Bāhiya - no jhāna?

I have heard an argument that Bāhiya attained arahantship without jhāna. This rests on the report from Ud 1.10, which claims that he attained arahantship just by listening to a short teaching.

I find it highly unlikely that that happened. i also notice that there are two other suttas mentioning a Bāhiya, SN 47.15 : Bahiya; and SN 35.89 : Bahiya. It has been proposed that these both represent two Bāhiya-named people neither of whom are the same as the one above.

I see that of these 3 suttas, only SN 47.15 has a known parallel. (If anyone can shed any light (or a translation!) about the parallel I would be grateful!) I rather doubt that they are different people. All 3 suttas seem very similar, in that they have the Buddha giving a very brief teaching to Bāhiya, and then it concludes with him becoming an arahant. That seems like too much of a coincidence, so I can’t help considering that they may all come from a common source.

But while the SN stories have him going off after the teaching, “dwelling alone, withdrawn, diligent, ardent, and resolute” which implies that he was quite possibly practicing jhāna; the Ud version has him attaining Arahantship without spending any time doing any practices after receiving the teaching. And this leads me to doubt the authenticity of the Ud version.

I also doubt the authenticity of the Ud version because the suttapitaka as a whole seems to teach that becoming an arahant is impossible without jhāna.

Anyone have any views on this? Or any other reasons why the Ud story may be false, or of the Ud’s Bāhiya practicing jhāna? (From early sources).



In MN 140, similar to Bāhiya, Pukkusāti (eventually) attains arahantship from listening because it is said he had already developed the 4th jhana. Also, both Pukkusāti & Bāhiya are killed by cows.

Personally, I have always doubted the Bāhiya teaching, not because of the jhana question, because I believe to uproot the defilements, some prolonged vipassana practise is probably required, as follows:

And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents? There is the case where a monk remains focused on arising & falling away with reference to the five clinging-aggregates: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is feeling, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is perception, such its origination, such its passing away. Such are fabrications, such their origination, such their passing away. Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’ This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents. AN 4.41


That’s interesting since this would mean they both are supposed to have attained arahantship by listening to a teaching. However, I had a look at MN 140 and yet see no mention of jhāna there at all. Could you be more precise regarding your statement “it is said…”?

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Footnote 1267 in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s MN translation from Majjhima Nikaya Atthakatha commentary.

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Interesting. Can we safely say that this is not the standard explanation of concentration, that this is rather out of character for the general presentation in the suttas? I notice that that sutta talks of “the four developments of concentration”, one of which is the one you quote, whereas the 4 jhānas are said merely to lead “to a pleasant abiding in the here & now”.

My impression from the suttapitaka as a whole was that the 4 jhānas lead to “ending of the effluents”, which would make this sutta uncharacteristic. Any opinions on this?

Ah, I must admit that I quite heavily distrust the commentaries. If they have no source in the suttas or vinaya for this claim, I am inclined to assume that they made the story up as a way of explaining things or getting out of doctrinal difficulty.

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Though I suppose at least it tells us that the commentators held the view that jhāna (or maybe even 4th jhāna specifically) was necessary for becoming an arahant!

Jhana does not bring enlightenment. Jhana only makes the mind perfectly clear to enable vipassana to bring enlightenment. Jhana is like cleaning a cloth so the cloth can absorb dye in an optimal manner. What I posted is standard enlightenment vipassana, also in SN 22.59 & MN 122.

My point is the following instruction does not sound like 100% vipassana:

In that case, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In what is seen there must be only what is seen, in what is heard there must be only what is heard, in what is sensed there must be only what is sensed, in what is cognized there must be only what is cognized. This is the way, Bāhiya, you should train yourself.

Kind regards :seedling:

MN 140 seems to imply Pukkusāti attained the 4th jhana, which is a pure abode (‘which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity’):

With the destruction of the five lower fetters, the clansman Pukkusāti has reappeared spontaneously in the Pure Abodes and will attain final Nibbāna there without ever returning from that world.


He was already a skilled meditator which is why he wondered if he had attained enlightenment, but he still held to wrong view. Most likely, all other conditions necessary for complete awakening were already in place. From my reading of the sutta, it seems that he held to the same kind view that is very common in non-dual circles today. He reified consciousness. “There is only consciousness, pure consciousness”. Consciousness is viewed as the (only) truly existing substance in the universe and one’s true self. All experience depends on it and is made out of it according to this view.

