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






Vedana in Paticcasamuppada

- By Vipassana Research Institute

Paticcasamuppada, or the Law of Dependent Origination, is fundamental to the teaching of the Buddha. Emphasising its importance, the Buddha said-

Yo paticcasamuppadam passati, so dhammam passati; Yo dhammam passati, so paticcasamuppadam passati.1
One who sees the paticcasamuppada sees the Dhamma. One who sees the Dhamma sees the paticcasamuppada.

-Paticcasamuppada explains that samsara, the process of repeated existences, is perpetuated by a chain of interconnected links of cause and effect; it also reveals the method of breaking this chain and putting an end to the process.

The Buddha said-

Tanhadutiyo puriso, dighamaddhana samsaram; Itthabhavannathabhavam, samsaram nativattati.2.


-The man with craving as his companion has been flowing in the stream of repeated existences from time immemorial. He comes into being, experiences various types of miseries, dies again and again, and does not put an end to this unbroken process of becoming.

This is samsara, the world of suffering, as explained by the Buddha. He further said-

Etam adinavam natva, tanham dukkhassa sambhavam; Vitatanho anadano, sato bhikkhu paribbaje.3

-Rightly understanding the perils of this process, fully realizing craving as its cause, becoming free from craving and attachment, one should mindfully lead the life of detachment.
Such an approach, he said, will have great benefit-

Nandi-samyojano loko, vitakkassa vicaranam Tanhaya vippahanena, nibbanam iti vuccati.4


-Pleasure is the binding force in the world. Rolling thought processes are its ever-changing base. With the complete eradication of craving, The state called nibbana is attained.

-These statements made by the Buddha describe the nature of samsara, the state of suffering, and the nature of nibbana, the state of final emancipation. But how can detachment be developed, and craving eradicated?

This is the practical aspect of Dhamma discovered by Siddhattha Gotama, the realisation that made him a Buddha, and that he in turn revealed to the world by the doctrine of paticcasamuppada.

According to this doctrine, twelve linkstwelve links form the wheel of becomingwheel of becoming (bhavacakkabhavacakka). They are-

1. avijja (ignorance)

2. sankhara (volitional activities)

3. vinnana (consciousness)

4. nama-rupa (mind and matter)

5. salayatana (six sense doors)

6. phassa (contact)

7. vedana (sensation)

8. tanha (craving)

9. upadana (clinging)

10. bhava (becoming)

11. jati (birth)

12. jara-marana (decay and death)

