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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Olaso. So this morning we’re going to be moving right on, briskly, proceeding through the four  applications of mindfulness. The four close applications of mindfulness. So we looked very briefly of course at the body. Explicitly the body but also implicitly all the appearances, all the phenomena that we access by way of the five physical senses. And then moving right on in this progression from coarse to subtle. This I think very, very skillful strategy, coarse to subtle. Then we’ll move on to the 2nd of the 4 close applications of mindfulness and that is of feelings. [00:39]

And bear in mind that in this context in Buddhism, this term that we generally translate as feeling, it’s a good translation —[ vedanā] refers to only a very primitive, primal feelings: pleasure, displeasure and neutral. Nothing more sophisticated. Frustration, exasperation, exhilaration, anger and so forth. These are all emotions. But we’re just talking real basic, primal. And for a very good reason. This is very familiar now, isn’t it? These are the ones we care about. These are the ones we care about right down to our core. We don’t want the unpleasant ones, we want the pleasant ones and if we have the neutral ones, we’re bored. Pretty much that, yeah. [01:22]

But so I gave a kind of long talk on that relative to you know, the roots of bodhichitta. And the fact that there are just four applications of mindfulness, there could have been, the Buddha could have made it five or 13, anything he liked—but the fact that, the next one is the close application of mindfulness to the mind, which includes the whole array of mental factors—anger, compassion, etc, etc, etc. A wide variety, 51 mental factors. They’re all included in that one, except feelings. Because feelings, mental feelings, enjoyment and so forth—that’s also a mental factor—why didn’t it get pitched in with all the other ones, what made it so special? If you were another mental affliction, you might feel jealous! What makes ‘feeling’ so special? We just got thrown in with all the rest! And well there’s a very good reason, I mean it’s a good objection but then there’s a good answer too. And that is among all these mental afflictions, these are the ones we really care about. All the other ones are kind of you know, whatever, but if you’re in pain, that’s the only one you really care about. If you’re in mental anguish, that’s the one you care about. If you’re filled with bliss, that kind of catches your attention. And these are the ones we want. And so since we want them and we care about them, we can’t help it. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a human being or a cockroach, you can’t help it. You don’t want pain and you do want pleasure. Then if you want something, you probably should understand it. Good principle, isn’t it? If you want to acquire something, to realise something, to experience something and you don’t have it, or you are having it but you want to get rid of it, then understand it. [03:00 ]

This is what the Buddha said in his brief references of the four Noble Truths, here’s the reality of suffering, understand it. Here’s the reality of source of suffering, get rid of it. Here’s the reality of the cessation of suffering, realise it. Here’s the reality of the path to the cessation of suffering, follow it. But the first one was—here is the reality, Four Noble Truths. Here’s the reality of suffering, understand it. We don’t want to understand it. We don’t want to understand it. We want it to be gone! It’s like having a really awful neighbour. We don’t want to understand them. We just want them to move.  [laughter]. But the problem is they don’t. [laughter]. And we want suffering just to vanish and it doesn’t. And so what our natural tendency is, it’s not just modernity, but modernity knows how to do this with spectacular success—anaesthetize it. We do this better than any civilization in history.  Basically I mean what, until what a century ago or so, I don’t really know, anaesthesia didn’t exist. Civil war. 150 years ago. Right. You have a limb, a limb that’s getting infected —cut if off. And the only anaesthetic would be maybe some whisky. Right. So there it is. [04:21]

