Listening to the Dhamma

There is no Self

by Nina van Gorkom | 1998 | 18,252 words

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Chapter 3 - The Development Of Satipatthana

In all the different places where we were we discussed satipatthana, because satipatthana is the essence of the Buddhas teaching. The term satipatthana has three meanings: it can mean the object of sati, of mindfulness, classified as the four Applications of Mindfulness ; it can mean the way the Buddha and his disciples went to realize the four noble Truths: the Truth of dukkha, the Truth of the cause of dukkha, which is craving, the Truth of the ceasing of dukkha which is nibbana and the Truth of the Way leading to the ceasing of dukkha; finally it can mean sati, mindfulness, which is aware of nama and rupa.

Sati is a cetasika, a mental factor which accompanies sobhana citta, beautiful citta. Each kusala citta is accompanied by sati which is non-forgetful of what is wholesome. There are many levels of sati: there is sati when we perform deeds of generosity; there is sati of the level of sila, which is non-forgetful to abstain from unwholesomeness; there is sati with mental development which includes the development of calm, the study or teaching of the Dhamma and the development of insight, vipassana. Sati of satipatthana is sati of vipassana which is mindful of paramattha dhammas.

The object of satipatthana is not a concept or a name but a characteristic of nama or rupa as it appears one at a time through the sense-doors or the mind-door. By being directly aware of the reality which appears understanding can gradually develop so that eventually nama and rupa can be seen as they are, as impermanent and non-self. The object of satipatthana is not a concept, because a concept is not real in the ultimate sense, it is merely an object of thinking. Concepts do not arise and fall away, they do not have the characteristics of impermanence and non-self which are the objects of understanding.

When we listen to the Dhamma and investigate nama and rupa which appear we can think in the right way of realities and this way of thinking is accompanied by sati. Then we begin to have right understanding of realities. Sati which is directly aware of the characteristic of a reality which appears is still another level of sati and this is different from thinking of realities. When there is awareness of a reality, understanding of that reality can gradually develop at that moment. Understanding, panna, is a sobhana cetasika, a beautiful cetasika. Panna does not accompany each kusala citta: some kusala cittas are accompanied by panna, some are not.

When we develop satipatthana we come to understand the difference between realities, paramattha dhammas, and concepts. A chair, for example, is a concept. When we touch a chair , the chair is not experienced through touch, but the reality of hardness can be experienced through the bodysense. Through the bodysense the following rupas can be experienced: the Element of Earth or solidity, appearing as hardness or softness, the Element of Fire, appearing as heat or cold, and the Element of Wind, appearing as motion or pressure .

When we see a chair, the chair does not impinge on the eyesense, it is colour or visible object which impinges on the eyesense and can be experienced through the eyes. Someone asked what seeing-consciousness sees, whether particular colours like red or blue are experienced by seeing-consciousness. Seeing-consciousness sees whatever is visible, all that appears through the eyesense, but it does not pay attention to a particular colour like red or blue. When we notice that something is red or blue, it is not seeing, but there are cittas arising in a mind-door process which think of visible object or define it. When there is no sati we confuse paramattha dhammas and concepts. When I was watching someone who was talking on T.V., Acharn Sujin reminded
me, asking, "Can visible object talk?" When we see the outlines of things, when we notice the shape and form of things it is not seeing but there are cittas arising in a mind-door process which define what was seen. Because of remembrance of former experiences we know the meaning of things. Remembrance, sanna, is a cetasika which accompanies each citta and which
remembers or marks the object so that it can be recognized later on.

Through ears hearing-consciousness hears sound. It seems that we hear words spoken by someone, but at such moments there are cittas arising in a mind-door process which think of concepts. Cittas arise and fall away very rapidly and only when satipatthana is developed the difference between such moments can be discerned. Through the nose odour appears, through the tongue flavour appears, there is only one reality at a time appearing through one of the six doors. Because of our accumulated ignorance we join different realities together into a "whole" of a person or a thing, instead of being aware of realities as they appear one at a time. The remembrance of a "whole" hides the characteristic of anatta. We do not see that what we take for a person consists of different elements which arise and fall away and are not self.

When a rupa such as colour appears there is also nama which experiences colour, otherwise colour could not appear. It is the same in the case of the other sense objects. If there were no cittas arising in the different processes nothing could appear. The characteristics of nama and rupa are different: rupa does not know anything and nama experiences an object. Visible object appears, but the nama which experiences it seems to be hidden. It is difficult to distinguish between the characteristics of nama and rupa, they seem to be together. When visible object appears there is also the nama which experiences it, but when sati arises it is aware of only one characteristic at a time. It depends on conditions of which object sati is aware, be it nama or rupa, nobody can direct sati. So long as nama and rupa are not clearly distinguished from each other there is still "personality belief", sakkaya ditthi [wrong view arising with the body].

