Polak's Reexamining Jhanas

Two relevant suttas that spring to mind are AN 9.34 and AN 9.42.

Both these describe the all the jhanas in a logical sequence: the first jhana teaches you that sensuality is suffering, and then second jhana and above teaches you that the previous jhana is suffering.

Just as pain arises as an affliction in a healthy person for his affliction, even so the attention to perceptions dealing with [the previous jhana] that beset the monk is an affliction for him.

Both sequences ultimately end with the cessation of perception and feeling, which has the consequence:

And, having seen [that] with discernment, his mental fermentations are completely ended.

This makes sense to me; there’s no level of consciousness that isn’t suffering compared to extinguishment (nibbana). Going through all the jhanas to cessation just spells that out for you crystal clear :slight_smile:


Thanks Erik. These might possibly be very relevant suttas for this thread.

I have never read those suttas before & the impression is these might possibly be the kinds of suttas that support Polak’s position because these suttas may appear alien to the primary Buddhist view about Nibbana, which defines Nibbana-with-residue (Iti 44) as the end of craving (SN 56.11) rather than the end of feeling sensation (vedana).

For me, the 3rd noble truth (about the cessation of craving) is crystal clear rather than AN 9.34 (which may sound like it is about the cessation of feeling sensations). This is because AN 9.34 might appear to be unacheivable on a permanent basis because life cannot be lived in Nirodha-Sampatti.

The thing about the jhanas is, if they were “suffering”, why do the suttas report the Buddha zoomed in & out of the various jhana, before passing away emerging from the 4th jhana? Why did not the Buddha pass away in Nirodha-Sampatti?

That above said, my impression is AN 9.34 is not as I described above nor as you interpreted it because the translation I am reading states: “he feels it as an affliction” rather than “it is an affliction”.

I would suggest the translation of “suffering” is questionable here. ‘Dukkha’ here probably could be better rendered as “unsatisfactory” rather than as “suffering”.

What appears to be described in AN 9.34 is the natural process of seeing unattractiveness or unsatisfactoriness in more coarse phenomena. For example, often beginner meditators start feeling long periods of calmness from watching breathing and then, unexpectedly, the mind breaks out in rapture and the meditators actually find the rapture disturbing & unattractive because it has an agitating quality compared to the prior tranquility.

In conclusion, to me, AN 9.34 is not comparing Nibbana to consciousness (vinnana), as you suggested, but comparing Nibbana various feeling sensations (vedana).

Please note: many suttas (eg. Ud 8.1) appear to state Nibbana-with-residue (Iti 44) is also a sense object (‘ayatana’) of consciousness.

For me, vedana (feelings) are not “suffering” because arahants experience vedana (feelings at sense contact; refer to Iti 44, MN 37 or the ending of MN 38). Instead, vedana are “unsatisfactory” as described in the 2nd sermon on the Three Characteristics, for which many translators use the term “unsatisfactory” rather than “suffering”. “Unsatisfactory” means they cannot be relied on to bring true happiness.

For me, AN 9.34 is a coarse (unrefined) sutta because I think the more lucid & authentic practitioner tastes Nibbana in experiencing non-attachment (viraga) rather than in experiencing more subtle feeling sensations (vedana).

I think the best Nibbana is not being attached to our personal interpretations of the suttas. :slight_smile:


I don’t think these suttas support Polak’s position. The way I see it, Nibbana-with-residue is simply the living arahant; a mind without craving (or taints, depending on what angle you look at it from).

Nibbana without residue is the arahant who has died. The cessation of feeling and perception - as far as I can tell - what Nibbana without residue “feels like”.

Which takes us back to start of AN 9.34; “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”

Ven. Udayin is asking how it is that nibbana without remainder is pleasant, how does that makes sense when you’re not actually there to feel anything?

Logically, the only way “feeling nothing” can be pleasant is if any kind of experience is ultimately suffering - which is what the first noble truth says: the five aggregates are suffering.

My take on it anyway :slight_smile:


MN 43 compares nirodha-sampatti to death.

It sounds like nothing is known/experienced in Nirodha Sampatti so how can Nibbana be compared to it? To me, it sounds like last paragraph of the sutta might refer to the experience of “taints utterly destroyed” as Nibbana rather than Nirodha Sampatti.

