Jhana Questions: Ariya and Anariya Jhanas

I have only formally started to study Jhanas recently. Does anyone know of suttas that talk about nibbana or arhantship without formless jhanas? I also heard from a Jhana teacher that formless jhanas cannot be learned or taught, they can be remembered.

In the past while listening to the famous Heart Sutra “form is emptiness (śūnyatā), emptiness is form” I did not dare to ask, where is the formless in this statement? Does it seem incomplete to anyone?
This you tube dhamma conversation with Delson Armstrong explains various yogic samadhi jhanas and Buddha’s own experiment on ariya and anariya jhanas.

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Look I don’t think even form jhana is necessary for enlightenment let alone formless jhana for example buddha said these

When you do truly know and see the eye, sights, eye consciousness, eye contact, and what is felt as pleasant, painful, or neutral that arises conditioned by eye contact, you’re not aroused by desire for these things.

Someone who lives unaroused like this—unfettered, unconfused, concentrating on drawbacks—disperses the the five grasping aggregates for themselves in the future. And their craving—which leads to future rebirth, mixed up with relishing and greed, looking for enjoyment in various different realms—is given up. Their physical and mental stress, torment, and fever are given up. And they experience physical and mental pleasure.

The view of such a person is right view. Their intention is right intention, their effort is right effort, their mindfulness is right mindfulness, and their immersion is right immersion.

“Mendicants, there are these seven prerequisites for immersion. What seven? Right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness. Unification of mind with these seven factors as prerequisites is called noble right immersion ‘with its vital conditions’ and ‘with its prerequisites’.”

And what is the faculty of immersion? It’s when a noble disciple, relying on letting go, gains immersion, gains unification of mind. This is called the faculty of immersion.

This vinaya story is about a guy without form jhana who attains arahantship

At that time in Benares there was a son of a good family called Yasa, the son of a wealthy merchant, who had been brought up in great comfort. He had three stilt houses: one for the winter, one for the summer, and one for the rainy season.
While Yasa was spending the four months of the rainy season in the rainy-season house, he was only attended on by female musicians, and he did not come down from that house. On one occasion, while he was enjoying himself with worldly pleasures, he fell asleep early, and so did his attendants. When he woke up early, the oil lamp was still burning. He saw his attendants sleeping: one with a lute in her armpit, another with a tabor on her neck, still another with a drum in her armpit; one with hair disheveled, another drooling, still another talking in her sleep. It was like a charnel ground before his very eyes. When he saw this, the misery became clear, and a feeling of repulsion stayed with him. He exclaimed a heartfelt utterance: “Oh the oppression! Oh the affliction!”
Yasa put on his golden shoes and went to the entrance door. Spirits opened the door, thinking, “No-one should create any obstacle for Yasa’s going forth into homelessness.” He went to the town gate, and again it was opened by spirits. He then went to the dear park at Isipatana.
Just then, after getting up early in the morning, the Buddha was walking up and down outside. When the Buddha saw Yasa coming, he came down from his walking-path and sat down on the prepared seat.
As he was getting close to the Buddha, Yasa exclaimed the same heartfelt utterance: “Oh the oppression! Oh the affliction!”
The Buddha said, “This, Yasa, isn’t oppressive, it isn’t afflictive. Come and sit down; I’ll give you a teaching.”
Thinking, “Apparently this isn’t oppressive, apparently it’s not afflictive!” excited and joyful, Yasa removed his shoes, approached the Buddha, bowed, and sat down.
The Buddha then gave Yasa a progressive teaching: talk on generosity, talk on morality, talk on heaven; and he revealed the danger, degradation, and defilement in worldly pleasures, and the benefit of renunciation. When the Buddha knew that Yasa’s mind was ready, supple, without hindrances, joyful, and confident, he revealed the teaching unique to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its end, and the path. Just as a clean and stainless cloth absorbs dye properly, so too, while he was sitting right there, Yasa experienced the stainless vision of the Truth: “Anything that has a beginning has an end.”
Soon afterwards Yasa’s mother went up to his stilt house. Not seeing him, she went to her husband and said, “I can’t find your son Yasa.” The merchant then dispatched horsemen in the four directions, and he himself went to the dear park at Isipatana. He saw the imprints of the golden shoes on the ground and he followed along.
When the Buddha saw the wealthy merchant coming, he thought, “Let me use my supernormal powers so that the merchant, when he sits down, doesn’t see Yasa seated next to him.” And he did just that.
The merchant approached the Buddha and said, “Sir, have you seen Yasa by any chance?”
“Please sit down, householder. Perhaps you’ll see Yasa seated next to you.”
When the merchant heard this, he was elated and joyful, and he bowed and sat down.
The Buddha then gave him a progressive teaching: talk on generosity, talk on morality, talk on heaven; and he revealed the danger, degradation, and defilement in worldly pleasures, and the benefit of renunciation. When the Buddha knew that his mind was ready, supple, without hindrances, joyful, and confident, he revealed the teaching unique to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its end, and the path. And just as a clean and stainless cloth absorbs dye properly, so too, while he was sitting right there, the merchant experienced the stainless vision of the Truth: “Anything that has a beginning has an end.”
He had seen the Truth, had reached, understood, and penetrated it; he had gone beyond doubt and uncertainty, had attained to confidence, and had become independent of others in the Teacher’s instruction. And he said to the Buddha, “Wonderful, Venerable Sir, wonderful! Just as one might set upright what had been overturned, or reveal what was hidden, or show the way to one who was lost, or bring a lamp into the darkness so that one with eyes might see what’s there—just so has the Buddha made the Teaching clear in many ways. I take refuge in the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Sangha of monks. Please accept me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.” And he was the first person in the world to become a lay follower by means of the triple refuge.
While his father was given this teaching, Yasa reviewed what he had already seen and understood, and his mind was freed from the corruptions without grasping

