Research Study

Sensations - The Root Of Misery And Sorrow And The Key To Insight And Freedom
Sensation-Impermanence, Suffering And Egolessness
Vedana And Sampajanna Satipatthana


Vedana In Satipatthana
(The Importance Of Sensations)

The four-fold Satipatthana, (the establishing of awareness,) was highly praised by the Buddha in the suttas. Mentioning its importance in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, the Buddha called it ekayano maggo - the only way for the purification of beings, for overcoming sorrow, for the extinguishing of suffering, for obtaining the path of truth and experiencing Nibbana (liberation). (1)
In this sutta, the Buddha showed the way for developing self-knowledge by means of Kayanupassana (constant observation of the body), Vedananupassana (constant observation of sensation), cittanupassana (constant observation of the mind), and Dhammanupassana (constant observation of the contents of the mind). These are the 4 Satipatthanas. (2)
To explore the truth about ourselves, we must examine what we are: body-mind. We must learn to observe these directly within ourselves. Accordingly, we must keep three points in mind: A) The reality of the body may be imagined by contemplation, but to experience it directly one must work with vedana (body sensation) arising within it. B) Similarly, the actual experience of the mind is attained by working with the contents of the mind. Therefore, in the same way as body and sensation cannot be experienced separately, the mind cannot be observed apart from the contents of the mind. C) Mind and matter are so closely inter-related that the contents of the mind always manifest themselves as sensation in the body. For this reason the Buddha said:

Vedanasamosarana sabbe Dhamma. (3)

Everything that arises in the mind flows along with sensations.

Therefore, observation of sensation offers a means-indeed the only means-to examine the totality of our being, physical as well as mental. (mind-matter). The 4 avenues for the establishing of awareness (Satipatthana) mentioned above are not 4 different compartments but in fact are one - and constitute 'Total', 'complete', 'holistic' observation. Satipatthana is 'total' meditation. All these 4 avenues go hand in hand, body can only be felt and observed experientially because of the sensations in/on the body, mind is known by the content of the mind and ''everything that arises in the mind flows along with sensations on the body''. Again it is the mind that feels and observes the body. Hence mind and matter are deeply co-related and interdependent. Rather it should be said it is mind-matter and not mind and matter. This observation is of the truth as it manifests from moment to moment in mind-matter-the truth, the reality 'as it is' - it is staying with the truth of the moment ('what is' or yathabhuta), effortlessly-choicelessly. When the awareness is completely established in mind-matter choicelessly-the observer is observed, there is no one to experience or know-there is no craving or clinging to anything in this world and that is freedom.

Broadly speaking, the Buddha refers to five types of vedana:

A) Sukha vedana - pleasant body sensation
B) Dukkha vedana - unplesant body sensation
C) Somanassa vedana - pleasant mental feeling
D) Domanassa vedana -unpleasant mental feeling
E) Adukkhamasukha vedana - neither unpleasant nor pleasant sensation, whether of body or mind.

In all references to vedana in the Satipatthana Sutta the Buddha speaks of sukha vedana, dukkha vedana, i.e., the body sensations; or adukkhamasukha vedana, which in this context also clearly denotes neutral body sensations.
The strong emphasis is on body sensations because they work as a direct avenue for the attainment of fruition (Nibbana) by means of "strong dependence condition" (upanissaya paccayena paccayo), i.e., the nearest dependent condition for our liberation. This fact is succinctly highlighted in the Patthana, the seventh text of Abhidhamma Pitaka under the Pakatupanissaya, where it is stated:

Kayikam sukham kayikassa sukhassa, kayikassa duk-
khassa, phalasamapattiya upanissayapaccayena paccayo.
Kayikam dukkham kayikassa sukhassa, kayikassa duk-
khassa, phalasamapattiya upanissayapaccayena paccayo.
Utu kayikassa sukhassa, kayikassa dukkhassa, phala-
samapattiya upanissayapaccayena paccayo.
Bhojanam kayikassa sukhassa, kayikassa dukkhassa,
phalasamapattiya upanissayapaccayena paccayo.
Senasanam kayikassa sukhassa, kayikassa dukhassa.
phalasamapattiya upanissayapaccayena paccayo.

Pleasant body sensation is related to pleasant sensation of the body, unpleasant sensation of the body, and attainment of fruition (nibbana) by strong dependence condition.

Unpleasant body sensation is related to pleasant sensation of the body, unpleasant sensation of the body, and attainment of fruition by strong dependence condition.

The season (or surrounding environment) is related to pleasant sensation of the body, unpleasant sensation of the body, and attainment of fruition by strong dependence condition.

