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Words specifying specifically affective experience in the EBT's

paṭisaṃvedeti
cittasaṅkhāra
affect
emotion
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#1

There has been some discussion about words concerning emotion. I thought it could be useful to bring together in one thread, discussion of words which are used to specifically refer to affective, rather than cognitive, processes.

I will try to keep updating the list as this thread continues. Here are the terms being discussed so far:

  • cittasaṅkhāra
  • paṭisaṃvedeti
  • manasi karoti
  • saṅkappa

I thought it would be useful to draw conversations on this topic into one thread. So far we have below cittasaṅkhāra, and paṭisaṃvedeti. Perhaps we can accumulate a more extensive list, or challenge these two also if they are not purely affective.

I think this will be useful because sometimes we can choose an English word which seems near the Pāli meaning, but sometimes that can result in us changing an affective word into an English equivelent which might not be specific about this being affective. For example someone suggested translating cittasaṅkhāra is as ‘mental process’. Whether or not that might be appropriate, it’s an example of a choice between a purely affective translation (emotion), vs.a translation which can include cognitive processes also (mental process).

@Jayarava has written:

In discussion of cittasaṅkhāra as ‘emotions’ in Ānāpānassati Sutta MN 118 , @sujato noted:

Another word I mentioned in a couple of posts but there was no follow up, so please forgive me for posting it here, in the hope of stimulating more discussion - paṭisaṃvedeti - is it always used with affects, such as emotions; or ever anything specifically cognitive?

In AN 3.54 we have:

“A greedy person, overcome by greed, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They experience mental pain and sadness.

“Ratto kho, brāhmaṇa, rāgena abhibhūto pariyādinnacitto attabyābādhāyapi ceteti, parabyābādhāyapi ceteti, ubhayabyābādhāyapi ceteti, cetasikampi dukkhaṃ domanassaṃ paṭisaṃvedeti .

That seems obviously affective.

DN 2:

All sentient beings, all living creatures, all beings, all souls lack control, power, and energy. Molded by destiny, circumstance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes of rebirth.

Sabbe sattā sabbe pāṇā sabbe bhūtā sabbe jīvā avasā abalā avīriyā niyatisaṅgatibhāvapariṇatā chasvevābhijātīsu sukhadukkhaṃ paṭisaṃvedenti .

Again pleasure and pain are affective. And more affect from the same sutta:

When they have this entire spectrum of noble ethics, they experience a blameless happiness inside themselves.

So iminā ariyena sīlakkhandhena samannāgato ajjhattaṃ anavajjasukhaṃ paṭisaṃvedeti .
[…]
When they have this noble sense restraint, they experience an unsullied bliss inside themselves.
So iminā ariyena indriyasaṃvarena samannāgato ajjhattaṃ abyāsekasukhaṃ paṭisaṃvedeti.

And again on affect from the same sutta, the typical 3rd jhāna formula:

Furthermore, with the fading away of rapture, a mendicant enters and remains in the third absorption, where they meditate with equanimity, mindful and aware, personally experiencing the bliss of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, one meditates in bliss.’

Puna caparaṃ, mahārāja, bhikkhu pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati sato sampajāno, sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedeti , yaṃ taṃ ariyā ācikkhanti: ‘upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī’ti, tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

In DN 1 we have the following:

Tatra, bhikkhave, ye te samaṇabrāhmaṇā pubbantakappikā ca aparantakappikā ca pubbantāparantakappikā ca pubbantāparantānudiṭṭhino pubbantāparantaṃ ārabbha anekavihitāni adhimuttipadāni abhivadanti dvāsaṭṭhiyā vatthūhi, te vata aññatra phassā paṭisaṃvedissantīti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.

Now, when those ascetics and brahmins theorize about the past and the future on these sixty-two grounds, it is not possible that they should experience these things without contact .

This one I’m less sure of but would be interested if it is pointing out that you can speculate all you want with your thinking, but maybe he’s saying it’s the more direct experience that counts, perhaps that’s why he is referring to affect which is in some sense more ‘real’ than abstract thought - and he emphasises it with ‘ touch ’, phassa .

If this term is specifically affective, we could choose an English translation other than ‘experience’ to express that, since ‘experience’ is not affect-specific. Perhaps something like ‘feel’?


#2

It’s hard to map Pali words on to English. Often they seem to have broader meanings than their English counterparts. I believe mano sankhara is vitakka vicara -culla vedella sutta? This is cognitions.

We don’t have a good word for ‘all’ things done by the mind, and zoom in on thoughts, emotions, intention, etc. Cittasankhara [mental fabrications] might be an umbrella term for all those aspects, perhaps? I’m thinking this because thoughts and emotions arise together though one might be more prominent than the other. This is the reason why I think cittasankhara of the Ananpanasati sutta refers to vitakka, and it’s cessation. These vitakka will have their subtle affective tone, though not to be confused with the subtle vitakka (or vicara) of the jhana. It would be meaningful to include this terras under the vedana Satipatthana.


#3

It’s hard to map Pali words on to English. Often they seem to have broader meanings than their English counterparts. I believe mano sankhara is vitakka vicara -culla vedella sutta? This is cognitions.

We don’t have a good word for ‘all’ things done by the mind, and zoom in on thoughts, emotions, intention, etc. Cittasankhara [mental fabrications] might be an umbrella term for all those aspects, perhaps? I’m thinking this because thoughts and emotions arise together though one might be more prominent than the other. This is the reason why I think cittasankhara of the Ananpanasati sutta refers to vitakka, and it’s cessation. These vitakka will have their subtle affective tone, though not to be confused with the subtle vitakka (or vicara) of the jhana. It would be meaningful to include this tetrad under the vedana Satipatthana.


