Monday, April 30, 2012

What Do We Feed On?

It's taken me a whole week to digest Thanissaro Bhikkhu's talk on the Five Aggregates. Here are my notes:

The monk used feeding as an analogy to describe the aggregates. All activities of the mind can be broken down into 5 categories:
Form - any physical phenomenon, particularly body and breath, or any physical thing we can see or touch from within; this body needs to be fed.
Feeling - of pleasure, pain, or neither; feeling of hunger drives whether we have feeling of pain or pleasure, e.g. feeling good when we have full stomach.
Perception - putting label on things, e.g. 'this is a wall'; recognizing what we can eat or not.
Fabrication - intentional part of the mind, ideas, what we want, don't want; needing to fix our food before we can eat it.
Consciousness - that holds it all together; our awareness of the whole process.
What is the underline activity of the mind? It is that of feeding or clinging to the 5 aggregates. Both feeding in physical and also emotional sense, as in the way a child feeds off his parent emotionally, or as in the case of various addictions, e.g. addiction to substance, status, etc. Not just about what we eat, but also how we eat. We suffer because we cling to the aggregates. Feeding always entail suffering, because there is always something lacking, our satisfaction can never be permanent. Hence having to feed places a huge burden on us.
The Buddha suggests we take on better feeding habits, and satisfy our need to feed on food for the mind instead, following the eightfold path. The insights gained during concentration can carry through in our life outside of concentrated state. As we practice, the following 3 qualities of mindfulness practice:
Ardency - trying to get the mind to settle down, stay with the breath
Alertness - paying attention in the present moment
Mindfulness - keeping our mind on to something
the mind feeds differently:
Form - breath
Feeling - pleasure, rapture from concentrated state
Perception - focusing on the breath
Fabrication - wise commentary
Consciousness - awareness of whole process
We look at the drawback from mind not being in concentrated state, and we compare with the delight from concentration. We feel disenchantment and dispassion, we get sick and tired of feeding on what causes suffering. Eventually, that too, needs to be let go of, so that we can be really free. The mind experiences release, and our happiness is no longer dependent on what happens. 
Indeed, to experience the partial release from displacing one's desire away from the usual objects, onto the more refined offerings of practice . . . This morning, sitting, I went back and forth between the two. Body tired from not enough sleep, feeling unpleasantness, then considering options, feeding body more sleep or persisting with 'this', layered over with mind's chatter 'Maybe I should cut sitting short? What is the point of sitting being so tired? Oh! How good it would feel to just lie down and give in . . .' Of course, I was twisting myself into a bag of knots, and I could feel the added pain, on top of the tiredness. 

Then taking a different stance, that of letting go of the aversion to the tiredness, and the craving for a nap. Instead, going back and being with the body, and the breath, and placing the attention on the breath, not on the 'tired' story. Recognizing the whole process, including wise thoughts supporting this different way of being in each moment. 'No reason to leave my seat. There is never a perfect moment. This one as good as any other one.' Letting go of the addiction to pleasure only . . . 


  1. Whatever intervention we could make can only be made to alter or let go the fabrication. Mindfulness, alertness, ardency are the mechanisms to intervene and change the fabrication. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

  2. Yes, that is my understanding and experience.

  3. My understanding is to try to unravel each aggregate, peel it back to origin. But isn't a human life the origin? Then desire is the problem? We can try have no desires, perhaps by just watching them flow in the film of life...when we pull back and watch ourselves. Watch a dog, they eat until full or no more food is left, then they don't go into story about why don't you give me more or how come the cat gets more attention, and they just relax. We, on the other hand, use our mind to conjure up our next desire when one thing is fulfilled. Uneasiness, because we don't really know what is next.

  4. Regarding the desire part, I get that we trade one category of desire, the ordinary ones, as for food, status, material things, security, etc . . . for a different category, that related to the practice and the eightfold path. Desire for less or no unnecessary suffering from added-on cravings and clinging. We are hungry for a whole different kind of food, the spiritual kind.

  5. Marguerite maybe its sometimes best just to rest or sleep if thats what the body wants to do.Attachment to meditation at set times is perhaps not always wise. Also too much pondering on the aggregates is often inclined to give one a headache!!
    This is offered in a half serious way of course.I hope you don't mind.

  6. Thank you Michael! So many points of view regarding how to be with sleepy body . . . Mingyur Rinpoche, U Tejaniya, Ayya Khema, Thanissaro Bhikkhu . . . different teachers each with a different idea on the topic! Regarding the 5 aggregates and other such intricate Dharma concepts, I find the effort spent in intellectual understanding always pays off in the long run, same way one reap the fruit from careful seed planting. And then, of course, it is good to leave those seeds undisturbed. This is where I am at now with the aggregates :)