MN30 Jhānas are higher than knowledge and vision

In MN30, the 4 Jhānas, 4 formless attainments and cessation attainment are all higher level than knowledge and vision.

And before that, there was a stage of concentration (samādhi), which leads to knowledge and vision.

So I find this very satisfying. The dry insight groups can get to knowledge and vision with samādhi that is before Jhānas.

Yet, when Jhānas are attained, they are higher and more sublime than knowledge and vision.

This would also point out that those who believe in Jhānas is lite Jhānas, might contradict the sutta (likely because they didn’t read this sutta) and say that their knowledge and vision is superior, but those who attained to the deep absorption Jhānas would know otherwise.

Question: knowledge and vision does it imply stream winning or before?

Also thoughts?

Bhante Sujato has the following comment to segment 13.1:

Where the previous sutta went directly from “knowledge and vision” to final liberation (mn29:6.16), the current sutta adds an extensive passage on the nine attainments. Several details indicate that this passage is a later insertion. First, the jhānas are already included under immersion above (mn30:10.12). There, immersion leads to knowledge and vision following the normal sequence (eg. dn2:83.1), rather than being superior to it as here. Further, this discourse is distinguished as “short” compared to the previous “large” discourse, but it is in fact longer due to this extra material, which was presumably added after the title was established. EA 43.4, which is the only Chinese parallel to both these discourses, also lacks this extra passage.


That’s interesting that the sutta explicitly says

And what are those things that are better and finer than knowledge and vision?

Answer: first jhāna … nirodha.

But would this be enough insight for nibbāna? That’s what matters, right? Isn’t this why the jhāna debate matters?

In my opinion, it might be technically possible but comparatively way harder without the mental capacity of the jhāna states, but this sutta does feel awkwardly modified.

Venerable Anālayo also sees this sutta as containing an insertion, arguing along much the same lines as Venerable Sujato. From A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya:

A major difference between the two Pāli versions occurs at this point. Whereas the
Mahāsaropama-sutta simply speaks of permanent liberation, the Cūḷasāropama-sutta
lists as superior and more sublime than knowledge and vision the following:

  • the first jhāna,
  • the second jhāna,
  • the third jhāna,
  • the fourth jhāna,
  • the attainment of the sphere of infinite space,
  • the attainment of the sphere of infinite consciousness,
  • the attainment of the sphere of nothingness,
  • the attainment of the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception,
  • the attainment of the cessation of perceptions and feelings.

Except for the reference to the cessation of perceptions and feelings, with its explicit
relation to the destruction of the influxes, this passage is puzzling. The four jhānas and
the four immaterial attainments belong to the category of “concentration” and thus
would have already been covered in the previously mentioned “accomplishment of
concentration” (samādhisampadā). In fact, apart from the four jhānas and the four
immaterial attainments, it would be difficult to conceive of what else that could be
reckoned an “accomplishment of concentration”.

Yet, at an earlier point of its exposition the Cūḷasāropama-sutta considers this accomplishment
of concentration as something to be left behind in order to proceed to knowledge
and vision, and therefore as something inferior to knowledge and vision. Judging
from other discourses, this is in fact the proper hierarchical position for concentration,
which usually leads up to knowledge and vision, but is never superior to it. Thus, to
speak of the four jhānas and the four immaterial attainments as something superior to
knowledge and vision is at odds with other discourses and also with the earlier part of
the same Cūḷasāropama-sutta.

The Pali commentary explains that the four jhānas and the four immaterial attainments
are listed as superior to knowledge and vision in the present context because
they lead up to the cessation of perceptions and feelings. This explanation does not
solve the problem, as the Cūḷasāropama-sutta explicitly qualifies each jhāna and immaterial
attainment individually as “a state superior to and more sublime than knowledge
and vision”, whereas for the commentarial explanation to hold true this qualification should be applied only to the culmination point of the series, the cessation of perceptions and feelings.

Another noteworthy point is that although the Cūḷasāropama-sutta has the title of
being the “lesser” (cūḷa) version of the two Pāli discourses, due to the long exposition
on the four jhānas and the four immaterial attainments it turns out to be longer than its
mahā counterpart. In general the reasons for distinguishing between a “greater” (mahā)
and a “lesser” (cūḷa) version of a discourse could be due to the importance of the
respective subject. In the present instance, however the two discourses are so similar
that to distinguish them into a greater and a lesser version should refer to their respective

In sum, the fact that the four jhānas and the four immaterial attainments have already
been covered in the previously mentioned “accomplishment of concentration”, plus the
fact that other discourses do not consider the jhānas to be superior to knowledge and
vision, and the circumstance that the Cūḷasāropama-sutta in its present version is longer
than its Mahāsāropama counterpart, suggest that the passage on the jhānas and the immaterial
attainments as states superior to knowledge and vision may be a later addition
to the discourse.


In MN 30

It is clearly said

They achieve accomplishment in ethics …
They achieve accomplishment in samadhi …
and knowledge and vision.

Yet it is going back to samadhi again. How can one accomplished to samadhi, go back to say samadhi is finer than knowledge and vision, clearly this last part is confusion.

