If jhana is total absorption without physical sensation, why is pain only abandoned in the fourth jhana?

Hi,

SN 16.9 says that pain is abandoned in the fourth jhâna. This suggests that there may still be pain in the preceding jhâna. However, if jhâna is total absorption without physical sensation, it should not be possible to feel pain in the preceding jhânas. How can this be explained?

Whenever I want, with the giving up of pleasure and pain, and the ending of former happiness and sadness, I enter and remain in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness.

Thanks in advance

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I don’t want to answer your question here, but I’m sure you’ll find the answer in this book: What You Might Not Know about Jhāna & Samādhi

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I think the pain that is given up in the fourth Jhana is not physical pain. Physical sensatiions have long been given up at that moment. I think the phrase “giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness” refers to something mental, not physical. Perhaps what it speaks of is the very concept of this distinction between pleasure and pain.

I find the description in DN 9 particularly clear in this respect because this focuses on the perceptions in each of these stages. And it makes it very clear that with the first Jhana, physical sensations ara abandoned:

DN9:10.1-3: Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.

The sensual perception that they had previously ceases.

At that time they have a subtle and true perception of the rapture and bliss born of seclusion.

And for the fourth Jhana:

DN9:13.1-3: “Furthermore, giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, a mendicant enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness.

The subtle and true perception of bliss with equanimity that they had previously ceases.

At that time they have a subtle and true perception of neutral feeling.

What is left here is a neutral feeling, so I think what is given up at this stage is the distinction between pleasant and unpleasant feeling.

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Thank you for your message Venerable.

I have already read your book, it is really excellent and very interesting. Thank you very much for the work you have done for the good of beings.

Basically, I’m more on the side of the visuddhimagga jhana designed by the Pa-Auk system. However, as I read the suttas and your book, I’m getting more and more the impression that the jhânas may have been very different from what the Pa-Auk system says.
But for the moment, my way of thinking is that, for safety’s sake, it’s better to practice the visuddhimagga jhânas, because at least we can be sure that the concentration permitted by these jhâna is sufficient to internalize the insight of vipassana, whereas with non-visudhimagga jhânas there’s always a risk that concentration won’t be sufficient for vipassana (and because of all this debate, I don’t know which jhânas were taught by the Buddha).

But that doesn’t change the fact that your book is a blessing, thank you again.

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Thank you very much for your message Bhante.

However, personally, I find that your sutta on the first jhana speaks rather of the one who has entered the first jhâna ceasing to be in a state of mind of attachment to the senses, and not of no longer having physical sensations.

That is, the elimination of sensuality does not mean that there is no longer any physical sensation, but it does mean that there is no longer any passion for physical sensations.

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Well it doesn’t say “the sensual attachment that they had previously ceases”, but “the sensual perception that they had previously ceases”. “Perception” is sañña.

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How do you understand “vipassana” as you wrote above?

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Hiya,

This is not just SN16.9; it is the standard way the fourth jhanas are phrased.

I for one am of the opinion that the “deeper” jhanas where there are no experiences of the body, are what the Buddha practiced. In my understanding, in jhanas 1, 2 and 3 there is no pain, either physical or mental, there is only piti and/or sukha. And indeed the first three jhanas of course don’t mention the presence of pain.

Also:

At a time when a noble disciple enters and dwells in the rapture of seclusion, five things aren’t present in him. The pain and sadness connected with sensual pleasures. The pleasure and happiness connected with sensual pleasures.(AN5.176)

That is to say, physical (or “sensual”) pleasure and pain were already abandoned in the first jhana, which is the rapture (pīti) of seclusion—meaning seclusion from the five senses.

So what’s happening with the fourth jhana formula “with the giving up of pleasure and pain”? It’s a good question.

It helps if you look at this phrase a bit less technically, not as two different factors that are abandoned, but more as a description of what the fourth jhana is like. It refers to the whole gamut of both pleasure (sukha) and displeasure (dukkha), which together are abandoned. When sukha of the third jhana fades away, the whole pain-pleasure “faculty”, in a sense, is left behind. This idea is repeated in various ways, first by saying “pleasure and displeasure are abandoned”, then by saying “happiness and sadness are ended”, and once more by saying that the fourth jhana is adukkha-asukkha, “without pleasure or pain”. All these are different ways to emphasize that the fourth jhana is a neutral experience, as Ven. Sabbamitta also said.

In short, because sukha is abandoned by going into the fourth jhana, and dukkha isn’t there either, you go beyond all pleasure and pain.

