-By Vipassana Research Institute
Although vedana (sensations) are innumerable, they have been classified into three categories in the texts; sukhasukha (pleasant), dukkhadukkha (unpleasant) and adukkhamasukha (neutral). The reason for this categorisation is obvious. These three vedana are tools which a Vipassana meditator can easily use to perceive the truth of arising and passing away, aniccataaniccata (impermanence). For this reason in the Vedananupassanavedananupassana section of the Satipatthana Sutta, we find only these three vedana.1
As stated above, the sensations are varied and diverse just like winds which blow in the sky, or like visitors to a public rest-house who come, stay for some time and then go away.2
On other occasions, the Buddha spoke of many more types of vedana. These should be understood in relation to the context of the situation. For example, in the Pancakanga SuttaPancakanga Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya,3 a talk between Pancakanga, the carpenter, and Venerable Udayi is recorded. Pancakanga insists that the Buddha speaks of only two vedana-sukha and dukkha. Whereas Venerable Udayi says that the Buddha speaks of three-sukha, dukkha and adukkhamasukha. When the matter was brought to the attention of the Buddha by Ananda, he said that he had not only spoken of two or three vedana but many more, sometimes as many as five, six, eighteen, thirty-six, and even one hundred and eight.4 However, we should bear in mind that numbers are always mentioned in a context, or in the course of explaining a point. Otherwise, he said, it would be difficult to grasp the exact meaning of his discourse and one might fall into illusion and futile discussions.
At times the Buddha spoke of only two vedana-kayika vedana (bodily) and cetasika vedana (mental). But without correctly understanding the context, a person may argue-how is it possible to experience a vedana on the body without the application of mind? It is true that the vedana arisen on the body is not felt by the body itself but by the mind. Thus, for feeling vedanafeeling a vedana, both the kaya (body) and mana (mind) must be present. Then why has the Buddha spoken of kayika (bodily) and cetasika (mental) separately? The Buddha says that whenever he has spoken of these two vedana, his statement is related to a particular point occurring during the discourse. Although both mind and body must be present to feel a vedana, it is called kayika only when the kaya (body) is pre-eminent and the mind is not disturbed or agitated. This is the state of mind of an ariyasavaka (noble disciple). Whereas, when an ordinary person encounters a vedana on the body, he is utterly disturbed and his mental state becomes agitated. Taking these factors into consideration, the Buddha has spoken of two vedana-kayika and cetasika. A well trained ariyasavaka who is aware of the aniccata (impermanent nature) of the vedana remains visamyutta (detached) from it. But the mind of the ordinary man is ignorant of the true nature of the vedana and becomes disturbed. He is samyutto (attached) to the vedana. Therefore, the Buddha has described vedana as both kayika and cetasika. The distinction is simply between the mental dispositionmental dispositions of an ordinary person, and of an ariyasavaka. The former is inferior and characterised by ignorance, whereas the latter is sato sampajanosato sampajano-wise, vigilant, attentive and with constant thorough understanding of arising and passing away, the aniccata of vedana.5
In the Pancakanga Sutta,6 the Buddha enumerated five sukha vedana by associating them with the contact of the panca kamaguna (five sense elements): eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. He says that although both, an ordinary person and a meditator, experience the same contact, there is a vast qualitative difference between their two experiences. The sukha vedana experienced by the ordinary person (kamasukha) is inferior and can never be compared with the sukha that the meditator experiences in the pathama jhanajhana (first absorptionstages of absorption), the dutiya jhana (second absorption), the tatiya jhana (third absorption) or the catuttha jhana (fourth absorption). There are progressive qualitative differences in sukha in these jhanas as well. The sukha experienced in the akasanancayatana samadhi (fifth absorption) is superior to the above four jhanas. The sukha experienced in the vinnananancayatana samadhi (sixth absorption) and in the akincannayatana (seventh absorption) is superior to the preceding one. Similarly, the sukha that a meditator experiences at the stage of nevasannanasannayatana (eighth absorption) is indeed far superior to the previous experiences of sukha. But the sukha experienced in this samadhi also cannot be regarded as paramam sukham.
It is interesting to note that the Buddha, prior to his enlightenment while still a Bodhisatta, visited many saints, sages and meditators who were engaged in different types of penances or meditation practises. The most eminent were Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. He approached Alara Kalama first and soon mastered the stage of akincannayatana samadhi (seventh jhana), which was the highest known to Alara Kalama. The Buddha, not finding this samadhi to be the final stage of liberation, left him and went to Uddaka Ramaputta. There he quickly mastered the samadhi of nevasannanasannayatana, (eighth jhana), which was the highest he could learn from him. The Buddha also did not regard this stage of samadhi as the final liberation and so he left Uddaka Ramaputta as well.7 After spending a long time practising severe austerities and torturing the body, he came to present day Bodha Gaya. He sat down under a tree and ultimately attained the highest stage of samadhi, which he called sanna-vedayita-nirodha samapattisanna. This is a stage beyond nama-rupa, beyond vedana and sanna. There he experienced the highest sukha, which is beyond the sukha of the mundane sphere, a sukha that is eternal. At this stage of samadhi, a Vipassana meditator goes beyond the eighth jhana, where the nirodha (cessation) of sanna and vedana (perception and feeling) is reached. The Buddha says that a meditator, through realising the extinction of sanna and vedana by the purifying wisdom of anicca, enters the stage of sanna-vedayita-nirodha, and destroys his asavas (cankers) and becomes free from the world.8
The Buddha taught his first five disciples (pancavaggiya-bhikkhu) that this very samadhi was the highest, beyond the realm of Mara.9 The attainment of sanna-vedayita-nirodha samapatti is the highest stage in which a meditator realizes the stage of paramam sukham, santi varapadam, the supreme happiness and peace.
