BuddhaSasana Home Page English Section - Read with Unicode CN-Times



Note: Pali terms in this page are created with Unicode CN-Times font.




Vedanā bhikkhave anattā, vedanā ca hidaṁ bhikkhave attā abhavissa nayidaṁ vedanā ābādhāya saṁvatteyya labbhetha ea vedanāya evaṁ me vedanā hotu evaṁ me vedanā mā ahosīti. Yasmā ea kho bhikkhave vedanā anattā tasmā vedanā ābādhāya saṁvattati na ca labbhati vedanāya evaṁ me vedanā hotu evaṁ me vedanā mā ahosīti.

"Monks, vedanā, feeling, is not self..."

There are three kinds of feeling:

1. Sukha vedanā -- pleasant feeling.

2. Dukkha vedanā -- unpleasant feeling.

3. Upekkhā vedanā -- equanimous feeling, neither pleasant nor painful. Generally, equanimous or neutral feeling is not noticed, only the pleasurable and unpleasant feelings.

It is a pleasure to feel the touch of a cool breeze or cold water when the weather is scorching hot; it feels so cozy to be wrapped up in warm, woolen blankets during a cold spell; one feels so comfortable after stretching the limbs or changing positions to relieve stiffness. All these comfortable feelings, through contact with pleasant objects, are sukha vedanā, pleasurable feelings, which sentient beings assume to be self, "I feel pleasant, I feel comfortable" and go in pursuit of.

Unpleasant feelings that arise on coming into contact with unpleasant objects, such as heat, tiredness in the limbs, discomfort due to intense cold, and itchiness, are classified as dukkha vedanā, unpleasant sensations. These are also assumed to be self: "I feel painful, I feel hot, I feel itchy, I feel unpleasant." Therefore, sentient beings try hard to avoid contact with these unpleasant objects.

What I have just described relates to the pleasant and unpleasant feelings in the physical body. There are also states of mind. Thoughts on pleasant objects give rise to happiness and gladness, sukha vedanā; thinking about things which cause dejection, despondency, despair, sadness, grief, fear and so on, gives rise to unhappiness, dukkha vedanā. Dwelling on ordinary everyday affairs gives rise to neutral, equanimous feeling, upekkhā vedanā.

These are the three kinds of feelings that are related to thoughts or imaginations. While in such states of mind, sentient beings assume these feelings to be self, "I am feeling glad; I am despondent; I am feeling neither happy nor unhappy, I am feeling indifferent."

When pleasant objects are seen, heard, smelt or tasted, pleasurable feelings arise. These are also regarded as self: "I feel good, I feel happy." Thus people go in pursuit of the good things of life, visiting places of entertainment, using fragrant flowers and perfumes, and going to any length and trouble to satisfy their gustatory demands.

When unpleasant objects are seen, heard, smelt or tasted, unpleasant feelings arise. These are also assumed to be self; people try, therefore, to have nothing to do with unpleasant objects.

The ordinary, everyday scenes which we see and hear, indifferent sense objects, excite neither a feeling of pleasure nor unpleasantness. This is neutral feeling, which is also assumed to be self. People are never content with this medial condition of neither pleasantness nor unpleasantness, and so they strive hard to attain the state of pleasantness, to enjoy pleasurable feelings.


According to the teachings of the Abhidhamma, there is neither pleasant nor unpleasant feeling at the moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, or tasting, just equanimous feeling. But in the Suttas there are discourses which describe how all these feelings, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, arise at all the sense doors, and there are discourses exhorting us to contemplate these feelings at the moment of seeing and hearing so as to comprehend their true nature.

The Sub-Commentary of the Visuddhimagga explains how pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings become evident at the moment of seeing and hearing in these words:

"Although it is said that eye consciousness is accompanied by equanimity, the resultant effect of an unwholesome act is unpleasant in nature, it cannot be pleasant. Likewise, although it is stated that the resultant effect of a wholesome act is equanimity, it is pleasant in nature. All moral acts bear good, pleasant results."

This explanation is most appropriate and can be verified through practical experience. When a beautiful object is sighted, the feeling of pleasantness is evident even as the object is being seen. When a terrifying, repulsive, or hateful object is sighted, the feeling of horror or aversion is quite evident, too, even while seeing the object. These experiences are more pronounced in the case of hearing than in the case of seeing. A sweet, pleasant sound produces a sweet, pleasant effect; an extremely loud sound may inflict unbearable pain on the hearer. The resultant effect is distinct also in smelling: a pleasant sensation arises in the nose as soon as a fragrant aroma is smelt, whereas a foul, putrid smell may cause immediate nausea, headache or other ills. A whiff of a poisonous odor may even cause death. The most pronounced effect may be experienced in the act of eating. While a tasty, delicious dish produces a delightful sensation on the tongue, the bitter taste of some medicines is very unpleasant and disagreeable. A poisonous substance will cause intense suffering and may even result in death.