But it’s not just anaesthesia. It’s video games. It’s internet. It’s work. It’s work and oh it’s work. That’s the Protestant way. Work yourself to death. Get your mind off it. Get to work. Don’t worry about whether you’re unhappy, you’re anxious, you’re miserable, you’re finding your life totally devoid of meaning. And you’re desperate. Well, there’s a solution to that. Get to work. That’s the anaesthesia. And then of course when you’re tired of that, then anaesthesia. Then we have the next anaesthesia—it’s entertainment. And boy, we entertain each other like, you know, never before in history, the range of entertainments. Gosh. Even you know those shopping channels. [laugher]. That too is a form of entertainment you know, for people on the verge of suicide. Can’t quite decide. You know. There it is. So I mean this is the first thing the Buddha talked about. The first topic he addressed after he made his walk, his long walk from Bodhgaya to Saranath. He encountered his five previous companions. This is the reality of suffering. I could really go on but time is short. To understand feelings. That’s a big deal. To understand feelings—as the Buddha himself said in his main discourse the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta—as we are focusing on feelings, examine  them closely. Closely apply mindfulness to them and then in the midst of this—this is why this is immensely richer than mere bare attention, or just you know, ‘be here now’—and that is, attend to the factors of origination. What are the factors that give rise to the feelings you’re experiencing? This is not bare attention. You’re not going to get it that way, you know. Start using your intelligence for heaven’s sake. And what are the factors of dissolution? No feelings are permanent. So how is it that they vanish? And the Buddha said, 'investigate this’. This is contemplative science. And it’s just spectacular sharpness. Pali Canon. Theravada. Theravada commentaries are spectacular here. So this is why we closely apply mindfulness to feelings because we care about them so deeply, existentially, and we always will. Even an arhat cares about feelings. A Buddha of course cares about the feelings of all sentient beings. It never stops. It just never stops. It’s right there in the very nature of being conscious. There’s no conscious entity, no conscious being that doesn’t care about feelings. It’s built-in. It’s intrinsic. So to be brief now, I don’t want to ramble. [6:55]

So some basic Buddhist psychology, that’s totally empirical—and that is, we have these five physical modes, five types of physical kind of sensory consciousness, five sensory consciousnesses:  visual, auditory,  olfactory,  gustatory  and tactile. Easy, right? And they each have their own separate and non-overlapping, according to Buddhism,  non-overlapping domains of experience. And that is in the seen, let there be just the seen, what you see, you don’t hear. What you hear, you don’t smell. What you smell, you don’t feel. What you feel, you don’t taste. These are non-overlapping domains of experience, right. And that’s for the five. You can check to see whether that’s true. It’s interesting. That’s back to the close application of mindfulness to the body which then includes all of the five sense fields, right. Check to see whether there’s any overlap in terms of what you’re actually getting directly to these five sensory modes of consciousness. And then we have mental consciousness. And mental consciousness has its own nest, so to speak, which is to say it’s own domain, which is called dhatu, dhatu. Because they are 18 dhatus. There are six dhatus or domains of experience, six modes of consciousness and six faculties—independence upon which the six modes of consciousness arise. 3 x 6 is 18. So each of the six modes of consciousness has its own domain, right. And mental consciousness of course does too, and that is that domain of appearances, of phenomena that can be apprehended, directly observed, only by way of mental perception, mental awareness. Dreams. You can’t see them with your eyeballs. You can’t hear them. You can’t measure them. None of these can be measured with scientific instruments. They’re completely in the dark. But your thoughts, your emotions, with that which we attend to introspectively, and we all know this, I won’t comment any more on the ridiculous notion that introspection doesn’t happen, this is just bunk by the metacognitively impaired. There is no reason to listen to such people. And so we are of course, you all know this perfectly well, you can, you know when your mind is agitated, when it’s calm, when thoughts are coming up, when they’re not, when the pleasure is rising in your mind and when it’s not and so forth. We know this by means of mental consciousness. We’re not, like in the old joke from behaviourism where you know human beings are understood to be only stimulus-response entities but with no interiority. So a man and woman make love, you remember this one? A man and woman make love, they finished and then the man turns over, lights a cigarette and turns to his companion and says: “It was good for you. How was it for me?” [laughter]. As if you know, there’s no interiority so that’s all you would know, is just behaviour. Well of course that’s a good joke. Moderately. [laughter]. [09:36]

