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From our childhood we are used to the idea that this world we are 

living in with all the people around us is the real world. The Buddha 

taught that the world is composed of the objects which come to us 

through the senses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and through 

the door of the mind. These are all fleeting phenomena which change 

within splitseconds. Seeing is there just for a moment and then it 

falls away. Visible object is there just for a moment and then it 

falls away. What we used to take for our solid world consists of 

impermanent elements. Our world crumbles away, there is the 

disintegration of our world and of ourselves.

When the reader is in the first page of this book confronted with two 

different kinds of truths, the conventional truth and the absolute 

truth, he may wonder whether there is a discrepancy here which makes 

it impossible to practise Buddhism and at the same time to live one's 

life in the world. We have to do our work, to be with other people and 

we want to enjoy our possessions, all the things of this world. The 

Buddha did not deny that there is the conventional truth we have to 

live with. However, it is a great blessing that he taught us the 

absolute truth, the truth of mental phenomena, nma, and physical 

phenomena, rpa. Nma and rpa are terms in Pli, the language in 

which the Buddhist scriptures have been written. We can develop 

understanding of the absolute truth, of nma and rpa, while we live 

our daily life naturally. Absolute truth is not a truth which cannot 

be grasped, it is not something abstract, it is the truth about daily 

realities. Understanding this truth will help us to be able to lead 

our life in the world in a more wholesome way and to face 

contrarieties in our work, and in our relationships.

How to develop understanding of nma and rpa naturally, while we are 

eating, doing our daily tasks, doing everything we normally do? This 

was the topic of the letters I wrote while living in Tokyo to someone 

who was wondering how to develop right understanding of nma and rpa 

in daily life. The Buddha taught mindfulness, in Pli: sati, of the 

nma and rpa of our life, in order to acquire direct understanding of 

them. We discussed what sati is; it is difficult for all of us to 

understand this reality which seems so elusive. Sati is different from 

thinking, but what is it then? We have to accept that we cannot 

understand immediately what sati is, we have to study carefully all 

the phenomena of our life the Buddha taught. We need knowledge of them 

as a foundation. Gradually we can learn to investigate the nmas and 

rpas which appear in our life and then there can be conditions for 

direct awareness of them, for sati.

The reader may wonder what the purpose is of the study of nma and 

rpa. Why should one take so much trouble? It is important to have 

less ignorance about our life, about ourselves. The real cause of all 

our troubles is not the behaviour of other people or the situation we 

are in, but our own defilements. Our ignorance conditions many other 

defilements, such as selfishness, hatred, avarice and jealousy. 

Through the development of understanding there will be elimination of 

ignorance. When there is less ignorance it will be for the benefit of 

both ourselves and others. The development of understanding can only 

be very gradual. We need patience to investigate all phenomena which 

appear. At first we may believe that we know already what phenomena 

such as seeing, hearing or thinking are, but gradually it will dawn on 

us how ignorant we are of the most common phenomena of our life. That 

is the right beginning. We are hearing sounds the whole day, but what 

do we know about hearing? We may have thought that we can hear and 

define the sound or recognize what we hear all at the same time. 

Hearing is one moment, and knowing the meaning of what we hear such as 

the meaning of words are other moments. The reader may wonder why it 

is important to know this. It is important, because defilements arise 

immediately on account of what we experience through the senses. We 

ought to learn more about our defilements and the way they are 

conditioned. We hear pleasant and unpleasant sounds and after that, 

when we know the meaning and think about what was heard, we 

immediately react to it either in a negative way, or in a positive 

way. There may be unwholesome moments of clinging or aversion, or 

there may be wholesome moments of patience and wisdom. All this 

happens so quickly, within splitseconds, it is actually beyond 

control. When we investigate such processes in our life we can 

experience ourselves that there are many different nmas which are 

beyond control. We cannot create our own hearing, nor can we direct 

the way we react, it has happened already when we realize it. The 

Buddha taught that nma and rpa arise because of their own 

conditioning factors. For example, when one reacts with patience to 

harsh sounds one can do so because it is in one's character to react 

in that way. Such inclination has already been accumulated. This is an 

example which illustrates that there is not one mind, but many 

different mental phenomena which change all the time.

We may wonder why we also have to learn about physical phenomena, 

rpas. Is it necessary to learn so many details? Rpas affect us very 

much all the time. We cling to pleasant rpas and we dislike 

unpleasant rpas. Through the ears the rpa which is sound is 

experienced by hearing-consciousness. When we hear harsh words it is 

only sound which is heard, only the rpa which impinges on the 

earsense. However, we think with anger or sadness about an unkind 

person who spoke harsh words, we think in a negative, unwholesome way 

and this happens most of the time. In the absolute sense there is no 

person who speaks unkind words. The moments of consciousness which 

motivated his speaking are only fleeting moments, they have fallen 

away but we keep thinking about his unkindness. There is no person, no 

self who hears, hearing arises only for a moment and then it falls 

away. The sound which is heard is only a kind of rpa which does not 

last. Right understanding of the objects we experience through the six 

doors will eventually lead to more patience. The effect will be that 

we are less inclined to feel hurt by what others say to us and that we 

will be able to forgive more easily.

The Buddha taught the impermanence of the phenomena of our life. We 

may believe that we know already that our body is subject to decay and 

that our thoughts and feelings change. We can think of impermanence 

but this is not the same as the direct knowledge of the changes from 

moment to moment of nma and rpa. A very precise knowledge of nma 

and rpa has to be developed so that later on their arising and 

falling away, their impermanence, can be directly experienced. When 

one has come to that stage there will be less enslavement to the 

objects one experiences. However, this is a learning process which has 

to continue for a long time, even longer than this life. There is no 

quick result, no shortcut.