Those are suttas and vinaya and the pali commentaries and sub commentaries said the same thing

Form Jhana is right concentration like how apple is fruit but to say that all fruits must be apple is far from the Truth

When some English commentators like us contradict earlier pali sub commentaries then we should give up our ego and let these later generation medieval arahants speak, we should prioritize their views over our views we are no pali scholar, we are no meditation master, we are no arahant and 1000 years after these medieval monks died we still weren’t born yet let alone knowing shit, let alone knowing how to interpret suttas and vinaya so pretending we know something when actually we know nothing won’t help our case it would increase our ego,selfishness and feeling that we are superior to these medieval monks that we know better than them so let’s give the job of interpretating suttas and vinaya and even pali commentaries to those who knows it well like earlier arahants ,2nd generation arahants, 10th generation arahants or monks who are no arahants but whose lineage or tradition could still be traced back to these arahants, we don’t know their teacher’s instructions better than they do, late commentators like us should not pretend that we know how to interpret pali commentaries let alone suttas, just give the job to earlier commentators who knows the context better, whose lineage could still be traced back to arahants,

the fact is the living meditation tradition stops at 10 ce so not even ajahn chah lineage could still be traced back to medieval arahants let alone ajahn brahm, ajahn thanissaro and others, without being disrespectful they are lovely, they should not stop teaching but we should not rely on them too much ,they are good but when they disagree with even earlier ajahns then we should know who to hear

And the earlier masters and ajahns said that form jhana is not necessary to attain enlightenment

If my English is better than now I could share more but English is a very difficult language, I hope google translate could be perfect in the future

This famous saying is the start of a passage applying emptiness to the five aggregates. Form is the first one, then there’s feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness, which are considered formless.


I see what you mean. Yet I get confused when emptiness is also spoken as sunnyata or voidness in Mahayana; isn’t Sunnyata synonymous with realization of Nibbana in EBT?

Also, I see all five skandhas in daily life as mostly form-based that is embodied five sense based feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness (conditioned by form) as we live in the form dimension. All are changing and not to be taken as me, mine or myself.

I will not comment about jhana, just about the heart sutra.

