“A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas” is a masterwork, written by Acharn Sujin Boriharnwanaket with great patience and a sense of urgency to help others understand reality. The whole book, in which she explains with great detail citta (consciousness), cetasika (mental factors), and rūpa (physical phenomena), radiates abundant mettā, loving-kindness. Time and again it is stressed that theoretical understanding, only knowing realities by name, is not sufficient, although it can be a foundation for direct knowledge. The real purpose of the study of the Dhamma is seeing that this very moment is dhamma, non-self. All realities, dhammas, have to be known now, when they occur, so that the wrong view of self can be eradicated.
Acharn Sujin is a wise friend in the Dhamma who untiringly explains the practice leading to the direct experience of realities. She has been explaining the Dhamma for over forty years and her lectures are broadcasted daily all over Thailand; they can also be heard in Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. In recognition of her teaching, the venerable monks at Mahāmakut Buddhist University presented Acharn Sujin with an honorary degree in 2002. This book is based on her lectures.
The whole book points to the truth of anattā, non-self. The clinging to the concept of self is very subtle and intricate and therefore difficult to notice. We are inclined to cling to an idea of a self who develops paññā, understanding, but from the beginning we ought to remember that there is no self who can direct the arising of sati, awareness, and paññā. Sati and paññā are sobhana cetasikas (beautiful mental factors), which arise when the appropriate conditions are there, and then they perform their functions. Clinging to sati and paññā will be counteractive to their development. The right conditions for sati and paññā are listening to the Dhamma as it is explained by the right friend in the Dhamma, and wise consideration of it.
There are detailed explanations about cittas that arise in a process or series, with the purpose of showing that citta is only a conditioned element that is beyond control, and not self. The reader may wonder where in the scriptures he can find explanations about processes of citta. Acharn Sujin has a profound understanding of the whole Tipiṭaka, the Commentaries and sub-commentaries, and she used these texts as her sources. The “Path of Discrimination” (“Paṭisambhidāmagga” of the Khuddaka Nikāya) and the “Conditional Relations” (“Paṭṭhāna”) deal with the processes of cittas. Many details have been given in the “Visuddhimagga”, and the “Expositor” (“Aṭṭhasālinī”), which are entirely based on canonical tradition. Also, the “Manual of Abhidhamma” (“Abhidhammattha Saṅgaha”) and the sub-commentary, the “Abhidhammattha-vibhāvinī-ṭīka”, which are also derived from canonical tradition, deal with the processes of citta.
The reader may wonder why so many details have been given about the different planes of existence where there can be birth. In the scriptures, especially in the “Jātakas” we shall come across the names of these planes. Knowing about them helps us to see the intricacy of the causes that bring their appropriate results.
Many details about the development of samatha and the jhānacittas have been given with the purpose of pointing out that only the right cause can bring the right result. Samatha has to be developed with kusala citta accompanied by paññā and if that is not the case, there is wrong concentration with lobha, attachment, instead of right concentration. If someone sits and tries to concentrate without any understanding, there is wrong concentration. People may erroneously take for jhāna what is only lobha, and therefore, it is explained that many conditions are necessary for the attainment of jhāna and how difficult this is.
In the development of vipassanā, insight, paññā is developed in stages. The book explains about these different stages of insight knowledge in detail, in order to show that the development of paññā is an extremely long process. One may read the “Visuddhimagga” (Ch XVIII-XXI) or the “Path of Discrimination” (Treatise on Knowledge, Ch V-XI) about the stages of insight with wrong understanding. Or, one may erroneously believe that these stages are reached by thinking of nāma, mental phenomena, and rūpa, physical phenomena; by thinking of impermanence, dukkha and anattā. However, all stages, from the first stage on until enlightenment, are realized by direct understanding of nāma and rūpa. No matter what stage paññā has reached, the objects of paññā are the characteristics of nāma and rūpa as they naturally appear at this very moment. Acharn Sujin stresses this many times, because the practice of the Dhamma should be entirely in conformity with the Tipiṭaka.
With my deepest appreciation of Acharn Sujin’s inspiring guidance, I offer the translation of this book to the English speaking reader.
The part of this book on Concepts has been printed separately under the sponsorship of Robert Kirkpatrick, whose efforts I greatly appreciate.
I have divided the sections of this book into chapters, each with its own heading, in order to make the text more easily accessible. The footnotes to the text are, for the greater part, from my hand. I added them to help the reader who is not familiar with some terms and ideas in the text.
The last section of this book, the appendices to citta, cetasika and rūpa, written by Acharn Sujin, are essential for the understanding of all chapters.
The quotations from the suttas in English are mostly taken from the editions of the Pali Text Society.
May this book, fundamental for all who study the Dhamma, inspire the reader to carefully consider the realities explained here, and to develop understanding of them.
Nina van Gorkom