Is jhana possible only through 40 objects?

I’ve heard many times among people, they believe that jhana attainment is possible only through 40 objects, and non through any other objects. But I think any object is possible, even black dot at the wall. Actually from my point of view, the problem of Buddhism nowadays, that it lost it’s original creative approach for practice. For example Buddha was very creative person, when monks were killed themselves after practicing of Asubha, he offered new object known as anapanasati or breathing. But nowadays people limit themselves towards 40 objects only. Maybe in someway it’s rather problem of Theravada only branch, because mahayana is more open-minded, but nevertheless even mahayana manuals for meditation are very poor compare to yoga manuals. For example you can compare any ancient or modern buddhist manual from any school, to yogic manual known as Dharana Darshan of Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, his explanation of meditation is quite much more profound compare to buddhist explanations.

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I don’t know if the 40 objects are in the suttas. They are in the Visuddhimagga where I’ve learned of them. That said, I’ve read that Venerable Aj. Sumedho used/uses the “sound of silence” and have also learned that one may use pain. I may be mistaken but believe Ch’an “silent illumination” uses no object. In the Visuddhimagge 40 are mentioned in regard to temperament and suitability and also regarding the highest jhana that can be obtained by each (perhaps more is mentioned but I can’t recall off hand) but those are not limiting.

Both these subjects are taken from the 40. And the prescribed approach to anapanasati is to first settle the mind through other subjects based on the instruction in the anapanasati sutta:

"[3] On whatever occasion a monk trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out sensitive to the mind’; trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out satisfying the mind’; trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out steadying the mind’;

Majjhima Nikaya 118

The preparatory subjects to ‘satisfy’ (gladden) or steady the mind are described in suttas like Majjhima Nikaya 62, where eleven are listed including both types.

To make progress the practitioner has to be systematic, and are thankful for the order the Buddha has provided.

This should be the first station of meditation:

“There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on the body in & of itself, a fever based on the body arises within his body, or there is sluggishness in his awareness, or his mind becomes scattered externally. He should then direct his mind to any inspiring theme. As his mind is directed to any inspiring theme, gladness is born within him. In one who is gladdened, rapture is born. In one whose heart is enraptured, the body grows calm. His body calm, he feels pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind grows concentrated. He reflects, ‘I have attained the aim to which my mind was directed. Let me withdraw (my mind from the inspiring theme).’ He withdraws & engages neither in directed thought nor in evaluation. He discerns that ‘I am not thinking or evaluating. I am inwardly mindful & at ease.’

—Samyutta Nikaya 47.10

Any object is possible but they must obey a few criteria.

  1. Object should not give rise to greed/ill-will or ignorance.
    i.e loved one, something you hate etc
  2. Object should be easier to pay attention and keep attention.

If you find that object does not hold you any allure or attention, you should focus on other objects. If you dislike paying attention to any object, you may prefer insight meditation.

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What are the 40 objects for attaining Jhana?

Bikkhu Bodhi will be conducting an online retreat including eight of the forty meditation subjects:


There’s also “animitta samadhi” (see e.g. sn22.80 & thread) so presumably this is a sort of samadhi that has no object or features - I don’t know if that is the silent illumination or mu koan of the chan tradition or not “What is animitta samadhi?” is a long standing dhamma question I have.

There are these three unskillful thoughts. Sensual, malicious, and cruel thoughts. And where do these three unskillful thoughts cease without anything left over? In those who meditate with their mind firmly established in the four kinds of mindfulness meditation; or who develop signless immersion. This is quite enough motivation to develop signless immersion. When signless immersion is developed and cultivated it is very fruitful and beneficial.

At least for me, this word ‘object’ makes me imagine things like tables and chairs. The Pali word is ‘arammana’

If I am not mistaken, if we are talking about ‘breath’ for example, to make it an object ,can be stated as ‘arammanam karoti’. And the same meaning is implied if I say ‘cittam karoti’.

‘Citta’ is not something that you can talk about in terms of sizes and shapes etc. May be ’ arammana’ is one of those words better left untranslated.

In Vimuttimagga as far as I remember Consciousness can be object.

Yes, if the dhārana power of the Citta, that is to say Sati, is strong enough. That is what I believe.

For example, emerging from the First Jhana it is possible to know without doubt that First Jhana Citta ceased and so forth.

May be I should try to clarify a bit further. Since ‘consciousness’ is usually used to translate ‘vinnana’.

Whether I say vijananti or whether I say cinteti, these are interchangeable for me.

Vijananti vinnanam
Cinteti Cittam

I don’t know if ‘synonym’ is the right word, yes they are synonyms for me.

I think ‘intelligence’ is a good word. At least when we hear, taking intelligence as object, understanding the nature of intelligence etc, not a bit like pots and pans.