How to distinguish between mindfulness of the body and mindfulness of feelings

Hello folks,

This is my first post on this forum. I hope what I have to say can lead to an interesting discussion!

I want to practice Mindfulness in daily life. I am curious about how to practice mindfulness of the Body and how it should be understood. The Satipatthana Sutta lists several subsections under mindfulness of the body:

  1. Breathing
  2. Posture
  3. Repulsiveness
  4. Material Elements
  5. Cemetery Contemplations

The thing is, when I am practicing mindfulness of the Postures of my body, which I really understand to mean just a general mindfulness of what the body is up to at any given moment in time, I primarily experience the (postures of the) body through Feelings.

But mindfulness of feelings is its own category. So how should I distinguish between the two? (I can also be aware of the body through any of the other senses, but I am normally not looking at/listening to my body.)

Perhaps it is not so important to keep these conceptually distinct, and that is partially what dependent origination is about:

The form of the body comes into contact with some bodily consciousness and so the feeling dependently originates.

Does anybody else have any thoughts?
Thank you.

Hi Soren,

Welcome to the D&D forum! We hope you enjoy the various resources, FAQs, and previous threads. You can use the search function for topics and keywords you are interested in. Forum guidelines are here: Forum Guidelines. May some of these resources be of assistance along the path.

If you have any questions or need further clarification regarding anything, feel free to contact the moderators by including @moderators in your post or a PM.

Regards,
trusolo (on behalf of the moderators)

1 Like

If you are sitting, you observe the sitting of the body and its nuances, that is mindfulness of the body. While the body is sitting, if that sitting gives rise to a pleasant or unpleasant feeling, that is vedana. The other postures are the same.

Hello,

Thank you for the response. This does not seem very encompassing. Mindfulness of feelings is for any pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feeling that occur in any and all sorts of situations, not just the pleasant or unpleasant ones arising in dependence on a given posture. Also, the question in the OP is mostly about what it means to have mindfulness of the body in a basic sense - if necessarily this awareness of the body seems to come through the route of feelings.

Soren

In the satipaṭṭhāna sutta, mindfulness of the body is its physicality: the elements, the anatomical parts, its aging, decomposition, disposition, arrangement, etc. The sensations arising in the body—painful pleasant or neutral—are feelings.

Obviously there is some overlap in e.g. proprioception. But the distinction between the two doesn’t matter too much, as we’re supposed to pay attention to both anyway! :grin: And indeed as you say, seeing the interplay between the five aggregates is exactly what we’re up to in meditation. So just keep it up! :blush:

3 Likes

I think this refers in fact to the body postures, and you are right that you experience those through the bodily sense of “touch”, as it is called in the Suttas.

What is called “feelings” is however something different: It is the emotional tone of an experience as “pleasant”, “unpleasant”, or “neutral”. This doesn’t specifically refer to the sense of touch, nor does it refer to what we normally call “emotions”, but has a much more general sense.

Of course standing or sitting, etc., can be experienced as pleasant or unpleasant, but this is not what you observe in this moment; at least that’s not the emphasis of this exercise. You just observe the fact that the body is in this particular posture.

See for example:

DN2:65.1-3:
And how does a mendicant have mindfulness and situational awareness?

It’s when a mendicant acts with situational awareness when going out and coming back; when looking ahead and aside; when bending and extending the limbs; when bearing the outer robe, bowl and robes; when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting; when urinating and defecating; when walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, waking, speaking, and keeping silent.

That’s how a mendicant has mindfulness and situational awareness.

3 Likes

This is how I understand it.

Am I sitting or standing? Well, I’m sitting. And I know that I am sitting. That’s Sati of posture. Is it appropriate for me to be sitting (for example, in a bus while a pregnant lady is standing)? I know that my sitting is inappropriate. That’s Sampajanna of posture. Taken together that’s Mindfulness of posture.

While I am sitting, what is the feeling -tone / qualia of the experience of sitting? What is its phenomenal character? Maybe I am sitting by the seashore. And sukha-vedana is arising. Or maybe I am sitting on a long haul economy flight. And dukkha-vedana (not necessarily pain) is arising. Or perhaps I have neither sukha nor dukkha vedana - I’m just sitting here in front of the computer. That’s Mindfulness of vedana.

