Contemplation of Feelings: Vedanānupassanā (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2021-03-26

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

Feelings arise in all minds. When the mind meets or contacts with an object and has experience. Mind exists with feeling. It feels the taste of the object. This experience is feeling. Perception (saññā) is noting the object and feeling (vedanā) feel it. Feelings are three types; good, bad, neither good nor bad or neutral feelings.

Vedanānupassanā is contemplating the feeling or experience of the mind. Happy and unhappy are talking about vedanā. In some meditation centers, talking about to contemplate until the feelings are expired or to overcome vedanā. Could it be expired?

With the mind exists and vedanā also exists. Even a very short period of mind (i.e., tadaṅga) has a feeling (vedanā), e.g.—The Path Mind (magga-citta). It experiences Nibbāna as happiness. (Here to overcome vedanā means to overcome dukkha vedanā with the contemplation. It is possible by practice.).

This is a misunderstanding and an interpretation problem. It does not mean there is no vedanā and has physical pain but no mental pain. At that moment it becomes vipassānupekkhā – equanimity of insight.

Mental factors (cetasika) are the movements of the mind. So, as a function, they are one. Therefore, we are using them as mind (citta). There are 52 types of mental factors (cetasikas). From there, the Buddha took out feelings (vedanā) as a particular contemplation.

In the Dīgha Nikāya, Sakka-pañhā Sutta, the Buddha also taught Sakka—the deva king on vedanā contemplation. There are also suttas in the Vedanāsaṁyutta connection with vedanā. The Buddha could not talk all about vedanā in one sitting. He taught them accordingly with each person and necessity.

Why are we establishing mindfulness (sati)? The only sati takes the object that paññā can know it. Sati cannot know and paññā also cannot take the object. They are working together. In the contemplation of feelings;
[1] continuous contemplation
[2] to know about feelings rightly or correctly.
To know its intrinsic nature and universal three characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta.

About the five khandhas (mind and body), the Buddha taught two types; ordinary khandhas or natural khandhas and clinging khandhas (upādānakkhandha). They are not the same. Clinging khandhas mean, viewing the natural khandhas with wrong view and craving (diṭṭhi and taṇhā). These upādānakkhandhas are objects of insight meditation. The Buddha taught them for vipassanā to cure wrong views and thinking.

In the Bahuvedanīya Sutta (MN. 59), the Buddha taught about many feelings. Feelings can be analyzed into three kinds accordingly to their nature; pleasant (sukha), unpleasant (dukkha) and neutral (upekkhā) feelings. Firstly, contemplating seeing them in the khandha, observe with sati. They can be divided into five types with sense faculties; these are:

① pleasant bodily feeling (kāyika-sukha),
② unpleasant bodily feeling (kāyika-dukkha),
③ pleasant mental feeling (cetasika-sukha),
④ unpleasant mental feeling (cetasika-dukkha)
⑤ neutral feeling.

Pleasant and unpleasant mental feelings are also called somanassa vedanā and domanassa vedanā. Feelings arise in the body affect the mind and vice versa. What are their differences? Both of them are connecting with the mind. Pleasant feeling (sukha vedanā) arises in the body and pleasant mental feeling (somanassa vedanā) arises in mind. It appears in the body and the mind.

It is body origin and effecting the mind. Mental feelings (cetasika vedanā) only arise in mind and not relate to the body directly. It can appear by itself, e.g., smiling. But it can also affect the body. Worldlings (puthujjana) and noble beings (ariyas) are quite different in reaction to feelings. When the body pains and the mind of the worldling also pain. But noble beings are different if the body pains and the mind, not pains.

Without the awareness of feelings, the mind is affecting by greed (lobha) and anger (dosa). If these are happening a lot, it has acceleration and becoming strong and stable as a latent tendency (anusaya). It is latent in mind as defilement. If have these kinds of experience again, desire and lust arise (kāmarāga).

These things are happened because of latent defilement. Therefore, anusaya can be said as future defilement. If the causes are there and it can arise. It means, someone has this kind of experience again, this mental state will arise again. If we see something become greedy or angry and if we see it again will arise.

Therefore, we have to be mindful or aware of them. No awareness of feelings and not reflecting or contemplating them; they are coming again and again. Greed and anger are becoming stronger. Then, we cannot liberate from the round of existence (saṁsāra).

