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How to translate Vedana

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#1
  • Feeling
  • Sensation
  • Hedonic Tone
  • Hedonic Response
  • Hedonic Reaction
  • Sensory Response
  • Sensory Reaction
  • Valence
  • Other (please specify)

0 voters

I’m currently struggling with this word. I used to use “sensation” but now I see this cannot be right. Vedana seems to be more of a response to sensations, a response that specifically sees a sensation as pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant. The issue is that I’m not super happy with any of the other options, what sounds more natural? Feeling has too much emotional baggage in the English language, so I’m not sure I want to default back to that one even if its the most commonly used word for vedana.

Regarding Hedonic Tone and Valence, these seem to be modern psychological terms that capture vedana a bit better. For example, this psychology paper states:

Hedonic tone is the trait underlying one’s characteristic ability to feel pleasure.

And the APA dictionary says about Valence:

the value associated with a stimulus as expressed on a continuum from pleasant to unpleasant or from attractive to aversive. In factor analysis and multidimensional scaling studies, emotional valence is one of two axes (or dimensions) on which an emotion can be located, the other axis being arousal (expressed as a continuum from high to low). For example, happiness is typically characterized by pleasant valence and relatively high arousal, whereas sadness or depression is typically characterized by unpleasant valence and relatively low arousal.

Of course, the issue with these terms is that they are not widely known by the general reader.

Any other ideas?


#2

My feeling is that hedonic tone is probably closer to the intended meaning, but would be a little clunky if it was actually used as the translation.


#4

A quick and not really sufficient google suggests that ‘hedonic tone’ is used in the psychological literature. I think it was Ven Anālayo who introduced the term to me. I find it useful in that hedonic tone can be carried by physical sensations (5 senses) and mental responses (6th sense) alike.


#5

Bhikkhu Analayo has been translating it as ‘feeling tone’. Maybe this holds a middle ground between feeling on the one hand and hedonic tone on the other?


#6

Hedonic tone seems related to the ability to feel pleasure, so I’m not clear how this covers neutral and unpleasant vedana.
“Feeling” still looks like the best option to me. I also quite like “sensation” for bodily feeling.


#7

Also defining vedana as hedonic tone might give the impression that the dhamma is a form of asceticism.


split this topic #8

A post was split to a new topic: More on Vedana


#9

There’s a broader definition of the term as well which includes pleasant and unpleasant (as they are two sides of the same coin so to speak). If you google the word hedonic, google defines it as:

relating to or considered in terms of pleasant (or unpleasant) sensations.

Also, if you search for “Hedonic Response” you get more examples from the scientific and psychological literature:

For example:

The majority of individuals can be classified as sweet likers or dislikers based on their hedonic (pleasure) response to sucrose solutions of varying concentrations.

Not sure why you think this is the case can you elaborate?


#10

I’ve seen this in other places too.

I googled the term and looks like it’s even in Merriam Webster and the definition is pretty on point too. I like this one the most so far.

Definition of feeling tone

1a : FEELING sense 7c

b : a particular quality of one’s awareness measured in terms of pleasantness and unpleasantness

2a : the overall quality of an experience especially as attributed to the thing experienceda second translation which I think reproduces the feeling tone of the original— Ernest Beaglehole

b : one of the emotional shades of an experience especially as attributed to the thing experienced


#11

I prefer “feeling tone” here. I think it’s simpler than “hedonic tone”, which makes me think of hedonism. :yum:


#12

Kāyika vedanā are just simple sensations, as in the Sakalika sutta:

Tena kho pana samayena bhagavato pādo sakalikāya khato hoti, bhusā sudaṃ bhagavato vedanā vattanti sārīrikā vedanā dukkhā tibbā kharā kaṭukā asātā amanāpā. Tā sudaṃ bhagavā sato sampajāno adhivāseti avihaññamāno.

Now at that time his foot had been pierced by a stone sliver. Excruciating were the bodily sensations that developed within him — painful, fierce, sharp, wracking, repellent, disagreeable — but he endured them mindful, alert, & unperturbed.

or the Sivaka sutta:

“Master Gotama, there are some priests & contemplatives who are of this doctrine, this view: Whatever an individual senses — pleasure, pain, neither-pleasure-nor-pain — is entirely caused by what was done before. Now what does Master Gotama say to that?”

