Letters from Nina

by Nina van Gorkom | 1971 | 26,358 words

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Tenth Letter

Jakarta,19 July, '83

19 July, '83.

Dear Khun Charupan,

Now I will proceed with your other questions.

Question: I have awareness only of hardness or softness, but not of visible
object or seeing. I think mindfulness of seeing is most difficult because there
arises such a lot of clinging on account of what is experienced through the
eye-door. Visible object seems to stay, it does not seem to fall away.
Whereas sound seems to stop again after it has arisen. Is that the falling
away of it? Awareness of sound seems to be less difficult.

Answer: It depends on the sati of which reality there is mindfulness. Sati is anatta, we cannot control it. Do we know what sati is? Or do we confuse it with thinking about a reality? Even when we believe that there is mindfulness of hardness there may only be thinking about it, about the place where it impinges, instead of mindfulness of only the characteristic of hardness. Are we sure when the nama which experiences hardness appears and when the rupa which is hardness? If we are not sure we still confuse nama and rupa. When hardness appears there must also be the reality which experiences hardness, but sati can only be mindful of one reality at a time. We would like to know clearly which reality appears at the present moment, nama or rupa, but this is not possible in the beginning. We may wonder how it is possible to be mindful of that which we do not know clearly. When we take sati for self it seems an impossible task to be mindful of different kinds of realities. However, sati, not self, is aware and sati is conditioned by many moments in the past of listening to the Dhamma and considering it . When there are the right conditions for sati it arises and it is aware of one object at a time, either of nama or of rupa.

We cannot select the object of sati. It seems difficult to be aware of visible object. We may regret this, but when there is regret we should remember that even at such a moment there are realities and these can be object of awareness. If we do not reject any object of awareness there will be conditions for sati to be aware of different kinds of objects. Thus it will gradually develop.

You said that awareness of sound seems to be easier than awareness of visible object and that sound seems to stop after it has appeared. Can we be sure what stops, sound or hearing? Do we clearly distinguish sound from hearing, or do they seem to appear together? Then there is no right awareness yet of these realities.

When sound seems to stop, is there not thinking of sound which stops, instead of awareness of the characteristic of sound? Sound is a reality which can be experienced through the earsense. We do not have to think of it or name it 'sound' in order to be mindful of its characteristic. Sound is rupa, it does not know anything. It is quite different from hearing, the nama which
experiences sound.

Nama and rupa arise and fall away, but how could their arising and falling away be realized when there is not yet clear knowledge of their different characteristics. Panna should be developed so that first nama can be clearly distinguished from rupa, and later on, when panna reaches a higher stage, the arising and falling away of nama and rupa can be realized.

We may believe that one reality is easier to understand than another, but in the beginning no reality can be clearly understood. Instead of deluding ourselves we should realize what we do not know yet. Then we will be urged to be aware of any reality which appears, without trying to control sati.

I would like to include in this letter also Dhamma questions I received from others.

Question: In order to lead a wholesome life is it sufficient to keep the five
precepts? I feel that so long as one does not harm others there are no
defilements. Is that right?

Answer: We may keep the precepts, but that does not mean that we have
eradicated defilements. Only arahats are without defilements. We should
develop understanding of our different cittas and then we shall discover that
there are many more akusala cittas than kusala cittas.

There are different degrees of defilements, they can be coarse, medium or subtle. Evil deeds through body, speech or mind are coarse defilements. But even when we do not commit evil deeds there are countless akusala cittas and these are medium defilements. For example, attachment or aversion may not motivate an unwholesome deed, but they are still akusala and thus dangerous.

Akusala citta which arises falls away but the unwholesome tendency is accumulated and it can condition the arising of akusala again. The unwholesome tendencies which are accumulated are subtle defilements. Even though they are called subtle, they are dangerous. They are like
microbes infesting the body, they can show effects at any time. So long as these tendencies have not been eradicated they can condition the arising of akusala citta and akusala kamma, and we have to continue in the cycle of birth and death.

Objects are experienced through the five senses and through the mind-door.

In the sense-door processes and in the mind-door processes there are 'javana-cittas', cittas which are, if one is not an arahat, either kusala cittas or akusala cittas. For example, when there has been seeing which experiences only visible object and does not know anything else, there can be akusala cittas arising in the eye-door process on account of what has been seen.
These are beyond control and arise because of their own conditions. When we do not apply ourselves to dana, sila or bhavana, the javana-cittas are akusala cittas and most of the time we do not notice it.

