Feelings: Sukha, Dukha, Somanassa, and Domanassa

December 11, 2015

In this post, we will discuss an important classification of vedana based on whether they arise due to kamma vipaka or our defiled thoughts (sankhara).

1. This is a sequel to the previous post, “Vedana (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways“, where we discussed how feelings arise due to kamma vipaka and also due to mano sankhara.

  • As discussed in several posts, we can avoid certain kamma vipaka 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 sankhara 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 vedana 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 vedana that are again brought in via the five physical senses: injuries to the body, headaches, eating something untasteful, smelling a bad odor, hearing to an ear-piercing sound, etc.
  • Both those types of vedana are due to kamma vipaka, and Arahants feel them too. Sukha vedana arise due to kusala kamma vipaka (past good deeds) and dukha  vedana arise due to akusala kamma vipaka (past bad deeds).
  • These sukha and dukha vedana mainly exist in the kama loka, 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 vedana exists as kamma vipaka. However, the worst types of dukha vedana are in the lowest four realms (apayas), and that is why a Sotapanna is said to have overcome the worst of the suffering forever.
  • In the deva lokas, it is mainly the sukha vedana that results due to good kamma vipaka. That is why a Sakadagami is never born at or below the human realm, and is said to become “healthy forever”.
  • In the rupa loka and arupa loka, beings mainly have jhanic pleasures. Thus an Anagami, who will never be reborn in the kama loka, is said to become “peaceful forever”.

3. Some vipaka vedana felt by the body are neutral. Furthermore, all vipaka vedana coming through the other four physical senses are also neutral: adhukkhama asukha (without being painful or joyful, just neutral) vedana, which are commonly called upekkha vedana. 

  • It is important to note that these  adhukkhama asukha or upekkha vedana are the true reality of experience. Vedana comes from (“” + “danä”) which means “veema danaveema” 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 vedana.
  • For example, seeing a person X  only leads to an upekkha vedana for ANYONE initially.

4. However, within a fraction of a second of that seeing event, it COULD LEAD TO pleasant (somanassa) or unpleasant (domanassa) feelings DEPENDING ON WHO IS SEEING X. Person X’s wife or child will generate somanassa vedana upon seeing X. However, an enemy of X will generate domanassa vedana upon seeing X.

  • On the other hand, a total stranger (or an Arahant) will not generate either somanassa or domanassa vedana upon seeing X, and that is the true reality, as mentioned in #3 above.
  • Thus both somanassa and domanassa vedana are MIND MADE, and arise due to mano sankhara. And those sankhara are generated based on one’s own gathi and asavas.
  • 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  somanassa vedana and the other will generate domanassa vedana upon seeing that politician. Thus, those feelings could not have resided with the politician, but arose entirely due to the gathi 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 vedana can LEAD TO  somanassa and domanassa vedana too. For example, When one gets a headache due to a kamma vipaka, 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 domanassa vedana due to that initial dukha vedana from the headache.

  • On the other side, when one eats a tasty piece of cake (good vipaka vedana), one could be start thinking about buying more of that cake and enjoying it later; that gives rise to somanassa vedana.
  • Both the domanassa vedana and the somanassa vedana in the above two examples are totally mind-made, i.e., due to sankhara.

6. Therefore, based on the three types of vedana (sukha vedana, dukha vedana, and upekkha vedana) that arise due to kamma vipaka, ADDITIONAL two types of vedana (somanassa and domanassa vedana) COULD arise depending on the asava and gathi of the person experiencing them.

  • Those feelings that we feel IN THIS LIFE due to sankhara are MOSTLY two kinds: somanassa vedana and domanassa vedana. Those sankhara also make bhava (via thoughts, speech and actions) and those give rise to kamma vipaka mostly in future lives but also in this life itself as we discuss below in #11.
  • Thus rebirths are also generated via (abhi)sankhara and that is how the cycle of rebirths is maintained. That is why it is called sansara (“san” + “sära“, where “sära” means “good”), i.e., one perceives that it is good to keep doing sankhara (“san” + “kära”, where “kära” or “kriya” is action).

7. This is why Dukkha Sacca (First Noble Truth) does not mean that we can ELIMINATE the dukha vedana arising in our present physical body; those are due to kamma vipaka (the causes were already done).

  • However, by gradually reducing sankhara (with increased understanding of Buddha Dhamma), we can stop making new sankhara and thus eliminate FUTURE suffering. This is the key to dukkha sacca. These sankhara are also called asvada; see, “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction“.

8. Still, we can reduce bad consequences from past kamma vipaka using what are called “strategies” (“upakrama“) in Buddha Dhamma.

  • One is to be mindful and not to let conditions for past kamma vipaka to take place. This is discussed in, “What Is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?” and “Annantara Samanantara Paccaya“.
  • If the kamma vipaka 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 vipaka” to bear fruit. Thus, if one does not make an effort, the bad kamma vipaka 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 vipaka 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 vipaka. 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 (Gathi) Leads to Bhava and Jathi“.
  • 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 vipaka 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 sankhara comes from the ability of humans to generate both “somanassa 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, 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 “somanassa 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 apayas) are generated with “somanassa sahagata ditthi 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 ditthi that such an action cannot bring bad consequences.
  • But when one commits murder due to anger that is done with aversion and displeasure: “domanassa sahagata patigha sampyutta citta“; see, “Akusala Citta and Akusala Vipaka Citta“.

11. Now let us consider the consequences of sankhara 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 dukha vedana due to the taste of alcohol. But with the insistence of those friends he continues drinking.

  • Then he makes a habit (gathi) of it, begins to perceive the taste as a sukha vedana, and starts making sankhara 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.
  • He of course will have somanassa vedana when he is thinking such thoughts (mano sankhara). Now “sankhara paccaya vinnana” step in the paticca samuppada leads to making a “new vinnana for drinking”. The more he thinks about such parties and generate those somanassa vedana, the more vinnana, nama rupa, etc that he makes for such “drinking events”.
  • And the stronger that “vinnana for drinking” gets, the more he will be thinking about it (making more sankhara). 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 vedana arise due to kamma vipaka. Somanassa and domanassa vedana arise due to sankhara, which in turn arise due to our gathi and asavas. The more sankhara we do, the stronger a given gathi (habit) becomes, which in turn become asavas (cravings) and fuel the sansaric journey (rebirth process). This vicious cycle can be broken only through comprehending the anicca nature of this world.

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