Prof. Sudhakar Arjun Pawar
Published in Issue IV, October 2013
VEDANA: The invention of “Vedana” (the sensation), is regarded as One of the Greatest Discovery of the Buddha.
The Vedana is also considered as An Unparalleled gift of The Buddha to the humanity.
Every person, whether man or woman, rich or poor, carries certain defilements such as anger, hatred, passion, fear, etc. These defilements cause tension, worries, prejudices which in turn makes the person miserable and increases his sorrow.
The Buddha discovered and established that using Vedana (sensation) as a tool one can get rid of all the impurities of mind and live each moment peacefully, happily and productively.
The term Vedana should not be misunderstood in the sense of severe bodily pain or discomfort for which we need to see a physician. The subject matter of Vedana referred here means the sensations which could be Pleasant, Unpleasant or Neutral and which is felt on the body but is the part of mind and its observation means the observation of the mind and matter phenomenon.
The Misery or suffering (called Dukkha in Pali Language) is universally accepted as arising as the result of craving ( Tanha in Pali).
Tanha, indicate craving for obtaining what one feels pleasant AND for getting rid of what one feels unpleasant (aversion).
Prior to the enlightenment of the Buddha and his teachings, Tanha was erroneously believed to be due to the direct contact of six sense organs viz. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue and kaya i.e. body and mind. It was therefore understood to mean as “salayatana paccaya tanha” (in Pali), the meaning is that the Tanha is the direct outcome of six sense organs.
Buddha based on his own experience discovered and established that it is the Vedana, not the Tanha which is the direct outcome of sense organs. Therefore it was made to understand, that besides the “salayatana paccaya phassa” it is also the “phassa paccaya vedana” i.e. the six sense organs as mentioned above, cause touch which in turn causes Vedana.
The Buddha also taught that Tanha arises in response to Vedana. In Pali, it is called “vedana paccaya tanha.
3 WHAT IS VEDANA – DEFINITION
The Pali word “Vedana” is derived from the root ‘vid’ meaning “to experience”
Following are the few definitions of Vedana.
Vedana is a sensation that leads to thirst (Tanha, in Pali)
Vedana is the pivotal phenomenon in:
- The five aggregates (Five Khandas), and
- One of the twelve chains of the Cause and Effect Theory.
Vedana, is the tool for liberation from suffering.
A very comprehensive definition of Vedana, can be given below:
“Ya vedayati ti vedana, sa vedayita lakkhana anubhavanarasa”1 meaning:
- That which feels the object is Vedana
- Its characteristics is to experience
- Its function is to realize the object.
4 HOW IS VEDANA GENERATED
The contact (the Phassa) of sense organs with their respective sense objects generate sensation. For example: Eye with Form (Rupa): Ear with Sound; Nose with Smell; Body with Touch and Mind with Thoughts.
When relevant sense organs come in contact with their respective sense objects, the sense specific consciousness is also generated. The contact of these together generates sensation which in turn causes craving or aversion.
It important to note that the essence of doctrine of the Buddha viz. The Four Noble Truths, can only be understood, realized, practiced by experiencing the Vedana, sensations.
It is very essential that the sensations must be understood at the experiential basis and not merely on intellectual basis as; only then the following characteristics of Vedana could be understood and realized:
- Anicca – impermanence.
- Dukkha – suffering.
- Anatta – substancelessness.
5 TYPES OF VEDANA
“Tisso ima bhikkhave, vedana. Katama tisso? Sukha vedana, dukha vedana, adukkhamasukha vedana. Ima kho bhikkhave, tisso“2 meaning there are three types of Vedana, the sensations:
- Pleasant sensations,
- Unpleasant sensations, and
- Neutral Sensations which are neither pleasant nor unpleasant (upekkha)
Sukha Vedana (pleasant sensation) and Dukkha Vedana (unpleasant sensation) are felt on body. Since the physical aspect of sensation is more direct to experiencing the impermanent nature of sensation, the Buddha gave more importance to bodily sensations. The Mental sensations, however, were not ignored; somanassaindriyam (i.e. pleasant mental sensations) AND Domassaindriyam (i.e. unpleasant mental sensations) are also considered. These two sum up the sensations to five.
