Letters about Vipassana

by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 47,974 words

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Letter About Vipassana Vii

the Hague,
May 20, 1991

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for the tapes which you made in Bangkok when you and Jonothan were visiting Khun Sujin. The discussions were in various surroundings: in the Safari Park, in the car, in a restaurant with loud background music, in a Park with a Japanese garden and in Khun Sujin's house. The scenery changes all the time but there are only nama and rupa: visible object and seeing, sound and hearing and all the other realities. They appear but we need reminders so that we are not forgetful of what appears all the time. In your letter you wrote that you had carefully planned Dhamma discussions in the afternoon during the three days you were in Bangkok, but that things turned out quite differently from what you expected. Khun Sujin was ill one of these days and thus she could not speak much. However, you had a good discussion with her sister and with Khun Duangduen. We make beautiful plans but we never know what will happen, because whatever happens is conditioned. Your letter was a good reminder of this truth. I liked Khun Sujin's reminder: "Every day life is a test for the development of understanding." We are in different circumstances, some pleasant, some unpleasant, but we should not forget that there are realities appearing through the six doors, wherever we are.

You spoke about the stress of everyday life, when you are in the situation of your work. You find it difficult to remember that there are only nama and rupa, and this is a problem we all have. When we are rushing around to finish our tasks such as cleaning the house or cooking, we believe that we need more leisure time, more time for reading suttas. But, as Jonathan remarked, do we really use our free time for Dhamma, or do we take up other activities, such as playing with the computer, solving problems with it? There are different cittas which motivate our activities, some are kusala but many more are akusala. They arise because of conditions, and instead of trying to exert control over them we should develop understanding of them. I liked Khun Sujin's answer that we should not worry, that worry is akusala and that we should develop understanding at ease. I will quote her words:

...Develop at ease, don't rush. You should not want a result soon. One should understand one's own understanding. When there is a moment of not understanding it cannot be changed into a moment of understanding. When there is no understanding of visible object yet one can begin to develop understanding of it.'

Khun Sujin spoke about her daily life. She goes out shopping, she plays scrabble or receives visitor's. She does not always read the scriptures, but she listens every day to Dhamma on the radio: She follows the Middle Way. There should not be an idea that we should develop satipatthana. We cannot predict what the next moment will be like. When there is attachment we can see it as just a reality. Khun Sujin pointed out that we need many "ingredients" for the growth of right understanding. These ingredients are the sobhana cetasikas (beautiful mental factors) which have been accumulated and which support one another and cooperate so that right understanding can develop to the degree that it can achieve detachment from the self. A cook needs many ingredients in order to compose a meal. In the same way many ingredients are needed for a moment of precise understanding of the reality which appears. It is necessary to accumulate many moments of reading, listening, studying and considering. When we study the Dhamma in detail, we collect ingredients which lead to direct understanding later on. Khun Sujin said: 

We read in order to understand this moment.
We listen in order to understand this moment.
We consider in order to understand this moment.
When one is aware and there is no progress, one can know why: there is not enough understanding of the details of the Dhamma.

You were wondering why one should know about details such as the four Great Elements of Earth, Water, Fire and Wind, which are the primary rupas of solidity, cohesion, temperature and motion arising with each group of rupas. I liked the discussion you had with Khun Sujin, because usually people are wondering why it is necessary to know such details. You asked why it was nor enough just to be aware of hardness when it appears. Khun Sujin answered that when one is just aware of hardness it is not enough. There are many realities which appear and they are conditioned by different factors. Visible object is the rupa which appears through eyesense, but visible object does not arise alone, it arises in a group of other rupas in which also the four Great Elements take part. Visible objects are various because they are conditioned by different compositions of the four Great Elements. Detailed knowledge helps us to see that what we experience is nothing but conditioned reality. The more we understand conditions the more will we understand that there is no self. Khun Sujin also said that what we study in this life is forgotten when we are reborn into a next life, but when we listen again there are conditions to understand the Dhamma more deeply. The study of the Dhamma is never lost, it is accumulated from life to life so that understanding can become accomplished.

