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

I don’t know if the Buddha’s jhânas are non-visudhimaggian, but if they were, then there would be a contradiction with the Pa-Auk teaching, because the Pa-Auk system says that it’s not the non-visudhimaggian jhanas that should be practiced.
Although in my mind the word “contradiction” has a very pejorative connotation in this sense, I’m not sure that this contradiction would imply that the Pa-Auk teaching doesn’t lead to Nibanna, unless the Buddha had somehow said that Pa-Auk-type jhânas shouldn’t be practised.

However, Venerable, I find your remarks very interesting and forceful, thank you!

Let me come back to this post, Bhante.

Perhaps the change in perception is something else? It seems that perception is a mental process of labels, categories and images. So the end of a specific perception would not mean the end of contact, feelings or physical perceptions .

Please, what do you think?

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I think that when you are in first jhana and your telephone rings, you won’t hear it.

Of course the sound touches the ear and so on, so physically there is a contact, but there is no ear consciousness arising, so you don’t perceive the sound. I think this is because the mind is fully absorbed in this rapture and bliss.

Once the person does hear the sound of the telephone, they have lost this absorption and emerged from this state.

I have heard Ajahn Brahm and many others explain it in such a way.


Thank you again for your help, Venerable.

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Like I said

If you say samatha and vipassana is result of the practice, you would also have to say the same about N8P, going by what you rightly said earlier.

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In the Suttas, there’s such thing as wrong samadhi, leading to wrong knowing and wrong liberation. I believe the Buddha was referring to the absorption practices.

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Ven sabbamitta’s idea of perception clearly contradicts yours (and that’s not pejorative).

The Suttas do not support the use of the word “saññā” as sense perception. If it does, terms such as “anattasaññā” would be meaningless.

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I think this is false and in fact incoherent.

There are no non-physical sensations.

In fact i think the bulk of EBT’s manifestly reject the idea that there can be coherent talk of mental states without recourse to contact, i.e embodied sensation and perception of some kind.

Even the mind made body (something alledged to be created by masters of the 4th jhana in the EBT) must in some sense be dependent on the physical body, otherwise it would be immortal/independent.


Could you provide a sutta or two supporting this? In particular suttas which reject the idea of mental states without embodiment?

I’m not sure how to square what you’ve written with the formless states where the five sense bases are explicitly said to cease leaving only the mind sense base left. For example MN 43 (likely a late sutta) and AN 9.37. Of course, there’s also the formula for the formless bases as well which strongly suggest the senses ceasing except for the mind sense base during the formless attainments.


While I don’t disagree, in a sense this vipassana/samatha debate is just a matter of definition, though. :slightly_smiling_face: There are practices in the suttas which are aimed towards abandoning the hindrances (the “calming” practices) and there are practices that are primarily aimed towards generating insight. It’s clear that you don’t have to do these things at the same time. For deep insight you surely don’t, that’s why samadhi is said to lead to seeing things as they are. The two are not the same thing; otherwise everybody who attained jhanas would be stream winners, and that’s not the case. You can attain the jhanas and get no real insight at all.

And while satipatthana is mainly meant to abandon the hindrances, there’s also such a thing as satipatthanabhavana in the suttas, which is said to be done after the mind is unified, it’s aimed at penetrating the dhamma deeply, to generate insight.

Now some people call the calming practices ‘samatha’ and the insight-focused practices ‘vipassana’. That terminology is not completely in line with the suttas, but that doesn’t disprove the general idea of these practices. It just shows they use terms differently.

(And what some people call ‘vipassana’, like scanning the body, is not really an insight practice at all, in my opinion. But once you realize that, then the actual method is not wrong per se. Just a different word is used.)

Sometimes people jump on inconsistent terminology (I’m not saying you are, but this is a general thing) thinking they thereby disprove the entire idea. It’s the same with some terms like “neighborhood (or access) samadhi” or what have you. Sure, the Buddha never used those words, but it’s the commentaries’ job to comment on things, and you can only do that usefully if you talk about things in a different way, using different terms. So if somebody uses “neighborhood samadhi” that doesn’t automatically mean their teachings aren’t in line with the Buddha’s. They just use different terminology.

And to be honest, I don’t know any teacher who is completely in line with the suttas with their use of terminology.

In short, it’s just too easy to say “oh this term is different from how the Buddha used it” and then conclude the whole system is wrong. (Again, I’m not saying anybody here is. I’m talking in general. You probably read some of these kinds of arguments in books.)

Just thought I’d say that. :upside_down_face: It may avoid some unnecessary arguments one day, or at least I can hope. :laughing:


Bhante, thank you for your offerings of dhamma I love the similes hehe. The faculty of recognition of pleasure or pain makes a lot of sense intellectually… I can imagine it two ways. First way, it seems if it is possible to recognize something as sukha, then it is possible to delight in sukha, being possible to delight… that can be a sort of disturbance? There’s a risk of like “wow” and exiting? I don’t know but I guess it is that way as this may be the how and why of how the 4th jhana can touch on the higher fetters such as restlessness and conceit … which seem to have some delight as origins… in restlessness some delight is given to attention, in conceit some delight is being.

The other idea is it is the mind develops to such a point it recognizes neutrality as superior. Maybe this is the same thing… it sees delight as dangerous? However it seems this involves vedana and I imagine the freedom of jhana to be kinda free of vedana, tanha, contact etc and temporarily “sankhara” (until it comes back)

(And what some people call ‘vipassana’, like scanning the body, is not really an insight practice at all, in my opinion. But once you realize that, then the actual method is not wrong per se. Just a different word is used.)

