Vipassana Research Institute
The Pali term bhavana-maya panna means experiential wisdom. Bhavanabhavana1 is meditation through which wisdom (panna) is cultivated. In order to understand the essence of the term bhavana-maya panna and its relevance to vedana (sensation), we first need to understand the meaning of the term panna. Panna is derived from the root 'na' which means 'to know', prefixed by 'pa' meaning 'correctly'.2 Thus, the literal English translation of the word panna is 'to know correctly'. Commonly used equivalents are such words as 'insight', 'knowledge' or 'wisdom'. All these convey aspects of panna, but, as with all Pali terms, no translation corresponds exactly.
In the ancient texts, panna is defined more precisely as yatha-bhutam-nana-dassanamyatha-bhuta-nana-dassanam,3 seeing things as they are, not as they appear to be. That is, understanding the true nature of anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (essencelessness) in all things. This realisation leads to the ultimate truth of nibbana. It may also be described as pakarena janati'ti pannapakarena janati ti panna-because it is understood through different angles it is panna. The Visuddhimagga elaborates on this explaining that the characteristic of panna is to penetrate the true nature of things. Its function is to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and prevent one from becoming bewildered by its manifestation. Its immediate cause is concentration (samadhi). Hence the words 'He whose mind is concentrated knows and sees things according to reality'.4
The texts mention three types of panna5-suta-maya pannasuta-maya panna, cinta-maya pannacinta-maya panna and bhavana-mayapanna. Suta-mayapanna is wisdom obtained from listening to others, from being instructed by others about impermanence, suffering and essencelessness. It may also develop from reading sacred texts.6 This type of panna is clearly dependent on an external source. Thus, suta-mayapanna consists of learning which has been gained by listening to others (parato sutva patilabhati).7 Such wisdom is parokkha (inferred knowledge). This may inspire one to tread on the path of Dhamma, but in itself cannot lead to the attainment of liberation.
Cinta-maya panna is the wisdom obtained from one's own thinking, not just from hearing others (parato asutva patilabhati).8 It is the understanding of impermanence, suffering and essencelessness, from what one has grasped by the means of one's own intellect. It is the process of intellectually analyzing something to see whether it is logical and rational. Having gone through such a process, one can then accept a teaching intellectually. One may thereby become knowledgeable about the theory of Dhamma, and may be able to explain it to others. One may even be able to help others realize the fact of anicca, dukkha and anatta, but still one cannot obtain liberation for oneself. On the contrary, there is a danger that one may accumulate more mental defilements by developing ego since one lacks the direct experience of wisdom.
Sometimes we find in the texts a change in the order of suta-maya panna and cinta-maya panna. At times cinta-maya panna is mentioned first, followed by suta-maya panna and bhavana-maya panna. At times, suta-maya panna is followed by cinta-maya panna and bhavana-maya panna. But in both cases, bhavana-maya panna comes at the end and is of prime importance for the realisation of truth. It does not make any difference in which order we find the first two. Initially a person may listen to the Dhamma from an outside source- suta-maya panna, and then develop cinta-maya panna by rationally thinking about it, trying to understand anicca, dukkha and anatta intellectually, and thereby develop yoniso manasikara (right thinking). Or one may start with cinta-maya panna, one's own intellectual understanding, by reflecting rationally on anicca, dukkha and anatta, and then, by listening to others (suta-maya panna), one may confirm one's intellectual understanding. We should remember that whichever of the two may come first, neither of them can give liberation. Liberation results only from bhavana-maya panna.
Bhavana-maya pannabhavana-maya panna is the wisdom obtained by meditation-the wisdom that comes from the direct experience of the truth. This development of insight is also called vipassana- bhavana (Vipassana meditation). The meditator makes right effort and so realizes for himself that every thing in the world is transitory, a source of suffering, and essenceless. This insight is not the mere acceptance of what someone else has said, nor the product of deductive reasoning. It is, rather, the direct comprehension of the reality of anicca, dukkha and anatta.
To develop bhavana-maya panna, we must experience all phenomena and undestand their true nature. And this is done through experiencing vedana, (bodily sensations), because it is through these sensations that the totality of our nature manifests itself as pancakkhandha (the five aggregates). Phenomena
The Visuddhimagga states-
Ya vedayati ti vedana, sa vedayita lakkhana, anubhavanarasa...9
That which feels the objects is vedana; its characteristic is to experience, its function is to realize the object...
