Metal detector analogy of Pleasure

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    • #44527

      Hello dear Dhamma practitioners,

      I wanted to share this analogy that I had picked up from Ven. Amadassana Thero, because I had recently used it in one of my articles and I thought that it is something good to discuss here in the forum,too, getting other people’s input and learning from each other.

      This analogy was made in order to illustrate the concept of “pilana” and how “happiness” experienced by “getting what we want” is not something gotten from the external object.

      In this analogy, we can image a metal detector. It consists of one part that we hold near to the ground and find metals in the ground. For that detector to work, it would have to be “run” by a motor. So, going to a particular landscape of interest (a farmer’s field possibly) one would run the engine and start looking around for metals. As one would go on and walk around trying to spot metals, the engine of that detector would run and as a result, energy is consumed and heat is produced (as in any other engine). So, the longer the search and as “intensely” the engine has to run, the more heat is produced and the hotter the engine gets. There might even be a time when one would have to shut it down because it became too hot (possibly).

      When the metal detector, that is programmed and designed such as to “detect” metals, starts to alert and notify something of interest, one would turn off the engine (there is no need to run the engine, since one has detected what one was looking for).  

      The analogy to the mind here is: As soon as we attach to a certain rupa in the mind, the engine starts running (sankhara-dukkha) in order to “look for it”. That is done with the idea that this particular rupa has in itself the ability to “give us happiness”. As the engine runs, the stronger it runs and the longer it runs, the more heat is going to be produced. As the mind is “programmed” (the senses are being “enslaved” and “programmed” to find that rupa) , once the particular rupa has been found, the engine will stop running and therefore, it will start to cool down. Now, was it the rupa that produced the cooling down?

      In that metal detector analogy, one would never give the metal credit for the ability to “cool down the motor” or to “relax the motor”. Because the fact that “finding the metal” made the motor cool down was not because there was anything particular in the metal, it was just “what the detector was constructed to find”. One could construct two different detectors, one for Copper and one for Iron, for example. Using the Copper detector, one could go around a field. One would find certain “matches” , presumably where there is some Copper in the ground. The engine cooled down depending on how much heat was being produced and how much the difference between engine temperature and outside air temperature is and due to the fact that the engine has been turned down (either by a sofisticated automated process or by simply shutting it down manually). In other words, that cooling of the engine started happening because there were causes ready for it to happen. It was only the “match” that triggered us to  “shutdown” the engine, but the Copper had nothing to do with it. Using an Iron detector, one could use the same engine but with a different “programming” and “construction” (making a detector that is sensitive to iron, not to copper) and one would go around and suddenly the same Copper would neither create any “match” nor would the engine shutdown. 

      As simple it is to understand that “the cooling down” was not “made by the metal itself” , in the case of the mind we start to “link” the cooling of the engine (which is the pleasure and conditional happiness of “experiencing object” that one was looking/searching for) with the object itself, claiming “the metal relaxes me so much” (it make me so happy). So, we even tell other people: “you make me so happy, honey”.

      In reality, that happiness was just a conditioned result when suffering (heat) produced by the motor disolved.It’s intensity depends on the amount of heat(vexation) currently produced (the heat which was a result of “yearning” and “working towards getting”). The irony is, that the yearning we do is for “things to satisfy our engine” (which, has never happened and cannot happen even).


      I like this analogy because  it very simply shows the real nature of pleasure (conditional happiness or assada) – how it works and also where the misinterpretation happens. 


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    • #44532

      Yes. “Pīḷana” (pronounced as “peelana”) is the Pāli word for distress or hardship. 

      • Pīḷana is connected to assāda or “pleasure.” We can see that also with the following simple example.

      Water tastes best when we are thirsty. If one cannot find water and thirst becomes unbearable, that is when water tastes best. Then it is “pleasurable” to drink water.

      • For that person, water tastes best with the first few sips. Once they drink a glass of water, their thirst is quenched, and water does not taste great anymore. After the second glass, it could be hard to drink anymore.
      • The same is true in many other situations. Air conditioning feels good only if one’s body gets hot. If the air-conditioner is turned on in a cold room, that becomes uncomfortable, etc.
      • Our “pleasures” (assāda) arise because of the pīḷana characteristic, which is another facet of the “anicca nature.” The above examples show the “anicca nature” associated with the physical body.
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    • #44546

      Lal, Can you explain how Pīḷana works at cittā level?

      I think Comparison of upcoming PañcakKhanda with PañcaUpādānakKhanda plays important part in this process of Pīḷana.

