The Discourse-Grouping on the Feelings

Translated from the Pali, with an Introduction

Nyanaponika Thera

The Wheel Publication No. 303/304

SL ISSN 0049-7541

Copyright 1983 Buddhist Publication Society


* * *

DharmaNet Edition 1995

Transcription: Joe Crea
Proofreading: Joe Crea, John Bullitt
Formatting: John Bullitt

This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.

DharmaNet International
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951

* * * * * * * *


"To feel is everything!" -- so exclaimed a German poet. Though these
are rather exuberant words, they do point to the fact that feeling is
a key factor in human life. Whether people are fully aware of it or
not, their lives are chiefly spent in an unceasing endeavour to
increase their pleasant feelings and to avoid unpleasant feelings. All
human ambitions and strivings serve that purpose: from the simple
joys of a humdrum existence to the power urge of the mighty and the
creative joy of the great artist. All that is wanted is to have more
and more of pleasant feelings, because they bring with them emotional
satisfaction, called happiness. Such happiness may have various
levels of coarseness or refinement, and may reach great intensity.
These emotions, on their part, will produce many volitions and their
actualizations. For the purpose of satisfying the "pleasure
principle," many heroic deeds have been performed, and many more
unheroic and unscrupulous ones. For providing the means to
pleasurable feelings, thousands of industries and services have sprung
up, with millions of workers. Technology and applied sciences, too,
serve to a large extent the growing demands for sense-enjoyment and
comfort. By providing questionable escape routes, these purveyors of
emotional and sensual happiness also try to allay painful feelings
like fear and anxiety.

From this brief purview one may now appreciate the significance of
the Buddha's terse saying that "//all things converge on feelings//."
From such a central position of feeling it can also be understood that
misconceptions about feelings belong to the twenty Personality Views,
where the Aggregate of Feeling (//vedana-kkhandha//) is in various
ways identified with an assumed self.

Yet, //feeling// by itself, in its primary state, is quite neutral
when it registers the impact of an object as pleasant, unpleasant or
indifferent. Only when emotional or volitional additions are
admitted, will there arise desire and love, aversion and hate,
anxiety, fear and distorting views. But that need not be so. These
admixtures are not inseparable parts of the respective feelings. In
fact, many of the weaker impressions we receive during the day stop at
the mere registering of a very faint and brief feeling, without any
further emotional reaction. This shows that the stopping at the bare
feeling is psychologically possible, and that it could also be done
intentionally with the help of mindfulness and self-restraint, even in
cases when the stimulus to convert feelings into emotions is strong.
Through actual experience it can thus be confirmed that the
ever-revolving round of Dependent Origination (//paticca-samuppada//)
can be stopped at the point of Feeling, and that there is no inherent
necessity that Feeling is followed by Craving. Here we encounter
Feeling as a key factor on the path of liberation, and therefore, the
//Contemplation of Feeling// has, in Buddhist tradition, always been
highly regarded as an effective aid on that path.

The Contemplation of Feeling is one of the four Foundations of
Mindfulness (//satipatthana//) and may be undertaken in the framework
of that meditative practice aiming at the growth of Insight
(//vipassana//). It is, however, essential that this Contemplation
should also be remembered and applied in daily life whenever feelings
are prone to turn into unwholesome emotions. Of course, one should
not try to //produce// in oneself feelings intentionally, just for the
sake of practice; they should rather be taken up for mindful
observation only when they occur. There will be many such occasions,
provided the mind is alert and calm enough to notice the feelings
clearly at their primary stage.

In the Contemplation of Feelings, there should first be a mindful
awareness of the feelings when they arise, and one should clearly
distinguish them as pleasant, unpleasant (painful) or neutral,
respectively. There is no such thing as "mixed feelings."

Mindfulness should be maintained throughout the short duration of
that specific feeling, down to its cessation. If the vanishing point
of feelings is repeatedly seen with increasing clarity, it will become
much easier to trap, and finally to stop, those emotions, thoughts and
volitions, which normally follow so rapidly, and which are so often
habitually associated with the feelings. Pleasant feeling is
habitually linked with enjoyment and desire; unpleasant feeling with
aversion; neutral feeling with boredom and confusion, but also
serving as background for wrong views. But when Bare Attention is
directed towards the arising and vanishing of feelings, these
polluting additives will be held a bay; or when they have arisen they
will be immediately cognized in their nature, and that cognition may
often be sufficient to stop them from growing stronger by unopposed

If feelings are seen in their bubble-like blowing up and bursting,
their linkage with craving or aversion will be weakened more and more,
until that bondage is finally broken. By that practice, attachment to
likes and dislikes will be reduced and thereby an inner space will be
provided for the growth of the finer emotions and virtues: for
loving-kindness and compassion, for contentment, patience and

In this contemplation it is of particular importance to dissociate
the feelings from even the faintest thoughts of "I" or "mine." There
should be no ego-reference, as for instance "//I// feel (and,
therefore, I am)." Nor should there be any thought of being the owner
of the feelings: "I have pleasant feelings. How happy I am!" With
the thought, "I want to have more of them" craving arises. Or, "I
have pains. How unhappy I am!" and wishing to get rid of the pains,
aversion arises.

