Prominence more on vedanā or sañña

I once heard a dharma talk where the teacher made a comment that some people think primarily in pictures and some think primarily in words. Since then I always kind of wondered about that.

Yesterday I had a long conversation about this with my wife about how, when she closes her eyes, she sees color and I only see black and white. She also thinks more about how things feel and I think more in dialogue, in words. This got me thinking about how differently people might proliferate sense impressions. MN 18 says:

“Contact is a condition for feeling. What you feel, you perceive. What you perceive, you think about. What you think about, you proliferate. What you proliferate about is the source from which a person is beset by concepts of identity that emerge from the proliferation of perceptions.”

Could one person proliferate more about the vedanā of experience and another more on the sañña or the words of papañca?

I’m thinking about the realm of synesthesia, where a person who can recite thousands of digits of Pi because each number has a feeling tone, a shape, a color, and that number has a relationship with other numbers that evoke feelings and value. And music savants who describe musical notes in much the same way. Or painters and other artists who’s work comes out of a similar seemingly vendanā oriented emphasis.

I’m curious to know how others experience their thoughts.
Do you think more in pictures or words?
When you close your eyes, do you see color?

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This is an important division, because the visual precedes verbal interpretations, which are an attempt to describe feelings, so progress must eventually involve shutting down the labelling process and developing awareness of the sense data (feelings). The necessary practical advantage is the releasing from the bonds of conventional reality:

“Everything comes under the sway of name as a result of man’s urge to familiarize himself with the world. Sorting out, naming and defining things, are practical necessities in ordinary life, since they help us avoid ‘tripping-over,’ just as in the case of one groping in the dark. There is a constant need to re-cognize things and the easiest way of doing it, is by putting a sign on them. While the five senses have their own separate modes of indentation, mind largely relies on the labeling-mode of attaching a name, in the course of its own groping. Since mind partakes of the ‘range’ (visaya ) and pasture (gocara ) of the other five senses as well (M. I. 295.), its own mode of indentation has a preponderating influence over the rest. Thus, perceptual data of the five external senses, in all their permutations and combinations, finally come to be assigned names and pigeon-holed as ‘things.’ This convenient but superficial indentation beclouds the mind and prevents the immediate understanding of sense-contact (phassa ). Its mode of apperception, therefore, is largely a process of ‘imagining’ and ‘figuring-out’ of objects located in the darkness of ignorance, and in its blind groping, the phenomenon of sense-contact as such, hardly receives any serious attention.”—Nanananda, SN 1.61 note 19

I believe, technically speaking, all such proliferation is saṅkhāra - The vedanā is more immediate/physical and the sañña is the involuntary associations and memories which experience triggers. The saṅkhāra is the thinking that happens next, in whatever form.

For example, a billiards player will think through a shot carefully before they do it, but are almost certainly not using words. Someone writing an op-ed is thinking through lots of possible words. All that planning and intending and weighing and considering is saṅkhāra either way.

Hope that helps!


This is my understanding as well. Paul1 might be referring to the sense contact process rather than mental proliferation and thought internally.

I do think some people have a more “felt sense” of experience while others tend to analyze technically/conceptually but I’m not sure if even that division is about vedana or if it’s just how you take in and process information–is the focus on the emotional content, the shape, the analysis? All seem to be sankharas and papanca to me, regardless of the “flavor”

You might be interested in looking at the N vs S dimension of the myers-briggs personality type assessment. It’s not Buddhist but could help give a vocabulary to what you are trying to describe.

I think very verbally, in full sentences and stories with lots of sounds and voices. Cannot listen to music at all otherwise it’s completely stuck in my head. If you ask me to picture something I absolutely can in full color in detail, but pictures are not what run through my head unless very emotionally charged. Interestingly, I’m a full color/sound/smell dreamer and trained myself to lucid dream even to fly over certain sceneries from photos I’ve taken.

As another data point, my husband who is an organic chemist and very artistic absolutely thinks visually.


It’s profitable to understand what the Buddha is saying regarding the senses, that is the fetter arises due to desire, not to the object or the sense. Not doing so could result in psychological starvation as some types of happiness are essential to the developing path.

“One type of happiness described in this discourse (MN 51) arises due to behaving in wholesome ways, resulting in a happiness that is “blameless”, anavajjasukha. This manifests as the result of maintaining the basics of ethical conduct.
Another type is an “unimpaired” type of happiness, avyāsekhasukha. This relates to sense-restraint,
which the Kandaraka-sutta describes as follows (taking the case of vision as an example):5
Having seen a form with the eye, one does not seize hold of its sign or seize hold of its secondary details. Since, on dwelling with the faculty of the eye unrestrained, covetousness and sadness, bad and unwholesome states would flow in, one practices for the restraint of the faculty of the eye, one protects it and undertakes the restraint of the faculty of the eye.
Such sense restraint does not require just avoiding visual experiences (or those through the other senses). The task is rather to avoid that one is carried away by what one sees. One avoids latching on to what is experienced with a subjectively tinged bias and one does not allow the mind to proliferate things further based on the initial input provided by that bias.”—Analayo

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Thank you, Owl, for your answer. That’s really what I was curious about in this thread: whether others here think verbally, in words, sentences, etc., as you and I do or visually, as your husband does. My inclination was that, because this is a Buddhist website geared towards and populated by more scholarly and text oriented people, that it would be primarily verbal. I don’t know what it’s like to think but in words.

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