Jhāna formulae in the suttas - how many, and where do they occur?

I am wondering if anyone has a handy list of the different jhāna formulae, and where they occur in the canon (and with parallels? :slight_smile: )

One starts:

“Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, he enters and dwells in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought and filled with the rapture and happiness born of seclusion. He drenches, steeps, saturates, and suffuses his body with this rapture and happiness born of seclusion, so that there is no part of his entire body which is not suffused by this rapture and happiness.

Can anyone help with the others, and the details of occurence?

Many thanks!


Sorry I don’t have an exhaustive list for you, but my understanding is that it is precisely just that one formula repeated many many times in the canon.

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Good question. Also in my experience it’s overwhelmingly one formula. There is a second blueprint with the similes in AN 5.28, MN 39, MN 77, MN 119, DN 2, DN 10.

AN 5.28 (probably the source of the metaphors) is strange as it has a five-fold system. The fifth is not technically described as a jhana.

DN 34 references AN 5.28 in a very interesting way:

Right immersion with five factors:
Pañcaṅgiko sammāsamādhi

pervaded with rapture, pervaded with pleasure, pervaded with mind, pervaded with light, and the basis for reviewing.
pītipharaṇatā, sukhapharaṇatā, cetopharaṇatā, ālokapharaṇatā, paccavekkhaṇanimittaṃ.

According to this (exceptional doctrine) the main characteristics of the Jhanas would be: (1) piti (2) sukha (3) citta (4) āloka, i.e. light, vision, glimmer (5) paccavekkhaṇanimittaṃ, i.e. basis/object/impulse for reviewing.


For reference, the five from AN 5.28

  1. vivekajena pītisukhena
  2. samādhijena pītisukhena
  3. nippītikena sukhena
  4. parisuddhena cetasā pariyodātena
  5. paccavekkhaṇānimittaṃ suggahitaṃ hoti sumanasikataṃ sūpadhāritaṃ suppaṭividdhaṃ paññāya.
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@Gabriel, in my hyper-analytical state of haste, I neglected to say thank you! So, thank you!! Really, much appreciated.

I had thought that there was at least one more common formula. Was I mistaken? And… I also remember a 3 jhāna formula instead of 4 I think. I think it was a difference in the treatment of vitakka and vicāra. Maybe one stopped at an earlier stage than the other?


Also this might go some way in explaining why some translators choose to translate ‘parisuddhena cetasā pariyodātena’ as ‘a clear bright mind’, even though I see no mention of brightness in the words (though @sujato has mentioned about shineyness of skin, and so on, which may give some reasoning, although I am not sure I am convinced). But this might support that view in some way at least.

“samadhi in 3 ways” occurs in just 2 suttas, and other references to it are just by name without detailed description. They aren’t explicitly linked to jhanas, but later Theravada commentary, abhidhamma, and a plain common sense reading of the EBT seem to support 4 jhānas mapping into this scheme cleanly. “sāta” acting as a proxy for sukha, but otherwise most of the same keywords.

Samādhi in 3 ways

    AN 8.63: STED in more detail to encompass 4 jhānas
SN 41.8 linked to 4 jhānas, but no specific mapping
“avicaro samadhi” pali search results

These 2 suttas give the most detail on how to develop it

AN 8.63 developed concurrently with 4sp and 4bv
MN 128 hindrances, jhānas, perception of light for knowledge and vision

there is also “directed and undirected samadhi”, which could be seen as a subset of the “3 ways of samadhi”, or simply as differentiating first jhana (samadhi directed with V&V) from the undirected samadhis without V&V, i.e. 2nd jhana and higher.

SN 43.12 Two types of “undirected samādhi”

first type is using V&V, no vitakka + some vicara, no V&V
second type is part of a list of sunnata, animitta, appanihito

type 1: V&V, no vitakka + some vicara, no V&V

SN 47.10 leads you from 4sp to jhāna
    (Buddha then elaborates on what they did in 4sp to get those good results)
    (While in 4sp, how to ward off hindrances)
    (7sb bodhi-anga derived sequence)
    (no more need for V&V, passed from first to second jhāna)
    (remaining 3 parts of 4sp ellided)
    (Undirected, ap-panidhāya, development)
    (remaining 3 parts of 4sp ellided)
    (conclusion: jhāyatha! You must practice jhāna!)
see article on samadhi in 3 ways

type 2: list of sunnata, animitta, appanihito

MN 44 un-directed contact upon emerging from samadhi #9
    Thanissaro cmy
    bodhi translates appaṇihito phasso as "desireless contact"
DN 3 has 3 samadhis from MN 44, no explanation.
SN 41.6 same as MN 44
SN 43.4 those 3 samadhis lead to unconditioned, asaṅkhata
AN 3.184 part of lust (rāga) repetition series

I could guess some of your acronyms, but could you please spell them out for us? STED, sp, bv

Also when it comes to jhana formula it’s important to specify the question: do you @Senryu mean…

  • suttas specifically mentioning the word ‘jhana’
  • suttas without the word, but with some elements/factors of ‘normal’ jhana
  • suttas without ‘jhana’ but with ‘samadhi’

I was also baffled!

