80682Reply to your letter on terminology vs practice
- Jan 1, 2008Dear Sarah,
I have now had the opportunity to read and re-read your lengthy reply
to my letter. As I have already said, I am very thankful for
the time and effort that you put into your replies.
However, some points you raise cause me to be concerned as to exactly
where you are coming from with some of the views you hold. No, I
don't want to know the answer to that but merely draw your attention
to the things that you may wish to consider.
Firstly, the assertion you make that:
"By stressing jhana and meditation and thinking one has to cut
from daily life, I believe people go very wrong, miss the point of the
Buddha's teachings and often end up in serious trouble. So I try to
by stressing seeing and visible object now, hearing and sound now,
thinking now......all so anatta"
Personally, I know nothing about Jhana. However the Lord Buddha did.
It is also significant that, at his parinibbana, he ran up and down
the jhanas and entered Nibbana from the fourth. (I use `he' here in
the conventional sense).
Further, have you ever questioned why the Buddha founded the order of
monks and nuns? He said that the `Life of the householder is crowded
and dusty, but the way of the monk is wide open'. Why would he have
said that if he didn't see that cutting oneself off from ordinary
daily was extremely beneficial? Further, he gives a list of topics
that one who is intent on enlightenment should not waste time
discussing; those subjects are mainly the concerns of the house-
holders daily life.
In addition, the Buddha repeatedly talks about the happiness of the
holy life over that of the happiness of the householder; this
happiness mainly relates to the attainment of jhanas.
Again you write:
"You refer to vipassana insight. There can never be any vipassana
while we have the idea of excluding certain states of mind (i.e lobha,
dosa, moha )or have the idea of any selection or predominant dhammas
I think you miss the point here. Clearly, if the mind is filled with
defilement then it lacks the purity to see clearly; it's like looking
at reality through a fog or a distorted lens. The use of jhana in
vipassana is precisely to cure that problem. The Buddha even says
that one must exert physical force, if necessary, to overcome these
unwholesome states of mind: He even talks about forcibly pressing the
tongue against the roof of the mouth when strong defilements arise.
Immediately before his enlightenment he also had to deal with
defilements as characterised by eg. the attempted seduction by the
daughters of Mara (Raga/lobha) and the hurling of fire at him
(dosa /aversion). And the main point given for practicing the Bhrama
Viharas is to overcome the defilements for which they are an antidote.
Again, using my quote from Sayadaw U Tejinda's interview you argue:
S: Comment 3
"I don't believe the Buddha ever taught that there can only be
'the mind and body is completely relaxed'. In the Satipatthana Sutta
made clear than there can be/should be awareness at any time of any
Yes of course; and the Venerable Sayadaw would completely agree. But
the whole point is being relaxed so as not to force, or try to create
anything; it is to avoid lobha driven practice. The interview is a
very short snapshot of his teaching and does not do justice to his
insight or his gift as a teacher. I merely threw in the magazine
article as a taster; to give DSG members a better understanding of
what I had been doing in Myanamar.
The other thing you must bear in mind is that he is teaching vast
numbers of people who have practiced meditation systems for may
years: i.e. Mahasi Sayadaw and Goenka Ji. In those kind of retreats
meditators are bound by very strict timetables and course
regulations; tremendous effort is required to keep pace with those
Again you go on to say:
"This is where we already differ in our understanding of
there is an 'emphasis' on any dhamma(s) with an idea of observation
going somewhere to practice meditation, for me, this already has
practice, the understanding, away from the present moment, the present
Firstly, there is no `idea' of observation one simply observes. If
there is an idea of observation then one simply observes that.
Secondly, retreat practice provides a supportive atmosphere - with
teacher guidance - for learning to penetrate reality in more subtle
ways. A retreat is a place of for learning and training. The
supportive conditions are such that we have the time, space and
freedom to just be aware of the mind/body processes. In the
interview, Sayadaw U Tejiniya makes a similar point when he says:
" People have the wrong perspective with regard to objective. The
objective of a retreat should be to learn how to use the mind in a
way that we can continue to use it back at home and at the workplace.