"Thus, although it is stated that eye-consciousness is accompanied by indifference, the unwholesome resultant equanimity which experiences disagreeable objects is in the nature of suffering, and the wholesome resultant equanimity which experiences agreeable objects has the nature of happiness." These comments from the Sub-Commentary are most appropriate. We find therefore the Suttas mention that all three types of feeling may be excited at the moment of sensory awareness. Alternatively, as it is possible for any of the three feelings to arise at the moment of javana, impulsion consciousness, during the eye-door thought process (cakkhudvāra vithī), the Suttas mention all three types of feeling being excited during sensory awareness.


Therefore, enjoyment of sense-objects, pleasant or unpleasant, every time they are seen, heard, touched or known, constitutes vedanā. When an agreeable sensation is felt, there arises the clinging of self: "I feel pleasant." When the sensation is disagreeable, there arises the clinging of self: "I don't feel pleasant;" or, "previously I felt pleasant, but now I feel unpleasant." When the feeling is one of indifference, self is quite pronounced too, as "I feel neither pleasant nor unpleasant. I feel indifferent." This is attā clinging with respect to feeling, known as vedaka attā, the belief that it is self or soul who enjoys pleasant and unpleasant feelings.

This is how every ordinary worldling clings on to the notion of self. In Indian literature, vedanā is described as self or having the attributes of a self, but in Burma this notion does not seem to have been put down in writing. All the same, there is the clinging to the belief that, on happy occasions, "It is I who enjoys pleasant things," and when faced with difficult circumstances, "It is I who suffers." The reason for such beliefs lies in the fact that inanimate objects, such as stones or sticks, do not feel heat or cold. They feel neither happy nor sad under pleasant or unpleasant circumstances. Animate objects, sentient beings, on the other hand, suffer or rejoice according to pleasant or unpleasant circumstances. We assume, therefore, that sentient beings must be endowed with an animating spirit, a living entity, and it is this living entity which enjoys on moments of pleasure or suffers on occasions of distress.

In reality, feeling is not self, not living entity, but merely a phenomenon that arises and vanishes as conditioned by circumstances. Therefore, the Buddha declared first and foremost the truth: "Monks, feeling is not self." Then he continued to explain why:

"Monks, if feeling were self, it would not tend to afflict or distress, and one should be able to say of it, 'Let my feeling be thus (always pleasant); let my feeling not be thus (unpleasant).' It should be possible to influence feeling in this manner as one wishes."

True, if feeling were self, it would not cause distress, because it is not usual for beings to inflict suffering on themselves, and it should be possible to manage feeling as one wishes. These results should all follow from the supposition "if feeling were self." If feeling did not tend to afflict, if our feelings were always pleasant as we desire and never unpleasant, then we could regard feelings to be truly self.

This hypothetical statement, "if feeling were self," is a device to make us pause and consider whether feeling afflicts us or not, and whether it can always be managed as we desire. On careful examination, it will become obvious that feeling is almost always afflicting us and that it arises not in accordance with our desires, but with its own conditioning circumstances.

You can see from your own personal experience how feeling afflicts you; that you cannot have things your way by always enjoying pleasant sights, sounds, and smells, pleasant foods and pleasant bodily feelings. You will have discovered that unpleasant feelings outweigh the pleasant ones. The reason one cannot have feeling as one wishes is because it is not self or one's inner substance. The Blessed one continued to explain why feeling is not self:

"Monks, truly, feeling is not self. Since feeling is not self, it tends to affliction, and it is not possible to say of it,'Let my feelings be thus, let my feelings not be thus'."

Although it is evident that feeling is oppressive and ungovernable, there are people with strong attachment to belief in self and intense craving, taṇhā, who, trusting in pleasurable sensations, cling to feeling as self and take delight in it. Careful consideration, however, will reveal that moments of joy and happiness are few compared to occasions of suffering and distress.


There has to be constant accommodation and adjustment to maintain ourselves comfortably. We suffer the discomfort of stiffness, cramp, heat and pain when we are confined to one position for long, unless we make the necessary adjustments in our bodily postures to relieve the pain. The oppressive nature of feeling is evident even in the eye, which needs constant accommodation by blinking and closing. Without these adjustments, tiredness in the eye becomes unbearable. Other organs of the body need similar accommodation. Even with constant adjustment, under certain circumstances feeling is likely to inflict severe suffering and may lead to serious ailment or even death. There have been many cases of sick people, unable to bear their pain any longer, seeking relief through suicide.

