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[ Dhamma Talk ]

Feelings

M: As I was meditating on feelings this morning, a lot of interesting questions came to mind. I may not be able to express all of them clearly, so please do read between the lines.

1. As explained in Dependent Origination, craving arises from feeling. Craving would normally be understood as greed for pleasant feelings. It also makes sense that a person, in response to the craving, seeks contact for renewed feelings. And the circle goes on. In other words, the link between greed, pleasant feelings and craving is clear. The link between hatred and unpleasant feelings can be understood. But where does craving come into this link?

2. I have never come across anything in the suttas to refer to intensity of feelings. For example, after 60 minutes of sitting the pain in the legs will be more intense than, say, after 30 minutes of sitting. How is that to be understood?

3. During the aforementioned session, after nearly 40 minutes of observing feelings in various parts of the body, the legs started to pain. As I concentrated on the pain, pleasant feelings would arise due to concentration, and as there was a shift of focus, pleasant feelings were replaced by unpleasant feelings of pain. This happened quite a few times. I would like to know what is the proper way to focus at such times.

4. Which other aspects of feelings should I contemplate?

Not to be too much of a nit picker, but just to make sure we are all thinking along the same lines, let me fix this up to a little more closely fit the Pali: What you are calling "craving" and "greed" are one thing, "tanha" (literally hunger and thirst); so what looks like a three step process as you are describing it is really a two step process: feeling (vedana, or the pleasant or unpleasant or not unpleasant but not pleasant sensation arising from the contact of sense organ with sense object) rebounds bound up in craving.

Your question needs to be answered on two levels: At the level of the perceptions of the ordinary man, the thirst that rebounds from the experience of unpleasant sensation is the thirst to escape, get away from.

For the ordinary man this takes the form of pursuit of pleasure. For the student of the Aristocrats to understand what is at work, we need to look at the phenomena a little more closely.

In the Satipatthana Sutta we learn that Vedana comes in two modes: sensations downbound to the world, and sensations bound-up, bound up in nothing at all in the world. Reading closely we can see that a pleasant sensation downbound to the world, can be interpreted from the point of view of one attempting to free one's self from the world as painful sensation, and the converse is also true: an individual faced with the choice of existence or nonexistence will view painful sensation connected with existence as a pleasant alternative to nonexistence.

Without this "transmutability" of experience based on interpretation, there would be no escape from painful sensation by "sticking with" letting go.

So what even the ordinary person can see relatively easily: that is that pleasant sensations don't last; is the fulcrum which the meditator uses to leverage himself past painful sensation.
"I can see pleasant sensation doesn't last and I am after that which does not change."
In the same way notice that painful sensation doesn't last. But where the ordinary man sees painful sensation as the price of the pleasant sensation he enjoys, the student of the Aristocrats sees the transience of painful sensation as the bridge to the ending of perception of sensation period — pleasant or painful.

He sees: "That which comes and goes cannot be me, or mine, or I would be brought to the absurd position of claiming that that which was me or mine came and went in me." So by close scrutiny he is able to determine the point where he is making an identification with the process of contact of sense organ with sense object and the resultant sensation, perception and consciousness, and he trains himself to discontinue that identification.

Now here we have in your questions concerning the sensations you are experiencing in your legs while doing sit down practice a really clear example of this phenomena at work.

Sitting practice (meditation, concentration) is a form of letting go of the world. The ordinary common man has been grasping onto this world for incalculable time. It's like a rubber band that has been twisted to the point where the twists have twists and the twists of the twists have twists, and so forth.

The painful sensation experienced is the painful sensation downbound to the world, like one might imagine, if the rubber band had feelings, how it might feel experiencing the untwisting; like a drug addict feels at the onset of withdrawl. ('I been down so long, it looks like up to me.' — Rather than experience the full spectrum of sensations from an act of grasping, the ordinary man will flee into sense pleasure to postpone the experience of the painful sensations connected with it's ending, like the drug addict who postpones withdrawal from one dose of a drug by taking another dose.)

