December 11, 2015; Revised November 19, 2018
In this post, we will discuss an important classification of vēdanā based on whether they arise due to kamma vipāka or our defiled thoughts (saṅkhāra).
1. This is a sequel to the previous post, “Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways“, where we discussed how feelings arise due to kamma vipāka and also due to manō saṅkhāra.
- As discussed in several posts, we can avoid certain kamma vipāka from actually taking place by not making suitable conditions for them to appear, but some strong ones are hard to avoid; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.
- However, feelings (both good and bad) that arise due to saṅkhāra are totally avoidable, and Arahants are completely free of them. We discussed this in the previous post.
- Now let us discuss in detail what types of feelings arise due to those two causes.
2. First, let us discuss the feelings that we feel in our physical bodies.
- They include sukha vēdanā such as bodily comforts one feels sleeping in a luxurious bed, eating tasty food, smelling nice odors, seeing something attractive, etc. They arise via the five physical senses.
- Then there are dukha vēdanā that are again brought in via the five physical senses: injuries to the body, headaches, eating something bitter, smelling a bad odor, hearing to an ear-piercing sound, etc.
- Both those types of vēdanā are due to kamma vipāka, and Arahants feel them too. Sukha vēdanā arise due to kusala kamma vipāka (past good deeds) and dukha vēdanā arise due to akusala kamma vipāka (past bad deeds).
- These sukha and dukha vēdanā mainly exist in the kāma lōka, where the dense bodies of the beings are sufficiently dense to impart them. In fact, it is mainly in the lower five realms (including the human realm, that dukha vēdanā exists as kamma vipāka. However, the worst types of dukha vēdanā are in the lowest four realms (apāyās), and that is why a Sōtapanna is said to have overcome the worst of the suffering forever.
- In the deva lokas, it is mainly the sukha vēdanā that results due to good kamma vipāka. That is why a Sakadāgāmi is never born at or below the human realm, and is said to become “healthy forever”.
- In the rupa lōka and arupa lōka, beings mainly have jhānic pleasures. Thus an Anāgāmi, who will never be reborn in the kāma lōka, is said to become “peaceful forever”.
3. Some vipāka vēdanā felt by the body are neutral. Furthermore, all vipāka vēdanā coming through the other four physical senses are also neutral: adhukkhama asukha (without being painful or joyful, just neutral) vēdanā, which are commonly called upekkha vēdanā.
- It is important to note that these adhukkhama asukha or upekkha vēdanā are the true reality of experience. Vēdanā comes from (“vé” + “danā”) which means “veema danaveema” (වීම දැනවීම) in Sinhala. Basically, when we sense something via our six senses, we become aware that something happened, i.e., seeing a picture, hearing a sound, etc.; that is vēdanā.
- For example, seeing a person X only leads to an upekkha vēdanā for ANYONE initially.
4. However, within a fraction of a second of that seeing event, it COULD LEAD TO pleasant (sōmanassa) or unpleasant (dōmanassa) feelings DEPENDING ON WHO IS SEEING X. Person X’s wife or child will generate sōmanassa vēdanā upon seeing X. However, an enemy of X will generate dōmanassa vēdanā upon seeing X.
- On the other hand, a total stranger (or an Arahant) will not generate either sōmanassa or dōmanassa vēdanā upon seeing X, and that is the true reality, as mentioned in #3 above.
- Thus both sōmanassa and dōmanassa vēdanā are MIND MADE, and arise due to manō saṅkhāra. And those saṅkhāra are generated based on one’s own gati and āsāvas.
- In another example, if two people who are strong supporters of two opposing political parties see the leader of one political party, one will generate sōmanassa vēdanā and the other will generate dōmanassa vēdanā upon seeing that politician. Thus, those feelings could not have resided with the politician, but arose entirely due to the gati of those two people.
- An Arahant will not generate either kind, because there is no attachment (or repulsion) to anything or anyone for an Arahant.
- This is a very important point that one could do insight meditation on.
5. We also know that both sukha and dukha vēdanā can LEAD TO sōmanassa and dōmanassa vēdanā too. For example, When one gets a headache due to a kamma vipāka, one could be agonizing over how long that will last, whether that will prevent one from going to a party next day, etc. Those are dōmanassa vēdanā due to that initial dukha vēdanā from the headache.
- On the other side, when one eats a tasty piece of cake (good vipāka vēdanā), one could be start thinking about buying more of that cake and enjoying it later; that gives rise to sōmanassa vēdanā.
- Both the dōmanassa vēdanā and the sōmanassa vēdanā in the above two examples are totally mind-made, i.e., due to saṅkhāra.
6. Therefore, based on the three types of vēdanā (sukha vēdanā, dukha vēdanā, and upekkha vēdanā) that arise due to kamma vipāka, ADDITIONAL two types of vēdanā (sōmanassa and dōmanassa vēdanā) COULD arise depending on the asava and gati of the person experiencing them.
- Those feelings that we feel IN THIS LIFE due to saṅkhāra are MOSTLY two kinds: sōmanassa vēdanā and dōmanassa vēdanā. Those saṅkhāra also make bhava (via thoughts, speech and actions) and those give rise to kamma vipāka mostly in future lives but also in this life itself as we discuss below in #11.
- Thus rebirths are also generated via (abhi)saṅkhāra and that is how the cycle of rebirths is maintained. That is why it is called sansāra (“san” + “sära“, where “sära” means “good”), i.e., one perceives that it is good to keep doing saṅkhāra (“san” + “kāra”, where “kāra” or “kriya” is action).
