‘Entering’ Jhāna?

You may have heard people saying something like “enter jhāna”. It befits the Visuddhi­magga’s idea of jhāna, as one is supposed to get absorbed in one’s own mental creation. The expression also somewhat matches the translations below, usually followed by “the x jhāna”:

  • “enters upon and abides in” (in MLDB)
  • “enters and dwells upon” (in CDB)
  • “enters and dwells in” (in NDB)
  • “enters & remains in” (by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu)

The above translations (translated from upasampajja viharati) generally portray jhāna as something one enters and stay s in, thus alluding to and seemingly confirming the Visuddhi­magga’s absorption jhāna. But the truth may be the other way round: that the Visuddhi­magga’s idea of jhāna has somehow influenced these translations.

Actually, they can’t be properly translated backwards to the original Pāli phrase:

  • “Enters upon and abides in” can almost be translated back to upasampajja viharati. By using “enters upon”, meaning “takes on a job or duty”, this is the only one of the four that does not portray jhāna as something one enter s. The only issue is the “in”. Viharati can only be translated to “abides”. For the “in”, the object would have to be in the locative form, e.g. paṭhame jhāne, which it is not.
  • “Enters and dwells upon” and “enters and dwells in” basically translates backward to pavisitvā viharati or okkamitvā viharati, both departing significantly from the original. I say “basically” because, as above, viharati translates to “dwells” only. For the “upon” and “in”, the object, as above, would also have to be in the locative.
  • “Enters & remains in” translates perfectly to pavisitvā tiṭṭhati, departing the furthest.

Seeking a more satisfactory translation, I’ve arrived at “abides engaging in”. In case you misunderstand:

  1. The “in” here is for upasampajja, not viharati. I’m translating upasampajja as “engaging in”.
  2. I reckon upasampajja as an absolutive functioning as a present participle, a fairly common occurrence in the Suttas. (You’ll see some convincing examples below.)
  3. I arrived at “engaging in” based on one meaning of upasampajjati provided by PED: “take upon oneself”. It also seems to agree with other contexts in which the phrase occurs (as you’ll see later).

This translation is more literal and aligns with the kind of jhāna that one can engage in (upasam­pajjati) in any posture, as shown under Does Jhāna Mean Absorption? (p75).

It also agrees with how viharati is defined in Jhāna·vibhaṅga of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka: iriyati vattati pāleti yapeti yāpeti carati viharati. In that context, they all revolve around the same meanings: conduct (oneself), move about, behave, exist, be, survive, go on, go, live, abide, dwell, sojourn. These words generally refer to living one’s life, not being mentally absorbed.

Now let’s include the jhāna into the phrase: jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati. The verb necessarily acting on jhānaṁ is only upasampajja. The phrase is structurally similar to

  • rājagahaṁ upanissāya viharanti (DN16), commonly translated as “abide/dwell depending on Rājagaha”.
  • mettāsahagatena cetasā ekaṁ disaṁ pharitvā viharatha (SN42.13), translated in CDB (p1367) as “dwells pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with lovingkindness”.

Notice the absolutives upanissāya and pharitvā translated as “depending on” and “pervading” accordingly, in the same way as I translated upasampajja as “engaging in”.

If we want to say “dwell in” or “abide in” something, that “in” will have to be reflected in the locative form of that something, like rājagahe viharanti (e.g. in SN21.3), not rājagahaṁ viharanti (not found in the Suttas).

Now, let’s survey similar phrases in other contexts in the Suttas and see if “abides engaging in” fit in those better than existing common translations. Here’s a passage from Ajahn Ṭhānissaro’s translation of the famous Kālāma (or Kesamutti) Sutta (AN3.66):

When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in (upasampajja vihareyyātha) them. [Emphasis and parenthesis are added.]

