How to reconcile these 2 suttas with absorption Jhāna?

Take a read at SN48.36, which defines the 5 types of feelings.

And SN48.40 where the first 2 Jhānas still has feelings of pleasure from the physical body.

If the 5 senses shut down in 1st Jhāna onwards how can it be possible to experience pleasant feelings from the body in the first 2 Jhānas?

These 2 suttas taken together are strong arguments for Jhāna lite is sutta Jhāna at least for the first 2 Jhānas. Is there anyone who defended the absorption Jhānas and address these 2 suttas? I haven’t read much of B. Analayo.

“If the 5 senses shut down in 1st Jhāna onwards how can it be possible…”

I’m not aware of any description of jhana that says the five senses are “shut down”.

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According to the Vimuttimagga the 5 senses aren’t abandoned until the attainment of infinite space. In the 1st and 2nd Jhana there is bodily pleasure. In the 3rd Jhana the sukkha there is mental (somanassa). This is because of SN 48.40. The parallel to that sutta though has sukha of the 3rd Jhana being bodily.

Q. If that does not happen,333 are there perceptions of impact and perceptions of diversity for one who enters upon a material attainment or are there no [perceptions of diversity] because they were [already] abandoned [upon entering the material attainment]?

A. When someone enters upon an attainment of the material sphere, there are perceptions of impact and diversity…

Because these [perceptions] are abandoned in these [immaterial attainments], the immaterial attainments are said to be imperturbable formations and perceptions336 and peaceful liberations (santā vimokkhā).337 It is just like Āḷāra Kālāma, who, when he entered upon an attainment without perceptions [of matter],338 did not see or hear the five hundred carts passing in front of him.339 Therefore it is taught as the cessation of the [five] sense bases. Thus, “transcending of all perceptions of matter” is taught as the abandoning of the states of the material sphere and the disappearance of the perceptions of impact.


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I wonder how many obstacles to understand Dhamma one creates for oneself by taking for granted ones own assumptions and that trying to reconcile them with other Suttas?

This particular dialectic isn’t strictly related with right view, so theoretically one can be mistaken about jhanas definitions and yet at the same time arrive at the right view. But sometimes such inclination towards consistency by adjusting Suttas definition to ones own ideas about Dhamma, and not the other way round is much more costly.

For example Suttas quite clearly define kāyasankhāro vacīsankhāro cittasankhāro. But since venerable Boddhi “knows” that dependent arising has nothing to do with the cessation of perception and feeling, he feels obligated to addjast definition of these sankharas to reconcile it with his own assumptions about Dhamma, instead the other way round. And this is still gross example since there are suttas which can correct ones own assumptions*, but sometimes it is hard to prove something, and than such predilection is simply deadly.

  • For example

“Good, good, bhikkhu! These three feelings have been spoken of by me: pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. These three feelings have been spoken of by me.

And I have also said: ‘Whatever is felt is included in suffering.’ That has been stated by me with reference to the impermanence of determinations. That has been stated by me with reference to determinations being subject to destruction … to determinations being subject to vanishing … to determinations being subject to fading away… to determinations being subject to cessation … to determinations being subject to change.

“Then, bhikkhu, I have also taught the successive cessation of determinations. For one who has attained the first jhāna, speech has ceased. For one who has attained the second jhāna, thought and examination have ceased. For one who has attained the third jhāna, rapture has ceased. For one who has attained the fourth jhāna, in-breathing and out-breathing have ceased. For one who has attained the base of the infinity of space, the perception of form has ceased. For one who has attained the base of the infinity of consciousness, the perception pertaining to the base of the infinity of space has ceased. For one who has attained the base of nothingness, the perception pertaining to the base of the infinity of consciousness has ceased. For one who has attained the base of neither-perception-nor-nonperception, the perception pertaining to the base of nothingness has ceased. For one who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, perception and feeling have ceased. For a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed, lust has ceased, hatred has ceased, delusion has ceased.

SN 35 : 11

Ajahn Brahm teaches this type of Jhāna.

Also according to Abhidhamma, the one pointedness of mind is in Jhāna only Jhāna mind moment. No other mental process of sense door cognitive process.

The mind is always with the meditation object in Jhāna, not switching to be aware of the 5 sense doors objects. Not even Bhavaṅga. Burgs said, since no Bhavaṅga in Jhāna, the sense of self is dropped there and it’s temporary cessation of suffering.

