Can you hear sound and feel body in jhāna?

I am considering these for kāya

  1. Body
  2. Body+Breath (volume down | volume up scenerio) follows with
    Breath+Body (volume up | volume down)
  3. Breath(reflection)+slightly bright experience mostly topdown (somewhat overlaping of perceptions but not nimitta object, this is the part that some meditator misled them self as attaining rupa jhana)
    And the last part of kāya as
  4. Reflection on object; in anapanasati sutta that would be both body and breath; “nowhere” to be found; what is left only reflection.

End of the third is the divergent point, either continue with samatha (with ‘dynamic’ vitakka-vicara transformation by taking a specific meditation object) or dive into discernment.
Anapanasati has to be connected to other specific samatha training or non-samatha discernment, and the word that provide such link in stage 4 is likely to be the last kāya as reflection when certain degree of clarity is attained.

Fwik, at stage 4 (of non-samatha) sound can be heard, mind does think in a subtle way but it is not rupa jhana. Body is not felt, but can feels it when you intentionally look for it!

Hey Sylvester,

I’ve had a chance to circle back to your comments here and finally review them a little more closely:

The portion you bolded presents an interesting premise to run with. Would you have it then that among what are not absent are form of (flesh-)body, consciousness of body, perception of body, feeling of body and volition towards body? And, for example, would this mean that one in jhāna can feel the butt that sits on the ground but not the ground that the butt sits on?

We have from MN 137:

‘The six internal bases should be understood.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? There are the eye-base, the ear-base, the nose-base, the tongue-base, the body-base, and the mind-base. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘The six internal bases should be understood.’

Could it be that kāyanupassana is essentially the fulfilment of the fifth in this list of things to be understood?

Here, even if we take -viññeyyā to be the verb of each clause, due to the peculiar word order, we’d still be left with all six remaining adjectives following the substantive—ie a nexus either way.

Hi Chan

In my estimation, even those things are absent. Now, I’m not going to go all Yogacara and speculate on the ontic status of the external fields prior to contact. But it is interesting to know that even if the internal and external fields meet, there is no contact without attention : MN 28. My interpretation at this point is that the jhanas are bereft of the kaamaa, not in the sense that either of the internal or external 5 senses fields are absent, but because attention is drawn to the rapture and pleasure. When that happens, there is no contact based on the kaamaa. Without such contact, how can there be any Aggregate based on such kaamaa?

Rev MN 137, I’m not sure how you see the connection between the mindfulness refrain to “dwell as a body contemplator with reference to the body” with MN 137’s injunction to understand. Could you explain?


Here’s how I might begin to syncretize the whole thing. It’s a bit of a sketch (and a stretch), so there’s wont to be holes, strictly speaking.

In defining the saṅkhārākkhandha, we have from SN 22.57 and elsewhere groups of -sañcetana for each of the six external āyatanā. And so I might here take a basic understanding that the things for which there is -sañcetana are things with which there can be contact.

Now curiously, for only two of the internal āyatanā do we find the compound form -sañcetana employed, the one other than manas of the ahāra manosañcetana being kāya, only found in SN 12.25 & AN 4.171. In fact, SN 12.25 opens the discussion of kāyasañcetana prompted by a question on what causes pleasure and pain, to which the answer given is contact. This is of course natural since even nirāmisa vedanā would have to be conditioned by contact.

But contact with what?

In taking this further, we might divide the rūpakkhandha into two, those in kāmaloka and those in rūpaloka. And in fact, in SN 22.57, we find a unique bit of dependent-origination that goes “āhārasamudayā rūpasamudayo” (here again resisting any ontic speculations).

Putting it all together, perhaps here is where the kāya that is manomaya becomes quite relevant. That it is kāyasañcetana (of kāye kāyanupassī) fueled by manosañcetana that makes a kāya that is not defined by external impingement but rather filled from the inside. Whether the kāya of jhāna is mental or physical, what is clear from DN 2 is that it is possible for it to be partial or whole, and I find it rather difficult to understand how this could be understood without some kind of spacial component to the kāya that is filled with pītisukha (which I’d want to take as tappurisa rather than dvanda, btw, with pīti as internal kāyāyatana of contact, sukha as resultant vedana) etc.

And we might take it even further that perhaps then the internal āyatanā are a gateway of sorts to dibba analogues (cf. Skt: adhy-ātman), and even further then that “perceptions of diversity” that are transcended for the arūpaloka are including these divine, non-kāmic perceptions of diversity which are to be found in jhāna.


Hee hee. You could have taken the shortcut offered by MN 28 and its MA parallel, that contact at the mind can also yield the Form Aggregate.

I’m having serious reservations about reading nānat­ta­ssaññā as a genitive tappurisa when in MN 128, we hear that this is a defilement that obstructs entry into jhana. I prefer to read it as an ablative tappurisa - ie perceptions from diversity. This would fit in nicely with Ajahn @brahmali 's argument that the Form Aggregate in jhana carries echoes of diversity.

