1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

A Nerdy View of Happiness

By January 24, 2013

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Forgive me for being a little nerdier than usual here, but this may interest you, too. In the Pali Tipitika, the Buddha talked about "mental factors" (cetasika) and "feelings" (vedana). Very basically, "feelings" refers to the sensation that happens when a sense organ bumps into a sense object. For example, an ear plus a sound creates the vedana hearing.

Vedana also are associated with the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, because grasping for pleasant sensation or avoiding unpleasant sensation keep us locked into samsara.

Some teachers also talk of emotions -- mental pleasure or pain -- as vedana. The important point is that like the sense organ finding a sense object, these emotions also have an object, some phenomenon that triggers pleasant or unpleasant emotions. If buying new shoes gives you a temporary happiness fix, that happiness is vedana.

Vedana is a type of mental factor, but there are others. Mahayana and Theravada have slightly different lists of mental factors, but vedana is prominent on both lists. Other examples of mental factors are volition, perception, mindfulness, and samadhi, as well as greed and delusion.

When the Buddha spoke of cultivating happiness, he was not talking about vedana happiness but about piti.  Piti is a mental factor that is translated into English as "happiness" or even "rapture." The significant thing about piti is that it is not dependent on an object. Phenomena and situations come and go, but the person who has a mind of piti will remain unaffected.

I think it's useful to have some grasp of this, because "happiness" can be a lot of different things to different people. I tend to think of happiness as an ephemeral thing that is here today and gone tomorrow, but that is ordinary happiness, not piti.

Sometimes defining terms helps me a lot.

January 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm
(1) Lee says:

Happiness for me has become another emotion like grief …. it will come and it will go … being ‘content’ within either condition; when willing; is a great manifestation of training!

January 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm
(2) Mila says:

very interesting, indeed …. :)

“The significant thing about piti is that it is not dependent on an object.”

And, of course no-object implies, also, no-subject.

So then we’re just left with the perceiving or sensing or experiencing of the arising & dissolving of phenomena (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) — without the projection of a separate “object” of perception or “subject” doing the perceiving — which is cool.

Here Rupert Spira describes — in a way that I found to be very useful — the shift of perception from a dualistic involvement in subject/object drama, to a nondualistic experiencing.

January 25, 2013 at 8:57 am
(3) Hein says:

Piti, now there is a term I have never encountered in Buddhism.
Now does one obtain piti through deep cultivation i.e. piti is the consequence or condition of a well-practiced bodhi mind or does one only obtain piti once one is enlightened? I know that in Zen practice one does not seek anything (as Bodhidharma taught), but one experience things as a result/consequence of one’s practice. I was just wondering whether piti would remain an elusive state of mind?
Mila thanks for the link. I still need to down load the video and will watch it as soon as it is available (downloads of huge files 100 megs and more take some time to download in my neck of the woods).

January 25, 2013 at 9:01 am
(4) Hein says:

Seems the link i attempted to leave is “broken”. Let me try again:
link to Bodhidharma’s teaching.

January 25, 2013 at 10:15 am
(5) Mila says:

Hein, thanks for the link to the article re: Bodhidharma’s “two entries and four practices” — which I found to be a clear & lovely articulation of the relationship between the so-called “direct” and “gradual” paths, as conceived by this particular Teacher …. and a nice presentation also of “karma”; and of the difference between something (viz. self & phenomena) being “illusory” vs. their being hallucinations or mirages.

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