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

Hi, here’s what I think:

  1. The Uppaṭipāṭikasutta (SN48.40) talks about contemplating pain and happiness, but it doesn’t explain any more than other suttas how they attain the jhanas. It doesn’t say that their contemplation directly leads into the jhanas. The explanation of how to attain jhana is still the same as always: abandoning the hindrances and sense objects. I’m not sure what Pa-Auk would mean by “unreal concepts”, though, so I can’t respond on that. If it means mental objects, then yes I would agree that is what has to to happen eventually. But there is nothing unreal about those things. If anything, it’s more real than anything in the physical world. Also, contemplation and other types of meditation lead us there, so I wouldn’t make a hard distinction, whether we call it “real” and “unreal” or whatever.

  2. It’s a bit strange, yes. The sutta says sukha is abandoned in the 3rd jhana, where there is still sukha! :face_with_raised_eyebrow: Well, it clearly uses sukha in a different sense. The word does have different senses throughout the canon, so that’s not particularly strange. For example, parinibbana is also a type of sukha but of course there are no feelings there, so it is not sukha of the jhanas, which is a feeling. In the Uppaṭipāṭikasutta sukha must stand for piti, since that is what is abandoned in the third jhana. A bit weird, but the sutta seems to somewhat forcefully try to fit the four “faculties” (dukkha, sukha, domanassa, somanassa) onto the four jhanas, which, because these two sets of four don’t really match, in some cases is done in a somewhat creative way. Like, domanassa, which is said to be abandoned in the second jhana, seemingly refers to the vitakka vicara, which is a bit strange too. But this stretching and challenging of concepts is something that the Buddha did all the time.

  3. Thanks, I haven’t read that, but going by what you say, in these other treatises the pain/pleasure faculties are mixed up compared to the Pali. I think this shows my assumption, that the four don’t really match the jhanas properly, and that the sutta was a creative way of categorizing things. The main point is that it aids contemplation, not so much to explain us what the jhanas are like.

I was aware of some of the different usage of terms here, but I think for the first jhana it’s still pretty clear that physical pain is abandoned already there.

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I don’t want to go into the meta here, but just to be clear: I don’t say all views are valid. By “the suttas can be interpreted both ways” I just meant that people arrive at different interpretations, not that all interpretations are valid. That would be silly if the interpretations exclude one another, which they do in this case.

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Thank you very much Venerable.

If you look at SN 48.37 or SN 48.36 (the analysis), you might see how Buddha describe the terms:

Sukhindriyaṁ, dukkhindriyaṁ, somanassindriyaṁ, domanassindriyaṁ, upekkhindriyaṁ.

dukkhindriyaṁ = senses physical pain (contact from eye, ear, tongue, nose, and body touch) describe as:

And what is the senses of physical pain?
Katamañca, bhikkhave, dukkhindriyaṁ?

Physical pain, physical unpleasantness, the painful, unpleasant feeling that’s born from physical contact.
Yaṁ kho, bhikkhave, kāyikaṁ dukkhaṁ, kāyikaṁ asātaṁ, kāyasamphassajaṁ dukkhaṁ asātaṁ vedayitaṁ—

This term is referring to how to purify the mind from physical body contact & mind contact. If you tie in the MN 43, you will see the total connection instead of conflicting. Then there is connection to SN 48.40 as well.

This Sutta also clearly describe that jhana (samma Samadhi) is used when the all senses are in contact with the world. How to let go one by one to achieve higher purified mind.

Also, The SN 48.42 which clearly describe that the 5 senses recourse to the mind (mano):

What do these five senses, with their different scopes and ranges, have recourse to? What experiences their scopes and ranges?”
Imesaṁ nu kho, bho gotama, pañcannaṁ indriyānaṁ nānāvisayānaṁ nānāgocarānaṁ na aññamaññassa gocaravisayaṁ paccanubhontānaṁ kiṁ paṭisaraṇaṁ, ko ca nesaṁ gocaravisayaṁ paccanubhotī”ti?

The sense of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body.
Cakkhundriyaṁ, sotindriyaṁ, ghānindriyaṁ, jivhindriyaṁ, kāyindriyaṁ.