:slightly_smiling_face:

Hi Soren,
Welcome!
According to the sutta’s, the four applications of mindfulness are fulfilled by practicing mindfulness of breathing.
That means that the context for practicing mindfulness of the body and mindfulness of feelings as described in the Satipatthana Sutta fully, is by sitting down and practicing mindfulness of breathing.
Of course, awareness in daily life is important – but the mindfulness there is a more preliminary kind, as mentioned by others above, in terms of knowing how the body is positioned, and just knowing if what you are doing during your day is appropriate.
The gradual training is a place time and again in the suttas that lays out the path as a sequence. Here is one such place that it is mentioned.
The purpose of mindfulness throughout daily life is more to ensure you are doing the right thing, thinking about things in the right way, speaking and acting well, purifying the coarser defilements of the mind, whereas mindfulness as described in the Satipatthana Sutta is to purify the finer defilements, overcome the five hinderences and enter samadhi.
I hope that helps!

2 Likes

The instructions on feelings in the Satipatthana sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 10, Digha Nikaya 22) differentiate between feelings of the flesh, and not of the flesh. That is a moral distinction which separates feelings from the body.

A nun teaching a layperson at the beginner/intermediate level:

“Perceptions & feelings are mental fabrications.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 44

The final part of the instruction on feelings describes three levels related to beginner, intermediate, and adept. The middle level states how arising and passing away of feelings should be investigated regarding the strategies of right effort resulting in their cultivation or eradication. The practitioner is then able to select feelings not of the flesh as a mental nutriment, which is the aim of mindfulness of feeling for the intermediate practitioner, and vital for path progress.

“But when he has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 14

Bikkhu Bodhi has an upcoming retreat exploring sources of joy not of the flesh:

Yes, thank you, this is mostly what I was thinking.

This is a good point. Whenever mindfulness of feelings is brought up the emphasis is on distinguishing the “hedonic quality” of them. Should we distinguish though between saying that “feelings” is just the emotional tone of an experience, or are the three tones a classification scheme for the different kinds of feelings? (I can’t imagine making a distinction here is too important).

Yes, I think what I am taking away from this discussion is that there are different things that can be focused on which emphasize different aspects of the experience. You can specifically analyze the hedonic quality, or you can pay more attention to the arrangement of the body. Even though both of these can be known through touch the psychological emphasis is different.

I guess my question would be: do you stop here? You might analyze or just “dwell mindfully” over what it “feels” like to sit. You can look at the hedonic tone /quali, but there is also another dimension. For example, walking and sitting feel different, even though they might both be neutral.

Thank you for the welcome! I have understood the phrase “when doing mindfulness of breathing you are practicing the four applications of mindfulness” to mean something like, “mindfulness of breathing is an example of an activity which brings in the applications of mindfulness at once.”

As an analogy, somebody might say that it is important to get the four different types of physical exercise: strength training, cardio training, flexibility training, and balance training, and then go on to say, “when you are doing Yoga you are doing all of these at once!”

1 Like

I am not exactly sure what you mean by this question, but nevertheless I think this Sutta makes it quite clear:

SN36.10: “Mendicants, these three feelings are born, rooted, sourced, and conditioned by contact. What three? Pleasant, painful, and neutral feeling.

Pleasant feeling arises dependent on a contact to be experienced as pleasant. With the cessation of that contact to be experienced as pleasant, the corresponding pleasant feeling ceases and stops.

Painful feeling arises dependent on a contact to be experienced as painful. With the cessation of that contact to be experienced as painful, the corresponding painful feeling ceases and stops.

Neutral feeling arises dependent on a contact to be experienced as neutral. With the cessation of that contact to be experienced as neutral, the corresponding neutral feeling ceases and stops.

When you rub two sticks together, heat is generated and fire is produced. But when you part the sticks and lay them aside, any corresponding heat ceases and stops.

In the same way, these three feelings are born, rooted, sourced, and conditioned by contact. The appropriate feeling arises dependent on the corresponding contact. When the corresponding contact ceases, the appropriate feeling ceases.”

“Contact” is elsewhere described as sixfold, i.e. corresponding to the six senses, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

You find more on “feeling” (Pali vēdana) in the Vēdana Saṁyutta, SN 36.

Note that the Suttas have quite a specific terminology in these things. You can’t equate the word “feeling” to the sense of touch.

1 Like

Hmmm, let me try an analogy. Suppose somebody were to say:
“There are three kinds or rabbits: white rabbits, black rabbits, and gray rabbits.”

In this case it is understood that there are rabbits, but that the rabbits can be classified according to whether they are white, black, or gray. This might not be the only classification scheme possible. You could also classify them as “North American Rabbits,” “South American Rabbits,” etc., for example.