It should have followed the same steps as MN 29
After knowledge and vision, and maintain the good qualities and achieved irreversible freedom.

…accomplishment in samadhi
… Being diligent, they achieve irreversible freedom.
And it’s impossible for that mendicant to fall away from that irreversible freedom.
And so, mendicants, this spiritual life is not lived for the sake of possessions, honor, and popularity, or for accomplishment in ethics, or for accomplishment in immersion, or for knowledge and vision.

Rather, the goal, heartwood, and final end of the spiritual life is the unshakable freedom of heart

There is no dry insight in Buddha teaching. The knowledge and vision only achieved after samadhi and with samadhi. Never without. As stated n8fp, samma samadhi.

Now, it may be so, but this apparent discrepancy in the Suttas may as well be only on verbal level, and dissolve itself after making certain distinction.


MN 29 sequence

attainment of virtue→
concentration →
knowledge and vision →
perpetual liberation

can be seen as a description in more general terms as it is stated in the training which Lord Buddha usually emphasised in Paranibbana Sutta, namely morality - concentration - wisdom or understanding. So this description seems to be quite obvious and natural, and cannot be wrong.

But sequence in MN 30

attainment of virtue→
concentration →
knowledge and vision →
jhānas →
the cessation of perception and feeling and destruction of taints

goes into details, and describes things just from different angle.

Sutta AN VI,68 says:

‘“One not delighting in solitude could grasp the sign of the mind (cittassa nimittam)”: such a state is not to be found. “One not grasping the sign of the mind could be fulfilled in right view”: such a state is not to be found. “One not having fulfilled right view could be fulfilled in right concentration”: such a state is not to be found. “One not having fulfilled right concentration could abandon the fetters”: such a state is not to be found. “One not having abandoned the fetters could realize extinction”: such a state is not to be found.’

So here grasp the sign of the mind as I see it, can be classified as attainment of concentration and it is a middle way in dialectic: is concentration needed for sotapatti? And based on this Sutta we may say that: yes it is needed, but not a full jhana. So there is no mystery in the following sequence

grasping the sign of the mind →
right view→
jhānas →

And so on.

I am aware that there is line of thinking: “sotapanna has a right view, but right view in noble eightfold path means jhānas, therefore sotapanna has an access to jhānas”, but again it is logical only on a crude verbal level and it doesn’t take into account that sotapnna is not free from desire and ill will, which are main obstacles in attainments of jhānas.

So in fact it is the task of sotapnna to develop jhānas and rise to the state of non-returner.

I understand what you’re saying, but I see the meaning of cittassa nimittaṁ differently. It seems you see this term as it is understood in the Theravāda tradition, meaning the mental image that takes one into the first jhāna.

I think nimitta carries a different meaning in the early discourses, and this term cittassa nimittaṁ is much better clarified, in context, in SN 47.8 with the simile of the king’s cook:

That foolish, incompetent, unskillful mendicant doesn’t get blissful meditations in this very life, nor do they get mindfulness and situational awareness.
Sa kho so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo bhikkhu na ceva lābhī hoti diṭṭheva dhamme sukhavihārānaṁ, na lābhī satisampajaññassa.

Why is that?
Taṁ kissa hetu?

Because they don’t take their mind’s hint.
Tathā hi so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo bhikkhu sakassa cittassa nimittaṁ na uggaṇhāti.

From the context of the whole sutta, the point is that one should learn how to read the state or condition of one’s own mind, which is what cittassa nimittaṁ refers to.

Regarding the necessity of jhāna for stream entry, if we look at the various reports of lay followers who attain stream entry in the early discourses, for some of them it’s quite difficult to believe that they were practicing jhāna prior to entering the stream. For example, there’s the wealthy merchant Anāthapiṇḍika, who is never portrayed as a meditator, and the Jain ascetic Upāli, whose practice doesn’t include the jhānas (and whose teacher didn’t even believe the second jhāna was possible), among several other lay stream enterers whose life situations made jhāna attainment highly unlikely.

Couldn’t they have achieved stream entry with jhāna in a previous life? :pray:

I see no grounds to propagate uncertainty or doubt regarding the authenticity of this sutta as dhamma, however I don’t think it says anything about stream winning so it is not dispositive either way on that question to my mind. :pray:

I don’t see why this should be presumed. Couldn’t it be that the ‘shorter’ and ‘longer’ titles were swapped in error during redaction? That seems an innocent and straightforward possibility that doesn’t presume doubts about authenticity.

Contrary, I see it precisely the same way, as Anguttara sutta quoted above, as something which takes one into the right view. But that should be rather an access to what gives empty space in which all mental images appear and disappear.:smiling_face:

My knowledge about Theravada commentary tradition is more or less on the same level as my knowledge about Koran, that is to say I know it exists but…

There were 3 arguments that it’s a late sutta.

  1. It doesn’t match MN29.

but, this could refute it, as the Buddha does put spins on things he has said.

  1. The titles “short” and “large” don’t match.

This is one possible refutation, has that ever happened elsewhere in the suttas naturally?

