28 Shamatha and the Close Application of Mindfulness to the Body and Feelings

14 Apr 2016

This morning Alan moves on to the four close applications of mindfulness, focusing on the body and feelings. The Pali word “Vedanā” refers to primal feelings like pleasure, displeasure and neutral. Feelings are not included into the mental factors of the close application of mindfulness to the mind. Instead they are examined separately, since these are the ones we care about most. We don’t want pain and we want pleasure. In the first of the four noble truths, the Buddha recommends to understand these feelings. Alan emphasizes that we normally don’t want to understand the feelings about pain, but rather just get rid of them. In modernity we have been very successful to get rid of the unpleasant feelings and pain by means of anesthesia, work, and entertainment. Analyzing the feelings in the way the Buddha taught in the Pāli canon is immensely important because it gives insight into the factors of origination and dissolution of feelings. Alan continues explaining that the five sensory consciousnesses (visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile) have their own separate and non-overlapping domain of experience. In contrast to these five, mental awareness has its exclusive domain of experience and moreover can poach into the sensory fields of awareness. Mental awareness piggybacks on the other five awarenesses. Alan emphasizes that during developing samadhi by attending to the body, tactile consciousness is the carrier whereas the the real work is done in the mental domain.

Returning to feelings (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral), Alan states that they are always present in any experience. Its crucial to note that tactile sensation are always unpleasant if they are too intensive. Too much of the earth, wind, fire and air element is experienced as painful, like too hot or too cold or too much earth like bumping into things. Often we attribute feelings to the object: in the example of the fruit durian, there are people that experience smelling and eating this fruit as disgusting while others like it. This clearly shows that the feeling is not an attribute of the fruit.

Feelings also exist in the mental domain. Alan elaborates that the mental awareness fuses with the various modes of sensual perceptions and in so doing can easily override the sensual feeling. Alan exemplifies this with a football player who painfully collides with an opponent while scoring a point on the touchdown line. Here the physical pain is overridden by a feeling of joy. This ability is the basis for “Lojong” practices like taking suffering, illness or death as the path. The mental experience can override the physical experience and even alter the somatic effects.

For the meditation Alan invites us to take Mindfulness of Breathing as the baseline and then piggybacked on the somatic sensations, observe and analyze feelings. Are we able to modify the way we apprehend the object?

The meditation is on the Close Application of Mindfulness to Feelings.

Meditation starts at 37:15

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