Evolution of Bhante Gunaratana's Interpretation of Jhāna

Evolution of Bhante Gunaratana's Interpretation of Jhāna

This article surveys the changes that occur in Bhante Gunaratana's understanding of jhāna, regarding the key controversial points between the Theravada orthodoxy, and a straightforward Ockham's Razor reading of the EBT. The first book, written in 1980, is strictly in conformance with Vism. Not surprising, since Bhante G. is an ordained Theravadan. But roughly 30 years later, in "Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English", his interpretion changes nearly 180 degrees on the crucial points, and falls right in line with EBT on Jhāna.

Bhante G. Bio.

Bhante Gunaratana was born in 1927 in a small village in Sri Lanka and was ordained at the age of 12 as a Buddhist monk. At the age of 20 he was given higher ordination in Kandy in 1947. At the invitation of the Sasana Sevaka Soci- ety, Bhante Gunaratana went to the United States in 1968 to serve as Hon. General Secretary of the Buddhist Vihara So- ciety of Washington, D.C. He has also pursued his scholarly interests by earning a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Phi- losophy from The American University. He is the author of Come and See, The Path of Serenity and Insight, The Jhanas and Mindfulness In Plain English. Venerable Gunaratana is the abbot and the president of the Bhavana Society, a Forest Monastery and Retreat Centre in West Virginia, U.S.A.

book 1: Critical Analysis of the Jhānas

A Critical Analysis of the Jhānas
in Theravāda Buddhist Meditation
by Henepola Gunaratana
submitted to the Faculty of the College of Arts and Science of the American University
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy
1980 The American University Washington, D.C. 20016
The first book, is available for free on the web, and no excerpts will be examined, since his views are just a straight explanation of the well known Vism. interpretation of Jhāna. Links are provided, readers can confirm for themselves.
free pdf here:
(Be careful not to get the other PDF version of this book floating on the web that fits two pages side by side for every PDF page, it's hard to read on various devices)
abridged version of Phd thesis free here:

book 2: Beyond Mindfulnes

where to get this book

As for the second book, "Beyond Mindfulnes...", an inexpensive digital edition can be purhased on, or paperback if you prefer. The advantage to buying from Wisdom Publications directly, over amazon, is they give you 3 digital versions, EPUB + PDF + kindle format, with no digital rights management so you can read it easily on multiple devices and do text searches on the document.

Bhavana society website link

Strangely, Bhante G's Bhavana society website still has a link to the "access to insight" condensed version of the Phd Thesis based on Orthodox Theravada Vism. redefinition of Jhāna, which contradicts his current view of Jhāna which is EBT compliant in the book, "Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English (c 2009)". Perhaps he doesn't know the link is there. If it was me, and my views changed on such an important subject, I would definitely make sure books and old documents with outdated views were purged, and a new edition of views are clearly stated in public documents which unambiguously denounce old views inconsistent with new ones. Perhaps there are sensitive political issues, as he's an ordained orthodox Theravadin Bhikkhu that prevents him from taking such measures.

Summary of first book

Here's all you need to know about how he describes the Jhānas in "A Critical Analysis of the Jhānas
in Theravāda Buddhist Meditation", from the introductory section:
The Abhidhammapitaka gives the appearance of being a somewhat later scholastic attempt at systematization, but its teachings are fully consistent with the suttas and help shed light on many points requiring precise analysis and fine definition. We have found particularly helpful the first two books of the Abhidhamma, the Dhammasa ga i and the Vibha ga, which in conjunction with their commentaries clarify a number of knotty points concerning the jhānas. The difference between the suttas and the Abhidhamma is that between a practical pedagogical approach and a philosophically rigorous one. But the two standpoints are found to harmonize and to repeatedly illuminate each other.
In other words, in that book his views are completely in line with Orthodox Theravada, as described in Visuddhi-magga.