As for the manomaya kaya, I’ve written elsewhere that from DN 9 we know that this kaya means attapaṭilābha (acquisition of self). In fact, this sense of kaya as being a referent to the reflexive meaning of atta (himself), is the best reading for sakkaya, kayena, kayika etc. Even the PTS takes the kaya similes to refer to this sense of “he permeates himself”.

Could you elaborate on your point re SN 12.25?

Apologies for the messy post from my phone.


Oh right. I’ll call it the karma of past ontic speculations surrounding that line from SN 22.57.

Back to the drawing board for me on this phrase.

The key point I’d want to make here is that the series of actions “abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati” seems infinitely more workable in four dimensions as opposed to just the one time dimension.

I think the point I’m shooting for overall, in short, is that the feeling of sensing a given part of the body should not be considered as part of the external phoṭṭhabbāyatana, but rather those feelings should be considered as part of the internal kāyāyatana.

For this I take kāyasañcetana to be distinct from phoṭṭhabbasañcetana in that the latter is in fact an extension of an impure manosañcetana (MN 43). When I feel the ground at my foot, it’s my mind attending to that pressure, whereas when I attend to the foot itself from the inside, this is identical to the activity that is the precursor to moving it.

I mention the intro to the particular sutta to highlight the premise that the things for which there is -sañcetana are things with which there can be contact by pointing to the rare topic of the three modes of -sañcetana being raised somewhat abruptly here after an answer that emphasizes contact.

(With thanks as usual for the opportunity to organize these ideas like this)

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Thanks, Chan, for your elaboration.

Re -

For this I take kāyasañcetana to be distinct from phoṭṭhabbasañcetana …

I think this is quite a novel perspective. I guess I’m more comfy in taking the sañcetana classification as being 3-fold, ie body, speech and mind as mediators/outlets of kamma. I’ve not seen a 6-fold classification applied in the suttas as outlets of kamma/volition as the 6 typically “functions” upstream of contact.

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That’s a great way to frame it and perhaps we might find some sense of this happening at MN 28’s “tajjo samannāhāro”

MN 28

Yato ca kho, āvuso, ajjhat­tikañ­ceva cakkhuṃ aparibhinnaṃ hoti, bāhirā ca rūpā āpāthaṃ āgacchanti, tajjo ca samannāhāro hoti.

cf. MN 43

Mano paṭisaraṇaṃ, mano ca nesaṃ gocaravisayaṃ paccanubhotī.

And perhaps to throw another idea out here, maybe the more ubiquitous DO chain that begins with avijja is the one that governs the case where “[manosañcetana] āhārasamudayā rūpasamudayo”, the external [nāma]rūpa arises, while the DO chain of DN 15 that begins with nāmarūpa is the one that governs the persistence of nāmarūpa vis-a-vis the 6 sañcetanas, ie as part of the nāma quintet. :astonished:?

Edit: (cf. Dhātu Saṃyutta SN 14, eg SN 14.9 as corroboration of nāmarūpa-initiated chain)

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You’ll be happy to know that tajja samannāhāra is parsed by the Comy to mean “attention” (that one in nama). The Agama parallel also has “attention”. A good chap on DW also helpfully pointed out that the verb form of samannāhāra is always found tied up with the verb form of manasikara.

As for the source of rupa, sometimes we need to distinguish the suttas’ contexts. There’s one in SN 22 that posits that the source of the Form Aggregate is form, while the source of the other 4 Aggregates is contact. I would read SN 22.57 in a manner consistent with the one I cited and take that nutriment to refer to “form”.

Although DN 15 does mess around with us by positing namarupa to have at least 2 senses - the cosmological (rebirth) and the psycho-linguistic (pathways of designation)…

Collapsed for migration out of topic

I take it you mean the four great bhūtā and gross material food here?

SN 22.82, looks like. In so much as lumpy food would be form derived from the external four great dynamics, I would take the positing of āhāra as source of rūpa at SN 22.56/SN 22.57 to indicate a definition of source that subsumes the definition at SN 22.82. The Puttamaṃsa Sutta @ SN 12.63 corroborates this in the section on lumpy food:

When the nutriment edible food is fully understood, lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure is fully understood.

Kabaḷīkāre, bhikkhave, āhāre pariññāte pañca kāmaguṇiko rāgo pariññāto hoti.

Indeed. In addition to working out whether the avijja-rooted DO and nāmarūpa-rooted DO differ in terms of arising and persistence (and perhaps vitakka vs vicāra), I’m also trying to work out whether manomaya (rūpaloka) kāya might be ‘derived’ in parallel with oḷārika (kāmaloka) kāya from the ‘first principles’ of DO… and I’m quickly getting in over my head.

There is the distinction in MN 28 between internal and external elements. We might distinguish between rūpaloka and kāmaloka like this in the DO chain, where the rūpa of nāmarūpa, when external, conditions the six external bases and vice versa.

