Vedanā (Pāli and Sanskrit: वेदना) is an ancient term traditionally translated as either "feeling"[1] or "sensation."[2] 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. Vedanā is identified as valence or "hedonic tone" in psychology.

Translations of
Englishfeeling, sensation, feeling-tone
Sanskritवेदना (vedanā)
Paliवेदना (vedanā)
(MLCTS: wèdənà)
Chinese受 (shòu)
Japanese受 (ju)
(UNGEGN: vétônéa)
Korean수 (su)
([woj2 ta1 naa2])
(Wylie: tshor ba;
THL: tsorwa
Tagalogᜊ᜔ᜇᜀᜈᜀ (bedana)
(RTGS: wetthana)
Vietnamese受 (thụ, thọ)
Glossary of Buddhism
  The 12 Nidānas:  
Name & Form
Six Sense Bases
Old Age & Death

Vedanā is identified within the Buddhist teaching as follows:

In the context of the twelve links, craving for and attachment to vedanā leads to suffering; reciprocally, concentrated awareness and clear comprehension of vedanā can lead to Enlightenment and the extinction of the causes of suffering.

Definitions Edit

Theravada Edit

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

Feeling is the mental factor which feels the object. It is the affective mode in which the object is experienced. 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....[3]

Nina van Gorkom states:

When we study the Abhidhamma we learn that 'vedanā' is not the same as what we mean by feeling in conventional language. Feeling is nāma, it experiences something. Feeling never arises alone; it accompanies citta and other cetasikas and it is conditioned by them. Thus, feeling is a conditioned nāma. Citta does not feel, it cognizes the object and vedanā feels...
All feelings have the function of experiencing the taste, the flavour of an object (Atthasālinī, I, Part IV, Chapter I, 109). The Atthasālinī uses a simile in order to illustrate that feeling experiences the taste of an object and that citta and the other cetasikas which arise together with feeling experience the taste only partially. A cook who has prepared a meal for the king merely tests the food and then offers it to the king who enjoys the taste of it:
...and the king, being lord, expert, and master, eats whatever he likes, even so the mere testing of the food by the cook is like the partial enjoyment of the object by the remaining dhammas (the citta and the other cetasikas), and as the cook tests a portion of the food, so the remaining dhammas enjoy a portion of the object, and as the king, being lord, expert and master, eats the meal according to his pleasure, so feeling, being lord, expert and master, enjoys the taste of the object, and therefore it is said that enjoyment or experience is its function.
Thus, all feelings have in common that they experience the 'taste' of an object. Citta and the other accompanying cetasikas also experience the object, but feeling experiences it in its own characteristic way.[4]

Mahayana Edit

The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is the absolutely specific characteristic of vedana? It is to experience. That is to say, in any experience, what we experience is the individual maturation of any positive or negative action as its final result.[5]

Mipham Rinpoche states:[6]

Sensations are defined as impressions.
The aggregate of sensations can be divided into three: pleasant, painful, and neutral. Alternatively, there are five: pleasure and mental pleasure, pain and mental pain, and neutral sensation.
In terms of support, there are six sensations resulting from contact...

Alexander Berzin describes this mental factors as feeling (tshor-ba, Skt. vedanā) some level of happiness. He states:[7]

When we hear the word “feeling” in a Buddhist context, it’s only referring to this: feeling some level of happy or unhappy, somewhere on the spectrum. So, on the basis of pleasant contacting awareness—it comes easily to mind—we feel happy. Happiness is: we would like it to continue. And, on the basis of unpleasant contacting awareness—it doesn’t come easily to the mind, we basically want to get rid of it—we feel unhappiness. “Unhappiness” is the same word as “suffering” (mi-bde-ba, Skt. duhkha). Unhappiness is: I don’t want to continue this; I want to be parted from this.
And neutral contacting awareness. We feel neutral about it—neither want to continue it nor to discontinue it...

Relation to "emotions" Edit

Vedanā is the distinct valence or "hedonic tone" of emotional psychology, neurologically identified and isolated.

Contemporary teachers Bhikkhu Bodhi and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche clarify the relationship between vedanā (often translated as "feelings") and Western notions of "emotions."

Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:

"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."[3]

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes:

"In case [i.e. within the Buddhist teachings] '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."[8]

Attributes Edit

In general, the Pali canon describes vedanā in terms of three "modes" and six "classes." Some discourses discuss alternate enumerations including up to 108 kinds.

Three modes, six classes Edit

Figure 1: The Pali Canon's Six Sextets:
  sense bases  
<–> "external"
  1. The six internal sense bases are the eye, ear,
    nose, tongue, body & mind.
  2. The six external sense bases are visible forms,
    sound, odor, flavors, touch & mental objects.
  3. Sense-specific consciousness arises dependent
    on an internal & an external sense base.
  4. Contact is the meeting of an internal sense
    base, external sense base & consciousness.
  5. Feeling is dependent on contact.
  6. Craving is dependent on feeling.
 Source: MN 148 (Thanissaro, 1998)    diagram details

Throughout canonical discourses (Sutta Pitaka), the Buddha teaches that there are three modes of vedanā:

  • pleasant (sukhā)
  • unpleasant (dukkhā)
  • neither pleasant nor unpleasant (adukkham-asukhā, "ambivalent", sometimes referred to as "neutral" in translation)[9]

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[10]

