Sunday, 22 June 2014

MN44: The Shorter Series of Questions and Answers

Notes on Buddhist suttas

Craving is the origin of our "identity". Craving refers to craving for sensual pleasures, for being, and for non-being. Our identity refers to five aggregates: our physical existence, feelings, perception, "formations", and consciousness. We tend to regard the aggregates as ourselves (e.g. "I am my body"), a possession of self (e.g. "My body is part of my self"), or some other idea that mixes the notions of aggregates and "self" together.

The cessation of identity is brought about by the cessation of craving. The cessation of craving is bought about by following the noble eightfold path.

"Formations" refers to actions committed bodily (in-breathing and out-breathing), verbally (applied and sustained thoughts), or mentally (perception and feeling).

There are three types of feeling: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Lust underlies pleasant feeling. Aversion underlies painful feeling. Ignorance underlies neutral feelings. It isn't all-inclusive, though. For example, the underlying tendency to lust does not underlie all pleasant feeling.

There's an interesting twist, though. Dhammadinna, the bhikkhuni answering the questions said that we should give up the underlying tendency towards lust, aversion, and ignorance. However, we do not have to abandon all of these tendencies in regard to feelings. It is a little unclear as to what this means. Subsequent passages seem to hint at the answer. Sensual pleasures should be abandoned, but the pleasures of jhana do not. "With that he abandons lust, and the underlying tendency to lust does not underlie that".

Likewise, not all unpleasant feeling need to be abandoned. Grief is mentioned specifically. "In one who thus generates a longing for the supreme liberations, grief arises with that long as condition".

Furthermore, when the fourth jhana is attained, there is equanimity, "which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure".

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