Practices leading to samādhi

Just now I discovered that this is a follow-up to Normal sequence leading to samādhi by @llt … We have a classic set of ‘meditation methods’, the satis (e.g. anapanassati, maranasati), the sannas (e.g. asubhasanna, aniccasanna), the brahmaviharas. But which practices actually lead to Samadhi? I was scanning the pali canon, choosing the term samādhiyati (a passive form, ‘samadhi-ied’). In most cases we have a stereotypical set where a practice conditions pāmojja/ pāmujja (delight), then pīti, then a calm body, then sukha and finally samādhi.
Surprisingly next to the four satipatthanas and anapanassati we find more frequently sila, faith and sense restraint leading to samādhi.

AN 3.95 Liberation of citta through mudita – mudita leads to pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

AN 11.15 One of the eleven benefits of metta is that citta develops samādhi quickly

AN 5.26 Hearing, teaching, reciting, investigating the Dhamma or dedication to a meditation object bring about pamujja/delight - leads to pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

AN 6.10 Recollection of the Tathagata, dhamma, sangha, sila, generosity, deities - dhammaveda/ dhamma-insight – pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

AN 10.2, AN 11.2 sila – non-regret – pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

AN 11.11 Recollection of the Tathagata, dhamma, sangha, sila, generosity, deities - pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

SN 35.97 Sense restraint – pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi. Dhammá become manifest.

SN 35.246 guarding the senses – citta becomes inwardly steady, settled, unified, and gets to samādhi

SN 42.13 restraint in body, speech, and mind - pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – dhamma-samādhi

SN 47.8 Satipatthana – samādhi ‘While he dwells contemplating the body in the body…, his mind becomes concentrated’

SN 47.10 satipatthana – mark of purity (passadanya nimitta) – pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

SN 54.13, SN 54.14, MN 118 anapanassati leading to samādhi

MN 7 Unwavering confidence in Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha – dhammaveda/ dhamma-insight – pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

MN 40 abandoning covetousness, ill-will, anger, resentment, contempt, insolence, envy, avarice, fraud, deceit, evil wishes, wrong view – seeing this purification - pamujja – pīti – tranquil body – sukha – samādhi

The term also appears in the digha nikaya, but more generic in matika-style, so I didn’t include it. All in all I totally agree with llt’s conclusion that this formula of pamujja… samādhi must have been a well known set since it’s used in all the four nikayas. Also, since pāmojja/ pāmujja seems to be a gateway to samādhi it’s a term worth more investigating.


Here are some different practices that bring about pāmojja and the five steps leading to samādhi…

  • SA 482: Cultivating separation from desires and unwholesome states
  • SA 615: Observing a manifestation of pure faith
  • SA 848: Knowing the Dharma
  • SA 849: Mindfulness of the Tathāgata
  • SA 850: Mindfulness of the Tathāgata
  • SA 855: Supreme wondrous detachment
  • SA 857: Separation from desires, joy in the Dharma
  • SA 916: Mind of not taking life
  • SA 931: Mindfulness of the Tathāgata
  • SA2 156: Mindfulness of the Tathāgata
  • T 1537: Mindfulness of the Tathāgata
  • SN 35.97: Protecting the senses, purity of mind
  • SN 42.13: Metta, not taking life
  • SN 47.10: Observing a manifestation of pure faith
  • SN 55.40: Supreme detachment
  • MN 7: Separation from impurity, joy in the Dharma
  • MN 40: Separation from impurity, joy in purity
  • DN 34: Joy in the Dharma
  • AN 3.95: Joy from the unity of monks
  • AN 5.26: Joy in the Dharma
  • AN 6.10: Mindfulness of the Tathāgata
  • AN 10.2: Virtue & non-regret
  • AN 11.1: Freedom from remorse
  • AN 11.2: Freedom from remorse
  • AN 11.11: Mindfulness, joy in the Dharma
  • Mil 3.7.7: Freedom from remorse

There are probably more, but these are the ones I have found that basically follow the five steps.


I find it difficult to come to a conclusion about this. One possibility is that the 5-steps-to-samadhi were a central piece of dhamma, an encouragement showing that the right path is feasible, that many practices lead to pāmojja and once that is attained one could trust a wholesome system on auto-pilot. In that case it would have been nice of course to have suttas stating exactly this “Be diligent bhikkhus, with diligence pāmojja … samadhi can be achieved. How? With X or Y or Z” We kind of have suttas like this, in AN 5.26, AN 6.10, AN 11.11 and MN 7. And they feature Buddha, dhamma, sangha.

