The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.91-101)
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 89-97)
“Then following on that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.’ I thought: ‘So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?’ I thought: ‘I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities..” MN Maha-Saccaka Sutta: The Longer Discourse to Saccaka translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Harmful and Beneficial Feelings
Feelings arise constantly. Some are harmful because they can lead to dissatisfaction and suffering. Some are beneficial because they can lead to peace and equanimity. It is important not only to be aware of the quality of our feelings (pleasant, unpleasant and neutral) but also to discern which are harmful and which are beneficial. We can then mindfully practice with feelings to achieve peace and happiness.
Harmful or Worldly Feelings: All three qualities of feelings (pleasant, unpleasant and neutral) can be activated by negative tendencies. Pleasant feelings can be activated by pleasant sensations or thoughts of greed, desire, or craving; unpleasant feelings by painful sensations and thoughts of anger or hatred; and neutral feelings by ignorance or delusion. All of these feelings are called “worldly” because they all arise from contact with the sense objects (visible objects, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects and thoughts). Whether the feeling is activated by pleasure or pain, gain or loss, fame or disrepute or praise or criticism, all lead to dissatisfaction and suffering when clinging and craving arise.
Once we discern a harmful feeling, we have a choice to be mindful or to cling and want more. This doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy a pleasant feeling; it means that we on mindful of the tendency to cling and crave.
Beneficial or Unworldly Feelings: Beneficial feelings are called “unworldly” because they do not arise from the senses and are not activated by pleasure or pain, gain or loss, fame or disrepute or praise or criticism. Beneficial feelings are born from the joy of non-attachment (non-clinging and non-craving) and lead to equanimity.
Equanimity (Pali. upekkhā) is a term with at least four important denotations: (1) as a sensation of neutrality that is neither pleasurable nor painful; (2) as one of eleven virtuous mental concomitants (KUŚALA-CAITTA), referring to a state of evenness of mind, without overt disturbance by sensuality, hatred, or ignorance; (3) as a state of mental balance during the course of developing concentration, which is free from lethargy and excitement; and (4) one of the four “divine abidings”, along with loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy. As a divine abiding, upekṣā indicates an even-mindedness toward all beings, regarding them with neither attachment nor aversion, as neither intimate nor remote; in some descriptions of the four “divine abidings,” there is the additional wish that all beings attain such equanimity. Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism
Unworldly Feelings of Joy
Goldstein notes that there are several areas where we can experience unworldly feelings of joy. Experiencing unworldly feelings allows us to realize the benefit of these feelings as compared to the suffering of worldly feelings.
Generosity: When we are letting go and giving to others, rather than holding on things for ourselves.
Love and Compassion: When we are non-judgmental and wishing to relive the suffering of others.
Renunciation: When we follow the precepts and wish to do no harm to ourselves or others.
Concentration: When we practice concentration and seclude ourselves from unskillful states.
Clear Seeing: When we practice mindfulness, paying attention to what is.
What do all of these areas have in common? There are selfless states; we are not thinking or acting in terms of “I” or “me”. We are not creating a self to cling or crave. The concept of the self is absent. We are not attached to the feeling. As the Buddha said, “Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as I or mine.
How to Practice with Feelings
The Blessed One said: “Now how, Ananda, in the discipline of a noble one is there the unexcelled development of the faculties? There is the case where, when seeing a form with the eye, there arises in a monk what is agreeable, what is disagreeable, what is agreeable & disagreeable. He discerns that ‘This agreeable thing has arisen in me, this disagreeable thing… this agreeable & disagreeable thing has arisen in me. And that is compounded, gross, dependently co-arisen. But this is peaceful, this is exquisite, i.e., equanimity.’ With that, the arisen agreeable thing… disagreeable thing… agreeable & disagreeable thing ceases, and equanimity takes its stance. Just as a man with good eyes, having closed them, might open them; or having opened them, might close them, that is how quickly, how rapidly, how easily, no matter what it refers to, the arisen agreeable thing… disagreeable thing… agreeable & disagreeable thing ceases, and equanimity takes its stance. In the discipline of a noble one, this is called the unexcelled development of the faculties with regard to forms cognizable by the eye. Indriya-bhavana Sutta: The Development of the Faculties MN 152 PTS: M iii 298 translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
The Buddha is saying that unworldly feelings arise very quickly. With mindfulness, we can discern these worldly feelings and by doing so, “let equanimity take its stance”. We are mindful not to cling and crave. If we aren’t mindful of our feelings, those feelings will persist.
Our mindfulness changes our relationship with our feelings; we cannot control their arising.
To repeat from the last talk, the Buddha summed it up as:
“Desirable things do not provoke one’s mind,
Towards the undesired one has not aversion.”
- Reread this talk and reflect on it.
- Look to see what feelings arise when you are practicing generosity, love and compassion, renunciation, concentration or clear seeing. Is the self present? Are these feelings coming from sense objects?
- Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on feelings..