Vedana (Feelings)

Revised November 6, 2018; August 31, 2019

In this and follow-up posts, we will discuss six types of vēdanā (feelings) and how they arise. There are other types of vēdanā, but these are the important ones to understand for the Sōtapanna stage. Three of these occur due to kamma vipāka, and the other three arise due to saṅkhāra (defiled thoughts).

  • Vēdanā comes from (“” + “danā”) which means “වීම දැනවීම” in Sinhala. That means to “become aware of something.” When we sense something via our six senses, we become aware of it; that is vēdanā.

Two Ways Vēdanā (Feelings) Can Arise

Vēdanā (feelings) can arise in two ways:

1. First, as a consequence of a previous kamma (i.e., a kamma vipāka), possibly done many lives ago. Those usually are not avoidable.

  • Unavoidable vēdanā (feelings) are three kinds. Sukha vēdanā (pleasant or joyful feeling), dukha vēdanā (unpleasant or painful feeling), and adukkhama asukha (without being painful or joyful, just neutral), where we are just aware of it. This adukkhama asukha vēdanā is also called upekkha vēdanā.

2. Second, as a direct consequence of a saṅkhāra (one could say an ongoing action or a way of thinking). These are absent in Arahants.

  • Three types of other vēdanā are avoidable: somanassa (pleasant), domanassa (unpleasant), and upekkha (neutral) vēdanā. They are solely mind-made and are due to defiled thoughts (saṅkhāra). The details discussed below.
Vēdanā Arising from Kamma Vipaka

Kamma vipāka can happen to everyone, including Arahants. While everyone can avoid some kamma vipāka, others are too strong to be able to be avoided.

  • For example, the Buddha himself had physical ailments later in his life as kamma vipāka. Because a bad kamma that he committed many lives before, Moggallana Thero was beaten to death.
  • However, kamma vipāka are not sure to happen. Some can be reduced in power by Metta Bhavana; see, “Karaniya Metta Sutta – Metta Bhavana“.
  • All kamma vipāka reduce in power with time and some eventually die out if they did not get a chance to come to fruition within 91 Mahā kappā. Many can be avoided by not providing conditions for them to arise (see, the discussion on kamma bīja in, “Saṅkhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bīja, Kamma Vipaka“).
  • One could also feel sukha vēdanā (pleasant feelings) due to good kamma vipāka. These are also bodily feelings that arise due to “pleasant bodily contacts” like getting a good massage or lying on a luxurious bed.
  • These types of vēdanā are not DIRECTLY relevant in Paṭicca Samuppāda. For example, when Devadatta injured the Buddha, the Buddha did not generate “vēdanā paccayā taṇhā” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Vēdanā Arising from Sankhāra

These are the vēdanā that Arahants do not feel.  Since they do not commit any abhisaṅkhāra (those strong saṅkhāra done with greed, hate, and ignorance), an Arahant avoids any feeling arising from abhisaṅkhāra. 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.
  2. On the other hand, sight does not cause the Arahant to generate any pleasure or displeasure.  Even though all three see the same person, they produce different types of feelings. It is critical to realize that A and B created the feelings by themselves.
  3. Two friends go looking for treasure and find a gem. They are both overjoyed. It seems quite valuable, and one person kills the other so that he can get all the money. 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 (saññā).
  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. 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 loved his wife. In both cases, attachment to each other led to real suffering. 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 suffering associated with that.

Thus, all these second kinds of feelings arise due to greed, hate, or ignorance. They are due to (abhi)saṅkhāra. The feelings come from INSIDE oneself. They do not come from a kamma vipāka. We use external things to CAUSE happiness or suffering by our own volition.

  • These types of vēdanā (also called samphassa jā vēdanā” or “vēdanā generated via samphassa“) are the ones relevant in Paṭicca Samuppāda.

Deeper analyses can be found at Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways

Next, “Viññāṇa (Consciousness)“, …………….

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