Vedana – What It Really Means

February 18, 2017

1. Vedana is conventionally translated as “feelings”, but it is much more than just feelings. The Buddha said that vedana can be analyzed in many ways, with simple or deeper meanings. Here we will analyze vedana in a way that will be most helpful at this stage (for those who have been following the “Living Dhamma” section from the beginning.

  • In this analysis we will discuss 9 types of vedana.
  • By understanding these 9 types of vedana, we can understand how to correctly do vedananupassana in the Satipattana bhavana.

2. At the very fundamental level vedana means “veema danaveema” in Sinhala, which means “one becomes aware (of a sense input)” and experience the corresponding good, bad, or neutral kamma vipaka.

  • That is the vedana experienced by an Arahant.  He/she simply is aware of a sense input, and does not ADD anymore vedana in his/her mind to that sense input.
  • A vedana can be a dukha vedana (due to a past bad kamma), a sukha vedana (due to a past good kamma), or a neutral sensation — like feeling the wind on the body — called an upekkha vedana.
  • An Arahant will bear them all with a neutral mind even though the dukha or sukha sensation cannot be avoided.
  • However, normal humans go far beyond that and generate three additional types of their own mind-made “samphassa ja vedana“, as we will discuss below.

3. It is important to realize that sukha and dukha  vedana due to kamma vipaka are felt by the physical body. They result due to past good or bad kamma vipaka. This can be verified by referring to Abhidhamma:

  • Akusala kamma vipaka coming though the body are listed as, “dukkha sahagatham kaya vinnanam“, and kusala kamma vipaka coming though the body are listed as, “sukha sahagatham kaya vinnanam“.
  • Neutral (upekkha) vedana can arise via all five physical senses; see #7 below.

4. A normal human being will mentally generate three more type of vedana due to those sukha, dukha, and neutral vedana that initially arise due to kamma vipaka via all five physical senses.

  • If it is dukha vedana (due to a headache, getting injured, etc. ), one is likely to start worrying about it and add more suffering. Those are domanassa vedana or amisa dukha vedana.
  • If it is sukha vedana (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 vedana in the future. Those are somanassa vedana or amisa sukha vedana ; one could also be generating them by remembering past such sukha vedana. These are also added in by the mind.
  • Somanassa means “mind-made joyful”. Domanassa means “mind-made misery”, which is basically a depressed mindset.
  • If a vedana due to a kamma vipaka is not that strong one may just generate neutral feelings about it; that is amisa upekkha vedana.

5. Let us take some examples to illustrate how those additional types of vedana can arise due to initial dukha vedana and sukha vedana.

  • Suppose someone comes down with an illness. Any pain (dukha vedana) due to that illness CANNOT be avoided anyone once the illness takes hold: It is the RESULT (vipaka) of a previous CAUSE (kamma).
  • Of course, it is possible that one could have avoided the kamma vipaka to materialize by trying to minimize CONDITIONS (paccaya); see, “What Does “Paccaya” Mean in Paticca Samuppada?“. That is why kamma vipaka can be avoided by being mindful and taking precautions.
  • Once an illness starts, all one can do is to take medicines and also take any possible actions 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 domanassa vedana.

6. In the same way, one can start generating somanassa vedana based on a sukha vedana that was brought by a good kamma vipaka.

  • For example, when one is 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 (somanassa vedana) may be generated even long after the meal.

7. Kamma vipaka also lead to sense inputs at the other four physical senses. They are all neutral. Thus neutral vedana can arise via all five physical senses.

  •  Kusala and akusala vipaka coming through those four sense doors are listed as, “upekkha sahagatham cakkhu vinnanam“, “upekkha sahagatham sota vinnanam“, “upekkha sahagatham ghana vinnanam“, and “upekkha sahagatham jivha vinnanam“.
  • For example, when we see an “eye-pleasing picture”, the initial vedana felt by the mind is neutral.

8. But if one has cravings or repulsion to such pictures, one will start generating “samphassa ja vedana“, or feelings that arise due to “samphassa” (“san” + “phassa” or contacts with “san” that in one’s mind); see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.

