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According to these suttas, is itsomewhat possible through seeing the inherent harm in sensual pleasures, to shy away from them? I remember that it by first experiencing piti during meditation that one slowly but surely starts to abandon sensual pleasures.

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There is a sutta where the Buddha says that until he experienced piti during meditation; his mind was still capable of returning to thoughts of sensual pleasure.

This said, starting the path requires abandoning sensual pleasures before experiencing piti. The Buddha abandoned sensual pleasures well before his development of the 1st jhana.

The mind that never thinks of sensual pleasures is a non-returner yet the eightfold path for mere stream-enterers has the abandoning of sensual pleasures as its 2nd and 6th factor.

Believing the 1st jhana must be attained before abandoning sensual pleasures is wrong view.

  • How do you go about abstaining from sensual pleasures? The thing is, merely knowing the harms is not enough, since pleasures are emotional and it easily over-writes reason. This is why I believed that piti is then the "so to speak" new drug for feeling pleasure. – Val Oct 1 '18 at 12:03
  • The harm is enough. If you knew a person had AIDS, for example, would you have desire for them? That said, seeing "harm" can be difficult in ordinary circumstances. Regards – Dhammadhatu Oct 1 '18 at 12:31
  • Can you give a reference for the "2nd and 6th factor", please? I didn't understand that. – ChrisW Oct 1 '18 at 19:22
  • The 1st sermon (SN 56.11) says the noble eighfold path is not for househoulders that still engage in lustful fornication & copulation. And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation.. And what, monks, is right effort? (i) There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen. (ii) He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen. – Dhammadhatu Oct 2 '18 at 6:00
  • Thank you I'd misread the answer, and didn't know you were referring to the factors of the noble eightfold path. – ChrisW Oct 2 '18 at 8:05
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Seeing the danger of sensual pleasure is actually one of the five strategies in the next sutta - MN 20. Obviously sensual pleasure is very difficult to abandon and one'd need to take a comprehensive approach that involves all 3 gateways of Sila, Samadhi, and Panna to have a chance of success.

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According to these suttas, is it somewhat possible through seeing the inherent harm in sensual pleasures, to shy away from them?

These suttas seem to me to imply that sensual pleasures are impermanent and dissatisfactory, rather than directly harmful (though presumably addictions and so on can be harmful too).

These suttas are addressed to monks (MN 19) and a wanderer (MN 75), so I suppose that their ethics were already in place, that the audience had already self-selected life as a recluse, and so with them it wasn't a matter of actual outright harm.

This is why I believed that piti is then the "so to speak" new drug for feeling pleasure

I think that MN 19 and MN 75 both describe the same sequence, i.e.:

  1. Stop chasing sensual pleasure
  2. Find immersion
  3. Find joy or bliss

So if you're hoping for piti to replace sensual pleasure, it may not work like that -- perhaps, on the contrary, bliss is the non-chasing.

I was reading DN 16 again recently:

Oh! Conditions are impermanent,
“Aniccā vata saṅkhārā,

their nature is to rise and fall;
uppādavayadhammino;

having arisen, they cease;
Uppajjitvā nirujjhanti,

their stilling is true bliss.”
tesaṃ vūpasamo sukho”ti.

MN 75 says,

Take someone who used to amuse themselves with sights known by the eye that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. some time later—having truly understood the origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape of sights, and having given up craving and dispelling passion for sights—they would live rid of thirst, their mind peaceful inside.

I remember that it by first experiencing piti during meditation that one slowly but surely starts to abandon sensual pleasures

Instead, abandoning sensual pleasures is a prerequisite to meditation, and piti is a result (and so, not something you can count on or wait for as a cause).

This essay seems to agree with you somewhat (about replacing one thing with another):

For example, if you're addicted to alcohol, it's not because you feel that the alcohol has any inherent existence. It's because, in your calculation, the immediate pleasure derived from the alcohol outweighs the long-term damage it's doing to your life. This is a general principle: attachment and addiction are not metaphysical problems. They're tactical ones. We're attached to things and actions, not because of what we think they are, but because of what we think they can do for our happiness. If we keep overestimating the pleasure and underestimating the pain they bring, we stay attached to them regardless of what, in an ultimate sense, we understand them to be.

