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Is sammā-samādhi solely jhāna, and is jhāna required for the attainment of Nibbāna?

The Buddha does describe sammā-samādhi as being the 1st to the 4th jhāna a very large number of times in the Suttas. However, from not ever having come across a similar passage (please post if you have), he doesn’t say anything along the lines of “sammā-samādhi (right concentration) is jhāna and nothing else.” Furthermore, he also hasn’t distinctively said that “jhāna is required to attain Nibbāna" or that “without having reached jhāna, Nibbāna is imposssible”(again, please post if you have found such a passage).

To infer such statements as the above in quotation marks, in comparison to what the Buddha has said, would be abrupt conclusions. However, to come to the conclusion that there is more to sammā-samādhi than just jhāna, and that jhāna is not a requirement to attain Nibbāna, simply from the absense of such statements by the Buddha, would also be abrubt conclusions.

So, the questioning is…

  • While sammā-samādhi (right concentration) is often described in the Suttas as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th jhānas, does this mean that sammā-samādhi is only jhāna and nothing else?

  • While it would be thought that jhāna is requirement for attaining Nibbāna, there are many accounts in the Suttas of people spontaneously reaching Nibbāna, possibly without much thorough meditate experience. And, from what we gather so far, the Buddha never said that “jhāna is a requirement for Nibbāna,” or that “Nibbāna is impossible without having reached one or all of the jhānas” (which would have been an important statements to say, at least a few times). So, is jhāna an absolute requirement to attain Nibbāna (and optionally, is it only reaching, masterering, one jhāna or all four)?

Note: If your answer is to be opinion-based, please post to point out things such as errors in deductive reasoning or basic logic, and to provide factual statements. Please try to include as many canonical references to support your statements.

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i think it is implausible to think anyone could achieve nibbana without passing through the necessary stages of deepened concentration. Concentration on more refined objects is that natural result of liberation from attachent to coarser objects.

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Jhāna isn’t required to attain Nibbāna. There are many accounts in the Suttas of people spontaneously attaining Nibbāna simply from hearing the Buddha speak.

If you take The Fire Sermon as an example, which was the Buddha’s third discourse, 1000 bhikkhus attained Enlightenment simply from this sermon alone:

SN 35.28, Ādittas Sutta — The Fire Sermon (transl. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

[…]
This is what the Blessed One said. Elated, those bhikkhus delighted in the Blessed One’s statement. And while this discourse was being spoken, the minds of the thousand bhikkhus were liberated from the taints by nonclinging.

And The Discourse of Non-Self, which was the Buddha’s second discourse:

SN 22.59, Anatta­lak­kha­ṇa­ Sutta — The Discourse of Non-Self (transl. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

[…]
That is what the Blessed One said. Elated, those bhikkhus delighted in the Blessed One’s statement. And while this discourse was being spoken, the minds of the bhikkhus of the group of five were liberated from the taints by nonclinging.

Surely those 1005 bhikkhus hadn’t learnt how to attain jhāna only a short time after having been ordained (maybe the five ascetics, but surely not every single one of the 1000 bhikkhus). And the Buddha hadn’t yet taught much about jhāna.

There are surely other and better examples or passages (although the above ones are quite compelling), but maybe someone else can chime in to present some.

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I wonder what kind of acoustic arrangements were present in those times so that one person could address a thousand people… :slight_smile:

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I think we have to take such passages with a grain of salt. The eighth part of the eightfold path is right concentrtion, and I don’t think the teaching is that some of the parts of the path are optional.

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Yes, it’s sammā-samādhi, which does not equivocally mean jhāna.

Sammā-samādhi is often described as the four (and 8) jhānas in the Suttas, but it is incorrect to think that it is so.

What, bhikkhus, is noble right concentration with its supports and its requisites, that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness? Unification of mind equipped with these seven factors is called noble right concentration with its supports and its requisites.

MN 117, Mahā­cat­tārīsa­kasutta — The Great Forty (transl. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Well, we can swap texts on this

“And what, monks, is right concentration? (i) There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. (ii) With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. (iii) With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ (iv) With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration.”