The person who wrote to me wanted to create particular situations in 

order to have more mindfulness. He thought that concentration on 

breathing would help him to reach the goal sooner. In Letter 6 and 7, 

I deal with mindfulness of breathing. There are many misunderstandings 

about this subject. When one concentrates on breathing one may be able 

to eliminate worry for those moments, one cannot think of anything 

else when one thinks of breathing. However, there is right 

concentration and wrong concentration, as I tried to explain in these 

letters. When there is right concentration there is calm which is 

wholesome and when there is wrong concentration there is unwholesome 

consciousness. When one clings to a quick result there is wrong 

concentration. I deal with this subject and quote from the commentary, 

the Visuddhimagga, in order to show how complex this subject is. If 

one does not know precisely the way of development of mindfulness of 

breathing there is wrong concentration and this is useless. It is 

already a gain when one understands that mindfulness of breathing is 

not just sitting and trying to concentrate on breath without knowing 

anything.

The Buddha taught that nma and rpa are impermanent and not self. 

What we take for a person or a self are only fleeting elements. When 

we begin to develop understanding of nma and rpa we have not 

eliminated the idea of self. There is still another person who speaks 

harsh words to us, and there is still "self" who hears them and is 

angry. The fact that we think in this way is conditioned by 

remembrance of past experiences, we always thought in that way. Also 

thinking is a conditioned nma, it is a reality. The person we think 

of is not an absolute reality but a conventional reality. We do not 

have to behave in an artificial way while we develop understanding of 

phenomena, but while we answer back to someone who speaks to us there 

can be a short moment in between of realising the truth that whatever 

we say or do is conditioned, that it is not "I". We are not used to 

such an approach, but gradually it can be learnt if we see its 

benefit. When we do not want to mislead ourselves about the fleeting 

phenomena of our life right understanding can begin to develop, it 

develops, there is no self who develops it. We may feel happy or sad, 

just as we used to, but in between understanding of such phenomena can 

very gradually be accumulated.

We can learn from our own experience the difference between the 

moments we are living in the world of conventional realities, the 

world of self, people and possessions, and the moments there is one 

nma or rpa appearing through one of the six doorways. We usually 

live with our illusions and dreams, we are led by the outward 

appearance of things and we are ignorant of what is really going on 

within us or around us. We look at our surroundings and at other 

people and we make our own mental pictures of what we observe. We are 

all different, with different inclinations, and this conditions the 

way we see the people and things around us. Each of us lives in his 

own world of thinking. We live most of the time in our own world of 

thinking, but through the study of the Buddha's teachings we begin to 

understand the difference between imaginations and realities.

The Buddha taught that there is no person, no self who can exert 

control over nma and rpa, they are beyond control. It may be 

difficult to accept this since we want to control our life. When there 

is seeing which experiences a pleasant visible object there is 

attachment to this object immediately. When there is seeing which 

experiences an unpleasant object there is aversion to this object 

immediately. The Buddha taught about realities in detail. A very 

precise knowledge of the different realities should be developed. Then 

we will find out that there are many more unwholesome moments, moments 

of attachment, aversion and ignorance, than we ever thought. These 

moments arise because of their own conditions but there can be the 

development of understanding of them. When understanding has been 

fully developed unwholesomeness can be eradicated, but that is a long 

way off. Even though the final goal is a long way off it is valuable 

to develop understanding. When there is a short moment of 

understanding we learn to see that there is only a nma or only a 

rpa, and consequently we will be less inclined to see them as very 

important. Understanding will condition more even-mindedness. 

Gradually we will learn to see nma and rpa as they are: impermanent 

and not self.

The reader may wonder why I use Pli terms. The Buddhist teachings are 

contained in the Tipiaka, the three "Baskets" which are the Vinaya 

(the book of discipline for the monks), the Suttanta (discourses), and 

the Abhidhamma, which deals with absolute realities in detail. The 

Scriptures as they have come to us date from the Buddha's time, the 

sixth century B.C. and they are in the Pli language. I have also 

quoted from the Visuddhimagga which is a summary of the teachings 

written by Buddhaghosa in the beginning of the fifth century A.D. In 

different English translations of the texts the Pli terms have been 

rendered differently and thus confusion may arise as to which reality 

has been referred to by which term. The Buddha's teaching of realities 

is very precise and therefore it is useful to learn some of the Pli 

terms which represent these realities. In the back of this book is a 

glossary to help the reader. The reader should not be discouraged by 

the Pli terms. When one continues to study one will find that they 

are helpful for a more precise understanding of what the Buddha taught 

about all the different phenomena which occur right now.

The scriptures are deep in meaning and it is difficult to understand 

the application of the Buddha's teachings. Therefore I feel deep 

gratitude to Ms. Sujn in Thailand, who helped me to understand the 

Buddha's teachings and pointed to me the way to develop understanding 

of realities in daily life. Without such a good friend in Dhamma one 

will easily misunderstand the scriptures and apply them in the wrong 

way. I also wish to express my appreciation to the "Dhamma Study and 

Propagation Foundation" and to the publisher Alan Weller. Without 

their help the publication of this book would not have been possible. 

While we study we should not forget the purpose of our study. The 

purpose is not theoretical knowledge, but direct understanding of our 

own life, of all our wholesome moments and unwholesome moments, all 

the nmas and rpas occurring at this moment. When we learn more about 

the conditions for these phenomena we will begin to see that they are 

beyond control, not self. The Buddha's message to us is to investigate 

the truth and to prove the truth through developing direct 

understanding, and this understanding can eradicate ignorance and all 

other defilements. May the reader investigate the truth himself!

