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Pīti (joy, rapture)


#1

Note: This article is a pilot for a proposed series of wiki-style articles for Discourse. It may be edited by anyone. You may use the comments to discuss edits. Please feel free to add or change anything in the article. The purpose is to explore the possibilities and limitations of this platform for creating a wiki of Early Buddhism.

Pīti is a Pali term for an uplifting emotion, typically experienced during the course of meditation. It is usually translated as “rapture” or “joy”.

Table of Contents 1. Renderings and translations 1. History & miscellaneous uses 1. In meditation 1. Interpretation 1. Experiences 1. Related topics 1. Source texts

Renderings and translations

  • Sanskrit: prīti
  • Gandhari: pridi
  • Chinese: 喜
  • Tibetan: དགའ་བ
  • Emoji: :joy: (U+1F602)

History & miscellaneous uses

According to the PTS Dictionary, pīti is related to the verb pīneti, to please, and piya, dear or beloved. As such it has been traced to a Primitive Indo-European root priy-ont-, and is cognate with such English terms as “friend” or “Friday”.

Pali texts sometimes play on the similarities between pīti and pīta, the past participle of pivati, to drink (Dhp 205), in the sense of “drinking the joy of Dhamma”. There is, however, no etymological connection between these words.

Pīti may be used in the sense of “excitement” or “joy” at obtaining sensual pleasures (Snp 4.1). Such worldly usages are more common for the Sanskrit term prīti.

Some gods, especially those of the Ābhassara realm, are said to “feed on rapture” (Dhp 200, AN 10.29, etc.). This is related to the idea that development of jhāna leads to rebirth in such a realm.

In meditation

By far the most common use of the term in the EBTs is in meditation. Pīti occurs in a number of standard teaching categories as a positive emotion. It usually follows pāmojjā (gladness) and leads to passaddhi (tranquillity) and sukha (bliss), and ultimately to samādhi or jhāna (absorption). Pīti occurs in this sense in the gradual training (anupubbasikkhā) (DN 2) and the seven awakening factors (bojjhaṅga) (SN 46.2).

In the context of meditation, it is described as nirāmisa, meaning “non-carnal”, i.e. spiritual (SN 46.3), as opposed to the carnal (sāmisa) joy that arises from sense experience. The joy of enlightenment is said to be “more spiritual than the spiritual” (SN 36.31).

It also features as a factor of the first and second jhānas (DN 22). In the standard series of similes for the jhānas (AN 5.28), it is represented by the welling up of cool water from a spring in a mountain pool for 2nd jhāna. In first jhāna simile, it’s the water being permeated into the soap powder by the forceful kneading of the bathman. In the third jhāna simile, the water becomes still, so we can see the gradual attenuation of the more forceful aspect of water, symbolizing pīti and sukha, from the first through third jhāna.

Interpretation

Pīti is a sense of joy or uplift that occurs during the course of meditation. It is best understood as an emotional response to the pleasure experienced in meditation. It may have physical manifestations, such as goosebumps or hair-raising, but is primarily a psychological quality. Since it is a subtle excitement or thrill in response to pleasure, it is moderated by passaddhi, and drops away in the deeper states of samādhi.

It is common for meditators to experience such joy occasionally. In deeper meditation the sense of pervasive joy may last for many hours without interruption.

In Hindu meditation, joy is most commonly called ānanda.

In modernity, pīti may be related to the psychological phenomena known as frisson or A.S.M.R.,1 and moreover, in a case study, researchers have reported strong dopamine reward system activations in the brain of a long-term Buddhist practitioner during meditation.2

Experiences

Pīti may be experienced as an emotional flow after meditation, as well as during it. Reddit user airwavearchitect describes their experience:

… after my PM meditation session last night I experienced something truly blissful. I was about to sleep but decided to re-watch a music video that popped up in my recommended videos. The story of the song and video is a sappy, cheesy love story that, in the past, I would just passively enjoy. But halfway through the video I just burst out in tears with the biggest smile, like some emotional floodgate had been removed. For years I’d been struggling to connect with my emotions, and I feel like I’ve finally laid down the foundations to bridge the gap there.

Reddit user Dallinnnn says:

And as far as ecstatic bliss, I can remember having tears of joy stream down my face. Even after the initial impact of it had passed I decided to continue sitting so I could bask in it a while more. (aside the point) rapture or not, it was my first monumental proof of progress in the right direction.


References

1 Rustle, Tingle, Relax: The Compelling World of A.S.M.R (Stephanie Fairyington, 2014)
2 Case Study of Ecstatic Meditation: fMRI and EEG Evidence of Self-Stimulating a Reward System (Michael R. Hagerty et. al., 2013)


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#2

Hi @sujato, I have a question about the case study you mentioned. The text says:

The subject meditated in his standard sequence, starting with access concentration (AC), progressing through J1, J2,…J8, then returning through J7, J6, and so forth, back down to J1. For each jhana state, the subject signaled with a double finger tap using an MR-compatible force transducer [36] when he was beginning the transition to the next higher-number jhana state, then clicked the mouse once when he had reached the state. He clicked three times to indicate he was transitioning downward to the next lower-number jhana state. Resting periods were recorded before or after jhanas.

As far as I remember Ajahn Brahm in “Mindfullness, bliss and beyond”, but also you on some retreat, said that while in jhana you cannot make volitional decisions, much less move a finger - how would that signalling be possible in this study?


