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






Kamma and Vedananupassana

-By Lily de Silva

The Anguttaranikaya1 defines kamma as intention (cetana aham, bhikkhave, kammam vadami) as it is intention that is translated into action through body, speech and mind (cetayitva kammam karoti kayena vacaya manasa). Sankappa is another word for intention and it is noteworthy that intentions and thoughts are said to converge in sensations, feelings.2 The commentary3 explains: Sankappavitakka ti sankappabhuta vitakka-sankappavitakka means thoughts which have become intentions. In fact all mental phenomena are said to get translated into sensations.4 The commentary5 explains sabbe dhamma as pancakkhanda, the five aggregates, namely the psycho-physical unit that forms man. Then it comes to mean that the five aggregates converge in sensations. The entire human personality is throbbing with sensations; without them, man would be a mere vegetable. Hence the vital importance of sensations.

According to the Nidanasamyutta,6 the entire body is a physical manifestation of ancient kamma. It says-The body is neither yours nor anybody else's; it is the appearance of former kamma, compounded, willed and made sensitive (nayam kayo tumhakam na pi annesam, puranam idam kammam abhisankhatam abhisancetayitam vedaniyam datthabbam). The Salayatanasamyutta7 maintains that the sense faculties are fabricated by ancient kamma (cakkhum puranakammam abhisankhatam abhisancetayitam vedaniyam datthabbam etc.). We get a body with its particular strengths, weaknesses and predispositions because it is so fabricated by our past kammic energies which gave it conception. Similarly the sensitivity and the potentialities of our sense facilities are determined by our previous kamma. It appears that we get a genetic heritage which is consonant with our kammic heritage. It is repeatedly said in the Canon8 that beings own their kamma, they are heirs to their kamma, kamma is their matrix, kamma is their relation, kamma is their refuge, kamma divides beings into high and low (kammassaka satta kammadayada kammayoni kammabandhu kammapatisarana. kammam satte vibhajati yadidam, hinappanitatayati). Kamma seems to choose, out of trillions of possibilities, a particular genetic pattern through which it could best express its energies. Therefore it is possible to conclude that kammic energy gets transformed into sentient matter which gives rise to appropriate sensations.

Just as there are ancient (purana) kamma, there are new (nava) kamma as well.9 The new kamma are the intentional physical, verbal and mental actions that we perform at present, here and now. It is important to note that kamma does not get destroyed.10 This is because kamma builds up sentient matter continuously. The process of building sentient matter, started at conception by ancient kamma, is kept up by new kamma. This, in other words, is the conversion of mental energy into physical sentient matter.

Kamma gets expiated by giving rise to vipaka.11 Vipaka is but the experience of appropriate pleasant or painful sensations (so tattha dukkha tippa katuka vedana vedeti etc.). There are different types of kamma which have to be experienced in different spheres.12 There are kamma which have to be experienced in a state of woe (nirayavedaniyam), in the animal kingdom (tiracchanayonivedaniyam), in the peta world (pettivisayavedaniyam), in the human world (manussalokavedaniyam), and in the celestial world (devalokavedaniyam). But if in the process of experiencing vipaka, that is, resultant pleasant or painful sensations, one reacts with greed, hatred or delusion, one produces more and more kamma which gets transformed into sentient matter which in turn generates more and more resultant sensations. Thus a vicious circle gets established. This is the cyclic process of samsara.

If one wishes to break through this cyclic process, one has to bring about the destruction of kamma (kammakhaya). This can be done by destroying greed, hatred, and delusion as they are said to be the origins of kamma.13 According to the Kukkuravatika Sutta,14 there are kamma which are neither black nor white and which produce results which are neither black nor white. Such kamma is said to be conducive to the elimination of kamma (Atthi kammam akanham asukkam akanhamasukkavipakam kammam kammakkhayaya samvattati). These are the kamma which are neither evil nor meritorious. This type of kamma is explained as the intention (cetana) one has to eliminate evil, meritorious and mixed kamma which give respective results.

Now the question that arises: how can this intention be translated into effective action? According to Anguttara Nikaya15, one should observe moral habits (silava hoti patimokkha samvarasamvuto...), not accumulate new kamma and expel old kamma by experiencing them. This is annihilation of kamma here and now, immediately verifiable and leading to higher spirituality; this has to be individually realized by the wise (navam ca kammam na karoti, purananca. Kammam phussa phussa vyantikaroti. Sanditthika nijjara akalika ehipassika opaneyyika paccattam veditabba vinnuhi ti). The most important phrase here which has to be clarified is phussa phussa vyantikaroti.