Physical pains and suffering are not inflicted entirely by feeling; the physical form (rūpa) also contributes its share, being the original source of troubles. Thus, in the previous chapter on the suffering caused by the body, I described different types of feelings, and these may also be regarded as afflictions brought about by the vedanakkhandha.

Mental distress and suffering, on the other hand, are afflictions caused solely by vedanā without the aid of rūpa. When loved ones, parents, husbands, wives, sons and daughters die, feeling inflicts sorrow and grief. Loss of wealth and property may produce intense mental suffering, and that may in turn result in death. Frustration and discontent owing to failure to solve life's problems, separation from associates and friends, and unfulfilled hopes and desires, are other forms of oppression inflicted by feeling. Even pleasant feelings, which are very comforting while they last, eventually prove to be a source of distress. When they disappear after their brief sojourn one is left with lingering memories and yearning. One has to be constantly trying to maintain pleasant, happy states. Thus people go in pursuit of pleasant states even at the risk of their lives. If they happen to use illegal and immoral means in their pursuits, retribution is bound to overtake them, either in this lifetime or in the states of woe. Thus it is that apparently pleasant sensations, sukha vedanā, also inflict pain and distress.

Upekkha vedanā, equanimous feeling, like pleasant feeling, produces comfort and happiness. And like pleasant feeling, it requires constant effort to maintain, which of course entails tiredness and trouble. Both pleasant and neutral feeling are short-lived. Being of fleeting nature, they require constant labor for their maintenance, and this involves continuous striving, which is saṅkhāra dukkha, suffering due to conditioned things. This is just a brief indication of the oppressive nature of all three kinds of feelings.

If there were no feeling there would be no experience of pain or pleasure, either physically or mentally; there would be freedom from suffering. Consider for instance a log, a post, a stone or a lump of earth: having no feeling, they do not suffer. Even when hacked, beaten, crushed or burned they are unaffected.

The continuum of corporeality and mentality which are associated with feeling is, however, afflicted with suffering in many ways.

Thus it is plain that feeling is not self, not inner substance.


Feeling is unmanageable and not amenable to one's will. Just notice how we cannot manage to see and hear only what is pleasant or taste and smell only what is delicious and sweet. Even when, with great effort and labor, we pick out only what is most desirable to see, hear, taste or smell, these objects do not last. We can enjoy them only for a short while before they vanish. Thus we cannot manage or maintain a state in which pleasant and desirable things will remain permanently as we wish. When pleasant sense objects vanish, they are replaced by undesirable objects which, of course, cause suffering. We have already explained that unpleasant sounds are more oppressive than unpleasant sights; undesirable smells worse than undesirable sounds and undesirable tastes far worse still. Further, toxic substances may even cause death. Worst of all are unpleasant sensations of touch: when injured by accidents, weapons, or fire or afflicted by disease, the suffering which ensues is always very painful; it may be so intense as to cause wailing or even death. These are unpleasant feelings which cannot be forbidden from happening. That which is unmanageable is surely not self. Feeling is thus not self, and it is not proper to cling to it as self, one's inner substance.

So far I have described only those feelings experienced in the human world. The feelings of the four nether worlds are far more excruciating. Animals such as cattle, buffaloes, chickens and pigs have to face torment almost all the time, with no one to assist them or guard them against these afflictions. The petas (hungry ghosts) have to suffer more than the animals, but the denizens of hell, the Niriya states, suffer the most. We cannot afford to remain smug in the thought that these four nether worlds have nothing to do with us. Until and unless we have attained the stage of the Noble Ones, there is always the possibility of having to face the suffering of the lower worlds.

Thus, as feeling tends to affliction in every existence, it cannot be regarded as self or the inner core of existence, and it is not possible to prevent unpleasant feeling from arising. Undesirable feelings arise inevitably of their own accord. Mental distress, which we do not wish to arise, makes its appearance all the same. This all goes to show the uncontrollable nature of feeling. Each being has to contend with feeling which cannot be controlled, and hence, cannot be self or one's own inner substance.

As stated in the Canonical text, the feelings which are felt in one's own body tend to cause affliction and are not amenable to control. Hence it is very clear that feeling is not self, not one's inner substance. Nevertheless, ordinary worldlings cling to the belief: "It is I who suffers after experiencing happiness; it is I who enjoys, as circumstances favor, after going through distress." It is not easy to completely eradicate clinging to belief in self. The ingrained belief in feeling as self is abandoned only through personal realization of feeling's true nature, which can be brought about by contemplation in accordance with Satipaṭṭhāna Vipassanā practice, or the Middle Way, as instructed by the Blessed One. We will now deal with how this self-clinging can be discarded by contemplation on feeling.