It’s terrible science. But it’s kind of a moderately good joke. But of course we are aware of our own joy. We don’t have to infer it on the basis of behaviour. And we don’t have to infer it on the basis of neural correlates. That’s all neither here nor there. It’s extraneous. It’s outside. Peripheral. And so here’s the interesting point, again I want to be really close, close to the bone here. And that is, each of these modes of consciousness has its own unique domain and the five sensory cannot. The mental that is [snaps fingers] auditory consciousness cannot leap over and poach in the field of visual. Visual consciousness can’t poach, pick up scent, smell and so forth. The visual cannot poach mental, cannot jump in and see your thoughts, your emotions, memories and so forth. But there’s one poacher, it’s like isn’t it a cowbird? I think it’s a cowbird that lays its eggs in other birds nests. . I think so. I use to study ornithology 50 years ago. But you know whether it’s true, I think it is, whatever it is. The one poacher here, the one that can poach in everybody’s pond is mental awareness. Mental consciousness. Because as I gaze for example at Michelle, I turn my head towards her, I turn my visual gaze towards her and I see the visual impressions. In the seeing, there’s just the seeing. Visual perception picks up the colours, the shapes, colours and shapes basically, colours and shapes, right. But I’m not just sitting here—oh lots of colours and shapes. When I turn my mental awareness to anyone, a person, anything, then mental consciousness piggybacks. It piggybacks on the visual, the auditory the olfactory, gustatory and tactile. And so that when we’re for example attending to the fluctuations of prana within the body corresponding to the breath, we’re attending to that with our tactile consciousness, but piggybacked on that, which is where the samadhi is, is in mental consciousness. You’re developing samadhi with mental consciousness, not with tactile consciousness. Tactile consciousness is the carrier but where the work is really being done is mental consciousness. This is crucial. [11:47]

So it gets very interesting very fast, to my mind. So this, so mental consciousness can stay home, as in very deep states of settling the mind in its natural state where your consciousness is so withdrawn from the five sensory domains that all you’re explicitly aware of and ascertaining, are the events arising in the space of the mind, the space itself and then thoughts and so forth and so on. And so it’s staying home. It’s just, it’s not poaching in any other domain, it’s staying in its own domain. But of course it happens all the time. Right. It happens all the time. As I gaze over at Philippe, then again—there goes my visual awareness, so now it’s focused there and everybody else is out of focus, right, everybody is out of focus. Mental consciousness is now piggybacking right now on the visual and picking up Philippe’s facial expression. I can make sense of the facial expression. I understand the facial expression. Not with visual perception. Visual perception is non-conceptual. Mental consciousness includes both conceptual and non-conceptual. And conceptually I understand the meaning of the facial expression and so forth. Okay let’s keep it close to the bone. Back to feelings [13:00]

So all of this is theory, you can put it to the test. No doctrine here, it’s either true or false, check it. But now we come to feelings, okay. So I just talked about consciousness, right, but now all modes of consciousness, and this is again — core theme of Buddhist psychology and epistemology, that feeling is always present in any perception, in any experience there is always feeling. As in pleasure, pain and indifference, but bear in mind crucial point, a lot of crucial points here, this is very compact, and that is, we often in English and I don’t know about, so well about other European languages, I think it’s probably the same, and that is—we’re not feeling, when we’re not feeling happy or sad if we ask, ‘well how are you?’ ‘Oh nothing special, I am not having any feelings, I don’t feel happy or sad, I don’t have any feelings.’ Yes you do. The feeling is called neutral. So before the Indians came along, the Asian Indians, there was no number for zero. Because zero wasn’t a number. Zero was an absence of a number, right, and they thought maybe zero should be a number. And so the Indians invented nothing. They also invented samadhi and a few other things. But this turned out to be very useful. Show me the symbol in the Roman numerals, the Roman numerals for zero. Can you imagine doing complex multiplication with Roman numerals? Oh, and these are Romans. Sorry Philippe, but you know. [laughter]. I mean XXYCIIICX? I mean really, you ran an empire with this?. You’ve got to be kidding. Geeeze, I mean you know. And we call it the Arabic, you know, the Arab numerals, well no they are Indian numerals. The Indians invented it. And the Arabs were smart enough to learn from the Indians.[14:47]