Highlights from the second book

Here are a few quotes from "Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English (c 2009)", showing his current EBT compliant view of Jhāna. He still continues to use Vism. and Abhidhamma terms that don't exist in EBT, but these selected quotes show that in the cases where EBT and Vism. contradict, EBT has primacy, and EBT view prevails. Whereas in "Critical Analysis of the Jhānas, (c 1980 = thirty years earlier)", in cases where EBT and Vism. contradicted, Vism. and Abhidhamma had primacy, and he took the stance in line with orthodox Theravada.

brief key points of four jhānas

From Chapter 8, he gives a short description of the four jhānas:
first jhāna: "...The world goes away. Physical pain goes away. You do not totally lose all sensation, but the physical senses are off in the background.
Wandering conscious thoughts stop. What remains are subtle thoughts of good will toward all beings. ..."
second jhāna: "... The subtle thoughts of good will drop away. Your mind is now totally free of any verbal or conceptual thoughts, even that of the breath. All that remains is a subtle reflection of thought and sensation that is more like a memory or an after-image ..."
third jhāna: "... In the third jhana, the more subtle “bliss” or “happiness” intensifies. It fills you and floods every cell of your body. Confidence rises. Mindfulness and concentration strengthen. The external world may be gone but body feeling is still present and it is wonderful. The body is very still. The breath is very gentle."
fourth jhāna: "... Feelings of pain went away at the first jhana. In the fourth jhana, feelings of bodily pleasure go away, too. There is not a single thought. You feel sensation that is neither pleasant nor unpleasant. ... In the fourth jhana it feels like you have stopped breathing altogether. You cannot be roused. You emerge from the fourth jhana only at a predetermined time of your own choosing.
The fourth jhana is also the state in which mindfulness and concentration unite into an intense awareness that can penetrate deeply into the nature of existence. This is the ideal state in which to directly perceive the three primary qualities of all ordinary existence: anicca, dukkha, and anatta. ... "
"fifth jhāna": "The Base of Infinite Space
... Equanimity and one-pointedness now mature fully. You find yourself in a realm where all perception of form has ceased. You cannot be disturbed or disrupted from the outside, but the tiniest suggestion of the material senses remain. You ignore them totally, but if you turn your attention to any of them, the jhana is lost."

jhāna in depth

In Chapter 9, "access conentration", he talks about kasinas and upacāra samādhi (that term and concept is not in EBT) with meditation practices that for the most part draws from EBT passages and don't seem to contradict core EBT principles. Perhaps his adoption of Vism. terminology and concepts is a diplomatic gesture to help bridge the gap between the contradictions between Vism. and EBT on jhāna.
In Chapter 10 he goes through the 4 jhānas again, but in greater depth.

First jhāna

"When you enter the first jhana you are still in touch with your physical senses. Your eyes are closed but you can still hear, smell, feel, and taste. This is one definite indication of the first jhana, as opposed to others.
You don’t fully lose thought either. Thoughts come now and again. Since you have been thinking all your life, your thoughts do not disappear all of a sudden at the attainment of the first jhana. They are like nervous habits—difficult to wipe out at once. They continue to haunt your mind periodically. Just ignore them. They are one of the things that will pull you out of jhana..."

Interesting to note he still translates "vitakka and vicara" as "applied and sustained thought" following Vism., but clearly you can see from his plain English description it doesn't mean the same thing Vism. means. Far from it. He spends a quite a bit of text to go into "vitakka and vicara" in more detail, even trying to harmonize with the Vism. re-defintion of those two terms.
Then he shows how the 7 awakening factors apply to these jhānas.
In the first factor, mindfulness, a few quotes of interest: "Mindfulness of the body focuses your attention on the body itself and its position and movement. You see that breathing is something that takes place within the body itself.
Mindfulness of feelings focuses on physical sensations. You watch them, looking constantly for their deeper nature, the way they are constantly changing and have no real substance other than what you give them with your mind. Tactile sensation is a feeling. Hearing is a feeling, too, if you ignore the other mental content that arises with it and just concentrate on the pure sensation of sound vibrations. The same is true for all the senses."
In the 5th factor, tranquility: "...Out of joy arises tranquility.
The calm, cool, and refreshing joy engendered by this practice makes your mind and body calm, relaxed, and peaceful..."
From how he talks about "body" in the four jhānas, clearly he means anatomical body in this awakening factor, which is in agreement with SN 46.2, and contradicts Vism.'s interpretation of SN 46.2, which takes "body" as meaning "a body of mental aggregates."