#3

Hi Tuvok. Remember, this is a wiki post, and I didn’t add that study. It’s a good resource, though. But this is one of the issues with using this platform for wikis, we don’t have a record of who said what.

But as to the study, indeed, the states of mind they’re talking about are far from jhāna. Probably it is more of an initial experience of rapture and tranquility.


#4

Hi all,

I’m the one that added the case study, and yes, I think there is cause to be weary of the language in the study that presumes the authenticity of the study subject’s self-reported states. I just thought that, relevant to the article here, their confirmations of the fifth and sixth hypotheses – that they found strong neural signatures of joy/pleasure in a Buddhist meditator in meditation, and that several subtle possibilities for external stimulation causing that activity were ruled out – were worth mentioning in tandem with frissons and ASMR.

As to the wiki, bhante @sujato, I was pleased to discover the other day that clicking on the little orange pencil in the upper-right corner of the post provides a decent interface for browsing the edit history. It does help the situation somewhat, but I don’t know that it completely solves the problem…


#5

Sorry for the assumption. When I wrote the question I thought that the post is new, only later I noticed that it’s almost two weeks old :wink:


#6

I agree, it’s an interesting study, and I appreciate that you quoted it neutrally, without endorsement. A separate article to survey psychological interpretations of phenomena found in the EBTs would be interesting.

Obviously it’s somewhat arbitrary to say that, yes, this is what piti is, or any other experience. But my purpose was to connect meditator’s experiences with what they read in the texts. There’s a case to be made that we should exclude such things and simply focus on what the texts say. But I find it interesting, and I suspect readers will want something like that.

I kind of set this up by quoting experiences of some random redditors. You’ve found a much more prestigious and scientific source! Having said which, I feel that the “science” of all this is still very primitive, and unfiltered personal experience is more likely to speak of genuine experiences.

Oh, right, yes, I forgot about that. So that’s good, it’s a pretty cool feature actually, it works very nicely.

The bigger problem is that wiki articles shouldn’t be listed under a specific author. This has been discussed on the Discourse forum, but no solution so far. Well, no automated solution. In fact the recommended solution is to create a special Wiki account and manually transfer relevant articles to its ownership. I’ve created such an account, but for some reason I can’t change ownership. We’ll see if I can get this to work. After an upgrade, this now works and I have changed the owner to wiki.

A better way, I think, would be for any wiki article that’s edited by anyone other than the original author should be automatically assigned to the community. But anyway, let’s see how it goes.

But anyway, it’s good to see some interest in the idea. We can keep playing around and see what we come up with.


#7

One small thing I would like to add is that it is possible to do references without any fancy code. The solution is simply to use parenthetical citation styles, as in:

Something something… (Sujato 2008, 25-27).

Then at the end…

References

  • Sujato, Bhikkhu. 2008. Other info…

Of course it takes some extra effort to look up the minutiae of whatever style, and then format everything appropriately…

Also, wiki software is quite different from a forum, in that it is built to allow multiple editors to work on a single article, and track all the changes. In order to emulate that same sort of effect in a forum, the article would probably have to be the first post in a thread, and have an “owner” who would update the article with new information posted by other users in subsequent posts. That puts a lot of responsibility on the creator of the thread, though, who may not always be a star editor.

Wikipedia is very mature as a platform, but it has its own set of problems, many related to article quality and oversight. Someone who has really high quality material to contribute may think twice because it could be removed or edited by other editors who may do so for misguided reasons. The result is that anything you add has to be watched carefully so it doesn’t degrade over time.


#8

Certainly possible. It would be great to have a bibtex style system, keep a file of all referenced books in one place, then just use inline citations, with a tag at the bottom. We could scrape bibtex references for books from Google Books as needed. Technically i don’t think it would be that hard, but it would take a lot of effort to get people to use it.

But that’s precisely what we can do here. Try editing my article and see! The only hitch is that I haven’t been able to transfer ownership to “wiki”, which should be possible, but there is some kind of bug.

Indeed. And the reasons almost always have to do with keeping wikipedia’s rules rather than making a better article. So the winners are the lawyers. I think it’s especially a problem in a field like Buddhism, where the general level of education and awareness is very poor. In technical fields it seems to work fine.


#9

Since this is a Wiki article, I will be critical. For me, terms such as “excitement”, “joy” or “emotion” do not accurately represent “piti” in the context of jhana since “piti” here is a “vedana” rather than a “sankhara” or “papanca”. “Piti” is essentially a neurological reaction arising from tranquility rather than something thought created and terms such as “excitement”, “joy” or “emotion” are such. While these terms may fit some contexts, I think more emphasis on “rapture” would be better. “Tears of joy stream down my face” & “emotional floodgate” sound more like an egoistic catharsis than “non-sensual rapture born of solitude & composure”.


Collected Knowledge section?
#10

Perhaps we should make it more clear that the experiences described here fall well short of jhana, and represent the more crude, initial forms of pīti. Still, they are clearly within the spectrum of what is traditionally recognized as pīti. “Emotion” is broad term, which certainly includes “rapture”, and also “pleasure”, “joy”, etc.

Also, note that pīti does not arise from tranquility (passaddhi), but rather, it leads to it. This is noted in the article.


#11

In a spirit of better late than never, I’ve added a prototypical references section with a small edit note having discovered that we can use inline <sup></sup> tags.

qv.

(Also, for anyone interested, I resolve to be on retreat-mode for the week and so will not be particularly engaged.)