The Buddha points out that any appearance is just the appearance. When you see a stone, there is just the stone. When you hear a sound, there is just the sound. There is no background seer or hearer called “pure consciousness”. That is simply a misinterpretation of formless states. Instead, consciousness is a mere abstraction, like weather. There is no pure weather apart from the particular kinds of weather we experience like rain, snow, etc. The word weather points to all kinds of weather, but it is always of a particular kind.

Once Bāhiya realized this truth, everything else was already in place. He received the final ingredient necessary for awakening. That is at any rate how I interpret the sutta, and I also know of people who moved on from non-dual teachings and into the Dhamma because the Bāhiya sutta triggered realizations about the empty nature of consciousness in them.


You may be interested in this article by Ajahn Brahm where he specifically talks about Bāhiya and the teaching given to him.


The article states:

Fortunately, the whole story [of Bāhiya] is recorded in the Apadana (a biographical work containing the stories of the Buddha and his arahant disciples) and in the commentaries.

It’s surprising to see an EBT enthusiast like Ajahn Brahm appealing to an apadānic narrative (Tha-ap538) to account for Bāhiya’s unusually speedy progress. Even more so given that some of the details he gives aren’t even found in the canonical Apadāna but are taken from the Bāhiyadārucīriya Vatthu in the Dhammapada Atthakathā.

I notice, however, that the article was first printed over a decade ago. I wonder, does it reflect the ajahn’s current thinking on the matter?


I actually thought the article was recent, thanks for pointing that out, I don’t know what Ajahn Brahm’s views are on the matter these days :slight_smile:

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There are probably 50-100 instances in the suttas where a person is taught the dhamma and attains stream entry to arahantship after hearing it. With no exception, those that were lay persons attain stream entry. Those that were already ascetics usually attain arahantship or non-returning. There is no single case of a layman attaining higher than stream entry after hearing the dhamma.

This is because an ascetic will have a mind more enclined to renunciacion and his hidrances will be lower, therefore being much better at wisdom. Some are pulled by wisdom (achieved through contemplation on the dhamma) while some are pulled by tranquility (balance of the hidrances). So it is only normal for a person with ballanced faculties to attain bigger level of wisdom after being exposed to the dhamma than a regular person.

Doesn’t that sound a bit like saying ‘it’s not the engine that makes a car move, it’s the wheels’ or something like that? I would rather say that both are involved!

AN 9.36
"I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth…

Ah I just tried finding a sutta which talked about doing jhāna and that leading to nibbāna just as all rivers lead to the sea, something along those lines. But I can’t find it.

One misquoted sutta does not change your questionable view. To continue the quote from AN 9.36:

He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, unsatisfactory, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite—the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

In other words, he turns his mind away from those factors of jhana, such as rapture & one-pointedness, in order to realise Nibbana.

Kind regards :seedling:

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@dxm_dxm: you might want to check SN8.21 and SN8.22. The Buddha declared this householder Ugga an anagamin.

(1) “When, Bhante, I first saw the Blessed One in the distance, as soon as I saw him my mind acquired confidence in him. This is the first astounding and amazing quality found in me."
(2) “With a confident mind, I attended on the Blessed One. The Blessed One then gave me a progressive discourse, that is, a talk on giving, virtuous behavior, and heaven; he revealed the danger, degradation, and defilement of sensual pleasures and the benefit of renunciation…“
8) “—Of the five lower fetters taught by the Blessed One, I don’t see any that I haven’t abandoned. This is the eighth astounding and amazing quality found in me.”


When being aware of a beautiful rose, both the rose and the mind are not important, but the awareness.

The Buddha gave this succinct teaching:

One would have to train in the way the Buddha taught Bahiya and find out if awakening happens.

Bahiya heard what the Buddha taught and he also realised what the teaching was pointing to. Seeing the Dhamma is not the same as hearing a teaching. Someone else must have heard the teaching and passed it on - did they wake up in the same way Bahiya did?

Whatever happened to Bahiya in that brief encounter happens to everyone who completes the ‘training’ (purity, natural stillness and, wisdom). Some take a long time others are ready to let go completely.

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