It is beneficial to know about the different cittas which arise in processes because this is our daily life. As Khun Sujin said, we study in order to know this moment. We should not forget the goal of our study. There is impingement of visible object, sound and the other tense objects on the sense-doors and these objects are experienced by cittas which arise and fall away, succeeding one another in processes. In each process there are moments of citta which are either kusala or akusala, but most of the time we are ignorant of this. On account of the objects which are experienced through the different doorways we form up long stories, we are quite absorbed in our thinking. The cittas which think arise in mind-door processes and they may be kusala, but most of the time they are akusala. We cling to the people around us or we are annoyed about them, and we forget that there are no people, only nama and rupa. Khun Sujin stressed during the discussion that when we go to sleep all the stories we made up during the day are forgotten. It is true that when I am asleep I do not know who I am, whom I am married to or where I live. We have forgotten our joys, fears and worries. When we are asleep and not dreaming there are no processes of cittas which experience objects impinging on the six doors.

There are bhavangacittas (life continuum), cittas which have the function of keeping the continuity in life, and these cittas experience the same object as the rebirth-consciousness, which is the object experienced shortly before the dying-consciousness of the previous life. It is beneficial to know about such details, it helps us to understand that all the stories we are absorbed in now are nothing at all. They exist only so long as we are thinking about them, but they are forgotten as soon as we are asleep. Khun Sujin said that we should not wait until we go to sleep to forget about the stories we make up, but that we should become detached from them from now on. Attachment does not bring peace, understanding that everything is very temporary conditions Peace. One can come to realize that the processes of citta which experience sense objects pass like a flash and that there is then thinking about them. We live in our own world of thinking from birth to death. We have different feelings because of our thinking, but everything passes like a flash, it is very temporary. After seeing there is thinking, after hearing there is thinking. What we are used to taking for a permanent thing appears for a very short moment and then it is completely gone. We have heard this before but it is so good to be reminded of the truth. Khun Sujin remarked:

In your idea it is as if things are permanent, but it all is so short, it is nothing at all. When one says, "Life is so short", one should remember that each moment is shorter. It never comes back. We listen to the song of a bird but it is completely gone in split seconds.

You remarked that there is just thinking about temporariness, and that this is a way of samatha or calm with impermanence as object. This is a good point you brought up. We all have the feeling that we understand about impermanence in theory, that we can think about it, but that we do not directly experience the truth. I quote your conversation with Khun Sujin:

Khun Sujin: There can also be a moment of insight, of understanding of realities which arise and fall away, but it depends on the development of understanding whether it has reached that degree or not yet. It is not a matter of wanting or trying, but it is the matter of developing understanding.

Sarah: When we talk about stages of insight one starts to Worry. Why should we not just be aware of the characteristic which appears?

Khun Sujin: Even if one talks about stages of insight one does not have to worry about it. There may be ignorance and attachment. One worries, one wants to experience the stages of insight. One has to develop understanding. Then one does not worry about the different stages. One knows that one will reach them one day if the Path is right. One moment of understanding will lead to more understanding. There are only six doorways.

Seeing continues from life to life. If one dies now and one is reborn for example in a deva plane seeing follows instantly and it is like this from aeon to aeon. One sees a great deal and there is no understanding of seeing until one listens to the Dhamma and begins to develop understanding. There can be understanding of seeing as it is.

If one thinks that the development of understanding is too difficult and that one should do other things in order to have more awareness one does not see the value of a moment of being aware of a reality, of understanding it.

The following sutta reminds us that understanding does not develop by mere wishing, that it only grows by developing it right now. We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (Book of the Threes, Ch X, par. 91, Urgent):

Monks, there are these three urgent duties of a yeoman farmer. What three?
Herein, monks, the yeoman farmer gets his field well ploughed and harrowed very quickly. Having done so he puts in his seed very quickly. Having done that he lets the water in and turns it off very quickly. These are his three urgent duties.

Now, monks, that yeoman farmer has no such magic power or authority as to say: "Let my crops spring up today. Tomorrow let them ear. On the following day let them ripen." No! It is 'just the due season which makes them do this. In the same way there are these three urgent duties of a
monk. What three?

The undertaking of training in higher sila, in higher citta and in higher insight. These are his three urgent duties. Now the monk has no such magic power or authority as to say: "Today let my mind be released from the asavas without grasping, or tomorrow, or the following day." No! It is just the due season which releases his mind, as he undergoes the training in these three.

