On a recent retreat, a participant asked, “Is pain Vedanā?”
I was dissatisfied with the answer; here’s my attempt.
(TL;DR: No. Pain is not Vedanā.)
Interoception vs Vedanā (Valence)
In a recent post I discussed the difference between Interoception and Vedanā:
interoception is the process of the body sending signals to the brain, and the brain using these signals to predict the state of affairs on the body budget.
Vedanā on the other hand is the Valence, the pleasant, unpleasant, or Neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant sensation that comes after the brain has interpreted these signals with respect to the present body budget.
Pain is Interoception
Here referring to pain which arises from damage to body tissue, pain is a communication from the body to the brain. As such, it is Interoception.
Vedanā Is The Interpretation Of Pain
Vedanā, as Akincano says, is the “Oooooh!” or “Ehhhhh!” of experience. The brain interprets the interoceptive signals given present body budget and outputs the unpleasant/neither/unpleasant Valence/Vedanā.
Pain is unpleasant. End of story, right?
In the suttas it says that ‘Neither’ Vedanā, when paid attention to, becomes Pleasant. Unpleasant Vedanā, when paid attention to, becomes ‘Neither’.
I can report from my own experience, and have heard from others, this same phenomenon.
It is sometimes possible to hold the physical interoception of pain without reacting to it. When this is done, it seems the brain settles, recognizing that the body budget is not overtaxed. Vedanā can shift from unpleasant to slightly less unpleasant, to neither, and sometimes even to pleasant.
By understanding the difference between pain and Vedanā, we can learn to suffer less.
More of that, thank you. :)