Avoiding these wrong and unrealistic views, one should be aware of
the feelings as a conditioned and transient process. Mindfulness
should be kept alert and it should be focused on the bare fact that
there is just the mental function of such and such a feeling; and
this awareness should serve no other purpose than that of knowledge
and mindfulness, as stated in the Satipatthana Sutta. As long as one
habitually relates the feelings to a person that "has" them, and does
so even during meditation, there cannot be any progress in that

To be aware of the feelings without any ego-reference will also
help to distinguish them clearly from the physical stimuli arousing
them, as well as from the subsequent mental reactions to them. Thereby
the meditator will be able to keep his attention focused on the
feelings alone, without straying into other areas. This is the
purport of the phrase "he contemplates feelings in the feelings" as
stated in the Satipatthana Sutta. At this stage of the practice, the
meditator will become more familiar with the Insight Knowledge of
"Discerning mentality and materiality" (//nama-rupa-pariccheda//).

Further progress, however, will require persistence in the mindful
observations of the arising and passing away of every instant of
feeling whenever it occurs. This will lead to a deepening experience
of impermanence (//anicca//), being one of the main gates to final
liberation. When, in Insight Meditation (vipassana), the vanishing
moment of feelings becomes more strongly marked, the impermanent
nature of the feelings will impress itself very deeply on the
meditator's mind. This experience, gained also from other mental and
bodily processes, will gradually mature into the Insight Knowledge of
Dissolution (//bhanganana//). On reaching that stage, the meditator
will find himself well on the road to further progress.

It is within the practice of Insight meditation that the
Contemplation of Feelings can unfold its full strength as an efficient
tool for breaking the chain of suffering at its weakest link. But
from this Contemplation, considerable benefits can be derived also by
those who, in their daily life, devote only some quiet reflection to
their feelings and emotions, even if done retrospectively. They will
soon find that feelings and emotions are "separable." Even this
reflective and retrospective contemplation can help them to a fuller
awareness of feelings and emotions when they actually occur. This
again can save them from being carried away by the emotional
cross-currents of elation and dejection. The mind will then gradually
reach a higher level of firmness and equipoise, just by that simple
procedure of looking, or looking back at, one's feelings and emotions.

This, however, should not, and need not, be made a constant
practice, but should be taken up on suitable occasions and for a
limited period of time until one has become familiar with the
mechanism of feelings followed by emotions. Such an understanding of
the process will result in an increasing control over one's emotional
reactions, and this will happen in a natural, spontaneous way. One
need not have fears that one's focusing the mind on the feelings and
emotions, in the manner described, will lead to cold aloofness or an
emotional withdrawal. On the contrary, mind and heart will become
more open to all those finer emotions spoken of before. It will not
exclude warm human relationships, nor the enjoyment of beauty in art
and nature. But it will remove from them the fever of clinging, so
that these experiences will give a deeper satisfaction, as far as this
world of Dukkha admits.

A life lived in this way may well mature in the wish to use the
Contemplation of Feelings for its highest purpose: mind's final
liberation from suffering.


Kandy, Sri Lanka
January, 1983

* * * * * * * *


It should be first made clear that, in Buddhist psychology, "feeling"
(Pali: //vedana//) is the bare sensation noted as pleasant, unpleasant
(painful) and neutral (indifferent). Hence, it should not be confused
with //emotion// which, though arising from the basic feeling, adds to
it likes or dislikes of varying intensity, as well as other thought

Feeling, in that sense, is one of the five Aggregates or Groups of
Existence (//khandha//), constituting what is conventionally called "a
person." The specific factors operative in //emotion// belong to the
Aggregate of Mental Formations (//sankhara-kkhandha//). Feeling is
one of the four mental Aggregates which arise, inseparably, in all
states of consciousness; the other three are perception, mental
formations, and consciousness.

Feeling arises whenever there is the meeting of three factors,
i.e., sense-organ, object and consciousness. It is called the meeting
of these three that, in Buddhist psychology, is called
sense-impression (contact, impact; //phassa//), which is a mental,
and not a physical process. It is sixfold, as being conditioned
either by of the five physical senses or by mind. it is this sixfold
sense-impression by which the corresponding six feelings are
conditioned. In the formula of the Dependent Origination
(//paticca-samuppada//), this is expressed by the link:
"Sense-impression conditions Feeling" (//phassa-paccaya vedana//).
When emotions follow, they do so in accordance with the next link of
Dependent Origination: "Feeling conditions Craving" (//vedana-paccaya

The feeling that arises from contact with visual forms, sounds,
odors, and tastes is always a neutral feeling. Pleasant or
unpleasant feelings do not always follow in relation to these four
sense perceptions; but //when// they follow, they are then an
additional stage of the perceptual process, subsequent to the neutral
feeling which is the first response.