Food is related to pleasant sensation of the body, unpleasant sensation of the body, and attainment of fruition by strong dependence condition.

Lying down and sitting (i.e., the mattress and cushions, or the position of lying, sitting, etc.) is related to pleasant sensation of the body, unpleasant sensation of the body, and attainment of fruition by strong dependence condition.

From the above statement it is clear how important vedana, sensation, is on the path of liberation. The pleasant and unpleasant body sensations, the surrounding environment (utu), the food we eat (bhojanam), and the sleeping and sitting position, the mattress or cushions used, etc.(senasanam)-are all responsible for ongoing body sensations of one type or another.When the sensations are experienced properly, as the Buddha explained in Satipatthana Sutta, these become the nearest dependent condition for our liberation.

There are four dimensions to our nature: the body and its sensations, and the mind and its contents. These provide four avenues for the establishing of awareness in satipatthana.. In order that the observation be complete, we must experience every facet, which we can only do by means of vedana. This exploration of truth will remove the delusions we have about ourselves.
In the same way, to come out of the delusion about the world outside, we must explore how the outside world interacts with our own mind-and-matter phenomenon, our own self. The outside world comes in contact with the individual only at the six sense doors: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Since all these sense doors are contained in the body, every contact of the outside world is at the body level.

The traditional spiritual teachers of India, before the Buddha, in his day and afterwards, expressed the view that craving causes suffering and that to remove suffering one must abstain from the objects of craving. This belief led to various practices of penance and extreme abstinence from external stimuli. In order to develop detachment, the Buddha took a different approach. Having learned to examine the depths of his own mind, he realized that between the external object and the mental reflex of craving is a missing link: vedana. Whenever we encounter an object through the five physical senses or the mind, a sensation arises; and based on the sensation, tanha (craving) arises. If the sensation is pleasant we crave to prolong it, if it is unpleasant we crave to be rid of it. It is in the chain of Dependent Origination (paticcasamuppada) that the Buddha expressed his profound discovery :

Salayatana-paccaya phassa
Phassa-paccaya vedana
Vedana-paccaya tanha.

Dependent on the six sense-spheres, contact arises.
Dependent on contact, sensation arises.
Dependent on sensation, craving arises.

The immediate cause for the arising of craving and, consequently, of suffering is not something outside of us but rather the sensations that occur within us.

Therefore, just as the understanding of vedana is absolutely essential to understand the interaction between mind-matter within ourselves, the same understanding of vedana is essential to understand the interaction of the outside world with the individual.
If this exploration of truth were to be attempted by contemplation or intellectualization, we could easily ignore the importance of vedana. However, the crux of the Buddha's teaching is the necessity of understanding the truth not merely at the intellectual level, but by direct experience. For this reason vedana is defined as follows:

Ya vedeti ti vedana, sa vedayati lakkhana, anubhavanarasa....(6)

That which feels the object is vedana; its characteristic is to feel, it is the essential taste of experience...

However, merely to feel the sensations within is not enough to remove our delusions. Instead, it is essential to understand the tilakkhana (three characteristics) of all phenomena. We must directly experience anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering), and anatta (selflessness) within ourselves. Of these three the Buddha always stressed the importance of anicca because the realization of the other two will easily follow when we experience deeply the characteristic of impermanence. In the Meghiyasutta of the Udana he said:

Aniccasannino hi, Meghiya, anattasanna santhati,
anattasanni asmimanasamugghatam papunati dittheva
dhamme nibbanam.

In him, Meghiya, who is conscious of impermanence, the perception of selflessness is established. He who perceives what is selfless wins the uprooting of the pride of egotism in this very life, and thus he realizes Nibbana.

This experience of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and egolessness (anatta) is experiential and not intellectual. It is experiential understanding at the level of sensations and experiential understanding is only possible at the level of sensations. This experience of anicca is called anitya bodha in hindi or sanskrit which means experiential understanding of anicca (impermanence). This experience of impermanence, suffering and egolessness strikes at the roots of craving - clinging -'I' or that is to say strikes at the very roots of misery and sorrow and one who understands this totally-is free from all bondages-all misery and sorrow.

Therefore, in the practice of satipatthana, the experience of anicca, arising and passing away, plays a crucial role. This experience of anicca as it manifests in the mind-body is also called Vipassana. The practice of Vipassana is the same as the practice of satipatthana.

In the process of self observation everyone passes through the same way to the final goal and this is no 'beaten track', this is the experiential understanding of 'what is'-which is not static but is everchanging.

