Polak's Reexamining Jhanas

Of course we can insist "Hey sutta, tell me the word I’m looking for, no I mean the other one: ekaggata!"
ekodibhāvaṃ = eka - udi - bhavam
for me it’s really tomato - tomato, eh, the joke doesn’t work in writing

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apologies :slight_smile:
It was kind of obvious to me that the two are synonymous, but as a small backup I found in Bucknell (Reinterpreting Jhana) “The term’s (cetaso ekodibhava) equivalence with cittass’ ekaggata is self-evident” and there is probably more if one looks for scholarly confirmation.

at least as I understand it
eka = one
udi = rising
bhavam = (loosely) state of mind, (literally) becoming
cetaso = genitive of citta = of the mind

so something like “becoming one-rising of the mind” or “the arising of the mind as one”. I hope it’s not too far off the literal meaning, but I think it’s ok

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I think we are deviating from the topic again.

As far as I understand Polak is not questioning ekagatta but an importance to cessation which it does not see as legitimate.

Anyone disagrees?

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Grzegorz disagrees with ekagatta which he says is the characteristic of yogic (brahmanic) meditation. He also points out that the four brahmanic attainments that the Buddha-to-be learned from his two teachers and that he rejected, were re-introduced into some Suttas and became arupas-Jhānas and then the Buddha Jhānas became lower and rūpa. With all these corruptions the type and soteriologic role of the Buddha Jhānas were lost (at least for most Buddhist traditions). Fortunately not all is lost. Everyone can rediscover them by themselves as the Buddha-to-be did.

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What does he say about ekodibhava then?
Do you think he would propose it was planted accross the Suttas as the yogic influence shaped it’s writing down?


In fact, cittekaggatā is not as rare as some would believe. If we resolve the compound into its members and do a proximity search for the members in the suttas, we get -

cittaṃ ekaggaṃ (the mind [was] unified) in MN 4, MN 19

cittassa ekaggatā (unification of the mind) in MN 44, MN 117, MN 125, SN 45.28 (mirroring MN 117), SN 48.9 – 11, SN 48.50

ekaggacittā in SN 47.4 and AN 2.42 in the context of satipaṭṭhāna,

In fact, its occurrence as cittaṃ ekaggaṃ (the mind was unified) in MN 4 and MN 19 within the context of satipaṭṭhāna just before the 1st Jhana would suggest that it is not a quality that shows up only in the Jhanas.

Made a quick check of MN 4’s parallel in EA 31.1, and it also pops up there as 一心 as the precursor to the First Dhyana.

From the looks of it, the ekaggatā with reference to citta is not exclusive to or monopolised by jhana. It is also a quality shared by well-established mindfulness.


The issue is not only ekagatta. It is the whole re-interpretation of Anapanasati with body-of-breath instead of simply the body then body-formations, etc. This corruption of Anapanasati makes you believe that you have to let go of the body including breathing, heart beat, etc. The Buddha made fun of such approach. Unfortunately that’s the one that is now mainstream.
Wishing you all to experience the true Buddha Jhānas.

Well, this is not convincing at all - can’t you admit that (if that is his claim) that he was wrong about ekaggata not being in the jhana formula? What is at stake then is that ‘Grzegorz’ has found the truth and is just somehow not able to show it to non-believers (where are the sutta references, where the historical references, where the ‘yogic’ references?)

