Duration of meditation

A guru from India said this about the meditation partaken by the historical Buddha’s disciples, in the context of samadhi:

“Many of Gautama the Buddha’s disciples went into very long meditations. They did not come out for years. But Gautama himself never did so because he saw it is not necessary. He practiced and experienced all the eight kinds of samadhis before his enlightenment and discarded them. He saw this would not take him closer to realization.”

Where, in the Pāli canon, is mentioned that the disciples “went into long meditations”, and where is it alluded the historical Buddha “himself never did so because he saw it is not necessary”?

Some of the monastics who are mentored by Ajahn Brahm sometimes tell us that he advised them to extend the periods in meditation initially, while they were still learning, if they felt it was still not working. It makes sense that quality is often more beneficial than quantity, however it also makes sense that, during the earlier stages of learning, long practice periods are necessary. As children, we spent countless hours practicing the alphabet, but as adults we don’t need to that anymore.

Ultimately, it would be helpful to check whether what the aforementioned guru said, is indeed present in the Buddhist scriptures.

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Here are two examples of sitting for extended periods:

Four or five times I left my dwelling. I had failed to find peace of heart, or any control over my mind.

I approached a nun in whom I had faith. She taught me the Dhamma: the aggregates, sense fields, and elements.

When I had heard her teaching, in accordance with her instructions, I sat cross-legged for seven days without moving, given over to rapture and bliss. On the eighth day I stretched out my feet, having shattered the mass of darkness. -Thig 3.2

So I have heard. At one time, when he was first awakened, the Buddha was staying in Uruvelā at the root of the tree of awakening on the bank of the Nerañjarā River. There the Buddha sat cross-legged for seven days without moving, experiencing the bliss of freedom. When seven days had passed, the Buddha emerged from that state of immersion. -Ud 1.1

I am aware of a reference to the Buddha going into seclusion for a long period (SN 54.9), but the reference does not imply he was in meditation the whole time.

The following could easily be used as a case of remaining in meditation “for years” since it is happening with the acquisition of jhana:

Then, brahmin, when I am in such a state, if I walk back and forth, on that occasion my walking back and forth is celestial. If I am standing, on that occasion my standing is celestial. If I am sitting, on that occasion my sitting is celestial. If I lie down, on that occasion this is my celestial high and luxurious bed. This is that celestial high and luxurious bed that at present I can gain at will, without trouble or difficulty.” -AN 3.63

Yet, if you note several occurrences of “on that occasion”, which seems to indicate it is an isolated event.

I’ve been reading and reading about the suttas for many years and am not aware of any case of a monastic needing to sit “for years”. There are other indications similar the SN 54.9 where it is clear that a monastic has gone into “seclusion”, and although the details are not particularly clear, it seems likely that it lasted for years as it was the preferred dwelling. Again, that does not imply the meditation lasted “for years”.

Continue to use the same caution when getting any reference second hand. Often the person making such a broad, unsubstantiated claim was made aware second hand as well and now passes the information off as knowledge.

Hope this helps.


Not very precise comparison since samadhi not necessarily has to be seen exclusively as the means to attain something, it also provides pleasure which is wholesome and the way of spending time. So while Suttas say that one session can last 7 days, it is possible that there were monks, who apart going for alms round were in meditation all day.

But it looks like 7 days isn’t really limit of the span of meditation:

Master Fu-cheng and others who stayed in nearby huts were surprised that I had not called on them for a long time and came to my hut to present their New Year greetings. Outside my hut, they saw tigers’ tracks everywhere with no traces of man. They entered my hut and seeing that I was in samadhi, they awoke me with a qing (a musical instrument made of stone, the sound of which is subtle but penetrating). When I returned to self-consciousness, they asked me, ‘Have you taken your meal?’ I replied, ‘Not yet, the taro in the cauldron should be well cooked by now.’ When its cover was lifted, the cauldron was covered with an inch of mould. Fu-cheng was startled and said, ‘You must have been in samadhi for half a month.’ We then melted ice, cooked taro and ate our fill. They joked with me and left.
One day as I sat cross-legged, I involuntarily entered the state of samadhi and thus forgot all about expounding the sutras. After I had been so sitting for nine successive days, the news spread in the capital (Bangkok). The King, high ministers, male and female disciples came to pay their reverence. I came out of samadhi and after I had finished expounding the sutras, the King of Thailand invited me to his palace to recite them once more. He presented me with many offerings and respectfully requested me to accept him as a disciple. The literati and people who became my disciples numbered several thousand persons. After this experience of samadhi, both of my legs became numb and I could only walk with difficulty.

from the book Empty Cloud, The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun (Charles Luk)

This offers good places in the suttas for reading, especially since they are related to my question. This way I find them more interesting to read and relatable, rather than reading at random or from cover to finish.

