Letters to Susan Elbaum Jootla by Nina Van Gorkom

Part1 Dear Susan June 1988
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I prepared a package of books and some Dhamma letters I wrote to different people and am sending these by separate post.

You are no strangers to me since I read Susan’s book Investigation for Insight

I took up the book again in order to get to know more, before I answer your questions, I do not know where to begin. Maybe I tell you first about what I have been doing.

We were with a group of Dhamma friends several times in India. Our friend in Dhamma, khun sujin, a Thai lady was always with us. We vsisted the holy places and talked about Dhamma. About visible object, sound, odor, flavor, tangible object, about seeing, hearing, tasting and teh experiences of tangible object, about thinking. About all realities in daily life. About the defielments which which arise on account of the objects, much more often than one would think. We talked about sense door and mind-door, about teh difference between nama and rupa, which has to be known not in theroy but through direct experience. But you realise it should be known through direct experience as I get from your book. you also know that Dhamma vicaya, investigation of Dhamma, is very necessary. That we need to listen again and again, consider again and again. Then it sinks in, it is never lost but accumulated. And thus slowly slowly conditions are being built up for the arising of the eightfold path, one day. But we do not know when. As you write in the begiining of your book

Insight is often conceived as a magical experience suddenly just happening and instantly making all things clear. But, by and large, insight develops slowly and gradually through the careful process of observation, investigation and anaylsis of phenomena that lies behind their apparent, conventional truth is distinctly and indubitably perceived.

We always talk a lot about conventional truth , samuttio sacca, and absolute truth, paramattha sacca. As soon as there has been seeing we are absorbed in shape and form, stories about what ws seen. But also thinking about conventioanl truth, and attachment are realities which have to be known. Otherwise no hope that they can ever be eradicated. Khun sujin says that she is not our teacher, she is our good friend in Dhamma. She would not say follow me. She wants us to check ourselves whther what she explains is according to the triuth. Not the person , the teacher is important, it is Dhamma that counts.

We may think we know nama and rupa already , through direct understanding, we believe that there is no thinking. then when we listen againa we find out that maybe there was some wuick thinking in between, not yet developed panna whcih directly understands. Tanha is most tricky, it takes many forms we may not notice it all, it misleads us all teh time. It seems to me the development must go like this: we think we hve realized something, and then we learen no, it is not like that, it is not what we imagined. The warning in the Visuddhimagga about Imperfections of Insight impresses me very much *vis XX105 Even someone who realises the stages of tender insight (taruna vipassana)whcih are relaisation through direct experience the difference between nama and rupa, realising the conditions for their arising, and ‘comprehension by groups’, which begins to attend to rise and fall , someonehwo has realised all that can stilll be lured by clinging. I asked Khun sujin what do to. She said go on being aware of nama asnd rupa., then all can be found out. It seems very reasonably to me that no one shoudl flee from tanha or supress it, but realize it as a kind of nama. How otherwise would we know that it is there and playing tricks with us

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Letter to Susan Jootla part II
I find it very logical that we should consider what has to be known first; we cannot jump to the realisation of the arising and falling away of nama and rupa so long as we are not sure when seeing appears to the sati and when visible object, when hearing, when sound, when the tangible objects such as heat, cold, hardness or softness, and when the nama which experiences these rupas. Indeed, it is difficult to discern precisely nama and rupa. It is all in a confusing mass, but it is good to know what we do not know. Sati which arises with kusala citta can only have one object: either a nama or rupa. If we are not sure, what falls away at which moment? A “whole” of namas and rupas? From your book, from what I read, I think you know that so long as we think of a whole body, or a conglomeration of nama and rupa together, there is no right view, but wrong view of self.

Khun Sujin explained that when there is the first vipassana nana, discerning nama and rupa, it arises in amind door process. It is clear that this is so. Processess of citta go so fast, there is seeing there is hearing, but in-between there are mind door processes. Because seeing experiences vsisble object, and after the eye-door process is over, there is is a mind-door process of cittas which experience the rupa which is visble object. Thus must be before there can be hearing which experiences sound, and then is experienced in a mind-door process. There are also mind-door processes of cittas which experience the concept of shape and form, or the meaning of sound, lots of stories about it.