I was not meaning all material related to jhāna. But rather to the places where the jhānas are described in some details, as a set (of however many).

Though, any detailed description of jhāna would be welcome to hear about if you’ve got more lists!

I was just copying and pasting from my notes, the important part was to show the sutta number references for the OP to research.

these are just my abbreviations, there is no official standard:
(Standard EBT Definitions)

3am = 3 akusala mulani = The Unholy Trinity, also 3 aggi (fire)
4as = 4 ariya sacca = 4 Noble Truths
4bv = 4 Brahma vihāras = 4 Divine abidings
4dht = 4 dhātu = 4 elements/properties, rūpa is defined as this.
4dht+ = 4 dhātu+ = some suttas expand 4dht to 5 or 6 elements
4ip = 4 iddhi-pāda = 4 Power bases
4ipx = 4 iddhi-pāda (extended formula) = 4ip + some instructions on luminosity, hindrances
4pd = 4 padhāna = 4 exertions (of 37bp), same definition as sammā vāyāmo
4sp = 4 sati-'paṭṭhāna
4j = 4 jhānas = 4 meditations (or absorptions)
4nt = 4 Noble Truths


I just found this on dharmawheel:

It can also be found in:

DN 3, 4, 5, 11, 12

which were probably missed due to being held in abbreviated sections. But that’s it, as far as I can tell.

Is it worth admin making a wiki article of this? (Is that what it’s called? An editable article that can be added to as people draw all the examples together)


The pattern I notice is this:

DN: similes throughout the first section, the earliest section & one which probably stood alone, at first.
MN: similes occur once for each bracket: 1-50, 51-100, 101-151.

AN: once, uniquely* & with a concomitant fifth simile
SN: n/a

So, at least with respect to MN and DN reciters, it was felt important enough to give each of these reciters, even those reciters tasked with only a section of a Nikaya, access to the similes.

Also someone in that discussion wrote:

i wish there are digital versions of the tipitaka with all the elided text (repetitions) filled in so doing keyword searches could give more accurate results.

I have to agree! I have mentioned that here in this forum before. It would be a great benefit to researchers if that were implemented :slight_smile:

Then there are the occurences of this formula without the similes. But with some differences.

Whereas DN 2 (with similes) has:

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.

So vivicceva kāmehi, vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

DN 1 has:

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, this self enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life.’

Yato kho, bho, ayaṃ attā vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, ettāvatā kho, bho, ayaṃ attā paramadiṭṭhadhammanibbānaṃ patto hotī’ti.

Now, where the formula occurs in AN 9.41, I noticed this:

Then my mind was eager to stop applying the mind; it was confident, settled, and decided about it. I saw it as peaceful.

Tassa mayhaṃ, ānanda, avitakke cittaṃ pakkhandati pasīdati santiṭṭhati vimuccati etaṃ santanti passato.
And so, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected were stilled … I was entering and remaining in the second absorption.

So kho ahaṃ, ānanda, vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā … pe … dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharāmi.

He only talks about stopping vitakka. But then skips on ahead to stop both vitakka and vicāra. I wonder if the explanation came from the school of thought which regarded stopping them separately (as described elsewhere) - a remnant of that view perhaps. But then somewhere along the line, the more standard jhāna formula got inserted here?

But then I am confused as to why vitakka still appears as it continues:

And so, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected were stilled … I was entering and remaining in the second absorption.
So kho ahaṃ, ānanda, vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā … pe … dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharāmi.

While I was in that meditation, perceptions and attentions accompanied by placing the mind beset me, and that was an affliction for me.

Tassa mayhaṃ, ānanda, iminā vihārena viharato vitakkasahagatā saññāmanasikārā samudācaranti. Svassa me hoti ābādho.

Suppose a happy person were to experience pain; that would be an affliction for them.
Seyyathāpi, ānanda, sukhino dukkhaṃ uppajjeyya yāvadeva ābādhāya;

In the same way, should perceptions and attentions accompanied by placing of the mind and keeping it connected beset them, that’s an affliction for them.
evamevassa me vitakkasahagatā saññāmanasikārā samudācaranti. Svassa me hoti ābādho.