#4

Sure. What I am rather trying to do is define the words and their parameters of meaning, before choosing any particular single word. Also, we can still chose different words in different contexts. But I think for some words it will be very useful to distinguish whether they have purely cognitive or affective meanings, or span both.

I think that understanding the parameters of meaning of a word is far more important that making a one-word conversion.

I do not believe that this is true. Emotions often arise before thoughts - older and shorter pathways I think. Think for example about someone firing a gun behind you - the loud noise will give you an affective reaction almost instantly, and you will react to that before you have conceptual thought.

And for sure emotions can arise in the absense of thought. Also I think it’s fairly clear with in neuroscience that you can have memories which have no emotional content (for example some mathematical thoughts can be devoid of emotion), so this is just one example of thought without emotion. Another would be someone who doesn’t even experience emotion but can think (some people on the autistic spectrum could be easier examples to thin about but I’m pretty sure it’s common actually.


#5

I’m thinking of more subconscious thoughts which require CBT skills training to become conscious of. Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs), they are called. They are hiddden under a ‘mushroom cloud’ of emotion that they have triggered.

I think the mind always has some kind of emotional ‘weather’ : maybe the eureka! moment was mathematical! I think pleasant, unpleasant or neither-pleasant-not-unpleasant mental feeling would be present always.


#6

Yes but that doesn’t mean that all thoughts occur at the same time as emotions. They can occur together, or separately, or one after the other in either direction.

You may have a mood, but that’s not what I was talking about - memories can have an affective content. Remembering those will trigger the emotion even if that emotion is different from the current mood. But a memory devoid of emotion may not change the mood even temporarily.


#7

Here is an extract from AN 4.41, and I am wondering if this is specifically a cognitive, not affective affair, due to ‘manasi karoti’:

It’s when a mendicant focuses on the perception of light,

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu ālokasaññaṃ manasi karoti,

The PED notes:

manasi-karoti: to fix the mind intently, to bear in mind, take to heart, ponder, think upon, consider, recognise.

That English is mostly referring to cognitive activity but not necessarily exclusively. However:

Mano represents the intellectual functioning of consciousness, while viñnāṇa represents the field of sense and sense — reaction (“perception”), and citta the subjective aspect of consciousness

Now in case you’re assuming that cognitive has to be conceptual thought, first we should establish whether this term definitely excludes affective activity. After that, we can consider exactly what kind of activity is refers to: conceptual, or a non-conceptual but non-affective type of experience/activity? (I’m not sure which kinds of non-conceptual non-affective experience/activity we can put into the category ‘cognitive’, but for now I am thinking of all of those as ‘cognitive’ for the sake of convenience and knowing no better).

One word that comes to mind is ‘contemplates’, which can be used when considering dhamma teachings deeply, such as in Tibetan Buddhism when they talk about listening; contemplating; meditating. Or I wonder even ‘examines’? Both of these may have more of a cognitive flavour to them than ‘focusing’, which could be equally affective.

Basically I’m thinking along the lines of the meaning being ‘focuses (some aspect of) non-affective mental attention on’.

Anybody have some input?


#8

I think this is corrects, looking at how cats and dogs react for example.


#9

How could we directly experience a cat’s mind, to say it has only emotional reactions.?


#10

I assume that cats have feelings and not thoughts - is this incorrect? Similar to human babies I think, before they begin to learn language.


#11

Emotions are purposeful and meaning-ful.


#12

Another term, saṅkappa. This term has been translated by Ajahn @sujato as ‘thought’ in MN 78, which would put it firmly into the cognitive category, so far as I understand. I’m curious that other translators disagree, for example Bodhi translates it as ‘intention’ in the same passage.

I wrote elsewhere about my question of whether ‘thought’ gives the correct meaning or whether the meaning is closer to ‘intention’. I find that an interesting question, though, it is not one that defines the affect/cognitive balance entirely. I will put that argument here below, but I would also like to ask, does anyone know if saṅkappa is intention in the purely cognitive sense, or, may it also includes affective-based intentions? For example, you can be driven by emotion to try to do something, and fail, and so you have not done the action, but you did have the intention to do so. And that may have happened in the total absense of any cognitive, thought-type intentions.

In MN 78 we have this:

It’s when they do no bad deeds with their body; speak no bad words; think no bad thoughts; and don’t earn a living by bad livelihood.

Idha, thapati, na kāyena pāpakammaṃ karoti, na pāpakaṃ vācaṃ bhāsati, na pāpakaṃ saṅkappaṃ saṅkappeti, na pāpakaṃ ājīvaṃ ājīvati—
SuttaCentral

For comparison, Bodhi:

he has no evil intentions

  • The Suttacentral lookup tool gives saṅkappa as : ‘intention, purpose’.
  • The PED gives saṅkappa as: thought, intention, purpose, plan

Even for the PED, 3 out of the 4 words are with the meaning of ‘purpose’, not ‘thought’, so it would seem they might mean ‘thought’ in the aspect of that word which denotes a plan/intention , not necesarily other kinds of thought.

So is this Pāli surely about not thinking bad thoughts ? Or is it about not having bad intentions ?

There’s a huge difference in those English expressions. For example some people get very worries if they have any thoughts of killing or injuring someone. And they often have absolutely no intention of having those thoughts. But it has been my understanding that the Buddha would not regard having a violent though as bad kamma, if there were no bad intention associated with it.

Similarly the idea of negative kamma being about negative intention , would seem to fit with the idea the dictionaries suggest for this word, ‘ have no bad intentions ’.