Introduction to 3.8.7 Vedanānupassanā – The particular Importance of Vedanā
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Introduction to 3.8.7 - Vedanānupassanā
The particular Importance of Vedanā
… “vedanāsamosaraṇā sabbe dhammā”…1
… “Everything (that arises in the mind) is in union with sensations” …
In this ‘Exploring the Path in the original words of the Buddha’ the term ‘vedanā' has been translated with ‘sensation’. The verb ‘vedeti’, ‘vediyati' is the causative from ‘vidati' - to know, to feel – and carries the basic meaning ‘to sense, to feel, to experience, to recognize’ in the wider sense. The translation ‘vedanā' – ‘sensation’ has been chosen for translation rather than ‘feeling’ bearing in mind that the Buddha uses this term in general when he refers to meditation or gives advise to meditators: He points to ‘vedanā' as a core object of meditation and observation as ‘sensations’ present themselves as a precise and tangible object. Their constant flow, their arising and passing throughout the physical structure convey their clearly sensible, intrinsic and inherent nature of change which enables the meditator to acquire a glimpse of impermanence–anicca. This realisation should get developed from a grosser to a more subtle level of experience. Therefore using ‘feeling’ as a translation in this context seems far too ambiguous and vague than the more actual experienced, concrete and distinct term ‘sensation’.2
The following lessons will try to highlight how for a meditator the various facets of ‘vedanā' can present themselves. Even so one’s ‘duty’ or ‘errand’ is simply to neutrally observe them rather than to label, identify or analyse whatever presents itself under the designation ‘sensation’ – these similes may help to grasp not only their essential nature, but likewise the reciprocal interdependence with their respective roots of lobho, doso and moho.3:
At one time the Buddha describes the arising of ‘vedanā', their persistence and disappearance, their futile hollowness with the following simile. Here a meditator should find his observation being in line and confirmed by this simile. But, likewise it should be helpful for a non-meditator to grasp the nature of the term ‘vedanā': 4
‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, saradasamaye thullaphusitake5 deve vassante udake udakapubbuḷaṃ uppajjati ceva nirujjhati ca. Tamenaṃ cakkhumā puriso passeyya nijjhāyeyya yoniso upaparikkheyya6. Tassa taṃ passato nijjhāyato yoniso upaparikkhato rittakaññeva khāyeyya7, tucchakaññeva8 khāyeyya, asārakaññeva khāyeyya. Kiñhi siyā, bhikkhave, udakapubbuḷe sāro”
“Bhikkhus, just as in the fall, when the sky is shedding large drops of rain on water then a water-bubble arises and disappears. If a clear-sighted man were to discern, observe and carefully examine it and when discerning, observing and carefully examining it, it would appear to him to be empty, it would appear to him unsubstantial, it would appear to him without any essence. Because what essence, Bhikkhus, could there be in a water-bubble?”
“Evameva kho, bhikkhave, yā kāci vedanā atītānāgatapaccuppannā ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā, oḷārikā vā sukhumā vā, hīnā vā paṇītā vā, yā dūre santike vā taṃ bhikkhu passati nijjhāyati yoniso upaparikkhati. Tassa taṃ passato nijjhāyato yoniso upaparikkhato rittakaññeva khāyati, tucchakaññeva khāyati, asārakaññeva khāyati. Kiñhi siyā, bhikkhave, vedanāya sāro?”
“In the same way, Bhikkhus, whatsoever past, future or present sensation, whether internal or external, gross or subtle, vile or outstanding, remote or intimate, that a Bhikkhu discerns, observes and carefully examines. When discerning, observing and carefully examining, it would appear to him to be empty, it would appear to him to be unsubstantial, it would appear to him to be without any essence. Because what essence, Bhikkhus, could there be in a sensation?”
In general the Buddha subdivides and categorises the multitude of sensations that can arise9 into the three categories of sukhā vedanā, dukkhā vedanā and adukkhamasukhā vedanā:
‘‘Tisso imā, bhikkhave, vedanā aniccā saṅkhatā paṭiccasamuppannā khayadhammā vayadhammā virāgadhammā nirodhadhammā. Katamā tisso? Sukhā vedanā, dukkhā vedanā, adukkhamasukhā vedanā – imā kho, bhikkhave, tisso vedanā aniccā saṅkhatā paṭiccasamuppannā khayadhammā vayadhammā virāgadhammā nirodhadhammā’’ti.10
“These three types of sensations, Bhikkhus are impermanent, conditioned and dependently arisen and thus have the inherent nature of destruction, the inherent nature of disappearance, are subject to fading and have the inherent nature of annihilation. What are these three? These are pleasant sensations, painful sensations, neither pleasant nor painful, neutral sensations – these Bhikkhus are the three types of sensations that are impermanent, conditioned and dependently arisen and thus have the inherent nature of destruction, the inherent nature of disappearance, are subject to fading and have the inherent nature of annihilation”.
