What is the difference between feeling and perception?
This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 5 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.
Slightly edited to improve readability
Feeling itself is dependent upon contact, right. Feeling means the sensory experiences that you’re having, and the mind experiencing the mental objects. The mind and the sixth sense base – which are the five physical senses, and the mind – are rooted within the mentality and materiality. Mentality-materiality make up your mind and your body. This is one way of looking at it. The five physical senses – which are your sense faculties, the sense organs: e.g., your photo-receptors in your eye, the auditory nerves in your ear, the olfactory nerves, all of those different kinds of things – are all rooted within mentality and materiality. That’s why the sixth sense base is conditioned by, or dependent upon, mentality-materiality.
It’s only through the sixth sense base that contact can be made with the outside world, as it were. What we experience in the way of the sixth sense base, is the world. This is what the Buddha calls the ‘all’ or’ the world’. Which is to say that there is no one objective reality. Everything that we see as reality, is through our own individual sixth sense base. And because that is dependent upon those sixth sense bases, the contact that arises is dependent upon that. When there’s contact with the outside world, with the sixth sense bases – photons hitting the photo-receptors; sound waves hitting the auditory nerves; olfactory molecules hitting the nose; flavor molecules hitting the tongue, and so on and so forth -, these are all dependent upon contact. This hitting that I’m talking about is for example the sound waves making contact with, or stimulating, the auditory nerves. In that process, the experience of interpreting these sound waves – which are just waves in the air – as sound through the auditory nerves, is the feeling. It’s the bare sensation. Applying to that bare sensation the idea of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral – or neither painful nor pleasant – is the beginning of the perception aspect of the mind. So, the feeling is the sensory aspect, it’s the sensory experience of the mind. It’s after the contact is made, after the stimulation is made, you have the arising of the feeling. Perception is the naming aspect of what is being experienced, through recognizing what it is. As an example, that I often use; when you see the color blue, you immediately know it’s blue. Because you have recognized that it is blue through the Formations that created the memory. And that happens through having learned through your elders, through your parents, in a book, or whatever. It is that this is the color blue and now you always recognize it as the color blue, through the conceptual perception of it. So, perception begins at naming what that feeling is, and it continues on to conceptual or mental proliferation, which then can cause craving if taken personal. And if not, it’s basically stopped right there and then.
Mentality-materiality in more detail
The simple way of understanding mentality-materiality is that the materiality is this body. It’s essentially the form, it’s the four elements that make up this body. In modern scientific context you would say, it’s the four states of matter that make up this body. The solid molecules or atoms, the liquid atoms, the gaseous atoms, and the plasma atoms, which make up this body. that’s materiality. Mentality is what happens through the experience in the mind. You can say it’s stored in the brain, or however you want to put it, but it’s the experiences that you’re having in the way of the five factors of mentality:
- You have the faculty for feeling, which is your sixth sense bases, your five physical senses and the mind itself.
- The faculty for Perception, so you’re able to recognize through the process of memory, knowledge, and learning, what you are seeing, or what you are experiencing or cognizing.
- Then you have intention, which is through which the Formations are basically acting. When the Formations arise, that consciousness drives forward those Formations into the faculty of intention, creating the idea of saying a word for speaking, for doing an action, or for thinking and reflecting and feeling.
- Then you have the faculty for contact, which is actually really the nervous system, if you will, which takes in that sensory information. It has the sensory input and creates the experience through that contact. It’s the bare contact between the photo-receptors and the photons for example.
- And then you have attention, which is what you’re doing when you’re applying mindfulness and that’s how the consciousness flows through attention. When you use your attention, you’re applying mindfulness in meditation. Attention really is to be able to understand and to let go of – through correct, proper attention -, the personalizing aspect of the other four factors of mentality.
So, that’s how you should see mentality-materiality. It’s all one thing; it’s the mind and the body. The materiality is just this body, it’s just the different four elements that make up the body. And mentality is all that is basically making you speak, making you think, making you act, making you feel, making you experience things.