Translation of Lewis R. Lancaster

Continued from issue #11


Having attained to the Application of Mindfulness to the Body, he (the meditator) thinks further: "Why do sentient beings greedily cling to this body?"

      Now this (clinging) occurs because the feelings (vedana) of these beings are pleasurable. Why is this the case?  From the contact between the internal six senses and the six sense-fields, there arises the six kinds of consciousness (vijnana) in which are produced the three sorts of feelings:   (1) suffering, (2) pleasure, (3) neither suffering nor pleasure.

All beings desire the feeling of pleasure and conversely dislike that of suffering, while the feeling of neither suffering or pleasure is not grasped or rejected. Thus it is said:

Be they evil men or monks,

Devas, worldlings, or crawling creatures,

In all the Ten Directions and in all the Five Destinies,

All beings desire pleasure and dislike suffering.

But being confused, perverse, and deluded,

They do not know that Nirvana is the place of eternal pleasure.

Lewis Lancaster is an Associate Professor in the Department of Oriental Languages, University of California, Berkeley.

The yogins are aware of these pleasurable feelings and know them as they really are--lacking in any pleasure and possessing only suffering. Why?  Pleasure is called true pleasure when it is without perverted views since all worldly pleasurable feelings spring from perverted views, they consequently have no truth. Further more, from these "pleasant" feelings, though one may wish to experience pleasure, in fact only pain results. Thus we have the (verse):

If a man goes out on the ocean and faces a great storm,

The waves rise and fall like dark mountains attacking him.

If he enters into a great battle,

He must pass along great steep roads and dangerous mountain passes.

Even a respected elder or a wealthy man degrades himself

When associating with persons of low estate for the purpose of sex.

In this way, all manner of great suffering

Is due to greedy thoughts bent on pleasure.

      Thus we see that the feeling of "pleasure" produces all manner of sufferings.

Although the Buddha said that the feeling of pleasure is indeed one of the feelings, that pleasure is so slight a thing that it should be called "suffering," in the same way that a barrel of honey poured into a great river loses all of its flavor (of sweetness).


If worldly "pleasure" is actually "suffering" because it results from perverted views, should it not be the case that the Noble Ones (aryans) produce from meditation (dhyana) pleasure which is without the defilement of outflows (asrava) and thus is most certainly pleasure? For if pleasure is not born of delusion and perverted views, then how can it be suffering?


Such pleasure is not suffering. Although the Buddha taught that impermanence is suffering, it was in reference to the mental states (dharmas) having defiling outflows.1 This is so because ordinary men attach their thoughts to these mental states, and because such states are impermanent and destructible, suffering arises. On the other hand, those mental states which are without the defiling outflows2 do not bring about attachment, and thus even though they are impermanent, they do not produce regret, sadness, suffering, agony, etc. Therefore the (feeling) is not called "suffering" because it does not permit the bonds (of attachment) to arise. If pleasure, which is unconnected to defiling outflows, was in fact suffering, it would not have been necessary for the Buddha to preach a separate truth regarding the Path (marga), for all truth would have been contained in the Truth of Suffering (duhkhsatya).


There are two kinds of pleasure, with outflows and lacking any outflows. That is to say, there is the pleasure associated with the defiling outflows which is vulgar, lowly, and evil, and there is pleasure not connected with the outflows which is exalted and subtle. How can this be explained? In the former pleasure, attachment occurs, while in the latter there is none. Yet attachment to the exalted subtle pleasure should preponderate, just as the lusting for gold, silver and jewels is so intense.  How could it possibly be the same as for grass and trees?


The pleasure, which is without outflows, is exalted and subtle and in it there is more wisdom (prajna), thus one can cut off these attachments.   But in the pleasure, which is associated with the outflows, craving, and other such thoughts, predominate, and it is just this craving which is the origin of attachment. True wisdom can free one from this, with the result that there is no more attachment. The wisdom, which is separated from the outflows, always brings about the comprehension that all is impermanent, and this observation means that the bonds of attachment, such as craving, are not produced. For example, just as a sheep near a tiger cannot grow fat although he has good grass and sweet water, so all the Noble Ones, when they experience pleasure, which is without outflows, do not produce the fat of attachment because they see that all is impermanent and empty. Let it be noted that the pleasure which is not associated with outflows is never experienced apart from the Three Concentrations3 or the Sixteen Aspects (akara)4 of the Four Noble Truths. These Noble Ones never have the mark of a sentient being; if they did, attachments would arise in their thoughts.

