Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways

Revised February 9, 2017; October 17, 2017; November 5, 2018; May 5, 2020

Introduction

1. The word vēdanā comes from (“vé” + “danā”) which means “වීම දැනවීම” in Sinhala. That means to “become aware.” When an ārammana comes to the mind 9via any of the six senses,) we become aware of it. 

Vēdanā can arise in two ways:

  1. One type of vēdanā is a consequence of a previous kamma or previous defiled action, i.e., a kamma vipāka. That kamma could have been done many lives ago.
  2. The second is a direct consequence of a generating saṅkhāra or defiled thoughts (due to our gati at present).
  • For example, when one gets a “pleasant feeling” while eating a piece of cake offered by the friend, that is a vipāka vēdanā. Then, if we start thinking about how to eat that cake in the future, with such thinking, we generate “pleasant feelings” about such future experiences. Those are “mind-made” or samphassa-ja-vēdanā associated with greedy thoughts.

Further details on the two types of vēdanā can be found at, “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.” But let us discuss them briefly below.

Vēdanā Arising from Kamma Vipāka

2. Vēdanā (feelings) due to kamma vipāka are three kinds: Sukha vēdanā (pleasant or joyful feeling), dukha vēdanā (unpleasant or painful feeling), and adukkhamasukha (without being painful or joyous, just neutral.) The word adukkhamasukha is a combination of adukkhama and asukha.

  • Those three types of vēdanā are felt only by the body (kāya.) All vēdanā initially coming through other five sense faculties are neutral.
  • Kamma vipāka leading to sukha vēdanā and dukha vēdanā happen to everyone, including Arahants. While everyone can live mindfully (taking necessary precautions) to avoid some of such dukha vēdanā, others are too strong to be able to avoid.
  • For example, the Buddha himself had physical ailments later in his life as kamma vipāka. Moggallana Thero was beaten to death because of a bad kamma that he did many lives before.

3. However, kamma vipāka are not sure to happen. Some can be reduced in power (see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation.”) Many vipāka can be reduced in strength with time if one starts acting with mindfulness.

  • Many can be avoided by preventing conditions for them to arise. That means acting with yōnisō manasikāra or just common sense. For example, going out at night in a bad neighborhood is providing fertile ground for past bad kamma vipāka to appear. Many kamma vipāka CANNOT take place unless the conditions are right. See, “Anantara and Samanantara Paccayā.”
  • We all have done innumerable kamma (both good and bad) in past lives. If we act with common sense, we can suppress bad kamma vipāka and make conditions for good vipāka to arise.
  • Also see the discussion on kamma bīja in, “Sankhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bīja, Kamma Vipāka“.
  • Now let us look at the second type of vēdanā.
Vēdanā Arising from saṅkhāra (“Samphassa-ja-Vēdanā“)

4. These are vēdanā that we generate on our own. These are the vēdanā that do not arise in an Arahant.

  • Based on vipāka vēdanā, we may generate more types of “mind-made” vēdanā called sōmanassa and dōmanassa vēdanā as we discuss below.
  • In #2 above, we saw that vipāka vēdanā are felt only by the body (kāya.)
  • Some of the vēdanā coming through the other senses feel as “pleasant” or “unpleasant” NOT because of kamma vipāka, but due to another reason. Those are associated with each realm and are “kāma guṇa.” See, “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).” For example, all humans taste sugar to be sweet. But some people get addicted to eating sweets full of sugar. That second category is “mind-made.”
  • We may generate “samphassa-ja-vēdanā” starting with initial vēdanā due to both mentioned above. But most samphassa-ja-vēdanā have kāma guṇa as the cause.
Some Examples of Samphassa-ja-Vēdanā

5. These samphassa-ja-vēdanā arise due to attachment via greed or hate, at that moment (i.e., due to one’s gati); see, “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

These are the vēdanā (feelings) that Arahants do not feel.  Since they do not have any “bad gati,” they do not commit any (abhi)saṅkhāra, an Arahant avoids any kind of feeling arising from saṅkhāra. The easiest way to explain this kind of vēdanā is to give some examples:

  1. Three people are walking down the street. One has an ultra-right political bias (A), the second has an ultra-left preference (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, sight does not cause the Arahant to generate any pleasure or displeasure.  Even though all three see and identify the person, they produce different types of feelings. It is essential to realize that the feelings were created in A and B by themselves.
  2. Two friends go looking for treasure and find a gem. Both are overjoyed. It seems 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.
Another Example of Samphassa-ja-Vēdanā

6. 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 vipāka). The physical pain from the slap itself did not last more than a few minutes. But for how long would the wife suffer mentally? Those feelings arise due to saṅkhāra, i.e., sadness and hate. Even the husband, who did not feel any physical pain, would suffer for days if he 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.

  1. In all the above cases, the initial sense contact was due to a kamma vipāka. No kammic energy was generated at that instant. However, based on that initial contact, we tend to pursue it with our minds and thus may start generating kamma automatically. See, “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna.” 
Samphassa-ja-Vēdanā Arise Due to Taṇhā

7. Thus it is clear that in all the above examples, the “extra” happiness or suffering (other than due to kamma vipāka) arose from within one’s mind. And taṇhā (attachment via greed or hate) was the cause of it. See, “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

  • When we generate such “mind-made vēdanā,” we also do kamma (via abhisaṅkhāra) that will bring more suffering in the future.
  • The Buddha pointed out that when he described dukkha in the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta. See, “Essence of Buddhism – In the First Sutta.”

8. Thus all these feelings arise due to taṇhā, some form of attachment: greed (craving, liking) or hate (dislike); all these are due to manō/vaci/kaya saṅkhāra. 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 pain or happiness depending on our gati and āsāvās. An Arahant, who has removed all āsāvās, will be free of such emotional responses.
Connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda

9. It is also clear how the accumulation of saṅkhāra via Paṭicca Samuppāda leads to such varied feelings: If we attach to something with a “like” or a “dislike,” we generate a mindset accordingly. That is Paṭicca Samuppāda (pati + icca leading to sama + uppāda; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction“).

  • If we attached to something with “greed”, we act with that “greedy mindset.” We will be happy if we get what we wanted. If we got “attached” to something with anger, we would have an “angry mindset” and would be happy if we remove whatever caused that anger.
  • In either case, the strength of the feeling is also proportional to the strength of the “like” or “dislike”: Sama uppada or Samuppāda 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 (“gati“) too. A teenager drinking alcohol with a bunch of friends gets attached to that setting and looks forward to having the same experience again. The more he repeats that activity, the more he gets “bonded”, and thus forms a drinking habit. See, “Habits and Goals” and “Saṃsāric Habits and Āsavas“.

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

A deeper discussion on vēdanā at: “Does Bodily Pain Arise Only Due to Kamma Vipāka?,“ “How Are Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles Initiated?,” and “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna.

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