Now consider the other case. Suppose somebody were to say, “There are three primary colors.” Then they proceed to hold up a red ball, a yellow ball, and a blue ball. In this case, there really are just three colors, and we abstract the “colorness” as it’s own intrinsic quality.

Thank you, I took a look, and it is a good read. :slightly_smiling_face:

Yes, I believe you are correct.

1 Like

My point is to try and draw out that mindfulness of breathing is the primary way to practice the four applications of mindfulness. The Satipatthana Sutta lacks a framework for how we should actually practice it. It’s in the mindfulness of breathing sutta that it explicitly says mindfulness of breathing fulfills the four applications of mindfulness:

Mendicants, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated it is very fruitful and beneficial. Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four kinds of mindfulness meditation.
Middle Discourses 118

Nothing else in the suttas is said to fulfill the four applications of mindfulness. It’s also clear from the suttas that the purpose of the four applications of mindfulness is to lead to samadhi, which gives us a bit more context for this.

I don’t disagree that mindfulness throughout the day is important but I’d argue that belongs in right effort and sense restraint. I’m just trying to elevate the 7th factor of the path, right mindfulness, to its more profound place than something we do during the day. That’s how I interpret it anyway.

Not at all!!

This is just the beginning of practicing Mindfulness in daily life (which is your stated goal). One proceeds to develop Mindfulness in all body postures and activities, while maintaining one’s precepts and practicing sense restraint and moderation.

As Mindfulness becomes stronger and its continuity increases, coarse defilements fall away. One is less ‘lost’ in daily life. Because of being more ‘present’ one’s virtue becomes stronger. Since one is less triggered, it becomes easier and easier to maintain the precepts, practice sense restraint and live in moderation. The Mind inclines away from sensual pleasures and towards spiritual happiness.

Only when one’s citta is ready and naturally inclines towards seclusion is one ripe to practice Samadhi and Jhana (AN10.99) while working with the ‘breath body’ and ‘feelings not of the flesh’. Of course, one can try and practice these earlier too, but it becomes a hit or miss affair with repeated failures giving rise to craving which leads one off the path. When one’s Mindfulness is strong enough to see the hindrances quickly one’s Wisdom effortlessly wipes out the finer defilements which is what makes Enlightenment possible. But one needs to develop strong and steady Mindfulness in the first place!

This is why the gradual training is laid out as it is and why the guidance of a Teacher is invaluable.

1 Like

Yes, well said. This is very much I how I understand it too. When I said, “do you stop here?” I intended for my question to be a little more focused. In the words of the Satipatthana Sutta,

mindfulness is established with the thought: “The body exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness

and I was asking about this dimension of practice. At this point, I think I have come to an understanding of my original question.

My point is to try and draw out that mindfulness of breathing is the primary way to practice the four applications of mindfulness.

This is interesting. I have always understood mindfulness of breathing to be one way of bringing all the four frames of reference together at once, and the Buddha highly praised it. But I have not understood it to be the primary way.

I enjoy Bhikkhu Analayo’s instructions in this regard. You can find https://bookshop.org/p/books/satipatthana-meditation-a-practice-guide-analayo/283583?ean=9781911407102 for free as a pdf online. (I’m aware that there are different perspectives here, in fact I think Sujato wrote a book which questions much of the premises here.)

The reason I have a different understanding is that it looks to me like if that were the case, then there would have been no need to teach the 7th factor as it’s own factor, instead it could have been subsumed in one factor: mindfulness of breathing/samadhi, and we would have a 7 fold path.

Again, there are a lot of disagreements over what “Mindfulness” actually means, and we are starting to veer into that territory. I propose we agree to disagree for the time being, or start a new thread :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

Thanks for sharing the link. I can see there are lots of helpful things there and yes there are different perspectives about this topic of course.
I just feel that when in doubt, if we have such and such a way to practice the four applications of mindfulness, and then we have what the Buddha said fulfills the four applications of mindfulness I’d imagine we can’t go wrong if we follow what the Buddha said.

Well, it’s right effort, right mindfulness, right samadhi because there is a one leads to the next relationship. Each factor conditions the next, and makes the next possible, so:
The purpose of right effort is to lead to right mindfulness.
The purpose of right mindfulness (equivalent to mindfulness of breathing in my mind) is to lead to right samadhi.

I think they are quite distinct practices to separate them out. At the same time, there is a lot of overlap too. Practicing the jhanas is included in the third of the applications of mindfulness, mindfulness of the mind:

They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in immersing the mind in samādhi.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out immersing the mind in samādhi.
MN118

Okay – and ultimately I think it’s good to have discussions with others’ viewpoints, so thank you for that.