The emptiness (sunyata) in heart sutra is not in jhana context. It is about the perception of anatta to the five aggregates, also to the six senses, etc.

If one realize this fully, it is nibbana. But just taking a glimpse is enough for stream enterer.

SN12.70 is the sutta.

Buddha learnt them from Alara Kalama and Uddaka, Rāma’s son.

From MN64: SuttaCentral

There is a path and a practice for giving up the five lower fetters. It’s not possible to know or see or give up the five lower fetters without relying on that path and that practice.

And what, Ānanda, is the path and the practice for giving up the five lower fetters? It’s when a mendicant—due to the seclusion from attachments, the giving up of unskillful qualities, and the complete settling of physical discomfort—quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.

Form has different meaning in different context.

In the 5 aggregate context as in Heart sutra, form means whatever is physical.

In the 3 realms of existence context which you referred to above as the form dimension, there’s the sensual realm, form realm and formless realm. Sensual realm is the realm of 6 devas, humans, animals, ghosts, asuras and hell beings. Form realm is the 16 Brahma realms, of which one needs to attain to the Jhanas to be reborn there, and in particular 5 of 16, the pure abodes are reserved for non-returners. Form realms differ from sensual realms. What I had heard from Dhamma talks is that there’s only the sense base of mind, eye and ear, there’s no gender, no sex there. Much more refined and better happiness compared to devas.

4 realms are the formless realms which one can be reborn there by attaining the formless Jhanas. As implied by the name formless, there’s only mind, no body.

So we are not in the form realm, we are in the sensual realm.


I don’t think your suttas conflict with my suttas except if I misunderstand you

We know that unification of mind is 1 of 5 factors of jhana When Buddha talk about immersion he is talking about unification of mind if you don’t believe me you can look at this sutta

Unification of the mind is immersion

And the Pali

Yā kho, āvuso visākha, cittassa ekaggatā ayaṁ samādhi;

So the problem is whether all 5 jhana factors arise at the same time or not and if they don’t arise at the same time whether unification of mind is the first or the last jhana factor to arise but we can agree that it’s the last factor to arise based on this sutta

2.2When there are regrets, one who has regrets has destroyed a vital condition for joy.
2.3When there is no joy, one who lacks joy has destroyed a vital condition for rapture.
2.4When there is no rapture, one who lacks rapture has destroyed a vital condition for tranquility.
2.5When there is no tranquility, one who lacks tranquility has destroyed a vital condition for bliss.
2.6When there is no bliss, one who lacks bliss has destroyed a vital condition for right immersion.
2.7When there is no right immersion, one who lacks right immersion has destroyed a vital condition for true knowledge and vision.

Now let’s look at the Pali so you don’t have any doubt about this

2.2avippaṭisāre asati avippaṭisāravipannassa hatūpanisaṁ hoti pāmojjaṁ,
2.3pāmojje asati pāmojjavipannassa hatūpanisā hoti pīti,
2.4pītiyā asati pītivipannassa hatūpanisā hoti passaddhi,
2.5passaddhiyā asati passaddhivipannassa hatūpanisaṁ hoti sukhaṁ,
2.6sukhe asati sukhavipannassa hatūpaniso hoti sammāsamādhi, 2.7sammāsamādhimhi asati sammāsamādhivipannassa hatūpanisaṁ hoti yathābhūtañāṇadassanaṁ,

Note that I have bold the jhana factors we see that the sequence is piti → sukha → sammasamadhi, this further is strengthen by this sutta

2.12.4Seeing that the hindrances have been given up in them, joy springs up. Being joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, they feel bliss. And when blissful, the mind becomes immersed.
2.13.1Quite secluded from sensual pleasures

Let’s look at the Pali for the sake of transparency

2.12.4Tassime pañca nīvaraṇe pahīne attani samanupassato pāmojjaṁ jāyati, pamuditassa pīti jāyati, pītimanassa kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukhaṁ vedeti, sukhino cittaṁ samādhiyati.
2.13.1So vivicceva kāmehi

All are same between the 2 suttas the difference is instead of sammasamadhi the second one said samadhi only, right after piti and sukha

So it’s clear that samadhi = sammasamadhi = citassa ekaggata

Now do you think that using only the mind one can hear sound or not ?

