How to reconcile these 2 suttas with absorption Jhāna?

Hmmmm…I do not see a ground for all this in the sutta’s. In fourth jhana one can also choose to direct mind, like Buddha did, to memories of former lifes.

MN4: "When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives.

This means: one can make decisions to do this and also apply mind in the way one wishes.
Fourth jhana is also known for this pliancy.

Jhana is also not describes as being without disturbances or merely bliss. MN121.
In jhana one is also aware of others things then bliss.

Yeah, probably not worth it to get too worked up trying to figure out which description is right or what the contradictions might be, speaking for myself. Rather, probably better to take the Teacher’s advice and go and see? I have no such attainments so who am I to offer an opinion as to who is right or wrong in their descriptions. Better to try and go verify for myself what the vista of the mountain has to offer. :joy:

This isn’t to say that the contradiction you perceive isn’t apparent to me. I perceive some tension with the descriptions and categorical statements between the sutta you mention and Ajahn Brahm’s, but I don’t have the knowledge to say even that the contradiction is more than misunderstanding due to different language or anything else. If someone were in a state of having great faith in both the Teacher and Ajahn Brahm I can see why they would go with the hypothesis that the apparent contradiction is only apparent and not actual. Either way, to resolve with knowledge would require visiting the mountain and knowledge of Ajahn Brahm’s and the Teacher’s minds. It is a long climb to that knowledge :joy:


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Sutta does not refer to the fourth jhana explicitly, but merely says that when senses work there is experience of pain and pleasure. But the description of the fourth jhana contains passage: with the abandoning the pain and pleasure… That opens possibility to think that if there is no experience of pain and pleasure it is because senses don’t work. This itself is or at least appears as inconsistent with Suttas which describe that sensory experience is abandon with the attainment of immaterial states, but it is consistent with cessation of breathing in the fourth jhana. Breathing is described as bodily sankhara, inseparable with experiencing body, as long as there is breathing there is body in the field of consciousness. And breathing also ceases in the fourth jhana.

I can’t resolve this inconsistency in clear and unequivocal way, and anyway the topic itself is not related with right view, so instead of trying to resolve it, it is better just to do some more meditation.

I feel as you do, so I am not able to provide an answer. I do have some thoughts on the topic:

Unfortunately, this is a sensitive issue. Maybe everyone wants to be teaching the ‘authentic’ practice? I found Ajahn Amaro’s discussion of their nada sound practice refreshing in that he did not present it as ‘this is what the Buddha taught’ (which would have required some truly creative translation skills) but rather how it fulfills the Buddha’s teaching. A truly mature approach in my view.

I have come to see these practices as not Jhana and Jhana Lite but rather as two distinctly different types of Samadhi altogether. One takes a mental object as ones focus while the other takes the sense of the physical body or some aspect of that as ones focus. And they unfold in different ways from that point on. Each type of practice no doubt has subtler deeper levels that some will be able to experience - so each type may have a Lite version.

This, in my view, is not really a matter of translation but rather that different teachers are describing the results of their specific type of practice and then interpreting the suttas in a way that poiints back to their practice. I don’t believe this is meant in a deceptive way but rather that the individuals realization is strong enough to convince them that their practice must be what the Buddha was describing.

I have not come upon much discussion of this within the Buddhist community (aside from arguing over which is more authentic). Ven. Kumara’s book touches on this topic - largely by looking at how we understand the terminology will influence the direction of our practice. In that all practice is fabricated, this makes sense.

The 20th century mystic and explorer of consciousness Sri Aurobindo does mention two forms of Samadhi - one focused on a mental object and another where the focus is on the physical body. In his view, the first leads to an experience of Nibbana as a blissful nothingness while the latter leads to an experience of Nibbana as what he refers to as Cosmic Consciousness.

These two experiences seem (from my perspective) to correspond to the nature of Nibbana as decsribed by Ajahns Brahm vs Bua and more generally Theravada vs Thai Forest.

Aurobindo’s perspective was that Nibbana has both an aspect of nothingness as well as an aspect of everythingness (my phrasing) and both are to be realized. Personally, I find both these aspects in the Buddhas teachings.


That is ofcourse a possible pitfall. Something to deal with with great care. Not be eager.

A sincere person will also not go that far that he/she just ignores the descriptions of jhana in the sutta’s, changes them into his/her own likings, and aligns all with own experiences.
That is like inventing ones own jhana’s. That is not sincere. And that really becomes deceptive, i feel.

Apart from jhana, there are are so many spiritual experiences one can have. Mystical experiences for example do not look at all like jhana. They are very different of nature. Samadhi is not even a condition for mystical experiences to arise. More letting go and total openess. It is not something of the 6th sense to but the heart. There are also experiences of devotion, blessings, uplifting joy, endless.

All of us can invent what jhana is, but i suggest, lets stay at how the sutta’s describe it.

If I recall, the commentaries don’t say it’s named because of this.

