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Advice please: vedanā

Advice please: vedanā
Answer
6/23/18 9:36 AM
I'm curious to better understand what seems like a fairly straightforward topic in meditation, but there are some things I'm not clear about. Let me explain my understanding, then ask the questions. 

Vedanā (sensations) arise as a physical impression on the body in response to a moment of sense consciousness, from any of the 6 senses (5 physical plus 1 mind), and take on 1 of 3 affective aspects - either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. So, for example, I see an attractive person, and a soft tingling happens down the back of the neck which is experienced as pleasant and the mind begins to view the experience of seeing this person as pleasant, desirable, crave-able, and so on. Or I hear a frightening sound while walking at night and a harsh burning sensation runs down the backs of my upper arms, experienced as unpleasant, setting up the mind to view this experience as unpleasant, undesirable, fearful, etc. Or sensations of the breath or common background sounds give rise to subtle neutral sensations such as a flat bland feeling across the back, which is largely ignored due to not standing out in any way.

That's a very quick summary, which probably leaves out some interesting detail, but is brief in the interests of not losing you! Does it so far sound reasonable?

The questions:
1) If the moment of sense consciousness is a physical sensation itself, then is the vedanā in response sometimes just the same sensation? Example: my arm brushes against a thorn while walking in the garden. I'm unclear as to whether a separate vedanā arises such as a sharp tingling on the backs of the hands, signalling an unpleasant affective response to the initial experience. Or whether the vedanā is IN the harsh, unpleasant scratching sensation already happening on the arm. My instinct is to say the former - that a separate vedanā arises in response to the scratch on the arm. The importance of the question is whether this creates a kind of complication in the mind, that there is an unpleasant scratching sensation down the arm, then another unpleasant sensation manifesting as the tingling on the backs of the hands. 

2) Related to the above: if a physical sensation gives rise to a vedanā in response, can that vedanā not give rise to another, and another, in a cascading sequence? (Again, I ask because it seems to be the case). For example, when meditating up the path of insight, one gets to a stage where sharp stabbing pains arise in random places in the body. So, I'm sitting there observing when suddenly a powerful stab happens in the lower back, causing a vedanā to arise that manifests as a terribly unpleasant burning sensation down the left side of my face, which I recognise as similar to panic and fear such as one might experience when physically attacked. This vedanā is so strong and unpleasant that another vedanā arises on the scalp of hot tingling unpleasantness signalling the unpleasant nature of the response to the burning on the face. This unpleasant experience on the scalp gives rise to another harsh tingling on the backs of the hands, etc, until the cascade fades away into the usual sensory cacophony. It should be noted each consecutive vedanā is weaker than the previous one, and so within 3-4 iterations, they've faded out of distinction. 

Am I understanding all of this correctly? If so, it's damn interesting, and one could go down a rabbithole exploring how moments of consciousness give rise to vedanā which give rise to further vedanā etc, all day long. Or maybe I'm just confusing an otherwise simple topic.

Thank you for your time!

RE: Advice please: vedanā
Answer
6/25/18 8:06 PM as a reply to Peter S.
Hi Peter, I see you haven't got a reply, so I'll give it a go.

1. I would say the scratching sensation is contact, and the vedana is the evalution of the contact as unpleasant.  

2. Yes!  This is absolutely key to whole mess of self.  First it will give rise to contact, in the mind sense, and then the next vedana.  This is the whole process of dependent arising.  Contact - feeling - craving - clinging - becoming - contact - feeling - craving - clinging -  etc.  I see craving as the permanent version of the vedana (a permanent evaluation) and clinging as the generalised desire, with becoming being the unthinking urge that arises from the generalised desire.  Giving in to the urges results in the ongoing rebirth of the suffering self.

I suggest you do some meditation, attain jhana if you can, then exit jhana and dive down into that rabbit hole you have identified, and see what you can find.

RE: Advice please: vedanā
Answer
6/26/18 9:49 AM as a reply to curious.
Thanks curious! Awesome to get some feedback on these thoughts. It's interesting that in the texts, vedanā is mentioned as if an isolated, discreet event, like a sense contact happens, then a vedanā arises. In fact, vedanā are arising in response to every moment of sense consciousness, which is A LOT! Many times a second. But it's only the biggest, most powerful that we consciously notice in daily life. To realise that most of them go unnoticed means we're missing a lot of important events in the maintaining of the self, as you say. Not noticing neutral sensations is the source of ignorance, as the Buddha said. 

Great to get some confirmation. Thanks!