Letters about Vipassana

by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 47,974 words

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Letter About Vipassana Iii

Dear Dhamma friends,

Through the study of the Dhamma we learn that we are misled by the outer appearance of things. As soon as we open our eyes it seems that there is seeing continuously. Even when there is thinking or hearing it seems that there can still be seeing at the same time. There seems to be more than one experience at a time, but in reality there is only one citta at a time which arises, experiences an object through the appropriate doorway, and then falls away. We may believe that our body can feel pleasant and unpleasant things, but in reality the body consists of rupas, physical phenomena, which cannot experience anything. The more we study the Dhamma the more we realize that we have accumulated wrong ideas about the phenomena in ourselves and around ourselves. Should we not find out more about the realities of our life?

We understand in theory that there is no self, but understanding has not been developed to the stage that there can be direct realisation of the truth of anatta, not self. At this moment we are full of the idea of self and our clinging to the self is bound to hinder the development of right understanding. We cling to "our kusala" and we have aversion towards "our akusala", we do not see these realities as they are, as not self. Are we not annoyed when there is disturbance of mind, forgetfulness and distraction in a day? Then we have aversion towards "our akusala". We wish to improve the situation and become calm, undisturbed and mindful, in order to accumulate a great deal of kusala, "our kusala". Instead of right understanding of realities which arise because of their own conditions our goal becomes the accumulation of kusala. Then we are moving away from our real goal: detachment from the self through right understanding. Alan Driver, a Dhamma friend who passed away, clearly understood that we can easily be moved away from our real goal. I will quote from his words (Taken from "Be here now", Adelaide):

So very often our aim is not really to understand whatever appears right now. We want to get rid of distraction, to be calmer, to be steadier, to be more organized, to be somehow, other than we are. What is that if it is not attachment?

Why can't we just be aware of distraction? But, oh no, we don't like distraction and there we are, thoroughly distracted from awareness, because of our attachment to a self who does not want to be distracted. In fact, this is more an attachment to peace than to understanding. Ask yourself, do you really want to be aware or do you just want calm? We just go on perpetuating the illusion of a self who has got a job to do and who wants to do it and does not like distraction which gets in the way of doing the job. That is not right understanding at all. It is a cause for more frustration when distraction arises. When there is satipatthana you are not thrown off balance by distraction. You are just aware and then there can be awareness of what appears next. There can be awareness and right understanding of what has already appeared by conditions, which is not self. Only for one moment though. And then there may be a whole lot of distraction. We can't do anything about it, it is anatta. If there is awareness at that moment something has been done already. It is anatta.

Developing awareness. I don't think it is what we really want to do at all. We don't have the inclination, deep down we are not really interested very often. Only at a moment of right understanding is there any interest, right interest in the object that appears, in order to see it as it really is. We are always looking for some other object, trying to change it or make it last. That is attachment, not detachment.

If we are honest with ourselves we will notice when we are diverted from the right Path in choosing another goal, such as the gaining of kusala for ourselves. I am grateful for being reminded of the true goal. There should be detachment from the very beginning. When there is a moment of awareness of realities such as hardness or sound, are we pleased? Do we cling to "my awareness"? We should not be concerned about having awareness, our foremost goal is developing understanding. When heat appears it can be known as rupa, a reality which does not experience anything. It is not part of "my body", it is not "mine". We never know what reality will appear next, a reality which is pleasant, unpleasant, kusala or akusala. If we try to direct sati to this object first and then to that, for example to rupas appearing in the body or to feelings, there is again an idea of self and we will never understand that sati is anatta.

Someone wrote that a teacher in a meditation center told people to get rid of akusala as soon as possible. When it arises one should concentrate more deeply on particular realities such  as feelings. He also said that one burns up old kamma by the accumulation of kusala cittas while one is practicing vipassana.

Akusala kamma is past already and we cannot prevent it from producing its result. The ariyan who has attained enlightenment has no more conditions for an unhappy rebirth, but he still receives unpleasant results through the senses in the course of his life. We cannot know which kamma produces which result at a particular moment, only a Buddha can know this. There were countless lives in the past with countless akusala kammas. Who can claim that he can accumulate a great deal of kusala and can burn up old kamma? When we are having such thoughts we are clinging to the accumulation of kusala, we are again off the right Path. When akusala citta arises and panna can realize it as a conditioned nama there is at that moment kusala citta instead of akusala citta. However, this will not be achieved by striving to have strong concentration on particular objects one selects. There will be more detachment from rupas and if one does not plan to have mindfulness. It depends on conditions whether there will be sati and panna or not. It depends on conditions what will be the object of panna, it may be akusala citta or any other object. If we believe that there is already through satipatthana the accumulation of a great deal of kusala, so much so that akusala can be burnt up, we do not know ourselves. Do we realize the countless moments of subtle clinging or of ignorance, arising time and again after there has been seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or the experience of tangible object? Do we know whether there is at this moment kusala citta or akusala citta after seeing?

