Nibbana and sukha

In fourth jhana sukha ceases, and in all subsequent jhanas including cessation there is no more sukha.
So how can nibbana be sukha when there is no sukha in nibbana?


I have heard that on one occasion Ven. Sariputta was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Sanctuary. There he said to the monks, “This Unbinding is pleasant, friends. This Unbinding is pleasant.”

When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”

“Just that is the pleasure here, my friend: where there is nothing felt.


That doesn’t answer my question. If sukha is pleasantness and in fourth jhana sukha ceases than fourth jhana cannot be pleasant and therefore Nibbana cannot be pleasant. But apparently Nibbana is pleasant so how can pleasantness cease in fourth jhana?

Well, further on the sutta goes on to say…

Furthermore, there is the case where a monk, with the abandoning of pleasure & stress—as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress—enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither-pleasure-nor-pain. If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with equanimity, that is an affliction for him.
Just as pain arises as an affliction in a healthy person for his affliction, even so the attention to perceptions dealing with equanimity that beset the monk is an affliction for him. Now, the Blessed One has said that whatever is an affliction is stress. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant.

This can be understood by considering someone who has had a painful disease from childhood. That person has always been in pain, but does not even know it. Imagine if that person was to be cured. Would that person find the end of that previous pain pleasurable?

In 4th jhana, spiritual pleasure of the 3rd jhana too is now seen as an affliction, as something painful. The meditator experiences the overcoming of the previous perception of spiritual pleasure/ pain. The end of the previously experienced spiritual pleasure/ pain is what is now described as pleasurable.

(Worldly pleasure has already been seen as painful in the 1st jhana).


thank you, but it still does not answer my question.

Here the word used to describe nibbana is sukha:

"When he said this, Venerable Udāyī said to him,
Evaṁ vutte, āyasmā udāyī āyasmantaṁ sāriputtaṁ etadavoca:
“But Reverend Sāriputta, what’s blissful about it, since nothing is felt?”
“kiṁ panettha, āvuso sāriputta, sukhaṁ yadettha natthi vedayitan”ti?

“The fact that nothing is felt is precisely what’s blissful about it.
“Etadeva khvettha, āvuso, sukhaṁ yadettha natthi vedayitaṁ."

Here it is said that sukha is given up:
“Furthermore, take a mendicant who, giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, enters and remains in the fourth absorption.
Puna caparaṁ, āvuso, bhikkhu sukhassa ca pahānā …pe… catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.”

So it says that pleasentness is given up and after that it is even more pleasant. So pleasentness is less pleasant than no pleasentness. And there is no pleasentness but there is still pleasentness. That is a contradiction and I want to understand where my mistake is in that conclusion.

be worldly sukkha or jhana sukha, are not the same type of happiness than nibbana. I’m not sure if the commentaries and etc can include “sukha” word or prefix etc in depictions of nibbana happiness but definetly it’s not the same.

“There are, O monks, these three feelings: pleasant feelings, painful feelings, and neither-painful-nor-pleasant feelings.”

Be it a pleasant feeling, be it a painful feeling, be it neutral, one’s own or others’, feelings of all kinds, he knows them all as ill, deceitful, evanescent. Seeing how they impinge again, again, and disappear, he wins detachment from the feelings, passion-free.

  • SN 36.2

sukha always arises conditioned by something and in relation with some trace of a -self (“me, mine”). Any sense of “I’m happy” or “I’m sad” means not nibbana, although who can know how an arhant experience such situation among the phenomena of the world.

when it says “The fact that nothing is felt is precisely what’s blissful about it." this is an answer for a question in the same way we can say nibbana is happiness despite the worldly happiness is not the happiness of nibbana.

Well just a semantic problem to use the words we have when the communication of something unknown is needed.

thanks, but I still don’t understand why the sutta then didn’t say jhana sukha ceases in fourth jhana but nibbana sukha still remains, and explains the difference, because if sukha means pleasantness it is still by definition anything that is pleasant than the cessation of it can still not be more pleasant, it is still a contradiction.

well but it the “more pleasant” is referred to other type of higher happines which is not sukha, How could you articulate the phrase so the other person can understand is a type of higher happiness?

But happiness is sukha by definition. So you are saying there is a type of higher happiness which is not happiness (because sukha is nothing other than happiness itself) and that still is a contradiction. Same thing from the other side how can happiness remain while the only description of what ceases is that it is happiness itself that ceases.

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worldly happiness is sukha. Nibbana is not worldly hapiness but an higher, different thing.

I wonder if you are searching for a word to describe the happiness of nibbana to clarify your equation and the difference with worldly happiness. However, it doesn’t exist. There are only similes, inspirations and etc. And logically the word happiness (sukha) appears in these depictions everywhere.

I mean, we have the logical need to fill that space in our reason with some word and its meaning, although if we would able to do this it would mean the thing was already known. The gift is inside the box to be known when it can be opened.