 

 

 

 

Nina van Gorkom

                               Tokyo                                                        

15 January                                                   

1971 

Dear Mr. G., 

 

You asked me questions about mindfulness in daily life. You said that 

you can be aware while shaving, but that you are not yet sure about 

the experience of different characteristics of nma (mental phenomena) 

and rpa (physical phenomena). I would like to quote from the Kindred 

Sayings (IV, Sayatana-vagga, Second Fifty, Chapter IV,  84, 

Transitory). We read that nanda asked the Buddha what the world is:

 

"The world! The world!" is the saying, lord. Pray, how far, lord, does 

this saying go? 

What is transitory by nature, nanda, is called "the world" in the 

Ariyan discipline. And what, nanda, is transitory by nature? The eye, 

nanda, is transitory by natureobjectstonguemind is transitory by 

nature, mind-states, mind-consciousness, mind-contact, whatsoever 

pleasant feeling or unpleasant feeling or indifferent feeling arises 

owing to mind-contact, that also is transitory by nature. What is thus 

transitory, nanda, is called "the world" in the Ariyan discipline.

 

We cannot yet directly experience the impermanence of nma and rpa, 

but we will know the "world in the sense of the ariyan discipline" if 

we develop right understanding of absolute realities, paramattha 

dhammas, by being mindful of their characteristics as they appear one 

at a time through the six doorways.

We are used to thinking that there are the world of our work, of our 

home, of meditation, so many kinds of worlds. Actually we should 

consider what the realities are which can be directly experienced. 

These are the nma and rpa which appear through the six doors. There 

is seeing-consciousness, which experiences visible object through the 

eye-door. There is hearing-consciousness which experiences sound 

through the ear-door. There is smelling-consciousness which 

experiences odour through the nose. There is tasting-consciousness 

which experiences flavour through the tongue. There is 

body-consciousness which experiences tangible object through the 

body-door. There is mind-consciousness which experiences mind-objects 

through the mind-door. Thus, there are actually six worlds appearing 

through the six doors. It will take a long time to develop a clearer 

understanding of the six worlds. Thinking about them is not enough. In 

being mindful of different characteristics we will come to understand 

"the world in the sense of the ariyan discipline" through our own 

experience.

Coming back to your example of shaving, you notice different moments. 

Can you notice that there are different realities with different 

characteristics? When you look into the mirror, touch the razor, when 

you are thinking , could you simply, without any need to "detect" nma 

and rpa, just realize that these different moments are different 

experiences which have different characteristics ? We should know that 

there are different realities. When you are looking into the mirror is 

there no seeing? It experiences just what appears through the 

eyesense, visible object. When you close your eyes the reality which 

appeared when you were looking does not appear anymore. Considering 

this is the first step to know what realities are. Later on one will 

learn more through direct experience.

You write that you experience "touching the razor". Which realities 

appear? Cold, motion or hardness? These are physical phenomena which 

can be experienced through touch. Or does a nma appear which 

experiences one of these rpas? Can you realize that they have 

different characteristics? This will help you to know the world in the 

ariyan sense.

When you eat breakfast you touch the fork. We call it "fork", but what 

can you directly experience through the bodysense? The rpas which are 

cold, hardness or motion? You can learn that, no matter whether we 

touch a razor or a fork, rpas such as cold, hardness or motion can be 

experienced through the bodysense. It is not you who experiences them, 

but only a type of nma which experiences them. Through the eyesense 

the rpa which is visible object or colour can be experienced. The 

world of tangible object is different from the world appearing through 

the eyesense.

You might say, "But I experience the razor and the fork. I know when I 

touch the razor and when I touch the fork." How do you know what is a 

razor and what is a fork? Because of remembrance or perception, sa, 

a mental factor, cetasika, which arises with every moment of 

consciousness, citta. There isn't any experience which is not 

accompanied by sa. Because of sa we remember things, we remember 

what different things are used for. We remember, "when we do this, it 

has that effect". Sa is another reality, it is a kind of nma, not 

self.

In the "absolute sense", or, in the "ariyan discipline", there is no 

fork, no razor, no mirror; these are only ideas we can think of, but 

they are not realities. When there is seeing, it is visible object 

which is experienced; when there is touching, it is hardness, coldness 

or another rpa presenting itself through the bodysense , which is 

experienced. When we remember that we call a particular thing a "fork" 

or a "razor", or when we remember how to use them, the reality 

presenting itself at that moment is a kind of nma. Realities are 

experienced through the six doorways, presenting themselves one at a 

time. They are not a person, not a thing which can stay, they are nma 

and rpa which arise and then fall away immediately. This is the truth 

which can be directly experienced, this is the "world" in the ariyan 

discipline.

Is this not more simple than you would have thought at first? There is 

thinking when you are shaving. Is that not different from seeing , 

from touching? Attachment or aversion may arise on account of what is 

experienced. Are these not realities different from seeing, from 

visible object, from the experience of tangible object or from the 

rpas which are experienced through the bodysense? It would be helpful 

to realize that all these realities which appear are different, that 

they have different characteristics. They are nma and rpa which 

arise because of conditions, not self. We cling so much to concepts 

and ideas which we convey to others by means of conventional terms in 

language. We cling to sa, we are infatuated with all the ideas and 

stories we remember, such as razor, fork, person. This blinds us to 

the world in the ariyan sense. It prevents us from understanding nma 

and rpa as they present themselves through the six doors, one at a 

time.

You wrote that you often wake up with mindfulness. I often wake up 

with attachment, lobha, or aversion, dosa. For example, I think, "What 

difficult thing do I have to do today?" Sometimes I have to hear 

unpleasant words from other people, and then I feel unhappy. Why? 