Another possibility is that this set was more context specific, let’s say only applied to confidence in the dhamma and that with editing it was copied to other practices that made sense like sila, metta or mudita as well.

There might be other possibilities but right now I can’t think of any. Personally the first possibility would make the most sense to me, especially combining it with the jhana instructions: 1. somehow create sustainable delight in the mind (faith, sila, sense restraint, etc.), 2. then fill the body with it until there is no part left that is not covered by the pleasant sensation, 3. then master the conditions and the subtlety of the sensation until the samadhi of the second jhana.

That sounds reasonable and practical to me. The question then is: Why is this 5-steps-to-samadhi so not-popular, why is it not ‘a thing’?

Part of the reason I compiled that list was to look at as many instances of the sequence as possible. Basically they all revolve around one or both of the following:

  1. Separating oneself from desires and unwholesome states, as in the first step of the formula for the Four Dhyānas. Sometimes this is even described in terms of a distinct type of meditation of cultivating supreme separation, or supreme detachment.
  2. Cultivating something very pure and virtuous, and contemplating, observing, or being mindful of that. For example, mindfulness of the Tathāgata, or pure faith in the Dharma.

Sometimes it is #1, sometimes #2, and sometimes both. SA 615 is particularly interesting and clear about cultivating positive state based on observing a manifestation of pure faith, and from that developing joy, etc.

Now consider the Noble Eightfold Path, Seven Factors of Bodhi, and the Five Roots / Five Powers. These all clearly indicate that mindfulness leads to samādhi. But this sequence of five progressions does not say that explicitly. There is always some type of cultivation that precedes the first step.

SA 615 can clarify this a bit. In SA 615, it says someone may not be able to succeed with the Four Bases of Mindfulness because their mental state might be amiss. Instead of the Four Bases of Mindfulness, the sūtra instead recommends developing a manifestation of pure faith, and then observing that. From the gladness that results from observing purity of faith, there is joy, then pliancy, then bliss, then samādhi.

This sequence of five steps is not generally used with the Four Bases of Mindfulness, which are usually connected with the Seven Factors of Bodhi, as the first stage. Instead, other forms of cultivation such as Mindfulness of the Tathāgata are connected to samādhi with this generic formula of five steps.

Also, I just want to add that it is useful to compare these five steps to the other schemes used for describing the progression from mindfulness to samādhi. These are the Noble Eightfold Path, the Seven Factors of Bodhi, and the Five Roots / Five Powers. The connection between the five steps and the Seven Factors of Bodhi is especially close, as discourses containing these formulas often include: mindfulness, joy, pliancy, bliss, and samādhi. It may look like bliss is missing from the Seven Factors of Bodhi, but it is described in the sūtras as following pliancy, and leading to samādhi.

Hi Gabriel,

I think the reason is that so-called contemporary dhamma teachers nowadays - especially the sometimes very well remunerated and non-monastic ones - are so much concerned on coming up with their own meditation systems, retreat packages, etc as their “things” that they simply ignore this beautiful and natural gradual unfolding of the Path pointed by the Buddha.

I am used to see people boldly resist the 5-steps-to-samadhi as either an impossibility or even heresy, despite it being the clear and so much repeated instruction given by the Buddha in the Suttas. They just cannot accept that things like contentment, joy, glee, tranquility and happiness are actually presented as causes for samadhi …

It feels to me the reason for this is that it messes up completely with their "no-pain-no-gain-based view of life and spiritual practice!

All in all, they all believe so blindly in the so called meritocratic systems based on sacrifice that I wonder if the Jains and their purification through suffering could become a thing once again one day! Just hope to not be around when that becomes trendy! :grin:

In short, people tend to miss what actually made the Buddha’s Dhamma-vinaya so revolutionary.

The Blessed One re-opened this very unique path that requires renunciation but not sacrifice, and presents stillness and bliss born of contentment and simplicity as the silver bullet catalyst to samadhi-born vision and insight of the very suffering mode of existence we are all trapped in.

Nevertheless, this is truly their problem. Our duty is to put it to test, and of course, make sure we have a great time by doing so! :slight_smile:


It depends a bit on what you mean by this question, but one answer is that they all lead to samādhi, or at least they all lead in the direction of samādhi. Any practice you do should in principle lead to a reduction in defilements. With a reduction in defilements you can expect to see things more clearly (vipassanā) and you can expect greater calm (samatha). This is one reason why samatha and vipassanā always must go together – they have the same cause. As these factors deepen, you will eventually get to samādhi.

