Does Bodily Pain Arise Only Due to Kamma Vipāka?

January 12, 2018; revised November 23, 2023

Five Main Types of Vedanā

1. vedanā can be categorized into five types (Paṭha­ma Vibhaṅ­ga Sutta; SN 48.36):

  • Two felt by the body (called kāyikaṃ sukham and kāyikaṃ dukkham in the above Sutta @markers 2.2 and 3.2) and are “real,” not mind-made: sukha (bodily pleasure) and dukkha (bodily pain). Of course, they arise only if there is a dense, physical body. Devās and Brahmās don’t experience those since they have less dense “subtle bodies.”
  • All others are generated by the mind (“cetasikaṁ sukham” and “cetasikaṁ dukkham” in the above Sutta) due to one’s gati: somanassa (joy) and domanassa (depression).
  • Neutral: adukkhama sukha (without pain or pleasure) or upekkha (without somanassa or domanassa). In the Sutta it is stated @ marker 6.1: “Katamañca, bhikkhave, upekkhindriyaṃ? Yaṃ kho, bhikkhave, kāyikaṃ vā cetasikaṃ vā nevasātaṃ nāsātaṃ vedayitaṃ—idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, upekkhindriyaṃ“.
  • Kāyika sukha and dukkha are also experienced by the mind, but they come through the body as direct results of the previous kammā, as discussed below.

2. As clearly stated in the “Nakula­pi­tu Sutta (SN 22.1)“:

Only the Vedanā Due to Physical Body Are “Real”

3. This is why, in Abhidhamma, all sensory inputs via the other five sense inputs (other than the physical body) are initially felt as upekkha (neutral) vedanā. Only the bodily sense inputs could lead to dukkha vedanā (getting injured, headaches, cancer, etc.) or sukha vedanā (good massage, lying on a comfortable bed, etc).

  • When we generate joy upon seeing something we like, for example, it is a neutral vedanā. We generate joy via “samphassa jā vedanā” based on our gati.
  • A good example is seeing a well-known politician. Some people generate good feelings, and others may generate bad feelings, but it is the same person they were all looking at. The joy or disgust was not in the politician; it was within the observer. One may need to contemplate this and let the idea sink in. It is an important point. It holds for any sensory input other than the bodily sense inputs (except kāma guna, discussed in #6 below).

4. Regarding Abhidhamma, most people use the book  “Bhikkhu_Bodhi-Comprehensive_Manual_of_Abhidhamma,” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000); click that link to download the pdf version. This is the English translation of the “Abhidhammattha Sangaha,” a commentary to the Abhidhamma Piṭaka in the Tipiṭaka, by Acariya Anuruddha, who lived around the same time as Acariya Buddhaghōsa, who wrote the commentary Visuddhimagga.

5. Going back to our original discussion, the critical point from Abhidhamma is that only bodily sensory inputs (experienced via the physical body) can bring in sukha (pleasant) or dukha (unpleasant or painful) bodily sensations.

  • In other words, when we experience joy (upon seeing a loved one) and dislike (upon seeing an enemy), both are mind-made; the same is true for taste, sounds, and smell. The same is true for dhammā that comes to the mind (recalling past events or expectations for the future).
  • However, kāyika sukha or kāyika dukkha arises from injuries and sicknesses (headaches, cancer, etc.) and is thus “real.”
  • We have discussed these in various posts, but I wanted to find a couple of Suttas where this is clearly stated concisely. Those are given in #1 and #2 above.
Vedanā Can be Analyzed in Many Ways

6. It must also be stated that the Buddha has described vedanā as two types to 108 types depending on the analysis; see, for example, “Bahu­ve­danīya Sutta (MN 59)“. For this discussion, the five types are appropriate.

  • Another complexity involved is due to sensory experiences that arise as part of a being’s bhava (yet at the root still determined by kammā), which are called “kāma guna“; see, “Kāma Guna, Kāma, Kāma Rāga, Kāmaccanda”.  This is also mentioned in the above Sutta.
  • For example, dogs and pigs eat feces because they taste such things as tasty. Humans, in general, taste sugar as sweet and salty as salty, etc. Those are kāma guna associated with each bhava; An Arahant would taste them the same way.

7. Everything in this world arises with the mind as the root cause. That is what is meant by the Dhammapada gāthā: “manō pubbangamā dhammā, manō setta manōmayā..”. See “Manōpubbangamā dhammā...”

