2022-02-24 Satipaṭṭhāna (36) Non-Sensual Feelings
12:34AM Feb 25, 2022
Hello, everyone. The topic this week is the second foundation of mindfulness, which is mindfulness of vedanā – a Pali word that I translate as "feeling tone." It is often translated as "feeling" – but then sometimes people confuse it with emotions. But what it refers to is tonality – the tone of pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant – in which everything happens.
All experiences are felt through these three feeling tones – one of the three. Occasionally, it may feel like they are all there at the same time. The instructions are to be mindful of when there is a pleasant feeling tone, knowingthat it is a pleasant feeling tone. When it is painful or unpleasant, know it is unpleasant. When it is neither pleasant or unpleasant, know this. A clear recognition that this is how it is.
In the text the Buddha makes a very interesting distinction. He goes a little bit further. This is a really important pivot in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – in the teachings. It is a very important pivot in people's mindfulness practice. The Buddha makes a distinction between the feeling tones that are physical in nature, and those we could call – if you are willing to go along – spiritual or of the heart in nature.
Some people call them "worldly or not worldly" feelings. Other people call them "worldly or spiritual" feelings. Different people translate these words differently. The Pali word literally means "of the flesh, and not of the flesh." This does not inspire people so much, so people are finding other ways to express it in English. "Of the flesh" has to do with the ordinary senses we have – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching in a tactile sense of the body.
I might feel the coolness against my skin from being outside. Today it was somewhat cold outside. On one hand, the cold was unpleasant, but it was invigorating and inspiring. A nice feeling arose – a kind of delight – feeling the sharp crispness of the air and the coolness against my arms. I have a lot of wonderful associations and memories of being in the cold, so there was a kind of inner smile that happened. I just felt delighted to be in the cold, even though literally, there was a kind of unpleasantness in the skin for that.
There are two different dimensions or domains of our life – that which is of the physical senses, and that which is of the inner senses. Many people live in their physical senses. That is a wonderful thing to do. The physical senses or sensations of being in our body is one of the great pleasures of mindfulness.
It is possible to overdo it either by being too identified, attached, or reactive to the physical body. But in mindfulness we are learning to be mindful and live in the body. The whole First Foundation of Mindfulness is learning how to be embodied in this physical body in a valuable way.
Being mindful of feelings of the flesh – feelings of these physical senses – one would know that. The instructions are, "When there is a physical feeling of pleasant, a physical feeling of unpleasant, or of neither pleasant nor unpleasant – know that is the case." There is no value judgment put on it. If that is what is predominant, then that is what we pay attention to.
But then the Buddha says there is another category of feeling that is not of the flesh. I associate it with the inner life, the quality of our inner being. This quality of our inner state can be independent of what is happening in the world around us.
The physical body is very much impacted by what happens in the world around us – cold and hot, and all kinds of things that happen. The physical body is impacted by illness and injury. All these things can happen to the flesh itself, to the physical body.
But then there is the non-physical – exactly how to describe this ... each of you probably will have a different description that works for you. It is the distinction that there is a divide or a separation between these two different domains. The second one – not of the flesh – belongs more to the spiritual, the mental, the psychological, the heartful. The feeling that the inner life is independent of what is happening around us.
We can feel contented and peaceful, even though the bus we are waiting for is an hour late. Some of our thoughts or imaginations are that this is going to be unpleasant, but we are not trapped in those thoughts. We are actually resting and happy to stay on the bus bench, just content being there. The inner life is very content.
Before some people meditate, there are things that they are reactive to. They think things should be different. They want their body to be different. After they meditate, there is a sense of ease, peacefulness, or calm, which holds everything more easily and spaciously. The place of calm and peace – the places where love, warm-heartedness, or inner beauty can reside all belong to the world not of the flesh.
Here, the Buddha is saying: "When there is a pleasant sensation, experience, or feeling not of the flesh – know it as a pleasant feeling. When there is an unpleasant feeling not of the flesh – know it as an unpleasant feeling not of the flesh. And when it is neither pleasant nor unpleasant – know it as that." Here there is a distinction between "of the flesh" and "not of the flesh."
The Satipaṭṭhāna is pivoting now – simplistically maybe – to the mind rather than the body. It is pivoting to the inner life where happiness and suffering reside in a deeper way. So that can be met and seen. We are not limited to the physical body, the physical experience. We begin opening to a deeper and deeper inner dimension of our life. And all we are asked to do is to notice: Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
As people meditate, this inner dimension starts becoming bigger, more alive, and more of a reference point. As important as being embodied in the physical body is for some people, there is this other area that is deeper. Some people have a connection to it. Because it is in the body anyway – within the body – they often associate it with their body and think this is being embodied. It definitely can be that, but we are trying to make a distinction here, to go along with the instructions.
As we learn, settle, and get calmer, more concentrated, and more connected to ourselves in meditation – this inner dimension begins growing. This inner dimension then provides the material for the last two foundations of mindfulness: the mind, and the inner processes that lead to suffering or to happiness. It is a very important foundation to switch from the physical body to a heightened sensitivity to this non-physical inner dimension of feeling, which can exist.
In a way the non-physical feelings can be a little more enduring than the physical ones. The Buddha likened physical vedanā, physical feelings, to raindrops on top of a lake. A big rain is pouring down on the lake and there are all these little splatters. Physical sensations, if you are really connected to them, will seem almost like little splatters – little sparks that come and go, that rise and pass.
This inner dimension that is not of the flesh usually has a feeling of more endurance. It is primarily pleasant feelings. There can be "not of the flesh" feelings that are unpleasant. But in the teachings of the Buddha, he begins emphasizing the pleasure that is there. That is the orientation. In meditation as we go deeper and deeper, we begin to appreciate and feel the pleasant inner sensations that are there. And make room for them.
As in today's guided meditation, it is possible that this becomes the orientation or the reference point for mindfulnes, awareness practice – no matter what we are aware of. It is not that we are aware only of pain, but we are aware of a certain pleasure, beauty, love, care, spaciousness, and equanimity which support the awareness of pain or suffering.
We learn to not only be identified with the experience of the moment in terms of pleasure and pain, but to also start to identify with this inner place of well-being, calm, or equanimity with which we can know what is happening for us.
If this made sense to you, you might spend the day reflecting, thinking, feeling, exploring your relationship to this non-physical place within. It might be part of your body, but it is a non-sensed place that is not triggered by the ordinary senses.
It is independent of the ordinary senses – the inner place where your beauty resides – your inner beauty, inner love, inner goodness, inner settledness, inner spaciousness, inner joy, inner happiness, inner calm.
Exactly what this is for any one of you is variable. What experiences have you had that touch this? What history or reference points do you have for this in the course of your life? What have been the strongest reference points for this? How do you experience it in daily life? What is a useful way to stay more in touch with it and closer to it, so you do not lose track of it?
Maybe talk to some friends. You can explain this to them and see what their experiences have been about this. I want you to spend the day contemplating the nature of this inner beauty.
So, thank you and we will continue with this one more day.