Two, three, five, six, 18, 36, 108 kinds Edit

In a few discourses, a multitude of kinds of vedana are alluded to ranging from two to 108, as follows:

  • two kinds of feeling: physical and mental
  • three kinds: pleasant, painful, neutral
  • five kinds: physical pleasant, physical painful, mental pleasant, mental painful, equanimous
  • 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[11]

In the wider Pali literature, of the above enumerations, the post-canonical Visuddhimagga highlights the five types of vedanā: physical pleasure (sukha); physical displeasure (dukkha); mental happiness (somanassa); mental unhappiness (domanassa); and, equanimity (upekkhā).[12]

Canonical frameworks Edit

 Figure 2:
The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)

according to the Pali Canon.
form (rūpa)
  4 elements


  mental factors (cetasika)  



 Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001)  |  diagram details
Uses of samādhi (based on AN IV.41)
object of concentration development
four jhānas pleasant abiding (sukha-vihārāya) in this life (diţţhadhamma)
perception (sañña) of light (āloka) knowing (ñāṇa) and seeing (dassana)
arising, passing, fading of feelings (vedanā), perceptions (saññā) and thoughts (vitakkā) mindfulness (sati) and clear comprehension (sampajaññā)
arising and fading of the five aggregates of clinging (pañc'upādāna-khandha) extinction (khaya) of the taints (āsava) [Arahantship]

Vedanā is a pivotal phenomenon in the following frequently identified frameworks of the Pali canon:

  • the "five aggregates"
  • the twelve conditions of "dependent origination"
  • the four "foundations of mindfulness"

Mental aggregate Edit

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.

Central condition Edit

In the Chain of Conditioned Arising (Skt: pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: paṭiccasamuppāda), the Buddha explains that:

  • vedanā arises with contact (phassa) as its condition
  • vedanā acts as a condition for craving (Pali: taṇhā; Skt.: tṛṣṇā).[13]

In the post-canonical 5th-century Visuddhimagga, feeling (vedana) is identified as simultaneously and inseparably arising from consciousness (viññāṇa) and the mind-and-body (nāmarūpa).[14] 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.[15]

Mindfulness base Edit

Throughout the canon, there are references to the four "foundations of mindfulness" (satipaṭṭhāna): the body (kāya), feelings (vedanā), mind states (citta) and mental experiences (dhammā). These four foundations are recognized among the seven sets of qualities conducive to enlightenment (bodhipakkhiyādhammā). The use of vedanā and the other satipaṭṭhāna in Buddhist meditation practices can be found in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta and the Ānāpānasati Sutta.

Wisdom practices Edit

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.[16]

In the Canon it is stated that meditating with concentration (samādhi) on vedanā can lead to deep mindfulness (sati) and clear comprehension (sampajañña) (see Table to the right).[17] With this development, one can experience directly within oneself the reality of impermanence (anicca) and the nature of attachment (upādāna). This in turn can ultimately lead to liberation of the mind (nibbāna).

Alternate translations Edit

Alternate translations for the term vedana are:

  • Feeling (Nina van Gorkom, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Alexander Berzin)
  • Feeling some level of happiness (Alexander Berzin)
  • Feeling-tone (Herbert Guenther)
  • Sensation (Erik Kunsang)

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ Generally, vedanā is considered to not include full-blown "emotions." See the section "Feeling," not "emotion" below.
  2. ^ See, for instance, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 648, entry for "Vedanā" (retrieved 2008-01-09 from the "University of Chicago" at, which initially defines this Pali word simply as "feeling, sensation."
  3. ^ a b Bodhi, Bhikkhu (6 November 2012). Bhikkhu Bodhi (2003), p. 80. ISBN 9781938754241.
  4. ^ Gorkom (2010), Definition of Feeling
  5. ^ Guenther (1975), Kindle Locations 329-331.
  6. ^ Kunsang (2004), p. 21.
  7. ^ "Overview of Buddha-Nature".
  8. ^ Trungpa (2001), p. 32.
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ 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.)
    For other references to the "six classes of feeling/sensation," see the Sattaṭṭhāna Sutta (SN 22.57) (Thanissaro, 1997b), and the Vedanā Sutta (SN 25.5) (Thanissaro, 2004).
  11. ^ Two virtually identical discourses that simply allude to the various number of vedana are MN 59 (Thanissaro, 2005b) and SN 36.19 (Thanissaro, 2005c). These different kinds of vedana are spelled out in SN 36.22 (Thanissaro, 2005a). See also Hamilton (2001), pp. 43-6.
  12. ^ Vism. 461 (Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, p. 648, entry for "Vedanā."; see this entry also regarding the distinction between "modes" and "types."
  13. ^ See, e.g., SN 12.1 ff.
  14. ^ Explicitly, in terms of the language of the Abhidhamma, the Visuddhimagga (XVII, 201-228) identifies that the conditions (nidāna) 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.)
  15. ^ In particular, Vsm XVI, 238 identifies the sole relationship between feeling and craving to be "decisive support."
  16. ^ Chachakka Sutta ("Six Sets of Six," MN 148). See for instance, the following statement attributed to the Buddha (trans. Thanissaro, 1998):
    '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....'
  17. ^ AN 4.41: for Pali, see SLTP (n.d); for English translations, see Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), pp. 88-89, Thanissaro (1997a), Upalavanna (n.d.).

Sources Edit

External links Edit

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