Because at those moments I do not see the world in the ariyan sense. 

When we hear unpleasant words, the hearing is only vipka (citta which 

is result of kamma), it is nma which arises just for a moment and 

then falls away immediately. When I have aversion, there is akusala 

citta (unwholesome consciousness), which is another kind of nma. In 

the ariyan sense there is no "I"who experiences, there is no 

experiencer. There is not this or that person who says unpleasant 

words to me. There are only nma and rpa. There is seeing, hearing, 

thinking and other phenomena which appear for a moment and are then 

gone. There are different feelings arising because of different 

conditions. The teachings are very helpful for the understanding of 

our life. When we listen to the sutta texts we can be reminded to be 

aware of realities.

You find that there is more awareness when you do things which do not 

require so much attention, things which are done automatically, like 

shaving. You wrote "Shaving is there. It presents itself as if done by 

someone else."

"Shaving is there", these are words you use to describe a whole 

situation you can think of, but which are the realities you can 

directly experience? There is the world in the ariyan sense: different 

phenomena presenting themselves through the six doors. Seeing, 

touching or thinking are realities, but shaving is not a reality. 

"Shaving presents itself as if done by someone else". What is this? It 

is a thought, that is all. We should not cling to special sensations, 

they are only nmas which do not stay. Thinking is only one kind of 

reality which appears, and then there are other realities.

Is it true that there is more awareness when we do things which do not 

require much attention? At the Japanese school I have to be attentive 

to the teacher who asks me questions in Japanese which I have to 

answer, applying the grammar I learnt. We should not exclude 

beforehand the arising of awareness in such situations. If there can 

be awareness sometimes of different realities one can begin to develop 

understanding of them. Mindfulness arises when there are conditions 

for its arising and we cannot say beforehand, "In such circumstances 

it will arise, in such circumstances it will not arise". Awareness is 

anatt, not self. We may think that it cannot arise in particular 

circumstances, but this is only our thinking. We should realize such a 

moment of thinking as only a kind of nma which arises because of 

conditions.

Sati, mindfulness, of the Eightfold Path will not arise often when it 

has not been accumulated enough yet. We may take for mindfulness what 

is actually only a sensation of quietness and "some notion of what is 

going on", as you write. But this is not knowing a characteristic of a 

reality which appears through one of the six doors, it is merely 

pondering at leisure.

When hardness is experienced through touch we may take for sati what 

is actually attachment. Do we wish to have many moments of sati? Then 

we are clinging and right understanding cannot develop. Our aim should 

be to learn more about the realities which appear one at a time. We 

cling to visible object, sound and all the other sense objects. We may 

not notice it that we cling to them, but is it not true that we are 

usually absorbed by these objects and think about them for a long 

time? We think that we see people and different things, but we can 

learn that what appears through eyes is only visible object. We think 

that we hear the voice of someone, but what appears through the ears 

is only sound, there is no person in the sound. We can learn to 

consider the phenomena of our daily life as only different realities 

which appear one at a time.

There can be "study" of visible object, sound, hearing and other 

realities when they appear one at a time. The word "study" is 

appropriate, because it is a learning process. It is not theoretical 

study but study of nma and rpa in daily life. We should not have 

expectations about the arising of clear, direct understanding of nma 

and rpa. When there are expectations there is attachment to an idea 

of self who is successful, whereas mindfulness and right understanding 

should lead to detachment from the idea of self. We should remember 

that mindfulness of nma and rpa accompanies kusala citta and that 

kusala citta does not arise as often as akusala citta. There are 

countless more moments of akusala citta than kusala citta. If we 

remember this we will be less inclined to false expectations. When we 

have understood that there should be study of the characteristics of 

nma and rpa in order to have more understanding of them, we will 

stop wondering what mindfulness is or doubting about it.

There is usually forgetfulness of nma and rpa, but sometimes there 

can be kusala citta accompanied by mindfulness of the reality which 

appears at the present moment, a nma or a rpa. We cannot do anything 

special to cause the arising of sati because sati is anatt. It arises 

because of its appropriate conditions. The right conditions for sati 

are: listening to the Dhamma, theoretical understanding of nma and 

rpa and deeply considering the Dhamma in our life. One may be 

discouraged about it that, although one has listened for many years, 

there is hardly any awareness in daily life. When one merely listens 

but does not deeply consider what one heard and does not test the 

meaning of it, there are no conditions for awareness. Through 

considering the Dhamma one builds up one's own understanding, one is 

not dependent on other people. Everybody should consider nma and rpa 

in his own situation.

You asked in your letter what the difference is between sati and 

thinking. There can be thinking with kusala citta and with akusala 

citta. Most of the time there is thinking with clinging or with 

aversion. When there is thinking in the right way about nma and rpa 

it can condition right awareness later on, but we do not know when. 

When we think about sati we will not know its characteristic, but when 

right mindfulness of nma and rpa arises we will know what sati is. 

We can notice that there are countless moments of thinking in a day, 

and when there is thinking it is time to study the characteristic of 

thinking. Then we can come to know it as a nma which arises because 

of its own conditions, not self. It is the thinking which thinks.

"Sometimes sati seems to be contemporaneous with its object, sometimes 

later", you write. We should be careful and not mistake thinking for 

sati. When there is study with awareness of one reality at a time, the 

reality which appears, one does not think about sati as being 

contemporaneous with its object or not. There is at that moment only 

the characteristic of the nma or rpa which appears.

