Letters about Vipassana

by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 47,974 words

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Letter About Vipassana Xi

the Hague,
October 26, 1992

Dear Dhamma friends,

We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (I, Sagatha-vagga, Ch I , The Devas, 3, The Sword Suttas, par. I, By Impending Sword) that a deva said to the Buddha:

As one downsmitten by impending sword,
As one whose hair and turban are aflame,
So let the bhikkhu, mindful and alert,
Go forth, all worldly passions left behind.

The Exalted One said:

As one downsmitten by impending sword,
As one whose hair and turban are aflame,
So let the bhikkhu, mindful and alert,
Go forth, leaving personality-belief behind.

Just as the person who has been struck by a sword or whose hair and turban are aflame will not be neglectful but apply energy to remedy his dangerous situation, even so should the bhikkhu not be neglectful, but mindful and alert. The Buddha repeated what the deva said, but he changed one line, and this change is very meaningful. The deva spoke about subduing the sense pleasures. However, so long as they have not been eradicated by the magga-citta so long will one be bound by them. We read in the commentary to this sutta, the "Saratthappakasini", that the Buddha, in view of this, wanted to change the deva's verse, using the same similes but applying them to the first magga-citta (the magga-citta of the sotapanna) which eradicates personality-belief, sakkaya ditthi.

We may easily overlook the subtle point of this sutta. We understand in theory that first of all wrong view has to be eradicated before finally, at the third stage of enlightenment, the stage of the anagami, clinging to sense pleasures can be eradicated. Even though we know this, we are still inclined to worry about our attachment to sense pleasures instead of knowing its characteristic when it appears. This is the only way to finally be able to eradicate it. "Should we hate our akusala? It is just a reality, it arises", Khun Sujin reminded Sarah and Jonothan while they were in Bangkok. They recorded their conversations with Khun Sujin and I will give an account of the contents of these tapes.

Khun Sujin explained that she does not think that she should get rid of all defeilements now. She remarked: I do not think, "defilements are so ugly", they are just realities. There should be understanding of them. People want to get rid of all defilements but they do not have any understanding of them. Why should our first objective not be right-understanding? I do not understand why people are so much irritated by their defilements. One is drawn to the idea of self all the time, while one thinks about it whether one has less defilements or more. There is no understanding but merely thinking of kusala and akusala as "ours". So long as there is ignorance there must be different degrees of akusala. We should just develop understanding of whatever reality appears. At the moment of developing understanding one is not carried away by thoughts about the amount of one's defilements, wondering about how many defilements one has or whether they are decreasing. Just be aware instantly!

We may not notice that we think of kusala and akusala as "ours", but the idea is there, deep in our mind. Khun Sujin's reminders can help us to consider more thoroughly what motivates our actions, speech and thoughts. Is it not mostly clinging to ourselves? Sarah remarked that when she reflects on lobha she has dosa and that this "spoils the fun". Khun Sujin answered: That is only reflection, not the understanding of the characteristic which is not self. Who could change the characteristic of attachment. Understanding should be developed in a natural way. This is a relief. Even if lobha arises again, we should realize it as only a reality. You can understand the characteristic of lobha we talk about a great deal. The characteristic of not self is there. This way of developing understanding is the most effective way. Then there is no attachment or aversion towards the object which appears. You should not stop pleasure, it is not "you".

The object which appears is the object of which understanding should be developed. When understanding is being developed there is neither attachment nor dislike of the object, no attachment when the object is kusala, no dislike when the object is akusala. We do not have to feel guilty when we enjoy ourselves, the enjoyment is only a reality. When we think of our defilements it is actually thinking of ourselves in a particular way all the time. Did we notice how busy we are with "ourselves"? We develop understanding and at times there is some awareness, but when we have problems in our daily life we become frustrated and we find it difficult to be aware of realities. Khun Sujin said:

When there is no awareness there has not been enough listening and not enough intellectual understanding of the objects of right understanding. One may think that it is enough to know that there are nama and rupa, but their characteristics have to be realized. Knowing the details of realities can help one to see their nature of anatta. This is very important for the growth of panna. One has to be "someone who has listened a lot", "bahusutta", in order to become enlightened.

Sarah asked Khun Sujin questions about the object of right understanding and about details one has to know. I will quote from their conversation occurring during a traffic jam in Bangkok which lasted for hours.

