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






The Comprehension of Vedana, the Sambodhi of the Buddha

-By Vipassana Research Institute

For ages the seers and sages of India have sought to unveil the central mystery of the worldmystery of the world-the question of suffering, so very apparent in life, and how suffering may be ended. Many seekers, in their quest, developed theories and philosophies, some based on their own experiences of penance or meditation practice, others based merely on speculative thinking. These seekers were intent on knowing what life is. Why do we live? How can the end of suffering be reached? How can decay and death be overcome?

In the Buddha's day, some thinkers believed that if at the end of the present life a man's behaviour was sufficiently excellent, he would be reborn in a higher world than the present. Some samanas and brahmanas, not depending on imagination or poetic fancy, were familiar with more refined states of mind and higher stages of consciousness, which they had experienced in various types of meditation practices. They presented their own theories and new concepts. The states of concentration that these Indian saints attained were not peculiar to one set of religious beliefs, and there were common features to many systems of thought. They could not however regard them as 'perfect' in all respects. In the Brahmajala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya we come across some sixty-two such views or ditthi that for the most part deal with the following questions-

1. The nature of 'self' (atta)-Is it consciousness? Is it eternal?

2. Is the world eternal or finite?

3. Is life (jiva) or being (satta) the same as body?

4. Does the Tathagata, the person who has realized the Truth in this life, continue to live after death?

Interest in such matters was so intense in those days that many schools of thought came into existence, some with large followings. In another sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the Tevijja Sutta1, there is a reference to brahmasahavyata or 'union with Brahma'.

This is the theory that took a wider dimension in the Vedanta of later times. The Buddha himself made a thorough investigation of these schools of thought and examined them personally, either undergoing their practices and penances, or meeting with adherents and discussing their views with them. He concluded that they were unacceptable and could not lead to perfection, hence he called them miccha (false). He said that whatever they had experienced or whatever conclusions they had arrived at by analytical insight were ultimately based on phassa or contact derived from the six sense organs. He said that as long as one does not truly comprehend the origin (samudaya) and passing away (atthangama), the relishing (assada), the resulting danger (adinava) in them and the release (nissarana) from the six spheres of sense contact (phassayatana), one cannot transcend this world.

Yato kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu channam phassayatananamchannam phassayatananam samudayam ca atthangamam ca assadam ca adinavam ca nissaranam ca yathabhutam pajanati, ayam imehi sabbeheva uttaritaram pajanati.2

-The Buddha's contemporaries never realized nissarana, transcendence of the realm of salayatana (the six sense organs), and so remained in the sphere of phassa (contact). As long as they did not truly comprehend phassa or the simultaneous arising of vedana (sensation), they remained prone to either taking blind delight in them or be revulsed by them. Not realising the true nature of vedana as anicca, they could not emerge from the realm of vedana and comprehend the ultimate truth. In contrast, the Buddha in his meditation practice passed through the entire sphere of salayatana and understood that the ultimate truth is going beyond it, the ceasing of salayatana, the ceasing of phassa and therefore also the ceasing of vedana (nirodha). To reach the stage of nibbana, he made a strenuous effort to realize the true nature of sensations arising based on phassa or contact, essentially rooted in contact, conditioned by contact.3 In the Pubba Suttapubba sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha says that before his Enlightenment, this thought occurred to him-

What are the vedana (sensations)? What is the arising (samudaya) of them? What is the ceasing of them (nirodha)? And what is the way leading to the ceasing of them?4

He made a thorough investigation of these questions through the development of insight (Vipassana), and by his deep meditation he could rightly understand the relishing of sensations (assada), the danger in them (adinava) and ultimately how to go beyond them (nissarana). He thus realized the true nature of vedana; only then did he proclaim himself to be a fully Enlightened One (Sammasambuddha). In the Nana Suttanana sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha says that the knowledge (nana), the vision (cakkhu), the insight (panna), the wisdom (vijja) and the light (aloka) that he attained at the end of his deep practice of Vipassana were none other than the true comprehension of vedana-their arising, their ceasing and the way leading to their cessation. He had explored the entire sphere of vedana, and their complete cessation (nirodha). This is the Sambodhi (full enlightenment) that he attained under the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya.

It is true that the Buddha discovered the Law of Dependent Origination, paticcasamuppada, contributing a new dimension to Indian spiritual thoughtnew dimension to Indian spiritual thought. However, when we approach this theory analytically, we find it is exactly the same as the true comprehension of vedana which can arise every moment within ourselves. It is well known that phassa and vedana are included in the twelvefold link of the paticcasamuppada theory of life. The Buddha realized the basic characteristics of vedana as anicca (transitory), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (having no substance). He also went beyond the realm of vedana and experienced the truth, the sublime happiness of nibbana (nibbanam paramam sukham). By transcending the sphere of salayatana, one experiences this stage of nibbana where all the six sense doors cease functioning. This is the salayatana nirodha. When the sense doors have stopped functioning, there is no possibility of phassa, and there is phassa-nirodha. This stage leads to vedana-nirodha and thus tanha-nirodha. This is the nirodha-gamini-patipada, which has been very well illustrated in several discourses of the Buddha.5

The dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada (The Path Leading to the Cessation of the Suffering) or the majjhima-patipada (Middle Path) that he taught is also described as vedana-nirodha-gamini-patipada, or the Path Leading to the Cessation of Vedana.6

The Buddha admonished the monks that a samana or brahmana achieves the consummation of his Vipassana practice only when he perfectly realizes the vedana as they really are and goes beyond them.7 This is nibbana, the final goal.

Notes: (All references VRI edition)

1. Digha Nikaya 1.518 - 559
2. Ibid. 1.145
3. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.258, Tisso vedana phassaja phassamulaka...
4. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.272, Vedana-nirodha-gamini-patipada.
5. For instance, in the Upadaya Sutta, the Dukkhasamudaya Sutta and the Lokasamudaya Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya (2.4.105; 2.4.106; 2.4.107) the Buddha makes very similar statements.
Samyutta Nikaya, 2.4.271- 274
6. Ibid. 2.4.273 -274