The pleasant sensation after concentrating on the phenomena involved is the pleasant sensation not downbound to the world — Perceiving a sensation, recollecting that such sensations are temporary, one experiences a pleasant sensation not downbound to the world. (The meditator (experiencing the release of tension of prior grasping) gets a glimpse of the sensation of freedom and experiences this as pleasant sensation. This is inevitable, but should not be made a goal of the experience as these sensations are temporary. The real goal is the not unpleasant but not pleasant sensation experienced consequent on an act of not-doing. Experiencing a pleasant sensation or an unpleasant sensation, he does not react to that and the consequence of that non-reaction is sensation that is not unpleasant but not pleasant, freedom, Nibbana...that is, if he recognizes it as such.)

The individuality, not yet fully enlightened, views the unravelling as a threat to it's existance and tightens up or begins the grasping/twisting process again. Perceiving what had been a pleasant sense experience as a threat the experience was transformed into an unpleasant sensation downbound to the world, reacted to, and the cycle has begun over again.

The eye comes into contact with a visable object and pleasant sensation arises;
pleasant sensation coming to an end is experienced as painful sensation;
perception of painful sensation coming to an end is experienced as pleasant sensation for one set on the goal, unpleasant sensation for one downbound to the world;
the cycle is repeated for one downbound to the world, but...
perception of the ending of the pleasant sensation of perception of painful sensation coming to an end experienced by one set on the goal (one who does not react to the sensation) is experienced as sensation that is not unpleasant but not pleasant which, when seen for what it is, is Nibbana.

Intensity of sensation is relative to the attachment of the individual. "There is painful progress and slow insight; painful progress and quick insight; pleasant progress and slow insight; pleasant progress and quick insight. There is progress that is accompanied by aggravation, progress accompanied by endurance, progress that is sustained and controlled, and progress that is calm."[1]

In dealing with this specific sort of situation you should be advised to endure. The pain may increase over time, but will have a limit which will be reached and overcome. (Truth: this can be accomplished in a very short time, no matter how attached one has previously been, but speed of attainment of freedom is relative to effort, knowledge, and wisdom; the ignorant, foolish, slacker will likely experience a long slow and at least sometimes miserable trip).

"The proper way to focus here is to especially pay attention to those points where there is a change from painful to pleasant, from pleasant to painful.

If we remember "Guarding the Senses" we understand that to pay attention to either the general appearance or the details of a phenomena that has come into contact with the mind is how dangerous, unskillful, mental states such as liking and disliking enter and take hold. What is being observed, if one were able to do it at all, is something that has already happened in the past: once the sensation of pain, etc, is experienced, it is already the product of contact between sense organ and sense object in the past, so any observing is already both reaction and identification.

So what is suggested is that "in reviewing" what has happened (in the process of establishing for one's self the intellectual understanding of the mechanism of both problem and solution — otherwise called vipassana) one should look for those characteristics that prompted and made up identification and resulted in reaction.

What one needs to be doing in the actual sit-down meditation practice itself (the putting into practice of the method suggested by one's vipassana, otherwise known as samattha) is to just take the mind off the sensation. If necessary by distraction as in the suggestion above to put the mind on some pleasant subject...especially on the dhamma. It is by taking the mind off the issue completely that one avoids the tendency to react further, either with liking or disliking, and it is in that reaction that the "investment" of self is taking place.[2]

Pay careful attention to what it is that you want to avoid paying attention to in the future.

 


 