[The Buddha:] “There are cases where some sensations arise based on bile. You yourself should know how some sensations arise based on bile. Even the world is agreed on how some sensations arise based on bile. So any priests & contemplatives who are of the doctrine & view that whatever an individual senses — pleasure, pain, neither-pleasure-nor-pain — is entirely caused by what was done before — slip past what they themselves know, slip past what is agreed on by the world. Therefore I say that those priests & contemplatives are wrong.”

“There are cases where some sensations arise based on phlegm… based on internal winds… based on a combination of bodily humors… from the change of the seasons… from uneven care of the body… from harsh treatment… from the result of kamma. You yourself should know how some sensations arise from the result of kamma. Even the world is agreed on how some sensations arise from the result of kamma. So any priests & contemplatives who are of the doctrine & view that whatever an individual senses — pleasure, pain, neither pleasure-nor-pain — is entirely caused by what was done before — slip past what they themselves know, slip past what is agreed on by the world. Therefore I say that those priests & contemplatives are wrong.”

See also:

Salkin, Sean

A survey of the use of the term vedanā (“sensations”) in the Pali Nikayas

http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/2075

Cetasikā vedanā , - those that arise due to the contact of ‘mano’:

394. "Katama~nca, bhikkhave, domanassa.m? Ya.m kho, bhikkhave, cetasika.m dukkha.m cetasika.m asaata.m manosamphassaja.m dukkha.m asaata.m vedayita.m, ida.m vuccati, bhikkhave, domanassa.m.

(DN 22, Mahasatipatthana sutta)

for example, when one recalls acquisition or non-acquisition:

Tattha katamāni cha gehasitāni somanassāni: cakkhuviññeyyānaṃ rūpānaṃ iṭṭhānaṃ kantānaṃ manāpānaṃ manoramānaṃ lokāmisapaṭisaṃyuttānaṃ paṭilābhaṃ vā paṭilābhato samanupassato pubbe vā paṭiladdhapubbaṃ atītaṃ niruddhaṃ vipariṇataṃ samanussarato uppajjati somanassaṃ, yaṃ evarūpaṃ somanassaṃ idaṃ vuccati gehasitaṃ somanassaṃ.
"And what are the six kinds of household joy (somanassa)? The joy that arises when one regards as an acquisition the acquisition of forms cognizable by the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, connected with worldly baits — or when one recalls the previous acquisition of such forms after they have passed, ceased, & changed: That is called household joy. (Similarly with sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, & ideas.)
Tattha katamāni cha gehasitāni domanassāni: cakkhuviññeyyānaṃ rūpānaṃ iṭṭhānaṃ kantānaṃ manāpānaṃ manoramānaṃ lokāmisapaṭisaṃyuttānaṃ appaṭilābhaṃ vā appaṭilābhato samanupassato pubbe vā appaṭiladdhapubbaṃ atītaṃ niruddhaṃ vipariṇataṃ samanussarato uppajjati domanassaṃ.
"And what are the six kinds of household distress (domanassa)? The distress that arises when one regards as a non-acquisition the non-acquisition of forms cognizable by the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, connected with worldly baits — or when one recalls the previous non-acquisition of such forms after they have passed, ceased, & changed: That is called household distress. (Similarly with sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, & ideas.)
Salayatana-vibhanga sutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.137.than.html

indeed arise not due to the external stimulation of sense organs, if we understand sense organs in their Western definition. Yet in ancient Indian worldview, ‘mano’ belongs to sense faculties.

In the case of four jhanas the highest enjoyment fills the body:

Seyyathāpi bhikkhave uppaliniyaṃ vā paduminiyaṃ vā puṇḍarīkiniyaṃ vā appekaccāni uppalāni vā padumāni vā puṇḍarīkāni vā udake jātāni udake saṃvaddhāni udakānuggatāni anto nimuggaposīni, tāni yāvaggā yāva mūlā sītena vārinā abhisannāni parisannāni paripūrāni paripphuṭāni. Nāssa kiñci sabbāvataṃ uppalānaṃ vā padumānaṃ vā puṇḍarīkānaṃ vā sītena vārinā apphuṭaṃ assa. Evameva kho bhikkhave bhikkhu imameva kāyaṃ nippītikena sukhena abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati. Nāssa kiñci sabbāvato kāyassa nippītikena sukhena apphuṭaṃ hoti. Ariyassa bhikkhave pañcaṅgikassa sammāsamādhissa ayaṃ tatiyā bhāvanā.

