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80682Reply to your letter on terminology vs practice

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  • pannabahulo
    Jan 1, 2008
      Dear 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
      oneself off
      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
      to be

      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
      practice if
      '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
      at all".

      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
      satipatthana. If
      there is an 'emphasis' on any dhamma(s) with an idea of observation
      or of
      going somewhere to practice meditation, for me, this already has
      taken the
      practice, the understanding, away from the present moment, the present
      dhamma appearing".

      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
      as saying:

      "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
      the mind."

      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
      silent, but
      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,

      Pannabahulo Bhikkhu.
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