The process of destroying kamma is explained more lucidly in the following verses of the

Dvayatanupassana Sutta16-

Sukham va yadi va dukkham, adukkhamasukham saha; ajjhattanca bahiddha ca, yam kinci atthi veditam. Etam dukkhanti natvana, mosadhammam palokinam; phussa phussa vayam passam, evam tattha vijanati; vedananam khaya bhikkhu, nicchato parinibbuto ti.

-Whatever sensations one has, pleasant, painful or neutral, internal or external, one should know all that to be full of suffering, deceitful and disintegrating. Continuously experiencing them, one sees them pass away. Thus one gets detached with reference to them (tattha). With the destruction of sensations, a monk becomes hungerless (greedless) and attains the peace of nibbana.

The commentary17 on this verse sheds much light on the practical aspect of the exercise when it says-phussa phussati udayavyayananena phusitva-phussa phussa means repeatedly experiencing with the knowledge of the arising and passing away of sensations. Vayam passam ti ante bhangam eva passanto-vayam passam means seeing the disintegration at the end. Vedananam khaya ti tato param maggananena kammasampayuttanam vedananam khaya-vedananam khaya means by the destruction of sensations which are connected with kamma, with the help of path-knowledge thereafter.

When we consider the practical aspect of 'phussa phussa vaya passam' we cannot help but notice that the phrase refers to Vedananupassana. According to the Satipatthana Sutta,18 one has to be aware of the various sensations as they arise in the body. One has to observe the arising of the sensations (samudayadhammanupassi), and their passing away (vayadhammanupassi).

This is what is called being aware of sensations without reacting to them. Generally, we revel in pleasant sensations as lust underlies pleasant sensations.19 We revolt against painful sensations as aversion underlies unpleasant sensations (dukkhaya vedanaya patighanusayo anuseti). We are unaware of neutral sensations as ignorance underlies neutral sensations (adukkhamasukhaya vedanaya avijjanusayo anuseti). Thus, our normal habit is to react to the various sensations with greed, hatred and delusion. When we so react, kamma gets built up as discussed above. But if with vedananupassana we observe the arising and passing away of sensations without reacting to them, then old kamma gets destroyed, and new kamma does not get accumulated. We saw above that kamma gets translated into sentient matter which in turn gives rise to appropriate sensations. This is bhavacakka at work, the wheel of becoming. Vedananupassana is the reverse process, the dhammacakka set in motion within the framework of the individual. When one sees sensations with mindfulness (sati) as they come up, they get destroyed without giving rise to kamma. This is what is meant by phussa phussa vyantikaroti. This is how mindfulness acts as a psychological laser beam to destroy kamma which do not otherwise get destroyed without giving rise to vipaka, for it is said that kamma does not get destroyed.20 This is the art of experiencing sensation without being attached.21 A monk who destroys sensations thus attains the peace of nibbana.22

It has to be emphasised that vedananam khaya does not mean the destruction of all sensations. According to the Vedanasamyutta23 there are eight types of sensations. Four types are due to disturbances caused by bodily humours such as bile (pitta), phlegm (semha), wind (vata) and a combination of them (sannipatika). The fifth type is caused by climatic changes (utuparinamaja). The sixth type is caused by using disagreeable things together (visamapariharaja), such as combinations of foods which may prove to be poisonous. The seventh type is caused by injuries and attacks from outside (opakkamika). The eighth type is generated by kamma as retribution (kammavipakajani vedayitani). Of these eight types, it is only the last named that gets destroyed by vedananupassana. The other seven types of sensations continue to function.
It does not seem to be required that all kamma should be eradicated completely for the attainment of arahantship. That there may remain a certain fraction of kamma can be assumed from the canonical episode of Angulimala.24 Angulimala who committed many a murder is said to have suffered being accidentally hit by stones and sticks, though they were not aimed at him, even after he became an arahant. Sometimes he used to come from his alms round with head injuries and torn robes. The Buddha admonished him to bear with this suffering as this is the present experience of evil done for which he would have had to suffer long in a state of woe had he not attained arahantship.