It was like a ball rolling along with feelings. Human beings are kicking by dukkha vedanā and fall into hell, by sukha vedanā become ghosts and by upekkhā vedanā become animals. Therefore, the Buddha said that the frequent homes of beings were the four woeful planes. In the teaching of Dependent Arising (paṭiccasamuppāda), the Buddha taught that feeling (vedanā) conditions craving (taṇhā).

Why the Buddha not said or mentioned it as anger? Because the craving or desire is happening more than anger. For example, poor people want to be rich and rich people want more and more. Only taṇhās are coming. Not knowing about neutral feelings (upekkhā vedanā) and ignorance (avijjā) or delusion (moha) comes in.

It is very important to understand the five khandhas thoroughly by contemplation. The physical body and feelings (kāya and vedanā) are very interesting subjects. For human beings, the five khandhas are working together in daily life and cannot separate. Human beings are looking after the body the whole time like a slave. These all are conditioned dukkha and without end.

We are even wasting our precious times with sleep also for the body. We are busy every day for the survival of the body. Even we are treating him like a loyal slave; it has no sympathy and gratitude to us. It is oppressing and tormenting us with old age, sickness and death.

Conditioned dukkha which connecting to the body is very great indeed. If we understand the conditioned dukkha which binds to the physical body; we can be dispassionate and easily let go about it. Feelings are too important in human life, and it can be said that we are busy for feelings. It is very closely related to the body and the mind. It affects both. We try to get what we like with any cost—and then getting rid of anything that we do not like.

Feelings have a lot of influence on human beings; it cannot be denied. Look at what is happening in today world. Many problems and sufferings are going on in the world through feelings. For pleasant feeling or sensual pleasures, human beings try with any mean to make money without any control.

All sorts of pollution problems going on in societies, natural environments and the earth. For unpleasant feeling or ill-will or hatred that killing and harming a lot of innocent human beings by wars and terrorism. Human life is not secure anymore. There are dangers always waiting for us. If men can control feelings or become the masters of feeling and the world will be a better place to live.

In the contemplation of feeling; when someone feels a pleasant feeling, he knows “I feel a pleasant feeling” with mindfulness (sati) that he knows about it. With unpleasant and neutral feelings, also in the same way he knows them when they are arising as: “I feel an unpleasant feeling and a neutral feeling, etc.”

In the first part of the instruction, the Buddha taught the three basic kinds of feelings; pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. Because by themselves can lead to realization. In the satipaṭṭhāna sutta, after mentioning these three basic feelings, there were followed by an additional subdivision of feeling into worldly (sāmisa) and unworldly (nirāmisa).

Therefore, totally nine kinds of feelings have to be contemplated, whenever and whatever type of feeling arising. If we ask the question; “Who is feeling the vedanā?” The answer is vedanā feels it. Except vedanā and no feeler is there. It is just only natural phenomena or natural process. Sense object (ārammaṇa) contacts (phassa) with mind base (vatthu) that we have the feeling to feel or mind arises.

There are only causes and effects phenomena exist. Only natural phenomena are arising. This is the right view. Vedanā arises and vedanā feels it. Vedanā is very important for us because it leads to craving (taṇhā). And then, taṇhā leads to suffering (dukkha). With taṇhā arises and dukkha will arise. If we cannot deal with feelings and cannot escape dukkha.

Because human beings have a strong attachment to vedanā, a lot of human problems and sufferings existing in the world. It was like a fish craving for the bait and swallowed it that and died painfully. Also, it was like a drop of honey on the edge of a razor blade whoever licking it would suffer painfully.

Even we can say human beings are fighting each other for vedanā. After knowing about the intrinsic nature of feelings; come; “He abides contemplating feelings internally, externally, and both.” Vedanā in oneself and others are the same kinds of vedanā.

With continued practice and discerning the three universal characteristics of vedanā; inconstant, dukkha and not-self. First, knowing the arising and passing away of feelings, mindfulness (sati) is always keeping up with feelings that knowledge (ñāṇa) develops. With the insight knowledge wrong view and craving (diṭṭhi/taṇhā) not arise. After sometimes clinging to feelings fall away. And then the mind becomes free (vimokkha).

revised on 2021-03-26; cited from (posted on 2019-11-22)

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