Bahu-vedaniya sutta (majjim nikaya) explains sensations to be six, eighteen, thirty six and one hundred eight.
6 IMPORTANCE OF VEDANA
“Sa vedana parinnaya, ditthe dhamma anasava, kayassa bheda dhamottho sankham nopeti vedagu ti”3 meaning:
By understanding sensations in their totality one becomes free from all defilements and becomes vedagu (arhant).
Constant observation of arising and passing away of sensations in body with awareness of mind (mindfulness), wisdom and through understanding of impermanence enables one to eradicate all the defilements and attain liberation (nibban, in Pali)
“Yam kinci dukkham sambhoti, sabbam vedanapaccaya ti, vedananam tveva asesaviraganirodha, natthi dukkhassa sambhavo ti.”4
Meaning whatever suffering arises, it is because of sensations. By complete eradication of sensations there is no further arising of suffering.
It is the experience of those observing sensations that the reality of body can be imagined by contemplation, but to experience it directly, one has to take help of sensations.
7 OTHER CAUSES OF VEDANA
Vedana, in earlier days, was understood to mean unpleasant feelings arising from severe bodily pain or discomfort for which we need to see a physician. Although, such feelings do not form the part of “Vedana”, in order to distinguish the same from the sensations, the Buddha gave the following causes of such unpleasant feelings.
“pittam semham ca vato ca, sannipata utuni ca, visamam opakkamikam, kammavepakena atthamiti”5
Meaning: Physical pain arising from Pittam (bile), increase of Phlegm (semha), excessive Vato (wind) in the body, Imbalance of all above & resultant chemical reaction i.e. Sannipata, Utu (sudden seasonal changes and its effects), Visamam (imbalance of mind and body), Opakkamikam (bodily punishment) and Kammavipakenna i.e. the result of deeds of previous birth are eight reasons of arising of such other Vedana.
It is very important to note that in ancient days Kammavipakenna i.e. the result of ripening of akusal kamma (unpleasant deeds) committed in previous birth was believed to be the cause of unpleasant feelings. The practice therefore followed, was to wipe out the same by adhering to austere practices including penance. You must be aware that the Siddhartha Gautama also followed such tradition & practiced penance for six years before the enlightenment and becoming the Buddha.
- VEDANA AND FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
Four Noble Truths is one of the unique inventions of the Buddha and means:
Truth of suffering (dukkha), Arising of suffering (dukkha-samudaya), Cessation of suffering (dukkha nirodha) and the path leading to cessation of suffering (dukkha-nirodh-gamini-patipada).
“Yam kinci vedayitam, tam pi dukkhasmim”6
Meaning: Whatever sensations one experiences, may it be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, all are sufferings because of their impermanence characteristics. Every pleasant sensation has a seed of suffering because it does not remain permanent.
The Buddha taught that craving or aversion (tanha) is not only dukkha but dukkha-samudaya. i.e. tanha is not merely the origin of suffering but suffering itself.
Since sensations cause cravings or aversions and the defilements associated with them, if one wishes get liberated (attain nibban), he must understand suffering, arising of suffering, cessation of suffering and the path that leads to cessation of suffering, using sensations as a tool.
9 VEDANA AND PATICCASAMUPPADA
Paticcasamuppada denotes chain of continuity of Cause & Effect theory. It is also known as Dependent Origination and Causes Repeated Existence (i.e. Wheel of becoming (bhavacakka) or cycle of death and rebirth). Craving or aversion compels every person to linger in wheel of becoming.
The wheel of becoming has twelve links. The origin of each link depends upon happening of preceding link. The First link is avijja (ignorance), the twelve being jara-marana (dekay & death).
