Vedana (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways

Revised February 9, 2017

Vedana (feelings) can arise in two ways:

  1. As a consequence of a previous kamma or previous defiled actions, i.e., a kamma vipaka. Those kamma could have been done many lives ago.
  2. As a direct consequence of a generating mano (and vaci and kaya) sankhara or defiled thoughts (because of tanha at the present time).

Let us discuss these two types separately.

Vedana Arising from Kamma Vipaka

1. Vedana (feelings) due to kamma vipaka are three kinds : Sukha vedana (pleasant or joyful feeling), dukha vedana (unpleasant or painful feeling), and adhukkhama asukha (without being painful or joyful, just neutral), which is commonly called upekkha.

  • Those sukha vedana and dukha vedana are felt only by the body. All vedana initially coming through other four types physical senses are neutral.
  • But based on all those, we can generate more types of “mind-made” vedana called somanassa and domanassa vedana as we discuss in the next section below.

2. Kamma vipaka leading to sukha vedana and dukha vedana happen to everyone, including Arahants. While everyone can live mindfully (taking necessary precautions) to avoid some of those dukha vedana, 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 (see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation“); all are reduced in power with time and some eventually die out  if they do not get a chance to come to fruition within 91 Maha kalpas.
  • Many can be avoided by not providing conditions for them to arise, i.e., by acting with yoniso manasikara or just common sense. For example, going out at night in a bad neighborhood is providing fertile ground for past bad kamma vipaka to arise: We all have done innumerable kamma (both good and bad) in past lives; if we act with common sense we can suppress bad kamma vipaka and make conditions for good vipaka to arise.

Also see the discussion on kamma beeja in , “Sankhara, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipaka“.

We will discuss how this type of vedana due to vipaka (from deeds in the past) arise due to the kusala-mula and akusala-mula PS cycles in following posts. First let us look at the “suffering we are initiating at present moment via sankhara“.

Vedana Arising from Sankhara (“Samphassa ja vedana“)

We described the PS mechanism that generates this type of vedana in the previous post. The vedana occurs due to attachment via greed or hate, at that moment; see, “Tanha – How we Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.

These are the vedana (feelings) that Arahants do not feel.  Since they do  not commit any (abhi)sankhara, an Arahant avoids any kind of feeling arising from sankharas. The easiest way to explain this kind of vedana is to give some examples:

  1. 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 and identify the person, they generate different types of feelings.It is important to realize that the feelings were created in A and B by themselves.
  2. 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. It was the same piece of colored rock. What has changed was the perception of it.
  3. What could happen if an Arahant found the same gem lying on the road? (he would not have gone looking for one). He might  think of donating it to a worthy cause. During the process, if he found that it was not valuable, he would not have worried about it at all.
  4. 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 (this is a kamma vipaka). The physical pain from the slap itself did not last more than a few minutes. But for how long the wife would suffer mentally? Those feelings arise due to sankhara, i.e., sadness and of hate. 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 mental 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.
  5. In all the above cases, the initial sense contact was due to a kamma vipaka; there are no kamma generated at that instant. However, based on that initial contact, we tend to pursue it with our mind (thinking about good/bad aspects of the politician, the value of the gem, re-assessing the love between husband and wife) and thus start generating kamma. The Arahant, on the other hand, would not pursue it even if someone hit him/her, but just bear the pain (kamma vipaka) and move on (no kamma would be generated).

Thus it is clear that in all the above examples, the “extra” happiness or suffering (other than due to kamma vipaka) arose from within one’s own mind. And tanha (attachment via greed or hate) was the cause of it.

We will discuss more examples as we proceed, but you should think about how to analyze situations that you face everyday, or have experienced. Let us further analyze the actual words of the Buddha when he described dukha in the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta:

1. It says, “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,….”.

2. However, “jathi ‘pi dukkha” is shortened for the verse; it is “jathi pi dukkha” or “jathi api dukkha” depending on the context; the other two “jara ‘pi dukkha, maranan ‘pi dukkha” are the same.