The first noble truth includes the word ‘upadana’ (‘grasping’) in it. At least SN 22.1 does not appear to regard the aggregates themselves as suffering. Also, SN 22.48 mentions two types of five aggregates, for which only the 2nd type is in the 1st noble truth as “suffering”. (The 1st type of aggregates are in the 2nd sermon for some translators as “unsatisfactory”.)

Good night from here. :koala:

Can you explain your thought process here? :slight_smile:

From SN 22.82:

[Regarding the five aggregates subject to clinging]

“Venerable sir, is that clinging the same as these five aggregates subject to clinging, or is the clinging something apart from the five aggregates subject to clinging?”

“Bhikkhus, that clinging is neither the same as these five aggregates subject to clinging, nor is the clinging something apart from the five aggregates subject to clinging. But rather, the desire and lust for them, that is the clinging there.”

So, the grasping or clinging part of the aggregates is the lust and desire for them. Why would anyone not have lust and desire for the five aggregates? Because they’re suffering.

If there were aggregates that weren’t suffering, then it would make sense to desire and lust after them; that’s the delusion behind craving, that there is something in this samsara that isn’t suffering. Why else would we stay here? :slight_smile:


Dear @Deeele and @Sylvester, your posts concerning hetu have been moved to a separate topic in order to maintain the organization of this (very long) thread:


Thanks Brenna.

Might I trouble you to change the title to Examining Hetu and Paccaya in Relation to Paṭiccasamuppāda. Jhana has no bearing on that discussion.



I’ll trawl through his book (gathering dust) but start with his critique based on MN 38 for a start.

The passage he’s relying on is -

With the abandoning of pleasure and pain…he enters upon and abides in the fourth jhāna…which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity. On seeing a form with the eye, he does not lust after it if it is pleasing; he does not dislike it if it is unpleasing. He abides with mindfulness of the body established, with an immeasurable mind, and he understands as it actually is the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. (ditto for the other 5 senses).

On the basis of this passage, he asserts that the verbs of seeing, hearing etc are contemporaneous with the jhanas.

And this is a prime example of those commentators who actually dive into a subject without any understanding of the grammar of the primary material. What value is there in an English translation, when the Pali material has a specific meaning that cannot be conveyed in English? I think K R Norman was correct to bemoan the existence of these “commentators” who are desperate to make something of academia, but without the requisite qualification.

What’s wrong with Polak’s analysis here? For this, we need to look at the Pali of the above passage -

Sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā, pubbeva somanas­sa­do­manas­sā­naṃ atthaṅgamā aduk­kha­ma­su­khaṃ upekkhā­sati­pāri­suddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
> So cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā piyarūpe rūpe na sārajjati, appiyarūpe rūpe na byāpajjati, upaṭṭhi­ta­kāyasati ca viharati appamāṇacetaso. Tañca cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti—yatthassa te pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhanti.

What I have bolded in the first sentence is to indicate periphrasis, where the auxillary verb viharati (dwells) is showing the durative aspect of the main verb upasampajja (having entered). In Pali, the durative periphrasis such as the above does not spill over into subsequent propositions, as viharati can only be auxillary to one verb alone.

If the Buddha had intended to indicate something else has intruded or participated in the periphrasis, the redactors had a very common idiom to express this, ie what Wijesekara calls the Instrumental of Time (bolded below) -

Vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharāmi. Tassa mayhaṃ, ānanda, iminā vihārena viharato kāmasahagatā sañ­ñāmana­sikārā samudācaranti.

Then, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
“As I remained there, I was beset with attention to perceptions dealing with sensuality.

AN 9.41

If Polak had been careful enough, he would have realised that this type of periphrasis cannot accommodate 2 actions concurrent with the auxillary verb viharati. Eg -

Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, sāriputto sabbaso neva­saññā­nā­sañ­ñāyata­naṃ samatikkamma saññā­ve­dayi­ta­nirodhaṃ upasampajja viharati. Paññāya cassa disvā āsavā parikkhīṇā honti.

MN 111

How can insight occur in an attainment bereft of perception?

Hi @Gabriel_L , might it be possible for you to indicate the page numbers for each of the propositions outlined in your first post? It will help me track down the propositions without having to trawl through everything.


I took it mostly from the Introduction chapter’s outline of the book’s message.

I think key sub-chapters for you to look at would be 1.2.2, 1.2.4 and 1.3.