Khun Sujin: One has to know the details of each of the six doorways, of the way realities are conditioned, of realities as elements, of the ayatanas (bases or sense-fields). The Buddha taught for forty five years about nama and rupa. Sariputta understood as soon as he heard the word "dhamma", he understood realities as nama and rupa. For us it is different, we have to listen again and again and to consider what nama is and what rupa is. Seeing right now is an experience, it is just a reality. One has to consider and listen and discuss a great deal about these subjects.

Sarah: We have considered seeing and discussed about the details of realities a great deal, I wonder how much more we should hear about it.

Khun Sujin: Until awareness is aware with understanding right now. That is why the Buddha taught for forty five years about nama and rupa. The Abhidhamma is the essence of his teachings. He taught about paramattha dhammas so that one can see the difference between paramattha dhammas and concepts. He taught the conditions for realities. Knowing which cetasikas accompany citta helps one to see the nature of anatta. It is amazing that there are so many conditions needed for one moment of experiencing visible object, and then that moment is gone completely. It is all very intricate, not everyone can understand this instantly.

Sarah: It never is enough, one can always know the object more precisely and in a more detailed way.

Khun Sujin: Otherwise we underestimate the Buddha's wisdom, we may think that he used just common, ordinary words. He taught us so that by listening and considering more and more we could one day become a sotapanna. By developing understanding little by little we can one day have the full understanding of realities which appear. Right understanding of visible object and seeing is the only way to eradicate the latent tendency of "I see", and "me", which is there all the time. Whenever there is feeling it is "me" again. The Buddha taught about five khandhas, he taught in many different ways in order to help people to consider more, to understand more, so that, when there is awareness, right understanding can gradually develop from what one has heard.

Sarah: When there is no awareness we become impatient. Why is
there not more awareness?

Khun Sujin: there are not enough paramis (perfections) accumulated.

Sarah: Which paramis?

Khun Sujin: All paramis are needed. We should not be careless about them and we should not neglect any one of them. panna is needed above all, the other nine paramis are the "attendants" of panna. Without panna the other paramis cannot develop.

We read in the commentary to the "Cariyapitaka" that like the aspiration (to become a Buddha), great compassion and skilful means are also conditions for the paramis. We read: "Therein, skilful means is the wisdom which transforms panna and the other nine virtues into requisites for enlightenment." At the moment there is right understanding of realities there is no clinging to "my kusala". However, we usually cling, we want to be "the good person". We find that it feels better to have kusala citta, and then there is clinging again. When we observe the five precepts or eight precepts, there is likely to be clinging, do we want to be better than others who do not observe precepts? When we think of the development of metta, we may be wondering how much metta we have already, we may try to "measure" it. Then we are again thinking of "my kusala", instead of developing metta. We should not underestimate the accumulation of defilements. We do not notice the lobha that clings to "self", that wants the "self" to be good.
Khun Sujin remarked that when there is no understanding there is lobha.

When we try to have metta instead of anger, is there clinging to "self"? Jonothan said that when he is about to lose his temper he tries to be patient. It is unpleasant for the people around oneself if one gives in to anger. We may see that anger is useless and then sati can arise which prevents the arising of anger. There is no "self" who tries, but sati which performs its function. This is one level of sati but not sati of satipatthana accompanying panna which sees realities as nama and rupa, not self. When there is wrong view of self who tries to stop anger it does not work. Khun Sujin remarked:

One should not cling to the idea of "I have lots of anger, I try not to have it". Then there is only thinking with the idea of self all the time. I don't mind what level of akusala will arise, even if it is strong anger. It arises and then it is gone, it cannot stay. What about the present moment? I always encourage people to have right understanding instead of trying to control with the idea of self. Then they will never reach the level of understanding realities, not even understanding based on reflection about nama and rupa. There can be awareness of anger you have talked about a great deal. When it arises and performs its function it is there for you to see its characteristic as "just a reality", instead of thinking about it. Sarah was wondering whether it would not be useful sometimes to set rules for one's behaviour. She was wondering how one can correct unwholesome speech. Khun Sujin reminded her that whatever one is doing or not doing, it is not self. Don't we forget that all the time? We know that we have not eradicated the clinging to the idea of "self", but we do not realize how deeply rooted wrong view is. Khun Sujin said:

Even when one wants to set rules there is no self, it is only thinking. The only way to get rid of the self is to understand all situations. One should not set any rules, there should only be development of understanding of realities. Unwholesome speech can be corrected by panna which sees its danger and that is one level of sati. Another level is sati of satipatthana. The most precious moment is the moment of being aware. If one forces oneself, sets rules or clings to a certain practice it does not help one to understand this moment, one's thinking, seeing or hearing.