Second jhāna

"... You don’t even have to wish to go to the second jhana. When the mind is ready, it glides into the second jhana by itself. ...
When you attained the first jhana, you let go of your many activities and all the hindrances that were such firm habits of mind. The second jhana is called “jhana without thought.” To attain the second jhana you must let go of vitakka (applied thoughts of generosity, loving-friendliness, and compassion) and vicara (maintaining those thoughts with sustained application). Part of their function is to form words, to turn subtle thought into speech.
... The second jhana does not have discursive thought or sustained thought. Here your internal silence is truly noble. ...
The moment your thinking or subtle thoughts vanish from your mind, you are aware that you have entered the second jhana. But as soon as the thought, “This is the second jhana,” appears in your mind, you lose it. Try again and again until that thought does not appear. You can stay with the awareness of second jhanic experience without the concept “this is the second jhana.” This is a very delicate balance. Only with full awareness can you maintain it. ...
The second jhana also has a deeper level of concentration. You do not have to watch out for hindrances. The first jhana is still close to the hindrances and to all material experiences. The second jhana is still close to vitakka and vicara, but remote from hindrances. You should always be mindful of the possibility of losing the jhana. This is why you have cultivated mindfulness from the beginning.
When thought drops away, you experience your entire body and mind filled with joy and happiness. This joy continuously replenishes itself with more and more joy. It is like a lake that has a spring underneath, ..."

Even though V&V have dropped out in 2nd jhāna, you can see S&S (sati and sampajano) is still active, the mind is still mindful , alert in a non-verbal way, clearly not the frozen state of samādhi described in Vism. where this kind of activity is not possible until you emerge from that frozen state back into access concentration.

Third jhāna

In Third jhāna, he introduces the 5 aspects of Mastery of Samādhi, superficially similar to Vism.'s description, but in conformance to the EBT core principles, rather than the Vism.'s frozen samadhi and emergence into an access concentration.

Fourth jhāna

" ... In the fourth jhana, nonverbal, non-conceptual realization begins to take place on a regular basis. The broad base of the eight steps of the Noble Eightfold Path gradually narrows down to the last step, concentration. The factors of enlightenment come together. Endowed with this powerful concentration, the fourth jhana penetrates the five aggregates and sees their impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness at a nearly subatomic level. This is not inferential or theoretical knowledge. It is nonverbal, non-conceptual, and experiential, a direct seeing of the intrinsic nature of the aggregates. ...
In this state verbal communication has totally ceased. The pure concentrated mind with pure mindfulness and equanimity clearly comprehends things without the sound of words or the vibration of thoughts. This is not the verbalizing or thinking stage. You already passed that long ago during your rational thinking phase. There you practiced the investigation factor of enlightenment in a verbal way, a way that took place before your mind became concentrated.
In the fourth jhana, you don’t think conceptually about suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, or any of the rest. You just know, directly. This is the level where the mind sees things through the eye of wisdom. Words, thinking, investigation, or even reflection have no place. They would just get in the way. They are too slow and everything is moving too fast. Every cell in the body undergoes change every moment. When body changes at this inconceivable rapidity, no mind without powerful concentration can keep up. You need steadiness, pliability, softness, and purity to notice that flashing, incessant change. This sharpness of the mind is present only in the concentrated mind.
Once you have attained the fourth jhana, you will not feel any need to come out of it. Equanimity predominates and you have strong “neither pleasant nor unpleasant” feelings. You stay as long as you have planned to stay. The world cannot disturb you. Pleasure and pain are abandoned. This “neutral feeling” is something that will persist throughout all the jhanas above the fourth.
In addition to the qualities that we have already mentioned, there are many mental factors in the fourth jhana (though six of them are repetitions from earlier jhanas). Once you have attained and mastered the fourth jhana, you can re-attain it any time without any problem."

