Do you find Sati, Sampajanna and Atappa in first Jhana?

Do you find Sati, Sampajanna and Atappa in first Jhana?

Please refer to the following passage for description of above terms.

Thanissaro explains further:

As you do this, you develop three qualities of mind. One is mindfulness (sati). The term mindfulness means being able to remember, to keep something in mind. In the case of establishing the body as a frame of reference, it means being able to remember where you’re supposed to be — with the body — and you don’t let yourself forget. The second quality, alertness (sampajañña), means being aware of what is actually going on in the present. Are you with the body? Are you with the breath? Is the breath comfortable? Simply notice what’s actually happening in the present moment. We tend to confuse mindfulness with alertness, but actually they are two separate things: mindfulness means being able to remember where you want to keep your awareness; alertness means being aware of what’s actually happening. The third quality, ardency (atappa), means two things. One, if you realize that the mind has wandered off, you bring it right back. Immediately. You don’t let it wander around, sniffing the flowers. Two, when the mind is with its proper frame of reference, ardency means trying to be as sensitive as possible to what’s going on — not just drifting in the present moment, but really trying to penetrate more and more into the subtle details of what’s actually happening with the breath or the mind. … cmind.html

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Thanissaro seems to be bringing these two things from the standard satipathana formula:

"Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhij­jhā­do­manas­saṃ; vedanāsu … pe … citte … dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhij­jhā­do­manas­saṃ. " AN9.72

If one acknowledges how the development of right mindfulness (samma-sati) preceeds (or sets the ground) for right-stillness (samma-samadhi) to take place (culminating in the jhanas), one can say that these qualities should indeed be present in the mind which is invested in experiencing jhana.

Interestingly, in the MN118, once all the seven englightment factors are fullfilled - having samadhi and upekkha as the last ones - the Buddha says one would be able to, on whatever occasion, abide contemplating the four foundations of mindfulness “ardent (ātāpī), fully aware (sampajāno), and mindful (satimā), having put away covetousness and grief for the world”.

Last but not least, in the DN28 you will find the following formula preceding three supreme attainments:

… some recluse or brahmin, by means of ardour (ātappamanvāya), of exertion (padhānamanvāya), of application (anuyogamanvāya), of earnestness (ppa­māda­man­vāya), of careful thought (sammā­ma­nasikā­ra­man­vāya), reaches up to such rapture of mind (cetosamādhiṃ), that rapt in thought he calls to mind his various dwelling-places in times gone by … sees beings deceasing and being reborn (according to their kamma) … he becomes able to enjoy diverse modes of supernormal powers

Notice how ardour (ātappa) is listed together with careful thought (sammā­ma­nasikā­ra) as leading to the reach up of rapture - or stillness - of mind (cetosamādhiṃ).

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In second Jhana, it says that there are no thoughts. (Vitakka and Vicara)
If there are no thoughts, how can we experience Sati?

The opening question was about first jhana, now you ask about the second e deeper/more subtle second jhana… Still, I understand that the stillness of samma samadhi totally depends on a full presence of mind, mindfulness, to take place.

At least in my practice if I have not endeavoured to have all previous and less subtle elements of the path sorted, presence of mind or mindfulness is surely hard to come by, be it having the body as subject/foundation not to say about having the next and more subtle foundations of sensations/feelings, thoughts/mind events and mind qualities/dhammas.

Truly, I would say Sati is not something one experiences, it’s more a quality that one cultivates (together with other elements of the path), and needs to be present for the liberation to be realised or verified - as prescribed in the four noble truths and its respective tasks.

Think of the less subtle elements of the path. If one who has not done his homework in terms of right view, thought, speech, action and livelihood decides to go to a meditation retreat or sits down to meditate at the end or in the middle of the day, the chances are that his practice of right effort and right mindfulness will be tainted by the lack of strength of the previous elements. He will find himself confused about what unskilful things are to be let go and what skillful things are to developed further himself, and, due to resulting constatation of the lack of sila in himself he will probably find it very hard to be present with himself (things like anxiety, guilt, remorse, etc will probably haunt him).