Ok so neutral feelings are also feelings as much as bliss or agony, they are feelings. Neutral, which means no preference, it’s right in the middle. It’s neither a negative integer nor a positive integer, it’s a zero integer, and that is an integer. Zero. And so now we’re going to go back to mindfulness of breathing as our baseline, that’s going to be our boat. That’s going to be our boat, okay. Mindfulness of breathing. So we’re going to bring, in this session, bring our awareness, that is, the tactile awareness which is already picking up these sensations or the appearances are arising to tactile awareness, but we’re going to couple, we’re going to piggyback mental consciousness, mental awareness in with the tactile, so they’re in the same telephone booth. you know. The tactile and the mental. We’re going to be directing our attention once again to the tactile sensations as just something to hold onto for the 24 minutes. Something you can count on like a life jacket or a little buoy - okay this one is always here—in-breath, out-breath, in-breath, out-breath. As you’re doing that, your baseline in shamatha, then what I’m inviting you to do for the next session, then I won’t have to talk so much during the session, is: this is just your baseline, just to keep your head above water, so you’re not drowning in laxity or swept away by the currents of excitation. Hold on to the buoy of the breath, in-breath, out-breath, in-breath, out-breath. But in the midst of this field, this somatic field, you will detect, you’ll directly observe sensations of course: earth, water, fire, air, that’s maybe, the Buddha says—oh by the way that’s inclusive. Everything is going to be one of those or a combination, see whether that’s true. We have all kinds of empirical hypotheses here that you can put to the test. But that’s not the only thing you experience. We all know this perfectly well that when you’re experiencing your body, you’re feeling your body, feeling the sensations of the body, you know that you are not just getting earth, water, fire, air. You’re also getting pleasant and unpleasant. That feeling in my knee is really unpleasant. Oh I am experiencing surges of energy through the body. I like that! You know, bliss arising in the body. It happens, a number of you have reported. And discomfort, if you haven’t reported, all of you I know have experienced it.  Discomfort in the body. It comes with the territory. [17:58]

And so now as we start to finesse our experience of feelings, we’ll know two crucial points. This is very high density now, right. So you might want to listen to this podcast twice. If you’re familiar with it, no sweat. And that is there are sensations like too hot, you know, hot, intense fire element. Well you can be a cockroach, an earthworm, you can be a human being, you can be Einstein but if it’s too hot, we don’t like it. And if it is too cold, we don’t like that either. Relative to who we are, you know. If you’re not a penguin, you know, the Antarctic gets a bit chilly. If you’re a penguin, you say hey—it’s normal, forty below, an ordinary day! That’s fine if you are a penguin. But if you’re you know, one of us naked apes, that’s kind of uncomfortable. So simple things like too much and too little of fire element, well we know - unpleasant. How about too much earth element? That’s called getting hit in the head with a rock! Oh, earth element—intense, don’t like it! You know. Or thrown out of an airplane but with no parachute - oh lots of air element! [laughter] Don’t like it. Don’t like it. Space element too. As they say, falling isn’t the problem, it’s just the end, that’s the problem. There’s no real problem with the air or the space, it’s just it doesn’t last. And then you get a whole bunch of earth element at the end, yeah [18:24]

 But we have this, that is tactilely, that any mode of consciousness also has a feeling component to it: positive, neutral or negative. And so as we’re tactilely or somatically experiencing sensations in the body, they will by way of tactile perception be experienced as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This is the hypothesis. All of this is a hypothesis and then it gets interesting. As simply something to memorize and you know then debate about and then move to the next topic. Boring. So, so we experience unpleasant sensations, pleasant sensations in the body, neutral sensations in the body. This is true. Okay. Those are called physical feelings. Physical feelings. But of course we open our eyes—maybe we’ll do that tomorrow. No, today we’re just going to focus on the body. That’ll just keep us busy.

