  Some people want to point only to the brain (and this is just some rupas, arising and falling away) and think of the brain as a very special condition for cittas.  But it is not only the brain, also the other rupas play a part.  There is heart-base, the physical base of some cittas (not of all cittas), it has a function.  But what we call blood, also has a function.  Take all the blood out and you cannot think.

 Cittas condition rupas, for instance when you laugh it is very obvious, or when you talk.  We do not try to pinpoint which rupa is exactly at which moment conditioned by which citta.  This is at least for the moment beyond our scope.  Is it not enough to know in general that nama conditions rupa?  It is really so difficult to know when nama appears and when rupa appears.  When there is dosa (you call it ‘she,’ I like to call it ‘it,’ since I find ‘it’ indicates it is only an element, a conditioned element) can there be mindfulness of the dosa?  Is dosa the object of mindfulness, or is it the akusala citta?  Or is it the unpleasant feeling?  Or is it hardness which may appear?  Or is it the experience of hardness, or aversion about hardness?  It is really not so easy as it may seem to be.  And do we know already when we just notice dosa, and when there is mindfulness of exactly that characteristic?  Anybody may notice dosa, but that is not mindfulness.  When there is mindfulness, there is only one characteristic at a time, not mixed with a concept of dosa, or the name dosa, or an idea of a ‘whole,’ or a feeling and dosa together.  All this is to show that I find it already difficult enough to know different characteristics of nama and rupa, and that knowing what conditions what is much too difficult for me.

 Talking about dosa, I am in the mood to say a few things about it.  I had a number of things which did not go the way I wanted them to and these things always come in a row.  It is the most common thing in the world to have aversion, but also attachment and ignorance.  However, people especially dislike dosa, because it is accompanied by unpleasant feeling and, who likes to have that?  People keep on asking what can they do when they have dosa.  It is all very well to say, ‘Be aware of it.’  However, awareness does not arise so often, and how could we direct mindfulness to that reality?  That is impossible.  We can also say, ‘Everything is only nama and rupa,’ and this is perfectly true, but, is everything nama and rupa to us already?

 Since mindfulness does not arise so frequently, the Buddha taught many different ways of kusala.  Instead of unpleasant thoughts, one could recollect very briefly about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, or about metta.  Many subjects of samatha can also be used as a short recollection in daily life.  This may be a condition for kusala cittas with pleasant feeling, but it will not always work.  Nobody can order his cittas the way he likes.  It shows that they are conditioned realities, sankhara dhammas.  They are beyond control.  Could it console you to know at least in theory that dosa is a sankhara dhamma?  We have accumulated it and when there are conditions it comes out; such is life.  Understanding this will help us not to make the dosa into something terribly important.  What helps best of course, is learning through one’s own experience, that is, through mindfulness, that dosa is not my dosa, but only a sankhara dhamma.  And there is not only dosa, there is also moha, and lobha, and hardness or softness, and many other realities which each have their own characteristics.

 You ask whether it is not ditthi which conditions dosa.  Our dosa before, in many lives, conditions the dosa today.  It is also true that lobha and moha condition dosa.  Moha arises with each akusala citta; ignorance about realities conditions a lot of akusala.  Lobha also conditions it, because when you like something and you do not get it, there is aversion.  As regards ditthi, the sotapanna who has eradicated ditthi, still has dosa.

 At the end of your letter you were wondering whether memory is a rupa and whether ideas are nama and you also wondered whether cetasika is ‘subject.’  Every reality which can experience something is nama, that is, citta and cetasika (I do not talk about nibbana, the unconditioned nama).  Memory is a cetasika, sañña, it can experience something.  Realities which cannot experience anything are rupas.

 Ideas or concepts are neither nama nor rupa, because they are not realities.  They can be the object of the citta which thinks, but they are not real.  Citta can think of realities, but also of things which are not real, concepts or names, stories, fantasies.

 It appears from your letter that you find it wrong to think of concepts; it is as if you want to correct yourself.  It is natural to think of concepts; we have to in our daily life.  This kind of thinking arises because of conditions; why correct it?  But even thinking can be the object of awareness; it has a characteristic.  We do not have intention to be mindful of thinking, we do not try to catch vitakka, or vicara, but sometimes that characteristic may appear.  When does it appear?  When we do not have the intention to be aware.  Do you have the intention to be mindful?  Certainly also that intention can be object of awareness, but I find mostly when we have the intention to be aware there is bound to be thinking about realities instead of mindfulness of just one object at a time.  When there is thinking about a whole, or an idea or a cetasika which we have in our mind, the object is not a nama or rupa, but a concept.

 For instance, when I am ironing, heat may appear, just heat.  At such a moment there is no idea of an iron.  It would be absurd that an iron can be experienced through the body-sense.  It is just the heat.  A moment later we may think of, ‘heat of the iron.’ At that moment, the citta thinks of a concept.  The concept is not real, but the thinking is.  All this sounds convincing.  But now let us substitute body for iron.  When heat appears somewhere in the body, do we have a kind of possessive idea of ‘my body-heat’?  It shows our clinging to the body.  Or can it be just ‘heat’?  Only for a moment, when we do not have the intention to be mindful, but it just arises?  When we think of ‘body-heat’ there is a concept, not a reality.  Sometimes our heart may be beating fast.  Is it ‘my heart,’ or can just hardness or motion appear?  We cling to what we call ‘my heart.’  At another moment we may be dying when the heart is beating too fast.  How beneficial when mindfulness has been accumulated, it would be a condition for us to cling less to the body.  We will need that.

 We may have doubts whether contours of different objects we think  we see are appearing through eyes or through the mind-door.  Then I find that it helps to remember that seeing and, for example, reading are very different. Recognizing the letters and knowing what they mean are done by cittas which experience objects through the mind-door, but since cittas arise and fall away so fast it seems that reading is done through the eye-door.  It reminds us of the amount of our ignorance and this is healthy, not discouraging.  Do we have the intention to know visible object and seeing?  The less there is intention, the better.

 It seems that you think that mindfulness should know all the cetasikas which arise with the citta, all at once at the same time.  Mindfulness can only be aware of one object, otherwise it is not awareness, but only what we take for awareness.

 You write something about people experiencing voidness.  I do not know what that is, it sounds like a kind of speculation.  From the teachings I know that realities are void of the self, same meaning as anatta.  And also nibbana is called ‘the void,’ but all this is beyond my scope.  I cannot experience it.  Do you have the intention to attain vipassana nanas and to attain nibbana?  I know that it won’t happen when one has the intention, since it is the task of panna to attain when the time has come for it.  I think less and less of nanas or of nibbana because I find it difficult enough to know different characteristics of nama and rupa.  I am not curious to know what nibbana is like; it would only be speculation.

 You use the term arupa, a state of leaving the body behind.  I do not know this, again, beyond my scope.  It seems a kind of thinking.  Arupa is used in composite words, for example, ‘arupa-jhana’ which can be attained only by those who have cultivated the conditions for it.  Arupa-plane is the plane of existence where there is no rupa and I do not know what it is like.

 Happy resettling in San Francisco.  I sympathize with you that you had some disappointments as to your house in the woods.  But now you have Rina and some other friends.

Kindest regards,
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