By this way, if one finds himself unable to be present with himself (satima) I bet stillness is very unlikely to unfold, not to say about any material insight to occur.

Hence, Sati - together with all previous elements - should be definitely understood as a required quality of mind in one endeavouring in cultivating the path which has right stillness - four jhanas - as its transformative and insight facilitating element/step. And in its standard formula Sati involves as well as a presence the aforementioned elements of ardour, exertion, full and careful attention.

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If we take satipaṭṭhāna as the practice for getting to jhāna, then sati+sampajañña+ātappa are definitely pre-requisites. Whether they are present in the jhānas is an interesting question for sure.

One place in the suttas I know of where we see at least sati and sampajañña occuring in the jhānas is MN111… Taking an armchair hand-waving position as an amateur, this sutta seems to only exist in the Pāḷi with no parallels and it has a very analytical/abhidhammic flavor. I honestly like the clear analytical nature of that sutta, but maybe we should have some doubts about it’s place in the earliest canon?

Ātappa is absent in the standard jhāna passages, moreover it’s even absent in the odd MN111. Jhāna is usually described as quite effortless, so the absence of a term usually translated with such extremely effortful words as “ardency/zeal/exertion” makes a lot of sense. So there is probably not such an extreme exertion… but perhaps there is some? Particularly, I would reference the fact that 1st jhāna is said to have the factors of vitakka and vicāra, in Pāḷi — savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ (whereas 2nd jhāna drops those factors, becoming avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ). In Ajahn Brahm’s descriptions vitakka vicāra are the ‘steadying’ factors of 1st jhāna, which sounds kind of like some amount of effort. In the metaphors for the jhāna’s the Buddha invokes for the 1st jhāna that of a bathman or bathman’s apprentice (ancient soapmakers) working a ball of a soap, in the metaphor he kneads the ball of soap powder in the water so as to soak it through and through. To me at least, this implies doing some activity, and as a metaphor is a lot more active than the rest of the jhāna metaphors involving, respectively — a cool spring of water welling up, being submerged in cool water, and being swathed in a bright-light-white cloth. Certainly the effort in the 1st jhāna, if there is any at all, is not of the kind found in satipaṭṭhāna. Whether it’s even conscious effort is probably up for debate… perhaps it is a kind of unconscious continuation of the conditioning built up by the practice and cultivation of satipaṭṭhāna (or whatever else the preliminary practice might be)?

In the standard sutta jhāna passages, quite curiously, sati isn’t mentioned as a factor until 3rd and 4th jhāna. Two possibilities occur to me for why sati is absent as a factor in the 1st and 2nd:

  1. As some jhāna teachers describe it the mind is “carried away” by the pītisukha, the attention shifts from the meditation subject/theme to the bliss.
  2. There is still sati in the 1st and 2nd, but what emerges in the 3rd is a refined sati-sampajañña that is so qualitatively different from the sati of the preliminary practices that it deserves some gap so it stands apart as a kind of “super-sati”.

Again from my armchair, I would think that the 1st and 2nd jhāna must have some form of sati because meditators can remember, they can “sarati”, their experiences and recount them to others. Just some thoughts.


Good choice of words… it sounds (and feels) like a sort of quality that follows one into these stillness states… maybe it does not “follow” one into the deepest third and fourth jhana, but surely these must remain around for once one is “back” from jhanas the right sort of presence, or mindfulness, is definitely needed for insight to be acquired…

The DN28 shows how people who get to these states without the frameworks of mindfulness come up with craziest theories about the origin and ultimate fate of the universe but fail to solve the problem of their own suffering…


Sati isn’t a thought, just like memory isn’t a thought it’s a function of mind. Sati retains a percept not a thought. Hope that clarifies.