Well, one the main purposes of satipaṭṭhāna (which includes ānāpānassati) is to remove the remainder of the five hindrances. This just a sub-aspect of sīla and sense restraint.

I think the point is that all these practices have one crucial thing in common: they lead to a reduction or even elimination of the hindrances. And it is the reduction, and especially elimination, of defilements that allows the joy to arise. This seems to be clear from so many different perspectives: the Ānāpānassati Sutta, the seven factors of awakening, and even the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

How this works seems reasonably straightforward to me. Sīla means less anger and desire, which in turn means more mettā and contentment. You basically feel more happy and you are more mindful. Faith or confidence has a similar effect. That happiness and mindfulness is the glue you need to stay with a single object, and this is how samādhi becomes possible.

Would it not be because of the dominance of vipassanā meditation over recent decades? But the truth is that the happiness leads to samādhi system is gaining in popularity, such as with the Pa Auk system, the Thai forest tradition, or Ajahn Brahm.


This alternative way to samadhi was also not ‘a thing’ at the time of compilation - it doesn’t have a title (it could have been the ‘pāmojjasamadhipatha’ for example). And hence it doesn’t get direct cross-references. We can reference the bojjhangas without naming all of the angas, that makes a big difference for the ‘career’ of a concept. This might also be a reason why it’s not very popular today.

By chance I read a bit in Ajahn Chah’s ‘Collected Teachings’ today and found “Sila, beginning with the basic Five Precepts, is the all important parent to all good things. It is for removing all wrong from the mind, removing that which causes distress and agitation. When these basic things are gone, the mind will always be in a state of samadhi.” (Timeless Teachings)

Is the low position of faith in scholastic theravada an outcome of the competition with mahayana where faith gained such an important position? But really how much is faith in the triple gem worth without a solid (not scholarly) right view? If I don’t know the basics of the dhamma, to have faith in the Buddha is just having faith in an empty name, be it him, Rama, Amitabha, or Jesus. So some dhamma knowledge is necessary, and I think practitioners can agree that the faith grows with the development in practice.

I agree with @Gabriel_L that there is a ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude in meditation, especially because of the influence of zen in the west, because sitting is genuinely uncomfortable, and yes, also because of the asian lay community that won’t accept images of smiling meditation masters. Until recently theravada monks had to look terminator-determined and strict, not like they are enjoying the ride. So the question is still valid ‘Why are we afraid of that happiness that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’


so perhaps it never was meant to be a separate method but just a description of successive qualities engendered by any one clearly defined method of elimination and reduction of defilements and hindrances

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which is the quality of so many of our umbrella concepts :slight_smile: … the 8-fold path, the 7 bojjhangas, the 4 jhanas, the 4 arupas, the 16 stages of anapanassati, the gradual path.

Anyway, I wonder if the learned community here believes that this 5-step-samadhi is solid, or if there is any doubt about it’s authenticity. at least it is confirmed by the chinese texts. And if it is solid, does it change our conception of the meditation path? Can we for example say that the beginning of the meditation practice was supposed to be joyful - not just with jhana/samadhi but from the very beginning? Is this a message possible spreading in accord with the EBT - or would it be an oversimplification?
Asubha for example is not intuitively joyful. Thai teachers disagree and claim that it is indeed uplifting, which could mean that asubha would be a for a later meditation practice and not for beginners, i.e. post-samadhi. Are there believable instances in the suttas where young monks or lay people are taught maranasati, aniccasanna or asubha?

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i can see the joy in it, this is joy of viraga and nibbida born of understanding the anicca or the danger of sensual desires

but maybe asubha kammatthana is a method of gaining insight rather than tranquility and as such doesn’t necessarily presuppose joy

your list can be expanded with other two suttas depicting sequence of depending liberation starting with sila and leading through joy and concentration

AN 11.1, AN 11.2

what’s remarkable in this sequence is that knowledge & vision of things as they are, a prerequisite for disenchantment, comes after concentration, as if disenchantment were not possible without first going through concentration, but i’m not sure i can agree with it considering my understanding of disenchantment, as in my opinion it to some degree is achievable even with a modicum of contemplation on the main tenets without entering samadhi

[quote=“Gabriel, post:9, topic:3014”]
Asubha for example is not intuitively joyful. Thai teachers disagree and claim that it is indeed uplifting, which could mean that asubha would be a for a later meditation practice and not for beginners, i.e. post-samadhi. Are there believable instances in the suttas where young monks or lay people are taught maranasati, aniccasanna or asubha?[/quote]
Just chiming in with an anecdote, I started doing the body parts contemplation after reading some work of Bhante Sujato where he wrote that the body contemplation is in all the different versions of the satipatthana sutta (IIRC).