Clinging is likely to arise very often after seeing and after the other sense-impressions. After there has been seeing there may be thinking of concepts and also the thinking is akusala when we do not apply ourselves to kusala. It is often accompanied by clinging. Attachment can be accompanied by pleasant feeling or by indifferent feeling. We may not notice attachment when it is accompanied by indifferent feeling. We like to perceive all the familiar things around us, such as furniture or other possessions. We would not like to miss noticing them and this shows our clinging. When we are sitting, do we like softness? When we sit on a hard floor, there is bound to be aversion. Aversion is conditioned by clinging. When there is awareness of different realities we shall know that there are many more akusala cittas than we ever thought. It is better to know the truth than to deceive ourselves.

Even when we can keep the precepts and do not transgress them for a long time, it does not mean that we shall never neglect them. So long as we have not become a sotapanna, someone who has attained the first stage of enlightenment, there are still conditions for akusala kamma which may produce an unhappy rebirth. When there is, for example, danger for our life, we may neglect sila. Only right understanding of nama and rupa can eventually, when one has attained to the stage of the sotapanna, condition purify of sila to the degree that one never neglects again the five precepts.

Question: Although I know that gain, honour and praise do not last and can
only arise when there are conditions for their arising, I cannot help being
distressed when I do not get the rank or position I believe I deserve. What
can I do in order to have less ambitions?

Answer: We are ambitious because we find ourselves important. Our
clinging makes us unhappy. While we strive to get something there is
clinging. Also when we obtain what we want we keep on holding tight.
Clinging is the cause of endless frustrations. We want the 'self' to become
more important but then it will be all the harder to eradicate it. If we think
more of others the self will become less important.

We may have thought about the impermanence of conditioned realities, about the impermanence of all pleasant objects, but if we do not develop direct understanding of the realities which appear, panna is not strong enough to lessen clinging.

We should not only develop understanding when we are disappointed and unhappy, but we should begin right now. If we do not begin now, how can there ever be less clinging to the self? We cling so much to our body, but in reality there are only different elements, such as solidity, cohesion, temperature and motion. Hardness may appear and if there is awareness of it there can be understanding that it is only hardness, not a body which belongs to us.

Hardness is only hardness, no matter it is hardness of what we call the body or hardness outside. If there is awareness of it when it appears we will begin to see it as an element, not self. When understanding of nama and rupa is being developed we shall also see that realities such as honour or praise are only elements and that they do not belong to a self. Thus there will be more confidence in the Dhamma and we will consider the Dhamma more precious
than honour or praise.

We can easily be infatuated by gains, favours, or flattery. They are treacherous, because they seem desirable, but they lead to misery. In the 'Kindred Sayings' (II, Nidana Vagga, Ch XVII, Kindred Sayings on Gain and Favours) there are forty-three suttas which point out to us the danger of gains, favour and flatteries. They are as dangerous as a fisherman's hook to the fish, as a thunderbolt, as a poisoned dart which wounds a man, as a hurricane which hurls a bird apart. People who do not easily lie tell deliberately lies when they are overcome by desire for gains, favours and flatteries. We read in par. 10:

'Dire, monks, are gains, favours, and flattery, a bitter, harsh obstacle in the
way of arriving at uttermost safety

Concerning this matter, I see one person overcome, and whose mind is
possessed by favours, another who is overcome and possessed by lack of
favours, yet another who is overcome and possessed by both favours and
the lack of them--- I see one and all, at the separation of the body after
death reborn in the Waste, the Woeful Way, the Downfall, Hell.

So dire, monks, are gains... Verily thus must you train yourselves: "When
gains, favours, and flattery come to us, we will put them aside, nor when
they come shall they take lasting hold on our hearts."

In whom, when favours fall upon him, or

When none are shown, the mind steadfast, intent,

Sways not at all, for earnest is his life,

Him of rapt thought, (of will) unfaltering,

Of fine perception, of the vision seer,

Rejoicing that to grasp is his no more:

Him let the people call in truth Good man.'


With Metta,
Nina van Gorkom

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