A brief description of vipassanā meditation has been given in the first chapter. The meditator who keeps note of rising, falling, sitting and so on as described therein will come to notice in time uncomfortable sensations such as pain, stiffness and heat. He must concentrate on these different feelings as they arise by noting, "pain, pain," "stiffness, stiffness," "heat, heat," whatever the case may be. During the initial period when concentration is not yet strong, these distressing sensations may get more and more intense, but the meditator must put up with the pain and discomfort as long as possible and keep on noting the sensations as they arise. As his concentration gets strengthened, the discomforting pains will gradually lose their intensity and begin to fade away. With very deep concentration they will suddenly vanish, as if removed by hand, even while they are being noted, never again to come back and trouble the meditator. We see examples of such cessation of feeling in the story of the Bojjhaṅga Sutta, in which the Venerable Mahā Kassapa and others were relieved of illnesses by listening to teachings on the Factors of Enlightenment (Bojjhaṅga).

However, prior to the advent of strong concentration, the meditator will find that painful sensations in one place disappear only to arise in another form at another site. When the new sensation is heedfully noted, it vanishes to be replaced in turn by another form of sensation in yet another place. When distressing feelings have been seen repeatedly appearing and vanishing in this way for a considerable time, personal realization comes to the meditator that "feeling is always oppressive. Unpleasant feeling cannot be prevented from arising; it is uncontrollable. Both pleasant and unpleasant feelings are not self, not one's inner substance." This is the true knowledge of contemplation on nonself.

The meditator who has observed the vanishing of feeling in the course of contemplation recalls the oppressive nature of feeling while it lasted; he knows that feeling has disappeared not because of his wishing for it, nor in obedience to his commands, but as a result of necessary conditions brought about by concentrated mental power. It is truly ungovernable. Thus the meditator realizes that feeling, whether pleasant or painful, is a natural process, arising of its own accord. It is not self or inner substance. Furthermore the incessant arising and vanishing of feeling as it is being noted also establishes the fact that feeling has the nature of nonself.

When the meditator reaches the stage of udayabbaya ñāṇa, knowledge of the arising and falling of compounded things, he notices that his meditation practice of noting phenomena is proceeding with ease and comfort un-accompanied by pain or suffering. This is manifestation of an especially pleasant feeling, which cannot be maintained for long, however much the meditator wishes it. When his concentration wanes and becomes weakened, that pleasant feeling vanishes and may not arise again in spite of his yearning for it. Then it dawns upon him that feeling is not subjected to one's will and is ungovernable, and so it is not self or inner essence. The meditator then realizes through personal experience the nonself nature of feeling.

He also vividly sees the nonself nature of feeling because of its dissolution on each occasion of noting. In the initial stages of meditating, the meditator suffers from physical pain of stiffness, itching, or heat. Occasionally, he suffers the mental distress of disappointment, dejection, fear or repugnance. He should keep on noting these unpleasant feelings. He will come to know that while unpleasant feelings are manifesting, pleasant sensations do not arise.

On some occasions, however, the meditator experiences very pleasant sensations in the course of meditation, both physical and mental. When he thinks of happy incidents, for instance, happy feelings are evoked. He should keep on noting the pleasant feelings as they arise. He will come to know then that while pleasant feelings are manifesting, unpleasant sensations do not arise.

On the whole, however, the meditator is mostly engaged in noting the origination and dissolution of ordinary corporeal and mental processes, such as the rise and fall of the abdomen, which excite neither painful nor pleasant sensations.

The meditator notes these occasions in which only neutral feeling is evident. He knows, therefore, that when equanimous feeling arises, both painful and pleasant feelings are absent. With this personal knowledge comes the realization that feeling makes a momentary appearance, only to quickly vanish, hence it is transitory and not self, not a permanent ego.

At this juncture, I would like to include a description of the Dīghanakha Sutta, as it affords a good illustration of how such realization comes about. We must, however, first begin with an account of how the Venerable Sārīputta, who played a major role in that Sutta, attained to higher knowledge.


Two young men, Upatissa and Kolita, who were later to become known as the Venerables Sārīputta and Moggallāna (two of the Buddha's foremost disciples), became wandering ascetics under the great teacher Sañjaya, with a view to seek the un-aging, the un-decaying and the Deathless [i.e., Nibbāna]. They learned all that had to be taught by the great Sañjaya in a few days' time and came to realize that there was no substance in his teaching. Consequently the two of them left the great teacher and roamed about the entire Middle Country in further search of Truth.

Finding it nowhere, they made their way back to the city of Rājagaha. It was in that city that the wanderer Upatissa came upon the Venerable Assaji, the youngest member of the Group of Five, while he was going on alms round. Upatissa followed him closely to his eating place after the round. He prepared a seat for the monk and

offered him drinking water, then asked him about his Master and his Teaching. The Venerable Assaji replied that his teacher was the Perfectly Enlightened One, the Buddha. As to the Teaching, since he had just come to the Buddha's Dispensation, he said, he knew only little of it. Upatissa then said, "Please, tell me whatever little you know of the Teaching. I shall expand upon it myself."