The Buddha frequently used the common term sukha because the language of the time lacked a term capable of precisely describing the sukha-vedana experienced at different levels of samadhi. These could only be experienced and understood by practice.
The Buddha enumerated five vedana in describing the five controlling powersfive controlling powers of indriyasindriyas-
1. sukhindriya (pleasure)
2. dukkhindriya (pain)
3. somanassindriya (mental joy)
4. domanassindriya (mental grief)
5. upekkhindriya (equanimity)10
The vedana are enumerated as six when describing their arising by the contact on the six sense-doors. These six vedanasix vedana through contact are-
1. cakkhusamphassaja vedana
2. sotasamphassaja vedana
3. ghanasamphassaja vedana
4. jivhasamphassaja vedana
5. kayasamphassaja vedana
6. manosamphassaja vedana
In each case, vedana should be understood in the context in which they occur.11
The number of vedana come to eighteen when we combine each of the six above with somanssupavicara (the mental application of joy), domanassupavicara (the mental application of grief) and upekkhupavicara (the mental application of indifference).
On certain occasions, the number of vedana is thirty-six: Cha gehasitani somanassam (six of mental joy concerning the household life); cha nekkhammasitani somanassam (six of mental joy concerning the life of renunciation); cha gehasitani domanassam (six of mental grief concerning the household life); cha nekkhammasitani domanassam (six of mental grief concerning the life of renunciation); cha gehasitani upekkha (six of mental indifference concerning the household life); cha nekkhammasitani upekkha (six of mental indifference concerning the life of renunciation). The reference to somanassasitani, domanassasitani, and upekkhasitani, which includes both household life and the life of renunciation, concerns the mental disposition of a person and not his outer dress or apparent condition. A householder may attain stages superior to a renunciate who has left the householder's life and has not developed in meditation. The Buddha stated in a gatha in the Dhammapada-
Alankato ce pi samam careyya,
santo danto niyato brahmacari.
Sabbesu bhutesu nidhaya dandam,
so brahmano so samano sa bhikkhu.12
-Though gaily decked, if he should live in peace, with passions subdued, sensations controlled, certain (of the four
paths of sainthood), perfectly pure, laying aside the rod (in his relations), towards all living beings, a brahmana indeed is he, a samana is he, a bhikkhu is he.
For example, Citta Gahapati remained a householder throughout his life. However, by undertaking the thorough understanding and practice of Dhamma, he attained the stage of anagami, a higher stage than that reached by many of the monks of his time. He was therefore known as 'pre-eminent in expounding the Dhamma'.13 In the Acelakassapa Suttaacelakassapa sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya,14 Citta Gahapati declares that he could practise the four jhanas, and that if he died prior to the Buddha, he would be pronounced by him as one who had no fetters (samyojana) which would bring him back to this world again.15 There are cases where monks having renounced the household, remain as undeveloped at the mental level as an ordinary householder. This level of mental development cannot therefore be called nekkhammasitani.
There is the example of Venerable Nanda, the Buddha's stepbrother, who though ordained as a monk by the Buddha himself, was nevertheless tormented by thoughts of his former betrothed.16 His mental state did not reflect the calm of the true renunciate but rather the agitation of the householder.
The number of vedana to be calculated varies with the situation and with the Dhamma that is being explained to the listener. The number of vedana can be considered two, three, five, six, eighteen, thirty-six, or even one hundred and eight depending on the context. One can only understand them properly in relation to the specific discourse.
Notes: (All references VRI edition)
1. Digha Nikaya 2.380; Majjhima Nikaya 1.113
2. Samyutta Nikaya 3.5.512
3. Ibid. 3.5.517-523
4. Ibid. 3.5.517
5. Ibid. Salla Sutta 2.4.254
6. Ibid. 2. 4. 267
7. Majjhima-Nikaya, Pasarasi Sutta, 1.277, Nayam dhammo nibbidaya, na viragaya na nirodhaya na upasamaya na abhinnaya na sambodhaya na nibbanaya samvattati.
8. Ibid. 1.271, Bhikkhu sabbaso nevasannanasannayatanam samatikkammasannavedayitanirodham upasampajja viharati. Pannaya cassa disva asava parikkhinahanti.
9. Loc. cit
10. Samyutta Nikaya 3.5.501 - 507
11. Loc. cit
12. Dhammapada 142
13. Anguttara Nikaya 1.1.175 - 186
14. Samyutta Nikaya 3.4.351
15. Ibid. 3.4.54 - 55
16. Samyutta Nikaya 4.2.222