There are paramattha dhammas all the time, but we do not know that they are paramattha dhammas, Acharn Somphon reminded us several times. He stressed that our clinging to a self is deeply rooted: we cling to "our eyes, our ears, our body". We heard these words before, but when we have investigated realities more thoroughly, the same words become more meaningful. They can be the condition for the development of more understanding of realities. That is why listening to the Dhamma was stressed so often. Listening is most valuable for those who have not heard the Dhamma before, as well as for those who have already studied the teachings. Listening is a true treasure. In the "Gradual Sayings" (IV, Book of the Sevens, Ch I, 6) we read about the seven treasures of faith, virtue, conscientiousness, fear of blame, listening, bounty and wisdom. We read about the treasure of listening:

...Consider the ariyan disciple who listens much; there is a retaining, a storing of things heard; and those things, lovely in the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely in the end, which set forth in meaning and in detail the divine life , wholly fulfilled, perfectly pure; all those are heard much by him, retained in mind, familiarized by talk, pored over, well penetrated by right view. This is
called the treasure of listening...

When we see the benefit of listening we gain more confidence in the Dhamma. We can never listen enough. Ariyans, those who have attained enlightenment, are called "those who have heard much" ; listening was for them the condition to develop understanding and even attain enlightenment. When we listen and consider the Dhamma samma sati, right mindfulness of the eightfold Path, will arise when there are the right conditions for its arising. Acharn Sujin repeated time and again that we cannot do anything to have more sati because there is no self who "has" sati. Moreover, the goal should not be to have many moments of sati, but the elimination of ignorance by the development of understanding, panna. By listening we gain more understanding of realities. Sanna, remembrance, is the proximate cause of sati. We remember what we heard and we ponder over it. The object of theoretical understanding is the same as the object of panna which is developed by direct awareness of realities. The objects, nama and rupa, are the same, but, as understanding develops, their characteristics are more clearly understood. Acharn Sujin reminded us that when we try very hard to have sati life becomes a heavy burden. The development of satipatthana should not make our life heavy but light. If there is clinging to sati it hinders its development.

When we were in the Dong Devi Temple people asked the Abbot how one can know the value of sati. The Abbot did not want to answer this question because when samma-sati, right mindfulness of the eightfold Path , arises one can see for oneself its value. The goal of satipatthana is not to obtain something for oneself but detachment. The Abbot warned us not to be impatient, we should learn the meaning of endurance, patience and perseverance. There may be one moment of sati and then it may not arise for a long time. He repeated: "It does not matter, it does not matter." He said: it is easy to know the terms of the teachings, but that is not enough. Sati should be aware of the characteristics which appear. The development of satipatthana should be the most natural matter, he stressed. It is not natural when we have desire for sati. We know in theory that sati is anatta, non-self, but we may still cling to sati and take it for self.

We may not notice that the belief in a self motivates our deeds, speech, feelings and thoughts. Before we realize it there may be an idea of self who notices characteristics of realities. We may for example try to find out what seeing is, but we forget that seeing falls away immediately. It arises, appears just for an extremely short moment and then disappears, it cannot be found again. When we try to be aware of seeing we may be only thinking of an idea we conceive of seeing. Attachment lures us all the time, but also attachment should be the object of understanding, otherwise it can never be eradicated.

The whole day we touch things such as a plate, a cup, a table. Body-consciousness experiences hardness. Usually we are absorbed in the objects we handle and we do not pay attention to the characteristic of hardness. But sometimes there are conditions for considering the characteristic of hardness. This is conditioned by listening to the Dhamma. When sati arises one may begin to see the difference between the moments we are absorbed in concepts and the moments that there is awareness and a beginning of understanding of a reality which appears. However, we should not expect to have clear understanding of realities immediately. One may have doubt whether there was sati or only thinking of realities. When thinking arises it does so because of conditions and it should be known as a type of nama, not self. This is the way to continue developing satipatthana. There should be no worry, because whatever happens is conditioned.

When panna has been developed to the degree that the first stage of insight is reached, the characteristic of nama is clearly distinguished from the characteristic of rupa. However, sati can arise even when this stage is not realized yet. There has to be a beginning, sati has to be aware over and over again of whatever reality appears, this is the only way that panna can develop. When sati is attentive, aware of a characteristic, panna can investigate that reality.

Before we listened to the Dhamma there was complete ignorance of realities, we did not know the difference between concepts and paramattha dhammas. Through satipatthana we can verify that what the Buddha taught is true. The theory of the teachings is in agreement with what is realized through the practice, the development of panna.

As understanding develops confidence in the teachings will grow. The ariyan, the person who has attained enlightenment, has strong confidence, saddha, he has confidence to the degree of "power" . We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (III, Book of the Fives, Ch I, 2, The Powers in detail) about the power of faith:

And what monks, is the power of faith?

Herein, monks, the ariyan disciple has faith and believes in the enlightenment of the Tathagata: Of a truth he is the Exalted One, arahat, fully enlightened, abounding in wisdom and right, the well-gone, the world-knower, the incomparable tamer of tamable men, the teacher of devas and men, the Buddha, the Exalted One. This, monks, is called the power of faith....

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