15 January 2021

Modern Interpretations of the Khandhas: Saññā

Continuing my series exploring the Pāli khandhas in the early Buddhist texts as they are interpreted in two books published in 2000: Tilmann Vetter's The Khandha Passages in the Vinayapiṭaka and the Four Main Nikāyas and Sue Hamilton's Early Buddhism: A New Approach. In addition to these main sources I have also started consulting Rupert Gethin's article: “The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment In The Nikāyas And Early Abhidhamma” (1986). 

So far I have covered rūpa and vedanā. My verdict on each was that both authors accounts of these terms are problematic. This is partly because of the inordinate weight put, quite uncritically, on the Khajjanīya Sutta (SN 22.79). Because there is a dearth of explanation of the khandhas in Pāli this one sutta that appears to explain them is given privilege. The definitions in the Khajjanīya Sutta turn out to be untrustworthy but this has not stopped them being given pride of place by modern commentators. However explanations of the khandhas do not reflect the general usage in Pāli. If anything a picture that was vague to begin with becomes more deeply obscure. 

I suspect that some of us cannot shake the tendency to think of ancient Indian Buddhists as akin to the Greek philosophers. I think we imagine sitting around trying to reason about the world or just discussing it and coming up with grand narratives explaining life, the universe, and everything. We do have accounts of group discussions so they probably did happen, but Indian religieux also pursued a religious lifestyle and this included the religious exercises peculiar to India that we now refer to with the misnomer meditation. A lot of what we read about in Pāli suttas is an idealised account of this lifestyle:  men and women leaving behind all social responsibilities and domestic life to pursue the deathless. 

It's a mistake to think of the khandhas as the result of metaphysical speculation. The idea that early Buddhists were even interested in existence is on the wrong track. It's clear that Buddhism (and Indian religion in general) is underpinned by altered states of consciousness experienced in meditation, especially by the complete cessation of sense experience while remaining conscious. If Buddhists were speculating about anything, it was about the significance of cessation, the absence of sense experience, and as a corollary, the nature of sense experience. There is no talk of "reality" in early Buddhism (at least in Pāli) so far as I can see. There is a lot of talk about experience.

Rupert Gethin points out that in these sources: upādānakkhandhā = dukkha = loka = satta = ajjhattika-āyatana = sakkāya 

"All these expressions apparently represent different ways of characterising the given data of experience or conditioned existence, and are also seen as drawing attention to the structure and the sustaining forces behind it all" (1986: 42). 

The caveat is that there is no term that means "conditioned existence". We can say, categorically, that saṅkhāta is compounded with only one word in the Pāli suttas, saṅkhāta-dhamma: there are conditioned dhammas (saṅkhāta-dhammā) but no Pāḷi term that means conditioned existence. Moreover, dhammas are the object of the manas or mind-sense. As I have argued elsewhere, conditioned dhammas refer to  sensory experience and the singular unconditioned dhamma (asaṅkhāta-dhamma) is the state of absence of sense experience in which all the conditions for experience are absent (suñña), i.e. nibbāna. This is the broader context in which we have to think about khandhas. In other words we should be in the overlapping domains of phenomenology and epistemology: accounts of the phenomena and knowledge about phenomena; as opposed to accounts of noumena or existence. And this goes double for terms that clearly refer to some mental capacity or function, such as the next khandha, saññā

By "conditioned existence" Gethin might have meant saṃsāra the rounds of rebirth. But in early Buddhism this is governed by a different, incompatible process, i.e. karma. Dependent arising asserts that there can be no delayed consequences (something Nāgārajuna picks up on centuries later) and karma is all about delayed consequences. Of course, some tried to explain karma in terms of dependent arising but providing the necessary continuity for karma was always a problem because it always contravened the limits imposed by dependent arising. 

In any case, let us now consider saññā.


In defining saññā, Vetter continues to draw on the problematic Khajjanīya Sutta (SN 22.79) by asserting that "saññā is derived from sañjānāti" (24). It might be better to say that, in this rather odd and unrepresentative sutta, the word saññā is explained by the verb sañjānāti and that the two words are derived from the same affix-verbal root combination: saṃ√jñā. The verb sañjānāti typically refers to the act of recognition and putting a name to something. The Khajjanīya Sutta elaborates on this theme of recognition by naming four colours. And in the light of psychology, this invokes the more involved idea of perception (rather than naming) or in Hamilton's case apperception, i.e. "perception in the cognitive rather than in (just) the visual sense" (76). Gethin too, references the colours as part of the definition. 