This according to a Pa Auk lay practitioner I have access to, is referring to subtle form made of consciousness and kamma, directly perceived by mind.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Ven. Upatissa, author of the Vimuttimagga, was also working within the same Abhidhamma yet he reached different conclusions regarding this.

I say the same. It looks like the Paṭisambhidāmagga was part of the Abhidhamma in his sub-school of Theravāda, but that’s a digression.

The way I would make sense of it (going by Ajahn Brahms teachings) is that it refers to the piti :slight_smile:

Than we have dialectic: “How to reconcile Ajahn Brahm’s teaching with Suttas”, but I believe it was already discussed and it wasn’t very fruitful … So perhaps it is better to let go … Or say, the way of “reconciling of these 2 suttas with absorption jhana” may depends on dialectic: “how to reconcile Ajahn Brahm’s teaching with Suttas” :slightly_smiling_face:

Which topic is it? Can help to link it?

Here’s a compilation of links to discussions by Ven @Dhammanando:

nirodh27: What strikes me the most is that it seems to me that no sides acknowledges that both interpretations are actually possibile and have their strenghts and that the matter, and this is very unfortunate because I think everyone wants to know exactly how to practice in the way the Buddha prescribed 2500 years ago, cannot be decided only by sutta references.

Dhammanando:As the disagreement doesn’t involve any difference of opinion over how the preliminary practice of samatha-bhāvanā is to be carried out, one always has the option of just going ahead with the work while maintaining an agnostic stance on the contested questions about what jhāna is like.

nirodh27: It would be very interesting to read the Sylvester - Frankk debate, I hope that someone can link that.

Dhammanando: Here are links to a few of the threads. I’m afraid some are rather lengthy, but you can save time by skipping all the ill-informed posts from the Vimalaramsi and Brasington followers and just attending to the posts of Sylvester, Sujāto and Brahmali (in effect representing the Theravada position as it was at the time of the Third Council), and those of Frank and Silence (in effect representing the position taken at the same council by the Pubbaseliya school).

As at the Third Council, both sides believe their position to be the correct reading of the suttas and neither side is basing its case on later works like the Visuddhimagga. Unfortunately one of the two Pubbaseliya posters (yes, I mean you, Frank!) insists on begging the question by calling his own view “the straight EBT interpretation”, and poisoning the well (and begging the question) by dubbing his opponents’ view “the revised Visuddhimagga interpretation”.

Hearing sounds in jhāna

Vitakka and vicāra (jhāna factors)

Pīti, sukha, kāya in jhāna: mental, physical, or both?

Can you hear sound and feel body in jhāna?

EBTs which indicate the experience of the body disappears while meditating?

‘parisuddhena cetasā pariyodātena’ and ‘citte parisuddhe pariyodāte’

And if your enthusiasm hasn’t waned after the above, you’ll probably find a few more with google:

google search


Are such ideas also supported by Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Pannavaddho, Ajahn Maha Boowa? If not, what is the reason, what is the cause that other Ajahns formed their own ideas about what jhana is?

According sutta’s the notion “I am” (asmi mana) occurs with clinging as condition, and not without clinging to the khandha’s (SN22.83). I agree with this. I do not believe one can say that a sense of self is inherent to bhavanga. Mind is not always with a sense of self. Not even while awake. It is exactly like the sutta’s say; there is no sense of self without clinging. And because there is not always clinging there is also not always a sense of self in the mind, not even while awake.

To think about the sense of self as something that does not dependly arise, does not seem wise. One cannot say that merely being awake comes with a constant sense of self that can be traced back to bhavanga.

In others words: The sense of self is not related to bhavanga but to clinging and is always something that arises and ceases. There is not such a thing as a constant present sense of self while awake just as with vinnana.

I also feel it is wrong to say that there is no suffering in jhana. No sutta teaches this. All formations and bases (of nothingness, endless vinnana, other bases) they all represent an element of dukkha. Also about this the sutta’s are very clear. There is no escape of dukkha in any jhana. No cessation of dukkha in any jhana.

There is also no blacking out in jhana. Also the sutta’s are very clear about this. There is always perceiving, cognition, an awareness of something in any jhana, and this approaches its limits in last jhana.

Now, I have no idea what visuddhimagga says about jhanas, and one year ago I even didn’t know what EBT means.

