Listening to the Dhamma

There is no Self

by Nina van Gorkom | 1998 | 18,252 words

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Chapter 1 - The Value Of Listening

The value of listening to the Dhamma was one of the main themes of our Dhamma sessions in the North of Thailand. We had heard before about the benefit of listening, but this time we gained more confidence in its value.

The Buddha, during his past lives as Bodhisattas , listened to former Buddhas and considered what they taught. In his last life he penetrated the true nature of all that is real and attained Buddhahood. He taught the truth to his disciples who listened to him, who developed understanding of what is real and attained enlightenment. Today we can still listen to the Dhamma. The Dhamma is subtle, difficult to grasp, and therefore we have to listen again and again, we have to consider carefully each word of the teachings. By listening we learn what we did not know before, we learn what is true in the ultimate sense and what is true merely in conventional sense. Before we listened to the Buddha's teachings we took it for granted that there are people, that there is "my body", "my mind", but what we take for a person or self are only mental phenomena, nama, and physical phenomena, rupa, which are impermanent and not self. A person is real in the conventional sense, but nama and rupa are real in the ultimate sense. It is difficult to accept that there is no self, but the truth can be verified by developing understanding of nama and rupa, the realities in and around ourselves. We have to listen a great deal, investigate what we hear, and ponder over it, so that ignorance of nama and rupa can be eliminated. The goal of listening to the Dhamma is detachment from the idea of self.

We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (IV, Salayatana Vagga, Kindred Saying on Sense, Second Fifty, Ch 2, 69, Upasena):

Once the venerable Sariputta and the venerable Upasena were staying near Rajagaha in Cool Grove, at Snakeshood Grotto .

Now at that time a snake had fallen on the venerable Upasena's body. Then the venerable Upasena called to the monks, saying:
"Come here, friends, lift this body of mine on to a couch and take it outside before it be scattered here and now, just like a handful of chaff."

At these words the venerable Sariputta said to the venerable Upasena: "But we see no change in the venerable Upasena body, no change for the worse in his faculties."

Then the venerable Upasena repeated what he had said, adding: "Friend Sariputta, he who should think, I am the eye, the eye is mine, or I am the tongue, the tongue is mine, or I am the mind, the mind is mine,- in him there would be a change in his body, there would be a change for the worse in his faculties. But I, friend, have no such ideas. How then could there be any change in my body, any change for the worse in my faculties ?"

Now the venerable Upasena had long since quelled the lurking tendencies that make for "I" and "mine". Therefore the venerable Upasena had no such ideas as, "I am the eye, the eye is mine," or "I am the tongue, the tongue is mine," or "I am the mind, the mind is mine."

So those monks put the venerable Upasena body on a couch and bore it outside. And the venerable Upasena body there and then was scattered just like a handful of chaff.

Upasena had listened to the Buddha's teaching and developed right understanding of nama and rupa so that attachment to the "self" could be completely eradicated. What we call dying occurs at each moment: the body consists of rupas which arise and then fall away very rapidly. Rupas which have fallen away are replaced by new ones and therefore we do not notice that rupas are impermanent. Even so what we call mind are namas which arise and fall away. We may think of the fact that everything in life is impermanent, but this is not the direct realisation of the truth of impermanence. The Buddha taught the way to develop the understanding which can penetrate the truth of impermanence, the arising and falling away of nama and rupa. The development of this understanding will take a long time, it may take many lives. However, the development of understanding begins with listening to the Buddhas teachings.

