Does Bodily Pain Arise Only Due to Kamma Vipāka?

January 12, 2018

1. Vēdanā can be categorized into five types (Paṭha­ma Vibhaṅ­ga Sutta; SN 48.4):

  • Two are generated by the mind (called cetasikam sukham and cetasikam dukkham in the above Sutta) due to one’s gathi: somanassa (joy) and domanassa (depression).
  • Two felt by the body (called kāyikaṃ sukham and kāyikaṃ dukkham in the above Suttaand are “real”, not mind-made: sukha (bodily pleasure) and dukkha (bodily pain).
  • Neutral: adukkhama sukha (without pain or pleasure) or upekkha (without somanassa or domanassa). In the Sutta stated as : “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 previous kammā, as we discuss below.

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

  • The two types of vēdanā generated by the mind do not arise in Arahants. They are called “samphassa jā vēdanā“; see, “Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways“, and at a deeper level Vēdanā – What It Really Means“.
  • Those two felt by the body due to kammā vipāka are experienced also by the Arahants.
  • This is also explained in the “Salla Sutta (SN 36.6)”, saying that while a normal human experiences both types of vēdanā when pierced by a spear (including samphassa jā vēdanā“), an Arahant experiences only the “direct vēdanā” caused by the wound.

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

  • When we generate joy upon seeing something that we like, for example, it comes in as a neutral vēdanā. We generate joy via “samphassa jā vēdanā” based on our gathi.
  • 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 on this and let the idea sink in. It is an important point. It holds true for any sense input other than the bodily sense inputs (except kāma guna, discussed in #6 below).

4. Regarding Abhidhamma, most people use the book  “A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma”, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000). This is the English translation of the “Abhidhammattha Sangaha”, a commentary to the Abhidhamma Pitaka in the Tipitaka, 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 key point from Abhidhamma is that only bodily sense 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) are both mind-made; same is true for taste, sounds, smell. Same is also true for dhammā that come to the mind (recalling past events or future plans).
  • However, kāyika sukha or kāyika dukkha arises due to injuries and sicknesses (headaches, cancer, etc), and are 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.

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

  • Another complexity involved is due to sense 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 arise with mind as the root cause. That is what is meant by the Dhammapada gāthā : “manō pubbangamā dhammā, manō setta manōmayā..”.

  • At the very fundamental level, those ‘kammā beeja” or “kammic energy” has its 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 is that the three types of kammā are done by mano, vaci, and kāya sankhāra: “Sankhāra – What It Really Means“.

8. This vicious cycle of “vipāka” leading to new “kammā” (via acting with avijjā), which in turn lead to more “vipāka”, is the process that binds us to the samsāra of endless rebirths, or perpetuate our “world” of suffering; see, “How Are Paticca 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/kammā vipāka is NOT deterministic, i.e., just because one has done a bad (good) deed in the past, that DOES NOT mean one would get the corresponding result (bad or good); see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.

  • This is because “conditions” are a key aspect of Paticca Samuppāda (cause and effect) in Buddha Dhamma. Just because there are causes (kammā beeja), corresponding vipāka do not take place unless suitable conditions come into play; see, “How Are Paticca Samuppāda Cycles Initiated?” and “Pattana Dhamma“.

10. On the other hand, things DO NOT just happen. One or more causes MUST act as the root cause for a good (or bad) effect. Therefore, a past kammā, 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 vēdanā 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.
  • On the other hand, one may encounter sufferings that seem to be 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 true for bile (pita), gas (vāta), body fluids (sannipāta), change in climate (utu), careless behavior (visama), others’ harmful actions (opakkama).

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 Kamma Vipaka?“, that list 8 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 actually standing one leg (one’s willingness to go along with it) is needed for the kāya vēdanā 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 is cause and what is effect, because 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 vēdanā WOULD NOT arise, unless one let the intial kammā vipāka (came through the mana indriya) to proceed. One has the ability to stop that kāya vēdanā from arising.
  • On the other hand, one cannot stop the cancer by will. One could take actions (called upakkama or prayōga) to alleviate a bodily vēdanā 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.

14. Those upkkama 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 detonate 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 for 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 “Pattana Dhamma“. So far, I have discussed only a few).
  • Some people escape such attacks “miraculously”. There is no miracle, just the fact the 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 it is impossible for a human to figure out the causes for kammā vipāka.
  • Another such special case is the demise of all living beings in the realms BELOW the abhassara brahma realm at the destruction of the “material world” (lōka vināsaya); over a long time period all being 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.

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 anantariya 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 really not the root causes, but actually effects that appear as causes.

  • The Buddha is said to had to face 12 kammā vipāka (“Pubba­kamma­pi­lotika­buddha­apadāna ; Therāpadāna“; only Pāli and Sinhala versions can be found there, but an English translation is at: “The Connection with Previous Deeds – Pubbakammapilotika-Buddhāpadānaṁ“). Much merits to the two readers who sent me the references!).
  • Five of those 12 were due to remnants of anantariya 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 apāyas).

16. Finally, I would caution that material in the Milindapanha are based on conversations that took place 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).

17. One’s understanding in how kammā/kammā vipāka operate will grow only with understanding of basic concepts. Until then, one’s ingrained belief systems will be operating based on the 10 types of miccā ditthi. There are actually two levels of miccā ditthi. First one needs to remove the ten types of miccā ditthi.

  • Then one can start on the Noble Eightfold Path AFTER learning about the deeper level of miccā ditthi. 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 are dispelled when one comprehends Tilakkhana, the Three Characteristics of this world: anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • The strongest immoral deeds are done by the 10 types of miccā ditthi. They inevitably lead to suffering and can lead to rebirth in the apāyas.

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

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