The Meaning of Anatta - The four gates

Questioner: There are four Applications of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the body, of feeling, of citta and of dhammas. The commentator compares these four subjects with four gateways of a city, one of which faces east, one west, one north and one south. People can go to the centre of the city by anyone of these four gates. Many teachers today say that just as one can use anyone of the gates to enter the city, it is sufficient to cultivate only one of the Four Applications of Mindfulness; one does not need all four. Only mindfulness of the body would be sufficient. Can one then in this way reach nibbana?
Sujin: The development of panna is very subtle. It is not so that anyone who reads the Commentary can practise. Where is the gate? If people do not know where the gates are, through which gate can they enter?
Questioner: The gates are: body, feeling, citta and dhammas. Sujin: What do you know through the bodysense? One should really consider all realities in detail, no matter whether they are classified as khandhas, ayatanas, dhatus (elements) or the noble Truths. They are not beings, people or self. Conditioned realities appearing in daily life are either nama, the reality that experiences something, or rupa, the reality that does not know anything. We may understand this in theory, but that is not the direct realization of the characteristic of non-self of nama and rupa. As far as the level of theoretical understanding is concerned, which stems from listening to the Dhamma, one may have no doubt that rupa is real, that the rupa that arises and appears through the eyes are only different colours. One may have no doubt that sound is the rupa which appears through the ears, odour the rupa which appears through the nose, flavour the rupa which appears through the tongue, and so on. People may have no doubt that nama is real, that it arises and experiences different objects, they can have theoretical understanding of this. However, if there is no awareness of the characteristic of nama, how can there be panna that directly understands nama as the reality which experiences an object, as the element, the nature that knows? Can the development of only awareness of the body be the condition to realize the characteristic of nama?
The person who develops panna should be aware of the characteristic of nama while he is seeing. He can investigate and study that characteristic so that it can be realized as only a kind of experience. When there is hearing, there can be awareness of it and it can be understood as a reality which experiences sound. When someone develops satipatthana he should study and investigate time and again the characteristic of the nama which experiences an object through one of the six doorways, so that he can understand nama as it really is. When panna realizes that there are namas which are not yet known, it will also study and investigate these, and in this way the characteristic of nama can clearly appear as only an element which experiences, only a reality, not a being, person or self.
Someone may make an effort to be aware just of the characteristic of the nama that hears and he is not aware of the nama that sees. How can he then understand the true characteristic of the element that experiences while he is seeing? People can verify themselves that this is not the right way of development.
Panna can develop by awareness that considers and studies the characteristics of the namas experiencing an object through the senses and through the mind-door. If panna clearly understands all kinds of nama that appear, if it understands these as the element which experiences an object, doubt about nama can gradually be eliminated. Panna can become keener and more accomplished as it develops in successive stages. However, if someone intends to know only one kind of nama it is evident that there is still ignorance and doubt with regard to the characteristics of the other kinds of nama he was not aware of. And thus, ignorance and doubt with regard to nama as the element which experiences cannot be eliminated.

Topic 200