It is for these reasons that the pleasure, which is without outflows, although exalted and subtle, does not produce attachments. And the Noble Ones observe that the feeling of worldly pleasure is suffering like that produced by an arrow.5 Even in the feeling of neither suffering nor pleasure, they see the mark of impermanence and destruction. This being so, the feeling of pleasure does not bring about greed, that of suffering does not produce hate, and the feeling of neither suffering nor pleasure does not result in delusion. This is what is meant by the Application of Mindfulness to Feelings.


The yogin (one who practices meditation) asks himself the question:  "When one becomes attached to a body because of (a desire for) pleasure, then who is the receiver of that pleasure?"

Having meditated on it, he understands that feelings come from thought, because it is when the thoughts of beings are wild and deluded that they feel this "pleasure." Since men are deluded, they think they can attain the feeling of "pleasure." And why is it that (nothing is experienced as "pleasure")? At the very outset, when one is about to experience "pleasure," one distinct feeling is produced. When this pleasure actually comes into being, the feeling is different. The two feelings do not touch. How can you say that a thought can feel "pleasure"? The past thought has disappeared and so it cannot feel it; the future thought has not yet arisen, thus it can have none; and the present thought, being a momentary fleeting event, also cannot know the feeling of "pleasure."


The past and future can not feel pleasure. But the present thought, with one mindful moment sustained, can. Why do you say that it does not?


I have said that because it is momentary, it does not know the feeling of pleasure. Also, because all mental states are characterized by impermanence, there is no time when they can last. If a thought could last for one moment, then in the second it ought also to continue. This would mean permanent fixation without the mark of cessation (nirodha). Now the Buddha said that all conditioned mental states possess three characteristics and one of these is cessation. If there were no cessation then it would not be conditioned. In addition, if the mental state has cessation later, it ought to have the mark of cessation from the very outset. For example, a man wears new clothes, and if they are not old on the first day, then they should not be so on the second and so on from one day to ten years; the clothes should remain new and not be old. The fact is, however, that they are already old.  (From this) it should be known that the (oldness) coexists with the newness, but is not noticed because it is slight. Only when the fact of oldness is completely achieved is it noticed.

Therefore, one understands that mental states do not have a time of lasting. How can a thought attain to the feeling of pleasure when it is not  "lasting"? If it is not, then the feeling of pleasure is not possible. For this reason one knows that there is no true recipient of pleasant feelings. Only, in the case of the conventional mental states, by reason of the succession of several states of mind, it is taken to be a single mark, the feeling of pleasure.


How is one to know that all conditioned mental states are impermanent?


Though I have stated it before, I will tell you again. Conditioned mental states are impermanent because they belong to cause and effect. Because they did not exist in the past and now do, because they now exist and in the future will not, they are impermanent. Further, since the mark of impermanence adheres to the conditioned mental states, and these states have no accumulation but are only characterized by mutual encroachment, they are impermanent. (Their impermanence) is also due to the fact that such states are constantly beset with two forms of growing old, the first being the imminence of old age, the second being the decay of old age.6 It is also due to the fact that they are constantly beset by two forms of death, the first is self-death (natural) and the other is being killed by another. Because of this, you can know that all conditioned mental states are impermanent. In the conditioned states, impermanence of thought is most easy to realize. Just as the Buddha said, "Common people sometimes know that the body is impermanent, but do not know that thoughts are also this way." These common men sometimes say that the body is permanent and that by extension thought must also be permanent, but this is a great delusion. The body lasts for some ten or twenty years, but this thought lasts only a matter of days or months, hours or minutes, or even of moments and then is gone. The arising and falling of each (thought) is different and moment to moment does not stay fixed. It is now about to arise, then changes into something arisen; it is now about to fall, then changes into something fallen. As in the case of hallucinations, things, which are real in the conventional sense, cannot attain the mark of truth. For innumerable reasons of this kind, one should know that thought is impermanent. This is what is meant by the Application of Mindfulness to Thought.

To be continued


Buddhist chanting and meditation session, 7 days, 17th-24th August, during the Aquarian full moon, under the direction of monks from Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco. One half-hour of chanting the Buddha's name, one half hour of sitting meditation, alternately from 4:00 AM until 10:00 PM, morning rice gruel, tea, vegetarian meal before noon, Dharma lectures. Sitting, sleeping, eating on the banks of the North Fork of the Smith River, write William Brevoort, Bast Earth Herb, Buddha Root farm, Box 186, Route 3, Reedsport, Oregon 97467. In the name of Amitabha Buddha of Limitless Light.