Thereupon, the Venerable Assaji gave the wanderer Upatissa this short summary of the Buddha's Teaching:

Ye dhammā hetuppabhavā, tesaṁ hetuṁ tathāgato āha. Te sañjā yo nirodho. Evaṁ vādi Mahāsamaṇo.

"There are these dhammas (dukkha sacca; the truth of suffering) which have arisen because of certain causes (samudaya sacca; the truth of the cause of suffering): our Master, the Perfect One, has told about these causes. And there is this state (Nibbāna) where all these Dhammas and their causes come to cessation. The Perfect One has told of this cessation too. This is the Teaching of our Master, the Blessed Noble Samaṇa."

This is the short account of the teaching given by the Venerable Assaji. Quite brief: "All dhammas arise because of causes. Our Master has taught about the causes." But this condensed teaching was sufficient for the wanderer Upatissa to see the light of Dhamma and attain the knowledge of the first Path and Fruition and become a Stream Enterer. A very speedy achievement, I must say. I find that present-day meditators show no remarkable progress after meditating for a whole day and night. Only after seven days of hard work do they begin to get a glimpse of the corporeal and mental processes and the nature of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insub- stantiality. Most meditators take about a month and a half to reach the stage which may be called the knowledge of the First Path and Fruition. It may be two and half months to three months before others can be said to have made similar attainments. Quite a long time, is it not?

The speedy achievement of the wanderer Upatissa may be attributed to the fact that he had already developed meditation almost to the stage of the Path and Fruition throughout his previous existences. He could have achieved the knowledge of the Path and Fruition in those past existences, but he had made a vow to become a chief Disciple of a Buddha. In this last existence (when his vow would be fulfilled), propelled by the momentum of Vipassanā practices of his previous existences, he made speedy progress through the sequence of Vipassanā ñāṇas to attain the knowledge of the First Path and Fruition. Although the teaching was brief, it contained an illuminating message for development of insight knowledge.

Prior to the teachings of the Buddha, it was generally held that "each individual being has living entity, an inner substance, a self, which is everlasting, permanent. It is not simply conditions arisen dependent on causes, but has been in permanent existence." Venerable Assaji's statement said that there is no such permanent entity; there is only the truth of suffering, corporeality and mentality, which are the result of the workings of craving (taṇhā) and clinging (upādāna), the truth of the origin of suffering. These resultant effects of the cause of suffering are none other than the corporeality and mentality of one's own person which are involved in the acts of seeing, hearing and so on.

Upatissa realized at once that all that had been manifesting in sense awareness since the time of his birth was simply a process of incessantly arising and ceasing corporeality and mentality. They arose as a result of craving and clinging to life and existence. It should be noted that Upatissa developed insight knowledge by taking note of the phenomenon of change even as he was receiving the message from the Venerable Assaji, and in consequence instantly attained the knowledge of the Path and Fruition.

Having become a Stream Enterer, Upatissa asked the Venerable Assaji where the Blessed One was then staying. Before the monk departed, Upatissa informed him that he would be going to see the Buddha. He then went back to his friend, Kolita, who, noticing his composed features and clear countenance, asked him, "Well, friend, is it possible that you have found the Deathless?" Upatissa declared that he had indeed found the Deathless and recounted to his friend what had happened. In doing so, he quoted the verse recited for him by the Venerable Assaji. As a consequence, Kolita also instantly became a Stream Enterer.

The two of them then decided to go to the Blessed One. But first they went to the great teacher Sañjaya and invited him to go with them. Sañjaya declined their invitation, saying, "You go along. I have no wish to go. From being a big storage tank, I can't become a small carrying pot, becoming a disciple to others." The two friends reminded him, "The Blessed One is a truly Enlightened One. People will go to him instead." To this, Sañjaya replied, "Have no worry on that account. There are more fools in this world than wise people. The wise will go to the Samaṇa Gotama. The fools, who form the majority, will come to me. You go along as you wish."

Nowadays, there are many imposters and bogus religious teachers who hold views similar to that of this wanderer Sañjaya. People should be wary of such teachers.

Then Upatissa and Kolita went with two hundred and fifty wanderers, who were their followers, to the Blessed One. After listening to the discourse given by the Blessed One, the two hundred and fifty followers became Arahats. The two leaders, with their two hundred and fifty Arahat followers, then requested admission to the Order, and the Blessed One gave them the Ehi bhikkhu ordination, saying, "Come, monk." From that time the wanderer Upatissa became known as the Elder Sāriputta, and the wanderer Kolita, the Elder Mahā Moggallāna.

