There are these six classes of feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, feeling born of ear-contact, feeling born of nose-contact, feeling born of tongue-contact, feeling born of body-contact, feeling born of mind-contact. — MN 9 translated by Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi


Still in the field of sense information, here we are being asked to look at what feelings arise in response to the contact through the senses. It is at the moment of contact and with the rapid arising of feeling in response to that contact that we have our earliest opportunity to stop the whole process.

In other suttas, feeling is described in a way that is more like our modern definitions: as feelings of pleasure, pain, or neither of those. This gives us information about what sorting we are doing that is more useful to us in seeing what is going on than just “feeling that results from contact with a sense”. Even so, this is still telling us what to look at, but not how it fits into the process that is being described. We look and see pleasure, or pain, or that we don’t care about what our senses just came into contact with — so what?

The answer to that question is provided by observing the larger picture — where have we just come from (the effects of sankhara’s drives) and where does the process lead? Fortunately this middle portion of the chain of events has been well-interpreted over the years as being the way our encounters with the world lead us into having opinions about things — we’ll see why this is clear in the next couple of steps — but it is important to notice that the usual descriptions of each link don’t describe what is happening, but what to look at to see what is happening. This is even true of noticing what our experience of contact is: we sort it, but why do we sort it? What is the basis of our categories? That information has been provided by the earlier sections, so it is not what is discussed in the link itself. The driving force comes from the links before this; they plant the seed in this field. Without that seed, what grows in this field will not be whatever produces dukkha.

Just as with the previous links, when we look at the field — in this case of feelings — there are things that grow in the field that are not going to bring about dukkha, and so are not the problem. Simple hunger and the recognition that we need food is not about an overwrought sense of self — it’s just about needing the requisites, and the Buddha allowed the requisites as necessary: food, water, clothes, shelter, medicines, none of these are a hindrance to breaking free of the cycle. It’s only when we go over the top with them, and incorporate them into our sense of who we are, and find ourselves needing more or better than others have, that we have problems. So feelings not entwined with a sense of self but just with basic human needs aren’t the feelings that end at the point of liberation. By extension, it’s possible to recognize that there are feelings that are not a problem; the Buddha names some of them: compassion, joy in others’ accomplishments, friendliness, equanimity. We can see from this that what’s being said when we discuss breaking the links in DA and ending all of these is not *all* human feeling (just as it’s not all desire for existence, or all awareness, or — looking further along the chain — all aging and all death) but only the parts of these that are involved with the production of dukkha.



Go To: Table of Contents for A Secular Understanding of Dependent Arising

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  1. Dana Nourie on June 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Yes, yes, yes it took me awhile to catch onto this. When I walk outside, I feel it’s cold. I need no more than the thought, “It’s cold. I better bring a jacket.” No need to go into how horrible it feels, when is this weather going to clear, and on and on.

    I got the best taste of this when I went out to my yard and squatted to pull weeds. The thought jumped into my head, “I hate pulling weeds.” I suspect the sense bases involved here were sight, and body sensation of squatting down. But I let the thought go, and was fascinated later that since I had truly let the thought go the emotions of disliking weeding were gone. Instead all I experienced was weed pulling without the judgement. This was my aha moment of DO! Let go of the judgement and the suffering disappears with it. Was it truly that simple. Indeed. Now I get the zen thing about when washing dishes, just wash the dishes.

    Linda, it was in that moment I finally understood this process of DO and it was quite “enlightening.” Thank you for this wonderful post. Well said again!

  2. […] « A Secular Understanding of Dependent Origination: #7 Feeling […]

  3. Linda on June 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    What a wonderful experience you had there that can be a touchstone for recalling what it is that adds difficulties to our lives. I hate to say that I think Nike got it before I did, with their slogan “Just Do It” which I take to mean “Leave all the ‘wanna/don’t wanna do it’ out and just do it.”

  4. Ron Stillman on June 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Linda, in my experience, this way of understanding Dependent Arising ties in with the “Twelve Insights of the Four Noble Truths” as found in Gotama’s first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The second insight of the First Noble Truth is “This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by fully understanding dukkha”.

    Two years ago, I was fortunate to have come across a little book entitled “Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination” by Buddhadasa. He describes the process much like you are explaining it. Suddenly, I had a way to help me fully know dukkha experientially. I am deeply grateful for this practical knowledge.

    Thank you for your effort to expose more people to this way of understanding Dependent Arising.

  5. Dana Nourie on June 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm
  6. Linda on June 8, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I read Buddhadasa’s take on DA after I’d gotten the sense of it on my own (not entirely independently; I credit Nanavira Thera and Joanna Jurewicz with fundamental insights I couldn’t do without) and I understood his repenting of teaching the Three Lives, and found his model to be a big improvement. I feel the same with a lot of what Nanavira Thera had to say about DA. In both cases, I think their improvements on old ways of looking at it is because they are getting the sense of the structure that has always been there but not been located before. I wish both of them had lived long enough for me to suggest this new view of the structure to them, and see how they’d read things then. But I’m hopeful that we have enough great translators and scholars out there — now or up-and-coming — who will be able to pull far greater insight out of an improved understanding of the structure than I can hope to.

  7. Ron Stillman on June 9, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Yes, Dana, that’s the text. I’m happy to see it’s an ebook available to anyone who may be interested. It’s been out of print for sometime. As an aside, there is a former monk, by the name of Santikaro, that was associated with Buddhadasa in Thailand for many years. He has carried on his teachings and has a website at

  8. Abimael Rodriguez Ortiz on June 11, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Linda I found the articles on DO very informative an educational. Thanks for your contribution. And now to put what I’ve read in to action 🙂



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