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






The Parinnaya of Vedana

-By Vipassana Research Institute

The teaching of the Buddha can be summarized as-

Dukkham ca, dukkhanirodham cadukkham ca, dukkha-nirodham ca.

-There is suffering and there is the cessation of suffering.

He elucidated this in the paticcasamuppada (Law of Dependent Origination), the cattari ariya-saccani (The Four Noble Truths), the ariyo atthangiko maggo (The Noble Eightfold Path) and the cattaro satipatthana (The Fourfold Establishing of Awareness) - all of them very important teachings on suffering and its cessation.

In the paticcasamuppada, he expounded the process of dukkha (suffering) as twelve ordered causal links (anuloma) and the cessation of dukkha as the reverse process of breaking the links (patiloma). The arising of suffering is tanha (craving). The paticcasamuppada states that-dependent on vedana there arises tanha, and if vedana ceases then the tanha automatically ceases-

Vedana-nirodha, tanha-nirodhovedana-nirodha, tanha-nirodho.

-If sensation is eradicated, craving is eradicated.

The cessation of craving is nibbana. Emphasising vedana in the practice of The Eightfold Path, the Buddha said-

Tisso ima, bhikkhave, vedana. Katama tisso? Sukha vedana, dukkha vedana, adukkhamasukha vedana. Ima kho, bhikkhave, tisso vedana. Imasam kho, bhikkhave, tissannam vedananam parinnaya ariyo atthangiko maggo bhavetabbo.1

-There are, meditators, three types of vedana (sensations). What are the three? They are pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations and neutral sensations. Meditators, it is for knowing these three types of sensations in totality that the Noble Eightfold Path should actually be practised.

In the same sutta, he adds-

Tisso ima, bhikkhave, vedanatisso vedana. Katama tisso? Sukha vedana, dukkha vedana, adukkhamasukha vedana. Ima kho, bhikkhave, tisso vedana.
Imasam kho, bhikkhave, tissannam vedananam abhinnaya parinnaya parikkhayaya pahanaya... ariyo atthangiko maggo bhavetabbo.2

-There are, meditators, three types of vedana (sensations). What are the three? They are pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations and neutral sensations Meditators, it is for the full realisation of these three sensations, for their knowing in totality, for their gradual eradication and for their abandonment that the Noble Eightfold Path should actually by practised.

In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, he describes three steps

In the realisation of dukkha-
Idam dukkham ariyasaccam ti me... tam kho panidam dukkham
ariyasaccam parinneyyam ti me... tam kho panidam dukkham
ariyasaccam parinnatam ti me...3

-This is the noble truth of suffering...
-This truth of suffering must be known in totality...
-and this noble truth of suffering is completely known.

The knowing of suffering is of utmost importance; unless a person knows suffering, he is not able to come out of it. Elsewhere, the Buddha uses vedana as a synonym of suffering.4 Therefore to know vedana is to know suffering, and vedana has to be known in the same way as dukkha.
In the Vedana samyutta of Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha said about satipatthana-

Tisso ima, bhikkhave, vedana, katama tisso? Sukha vedana, dukkha vedana, adukkhamasukha vedana. Ima kho, bhikkhave, tisso vedana.
Imasam kho, bhikkhave, tissannam vedananam parinnaya cattaro satipatthana bhavetabba.5

-There are meditators, three types of sensations. What are these three? Pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations, and sensations which are neither unpleasant nor pleasant. Practise meditators, Fourfold Establishment in Awareness (cattaro satipatthana) to get to know these three sensations in totality.

Then he states what is to be known about vedana-

Yato ca bhikkhu atapi, sampajannam na rincatiatapi, sampajannam na rincati, tato so vedana sabba, parijanati pandito.
So vedana parinnaya, ditthe dhamme anasavo kayassa bheda dhammattho, sankham nopeti vedagu ti.6

-When a meditator, striving ardently, does not lose the thorough understanding of impermanence even for a moment, then such a wise person knows the totality of all the physical sensations. Having thus known the totality of sensationstotality of sensations, being freed from all impurities, he realizes the nibbanic stage. Then at the end of his life such a person, established in Dhamma and knowing sensations in totality, attains the indescribable stage from which he does not return to the world of formation.

A notable feature of the above quotation is the frequent use of the term parinnaya in connection with vedana.

Let us now analyse what parinnaya is and its importance in patipatti (the practice of Dhamma).