Vedanānupassanā, selected for this lesson presents a crucial paragraph of the Māhasatipaṭṭhānasutta. Here the Bhikkhu, the meditator, is asked to be clearly aware of all types of sensations that arise. While observing these impersonally he is supposed to further discern and distinguish his assessment, attachment or appraisal in the same way as his detachment and impartiality towards these three categories of vedanā during the process of his meditation:
… “Sāmisaṃ vā sukhaṃ (… dukkhaṃ, … adukkhamasukhaṃ) vedanaṃ vedayamāno ‘sāmisaṃ sukhaṃ (… dukkhaṃ, … adukkhamasukhaṃ) vedanaṃ vedayāmī’ti pajānāti, nirāmisaṃ vā sukhaṃ (… dukkhaṃ, … adukkhamasukhaṃ) vedanaṃ vedayamāno ‘nirāmisaṃ sukhaṃ (… dukkhaṃ, … adukkhamasukhaṃ) vedanaṃ vedayāmī’ti pajānāti.”…
…”While he is experiencing a pleasant (… unpleasant, … neither pleasant nor unpleasant, a neutral) sensation with attachment, he understands properly, “I am experiencing a pleasant (… unpleasant, … neither pleasant nor unpleasant, a neutral)sensation with attachment”; while he is experiencing a pleasant (… unpleasant, … neither pleasant nor unpleasant, a neutral) sensation without attachment, he understands properly, “I am experiencing a pleasant (… unpleasant, … neither pleasant nor unpleasant, a neutral) sensation without attachment”…
The term ‘sāmisa: sa + āmisa’ literally means: ‘with raw meat’; its antonym, ‘nirāmisa: nis + āmisa’ literally means ‘without raw meat’. In the broader sense the following translations can be applied:
‘sāmisa’: carnal, physical, material, impure, sensual, with desires
‘nirāmisa’: spiritual, immaterial, pure, nonsensual, free from desires
The selected paragraph of vedanānupassanā directs a meditator to be neutrally aware of the arising and passing of the different sensations in his body, so the translation: observing ‘with attachment’ and ‘without attachment’ seems to best convey this process. In a wider sense, for a progressing meditator these terms refer on the side of ‘sāmisa’ to his craving, clinging and attachment towards all kind of sensual pleasures, and on the one side of ‘nirāmisa’ to the rejection of any attachment and thus moving ahead towards the jhana-experience:11
Sāmisāpi sukhā vedanātiādīsu sāmisā sukhā nāma kāmāmisapaṭisaṃyuttā12 vedanā. Nirāmisā sukhā nāma paṭhamajjhānādivasena vipassanāvasena anussativasena13 ca uppannā vedanā.
Pleasant sensations ‘with attachment’ are the expression for pleasant sensations connected to sensual desires. Pleasant sensations ‘without attachment’ are the expression for arisen pleasant sensations connected to the attainment of the first jhāna on account of Vipassana or on account of any of the recollections.14
Sāmisā dukkhā nāma kāmāmiseneva sāmisā vedanā, nirāmisā dukkhā nāma anuttaresu vimokkhesu pihaṃ 15 upaṭṭhāpayato16 pihapaccayā uppannadomanassavedanā.
Unpleasant sensations ‘with attachment’ are the expression for unpleasant sensations connected to sensual desires. Unpleasant sensations ‘without attachment’ are the expression for sensations arisen due to yearning, attending to and not proceeding towards unsurpassed release, and the mental disquiet on account of that yearning.
Sāmisā adukkhamasukhā nāma kāmāmiseneva sāmisā vedanā. Nirāmisā adukkhamasukhā nāma catutthajjhānavasena uppannā adukkhamasukhā vedanā.
Neither pleasant nor unpleasant, neutral sensations ‘with attachment’ are the expression for neither pleasant nor unpleasant, neutral sensations connected to sensual desires. Neither pleasant nor unpleasant, neutral sensations ‘without attachment’ are the expression for arisen neither pleasant nor unpleasant, neutral sensations arisen due to the attainment of the fourth jhāna.
In the Nirāmisasutta17 the Buddha further highlights these terms in regards to mental elation: ‘pīti’; physical, bodily feeling of happiness:’ sukha’; mental balance and equanimity: ‘upekkhā’ and deliverance: ‘vimokkho’ by ponting out that these five can be sāmisā and nirāmisā:
Atthi, bhikkhave, sāmisā pīti, atthi nirāmisā pīti, atthi nirāmisā nirāmisatarā pīti; atthi sāmisaṃ sukhaṃ, atthi nirāmisaṃ sukhaṃ, atthi nirāmisā nirāmisataraṃ sukhaṃ; atthi sāmisā upekkhā, atthi nirāmisā upekkhā, atthi nirāmisā nirāmisatarā upekkhā; atthi sāmiso vimokkho, atthi nirāmiso vimokkho, atthi nirāmisā nirāmisataro18 vimokkho.