It’s like a coin with two sides; in the first three jhanas you only look at one side (the sukha), having turned away the dukkha side. In the fourth jhana you throw the whole coin away, so you discard both sukha and dukkha.

Does that make sense? At least intellectually?

If not, Ajahn Brahmali explained it in a workshop we gave last year, but I can’t remember exactly which session it was, so you’ll have to search around bit. :upside_down_face:

https://bswa.org/teaching/sammasamadhi-right-stillness-workshops-2022/. Probably session 5 or 6 if I recall.

I recently gave a talk where I very briefly addressed this as well, somewhere near the end:

Hope that helps.

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I understand vipassana as the insightful knowledge of phenomena as suffering, unstable, non-self. But I also think we can include dependent origination.

In fact, when I read the suttas, I don’t really get the impression that the Buddha is asking us to practice samatha and vipassana completely separately. I get the impression that you’re supposed to do both at the same time.

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Right. And is that in line with what you’ve learnt from the Pa Auk tradition?

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Very right! The Buddha never makes this distinction. In fact, he doesn’t even speak of samatha meditation or vipassanā meditation at all. See also Ajahn Brahmali’s very nice essay on the topic (PDF for download).

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No… They make a clear distinction in practice. First, you’re supposed to practice samatha (ideally, you’re supposed to reach all 8 jhânas; otherwise, you’ll need access concentration), then you’re supposed to use this extreme concentration to fully practice vipassana.

From what I’ve just said, you might think that the best thing to do is not to follow the Pa-Auk system.
But all things considered, I’m not at all sure that my intuitive understanding of the suttas is correct, and besides, even if the Pa-Auk system were slightly different from the Buddha’s methods, I don’t really see why it wouldn’t lead to Nibanna.
From what I understand, in this system, the practical separation between samatha and vipassana is due to the fact that it’s difficult to build up good concentration while practising vipassana (because the real objects are too unstable). It is therefore necessary to practice samatha separately, based on unreal concepts (such as patibagha nimitta). It doesn’t seem aberrant at all.

And again, I find that practicing this system is safer, because the concentration offered is really excellent, so I’m not afraid that it’s insufficient to internalize wisdom through vipassana.

Thank you very much for this information Bhante.

However, in this sutta, I have the impression that the Buddha is talking about samatha and vipassana (but I don’t read Pali at all) :

And what are the things that should be developed by direct knowledge?
Katame ca, bhikkhave, dhammā abhiññā bhāvetabbā?
Serenity and discernment.
Samatho ca vipassanā ca—
These are called the things that should be developed by direct knowledge.
ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, dhammā abhiññā bhāvetabbā.

Am I wrong?

Thank you in advance

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Yes, the Buddha mentions the two together, but not as a meditation method. It’s rather the result of the practice.

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Thank you so much for your answers Venerable, I value them very highly to move forward on the path!!!

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Are they slightly different, or mutually contradicting?

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As I read the text, it actually says “bhāvetabbā” (should be developed) though.

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If practicing according to the Pa-Auk system is helpful for you, then there is no reason not to do it.

To paraphrase Ajahn Brahmali from the text linked above: Although the Buddha never speaks of “samatha meditation” or “vipassana meditation”, if your meditation—no matter how it’s called—leads to more samatha and more vipassanā (the two will always grow together), then it’s a good method for you.

This Sutta follows the pattern of the four noble truths as explained in the Buddha’s first discourse, SN 56.11. There he connects a certain activity with each of the truths, something that needs to be done with respect to this particular truth.

Here, the fourth noble truth, which is the noble eightfold path, has te be developed, bhāvetabba. If in the context of AN 4.254 the Buddha says that samatha and vipassanā need to be developed (by direct insight), so he basically equates them with the noble eightfold path. Samatha and vipassanā in this Sutta are in fact used as a synonym for “the noble eightfold path”. So they are not a meditation method, but they are what comes out when you develop the noble eightfold path.

That’s how I understand it.

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I fully agree with you here. I’ve read that sutta too.

I was referring to the part “It’s rather the result of the practice.”

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Hmm … I am not sure where exactly you see the contradiction here. I didn’t actually understand why you used the word “though” here:

Can you explain please?

As I understand it, there is not a method or technique called “samatha meditation” or “vipassanā meditation”, but if you practice meditation well—and the entire noble eightfold path, which culminates in sammā samādhi—both samatha and vipassanā are developed.

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