Isn’t it odd to say we “enter & remain in” skilful qualities? Before we brush off this question by saying it’s just a Pāli idiom, let’s first have the faith to doubt this assumption. How can we enter skilful qualities ? It’s the same problem as: How can we enter meditation ? We can however engage in skilful qualities and engage in meditation. Consider these translations:

  1. You should abide engaging in skilful qualities.
  2. He abides engaging in the first jhāna.

Wouldn’t these be more meaningful?

Another example is in Sammā·samādhi Sutta (AN5.113), already provided in the text proper: “Bhikkhus, possessed of five things a bhikkhu is unable to abide engaging in proper composure (sammā·samādhiṁ upasampajja viharituṁ).”

I hope the above is convincing enough for you to reconsider the presently common translations, which seem to be influenced by orthodoxy and then seemingly confirmed by orthodoxy.

The above is extracted from Appendix 15 of my book What You Might Not Know about Jhāna & Samādhi.


I’m interested how you would explain the fact that one is able to “abide engaging in jhana” for as long, or as little as they like, or whenever they like?

How is the notion of jhana duration improved upon over the absorption model when we apply your translation? Ie. what are the differences in your view?

Why do you ask these?

It would appear that entering “in” to an “absorption” would almost negate the ability of a person to determine the length of time spent there.

Your interpretation seems to lend itself better to determining the length of the stay. I’m wondering if you’d like to expand on that?

In good faith, Bhante :pray:

Ah, now I understand your questions.

Jhāna in my view isn’t a state. It’s meditation. (If you have my book, please refer to Appendix 16: Jhāna Means “Meditation”—Literally.) As such it makes no sense for me to speak of “the length of time spent there”.

1 Like

I did make an attempt to access the ePub version. I have google drive in place. But All attempts to access a free ePub reader were unsuccessful.

Are there any good free readers out there you know of, or am I going to have to bite the bullet so to speak, and fork out some money?

But doesn’t it make sense to speak of “how long” one’s jhana is accompanied by rapture, bliss, applied and sustained thought (respective of which jhana you’re meditating over)?

Whether one can maintain rapture and bliss as long as they like, for example? Whether the rapture is strong or weak, for example? Isn’t this to the point in a sense?

@DeadBuddha posted this on another forum:

  • On a Windows PC, I find that the “Aquile Reader” application (available free in the Windows Store) is very good for reading epub files. It provides quick access to the book.

  • on Android, the “ReadEra” app (available free in the Play Store) is very good for reading epubs. It gives access to the book’s quick links.

Read the book. I believe you’d be glad you did.

I look forward to it. I think a paper copy will suit me just fine :slight_smile: thank you venerable :pray:

1 Like

Venerable, how do you view SN 36.11 in relation to your theory? SN 36.11 says:

For one who has attained the second jhana, thought and examination have ceased.

For one who has attained the second jhana, thought and examination have been tranquillized.

I note that in SN 36.11 the formula is the same in both cases ; so It gives me the impression that in the classical jhana formula, tranquilization/cessation of vitakka-vicara refers to the same thing, so I feel that there is no need to distinguish “tranquilization of vitakka-vicara for the mental state” from “cessation of vitakka-vicara for the act of meditating”.

What do you think?

Thanks in advance

In the second jhāna, the mind certainly becomes strangely quiet.

1 Like

Speaking at the lay level the Buddha here refers to the causal sequence sila> samadhi> panna operating to produce any level of samadhi (Anguttara Nikaya 11.2) including pre-jhana, correctly described “enter and remain in.”

Samadhi not necessarily jhana:

“Any concentration accompanied by directed thought & evaluation is concentration as a factor for awakening. Any concentration unaccompanied by directed thought & evaluation is concentration as a factor for awakening."

—Samyutta Nikaya 46.52

The seven factors of awakening are one to the next the causal sequence (Majjhima Nikaya 118, part C).

These above SN 46.52 mentioned 2 ways of samma samadhi/jhana. Sometime Buddha refer as 3 ways, 4 ways and many more.

