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I often see in some suttas that there are some habitual tendencies that, after the arising of pleasent feeling or painful feelings, lead to suffering due to passion for the pleasure and aversion for the pain.

But beside those two modes of feelings, there is a neutral kind of feeling, which neither-pleasent-nor-painful. In the suttas, such as MN 44 and MN 148, it is stated that neutral feeling accompanied with ignorance leads to suffering, because one does not see the gratification, the danger and the escape from suffering.

I do understand the reasoning behind the two former modes of feelings and their relation with passion and aversion, but I can't grasp the idea behind neutral feelings and ignorance.

Can someone explain the influence of ignorance over neutral feelings and its connection with suffering?

Maybe some examples from the suttas or from everyday life might be helpful.

Thanks for your time and patience!

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The definition of the 3 feelings come in MN 44 and their relationships to the 3 underlying tendencies towards greed, repulsion and ignorance:

“Pleasant feeling is pleasant when it remains and painful when it perishes.
“Sukhā kho, āvuso visākha, vedanā ṭhitisukhā vipariṇāmadukkhā;

Painful feeling is painful when it remains and pleasant when it perishes.
dukkhā vedanā ṭhitidukkhā vipariṇāmasukhā;

Neutral feeling is pleasant when there is knowledge, and painful when there is ignorance.”
adukkhamasukhā vedanā ñāṇasukhā aññāṇadukkhā”ti.

“The underlying tendency for greed underlies pleasant feeling. The underlying tendency for repulsion underlies painful feeling. The underlying tendency for ignorance underlies neutral feeling.
“Sukhāya kho, āvuso visākha, vedanāya rāgānusayo anuseti, dukkhāya vedanāya paṭighānusayo anuseti, adukkhamasukhāya vedanāya avijjānusayo anusetī”ti.

In Contemplation of Feeling, Nyanaponika Thera explained this:

Pleasant feeling is habitually linked with enjoyment and desire; unpleasant feeling with aversion; neutral feeling with boredom and confusion, but also serving as background for wrong views.

Also in SN 36.5:

“Mendicants, there are these three feelings. What three? Pleasant, painful, and neutral feeling. Pleasant feeling should be seen as suffering. Painful feeling should be seen as a dart. Neutral feeling should be seen as impermanent. When a mendicant has seen these three feelings in this way, they’re called a mendicant who has cut off craving, untied the fetters, and by rightly comprehending conceit has made an end of suffering.

The neither-pleasant-nor-painful feelings also known as neutral feelings, normally make us bored or dissatisfied. Cravings would lead one to seek pleasures (kama tanha) or to become something or achieve something (bhava tanha) rather than sit around all day experiencing neutral feelings that don't bring satisfaction.

No feelings at all, would also be a cause for boredom and dissatisfaction. From the same article by Nyanaponika Thera, we read the commentary of the suttas and his comment:

Comy.: "From the fourth Jhana onwards, it is the neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling (that is present in these meditative states). But this neutral feeling, too, is called 'pleasure' (sukha), on account of its being peaceful and sublime. What arises by way of the five cords of sensual desire and by way of the eight meditative attainments is called 'pleasure as being felt' (vedayita-sukha). The state of Cessation of Perception and Feeling is a 'pleasure, not being felt' (avedayita-sukha). Hence, whether it be pleasure felt or not felt, both are assuredly 'pleasure,' in the sense of their being painfree states (niddukkhabhava-sankhatena sukhena)."

In AN 9.34, the venerable Sariputta exclaims: "Nibbana is happiness, friend; Nibbana is happiness, indeed!" The monk Udayi then asked: "How can there be happiness when there is no feeling?" The venerable Sariputta replied: "Just this is happiness, friend, that therein there is no feeling."

To the arahant, neutral feelings, no feelings and Nibbana are all pleasant.

  • Thanks for that insightful answer! I have a doubt, though: if a neutral feelings is felt as unpleasent (as when feeling boring), doesn't that make it unpleasent instead? Kind regards! – Brian Díaz Flores Mar 10 at 7:32
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    As said in MN 44: "neutral feeling is pleasant when there is knowledge, and painful when there is ignorance” - so it's unpleasant depending on the context of whether there is knowledge (of the four noble truths and three marks of existence) or there is ignorance (of the four noble truths and three marks of existence). – ruben2020 Mar 10 at 7:34
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    Very good answer, +1 - although I would not say that "neutral feelings, no feelings and Nibbana are all pleasant" - in this context sukha means peace, quiet happiness, rightness, suchness, comfort - just not "pleasure". The English word "pleasant" has very definite sensory connotations and so is logically not appropriate here. – Andrei Volkov Mar 11 at 0:02
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Maybe it's better to divide it into "householder"-neither-well-nor-unwell and "renunciation"--neither-well-nor-unwell, since that is not so much subject to the defilements overestimating arguments and developing housholder-equanimity leads astray from ever understanding Dhamma for a long, long time...

Having no right view, seeking ignorance-pleasure in Jhana, that is the "end" for for liberation for one got caught there, following householder-teacher, since "knowing" with desire after sukha, does not let go of it, but increases attachment for even greater ignorance.

Again, one incapable to leave house, is not prepared for the Buddhas higher teachings. That is something one should check honest first before training such as equanimity, if wishing for release.

Therefore the Buddha told that for not instructed it is better to assume the body as refuge, as Self, since here he could understand it's decay. One who goes on mind at this stage matters has not to get foremost attached to ignorance while still clinging on house, stand, kaya.

(note: this is not given to bind one to trade, exchange, stacks and other gains but for liberation only)

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Neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling can lead to confusion or, otherwise, delusion or wrong view.

For example, you see a man in a tree painting one of the branches with blue paint. If this sense impression gives rise to neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling; it does not give rise to greed or aversion; but your being unsure or confused about what the man is doing.

Or, otherwise, neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling can be that of equanimity, such as from very strong concentration. Due to the feeling of equanimity, you may not actually know how to respond to a situation; as occurs to meditation zombies. Or your mind may cling to that feeling of equanimity with craving or self-view.

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