Vedanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways

Most vedanā are “mind-made” (samphassa-jā-vedanā) and have their origin in “distorted saññā.

Revised February 9, 2017; April 28, 2021; rewritten December 20, 2023


1. The word vedanā means ” becoming awareof a sensory input. It comes from (“vé” + “danā”) which means “වීම දැනවීම” in Sinhala. When an ārammaṇa (sensory input) comes to the mind (via any of the six senses), we become aware of it. 

  • Only sensory inputs to the “physical body” can bring sukha or dukkha vedanā directly. The other five types of sensory inputs only generate “neutral vedanā.” However, based on our “distorted saññā” (distorted perceptions) about the world, our minds attach to even those “neutral vedanā” and generate “mind-made vedanā” or “samphassa-jā-vedanā.

Thus, vedanā can arise in two ways:

  1. One type of vedanā is a consequence of a previous kamma (or defiled action), i.e., a kamma vipāka. Our physical bodies feel those sukha and dukkha vipāka vedanā. However, most kamma vipāka arise not due to a specific kamma but because we are born with a “dense physical body” that can be subjected to various external influences. 
  2. The second is a direct consequence of attaching to a sensory input via liking, disliking, or even with a neutral mindset due to ” distorted saññā.” Yes. There is an automatic attachment due to the following: The version of the “external rupa” coming to the mind is NOT authentic but depends on one’s gati/anusaya/saṁyojana. Such a “distorted saññā” automatically arises with ANY sensory input. The explanation is a bit deep and is at “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).” That “distorted perception” leads to “mind-made vedanā.” They are also called samphassa-jā-vedanā (which vary according to one’s current gati).
Vedanā Associated With the Physical Body

2. Vedanā (feelings) felt by the physical body are three kinds: Sukha vedanā (pleasant bodily feeling), dukkha vedanā (unpleasant or painful bodily feeling), and adukkhamasukha (without being painful or pleasant, just neutral.) Here, the combination of adukkha and asukha rhymes as “adukkhamasukha.”

  • Kamma vipāka leading to sukha vedanā and dukkha vedanā happen to everyone, including Arahants. See Ref.1.
  • For example, the Buddha himself had physical ailments later in his life as kamma vipāka. Moggallana Thero was beaten to death because of a bad kamma that he had done many lives before.
  • The third type of vedanā felt by the physical body is “neutral” or “adukkhamasukha.”
  • The first two types of vedanā are felt only by the physical body (sārīrika vedanā); see #11 of Vipāka Vedanā and “Samphassa jā Vedanā” in a Sensory Event.” 
  • These two are the only types of “real vedanā” felt by all living beings with “dense bodies,” including animals and Arahants; thus, they are “real.”
Vedanā Associated With Other Sensory Inputs Are Neutral

3. All vedanā initially coming through the other five sense faculties are neutral, i.e., adukkhamasukha vedanā.

  • Sensory inputs through the other five senses (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and mind) ALWAYS lead to this type of “neutral” or “adukkhamasukha” vedanā.
  • Then the question arises: “Why do I feel pleasure when tasting sugar or looking at a beautiful model”? Those are “mind-made vedanā” based on “distorted saññā” (our wrong perceptions about the external world.)
  • Let us look at that second type of “mind-made vedanā.”
Mind- Made Vedanā (“Samphassa-jā-Vedanā“)

4. Sensory inputs coming in via the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and mind are adukkhamasukha (without being painful or joyous, just neutral.) However, based on those sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and thoughts, our minds generate “distorted saññā” which lead to “mind-made” vedanā (samphassa-jā-vedanā), also called sōmanassa and dōmanassa vedanā.

  •  In #2 above, we saw that sukha and dukkha vipāka vedanā are felt only by the physical body (sārīra.) We may also form sōmanassa and dōmanassa vedanā based on sukha and dukkha vipāka vedanā. For example, one may become depressed upon getting injured; Thus, there is now a “mind-made vedanā” in addition to the vedanā felt by the body.
  • These are vedanā that a mind generates due to ignorance about the “real nature of this world,” i.e., not having “yathābhūta ñāna.” See “Bhūta and Yathābhūta – What Do They Really Mean.”
  • They do not arise in an Arahant.
Origin of the “Distorted Saññā

5. The vedanā coming through the other senses (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and mind) may feel “pleasant” or “unpleasant” NOT because of kamma vipāka, but due to “distorted saññā.

  • For example, all humans taste sugar to be sweet. That “sweetness” arises due to “distorted saññā.” Then, based on that “distorted saññā,” the mind becomes joyful, and that is samphassa-jā-vedanā or”mind-made vedanā.” See “Contamination of a Human Mind – Detailed Analysis.”
  • The “sweet taste of sugar” or the “beauty of an actress” is a saññā, not a vedanā. However, based on that “distorted saññā” our minds automatically attach to them and generate “mind-made” vedanā called “samphassa-jā-vedanā.”
  • However, average humans believe that “sugar” inherently has sweetness, i.e., that “sweetness” is a “kāma guṇa” associated with sugar. In the same way, they believe that “beauty” is inherent in the physical body of an actress. See “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).” 
  • If “sweetness” was in sugar, all living beings should taste sugar to be sweet. However, pigs or cows don’t eat sugar; pigs like rotten meat, and cows like grass, but humans don’t like to eat either. Therefore, “sweetness of sugar” (or in rotten meat or grass) is NOT in sugar/rotten meat/grass but arises due to “distorted saññā.” Those “distorted saññā” arose because humans, pigs, and cows have “vastly different gati.”
If “Distorted Saññā” Is Not Real, Can We Eat Rotten Meat or Grass?

6. This “distorted saññā” is not a mere trick. The physical bodies of humans (and animals) are made by nature to be compatible with it. 