These five senses, with their different scopes and ranges, have recourse to the mind. And the mind experiences their scopes and ranges.”
Imesaṁ kho, brāhmaṇa, pañcannaṁ indriyānaṁ nānāvisayānaṁ nānāgocarānaṁ na aññamaññassa gocaravisayaṁ paccanubhontānaṁ mano paṭisaraṇaṁ, manova nesaṁ gocaravisayaṁ paccanubhotī”ti.

If someone say, they can’t experience the physical body in jhana. They are probably in the wrong samadhi.

Sometimes, the translation just didn’t make any senses at all. This is why always refer to the Pali words and look at more sutta or other Sutta that analyze it in more details. Nowadays it is easy to check the pali in the search box.

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Greetings Venerable. MN 111 says in jhana the further escape is discerned. What this probably means is due to right concentration the deathless is discerned. What this probably means is the vibrations of piti & sukha are felt to be disturbing. They are felt as dukkha. When sukha ends in the 4th it’s dukkha also ends.


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Hi Nickelii, welcome and thanks for joining the discussion.

When I read the sutta, it seems clear the further escape for each state is every time the next state of meditation. The escape from the first jhana is the second jhana, the third is the escape of the second, and so forth. The final escape is the cessation of awareness and what is experienced (or “perception and feelings”), after which Sāriputta concluded there is no further escape. This cessation of awareness and what is experienced is a momentary version of parinibbana, the cessation of the mind, that’s why he couldn’t find any further escape. Because there’s nothing else to cease.

You say contemplation in the jhanas, well, this moves the discussion from whether the jhanas are bodily or mental, to the question of whether one can contemplate in the jhanas. I don’t feel like going there now in much detail, but Ven. Ānalayo argued that this sutta (MN111) does not support the idea that one can contemplate in the jhanas (in Early Buddhist Meditation Studies.) One indication is that before the contemplation the sutta says: “He [Sāriputta] knew those phenomena as they arose, as they remained, and as they went away.” In other words, he experienced the jhana and its ending, and only then contemplated it. Only then “he understood: ‘So it seems that these phenomena, not having been, come to be; and having come to be, they flit away.’”

We have to read the sutta as a general description of Sāriputta’s practice, not as something he did in one single sitting. After all, the sutta starts with “for a fortnight he practiced”. During that time he still went on almsround and ate and stuff, surely, but that’s sort of thing is left mentioned since it’s irrelevant. It’s also irrelevant to mention that Sāriputta had to attain the first jhana again before moving on to the second.

So what happened is, Sariputta attained the first jhana (perhaps a couple times), contemplated it, realized its limits, then developed the second jhana, for which he needed to go through the first again. As it says, he realized these things “by repeated practice”. So it wasn’t 1st jhana > contemplate > 2nd jhana > contemplate > 3rd jhana, and so forth. It was more like, 1st jhana > come out of 1st jhana > contemplate > 1st jhana again > come out again > contemplate again > 1st jhana again > 2nd jhana > come out of 2nd jhana > contemplate > etc.

For example, the 2nd jhana is a further escape from the 1st jhana, and “by repeated practice” Sāriputta realized that. But only after the cessation of awareness (saññā) and what’s experienced (vedayita) did he realize that there is no further escape.

(This is another indication, by the way, that saññā can just mean awareness in general, and not always means mental labels or ideas, which is relevant to kāmasaññā we discussed earlier.)

The discourse also has some clear indications of lateness and Abhidhamma influences, but that’s yet another matter.


Thank you Venerable.

Page 163 of Ajahn Brahm’s book 3rd paragraph about the 4th jhana says from the viewpoint of the 4th jhana the earlier jhana are an “affliction”.

Regardless of Ajahn Brahm, the meditator with supramundane samadhi established in vossagga as the Buddha taught in SN 48.9 always has a taste of the Deathless or peace & stillness. The vibrations of rapture & bliss will feel disturbing in contrast to the peace. This experience of dukkha does not require attainment of the 4th jhana. The meditator with the proper vossagga mind will discern this disturbing quality of rapture in the 1st jhana.


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Hi Bhante,

Would you be willing to clarify what the late and Abhidhammic influences are in the sutta?

For example, I’ve read elsewhere that the portion with saññavedayitanirodha itself is a late or Abhidhammic addition. Given its appearance in a number of other suttas and the contexts of those suttas, I’m dubious about this but would appreciate your input . :pray:

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Have you read Ānalayo’s work I referred to, including the works he refers to? I’m not sure if I have much more to add.

