Upekkha, Vedana, & Qualia

I was wondering about upekkha and it’s relation to vedana, especially the neutral aspect of it. Is upekkha the same as neutrality? Also, when liberation is attained, does that mean vedana always remains neutral? I always got the sense that upekkha was something more than neutral, that there was an almost positive or pleasurable aspect to it in a kind of paradoxical way. It is always said that liberation is the elimination of craving, and so that’s where the escape hatch is located, but it seems you must develop sustained upekkha, and then you finally let go of your craving for that to continue. Although, now writing about it, maybe upekkha and neutral vedana is not the same. Maybe upekkha is just the impartiality or equanimity to whether vedana is pleasurable, neutral, or displeasurable. And once this is achieved, and craving for that is released, then vedana switches to always being neutral, because your unconditioned nature is now at the helm. The conditioning that causes vedana to be pleasurable or displeasurable is removed. So then, once arahantship is attained, you have both sustained upekkha and neutral vedana. This is a difficult position as well though, because you’d think that arahants do experience pleasure, but maybe it’s just bliss in the form of peace.

Oh, and the reason I’m stuck on that part about arahants having a sustained neutral vedana as well as upekkha is because the causes for pleasure or displeasure are conditioned. They are the result of obtaining or not obtaining what you crave, or keeping or losing what you cling to. Once you eliminate craving and clinging, the next time that part of the cycle comes around (contact with the six sense bases) there will be no cause for pleasure or displeasure because you don’t cling to or crave anything, the conditioned formations of craving have been uprooted. So, just thought I would explain my thought process with that one.

But that still doesn’t explain whether upekkha has a pleasurable aspect to it before arahantship, whether impartiality, equanimity, or an even better translation, ataraxia, has an intrinsic pleasure to it. In which case, that ataraxic attitude toward things would automatically cause vedana to change from neutral to pleasurable, but then you just still remain ataraxic toward that pleasure resulting from it, with no concern to whether the pleasure lasts, or gets stronger and fuller, or whether it’s satisfying in the first place. Any thoughts?

Bonus Discussion: I have always thought of vedana as just the hedonic quality of feeling, but after listening to some talks by Brahm, I realize it is actually much more than that, and that the hedonic quality is just the 3 ways you can break vedana down into classes. The 3 ways themselves are not vedana, just aspects to vedana. So would a good translation of vedana be qualia? Qualia is a relatively contemporary philosophical term, but it seems like a perfect fit for vedana, which unfortunately (i think) is usually translated with the often misleading and limiting word “feeling.” This kinda goes along with my suggestion that sankhara always be translated as “conditioned formations,” as to remain accurate in all situations, but that’s another topic entirely.

An6.13 is one of my favourites for looking at the Brahmaviharas, as it has the quality and it’s ‘opposite’.

For upekkha it has

'this is the escape from passion: equanimity as an awareness-release.’

As I understand it it’s not being pulled between passion and dispassion. So something good happens and you don’t get too excited. Something bad happens, you don’t get too upset. This too shall pass. The vedana is still there but no mental proliferation.

The Honeyball sutta mn18 talks about this. Where the Buddha says ‘I teach a doctrine that doesn’t quarrel with this world’ is one of my favourite lines.


In understanding what vedana is a cup of tea is really useful- a temporal take on a cup of tea, that is.

  1. Cup & saucer| ear+sound
  2. adding of hot water| ear-consciousness arises
  3. hot cup (and saucer)| contact
  4. tea bag added| feeling vedana arises,
  5. milk added| sanna arises,
  6. Stirring tea spoon added| sankhara arises.

In short, bits of the final experience is added successively, but very rapidly so that it feels like it is one experience we are having. Qualia would be analogous to this final experience. vedana - i.e. whether an experience is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral is a subunit of the experience.

Three outcomes of feeling:
Pleasant v. - craving
Unpleasant v. - aversion
Neutral v. - ignorance is perpetuated

Therefore, chronologically, craving comes after vedana. This practice is aimed at this juncture (sutta?) to stop craving. However the pleasant sensation can still arise but due to the lack of ignorance (sukkha, nicca, atta) it wouldn’t go down a pathway that gives rise to craving. So the Buddha is quoted talking about pleasantness of certain villages and celestial beings (sutta?). Arahanths are seen talking about natural beauty

With clear waters &
massive boulders,
frequented by monkeys &
covered with moss &
water weeds,
those rocky crags refresh me.Thag 1.113

Having said that craving can be pleasant too. This is called nandi. That needs to go, to attain Nibbana.

Arahanths are calm in the face of the 8 worldly conditions. This is upekkha. There is some overlap with neutral feeling (adukkhamasukha vedana). Arahanths would also experience the other three divine abodes more frequently as well as suffering has ceased. They have unpleasant feelings too - Buddha experienced back aches and head aches and was in pain when he was injured.

With metta