10 posts were split to a new topic: Examining Hetu in Relation to Jhana

indeed, search for different cognates and declensions of ekaggata produces additional results

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What a nice coincidence that this author is being brought-up here. He just published an article, and there’s another recent, similar article by another author:

  • Polak (2016), “How Was Liberating Insight Related to the Development of the Four
    Jhānas in Early Buddhism? A New Perspective through an Interdisciplinary
  • Keren Arbel (2015), “The Liberative Role of Jhānic Joy (Pīti) and Pleasure (Sukha) in the Early Buddhist Path to Awakening”

Additional reading are the following publications:

  • Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL
  • Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
  • Gombrich, Richard F. (1997). How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings . Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-19639-5
  • Anderson, Carol (1999), Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon, Routledge

I haven’t read Polak’s book (yet), nor all the responses above, but I guess he’s been reading & using these sources as well. The topic is indeed quite unknown among Buddhist, and will probably be met with disbelief and even resistance. But I think Polak, and the authors mentioned above, are right: the contemporary Theravada understanding and presentation of jhana practice, and of liberating insight, is not in line with the earliest Buddhism. Notice that the Theravada tradition itself believes that it’s not possible to become “enlightened” (stupid, misleading word; “liberation” is a better word) in this age. Maybe that’s because their method doesn’t work, while the “original method” is actually quite simple and clear.



Hi everyone, just another reminder to try to keep within the topic’s subject.

Although all this is very valuable it ends up scattering the point of the conversation and turn it into a public dialogue / debate over a parallel topic.

@Deeele and @Sylvester, I strongly suggest you consider opening a new topic to invite others to investigate this interesting issue with the Pali words for causality you have been discussing over the last 2- 3 days! :slight_smile:


An interesting sub-chapter of Polak’s book is around the quest for the original “boddhisatta sutta”.

Suggesting that MN85 should be taken the most authentic account - in opposition to the more famous MN26 - he notes:

In the Bodhirājakumāra Sutta, the bodhisatta found out that crushing and constraining the mind, as well as the breathless meditation are useless when it comes to providing knowledge and vision.
According to the reaction of the devas, he was also resembling a dead person when he was practicing the breathless meditation.
All these rejected forms of meditation, possess features that are surprisingly similar to those of saññāvedayitanirodha.

It seems likely that someone who believed that saññāvedayitanirodha is the ultimate goal of meditation, was not happy with the account of the strivings. It is therefore no wonder that the compiler of the Ariyapariyesana Sutta took out the episode of strivings, and has replaced it by another, simpler account. He had very good reasons to do it.

Interestingly, as he points later on in his book, the MN85 depicts as well a much less fantastic account of the boddhisatta’s youth:

(…) the Bodhirājakumāra Sutta contains only the formula of going forth, without giving any motivation for such a decision. (…) it seems possible that originally there was no account of bodhisatta’s motivation. The later compilers of the Ariyapariyesana Sutta, the Mahāsaccaka Sutta, and the Sangārava Sutta have probably added their own accounts of bodhisatta’s motivation to renounce household life to enrich the narrative.

Last but not least, it is very interesting as well what triggered the Buddha to tell the prince of his breakthrough.

When the Blessed One had finished the meal and had put away the bowl, prince Bodhiraja took a low seat, sat on a side, and said thus. ‘Venerable sir, it occurs to me that pleasantness could not be attained by pleasantness, it has to be attained, with unpleasantness.’

Royal prince, before my enlightenment, when I was a seeker of enlightenment, it occurred to me, with pleasantness, pleasantness could not be attained, with unpleasantness, pleasantness could be attained.
There should be some other method for the realisation of enlightenment. Then royal prince, I recalled the experience under the shade of the rose apple tree near my father’s field: Secluded from sensual thoughts and secluded from thoughts of demerit, with thoughts and discursive thoughts and with joy and pleasantness born of seclusion, how I attained to abode in the first jhana.
Then consciousness arose this is the path to enlightenment. I thought, why should I fear this pleasantness, which is other than sensual pleasure and away from thoughts of demerit.

The prince was probably a Jain and the Buddha takes the opportunity to make clear that the path he points is pleasant and liberating!

In a nutshell, the points made around the MN85 are:

  1. the Buddha possibly didn’t have much of a big background story for his spiritual pursuit
  2. most likely he ruled out deeper meditative practices such as breathless still before his enlightenment, at the same time he ruled out the Jain-like path of pain and extreme starvation.
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What are these similar features? I don’t get the connection Polak is trying to make here.

