Equanimity vs indiference

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Equanimity vs indiference

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Jun 30, 2013 12:38 pm

Hello all, Ben

I'm writing a post that I should've written a long time ago.

I did a 10 day vipassana retreat in the SN Goenka system. It was the most profound experience of my life. However, I'm starting to question some of the insights I had. The main insight I had in that retreat was that suffering is realy optional, if you train your mind. This came from the insight that unpleasant sensations are not suffering; it's our attitude towards them that is suffering. However if one accepts this conclusion, the reverse conclusion also follows: pleasant sensations are not happiness. That was even more shocking to me, since I don't know how to deal with that conclusion, I don't know how to be happy.

One way to untie this knot is to distinguish sensations in two categories: physical and mental. In that case, my insight was that the unpleasant physical sensations are not suffering, it's the unpleasant mental sensations that are suffering. If that's the case, It's only the pleasant physical sensations that are not happiness; the pleasant mental sensations are happiness.

Maybe this is a oversimplification, but would you say that this is basicaly correct?
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Equanimity vs indiference

Postby Coyote » Sun Jun 30, 2013 12:47 pm

Pleasant mental sensations are conditioned, impermanent and non-self, just like anything else. They can be wholesome and factors of the path, and if this is what you mean, then yes, they can be a wholesome form of happiness.
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Re: Equanimity vs indiference

Postby IanAnd » Sun Jun 30, 2013 6:05 pm

Hi Modus,
Modus.Ponens wrote:I did a 10 day vipassana retreat in the SN Goenka system. It was the most profound experience of my life. However, I'm starting to question some of the insights I had. The main insight I had in that retreat was that suffering is really optional, if you train your mind. This came from the insight that unpleasant sensations are not suffering; it's our attitude towards them that is suffering.

That was a very eye-opening and important insight for you to have had. But it is only the first step on the way to realizing a more complete insight. This is not to slight the insight that you had. Only to say that you need to use that insight to go deeper and look harder at your experience in order to uncover even greater insight.

Has it ever occurred to you that it is your identification with a feeling or sensation that opens the door to suffering (dukkha)? When you identify with the unpleasant feeling or sensation (or even the converse, a pleasant feeling or sensation) you make it a part of the "you" with which you identify. Suddenly, you create in your mind a subject ("me") who is experiencing the unpleasant (or pleasant) experience. It then becomes in your mind "this is me, this is mine, this is myself" as the suttas point out. When you practice equanimity toward all phenomena, you begin to take away that identification aspect of the experience, and, for instance, a painful bodily sensation suddenly becomes "the body is experiencing pain" rather than "I am experiencing pain; oh woe is me!"

This is a change in perspective, more than anything else. It says "I will endure whatever it is that I am experiencing at this moment, because all these phenomenon are impermanent, suffering, and not-self. Therefore it cannot affect how I view this experience when I let go of the identification with the experience. I must only become able to endure the experience (to let it be, without reacting to it) until it ends, and things become more pleasant and agreeable."

Practicing equanimity is only a stepping stone on the way to a larger realization and insight. While it can seem redundant to keep pointing out that things are anicca, dukkha, and anatta, when you fully realize this statement (in the same way that you had the insight you mentioned above), it will become a profound and life changing moment.

Modus.Ponens wrote:However if one accepts this conclusion, the reverse conclusion also follows: pleasant sensations are not happiness. That was even more shocking to me, since I don't know how to deal with that conclusion, I don't know how to be happy.

You don't necessarily need to strive to always be happy. Become satisfied with being content in the moment. Contentment can lead to overall happiness. Being content in the moment allows things to be as they are. Then, if there is a possibility that you can change the present moment to become more agreeable, you can contemplating making those changes that will allow that to occur. Being content takes into consideration equanimity toward all formations. While the formation may be either pleasant or unpleasant, equanimity reduces the effect that the moment has on your outlook and attitude until you realize more fully that the formation is anicca, dukkha, and anatta, and therefore not worthy of the importance the mind assigns to it.

A wise man once said: "The heart of a wise man is tranquil and still. Thus it is the mirror of heaven and earth."

And: "So is truth hard to understand. Accept that which cannot be spoken. Recognize that all words are part true and part false, limited by our imperfect understanding. Strive always for honesty within yourself."

And: "Know when to let go of those things that do no serve you, but force you to serve them."

Modus.Ponens wrote:One way to untie this knot is to distinguish sensations in two categories: physical and mental. In that case, my insight was that the unpleasant physical sensations are not suffering, it's the unpleasant mental sensations that are suffering. If that's the case, It's only the pleasant physical sensations that are not happiness; the pleasant mental sensations are happiness.

Be careful not to over-think this. You may miss something in the process of over-thinking.

