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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin






The Significance of Vedana in Vipassana


Vedana (sensations) are of diverse types (vividha)1, and are experienced every moment within the body. Broadly speaking, however, there are three kinds-pleasant (sukhasukha), unpleasant (dukkhadukkha), and neutral (adukkhamasukhaadukkhamasukha). The sensations arise within the body as a result of contact (phassaphassa) and sooner or later pass away.2

The experience of painful contact within the body results in an unpleasant sensation that is unpalatable, distressful, painful, sorrowful, and an affliction. Faced with such an experience, an ordinary person becomes distressed, disturbed and unbalanced. When the pain is intense, he weeps, laments, cries, falls into despair and becomes deluded.3 Experiencing an unpleasant sensation, he desperately makes every possible effort to get rid of it, to pull himself out of it. He musters his will to free himself as quickly as possible. Because of this bodily pain and affliction, he becomes unhappy, restless, worried, disturbed and mentally distressed. He is thus miserable and troubled, both bodily and mentally, as if pierced by two arrows at the same time.4 This is due to his attachment to the sensations.5 He is ignorant, not knowing their true nature and hence is unable to have a dispassionate attitude towards them. He makes every effort to repel the cause of his pain. He does so because of the latent tendency of repugnance (patighanusaya) so deeply rooted in him. He fails to understand that this tendency (anusaya) is a defilement. Instead, he multiplies and perpetuates it. He is carried away by this anusayaanusaya and continues to flow with it.6

Even while striving to get over the unpleasant sensation, he indulges himself in craving for imaginary situations where there is no unpleasant sensation whatsoever. He starts enjoying this imaginary state and thereby develops lust for it. What a pity that an ignorant person though distressed by his unpleasant sensation also delights in and craves for the sensual desire (kamasukhakamasukha) that he has created in his mind.7 Why can he not maintain a balanced, dispassionate state of mind when experiencing an unpleasant sensation? He is unable to do so because he becomes attached to the sensation and is overpowered by it. Out of ignorance, he does not comprehend the true transitory nature (anicca) of the sensation. He does not realize its arising (samudaya), its passing away (atthangama), the relishing of it (assada), the danger in it (adinava) or the escape from it (nissarana). He is further unaware of his anusaya (tendency of repugnance) which he, out of ignorance, is also multiplying. Such an ignorant person is not only attached to the unpleasant sensation, he is also bound up with all types of sensations, and therefore, with all the miseries in the world-birth, decay and death, and so on.8

When a pleasant contact arises in the body, an ignorant person experiences it as pleasant, as it apparently is. Not comprehending its true nature, he becomes involved and attached and starts taking pleasure in it.9 He does not understand that the pleasant sensation that has arisen due to bodily contact is transitory, ephemeral, impermanent, and sooner or later is bound to pass away. Being ignorant of it, he tends to develop craving for its continuance. He is also unaware of his dormant tendency of lust (raganusaya), the deep-rooted defilement in him. Because of his attachment,10 he keeps increasing his craving and continues to flow with it.11 Not understanding the true nature of a pleasant sensation as it really is-the arising of it (samudaya), the passing away of it (atthangama), the relishing of it (assada), the danger in it (adinava) or the escape from it (nissarana)-he is attached to it, and thus, is subject to lamentation and sorrow.

There arise situations in which an ordinary person experiences neither pleasant nor unpleasant sensations (adukkhamasukha vedana) and is delighted and satisfied with this. Such an attitude indicates his avijja (ignorance), as he does not know that this experience is also transitory, ephemeral and still within the sphere of nama-rupa (mind and matter). Being unaware of the dormant tendency of ignorance (avijjanusaya) within him, he acts in such a way as to multiply it, and continues to flow with it. He is deluded12 and therefore falls into despair and becomes unhappy.

Both an ordinary person and a well-trained Vipassana meditator, who has reached the stage of saintliness, can experience the same sensations in the body. But there is a vast difference in their comprehension and outlook. As stated above, since a puthujjana (ignorant person) is the victim of the anusayas (dormant tendencies), he immediately starts reacting blindly when he experiences any sensation arising in the body. Being unaware of the true nature of these sensations, he remains attached (samyutta) to them. In contrast, an ariyasavaka (noble disciple) practises by minutely observing the impermanence of the sensations (aniccanupassi viharatianiccanupassi viharati), their passing away (vayanupassi viharativayanupassi viharati). He does not cling to them (viraganupassi viharativiraganupassi viharati), he observes the ceasing of them (nirodhanupassi viharatinirodhanupassi viharati), and thus, emerges from them (patinissagganupassi viharatipatinissagganupassi viharati).13 In this way, he eradicates all the latent tendencies (anusaya) which can no longer defile him. When he experiences an unpleasant sensation, he is not disturbed by it. He observes it as a wound on his body, (sallato), keeps a dispassionate attitude towards it and remains unattached to it.14 He maintains a balanced state of mind and is not disturbed mentally.15