The way I read it within the book’s chapter from which I got that quote is that Polak is at that stage linking the exertion-based /perception cessation-leading meditation practices discarded by the bodhisatta with the cessation marked states (usually listed beyond the 4th jhana).

Such cessation-based attainments he hypothesises have been inserted in the Suttas as a result of the yogic influences that possibly “creeped” in as the possible early and original meditative tradition was lost.

He then brings the troublesome meditative instructions preserved in the Visudhimagga, identifies in it a possible illegitimate focus to these very same cessation-based attainments and somehow concludes it is indeed the evidence of how after having lost the original meditative tradition those who wrote it could only resort to the yogic influenced system / didactics they had still in vogue around them.

Now, before a debate is started note that no one is here blindly taking Polak’s hypothesis as true. The intention is to identify issues with his thesis and hopefully aggregate constructive questions we could try to bring to Polak himself.

By this way we could maybe start an interesting and valuable interaction with a contemporary scholar as much interested in peeling away from two millennia of oral and written tradition a hint of the practical contours and landmarks of path reopened by the Blessed One.

Well, I’m still at the point to ask: does he come to these theses by intuition or does he have a solid basis for it? I started reading and then was discouraged by what I saw as ‘sloppy theories’ if you forgive the expression. If he follows his intuition stating that the nikayas themselves came under ‘yogic influence’ then I at least am not interested because many people have many ideas and if it comes to intuition i rather trust my beloved meditation masters. if he however has solid textual bases please point me to the chapter/page. thanks!


Hi gnlaera, this is an interesting topic:

Clearly jhana is an area of significant disagreement. I tried to explore this issue on another thread:

The point there was that a number of EBT scholars do not equate deep jhana with yogic influence and would, I think, disagree with this statement:

[quote=“gnlaera, post:69, topic:3262”]
Polak is at that stage linking the exertion-based meditation practices discarded by the bodhisatta with the cessation marked states (usually listed beyond the 4th jhana)…Such cessation-based attainments he hypothesises have been inserted in the Suttas as a result of the yogic influences that possibly “creeped” in as the possible early and original meditative tradition was lost.[/quote]
I just don’t see the correlation since the immaterial jhanas would have no relationship to the practises of self-torment. The immaterial jhanas would simply be a natural further development to the material jhanas.

Now, as I see it, the uniqueness of the Buddha’s search is he saw very early on the limitations of the immaterial jhanas and, somewhere in his search, successfully focused on non-attachment & non-craving (rather than the non-thinking of jhana). Therefore, jhana became a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

That said, if what appears to be the deliberate departure from the 4th jhana for wisdom development did not occur, this would not stop the natural fruition of samadhi towards the immaterial jhanas & nirodha-sampatti.

This would be why, without a Buddha’s instructions, most contemplatives that abandoned the world & entered into meditation would get stuck in states of samadhi (non-thinking).

If we read Hindu Yoga, generally the final goal is complete dissolution of thinking, which is immaterial jhana.

We can see the further Buddhism moved away from India, how many of the Zen & Mahayana schools seem to emphasise non-thinking as enlightenment, which sounds like more immaterial jhana. This is a natural tendency rather than a deliberate self-mortification practise.

That Buddha did not get stuck in states of non-thinking (jhana) in his search is what made him unique. :deciduous_tree:

Probably referring to the Bodhisatta learning meditation (specifically the formless abidings/liberations) from Uddaka Rāmaputta and Ālāra Kālāma (many believe them to have been Upaniṣadic Yogis). Self-torment would have been part of the Jain system, and possibly another very old form of yoga centered around tapas — the ascetics of such a tradition could provisionally be called tapasyins. Yoga is a word like dhamma/dharma, taking up several pages in the sanskrit dictionaries and having many many different meanings.