This order also appears in the Peṭakopadesa, which is likely a Mahīśāsaka text. Regarding the parallels being untrustworthy, could you substantiate this?

Hmm how would this translate though?

Pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati sato ca sampajāno, sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṁvedeti, yaṁ taṁ ariyā ācikkhanti: ‘upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī’ti tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.

And with the fading away of rapture, they enter and remain in the third absorption, where they meditate with equanimity, mindful and aware, personally personally experiencing the bliss of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, one meditates in bliss.’

paṭisaṃvedeti: pr. (+acc) personally experiences; undergoes; feels [pati + saṃ + √vid + *e + ti]

My speculation: the piti of the first two jhanas are, perhaps, based on the body, even though in the jhanas proper the 5 senses are gone and one has no perception of the body in any way you would call physical. By “based on”, I mean perhaps the body (or some aspect of it) viewed only at the mind (though I’m not sure).

What makes me think that is the Buddha saying:

‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure, for it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures or unskillful qualities?’ (MN 85)

I would just speculate that it’s because the piti – which even before the first jhana can be extremely pleasurable, rich and indulgent – does have a “physical” feel to it, it could almost be sensual (even sexual), even though it is neither of those at all. It is similar but also completely different. It doesn’t really make sense, but it doesn’t have to IMO :slight_smile:

But to me it does makes sense that the Buddha-to-be could have rejected that pleasure because of the (paradoxical) “physicality” of it.

And this reduces again the debate about jhanas to just how strongly the jhana factors need to present to call it a proper jhana. Some people experience bliss in their physical body (fairly noticable piti), but when that bliss gets strong enough you can’t help but get sucked into the bliss and out of the five senses (strong piti).

But perhaps all the states across the piti-spectrum from weak to strong, are somehow based on the body until the third jhana.

Anyway, I don’t know if this makes sense to y’all but at least it helped me clarify my own thoughts :nerd_face:

If you read the various discussions that I, @Sunyo, and others mentioned above you’ll see that this issue of whether the Buddha (or other practitioner) is *in jhāna during such experiences/insights has been hotly discussed. And, as Ven @Dhammanando indicates, it was also hotly discussed back at the Third Council.
Other examples are:

And also MN111:

He knew those phenomena as they arose, as they remained, and as they went away.

I don’t have sufficient depth of Pāli and other knowledge to make a useful contribution to the arguments about the timing issues: Whether the language really does mean that the insight occurs within the jhāna or whether they occur after emerging from the jhāna, while the mind is “purified, bright, etc…” (MN36)

When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward recollection of past lives.

“When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives.

See also Ven @Kumara’s recent thread: My “Jhāna” Story
and Ven Analayo’s recent paper:
“A Brief History of Buddhist Absorption”, Mindfulness, 2020, 11.3: 571–586.
The final text is not available for free but the draft submitted to the journal is linked to here: Publications by Bhikkhu Anālayo. Specifically:

Personally, I remain a spectator, following Ven @Dhammanando’s advice that I quoted above:

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.

By this I assume you also say that your knowledge of logic doesn’t allow you to come to conclusion that if Suttas describe unequivocally that senses stop to work definitely in immaterial states, before arupa attainment there is rupa which obviously has to be perceived by senses.

Why equanimity which is diversified (equanimity towards sensory experience) should be surmounted by equanimity that is unified this perhaps you can understand following simple logic: it is much more sublime experience.

But when Sutta describes equanimity which is unifed as immaterial states not jhanas, your logical skills aren’t good enough to make inference: it must be so because below immaterial attainments still there’s diversity of sensory experience.

Interesting :thinking:

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Also no light… :thinking:

Does this really mean no light at all? He does say, “mental image” at the end of the quote. To clarify this, I personally asked Ajahn Brahm about this quote when he came to Na-Uayana, Sri Lanka some time around 2009. He explained that, “The nimitta is the gateway to jhāna but not the object of jhāna.” He continued, “Pīti-sukha is the object(s) of jhāna. The nimitta and kasiṇa are the gateways to jhāna but not the objects of jhāna themselves.”

Taken from: Ajahn Brahmavamso's Dark Jhāna | American Monk: Life with Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha

Then again I am sure there are plenty of views/methods held and practiced by Nā Uyana monastery that I disagree with, but at least we agree that rupa loka involves light. :+1:

Why would one do that? No need for me to so. See further

I do not believe this has anything to do with Pali knowledge. It is for me sure that in jhana one knows what is present and not. The sutta’s are also not vague about this. It is really in jhana that this and that is perceived. One knows what is present and also what has left the mind. For example, one really notices that the breath has ceased. One does not experience the abdomen going up and down. And one knows this. One really notices all this. All the description of jhana are based upon what is experienced while in jhana. No reason at all to doubt this.