People who have practiced in a center find it difficult to develop satipattana in daily life, they find daily life distracting. One should check what one's goal is, understanding realities or being calm and free from disturbances? Daily life can be the measure of our understanding. When panna is truly panna it can understand as there is seeing occurring now, hearing occurring now, it can understand them naturally, in daily life. panna does not develop rapidly or suddenly. We cannot determine that from now on panna should clearly understand realities. panna develops when it discerns the dhamma which appears naturally, in whatever situation or place one may be. We may believe that it is difficult to be aware of realities while we are working, but the situation of our work is daily life and any reality which appears can be the object of mindfulness. Alan Weller wrote:

I do not separate Dhamma from work. I think that one sentence concerning the Dhamma, spoken by Alan Driver, can be applied and be of value in the work situation: "We know from our own lives that we do not always give help when help is needed." This can encourage us not to be neglectful of kusala in our work situation. Another phrase to be remembered: "This moment should not be lost". This can be a reminder not to be absorbed in work with akusala citta. When we understand that this moment should not be lost we don't have to think first or reflect first in order to be aware. Thus, understanding can be applied in whatever situation, at different levels too: at the levels of sila, of calm and of insight.

There is no self who can cause the arising of any reality. We have to be so very patient to let understanding arise by conditions and forget the trying and the wishing for results.

This moment should not be lost. We acquire from the scriptures many valuable reminders to develop understanding of nama and rupa. It is right understanding which should be emphasized, not concentration or effort. When understanding develops naturally, in daily life, there are also concentration and effort or energy accompanying panna, they are cetasikas which perform their own functions. If we think of concentration and effort there can easily be attachment, or, when we worry about lack of concentration, there is aversion.

Someone asked Khun Sujin whether he would have to stop reading in order to be aware of different realities. He was wondering how panna could know different realities while he was reading. Khun Sujin asked him whether during the time he was paying respect to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and reciting the Pali texts, he could, in between, also think of other things. There can be many moments of ignorance in between, thus, ignorance can be extremely fast. Even so when panna has been developed it is extremely fast. We underestimate the power of panna. panna is different from what we think it is. We are full of the idea of self and thus we imagine that panna can only know something if we first focus on it and exert effort. We may think that it is not possible for panna to know the difference between sense door process and mind door process, since the different processes of citta run extremely fast. However, it can be known by panna. It is known by panna at the first stage of "tender insight" which is the beginning stage. Or we may mistakenly think that there cannot be sati and panna in a sensedoor process. Also in sensedoor processes there are conditions for akusala cittas or kusala cittas. When there are kusala cittas they can be accompanied by panna or unaccompanied by panna, depending on conditions. Nobody can tell panna to arise or not to arise, nobody can predict the object of panna. When it arises it performs its function of understanding.

The panna which is vipassana of the first stage of "tender insight" clearly knows rupa as rupa and nama as nama, and it must know this through the minddoor. It is useful to know more about this stage of insight, because then we will realize what should be known and what we do not know yet. The rupas which are the different sense objects are experienced through their corresponding sensedoors and then through the minddoor. We may have doubts about this. We may believe that through the minddoor there can only be thinking about concepts and not the experience of rupas. We read in the "Atthasalini" (I, Part II, Analysis of Terms, 72) that sense objects are experienced through the senses and then through the mind-door. We read about the javana cittas (kusala cittas or akusala cittas) arising in a sense-door process and then in the mind-door process:

.... It should be understood that the javana cittas having any one of the objects arises through two doors in the manner described. Thus the javana cittas experiencing visible object arise at the eyedoor and also at the minddoor. The same is the case with the javana cittas experiencing sound and the other sense objects.... The "Atthasblini" states in the section on rupas (II, Book II, Rupa, the four Great Essentials, 304) that the cognition through the mind-door "falls into the stream of the fivefold cognition and goes along with it." The minddoor process which succeeds the sensedoor process falls into its stream since cittas succeed one another very rapidly. The rupa is experienced through the sensedoor and then through the minddoor. When it is experienced through the minddoor it has only just fallen away. During other mind-door processes cittas can have as object a concept, such as the shape and form of something.

The eyedoor process, the eardoor process and the other sensedoor processes are each followed by a minddoor process, but there are bhavanga-cittas in between the processes. Now, at this moment, the different sense-doors are mixed up, they do not seem to be demarcated by a minddoor process. It seems that seeing does not fall away and that there can be hearing or the experience of tangible object at the same time. This shows us that processes of citta succeed one another very rapidly. The minddoor is hidden at this moment, it is hidden by the sensedoors. In order to remind us of what we do not know yet Khun Sujin said: "One door is bright, the other doors are dark." Only when there is seeing the world is bright. But now it seems that the world keeps on being bright. There seems to be seeing continuously.

