In this and follow-up posts, we will discuss five types of vedana (feelings) and how they arise. There are other types of vedana, but these are the important ones to understand for the Sotapanna stage. Three of these arise due to kamma vipaka and the other two arise due to sankhara (defiled thoughts).
- Vedana comes from (“vé” + “danä”) which means “veema danaveema” in Sinhala. Basically, when we sense something via our six senses, we become aware of it; that is vedana.
Vedana (feelings) that cannot be avoided in this world are three kinds : Sukha vedana (pleasant or joyful feeling), dukha vedana (unpleasant or painful feeling), and adukkhama asukha (without being painful or joyful, just neutral), where we are just aware of it. This adukkhama asukha vedana is commonly called upekkha vedana.
- It must be pointed out that upekkha is better reserved for one of the Saptha Bojjanga or Seven Factors of Enlightenment; it is a state of the mind (of neutrality, equanimity), and needs to be cultivated. Most times upekkha is translated incorrectly as a neutral feeling, but that is not a key problem.
Then there are two types of other vedana that can be prevented from arising: somanassa (pleasant) and domanassa (unpleasant) vedana. They are solely mind-made and are due to defiled thoughts (sankhara). The details are discussed below.
Two Ways Vedana (Feelings) Can Arise
Vedana (feelings) can arise in two ways:
- As a consequence of a previous kamma (i.e., a kamma vipaka). The kamma or sankhara could have been done many lives ago.
- As a direct consequence of a sankhara (one could say an ongoing action or a way of thinking).
Vedana Arising from Kamma Vipaka
Kamma vipaka can happen to everyone, including Arahants. While everyone can avoid some kamma vipaka, there are others that are too strong to be able to avoid.
- For example, the Buddha himself had physical ailments later in his life as kamma vipaka. Moggallana Thero was beaten to death because of a bad kamma that he committed many lives before.
- However, kamma vipaka are not certain to happen. Some can be reduced in power (we will discuss this under Vinaya and Metta Bhavana), all are reduced in power with time and some eventually die out if they did not get a chance to come to fruition within 91 Maha kalpas. Many can be avoided by not providing conditions for them to arise (see, the discussion on kamma beeja in , “Sankhara, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipaka“).
Vedana Arising from Sankhara
These are the vedana that Arahants do not feel. Since they do not commit any abhisankhara (those sankhara done with greed, hate, and ignorance), an Arahant avoids any kind of feeling arising from abhisankhara. The easiest way to explain this kind of vedana is to give some examples:
- Three people are walking down the street. One has ultra-right political bias (A), the second has ultra-left bias (B), and the third is an Arahant who does not have special feelings for anyone (C). They all see a famous politician hated by the political right coming their way. It is a given that the sight of the politician causes A to have displeasure and B to have a pleasurable feeling. On the other hand, the sight does not cause the Arahant to generate any pleasure or displeasure. Even though all three see the same person, they generate different types of feelings.It is important to realize that the feelings were created by A and B by themselves.
- Two friends go looking for treasure and find a gem. They are both overjoyed. It looks quite valuable and one person kills the other so that he can get all the money. Yet when he tries to sell the “gem”, he finds out that it was not that valuable. His joy turns to sorrow in an instant. Nothing had changed in the object, the piece of stone. It was the same piece of colored rock. What has changed was the perception of it (sanna).
- A loving couple had lived for many years without any problems and were happy to be together. However, the husband slaps his wife during an argument. The physical pain from the slap itself did not last more than a few minutes. But for how long the wife would suffer mentally? Even the husband, who did not feel any physical pain, would suffer for days if he really loved his wife. In both cases, the real pain was associated with the attachment to each other. The wife could have dropped something on her foot and would have suffered about the same amount of physical pain. But she would not have had any lingering mental pain associated with that.
- When the Buddha described dukha in the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta, it went like, “jathi pi dukkha, jara pi dukkha, maranan pi dukkha…….”. Most people translate this incorrectly as, “birth is suffering, getting old is suffering, dying is suffering,….”. However, even though the word “pi” is used for the verse, it needs to be taken either as “pi” (liked) or “api” (not liked)depending on the case. Thus, “jathi pi dukkha” in the verse means “birth of something that is not liked by one is suffering for one self”. “Jara pi dukkha” means, “decay of something that is liked is suffering”, and “maranan pi dukkha” means, “Death of a liked is suffering”. The reverse is true too: “decay of something that is hated brings happiness” and “death of a hated person brings happiness”. You can think of any example and this is ALWAYS true. Many people were happy to hear about the death of Bin Laden, except his people who became sad.
- The Buddha further clarified this in the next verse: “piyehi vippayogo dukkho, appiyehi sampayogo dukkho” means “it brings sorrow when a loved one has to depart, and it also brings sorrow to be with a hated person”.
Thus all these second kind of feelings arise due to greed, hate, or ignorance; all these are due to (abhi)sankhara. The feelings reside INSIDE oneself. It does not come from outside. We use external things to CAUSE happiness or suffering by our own volition.
Next, “Vinnana (Consciousness)“, …………….