You want to know when in the process of cittas sati arises. Sati has 

to accompany kusala citta, but it can be mindful also of akusala 

citta. When for example aversion, dosa, arises, it can be object of 

mindfulness. Cittas succeed one another very rapidly and after the 

dosa has fallen away there can be in another process kusala cittas 

with sati. Sati can then be mindful of the dosa which has fallen away. 

If there is unpleasant feeling now can there not be study of its 

characteristic, in order to know it as not self, not my unpleasant 

feeling? We are inclined to take feeling for self, but when we 

understand that feelings arise because of conditions we will be less 

inclined to take them for mine or self. Sometimes I take things to 

heart and I have unpleasant feeling, sometimes not. This is because of 

different conditions. We should learn that there is no self who can 

control feelings. We do not have to think of processes when there is 

the study of different characteristics. All that matters is to know 

the world in the ariyan sense. This world is a new world to us since 

we used to know only the world of conventional truth, the world of 

self, people and possessions.

When there is no development of understanding of nma and rpa, 

akusala cittas will arise very often: we are infatuated with the 

objects we experience, we have aversion towards them or there is 

ignorance about realities. When we, for example, see a teapot, we may 

be ignorant of the six worlds in the ariyan sense. When we are 

confused as to the different doorways, we think that what presents 

itself through the eye-door is a teapot and we take it for something 

which stays. However, through the eye-door it is only visible object 

that presents itself, just for a moment. When we touch the teapot, the 

rpas which are hardness, softness, heat or cold may present 

themselves. In order to know realities as they are we should be aware 

of them as they present themselves through the different doorways, one 

at a time. Like and dislike are again different phenomena and we 

should not confuse them with seeing or visible object. Thinking of the 

concept "teapot" is again another reality, a type of nma.

Whatever nma or rpa appears can be object of mindfulness and thus 

right understanding can develop. If there is preference for particular 

types of nma or rpa which seem to be so clear, there is clinging. We 

should learn different characteristics of nma and rpa as we go along 

in daily life; when walking, standing, getting up, taking a bath, 

eating, listening or talking. Only thus will there be the 

disintegration of the "self ". We will know the world in the ariyan 

sense. We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Sayatana-vagga, Kindred 

Sayings on Sense, Third Fifty, Chapter IV,  136) that the Buddha said 

to the monks:

 

Devas and mankind, monks, delight in objects, they are excited by 

objects. It is owing to the instability, the coming to an end, the 

ceasing of objects, monks, that devas and mankind live woefully. They 

delight in sounds, scents, savours, in touch, they delight in 

mind-states, and are excited by them. It is owing to the instability, 

the coming to an end, the ceasing of mind-states, monks, that devas 

and mankind live woefully.

But the Tathgata, monks, who is arahat, a Fully-enlightened One, 

seeing, as they really are, both the arising and the destruction, the 

satisfaction, the misery and the way of escape from objects,-he 

delights not in objects, takes not pleasure in them, is not excited by 

them. It is owing to the instability, the coming to an end, the 

ceasing of objects that the Tathgata dwells at ease.

 

Is this real life or not? When we do not see things as they are we are 

enslaved. How did the Buddha become free? By fully knowing realities, 

by knowing their characteristics as they appear through the six doors.

 

 

With mett

 

 

Nina van Gorkom

 

                                              Tokyo

15 February                                                  

1971            Dear Mr. G.,

 

First I will quote your question about personality-belief: "I wish you 

could tell me more about personality-belief, sakkya-dihi. Is 

sakkya-dihi wrong view? But, if I have wrong view, it is only a 

kind of nma, to be recognized as such."

Sakkya is a name for the five khandhas which are objects of clinging. 

Sakkya-dihi is wrong view about the five khandhas. We have 

accumulated wrong view about them during many lives. There is wrong 

view about the khandhas when we really believe that they are permanent 

and self.

All conditioned realities in ourselves and around ourselves can be 

classified as five khandhas and these are the following:

 

        rpa-kkhandha                 physical phenomena

        vedan-kkhandha                       feelings

        sa-kkhandha                remembrance

        sakhra-kkhandha             cetasikas (mental factors)                                     

except feeling and sa

        via-kkhandha                      all cittas

 

This classification may seem rather theoretical, but it is a 

classification of realities which arise now. There are the five 

khandhas now while you are seeing. There is the eyesense which is 

rpa-kkhandha, there is visible object which is also rpa-kkhandha, 

there is seeing which is via-kkhandha. Seeing is accompanied by 

feeling, vedan-kkhandha, by remembrance, sa-kkhandha, and by other 

cetasikas which are sakhra-kkhandha. The khandhas arise and fall 

away, they do not stay and none of the khandhas is self. Do you have 

an idea of a self who is seeing? It is only via-kkhandha which 

arises for an extremely short moment, performs the function of seeing 

and then falls away. Seeing arises because of its own conditions. 

Eyesense and visible object are conditions for seeing. Without these 

conditions you could not see. Can you create your own eye-sense? It 

arises because of its appropriate conditions. Seeing, eyesense and 

visible object do not belong to you. Do you think that you see people? 

It is only visible object, rpa-kkhandha, which is seen just for a 

moment and then falls away.

When we have listened to the Dhamma we understand in theory that there 

is no self, no being, but our understanding is still weak. We do not 

directly experience the truth of realities as they appear one at a 

time. We cling to the khandhas and have an idea that they can last. Do 

we have a notion of a "whole" of mind and body, of "my personality"? 

What we take for a whole of mind and body are only five khandhas which 

arise and fall away. We also cling to rpas outside ourselves and 

consider them as things which last. Don't we cling to our possessions, 

to our house and all the things in it? We may be stingy, we may not be 

inclined to give things away. We should remember that what we take for 

our possessions are only rpa-kkhandha which arises and falls away.

