Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā

April 23, 2021; revised September 7, 2022

Dukkha samudaya means “origin of suffering.”  Kammic energies for future suffering accumulate via Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS). We start acting with avijjā and initiate PS when sensory inputs trigger temptations and generate “samphassa-jā-vedanā” or “mind-made feelings.”

Critical Conclusions from Loka Sutta (SN 35.23)

1. In the previous post, “Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World,” we reached the following conclusions. (you may want to print it and refer to it as we proceed.)

  • Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) describes the key steps leading to future suffering.
  • However, that process DOES NOT initiate with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” We don’t AUTOMATICALLY start acting with avijjā!
  • A sensory input (ārammaṇa) triggers the Paṭicca Samuppāda process: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or the memory of a past event (dhammā.)
  • If the mind attaches to such a sensory event (taṇhā), that attachment  leads to upādāna (keeping it in mind and getting stuck in it.) Then while in the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step, we accumulate kammic energy for future births with mano, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra. That is how the PS process gets to  “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.
  • Before we discuss those details, it is critical to understand how this whole process starts with “getting attached” to certain sensory inputs (ārammaṇa) with samphassa-jā-vedanā” or “mind-made feelings.”
  • By the way, “dukkha samudaya” is the same as “loka samudaya.” That is why Nibbāna implies “stopping future rebirths” or “stopping the re-arising of this word.” It may take time to absorb this critical point.
Samphassa-jā-Vedanā – Example 1

2. A sensory input comes through one of the six senses: eyes (sights), ears (sounds), nose (smells), tongue (tastes), body (touches), and mind (memories). In Pāli, they are six types of vipāka viññāṇa.

  • Let us consider a simple example starting with cakkhu viññāṇa. Suppose three people, A, B, and C, sit in a small coffee shop. They are all facing the door, and person X walks in. Suppose that person X is a close friend of A, the worst enemy of B, and that C does not know X at all. We will also assume that all 4 are males.
  • So, let us see what happens within a split second. A recognizes X as his friend, and a smile comes to his face. B recognizes X as his enemy, and his face gets darkened.
  • On the other hand, X is just another person to C. He immediately goes back to whatever he is doing.

3. That is an example of a “cakkhu viññāna,” a “seeing event.” It is over within a split second, just like taking a photo with a camera takes only a split second, where the image in captured on the screen instantaneously.

  • However, something very complicated happens in the human mind when a “seeing event” occurs.
  • It is critically important to go slow and analyze what happens to see how complicated this process is (for a human mind) to capture that “seeing event.” It is much more complicated than just recording “a picture” in a camera.

4. Within that split second, A recognizes X as his good friend, and joy arises in his mind, and he becomes happy. B recognizes X as his worst enemy, and bad emotions arise in his mind, and he becomes angry. On the other hand, no extra feelings arise in him. He goes back to whatever he was doing.

  • As we can see, such vastly varying feelings arise due to the three steps that follow the “seeing event” or cakkhu viññāṇa. As we remember from the previous post (refer to the printout), those three steps are “Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso; Phassa paccayā vedanā; vedanā paccayā taṇhā.” As we discussed, the last two steps are “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vedanā” and “samphassa-jā-vedanā paccayā taṇhā.
  • The three people, A, B, and C, generate different “san gati” upon seeing X. Even though they all see the same person X, three different types of “samphassa-jā-vedanā”: joy, anger, and neutral feelings arise respectively in A, B, and C.
  • How does the SAME “seeing event” (seeing X) lead to all these very different changes in the minds of three different people?  (and the emotions even show up on their faces!)

5. Since all three people, A, B, and C, are average humans, they have not removed “san gati” or defilements from their minds. Such “san gati” remain hidden as “anusaya” in all three.

  • However, a trigger is needed to bring those “san gati” to the surface. A has had “good experiences with X,” and thus “affectionate san gati” arose in him upon seeing X. B’s experiences with X were not good, and those “bad memories” were triggered by seeing X.
  • On the other hand, C has had no prior experiences with X. Thus, a trigger for “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” was not there. But if C sees a person he is familiar with, that may trigger his “san gati.”
  • If C were an Arahant, he would not have any “san gati” left. Thus, affection or anger would not arise upon seeing ANY person.
  • The best way to comprehend this key point is to think about your own experiences.
Kamma Generation Depends on One’s Actions Based on the Initial “Attachment”

6. Once bound to an event with “samphassa,” that leads to corresponding “mind-made feelings” or samphassa-jā-vedanā. Joyous feelings arose in A, and angry feelings arose in B upon seeing X. Both A and B got “attached” to that event. Thus, taṇhā can arise via greed or anger.

