Listening to the Dhamma

There is no Self

by Nina van Gorkom | 1998 | 18,252 words

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Chapter 5 - The Objects Of Insight

During our sessions we went into the details of the Abhidhamma . Without knowledge of the Abhidhamma we cannot understand the different cittas which arise, we cannot understand that our life is nama and rupa.

Nama and rupa are paramattha dhammas, they are real in the ultimate sense. We cannot be reminded often enough that the objects of sati and panna are paramattha dhammas which appear now through the six doors. We should not believe too soon that we have understood this already. We may have only theoretical knowledge of paramattha dhammas. Acharn Somphon reminded us: "What appears through the eyes cannot be anything else but visible object, it is not a concept." We keep on forgetting this, we often forget that concepts of persons and things are not real in the ultimate sense. So long as concepts hide paramattha dhammas, realities cannot be known as non-self. We still believe that it is I who is seeing, instead of dhamma which sees. We think of a thing which is hard instead of knowing that hardness is dhamma.

During the sessions we were reminded time and again that listening and considering are conditions for the arising of awareness of nama and rupa. Listening is never lost because during these moments understanding is accumulated. Before we listened to the Dhamma we did not pay attention to the characteristics of realities. We touched many things which were hard but we did not pay attention to the reality of hardness. We were absorbed in conventional truth, in the things we touched. After having listened to the Dhamma we begin to realize that hardness is a rupa appearing through the bodysense. When sati arises we come to understand the difference between the moments we are absorbed in concepts and the moments paramattha dhammas appear one at a time through one of the six doors. Sati can be aware of the characteristic of hardness without thinking of names. At the moment we think of words or names the reality of hardness has vanished already. When panna knows this reality as nama and that reality as rupa, it means that realities are seen as non-self.

The benefit of satipatthana is having less ignorance of paramattha dhammas. When there is a moment of sati its benefit can be understood; during that moment one begins to understand what dhamma is: a reality which does not last and which is non-self. Seeing the benefit of satipatthana is a condition for its arising.

Some people think that they should be in quiet surroundings in order to concentrate on the arising and falling away of nama and rupa. However, they merely think of the arising and falling away of nama and rupa and there is no panna which knows one characteristic of nama and of rupa at a time as impermanent and non-self. The goal of the development of satipatthana is the eradication of the wrong view of self and later on of all other defilements. The different stages of vipassana nana arise in a specific order; the first stage of maha-vipassana, knowledge of the arising and falling away of nama and rupa, cannot arise before the preceding three stages which are "tender insight", taruna vipassana. If panna does not distinguish between the characteristic of nama and of rupa and if it does not know all kinds of realities as they appear one at a time through the six doors , how could the arising and falling away of one nama and of one rupa at a time be experienced? We may find it complicated to study the different stages of vipassana, but ignorance of these stages may lead to wrong practice.

We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (II, Book of the Fours, Ch V, 1, Concentration) that the Buddha explained about four ways of developing concentration . The first kind, concentration in samatha leading to jhana, is the concentration which leads to "happy living in this very life". The second kind, concentration on "light", is also developed in samatha. When it is more developed it leads to "nana dassana", "knowledge and vision" . The Commentary, the "Manorathapurani" explains that this is the "divine eye" or clairvoyance, a power acquired in samatha. The third kind of concentration leads to "mindfulness and well-awareness". We read:

Herein, monks, the feelings which arise in a monk are evident to him, the feelings which abide with him are evident to him, the feelings which come to an end in him are evident to him. The perceptions (sanna) which arise in him... the trains of thought (vitakka) which arise in him, which abide with him, which come to an end in him are evident to him. This, monks, is called "the making-concentration-to-become which conduces to mindfulness and well-awareness."