Wherefore, monks, thus must you train yourselves: Keen shall be our desire to undertake the training in these three branches of training. That is how you must train yourselves. The training in higher sila, higher citta and higher insight are the sila, samadhi (concentration) and wisdom, which comprise the eight factors of the eightfold Path. We may keep on thinking that the realization of the truth is too difficult. We delay awareness of the present moment and we still expect that there can once be realization of the truth. We should not wait for a miracle to happen. If there is no development of understanding now defilements cannot be eradicated. We cannot hasten the development of understanding, but when we see that the development of the eightfold Path is the only way to eliminate ignorance there will be conditions for awareness. At the same time it is necessary to remember that there should not be an idea of self who tries to be aware. There should not be clinging to awareness, then it cannot arise. It arises because of its own conditions which are study of the Dhamma, listening and considering. We should not blame the situation we are in for our lack of awareness. Khun Sujin said:

When we want to control the situation we create new stories, new concepts. Who sees the value of awareness is aware instantly and has no wish to go to other places. One knows that it takes a long time to develop understanding.

You had a discussion about knowing the difference between kusala and akusala. We know in theory that they are different but we find it difficult to know directly when the citta is kusala and when it is akusala. When we help someone there are kusala cittas, but there are also akusala cittas with attachment to the person we help or with attachment to "our kusala". Cittas are very intricate and they change very quickly. Khun Sujin said that it is necessary to know the difference between kusala and akusala, otherwise we cannot develop kusala. She explained that we can only know the present moment:

If we do not talk about this moment how can we know whether the citta is kusala or akusala? It is helpful to know this in daily life. When you think of the other person's benefit without attachment there can be kusala at the level of dana. People have kusala cittas in a day but they don't know it. Right understanding can understand that there are different namas.

Khun Duangduen had offered coffee to Jonathan and while she was thinking of his benefit without attachment the citta was kusala. Generally we worry too much about the development of kusala. Khun Sujin remarked that some people think and think and think how they can have more kusala whereas others just perform it whenever there is time and opportunity. We keep on worrying about kusala and also about our akusala. I noticed that Khun Sujin stressed several times that one should not worry and that one should develop right understanding at ease. She repeated what she had said in India about her anger. She said that it is no problem to her when she gets angry since it has conditions for its arising. She does not think, "O, I studied a lot and therefore I should not have anger." Gabi had listened to the tapes which were taken in India and she wrote to me about her reactions concerning this subject:

I was so surprised when I heard Khun Sujin say, "I am not bothered by my dosa, I don't want to control it". I was struck by these words and they made me have a totally new approach to dosa and anatta, not self. Khun Sujin had often said, "It is not your dosa", but this had not convinced me. Should one not work on oneself, should one not pull oneself together, and if one has the will to do this can one not succeed? Seminars are organised to help people with problems in relationship and to make them change their behaviour, and these seminars are successful. And now I hear from Khun Sujin, "I am not bothered by my dosa and I don't want to control it". Why am I bothered by my dosa? Because the accompanying feeling is unpleasant and my fellowmen do not like me for it, or they do not admire me.

We cannot prevent thinking, but it is important not to forget that dhammas are anatta, beyond control. I think that one could say that Khun Sujin does not want to control "her" dosa and that she is therefore not disturbed by it.

That is the answer. When one realizes that whatever appears is "only a reality", that it is conditioned, not self, one will be less disturbed by it. This does not mean that we should not  develop wholesome qualities. We notice that we often fail but instead of having aversion there can be a moment of understanding of what appears and then the citta is kusala. There will be dosa again but then there can be a moment of understanding again. When we really consider realities and are aware of them there will be a keener understanding of their characteristics. "One does not worry, one keeps on developing understanding", as Khun Sujin said.

You were having tea and squeezing a lemon, and then Khun Sujin reminded you of the present moment. She said: "When you squeeze a lemon there can be, instead of thinking of awareness, understanding of the characteristic which appears". We think and worry about awareness but we forget to attend to characteristics of softness or hardness which appear time and again. Jonathan remarked that the characteristic of anatta does not appear. Khun Sujin answered:

Now there is visible object. There can be understanding of it as only visible object. One learns to begin to separate the eye-door from the mind-door. Visible object is just a reality. By understanding this one can take away the idea of something in it. When one begins to develop understanding there is no distinction between nama and rupa, they are all mixed up. Then there cannot be elimination of the idea of self from any reality. By developing understanding of realities one at a time one can learn that the reality which experiences now is just an element, it is a reality different from visible object which is seen. If one understands this one will learn that there is nobody, nothing in it. It takes time to have clear understanding of visible object, seeing, sound, hearing, of all realities appearing through the six doorways.

