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Vedana: As a Person Feels, So Are They

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[Note: I was looking back over some posts I had made in another forum and came across this one, which touches on a theme I have touched on here many times. It was composed in July of 2008, and was written during a time when I was endeavoring to bring some insight into the practice to others in the forum, it being a forum composed mostly of beginners in the practice.] 

This morning I found myself contemplating the Buddha's teaching of vedana. Feeling and how a person feels in any given moment carries a great influence over what a person thinks and how they subsequently act and react to events (phenomena) in their lives. If people were more aware of how great the influence that feeling has on how they think about certain phenomena, it could have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the events in their lives.

As I was contemplating these thoughts, as often occurs, I began to have associative thoughts concerning a book I'd read and been impressed with many years ago. The book was a rather small volume, only about 32 pages, but it made a lasting impression on my mind at the time. The book's title was As A Man Thinketh, and it was written by a turn of the century author named James Allen.

As my morning contemplation deepened, my mind was searching for the connecting strands of thought and realization between the two ideas of "as a man thinks, so is he" and "as a person feels, so are they." It occurred to me that the latter of these two ideas was the more profound, as it pinpointed the exact place in one's experience where thought is most likely to be influenced, thought being the end result of the conditioning of how one feels. Yet, I was still very impressed by Mr. Allen's insight into a portion of this reality, and how closely it resembled the Buddha's insights. Perhaps it was because Mr. Allen's thought itself had been influenced by the Buddha.

Once again, I'm placing this post in the "All things Dhamma" forum because it is a fundamental teaching indicative of all schools of Buddhism, and therefore should not be subject to any sectarian discrimination or disagreement.

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A Brief Preface

Over a century ago, a writer by the name of James Allen wrote and published a small volume entitled As A Man Thinketh. Although Mr. Allen enjoyed literary fame as an author and novelist during his time, it has been said that among all that he wrote no other work of his has been as prized as this small volume he published in 1904. Allen himself did not consider this book a major work, although its application has touched thousands and its message is intensely relevant in any age.

The book follows the theme that within ourselves is the capacity for success or failure, that our own thoughts and desires will ultimately be fulfilled, and that we have but to cultivate a higher vision, the greater glory of which will yield a full and rich life. Allen had an abiding spiritual depth (Christian) that is comforting and determined, though accompanied by warning and admonition. Life has both, and its precarious journey requires such awareness if one is to successfully navigate one's way through the experience.

Such sentiments are not so foreign to one who is familiar with the sentiments of the Buddha, who has said that: "Mind is the forerunner of all actions. All deeds are led by mind, created by mind. If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows, as the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart. . . . Just as an arrowsmith shapes an arrow to perfection with fire, so does the wise man shape his mind, which is fickle, unsteady, vulnerable, and erratic."

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From the Foreward to the book

This little volume (the result of meditation and experience) is not intended as an exhaustive treatise on the much-written-upon subject of the power of thought. It is suggestive rather than explanatory, its object being to stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that: "They themselves are the makers of themselves" by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage; that mind is the master-weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and that as they may have hitherto woven in ignorance and pain they may now weave in enlightenment and happiness.

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The simplest of observations are often the most profound. If we could go back and observe the sequence of events that shaped our individual minds, we might discover the origins of how we were conditioned to view the world and our experience of it. The ultimate goal of contemplation during meditation is to shed light on these facts for our own illumination. When we can see how things began and then progressed, we become aware of how profoundly our actions and reactions have been shaped by the inner mechanisms taking place just beneath the awareness of our gross consciousness.

Gotama taught that "feeling" is influenced by six preceeding factors within one's experience, the primary influence being the first of these six conditioning factors in the form of "ignorance." Ignorance is the first factor making up the twelve factored teaching of dependent co-arising. Following ignorance, in order, are volitional formations (sankhara), consciousness (vinnana), name-and-form (namarupa), the six sense bases (ayatanas), and contact (phasa), with feeling being the seventh factor. If one were to examine their experience of phenomena with a fine magnifying glass of inner observation, this is what one would find leading up to the formation of either a pleasant or unpleasant or neutral feeling.