And so we have these somatic feelings. This is a pleasant sensation, unpleasant, neutral, right? But as I said before, we’re coupling mental consciousness, it is piggybacking, it is fused with the tactile awareness, and so we also have, since mental consciousness always has feeling to it, as we are mentally aware of the sensations of a body, we also have a mental feeling of what we’re experiencing. I’ll give a good example of this—deep tissue massage. Let’s imagine you come with a lot of tension and you pay a lot of money to have the best expert in deep tissue massage give you, you know a working, a work over for one hour and you’re so tensed and physically just tight, tight as a knot when you come in. And this person gets, or he or she or whoever, gets their fingers and they start going deep into tissue. Tactilely that hurts. That’s not pleasant. Mentally. Ohhhhhhhh. Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Oh, do it more, oh deeper, deeper, ohhhh. You want it, you just paid for it, you’re getting it and you’re just—go deeper. I know it’s pain, oh, yeah but it feels good, it feels good, ohhhh thank you, thank you, thank you. Give them a big hug on the way out after they’ve tortured you for an hour. [laughter]. Give them a big hug. I feel so much better now, oh man you got really just what I needed. Mental pleasure. Physical misery. Right? And then you can ask which one you care about more? And that’s an individual choice. [laughter]. I had a Thai massage once and I’ll ... a deep tissue Thai massage. He called it therapeutic, I called it agony. [laughter]. Never again. [20:58}

Another crucial point coming—when we have feelings about anything, about a person, I have feelings for you or we look at art — isn’t that magnificent art? Isn’t this countryside beautiful? Isn’t that disgustingly ugly? Doesn’t that smell, isn’t that smell awful? The sensation in my body feels awful. Oh, and etc. This is how we talk. This place is beautiful. That person is very attractive. This food is delicious. That sound is marvelous. That music or whatever is marvellous. You notice how all these adjectives, basically pleasant and unpleasant, good and bad, are all attributed to the object. The woman, the man, the art, the food, the smell and so forth and so on. It is, it is as if I’ve just described — this is a Singapore woman, this is an Italian man, that’s an objective statement, it doesn’t matter what I feel about it. That’s just true. I don’t have any choice. Right. I don’t have any choice. Singaporean woman. What can I do? I can like it or not like it. But that’s the way it is. An Italian man, an Italian Australian, he can’t figure what he is you know. [laughter]. Italian, Australian. He doesn’t know. So they’re the confusionists. [laughter]. Bloody confusionist. And so, but that’s just an objective fact, you know, nothing can be done about it . And then we very often treat this person as attractive as similarly—like this person is a Singaporean. Is that true? The first point’s not debatable. It doesn’t matter what your perspective is if you don’t think that— your name? Your name once again? [student answers: ‘You can call me Lim.’]. Lim? Oh that’s easy I think—she abbreviated it for me. Thank you. So Lim, if you think that Lim is a Filipino, you are wrong, right? Not. It doesn’t matter what your perspective is. Whether you’re an arya bodhisattva or you’re a deva, you’re a cockroach, if you think that she’s Filipino, she’s not. You’re wrong. That’s the way it is, that’s the breaks. [23:00]

Is it, as we look at a cell phone, do you like Androids or iPhones better? One is better. One is worse. This one is much nicer. This is ... what are we really talking about? And here’s the Buddhist response, and that is, all feelings are not in the object, they’re in the mode of apprehension. All feelings. It’s not an objectively given. It’s in the mode of experience of the object. I did a little bit of checking, just before I came here, I did some really, really fun background check on the internet to the most extraordinary fruit on the planet—durian. [laughter]. I’ve lived in Thailand now for about two years all together and durian is something people actually eat [laughter]. But I checked out the smell on the internet and here’s how it was described: the smell of durian—which is sold for money [laughter] and people eat it, and people eat it intentionally—is: you’re ready? This is all on the internet, so please don’t blame me. “As for its smell, it smells like pig shit, seasoned with turpentine and onions and garnished with gym socks.” [laughter]. This is an objective fact. I thought that’s about as good a description of the smell of durian that I’ve ever seen. When I was in Thailand, somebody once in a sealed bag, a sealed plastic bag, left a piece of durian just outside my metal door which is about two inches thick, as a gift. [laughter]. When my wife and I lived in a barn up in the Santa Cruz mountains with Gyatrul Rinpoche for two years, there was a feral cat, and the feral cat would go out hunting and then as a gift to us, would leave the liver and internal organs of its mice on the doorstep as a little courtesy. I prefer the liver of a mouse. Because when I could smell it through the sealed plastic bag and through the door, somebody has brought durian within the half kilometre of my room, [laughter], and i don’t like it, alright. That’s what it smells like. And obviously a long time ago, some people living in the tropics smelled it and thought—‘I should put that in my mouth.’ [laughter]. I think they’re either suicidal, it’s got be poison and I can’t take no more of samsara. And I’m sure I’m going to die. Anything that smells like that has to be lethal. I think that’s why the first people put durian in their mouths. They wanted to commit suicide and they said—this will definitely kill me. if the smell of that bad it cannot be anything but lethal. Probably one bite will do it, you know, like a lot of the snake venom in Thai snakes. So, but somebody tasted it and it tastes pretty much like it smells. Why would it not? It’s from the same source. And then somebody mentally thought, [laughs], mmmmm [laughs] good. [laughs]. Do you have another interpretation? [laughter]. Because I know people who think durian tastes good, and some of them I respect. [laughter]. And here’s my interpretation, I know I could be wrong, I think they were vultures in their past lives. [laughter]. mmmm. ooooh, a dead rabbit. [laughter]. [27:06]

