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May 30th
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Home Teachings Love and Hatred What Caused Love and Hatred - Wholesome and Unwholesome

What Caused Love and Hatred - Wholesome and Unwholesome

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Wholesome and Unwholesome

Pleasant Feeling and Unwholesome Thoughts

Pleasant feelings that lead to unwholesome thoughts are rooted in sensual things. Most people are preoccupied with such things as sex and food. If they get what they want, they rejoice. However, their joy leads to more desire, and so for many people their so-called happiness is founded on desire. If this desire is not fulfilled they are frustrated and unhappy. This means the emergence of unwholesome thoughts, which bring the agents of expansion, namely craving, conceit and wrong-view, into play. The pleasant feelings that we should avoid are mentioned in the Sâlâyatanavibhanga Sutta of the Majjhimanikâya. The discourse likens sense-objects to human dwellings because they keep people in confinement. People derive pleasure from contact with them or from memories of that contact. There are six kinds of pleasant feelings rooted in the six sense-objects and their respective sense-organs.

The way to avoid pleasant, but unwholesome, feelings is to be mindful at the moment of seeing, etc. If sensual thoughts cause pleasure, the meditator must note and reject them. However, one who is a beginner cannot follow and note all the mental processes, so he starts with the object of contact and becomes aware of one of the primary elements: solidity, cohesion, temperature and motion (pathavî, âpo, tejo, vâyo).

In the Satipatthâna Sutta the Buddha says, "When walking he [the meditator] knows, 'I am walking' (Gacchanto vâ gacchâmi 'ti pajânâti)." This saying refers to clear awareness of rigidity and motion (vâyo), but as he notes walking, the meditator is also aware of the hardness and softness (pathavî) , the warmth and coldness (tejo) and the heaviness and dampness (âpo) in the feet and the body. Though the element of âpo is intangible it can be known through contact with the other elements that are bound up with it.

Meditators at our meditation centre in Rangoon begin with contact and motion in the abdomen, which are the easiest and most obvious to note while sitting. The tenseness and motion in the abdomen are the marks of the vâyo element. They practise noting (in their own language) the rising and falling of the abdomen. This practice has helped many meditators to attain insights and make significant progress on the holy path.

In the beginning, the meditator constantly watches the abdominal rising and falling. He notes any mental event that occurs while engaged in such concentration. A feeling of joy may arise but it disappears when it is noted and usually does not intrude if the meditator keeps on watching the rising and falling. When the Buddha speaks of unwholesome joy, this means that we should focus on mind and matter in order to head off sensual joy, and that if such joy arises we should note it and reject it at once.

Wholesome Joy

Then there is wholesome joy, which the Buddha describes in the same discourse as follows. Having realised the impermanence and dissolution of matter, the meditator knows that all matter that he has seen before and is seeing now is subject to impermanence (anicca) and unsatisfactoriness (dukkha). This insight knowledge causes joy, and such joy may be described as the pleasant feeling that is rooted in liberation from sensual desire.

This is part of the teaching in the discourse. The commentary adds that the meditator is joyful because he attains insight into impermanence, etc., as a result of his mindfulness of the six sense-objects. Such joy is wholesome and desirable.

The commentary describes four kinds of wholesome joy:

  1. the joy due to renunciation of worldly affairs,
  2. the joy associated with insight practice,
  3. the joy based on contemplation of the Buddha, etc., and
  4. the joy resulting from absorption in the first jhâna, etc.

Some people are joyful when they think of their renunciation of worldly affairs, their ordination as bhikkhus and the practice of the monastic discipline, concentration and so forth. Feelings of joy also arise when they hear a discourse on the Dhamma or when they go to a meditation centre for the practice of insight meditation. This joy is wholesome since it is dissociated from secular life.

The joy dependent on insight may be the joy that arises while one is being mindful. In particular the highest joy is the joy associated with the emergence of insight into the arising and passing away of phenomena (udayabbayañâna).

The joy that we have when we contemplate the Buddha, etc., is obvious. The commentaries say that concentration on the joy derived from the six contemplations on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, on one's morality, on one's generosity, and on heavenly beings, can bring about knowledge and fruition of the path. Even Arahantship may be attained if the meditator notes and reflects on the dissolution and cessation of joy (pîti) that is born of these six contemplations. Pîti means joy and obviously the joy derived from the six contemplations is wholesome. So, too, is the joy based on the three jhânas or their access concentration (upacâra samâdhi).

Of the four kinds of renunciation, joining the Sangha means freedom from marital responsibilities. One who practices insight meditation (vipassanâ) is also aloof from attachment and all sensual objects. So the commentary on the Itivuttaka describes ordination, the first jhâna, nibbâna, vipassanâ and all wholesome dhammas as renunciation (nekkhamma).

The joy that is marked by thinking and reflection is of two kinds: happiness (sukha) that is associated with access-concentration (upacâra samâdhi) and happiness associated with the first jhâna. Then, as mentioned before, there are various types of mundane joy: joy over one's ordination, joy that results from insight practice, the joy of contemplating the Buddha, etc. Again, we have four kinds of supramundane joy associated with the four paths of the first jhâna.

Superior to these types of joy are those that have nothing to do with thinking and reflection (vitakka-vicâra). This is the attribute of the second jhâna; which is marked by joy (pîti), bliss (sukha) and one-pointedness of mind (ekaggatâ); and the attribute of the third jhâna, which is also marked by joy and one-pointedness. Such jhânic joy is mundane joy. The joy derived from the four supramundane paths and from the second and third jhânas is free from thinking and reflection and is therefore wholesome. These second and third jhânic joys are far superior to the first jhânic joy or the joy associated with wholesome thoughts in the sensual sphere; and so too is the joy of insight resulting from attentiveness to the second and third jhânic joy.

A discussion of these joys that are with or without thinking and reflection, is beyond the comprehension of those who have little knowledge of the scriptures. It can be understood thoroughly only by those who have attained jhâna.

According to the commentary, when Sakka asked the Buddha how to overcome desire, conceit and wrong-view (tanhâ, mâna, ditthi) , he was asking the Buddha about the practice of insight on the noble path. The Buddha stressed wholesome pleasure, wholesome displeasure and wholesome indifference as the remedy. It may be hard for unenlightened people to understand this but the Buddha's answer is relevant to the question.

For the devas, mind is more obvious than matter, and among the elements of mind, feeling is more obvious than the others. So the Buddha told Sakka to contemplate his feelings (vedanâ). In many of the Buddha's teachings on insight meditation, contemplating matter takes precedence over contemplating consciousness. This is also true of the Sakkapañha Sutta but here no mention is made of matter since it is implicit in the contemplation of feeling.


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