"Just as in a blue-, white-, or red-lotus pond, there may be some of the blue, white, or red lotuses which, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those blue, white, or red lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture. This is the third development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

(4) Puna ca paraṃ bhikkhave bhikkhu sukhassa ca pāhāṇā dukkhassa ca pahāṇā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhaṃ asukhaṃ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

"And furthermore, with the abandoning of pleasure and stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress — he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure-nor-pain.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.028.than.html

In Salla sutta two kinds of vedanā are placed alongside, as similar phenomena:

assutavā, bhikkhave, puthujjano dukkhāya vedanāya phuṭṭho samāno socati kilamati paridevati urattāḷiṃ kandati sammohaṃ āpajjati. So dve vedanā vedayati—kāyikañca, cetasikañca. Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, purisaṃ sallena vijjheyya. Tamenaṃ dutiyena sallena anuvedhaṃ vijjheyya. Evañhi so, bhikkhave, puriso dvisallena vedanaṃ vedayati. Evameva kho, bhikkhave, assutavā puthujjano dukkhāya vedanāya phuṭṭho samāno socati kilamati paridevati urattāḷiṃ kandati sammohaṃ āpajjati. So dve vedanā vedayati—kāyikañca, cetasikañca.
uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful sensation, he sorrows, grieves, and laments; he weeps beating his breast and becomes distraught. He feels two sensations—a bodily one and a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, and then they would strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by two darts. So too, when the uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful feeling … he feels two feelings—a bodily one and a mental one.
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn36.6

So evidently the heightened introspection ability of ancient Indian Ariyas, and their ability to induce intense experiences not related to input from bodily senses, helped them to notice and categorize vedanā that arise due to contact of mano and are felt in the body similarly to vedanā that arise due to contact of five sense organs .

Seems like there’s no exact equivalent in English, however, the term ‘sensation’ allows some space for sensations that arise due to contact of ‘mano’:

Sensation, 1 … a) a feeling, especially a strange one, caused by a particular experience
He had the uncomfortable sensation that he was being watched.
http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/sensation#sensation_7

and helps to distinguish vedanā from emotions.


#13

I think the connotations of the term “hedonic” is often associated with finding pleasure in sensuality. The teachings of DO often begins by presenting extremes, then DO is presented as the middle, which ends with negative connotations " Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.".

When you present different alternatives to translate the word vedana, the question naturally arises: what makes one translation better than the other? to get readers to see the origination of the entire mass of suffering?

In light of the above, may i introduce the term “Anhedonia”:

Accordingly, what is the relative advantage of translating vedana using the term “hedonic” rather than simply “feeling”?

Thanks :anjal:


#14

Feeling often means emotion in English (“I felt angry”) or even belief (“i feel that you’re wrong because…”). That is not vedana.


#15

This is correct. The result is so much confusion, especially for native English speakers who are new to Buddhist teachings.

In addition ‘feel’ can also be close to ‘touch’ e.g. ‘I can feel something square and hard in my bed’.


#16

I just reviewed the voting results since yesterday and see that ‘feeling’ is now the favourite choice. It would be very helpful to know the voting patterns of native English speakers and non native.

‘Feeling tone’ is good. Not intimidating but different enough for newbies to it check out … and to discover that there are just 3 feeling tones. Which is definitely not the case with ‘feelings’.

I would now like to change my vote to ‘other’.


#17

Sure, but the way things feel (feeling tone) does seem quite close to what vedana means.
Meanwhile “hedonic tone” seems focused on pleasant experience, and IMO is too limited in scope.


#18

I voted “feeling”, being a non-native english speaker.

I like Bhikkhu Bodhi expression he often uses to describe vedana, which is “the felt tone of experience”.

Trying to find a better expression for vedana makes me feel like software developers trying to define a new standard to resolve the problems from / unite two competing ones. This generally results in further fragmentation (with now 3 standards) rather the the hoped for unification.

:slight_smile:
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