When we notice people we can remember that this is the same as looking into a mirror, since only visible object is experienced and there are no people. We only make up our stories about people. We begin to see that it is visible object, not a thing or a person. Is this not a beginning of understanding of the nature of anatta of visible object? Khun Sujin pointed out several times during the discussions that when one sees the value of right understanding it can condition instant awareness. We may say that we see the value of right understanding but do we really mean it? The following sutta can remind us of what is most valuable in life. We read in the "Dialogues of the "Buddha" (Digha Nikfiya III, The Recital, VI, 18):

Six unsurpassable experiences, namely: certain sights, certain things heard, certain gains, certain trainings, certain ministries, certain recollections."

This passage is short but deep in meaning. Unsurpassable experiences are experiences which are superior, most valuable. The Pali term used here is "anuttariya". Khun Sujin explained the meaning of the six "anuttariya" in the Bovornives Temple and quoted the "Manorathapurani", the commentary to the Anguttara Nikaya (commentary to the Book of the Ones, Ch XIII). This commentary deals with the six anuttariyas.

The first unsurpassable experience is the unsurpassable experience of sight (dassana). Aanda had this experience because he saw the Buddha the whole day and he had developed right understanding and attained enlightenment. If one sees the Buddha but one does not develop right understanding one does not have the unsurpassable experience of sight. One does not really value the Buddha and his teaching. The commentary states that the other enlightened disciples and also the "noble persons" (kaliyana puggala), namely those who developed the eightfold Path, had the unsurpassable experience of sight. We cannot see the Buddha now but we can apply what he said to Vakkali who was attached to the sight of him (Theragatha 205). The Buddha said: "Who sees the Dhamma sees me".

As to the unsurpassable hearing (savana), Aanda heard the Buddha preach and developed right understanding so that he could attain enlightenment. The same is said as to the other enlightened disciples and all those who developed the eightfold Path. They listened and developed satipatthana so that they could attain enlightenment. When we listen to the Dhamma now and we begin to develop satipatthana we can have the unsurpassable hearing. We can come to realize that the explanation of the Dhamma is the most precious thing that can be heard.

What is the most precious gain (labha)? Everybody wants excellent things, but if there is no wisdom one does not know whether what one has is really superior. Those who had strong confidence in the Buddha, like Aanda, had the best of gains. The same is said about the other enlightened disciples and the noble persons who developed the eightfold Path. We find the things which give us pleasant feeling most valuable in our life. However, the teachings remind us that pleasant feeling is very temporary, that clinging to pleasant objects leads to sorrow. When we have enough confidence in the teachings we will continue to develop right understanding of all realities which appear. We will see that it is most valuable to know our defilements, to have less ignorance about realities. Then we will have the best of gains.

As to the three training (sikkha) which are superior, these are the higher sila, higher samadhi and higher wisdom of the eightfold Path. Aanda and the other disciples of the Buddha valued these three trainings as unsurpassable, since they lead to the eradication of defilements. If we consider them as unsurpassable we will not be neglectful, we will be aware of anything which appears, pleasant or unpleasant, kusala or akusala.

The unsurpassable ministry (paricariya) is the ministry to the Buddha, as Aanda and the other disciples performed. They served the Buddha with right understanding of nama and rupa. Without right understanding the ministry to the Buddha is not an unsurpassable experience. The Buddha has passed away but we can still serve the Dhamma. One ministers to the Dhamma when one studies it and explains it to others so that they too can develop right understanding.

The unsurpassable recollection (anussata) is the recollection of the Buddha's qualities, those which are "worldly" (lokiya) as well as those which are supramundane (lokuttara), the commentary states. Without wisdom one cannot recollect the qualities of the Buddha. When we are mindful of nama and rupa we value the Buddha's wisdom at that moment. Without his teaching we could not develop satipatthana. Thus at that moment there is the sixth unsurpassable experience.

Khun Sujin said that enlightenment cannot be attained without these six most excellent experiences. If we do not consider the Dhamma as the most valuable in our life enlightenment cannot be attained. We value the Dhamma not merely by words, but by our deeds, by developing right understanding. When we listen to the Dhamma, consider what we heard and begin to be aware of realities we can verify the truth of what the Buddha taught. Then we can gain more confidence to develop all the "perfections", the good qualities the Buddha had developed together with right understanding during aeons. Aanda and the other disciples had developed the perfections during aeons and when they met the Buddha and listened to him it was the right time for them to attain enlightenment.

Khun Sujin's words at the end of your tape were a good reminder:

In order to come to the moment of enlightenment realities must be deeply and widely understood. Then there can be the moment of awareness which conditions enlightenment. If there is not enough development have more development! 

With metta,

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