  • pi” in Pali or “priya” in Sinhala is “like”,  and “api” in Pali or “apriya” in Sinhala is dislike. Thus,  “jathi api dukkha” means “birth of something that is not liked by one causes suffering”.  “Jara pi dukkha” means, “decay of something that is liked causes suffering”, and “maranan pi dukkha” means, “Death of a liked causes suffering”. One can look at each case and easily see which one to use; see #4 below.

3. The reverse is true too: “Birth of something that one likes causes happiness”, “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. It brings happiness to many people to hear about the destruction of a property of an enemy . Many people were happy to hear about the death of Bin Laden, except his followers who became sad.

4. The Buddha further clarified “pi” and “api” in the next verse, where he explicitly said: “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” (“piya” is same as “pi“, and “apiya” is same as “api“).

  • We all know the truth of this first hand. When a man dies of in a plane crash, it causes great suffering to his family; less to his distant relatives; even less to those who just know him informally; and for someone at the other end of country who has had no association with him, it is “just some news”.

5. Thus all these feelings arise due to tanha, some form of attachment: greed (craving, liking) or hate (dislike); all these are due to mano sankhara. The feelings (or rather the perceptions that give rise to feelings) reside INSIDE oneself. It does not come from outside. We use external things to CAUSE happiness or suffering by our own volition.

  • There is no inherent suffering or happiness in ANYTHING external; the sense contact with an external thing CAUSES suffering or happiness depending on our gathi and asavas. An Arahant, who has removed all asavas, will be free of such emotional responses.

6. Now this DOES NOT MEAN we should not love our family or friends. These associations did not come without a cause. We cannot eliminate the cause for the current life; it was done long ago. Now we have fulfill the obligations that resulted from the cause in the past, i.e., we cannot give up our families. We have families, children etc, BECAUSE we have debts to pay to each other; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation“.

  • What we need to do is to eliminate NEW causes: stop such relationships from formed in future births, i.e., work to stop the rebirth process, while making sure to fulfill our obligations.

7. Here again, many people freak out: “how can I do that? if I do not reborn what happens to me?” We have this mindset because we do not think life can be much worse than what we have. But it definitely can be much, much worse; see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm“.

  • It is not possible to comprehend this fact without fully understanding the “world view” of the Buddha by looking at the wider world of 31 realms and the process of rebirth.
  • However, anyone can start on the Path without getting into the question of where there is a rebirth process or not; see, the section “Living Dhamma“.

8. It is also clear how accumulation of sankhara via paticca samuppada leads to such varied feelings: If we attach to something with a “like” or a “dislike”, we generate a mindset accordingly. This is paticca samuppada (pati + ichcha leading to sama + uppada; see, “Paticca Samuppada – Introduction“). in the first case, we generate “positive” mindset towards the object that we liked; thus if everything goes well with the object, we feel happy and if things do not go well, we feel sad. It is the other way for the object that we had a bad impression in the first encounter; we made a negative mindset about the object.

  • In either case, the strength of the feeling is also proportional to the strength of the “like” or “dislike”: Sama uppada or samuppada means both in quality and quantity; the higher the strength of “pati + ichcha”, the higher the strength in “sama + uppada“.
  • This is how we form habits (“gathi“) too. A teenager tasting alcohol with a bunch of friends gets attached to that setting and looks forward to have the same experience again; the more he repeats, the more he gets “bonded”, and thus forms a drinking habit. See, “Habits and Goals” and “Sansaric Habits and Asavas“.

9. Thus all what we experience arise in a complex web of inter-related multiple factors. Only a Buddha can “see this whole picture” and condense it down to a form that can be comprehended by only a motivated human being. If one really wants to understand Buddha Dhamma, one needs to spend time contemplating on these multiple but impressively self-consistent key ideas of anicca, dukkha, anatta, and paticca samuppada.

The vipaka cycles of PS are described in, “Akusala-Mula Paticca Samuppada“.

Also see, “Tanha – How We Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“, ………..

The sequel to this post is at, “Feelings: Sukha, Dukha, Somanassa, and Domanassa“.

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