It may be presumed that when kamma energy is sufficiently destroyed with vedananupassana so that it cannot give rise to another birth, the knowledge must arise that there is no more birth.25 This is the most important assurance of the liberative experience. There is no reference to kammakkhaya in any of the formulae expressing arahantship. But it is noteworthy that even elsewhere there is very little reference to kammakkhaya,26 whereas ragakkhaya, lobhakkhaya, dosakkhaya and mohakkhaya find frequent mention in the texts. The few instances where kammakkhaya does occur, it mostly describes the doctrine of Nigantha Nataputta who attempted to make an end to suffering (dukkhakkhaya) through the destruction of kamma (kammakkhaya).27 But kamma cannot be recognized or verified. Therefore, the Buddha asked Jaina disciples whether they knew that they had done evil kamma in the past, and whether they knew that so much suffering had been eliminated by their practice of penance and so much suffering had yet to be eliminated. But they knew none of these. The Buddha admonished his disciples to eliminate not kamma but evil mental states such as greed, hatred and delusion, which are observable and verifiable, as they give rise to kamma. One very effective method of doing so is the exercise of vedananupassana. When this exercise is practised for some time, the disciple himself begins to notice that his negative mental states are on the wane. This has a debilitating effect on kamma and it can be concluded that vedananupassana is an extremely effective method of bringing about destruction of kamma.

As there is a close relationship between kamma and sankhara, the latter being used as a more precise technical term having psychological connotations, the living Vipassana tradition maintains that deep-seated sankharas come to the surface and get eliminated when one continues to practise vedananupassana. The Dvayatanupassana Sutta28 expresses the same idea when it says sankharanam nirodhena, natthi dukkhassa sambhavo-with the cessation of volitional activities, there is no arising of suffering.

Notes: [References from VRI edition in brackets]

1. Anguttara Nikaya PTS 3.415 [VRI 2.6.63]
2. Sankappavitakka vedanasamosarana. Anguttara Nikaya PTS 4.385 [VRI 3.9.14]
3. Anguttara Nikaya Atthakatha PTS 4. 175 [VRI 3.9.14]
4. Sabbe dhamma vedanasamosarana. Anguttara Nikaya PTS 4.339 [VRI 3.8.83]
5. Anguttara Nikaya Attakatha PTS 4.158 [VRI 3.8.83]
6. Samyutta Nikaya PTS 2.65 [VRI 1.2.37]
7. Samyutta Nikaya PTS 4. 32 [VRI 2. 4. 146]
8. Majjhima Nikaya PTS 3. 203 [VRI 3. 289]; Anguttara Nikaya PTS 3. 72-186,[VRI 2. 5. 57] 5. 288 [VRI 2. 10. 216]
9. Samyutta Nikaya PTS 4. 132 [VRI 2. 4. 146]
10. Na hi nassati kassaci kammam. Suttanipata PTS 666 [VRI 671]
11. So...na tava kalam karoti yava na tam papakammam vyantihoti. Majjhima Nikaya 3.183 [VRI 3.267], PTS; Anguttara Nikaya PTS 1. 141 [VRI 1. 3. 36]
12. Anguttara Nikaya PTS 3. 415 [VRI 2. 6. 63]
13. Lobho doso moho kammanidanasambhavo. Lobhakkhaya dosakkhaya mohakkhaya kammanidanasankhayo. Anguttara Nikaya PTS 5. 262 [VRI 3. 10. 174]
14. Majjhima Nikaya PTS 2. 391 [VRI 2. 81]; Anguttara Nikaya PTS 2. 232 [VRI 1. 4. 233]
15. Anguttara Nikaya PTS 1. 221[VRI 1. 3. 75]
16. Suttanipata PTS 738-739 [VRI 743]
17. Suttanipata PTS 416 [VRI 2. 744-45]
18. Majjhima Nikaya 1. 59, PTS [VRI 1. 113]
19. Sukhaya vedanaya raganusayo anuseti. Majjhima Nikaya 1. 303, PTS [VRI 1. 465]
20. Na hi nassati kassaci kammam. Suttanipata 666, PTS [VRI 671]
21. So sukham dukkham adukkhamasukham ce vedanam vedayati, visannutto nam vedayati. Samyutta Nikaya 4. 209, PTS [VRI 2. 4. 254]
22. Vedananam khaya bhikkhu, nicchato parinibbuto. Suttanipata 739, PTS [VRI 744]
23. Samyutta Nikaya 4. 230, PTS [VRI 2. 4. 269]
24. Majjhima Nikaya 1. 104, PTS [VRI 2. 352]
25. ... ayam antima jati, natthidani punabbhavo ti. Majjhima Nikaya 1. 167, PTS [VRI 1. 280]; Khina jati... naparam itthattayati. Majjhima Nikaya 1. 23, 38, PTS [VRI 1. 54,78]
26. Anguttara Nikaya 2. 239, PTS [VRI 1. 4. 238]; Majjhima Nikaya 1. 391, PTS [VRI 2. 81]
27. Majjhima Nikaya 1. 93, PTS [VRI 1. 179]
28. Suttanipata 731, PTS [VRI 736]