We all can understand you, of course :wink:

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I understand your point like that:
The only happiness we know of is that of pleasant feelings from the point of view of not being an arahant. So the buddha uses the term we know of to explain the feelings we know of. So Jhana is the happiness of pleasant feelings and that is called sukha. And then that ceases and equanimity remains which is something ordinary worldlings don’t know of and it is even better than sukha but totally different. And Nibbana is even better than that. But the only concept we know of that means that something is better is the concept of more happiness because that’s what we, the pupils know and understand. So the buddha would have to invent a word with a definition that is impossible to grasp for us because Nibbana is a “happiness”, and has a “quality” that is inconceivable to the mind.

So the solution to my problem is this.
In fourth jhana ordinary happiness ceases but equanimity which is better remains. And even though there is no unpleasant feelings still Dukkha is there in it, more subtle than what we call unpleasant feelings. And then that also ceases in nibbana which is the best. And the buddha wants us to understand that nibbana is better than sukha or equanimity so he uses the concept of happiness to explain it to us even though it is not the same happiness as the happiness we know of but the only thing we understand, so there is a contradiction in words.
So the difference is in the view: Ordinary person Happiness vs. the Arahants Happiness.

This was my first reaction:
That is still not an answer to my question. Where in the suttas does it say that sukha is worldly happiness?
Sukha is used to describe nibbana aswell so that is wrong.

So there are two possibilities:
Either sukha does mean not just happiness itself but for example only “pleasant feeling that is dependent on causes” and then Nibbana is the pleasure that is uncaused, but if it were like that the texts would use one word to describe nibbana and one word to describe “pleasant feeling that is dependent on causes”, that would be easy and logical, but it is not in the sutta like that.
Even more so the sutta states that not only pleasantness ceases but also unpleasantness and that inivites another problem, if unpleasantness ceases, how can then unpleasantness still remain in fourth jhana when the fourth jhana is explained to be unpleasant when seen from the first immaterial jhana.?

The other possibility is that sukha just means anything pleasant, and Nibbana is not pleasant but even better than pleasantness. BUt then it would say in the suttas that nibbana is the best and most desirable even more desirable than pleasure, because that would be easy and logical to explain but it is not in the sutta like this, instead it uses the same term for nibbana as for the bliss of the jhanas with no explanation or description that states the difference there or in any sutta I know of.

I understand where you are coming from but my problem is not that I want to verbalize nibbana I am happy knowing that that is impossible, but my problem here is not explained away that easily.

There must be an explanation if the buddha really tought that nibbana is the highest happiness.

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In my humble view, this is quite a semantic trap because that absence of words.

at least I understandd the previous source SN 36.2, named “Sukha Sutta” helps to clarify the conditional existence of sukha.

I understand the word sukha is widely used to describe nibbana because the previous problem, about the need to manage closer words. And sukha (worldly happiness) is very related.

yes. And note this is a constant inside the sources. Nibbana is explained many times like better and higher than any type of happiness we can know or conceive.

I try to understand the hole you are perceiving. Well, at least in my humble understanding I believe the sukha word is used in that sense, with the need to use words available for the communication. There is not a word specially designed to explain the happiness of nibanna, except “nibbana” itself, which truly is like a container word for a nature unknown to us.

Although maybe what I say is not fully right or not useful to satisfy your doubt. Hope other people can help

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If I called nibbana, “the peace that surpasses all understanding,” would you consider that to be of a higher form of happiness, than a temporary and worldly happiness like buying a new toy?

Thank you very much for your patience and help, do you know of more suttas that state that pleasant feelings are not only dukkha because of impermanence but also because they are not as good as nibbana?

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In example MN 59, in where we find find a progression through all the possibilities for sukha according kinds of feelings. Because sukha is sustained by feelings. And logically, we see how nibbana is absent of this explanation

the progression is:

“Now, if someone were to say: ‘This is the highest pleasure and joy that can be experienced,’ I would not concede that. And why not? Because there is another kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime”


"It may happen, Ananda, that Wanderers of other sects will be saying this: ‘The recluse Gotama speaks of the Cessation of Perception and Feeling and describes it as pleasure. What is this (pleasure) and how is this (a pleasure)?’

“Those who say so, should be told: ‘The Blessed One describes as pleasure not only the feeling of pleasure. But a Tathagata describes as pleasure whenever and whereinsoever it is obtained.’”

and it ends. No mention of nibbana related with sukha.

Also another Sutta is AN 9.34, in where Sariputta answer to somebody who asked where is the happiness of nibbana when there is a cease (Perhaps similar to your doubt?):

  • “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”
  • "Just that is the pleasure here, my friend: where there is nothing felt.

Note how Sariputta answer the higher happiness of nibbana should be understood in a negative way; not adding but leaving (…not this, not that…). So we read inside the Sutta how nibbana arise when there is freedom of attachment to any bond and phenomena conceivable.

“So by this line of reasoning it may be known how pleasant Unbinding is.”