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Thanks for that. Furthermore, the conclusion that the passage is after jhana seems quite clear, even without invoking Pali analysis, if the whole sutta where the passage comes from is examined: https://suttacentral.net/en/mn38/83

The jhana passage is the culmination of the gradual training (which presumably takes a while), and the

On seeing a form with the eye, he does not lust after it if it is pleasing; he does not dislike it if it is unpleasing

passage is his state after the training, which is in contrast to how he regarded objects before that training.

“On seeing a form with the eye, he lusts after it if it is pleasing; he dislikes it if it is unpleasing.


Moving on now to AN 11.9, which he treats as sharing the same theme as AN 11.10. In the former, what is impugned is the “perception of X with reference to X” (eg āpasmiṃ āposaññā), while the latter puts forth the injunction to “not attend to X” (na X manasi kareyya). Their equivalence looks about right. Polak then draws the conclusion “… achieving jhana with the support of the abovementioned qualities can also be seen as perceiving them, or directing the attention of one’s mind to them.”

Despite the use of saññā, I would suggest that saññā here does not bear its normal meaning of “perception”. Another sutta which runs through a similar (if more complete) list of dhammas than these AN 11 series would be MN 1, where the perception verb sañjānāti is used. I have argued against interpreting sañjānāti and saññā in MN 1 and MN 18 to have anything to do with the aggregate of perception. These usages point to “conceiving”, rather than “perceiving”. Some previous thoughts -


Bringing this to the Sandha Sutta, we can see that “perception” therein probably means -

for an excellent thoroughbred of a man the conceiving of earth with regard to earth has ceased to exist

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Another point from Polak (also popular among the rest of the banana-jhana camp) that needs to be put to bed once and for all, concerns the reading of junction of the 4th jhana pericope with the supernormal powers pericope.

In s.1.2.1, he discusses MN 36 and MN 85. At p.45, he makes this startling proposition -

In a heightened state of the fourth jhana, he was able to destroy the three asavas, and thus he gained the ultimate awakening and became a Buddha.

Doubtless, he is referring to this passage -

I entered upon and abided in the fourth jhāna…But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

“When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability,
I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives…
When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the destruction of the taints.

While the translation into English is serviceable, what the Pali says in the final para above is much more precise -

So evaṃ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe viga­tū­pak­kilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte āsavānaṃ khayañāṇāya cittaṃ abhininnāmesiṃ.

The italicised text is the main clause is describing the directing of the mind, while the bolded part is the subordinate clause describing the context.

Never mind my earlier observations about the periphrasis in the jhana pericopes that is invisible to readers unfamiliar with Pali. What I would like to point out here is that the subordinate clause is actually something known as a “locative absolute”, ie the substantive noun citta and all of the attendant participles samāhita, parisuddha etc are inflected in the locative case. But what sort of participles are these? They are all past participles, not present participles.

And this is where Polak slips up big time. Relying on a serviceable English translation, he asserts that the 3 superknowledges occur in the 4th jhana. Had he been familiar with Pali grammar, he would have realised that when the subordinate clause is a locative absolute consisting of past participles, the action in the subordinate clause takes place BEFORE the action in the main clause : Wijeysekara, s.183b.

I know Bhante Sujato dislikes Buddhist Hybrid English, but in this case, a precise rendering of the passage would have been more useful -

After my mind had been thus concentrated, purified, made pure, made unblemished, rid of imperfection, made malleable, made wieldy, made steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the destruction of the taints.

This is confirmed by AN 9.35 (but pls, not in Ven Thanissaro’s translation!) where the supernormal powers are exercised upon emerging from this or that attainment.

I’m definitely not sending my babies to the Marie Curie University, seeing how his PhD supervisors could have been so sloppy…


Polak isn’t following his intuition; he’s building upon older scholarship by Vetter, Bronkhorst and Gombrich, among others. The idea is that the suttas contain discrepancies, such as different ideas on the relation between rupa jhanas, arupa jhanas, and liberating insight.

At some places, the rupa jhanas result in liberation; at other places, the arupa jhanas; and at still other places, liberating insight is needed. The arupa jhanas resemble Vedic/Upanishadic practices, which aim at completely stilling the mind. The rupa jhanas, in contrast, do not aim at completely stilling the mind, but at heightening awareness, and of limiting the reactivity of the mind.