From Digha Nikaya III.33: The Compilation: 4:10

The Effort to Restrain

And what, friends, is the effort to restrain?
Here friends a beggar seeing matter with the eye grasps at neither its signs or identifying characteristics because living without restraining the power of the eye there will flow in on him covetousness and mental discomfort, bad, unskillful things. Thus restraining, renouncing, watching out for the power of the eye is the way he restrains the power of the eye.
Hearing a sound with the ear he grasps at neither its signs or identifying characteristics because living without restraining the power of the ear there will flow in on him covetousness and mental discomfort, bad, unskillful things. Thus restraining, renouncing, watching out for the power of the ear is the way he restrains the power of the ear.
Smelling a scent with the nose he grasps at neither its signs or identifying characteristics because living without restraining the power of the nose there will flow in on him covetousness and mental discomfort, bad, unskillful things. Thus restraining, renouncing, watching out for the power of the nose is the way he restrains the power of the nose.
Tasting a taste with the tongue he grasps at neither its signs or identifying characteristics because living without restraining the power of the tongue there will flow in on him covetousness and mental discomfort, bad, unskillful things. Thus restraining, renouncing, watching out for the power of the tongue is the way he restrains the power of the tongue.
Experiencing a contact with the body he grasps at neither its signs or identifying characteristics because living without restraiing the power of body there will flow in on him covetousness and mental discomfort, bad, unskillful things. Thus restraining, renouncing, watching out for the power of body is the way he restrains the power of body.
Becoming conscious of a thing in the mind he grasps at neither its signs or identifying characteristics because living without restraining the power of the mind there will flow in on him covetousness and mental discomfort, bad, unsillful things. Thus restraining, renouncing, watching out for the power of the mind is the way he restrains the power of the mind.
This, friends is the effort to restrain.[3]

 


 

C: In meditation- once you have come to concentrate on the object of your meditation (say "in and out breath"). You watch your breath as it is, long short etc. Then you will notice there is a change in your breathing. It may get very soft, almost imperceptible. Then you let your mind be aware of your body. Let your mind touch each part of your body from hair to feet quietly aware of each part. You may also break the body in to four elements, earth, water, energy, and wind. And further into the five aggregates.

By then you may have pains, then be aware of the pains. The pain will not be the same all the time. It will vary in intensity. Be aware of it. Some of the pains will begin to disappear, that is impermanance. Sometimes, however acute the pains are, if you maintain your awareness, they will disappear. Otherwise be aware of the feelings as unpleasant. If you have pleasant feelings such as a cool breeze, be aware of it as a pleasant feeling.

Not only the bodily pains but objects of other sense organs such as, of the ear — sound, of the nose — smells etc. are also feelings. Be aware of the feeling as pleasent or unpleasant. See their arising, staying on and passing away. You may go on to be aware of the state of your mind. What type of thoughts arise, good, bad or neutral. Is mind wandering, or staying with the object of meditation. Be aware of the length of time the mind had wandered away.

When you are alert and mindful, be aware whether you have thoughts of desire for food, smell, forms etc, and whether you have emotions of hatred or aversion. See whether you are feeling lazy, if so be aware of it. Are you feeling sleepy or tired? If so/not be aware of it. Is your mind wandering. Just be aware. Have you any doubt about what you are doing, the Buddha or the teachings of the Buddha? Be aware of it. Do not analyse, but just be aware. Continue ... you can go back to be aware of your body etc. ...

This standard description of the vipasana meditation technique is well done as far as it goes, but there is more to be done. Letting it rest here one will soon spin out of control in a mad frenzy of paying attention which is, after all, just another way of doing what we have always been doing is it not? Seeking this and that which will gratify our craving for experience?

What further remains to be done?

We must put this paying attention to some use.[8]

Seeing that things arise, seeing that things are maintained by way of supports, seeing that things pass away one must form conclusions, map out a strategy, execute that strategy, evaluate the results of the executed strategy, sort out what worked and what did not work, and using what worked, carry on to the goal.[4]

What conclusions must one form? Nothing lasts. Hanging on to what does not last will end in pain. What is the nature of that hanging on? It is the hanging on, in mind, to the idea that there is some thing there that is an essential part of or belongs to myself. Letting go of that is letting go of hanging on. Seeing that nothing lasts and that hanging on will end in pain is the way to see that there is no thing there that is the self of me. Seeing that one is able to let go.

What is one's strategy? If paying attention has become one's vehicle, then following the pattern of the Satipatthana, we bring our observation to bear while paying attention to (personal) phenomena by way of the sensations, then in terms of the emotions or mental states, and then through the filter of the Dhamma. (To anticipate a previously encountered misperception of this statement: this does not mean that this sequence is progressive and cannot be partially accomplished in each of the differing areas at different times...round and round.)