Even in 4th jhāna, with the sampajano (clear comprehension or alertness) dropping out of (S&S) of third jhāna, the mind is able to do "vipassana" while inside the 4th jhāna. This is consistent with EBT passsages, in direct opposition to Vism. views.
He reiterates in the next section that directly addresses the controversy of access concentration, vipassana:


Many people teach that we must come out of jhana to practice vipassana. Is that true?
The real question is, “Can your jhanic concentration penetrate things as they really are?” If the answer is “No,” then your concentration is the absorption variety we spoke of earlier. It may well be wrong jhana. If the answer is “Yes,” then your concentration is not absorption. It is right jhana.
According to the Buddha’s teaching, when the mind is concentrated, you can see things as they really are. If your concentration is absorption without mindfulness, then you should come out of it because you are in wrong jhana. However, you can see things while you are in right jhana, and those things bear the stamp of the triple marks of all experience. They show anicca, dukkha, and anatta, which is what you are looking for and the reason you’re doing all of this. So why should you come out of it to see things as they really are?
When we read about the way that the Buddha used his own fourth jhanic concentration, as given in many suttas, we have no reason to believe that he came out of jhana to develop the three kinds of knowledge that he used for seeing past lives, seeing beings dying and taking rebirth, and knowing that his own defilements had been destroyed.
If you can see things as they truly are when you are in access concentration, there is no reason to come out of it to practice vipassana. You are already achieving the goal of the practice. But, if you can see things as they actually are in access concentration, then you should be able to see things even better when you are in full right jhana, which is clearer and stronger than access concentration.
Should you come out of jhana and reflect upon the jhanic factors in order to understand the impermanence, suffering, and selflessness of jhanic factors themselves? It is virtually impossible to find evidence in the suttas that one should come out of jhana to practice vipassana. If you come out of jhana to practice vipassana, you lose the jhanic qualities because your hindrances return. The jhanic state is a perfect state of mind to focus on the Four Noble Truths, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness and to attain liberation by eliminating the fetters.

can you hear sound and feel body pain in jhana?

On the controversy of hearing sound in jhāna, or body pain knocking you out of jhana, he says in the section after "mastery" under third jhana, and right before fourth jhana:
Why do you have to do all this after attaining a jhana? Jhana is like a juggling act. You keep things suspended in the air or balanced. Then you drop them. Then you start over. It takes a lot of practice and you need to figure out why you dropped the balls.
Being in jhana is like juggling five balls at once. They are the five jhanic factors. You are holding them all in the air without letting any of them fall to the ground. If one falls, they all fall. You must pick them up and start juggling all over again. What would make a ball fall? You are distracted—by fatigue, on-lookers, vehicles, sounds, or even by the joy of jhana.
While you are in jhana, a hindrance will appear in your mind. Maybe your body is hurting so much that your attention goes there. Maybe you hear a loud noise. Maybe you want lunch. Then you lose your jhana. You must start it all over again. Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch because you have already learned to restrain hindrances. Simply go through these five steps of mastery and attain jhana again....

different than vism.

This is a more practical and battle tested interpretation on the subject of pain and noise potentially knocking a meditator out of jhāna. It's consistent with a straightforward reading of AN 9.72, unlike Vism., which uses an idealistic but somewhat unrealistic expectation for meditators, even in first jhāna, to be able to resolve to enter first jhana, go into a frozen state where S&S is unable to fully function, and emerge like a programmed robot at exactly the predetermined time, down to the second, without having been aware of any body pain or noise that may have occurred during the frozen period.
There are living meditators who an do a flawless version of Vism.’s redefinition of Jhāna, but they are rare. Bhante G’s current view is congruent with the Buddha’s promise that the path to awakening is gradual, like the slope of the ocean floor from the beach, until there’s a sudden steep drop off. The steep drop off is Nibbāna realization, not first jhāna.

Not sure I see any conflict between Vism. and the Suttas. Vism X.19 even agrees with the Sutta regarding hearing sound in lower jhanas:

[Vism]…In fact it is because they have not been abandoned already before this[Base of Infinity of Space] that it was said by the Blessed One that sound is a thorn to one who has the first jhána (A V 135). And it is precisely because they are abandoned here that the imperturbability (see Vibh 135) of the immaterial attainments and their state of peaceful liberation are mentioned (M I 33), and that Álára Káláma neither saw the five hundred carts that passed close by him nor heard the sound of them while he was in an immaterial attainment (D II 130).