(And another visual aid :grin:):

(and perhaps to round out the theory)



The key supposition in this synthesis is a resolution to the question raised by @Gabriel in “Ayatana vs Indriya - synonyms?” with a “no”; that a given āyatana, whether external or internal, functions as the domain in which the appropriate indriya may contact with for the arising of the corresponding indriya’s viññāṇa.

Eg MN 148, for the case of non-kāma:

Kāy[indriya]ñca paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe[kāyāyatana] ca uppajjati kāyaviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso.

Dependent on the [faculty of] body and tangibles[the domain of body], body-consciousness arises; the meeting of the three is contact.

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Here’s another anatomical body for the 4 jhanas from the EBT Agama world.

Ven. Anālayo is one of the editors overseeing this project.

from MA sutta #1 just released in MA volume 1,

Again, the noble disciple, separated from desires, separated from
evil and unwholesome states, with initial and sustained application of
the mind, with joy and happiness born of separation, dwells having
attained the first absorption. At this time the noble disciple is reckoned

as one whose new leaves have appeared, like the appearing of the new
leaves on the coral tree of the thirty-three gods.
Again, the noble disciple, through the calming of initial and sustained application of the mind, with inward stillness and mental onepointedness, without initial and sustained application of the mind, with
joy and happiness born of concentration, dwells having attained the
second absorption. At this time the noble disciple is reckoned to have
grown buds, like the growing of the buds on the coral tree of the thirtythree gods.

Again, the noble disciple, separated from joy and desire, dwelling
in equanimity and not seeking anything, with right mindfulness and
right attentiveness, experiencing pleasure with the body, dwells having
attained the third absorption, which the noble ones speak of as noble
equanimity and mindfulness, a happy abode.47

At this time the noble
disciple is reckoned to have grown [buds] resembling a bird’s beak,
like the [buds] resembling a bird’s beak on the coral tree of the thirtythree gods.
Again, the noble disciple, with the cessation of pleasure and pain,
and with the earlier cessation of joy and displeasure, with neither-painnor-pleasure, equanimity, mindfulness, and purity, dwells having
attained the fourth absorption. At this time the noble disciple is reckoned
to have grown [buds] resembling bowls, like the [buds] resembling
bowls on the coral tree of the thirty-three gods.

I asked a friend, a chinese agama expert for a second opinion on the choice of translation for vitakka and vicara, which Ven. Analayo above translated consistently with B.Bodhi in MN (that was one of Analayo’s stated goals. I wonder what happens when they move on to Bodhi’s SN and AN, where bodhi changes over to “thought and examination.”).

According to my friend, the Chinese for vitakka and vicara in first jhana would literally translate into something along the lines of “search and ambush.” The more archaic previous chinese agama translations for vitakka and vicara is also ambiguous and impossible to ascertain its meaning. So in his opinion, vitakka and vicara in Agama first jhana could be “thought and examination”, could be “applied and sustained thought”, or something else entirely.

A first experience of fire might be described as follows:
Interaction with fire > Feeling + ensuing perception of this feeling [cittasaṅkhāra] > Thought (vitakka) of “?” + concretism (vicara) [vacīsaṅkhāra] > Word “Fire”.

The thought “?”, cannot be conceived apart from its form and heat (concretism).
Then , and only then, the thought “?” becomes the word “Fire”.

Concretism is the representation of an abstract thought, in concrete terms.
Representation should be considered as “concretism” - as a lexical more than a grammatical process (which will develop later as syntax/expression); as representing an abstract idea into a concrete term; as an attempt to embody a thought about a perceived feeling.

As far as Jhanas are concerned with vitakka/vicāra, what has to be abandoned in the first jhana is the word “fire” (speech). Then what has to be abandoned in the second jhana is the “mental materiality” of the fire (its form and heat); and the “thought” of it, that is seed.

“Concretism” (representation) would be more in line with such expressions like:
kshatryas’, brahmins’, householders’ representations are wisdom (paññūpavicārā); woman’s representation is adornment (alaṅkārūpavicārā); robbers’ representation is seizing (gahanūpavicārā) in AN 6.52 (EA 37.8, MA 149).

And Thanissaro’s:
Having first directed one’s thoughts and made an evaluation, one then breaks out into speech.
would become:_
Having thought and made a concretism, (a representation of that thought in concrete terms,) one then breaks out into a word.
Pubbe kho, gahapati, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati.

This article by Hirtle might be of interest.


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Bhante Analayo offers strong opinions on the matter in his new book, page 137.