Because the problem is tactical, the solution has to be tactical as well. The cure for addiction and attachment lies in retraining your imagination and your intentions through expanding your sense of the power of your actions and the possible happiness you can achieve. This means learning to become more honest and sensitive to your actions and their consequences, at the same time allowing yourself to imagine and master alternative routes to greater happiness with fewer drawbacks. Metaphysical views may sometimes enter into the equation, but at most they're only secondary. Many times they're irrelevant. Even if you were to see the alcohol and its pleasure as lacking inherent existence, you'd still go for the pleasure as long as you saw it as outweighing the damage.

I get the impression though that the suttas aren't saying, "try seclusion instead of sensuality, motivated by piti!" -- instead I think they talk about e.g. nibidda as the motive.

Still, it says "alternative routes to greater happiness with fewer drawbacks" -- maybe you're emphasising "greater happiness", and me, "fewer drawbacks".

I guess a problem is that chasing greater happiness might be another symptom of the same root[s].

  • So what is your recommendation in how to deal with sense pleasures? Of course your answer should include sutta reference, but you should also speak from your experience how got away from sensuality. – Val Oct 2 '18 at 18:55
  • This was a previous answer, and this one.before that one. Also any sense pleasure ends of its own accord, whether or not you remained attached to them (e.g. the AIDS victim per Dhammadhatu's example), afterwards you may decide to seek, but alternatively you may decide that you don't want to seek, that same experience again -- so it's not only a matter of "getting away from" sensuality, it's a question of whether (given it's inherently impermanent) you choose to actively pursue it. – ChrisW Oct 2 '18 at 19:39
  • Suppose a person pursues desirable impermanent things. Everything besides Nibbana is conditioned. Even the Jhanas. And they require a lot of letting go and cultivation, don't they? Even if sensuality is imermanent, isn't it better to have the experience than to not have it all? I see little benefit in abstaining from pleasureable feelings, even if they are temporary. – Val Oct 2 '18 at 19:45
  • I often hear the argument that sensual pleasures are dependent, and I agree. If we take chocolate for example. If I desire chocolate the good feeling resulting from it are dependent on the chocolate. But worldy pleasures are usually easily obtainable! They are temporary but they still feel good and if done in moderation, why not? If I lose the desired object of course I can become frustrated or sad, but a) although uncomfortable, I can stand deprivation, b) I can seek alternative pleasures, and c) isn't this just life? Isn't sadness, loss of objects and death part of the equation? It's nature. – Val Oct 2 '18 at 19:52
  • Even if sensuality is impermanent, isn't it better to have the experience than to not have it all? Perhaps you're saying, "it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all"; but perhaps it's better to have loved well, and chasing sensuality is antithetical to better kinds of love (and goodness, virtue). Maybe you're right, about replacing sensuality with something else (e.g. piti) -- i.e. the second half of MN 75 does seem to refer to something preferable to sensuality -- but that something appears to be "peace of mind" or "their minds peaceful inside" (vūpasantacitta). – ChrisW Oct 4 '18 at 8:48
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MN8 Self-Effacement actually discourages focusing on Pīti and warns that it is not an objective in itself. Instead, the training and the path require a broader consideration.

It’s possible that a certain mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, might enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. (...vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ...) ... But in the training of the noble one these are not called ‘self-effacement’

With delight being the root of suffering, sensual pleasures are bound up with identity and craving. Attenuation of sensual pleasure (i.e., "This is not mine, etc.") is accomplished by long, steady effort of mindfulness, the relinquishing of the fetters, the Noble Eight-Fold Path. Experiencing piti during meditation helps establish mindfulness during meditation. However, that meditation mindfulness must be maintained and developed in all aspects of life. Applying that mindfulness every moment is what attenuates sensual pleasure.

For a discussion on the definition of mindfulness, MN10 Mindfulness Meditation is an excellent source

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    What do you mean by mindfulness? Mindfulness in Buddhist terminology means to recollect the Dhamma in a way that helps that moment (or to cultivate perceptions) – Val Oct 2 '18 at 18:59
  • Good point. Added sutta reference for mindfulness. – OyaMist Oct 4 '18 at 15:17

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