Note that the colours named are the four "basic" colour terms in Pāḷi: nīla "dark/black", pītaka "yellow", lohita "red/brown", and odata "light/white". And this deserves a digression. Here "basic" is a jargon term with a very specific, if somewhat contested, meaning, the definition of which takes up a whole chapter in C. P. Biggam's The Semantics of Colour: A Historical Approach (2012). Since Biggam identifies nineteen potential headings under which to discuss the concept of basicness we could easily get bogged down. I will give a simple definition and suggest readers consult Biggam for a more comprehensive discussion of this fascinating idea. For our purposes:
A basic colour term is an adjective that is solely used to describe colours, it is at the top level of the taxonomy of colour terms (there is no broader category other than "colour" into which the basic term fits), it is not a recent loan word, it is not a compound word and does not rely on affixes to convey meaning, and in a language-using community basic terms are understood and used by everyone for the same purpose. 

With respect to the basic colours in Pāli, note that nīla does not mean "blue" until considerably later, here it means "dark" and this takes in black, blue, green, brown, grey, etc. Thus while a blue object would be labelled nīla, not all nīla-coloured objects would be blue. The Sanskrit of this period also has just four basic colour terms, as does Homeric Greek. See also my essay Seeing Blue (6 Mar 2015). Colour terms evolve in predictable ways, so that if a language has four basic colour terms one of the expected lines of development is to first split off red from light-coloured and then to distinguish red and yellow. And we confidently predict that the next colour to be added will be blue or green. And so on. So the colours named in the sutta are not arbitrary or random. We have eleven basic colour terms in English: black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, grey, pink, orange. I suspect that like some other languages English begins to distinguish blue from cyan at a basic level.

Vetter assumes that he has a reliable definition and then leaps to the conclusion that the definition derived from the  Khajjanīya Sutta "seems to presuppose some knowledge of a description of a kasina." (24). This is based on the appearance of the four basic colour terms (sans any insights into colour terminology) and of the verb sañjānāti, which occurs over 100 times in the suttas, often in the sense of "he recognises X as X" (cf. Mūlapariyāya Sutta MN I.1). Vetter leaps ahead, yet again, to suggest that this means "he imagines X as X". And I frankly do not follow the reasoning for this second leap. Nor do I follow his reasoning when he leaves behind the context of the khandhas and discusses saññā in a completely different context without making any distinction. We already know that the meanings of these words are sensitive to context. Vetter's citations of the Suttanipāta (25) are for example in the context of a person abandoning views. E.g. 793: "He becomes dissociated from all dhammas that are seen, heard, or thought (mutaṃ)." (which is also seems like a description of the absence of sense experience, doesn't it?). If we are discussing the khandhas then we ought to stick to texts that deal with the khandhas, unless the case is being made that the use with respect to the khandhas is just the ordinary usage. Vetter does not make this case. 

Saññā is yet another term that changes its meaning depending on context and over time. Like words such as manas, citta, and viññāna,  saññā can just be a general word for mind or mental activity.  Vetter suggests that Johansson has it right when he summarises the relevant mental activities as "ideation" (25) and Gethin supports Alex Wayman's suggestion that it means "idea" (1986: 36). Again, this seems to be based on the word in a different context. Moreover, even Gethin is too reliant on the Khajjanīya Sutta and on the modern psychological interpretation of the significance of the colour terms when it comes to saññā. When one says of an object that it is blue, one is not having an idea, one is putting a name to a quality. Perhaps this does involve conceptualisation but that conceptualisation is transparent to the person and would not have been obvious to early Buddhists. I see no evidence that the authors of the Pāli text generally had any insight into this abstract way of thinking about perception. We have to remember the the terms developed in Iron Age India long before sophisticated psychology and theories of consciousness emerged. All the authors I'm considering in this essay seem to be projecting modern ideas backwards and making an anachronism out of saññā (another example of the anachronistic fallacy).

A deeper sense of incoherence emerges when we see an alternative set of three khandhas in the Mahāvedalla Sutta (MN 43) where they are also matched to verbs from the same root: viññāṇa/vijānāti, vedanā/vedeti, and saññā/sanjānāti. The sutta tells us that viññāna cognises (vijānāti) pleasant, painful, and neutral; Vedanā experiences (vedeti) pleasant, painful, and neutral, while saññā recognises (sañjānāti) dark, yellow, red, and white (Note the first three colours are given in the form nīlaka, pītaka, lohitaka, where -ka can be adjectival with a possessive sense or diminutive).  Here, the three factors are in a different order than we are used to meeting them. The text tells us, however, that they are conjoined and inseparable (ime dhammā saṃsaṭṭhā, no visaṃsaṭṭhā. MN I 293) and this is because "What one feels, that one recognises; and what one recognises, that one cognises." (yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti, yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vijānāti). And this is the order we meet in the khandha passages.