Instead of being aware of this moment we are carried away by our thinking of stories about other people or events which took place. We think of other people's lobha, dosa and moha and this conditions aversion. We cannot change someone else because each moment is conditioned. Instead of thinking of other people's faults, what about our own citta which thinks? We may be troubled by thinking about a bad experience in the past but then we need right understanding to start anew. "Forget yesterday", Khun Sujin said. "Satipatthana saves one from akusala moments", she remarked. If there can be awareness of our own akusala which arises, the object is a paramattha dhamma, and there is no involvement in concepts. We have heard this before, but we have to hear it again and again before it sinks in. Our goal is the understanding of the reality appearing at this moment. We do not go any further than this moment. If we think of problems or situations there is no understanding of the reality appearing at this moment, Khun Sujin said.

Through right understanding of nama and rupa we will be more convinced of the truth of kamma and vipaka. This moment of seeing or hearing is result of kamma, a deed done in the past. We cannot know which kamma of the past produces result at a particular moment, but it is helpful to know that a pleasant or unpleasant result is conditioned by a deed we performed. Nobody can prevent the result from taking place. We cannot blame other people. When we, for example, are disturbed by the noise of a radio or the noise made by the neighbours' children, we can remember that hearing is vipaka and that thinking with aversion is akusala citta which arises at another moment. Then the object of citta is the present reality and we are not carried away by thinking of concepts. When there is confidence in the truth of kamma and vipaka there will be less fear and worry. If we cannot sleep we may worry about it, but we should know that this is conditioned by kamma which produces vipakacittas such as seeing or hearing experiencing different objects. When we are fast asleep, without dreaming, there are bhavanga-cittas (life-continuum) and these are also results of kamma. Khun Sujin said to Sarah and Jonothan:

When you understand dhamma as dhamma, you see that everything occurs because of conditions. We fall asleep and get up again, because of conditions. When there are problems, it is because of conditions. There are just different realities, and even though realities appear, ignorance cannot understand them. We take realities for "something" all the time. But awareness can "flash in" any time, because of conditions, and that is the right awareness.

Khun Sujin said that one actually lives alone and that it is most helpful to realize this. We have heard this before, but it becomes more meaningful when there is more understanding of the difference between the moment the object of citta is a paramattha dhamma and the moment we are thinking of a concept of a person or a thing. If we are disturbed by other people it seems that there are people, but what is the reality? Only a citta which thinks. When we are back to the present reality, the paramattha dhamma, we know that we are living alone, and such a moment is beneficial. There are only nama and rupa, no people. When we are thinking we live in our own world of thinking. No matter in the past, in this life or the next life, one always lives alone.

During the discussions Khun Sujin stressed that we should see dhamma as dhamma. We may say that everything is dhamma, just a reality, but right understanding has to grow through awareness of realities, so that they can be seen as just dhammas, no person or thing, no self. We have to hear this again and again, but Sairiputta, when he heard a few sentences about realities he understood immediately and realized dhamma as dhamma. He had accumulated panna for aeons. We read in the "Vinaya" (Part 4, Mahavagga 1, 23, 3-5) that Sariputta asked Assaji what the doctrine was the Buddha had taught him. Assaji answered that he was not long gone forth and could therefore not teach dhamma in full, but only briefly. Sairiputta asked him to explain the meaning of it, saying that he did not need a great elaboration. We read:

Then the venerable Assaji uttered this terse expression of dhamma to the wanderer Sairiputta:

"Those dhammas which proceed from a cause (hetu), of these the Truthfinder has told the cause, And that which is their stopping (nirodha) - the great recluse has such a doctrine." When the wanderer Sariputta had heard this terse expression of dhamma, there arose dhamma-vision, dustless, stainless, that "Whatever is of the nature to upraise all that is of the nature to stop." He said: "If this is indeed dhamma, you have penetrated as far as the sorrowless path, unseen, neglected for many myriads of aeons."