The above 2 ways are basically:
1st jhana:
Any samadhi with vitakka vicara is samadhi as a factor for awakening.

2nd jhana or above:
Any samadhi without vitakka vicara is samadhi as a factor for awakening.

I’m just confused why people say samma samadhi is not jhana. This has been clearly explain in many many Sutta. Samma samadhi is 1-4 jhana.

But if you say a householder may not be able to do or know jhana yet. That is reasonable, but please don’t say that jhana is not needed for samma samadhi. That is just way off.

If householder know jhana, they will let go their family, works, everything in this human world.

" Right concentration (sammā-samādhi), as the last link of the 8-fold Path (s. magga ), is defined as the 4 meditative absorptions (jhāna, q.v.). In a wider sense, comprising also much weaker states of concentration, it is associated with all kammically wholesome (kusala) consciousness."


The Burmese vipassana method and its influence on the West through monks living in Sri lanka is focussed on insight development. Vipassana movement - Wikipedia

Well, please go back to Sutta. Please use commentaries with “A grain of salt” (aka, could be right or could be very very very very wrong).

Btw, Jhana is not absorption. One can observed clearly all experiences through the 6 senses. Otherwise, there is no way to let go the desires that lead to suffering (dukkha) with wisdom. There will be No insight without any jhana (Samma Samadhi). The insight is occurring when one is in jhana.

Buddha said in AN 9.36 that any jhana (Samma Samadhi) is basis for ending of asava(s):

Mendicants, I say that the first jhana is a basis for ending the defilements (asava). …

They observe the experience there—included in form, feeling, perception, sankhara, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as a boil, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self

Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements.
If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion and love for that meditation. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.

In MN 108, Buddha praised the 4 jhana as meditation, not any others:

And what kind of meditation did he praise?
Kathaṁ rūpañca, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā jhānaṁ vaṇṇesi?

It’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first jhana, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, with vitakka vicara.
…2nd, 3rd and 4th jhana.

1 Like

A post was split to a new topic: Bhikkhu Bodhi - Models of the Path to Liberation in Early Buddhism 5-12/23 - BAUS

Mmh I see Bhante.

There was also something that had me (a little) confused. In this article, Ven. Sujato says that in 5 minutes of meditation, one can already temporarily experience states where the mind is silent (without thoughts). He concludes that it is not possible for an experience as refined as the first jhana (requiring much more training than 5 minutes of meditation) to still have thoughts.

What do you think of this argument? I know you have arguments to the contrary (for example, SN 21.1, or AN 3.60). But regardless of these, I’d like to know if you find the argument itself logical.

Thanks again Bhante

Like I mentioned in the book, when it comes to the disagreements regarding ‘jhāna’, we need to first understand what they mean by this word.

1 Like

Yes, you’re taking the literal definition of “meditate”, i.e. it’s a mental act, not a mental state. So if I understand you correctly, even someone who doesn’t yet have sukha and piti can be considered to have “”“attained”“” jhana (if they practice the mental act of meditating)?

By the way, the more I reread passages from your book and link them to the various debates on jhanas, the more I find that your book has covered many aspects of jhanas magnificently! I find your book more and more insightful despite its radicalness in relation to the orthodox conception of jhanas, thank you very much for this treasure Bhante.

Yes, I read it yesterday (although not all the appendices). I definitely intend to re-read it. For this ~3¾ y/o Buddhist :baby:, with effectively no knowledge of Pali it sounds convincing, or at the very least coherent. Radical stuff indeed; my understanding of the topic is fundamentally altered.

Even as a relative outsider to Buddhism, I’ve no doubt that the ideas in the book would get a strong reaction from some. Taking a position not aligned to the status quo (in any domain) seems almost always to be met with opposition. Kudos for not being afraid of that.

Agree or disagree with the ideas contained in the book, but at least be aware of what they are.

1 Like