But as far as Suttas go, here are selected quotes on sensory experience in jhanas:

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In that post you think SN35.133 refers to fourth jhana. Does not seem right to me.

Nowhere in the suttas is Pīti presented as a feeling. According to the Abhidhamma its an emotion, a formation.

If you read the Points of Controversy (Kathāvatthu) you can see the Pubbaseliyas accepted that Jhāna is without the 5 senses. That section is really a debate about if one hears a sound whilst in Jhāna or not. Of course, if this an accurate representation of that sub-school of the Mahāsāṃghikas is a different question.

This is asking what can be known when someone has reached the 4th Jhāna. At least, you can read it that way so its no definitive.

May i ask , how does ajahn brahm comes to this conclusion and justified it , when he claimed that when the 5 senses shut down is in or equivalent to 1st jhana ?

Ajahn Brahm’s credited description of jhana where the five senses shutdown, the brain shuts down, the heart shuts down seems to include the statement that awareness of bliss does not shut down? That does not sound like being unconscious/unaware to me?

A lay disciple once told me how he had “fluked” a deep Jhana while meditating at home. His wife thought he had died and sent for an ambulance. He was rushed to hospital in a wail of loud sirens. In the emergency room, there was no heartbeat registered on the E.C.G., nor brain activity to be seen by the E.E.G. So the doctor on put defibrillators on his chest to reactivate his heart. Even though he was being bounced up and down on the hospital bed through the force of the electric shocks, he didn’t feel a thing! When he emerged from the Jhana in the emergency room, perfectly all right, he had no knowledge of how he had got there, nor of ambulances and sirens, nor of body-jerking defibrillators. All that long time that he was in Jhana, he was fully aware, but only of bliss. This is an example of what is meant by the five senses shutting down within the experience of Jhana.

Ajahn Brahmavamso - The Jhanas

This experience was related to Ajahn Brahmavamso by a lay disciple so it is hearsay, but it seems he credited this as an authentic account of Jhana. I suppose the intended answer/meaning is that only five of the senses shut down and not mental contact?

Ah yes, from a little further:


It is helpful to know, then, that within a Jhana:

  1. There is no possibility of thought;
  2. No decision making process is available;
  3. There is no perception of time;
  4. Consciousness is non-dual, making comprehension inaccessible;
  5. Yet one is very, very aware, but only of bliss that doesn’t move; and
  6. The five senses are fully shut off, and only the sixth sense, mind, is in operation.

Ajahn Brahmavamso - The Jhanas


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AN 3.63:

Then, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I enter and dwell in the first jhāna, which consists of rapture and pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by thought and examination. With the subsiding of thought and examination, I enter and dwell in the second jhāna, which has internal placidity and unification of mind and consists of rapture and pleasure born of concentration, without thought and examination. With the fading away as well of rapture, I dwell equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, I experience pleasure with the body; I enter and dwell in the third jhāna of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and dejection, I enter and dwell in the fourth jhāna, neither painful nor pleasant, which has purification of mindfulness by equanimity.

“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.

Hi Venerable, we discussed this issue before here. But to clarify my take on this, because these are interesting discourses that are often overlooked:

SN48.40 I actually deem more problematic for the interpretation of jhanas in which sukha is felt “with the body”, because it says the faculty of sukha has ceased in the third jhana, where there still is sukha.

With this in mind, the faculty of sukha (which SN48.36-38 indeed define as bodily) cannot refer to the sukha of the third jhana itself. The sukha that still exists in the third jhana is actually part of the somanassa faculty, defined in SN48.36-38 as “mental pleasure (sukha)”. This faculty is said in SN48.40 to not exist in the fourth jhana, indicating quite clearly that the sukha of the third jhana is this mental pleasure. As Bhikkhu Bodhi writes in his footnote:

“The pleasure faculty (sukhindriya) here is bodily pleasant feeling, not the happiness (also called sukha) the meditator is said to “experience with the body” in the third jhāna. The latter sukha is actually mental happiness, identical with somanassa.”

(Note that his “with the body” for kāyena is translated by Ven. Sujato as “personally”, which is what I agree it actually means.)

But how then are we to make sense of the statement about the third jhana, that bodily pleasure has ceased there?