Also, I appreciate the remark about the risk associated with having second-hand [mis]information available that that guru may have accessed. Some of the things they say seem very witty, but sometimes I feel that their huge following and fame is more attributable to their charisma rather than to the accuracy of what they speak about. Again, they probably have not considered searching for the sources of what they speak about, some of the time.

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Great feedback - my comparison reflects my lack of expertise on the matter, and now I understand that I was comparing oranges with onions.

I really appreciate the book reference. I like to read books on such matters.

Is it fair to say that prolonged sittings lead to difficulties in embodying the experience of samadhi, and therefore becoming dependent on help from others?

Another question is if one reaches one or more of these stages, wouldn’t that also mean one knows exactly where to go - it’s mapped in the mind and can go directly to the point of stillness with a few breaths?

With mastery over these states one can enter anyone at will, not necessarily following sequence as it is described in Suttas.

Now, at that time the Blessed One was sitting in imperturbable concentration [either in the fourth jhāna, the dimension of the infinitude of space, or the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness]. The thought occurred to the monks, “Now, in which mental dwelling is the Blessed One now residing?” Then they realized, “He is residing in the imperturbable dwelling.” So they all sat in imperturbable concentration.

Udana 3:3 Yasoja (Yasoja Sutta)

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Excellent, thank you very much :green_heart:

@Christine @knigarian @SDC @awarewolf

The story of “the Little Buddha”

“In May 2005, the 15-year-old Bomjon left his home near the Indian border after a dream in which a god appeared to him and told him to do so, and sat amongst the roots of a pipal tree to meditate.[3] Claims suggest that for 10 months he rarely spoke, drank, ate, or even moved. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people visited the site to see the boy motionless for hours, days or as rumoured even months, or came in devotion to the possibility of an important spiritual event occurring.[4]”

Some argued that shopkeepers of the place motivated him to do such performance, but obviously such ironists underestimated how profitable such performance could be.

Police seize over Rs33 million from Ram Bahadur Bomjan’s residence

According to police, they seized currencies of 16 different countries besides Nepali money from his residence.

It is dangerous to accuse celibate of not to be one, but I think it is safe to inform that police is thinking precisely this way:

Nepal’s spiritual leader ‘Buddha Boy’ arrested on charges of rape, sexual abuse
Ram Bahadur Bomjon, who was believed to be a reincarnation of the Buddha, was arrested by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal over allegations of rape and sexual abuse.

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Maybe he had a very deep samādhi but fell from that state and fell into very bad lusts. Devadatta had also psychic powers but ended up being the most evil bhikkhu there is.

Maybe … Definitely being famous offers many opportunities to fall … No doubt, sitting under the tree for so long required strong determination :smiling_face:

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Makes me think about the waste of meditation if one hasn’t developed a firm mind over matter on and off a cushion. Sex, power and money are energies.

A hen is able to sit motionless for hours

That is an interesting observation. Do you suggest that this is the reason why we so rarely can encounter a hen whose mind is overcome and obsessed with gain, honour, and praise?

The hen presents itself, not more than that, while we represent the hen in forms that are hardly human. And the hen knows perfect timing because there’s no ego delaying the process of evolution. How many of us know our own “instrument” (body/mind) to that extent?

Are hens able to endure severe pain like the bhikkhu should do in his meditation ?

Whatever meditations that requires one to endure severe pain doesn’t lead to samādhi.

The proximate cause for stillness is happiness.

There could be Vipassana meditation which observes pain, but in general, changing postures is a good investment to get into deeper stillness should one’s body becomes too painful before the joy and happiness pervades the whole body and relaxes it to the max.

Yeah I often feel guilty of moving my leg around the 45 min mark become of unpleasant numbness. I wonder if it’s only me who has this numbness problem but you’re right, each time after I moved the pleasure and relaxation quickly grows.