Akincano's "Hedonic Hotspots" paper which argues that Vedana is best translated as "Hedonic Tone"

For the last 100 years vedanā – a key Buddhist term referring to a process instrumental in the arising of desire (tanhā), grasping and identification (upādāna) – has been mostly translated as ‘feeling’ or as ‘sensation’. But is it really either? Informed by a review of the concept’s use in the Pali Suttas, the paper attempts to re-trace the term’s meaning in early Buddhist Psychology. The established renditions of ‘sensation’ or ‘feeling’ for vedanā are deemed misleading; it is suggested that they be replaced by the unwieldy but more appropriate notion of ‘hedonic tone’. After a brief appraisal of occidental attempts to chart hedonic territory, beginning with the Greeks, the work of early psychologists up to recent neuropsychological research, the insights of an ancient contemplative tradition are found to look remarkably fresh and to be particularly pertinent for a deeper understanding of aspects as different as attentional governance, mindfulness training, addiction and ultimately a vision of happiness beyond gratification or avoidance.

What do you all think? Clearly this term is a bit more descriptive, but it is kind of clunky and lesser known than “feeling” or “sensation”. It’s an issue of simplicity vs correctness it seems.


Sometimes the Lord Buddha gave familiar terms striking definitions. My favorite example is “Loka”: What is “the world”? Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking. That’s the world. :mindblown:

The astonishing majesty of that is lost if we jump the gun and translate “loka” as “phenomenological reality” or somesuch.

While a wonderful phrase for explaining the suttas, I fear “hedonic tone” has a similar problem as a translation: it subtly makes it seem like there is something to feelings apart from hedonic tone.


@Jayarava Attwood has an interesting paper in the same issue arguing that we should use a Humpty Dumpty approach to language, in which things mean what they mean because we say we do, not because of etymologies, and just pick a term e.g. feeling, and agree what we mean by it in the context of Buddhism.

I’m doing research on this topic precisely, and I’m starting to feel that contemporary scholarship is quick to dismiss emotion out of vedanā, while it clearly includes some simple, ‘receptive’ emotions like happiness and sadness as cetasika vedanā – feeling well, not feeling well.