This passage is one of my favorites. Exactly because of the expectation that the symmetry is dual, our minds get caught with surprise. What this crucial phrase says to me is that the neutral feeling can be ignored into ignorance or explored into knowledge. In other words, be very mindful when having a neutral feeling. It is a double trap for the mind. We can get trapped in ignorance or get trapped in the mindless pursuit of knowledge.
The fantastic part of the wording is that the wording itself triggers the neutral feeling. The wording made you post your question. You had a neutral feeling. Now THAT is elegant.
“For pleasant feeling, friend Visākha, the tendency to passion underlies it, for unpleasant feeling the tendency to repulsion underlies it, for neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant feeling ignorance underlies it.” SuttaCentral
When facing a neutral feeling we can dismiss it as unimportant and ignore it. In this way ignorance grows. This happens with conventional boredom and the infamous “been there done that”.
Or we can pursue it delighting in new knowledge (i.e., feed the grasping aggregates). This happens with obsession about learning.
Or we can understand enough to relinquish the neutral feeling. Imagine being shown an iPhone for the first time. With equanimity, we would ask for a demo, then go on our way without dismissal or obsession.
Because of MN44 and the above personal understanding, I have restrained my sense of curiousity per #3. Before, I used to do #2. As a result my time is better spent and my decisions are sufficiently informed without obsession with possiblities. This is why I like MN44–it has improved my life.
The way to do this ‘professionally’ is to watch neutral feelings, and indeed all feelings begin and fade.
You would need to be intentionally mindful. I recall a meditation master once telling me that a stream entrant’s mindfulness [or the level of mindfulness needed for stream entry or to become a stream entrant] is aware of phenomena as it arises, whilst everyone else only become aware when it has gone past the beginning and somewhere in the middle, so that they don’t really see ‘arising and passing away’. This of course, might only be possible at a retreat, when the mind has samadhi and is very quiet and mindfulness is very sensitive of subtle phenomena.
You don’t need to be aware of any particular feeling to reach it! But equnamous feelings are part of the fourth jhana of course!
If I see a pleasant sight or taste it can develop into cravings… and even further into attachments, and actions which are unwholesome, and sometimes when I describe it like this some think it’s not my own experience. But it is a result of ‘mapping’ my knowledge of the suttas on to my experiences that make it sound like straight from the texts! Sometimes I note pleasant feelings can end up, going through cravings, attachments and into a visual image which I think is bhava or a (potential) plane of existence, which can lead to rebirth (if enough good karma is present) and it will also require a body to re-experience that which is craved.