These are described in important sentences repeated not only at the end of each section of kayanupassana but also at the end of Vedananupassana, cittanupassana and each section of Dhammanupassana. They are :

A) Samudaya-Dhammanupassi va viharati.
B) Vaya-Dhammanupassi va viharati.
C) Samudaya-vaya-Dhammanupassi va viharati. (8)

A) One dwells observing the phenomenon of arising.
B) One dwells observing the phenomenon of passing away.
C) One dwells observing the phenomenon of arising-and-passing-away.

These sentences reveal the essence of the practice of satipatthana. Unless these three levels of anicca are experienced, we will not develop panna (wisdom) - the equanimity based on the experience of impermanence - which leads to detachment, to liberation. Therefore to establish awareness and for our observation to be total and holistic we have to develop (effortlessly-choicelessly) the constant thorough understanding of impermanence which in pali is known as sampajanna (Sampragyan in sanskrit or hindi)

Sampajanna has been often misunderstood. In the colloquial language of the day it also had the meaning of "knowingly." For example, the Buddha has spoken of sampajanamusa bhasita, (9) and sampajana musavada (10) which means "consciously, or knowingly, to speak falsely." This superficial meaning of the term is sufficient in an ordinary context. But whenever the Buddha speaks of Vipassana leading to purification, to nibbana, as here in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, the sampajanna has a specific, technical significance.

To remain sampajano (the adjective form of sampajanna) , one must meditate on the arising and passing away of phenomena (anicca-bodha), objectively observing mind-matter without reaction. The realization of samudaya-vaya-Dhamma (impermanence) cannot be by contemplation, which is merely a process of thinking, or by imagination or even by believing; it must be performed with paccanubhoti. (11) (direct experience), which is yathabhuta-nana-dassana (experiential knowledge of the reality as it is) (12). Here the observation of vedana plays its vital role, because with vedana a meditator very clearly and tangibly realizes samudaya-vaya (arising and passing away). Sampajanna, in fact, is directly perceiving the arising and passing away of vedana, wherein all four facets of our being are included.

It is for this reason that the three essential qualities - to remain atapi (ardent), sampajano, and satima (aware) - are invariably repeated for each of the four satipatthanas. And as the Buddha explained, sampajanna is observing the arising and passing away of vedana. (13) Hence the part played by vedana in the practice of satipatthana should not be ignored or this practice of satipatthana will not be complete.

In the words of the Buddha:

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.

Meditators, there are three types of body sensations. What are the three? Pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations and neutral sensations. Practise, meditators, the four-fold satipatthana for the complete understanding of these three sensations.
Satipatthana which is the same as Vipassana - is the essence of the teachings of Lord Buddha and it is complete only when one directly experiences impermanence. Sensation provides the nexus where the entire mind-body are tangibly revealed as an impermanent phenomenon leading to liberation.


1. Digha-nikaya II: VRI 373, PTS 290.
2. Loc. cit.
3. Anguttara-nikaya, Dasakanipata : VRl II, 58; PTS V, 107.
4. Patthana, Vol. I, Kusalatika : VRI, 324.
5. Vinaya, Mahavagga : VRI, 1; PTS 2.
6. Abhidhammattha-sangaho,Hindi translation and commentary by Ven. Dr. U. Rewata Dhamma, Varanaseya Sanskrit Vishva-vidyalaya, Varanasi, Vol. I p. 101. By using the term anubhavanrasa the commentator is pointing to the fact that the essence of experience itself is vedana, the sensations on the body.
7. Udana : VRI, 31; PTS, 37.
8. Digha-nikaya II: VRI, 374-404; PTS, 292-314.
9. Digha-nikaya III: VRI, 62; PTS 45. Anguttara-nikaya I, Tikanipata: VRI, 28; PTS 128.
10. Vinaya, Pacittiya : VRI, 3; PTS 2
11. Majjhima-nikaya I: VRI, 455. Samyutta-nikaya Ill, Mahavaggasamyutta: VRI, 512, 823 ff., 839 ff.
12. Anguttara-nikaya : VRI II, Pancakanipata, 24, 168, Sattakanipata,
65, VRI III, Atthakanipata, 81; PTS III,19, 200; IV, 99, 336
13. Samyutta-nikaya : VRI III, Mahavagga-samyutta, 401; PTS V, 180.
14. Ibid.: VRI III, 415; PTS V, 180.
Note: Pali references are from the Chattha Sangayana edition of the Tipitaka, published by the Vipassana Research Institute (VRI), giving book and paragraph number, followed by the Pali Text Society (PTS), giving book and page number.
-This article is BASED ON a research article by VRI (Pg vii-xiv of the introduction to ''mahasatipatthana suttam'' in english by VRI Igatpuri)

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