  • At the very fundamental level, those ‘kammā bīja” or “kammic energy” have their root in javana citta with one or more of the six root causes: lōbha, dosa, mōha, and alōbha, adōsa, amōha.
  • It is also important to realize that the three types of kammā are done by mano, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra: “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means.”
We Do New Kamma Based on Kamma Vipāka

8. This vicious cycle of “vipāka” leading to new “kammā” (via acting with avijjā), which in turn leads to more “vipāka,” is the process that binds us to the samsāra of endless rebirths or perpetuates our “world” of suffering; see, “How Are Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles Initiated?”.

  • The Buddha described this as, “kammā vipākā vaddanti, vipākō kammā sambhavō, tasmā punabbhavō hōti, evan lokō pavattati“.
  • That means, “kammā lead to vipāka, vipāka, in turn, lead to kammā and thus to rebirth (punabbhavō), and that is how the world (existence) is maintained.”
    Here, “sambhava” is “san” + “bhava, “or “adding more existences.” Also, “lōka” is world, and “pavatta” means “maintain”.

9. However, the working of kammā/kamma vipāka is NOT deterministic. Just because one has done an evil (or good) deed in the past, that DOES NOT mean one would get the corresponding result (bad or good); see, “What is Kamma? – Does Kamma determine Everything?“.

  • This is because “conditions” are a crucial aspect of Paṭicca Samuppāda (cause and effect) in Buddha Dhamma. Just because there are causes (kammā bīja), the corresponding vipāka does not take place unless suitable conditions come into play; see “How Are Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles Initiated?” and “Paṭṭhāna Dhamma.”
Things Happen Due to Causes and Conditions

10. On the other hand, things DO NOT just happen. One or more causes MUST be the root cause for a good (or harmful) effect. Therefore, A kamma vipāka (the result of a past kamma) is ALWAYS needed to act as the cause.

  • The above is an important point, so let me give an example. When someone gets a headache or cancer, that is a bodily vedanā arising solely due to a kammā vipāka, and one’s action at that time does not come into play. Of course, one can take subsequent actions to either alleviate that problem or even to get rid of it; that is where “conditions” play a role. See #5 through the end of “What is Kamma? – Does Kamma determine Everything?“.
  • Some kamma vipāka may not have a specific single cause. Those happen because we are born with this physical body via a kamma vipāka
  • On the other hand, one may encounter sufferings that are not directly due to kammā vipāka. For example, one may have breathing problems because one’s body has excess phlegm (semha). So, it appears that the cause of breathing problems is excess phlegm. But there is a root cause for phlegm to be present at high levels in one’s body, and that is a past kammā. The same is valid for bile (pita), gas (vāta), body fluids (sannipāta), climate change (utu), careless behavior (visama), and others’ harmful actions (opakkāma).

11. There are three Suttas (SN 36.21, AN 5.104, and AN 10.60) that the reader Siebe mentioned in the discussion forum (“Could Bodily Pain be due Causes Other Than Kāmma Vipāka?” that list eight such possible “secondary causes” for bodily pain:

  • One should read that discussion topic to get a good understanding of how this discussion evolved, but let me briefly describe the background.

12. Those other seven “causes” (except kammā) are not root causes. They all have past kammā as the root cause. Nothing in this world happens without a connection somewhere to the six root causes: lōbha, dosa, mōha, and alōbha, adōsa, amōha.

  • One may get an idea to stand on one’s leg. But if one is mindful, one can see the bodily pain associated with that action and decide not to go through with it. Note that the kammā vipāka, in this case, came initially as a mental input (through mana indriya). But one has the CHOICE not to go along with that. Therefore, a second kammā of standing one leg (one’s willingness to go along with it) is needed for the kāya vedanā to arise.
  • The first case above in #10 (cancer, etc.)  illustrates the vipāka solely attributed to past kammā. Pain due to standing on a leg is also an immediate kammā vipāka. Other cases involve those vipāka arising due to the seven other types of causes that are discussed in the Suttas mentioned in #11.

13. Therefore, sometimes, it may not be easy to figure out what the cause is and what the effect is because the result of a past action itself can act as a (new) cause.