Retreat is like going to school. Can you be in school all your life?"
From my letter - when I speak about Sayadaw U Tejiniya - you quote me
"He instructs meditators not to label that obscures detail and tires
the meditator. He tells yogis to switch to anapana-sati or
contemplation of vedana when strong mind states and emotions disturb
the mind. When the mind is calm he tells us to return to observing
And then you go on to say:
"As before. Why? To me, it suggests a lack of understanding of
realities. The most important thing is to understand them as anatta,
impossible to be controlled or selected".
Sayadaw U Tejiniya is one of the wisest and intelligent teachers I
have ever met. He is also one of the most spiritually developed. His
emphasis on Anatta is the foundation of the whole practice. And it
was because of that that I was able to face up to, and deal with, the
terrible depression I previously suffered from.
You also state:
"The firm understanding of anatta and elements only develops from
condidering (Sic. I assume you meant `considering') the subtle
teachings deeper and deeper".
No Sarah. Not just by consideration (Cinta maya panna) but by direct
observation and experience (Bhavana maya panna). And here lies the
crucial difference between our points of view.
Jonathan is absolutely spot on when he says:
"As I said earlier, I think we are all agreed that the only useful
purpose of study is to help understand about the development of
As you say, the real question is how the teachings are to be applied.
This could be a useful topic for further discussion".
There is no one way that is the correct way of practice; if there
were the Buddha would have taught one thing and one thing only. He
said that we must work out our own salvation for ourselves. He gave
us so many guidelines to work with. We learn from the Suttas how
different things worked for different people. And Sayadaw U Tejiniya
was always stressing to me the need for using my own intelligence to
deal with difficult mind states. In the much mentioned interview the
Sayadaw is asked about this very point. His answer follows:
" .different things work for different people. What would indicate
we're practicing in the right way? When there is awareness,
mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom; when we feel light, alert,
and awake. Over time, you find you're discovering that awareness
becomes more firmly established and that the mind becomes steadier.
You understand things you didn't before. If, however, you're getting
tired, agitated, or depressed, you are practicing the wrong way. You
always need to check the quality of mind; only if the quality is good
are you practicing in the right way. This is how the quality of
practice should be measured; not by posture or by the number of hours
of sitting, walking, or standing meditation you do".
My point to you was that the Group discussions on CD and the ones I
attended in Bagkok were not group discussions. You have explained
that the CDs were edited and doctored so it is difficult to know what
happened in India.
My own feelings are that group discussions should be for the benefit
of all group members. You say to me (and I underline the relevant
I don't think it's in the least useful to give an analysis or long
like this about why one has asked particular questions or kept
it's clearly bothered you. Again, I think the emphasis should be on
understanding present dhammas now. What's appearing now? Seeing?
object? Thinking? Confusion? Conceit? Any dhamma can be known instead
being too concerned about why others ask particular questions
And, in a more direct statement, to me, using Ajan Sujin's words you
"I like her reminder that we should all 'mind our own cittas', rather
than being concerned with the others'!"
My reply to these remarks is that a group discussin should be just
that. But, if you arrive with a pre-set agenda which you are
detemined to get through at whatever cost, that requires a different
forum. Maybe you could arrange for a private question and answer
session with Ajan Sujin.
What I do know is that last time you were in Bangkok other people did
raise questions about actually using the Abhidhamma; but when they
paused to consider Ajan's reply or to reflect on what had been said,
you were straight in there asking for yet another terminological
clarification and the thread of what others were saying was lost.
It seems that you are incredibly attached to one viewpoint and you
believe your perspective is the only correct one. That attachment is
itself a sign of atta.
Over the last year I have learnt a lot and my viewpoint has changed a
great deal; it is still changing. This is Dhamma working. I am only
concerned that making the trip to Bangkok will be worthwhile and
allow me, and other members of the group, to have the wonderful
opportunity to learn what we may need to know from Ajan and each
other. I would like to hear what other member's experiences are and
to share different viewpoints together. I hope you will consider this
Sarah, please remember that attachment to views is also a source of
suffering. May you come out of your suffering too.
With my very best wishes and blessings,
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