SN 45.8

Unification of mind comes in many degrees, and is purified and perfected by progress through the jhanas. The other elements on the path are supports for this progress.

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Yes, that’s what I said. Sammā-samādhi is often described as the four (and 8) jhānas in the Suttas. But to think that it is only that, is false.

In the passage from MN 117 above, there is no mention of jhāna. That jhāna is part of sammā-samādhi—this is true. That “if there is no jhāna, it is not sammā-samādhi”—this is false (which is demonstrated from the passage in MN 117, as well as multiple other passages in the Suttas).

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There is no mention of jhana, but there is mention of unification of mind. The jhana sequence is presented dozens of times in the suttas, and is clearly the canonical account of the stages through which this unification of the mind occurs. “Jhana” is nearly a synonym for “samadhi” in the suttas, so saying one can be rightly concentrated without jhana seems to be like saying one can be concentrated without being concentrated.

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Here is the Pāli of the passage in MN 117 I quoted above.

Katamo ca, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso saparikkhāro? Seyyathidaṃ— sammādiṭṭhi, sammāsaṅkappo, sammāvācā, sammākammanto, sammāājīvo, sammāvāyāmo, sammāsati; yā kho, bhikkhave, imehi sattahaṅgehi cittassa ekaggatā parikkhatā—ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso itipiitipi: open speech/thought (ind.), saparikkhāro itipi. Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti. Kathañca, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti? Micchādiṭṭhiṃ ‘micchādiṭṭhī’ti pajānāti, sammādiṭṭhiṃ ‘sammādiṭṭhī’ti pajānāti—sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi.

MN 117, Mahā­cat­tārīsa­kasutta — The Great Forty (Pāli)

See? No jhāna or any of its derivitives.

No it’s not. Samādhi is a basic function of the mind, usually translated as ‘concentration.’ Jhāna is a meditative state, usually translated as ‘absorption.’

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As I said concentration, comes in degrees. There is no support in the suttas, taken as a whole, for the idea that right concentration, in the Buddha’s sense, can be achieved simply by executing the basic function of concentration. By the same taken, sati is also a basic function of the mind, but there is no support in the suttas for the idea that right sati can be practiced in way other than by cultivating mindfulness in the ways the Buddha taught.

Anyway, as we see in MN 119, the full cultivation of mindfulness in the right way ultimately leads into the jhanas.

The jhanas are everywhere in the suttas. They aren’t some optional extra. Nor are they some separate “technique” of meditation, as some modern meditation teachers sometimes seem to suggest. They are the natural capstone of all of the other practices.

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I agree.

One needs right concentration (sammā-samādhi) to develop wisdom (paññā), but it doesn’t mean one must be in jhāna to have sammā-samādhi.

That is your interpretation. :slight_smile: I never classified jhānas as “an extra” or “a technique.” I simply said they aren’t a requirement for Nibbāna.

Although it is probably immensely difficult, one can reach Nibbāna without having reached any of the jhānas.

There have been many discussions about MN 117 in particular. In many ways it stands on its own and the claim that it represents Buddha-Dhamma in total is difficult to make. You mentioned multiple other passages and suttas - could you please provide them?

I could find the formula of “cittassa ekaggatā parikkhatā” apart from MN 117 only in DN 18. If the argument stands on only a handful of suttas I think it would be difficult to make a case against the numerous accounts of samma-samadhi as the four jhanas.

Without jhāna, the pull of sensual pleasures is not easily overcome. Even the Buddha acknowledged it and said that his mind was swayed by sensual thoughts until he developed his mind and attained pleasure in a higher state of mental absorption.

Isn’t Jhana is a part of Noble Eightfold Path?
Are you saying, one can attain Nibbana without following the Noble Eightfold path?

“Monks, these are the four developments of concentration. Which four? There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.

And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now? There is the case where a monk—quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities—enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation—internal assurance. With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ With the abandoning of pleasure & pain—as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress—he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now.

[…]

And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents? There is the case where a monk remains focused on arising & falling away with reference to the five clinging-aggregates: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is feeling, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is perception, such its origination, such its passing away. Such are fabrications, such their origination, such their passing away. Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’ This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.

