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buddhism

Following a discussion last night on Buddhist psychology (in the context of how mindfulness ‘works’) we spent some time trying to get a handle on what vedena is. It’s often translated from the Pali as ‘feelings’ but it’s meaning is more subtle than that. In an attempt to try and retain the flavour of our discussion I’m going to try and explain what I think it’s all about. Correct me if I’m wrong.

So, our experience goes something like this – we have a sensation, felt with the body, that leads to a emotional response (citta). Sandwiched in between these two is vedena. It’s a bit like the wiring that says “I don’t like spiders” that exists in someone who’s terrified of them. It’s the result of our conditioning – the aspect of our lives that is ‘programmed’ into us by our past experience. An important idea is that vedena can’t be changed in the moment – it can only be recognised – what we can change is the response to it, the citta.

An example – someone has the experience of eating a chocolate, and it’s a pleasurable one. So they have another one. The chocolate meeting the tongue and sending taste sensation to the brain, that’s all the body. Now, we either like chocolate, or we don’t, or we’re indifferent about it. Our experience feeds through this filter to produce an emotional response of ‘yum, I want another one’. Liking chocolate, or otherwise, that’s the vedena. Everything else that follows is citta.

Someone practicing mindfulness becomes aware of the vedena in a situation, and can thus exercise some choice over how to respond, over the citta. Otherwise we become completely reactive beings, experiencing and reacting without choice. Who would want to live like that, devoid of free will and a slave to our environment?

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  1. By Mindfulness and Responding « Mindful on 22 Sep 2006 at 12:04 pm

    […] I was always of the opinion that I had the ability to choose my responses to situations. By developing mindfulness I can begin to see that there are situations where I simply do not have any control; events are processed through my pre-determined vedena and an emotional response is produced more or less spontaneously, without any ability for me to influence it. […]

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