We cannot catch processes of cittas, we cannot catch mind-door processes, but when it is time for direct understanding to arise, the difference between sense-door and mind-door is known, no more doubt.
Rupa can be experienced through sense-door and through mind-door and nama can be experienced through the mind -door. The first vipassana nana which clearly knows the difference between nama and rupa has to arise in a mind-door process, there have to be several of these processes since eitehr nama or rupa is the object of insight. Thus, when one one learns about such details, one learns what one does not know yet. Very useful.

I have heard it said that the stages of vipassana whcih are tender insight are just intellectual knowledge. This could not be because how can one realise the arising and falling away of nama and rupa if there is not clear, direct understanding by insight, thus, no doubt about nama and rupa. I think this idea may be the reason that in some books the stages of tender insight are not often sopken about. That is why the many books deal at once with the three characteristics of reality: impermanence, dukkha and anatta. However, I think one should start at the beginiing, different characteristics of nama and rupa have to be known as they appear (visesa lakkhana).
Nina Van Gorkom

Dear Susan Part111 Nina vana gorkom

After this rather long introduction I could now come to your remarks about insight which you ask me for my comments. This is a topic which often comes up in correspondence with different people. Since I sent my my letters also to others who are interested I will quote from your letter:

Susan Elbaum Jootla


We have been practising mindfulness of feelings, in the tradtion of U Ba Khin of Rangoon. The technique of meditation whcih we practise enable one to feel the changing kalapas of the body (groups of rupa). With this direct understanding and experience of anicca it is also possible for a meditator to appreciate with greater and greater conviction the dukkha and anatta nature of existence. I suppose that one could start mindfulness by observing any of the five khandhas and, as the mind becomes more concentrated, one would feel anicca in the body apart from merely intellectual understanding that the body is utterly impermanent. With sufficient concentartion this would have to happen becuase that is what the nature of the body, of kaya, is. But if one did not feel the anicca processes happening in mind and body, I wonder if it would be possible to remove kilesas from the anusaya level. Would you like to comemnt on this?Mindfulness, sati, must ultimately lead to total detachment from the five khandhas and from the world. If it does not not do this then it is not showing the four noble truths


Nina: I would like first to consider kalapas more. In how far can they be experienced. The practice has to be in accordance with the Abhidhamma which is the Buddhas’s teaching. Just this summer I discussed with Khun Sujin, while we were walking in the park in Vienna, kalapas. I said that I consider it a little miracle that visibel object or color , arises together with the inseparable rupas of solidity, fluidity, temperature and motion, and with odour falvour and nutritive essence in one group, kalapa, of the eight inseparable rupas, and when seeing arises, it takes as object just colour, only that one tiny rupa out of teh group of eight. The conditions are right for seeing when color impinges on eyesense, also a rupa which arises in a group of rupas. Seeing cannot experience the other rupas in the group, it can only epxerience color. It is the same with hearing and sound. Sound arises in a group pf rupas, but hearing can only experience one rupa of that group: sound, when it impinges on the earsense. It is all according to conditions, and knowing this helps us to cling less to self who can control seeing or hearing.
What can be experienced by body-conciousness through the body-sense? Solidity, appearing as hardness or softness, temperature, appearing as heat or cold, and motion appeaing as oscillation or pressure. These are characteristics of rupa which can appear, but only one at a time. Not a whoe group could be experienced at the same time, because each citta experiences only one object at atime. Heat may appear, but then not hardness appears at the same time, even though it is in the group togther with the heat.

Dear Susan Part 1V Nina van gorkom
Thus it is amazing that body-consciousness (kayavinnana) just experiences one tiny rupa out of a whole group. Body-consciousness is only vipakacitta, result of kamma, and it cannot stay. After that, when it would be the right time for sati, there could be kusala citta accompanied by sati and right understanding, and panna could take as object either the nama, the experience of heat, or the rupa which is heat. They have just fallen away but they can be object of sati. We do not have to think of kalapas, how could we try to follow them. Then there is still a picture of “kalapas of my body” or of the whole body, object of clinging. There are just characteristics appearing one at a time, and there can be understanding of them when they appear, no need to think. When heat appears, or hardness appears, these are characteristics which can be known. No need to think of falling away or of impermanence. First the difference between sense-door and mind-door should be known. Is that not enough? When time comes panna will know arising and falling away. I would like to quote what you write so well about anatta, beyond control. Because are we not inclined to forget that sati and panna are beyond control? I quote p 16.