Anyway, in particular late is the list of jhana factors which include things never mentioned in other suttas to be part of jhanas, but happening as similar lists in the Abhidhamma. I’m talking for example about “placing and keeping and rapture and bliss and unification of mind; contact, feeling, perception, intention, mind, enthusiasm, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and application of mind”. The part after the semicolon at least is Abhidhammic. You can even see an indication in the Pali because the ‘ca’ (and) is suddenly missing: vitakko ca vicāro ca pīti ca sukhañca cittekaggatā ca, phasso vedanā saññā cetanā cittaṁ chando adhimokkho vīriyaṁ sati upekkhā manasikāro.

There is no parallel to the sutta in other languages, which makes it hard to say what the original would have looked like, if there was one.

Anyway, read Ānalayo’s stuff. It’s for free online.

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Just an open question to the thread. In a vivid dream, you can see sights or feel touches, even feel that you are in your body, moving through the dream world. In lucid dreams, you can even be aware that you’re dreaming.

Do you consider this physical, or as happening in the mind sense? Is a dream a state of being absorbed away /secluded from the physical body?

The more I read and re-read these debates, I keep wondering “but what do you mean when you say X :thinking:

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Thanks very much, Bhante.
I’m looking forward to reading the book you recommended by Ven. Ānalayo. Haven’t read that one yet.

I see what you mean about the Pāli and how it points to a later addition.


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Venerable, please, I’d like your opinion on the famous AN 3.63 (Venāgapura Sutta). This sutta seems to say that one can walk in jhâna. What’s your opinion?
Thank you in advance.

Wrong Samadhi would be like that in DN1, where the Jhanas are clung to. So, what makes a Jhana right or wrong is how it’s viewed rather than the experience itself.


I didn’t know this sutta was that famous. :wink: But sure, since you ask so kindly, how can I refuse? :smiley: (No promises for the future, though. I spend a bit too much time on this debate already, although it’s good to have all the main arguments of both sides in one place.)

I think this sutta actually also provides some little evidence for the disembodied jhanas. People always focus on one particular line, but overlook some other things. I’ll share my evidence at the end, first the line.

Venerable Analayo actually explains it in the same work I referred to, in footnotes on p85 and p123. Just like one can’t contemplate inside the jhanas, one also can not walk when in the jhanas, is what he says. I agree with Venerable Analayo on both accounts. Analayo’s footnotes are a bit terse, though, and I don’t know if he explained the grammatical details elsewhere. So here’s what’s going on in my opinion.

First the Buddha says he’s living a simple life in a forest, going for alms every day to a certain town, and that he’s attaining the jhanas. (It seems like he wasn’t teaching at those times.) Then there is a line which Bhikkhu Bodhi translates: “Then, brahmin, when I am in such a state (evaṃbhūto), if I walk back and forth, on that occasion my walking back and forth is celestial.”

Bhūto, which Venerable Bodhi translates as a present participle, is actually a past participle. But it is used broadly throughout the suttas, with varying meaning. Sometimes a present participle is an alright translation, but only when it has the sense of “being” in general, not “while I am in such a state” which I would say is too specific. It’s more like “while I am attaining such states in my life”.

So Bhante Sujato translates it as “when I’m practicing like this”, by which he means the Buddha is practicing those states in general, not that he’s actually in them while he’s walking. That seems to align with Monier-Williams dictionary which glosses evaṃbhūto as “of such a quality or nature”. In other words, when the Buddha is “of such a quality or nature” that he can easily attain the jhanas, then he walks “celestial”.

I think Sujato’s translation is better, also because the word “state” in Bodhi’s “when I am in such a state” is not in the Pali. Evaṃbhūto, literally “been such”, does not really refer to the jhanas. It refers to the Buddha himself being “such”. But what is that “such”? Is it only attaining the jhanas? Only the fourth which was mentioned just before? That would be the case if we take it all as a simple sequential sequence. Or does it include the whole passage, including him living in the forest, going for alms and such? I see no reason why it would only refer to the jhanas, because again, evaṃbhūto means “while I am being such”, rather than “while these states are such”.