Unpleasant physical sensations, just as unpleasant mental sensations, can be viewed as suffering. It all depends on how one views these.

Pleasant physical sensations need not be viewed as either happiness or unhappiness, but rather agreeable or disagreeable. This does not mean that pleasant physical sensations cannot lead to a happy (or contented) feeling. They can. It is only in how one handles these two that makes the difference in how they may affect one.
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Re: Equanimity vs indiference

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Jun 30, 2013 7:03 pm

IanAnd wrote:Hi Modus,
Modus.Ponens wrote:I did a 10 day vipassana retreat in the SN Goenka system. It was the most profound experience of my life. However, I'm starting to question some of the insights I had. The main insight I had in that retreat was that suffering is really optional, if you train your mind. This came from the insight that unpleasant sensations are not suffering; it's our attitude towards them that is suffering.

That was a very eye-opening and important insight for you to have had. But it is only the first step on the way to realizing a more complete insight. This is not to slight the insight that you had. Only to say that you need to use that insight to go deeper and look harder at your experience in order to uncover even greater insight.

Has it ever occurred to you that it is your identification with a feeling or sensation that opens the door to suffering (dukkha)? When you identify with the unpleasant feeling or sensation (or even the converse, a pleasant feeling or sensation) you make it a part of the "you" with which you identify. Suddenly, you create in your mind a subject ("me") who is experiencing the unpleasant (or pleasant) experience. It then becomes in your mind "this is me, this is mine, this is myself" as the suttas point out. When you practice equanimity toward all phenomena, you begin to take away that identification aspect of the experience, and, for instance, a painful bodily sensation suddenly becomes "the body is experiencing pain" rather than "I am experiencing pain; oh woe is me!"

This is a change in perspective, more than anything else. It says "I will endure whatever it is that I am experiencing at this moment, because all these phenomenon are impermanent, suffering, and not-self. Therefore it cannot affect how I view this experience when I let go of the identification with the experience. I must only become able to endure the experience (to let it be, without reacting to it) until it ends, and things become more pleasant and agreeable."

Practicing equanimity is only a stepping stone on the way to a larger realization and insight. While it can seem redundant to keep pointing out that things are anicca, dukkha, and anatta, when you fully realize this statement (in the same way that you had the insight you mentioned above), it will become a profound and life changing moment.

Modus.Ponens wrote:However if one accepts this conclusion, the reverse conclusion also follows: pleasant sensations are not happiness. That was even more shocking to me, since I don't know how to deal with that conclusion, I don't know how to be happy.

You don't necessarily need to strive to always be happy. Become satisfied with being content in the moment. Contentment can lead to overall happiness. Being content in the moment allows things to be as they are. Then, if there is a possibility that you can change the present moment to become more agreeable, you can contemplating making those changes that will allow that to occur. Being content takes into consideration equanimity toward all formations. While the formation may be either pleasant or unpleasant, equanimity reduces the effect that the moment has on your outlook and attitude until you realize more fully that the formation is anicca, dukkha, and anatta, and therefore not worthy of the importance the mind assigns to it.

A wise man once said: "The heart of a wise man is tranquil and still. Thus it is the mirror of heaven and earth."

And: "So is truth hard to understand. Accept that which cannot be spoken. Recognize that all words are part true and part false, limited by our imperfect understanding. Strive always for honesty within yourself."

And: "Know when to let go of those things that do no serve you, but force you to serve them."

Modus.Ponens wrote:One way to untie this knot is to distinguish sensations in two categories: physical and mental. In that case, my insight was that the unpleasant physical sensations are not suffering, it's the unpleasant mental sensations that are suffering. If that's the case, It's only the pleasant physical sensations that are not happiness; the pleasant mental sensations are happiness.

Be careful not to over-think this. You may miss something in the process of over-thinking.

Unpleasant physical sensations, just as unpleasant mental sensations, can be viewed as suffering. It all depends on how one views these.

Pleasant physical sensations need not be viewed as either happiness or unhappiness, but rather agreeable or disagreeable. This does not mean that pleasant physical sensations cannot lead to a happy (or contented) feeling. They can. It is only in how one handles these two that makes the difference in how they may affect one.


Hello Ian

Thank you for your response. :)

The problem here is the logical circularity that is either on your argument or on my mind. I know no other true happiness than pleasant mental sensations. You say (simplifying your argument) that by being equanimnous towards both unpoleasant sensations and pleasant sensations, "I" will be happy. However, how can I be happy, if I'm being equanimous? Is it that my equanimity is more indifference than equanimity, so I can't experience happiness with an equanimous mind?

To use an example, the suttas say that the 3rd jhana is praised by the noble ones as a pleasant abiding. If it is nothing more than (pleasant) sensations, how can it constitute happiness?

Metta