The problematic relation between jhana and insight has been noted as early as 1937, by La Vallee * Possin (1937), “Musila et Narada.” I already gave a reading list above; here’s a longer list:

  • La Vallee Possin (1937), Musila et Narada; reprinted in Gombrich (2006), How Buddhism Began, appendix
  • Erich Frauwallner (1953), Geschichte der indischen Philosophie, Band Der Buddha und der Jina (pp. 147-272)
  • Andre Bareau (1963), Recherches sur la biographiedu Buddha dans les Sutrapitaka et les Vinayapitaka anciens, Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient
  • Schmithausen, On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of ‘Liberating Insight’ and ‘Enlightenment’ in Early Buddhism. In: Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus (Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf), hrsg. von Klaus Bruhn und Albrecht Wezler, Wiesbaden 1981, 199-250.
  • Griffiths, Paul (1981), “Concentration or Insight; The Problematic of Theravada Buddhist Meditation-theory”, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion
  • K.R. Norman, Four Noble Truths
  • Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993) [1986], The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, chapter 8
  • Tilman Vetter (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, by Tilmann Vetter
  • Richard F. Gombrich (2006) [1996]. How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings . Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-19639-5., chapter four
  • Anderson, Carol (1999), Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon, Routledge
  • Alexander Wynne (2007), The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Routledge

Schmithausen’s essay is an absolute classic, but hard to find; Vetter, Bronkhorst and Gombrich can be found at the internet as pdf’s. Highly recommended reading!


Why raise this point of view when the following two phrases are quite similar, the only difference being an arahant having an ‘enlightened perception’?

Here, bhikkhus, an untaught ordinary person…perceives earth as earth. Having perceived earth as earth, he conceives himself as earth, he conceives himself in earth,

Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu who is an arahant…completely liberated through final knowledge, he too directly knows earth as earth. Having directly known earth as earth, he does not conceive himself as earth

Surely, the whole message of these passages is for the abandoning of the ‘self-conceit’ rather than for the abandoning of perception.

Hi Deeele

Did you read my post carefully about MN 1? This was what I said in the post I linked to -

In fact, the EA parallel to MN 1 uses a completely different verb for the same passage above. It says 彼觀, where MN 1 has sañjānāti, and 觀 where the Pali has abhijānāti (directly knows). Apparently, 彼觀 is paṭisaṅkhā (the absolutive “reflecting/considering”) or the present indicative paṭisankhāti. These are not perception simpliciter, but look like more complex and ruminative forms of interpretation, much like the sañjānāti in MN 139.

Hmm, I wonder why you’ve now deleted your post?

Thank you Sylvester. I deleted my post because I wanted to read more. I did not realise you were online. My apologies.

My initial view of AN 11.9 (reading it now for the 1st time ) is the term ‘perception’ remains valid and that the sutta is emphasising the thoroughbred does not meditate dependent on any kind of ‘yogic practise’ (per Polak’s general thesis) but meditates dependent on ‘non-attachment’ (which is similar to SN 48.10, which appears to state for reaching jhana the noble disciple makes ‘vossagga’ the meditation object; and MN 118, which describes a mindfulness with the quality of ‘vossagga’).

Whilst the thoroughbred may at times perceive ‘earth’ in ordinary activities, in meditation, the primary perception, I guess, would be impermanence, emptiness, non-attachment, Nibbana, etc.

As for the EA parallel to MN 1, I personally find the Pali MN 1 suitable for my needs thus have no issues with it since I interpret abandoning the self-conceit (in relation to any perception) as the core message of the Buddhas.

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Thanks for this Sylvester. Your points and analysis of the Pali are very helpful and informative. I truly appreciate it. :slight_smile:

Now, as a matter of feedback, I would like to suggest we avoid polarizing the conversation with dispensable labels like “banana-jhana camp”.

The reason for that is that it would be great to later on write to Polak himself and suggest he give a look to all this valuable feedback and constructive criticism we have been trying to gather through this topic.

I am sure that reading/hearing someone calling you a “banana” / or your work “sloppy” would make you less receptive of his/her still valuable opinion or contribution to your work. :confused:


Ah, that’s my clinging to bear, if I cannot bear being called a banana (which I’ve been accused of with justification).

Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean here. :confused:

I’m a VERY westernised Chinese, ie yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Thus the banana appellation.

You’ll have to take up with reservations about the “banana jhana” label with its originator. He’s here…:smile_cat:

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