Absorption and Hearing Sound
Given that from the viewpoint of the early discourses a practi-
tioner who has fully entered absorption attainment appears to
be in a condition where thoughts and the conceptual activity
corresponding to fully formulated thoughts have become stilled,
this brings up the related question of whether one who has en-
tered the second absorption and thus a noble type of silence, as
mentioned above, will still be able to hear sound. 59 This ques-
tion that raised discussions among practitioners and scholars
already during the period of Buddhist exegetical activity. 60
The possibility of being clearly aware while in a deep state
of absorption, yet be unaware of any sound, finds exemplifica-
tion in an episode reported in the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta and
its parallels. In the episode in question the Buddha describes
an occasion when he had been in deep meditation while a terri-
ble storm was raging. The parallels agree that the Buddha ex-
plained that he had been fully awake, yet he did not hear any-
thing. 61
In what follows my discussion of the possibility of “hearing sound”
concerns the mental processing of sound waves created externally
in such a way that these are understood for what they are. The
question at stake is thus whether a mind immersed in the second
absorption can at the same time, while remaining in the absorption
attainment, be conscious of a particular sound.
See in more detail Dessein 2016.
DN 16 at DN II 132, 12 , Waldschmidt 1951: 276, 8 (§28.36), DĀ 2 at
T I 19b 2 , T 5 at T I 168b 18 , T 6 at T I 184a 1 , and T 7 at T I 198a 29 .
Bronkhorst 1993/2000: x sees a contradiction between the approving
attitude shown in the present passage toward deeper states of con-138  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
A story recorded in a range of Vinayas appears to provide a
different perspective, as here Mahāmoggallāna reports having
heard the sound of elephants while he was immersed in a deep
level of concentration corresponding to the fourth absorption or
to being in one of the immaterial attainments. Other monks
think that he has committed a breach of the pārājika rule by
making a false claim to having been in such high attainment. 62
When the matter is brought before the Buddha, however, he
exonerates Mahāmoggallāna and makes it clear that the state-
ment made did not involve a breach of the pārājika rule. This
at first sight gives the impression that one can hear sound even
while being in the fourth absorption. 63
centration during which sights or sounds are no longer experienced
and the criticism of the “development of the faculties” by avoiding
sights and sounds, raised in MN 152 (for a comparative study see
Anālayo 2011: 849–853). Yet, the point made in MN 152 is how to
relate to everyday experience, in fact the expression “development of
the faculties”, indriyabhāvanā, is an obvious counterpart to “restraint
of the faculties”, indriyasaṃvara. The exposition in MN 152 is not a
criticism of deeper stages of concentration during which sensory ex-
perience is absent, but rather a criticism of attempting to deal with
sensory impact during daily life by simply trying to avoid it, instead
of developing equanimity toward whatever is experienced; for a criti-
cism of Bronkhorst’s arguments see also Pāsādika 2009: 92f.
The actual term used is uttarimanussadhamma, on which see in
more detail Anālayo 2008. My study of this episode has benefitted
from Syinchen 2010.
According to Ṭhānissaro 2012: 227: “as for the assertion that a per-
son in jhāna cannot hear sounds, this point is clearly disproven by
an incident in the … discussion of Parājika 4 in the Vinaya. There,
Ven. Moggallāna states that he can hear sounds when entering the
formless attainments. A group of monks object to his statement,
convinced that he is making a false claim … so they report his
statement to the Buddha. The Buddha’s reply: Moggallāna’s ex-Absorption  139
In agreement with the Theravāda version, the Dharmagup-
taka Vinaya reports the Buddha’s explanation that Mahāmog-
gallāna’s attainment had been “impure”. 64 According to the
Theravāda commentarial tradition, the expression “impure”
here means that he had not properly purified his mind from the
obstructions to concentration. Being seated in the fourth ab-
sorption, he heard sounds when having momentarily lost the
absorption and then thought he had heard them while still
being in the attainment. 65
The commentarial explanation receives support from other
Vinayas that cover the same event. The Mahāsāṅghika Vinaya
reports the Buddha’s explanation that Mahāmoggallāna did not
properly understand the characteristics of emerging and enter-
ing (absorption). It was when he had emerged from the con-
centration that the hearing had occurred; he did not hear while
being in the concentration attainment. 66
According to the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, the Buddha
clarified that Mahāmoggallāna had quickly emerged and then
quickly re-entered (the absorption). Even though he actually
had emerged from the concentration, he thought he had re-
mained in the concentration. 67
The Sarvāstivāda Vinaya has such an indication already as
part of its actual report of what happened. According to this
perience of those attainments was not pure; however, that impurity
was not enough to make the statement false. He actually was ex-
periencing the formless attainments.”
Vin III 109, 12 : aparisuddho and T 1428 at T XXII 985a 3 : 不清淨.
Sp II 514, 1 : samādhiparipanthike dhamme na suṭṭhu parisodhetvā
… catutthajjhānaṃ appetvā nisinno, jhānaṅgehi uṭṭhāya nāgānaṃ
saddaṃ sutvā, antosamāpattiyaṃ assosin ti evaṃ saññī ahosi.
T 1425 at T XXII 466a 6 : 不善知出入相, 出定聞, 非入定聞.
T 1442 at T XXIII 680b 8 : 速出, 速入, 雖是出定, 謂在定中.140  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
report, Mahāmoggallāna took hold well of the characteristic of
entering concentration, but not of the characteristic of emerg-
ing from it. He actually had emerged from the concentration
when he heard the sound of elephants. Having heard it, he had
then quickly entered the concentration again. 68
The circumstance that the other monastics thought Mahā-
moggallāna had made a false claim to attainment implies that
for them it was self-evident that one cannot hear sound and at
the same time be in deep absorption. Thus the Mahāmoggal-