  • The above example of standing on one’s leg is a good example. The kāya vedanā WOULD NOT arise unless one lets the initial kammā vipāka (came through the mana indriya) proceed. One can stop that kāya vedanā from arising.
  • On the other hand, one cannot stop cancer by will. One could come up with indirect ways (called upakkama or prayōga) to alleviate a bodily vedanā due to a kammā vipāka. By the way, upakkama is one of the eight mentioned loosely as causes in those Suttas that mention possible eight causes for kammā vipāka.
Only a Buddha Can Sort Out the Reason for a Specific Kamma Vipāka

14. Those upkkāma or prayōga can work in the following way, too. An upakkama by person A may cause harm to person B. For example, when person B detonates a suicide bomb, person A may die as a result of that action.

  • But here again, person A MUST have a pending kammā vipāka for that action by person B to cause harm to him. As I have mentioned many times, we have collected innumerable kammā vipāka and they are waiting for such conditions to appear to give vipāka.
  • (Twenty-four such conditions are listed and discussed in “Paṭṭhāna Dhamma.” So far, I have discussed only a few).
  • Some people escape such attacks “miraculously.” There is no miracle, just the fact that there may not have been a suitable kammā vipāka waiting to be ripened, OR, a past good kammā could overcome even some pending bad vipāka.
  • This is why the Buddha said that a human can’t figure out the causes of kammā vipāka.
  • Another such particular case is the demise of all living beings in the realms BELOW the Ābhassara Brahma realm at the destruction of the “material world” (lōka vināsaya); over a long time, all beings in the lower realms are reborn in higher realms above the abhassara Brahma realm until a new world (new Earth in our case) is formed over billions of years. We will not get to discuss this for a while since more background material is needed.
Even the Buddha Experienced Kamma Vipāka

15. One would think that the Buddha’s good kammā done in his last life would be more than enough to override any kammā vipāka from the past. However, remnants of vipāka of an ānantariya kammā were there, and also there could have been other strong kammā. That is the only exception, and that is the kammā vipāka listed among the eight other possible causes. The other seven are not the root causes but effects that appear as causes.

  • The Buddha is said to have to face 12 kammā vipāka (“Pubba­kamma­pi­lotika­buddha­apadāna ; Therāpadāna.” An English translation is at: “The Connection with Previous Deeds – Pubbakammapilotika-Buddhāpadānaṁ“. Much merits to the two readers who sent me the references! I recommend reading the English translation.
  • Five of those 12 were due to remnants of ānantariya papa kammā involving verbally or physically hurting Buddhas in past lives. Two were for killings, two for abusing sages, one for breaking the back of a wrestler, one for giving wrong medication intentionally, and another for watching others engaged in fishing and enjoying it.
  • By the way, Moggallana Thero was beaten to death due to remnants of a kammā of killing his parents in a past life. He paid for most of his kammā in a niraya (worst realms in apāyā).

16. Finally, I would caution that material in the Milindapanha is based on conversations between Ven. Nagasena and King Milinda more than 100 years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana. Even though most of the material in Milindapanha seems to be compatible with the Suttas, it is possible that Ven. Nagasena referred to those extra seven causes as “root causes” just because those three Suttas in #11 above (SN 36.21, AN 5.104, and AN 10.60) did not elaborate on the deeper explanation that we discussed above.

  • Furthermore, as reader Akvan pointed out in the discussion forum, Ven. Nagasena’s statement about Buddha not having to face kammā vipāka is not correct (I have not personally read that account in Milindapanaha if it is there).
Importance of Removing Micchā Diṭṭhi

17. One’s understanding of how kammā/kammā vipāka operates will grow only with an understanding of basic concepts. Until then, one’s ingrained belief systems will operate based on the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. There are two levels of micchā diṭṭhi. First, one needs to remove the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi.

  • Then, one can start on the Noble Eightfold Path AFTER learning about the deeper level of micchā diṭṭhi. That is to realize that it is a wrong view to believe that things in this world can bring long-term happiness. This second level of wrong views is dispelled when one comprehends Tilakkhana, the Three Characteristics of this world: anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
  • The ten types of micchā diṭṭhi do the strongest immoral deeds. They inevitably lead to suffering and can lead to rebirth in the apāyā.

18. One can attain Nibbāna only by getting rid of the second level of micchā diṭṭhi, i.e., only by comprehending Tilakkhana. Thus, ultimate and permanent happiness can be attained only by getting rid of the second level of micchā diṭṭhi.

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