AN 4.41, Samā­dhi­bhāva­nā­sutta — Concentration

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Technically jhana is not a limb in the path - samma-samadhi is. And as I understand it, the current branch of the discussion is if samma-samadhi is necessarily defined by jhana. MN 117 seems to say that it doesn’t, and while AN 4.41 that @samseva provided (repeated in DN 33) is a very nice sutta for samadhi-bhavana it doesn’t mention samma-samadhi.

It sounds like a mere technicality because to end the asavas might be equated with attaining nibbana, but this really is a technical question. sati is not samma-sati, and ditthi is not samma-ditthi. So in spite of the argumentative strength of AN 4.41 I think we would need more suttas with an alternative definition of samma-samadhi in order to see the jhanas as optional.

[Edit: Just to elaborate on what I mean re. AN 4.41 it could be argued that the four types of samadhi have to be attained in succession, so that it would again necessarily have to start with jhanas. At no point does it say that these are independent alternatives, that a practitioner could decide which kind of bhavana s/he wants to practice. I think it’s more plausible that the four samadhis build up on each other than being independent paths of samadhi]

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Yes, but using repetition as a basis for a conclusive statement would be fallacious. The sheer number of something being said does not make it more true than something that is said only a few times.

And the lack of repetition is not the issue. What is the circumstance is that while the Buddha does describe sammā-samādhi as being the 1st jhāna to the 4th jhāna a very large number of times in the Suttas, he doesn’t say anything along the lines of “sammā-samādhi is jhāna and nothing else” or “jhāna is required to attain Nibbāna.” To infer such statements would be abrupt conclusions, of things which the Buddha never stated.

However, there are many accounts in the Suttas of people spontaneously attaining Enlightenment. If you take The Fire Sermon as one example (which I discussed a few posts back), which was only the Buddha’s third discourse, 1000 bhikkhus became Enlightened simply from hearing the Buddha speak.

Would saying that in the very short amount of time after having been ordained, every single one of these 1000 bhikkhus reached the first jhāna be realistic? Especially when the Buddha hadn’t yet taught much about jhāna? If there is even a single bhikkhu out of those 1000 that didn’t reach the first jhāna, let alone master or reach the other three, this completely discredits that jhāna is needed to reach Nibbāna, and that sammā-samādhi is jhāna.

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Ok, I can’t find the sutta but there is an EBT which clearly says nibbana is based on the first jhana and higher.

There is this sutta which talks of how the seven factors of enlightenment go to their peak, while listening closely to the dhamma. When we consider the dhamma, we must consider the suttas not leaving another sutta out, but together as otherwise we run the risk of developing a skewed view of the dhamma- so it is even possible to come up with the idea that God exists, if we chose only a couple of suttas for our attention.

In this situation we must consider that jhana or jhanic level of samadhi must be reached when listening to a Buddha (or others), perhaps only for an instant- and that that is adequate for gnosis.

Saṃyutta Nikāya 46
Connected Discourses on the Factors of Enlightenment
Without Hindrances
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“When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple listens to the Dhamma with eager ears, attending to it as a matter of vital concern, directing his whole mind to it, on that occasion the five hindrances are not present in him; on that occasion the seven factors of enlightenment go to fulfilment by development.
.
“And what are the five hindrances that are not present on that occasion? The hindrance of sensual desire is not present on that occasion; the hindrance of ill will … the hindrance of sloth and torpor … the hindrance of restlessness and remorse … the hindrance of doubt is not present on that occasion. These are the five hindrances that are not present on that occasion.
.
“And what are the seven factors of enlightenment that go to fulfilment by development on that occasion? The enlightenment factor of mindfulness goes to fulfilment by development on that occasion…. The enlightenment factor of equanimity goes to fulfilment by development on that occasion. These are the seven factors of enlightenment that go to fulfilment by development on that occasion.
.
“When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple listens to the Dhamma with eager ears, attending to it as a matter of vital concern, directing his whole mind to it, on that occasion these five hindrances are not present in him; on that occasion these seven factors of enlightenment go to fulfilment by development.” SN46.38

with metta

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Is that one instant enough to know that ‘birth has been extinguished, this is my last birth’ ?