Dhammasangani and Vibhanga are indeed very useful in clarification of terms.

As for Visuddhimagga, it is quite ambiguous on the subject of jhana, with different, somewhat contradictory positions (@santa100 has quoted one of such passages).

AFAIK, it’s only much later, in medieval Abhidhamma, that no-perception jhana came to be the only interpretation.

Thanks for the OP (I rather liked the “Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English” book when I read it; IMO he has a nice writing style). FYI, in case you haven’t seen this already, there is an even more recent 22 page article by Bhante Gunaratana (from 2017 I think): “Should We Come Out of Jhana to Practice Vipassana?” My linking this article doesn’t even necessarily mean I even agree with what’s in it! :slight_smile: I think I’ve ended up as something of a fence-sitter and fairly open-minded on the topic of jhana. There are certain core details that seem clear and solid enough to me from the texts. Disagreement seems to lessen amongst the different jhana approaches, eventually to effectively nothing, as they get to higher and higher stages of jhana. On the more controversial aspects, I’ve really seen no stance/position/argument that is on completely stable and solid ground and without its potential weaknesses (I think holes can be picked in or reasonable doubts raised for all of them), though, obviously, one of them must have been the original method! Btw thanks too for going to the trouble of writing down some of your actual jhana experiences elsewhere on the site!


Awesome! Thanks for that link, I ididn’t know about article. It looks like an expanded version of the “vipassana in fourth jhana” section of his book “beyond mindfulness”.

I’ve been taking lots of clear notes auditing the pali and english on the EBT passages related to the Jhana controversy, leaving a clear audit trail so future generations who don’t know pali can see clearly for themselves where things contradict.

And that’s how things are when you read the Vism. as a whole. it’s hard to keep track of when you’re reading quoted EBT text, in a commentary , subcommentary, sub-sub-commentary, or abhidhamma text.

The quote you provided makes it seem like it could be taken to mean in first jhana, a loud enough noise can knock you out of jhana. But if you read the text before and after that, it rules that that possibility.



  1. [326] Now, as to the four immaterial states mentioned next to the divine abidings (III.105), one who wants firstly to develop the base consisting of boundless space sees in gross physical matter danger through the wielding of sticks, etc., because of the words: “‘It is in virtue of matter that wielding of sticks, wielding of knives, quarrels, brawls and disputes takes place; but that does not exist at all in the immaterial state,’ and in this expectation he enters upon the way to dispassion for only material things, for the fading and cessation of only those” (M I 410); and he sees danger in it too through the thousand afflictions beginning with eye disease. So, in order to surmount that, he enters upon the fourth jhāna in any one of the nine kasiṇas beginning with the earth kasiṇa and omitting the limited-space kasiṇa.

In short, it’s saying that the advantage of arupa attainments over four rupa jhanas is that in arupa, you wouldn’t feel the pain of mosquito bites, wind, heat, cold, hunger, getting stabbed by swords, violent winds in digestion producing sharp stabbing pains that make you wish for death, etc.

By definition of a-rupa vs. rupa, this means in rupa attainemnts (i.e. four jhanas), it is possible to feel all of those physical pains. Buddhaghosa tries to wiggle out of that obvious fact with this weak sauce argument:

2.Now, although he has already surmounted gross physical matter by means of the fourth jhāna of the fine-material sphere,
nevertheless he still wants also to surmount the kasiṇa materiality since it is the counterpart of the former.
How does he do this?
:diamonds: tassa kiñcāpi rūpāvacara-catutthaj-jhāna-vasena karajarūpaṃ atikkantaṃ hoti,
atha kho kasiṇa-rūpampi yasmā tappaṭibhāgameva,
tasmā tampi samatikkamitukāmo hoti.

(…some similes that don’t make any sense follow…)

Basically, the idea behind those 2 similes he gives is that even though transcending
rupa with arupa lets you escape from potential horrible physical bodily pains, the physicality of the rupa kasina itself (a mental visual image of a brown colored disk), is still fearful and frightening because it reminds you of the deathly physical body pain that you left behind in four rupa jhanas.