But this is strange, because what one feels is sukha/dukkha/asukhamadukkha, what one recognises is colour, and one what cognises is again sukha/dukkha/asukhamadukkha. Two of these form a related set and one is completely unrelated, unless the colours are somehow a code for combinations of sukha/dukkha. If saññā really is the recognition of colours then the khandhas are incoherent at this point. This is reinforced when we think of saṅkhāra as karmic actions (obviously, I'm jumping the gun here a little), because karmic actions involve grasping the pleasant (sukha) and shunning the unpleasant (dukkha). The khandhas appear to narrowly miss out on having sukha/dukkha as a unifying idea: the appearance, feeling of, recognition, reaction to, and discrimination based on, the pleasantness and unpleasantness of sensory experience.

Hamilton, as noted, translates saññā as "apperception" and associates with the action of "identifying" (76). "What one is doing in this process, according to the texts, is making manifold and naming what one is experiencing." (76). Unfortunately, with the terminology of "making manifold" Hamilton is at her least clear and her usual practice of referring to which texts she is referring to breaks down. Hamilton appears to insist on a metaphysical interpretation of dependent arising against her own stated view that depending arising describes experience (which is an epistemic or phenomenological interpretation). She appears to believe that dependent arising entails an undifferentiated world in which nothing is distinguished, and that identifying individual objects in this undifferentiated mass is "making manifold", Hamilton's translation of papañca. Papañca is in fact another tricky and under-defined concept that I have studied in some depth in two essays from 2012: Translating Papañca and Understanding Prapañca.

What Hamilton does not say is that the texts that use the word papañca are confused. There are four distinct ways of talking about papañca:
  • papañca as the sum total of the perceptual process: e.g. in M 18, S 35.94 A 3.294, Sn 4.11, Sn 3.6.
  • papañca as metaphysical speculation: e.g. in A 4.173
  • papañca in relation to 'I am': e.g. in S 35.248, Sn 4.14.
  • papañca = kilesas e.g. S 35.248, SA 2.381 (commenting on S 35.94). UdA (commenting on Ud 7.7)
Moreover when it comes to the process the term refers to three distinct sequences of terms that appear to describe a process and they all disagree on the order in which the process happens. That is:
  • Sn 4.11: papañca = saññā → nāma & rūpa → phassa → sāta & asāta → canda → piya → macchara etc. 
  • M 18: rūpa + cakkhu + cakkhu-viññāna → phassa → vedanā/vedeti → sañjānāti → vitakka → papañca.
  • D 21: papañcasaññāsaṅkhā → vitakka → chanda → piyāppiya → issā-macchariya → verā etc.
No one can say definitively that papañca is one thing or the other. There is no overarching definition that fits every mention of it and Hamilton has simple chosen the definition which best fits her theory. As much as I find her theory useful, I don't find this aspect of it at all convincing. As I said in 2012: "What my study seems to say is that the ambiguity of papañca allows it to be co-opted to suit the agenda of the commentator.". Back then I was still puzzled by the lack of coherence in a Buddhist doctrine. Since then I have realised that incoherence is the norm

Given Hamilton's emphasis on experience and the lurch into metaphysics at this point (undifferentiated reality vs objectified experience) her work here becomes practically useless. I retain enough naivete to find this quite disappointing. 


I think colours associated with saññā in the context of the khandhas are a red herring. The colour words trigger particular associations in a modern reader that seem unrelated to how people in Iron Age India conceived of their world. We can be sure that they did not think in terms of psychology. We know that they didn't think of the mind at all like we do, as I show in my essay The 'Mind as Container' Metaphor.  

There is a distinction between inventing a way of reading texts (a hermeneutic) that makes sense on our terms and seeking to understand how the authors understood the texts. The former ignores the meaning of the text qua text and opts for something that fits modern preconceptions. This is the approach of all the modern Buddhists that I know. Stepping outside this modernist insider approach to really read the texts and to unearth the mode of thought of the authors is difficult and perhaps ultimately impossible. However, the textual scholar is bound to try to do this and to highlight how they go about it. 

