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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 Contents1. 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: (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.
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.
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
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.
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)