I have a much better simile that actually makes sense. The rupa jhanas are like being lower middle class in the economic hierarchy. If you get a 30$ parking ticket, it gives you some stress. If you forget to pay the ticket on time, it becomes a 300$ ticket and now you’re really stressed out.

Arupa attainments is like being a billionaire. You get a 30$ parking ticket, you sneer and ignore it. You get a late notice letting you know it’s now a 300$ ticket. You just laugh and ignore it. You get a court summons which you fail to show up for, they rule contempt of court, give you a 30 day jail sentence on top of a hefty $10,000 fine. You’re not smiling anymore, but you’re still not stressed. You decide its better to take care of the situation now than wait for the police to show up. You call up the super attorney you have on retainer, tell him to take care of the situation, and you go on with your business, still stress free. The total price of this 30$ ticket affair, most of it attorney cost, 250,000$ The cost of being a billionaire who doesn’t have to worry about such trifling things, priceless.

The difference between rupa and the a-rupa is the difference between price and priceless. The brown rupa disk kasina is the 30$ parking ticket.

  1. With the disappearance of perceptions of resistance: perceptions of resistance are perceptions arisen through the impact of the physical base consisting of the eye, etc., and the respective objects consisting of visible objects etc.; and this is a term for perception of visible objects (rūpa) and so on, according as it is said: “Here, what are perceptions of resistance? Perceptions of visible objects, perceptions of sounds, perceptions of odours, perceptions of flavours, perceptions of tangible objects—these are called ‘perceptions of resistance’” (Vibh 261); with the complete disappearance, the abandoning, the non-arising, of these ten kinds of perceptions of resistance, that is to say, of the five profitable-resultant and five unprofitable-resultant;6 causing their non-occurrence, is what is meant.

Now here is the key part:

17.Of course, these are not to be found in one who has entered upon the first jhāna, etc., either; for consciousness at that time does not occur by way of the five doors. Still [330] the mention of them here should be understood as a recommendation of this jhāna for the purpose of arousing interest in it, just as in the case of the fourth jhāna there is mention of the pleasure and pain already abandoned elsewhere, and in the case of the third path there is mention of the [false] view of personality, etc., already abandoned earlier.

If the possibility to feel mosquito bites and hear loud sounds is not possible in first jhana like the quote above shows, then the sutta reference you quoted earlier rules out the posssiblity that sound knocks out you. It can only mean the Ajahn Brahm style interpretation of AN 10.72, which is that sound is a thorn because it prevents you from getting into first jhana.

Vism. frequently uses tactics like that where they ambiguously quote or paraphrase EBT passsages in a way that makes you think it supports the straightforward interpretation, then they pull a bait and switch and deliver something else.

You’re welcome! I think you mentioned elsewhere here that you may share some of those jhana notes here later in the year. I’ll look forward to those with interest anyway!


One more point of ambiguity in Visuddhimagga:

4.98. But when pervading (rapturous) happiness arises, the whole body is
completely pervaded, like a filled bladder, like a rock cavern invaded by
a huge inundation.
4.99. Now this fivefold happiness, when conceived and matured, perfects
the twofold tranquillity, that is, bodily and mental tranquillity. When
tranquillity is conceived and matured, it perfects the twofold bliss, that
is, bodily and mental bliss. When bliss is conceived and matured, it
perfects the threefold concentration, that is, momentary concentration,
access concentration, and absorption concentration.
Of these, what is intended in this context by happiness is pervading
happiness, which is the root of absorption and comes by growth into
association with absorption. [145]


But that’s about ambiguity, not about a conflict with the Suttas right? Maybe you can provide sample excerpts from Suttas versus Vism. where you see a conflict?

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MN 19:

As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of non-ill will arose in me…a thought of non-cruelty arose in me. I understood thus: ‘This thought of non-cruelty has arisen in me. This does not lead to my own affliction, or to others’ affliction, or to the affliction of both; it aids wisdom, does not cause difficulties, and leads to Nibbāna. If I think and ponder upon this thought even for a night, even for a day, even for a night and day, I see nothing to fear from it. But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body, and when the body is tired, the mind becomes strained, and when the mind is strained, it is far from concentration.’ So I steadied my mind internally, quieted it, brought it to singleness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind should not be strained…“Tireless energy was aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness was established, my body was tranquil and untroubled, my mind concentrated and unified. …Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna…


[quote=“frankk, post:1, topic:5896”]
first jhāna: …The world goes away. [/quote]

MN 79:

Venerable sir, what is that course of actions to realise the world of only pleasant feelings?