There is not necessarily wrong view every time we cling to the 

khandhas. We may just be attached to our body without there being 

wrong view about it. We can cling to the khandhas with conceit. When 

we have conceit and compare our body or our mental qualities with 

those of someone else there cannot be wrong view at the same time. 

Conceit and wrong view cannot arise together. We learn from the 

Abhidhamma that there are eight different types of lobha-mla-cittas, 

cittas which are rooted in attachment, of which four are accompanied 

by wrong view, dihi, and four unaccompanied by wrong view. When one 

has studied the Dhamma and acquired intellectual understanding about 

the nature of not self of realities it does not mean that one has 

realized the truth of not self. We have accumulated so much ignorance 

about realities and the latent tendency of wrong view has not been 

eradicated. Only the sotpanna who has developed understanding to the 

degree that enlightenment could be realized has eradicated the latent 

tendency to wrong view. Pa, right understanding, must be developed 

in order to realize nma and rpa as impermanent and not self.

You wrote to me that when you have wrong view it can be recognized as 

such. It is not easy to know exactly when there is clinging with wrong 

view and when without wrong view. Only when pa is keener it can 

know the different characteristics of realities more clearly.

We are so used to thinking that we see people, houses and trees. Do we 

really study with awareness seeing which appears now or visible object 

which appears now? Do we study again and again the realities which 

appear one at a time? Only in that way can we find out that no person 

can appear through the eyes but only visible object, that which is 

visible. We prefer to think about people and things, we prefer to live 

in the world of our thoughts instead of studying realities such as 

seeing or visible object. We have accumulated the tendency to be 

absorbed in our thoughts about people and things, and thus it is 

natural that we are inclined to thinking about those things which are 

not real, which are only concepts or ideas. It is not self who thinks, 

but a type of nma which arises because of its own conditions. We 

should not try to push away our thinking but we can begin to notice 

the difference between the moments we are absorbed in our thoughts and 

the moments of being aware of one reality at a time, such as visible 

object or seeing. In this way we can learn the difference between 

concepts or ideas and realities. Only when we know the difference we 

can gradually learn how to study realities with awareness and in this 

way there can be more understanding of them.

You have asked me what it means to take something for "self", for 

"att ".

Att or self implies something which stays. Where is the self, does it 

have a characteristic which can be directly experienced? Is the body 

the self? The body consists of rpas which arise and then fall away 

immediately. Is feeling self? Feelings change all the time, they can 

be happy, unhappy or indifferent. Is thinking self? Thinking changes 

all the time, thus, how could you identify yourself with thinking? 

When we learn to be aware of the phenomena which appear through the 

six doors we will lose interest in things which cannot be directly 

experienced but which are only objects of speculation.

Even though we may not expressively think, "It is I" , we are likely 

to be confused about realities. So long as right understanding has not 

been developed we join different realities together into a "mass", a 

"whole". For example, we do not distinguish the characteristic of 

sound from the characteristic of hearing, and thus our knowledge of 

them is still vague. We do not distinguish hearing from thinking about 

what we heard, or from like and dislike. When understanding has not 

been developed yet we are also confused as to the different doorways 

through which objects are experienced. For example, hearing 

experiences sound through the ear-door and thinking about what was 

heard experiences its object through the mind-door. 

You asked me what the difference is between seeing a rose and seeing 

its colour. 

There is seeing time and again but there is no right understanding of 

it. We do not realize the characteristics of phenomena as they appear 

one at a time through the different doorways. The nma which sees only 

experiences visible object or colour through the eye-door. When we 

recognize an object such as a rose there is not seeing. The object is 

not colour but a concept or idea we form up by thinking. The thinking 

of the concept "rose" is conditioned by seeing but seeing and thinking 

arise at different moments. There is the experience of colour and 

there is thinking of the concept rose, and then colour impinges again 

on the eye-door and there is seeing again. How fast cittas change, how 

fast objects change! In which world do we mostly live? Do we know the 

six worlds appearing through the six doors or do we live only in the 

world of conventional truth? Is it wisdom to know only one world? 

Should we not know the worlds appearing through the six doors by being 

aware of different characteristics? In that way the self can gradually 

be broken up into elements until there is nothing left of it. 

We will keep on clinging to the "whole" of the five khandhas, to body 

and mental phenomena so long as we have not realized that they are 

only elements which do not stay. We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, 

Khandh-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Elements, Middle Fifty, Chapter 5,  

102, Impermanence) that the Buddha said to the monks at Svatth:

 

The perceiving of impermanence, monks, if practised and enlarged, 

wears out all sensual lust, all lust of rebirth, all ignorance, it 

wears out, tears out all conceit of "I am".

Just as, monks, in the autumn season a ploughman with a great 

ploughshare, cuts through the spreading roots as he ploughs; even so, 

monks, the perceiving of impermanence, if practised and enlarged, 

wears out all sensual lust, wears out all lust for body, all lust for 

rebirth, wears out all ignorance, wears out, tears out all conceit of 

"I am".

 

The Buddha uses several similes in order to explain that the 

perception of impermanence wears out all clinging, ignorance and 

conceit. Further on we read:

 

Just as, monks, in the autumn season, when the sky is opened up and 

cleared of clouds, the sun, leaping up into the firmament, drives away 

all darkness from the heavens, and shines and burns and flashes forth; 

even so, monks, the perceiving of impermanence, if practised and 

enlarged, wears out all sensual lust, wears out all lust for body, all 

desire for rebirth, all ignorance, wears out, tears out all conceit of 

"I am".

And in what way, monks, does it so wear them out?

It is by seeing: "Such is body; such is the arising of body; such is 

the ceasing of body. Such is feeling, remembrance, the activities 

(sakhra-kkhandha), such is consciousness, its arising and its 

ceasing."