The term parinnaya is grammatically in the instrumental case, but actually in form and meaning it is the gerund of parijanati (instead of the usual parijanitva).7 It is derived from the root 'na', which means 'to know', with a prefix 'pari' meaning 'fully' or 'in totality'. Hence, the English translation of the term is-'knowing in totality, having exact or accurate knowledge of an object, thorough understanding, total understanding, full understanding of an object or profound knowledge of something'. Tissannam vedananam parinnaya, for the practicioner, means, that the entire field of vedana has been explored by direct experience.

The tradition mentions three kinds of parinnas-

1. Nata-parinna (differentiating knowledgedifferentiating knowledge)

2. Tirana-parinna (analytical knowledgeanalytical knowledge)

3. Pahana-parinna (dispelling knowledgedispelling knowledge)

1. Nata-parinnanata-parinna refers to accurately or thoroughly knowing and differentiating between the empirical truth (sammutisacca) and the ultimate truth, (paramattha sacca).

2. Tirana-parinnatirana-parinna refers to knowing analytically in detail about an object and understanding its true nature.

3. Pahana-parinnapahana-parinna refers to knowing the object to the point where it totally ceases, which means one has covered the entire (paridhi) field of the object. By practising nata-parinna and tirana-parinna, one attains pahana-parinna, the cessation of the object (nirodha). If the object is vedana, then pahana-parinna is where vedana totally ceases. Only then can the entire field of vedana be said to have been thoroughly explored to the end (pariyanta) and transcended. Therefore, the ultimate state of liberation-a state of sanna-vedayita-nirodhasanna-vedayita-nirodha where sanna and vedana cease-is the result of vedana parinnaya at the level of pahana-parinna. This is only possible if the arising and passing away of vedana is observed from the beginning to the end, only then can it be complete (paripunna).

Let us understand these three types of parinna with the help of an illustration. A Vipassana meditator wants to cross a river of vedana.cross a river vedana. The first step is to enter the river and experience that it is not permanent. Although the river seems to be the same, there is a constant flow of water. It keeps on passing away allowing more to follow. Similarly, each vedana seems to be the same, but ultimately each is impermanent, each rapidly passing away. This is nata-parinna which differentiates between the apparent and ultimate truth.

Going deeper he finds that even if he tries to observe vedana objectively, being a beginner, he is again liable to sink into the depths of reaction, rolling and reeling. For a short time, his head arises above the surface, then again sinks below and he is carried away by the current towards unknown destinations.

As the experience repeats itself, gradually it becomes clear to him that his mind is conditioned to wallow in sensations, relishing the pleasant (assada) and so generating aversion towards the unpleasant.

As he continues, learning to observe the vedana objectively, he realizes the danger (adinava) in this situation, craving and aversion reinforce vedana which in turn reinforce the reaction, creating a vicious cycle. The successful swimmer starts to emerge from this habit and develops equanimity, understanding the impermanence of vedana. As he does so, he breaks the vicious cycle of misery, at least temporarily, and stops suffering. He now knows what suffering is, how it begins and multiplies. This is tirana-parinna-all vedana are anicca (impermanent), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (substanceless). As he continues to work properly, the meditator is able to swim easily in vedana without reacting.

As a result, a moment comes when he is able to successfully cross the river and reach the other shorereach the other shore. Stepping out of the river of vedana, he experiences the nissarana, that is, the emergence from the entire field of vedana. This is called pahana-parinna. At this stage, he has a foothold on a field totally different from vedana, on the shore beyond the river. He has gone beyond vedana, and reached vedana-nirodha (total cessation of vedana). This is how nata-parinna and tirana-parinna lead to pahana parinna where vedana is totally eradicated and the entire river of vedana is crossed. In the words of the Buddha-

Vedananam samudayam ca atthangamam ca assadam ca adinavam ca nissaranam ca yathabhutam viditva anupadavimuttoanupadavimutto, bhikkhave, Tathagato.7

-Having experienced as they really are the origin and passing away of sensations, the relishing of them, the danger in them, and the escape from them, the Tathagata, meditators, is emancipated by non-clingingemancipated by non-clinging.

This is the practice of vedana-parinnaya-to reach dukkha-nirodha by crossing the entire river of vedana.

Notes: (All references VRI edition)

1. Samyutta Nikaya 3.5.29
2. Ibid. 3.5.169
3. Mahavagga (Vinaya Pitaka), 15; PTS 11- Yam kinci vedayitam, tam dukkhasmim ti. Majjhima Nikaya 3.299
4. Samyutta Nikaya 3.5.414-415
5. Samyutta Nikaya,3.5.415
6. Pāli-English Dictionary, ed. T.W. Rhys Davids, Pāli Text Society, London, 1925, p. 425
7. Digha Nikaya 1.36