lāna incident in the different Vinayas does not entail that, from
the perspective of these texts, one can hear sound when being
actually immersed in the fourth absorption or one of the im-
material attainments. It does show, however, that they envis-
age the possibility of mistaking a condition as being absorp-
tion attainment when this condition actually falls short of
being the full attainment, properly speaking.
The inability to hear sound appears to apply also to lower
levels of absorption, judging from a discourse in the Aṅguttara-
nikāya and its Madhyama-āgama parallel. The narration that
precedes the actual exposition in these two discourses revolves
around some senior disciples who considered sound to be an
obstacle to entering deep concentration, to the extent that they
left to avoid some noisy visitors. The Buddha confirms their
assessment and then elaborates by presenting a series of obsta-
cles in terms of their being “thorns”. The relevant part reads as
follows in the Aṅguttara-nikāya discourse: 69
T 1435 at T XXIII 440c 22 : 善取入定相, 不善取出定相. 從三昧起, 聞
薩卑尼池岸上大象聲; 聞已, 還疾入三昧; the Buddha repeats this
when explaining to the monastics what happened; see T XXIII 441a 4 .
AN 10.72 at AN V 134, 26 to 135, 2 . The term used is sadda, which
means “sound” in general; for conveying the sense of “noise”, the
term sadda needs to be additionally qualified as ucca or mahant.Absorption  141
Sound (sadda) is a thorn to the first absorption; application
(vitakka) and its sustaining (vicāra) is a thorn to the second
absorption; joy (pīti) is a thorn to the third absorption.
The Madhyama-āgama parallel similarly proclaims that: 70
Sound is a thorn for one entering the first absorption; [di-
rected] awareness and [sustained] contemplation is a thorn
for one entering the second absorption; joy is a thorn for
one entering the third absorption.
The thorns mentioned in the two versions before coming to the
three lower absorptions differ. The Aṅguttara-nikāya discourse
lists delight in socializing as a thorn to seclusion, pursuing the
appearance of beauty as a thorn to cultivating the [notion] of
the absence of beauty, going to see shows as a thorn to guarding
the senses, and keeping company with females as a thorn to
leading the celibate life (this refers to the situation of a hetero-
sexual male, of course).
The Madhyama-āgama parallel lists breaches of morality as
a thorn to maintaining morality, bodily adornments as a thorn to
guarding the senses, the appearance of beauty as a thorn to cul-
tivating the [notion] of the absence of beauty, anger as a thorn
to cultivating mettā, the drinking of liquor as a thorn to ab-
staining from liquor, and looking at the female form as a thorn
to leading the celibate life (again, this holds for the case of a
heterosexual male).
After the fourth absorption, which in both versions has its
thorn in inhalations and exhalations, the Aṅguttara-nikāya dis-
course mentions perceptions and feelings as thorns to cessation
and then concludes with the thorns of lust, hatred, and delusion
which an arahant has overcome.
MĀ 84 at T I 561a 7 to 561a 9 .142  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
The Madhyama-āgama discourse additionally refers to the
four immaterial attainments, where in each case the lower at-
tainment is a thorn to the higher one, then mentions perception
and knowing as thorns to the attainment of cessation, and
finally also takes up the three thorns of lust, hatred, and delu-
sion, which an arahant has left behind.
The differences in the two listings give the impression that
an original exposition predominantly concerned with thorns to
absorption practice, which is the topic broached in the intro-
ductory narration, has been subsequently expanded by way of
the addition of other thorns.
It is against the variations between the two versions that their
similar exposition of thorns to absorption attainment emerges
as evidence for the early Buddhist understanding of the nature
of absorption attainment, given that this is found in the same
way in expositions that otherwise differ. Such common ground
can reasonably be expected to be early.
Now to attain the second absorption one needs to overcome
vitakka and vicāra, application and its sustaining, and to attain
the third absorption it is necessary to leave behind joy (pīti). In
fact a recurrence of these factors implies that the respective level
of absorption has been lost. It follows that from the perspec-
tive of these two discourses proper attainment of the first ab-
sorption requires leaving behind the hearing of sound. 71
A statement confirming the incompatibility of the first ab-
sorption with the hearing of sound can be found in a discourse
in the Dīrgha-āgama, of which no parallel is known. The rele-
vant passage states: 72
In line with this indication, Ajahn Brahm 2006: 273 note 9 con-
cludes that “sound can disturb the first jhāna, but when one actu-
ally perceives the sound one is no longer in the jhāna.”
DĀ 11 at T I 59a 7 , a statement made similarly in DĀ 10 at T I 56c 29 .Absorption  143
When entering the first absorption, the thorn of sounds ceases.
A passage in the Poṣadhavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vi-
naya also speaks of the thorn of sounds. Here this comes as
part of a description of meditating monastics who were unable
to develop unification of the mind because of the thorn of
sounds. 73 This supports the impression that suggests itself from
the above early discourses in the way these have been pre-
served by the Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda, and Theravāda
reciter traditions.
In fact, according to a passage found in the Mahāvedalla-
sutta, already with the first absorption one reaches a condition
of “mental unification”, cittekaggatā. 74 The same indication is
made in the Chinese and Tibetan parallels to the Cūḷavedalla-
sutta, 75 a difference in placement that reflects a general ten-
dency of the two vedalla discourses to have exchanged some
doctrinal discussions with each other in various transmission
lineages. Once with the removal of vitakka the second
absorption has been attained, a condition of “internal stillness”,
ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ, obtains and one has reached a still
deeper condition of “unification”, ekodibhāva. For a mind
unified within, an act of hearing would constitute an external
Elsewhere in the Pāli discourses the qualification ekodi-