At this moment we know in theory that nama is the element which experiences and that rupa is the element which does not experience anything. However, when there is, for example, the experience of heat through the bodysense it is difficult to distinguish nama from rupa. There can be awareness of only one object at a time, either a nama or a rupa, and at that moment there is not "my body". When we think of "bodily sensations" we think of a "whole" and we are thoroughly mixing up nama and rupa. Then will continue to cling to a "self".

In the beginning the understanding of nama and rupa is bound to be vague and there may be awareness of only a few namas and rupas. It depends on the accumulations of the individual through which doors there is awareness. Even when the first stage of vipassana nana has been reached there may not be clear understanding of many kinds of realities. However, when that stage arises there is no more doubt about the characteristic of nama and about the characteristic of rupa which at those moments both appear through the minddoor. Then there is direct understanding of nama and rupa. After this stage has been reached one must continue to be mindful and develop understanding of all kinds of realities which appear through the six doors. Khun Sujin said: The characteristic of nama can only clearly appear when the minddoor appears. At the moment of the first vipassana nana panna knows the characteristic of nama and the characteristic of rupa. rupa  is not different from rupa which usually appears through the sensedoor. Visible object appears through the minddoor just as naturally as when we see now, but at that moment it is not experienced through the eyedoor but through the minddoor.

During a trip in the North of Thailand Alan Driver asked Khun Sujin some questions about the first vipassananana and I will quote the conversation: Alan: Does visible object appear to be the same through the mind-door as through the eyedoor, or does it appear differently at the moment of the first vipassananana? Khun Sujin: It is the same, exactly the same. Alan: In that case how can one know the difference between seeing and the experience through the minddoor? Khun Sujin: One knows the difference between the characteristics of the sense-doors and the mind-door. Alan: What is the difference?

Khun Sujin: When the minddoor appears it is as if none of the sense-doors is appearing. That is at the moment of vipassananana. One knows objects of the sensedoors one at a time, but it is as if nothing is appearing through the sensedoors; the objects appear only through the minddoor. But there must also be sensedoor processes, otherwise sound, for example, could not appear. Sound proceeds with such speed through the eardoor process and then reaches the minddoor process, so that it can be experienced through the mind-door.

When someone asks you, "Is there hearing?", you automatically think of the ears and hearing. This is normal. At this moment the sensedoor process covers up the function of the minddoor process which also "hears" the sound. When there is vipassananana, however, there are all the time minddoor processes. One rupa at a time and one nama at a time appears and is understood. The world does not appear, there is no self, there is nothing else at all.

Alan: When the sense-door does not appear, what is it like?

Khun Sujin: Now there are sensedoor processes, the sensedoor appears and the minddoor does not appear. When the minddoor appears it is different from just now.

Alan: How is it?

Khun Sujin: Not like now. There is sound, flavour, every thing. When the minddoor appears one knows what it is like, there is no more doubt about the minddoor.
When we hear a sound at this moment we have a vague knowledge of the characteristic of sound, but nama and rupa and all the doorways are mixed up. Whereas when there is the first vipassananana there is the direct understanding of the difference between nama and rupa. Panna clearly knows this, it does not have to think or consider.

Is there doubt about the minddoor? Does nama clearly appear as an element which experiences something? When we realize what we do not know yet we will not erroneously believe that we can have direct understanding of the arising and falling away of nama and rupa. This can only be realized at a later stage. First Panna must be developed to the stage that it can clearly distinguish between different characteristics.

We should be grateful to the Buddha for teaching us about all realities which naturally appear in daily life. Thus we are able to test the truth of what he taught. He taught that each reality arises because of its own conditions. For example, if there were not eyesense and visible object, seeing-consciousness could not arise. Eyesense and visible object are necessary conditions for seeing. The eyesense is the rupa which is the physical base or place of origin for seeing-consciousness. Seeing arises at that base. Hearing-consciousness arises at the ear-base and each of the other sense cognitions have their corresponding base. The rupas which are bases (vatthus) arise and fall away, they do not last. The base for body-consciousness can be at any point of the body, inside or on the outside. When we think of "body sensitivity" we still have an idea that the body itself can experience something. The bodysense is the base for body consciousness and also for the accompanying bodily feeling which can be painful or pleasant. We dislike pain and we attach great importance to bodily well being. When we know what exactly the bodysense is it will help us to have less confusion about nama and rupa.