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> Susan Elbaum Jootla
> We foolishly insist on calling the body and mind “mine” and we assume that they belong to “me”. But the very idea of possesion means that the owner has control of his property; so “I” should be able to keep my body and mind as I want them to be, naturally healthy and happy… We have come to the conclusion that that there is no “I” who controls this nama-rupa; mind and body are in now way fit to be called “mine”. “the arising of the five khandhas do not yield to teh wsihes of anyone” (Ledi Sayadaw). Phenomena which are dependent upon specific causes whcih operate strictly according to theri nature from moment to moment cannot be subject to control by any being and, as we explore it thoroughly, we come to understand how this five khandha phenomena whcih we wrongly tend to consider “I” is just such a conditioned and dependent process. And suffering(or pleasure for that matter) come about becuase of certain conditions, chief among them being tanha. There is no “being” who controls what ultimately happens to these five khandhas.

Nina: Thus the arising of sati and panna does not yield to the wishes of anyone. Phenomena, also sati and panna, which are dependent on specific causes which operate strictly according to their nature from moment to moment cannot be subject to control by any being. There may be a wish to control when one tries to follow groups of rupa, is there not a certain effort to hold onto them, trying to concentrate on them? Instead of just just being aware of whatever reality appears, be it rupa, be it name, be it kusala, be it akusala? Awareness is anatta, it can arise when there are conditions.In daily life. It has to be in daily life, how else can we come to know our defilements? It is necessary to know these too, otherwise we take them for my clinging, my conceit. There is so much deeprooted idea of self, a latent tendency, anusaya, so hard to uproot. Even when we do not expressively think “it is mine”, still, the wrongview has not being eradicated. We are still confused and cling to beings. Is it already so that “we can reduce ourselves into one moment of experiencing an object”, as Khun Sujin says? Just a moment of seeing now, a moment of hearing now? Is there clinging to what was seen, to an idea of person?
You mention the factor concentration. This cetasika arises with each citta, ekaggata cetasika, thus also with lobha. How can we distingiush concentration with maybe subtle lobha from kusala concentration? A very delicate matter. Clinging plays us tricks all the time. When there kusala citta with right understanding it is accompanied by wholesome ekagata cetasika, but if we try to have more of it, is that not clinging? The answer is no need to strive for concentration, trying to hold onto phenomena in concentrating on them. It is right understanding which matters. In the same way, no need to try to have many moments of sati, it is right understanding which matters.

Dear Susan Part V Nina van gorkom

As you write in your book, investigation of phenomena is most important. Considering the Dhamma, there can be some mindfulness now and then , in daily life. It has to be natural, we cannot control anything. There are conditions already present, we are in the position, as you also write, that we can still read the scriptures. No idea of starting with sati, starting with this or that khandha as object of mindfulness, that is again trying to control. Khun Sujin has such a direct way of pointing all these things out. One understands better: this is not the way, this is wrong. Is that not important? What attracts me to the Dhamma is that it is about very ordinary phenomena of daily life. One does not have to do anything special.

Alan Weller wrote "I very much like your article on the way to study Dhamma. While I was reading about different contacts there was a loud sound and immediately I had an unpleasant feeling and then the thinking about the car horn. But no clear comprehension yet. It was a very good reminder for me that the whole of the teachings are for one very short moment of studying a characteristic of reality which appears.

Reducing oneself into one moment of experiencing an object. This must lead to detachment from the self. You asked about the latent tendencies, and you speak about detachment from the khandhas and the world, from everything. I think you already know that latent tendencies are eradicated at different stages of enlightenment by the magga-citta. Only the sotappana has eradicated wrongview and doubt about realities. It is the arahant who eradicates all clinging to the khandhas, to any object. What matters now is knowing our kilesas as conditioned elements, not self, in being aware of them when they arise. We do not start with detachment from all objects. We read about people sitting in meditation and suppressing the hindrances, but how could they then realize them as they are? This is the aim of samadhi: subduing kilesas, but not vipassana. Don’t you want to know the different akusala cittas which arise? Our underlying motives which are not so beautiful, even when we believe we perform kusala? I want to know the truth about myself. No use to flee, or to hide anything. I do not want to be tricked. Total detachment: too far, too high for me now.

that is nice

However, when motion is described as the wind rupa, I think we can refer to this Wind Element as Motion Inferential? - #5 by bksubhuti