And The other mystery is even though we can assume that yasa have Jhana, such an assumption may be wrong because In the very end just before enlightenment he still enjoy 5 senses pleasures now previously we had a discussion about past Jhana but even if yasa have attained jhana in his past life he may have already lose it because in the end he still enjoy the 5 senses pleasures, while logically if one attains jhana there’s no way for them to enjoy sensual pleasures unless they lose their jhana and this is further strengthen by the Buddha in this sutta

so long as they don’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that, they might still return to sensual pleasures. But when they do achieve that rapture and bliss, or something more peaceful than that, they will not return to sensual pleasures.

This is wrong and right kind of meditation according to sutta

“No, brahmin, the Buddha did not praise all kinds of meditation, nor did he dispraise all kinds of meditation. And what kind of meditation did he not praise? It’s when someone’s heart is overcome and mired in sensual desire, and they don’t truly understand the escape from sensual desire that has arisen. Harboring sensual desire within they meditate and concentrate and contemplate and ruminate. Their heart is overcome and mired in ill will … dullness and drowsiness … restlessness and remorse … doubt, and they don’t truly know and see the escape from doubt that has arisen. Harboring doubt within they meditate and concentrate and contemplate and ruminate. The Buddha didn’t praise this kind of meditation.

And what kind of meditation did he praise? It’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures,

It’s clear that hindrances is the one which differentiate between wrong meditation and right meditation as Buddha said that hindrance block wisdom here, or do you disagree ?

“Bhikkhus, these five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from Nibbāna.

Hindrance is the nutriment to ignorance thus extending dependent origination

“Bhikkhus, this is said: ‘A first point of ignorance, bhikkhus, is not seen such that before this there was no ignorance and afterward it came into being.’ Still, ignorance is seen to have a specific condition.
“I say, bhikkhus, that ignorance has a nutriment; it is not without nutriment. And what is the nutriment for ignorance?
You should say: ‘The five hindrances.’

But Buddha said hearing the dhamma alone would suppress the hindrance

Mendicants, sometimes a mendicant pays heed, pays attention, engages wholeheartedly, and lends an ear to the teaching. At such a time the five hindrances are absent, and the seven awakening factors are fully developed.

Do you think one get Jhana while hearing the dhamma ?

(Edited to add: There is a lot of information on Jhana meditation and it isn’t all true to everyone’s experience. Searching for information on formless Jhanas will yield answers from anyone without meditation experience can experience them to only Non-Returners and Arahants can experience the 8th and 9th formless Jhanas. Some of the confusion may arise from what V Bhikkhu Ānalayo says is the difference between the perceptions and the attainments. He teaches the formless perceptions and they are onward leading.) It’s best to try it for oneself. Cūlasuññatasutta Not sure how to create a text block; here is a link.

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Thank you for that clarification. I am still wondering how one actually realizes nibbana in the context of heart sutra… is it realization mostly by chanting, koan and some form of meditation?


Thanks for all your helpful references and your views. I am taken by the story of Yasha, as the first lay disciple going forth after getting fully enlightened just by listening to the Dhamma from the Buddha. Wonder if ‘Buddha’ held the perfect mirror of pure awareness and stainless dhamma at the right moment of ‘samvega’ for Yasha. Just a thought…

ps. Sorry to stir up something, but I feel we can express ourselves here without disparaging speech to self and others.

The context of Heart Sutra is actually the same with most of Buddha’s teaching.

Heart Sutra is telling us that there is no “intrinsic existence/ self nature” in all phenomena.
What is all phenomena?

Five aggregates, 6 sense base, 18 sense elements, and so on.

How to do this, we need to reflect and meditate. And attain jhana if you want.
And then observe phenomena. Buddha said that they are impermanent, suffering, empty, and not self.

Observe anything that arise without grasping at them. And observe that they arise, endure, and cease.
And we will understand.