Here, Udāyi, the bhikkhu secluded from sensual desires and thoughts of demerit abides in the first jhana: Overcoming thoughts and thought processs and the mind in one point internally appeased, without thoughts and thought processes abides in the second jhana. Again with equanimuity to joy and detachment, feeling pleasant with the body too, abides in the third jhana. To this the noble ones say abiding in pleasantness with equanimity. Udāyi, this is the course of actions, for realising the world of only pleasant feelings. `


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IMHO, there’s no point to look for a conflict. Visuddhimagga is rather a compilation of sources and opinions, sometimes contradictory, which Ven. Buddhaghosa struggles to align, as in:

175.Now, as to the clause he feels bliss with his body: here, although in one actually possessed of the third jhana there is no concern about feeling bliss, nevertheless he would feel the bliss associated with his mental body, and after emerging from the jhana he would also feel bliss since his material body would have been affected by the exceedingly superior matter originated by that bliss associated with the mental body. It is in order to point to this meaning that the words ‘he feels bliss with his body’ are said.

So, since Visuddhimagga doesn’t have a clear-cut position on perception in jhana, it’s useful to see it as rather a compilation of contemporaneous sources.

It’s only much later, probably in medieval Abhidhamma, that the absence of perception in jhana was strongly postulated.


That’s a terrific way to look at it, and the only way to look at it and understand why there are so many contradictions and incoherent things in Vism. Unfortunately most THOX (theravada orthodox) followers seem to insist that Abhidhamma pitaka, Vism, etc, are coherent, doesn’t contradict itself (within the Vism.) and doesn’t contradict the EBT. When asking these teacher about specific cases where it is contradicting, then they give answers like the piti mind/body contradiction.

Much of the Vism., when I’m reading it, feels like a young child asking their parent a question about something, then the parent (Buddhaghosa) says something that sounds sagacious but doesn’t make any sense. It just ends up confusing the child, making even scarring them and impairing their ability to think in a rational way.


about what range of years is medieval ABhidhamma? Looking in earth kasina section before the first jhana, we have:

76.But the Abhidhamma scholar, the Elder Godatta, quoted this text: “Preceding profitable states are a condition, as repetition condition, for succeeding profitable states” (Paṭṭh I 5). Adding, “It is owing to the repetition condition that each succeeding state is strong, so there is absorption also in the sixth and seventh.”
77.That is rejected by the commentaries with the remark that it is merely that elder’s opinion, adding that, “It is only either in the fourth or the fifth21 that there is absorption. Beyond that, impulsion lapses. It is said to do so because of nearness of the life-continuum.” And that has been stated in this way after consideration, so it cannot be rejected. For just as a man who is running towards a precipice and wants to stop cannot do so when he has his foot on the edge but falls over it, so there can be no fixing in absorption in the sixth or the seventh because of the nearness to the life-continuum. That is why it should be understood that there is absorption only in the fourth or the fifth.

I’m far from being knowledgable about Abhidhamma, but that kind of sounds like its supporting a first jhana with a frozen state. And the quote from my other post from space-infinitude-dimension definitively said in first jhana the 5 consciousnessess associated with the body can not happen.

Dear Frankk

Did you type all this text or did you find a freely available pdf version of the book?

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unfortunately it’s not a free book, but I didn’t type the notes by hand. buying the book directly from widompub (instead of amazon) in digital form (link to that in OP), you get a DRM-less version of the ebook where it allows you to cut and paste.

That book is well worth the price, about 12$ USA I think. The cost of one lunch.

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Many Thanks Frankk. I just bought the electronic version for iBooks for US$11.99 at wisdompub.

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Thank you for that link–it is no longer active and it has changed to: Should We Come Out of Jhana to Practice Vipassana? | Bhavana Society

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