Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways

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

Vēdanā (feelings/sufferings) can arise in two ways:

  1. As a consequence of a previous kamma or previous defiled actions, i.e., a kamma vipāka. Those kamma could have been done many lives ago.
  2. As a direct consequence of a generating manō saṅkhāra or defiled thoughts (due to our gati at the present time).

Both types arise automatically; see, “How Are Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles Initiated?” and “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna” for details.

Let us discuss these two types separately.

Vēdanā Arising from Kamma vipāka

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

  • Those sukha vēdanā and dukha vēdanā are felt only by the body. All vēdanā initially coming through other five sense faculties are neutral.
  • But based on all those, we can generate more types of “mind-made” vēdanā called sōmanassa and dōmanassa vēdanā as we discuss in the next section below.

2. 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 those dukha vēdanā, 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 vipāka. Moggallana Thero was beaten to death because of a bad kamma that he committed many lives before.
  • However, kamma vipāka 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 kappā.
  • Many can be avoided by not providing conditions for them to arise, i.e., by 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 take place: 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 “suffering we are initiating at the present moment via saṅkhāra“.

Vēdanā Arising from saṅkhāra (“Samphassa ja vēdanā“)

These 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 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, 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 vipāka). 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 saṅkhāra, i.e., sadness and 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 vipāka; 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 may start generating kamma automatically, within the same citta vithi; see, “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna“. 

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 own mind. And taṇhā (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, “jāti ‘pi dukkhā, jarā ‘pi dukkha, maranan ‘pi dukkha…….”. The deeper meaning is: “birth is suffering, getting old is suffering, dying is suffering,….”; see, “Essence of Buddhism – In the First Sutta“.

  • In order to grasp this deeper meaning, one needs to realize that in end. “all types of jāti“lead to suffering.
  • The most important point that the Buddha was trying to make in that sutta was that no matter where one is reborn, that will eventually lead to suffering.

2. However, we can also a see another meaning in a “day-to-day” sense: “jāti ‘pi dukkha” is shortened for the verse; it is “jāti pi dukkha” or “jāti api dukkha” depending on the context; the other two “jarā ‘pi dukkha, maranan ‘pi dukkha” are the same.

  • pi” in Pāli or “priya” in Pāli or Sinhala is “like”,  and “api” in Pāli or “apriya” in Sinhala is dislike. Thus,  “jāti api dukkha” means “birth of something that is not liked by one causes suffering”.  “Jarā 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.
  • In the end, all types jāti eventually lead to dukkha. But that is a deeper point.

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 taṇhā, some form of attachment: greed (craving, liking) or hate (dislike); all these are due to manō 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 suffering or happiness depending on our gati and āsāvās. An Arahant, who has removed all āsāvās, 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 fulfilled 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“.
  1. 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. This is Paṭicca samuppāda (pati + icca leading to sama + uppāda; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction“).
  • In the first case, we generate a “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 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 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 “Saṃsāric Habits and Āsavas“.

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 Paṭicca samuppāda.

The vipāka cycles of PS are described in, “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda“.

Also see, “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“, ………..

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

A deeper discussion on vedana at: “Does Bodily Pain Arise Only Due to Kamma Vipāka?“.

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