Liberation through Feelings
These are notes from Chapter 11 in Joseph Goldstein’s book Mindfulness.
The purpose of these teaching is freeing the mind from suffering.
It is about liberation
- Getting more comfortable in our lives
- Or sorting out our personal histories
These might be helpful
But this exploration is about the larger questions of birth, aging, disease, and death
And how we can be free in this great cyclical wheel of existence.
The Buddha begins this section with:
And how, Bhikkhus, does one in regard to feelings, abide contemplating feelings?
What is meant by the word feelings which is the English translation of the Pali word vedana?
14 different meanings of feelings in the Webster dictionary.
- Physical sensations
- Opinions or attitudes
In Buddhism, feelings is more narrowly defined with a specific meaning
Mindfulness of feeling is one of the master keys that both reveals and unlocks the deepest patterns of our conditioning.
Vedana specifically refers to
With the content of each moment’s experience
These feelings are both physical and mental phenomena
Feelings and conditioned response
Feelings is used in
- The four foundations of mindfulness
- As one of the five aggregates of existence
- As a key link in the teaching of dependent origination
Because feelings condition our various responses in the mind and actions in the world.
If we are not mindful:
Pleasant feelings habitually condition desire and clinging
Unpleasant feelings condition dislike and aversion
Neutral feelings condition delusion
That is, not really knowing what is going on
These same feelings are the vehicle to our freedom.
A trained and untrained mind
- The uninstructed worldling
- The instructed noble disciple
Usually in an untrained mind:
- The first dart is contact with a painful feeling
- The second dart is our unpleasant mental reaction to the first dart, producing more suffering
- With more suffering, we try to seek delight in sensual pleasure
We need to be mindful of the original feeling tone.
Many of our actions throughout the day come from trying to avoid negative feelings.
In later chapters we will explore the teaching of the enjoyment of sense pleasure
- The danger
- The escape from sense pleasures
For now, let’s just say, sense pleasures are transient, they are not a refuge from suffering.
Being contacted by that same painful feeling, one harbors no aversion to it…
Being contacted by painful feeling, one does not seek delight in sensual pleasure…
If one feels a pleasant feeling, one feels it detached.
If one feels a painful feeling, one feels it detached.
If one feels a neither-painful-nor pleasant feeling, one feels it detached.
This, bhikkhus, is called a noble disciple who is detached from birth, ageing and death; who is detached from sorrow, pain, displeasure and despair, who is detached from suffering.
This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the instructed noble disciple and the uninstructed worldling.”
Desirable things do not provoke one’s mind,
Towards the undesired one has no aversion.
There is a difference with
Just staying with the first dart and feeling it
And then, noticing the distraction and exaggeration that happens with our reactions to the first dart, we get lost in our reactions.
The difference between the initial unpleasant sensations, and being lost in reactivity, starts to become clear.
Why does our mind cling to the reactivity of patterns of fear and hope.
Fear that the painful feelings would go on forever
And hope that they would finally go away.
Why doesn’t the mind just naturally rest in the ease of mindful awareness?
Why don’t we just come back to the sensations of the present moment?
It is possible to retrain the mind
We can see the power and depth of our habituated responses.
It is possible to make an end to suffering by abandoning these tendencies.
Moment-to-moment awareness of feelings.
We may say, How could this be possible, abandoning clinging to desire and aversion?
Buddha says, this is something we can do and that we do it in the moment.
In the moment we say,
When feeling a pleasant feeling, one knows, “I feel a pleasant feeling.”
When feeling an unpleasant feeling, one knows, “I feel an unpleasant feeling.”
When feeling a neutral feeling, one knows, “I feel a neutral feeling.”
It is a simple, direct, and clear recognition of the feeling aspect of experience.
We don’t need to analyze, judge, compare, or even particularly to understand why these feelings are happening,.
Its simply to know that
- Pleasant feelings are like this
- Unpleasant feelings are like this
- Neutral feelings are like this.
This is a mindfulness practice.
Just noting pleasant, unpleasant, neutral.
Seeing the transient nature of feelings.
Or the practice of:
I like this, I don’t like this
Noticing the feelings that preceded these judgments
Seeing the changing nature of feelings
From noticing the quickly changing nature of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral
We can have more direct insight into their impermanent nature
Through seeing how transient the feelings are, changing all the time
We can become less identified with them
Less attached, less fearful
Just as many diverse winds
Blow back and forth across the sky,
Easterly winds and westerly winds,
Northerly winds and southerly winds,
Dusty winds and dustless winds,
Sometimes cold, sometimes hot,
Those that are strong and others mild-
Winds of many kinds that blow;
So in the very body here,
Various kinds of feelings arise,
Pleasant ones and painful ones,
And those neither painful nor pleasant.
But when a bhikkhu who is ardent
Does not neglect clear comprehension,
Then that wise one fully understands
Feelings in their entirety.
Having fully understood feelings,
One is taintless in this very life.
Standing in dhamma, with the body’s breakup,
The knowledge-master cannot be reckoned.
Training the mind
Training the mind in observation of different feelings and in non-reactivity
- Do we indulge or resist?
- Are we mindful and non-reactive?
- Can we see clearly the impermanent nature of reality?
- How do we react to the unpleasant?
- How does the mind react to illness?
- Buddha: “you should train like this: my body may be sick yet my mind will remain unafflicted.
Can we train our minds for dying which can be uncomfortable and unpleasant? We can learn to be at peace or ease even with uncomfortable feelings.
It is not the objects in our life that are MAKING us annoyed.
Its our reactions to the objects that we can practice with.
It is our attachment or aversion to the object that is producing our distress
Not the object itself.
Whatever feeling one feels, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neither-painful-nor pleasant,
One abides contemplating
- Impermanence in those feelings
- Contemplating fading away
- Contemplating relinquishment.
Contemplating thus, one does not cling to anything in this world. When one does not cling, one is not agitated. When one is not agitated, one personally attains Nibbana.”