As to the fourth kind of concentration, this leads, when it is developed, to the destruction of the asavas . We read:

Herein a monk dwells observing the rise and fall in the five khandhas of grasping , thus: Such is rupa, such is the arising of rupa, such its vanishing. Such is feeling... such is perception... such are the activities, such the arising of the activities, such their vanishing. Such is consciousness... such the arising of consciousness, such its vanishing. This, monks, is called "the making-concentration-to-become which conduces to the destruction of the asavas"....

When right understanding of nama and rupa is developed in vipassana, there is also concentration, samadhi cetasika, which accompanies panna, but one does not have to think of concentration. If one tries to concentrate, there may be lobha, attachment, accompanied by wrong view.

The Commentary to the above quoted text gives a clear explanation about awareness of only one object at a time, in the context of the knowledge of the arising and falling away of nama and rupa. The objects of panna are the same, no matter one begins to develop satipatthana or later on when panna becomes more accomplished as the stages of vipassana nana arise. The objects are all conditioned nama and rupa which are here classified as the five khandhas. We read that the monk who realizes "udayabbhaya nana" sees the arising and falling away of realities. He knows that this is rupa, that only this rupa appears and that apart from this rupa no other rupa appears. He realizes that this is the origination of rupa, the arising of this rupa, and he realizes
its extinction. And it is the same for feeling and the other khandhas.

In the case of right mindfulness of the feeling which appears there is only that object, no other object appears at that moment. It is the same for sanna, remembrance or perception, for the other cetasikas apart from feeling and perception (sankharakkhandha, the khandha of formations), and for citta. At this moment it seems that seeing and hearing appear at the same time, but there is only one citta experiencing one object at a time. When seeing is the object of mindfulness, just that reality appears, and no other reality appears at that moment. When seeing appears there cannot be thinking at the same time. When we hear the sound of a fan we may think of the concept "fan", but we do not think all the time of concepts, also hearing arises in between. Sati can begin to notice one characteristic at a time, such as hearing or sound. If that is the case we should remember that sati is conditioned by listening, that it is not self who notices different characteristics. If we forget this there is clinging to the self. So long as the difference between nama and rupa is not known doubt will arise about their characteristics, but doubts disappear by the development of satipatthana, Acharn Santi reminded us.

The objects of panna are all the objects appearing at this moment in our daily life: they may be pleasant or unpleasant, kusala or akusala. We read about the objects of vipassana in the "Path of Discrimination", the "Patisambhidamagga" . We read in the First or Great Division, I, Treatise on Knowledge, Ch XV, Defining Internally, that one "defines" or develops understanding of the internal realities and these are the internal ayatanas . We read:

How is it that understanding of defining internally is knowledge of difference in the physical bases?

How does he define dhammas internally?

He defines the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind internally.

When panna is developed in vipassana one does not confuse the different doorways with each other, there is only one reality appearing at a time through one doorway.

We read that he considers the conditions for the arising of the bases, namely ignorance and craving. He considers the characteristics of impermanence, dukkha and anatta. In the course of the development of panna clinging to the bases is abandoned.

The Commentary, the Saddhammappakasini, states that the eye does not exist before its arising, that it is there after its arising, that after its falling away it will not return. The commentary states that it is not stable, that it cannot last, that it is unsure and insignificant (viparinama). It is subject to change because of decay and death.

When we consider the impermanence of realities we think of different terms which describe impermanence, but when panna of vipassana arises it can penetrate immediately the nature of impermanence.

In Ch XVI of the "Patisambiddha Magga" we read about "Defining Externally". The understanding of the "defining" of the external realities is knowledge of the difference in the objects experienced through the different doorways and these are the external ayatanas. Someone who develops understanding of the objects experienced through the six doors does not confuse these objects with one another as they appear through the different doorways. He realizes that these objects are different, arising because of different conditions. Panna realizes that visible object is different from sound, panna does not join different realities together as a whole, as the world of persons and things. We read:

How does he define dhammas externally?

He defines visible objects externally, he defines sounds... odours... flavours... tangible objects... he defines dhammas externally.