Sariputta understood directly the four noble Truths: dukkha, the cause of dukkha, its ceasing and the way leading to its ceasing. We have intellectual understanding of the four noble Truths, but they can be directly realized without having to think about them. We cannot imagine how this is possible so long as panna has not been developed to that degree. Seeing now arises because of conditions, it is part of the cycle of birth and death. Seeing has to fall away, thus it is dukkha. Sariputta immediately understood that right understanding of the reality arising at the present moment leads to the elimination of ignorance and craving which are the conditions for being in the cycle of birth and death, the conditions for seeing, hearing and the other realities which arise. He understood the reality of the present moment as dhamma, arising because of conditions. He penetrated its characteristic of anatta .For us it is difficult to see dhamma as dhamma because ignorance covers up the truth. We read in the commentary to the "Vibhanga", the "Dispeller of Delusion"(I, Ch VI, Classification of the Structure of Conditions, 140) about the operation of ignorance which is opposed to understanding. We read:

That is to say, knowledge is understanding. It makes known and plain the four Truths with each meaning and each cause. But this ignorance when it arises does not allow that (understanding) to make that (dhamma) known and plain; thus, because of its opposition to knowledge, it is unknowing. Also seeing is understanding. It sees quality. But ignorance when it arises does not allow it to see, thus it is unseeing....We then read that whenever ignorance arises it does not allow understanding to penetrate, to grasp and to rightly consider the truth. Thus, each time it arises it blocks and hinders the operation of understanding. This text reminds us of the activity of ignorance which is unnoticed, because when there is ignorance we do not know that there is ignorance. It is very treacherous. We need to develop understanding of paramattha dhammas life after life, in order to see dhamma as dhamma, to see it as anatta. We cling to the idea of "our whole body", but when there is touching, hardness is the dhamma which appears. The idea of the whole body is only in one's memory. Khun Sujin said: When there is touching, where is your head, where are your legs? Only in your memory. When there is touching you may not realize it as merely a moment of experiencing an object. Deep in your mind there is still the idea of "something". For instance, when you touch something in the dark you like to know what it is, thus there is still "something". There are only six doors, and there is one object appearing at a time. It does not stay, waiting for you to touch it.

Several conditioning factors are needed for the experience of hardness, such as the rupa which is hardness and the rupa which is bodysense. Also these conditioning factors are themselves conditioned. Hardness is one of the four Great Elements and it is conditioned by the other three Elements of heat, motion and cohesion arising together with it. The rupa which is bodysense is produced by kamma. The experience of tangible object through the bodysense is vipaka, the result of kamma. We see how intricate the combination of different conditioning factors are; they are there just for a moment of experiencing hardness. We cannot direct the coming together of these factors and none of them can last. They are only there for an extremely short while, they are insignificant dhammas.

Some people want to concentrate on rupas of the body. By focussing on one point of the body they believe that they can notice the rupa which is bodysense. The bodysense is all over the body but when there is impingement of tangible object on the rupa which is the bodysense, it is only on one point. That extremely small particle is then the rupa which is the physical base for body consciousness, and it is also the doorway through which tangible object is experienced. When a rupa like heat or hardness is impinging on the bodysense it can hurt and there is painful feeling. But can we directly experience the rupa which is the body-door, arising and falling away where there is impingement at that moment? It falls away immediately. It is useless to try to find out where the impingement was.

Then we continue to think of realities and there is no awareness of other realities which present themselves, such as seeing or visible object. We cannot help it that we think of the part of the body which hurts, but we should know that this is only thinking, a conditioned reality. If one tries to focus on one part of the body, what about this moment? If one is aware of what appears at this moment there is only that dhamma, and there is no need to find out where there is impingement on the bodysense. Khun Sujin explained that one does not own anything: One thinks of one's whole body and of one's possessions as belonging to oneself, but there isn't anything one owns, not even visible object in this room. It arises, appears and falls away. The succession of different rupas which are visible object conditions the concept of "something".

One can see how fast citta arises and falls away, it can lure one like a magician. When one does not know this, there is "I" and "mine" all the time. Does sound belong to anyone? If it is your voice, does it belong to you? Visible object is juat a rupa out of twenty-eight rupas. It is the only reality that can be seen. We find our thoughts about visible object so important, but visible object is only a kind of rupa. When one has understanding of visible object and of thinking, one sees the difference between the absolute truth and the conventional truth. One knows how and when conventional truth begins.

When there is more understanding of the difference between seeing and paying attention to shape and form, it will be clearer when the object of citta is just one reality, appearing through one of the six doors, and when the object is a concept.