During our journey in Thailand we listened to the Dhamma in different locations, under different circumstances. We experienced a great deal of hospitality and thoughtfulness from our friends in Thailand. When we were in Bangkok Khun Banyong Jongjitrnant and Khun Sukol invited us to lunch together with Acharn Sujin, so that we could meet old friends and new friends. Acharn Sujin is our true friend in Dhamma and our teacher who explains the Dhamma with tireless efforts. We met Jack Tippayachan and his wife Oy who had come from Los Angeles together with other friends, and later on Pinna Indorf from Singapore whom we knew already for a long time joined us. We spoke with Acharn Sujin about the practice of Dhamma when problems arise concerning the behaviour of those who are close to us. It is difficult to be patient under all circumstances. We were reminded to be an "understanding person". The troubles in the world arise through lack of understanding. When we understand that our experiences at this moment arise because of appropriate conditions we will be less inclined to correct other people. When they say unpleasant things or act in a disagreeable way they do so because of inclinations which have been accumulated from the past and therefore, how could we change them? We continued our conversation in the house of Ell and Ivan Walsh for several hours. Acharn Sujin reminded us that no matter what kind of problems arise, we can only solve them by remembering that in the ultimate sense there is no person, only citta, consciousness, cetasika, mental factors which accompany citta, and rupa. Citta and cetasika are nama. Each citta is accompanied by several cetasikas which arise together with the citta and fall away immediately together with the citta. The citta which falls away is succeeded by the next citta, and each citta conditions the next citta. Good and bad qualities are different cetasikas, they fall away together with the citta, but these qualities are accumulated from one moment of citta to the next moment of citta, from life to life. When we have more understanding that life is actually citta, cetasika and rupa, we will be less inclined to think of a "self", of this or that person who speaks or acts in a particular way towards "us". We make our life complicated when we think with worry about situations, about problems concerning people, about the way we should act in this or that situation. Instead of thinking of problems we should remember that there are only citta, cetasika and rupa. Thinking and worry are only namas which arise because of conditions and which are beyond control. By right understanding of citta, cetasika and rupa problems can be solved in a more direct, effective way.

Acharn Santi who was also present reminded us that listening to the Dhamma is not merely hearing, or listening passively. We should listen with attention and respect, and carefully consider what we hear. We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (III, Book of the Fives, Ch XVI, IV, The confounding of Saddhamma ) :

Monks, these five things lead to the confounding, the disappearance of Saddhamma. What five?

Herein, monks, carelessly the monks hear Dhamma; carelessly they master it; carelessly they bear it in mind; carelessly they test the meaning of the things borne in mind; knowing the meaning and knowing Dhamma, carelessly they practise Dhamma by Dhamma.

(But acting with care in respect to these five leads to its stability, to its being unconfounded, to its non-disappearance.)

It depends on someone's accumulated understanding to what degree he can benefit from listening. We should carefully investigate all the details of the teachings and ponder over them, we should verify in our daily life the truth of the Dhamma. In that way understanding can develop. Understanding is a cetasika arising because of its own conditions. If we expect understanding to develop rapidly there is clinging to the concept of self, whereas the goal is detachment from the self.

The next day, in the house of Kunying Nopphrath Snidwong, we discussed the nature of different types of citta. Kunying Nopphrath gives once a month in her house the opportunity for a day of Dhamma discussions with Khun Sujin, and here Acharn Somporn and Acharn Santi assist with the explanation of ultimate realities and of the Pali terms which designate them. This time the subject of discussion was "rootless cittas", ahetuka cittas, cittas which are neither wholesome, kusala, nor unwholesome, akusala. There is one citta at a time and each citta experiences an object. Cittas experience objects through six doors. Seeing-consciousness experiences through the eyes what is visible, visible object or colour; hearing-consciousness experiences through the ears sound; smelling-consciousness experiences through the nose odour; tasting-consciousness experiences through the tongue flavour; body-consciousness experiences through the bodysense tangible object, namely: hardness or softness, heat or cold, motion or pressure. The sixth door is the mind-door and through this door citta can experience all realities, namas and rupas and also concepts which are not real in the ultimate sense.

A citta which experiences an object through one of the six doors arises in a process or series of cittas all of which experience that object. Seeing, for example arises in a process of cittas succeeding one another. Seeing is neither kusala nor akusala, it is vipakacitta, a citta which is the result of kamma, of a deed done in the past. We receive pleasant or unpleasant objects through the senses, and nobody can control which kind of objects are experienced. When a pleasant object is experienced through the senses, it is the result of kusala kamma, and when an unpleasant object is experienced it is the result of akusala kamma. After the vipakacittas have fallen away kusala cittas or akusala cittas experience the object in a wholesome or unwholesome way. When the object which is experienced is pleasant, cittas with attachment may arise, and when it is unpleasant cittas with aversion may arise.