bhāva refers to a deeply concentrated condition of the mind,
capable of developing direct knowledge (abhiññā) or super-
Hu-von Hinüber 1994: 264, 3 (§6.4): dhyāyināṃ kaṇṭakaśabdena
cittaikāgryaṃ na labhante; with the Tibetan counterpart in ibid.
note 2: bsam gtan dag gi tsher ma ni sgra yin pas, sems rtse gcig pa
nyid kyang mi thob pa’i skabs te.
MN 43 at MN I 294, 31 .
MĀ 210 at T I 788c 20 and D 4094 ju 8a 2 or Q 5595 tu 8b 8 , which
are parallels to MN 44.144  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
normal abilities (iddhi). 76 This differs from the usage of the
similar term ekaggatā, which for want of a better alternative I
also render as “unification”.
Later texts like the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha consider ekag-
gatā to be one of the seven mental factors present in every
mental state (sabbacittasādhāraṇa). 77 This differs from the to
some extent comparable definition of “name”, nāma, in the
discourses, which does not mention ekaggatā. 78 In other words,
it is only by the time of Abhidharma analysis that some degree
of mental unification was held to be a general characteristic of
the mind. 79 This is not what ekodibhāva stands for in the early
discourses. Here mental unification does not refer just to a mo-
mentary focus on an object present in the mind, but rather to a
condition of the mind that is unified for a considerable stretch
of time.
A discourse in the Saṃyukta-āgama states that, even though
the senses and their objects are present and one is perceptive
during the attainment of the first absorption, the objects of these
Most occurrences of the qualification ekodibhāva in the four Pāli
Nikāyas seem to be concerned with the second absorption. Two
cases that offer further information are AN 3.100 at AN I 254, 33 ,
which relates a mental condition that is ekodibhāvādhigato to the
ability to realize direct knowledge, and AN 6.70 at AN III 426, 8 ,
which describes a samādhi that is similarly specified as ekodibhā-
vādhigato as enabling the attainment of iddhis. Thus ekodibhāva
seems to have a more restricted range of meaning than cittekaggatā.
Abhidh-s 2.2; Bodhi 1993: 80 explains that this refers to “the unifi-
cation of the mind on its object”.
SN 12.2 at SN II 3, 34 and its parallel EĀ 49.5 at T II 797b 28 list
feeling, perception, attention, contact, and intention. The Abhi-
dhammatthasaṅgaha list of universal factors adds to these five the
two factors of the life faculty and ekaggatā.
See Dhs 9, 8 .Absorption  145
senses will not be experienced (in the ordinary way). 80 Although
this discourse does not have a Pāli parallel, properly speaking, 81
a related position is taken in a discourse in the Aṅguttara-nikāya,
which has a parallel preserved as a Sanskrit fragment. Accord-
ing to the relevant passage, dwelling in the first absorption one
dwells at the end of the “world”, which the same discourse ex-
plains to refer to pleasurable objects of the five senses. 82
In practical terms, the passages surveyed above seem to
imply that one who hears sound would not at that very same
time be fully immersed in the unified mental condition of an
“absorption”, jhāna/dhyāna, of the type described in the early
discourses. This could be either because of having temporarily
risen from the attainment of absorption, or else because of
mistaking a level of concentration that borders on absorption
as being already the full attainment itself. 83 Here the story of
SĀ 559 at T II 146c 6 ; on the bodily dimension of absorption, which
indeed differs from ordinary bodily touch sensation, see above p. 54ff.
Akanuma 1929/1990: 61 lists SN 35.192 as a parallel to SĀ 559,
yet the two discourses are too different to be reckoned parallels.
AN 9.38 at AN IV 430, 22 ; see SHT VI 1326 folio 212, Bechert and
Wille 1989: 82f. Now AN 9.37 at AN IV 427, 13 states that the five
senses and their objects are not experienced in the immaterial attain-
ments. Yet, the parallel SĀ 559 at T II 146c 6 affirms the same for the
four absorptions. As SĀ 559 explicitly mentions the change of
speaker, unlike AN 9.37, perhaps the latter has lost a portion of text.
Catherine 2008: 156 explains that at times meditators may have an
experience wherein “the jhanic factors are strongly established but
… it is not full absorption. To understand the quality of this phase,
imagine yourself standing on the threshold of your house. You are
looking inside through the open front door, but you have not yet
stepped inside … this phase marks a natural transition; I would not
call it jhana until a deeper immersion has occurred. When con-
ditions for absorption do occur, the experience is like entering the
house and closing the door behind.”146  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
Mahāmoggallāna’s hearing of sound provides a good example
for appreciating how different understandings of the nature of
absorption can arise. In fact the dividing line between absorp-
tion and levels of concentration bordering on absorption is not
always easily drawn in subjective experience.
Just as with hearing sound, it would similarly be quite pos-
sible to contemplate the impermanent nature of different fac-
tors of the mind while being deeply concentrated and experi-
encing the presence of absorption factors, such as non-sensual
joy and happiness, although strictly speaking this would have
to be reckoned a condition of having temporarily risen from
full absorption attainment or else a condition of not yet having
fully reached it.
With the above discussion I certainly do not intend in any
way to be devaluing experiences where absorption factors are
present and one is still able to hear or think, which can indeed
be very powerful and subjectively empowering. My intention
is only to enable the drawing of a clear distinction between ab-
sorption proper of the type described in the early discourses
and states bordering on this type of absorption. Such a distinc-
tion has considerable practical significance, simply because
overestimating the absorbed condition of the mind that one has
been able to reach can lead to underestimating the potential of
going deeper. 84
In this context I think it is also relevant to allow some space
to reflect on the basic purpose of descriptions of the absorp-
tions from the viewpoint of actual meditation practice. This
purpose is reflected in a Madhyama-āgama discourse without