Bhante maybe this is unfair for us putthajanas who need putthajana insight before we can get going into the sammasamadhi part of the path hehe. One aspect of this technique I think is commonly misunderstood is you are moving your attention - because that is abandoning. If attention gets “sticky” on one part of the body it’s a sign the mind hasn’t learned patinissagha or some sort of abandoning with regards to it (so then are encouraged to develop anicca sanna there). Also examining the whole field of vedana as anicca and dukkha and really help the mind see the dangers there and learn to recline (minds want peace and to avoid suffering naturally). Additionally doing it with the full variety of experience, there’s no ignoring a part of experience which can be subtle hinderance. I have heard some very educated people say this technique “it’s not a stable enough object to develop jhana” but the mental object of the body (“mind made body”, perhaps?) goes from complexity to simplicity over time, and sometimes disappears (it seems intellectually conceivable if ones experience is “one pointed” to me). which is when a lot of people in that system get kind of excited and strong cravings for the disappearance lol hehe (it’s commonly called “bhanga”) I don’t think that is jhana but seeing positive effects from the mind releasing parts of experience it was previously attached to upadana through seeing anicca and dukkha seems like an important preparatory skill (7th part of the path)

I imagine “real insight” is like in the suttas, seeing the ways this whole body and mind came to be and deep insight into dependent origination etc, is that the ball park?

With metta

EDIT: On reflecting, I think I may be asking too much here, the antidote to doubt is investigation, please forgive my digging too hard to have it all “intellectually” ironed out. On reflecting I think this kind of investigation may not be the helpful kind, this kind of “knowledge” is one of the causes of doubt - having to have it all mapped out etc (as opposed to experience, investigation and understanding) with metta.


Thank you for your nuanced perspective, Bhante. This is very helpful. :heart:


Oops. I meant to say "The Suttas do not support the use of the word “saññā” as sense perception.

This question is answered somewhat in AN9.41

To quickly summarize, it is the perceptions which accompany the previous (lower) absorbtion which are considered stressful / afflictive (and hence psychologically painful) by one in a higher absorbtion.

I entered and remained in the second absorption. While I was in that meditation, perceptions accompanied by placing the mind beset me due to loss of focus, and that was an affliction for me. Suppose a happy person were to experience pain; that would be an affliction for them. In the same way, when perceptions accompanied by placing the mind and keeping it connected beset me due to loss of focus, that was an affliction for me.

This sutta seems to suggest that what is given up in the fourth absorbtion is physical pleasure/ pain (ie that which is derived from the nociceptors of the body). Psychological pain still occurs if the person teeters on the brink of losing the fourth jhana and shifting to a lower one.

Also, for one in the fifth absorbtion, the fourth absorbtion is seen as painful. Clearly, the pain being referred to in this context is psychological. Hence the pain which has been lost in the fourth absorbtion must be physical. And there would no be need to specifically mention the loss of that kind of pain as belonging to the fourth absorbtion, if it had already been lost in the first absorbtion.

So, its highly likely that what is being described is a gradient where as the mind goes from 1st to 3rd absorbtion, there is a higher and higher loss of ability of the Mind to pay attention to sense inputs (and hence to perceive them), till in the 4th absorbtion it is completely cut off from the sensory system. This would fit in well with the stock description of the first four absorbtions as ‘Form’ jhanas while the fifth onwards become ‘formless’.



Very interesting, thank you Venerable !

Thank you for your message.

Personally, I feel that jhânas are already a practice of insight.

But I don’t think this implies that a practitioner of the jhânas is necessarily automatically a sotapanna, because the awakening required for sotapanna may require, depending on the individual, a greater or lesser amount of practice, so that having attained the 4 jhânas is not necessarily enough: to be a sotapanna, we may need to increase our knowledge by repeatedly practising the jhânas, but we also need to practise sila better, and so on. Little by little, with practice, gross and subtle illusions are eliminated.

I put a lot of “maybe” because I have no idea whether these ideas are true. It may be totally false.

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Interesting, thank you !


I disagree, bhante. There is for example in DN1 talk about eternalism, being “percipient (saññā) after death”.

There are some ascetics and brahmins who say there is life after death, and assert that the self lives on after death in a percipient form on sixteen grounds.

This means just being aware after death, having any type of consciousness. It doesn’t mean perception in the sense of “a mental process of labels, categories and images”, as DeadBuddha called it. It means you’re just aware after death.

Likewise, kāmasañña, in the passage referred to by Ven. Sabbamitta at least, means being aware of the sense objects, not sense desire or something.

There are more passages which indicate this. The PED dictionary therefore gives different applications of the word saññā, and one application is glossed as consciousness / awareness. I belief this applies to kāmasaññā in said passage.

This is not really true. It says nothing about the five senses. It says rūpa-sāññā and patigha-saññā have ceased. People interpret this as the five senses, but that is not what it says. I don’t think it refers to the five senses but to mental perceptions. It’s an odd phrase, admittedly, and rather rare as well, but it doesn’t mention the five senses.


So, does your example support Ven. Sabbamitta’s example of saññā
as hearing sound?

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Yes. Because it shows that perception is not just ideas or mental process of labels or suchlike more “cognitive things”. It can also just mean being aware of things, being conscious of things. It’s also said that consciousness, perception, and feeling are indistinguishable and inseparable.

Then there’s six type of perception, one for each of the 6 senses. So what does kāmasañña refer to? Five of these types of perception, those of the five senses.

This is also why kāma is in the plural in vivicceva kāmehi (secluded from the sense objects). It refers to the five objects. If it referred to sense desire, it would have been in the singular.

As the Critical Pali Dictionary says:

kāma: […] (mostly in sg.) wish, desire, […] (in pl.) the objects of sensual pleasure viz. rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba [sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles].

If “perception of the sense objects” (kāmasaññā) has ceased, it means you’re not aware of the five sense objects anymore. And therefore you can’t hear sounds. That’s how I interpret it.