  • Person A may start talking to X excitedly, especially if X is a close friend. B’s face may darken, and many angry thoughts about his past experiences with X may arise in him. Both are “samphassa-jā-vedanā paccayā taṇhā” and “taṇhā paccayā upādāna.”
  • The next step of “upādāna paccayā bhavo” depends on what happens next. In this case, B may start accumulating “bad kamma” just by cultivating “bad vaci saṅkhāra” in his mind, even if he does not say or do anything. Such “bad thoughts” arise via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra,” where saṅkhāra are vaci saṅkhāra (not speaking out but talking to himself.)
  • But it could get worse if B’s anger rises and he says something bad to X. That is also “bad vaci saṅkhāra.” If X responds and the situation escalates, B may hit X. That is getting to the “bad kāya saṅkhāra” stage. All these lead to the accumulation of “bad kamma” for B.
  • That is a brief example of how one could generate kammic energy for future existences, even if this particular action may not be strong enough to “power up” a new birth. However, if the situation escalates and B kills X, then that would certainly be a strong kamma leading to new birth in an apāya.
Samphassa-jā-Vedanā – Example 2

7. Let us clarify it further with an example since it is critical to understand this issue. Suppose a friend visits an alcoholic (X) and brings a bottle of alcohol. Again, let us follow the steps in #2 of the previous post.

  • First, X sees that his friend has brought a bottle of alcohol, his favorite kind. This is the “seeing event” in this example: “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ.” This cakkhu viññāṇa is a vipāka viññāṇa and no kamma generated. Even an Arahant would see the bottle.
  • Next is the CRITICAL step “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso,” where X’s mind instantly makes the “san phassa” or “defiled contact” with his “alcoholic gati.” 
  • Note the two types of “contacts” in the above two processes. In the first, the “phassa cetasika” in cakkhu viññāṇa makes the “contact” between cakkhu and rupa (alcohol bottle) to give rise to cakkhu viññāṇa (seeing the bottle.) The second is a “defiled contact” (samphassa) that arises due to his craving for alcohol.
  • On the other hand, if someone brought a bottle of alcohol to an Arahant, he would also see the bottle, i.e., cakkhu viññāṇa with the “phassa cetasika” will also arise in him. But there would be no “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” and, thus, the process will stop there. 

8. Once X got “attached” to the bottle of alcohol with samphassa, he becomes joyful, and that joyous feeling is samphassa-jā-vēdanā: Samphassa led to “Samphassa-jā-vedanā.”

  • Therefore, the “extra vedanā” made up by the mind is the “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” Here, “jā” means “generated with.” That vedanā was generated by samphassa (san phassa).
  • Suppose X’s wife is also home when the friend brings the bottle. She would not be happy to see the bottle, especially if she is trying to break the “drinking habit” of her husband. She may even get angry with her friend. That is also a samphassa-jā-vedanā.
  • On the other hand, the Arahant will also see the bottle and will identify it as such. But there will be no joy or dismay. There will be no samphassa-jā-vedanā. 

9. The “samphassa-jā-vedanā” of joyous feelings in X makes him attach (taṇhā), which immediately leads to the next step of upādāna. Which means his mind is now focused on the alcohol bottle.

  • If his wife opposes him having alcohol often, she may become agitated. Even if she may not say anything, she could get mad at the friend for bringing the alcohol bottle. Does he not know that he is easily tempted? Did the two of them plan to ‘have a drink” without her knowing? She also gets to the “taṇhā” andupādāna” stages.
  • Of course, an Arahant would not “get attached” or “get stuck” (no taṇhā or upādāna.)
Generating Kamma Starts With the “Taṇhā Paccayā Upādānaṁ” Step

10. Therefore, once getting attached with taṇhā, the next step of “getting stuck and proceeding along” is likely to happen with “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” and “upādāna paccayā bhavō” steps.

  • This is where X started getting ready to “have a good time with the friend.” He would think, speak, and act to have a “good time ” with his friend.
  • However, it is possible to stop the process at that point by acting mindfully. If X has seen the dangers of keeping his “drinking habit,” he can think about the bad consequences of engaging in that practice and tell the friend that he is trying to eliminate his drinking habit. Thus he could start acting with “vijjā” (or wisdom) and NOT engage in “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • That is the basis of the correct Ānāpānasati or Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā.
Puredhamma Twitter Account

11. Twitter account for the website: puredhamma (@puredhamma1) / Twitter

  • Twitter handle: puredhamma1
  • Will Tweet a new or re-written post.

Other posts in this series at “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”

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