The Buddha explains that ‘sāmisā’ refers to the various objects that cause five sensual enjoyments and enter through any of the five sense doors which are desirable, liked, appeasing, pleasing, lustful and enticing19. Nirāmisā refers to the attainments of the different stages of jhāna: nirāmisā pīti is experienced by one who enters and dwells in the first and second jhāna20, nirāmisaṃ sukhaṃ is experienced by one who enters and dwells in the third jhāna and nirāmisā upekkhā is experienced by one who enters and dwells in the fourth jhāna.
Still, as the final paragraph of this vedanānupassanā summarises, whatever the sensation, internally or externally, or sensation both internally and externally the meditator dwells observing the phenomenon of arising in sensations, the phenomenon of passing away in sensations, and observing the phenomenon of arising and passing away in sensations to the extent that his awareness gets established:
“This is sensation!” - ‘Atthi vedanā’ti
1. Mūlakasuttaṃ, Sativaggo, Satisampajaññasuttaṃ, Dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, Aṭṭhakanipātapāḷi, Aṅguttaranikāyo,
2. In early 1990 the Vipassana Research Institute, initiated by the meditation teacher S.N. Goenka, invited renowned monks and scholars to a two-week international seminar on Pariyatti and Paṭipatti at Dhammagiri which was called: ‘The importance of Vedanā and Sampajañña’. One of the objectives was to give prominence to the importance of sensation–vedanā as an essential object of meditation.
3. see 3.8.9 Pahānasuttaṃ – Forsaking rāga, paṭighā and doso as well as 3.8.10 Pātālasuttaṃ – The Difference between a puthujjano and an ariyasāvako
4. Pheṇapiṇḍūpamasuttaṃ, Pupphavaggo, Khandhavaggo, Khandhasaṃyuttaṃ, Saṃyuttanikāyo
Here the Buddha highlights the pañcakhanda by equating each with a respective simile.
5. thullaphusitake: thulla + phusita: big + drop
6. upaparikkhati: upa + parikkhati: investigate, inspect
7. khāyeyya: khāyati (opt.): appears, seems to be
8. rittakaññeva + tucchakaññeva: ritta + kaṃ + eva, tuccha + kaṃ + eva: void, without reality + empty, vain
9. For further differentiation and subdivisions of vedanā see 3.8.8 Paṭhamaākāsasuttaṃ & Agārasuttaṃ – Realizing vedanā and Going Beyond
10. Aniccasuttaṃ, Sagāthāvaggo, Vedanāsaṃyuttaṃ, Saḷāyatanavaggo, Saḷāyatanasaṃyuttaṃ
11. Agārasuttavaṇṇanā, Rahogatavaggo, Vedanāsaṃyuttaṃ, Saḷāyatanavagga-aṭṭhakathā, Saṃyuttanikāye
12. kāmāmisapaṭisaṃyuttā: kāma + āmisa + paṭisaṃyuttā: sensual + desires, greed + connected with
13. anussativasena: anussati + vasena: recollection + on account
14. ‘Any of the recollections’ refers to the Chaanussatiniddeso as described in the Visuddhimaggo which are: Buddhānussati, Dhammānussati, Saṅghānussatikathā, Sīlānussati, Cāgānussati, Devatānussati
15. piha: envy, desire
16. upaṭṭhāpayato: upaṭṭha + a + payato: attending + not + proceeding
17. Nirāmisasuttaṃ, Aṭṭhasatapariyāyavaggo, Vedanāsaṃyuttaṃ, Saḷāyatanavaggo, Saṃyuttanikāyo
18. nirāmisā nirāmisatarā (more than, further than ‘without attachment’) refers to someone who is fully liberated, to one who has destroyed and left behind all bondage and who’s mind is considered free from rāgā, dosā and mohā: khīṇāsavassa bhikkhuno rāgā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ paccavekkhato, dosā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ paccavekkhato, mohā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ paccavekkhato uppajjati pīti, ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, nirāmisā nirāmisatarā
19. … Pañcime, bhikkhave, kāmaguṇā. Katame pañca? Cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā, sotaviññeyyā saddā…pe… ghānaviññeyyā gandhā…pe… jivhāviññeyyā rasā…pe… kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. Ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca kāmaguṇā. Yā kho, bhikkhave, ime pañca kāmaguṇe paṭicca uppajjati pīti, ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sāmisā pīti.
20. see also to 3.8.4 Ānāpānassatisuttaṃ cont. – How does the full Cultivation of Ānāpānassati nurture full Development of the four Satipaṭṭhāna
Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.8.7
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