On attaining enlightenment, the Buddha realized that the crucial link which could be broken was “Vedana Paccaya Tanha” meaning instead of generating craving or aversion out of sensation one must develop wisdom and come out of suffering. It means whenever sensation arises, one shall develop mindfulness, wisdom & thorough understanding of impermanence, and not allow the sensation to result in craving or aversion. The Buddha taught that “Vedana Paccaya Tanha” shall be understood to mean as “Vedana Paccaya Panna”. This unique discovery, made Buddha as the greatest scientist of mind and matter.
10 VEDANA & NOBLE EIGHT FOLD PATH
Venerable Anand once asked the Buddha as to “what is cessation of the sensations and way leading to cessation” and the Buddha replied “through the cessation of sense-impression there is cessation of sensations. The Noble Eight fold path is the way leading to the cessation of sensation”. The Buddha also told that “ekayano ayam maggo bhikkhave”7 means it is the only way for the purification of human-beings, for overcoming of sorrow, for extinguishing of suffering and for achieving the path of nibban (liberation).
The Noble Eight Fold Path involve learning, practice and experiencing of development of mindfulness, wisdom and thorough and constant understanding of impermanent nature of sensations by being in equanimity state of mind i.e. observing arising and passing away of sensations as they are and not responding to any craving or aversion arising from such sensations.
The Buddha narrated the noble eight fold path in simple words as:
“sabbapapassa akaram, kusalassa upasampada, sacittapariyodapanam, etam buddham sasam”8 meaning abstain from all sinful unwholesome actions, perform only pious wholesome ones, purify the mind, this is the teachings of the Buddha.
11 RELEVANCE AND PRACTICAL ASPECT OF VEDANA IN MODERN DAYS
The Globalization, Liberation, the Technical Advancement and the privatizing in all the spears of activities has immensely help our nation to grow and prosper comparatively faster than few years ago. We, however, are confronted with very stiff competition and tremendous urge to keep continuously performing.
The high percentage of heart-attacks, cases of hypertensions, diabetics and other related deceases are reported to be the outcome of such increased stress and tensions.
The habit pattern of person is normally to generate craving & aversion which is reaction to the sensations and is difficult to stop suddenly. However, one can change it by not reacting. Vipassana Meditation Centers are available almost in every city. They impart knowledge as to how one can develop equanimous mind (tendency) towards attachment (raga), hatred (dosa) and illusions (moha), respectively. These are the three, which give rise to all the defilements. It means, if one grasps the required technique from such vipassana centers, he can comfortably drive out mental stress, tension and worries etc. and live every moment of his life peacefully, happily and productively. Besides one can become arhant or attain liberation (nibban)
The personality of each individual depends on mind (nama) & matter (rupa). The nama consists of consciousness (vinnana), sensation (vedana), perception (sanna) and formation (sankhara). The sensations are regarded as very important because reactions generated to any sensation in the form of craving or aversion leads to suffering. The Buddha experienced and taught that if one does not react to sensation, meaning, if one develop awareness and understand the three characteristics of sensations i.e. anicca (impermence), dukkha (suffering) and anatta ( no “I”, no ‘Mine”), then the craving or aversion will not be generated and the person will be free from suffering.
The Buddha also established that by breaking the crucial link of wheel of becoming through the tool of sensation one can come out of cycle of repeated existence.
It is also important to note that the discovery of sensation by the Buddha two thousand six hundred years ago to come out of the suffering is still relevant and valid and applies in modern days.
- Dhammasangini attakatha.
- Samyukta Nikaya 2.4.250.
- Samyukta Nikaya 2.4.251.
- Suttanipata 746.
- Samyukta Nikaya 2.4.249.
- Majjima NIkaya 3.299.
- Mahasattipatthan (Digha Nikaya).
- Dhamma Pada 183.
Author: Prof. Sudhakar Arjun Pawar, M.A. (Pali), Cell No. 9819933692.