Feelings within the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

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Feelings as Having the Four Aspects of True Suffering

As we have seen, the four aspects of true suffering also apply to feelings. All feelings – happiness, unhappiness and neutral – are nonstatic, miserable, devoid of a coarse “me” experiencing them and lack a subtle “me” experiencing them. That is the general way of looking at them. They are unsatisfying, rather than looking at them as happiness and satisfying. In this general way of looking at them, if you have unhappiness, then obviously you want to be parted from it. If you have ordinary happiness, it doesn’t last and, even though you want to not be parted from it, you are going to be parted from it. It’s going to go. The neutral feeling that you have in these very deep meditative absorptions – in these higher planes of existence where you have a neutral feeling in the fourth dhyana and the formless ones – you would like that not to degenerate; but these states themselves are impermanent and are going to come to an end. It is going to degenerate. None of them are satisfying. All of them are problematic.

On a deeper level the first type of unhappiness is the first type of suffering, the suffering of suffering. The feeling of our ordinary happiness is the suffering of change and the neutral feeling is still an example of the all-pervasive suffering of what you are going to have with these aggregates that basically come out of karma and the disturbing emotions. They still perpetuate samsaric rebirth.

Regarding the Feelings as Nothing Special

This is what we are trying to understand when we focus on the feelings: that these feelings of happiness and unhappiness – which are “tainted,” because they have come from unawareness or ignorance – are not only the problem, but also the cause of suffering and the cause of uncontrollably recurring rebirth. This is because we thirst not to be parted or to be parted from them or for them not to degenerate, and then we become attached to the objects of them and we identify with them and think in terms of “me” and how can we possess them. We think “I’m happy; I’m unhappy and I don’t want to be unhappy” – this “me-me-me” type of thing. All of that is based on unawareness of how we exist. Who is it that wants to be happy and not to be unhappy? All of that activates this so-called throwing karma that perpetuates uncontrollably recurring rebirth.

This is the basic foundation within which we understand and practice the close placement of mindfulness on the feelings. That really is a very important practice. A beginning level of it I call the “nothing special” meditation. There is a whole course on that on my website. Whether we are feeling unhappy or we are feeling happy, so what? Nothing special; what do we expect? That’s the nature of this uncontrollably recurring existence. It’s going to go up and down. Sometimes we feel happy and sometimes we feel unhappy. No big deal. Of course, it’s going to change from moment to moment and of course the intensity will change. It goes up and down. There’s nothing special about it, so don’t freak out like “Oh, I’m happy, aren’t we happy? Aren’t we having a good time?” That destroys the happiness. Or, “I’m so depressed, I’m so unhappy.” Then we just identify with it. That’s the problem. An attitude of “nothing special,” however, is not the same as an attitude of “whatever.” “Whatever” means we don’t care, so we don’t make any effort to overcome suffering and attain a true stopping of it. We do care, but we don’t make a big deal of what we’re feeling now and let it hinder our practice toward gaining liberation and enlightenment.

[See: Mind Training in Daily Life: Nothing Special]

So, what we want to do is adopt this attitude, on this very beginning level, of “nothing special,” so that we’re not caught up with our feelings. This is what we want to do. We want to not thirst for these feelings and not have one of the obtainer attitudes in terms of these feelings, because if we have that based on unawareness – that it’s this impossible “me” that wants not to be parted from this happiness that is going to change anyway, “me, me, me” – it’s going to perpetuate this whole cycle of uncontrollably recurring rebirth and more suffering. We want to stop perpetuating it. That’s the whole point, to achieve a true stopping of that uncontrollably recurring rebirth with a body that has all of these problems and with feelings that are just going to elicit more disturbing emotions and attitudes.

We want to stop that so that, instead, we have an unlimited type of body as an arhat or a Buddha. Instead of these so-called tainted feelings, tainted by this unawareness that leads to disturbing emotions and compulsive behavior, which then leads to these types of feelings, instead we just have what’s called “pure feelings.” As an arhat we have sometimes a blissful feeling or sometimes a neutral feeling depending on what type of meditation we’re doing. Arhats can meditate on these various deep trances and so on and can have a neutral feeling. Otherwise they feel happy. Or, we can become a Buddha, in which case we can have the blissful untainted happiness of a Buddha. We don’t want to have our ordinary, very unsatisfying up and down type of feelings of ordinary life.