So it’s well said, correctly said, that when it comes to durian you either love it or you hate it. And I assume some people really love the taste, because I’ve seen them eat it and they smile. [laughter]. So for them, the taste, the, you know, the gustatory, apparently it must be good. And clearly they’re smiling, so they’re experiencing mental pleasure, right. There are many, many other cases, modern art. [laughter]. Heavy metal. And the list just goes on and on and on. Poetry, some literature, movies. Movies. Movies that I would pay lots of money not to see but that other people clearly enjoy. And so all of this is to highlight, there’s probably some truth to this, that if durian were by its very nature pleasant, if the taste of it were objective then everyone would be right and nobody would disagree. But people do, are there debates about the value of certain types of modern art? Are there debates among highly intelligent people about— this is great literature, this is not? This is great poetry, this is a very attractive person, this is not. And so on. And the answer is of course. So, but where the debates come and sometimes very, very, you know, passionate debates, is confusing or mistaking or not noting the fact that the pleasure is in the way you’re apprehending that piece of fruit, that art, that fragrance, the appearance of that person, that ideology and so forth and so on. It’s in the way you’re experiencing it. So there’s nothing to debate. It’s like you are debating with me—Alan, no you actually enjoy durian. Well there’s nothing to debate. I win. And if you enjoy it and I try to persuade you that you’re not enjoying it, I lose. There’s just no ... I lose before I even start. You know. [29:10].

If somebody says I’m in intense pain, there’s no debate. You may not be able to find the neurophysiological correlate, you may not be able to find any physical cause but if they say I am in physical agony, where’s the debate? It’s their experience. You can’t debate it. You’re just not understanding it. So this point is a simple one but it has profound implications. Because it quite clearly seems that just as our mental awareness is coupled with but then infuses our various modes of sensory perception, and in so doing can easily override to the point of obliterating it. So people who’re so committed to the materialistic worldview that they’re persuaded that anything that isn’t physical doesn’t exist and any mode of measurement that is not physical doesn’t exist, they can actually not see that they actually have the ability to introspect. Because they shouldn’t and therefore they don’t, you know. And even I mean, I do find it impossible to imagine but it has to be the case—people who say that qualia [forms that appear in the dream state] don’t exist, that consciousness doesn’t exist, mind doesn’t exist, it’s with their senses, it’s perfectly obvious but something’s obliterating. It’s like putting tar paper over their experience. And it’s blotting out so they’re actually being serious and being honest, you know and this happens a lot. It happens a great deal. Cognitive deficit disorders, where mental consciousness, some idea, some fixed idea, belief and so forth, is blotting out, just like a dark cloud, obliterating, smothering the appearance. Right. [30:55]