  • That is why the human digestive system is different from that of a pig or a cow. Our digestive system is designed to be compatible only with food that gives us those distorted perceptions of “sweetness” or “deliciousness.” If we eat rotten meat or grass, we will get sick.
  • In the same way, pigs have their digestive system designed to digest rotten meat without any problem and ditto for cows to be able to eat grass.
  • This is a more profound point connected to gati cultivated as a human. For example, those born as pigs accumulated the kammic energy to “be born a pig” by engaging in lowly and “morally rotten” deeds when they were human. Thus, they are reborn as pigs “to like rotten things.” (All living beings attached to the Earth were born human when the Earth was formed several billions of years ago: “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27).”) One’s rebirth is according to one’s gati; see, for example,  “Gati (Habits/Character) Determine Births – Saṃsappanīya Sutta” and “Gati to Bhava to Jāti – Ours to Control.” This is why I say that Buddha Dhamma is profound and self-consistent.
  • First, it is necessary to have a good understanding of “distorted saññā” to understand the samphassa-jā-vedanā fully. We will discuss that in upcoming posts in “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).” But we can get an idea by looking at some examples.
Some Examples of Samphassa-jā-Vedanā

7. A samphassa-jā-vedanā arises due to attachment via greed or hate at that moment (i.e., due to one’s gati); see “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

  • These are the vedanā (feelings) that Arahants do not feel.  Since they do not have any “bad gati,” they do not commit any (abhi)saṅkhāra. The easiest way to explain this kind of vedanā is to give some examples:
  1. Three people are walking down the street. One has an ultra-right political bias (A), the second has an ultra-left preference (B), and the third is an Arahant (C) who does not have special feelings for anyone. They all see a famous politician hated by the political right coming their way. It is a given that the sight of the politician causes A to have displeasure and B to have a pleasurable feeling. On the other hand, sight does not cause the Arahant to generate any pleasure or displeasure.  Even though all three see and identify the person, they produce different feelings. It is essential to realize that the feelings were created in A and B by themselves.
  2. Two friends go looking for treasure and find a gem. Both are overjoyed. It seems highly valuable; one kills the other to get all the money. Yet when he tries to sell the “gem,” he discovers it is not valuable. His joy turns to sorrow in an instant. Nothing had changed in the object. It was the same piece of colored rock. What has changed is the perception of it.
Another Example of Samphassa-jā-Vedanā

8. A loving couple had lived for many years without any problems and were happy to be together. However, the husband slaps his wife during an argument. The physical pain from the slap itself did not last more than a few minutes. But for how long would the wife suffer mentally? Even the husband, who did not feel any physical pain, would suffer for days if he loved his wife. In both cases, the actual mental pain was associated with the attachment to each other. The wife could have dropped something on her foot and would have suffered about the same amount of physical pain. But she would not have had any lingering mental pain associated with that.

  • The initial sensory contact, by itself, did not generate any kammic energy.
  • However, based on that sensory contact, we tend to pursue it either sōmanassa or dōmanassa vedanā based on “distorted saññā.” That is when we start generating kamma. For example, if we see our “worst enemy,” that is just “seeing.” But if we start thinking about how bad a person he is, we will generate “bad vaci saṅkhāra” and thus “bad kamma.”
Samphassa-jā-Vedanā Arise Due to Taṇhā

9. Thus, it is clear that in all the above examples, the “extra” happiness or suffering (other than due to kamma vipāka) arose from within one’s mind. And taṇhā (attachment via greed, hate, or ignorance) was the cause of it. See “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

  • When we generate such “mind-made vedanā,” we also tend to do kamma (via abhisaṅkhāra), bringing more suffering in the future.

10. Therefore, taṇhā arises due to “mind-made vedanā.” They arose INSIDE the mind itself and did not come from outside. If external things can cause suffering, we will have to destroy external things to eliminate suffering. However, the Buddha showed that the root causes of suffering are within one’s mind and can be eliminated.

  • There is no inherent suffering or happiness in ANYTHING external; the sensory contact with an external thing CAUSES pain or happiness depending on our gati and āsāvās.
  • An Arahant will still experience “distorted saññā” while living everyday life (i.e., unless they are in a samāpatti.) But since they have removed all āsāvās/anusaya/saṁyojana/gati by comprehending the true nature (“yathābhūta ñāna”), they are free of attaching to “distorted saññā.” Even though they cannot get rid of any dukkha vedanā (until the death of their physical bodies), they don’t become depressed about them. In the same way, they don’t become joyful about sukha vedanāThey generate true “neutral or upekkha vedanā” in response to ANY sensory input. Thus, “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra” or “(samphassa-jā-)vēdanā paccayā taṇhā” or any other term in Paṭicca Samuppāda does not apply to them.

1. Sukha vedanā and dukkha vedanā due to kamma vipāka are not deterministic. We can avoid some by living mindfully; see “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?” Many vipāka can be reduced in strength with time if one starts acting with foresight and mindfulness. For example, eating healthy and exercising regularly can avoid many physical ailments.

  • We can avoid some kamma vipāka by preventing conditions for them from arising just by using common sense. For example, going out at night in a dangerous neighborhood provides fertile ground for past bad kamma vipāka to appear. Many kamma vipāka CANNOT take place unless the conditions are right. See, “Anantara and Samanantara Paccayā.”
  • We have done innumerable kamma (good and bad) in our past lives. If we act with common sense, we can suppress bad kamma vipāka and make conditions for good vipāka to arise.
  • Also, see the discussion on kamma bījā in “Sankhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bījā, Kamma Vipāka.

More on vedanā at: “Feelings: Sukha, Dukha, Somanassa, and Domanassa,” “Does Bodily Pain Arise Only Due to Kamma Vipāka?,“ “How Are Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles Initiated?,” and “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna.

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