The Characteristic of Dukkha - Forest-gone vs meditation centre

Questioner: When there is sati it seems that only dukkha appears, but I cannot separate nama and rupa when I experience objects through the senses and through the mind-door. I just have theoretical knowledge of different realities that appear one at a time through the different doorways. I went to a meditation centre to gain more knowledge about the practice, but I did not study a great deal, I just practised. 

Sujin: Are you satisfied with your understanding or not yet?

Questioner: I am still studying, thus, I cannot say that I am satisfied.

Sujin: You said that you went to a meditation centre in order to study and practise. However, when you went there you did not gain much understanding of realities. Is it then of any use to go there?

Questioner: It is useful. When we are at home usually many akusala cittas arise. If we go to the meditation centre we meet the right friend in Dhamma and we are in a quiet, peaceful place. Thus, there are conditions for the arising of many kusala cittas. I think that the meditation centre is useful.

Sujin: There are four factors necessary to attain the stage of the sotapanna: meeting the right friend in Dhamma, hearing the Dhamma from that person, considering the Dhamma one heard with wise attention and the practice in conformity with the Dhamma. These factors are not related to a particular place where one should stay. We can compare the place where the Buddha stayed with the meditation centre at the present time. As to the place where the Buddha and the monks stayed in the past, they led their daily life, making their rounds to collect almsfood, discussing the Dhamma, and performing their different duties in accordance with the Vinaya. The Buddha exhorted people there to perform all kinds of wholesome deeds. Do people in the present time who go to a meditation centre practise in the same way as the Buddha’s followers in the past or do they practise differently? If the cause, that is, the practice, is different, how could the result be the same? For example, Anathapindika, a lay follower at the Buddha’s time who had the Great Monastery (Maha-vihara) of the Jeta Grove constructed, did not have the wrong understanding that one could become enlightened only at that particular place. Layfollowers at that time attained enlightenment each in different places, depending on their daily lives.

We read in the “Gradual Sayings” (III, Book of the Fives, Ch XIX, §1, Forest- gone) that the Buddha said to the monks: 


Monks, these five are forest-gone. What five?

One is forest-gone out of folly and blindness;

one out of evil desires and longings;

one foolish and mind-tossed;

one at the thought: ”It is praised by Buddhas and their disciples”;

and one is forest-gone just because his wants are little,

just for contentment, just to mark (his own faults),

just for seclusion, just because it is the very thing.

Verily, monks, of these five who have gone to the forest,

he who has gone just because his wants are little,

for contentment, to mark (his own faults), for seclusion,

just because it is the very thing–

he of the five is topmost, best, foremost, highest, elect.

Monks, just as from the cow comes milk,

from milk cream, from cream butter, from butter ghee,

from ghee the skim of ghee which is reckoned topmost;

even so, monks, of these five forest-gone,

he who has gone just because his wants are little,

for contentment, to mark (his own faults), for seclusion,

and just because it is the very thing–

he of the five is topmost, best, foremost, highest, elect.

Why were some monks dwelling in the forest out of folly and blindness? Some people think that once they are in the forest they will be able to realize the four noble Truths. Are those who think thus not forest dwellers out of folly and blindness? If a person has right understanding of which cause brings which effect, he will see that no way of life was more excellent than the life of the monk who had left the householder’s life in order to go to the place where the Buddha dwelt. This is altogether different from someone’s life in a meditation centre where he goes just for a short period, out of desire to attain enlightenment. Some people believe that staying in a centre for the practice of vipassana, although it is not in conformity with their nature, will be the condition to realize the noble Truths. If that were true then laypeople who practise vipassana in a meditation centre should deserve more praise than the monks in the Buddha’s time who were leading their ordinary daily life in accordance with the rules of the Vinaya, such as going on their alms rounds, listening to the Dhamma and discussing it, and performing the different duties of the Sangha.

Topic 199