It is through vedana that we experience all phenomena -that we can directly experience our true nature of arising and passing away, that we experience anicca. Further, with every phenomenon, vedana is present. As the Buddha said-
Vedana-samosarana sabbe dhamma.Vedana-samosarana sabbe dhamma.vedana-samosarana sabbe dhamma10
Everything that arises in the mind is accompanied by sensation.
Therefore, the specific tool that a Vipassana meditator uses to develop experiential wisdom is bodily sensation. By observing sensations objectively throughout the body, it is realized that they all have the same nature of arising and passing away (uppada-vaya dhammino); the nature of impermanence. Having experienced this fact, one realizes that not only unpleasant sensations, but pleasant as well as neutral sensations are also a source of suffering. Further, by observing the ephemeral nature of all sensations, the meditator realizes how they are so insubstantial. They are changing every moment. That which is changing cannot be a source of happiness because an arisen pleasant sensation will eventually pass away, resulting in suffering due to our attachment to it. Moreover, these sensations are beyond our control and arise regardless of what we wish (anatta).
Through vedana, one can realize that all the other aggregates have the same nature of anicca, dukkha and anatta. By observing sensations throughout the body, the awareness becomes sharper and subtler and the entire process of mind can be observed. The observation of vedana is the most direct and tangible way to experience the reality of the entire mind-matter phenomenom. The comprehensive insight gained through vedana, that is, by direct experience of vedana (paccanubhotipaccanubhoti), is bhavana-maya panna. Through this insight, one sees things as they really are (yatha-bhuta pajanati) and with repeated practice, one is gradually freed from the past conditioning of lobha (greed), dosa (hatred) and moha (ignorance). This leads to liberation.
The teachings of a Buddha are not for mere intellectual entertainment but to be directly experienced, because this alone can free one from the ingrained habit pattern of reacting with craving and aversion. Freedom from this past habit pattern is possible when one works with the body sensations. When one experiences pleasant sensations, at that moment, the past mental habit of craving arises. If one observes this objectively with anicca-bodha (realisation of impermanence), the force of craving will gradually diminish and be eradicated.
In the same way, when one experiences an unpleasant sensation, at that moment the past mental habit pattern of aversion will arise. If one observes this objectively with anicca-bodha, then the force of aversion will gradually diminish and get eradicated. Similarly, when one experiences neutral sensations, at that moment, the past mental habit pattern of ignorance arises. If one observes this experience objectively with anicca-bodha, the force of ignorance will gradually diminish and be eradicated. Therefore, a Vipassana meditator specifically uses vedana as a tool to change the habit pattern of the mind and to eradicate the anusaya (deep-rooted latent tendencies to react). In this way, bhavana-maya panna changes the habit pattern of the mind through the development of insight into one's nature with the help of vedana. The Vipassana meditator attains this insight through observing bodily sensations. The deeper and more constant his insight, the closer he approaches the Ultimate Truth and the closer he comes to freedom from suffering.
This is the relevance of vedana in the development of bhavana-maya panna, the one and only way for liberation-ekayano maggo.
Notes: (All references VRI edition)
1. A Dictionary of the Pali Language, ed. R. C. Childers, Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1909, p. 330
2. Pali-English Dictionary, ed. T. W. Rhys Davids, Pali Text Society, London, 1925,
3. Patisambhidamagga 2.30
4.Visuddhi-Magga,Dhammasabhavapativedhalakkhana panna,dhammanam- sabhavapaticchadakamohandhakaravidhamsanarasa; assammohapaccupatthana; samahito yathabhutam janati passati-ti vacanato pana samadhi tassa padatthanam.
5. Digha Nikaya 3.305; Vibhanga 753
6. Rhys Davids, op. cit., p. 718
7. Vibhanga, loc. cit
8. Loc. cit
9. Abhidhammattha-sangaha, Hindi translation and commentary by Venerable Dr. U. Rewata Dhamma, Varanaseyya Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya, Varanasi, Vol. 1, p. 101; Dhammasangani Atthakatha, 1,Phassapancamakarasivannama
10. Anguttara Nikaya 3.10.58