Some cetasikas are "roots", hetus, three of which are akusala hetus, unwholesome roots: lobha or attachment, dosa or aversion and moha or ignorance. Three hetus are sobhana hetus, beautiful roots: alobha or non-attachment, adosa or non-aversion and panna or wisdom. Akusala citta is accompanied by several akusala cetasikas, and it can be rooted in moha and lobha, in moha and dosa, or it may have moha as its only root. Kusala citta is accompanied by several sobhana cetasikas, and it can be rooted in alobha and adosa, or in alobha, adosa and panna. The cetasikas which are hetus are so called because they are the foundation of the citta just as the roots of a tree are its foundation. Thus, in a process of cittas which experience an object through the five senses and the mind-door, some cittas are accompanied by roots, namely akusala cittas and kusala cittas, and some are ahetuka, not accompanied by roots, and these are neither kusala nor akusala .

Cittas can be of four jatis (nature or class): kusala, akusala, vipaka and kiriya. Kiriyacittas or "inoperative cittas" [functional cittas that are themselves results and therefore do not cause further reactions], also arise in a process, such as the five-sense-door adverting-consciousness, panca-dvaravajjana-citta, which adverts to the object before the sense-cognition (seeing, hearing etc.) which is vipakacitta arises in a sense-door process. The kiriyacittas which arise in a process of cittas in the case of non-arahats , are ahetuka cittas.

One may find the subject of ahetuka cittas not interesting, but ahetuka cittas arise time and again in daily life. Seeing is an ahetuka citta, but we do not know that seeing is a citta so long as we take it for self. Seeing is real in the ultimate sense, it is dhamma. Everything which is real is dhamma. Visible object or colour is real, it is dhamma. Dhammas have each their own inalterable characteristic which cannot be changed. Attachment is real, it has its own characteristic. We can call it by another name, but its characteristic cannot be changed. Aversion has its own characteristic; we can call it by another name but its characteristic cannot be changed. The name seeing can be changed, but its characteristic cannot be changed: it experiences what is visible through the eyes. Colour is appearing because there is a citta which sees. Seeing is dependent on conditions: eyesense and colour are conditions for seeing. Seeing is result of kamma, vipakacitta, and eyesense is also result of kamma, it is the physical result of kamma. If kamma would not produce eyesense we could not see. Kamma produces the senses throughout our life so that sense objects can be experienced.

The dhammas which arise in our daily life are beyond control, we cannot own them. Seeing and hearing do not belong to us, they are non-self. We cannot choose what we see and hear, this depends on the appropriate conditions.

After our discussions in Bangkok we went to the North of Thailand, to Chiangmai, Chiang Dao and Thaton where we continued our discussions. We had many opportunities for anumodana dana, the appreciation of other peoples kusala, which is a way of generosity. In Chiangmai we stayed in the "Holiday Resort" of Khun Walee and Khun Kanok Devahastin. Khun Walee and her husband have adopted children of poor families and in this way they give them opportunities to learn a profession and find a job. When these children are grown up they adopt again other small children and thus far they have adopted twenty-six children. Khun Walee and her husband who greatly support the printing of books by the "Dhamma Study and Propagation Foundation" in Thailand gave our group much hospitality. Friends from Chiangmai took great trouble to cook three times daily the most delicious food for us.

Listening to the Dhamma can have a great impact on one's life. We were impressed when we heard about someone with severe alcohol problems who could start to change his life after he listened to Acharn Sujin. He moved away from where he used to live in order to avoid the company of bad friends and now he is openminded for the Dhamma and he can gradually change his behaviour towards his wife and children.

After our stay in Chiangmai we traveled to Chiang Dao, but on the way we visited the Dong Devi Temple, where Khun Sukol's brother is the Abbot. Here we had a very beneficial discussion on the development of understanding. People who lived in the surroundings of the temple cooked lunch and dinner for us with great care and kindness. After a night in Chiang Dao we went on to Thaton near the Burmese border. We stayed in a resort near the river which belongs to a relative of Khun Sukol. Here we had Dhamma discussions morning, afternoon and evening in the most pleasant surroundings.

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