"Practice, Forms, and Signs" in Chinese Dhyāna Formulas

I’ve been collating all the instances of the dhyāna (P. jhāna) formulas that are found in Chinese sources to study the stability of Chinese translations as well as get a deeper understanding of the formulas themselves wherever possible.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that the Sarvāstivādins seemed to have developed an addition to the formulas, a kind of technical proviso of sorts. It occurs in both the Madhyama and Saṃyukta Āgama. I’d first encountered it when I translated MĀ 176 and puzzled over exactly how to render it into English. Now, I’ve found it in SĀ 867 as well.

In MĀ 176 and 177, it reads like this:

復次,行禪者 所行、所相、所標, 離欲、離惡不善之法,有覺、有觀,離生喜、樂,得初禪成就遊。
Furthermore, the meditator, by their practices, appearances, and signs, are secluded from desire and secluded from bad and unskillful things. With vitarka and vicāra, that seclusion gives rise to joy and happiness, and they attain the first dhyāna.

This addition appears in front of the formulas of the four dhyānas as well as the four formless samādhis, so it seems to be related to meditative technique in general.

A parallel to this exists in SĀ 867, where only the second dhyāna formula is recited:

若比丘 如是行、如是形、如是相 ,息有覺有觀,內淨一心,無覺無觀,定生喜樂,第二禪具足住。
If a monk’s practice is thus, his form is thus, and his signs are thus, he stops having vitarka and vicāra. With inner purity and unified mind and no vitarka or vicāra, that samādhi gives rise to joy and happiness, and he attains the second dhyāna.

I’m curious whether anyone in Theravāda world knows of similar passages or ideas in Pali sources. My impression has been that this in peculiar to Sarvāstivādins but finding it in SĀ has made me wonder if it’s something obscure that exists in other traditions.


Would be referring to the Counterpart Sign, Guarding the Sign, and Extension of the Sign described in the Vism. Ch.IV.

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Thanks, Paul. It seems to be the closest thing there is in Pali sources.

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Hello cdpatton ,

Both above are the same , it means the practice of samadhi, its state condition and its attainment .

There’s an explanation in the Yogacarabhumi about what the terms might’ve meant inside the Sarvastivada tradition, though it’s the only actual commentary I’ve found so far. I’m looking for Pali or other parallels that might correlate with it.

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