We read that he considers the conditions for the arising of external realities, namely ignorance and craving. He considers the characteristics of impermanence, dukkha and anatta and in the course of the development of panna clinging to the external objects is abandoned.

In Chapter XVI, we read about the understanding of "defining behaviour", cariya. Cariya, behaviour or conduct is, according to the Commentary, conduct of citta towards the object it experiences. There are three kinds of behaviour: behaviour of consciousness, behaviour of unknowing, and behaviour of knowledge. This is not theory, but it concerns our life all day long. Behaviour of consciousness, citta, includes the cittas which arise in processes and which experience objects through the six doors, except the mind-door adverting-consciousness preceding the javana cittas which can be kusala or akusala, and the javana cittas themselves, since these are classified in the following sections.

In the following section in the "Patisambiddha Magga" we read about the "behaviour of unknowing", which includes the mind-door adverting-consciousness (mano-dvaravajjana-citta), a kiriyacitta, neither kusala nor akusala , and the akusala javana cittas which follow. This reminds us that ignorance is the root of everything which is akusala. We read about cittas with greed for agreeable visible objects, sounds, and the other sense objects, cittas with hate for disagreeable objects. We read about cittas with delusion, with conceit, wrong view, agitation and doubt. All day long there are cittas arising in processes and when they appear they can be objects of right understanding.

The Commentary explains that the "behaviour of unknowing" is conduct with ignorance, conduct because of ignorance, conduct with regard to the object which is not known or conduct which is ignorance.

In the following section we read about the "behaviour of knowledge". This includes the mind-door adverting-consciousness, which is neither kusala nor akusala, and the kusala javana-cittas which contemplate the three characteristics of impermanence, dukkha and anatta, and which go on developing insight until enlightenment is attained, even to the degree of the phala-cittas (lokuttara vipaka which is fruition-consciousness) of the arahat.

The Commentary explains that the "behaviour of knowledge" is conduct with knowledge, conduct because of knowledge, conduct towards the object which has been understood or conduct which is knowledge. "Knowledge" stands for the Pali term nana, which is panna cetasika.

We read further on in the "Path of Discrimination" (395):

The behaviour of consciousness is one, the behaviour of unknowing is another, the behaviour of knowledge is another.

Knowledge is in the sense of that being known and understanding is in the sense of the act of understanding that. Hence it was said: "Understanding of defining behaviour is knowledge of difference in behaviour."

Thus we see that all the different cittas which appear can be object of understanding, nothing is excluded, not even akusala cittas. Also the cittas with panna which develop vipassana are objects of understanding, otherwise panna will be taken for self and there cannot be any progress.

Lokuttara panna, supramundane panna, which accompanies the magga-citta, path-consciousness, arising when enlightenment is attained, eradicates defilements and experiences nibbana. Defilements are eradicated at the different stages of enlightenment until they are all eradicated at the attainment of the fourth stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat. So long as there are defilements there are conditions for rebirth, we continue to be in the cycle of samsara, the cycle of birth and death. At this moment we do not see the danger of being in the cycle of birth and death. By the development of vipassana the danger of rebirth will be seen more and more. Birth as a human being is the result of kusala kamma, but, so long as one has not become a sotapanna, akusala kamma may produce an unhappy rebirth in the future.

The Buddha compared the accumulation of conditions for rebirth with the building of a house, and the freedom from samsara with the destruction of this house. We read in the Commentary to the "Chronicle of Buddhas" (Buddhavamsa), the "Clarifier of the Sweet Meaning" (Madhuratthavilasini), in the section on the "Jewel Walk", that the Buddha, after his enlightenment said:

Seeking but not finding the house-builder, I travelled through countless births in samsara. Dukkha is birth again and again. House-builder, you have been seen now; you shall not build the house again. All your rafters are broken down, your ridge-pole demolished too. Now my mind has attained what is without constructions, and reached the destruction of cravings....

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