Even thus practised and enlarged, monks, does the perceiving of 

impermanence wear out all sensual lust, all lust for body, all desire 

for rebirth, all ignorance, wears out, tears out all conceit of "I am".

 

When one begins to develop right understanding of nma and rpa there 

cannot yet be the direct realization of their arising and falling 

away. First their different characteristics have to be clearly known, 

nma has to be known as nma, different from rpa, and rpa has to be 

known as rpa, different from nma. Understanding develops stage by 

stage and it is at a later stage that the arising and falling away of 

the reality which appears can be directly known. However, even the 

sotpanna who has realized nma and rpa as they are, as not self, has 

not eradicated all clinging and ignorance. Only the arahat has 

eradicated all kinds of clinging, all ignorance and conceit. When we 

read this sutta we can be reminded to begin to study with awareness 

the nma and rpa which appear now. Since it is a long way to realize 

their impermanence we should not delay the development of 

understanding of them. 

You were wondering how there can be different characters of people, a 

"personality", if there is no self. There are accumulations, 

tendencies which are accumulated in the citta. Cittas arise and fall 

away but the citta which falls away conditions the next citta and that 

is why accumulations can be "carried on" from one citta to the next 

one. That is why we can notice that people have different 

inclinations, that they behave in different ways. Our behaviour is 

conditioned, it is not self. We cling to our personality, to the image 

we have of ourselves. We want to be good, we cling to our good deeds. 

We have not realized that there is no self, no matter kusala citta or 

akusala citta arises. We do not possess kusala, it cannot stay. It 

only arises for a moment and then akusala citta is bound to arise. 

Because of our ignorance we do not even notice when there is kusala 

citta and when akusala citta. For example, when we give something away 

with generosity there are kusala cittas which can be accompanied by 

pleasant feeling. Very shortly afterwards akusala cittas with 

attachment may arise and these can also be accompanied by pleasant 

feeling. We may, for instance, think," I did this very well; I have 

really achieved something; I did this." If there is no awareness we do 

not know the different moments of citta and the different moments of 

feeling. It seems that there is only one kind of feeling, pleasant 

feeling, which lasts, and it seems that it is kusala all the time. 

Thus we take for wholesome what is unwholesome. It is essential to 

have right understanding of kusala and akusala, otherwise kusala 

cannot be developed. 

You wrote that you can be aware of more than one reality at a time. 

This is not possible. Each citta can have only one object at a time 

and thus also the citta with awareness can have only one object at a 

time. One may take for awareness what is only thinking. For example, 

one may have an idea of oneself seeing and hearing at the same time. 

Then there is thinking of a concept, of a "whole" of different 

phenomena which are joined together. If there can be awareness of 

different characteristics of realities which present themselves one at 

a time one will find out that awareness can be aware of only one 

object at a time. It is unpredictable which reality will present 

itself at which moment. It can be softness or hardness which impinges 

on the bodysense, it can be sound, visible object or another reality. 

So long as we do not distinguish between different realities which 

arise closely one after the other we will keep on thinking that 

realities last. For example, cittas with attachment may arise and then 

there may be thinking of the attachment. We may think with aversion 

about the attachment which arose a moment ago. If there can be 

awareness of different characteristics it can be known that attachment 

is one kind of reality and thinking with aversion another kind of 

reality. They arise because of their own conditions, they are beyond 

control, not self.

You asked me whether awareness of sound means recognizing sound as 

sound.

Who is recognizing sound as sound? Is there an idea of self who 

recognizes sound as sound? When two people say that they recognize 

sound as sound one person may have right understanding and the other 

person may not. We may understand in theory that sati is not self but 

we may still cling to an idea of "my sati". When one has desire for 

sati and one wants to create conditions for its arising one has not 

understood that sati is not self, that it arises because of its own 

conditions. One may imagine what sati should be like but instead of 

speculation about it one should keep in mind that the realities which 

appear and thus also sati and pa are only conditioned phenomena 

which are beyond control. Beyond control means that they are not self. 

Our goal should not be to have many moments of sati but to develop 

right understanding of the nma and rpa which appear now. Sound 

appears time and again. Right understanding of sound can be developed 

when it appears and we do not need to think about sati. One may say 

that one recognizes sound as sound but one may not realize it as a 

kind of rpa which appears through the earsense. One may name it 

"rpa," but naming a reality is not the same as directly knowing its 

characteristic when it appears. In the beginning there cannot be a 

precise knowledge of nma and rpa but we should remember that it can 

be developed only when there is study with awareness of the nma or 

rpa presenting itself now.

You said that you can experience "something" of impermanence, 

"fluctuations" of phenomena. Then there is only thinking about an idea 

one has of impermanence. The arising and falling away of one nma or 

rpa at a time can, as I said, only be realized later on. It cannot be 

realized so long as one is still confused about the difference between 

nma and rpa.

We live most of the time in the world of conventional truth, and there 

is much ignorance about the world of absolute truth, the world of 

paramattha dhammas. In your letter you give an example of young people 

who are displeased with situations in their countries and who commit 

acts of violence (dosa) in order to show that they are discontented. 

Their accumulated violence is the real cause that they commit these 

acts, and the situations they are displeased with are only 

opportunities for their accumulated dosa to appear. Dosa will always 

arise so long as it has not been eradicated.

In our daily life there are many moments of aversion, dosa. We may 

wake up with a slightly unpleasant feeling. At first we do not realize 

that there is dosa, but then we may remember an unpleasant event, for 

example, unkind words someone may have spoken to us the day before. Or 

we may worry about a difficult situation we will have to face that 

day. These circumstances are not the real cause of our dosa. The 

outward circumstances, the people we meet change, but there is still 

our accumulated dosa and it will come out, always finding an object. 