Sanskrit dictionaries tell us that saṃjñā means "agreement, mutual understanding; consciousness, understanding; sign, token, signal; name, appellation"; while the verb means "to agree, to be of the same opinion; to appoint, assign, to acknowledge, to recognise; to claim, take possession". So the etymology offers a rich semantic field from which to choose, but "ideation" and "idea" don't really come up. At the outside edge of this we could imagine "perception" but really only if we employ psychology anachronistically. Of course we have to avoid the etymological fallacy and keep in mind that the used may be unrelated to the etymology. Still, the usage still has to make some kind of sense. 

We seem to come back to recognition as the principle idea associated with the word and the most likely application in this context also. The problem is that this is the conclusion of none of my informants. This feels a little awkward. The influence of the Khajjanīya Sutta on modern discussions of the khandhas continues to be problematic. Why was it not read critically by scholars? It seems that in the absence of a precise and coherent explanation this text was adopted as the next best thing. But it cannot carry this weight.



Biggam, C. P. 2012. The Semantics of Colour: A Historical Approach. Cambridge University Press.

Gethin, Rupert. 1986. “The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment In The Nikāyas And Early Abhidhamma.” Journal Of Indian Philosophy 14(1): 35-53.

Hamilton, Sue. 1996. Identity and experience: the constitution of the human being according to early Buddhism. London: Luzac Oriental.

Hamilton, Sue. 2000. Early Buddhism: A New Approach. London: Routledge.

Vetter, Tilmann. 2000. The Khandha Passages in the Vinayapiṭaka and the Four Main Nikāyas. Wien Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

08 January 2021

Modern Interpretations of the Khandhas: Vedanā.

In the first installment of this exploration of the khandas I introduced the subject and outlined the project I'm working on. I have two books published in 2000 that purport to provide an overview of the khandhas based on a comprehensive survey of the Theravāda Nikāyas and in one also the Theravāda Vinaya preserved in Pāli (though such mentions are few). Since the khandhas play an important role in Prajñāpāramitā literature and the Heart Sutra I wanted a working definition, but I have long been dissatisfied with the received explanations and drawn to Sue Hamilton's recasting of the khandhas as the "apparatus of experience". The opportunity to contrast this view with another comprehensive survey published in the same year seemed fortuitous. So I began to read them side by side and make notes. 

Since writing the first installment I found Rupert Gethin's excellent article “The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment In The Nikāyas And Early Abhidhamma” (1986). This provides a third summary of the Pāli treatment of the five khandhas. Gethin's article is extremely useful because he resists turning the descriptive task into an exercise in exegesis. That is, he tells us what the literature says without adding an interpretative veneer aimed at making sense of the ideas found there. Anyone looking for a straightforward description of what the khandhas are according to the Pāli texts will find what they are looking for in this article. Importantly, Gethin makes explicit in 1986 something that Hamilton concludes in 2000 without acknowledging Gethin (though she has clearly read and cites his article), i.e. that dukkha, khandha, and loka are synonyms for "experience" in this context (along with some other words). 

Having covered rūpa in the first installment we now move onto vedanā. 


The word vedanā is problematic for reasons already hinted at. We can see the problem in microcosm in the opening statements of our two authors on vedanā:

Hamilton: "...the khandha of sensation. It is also sometimes called the khandha of feeling (I have so called it myself in the past), but this is or can be misleading because it is not feeling in the affective sense of emotion that is meant here. (76)
Vetter:"Thus vedanā is pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral 'feeling'. The translation 'sensation', though possible is not chose because it is needed, with another shade of meaning, for translating [viññāṇa]." (22)

So is it "sensation" or is it "feeling"? My treatment of vedanā will be influenced by an article I published in 2018. I was invited to contribute to pecial issue of Contemporary Buddhism on the subject of vedanā, which contained a dozen articles all focussed on this elusive concept and various attempts to explain how to translate and understand it. Since someone had already done an extensive review of the etymology, I was forced to consider other approaches. It dawned on me that the reason we have trouble translating this and other jargon terms is that they are not used according to their etymologies. Rather the words are used quite arbitrarily to convey a jargon concept that was particular to Buddhism. And this opened the door to reconsidering the definitions of many words in the Buddhist lexicon. There is a summary of the article on my blog: Through the Looking Glass: How we define and translate Buddhist technical terms.