But bodily impressions (touch, pressure, etc.) can cause either
pleasant or unpleasant feelings.

Mental impressions can cause gladness, sadness or neutral
(indifferent) feeling.

Feeling is one of those mental factors (//cetasika//) which are
common to all types of consciousness. In other words, every conscious
experience has a feeling tone, even if only that of a neutral or
indifferent feeling, which also has a distinct quality of its own.

Feeling by itself (if one could so separate it) is, as it was
already said, the bare sensation noted as pleasant, painful or
neutral. The subsequent emotional, practical, moral or spiritual
values attached to that basic feeling are determined by other mental
factors that subsequently arise in relation to that feeling, but, by
way of classification, belong to the Aggregate of Mental Formations
(//sankhara-kkhandha//). It is the quality of those other mental
functions that makes the co-nascent feeling, too, to be either good or
bad, noble or low, kammic or non-kammic, mundane or supramundane.

Feeling may stop at the stage of bare sensation in all weak states
of consciousness, but also when there is mindful control of feelings.
In such cases, there is no evaluation of these feelings, emotionally
or intellectually.

* * *


1. Concentration

"There are, O monks, these three feelings: pleasant feelings, painful
feelings, and neither-painful-nor-pleasant feelings.

"A disciple of the Buddha, mindful,
clearly comprehending, with his mind collected,
he knows the feelings [1] and their origin, [2]
knows whereby they cease [3] and knows the path
that to the ending of feelings lead. [4]
And when the end of feelings he has reached,
such a monk, his thirsting quenched, attains Nibbana." [5]

2. Happiness

"There are, O monks, these three feelings: pleasant feelings, painful
feelings, and neither-painful-nor-pleasant feelings.

"Be it a pleasant feeling, be it a painful feeling, be it neutral,
one's own or others', feelings of all kinds [6] --
he knows them all as ill, deceitful, evanescent.
Seeing how they impinge again, again, and disappear, [7]
he wins detachment from the feelings, passion-free."

3. Giving up

"In the case of pleasant feelings, O monks, the underlying tendency [8]
to lust should be given up; in the case of painful feelings, the
underlying tendency to resistance (aversion) should be given up; in
the case of neither-painful-nor-pleasant feelings, the underlying
tendency to ignorance should be given up.

"If a monk has given up the tendency to lust in regard to pleasant
feeling, the tendency to resistance in regard to painful feelings, and
the tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant
feelings, then he is called one who is free of (unwholesome)
tendencies, one who has the right outlook. He has cut off craving,
severed the fetters (to future existence), and through the full
penetration of conceit, [9] he has made an end of suffering.

"If one feels joy, but knows not feeling's nature,
bent towards greed, he will not find deliverance.

If one feels pain, but knows not feeling's nature,
bent toward hate, he will not find deliverance.

And even neutral feeling which as peaceful
the Lord of Wisdom has proclaimed,
if, in attachment, he should cling to it,
he will not be free from the round of ill.

And having done so, in this very life
will be free from cankers, free from taints.

Mature in knowledge, firm in Dhamma's ways,
when once his life-span ends, his body breaks,
all measure and concept he has transcended."

4. The Bottomless Pit

"When, O monks, an untaught worldling says that in the great ocean
there is a (bottomless) pit [10], he speaks about something unreal and
not factual. [11] 'The (bottomless) pit,' O monks, is rather a name
for painful bodily feelings. When an untaught worldling is afflicted
by painful bodily feelings, he worries and grieves, he laments, beats
his breast, weeps and is distraught. He is then said to be an untaught
worldling who cannot withstand the bottomless pit and cannot gain a
foothold in it. But when a well-taught noble disciple [12] is
afflicted by painful bodily feelings, he will not worry nor grieve and
lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught.
He is then said to be a noble disciple who can withstand the
bottomless pit and has gained a foothold in it.

Who cannot bear the painful body-feelings that arise
endangering his life, he trembles when afflicted.
He wails and cries aloud, a weak and feeble man.
He cannot stand against the pit,
nor can a foothold he secure.

But one who bears the painful body-feelings that arise,
not trembling when his very life is threatened,
he truly can withstand that pit
and gain a foothold in its depth."

5. To Be Known

"There are, O monks, these three feelings: pleasant, painful and
neither-painful-nor-pleasant. Pleasant feelings should be known as
painful, painful feelings should be known as a thorn, and
neither-painful-nor-pleasant feelings should be known as impermanent.
If a monk has known the feelings in such a way, it is said of him that
he has the right outlook. He has cut off craving, severed the fetters
(to existence) and, through the full penetration of conceit, he has
made an end of suffering.

"Who sees the pain in happiness and views the painful feeling
as a thorn,
perceives the transience in neutral feeling which is peaceful --
right outlook, truly, has such a monk who fully understands
these feelings;
And having penetrated them, he will be taint-free in this very
Mature in knowledge, firm in Dhamma's ways,
when once his life-span ends, his body breaks,
all measure and concept he has transcended."

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3