There will always be reasons for dosa so long as it has not been 

eradicated yet. The person who has attained the third stage of 

enlightenment, the angm, has eradicated dosa. The way leading to 

the eradication of defilements is the development of right 

understanding of them when they appear. There is no other way.

How can we realize that dosa is a conditioned nma? Not by thinking 

about the dosa which has fallen away already, or about the events 

which conditioned its arising, but by being aware of it when it 

appears at the present moment. Only if there is mindfulness of 

phenomena as they appear through the six doors will we gradually 

realize that they are conditioned realities, not self. If there is 

awareness only of phenomena appearing through the eye-door or through 

the ear-door, it is not enough. There is not only visible object or 

sound, but also seeing, hearing, attachment, lobha, aversion, dosa, 

and other realities. 

There can also be awareness of the different kinds of feelings which 

arise. Our feelings change all the time. There are feelings arising on 

account of what is seen, heard, smelt, tasted, of what is experienced 

through the body-sense and of what is thought. At each moment of citta 

the condition for the accompanying feeling changes and thus feelings 

change all the time. It does not appear to us this way when we cling 

to the feeling which has fallen away already. It exists no more but we 

keep on pondering over it. If we cling to feelings of the past, we 

live more in the world of illusions than in the world of realities, of 

paramattha dhammas.

In the Visuddhimagga (XX, 96) nma and rpa which arise and fall away 

are compared to the sound of a lute which arises because of conditions 

and falls away again. The text states: 

 

`...But just as there is no store, prior to its arising, of the sound 

that arises when a lute is played, nor does it come from any store 

when it arises, nor does it go in any direction when it ceases, nor 

does it persist as a store when it has ceased, but on the contrary, 

not having been, it is brought into being owing to the lute, the 

lute's neck, and the man's appropriate effort, and having been, it 

vanishes-so too all material and immaterial states, not having been, 

are brought into being, having been they vanish.'

 

It is beneficial to be reminded that the nmas and rpas which appear 

in our daily life arise because of conditions and then fall away. If 

we consider this thoroughly there will be less inclination to keep on 

thinking about what is past already. In this way there will be less 

forgetfulness of what appears now. You don't have to do anything 

special to be aware, there are objects impinging on the six doors time 

and again. When you touch water which is too hot heat presents itself. 

You may think, "This water is too hot", and then there is thinking. 

Hot water is a concept we think of, but heat is a reality, a rpa, 

which impinges on the bodysense, it can be directly experienced. The 

rpa which is heat, the nma which experiences heat or the painful 

feeling can appear again and again, in between the thinking. These are 

all different phenomena which do not stay, which are not self. There 

is no person who has painful feeling, there is a nma which feels. 

Painful feeling arises because of its own conditions. When there are 

not the right conditions for it it cannot arise.

When we hear harsh words there are conditions for unpleasant feeling, 

but there can also be moments of awareness in between. Besides 

unpleasant feeling there are sound, hearing and other realities 

appearing. In this way we can realize that unpleasant feeling is only 

one phenomenon among many other realities which each arise because of 

their own conditions. Whereas if we are not mindful we think that 

there is only "my unpleasant feeling" which seems to last. We may 

believe that this particular person, this place and this situation are 

the causes of our unhappiness. However, these are not the real causes. 

The real cause is our accumulated dosa.

When we are aware of nma and rpa there is less enslavement to the 

objects we experience. When there is awareness of visible object which 

appears through the eyes there is no enslavement to visible object. 

When there is awareness of sound which appears through the ears there 

is no enslavement to sound, and it is the same with regard to the 

objects which present themselves through the other doorways. Wisdom 

can make us free, but we should not expect results within a short 

time. Do you remember the sutta about the handle of the knife which 

wears out very slowly, in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandh-vagga, 

Middle Fifty, Adze-handle)? The Buddha speaks about the handle of a 

knife which one holds each day. It gradually wears away, but one 

cannot notice how much is worn out each day. We cannot control the 

frequency of awareness, since it is anatt, not self, arising because 

of its own conditions. However, even a few moments of awareness in 

between lobha, dosa and moha is very beneficial. One begins to develop 

the Path which will surely lead to freedom. We read about the 

condition for freedom from defilements in the Kindred Sayings (IV, 

Sayatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Third Fifty, Chapter III; 

 124). We read about a conversation the housefather Ugga had with the 

Buddha:

 

`Pray, lord, what is the condition, what is the cause whereby in this 

world some beings are not wholly set free in this very life, while 

other beings are wholly set free?'

`There are, housefather, objects cognizable by the eye. sounds 

cognizable by the earscentssavourstangibles cognizable by the 

body...mind-states cognizable by the mindIf he has grasping for them, 

housefather, a monk is not wholly set free. That, housefather, is the 

condition, that is the cause whereby in this world some beings are not 

wholly set free in this very life.

Likewise, housefather, there are objects cognizable by the eyeIf he 

has no grasping for them a monk is wholly set free. That, housefather, 

is the condition, that is the cause whereby in this very life some 

beings are not wholly set free, while other beings are wholly set 

free.'

 

When there is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or 

thinking, are we free? Don't you find that at the moment of 

mindfulness of one object at a time there is a beginning of freedom? 

There is less enslavement to objects and one is on the way leading to 

the eradication of the wrong view of self, of "personality belief". 

There is no other way but the development of understanding of the 

realities which present themselves through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, 

bodysense and mind-door.

 

 

 

With mett,

 

 

 

Nina van Gorkom