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The way you’re presenting this we get the feeling the commentaries and all the important scholars support this pov and I think it’s not the case. Did you check what the Vimuttimagga and the Patisambhidamagga are saying ? Also, I thought Bhikkhu Thanissaro, Bhikkhu Analayo, William Chu, Polak, Kerbel, to name just a few, counted as honest scholars and they support the bodily jhana.
What I really don’t get is when we say we find support for non bodily jhana in the suttas. I just honestly don’t get it. For anyone still doubting this just take any sutta collection, open randomly 20 times in a row and check if Buddha is asking you to focus until you don’t feel your body, and wait for a light to appear and then enter it. The way the proponents of non bodily jhana presents their experience, the nimitta is like a major thing/threshold yet there’s not instruction related to it in any suttas.
I do not get it, the Buddha says as clear as day and everywhere about the first jhana :
"One drenches, pervades, saturates, and suffuses this very body with joy and happiness born of
seclusion, such that there is no part of the whole body that is not touched by the joy and
happiness born of seclusion. "
I understand the non bodily jhana feel extraordinary and those who experience it want it to be right but if people need to bend the sutta so that it fits their confirmation bias it just doesn’t work. This is not right. The suttas are crystal clear on this issue.
Now, I won’t hesitate a second to change my view is there is a new sutta that appears and says that indeed the drenching, suffusing and so forth is only mental and non bodily but for now, if I only look at available sutta there is absolutely no way to support the non bodily jhana imho.


And who defines what that description means? You may feel that they are perfectly clear to you in their meaning and I can assure that others that disagree with you feel just as strongly that their understanding is the correct one. The only one that could truly clear this up has been dead for a long time and as has been pointed out by others - if they did come on this forum they would almost certainly be banned very quickly (“You drooling idiots, you haven’t understood a single word I said” - or some such thing).

So really, each of us does have to invent what jhana is - through our practice and study or rely on some other’s invention.

I feel it is really a serious thing. And I am worried about some developments. One is all this mess about jhana. Most weird things are said about jhana. There is only one reason why people do this. You have explained that: people have certain experiences and want that to be jhana…even if the sutta’s do not at all describe jhana like that. I see that as a problem.

Ven Analayo’s view can be seen in the paper linked here: My “Jhāna” Story - #9 by mikenz66

Analayo: There can be little doubt that the way of developing absorption meditation described in Theravāda exegesis, in particular in the important Theravāda path-manual, the Path of Purification by Buddhaghosa, employs vocabulary unknown in the early discourses and differs from them in various respects. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the resultant experience must be substantially different from the type of absorption envisioned in the early discourses.

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I am left with the sense you would prefer to have things otherwise?

Just to say Bhante that whilst this is of course true, the idea that Jhāna involves a bodily experience and sukha is physical has its roots going back to the Vimuttimagga (Jhāna is with the 5 senses, but sukha in the 3rd Jhāna is mental) and the Sautrāntika (Jhāna is with the 5 senses, and sukha in the 3rd Jhāna is bodily). The Sautrāntika argued their case based on what their sutras said (I believe they quote their version of the suttas in question). I mean the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika side of the debate had to go to great lengths to argue how sukha there doesn’t mean a bodily experience but a mental one, despite what the sutra said. In Mahāyāna today, influenced by the Sautrāntika, Jhāna is a bodily experience.

Now I’m not necessarily saying all this makes the bodily Jhāna argument true. I am saying that there are good arguments on both sides, and that of course sincere and well informed people have argued for both throughout the centuries of Buddhism. Its a very, very old debate as you know. What I find beneficial is that in the Theravādin tradition of the Visuddhimagga (the Mahavihāravāsin Theravādins) there will be bodily bliss before one enters absorption. So, since everyone agrees that bodily bliss is involved at some point its best for people to just practice and then decide for themselves if the experience with Jhāna is enough or is a push further is needed IMO.


This makes me think that perhaps Sutta usage of Jhāna is loose.

In the Pārājika 4 Vinaya we find this:

Venerable Mahāmoggallāna said to the monks, “After attaining an unshakable stillness on the banks of the river Sappinikā, I heard the sound of elephants plunging in and emerging from the water, and trumpeting too.”

The monks complained and criticized him, “How can Venerable Mahāmoggallāna talk like this? He’s claiming a superhuman ability!” They told the Buddha.

“Monks, there is such a stillness, but it’s not wholly purified. Moggallāna spoke truthfully. There’s no offense for Moggallāna.”

Unshakeable stillness usually means absorption, but then still can hear sounds, this seems to be supporting the Jhāna lite position, but not wholly purified implies that the fully purified stillness is one where no sounds is heard. It refers to full absorption.

From asking a Pa Auk practitioner, I get the picture that it’s the absorption is going in and out, so it’s not fully in, but during the out time, sometimes they call it as Jhāna as well. So getting out of absorption and while the mind is still freed from hindrances to do Vipassana might be loosely used in the sutta to still say while in the Jhāna.

This position is able to just absorb all the details in the suttas and harmonize them all.

Of course, it’s not satisfactory to the Jhāna lite position as the main point is that one doesn’t need to practise so deeply.

Oh sorry, I forgot about it. What I remembered was the contradiction with AN5.176.