In the absolute sense there is no owner of anything, but does it then make sense to try to acquire possessions? There was a discussion about this topic in the house of Ivan and El. Ivan used to think that when one contemplates Dhamma one should have fewness of wishes. Then there is no need to expand one's business in order to make more money. Now he understands that satipatthana should be developed in a natural way, that one should not try to change one's life style. If one is a layman one should not try to live the monk's life, a life of contentment with little. Khun Sujin said:

We have lobha, no matter whether we work or do not work. We work because we were born. Working is only seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. You don't have to change yourself or prepare yourself for Dhamma, you don't have to devote all your time to it, but develop understanding of this very moment, in order to see it as just dhamma. Seeing and visible object are just dhammas, everything in one's life is dhamma. One doesn't see dhamma, one doesn't understand dhamma as it is. One tries to give time for dhamma, to change one's life, but just now dhamma is there. If we talk more about realities or dhammas and we begin to understand dhamma as it is, then, at times, there can be awareness very shortly. That is the true awareness. If you try to devote your time to dhamma, and you sit, trying to watch realities, true dhamma does not appear. It is awareness which can be aware if there is enough understanding of realities. We should not force ourselves to have awareness, then there is lobha again. Dhamma is very natural, no need to reserve time for it or prepare oneself for it. One needs more understanding as condition for awareness to arise any time by itself. Then it is the right sati, the samma sati.

We may wonder whether watching T.V. would hinder the arising of sati. While we watch there are many conditions for attachment, or, when the movie is frightening we have fear. Khun Sujin said about this: "Each move is conditioned, that is the meaning of anatta." In other words, if ,we want to watch T.V. this wish is conditioned already. Also while we watch there is seeing, hearing or thinking, one reality at a time. Realities appear, no matter whether we watch or do not watch T.V. there is one world at a time appearing through one of the six doorways. These six worlds should be separated until there is no self. Realities appear because of their own conditions, not because of our wish. Khun Sujin said: Hardness is ready as object to develop understanding of. Visible object appears. One stops doing anything.

When Sarah asked why we always have so much lobha, Khun Sujin answered:

It is the function of lobha to cling, that is why there is clinging. We cannot change its characteristic or function. This reminds us that lobha is dhamma, it arises because of its own conditions, it is there as object to develop right understanding of.

The Buddha taught the monks, the nuns and the lay followers, men and women, to develop satipatthana, each in their own situation and each following their own life style, so that they would see dhamma as dhamma. We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (Book of the Eights, Ch VII, par. 10, Earthquakes) that the Buddha, while he was at Capala Shrine, gave Ananda three times the opportunity to ask him to live on for his full life-span. Ananda did not ask him to do so, since his heart was possessed by Mara . After Ananda had left Mara came and said to the Buddha that he should now pass away. After his enlightenment the Buddha had said to Mara that he would not pass away until his disciples were able to practise the Dhamma and to proclaim it. Since this was now the case Mara asked him to pass away. The Buddha answered that he would pass away after three months. We read that he "cast away the sum of life" and that there was then a great earthquake. In this sutta we are reminded of what is to be expected of the Buddha's followers. The Buddha had, after his enlightenment, said to Mara:

I shall not pass away, O Evil One, until my monks shall be disciples, learned, trained and courageous, who have attained peace from bondage, who are erudite, Dhamma-bearers, perfect in righteousness of Dhamma, perfect in the right practice, who live in accordance with Dhamma- till they have taken Dhamma as their teacher and can proclaim it, teach it and make it known, can establish it, open it, analyze it and make it plain to others till they can confute any counter-teaching which has arisen, and which may well be confuted by Dhamma, and can set forth sublime Dhamma.

We read that the Buddha had said exactly the same about the nuns and the layfollowers, men and women. The commentary to this sutta, the "Manorathapurani", explains "erudite", bahusutta, as having listened to the three Pitakas. The commentary then adds that one is bahusutta as to "pariyatti", the theory, and as to "pativedha", the realisation of the truth. One should be Dhamma bearer in both ways. This reminds us that only listening and reading are not enough. There should be application of what one has heard in order to experience the truth directly. The disciples should be perfect in righteousness of Dhamma. We read that the commentary states: "They practice the Way of vipassana which is the Dhamma fitting to be ariyan Dhamma." The Buddha's followers should take Dhamma as their teacher. Khun Sujin reminded Sarah and Jonothan again that we should not be dependent on someone else. She said:

Take Dhamma as your teacher, do not depend too much on others. The understanding of realities depends on your own consideration. I do not like to depend on others. It has to be my own struggle to understand the teachings. You do not need someone else to tell you how much understanding you have. This present object will tell you.

There is visible object now. We can check whether it is understood as just dhamma or whether there is still "something" in it. Nobody else has to tell us. Dhamma is our teacher.

With metta
Nina van Gorkom 

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