Having been thus ordained, they continued with the practice of meditation. The Elder Moggallāna attained Arahatship within seven days of ordination. The Elder Sāriputta was, however, still practicing vipassanā meditation, employing the anupada dhamma method of meditation (reviewing and analyzing all levels of consciousness step by step with insight) up to the full moon day of February (two weeks after his ordination).

On that full moon day, the wanderer Dīghanakha, who had stayed behind with the teacher Sañjaya, thought to himself "Whenever my uncle, Upatissa, went to see other religious teachers, he always came back soon. But on this visit to Samaṇa Gotama he has been gone for a whole fortnight, and there is no news of him. What if I followed him to find out if there is any substance (in Buddha Gotama's Teaching)?" So he set out to where the Venerable Sāriputta was staying to inquire about the Buddha's Teaching.


On that day, at that time, the Blessed One was staying in the Sukarakhātā Cave in the Vultures' Peak. The Venerable Sāriputta was standing behind the Blessed One, gently waving a fan. The wanderer Dīghanakha approached the Blessed One and, after exchanging greetings, said: "My theory and view is this, Master Gotama, 'I have no liking for any'." What he meant by this statement was that he did not like any belief in fresh becoming; in other words, in the belief that a new existence arises after passing away from the present one. But since he said he had no liking for anything, it amounted to declaring that he did not like his own belief either. Therefore the Blessed One asked him: "Have you also no liking for this view of yours: 'I have no liking for any'?"

To this, Dīghanakha gave an ambiguous reply: "Even if I had a liking for this view of mine, it would all be the same." This is typical of those who, holding on to wrong views, equivocate when they realize that what they believe in or have said is wrong.

In order to bring out the wanderer's view, the Blessed One said, "The belief in eternalism (sassata) is close to craving, close to fetter, to relishing, to accepting, to holding tight and clinging. The belief in annihilationism (uccheda) is close to non-craving, to non-fetter, to non-relishing, non-accepting, non-holding tight, and non-clinging." Upon this Dīghanakha remarked, "Master Gotama commends my view; Master Gotama commends my view."

However the Blessed One was merely explaining the true virtues and faults of the views of the eternalists and annihilationists. The eternalists abhor and avoid unmeritorious (akusala) acts in order to avoid the evil consequences in coming existences. They engage in wholesome deeds, but they relish and take delight in pleasures which would promote further rounds of existence. And, the Commentary says, it is very hard to abandon the eternalist view. Even those who have professedly embraced Buddhism find it difficult to accept that there is no self, no living entity, only a continuous process of corporeality and mentality. For Arahats, having completely eradicated clinging and craving, there is no fresh arising of corporeality and mentality in a new existence after Parinibbāna. The process of corporeality and mentality comes to a complete cessation. The eternalists would like to believe that after Parinibbāna, the Arahats continue to exist in special forms of corporeality and mentality.

The Commentary has this to say on the subject:

"The eternalists know that there is a present life and an afterlife. They know there are resultant good or bad effects consequent on good or bad deeds. They undertake meritorious deeds and shrink from bad deeds, but they relish and take delight in pleasures which could give rise to fresh existences. Even when they encounter the Blessed One or his disciples, they find it hard to abandon their beliefs. So it may be said of the eternalist belief that, although its faults are not grave, it is hard to give up.

"On the other hand, annihilationists do not know that there is passage to the human world from other existences and that there is an afterlife. They do not know that there are resultant good or bad consequences to good or bad deeds. They do not engage in meritorious actions. They have no fear of bad deeds. They do not relish or take delight in pleasures which could give rise to fresh existences (because they do not believe in afterlife), but when they enter the presence of the Blessed One or his disciples, they can abandon their belief immediately. Thus, with regard to the annihilationist belief, it may be said that its faults are grave but it is easy to give up."

Dīghanakha could not grasp the motive behind the Blessed One's statement. He assumed that the Blessed One was commending him for his view that there is nothing after death, that is why he said, "Master Gotama commends my view." In order to enable him to abandon his view, the Blessed One continued to give a critical review of three beliefs current in those days: namely, the eternalist view, which holds "I have a liking for all"; the annihilationist view which holds "I have no liking for any"; and a form of eternalist view which holds "I have a liking for some, I have no liking for some".

To summarize what the Blessed One said, it was explained: "When one holds fast to any one of the above views, there is a likelihood of clashing with the other two. And when there is clash, there are disputes, which lead to quarrels. And when there are quarrels, there is harm." Therefore the Blessed One urged that all three beliefs should be discarded.