  1. The only Chinese parallel, EA 43.4, lacks the passage.

This is difficult to refute, so the evidence is in favor that it was added later. Late addition doesn’t mean that it’s false, but if you’re confident in the Buddha’s words, it may appear less valuable, and MN29 would have preferable meaning.

This isn’t evidence of it being late; it is evidence that it is different. On what grounds do we presume different means “late” and on what grounds do we ascribe one as later than the other according to difference?

The fact that the parallels are all in different books and moved around does imply many redactions differed. That titles could be swapped seems a safe assumption and would satisfy Occam’s razor in this case.

Forgive me; but the parallel here is for 29 and 30 lacks a parallel, right?

Are we saying that we have an objective criteria where any sutta lacking a parallel we will judge “late”??


I don’t see how that’s possible, as each respective sutta describes their moment of entering the stream in that lifetime where they encountered Gotama Buddha. Also, in the case of Upāli, he is shown following another teacher ( Nigantha Nātaputta, the leader of the Jains), which would be impossible for a stream-enterer to do.


Do you think stream entry is something one knows for oneself, “I have realized stream entry!” Or is it something an awakened one knows and declares and labels? :pray:

I think it’s a transformation that occurs at a specific moment in time, and I think one knows they’ve been transformed. If the stream-enterer is familiar with Buddhist doctrine and understands what the term “stream entry” connotes, then they know they are a stream-enterer. If they’re unfamiliar with this term, they obviously won’t be able to classify themselves as such, and the teacher may need to confirm it to them. The Buddha provided guidelines for how one knows one is a stream-enterer so that one can declare it oneself (e.g., SN 12.41).

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Jhana to me refers to meditative absorption and with that absorption comes greater capacity to regulate both mind-body. The structuring, conveying and codification of jhanas in language depends on mental abstraction (inferring meaning cultivated from ones direct experience and mind), born of knowledge/insight into the capacity to regulate ones mind-body through the insights one has discerned over time. For example, into letting go or holding on to painful mental or physical objects.

Jhana could then be the ‘actualisation of knowledge as living wisdom’ which has thus become alive and apart of oneself. There is the idea of wiggling ones finger, then the act of doing so. There is the provisional idea of jhanas and then there is what the idea is premised on, actual meditative absorption and regulatory/conscious mental + physical action. Wisdom is the application of knowledge which has been discerned to be true which is applied to one’s life in a way that is of benefit to oneself and others around you.

I think the difficulty may come from seeing things as ‘higher and more sublime’. All of (knowledge, vision) feeds into each other. Hearing of the four noble truths encourages investigation into such. This leads one to examine ones experience. The same for the four foundations and for the myriad jhanas. One contemplates the idea until they begin to reflect then a eureka or realisation moment may occur. Imagine that one has heard of a cat but has never seen one. They have seen pictures of the cat but never a real cat. Then, one day, one sees one. These provisional ideas and terms are somewhat like that, but instead, we see what has been proposed come alive in our own experience.

Also, from classical Theravada point of view, the knowledge and vision is referring to devadatta’s supernormal powers, but not the insight which leads to attainments.


When someone says that a verse from the Sutta Pitaka is later, or was inserted by someone at a later time; I feel that presumptions like this are not very useful, unless you can be sure when it happened or at least where the error is. If the problem is only because it looks different from other Sutta verses then deeper semantic analysis and analysis is needed.

In the Sutta Pitaka we can see that the way to reach Sotapanna is the Noble Eightfold Path. Also the path to attaining the degrees of Sakadagami, Anagami and Arahant is the same, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. What does this mean? This means that attaining the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is gradual. This means that there are different attainments in terms of quality from the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. From this we can draw a lesson, that when there is the word “Samadhi” or concentration, then it can have variations or a spectrum of different qualities. In this case it is also clear in the Sutta that it is stated that a Sotapanna and Sakadagami are perfect in morality but not yet perfect in the attainment of samadhi and wisdom. An Anagami is perfect in the attainment of morality and samadhi but not yet perfect in the attainment of wisdom. Meanwhile, an Arahant is perfect in the attainment of morality, samadhi and wisdom. So also the quality of vision and knowledge also has a different quality for Sotapanna/Sakadagami, Anagami and Arahat.

Look at MN30, we can read it semantically using the framework as above. There is a level of samadhi that is immediately attained after the attainment of virtue, this is the level of samadhi of a Sotapanna. We must interpret the vision and knowledge in MN30 as the achievement of the vision and knowledge of a Sotapanna/Sakadagami; this is called penetration by sight (suppatividdha). Therefore, at this stage a student has not yet been freed from the shackles of sensual desire (kamaraga). The next practice that must be done to escape from Kamaraga is to practice and perfect jhana. Etc…

I think we need insight for ourselves to be able to see a more appropriate meaning in the verses in the Sutta Pitaka. A structural intellectual approach without dhamma insight will make our interpretation too lexical and syntactical.

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Usually scholars don’t assume something is early or late because of just one single criterion. What they do is comparing various different criteria, and if many of them point into the same direction, this is where they direct their thoughts towards.

Bhantes Sujato and Brahmali have described many such criteria in their book on the authenticity of early Buddhist texts and give many explanations on these things.