At the end the Buddha says: “When I’m practicing like this, if I walk, at that time my walking is heavenly. […] if I stand, at that time my standing is heavenly. […] if I sit, at that time my sitting is heavenly. […] if I lie down, at that time my lying is heavenly.” To me in general the walking refers to going on almsround (which the sutta says he does before attaining jhanas), the standing is perhaps waiting for alms, the sitting is the meditation, and the lying down is his sleeping (and you can’t be in jhanas while sleeping, I think we all agree). I don’t really know why else he would lie down; apart from when he had aches in his later years, I don’t think he really ever did so for other reasons than sleeping.

Alternatively and perhaps more simply, bhūto may also be more literally translated as a past participle, meaning “when I have been such”, i.e. have been in the jhanas. A somewhat similar use of bhūto is found in SN46.30: “For in the past, venerable sir, when I was still a householder (agārika-bhūto), I did not have much concern for the Dhamma or the Sangha.” Here bhūto refers to a past that no longer is present. The PTS Dictionary also lists under bhūta: “pp. in predicative use […]: what has been or happened; viz mātu-bhūtā having been his mother.”

So, while there may be some ambiguity in evaṃbhūto, it’s certainly not a clear home-run for the embodied jhana view.

Now, the text provides some support for the disembodied view as well. People like to bring up the one line to argue one can attain jhanas while walking, but notice when the Buddha himself describes his practice, he doesn’t actually do that! He says: “Brahmin, when I am living supported by a village or town, I robe up in the morning and, taking my bowl and robe, enter the town or village for alms. After the meal, on my return from almsround, I enter within a forest. I gather up some grass or leaves into a pile and sit down cross-legged, setting my body straight, and establishing mindfulness in front of me.” Then, only after sitting down does he enter the jhanas. So we have to ask, if he could attain the jhanas while walking, why didn’t he do so on the way in or out of the village? :confused: Especially if that was so strongly indicated by evaṃbhūto in the same sutta? :slight_smile:

Of course, this is not a clear-cut evidence for the embodied view either. Because one can argue that perhaps he just didn’t feel like entering jhana while walking, or whatever. I wouldn’t be convinced by that particular argument. Maybe someone has a better one. But it is at least really interesting that in the very same sutta used to argue that one can attain jhana while walking, the Buddha himself actually says he sits down! :thinking:

And that’s not just here. There are a few other references where the Buddha either sits or lies down before attaining the jhanas, and none other where he’s walking. I belief it is quite telling as well. Some suggest that in jhana you can walk, do all sorts of things, supposedly even when you’re a puthujana. But then why would of all beings the Buddha apparently have to sit down? Again, why wasn’t he in jhana while he was walking in and out of town? :thinking: Well, I have answers to this, but I’m asking it of others.

In the embodied view of jhanas vivicceva kāmehi is interpreted to mean something like being without sense desires, or being generally aloof from some unspecified “sensuality” or just not interested in sense objects. But while walking, the Buddha already was away from those things. So he had already fulfilled both the prerequisites for the first jhana: vivvicceva kāmehi and being without the hindrances (since enlightened beings have no more hindrances). But still he wasn’t in jhāna. Why not? :confused:

I think the phrase means to be fully (eva) separated (vivicca) from sense experiences (kāmehi), moving the mind away from the five senses. Then, when the Buddha was on almsround, he had only fulfilled one of the prerequisites, being without the hindrances. To fulfill the other he had to turn his mind inwards, away from the experiences of the five sense. To do that, he had to sit down. To me, that makes sense on many levels.

I hope all this also makes sense to some others, at least to the extent that they give this kind of meditation a serious try.

PS. It would also be difficult to walk while you’re not breathing. :wink: And in the fourth jhana the breath has ceased, say a handful of suttas.


If you’d ask me, that is not at all what being secluded from the senses is like. It is impossible to explain in words what the difference is, though.

Visions in dreams, although nowadays we say they come from the mind, perhaps in the Buddha’s time may have been classed under the sense of sight still. That is hypothetical, and it probably wasn’t, but it feels to me like it should.

In dreams it almost feels like you’re looking through your eyes (in mine anyway), but that’s not the case in deep meditation. Often people perceive certain lights before the jhanas (as in MN128). These lights people might momentarily think are coming through the eyes, and they may even think it’s going to burn their eyes, it’s so bright. This is quite common for people. But they quickly realize it wasn’t the eyes, and there’s no problem.