The word body sensitivity can mislead us, the bodysense cannot experience anything. It can be a condition for the experience of tangible object, for softness, hardness, heat, cold, motion or pressure. There can be impingement only by one of these rupas on one extremely small point of the bodysense at a time, and then bodyconsciousness experiences that object just for a moment. That point of the body is then the bodybase and the bodydoor, but it falls away immediately. When there is the experience of a characteristic of rupa such as heat, impinging on the rupa which is then bodybase, nothing else can at that moment appear at other parts of the body. These parts are as it were completely numb, they cannot be the base for bodyconsciousness and bodily feeling. Neither can there be seeing or hearing at the same time, since there can be only one citta at a time experiencing one object.

My husband pushed one hand on his shoulder and one hand on his waist, and he thought that there could be experience of hardness on two points at the same time. When there is only thinking of the body as a whole and no awareness of one object at a time, we will not know the truth. We are misled by sanna, the cetasika which is remembrance. When there is sanna which remembers wrongly, not according to the truth, it seems that there is "my whole body". All the rupa of the body arise and then fall away immediately, never to come back again. Since we hold on to memories of what has been experienced and fallen away already we do not know the truth. There is "attasanna". wrong remembrance of self, and "nicca sanna", wrong remembrance of things as permanent. Do we still think that the whole hand can "feel" something? Then there is wrong sanna. Because of association of different experiences in the past, also in the recent past, we form up the idea of a hand which feels something.

In the commentary to the "Vibhamga", the "Dispeller of Delusion" (Sammohavinodana, Classification of the Khandhas) it is explained that sanna is like a mirage which deceives us:

Perception, sanna, also is like a mirage in the sense of being unsubstantial, and likewise in the sense of being ungraspable. For one cannot grasp it and drink it or wash in it or bathe in it or fill a pot with it. Furthermore, just as a mirage quivers and seems like the movement of waves, so indeed perception also, divided up as perception of blue, etc, for the purpose of experiencing blue, etc., shakes and quivers. And just as a mirage deceives many and makes them say: "This is blue, beautiful, pleasant, permanent." So too in the case of yellow and so on. Thus it is like a mirage by deception also.

We may not have considered to what extent wrong sanna influences our whole life. We are misled by the outer appearance of things. When children play with dolls and toy animals they live in their own dream world which they take very seriously. When a toy is broken or is lost they cry. Is it not pitiful that we do not really grow up, but keep on playing in our dream world? Because of sanna which remembers wrongly we hold on to all objects which are experienced. We have a short happy time with the five khandhas which arise, are present for an extremely short time and then fall away. We cry about our losses.

We can begin to be mindful of different characteristics of nama and rupa, this moment should not be lost. The study of the Abhidhamma helps a great deal to eliminate misunderstandings' about different nama and rupas. When for example hardness appears that characteristic can be known as rupa, not self. We should not try to catch the place which is the bodybase at a particular moment. Then there is thinking instead of awareness of the reality which appears. The rupa which is bodybase cannot be experienced through touch, it can only be experienced through the minddoor. This rupa falls away immediately. We read in the scriptures that realities are not self, anatta, but anatta may only be a word to us. Does the reality which is not self already appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind-door? If we still confuse the different doorways it seems that people, houses and trees appear, and they seem to be real. Seeing is one experience and it experiences only colour, it has nothing to do with hearing or the experience of tangible object. It is only when panna has been developed to the degree of the first vipassananana that no world, no person, no self appears, only nama and rupa.

When the different objects experienced through the six doors are not clearly separated we tend to think long stories about what is not real. The object is then a concept. We are obsessed by our thoughts and we cling to them, and thus there are still conditions for rebirth. The arahat also thinks, but he has no defilements, for him there are no conditions for rebirth. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (II, Nidana vagga, Kindred Sayings on Cause, Ch IV, par. 40, Will), that the Buddha, while he was at Savatthi, said to the monks:

That which we will, monks, and that which we intend to do, and that with which we are occupied:  this becomes an object for the persistence of consciousness. The object, being there, becomes a basis for consciousness.  Consciousness being based and having grown, there comes a bending; there being a bending, there is a going to a coming; there being a going to a coming, there is decease and rebirth; there being decease and rebirth, birth, old age and death happen in the future, and grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow and despair. Even such is the entire mass of dukkha.
This happens also if we do not will, or intend to do, but are occupied about something. But if we do not will, nor intend to do, nor are occupied about something, these things do not happen. Even such is the ceasing of this entire mass of dukkha.

This sutta is about daily life. Time and again we are absorbed in our thinking and planning and there is forgetfulness of realities. We plan what we are going to do today or tomorrow. However, if there were no citta which thinks we could not plan anything. If we remember this there can be conditions for awareness of the citta which thinks and it can be known as a conditioned nama. At that moment we are not obsessed by our thinking. There will be thinking again and again because there are conditions for it, but through awareness and right understanding it can be known as anatta.

With metta,
Nina van Gorkom

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