Vedanā comes from a root √vid "to know" and is a concrete noun (a name for a thing) formed from an action noun. The action noun is derived from the causative, so it names the action of "making known" or "bringing about knowledge". In a word, vedanā means something like "an announcement" or refers to the thing that informs you. But this is not how it is used. Vedanā is used to mean the positive or negative hedonic qualities of experience: sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā asukhamadukkhaṃ vā paṭisamvedeti. No one disputes this definition which is found throughout the suttas, but they do tie themselves in knots making a translation mean that. Gethin adds:

"The significance of the three kinds of vedanā seems to lie in their being seen as three basic reactions to experience which possess a certain potential to influence and govern an individual's subsequent responses in either skilful or unskilful ways" (1986: 36).

Vetter treats vedanā as "derived from" vedayati based (again) on the Khajjanīya Sutta (SN 22.79) which I discussed at some length in the first installment. I noted that the Khajjanīya Sutta had a wrong definition of rūpa relating to ruppati "to harm" (Skt rupyati) rather than the denominative ruppeti "to appear" (Skt rūpayati). The Khajjanīya Sutta is not a reliable source for a definition or rūpa but Vetter ploughs on. With respect to vedanā the text says:

‘vedayatī’ti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘vedanā’ti vuccati.
[It does the action of] vedayati, monks, therefore, it is called vedanā.

Note that a final short vowel is long when followed by iti. But how to translate the verb vedayati given that we already acknowledge that the noun is not used as we might expect from the etymology? Note also that the verb is being used intransitively, but this may be a quirk of this particular syntax - when referring to the action itself in the abstract the object might be left off and still make sense as in "they experience [sense stimulation] therefore we call it experience". In this case we don't need to specify what is experienced, even though in normal speech we would have to.

Worse, we discover that Vetter uses the PTS edition which has vediyati and notes "v.l. vedayati": where v.l. = vario lectio "a variant word" . My text comes from the Sixth Council Edition which is fairly reliable and much more accessible. The trouble is that they are not simple variants. See PTSD s.v. vindati (625) and vedeti (648).

Vediyati could be derived in two ways. It most resembles a passive (affix -iya-) built on the causative form of the root (ved-) "it is made known", but could also be a present indicative form "he experiences" from ved-ya, with a euphonic infix -i- because dy is not allowed in Pāli phonology giving the stem vediya- .

Vedayati could be a denominative from veda "knowledge, experience" (as rūpayati is from rūpa); or it could be an archaic (or borrowed) causative. The expected Pāli causative third person singular is vedeti but the -e affix is a condensation of the Sanskrit affix -aya-, and the Sanskrit causative is vedayati. We will meet vedeti below. 

If we turn to the context it provides us with a strong predictor of what to expect. If we look again at the pattern from the passage in question, i.e. SN III.86-7, we see five verbs

  • ruppati = denominative; present indicative third person singular (active voice)
  • vedayati/vediyati = ?
  • sañjānāti = present indicative, third person singular (active voice)
  • abhisaṅkharonti = present indicative, third person plural (active voice)
  • vijānāti = present indicative, third person singular (active voice)
So we are expecting to see a verb in the active voice, indicative mood, present tense, third person, and probably in the singular (though possibly plural). The particular syntax of quoting the bare word followed by iti and then a definition also makes us expect to see the third person singular (in Latin and English we expect the infinite when defining verbs, e.g. "to know").

So if vediyati is correct then is must be the present indicative "they experience" and if vedayati is correct then it is a denominative "they are informed". And either possibility is equally likely as far as I can see. The two words are virtually interchangeable in Pāli (especially when we consider the commentaries).

What the texts says is that vedanā—the positive or negative hedonic quality of experience—is supposedly the result of an action denoted by vedayati or vediyati. But given the very specific, ad hoc, definition of the word (Humpty Dumpty style) all this etymological work (a couple of hours!) is ultimately futile. We cannot simply rely on the assumed meaning as derived from etymology because etymology plays little or no part in the definition of vedanā as a Buddhist technical term. And here is the most crucial criticism of relying on the Khajjanīya Sutta as an authoritative source. The author of the Khajjanīya Sutta has fallen for the etymological fallacy and taken Vetter down with him.

We can say that vedanā means "feeling" but we still have to consciously redefine "feeling" to mean "the positive and negative hedonic quality of experience". And this is not obvious to any outsider until we tell them. They may well complain that we can't just redefine words willy-nilly, in which case we can give Humpty Dumpty's retort, “The question is, which is to be master–that’s all”. And we are the masters of our own jargon.