But in jhana there is no such perception. It’s very different. But I can’t exactly tell you how it’s different. :smile: Because whatever I say, you’ll likely relate it to the five senses again.


Well, that‘s possible. At the same time, by saying that, you regard them as the same kind of jhana the Buddha taught, don’t you?

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Sunyo. I did not read anything compelling in Analayo’s book. On page 123 Analayo merely offered Ajahn Brahm’s opinion from a book where Ajahn Brahm often displays questionable use of terminology such as the words comprehension & contemplation. Obviously there is sampajana & anupassi in jhana per the literal definition of the 3rd jhana and per sutta such as AN 4.124. This anupassi does not mean thinking. It means closely watching & perceiving which occurs in jhana. If a jhana cannot be contemplated it cannot be later described. While in jhana the jhana is seen as not self & alien; the vibrations of rapture are seen as impermanent; the bliss of jhana is felt to be unsatisfactory compared to the stillness. These are direct anupassi in jhana.

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Agree. I translate it as “one who observes”, or simply “observer”.

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Hi Nickelii, :wave:

I’m afraid we’re talking past one another a bit. In the post you replied to I was talking about the historical authenticity of one particular text, is this what you’re concerned about or not?

Venerable Analayo also gives various other arguments for why contemplation didn’t happen while Sāriputta was in the jhanas, not “merely” a note to Ajahn Brahm. May I suggest you read a bit closer. If the arguments aren’t convincing, that’s fine, you wouldn’t be the first to think so. But, no offense, I think it’s a bit unfair to reduce them to just one note. (A note which I by the way agree isn’t a great argument at all, since it’s a sort of an appeal to authority, and isn’t about what the suttas say.)

I also don’t understand why we’re discussing anupassi all of a sudden. Who said that it means thinking, exactly? Maybe I missed it. So maybe we have to rewind a bit.

Anyway, whatever follows the jhana in the texts does not happen while one is in the jhana, is my understanding. The verb phrase is upasampajja viharati, literally “having attained, one dwells”. This “dwelling” isn’t necessarily in the jhana. You can also “dwell” or “live” in a general sense “having attained” the jhana at some point. If you attain a jhana in the morning, for example, then in the afternoon you still “dwell, having attained” the jhana.

A similar construction occurs in MN70:

“Here some person contacts (phusitvā) with the body and abides (viharati) in those liberations that are peaceful and immaterial, transcending forms, and his taints are destroyed by his seeing with wisdom.” (Bodhi)

(For the discussion on bodily vs non-bodily, note also that Bodhi’s “contact with the body” (kāyena) in the formless attainments is definitely not a right translation. I also don’t like ‘immaterial’ because it assumes that rūpa = matter, which is too simplistic. I think he changed it in later translations, anyway.)

Alternative translation of same passage:

It’s a person who has direct meditative experience of the peaceful liberations that are formless, transcending form. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements have come to an end. (Sujato)

The verbs here are phusitvā viharati, an identical structure, with the same meaning as upasampajja viharati. It means they “live” or “dwell” (viharati) having experienced (phusitvā) those formless states at some point, as Sujato has understood. Then, having experienced them, using contemplation their defilements are ended. If we’d think the verbs imply it all happens at the same time, this would mean they attained all the formless attainment at the same time their defilements end. That would be impossible, I think you can agree.

Likewise, when a contemplation follows the upasampajja viharati of the jhanas, those contemplations don’t happen at the same time one is in the jhana.

(Edit after discussion with senior monk: I now think of this a bit differently.)

If a jhana cannot be contemplated it cannot be later described.

This doesn’t make sense to me regardless of what the jhanas are. Because we can remember things. Have you never described or contemplated anything in hindsight? It’s something people tend to do all the time, and there’s nothing unique about the jhanas that makes it impossible to remember them. In fact, I’d say that is the only way to contemplate them. This is why AN5.28 says one aspect of developing right samādhi is “reviewing”. How would you interpret this?

Thanks for raising the issues. But I said before I didn’t want to go too deeply into this aspect of contemplation, and now I did it anyway. :laughing: So please excuse me if this would be my last reply on the topic.

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