      As DanielSt pointed out in the analogy, As soon as there is some PañcakKhanda which is liked or seen as pleasurable, mind starts to get vexed. But that is bit vague. So, it would be good to understand this at citta level.

    • #44548

      I am not sure what you mean by “citta level.” 

      But the situation DanielSt described is a bit different from what I described.

      1. In his case, the person is looking for metal that can make him money and be used for things that would give him sensual pleasures. So, he is suffering physically (looking for metal) and mentally (how come I have not found much of it yet?)

      • But that suffering is masked by his “expected pleasures” or “assāda” that is only mind-made.
      • He describes it a bit differently. That is another “cooling down” aspect once he found some metal. Nothing wrong with it, either. There are multiple ways to look at the same situation from different angles.

      2. In the examples I pointed out, the person is already stressed due to the “physical and mental imbalance.” Physical imbalance because the body does not have enough water; mental imbalance because he is stressed about whether he can find water before he dies.

      • Both imbalances go away when he drinks water. 
      • These “imbalances” are the situations away from “balance.” The Pali words are “sama” for balance and “visama” for imbalance.
      • The relief comes when one moves away from “visama” and gets to “sama.” There, the “assāda” is due to that relief.

      3. This can be used to understand the meaning of “samādhi.

      • Samādhi” comes from “sama” + “adhi” where “adhi” means “dominance.”
      • When one is in “samādhi” one is away from extremes and is “in equilibrium.” One does not need to do anything to seek comfort or to move away from suffering.
      • A Brahma does not need water to quench thirst because he does not have a physical body that REQUIRES food and water. Thus, Brahma is “in equilibrium” regarding food and water (at least until the end of that Brahma existence.)
      • Another example: When the ambient temperature is close to the body temperature, there is no need to heat or air-condition a room. The body is in equilibrium!
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    • #44551

      The metal detector analogy I shared had the following purpose:
      I was not so much interested in the person who was looking for value inside the metal (although that is also a good point), but about this:the metal never had any effect on the engine of the detector. The reason the engine cooled down was because it was hot and also it “stopped producing heat”. The metal cannot really “do anything” to the motor. 

      In the case of the mind, the engine starts running once attachment to a rupa happens and then that produces heat or tapa mentally. The attachment happens due to believing that “outside things can affect me and give me pleasure”. That view lead to ghe engine started and lead to heat. Then, once we find what we hold as pleasurable, we stop looking for it and then, the engine stops producing heat and therefore, it cools down. So, it was a whole internal process. But in our ignorance we would say “my friend made me so happy when I saw her”, which is analogous to saying “when the detector came close to the metal, the metal cooled down the engine”.

      Here is another example :
      A boy meets his “crush” every friday for a date. The evening is very nice and they enjoy being with each other, going out and having anice meal, or going to cinema, etc. 

      This is why the boy is always disappointed to say goodbye to her (thereby producing further mental heat ) and also looking forward to her during the other days when he can’t be with her. So, he produces a lot of heat as time moves on from Saturday to Friday, in search of the next time when he can see her, believing that it will make him happy.

      When he meets her next time, it will give him that happiness (momentary), not because she gave it to him (the sight of her) but simply because he stopped looking and hence the engine cooled down (he misattributed that to and gives credit to her). 

      So, he starts to prove his own assumptions that she is the source of his happines and then he starts to create this following idea:
      Having more of her= more of happiness, since “her=happiness”, so there is a direct link (proportiobality). So he starts dreaming of marrying her. 

      Once he is married, however, he sees her everyday. So now the time to “run the engine” is much smaller, so therefore the “cooling of the engine” does not take long and is not very intense. 

      So, he married her because he linked the “pleasure” (relief from heat) to “being received by seeing her” she makes me happy) but this was never what really happened. Then he becomes irritated that now when he has “her for himself all the time” there is not much of that pleasure in everyday life. Because they see each other every day after work and hence there is not much time when the engine is running and “heat is produced”. 

      So, I hope my example shows the irony and also, why. So if someone would want his “crush” to make her happy (give him pleasure), the least thing he should do is to marry her, because then he would not be “away from her much” and hence no relief and pleasure. However if he would stay away from her, he would also suffer as long as he is attached because he thinks “seeing her  makes me happy”<!–/data/user/0/–>

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    • #44578

      Thank you for bringing up this topic and the added comments. It’s always good to have some more analogies ready so that others would be more able to understand the true nature of pleasure/assada.

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