7. This is why Dukkha Sacca (First Noble Truth) does not mean that we can ELIMINATE the dukha vēdanā arising in our present physical body; those are due to kamma vipāka (the causes were already done).
- However, by gradually reducing saṅkhāra (with increased understanding of Buddha Dhamma), we can stop making new saṅkhāra and thus eliminate FUTURE suffering. This is the key to dukkha sacca. These saṅkhāra are also called āsvāda; see, “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction“.
8. Still, we can reduce bad consequences from past kamma vipāka using what are called “strategies” (“upakrama“) in Buddha Dhamma.
- One is to be mindful and not to let conditions for past kamma vipāka to take place. This is discussed in, “What Is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?” and “Annantara Samanantara Paccaya“.
- If the kamma vipāka has already started imparting its effects (say, someone finds out that one has cancer), then one can work to alleviate that condition by using another related “strategy”: One can get medical help and adopt a lifestyle that is opposes the spreading of the cancer. Even here what we are doing is to overcome this bad condition by making suitable environment for “opposing good kamma vipāka” to bear fruit. Thus, if one does not make an effort, the bad kamma vipāka will run its course and one may die in short time.
9. Each living being’s body is designed to impart appropriate good and bad kamma vipāka suitable for the kamma seed that gave rise to that particular life.
- For example, an animal cannot implement “strategies” (“upakrama“) to overcome most of its kamma vipāka. For example, it is unable to do anything about a wound (other than licking it) or to think about dragging its cot to a sunny spot (our dog likes to be in the sun but we have to move her cot!).
- Some animals have built-in defenses for their survival, but they cannot make them any better. For example, some birds instinctively know how to build a nest, but that “nest design” has not been improved by them over millions of years. And baby turtles “know” the way to the ocean and start trotting in the right direction minutes after their hatching; see, “How Character (Gati) Leads to Bhava and Jāti“.
- Animals also are unable to do strong good or bad kamma. Even though most animals kill other animals, that is not done with greed or hate, but just for survival. It is just like the instinct for the birds to build nests or the baby turtles to head in the right direction to the sea. In Abhidhamma language, they generate mostly, “upekkha sahagata citta” and those have much less javana power.
- Thus, animals cannot accumulate much good or bad kamma. Otherwise, they will never be able to escape that “bhava“, since most survive by killing other animals. In the same way, whenever they get a “good life” (say as a human)– which is very rare — that is due to a good kamma vipāka done in a previous “good life”.
- But not all animals are the same. Those “higher up” animals like monkeys can accumulate kamma than “lower ones” such as worms, and cats and dogs are somewhere in between.
10. The potency of human saṅkhāra comes from the ability of humans to generate both “sōmanassa sahagata citta” (thoughts with joy) for kusala kamma and akusala kamma. The javana power of those citta are very high.
- Thus when one is doing a good deed with joy, that brings much more merits compared to someone who is doing it just because others are doing it (with neutral feelings), i.e., with an “upekkha sahagata citta“; see, “‘A Simple Way to Enhance Merits (Kusala) and Decrease Demerits (Akusala)“.
- Even more strong javana arise when a good deed is done with knowledge that it will lead to good results and why, i.e., one knows right from wrong.
- But the most potent javana arise when a good deed is done with understanding of the anicca nature, i.e., when one does it with “sōmanassa sahagata nana sampayutta citta“. Thus, panna (or nana) comes from an understanding that is deeper than just knowing right from wrong.
- It works the other way around for bad deeds: the most potent javana (with high kammic power that can lead to rebirth in the apāyās) are generated with “sōmanassa sahagata diṭṭhi sampayutta citta“, i.e, thoughts with joy and wrong vision. A good example is someone who commits murder and enjoys and it is done with the diṭṭhi that such an action cannot bring bad consequences.
- But when one commits murder due to anger that is done with aversion and displeasure: “dōmanassa sahagata paṭigha sampyutta citta“; see, “Akusala Citta and Akusala Vipaka Citta“.
11. Now let us consider the consequences of saṅkhāra in this life, that we mentioned in #6 above. Suppose a teenager starts associating with bad friends and start drinking alcohol. Initially, he does not even like the taste of it, i.e., he may be generating a dōmanassa vēdanā due to the taste of alcohol. But with the insistence of those friends he continues drinking.
- Then he makes a habit (gati) of it, begins to perceive the taste as a sōmanassa vēdanā, and starts making saṅkhāra about drinking. Even while in the middle of some other task, he starts thinking about the next party where he can drink, and what types of drinks there will be and so on.
- Now “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna” step in the Paṭicca samuppāda leads to making a “new viññāna for drinking”. The more he thinks about such parties and generate those sōmanassa vēdanā, the more viññāna, nāma rupa, etc that he makes for such “drinking events”.
- And the stronger that “viññāna for drinking” gets, the more he will be thinking about it (making more saṅkhāra). Then the habit is strengthened; see, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“.
12. Mind phenomena are complex. But with the background that we have accumulated, we can figure out some of the causes and possible effects. There is no need to memorize all these different terms; they will be carved into the memory as one contemplates and sorts out one’s own experiences.
To summarize: Sukha and dukha vēdanā arise due to kamma vipāka. Sōmanassa and dōmanassa vēdanā arise due to saṅkhāra, which in turn arise due to our gati and āsāvas. The more saṅkhāra we do, the stronger a given gati (habit) becomes, which in turn become āsāvas (cravings) and fuel the saṃsāric journey (rebirth process). This vicious cycle can be broken only through comprehending the anicca nature of this world.