Catherine 2008: 155 advises that “should you choose to apply the
term jhana liberally to states lightly saturated by jhanic factors,
please don’t presume such states represent the full potential of jhana.
The early discourses … describe very deeply secluded states.”Absorption  147
a Pāli parallel that describes how someone who has attained
the first absorption by dint of further practice reaches the
second absorption. Not recognizing this experience for what it
is, the practitioner comes to a mistaken conclusion and then
loses the attainment: 85
[The practitioner thinks]: ‘I have lost the first absorption,
my concentration has ceased.’ That practitioner of absorp-
tion does not understand as it really is: ‘By cultivating right
intention my mind, joyful and calm, has progressed from
the first absorption to the second absorption, which is
superior in calmness.’ Not having understood this as it
really is, [the practitioner] turns back the mind [from the
second absorption] and then loses the concentration. In this
way a practitioner of absorption, [who had actually] pro-
gressed, thinks to be regressing.
The converse can also happen, when someone prematurely
attempts to progress from the first to the second absorption
and thereby even loses the level of concentration earlier at-
tained. Mistakenly believing to have reached the second ab-
sorption, 86
in this way a practitioner of absorption, [who has] regressed,
thinks to be progressing.
Although this Madhyama-āgama discourse is without a Pāli
parallel, a somwhat similar point is made in a discourse in the
Aṅguttara-nikāya. 87 The discourse compares an attempt to reach
the second absorption without having properly developed the
first absorption to a foolish cow which, trying to get to a new
MĀ 176 at T I 714a 2 to 714a 6 .
MĀ 176 at T I 714c 4 .
AN 9.35 at AN IV 418, 6 .148  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
place on a mountain without firmly planting her feet in the
place she had been, is neither able to reach the new place nor
able to safely return to where she was before.
In this way, the listing of key aspects of the absorptions in
the standard descriptions in the early discourses has the pur-
pose of helping to recognize the experience and avoiding any
wrong assessments of one’s progress or regress, because this
can undermine one’s proper practice. 88
The function of such listings goes further, since the key as-
pects they enumerate are indications about how to enter absorp-
tion, and the successful putting into practice of these indica-
tions is what makes for the actual attainment, as already men-
tioned above. Such providing of directions on how practice
should be undertaken comes to the fore in another discourse in
the Madhyama-āgama, also without a Pāli parallel, which de-
scribes a practitioner who has attained the first absorption and
is unable to maintain it: 89
One does not keep that practice, is not mindful of its char-
acteristic marks, one is only mindful of and has perceptions
related to the characteristics of engaging in sensual pleas-
ures; one completely regresses.
Here regression happens because a crucial aspect of the first
absorption, “seclusion” from sensuality, has not been properly
maintained. Failure to keep up this quality of seclusion when
faced by the temptation of sensual pleasures and distractions
inevitably leads to regress. Another type of practitioner, how-
The same principle is also reflected in AN 6.71 at AN III 427, 1 ,
which highlights the importance of properly recognizing what leads
to decline and what leads to progress, etc., although the exposition
does not explicitly mention the attainment of absorption.
MĀ 177 at T I 716b 23 to 716b 24 .Absorption  149
ever, acts differently and is able to stabilize the attainment of
the first absorption: 90
One does keep that practice and is mindful of its charac-
teristic marks, one establishes mindfulness in accordance
with the Dharma so as to dwell with a unified mind.
This passage highlights how clear awareness of the “character-
istic marks”, which in the present case is in particular seclu-
sion from sensuality, is of considerable importance in order to
be able to stabilize the ability to enter absorption. 91
Keeping in mind this pragmatic orientation of the descrip-
tions of absorption attainment in the early discourses helps to
avoid misinterpretations, influenced by the assumption that
such descriptions must be mentioning all the factors that are
present in the respective experience. An attempt to provide
comprehensive descriptions is not a concern of the early dis-
courses, but much rather a tendency of later exegesis.
An example in case is unification of the mind, already
mentioned above. Although unification of the mind is at-
tributed to the first absorption in the Mahāvedalla-sutta and
the parallels to the Cūḷavedalla-sutta, as well as in the extract
from the Anupada-sutta translated above, the same quality is
not mentioned in the standard description of the first absorp-
tion. Nevertheless, it would be a misunderstanding to assume
that the first absorption is without unification of the mind just
MĀ 177 at T I 716b 28 to 716b 29 .
This is also reflected in SN 40.1 at SN IV 263, 15 , which describes
how Mahāmoggallāna’s attainment of the first absorption was dis-
turbed by the arising of perceptions related to what is sensual and
giving attention to them, kāmasahagatā saññā manasikārā sam-
udācaranti, whose removal was required to stabilize his attain-
ment.150  Early Buddhist Meditation Studies
because this is not explicitly mentioned in the standard de-
scription. In fact, on adopting the same type of reasoning one
would have to conclude that the first and the second absorption
are also without the presence of mindfulness, just because
mindfulness is only mentioned in the standard description of
the third and fourth absorptions.
Instead of presenting an exhaustive inventory of all mental
factors and qualities of a particular absorption experience, in
line with the predominant concern in later exegesis, the stand-
ard descriptions in the early discourses pragmatically focus on
those qualities considered particularly relevant for enabling
successful attainment and proper recognition of an absorption.
To expect such descriptions to be comprehensive seems a case
of reading later exegetical attitudes into the early discourses.


