- By Vipassana Research Institute
The Buddha talked about different types of vedana (sensations). In paticcasamuppada he taught-
Salayatana-paccaya phasso, phassa-paccaya vedana.1
-Dependent on the six sense organs, there is contact; dependent on contact, there is sensation.
He explained the six types of sensations depending on sense contact as-2
1. Cakkhu-samphassaja vedana-sensation arising out of eye-contact.
2. Sota-samphassaja vedana-sensation arising out of ear-contact.
3. Ghana-samphassaja vedana-sensation arising out of nose-contact.
4. Jivha-samphassaja vedana-sensation arising out of tongue-contact.
5. Kaya-samphassaja vedana-sensation arising out of body-contact.
6. Mano-samphassaja vedana-sensation arising out of mind-contact.sensation arising out of contact.
Of these six types of vedana, this Vipassana tradition gives foremost importance to kaya-samphassaja vedana. The importance of kayika vedana (body sensations) is explained in numerous suttas in the Pali texts-Pathamakasa Suttapathamakasa sutta3, Agara Suttaagara sutta,4 etc. In the Abhidhamma text Patthana, it is stated that by means of vedana, phala-samapatti,5 nibbana (liberation), is attained.
There are several reasons for this. First, the Buddha emphasised continuity of practice in Vipassana sampajannam na rincatisampajannam na rincati6-(not missing sampajanna even for a moment), and in order to maintain this continuity we need an object which is with us continuously. The contact of the eye with form and the arising of cakkhu-samphassaja vedana is not continuous, nor are sota-samphassaja vedana, ghana-samphassaja vedana, jivha-samphassaja vedana, and mano-samphassaja vedana. But kaya-samphassaja vedana is ever present, day and night, throughout life. Vedana arises with contact and the contact of mind and body is always taking place, as is the mutual contact of the subatomic particles within the body. This constant contact of kaya-samphassaja vedana serves as an effective tool for maintaining continuity of awareness and has, therefore, been given prime importance in the Vipassana tradition. Secondly, a beginner in Vipassana meditation will easily be able to comprehend and experience the kaya-samphassaja vedana compared to the other five since it is more tangible and has a more extended field for observation. Thirdly, whether it is cakkhu-samphassaja vedana or sota-samphassaja vedana or ghana-samphassaja vedana or jivha-samphassaja vedana or mano-samphassaja vedana, they are all based on the body. Even though we only strike a particular point on a gong, the sound resonates throughout the gong; similarly, even though a person experiences cakkhu-samphassaja vedana due to contact at the eye door, it will spread and be felt in the whole body. In the same way, sota-samphassaja vedana, ghana-samphassaja vedana, jivha-samphassaja vedana, and mano-samphassaja vedana, are all experienced throughout the body, since they all are based on the body (kaya), including the last one, for which the base is the hadaya vatthu (mind base), a part of the body.
It is evident from the above that we cannot ignore bodily sensation if we wish to observe ourselves in totality. It is for this reason that a fully enlightened person like Gotama the Buddha was unable to teach the Dhamma (Vipassana) to his former teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta from whom he learnt the seventh and eighth jhana, and who had taken birth in the arupabrahma-loka (formless worlds). For a person like the Buddha, access to these worlds was not impossible, nor was it impossible to communicate the teaching mentally to beings of these planes of existence. However, the fact that these beings in the arupabrahma-loka do not experience bodily sensation prevented the Buddha from teaching the Dhamma to them.
We as human beings are composed of nama (mind) and rupa (matter) and in order to attain nibbana (liberation), which is a state beyond nama and rupa, we have to work with both. If we work only with mental feeling and ignore bodily sensation, then we will know only the sphere of mind, and the sphere of rupa will be left unexplored. But when we work with the bodily sensation, then we are also definitely exploring the field of the body and with it the sphere of the mind will also be explored, since vedana is felt by the mind. Thus kaya-samphassaja vedana is essential for the exploration of the totality of mind and matter (parinna), and thus also essential for liberation.
Notes: (All references VRI edition)
1. Mahavagga (Vinaya Pitaka) 1
2. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.270
3. Ibid. 2.4.260
4. Ibid. 2.4.262
5. Patthana 1.1.423
6. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.251