February 18, 2017; revised February 1, 2023
1. Vēdanā is conventionally translated as “feelings,” but it can mean more than just feelings, particularly in “phassa paccayā vedanā” in Paṭicca Samuppāda. That vedanā has a specific name of “samphassa jā vēdanā,” as we will discuss.
- The Buddha said that vēdanā could be analyzed in many ways, with superficial or more profound meanings. Here we will analyze vēdanā in a way that will be most helpful at this stage (for those following the “Living Dhamma” section from the beginning.
- In this analysis, we will discuss nine types of vēdanā.
- By understanding these nine types of vēdanā, we can understand how to do vēdanānupassanā in the Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā correctly.
2. At the very fundamental level, vēdanā means “veema danaveema” (වීම දැනවීම) in Sinhala, which means “one becomes aware (of a sense input)” and experience the corresponding good, bad, or neutral kamma vipāka.
- That is the vēdanā experienced by an Arahant. He/she is aware of sensory input and does not ADD any more vēdanā in his/her mind to that sensory input.
- A vēdanā can be a dukha vēdanā (due to a past immoral kamma), a sukha vēdanā (due to a past good kamma), or a neutral sensation — like feeling the wind on the body — called a upekkha vēdanā.
- Even an Arahant will experience those dukha or sukha vedana as long as he/she is alive. Only “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” will not arise in an Arahant; see below. No more vedana of any type arising in an Arahant after death, because he/she will not be reborn in the 31 realms of “this world.”
- However, normal humans go far beyond that and generate three additional types of their mind-made “samphassa jā vēdanā,” as we will discuss below.
3. It is essential to realize that the physical body feels sukha and dukha vēdanā due to kamma vipāka. They result due to past good or bad kamma vipāka. This can be verified by referring to Abhidhamma:
- Akusala kamma vipāka coming though the body are listed as, “dukkha sahagatam kāya viññānam“, and kusala kamma vipāka coming though the body are listed as, “sukha sahagatam kāya viññānam“.
- Neutral (upekkha) vēdanā can arise via all five physical senses; see #7 below.
4. A normal human being will mentally generate three more types of vēdanā due to those sukha, dukha, and neutral vēdanā that initially arise due to kamma vipāka via all five physical senses.
- If it is dukha vēdanā (due to a headache, getting injured, etc. ), one is likely to start worrying about it and add more suffering. Those are dōmanassa vēdanā or āmisa dukha vēdanā.
- If it is sukha vēdanā (getting a massage, lying in a luxurious bed, etc. ), one is likely to start generating thoughts about how good it is and how one can enjoy similar sukha vēdanā in the future. Those are sōmanassa vēdanā or āmisa sukha vēdanā ; one could also be generating them by remembering past such sukha vēdanā. These are also added in by the mind.
- Sōmanassa means “mind-made joyful.” Dōmanassa means “mind-made misery,” which is a depressed mindset.
- If a vēdanā due to a kamma vipāka is not that strong, one may generate neutral feelings about it; that is āmisa upekkha vēdanā.
5. Let us take some examples to illustrate how those additional types of vēdanā can arise due to initial dukha vēdanā and sukha vēdanā.
- Suppose someone comes down with an illness. Any pain (dukha vēdanā) due to that illness CANNOT be avoided by anyone once the illness takes hold: It is the RESULT (vipāka) of a previous CAUSE (kamma).
- Of course, it is possible that one could have avoided the kamma vipāka from materializing by trying to minimize CONDITIONS (paccayā); see “What Does “Paccayā” Mean in Paṭicca Samuppāda?“. That is why kamma vipāka can be avoided by being mindful and taking precautions.
- Once an illness starts, one must take medicines or resort to other actions (e.g., massaging, applying heat/cold, etc.) to reduce the pain.
- However, people tend to make the situation worse by starting to generate negative feelings about the situation. This gives rise to dōmanassa vēdanā.
6. In the same way, one can start generating sōmanassa vēdanā based on a sukha vēdanā that was brought by a good kamma vipāka.
- For example, when eating a delicious meal, one could be generating joyful thoughts about how delicious it is and how one can eat it again in the future. Such joyful thoughts (sōmanassa vēdanā) may be generated even long after the meal.
- Both dōmanassa and sōmanassa vēdanā are “mind-made.” They are called “samphassa-jā-vēdanā“; see #8 below.
7. Kamma vipāka also leads to sense inputs at the other four physical senses. They are all neutral. Thus neutral vēdanā can arise via all five physical senses.
- Kusala and akusala vipāka coming through those four sensory doors are listed as, “upekkha sahagatam cakkhu viññānam“, “upekkha sahagatam sōta viññānam“, “upekkha sahagatam ghāna viññānam“, and “upekkha sahagatam jivhā viññānam“.
- For example, when we see an “eye-pleasing picture,” the initial vēdanā felt by the mind is neutral.
- However, that “neutral feeling” may not even register in one’s mind because the “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” we discuss next arises automatically and instantaneously based on one’s gati.
8. But if one has cravings or repulsion to such pictures, one will start generating “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” or feelings that arise due to “samphassa” (“san” + “phassa” or contacts with “san” that is in one’s mind); see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.