  • It is easy to understand this when one contemplates on some examples. Upon seeing person X, an enemy of X will generate what are called “domanassa vedana” or bad feelings, whereas a friend of X will generate “somanassa vedana” 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 just cannot comprehend it at this stage. But we know that some foods enjoyed by some could be repulsive to others, for example.

9. Three more types of mentally generated vedana can arise in those who are on the Noble Eightfold Path. These arise by suppressing or eliminating those amisa vedana or “samphassa ja vedana” discussed above.

10. When one constantly is attached or repulsed by all those sense inputs that one experiences in a given day, one’s mind can get really stressed out. A normal human being may even not be aware of this heat (thäpa) in the mind; see those two posts mentioned above, and other posts in the beginning of the “Living Dhamma” section.

  • Even if one is generating somanassa vedana, those inevitably lead to the stress in the mind. However, the effect is easily seen with domanassa vedana.
  • 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 ja vedana” of both kinds, one will start feeling three more types of vedana. These are called niramisa vedana, because they arise due to 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 niramisa sukha vedana that we have discussed in many posts.
  • This is what is emphasized by “ätäpi sampajäno” in the Maha Satippatana Sutta; it means “remove the fire or heat from one’s mind by being aware of the ‘san‘ or “immoral tendencies”; see, “Satipatthana Sutta – Structure“.
  • The pleasant feelings one feels during jhanas are also niramisa sukha vedana. They are devoid of thäpa or heat.
  • Such feelings can also be experienced when one is doing a meritorious deed, such as giving or helping out someone in need. Those are also devoid of thäpa or heat, and are  niramisa sukha vedana.
  • Niramisa sukha can of course be experienced while engaging in meditation, especially metta bhavana. This is optimized when one does those bhavana with comprehension of anicca, dukkha, anatta, i.e., when one does it with full comprehension of “ätäpi sampajäno”.

12. There are two more types of vedana that one experiences when proceeding on the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • Sometimes, one gets a bit discouraged by not advancing “fast enough” on the Path. One thinks about “why am I not getting to the Sotapanna stage?” or “Is there anything that I am missing in order to make progress?”, etc.
  • Those are not domanassa vedana (because they are devoid of patigha anusaya)they are niramisa dukha vedana. It is common for one to experience such vedana.

13. The key to vedananupassana in the Satipattana bhavana is to be able to recognize which type of vedana one feels.

  • If it is a dukha (vipaka) vedana, 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 vipaka vedana arise, and remedy it as much as possible. After all, our goal is to stop any type of suffering.
  • A good example is the pain one feels when sitting cross-legged at meditation retreats. Just by saying “I feel this vedana” will not of any use. That vedana can be removed by shifting one’s posture. I have seen some instructors advice people to just bear the pain saying that 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 domanassa and somanassa vedana, per above discussion.
  • And one should of course cultivate niramisa sukha vedana that arise when one starts on the Path (especially upon comprehending Tilakkhana to some extent) and reduces the tendency to generate  domanassa and somanassa vedana.

14. Vedananupassana is all about first identifying the types of vedana one is experiencing, and then deciding what to do about them. Getting rid of all vedana — as some believe — is the wrong thing to try to do.

Vipaka vedana do not have lobha, dosa, moha, but vipaka vedana can lead to samphassa ja vedana which will have lobha, dosa, moha.

  • Vipaka vedana needs to be experienced with upekkha.
  • Samphassa ja vedana are the ones to be stopped.
  • Niramisa vedana are the ones to be cultivated.

15. In summary, try to avoid vipaka dukha vedana by trying not to make conditions for them to appear; see, “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya“. Do not indulge in vipaka sukha vedana when those arise. Suppress and gradually eliminate samphassa ja vedana and cultivate niramisa vedana, which is what the “Living Dhamma” section is all about.

  • That is — in brief — what vedananupassana is all about.

More details on vedana can be found at:  Vedana (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways” and “Feelings: Sukha, Dukha, Somanassa, and Domanassa“.

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