Vedanā is a word in Sanskrit and Pāli traditionally translated as either "feeling" or "sensation." In general, vedanā refers to the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensations that occur when our internal sense organs come into contact with external sense objects and the associated consciousness.
neither pleasant nor unpleasant (adukkham-asukhā, sometimes referred to as "neutral")
Elsewhere in the Pali canon it is stated that there are six classes of vedanā, corresponding to sensations arising from contact (Skt: sparśa; Pali: phassa) between an internal sense organ (āyatana; that is, the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind), an external sense object and the associated consciousness (Skt.: vijnana; Pali: viññāna). (See Figure 1.) In other words:
feeling arising from the contact of eye, visible form and eye-consciousness
feeling arising from the contact of ear, sound and ear-consciousness
feeling arising from the contact of nose, smell and nose-consciousness
feeling arising from the contact of tongue, taste and tongue-consciousness
feeling arising from the contact of body, touch and body-consciousness
feeling arising from the contact of mind (mano), thoughts (dhamma) and mind-consciousness
Two, three, five, six, 18, 36, 108 kinds
In a few discourses, a multitude of kinds of vedana are alluded to ranging from two to 108, as follows:
six kinds: one for each sense faculty (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind)
18 kinds: explorations of the aforementioned three mental kinds of feelings (mental pleasant, mental painful, equanimous) each in terms of each of the aforementioned six sense faculties
36 kinds: the aforementioned 18 kinds of feeling for the householder and the aforementioned 18 kinds for the renunciate
108 kinds: the aforementioned 36 kinds for the past, for the present and for the future
In the wider Pali literature, of the above enumerations, the post-canonial Visuddhimagga highlights the five types of vedanā: physical pleasure (sukha); physical displeasure (dukkha); mental happiness (somanassa); mental unhappiness (domanassa); and, equanimity (upekkhā).
Vedanā is one of the five aggregates (Skt.: skandha; Pali: khandha) of clinging (Skt., Pali: upādāna; see Figure 2 to the right). In the canon, as indicated above, feeling arises from the contact of a sense organ, sense object and consciousness.
vedanā arises with contact (phassa) as its condition
vedanā acts as a condition for craving (Pali: taṇhā; Skt.: tṛṣṇā).
In the post-canonical 5th c. Visuddhimagga, feeling (vedana) is identified as simultaneously and inseparably arising from consciousness (vinnana) and the mind-and-body (namarupa). On the other hand, while this text identifies feeling as decisive to craving and its mental sequelae leading to suffering, the conditional relationship between feeling and craving is not identified as simultaneous nor as being karmically necessary.
Each mode of vedanā is accompanied by its corresponding underlying tendency or obsession (anusaya). The underlying tendency for pleasant vedanā is the tendency toward lust, for unpleasant, the tendency toward aversion, and for neither pleasant nor unpleasant, the tendency toward ignorance.
In the Canon it is stated that meditating with concentration (samadhi) on vedanā can lead to deep mindfulness (sati) and clear comprehension (sampajañña) (see Table to the right). With this development, one can experience directly within oneself the reality of impermanence (anicca) and the nature of attachment (upadana). This in turn can ultimately lead to liberation of the mind (nibbana).
Contemporary teachers often try to clarify preconceptions that Westerners might have when attempting to grasp millennia-old non-Western concepts. Below, for instance, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche attempt to address the question of what the relationship between vedanā (often translated as "feelings") and Western notions of "emotion."
"Feeling," not "emotion"
Regarding the relationship between vedanā and "emotions," American-born Theravada teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi has written:
"The Pali word vedanā does not signify emotion (which appears to be a complex phenomenon involving a variety of concomitant mental factors), but the bare affective quality of an experience, which may be either pleasant, painful or neutral."
"In this case 'feeling' is not quite our ordinary notion of feeling. It is not the feeling we take so seriously as, for instance, when we say, 'He hurt my feelings.' This kind of feeling that we take so seriously belongs to the fourth and fifth skandhas of concept and consciousness."
Ṣaḍāyatana (Skt.; Pali: saḷāyatana) - six sense bases
Satipaṭṭhāna (Pali; Skt.: smṛtyupasthāna) - foundations of mindfulness
↑See, for instance, SN 36.5, Datthabba Sutta(Nyanaponika, 1983).
In the Visuddhimagga 460, there is a similar but different threefold enumeration: wholesome (kusalā), unwholesome (akusalā) and indefinite (avyākatā) (Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, ibid).
↑See, for example, the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148) which ascribes to the Buddha the following words:
"'The six classes of feeling should be known.' Thus was it said. In reference to what was it said? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises consciousness at the eye. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. Dependent on the ear & sounds there arises consciousness at the ear. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. Dependent on the nose & aromas there arises consciousness at the nose. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. Dependent on the tongue & flavors there arises consciousness at the tongue. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. Dependent on the body & tactile sensations there arises consciousness at the body. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. Dependent on the intellect & ideas there arises consciousness at the intellect. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. 'The six classes of feeling should be known.' Thus was it said...." (Thanissaro, 1998.)
↑Explicitly, in terms of the language of the Abhidhamma, the Visuddimagga (XVII, 201-228) identifies that the conditions (nidana) of consciousness, mind-body, the six senses, contact and feeling are related (paccaya) by conascence, mutuality, support, kamma-result, nutriment, association and presence. (Note that feeling is not related by dissociation to its precursors.)
↑In particular, Vsm XVI, 238 identifies the sole relationship between feeling and craving to be "decisive support."
'Dependent on the eye & forms there arises consciousness at the eye. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition, there arises what is felt either as pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain. If, when touched by a feeling of pleasure, one relishes it, welcomes it, or remains fastened to it, then one's passion-obsession gets obsessed. If, when touched by a feeling of pain, one sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats one's breast, becomes distraught, then one's resistance-obsession gets obsessed. If, when touched by a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain, one does not discern, as it actually is present, the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, or escape from that feeling, then one's ignorance-obsession gets obsessed....'
↑AN 4.41: for Pali, see SLTP (n.d); for English translations, see Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), pp. 88-89, Thanissaro (1997a), Upalavanna (n.d.).