Further, if he experiences a pleasant sensation, he does not take any pleasure in it. He fully understands its true nature of anicca, and so develops no lust for it, which would eventually lead to misery. Thus he keeps himself detached from the sensations.16 He knows correctly that sooner or later they will pass away. He has no tendency towards lust (raganusaya) in him. When he experiences a neutral sensation of peace and tranquillity of mind, he does not get deluded by it. Rather, he keeps himself detached. A developed Vipassana student fully understands that this tranquil and peaceful state of mind is not the final stage. It too is impermanent (anicca) and, like the other sensations, is in the field of nama-rupa. He does not take any delight in it and keeps a balanced, dispassionate state of mind. He is always mindful and attentive (sato) and keeps a constant understanding of anicca (sampajano) towards his sensations. Since his avijjanusaya (tendency of ignorance) is destroyed, he truly knows the arising (samudaya) and passing away of it (atthangama), the relishing of it (assada), danger in it (adinava) and the escape (nissarana) from the sensations, it is said-

Samahito sampajano, sato Buddhassa savako;
Vedana ca pajanati, vedanananca sambhavam.
Yattha ceta nirujjhanti, magganca khayagaminam;
Vedananam khaya bhikkhu, nicchatonicchato parinibbuto'ti.17

-A follower of the Buddha, with concentration, awareness and constant thorough understanding of impermanence, knows with wisdom the sensations, their arising, their cessation and the path leading to their end. A meditator who has reached the end (has experienced the entire range) of sensations (and has gone beyond) is freed from craving, fully liberated.

This is the main aim of Vipassana and the ultimate purpose of this practice. This is the consummation of brahmacariya (The Path of Truth). The Buddha praises a well-trained practitioner who has perfectly understood the true nature of sensations and is not attached to them. He says-

Na vedanam vedayati sapanno, sukham pi dukkham pi bahussuto pi;
ayam ca dhirassa puthujjanena, maha viseso kusalassa hoti.
Sankhatadhammassa bahussutassa, vipassato lokamimam param ca;
itthassa dhamma na mathenti cittam, anitthato no patighatameti.18

-A wise, well-trained practitioner is not afflicted (mentally) either experiencing a pleasant or unpleasant sensation (or otherwise). This is the vast difference between an ordinary person and a skilful, wise personwise person (panditapandita). For he who has mastered the Truth, is well-trained and has correctly viewed this world and beyond, neither desirable things churn in his mind, nor do undesirable ones harm him.

The practice of Vipassana is fulfilled only when a practitioner comes to realize perfectly the true transitory nature of sensations and remains ever mindful (sato) with constant thorough understanding (sampajano) of them. This is the ultimate aim of Vipassana and this is the crux of the practice.

Notes: (All references VRI edition)

1. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.260
2. Ibid. 2.4.252, Saririkaya vedanaya. Also Ibid. 2.4.258, Vedana phassaja phassamulaka, phassanidana, phassapaccaya.
3. Ibid. 2.4.254, Sammoham apajjati.
4. Ibid.2.4.254, So dvisallena vedanam vedayati... So dve vedana vedayati kayikam ca cetasikam ca.
5. Loc. cit., Sannutto hoti.
6. Loc. cit., Dukkhaya vedanaya patighavantam, yo dukkhaya vedanaya patighanusayo so anuseti.
7. Loc. cit., So dukkhaya vedanaya phuttho samano kamasukham abhinandati.
8. Loc. cit., Dukkham ce vedanam vedayati sannutto nam vedayati. Assutava puthujjano sannutto jatiya jaraya maranena sokehi...
9. Loc. cit., Sannutta hoti... abhinandati.
10. Loc. cit., Sukham ce vedanam, vedayati, sannutto nam vedayati.
11. Loc. cit., Yo sukhaya vedanaya raganusayo, so anuseti.
12. Ibid 2.4.252, Sammoham apajjati.
13. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.255-256, Pathamagelanna-Sutta and Dutiyagelanna-Sutta.
14. Ibid. 2.4.254, visannutto nam vedayati.
15. Ibid. 2.4.254, vedayati, kayikam, na cetasikam.
16. Ibid. 2.4.254, visannutto nam vedayati.
17. Ibid. 2.4.249
18. Ibid. 2.4.254