Listening to the Dhamma

There is no Self

by Nina van Gorkom | 1998 | 18,252 words

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Chapter 7 - The Perfections

Panna which eradicates all defilements has to be developed gradually, during countless lives. There is no way to realize its development more rapidly. We have to listen to the Dhamma and carefully consider what we hear. We cannot do anything else, Acharn Sujin said. When panna has grown it will realize the true nature of nama and rupa. The fact that we cannot do anything to hasten the development of panna does not mean that we should be idle, doing nothing. All kinds of kusala for which there is an opportunity can be developed together with satipatthana. The Buddha, when he was a Bodhisatta, developed during countless lives the "perfections", paramis, wholesome qualities which he accumulated, so that in his last life he could attain Buddhahood. These perfections are: dana or generosity, sila or wholesome conduct, nekkhamma or renunciation, panna, viriya or energy [effort, perseverance], khanti or patience, sacca or truthfulness, aditthana or determination, metta or loving kindness, upekkha or equanimity. We too need to develop the perfections together with satipatthana, so that there will once in the future be the right conditions for the attainment of enlightenment.

During our last evening in Thaton we discussed some aspects of the perfections. They had been a topic of Dhamma discussions many times before, also in India, but there are always new aspects when we consider their practice in the situation of daily life. Acharn Sujin had warned us not to cling to an idea of self who wants to "have" the perfections, because that is not the way to accumulate them. There may be clinging to kusala or there may be conceit with regard to kusala, and therefore we need the perfection of truthfulness or sincerity to detect these defilements. We should have the sincere inclination to develop the perfections with the aim to have less defilements.

We may wonder to what extent generosity and metta should be developed towards a person who asks too much from us. Acharn Santi reminded me that we develop metta in order to have less defilements. It is of no use to think for a long time about the other person, about situations, or to wonder to what extent we should develop metta. We should consider the citta which develops the perfection of metta. There is no specific order in which the perfections should be developed; they can all be developed together. Acharn Sujin stressed once that none of the perfections should be neglected, that we need the support of all of them so that we can reach the goal. When we listen to the Dhamma there should be patience, we should not wish for a quick result of the development of right understanding. We should listen without wishing to acquire something for ourselves, such as honour or esteem. When our goal is the development of understanding there is renunciation or detachment, nekkhamma. All ways of wholesomeness are nekkhamma, because during such moments one renounces akusala, one does not cling and there is no selfishness. When we feel tired we need viriya, energy, so that we make an effort to listen to the Dhamma; we also need determination to continue to listen, to consider the Dhamma and to develop satipatthana.

Sila should be developed together with satipatthana. Some people believe that they have purity of sila when they do not transgress the five precepts. However, without satipatthana one takes sila for self, there is no purity of sila (sila visuddhi). The sotapanna will never transgress the five precepts and he does not take sila for self. The person who has not attained enlightenment may observe the precepts for a long time, but when for example his life is in danger he may transgress them. Moreover, he has not eradicated the wrong view of self. There are many kinds of sila; it can, for example, be classified as avoidance (virati) and performance (caritta). Avoidance is abstaining from akusala. Performance includes wholesome actions through body and speech such as helping, paying respect and politeness. We read in the Commentary to the "Basket of Conduct" (Cariyapitaka), the "Paramatthadipani" about the sila of the Bodhisatta:

Thus, esteeming virtue (sila) as the foundation for all achievements- as the soil for the origination of all Buddha-qualities, the beginning, footing, head, and chief of all dhammas issuing in Buddhahood- and recognizing gain, honour, and fame as a foe in the guise of a friend, a bodhisatta should diligently and thoroughly perfect his virtue as a hen guards his eggs: through the power of mindfulness and clear comprehension in the control of bodily and vocal action, in the taming of the sense-faculties, in purification of livelihood, and in the use of the requisites ....

The vicissitudes of the world are gain and loss, honour and lack of honour, praise and blame, wellbeing and pain. We only desire pleasant worldly conditions, but we do not see them as enemies in the guise of friends. We cling to them and we do not see that they are subject to change, and we may even commit akusala kamma such as lying or stealing in order to obtain them.

With regard to virtue as performance, we read about the courteous conduct of the Bodhisatta towards those who deserved respect. He was assisting others, he was fulfilling his duties, he helped people in explaining Dhamma. He was contented with little and saw danger in the slightest faults. We may forget that sila has many more aspects apart from observing the five precepts. Sila leads to tranquillity, happiness and absence of remorse.