Sariputta explain a progression through all the types of worldly sukha until the highest type, which is the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and then cease of perception and feeling. This type of conditioned happiness also should be leaved so nibbana can arise.

"…If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with the dimension of nothingness, that is an affliction for him. Now, the Blessed One has said that whatever is an affliction is stress. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how pleasant Unbinding is.

“Furthermore, there is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And, having seen [that] with discernment, his mental fermentations are completely ended. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant.”

Well, sure there are many more. I believe these 2 can be useful to see the difference. There is sukkha, which is conditioned happiness, always supported by something inside ourselves or outside. And there is nibbana, unbinding, which is unconditioned and not supported by anything. This is not sukha, not dependent of feelings. This is an higher thing, despite we should use the word sukha (i.e: we say “an higher happiness”) because sukkha is the best choosing we have.

Need to say, there is a whole world around the sukha term. It includes types, prefixes, commentaries, scholar reflections, etc,etc. You can imagine. If you are interested in these details there are a lot of things. Or ask in this board, there is many people with better knowledge than me.


Thanks for posting the Suttas.

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truly I’m not sure if this can be a solution. The doubt is very understable. Same Buddha included those inmaterial states like happy states, despite it seems the feelings of happiness are leaved at those levels.

Because at least I understand the problem is with the words. How can we communicate to other person about an higher “happy” state which nature is not the happiness the other person knows. As we don’t have a word for some happiness higher and different of the happiness we know, just we could say this is an “higher happiness” or similar. I think…


I am neither a linguist nor an EBT expert but the same issue arises with the word dukkha as well. There are lots of meanings of that word too and one can refuse to acknowledge that something is dukkha because in common usage they are subjective arbitrary labels. Sukha is also somewhat arbitrary labeling of certain feeling states, which fundamentally can always be seen as a misguided labeling because of dukkha inherent in any experience. So technically, the only state that can truly and rightfully be described as sukha is nibbana - complete absence of dukkha. All other states are “sukha-like” or “tainted sukha”. The word sukha was already in use before the Buddha realized that what we use it for is not the “real deal”. Inventing a new word would just create one more opportunity for objectification, just as the word nibbana sometimes does.
It may also be worthwhile to consider why the First Noble Truth is the truth of dukkha and not the truth of sukha, striving progressively until you achieve the highest sukha. The goal is end of dukkha, whatever we may want to call it.


Quote: “The term sukha is always dependent on conditions and has different meanings within different contexts. For example, concerning different kinds of worldly happiness for ordinary householders, the Buddha enumerated these four types:”

I guess the context explains the difference like it says in that article.


An interesting thread, inspired me to reflect more deeply and investigate.

I think this can also help towards answering your questions:

It is useful to reflect on the original meaning of both words dukkha and sukha. These labels/terms/pointers encompass far more than English words suffering/happiness, or stress/bliss.

Considering these words etymology, the ancient roots: ( e.g. using Wikipedia - Sukha and Dukkha

Dur- = difficult, ill, bad
Su- = easy, well, good
-kha = to bear ?

(If I am wrong, would a Pali scholar please correct me and also explain the meaning of -kha)

These terms are relative and can not only refer to physical or mental states of pain/pleasure and suffering/happiness, but also to simply what we recognise as unsatisfactory and satisfactory. Anything that is transient (arises and ceases) can’t be an ultimate Refuge, and so it is also a form of Dukkha. By the Buddha’s descriptions, the Nibbana is fully satisfactory, as it is peaceful and freed from tanha and asavas (Vinaya, Mahākhandhaka 3, Mucalindakathā; Udana 8.3).

In the DN2, the Buddha used beautiful similes to explain happiness of freedom from the 5 hindrances. I can only imagine what that full freedom from all mental greed, ill-will and conceit would mean if all the time. But I imagine it would be satisfactory without any bliss feeling added to it. Like when we recognise that we are seriously ill or in great danger, we naturally desire and strive to be just freed from that and we don’t care about happiness or bliss. When we get well, we are content and grateful for just being freed from that illness or danger. Just that absence is peaceful and perfect enough. Greed, ill-will and conceit are extremes and forms of danger and mental illness, though often socially acceptable and even encouraged. Human history bears witness to that – records of exploiting and deluding other species and people to achieve short term personal or group success and enhance physical or mental sense pleasures. After many years, the collective global outcome is now clearly visible as climate change, etc.

I believe that the Buddha guided people skilfully according to their temperaments and where they were at, and so what they considered as most desirable, and so praised, worked and searched for. Those who were desiring happiness or bliss he pointed to and led out gradually towards more and more refined states of mind and then towards full letting go. (DN 15) Those who searched for wealth he guided by pointing out higher forms of wealth beyond mere material and intellectual. (AN 5.47) Those who searched for peace he led to more refined states of peace. (AN10.60)

I wonder … Can anyone really see clearly and feel boundless compassion, toward those who are in danger or suffering, if one is in a state of bliss? I doubt that such one can. But the peaceful equanimous one, yes, I think that one can respond with compassionate wisdom.