I also noticed in DN 17:

Pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca vihāsi, sato ca sampajāno sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedesi, yaṃ taṃ ariyā ācikkhanti: ‘upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī’ti tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja vihāsi.

Is this a spelling mistake? Usually this is paṭisaṃvedeti, not paṭisaṃvedesi, no? (Is that something anybody needs informing about?)

Now, here is a list of the jhāna formula we have mainly been discussing here - the one with similes - except here is a list of those occurences both with and without the similes. Hopefully my DPR search is complete - although of course I may have missed some if the repeated material was abbeviated/omitted in the source texts. By the way I did this by searching the DPR for ‘kāyena paṭisaṃve’ and then checking if the passage was the right one. I did not check to see if all the jhānas were there or not. I assume all of them elucidate all jhānas (?) :

DN 1
DN 2
DN 3
DN 9
DN 10
DN 17
DN 22
DN 33
MN 4
MN 8
MN 10
MN 13
MN 19
MN 25
MN 26
MN 27
MN 30
MN 31
MN 36
MN 39
MN 51
MN 65
MN 94
MN 101
MN 111
MN 138
SN 16.9
SN 28.3
SN 36.19
SN 36.31
SN 40.3
SN 45.8
SN 48.10
SN 48.40
SN 53.1
SN 54.8
AN 2.13
AN 3.59
AN 3.64
AN 3.75
AN 4.123
AN 4.163
AN 5.14
AN 5.75
AN 8.11
AN 8.30
AN 9.35
AN 9.41

Now for the Khuddaka Nikāya. My Digital Pali Reader is actually not functioning properly (Waterfox on a Mac). I can search, but I cannot actually open any suttas! And I can’t get the usual type of references we use from it, so I will paste the info it has for each text (anyone know an easy way to translate these references?):

KN Nidd I, 2. guhaṭṭhakasuttaniddeso, para. 72
KN Nidd I, 14. tuvaṭṭakasuttaniddeso, para. 28
KN Nidd II, khaggavisāṇasutto, paṭhamavaggo, para. 104
KN Paṭis, 1. mahāvaggo, 1. ñāṇakathā, 1. sutamayañāṇaniddeso, para. 149
KN Peṭ, 7. hārasampātabhūmi, para. 5

There, quite a long list!

Regarding the system of 3 jhānas, I have found my notes on this, so adding them here for everyone’s reference:

MN 128 and MĀ 72 give this 3 steps presentation for jhāna. See Anālayo:
After surveying the obstructions to deeper concentration, in the Madhyama-āgama version the Buddha continues by describing his development of three types of concen-tration. Although the Majjhima-nikāya version does not take up these three types of concentration at the present junction of its account, the same threefold development of concentration comes up again towards the end of both versions. The two versions agree that these three types of concentration cover:

  • concentration with initial and sustained mental application,

  • concentration without initial but with a remainder of sustained mental application,

  • concentration free from both. 262
    [262: MĀ 72 at T I 538c3 lists , , and , corresponding to the savitakka savicāra samādhi, avitakka vicāramatta samādhi, and avitakka avicāra samādhi mentioned in MN 128 at MN III 162,14. Stuart-Fox 1989: 93 suggests that the descriptions of the second type of concentration in MN 128 and MĀ 72 differ, as according to him in MĀ 72 “the second samādhi is described as one in which vitakka is absent and vicāra is reduced. In the Pāli version, vicāra is simply stated to be present”. This does not appear to be the case, as the used in MĀ 72 to qualify seems to render an equivalent to the qualification matta appended to vicāra in the Pāli version, the translator apparently taking matta in the sense of qualifying vicāra to be reduced in strength, so that the two versions rather seem to agree in their description; cf. also Bucknell 2010: 49-50. In fact, the expressions saddhāmattakena and pemamattakena in MN 65 at MN I 444,28 have their counterpart in MĀ 194 at T I 749a3 in and , which confirms that in the Madhyama-āgama corresponds to matta or mattaka (cf. also Hirakawa 1997: 398, who under lists mātra and mātraka). ]

The first of these three types of concentration corresponds to concentration up to the level of the first jhāna, while the last of these three corresponds to the second, third, and fourth jhānas. Concentration without initial but with still a remainder of sustained mental application represents a level of concentration situated between the first and the second jhāna, a level not explicitly taken into account in the usual fourfold reckoning of the jhānas found in the discourses.