In other words, based upon either ignorance or a clear comprehension of a phenomenon, a person experiences certain volitional formations which are then either acted upon or resisted. The actual steps leading up to these formations being formed by the combined effect of consciousness, name-and-form, the six sense bases, contact, and feeling all taking place in more or less the same instant. One first becomes conscious of a phenomenon which is then identified by name-and-form based upon contact with one of the six sense bases and feeling. These five factors of the paticca samuppada make up five eighths of the central factors that wield so much influence over our lives, the other three being craving (tanha), clinging (upadana), and volitional formations (sankhara).

If you stop to think about it, how we feel about a particular phenomenon is often what influences our gross thoughts about that phenomenon. For instance, if I am walking on a dry and dusty road feeling parched and hot, and I happen upon a tree standing beside a clear pond of fresh spring water, I am apt to experience a pleasant feeling about this scene. The fresh spring water will ease my parched throat, and the shade from the tree will shield me from the beating rays of the summer sun.

In his book, Mr. Allen starts out by quoting the Christian Bible: "The aphorism, 'As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,' not only embraces the whole of a man's being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts." Further on, he quotes the quote above from the Buddha (Mind is the forerunner...) although in a different form from the translation used above:

Thought in the mind hath made us. What we are
By thought was wrought and built. If a man's mind
Hath evil thoughts, pain comes on him as comes
The wheel the ox behind . . . If one endure
In purity of thought, joy follows him
As his own shadow — sure.


This indicates to us that his thought had been directly influence by the Buddha. Yet following this he comments that: "Man is a growth by law, and not a creation by artifice, and cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating in the hidden realm of thought as in the world of visible material things. A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts."

Coming from his Christian background, it is not surprising then that he has seemed to take a rather substantialist's viewpoint of life and existence, characterized by the references to "God-" and "Godlike." And yet, it should not be forgotten that he was speaking to what amounted to a majority of readers who were of a Christian background and upbringing. The conditioning of his own mind was such that he viewed himself and his reader as being Christian in religious preference. This is further brought home by references to "Divine Perfection" as in the following statement: "By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast."

I mention this only to demonstrate a fundamental difference between what Mr. Allen is saying in his book (albeit it sounds so familiar when compared with what was taught by the Buddha) and what Gotama was saying those long years ago. Gotama found no substantial "being" in control of man's destiny or fate, whereas Mr. Allen's faulty analysis accepts this as a fact of his viewpoint. And it is here where the two ultimately part ways, and why those who follow the Buddha's teaching find lasting peace no matter the circumstances, which is not always the case for those who follow other faiths or teachings.

The main point of this exercise was only to take notice of the fact that while thought is clearly a significant influence in our lives, forming and shaping the basis of the character (persona) we subsequently retain, that ultimately this thought is itself influenced by even subtler levels of awareness which were pointed out to us through Gotama's Dhamma. That based upon either the ignorance of or the clear comprehension of a phenomenon, one's thoughts are influenced in one direction or another. If existence can be recognized in each moment for what it truly is — meaning as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and without self nature — and the mind which recognizes this is balanced by equanimity and imperturbability (dispassion), then surely happiness and peace will follow that person.

On the other hand, a mind disturbed by agitation, by the twin phantoms of "good" and "evil" among other phenomena, has a tendency to remain unsettled and therefore unhappy and not very peaceful. The choice, then, is one's own. The vehicle for maintaining peace and contentment being continual mindfulness (vigilance). If we are up to the challenge, the Buddha has provided us with the "keys to the kingdom" — so to speak.

RE: Vedana: As a Person Feels, So Are They
Answer
1/8/16 7:29 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Howdy Ian,
excellent post, thanks for it.

the point along the contingent wave of self-creation where vedana hovers is pointed out in many places and in different ways.

as a practical matter i have been attracted to the five aggregate description particularly because it is a useful framework while sitting. for the beginner, all of these agregates are invisible, due to ignorance, and seen just as one thing: me and my experience!  when one hears the teaching and applies it, the distinctions of form, feelings, perception, volitional formations, conciousness are seen to be aspects of that experience where a focused mind can rest. 

that point between feelings and perception is what you are describing and is where the influence of the former on the latter can best be seen through.

as to the author's christian framework that is most probably due to his desire not to alienate his readership.  i personally give the benefit of the doubt to anyone trying to describe these esoteric notions by trying to see the commonalities rather than the differences as i'm sure you do as well.  its almost automatic for me these days.

anyway, great point to put attention that vedana and great to read you.

tom