So this suggests that we’re not disempowered by objects unless we have a disempowered mind. And then the objects take over. And we feel we’re in a world that’s just happening to us. This was a miserable day. Those were awful people. That was a delightful place. This was horrifying. This was disgusting. This was delightful. This was so serene. As if we’re just kind of like flypaper picking up what’s out there. Pleasant, unpleasant. Pleasant, unpleasant. In other words, we’ve completely given away all of our power to the objective world. And we say, ‘how are you?’ 'Up and down. Up and down.' I’ve heard that a few times already in the one-on-one meetings. ‘How was the week?’ Up and down. Up and down.' Hello flypaper. As if it happened to you, you know. I’m not ridiculing anybody but we do this a lot. How did your meditation go? Well, it was this way and I was just flypaper. I witnessed what happened—it was an awful day of meditation—as if you weren’t even a participant. As if it happened to you. This was an awful day. I had a rotten encounter. As if it happened to you. As if the mind just has no power at all. It’s just fly paper, just picks up what’s out there. This is where materialism leads us. And then the antidote is, well, bring in the anaesthetics. Bring in the drugs. Bring in the entertainment. Bring in the work. Because that is where all the power is. And you, what do you know? You don’t even know what you’re feeling because you don’t even have the ability to introspect . You see why passion arises. Maybe you’ll see why passion arises, about this one ridiculous ideology when there are so many ridiculous ideologies to choose from. This one is really pernicious. So profoundly disempowering. So get back to constructive. [32:43]

We’re going to go back to the practice momentarily, and that is we’re now going to go in and have a raft, the life buoy, the fluctuations, the regular fluctuations, something you can count on, something you can hold on to with continuity. But in the midst of that broaden the scope of your awareness, attend to the whole field and note not only those sensations correlated to earth, water, fire and air, but also observe the feelings that are arising within those somatic field, because they certainly are arising. Examine closely for yourself, run experiments, get creative, be a scientist of your own body. To see whether the feelings of discomfort, maybe it’s bliss, maybe it’s neutral feelings that arise in the body, whether they are to be found in the sensations themselves, which are simply arising to you as appearances, as tactile appearances, very much like visual appearances and auditory appearances. Are those feelings - the pleasure, the displeasure or the neutral, are they right there in the very nature of the feelings being dished up to you, simply being presented to you? Right. Or can you detect that they’re actually not in the object but they’re in the way you’re apprehending the object? And if it’s in the way you’re apprehending the object, you have at least the possibility of altering that. Because then it’s not just done to you. It’s actually coming from your side. [34:08]

And now we’ve just opened the door to this vast range of practices called lo-jong, mind training. It was alluded to yesterday. Taking suffering as the path, illness as the path, death as the path, demons as the path and so forth. Well we can’t take any of those as the path if they’re just happening to us. It’s just a done deal, you’re sick, be miserable. You’re dying be miserable and so forth. But if the pleasure or displeasure or neutrality is in the way we’re experiencing, illness, what what other people call adversity, injury, death, loss, loss of physical stuff, loss of a loved one and so forth—if it is not there in the object, if it is, then we are disempowered. It’s just happening to us. Like having rocks thrown at us. If you can dodge, dodge. But if you can’t, too bad you suffer. But if the suffering is actually in the mode in which we’re experiencing and if it is true and there seems to be really strong evidence there is—I’ve taken durian as a case in point—that the mental can override the physical and thereby modify the physical. The mental is powerful. We know that. Football players, to get two big American Football players, 40% of whom have brain damage by the time they finish their sport. Very sad. Criminal actually. But you get these two big guys, 250 pounds each, running at each other at 50 miles an hour, having a 30 mile an hour head collusion, of course they put their head first, you know. Ah, but if one of them gets over the touchdown line and scores a point, he’s just had a 30 mile an hour collision with another great big guy covered in heavy plastic and so forth and then what does he do when he gets across, earthbound? [sighs and whispers]. [laughter]. Thank you God and yeah and he spikes the ball. And he’s hugged, and he’s embraced because they’ve just won the game, filled with joy, bliss. Physical bliss. Mental bliss. I did it, the scoring touch-down with three seconds on the clock. [deep sigh]. I hope they got that on film. Of course they did, you know. The mental totally overrides, no pain no gain, right, that’s what they say in football, no pain, no gain and be happy with the pain. Okay. That’s the good ol’ macho ideal—that your mental totally overrides and modifies the physical, and then mentally it’s just pure bliss, if you win. If you don’t, then of course it sucks. So let’s check this out. Jump in, let’s find a comfortable position  but don’t expect to be comfortable too long . [laughter]. [37:01]

[Meditation session]

[37:19] Bell rings.