- It is easy to understand this when one contemplates some examples. Upon seeing person X, an enemy of X will generate what are called “dōmanassa vēdanā” or bad feelings, whereas a friend of X will generate “sōmanassa vēdanā” or good feelings.
- The same is true for sounds, tastes, and smells. Even though there appear to be “universally good” tastes, that is not true for an Arahant. We cannot comprehend it at this stage. But we know that some foods enjoyed by some could be repulsive to others, for example.
- In akusala-mula Paṭicca samuppāda, the “phassa paccayā vēdanā” step, the vēdanā that arises is really “samphassa-jā-vēdanā“; see, “Akusala-Mūla Paṭicca Samuppāda“.
9. Three more types of mentally generated vēdanā can arise in those on the Noble Eightfold Path. These arise by suppressing or eliminating those āmisa vēdanā or “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” discussed above.
- At the beginning of this section, we discussed how heat or tāpa in mind arise due to “san,” which are greed (lōbha), hate (dōsa), and ignorance (mōha); see “Suffering in This Life – Role of Mental Impurities” and “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life.”
10. When one constantly is attached to or repulsed by all those sensory inputs one experiences in a given day, one’s mind can get stressed out. An average human being may not even be aware of this heat (tāpa) in mind; see those two posts mentioned above and others at the beginning of the “Living Dhamma” section.
- Even if one is generating sōmanassa vēdanā, those inevitably lead to stress in mind. However, the effect is easily seen with dōmanassa vēdanā.
- This is very important to grasp. You may want to go back and read those posts.
11. When one stays away from generating too many “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” of both kinds, one will start feeling three more types of vēdanā. These are called nirāmisa vēdanā because they arise from staying away from cravings (and repulsion) to worldly objects.
- When one prevents the mind from heating up by comprehending the adverse effects of “san” and staying away from them, one’s mind starts “cooling down.” This is the nirāmisa sukha vēdanā that we have discussed in many posts.
- This is what is emphasized by “ātāpi sampajāno” in the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta; it means “remove the fire or heat from one’s mind by being aware of the ‘san‘ or “immoral tendencies”; see, “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Structure“.
- The pleasant feelings one feels during jhānās are also nirāmisa sukha vēdanā. They are devoid of tāpa or heat.
- Such feelings can also be experienced when doing a meritorious deed, such as giving or helping out someone in need. Those are also devoid of tāpa or heat and are nirāmisa sukha vēdanā.
- Nirāmisa sukha can, of course, be experienced while engaging in meditation, especially Metta Bhāvanā. This is optimized when one does Metta Bhāvanā with comprehension of anicca, dukkha, and anatta, i.e., when one does it with the comprehension of “ātāpi sampajāno”.
12. There are two more types of vēdanā that one experiences when proceeding on the Noble Eightfold Path.
- Sometimes, one gets discouraged by not advancing “fast enough” on the Path. One thinks about “why am I not getting to the sōtapanna stage?” or “Is there anything I am missing to make progress?” etc.
- Those are not dōmanassa vēdanā (because they are devoid of paṭigha anusaya); they are nirāmisa dukha vēdanā. It is common for one to experience such vēdanā.
- If a vēdanā is not that strong, one may generate neutral feelings about it; that is nirāmisa upekkha vēdanā.
13. The key to vēdanānupassanā in the Satipaṭṭhāna bhāvanā is to be able to recognize which type of vēdanā one feels.
- If it is a dukha (vipāka) vēdanā, one understands that one needs to bear it (after reducing it as much as possible with medicines, etc.). One needs to understand why such a vipāka vēdanā arises and remedy it as much as possible. After all, our goal is to stop any suffering.
- A good example is the pain one feels when sitting cross-legged at meditation retreats. Just saying, “I feel this vēdanā” will not be of any use. That vēdanā can be removed by shifting one’s posture. I have seen some instructors advise people to bear the pain, saying it will go away. It may go away because the nerves may become numb. That is not good in the long term.
- Also, one needs to understand why one should stop generating dōmanassa and sōmanassa vēdanā, per the above discussion.
- And one should, of course, cultivate nirāmisa sukha vēdanā that arise when one starts on the Path (primarily upon comprehending Tilakkhana to some extent) and reduces the tendency to generate dōmanassa and sōmanassa vēdanā.
14. Vēdanānupassanā is all about first identifying the types of vēdanā one is experiencing and then deciding what to do about them. Getting rid of all vēdanā — as some people believe — is the wrong thing to try to do.
Vipāka vēdanā do not have lōbha, dōsa, mōha, but vipāka vēdanā can lead to samphassa jā vēdanā which will have lōbha, dōsa, mōha.
- Vipāka vēdanā needs to be experienced with upekkha.
- Samphassa jā vēdanā are the ones to be stopped.
- Nirāmisa vēdanā are the ones to be cultivated.
15. In summary, try to avoid vipāka dukha vēdanā by trying not to make conditions for them to appear; see “Anantara and Samanantara Paccayā.” Do not indulge in vipāka sukha vēdanā when those arise. Suppress and gradually eliminate samphassa jā vēdanā and cultivate nirāmisa vēdanā, which is what the “Living Dhamma” section is all about.
- That is — in brief — what vēdanānupassanā is all about.