Using the filter of the Dhamma, either as described in the section on the Dhamma at the end of the Satipatthana Sutta[5], or by choosing some other Dhamma, one will be placing one's consciousness up against that of Gotama. The Buddha is stating that these Dhammas of his are so constructed as to point out to the intelligent those areas where there remain in him various sorts of grasping. Paying attention to these one's attention will be directed to actions that must be taken (or rather 'Not-Taken') in order to bring about the ending of those attachments.

Here then there is made out of a senseless madness a method that will bring about the end of that madness.

This business of 'bare attention' or paying attention without intellectualizing or thinking about, if put to no other purpose than to facilitate the next paying attention is of no use whatsoever. It is only when deliberately and consciously used to 'not-do', to bring an end to doing, to note and act on that noting ... to note just how and why one 'takes off' intellectually on experiencing certain phenomena and moves from hopping on to that train of thought to active participation in some 'issue' and to not do that, that this 'bare noting' is of use. I have no idea who first brought up this idea, but without a complete description of the purpose it is standing the whole matter on it's head: not doing for the sake of paying attention is 'not-doing' in order to do, and the best result I can think of for such a practice is that it may be a harmless waste of time.

 


 

C: The Buddha's teaching is simple and direct. The bulk of his teaching consists of discourses made to his order of Bikkhus, who had given up their householder's lives to follow his teachings. The rest being for the lay persons, and other interlocutors. It was easier for the bikkhus to follow his teachings as they had a suitable monastic environment for Meditation. All his teachings converge in the four noble truths, and the eightfold path, and have to be taken as a whole. The eightfold path is subdivided into three groups, the moral discipline (sila) meditation ( samadhi) and wisdom (panna). One cannot go to meditation without going through moral discipline. Wisdom comes from meditation, and therefore we cannot have wisdom without meditation.

The Buddha's discourses were primarily a direction for his Bikkhu community to meditate. Meditation is the only way to attain Nibbana. Therefore his teachings are not to be understood intellectually, but realised through the practice of meditation. The lay followers, as well may follow the directions for meditation and attain the sublime states, but their environment is not so conducive, and they have to put in more effort.

One has to come to Buddhism with what is called a "don't know" mind. By intellectualisation of the Buddha's teaching, one only hides it behind a haze of words and phrases and make it a different teaching altogether. Thus, ten different intellectuals will have ten different understandings of the teachings, where as there is only one way (ekayano maggo) towards attainment of the target of Nibbana.

Our knowledge is after all second hand, we have accumulated it with our reading, listening ,and discussing with others. Therefore, our thoughts are based on this accumulated knowledge. To understand something new, something that we had not been acquainted with before, our knowledge is inadequate. When we sit to meditate we enter into a different world, and what happens in meditation cannot be explained in the words we use, as they are them selves inadequate, and trying to do so would be to give a wrong interpretation of a meditative experience.

I saw elsewhere in this forum[6], some one had mentioned Koan, and coming with a complicated explanation on it. As you all know koans of the Zen Buddhism are unintelligible, questions and answers, word, phrases etc. given by a Zen master to his pupil who has practiced meditation. A koan is not meant to be answered, but is to keep the pupil's mind concentrated on it, until he suddenly finds the solution and attains Satori. If the pupil tries to intellectualise on the Koan in trying to understand the meaning, he will not have the sudden awakening to Satori.

Therefore, it is important not to intellectualise the teachings of the Buddha. If you have the patience to see at any moment what is going on in the mind, you will be aware of this incessant chatter going on there. What we try to do in meditation is to put some order in to the 'monkey mind' which is always wandering from one (discursive) thought to the other. Mind is illusive and cannot be seized. Only moment we can keep it in one place is in meditative concentration.

 


 

This is what is called an impass. C has come to this website without having thoroughly read the materials presented here such as to understand the difference in the approach being taught here to that of other schools and has come simply to argue. He has not come to learn. In other words he is just saying that the approach being taught here is wrong and that the approach being taught in the schools he is familiar with is right.
[Please note that I am not saying here that it is a wrong practice to argue issues. This fellow is not arguing issues, he is arguing the method of approach. For the former he needs to present his case using arguments specific to the issue; for the latter he needs to have understood the method of approach in it's entirety and present a case that argues against the basis of that method. What we have here is an argument against the method by way of attacking an isolated issue. This demonstrates haste in his approach hence the conclusion that he has come to argue, not to learn.]

