Vedana translation

Why can vedana be translated, or not translated, as “preferences”?

Explanations with or without sutta references hoped for. (Please take exclusively Abhidhamma to another thread.)

edit: studying khandhas; I’m aware vedana is used in other contexts.


It’s not a real answer, but maybe you’re interested in this PhD: A survey of the use of the term vedana (“sensations”) in the Pali Nikayas.


I’m a bit wary of Goenka- based interpretation, but thank you, I’ll give it a look. I don’t have the scholarship to know what’s in line with the EBTs and what’s not, which leaves me with an intuitive evaluation.

Since vedana can be positive, negative or neutral, one can’t apply “preferences” to encompass all meanings of vedana. For example, “neutral preferences” sounds quite peculiar compared with “neutral feeling”. And similarly with “painful preferences” and “painful feelings”.

MN44:22.2: “There are three feelings:
MN44:22.3: sukhā vedanā, dukkhā vedanā, adukkhamasukhā vedanā”ti.
MN44:22.3: pleasant, painful, and neutral feeling.”

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mmm. perhaps so. Yet I have observed what appear to be preferences for the painful (because familiar), in human relationships or adaptive behaviors; and in rebirth, is not the desire for continued existence in some ways a preference for the painful?
And I sometimes have a preference for a neutral feeling, over the alternatives; maybe not absurd?

However perhaps preference seems to suggest choice, rather than an other distinct event.

“Feeling” in my native tongue usually means either emotion or sensation; vedana is neither of those, it is simply pleasant unpleasant and neutal vedana.

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Neutral feelings are pleasant for those compelled to explore the dictates of curiosity. I really like the nun Dhammadinnā’s explanation:

MN44:24.1: “What is pleasant and what is painful in each of the three feelings?”
MN44:24.2: “Pleasant feeling is pleasant when it remains and painful when it perishes.
MN44:24.3: Painful feeling is painful when it remains and pleasant when it perishes.
MN44:24.4: Neutral feeling is pleasant when there is knowledge, and painful when there is ignorance.”

So we don’t need to use “feeling”. We can use anything that fits Dhammadinna’s definition.


Thank you :anjal:

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Gratitude for Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha!


In the suttas vinnana, vedana and sanna are said to be conjoined, so I reckon vedana is our initial reaction to experience, at the contact stage. How it feels.

So for example the taste of ice-cream is experienced as pleasant, while the smell of dog poo is experienced as unpleasant. Neutral here would be no particular reaction either way.

Dependent Origination tells us that craving (tanha) arises in dependence upon feeling (vedana), so for example we might get attached to the pleasant taste of ice-cream, and eat too much of it.
You could say we have a preference for pleasant vedana, but vedana itself is quite instinctive.


@Martin Helpful post, thank you.

As vedana always refers to pleasant, unpleasant or neutral (or neither pleasant nor unpleasant), it seems to me that the equivalent in scientific psychology is ‘emotional valence’.