Here it may be asked whether the Buddhist view that "fresh becomings arise in new existences as conditioned by one's kamma" is not the same as the eternalist view. The answer is no. The Buddhist view does not infer the transfer of self, living entity, from one existence to another. It means only the arising of new corporeality and mentality in a new existence, depending on previous kamma. The eternalists believe that it is the self that migrates to a new existence. The two views are, therefore, clearly different.

Again, the question may arise whether the Buddhist teaching of cessation of corporeality and mentality after the Parinibbāna of Arahats and the non-arrival in a new existence is not the same as the annihilationist view, which maintains that nothing remains after death. Here, too, there is no similarity. According to the annihilationists, a living entity exists before death and disappears after death. No special effort is needed to make it disappear; it makes its own "exit".

In addition, materialists think that there is suffering only before death. This clinging to the notion of suffering or enjoyment before death is clinging to self. In Buddhist teachings, the Arahat has, before Parinibbāna, no sense of self, and sees only a continuous process of corporeality and mentality. Suffering and happiness are the natural manifestations of feeling, which happen recurrently. After Parinibbāna, the continuous process of corporeality and mentality comes to cessation in an Arahat. This cessation does not come about on its own, but by virtue of the Noble Path, in which kilesa and kamma, which are responsible for the arising of corporeality and mentality, are eradicated. When the cause of their becoming disappears, no new corporeality and mentality arise. Thus there is a world of difference between cessation after Parinibbāna described in Buddhist teachings and the cessation envisaged by the annihilationists.

A further question may be asked: "Just as the eternalists dispute with the annihilationists, is there not the possibility of disputes between those who believe in nonself and those who hold on to the notion of self?" Teaching about Right View is not disputing, it is promoting knowledge and truth for the benefit of others. That there is only a continuous process of change from old to new corporeality and mentality, no permanent self, is the doctrine of nonself, which is Right View. For those who hold the Right View of nonself, there is no likelihood of involvement in disputes or controversies. We will find the Buddha's own explanation on this point when we come to the last part of this Sutta. After explaining that the three wrong views of eternalism, annihilationism, and partial eternalism should be abolished, the Blessed One went on to advise giving up clinging to the material body:

"Aggivessana [Dīghanakha's clan name], this material body of ours is made up of the four great primary elements, sprung from the blood and sperm of our parents, and built up by food such as rice and bread. Being subject to impermanence, it has to be maintained by massage and anointing; even when sustained thus, it still dissolves and disintegrates. It should be regarded as impermanent, suffering, a disease, a spike, an abscess, an evil, an ailment; as alien, as destructible, as void of self. When it is regarded so, there is abandonment of craving and clinging to it."

Having thus talked on the nature of corporeality, rūpa, the Blessed One continued with the teaching on the nature of mentality, nāma.

"Aggivessana, there are three kinds of feeling in our physical makeup: pleasant, painful and neither painful nor pleasant feeling. When a person experiences any one of the feelings, he does not experience the other two. Since each feeling arises singly, it should be understood that it is impermanent, conditionally formed (saṅkhata), dependently originated (Paṭiccasamuppāda), subject to exhaustion and dissolution (khaya, vaya), fading and ceasing (virāga, nirodha)." (It should be noted that by these words the Blessed One showed how, by contemplating on feeling, one comes to know its arising depending on circumstances and its immediate exhaustion, fading and dissolution.)

Meditators who are taking note of the corporeal and mental phenomena starting from the rise and fall of the abdomen, as I have instructed, should also concentrate on feelings and take note of them as "painful, painful" when a painful feeling arises; "unhappy, unhappy" when an unhappy feeling appears; "pleasant, pleasant," when a pleasant feeling arises; and "happy, happy" when feeling happy. When the sensation is not vividly pleasant or painful, attention should be directed on the body or on whichever mental state is prominent.

While thus heedfully observing feelings, the pleasant or painful feelings will be perceived clearly, arising recurrently and instantly vanishing, like raindrops falling on a person walking in the rain and then disappearing. Just like external raindrops, the inner "raindrops" appear as if they have fallen on the body from an external source. When this phenomenon is clearly seen, realization comes to the meditator that these feelings are impermanent, imperfect because of incessant arising and ceasing, and not self, having no substantiality. As a consequence of such realization, there develops the sense of weariness and dispassion, which the Blessed One continued to explain:


"Aggivessana, when the meditator sees the three forms of feeling as impermanent, he becomes wearied of pleasant feeling, of unpleasant feeling, and of feeling that is neither painful nor pleasant."

These words should be specially borne in mind. The purpose of insight (vipassanā) meditation is to develop nibbidā ñāṇa, the knowledge of disenchantment, a sense of weariness. Only when the phenomenon of incessant arising and ceasing has been personally seen and experienced can the nature of impermanence be fully and thoroughly grasped and the sense of disenchantment developed.