Dependent on avijja there arises sankhara; dependent on sankhara there arises vinnana; dependent on vinnana there arises nama-rupa; dependent on nama-rupa there arises salayatana; dependent on salayatana there arises phassa; dependent on phassa there arises vedana; dependent on vedana there arises tanha; dependent on tanha there arises upadana. Thus this vicious circle of misery rolls on. In other words, the origin of each link depends upon the preceding one. As long as this chain of twelve causal relations operates, the wheel of becoming (bhava-cakka) keeps turning, bringing nothing but suffering. This process of cause and effect is called anuloma-paticcasamuppada (direct Law of Dependent Origination). Every link of anuloma results in dukkha, suffering, as a result of avijja, which is at the base of every link. Thus the process of anuloma clarifies the first two Noble Truths: dukkha-sacca, suffering, and samudaya-sacca, its origination and multiplication. Our task is to emerge from the bhava-cakka of dukkha. Explaining how to do so, the Buddha said that when any one of the links of the chain is broken, the wheel of becoming comes to an end, resulting in the cessation of suffering. This is called patiloma-paticcasamuppada (the Law of Dependent Origination in reverse order) which clarifies the third and fourth Noble Truths, nirodha-sacca the cessation of suffering and nirodha-gamini-patipada-sacca, the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. How can that be achieved? At which link can the chain be broken? Through deep insight, the Buddha discovered that the crucial link is vedana. In the anuloma-paticcasamuppada, he says 'Vedana-paccaya-tanha'. Vedana is the cause of tanha, which gives rise to dukkha. In order to remove the cause of dukkha or tanha, one must not allow vedana to connect with tanha; in other words, one must practise Vipassana meditation at this juncture so that avijja becomes vijja or panna (wisdom). One has to observe vedana, to experience and to comprehend the truth of its arising and passing away, anicca. By Vipassana meditation, as one experiences vedana in the proper way, one comes out of the delusion of nicca-sanna (perception of permanence) by the development of anicca-bodha or anicca-vijja (the wisdom of impermanence) towards vedana. This is practised by observing with equanimity the arising and passing away of vedana. With anicca-bodha, the habit pattern of the mind changes. Instead of the earlier pattern of vedana-paccaya tanha, through anicca-vijja it becomes vedana-paccaya panna. As panna becomes stronger and stronger, naturally sanna, and with it, tanha, becomes weaker and weaker. The process of multiplication of suffering with the base of avijja then becomes the process of the cessation of suffering, with vijja as the base. As this process continues, a time comes where there is the complete cessation of vedana as well as tanha- 'Vedana-nirodha, tanha-nirodho'. This state of emancipation is a state beyond mind and matter, where both vedana and sanna cease. One can experience this for a few seconds, minutes, hours, or days when, according to one's own capacity, one becomes established in nirodha-samapatti by practising Vipassana. After the period of nirodha-samapatti, when one comes back to the sensual field of mind and matter, one again experiences vedana. But now the whole habit pattern of the mind has been changed, and continued practice leads to the stage where one does not generate aversion or craving at all because anusaya and asava (the deep-rooted mental impurities) are eradicated. In this way, by the breaking of one linkthe breaking of one link-vedana, the whole process is shattered and the wheel of repeated existence is completely broken.

If we want to advance on the path of liberation, we have to work at the level of vedana because it is here that the wheel of misery can be arrested. With vedana starts the turning of the bhava-cakka, leading (because of avijja) to vedana-paccaya tanha, which causes suffering. This is the path which ignorant persons (puthujjana) follow, since they react to vedana and generate tanha. And from here also the dhamma-cakka, or the wheel of cessation of suffering (dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada) can start to rotate, leading to vedana-nirodha, tanha-nirodho-the end of craving, as a result of anicca-vijja or panna, leading to the cessation of suffering. This is the path which wise persons (sapanna) follow by not reacting to vedana, because they have developed anicca-bodha by the practice of Vipassana.

Many of the contemporaries of the Buddha held the view that craving causes suffering and that to remove suffering one has to abstain from the objects of craving. Having learnt to examine the depths of his mind, the Buddha realized that between the external object and mental reflex of craving is a missing link-vedana (sensation). Whenever we encounter an object through the five physical senses or the mind, a sensation arises; and based on the sensation, tanha arises. If the sensation is pleasant we crave to prolong it, and if it is unpleasant we crave to be rid of it. It is in the chain of Dependent Origination that the Buddha expressed his great discovery.

Phassa-paccaya vedana Vedana-paccaya tanha.5

-Dependent on contact, sensation arises.

Dependent on sensation, craving arises.

The immediate cause for the arising of craving and of suffering is, therefore, not something outside of us but rather the sensations that occur within us. To free ourselves of craving and of suffering we must deal with this inner reality of sensations. Doing so is the practical way to emerge from suffering. By developing anicca-vijja (the wisdom of impermanence), we learn to cut the knots of our misery and witness the true nature of Dhamma. Therefore vedana is the cause of our bondage when not properly observed, as well as the means of liberation when properly observed by understanding the Dhamma, the law of paticcasamuppada.

Notes: (All references VRI edition)

1. Majjhima Nikaya 1.306
2. Suttanipata 745
3. Ibid. 746
4. Samyutta Nikaya 1.1.64
5. Mahavagga (Vinaya Pitaka) 1