Since the argument here is essentially that the schools (methods) he is familiar with are at best misleading and often outright wrong, and that the Dhamma, as handed down to us in the Suttas should be interpreted in the way presented here (that is why these views are being presented here!), and further, since it is here that these ideas are being presented, it is not that these ideas have been forced on others, that it is the obligation of those who would disagree to make their case in relation to the method proposed here, not simply state a different case when coming here to argue. Otherwise what we have is the childish dialog "is" "isn't".

For myself, I have taken this episode as a hint, and have brought the very interesting interlude called "the Forum on BuddhaDust" to an end. BuddhaDust had perhaps already become too unwieldy in terms of my expectations that those who would take issue with me should first not just acquaint themselves with the views being presented here, but should understand them ... or short of this should confine themselves to asking questions in order to attain that understanding.

 


 

Afterword

I have been thinking: what can I do to help fellows out there that have gotten themselves into pickles such as this? Clearly this fellow is not talking his own position. Some mixture of Vipassana teacher/Zen master (so called) has, from his own rote learning, taught him these things, and he has accepted them intact. How can you deal with such a case? It's like trying to deal with the trick Freud uses: "You're sick." "No I'm not." "You see? That's denial. Denial is proof of sickness."

The zen master says you can't explain it. So if you explain it as anything other than that you can't explain it, you don't understand it, and as long as you must admit you don't understand it by saying you can't explain it, you are the slave of the master.

It's strictly a confidence game.

When I know I can say I know and hold on to that asertion in the face of the master's doubting look, then I know. Then the master starts to shake in his boots and calls me "Master." How come? Because he knows he doesn't know.

At least the way I am describing it[6] it serves a purpose. I'll go further than that: I'll say anyone who says it can't be explained, doesn't know. Somewhere back there some Zen (Jhana) student experienced Pajapati's problem, understood that this was a critical problem, and invented the Koan to bring people to that position. That much he probably did know, and know it as I explain it, but he did not understand Dhamma, and therefore could not encompass this position and explain the solution to the problem. After him it was all a confidence game.

Now we have the Abhidhammists and teachers of Vipassana Meditation and others who are telling us something similar: "These days, in the days of the decline, beings are weak and unable to reach the jhanas and attain the fruits." But what of the millions of beings who became Streamwinners and Once Returners in the days of former Buddhas? How is it possible for these people to say that absolutely none of these beings are to be reborn here in this world after such and such a point? A person would have to be clairvoyant to the point of omnicience to say such a thing. It can't be. It can only be that these people are outright evil in intent or that they have a vested interest in this position, or that they are just blindly muttering the mutterings of their downbound blind fool teachers. It doesn't hold up to common sense.

the blind leading the blind

I say it's like two wild bulls tethered to each other. The stronger one leads the weaker one around, but not because the one is leading the other can it really be said that the one who leads has any idea of what he is about.

So what is one to do when starting out? I thought about a method that I used. I did not adopt a position that appealed to me and then put it up against the various teachers I encountered, saying "Just this is correct and any other view is wrong." (although I am sure in the many and various side trips I have taken on this long journey, I have done just that) such as this fellow is doing.

I adopted a very simple technique. I took as my teacher anyone I thought knew more than I did; meaning I took as my teacher the position (not the person; although at first it is always the person) of anyone whose position I knew I could not encompass with my own mind. (One can know when one can encompass another's position[7], so one can also know when one cannot encompass another's position: if you don't know you can, you can't.) I acted towards that teacher with the respect due the highest of teachers. But I am very competitive by nature, and I would not rest at being a student of anyone unworthy to be my teacher. That is the key to this technique: you must always try to pass past the master's pasture. So then, when I could answer, logically and reasonably, every proposition of this teacher, and when I could master every thing that this teacher could do from this position, and go beyond, then I dropped that teacher and took on that teacher that claimed to know more.