Note that in this Dīghanakha Sutta, no mention is made of detailed observation of the separate components of body.

The body must be contemplated as an aggregate. From the words quoted above, it is clear that it is possible to develop a sense of weariness without contemplating on separate components of the body as described in the Abhidhamma.

Furthermore, in connection with the contemplation on mentality, only the three components of feeling are mentioned. Nothing was said of other mental components, such as consciousness and mental formations. It is clear here, too, that a sense of weariness can be developed simply by taking note of the three feelings at the moment of their arising. It must be noted, however, that it is not just painful feeling, but all the three kinds of feeling that should be contemplated, because all three manifest.

The Blessed One then went on to explain how knowledge of the Path and Fruition and knowledge of retrospection arise after development of the sense of disenchantment.


When weariness has been developed, or because of weariness (disenchantment), the meditator's lust (craving) fades away. In other words, he becomes passion-free and the knowledge of the Noble Path arises. By virtue of knowledge of the Noble Path, which causes the destruction of craving, he is liberated. In other words, Fruition of liberation (arahattaphala) appears. When he is thus liberated, there comes the knowledge that his mind is liberated.

He understands by retrospection that, "Birth is exhausted, the Holy Life has been lived out, what had to be done has been done, there is no more of this to come."

In these words, the Blessed One described how Arahatship was attained and knowledge of retrospection developed. Then he continued to explain that the liberated person, after attaining Arahatship, does not get involved in quarrels or disputes.

"Aggivessana, the monk who is thus liberated from taints (āsava) disputes with no-one. Although he employs the conventional expressions such as 'I, you, man, woman,' he does not wrongly hold the notion that they represent the ultimate truth. He does not quarrel with anyone because he has come to know the truth and talks only about the truth."

The Puppha Sutta of the Khandhavagga, in the Saṁyutta Nikāya, has this to say:

Nahaṁ bhikkhave lokena vivadāmi. Lokova mayā vivadati. Na bhikkhave dhammavādi kenaci lokasmiṁ vivadati.

"Monks, I do not dispute with the world, it is the world that disputes with me. Monks, one who is in the habit of speaking the truth does not engage in arguments or disputes with anyone in the world. In other words, as he speaks the truth, it cannot be said of him that he is argumentative."


While the Blessed One was explaining to the wanderer Dīghanakha how the three feelings should be contemplated, and how through such contemplation Arahatship may be gained, the Venerable Sāriputta was standing behind him, fanning him. When he heard the discourse on the three feelings, the Venerable Sāriputta, already a Stream Enterer, gained the highest knowledge of Arahatship, even as he was fanning the Blessed One.

In the Anupada Sutta, his attainment of Arahatship is described thus: The Venerable Sāriputta went into the first jhāna, second jhāna and so on through all the jhānas of form and the formless jhānas. As he came out of each jhāna, he contemplated its nature, and by such contemplation he became an Arahat on the fifteenth day of meditation.

In another Sutta the Venerable Sāriputta himself explained that he attained Arahatship through contemplating the corporeal and mental processes going on inside him.

The three Suttas may be reconciled by assuming that the Venerable Sāriputta had gone into jhāna while listening to the discourse on the three feelings, and, on coming out of the jhānas, had contemplated on the feelings of the jhānic stages and consequently attained the higher Path and Fruition.

His nephew, the wanderer Dīghanakha, became a Stream Enterer while listening to the discourse. It must be understood here that he did so by virtue of insight developed by contemplating the feelings which arose in him while listening to it.

At the end of the Discourse, the Blessed One came down from the Vultures' Peak and convened a meeting of his disciples. The Venerable Sāriputta, knowing of the meeting through reflective insight, made his way to the Veḷuvana Monastery by means of psychic powers.

The distinguishing features of this congregation of disciples were:

1. It was held on the full-moon day of February, when the constellation of the lion comes into prominence.

2. The monks attending the conference came uninvited, on their own initiative.

3. All the attending monks were Arahats endowed with the six abhiññā, super knowledges.

4. All the monks had received the "Ehi bhikkhu" ordination.

It is stated that one thousand two hundred and fifty monks attended that conference convened by the Blessed One.

We have digressed from the original discourse on Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta by including the Dīghanakha Sutta in our discussions. I shall end the discourse today by recapitulating the passage which says that feeling is not self.

"Monks, feeling is not self; if feeling were self, it would not tend to afflict or distress, and it should be possible to say of feeling, 'Let feeling be thus, let feeling not be thus.' It is not possible to influence feeling in this manner."


Top | Contents | 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09

See also: Vietnamese Translation

Source: Sakyamuni Meditation Center, California, U.S.A.

[Back to English Index]
updated: 01-06-2002