Sila also includes guarding the six doors with sati (indriya samvara sila). When we experience a pleasant object through one of the senses attachment is likely to arise, and when we experience an unpleasant object, aversion is likely to arise. When there is awareness of nama and rupa, no matter whether we experience a pleasant object or an unpleasant object, the doorways are guarded, there is no akusala citta on account of the object which is experienced.

The last day of our sessions, at the airport of Chiangmai, I remarked to Acharn Sujin that it is very difficult to practise patience and kindness towards a person who behaves to us in a disagreeable way. Acharn Sujin answered that one needs unpleasant situations to practise the perfections. If there is no unpleasant situation how can one develop them? We read in the Commentary, the "Paramatthadipani" about the Bodhisattas practice of patience when he considered the following:

"If there were no wrong-doers, how could I accomplish the perfection of patience?" And: "Although he is a wrong-doer now, in the past he was my benefactor." And: "A wrong-doer is also a benefactor, for he is the basis for the developing of patience."

In the ultimate sense there is no "other person" who is disagreeable and no self to whom he is disagreeable. The Bodhisatta considered about this:

"All those dhammas by which wrong was done, and those to whom it was done-- all those, at this very moment, have ceased. With whom, then, should you now be angry, and by whom should anger be aroused? When all dhammas are not-self, who can do wrong to whom?"

We read in the same Commentary that wisdom is the chief cause for the practice of the other perfections. We read:

Again, only the man of wisdom can patiently tolerate the wrongs of others, not the dull-witted man. In the man lacking wisdom, the wrongs of others only provoke impatience; but for the wise, they call his patience into play and make it grow even stronger....

When we hear unpleasant words we can remember that hearing is only vipaka, the result of kamma, a deed performed in the past. Instead of being upset there can be equanimity, upekkha, and also metta, benevolence. We can be intent on the welfare of any person, even if he is not agreeable, that is true metta. Metta is different from liking a particular person, metta is impartial. When we do not retort disagreeable speech with angry words we practise the perfection of sila. Thus, in difficult situations the perfections can be practised together with satipatthana. We should remember that all the perfections pertain to our daily life.
Situations are difficult very often, and then we should ask ourselves: "Where are the perfections of patience, metta, upekkha and energy, where is the determination to practise kusala?" The situation is a test for the practice of the perfections.

During these days of Dhamma discussions we received many precious reminders from Acharn Sujin, from Acharn Somphon, from Acharn Santi, and from many of our friends. Listening helps to gain more confidence in the Buddhas teaching. We can verify the truth of what he taught about nama and rupa: seeing is conditioned by eyesense and visible object; hearing is conditioned by earsense and sound, and it is the same for the other doorways. We cannot control seeing or hearing, these experiences are vipaka, conditioned by kamma. On account of what we experience through the senses attachment or aversion are bound to arise. These accompany akusala citta. The Buddha explained in detail what kusala is and what akusala, and he taught the development of satipatthana which eventually leads to freedom from defilements. When we develop satipatthana we actually take our refuge in the Buddha. To what extent we take refuge in him depends on the development of understanding. People have fear of accidents, sickness, death and rebirth, but the recollection of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha can banish all fear.

We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (I, Sagatha-Vagga, Ch XI, Sakka, 3, The Top of the Banner) that the Buddha explained to the monks that when they dwell in the forest or empty places and fear would arise, they should recollect the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. We can apply his advice in our own situation, when we have an occasion to be fearful. The Buddha spoke in the following verse:

  • Whenever in forest or in leafy shade
  • Or lonely empty places you abide,
  • Call to your mind, bhikkhus, the Enlightened One;
  • No fear, no sense of peril will you know.
  • Or if you cannot on the Buddha think-
  • The chief, the senior of the world, the Bull of men-
  • Then call to mind the Dhamma, the well-taught guide.
  • Or if you cannot think of the Dhamma-
  • The well-taught doctrine wherein guidance lies-
  • Then turn your thoughts to the Community,
  • Unrivaled field where men may sow good deeds .
  • If you in Buddha, Dhamma, Community thus refuge take,
  • Fear, panic, creeping of the flesh will never arise.
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