[37:47] With a wish that all beings may be free of suffering and then find the happiness that is their heart’s desire, with the aspiration of bodhichitta, settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states.

[39:08] Find your still point. Awareness resting in its natural state. Relaxed, still and clear. Not yet being directed to any object but simply resting in its own place. This is mental awareness. Illuminating and knowing itself. Non-conceptually.

[40:50] Then direct the light of your awareness and the flow of mental consciousness to illuminate the entire space of the body. As a constant, maintain your flow of awareness of the ongoing flow of fluctuations throughout the field corresponding to the respiration. Quietly, non-conceptually and non-discursively noting with each in-and-out-breath, whether it is long or short, sustaining the flow of cognizance.

[42:36] As you bring this light of understanding, of discernment, to the somatic field, this space and the sensations arising within it, now take a special interest in the occurrence of feelings. Does any part of your body feel unpleasant ? Even the unpleasantness of an itch. Is there any unpleasant feeling arising? Is there any pleasant feeling arising? And then it’s more subtle, but also take note of, identify, ascertain neutral feelings.

[45:00] And in the feelings, now we speak of [? vedana]  not just of the sensations but in the feelings of pleasure, displeasure or even neutral feelings. In the feelings, let there be just the feelings. To the best of your ability, let your awareness remain still, without the cognitive fusion, without the conceptual overlays. And most importantly release the conceptual overlay of my feeling. I hurt, I’m uncomfortable, I am feeling blissful—release it. That’s something constructed, projected, superimposed. And in the feeling of pleasure or displeasure, let there be just the feeling arising within the somatic field. Observe its nature. Is it permanent or impermanent? Momentarily arising and passing? Or is it static? Examine closely now. This is vipashyana.  

[48:30]  There’s an important question here, and that is, are the feelings right there in the very nature of the tactile sensations,  which are arising as appearances, that are arising objectively, they’re happening to you—are those feelings in fact simply happening to you? Or is the Buddhist hypothesis correct—that they’re rather a subjective mode of experiencing, these appearances? See if you can run experiments. Here’s one possibility—empower your concentration, just for a short time. Very strongly, single-pointedly focus, like a laser, or like a drill, focus your samadhi right in upon regions of the body where you may feel discomfort . Leave your conceptual baggage behind, go in nakedly just observing what is arising, what is experienced. And as you bore into, penetrate into the very nature of the sensations that feel uncomfortable, see what impact your samadhi  has on the sensations themselves. Are they getting more and more intense which is what we would expect? But also the sense of discomfort, if that’s intrinsically  built into the sensations, then we’d naturally expect that the more deeply, single-pointedly, intensely you probe into the feeling themselves, the more intensely the feeling would arise. On the other hand,  if the feelings are not there in the object and you’re focusing single pointedly on the object,  the feelings might remain unchanged or they might actually diminish. Run the experiment. You can do so if and only if you’ve developed your samadhi to some extent.

[53:13]  It should be manifestly obvious how important it is to develop your skills in shamatha before fully venturing into vipashyana. Without the stillness and clarity of shamatha, the signal to noise ratio can be deafening. So with a silent mind, a clear mind, a highly focused mind, turn to vipashyana,  to make discoveries that are incisive, sophisticated, rigorous and replicable.

 [54:44]  Vipashyana is a little bit like deep sea diving, going down into the depths and exploring, but if you get a bit fatigued, you can always come back up to the surface. Place your hand on the life raft , which is to say return to the surface and simply attend to the undulations, the rise and fall of the breath by way of the sensations throughout the body. Rest up a bit. Relax. Stabilize. Restore clarity. When you’re refreshed, continue breathing normally, naturally.  But return with a question,  probing into the very nature of phenomena. In this case, the very nature of feelings. 

[01:01:20]  Bell rings.

[01:01:53]. Olaso. Enjoy your day. The meetings will be 5 minutes to late and there’s never any need to knock the door, I’m there, I will open to somebody.

Transcribed by Shirley Soh

Revised by Cheri Langston

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Special Thanks to Jon Mitchell for contribution of partial transcripts.


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