This way I have never come to an impass.

A corollary to this is that there is no teacher in my past who can righteously say that I trampled on his face to get ahead (and therefore did not get ahead at all). There has never been a teacher I left behind that did not have, in the example set by the manner of my departure, a lesson that could be used to encompass the position of that teacher, should the will be found to make the attempt. In this way, the lesson of my teachers always left a teacher for my teachers; and when one leaves a teacher for one's teacher, one is free to move on and always in the looking back one can look back with gratitude on the lessons that brought one freedom.

Should the teacher remain bound up in identification with his position, he is unable to see anything from that position but that that gratitude is directed at him. And I depart from there without having left behind an enemy whose tracking of me I must continuously fear...looking back over my shoulder at someone looking back over their shoulder looking at me.

 


[1] See also: [DN 33 4 21 Olds trans.] and [DN 33 4 21 Rhys Davids trans.]

[2] [SN 5 47 30] Woodward trans. pp 156: "As he so abides contemplating mind-states, either some mental object arises, or bodily discomfort or drowsiness of mind scatters his thoughts abroad to externals. Thereupon, Ananda, his attention should be directed to some pleasurable object of thought. As he so directs it, delight springs up in him. In him thus delighted arises zest. Full of zest as he is, his body is calmed down. With body calmed he experiences ease. In one at ease the mind is concentrated. He thus reflects: That aim on which I set my mind I have attained. Come, let me withdraw my mind therefrom. So he withdraws his mind therefrom, and neither starts nor carries on thought-process. Thus he is fully conscious: I am without thought initial or sustained. I am inwardly mindful. I am at ease."

[3] Food for thought: If we take it as a given that an Arahant is one who has completely mastered "restraint", then it becomes very difficult to imagine an Arahant writing. If it is not possible that an Arahant would write, then we must conclude that Buddhaghossa, if not all the commentators, could not have been Arahants.
Actually, for myself, I consider it impossible that an Arahant would consider writing. In and of itself it constitutes a desire (and of huge proportions) to communicate beyond a response to a question or as spontaneous instruction to those in the immediate present. (...and, yes, I acknowledge in myself desire of such proportions!) For more on the issue of writing see: Dhamma Talk: Brahmi and The First Word
See also: Indo-European Languages
and
Translation Bias
The Chapters from Rhys Davids: Buddhist India, that deal with language and literature:
Writing — The Beginnings
Writing — Its Development
Language and Literature — General View
Language and Literature — The Pali Books
For information on ancient scripts:
http://www.ancientscripts.com

[4] See: The Dependant Uprising of Knowing and Seeing

[5] The Word That Satisfies

[6] Between the Koan and Samma Ditthi

[7] For example: suppose my position is that I am the master of my own body. (There are those who take this position here today (USA Monday, February 10, 2003 4:58 PM)). Without arguing with a person of such a view, I know I can encompass this view because I can see that this person, and, indeed, all persons with bodies, are not able to control what happens either to or within those bodies. My view of what is the case is greater than their view of what they are saying is the case. My view can stand even if there is the occasional exception; their view cannot stand even if there is only one exception; and I know I can see more than one exception to their view. This is called "encompassing their view."

[8] A blurb for a Cleargreen workshop gives us a relevant quote from Don Juan:
"The unknown is forever present," don Juan told Carlos Castaneda, "but it is outside the possibility of our normal awareness. The unknown is the superfluous part of the average man. And it is superfluous because the average man doesn't have enough free energy to grasp it." That free energy can be found, he said, in the area of the known — by paying systematic attention to our behavior. The seers of don Juan's lineage called this practice the art of stalking — making an inventory of what we do.
Note that this "systematic attention" is not itself made the point of the exercise: it is a tool to be used towards an end. It is not enough that this end is "assumed"; this end must be in mind during the search. Otherwise it's like the simile of the man who says he's in love with the most beautiful lass in the land...but he has no idea of what she looks like, where she lives, what her name is, etc.


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