There is another statement in Vetter (2000: 23) that needs some attention, viz "In a formula thirteen times employed in the Brahmajāla-sutta, vedanā obviously refers to a sublime state of bliss" (e.g. as DN I.17). But Vetter himself goes on to show that this is incorrect. There is no doubt that the Buddha is said to attain nibbuti which Bodhi and Maurice Walsh both translate as "perfect peace" but which can be understood as "bliss".

In arguing that nibbuti can mean "a state of bliss" Vetter references a discussion of nibbuti in "Norman 1993, 59" but he does not include a work by Norman with this date in his bibliography. Is the date wrong or was the reference omitted? In any case, the argument is not hard to find elsewhere. The PED derives the word from Sanskrit nirvṛti "bliss, pleasure, delight" but points out that it is used synonymously with nibbāṇa. Maurice Walsh and Bodhi both follow this usage when they translate nibbuti in this context as "perfect peace". Edgerton points out that nirvṛti probably derives from nir-var ([i.e. nir√vṛ] 203 s.v. nirvṛta, nirvṛti), "but even in Sanskrit used in ways that suggest a secondary association with nir-vā- 'extinguished'." Here again, use trumps etymology and Vetter's insistence on translating nibbuti as "a state of bliss" is another example of the etymological fallacy. Buddhists simply don't use the word that way.

Worse, here vedanā is not related to nibbuti at all. Rather, as part of the process of liberation, the Tathāgata in this description first attains peace, then "having understood as they are, the arising and passing away of feelings, the enjoyment of, disadvantage of, and release from them... (vedanānaṃ samudayañca atthaṅgamañca assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṃ viditvā). It is not true that "vedanā obviously refers to a sublime state of bliss" rather it is obvious that knowledge of the arising and passing away of vedanā is referred to in the context of achieving liberation.

Conclusions on Vedanā

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that scholars explicating vedanā are often struggling with the etymological fallacy. We in fact have a precise definition of what vedanā means in Pāli. It means the positive (sukha), negative (dukkha), or neutral (asukham-adukkha) feelings that we have in response to sense experience. Another place we come unstuck is a variety of anachronistic fallacy, i.e. trying to present this Iron Age religious concept in terms of some form of modern understanding of the mind and/or perception. For example, insisting that it means "feelings" and then using a psychoanalytic explanation of "feeling" as though it is universally applicable across times and cultures. One might also say that this is Anglo- or Euro-centric. 

Hamilton and Gethin both treat the khandhas as a "sequence". Vetter appears not to take this approach. For Hamilton, it means that vedanā occurs prior to, e.g. recognition (which is a function of saññā). The idea of the khandhas as a diachronic sequence rather than a synchronic list is not defended. I've only ever come across one text in which some of the khandha appear to form a sequence, and even then it's not a complete list of khandha, i.e. in the Madhupiṇḍika Sutta (MN 18)

Cakkhuñca, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti, yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vitakketi, yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti,... (M I.111)
With the eye and form as condition arises eye cognition, the three together constitute contact; with contact as condition there is feeling. What one is made to feel one comes to know. What one knows, one thinks about, and what one thinks about proliferates...

Note here that the verb associated with vedanā is vedeti, the causative,  "it makes known" or "it causes [one] to experience" (c.f. above). Note also that this passage appears to combine elements from at least three doctrinal lists, but does so in a way that is quite intuitive (which should make us suspicious). Thus I am not convinced by the idea of the sequence. (cf. Hamilton's comments on the order of the list; 72-73).

In my view, then, Tilmann Vetter is off to a very inauspicious start with his characterisation of the khandhas. I don't believe him. Sue Hamilton is doing better but her approach has a Procrustean element to it that was not apparent to me previously. Rupert Gethin's summary had a very different purpose and provides a good contrast to both. 



Attwood, J. 2018. “Defining Vedanā: Through the Looking Glass.” Contemporary Buddhism, 18 no. 3, 31-46. https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2018.1450959

Gethin, Rupert. 1986. “The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment In The Nikāyas And Early Abhidhamma.” Journal Of Indian Philosophy 14(1): 35-53.

Hamilton, Sue. 1996. Identity and experience: the constitution of the human being according to early Buddhism. London: Luzac Oriental.

Hamilton, Sue. 2000. Early Buddhism: A New Approach. London: Routledge.

Vetter, Tilmann. 2000. The Khandha Passages in the Vinayapiṭaka and the Four Main Nikāyas. Wien Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
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