In the earlier discussion some people wondered whether SN48.40 may be inauthentic, but it seems very unlikely the Pali editors would have accidentally put an error so obvious and serious in the canon. “Parallels” that were brought up to support this supposed inauthenticity are not really parallels at all, but later summary texts that seem to attempt to try to fix this “problem” of the third jhana. (Yet in doing so they create new problems.) The name of the discourse, “Irregular Order [of the faculties]”, also indicates that the Pāli compilers were well aware of what they were doing. Whoever named the text wouldn’t call it “irregular order” and then not seriously consider the order of the faculties! So this somewhat strange, irregular use of faculties wasn’t an accident. It was intended, of that I’m sure. Either way, dismissing the text as inauthentic is the opposite of reconciling them, so it doesn’t answer the topic’s question.

Alternatively, the definition of the faculties in SN48.36-38 may not apply to SN48.40, but that seems to me equally far-fetched.

A main principle in textual studies is that of lectio difficilior, which suggests that the most difficult readings are more likely to be authentic. This is a difficult passage, but the Pali editors would very unlikely have made such an error accidentally.

Since it is a difficult and unique passage, I also suggest a somewhat difficult and unique way of reading it.

The way I can see to reconcile the texts is as follows. The point that is being made with the third jhana in SN48.40 is exactly to indicate that the sukha that exists there (and therefore in the first and second as well) is not bodily. All bodily sukha has ceased there, is what the discourse says directly, after all.

When you say that in SN48.40 “the first 2 Jhānas still has feelings of pleasure from the physical body”, this is not true. Technically, the discourse just says this bodily pleasure has ceased in the third. It doesn’t literally say that it still existed in the first two jhanas. Point being, it has ceased in the first and second as well, but that is not the relevant point being made in the discourse. That’s how I see it.

It’s not a normal way of phrasing this, for sure, but it is quite clear to me that the discourse tries to creatively map the four faculties of happiness/pleasure/pain/sadness onto the four jhanas. But the problem is, they don’t map on precisely. This is also clear from the domanassa faculty, which the discourse says has ceased in the second jhana, while other discourses (e.g. AN5.176) say it already ceased in the first.

In sum, we should not read SN48.40 as a sequential cessation of the faculties in the sequential jhanas, where one ceases in the first jhana, another in the second, and so forth. Because the faculties just don’t cease that way. We should instead read it as a clarification that certain faculties don’t exist in certain jhanas. But in some cases they may also not exist in earlier jhanas either.

It may not be the most natural reading at first glance, I readily admit that, but this seems to me the only feasible way to read the discourse. Otherwise, we run into problems regardless of how we interpret the jhanas. Unless, and this seems to me the only alternative, we disregard the sutta altogether.

My way of looking at it also has a precedence in the standard fourth jhana formula, which includes the cessation of dukkha and domanassa, which both already ceased earlier, in the first jhana. That statement is a reinforcement of what has ceased; these things don’t cease only in the fourth jhana itself.

Either way, the bodily jhana intepretation runs into more problems with this discourse, it seems to me. It’s actually a strong indication that the sukha of the jhanas (certainly the third) was thought to be mental.

I’ll probably leave it at that for this discussion. Other discourses that were brought up (and likely most that will still be brought up below) to argue against certain interpretations of jhanas, have been discussed quite extensively before. In short, the deep interpretation of jhanas is held by honest scholars with extensive knowledge of the suttas and Pali, supported by the Abhidhamma and commentaries whose job it is to comment upon the discourses, so it’s not like the discourses clearly disprove them. (Edit: There is reasonable room for debate, is what I’m saying, to be clear. I’m not saying that this itself proves anything, nor that scholars or text which disagree aren’t honest.) There’s lots of stuff in favor of disembodied jhanas as well in the discourses. SN48.40 being, in my view, one of them.

To illustrate, the Abhidhamma says about the sukha in the jhanas:

Therein what is pleasure (sukha)? That which is mental ease, mental pleasure, easeful pleasant experience born of mental contact, easeful pleasant feeling born of mental contact. This is called pleasure.

This seems to be in line with my interpretation of SN48.40, where the “faculty of sukha” is bodily pleasure.

Would love to hear others’ takes on this text. If these texts would have to be reconciled with so-called absorption jhana, then so do they with bodily jhana, which I would say is more strongly in disagreement with them. Because it has problems not only with the third but also fourth jhana.

Edit: I clarified this post and the intent behind it a bit further later in the discussion.