There is a mistake in your post, the page is 137 not 317

Yes indeed thanks. I made the correction.

what did you think of the passage you quoted regarding sound as a thorn in jhana?

I read the entire book once very quickly over the past few days, just to get a survey of what he’s covering, which suttas he examines, what his conclusions were. I will re-read certain the sections of the book, slowly and carefully, that of our interest to me, but so far I haven’t seen anything that looks like it might change my current opinions.

I admire and respect Venerable Analayo, but sometimes it seems to me that in his writings the line between opinion and fact becomes a little blurred, as he seems to engage in cherry-picking arguments that support his preferred interpretation, without examining counter-arguments that may sometimes have greater authority.

If I understand well the arguments here,

  1. The lists of thorns differ heavily between the Pali and Chinese counterpart outside those of the four jhanas. From this, Bhante concludes that probably (in his opinion) both lists of thorns outside those of the jhanas are unauthentic.
  2. In the list of four jhanas, what constitutes a thorn is apparently something that would completely disrupt the attainment since it cannot be present therein, so similarly sounds would completely disrupt the first jhana, so it cannot be heard therein.

I have provided here a counterargument:

I am not sure that Bhante Analayo’s observations have conclusively debunked the above argument, so I would call the matter inconclusive.

I think Bhante Analyo’s work could gain from being less partisan in controversial issues, at least not without seriously examining the strongest counterarguments to his assumptions.


I agree with this understanding. Conceptual jhanas have to be by the book. The real thing is a bit more complex and not merely black or whiter. A bit like reading a description of sleep of a few sentences and trying to understand the nuances of state of falling asleep. The time spent on this thread is probably enough to attain a jhana and see for oneself :grin:

With metta

Very well stated. I felt the same way, and was very disappointed Ven. Anālayo did not attempt to tackle the more difficult aspects of AN 10.72. If the thorn was merely a “preventer”, a better simile might have been a gate that blocks entry.

I can imagine a common scenario back in the Buddha’s time, they’re walking around in the jungle and suddenly find themselves amongst thorny bushes, with no clear way out of it. To extricate themselves from this mess, you can’t just turn away from a gate that blocks your entry, you have to carefully step your way out moment to moment and probably suffer many very painful thorn pricks in the process. In the same way, lust is a thorn, aversion is a thorn, delusion is a thorn, sound is a thorn for all 4 jhanas (AN 10.72), nearness to women is a thorn for celibacy.

Nearness to women does not automatically prevent celibacy from happening, otherwise monasticsm would never have survived for 2500 years.

If one carefully looks through all 10 of the scenarios presented in AN 10.72, if we treat the thorn as an “irritator” that harasses you continuously throughout the activity of each scenario, the simile fits all 10 activities perfectly*. Whereas if you treat the thorn as a gate acting as a “preventer”, it really only fits a few of the cases.

You can’t just ignore a glaring incoherency like this.

[edit: original footnote phrasing was awkward and incomprehensible]
_* depends on how one defines jhana. I’ll polish my more detailed notes and analysis of this sutta AN 10.72, AN 9.41 and share some other time.