I find the body contemplation to be really nice and soothing. Like putting aloe vera on a sun burn. It can feel very uplifting.

Basically I agree that asubha can be uplifting, and I’m no where near the jhanas. I think it fits well with 5-step teaching.

Edit: Or more precisely I don’t think it contradicts the 5-step teaching.

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I really don’t think it should be. Be careful of the attakilamathanuyogo, “self-torment”. Unless you enjoy the meditation, you are unlikely to be able to sustain the practice. Find a posture that is reasonably comfortable; sitting on a chair is fine. You can of course alternate between postures. If, during meditation, the discomfort becomes distracting, then I would always suggest to change your posture. Meditation should be as delightful as possible. There are enough problems in life already.

To me this sequence appears to be as solid as any of the main teachings in the EBTs. Not only is it found in the Chinese, but the version found in the Madhyama Āgama is virtually identical with the Pali version. I always find this sort of thing astonishing, because these texts have probably been handed down independently of each other for almost 2,300 years.

Moreover, the sequence occurs frequently in the Pali, and sub-aspects of the sequence even more frequently. It is found in all four Nikāyas.

What we are seeing here is the importance of reading the suttas for oneself. Even if others have the best will in the world, they will give the suttas a certain slant, simply because of their character traits. Reading the suttas for oneself opens up new angles to the Dhamma that you otherwise might never become aware of. I have personally found so many inspiring messages in the suttas that I have never heard anywhere else. If I hadn’t read the suttas, I doubt I would ever have heard of these things.

Ideally it should be joyful, but it would foolish to expect this to be the case every time you sit. More importantly, the sequence tells us a lot about why the joy is missing. Basically it comes down to a lack of sīla, sīla being defined very broadly to include the defilements of the mind. Alternatively, you could say it comes down to a lack faith/confidence. But in my experience it is rare for people to have so much faith that they easily experience joy as a result, unless you are a stream-enterer, of course.

The purpose of asubha, when practised correctly, is to abandon sensual desire and attachment to the body. When desire is removed, contentment is the result, which is a crucial stepping-stone towards samādhi. However, asubha practise is difficult if you live in a relationship, because there will be a tension between seeing the body as beautiful and seeing it as devoid of beauty. Seeing it as beautiful will always win out, because it is much easier and seemingly more enjoyable. For people who live a celibate life, however, asubha may have a more natural part in the practise.

Maraṇassati is taught to everyone, see e.g. AN 5.57. Aniccaññā is very broad, and can be done in so many different ways, maraṇassati being one. But the deeper aspects of aniccaññā can only be practised after samādhi.


I found a study going over exactly this sequence:


MN 118 a bhikkhu develops the mindfulness enlightenment factor, which is supported by seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, and ripens in relinquishment (‘vossagga’).

SN 48.10 There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, making it his object to let go (‘vossagga’), attains concentration, attains singleness of mind. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana…


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How should those living a lay life in relationship meditate on the body then?

Personally, I’ve found 32-parts and asubha to be temporarily very effective but like you say the more attractive perception wins out. For now, I’ve abandoned these asubha practices for my current circumstances. So for my body meditations I tend towards non-EBT methods, yogic and tantric, moving awareness through the body like in śavayatra or yoga nidra.

You don’t have to do body meditation. Breath meditation, especially when combined with mettā, is sufficient to take you all the way to the end of the path.

You may find, however, that the breath meditation only goes so far. It is quite likely that this will be a result of attachment to the body or the senses. In such circumstances it may be helpful, especially if you are doing a retreat, to do a more neutral kind of body contemplation, such as the four elements.


Hi Ven. Brahmali,

Would you mind explaining how you practice breath meditation with metta? Thanks.

Here are a few different ways.

(1) Practice them as independent practices that nevertheless support each other.
(2) Do a bit of mettā before moving on to the breath, within the same meditation.
(3) Have mettā towards the breath. This latter method can be very useful. I like to see my breath as an old friend who has supported me my whole life. There is just you and your dear friend on this path towards samādhi together. Part of this is that you don’t try to control your best friend; you allow him to be exactly as he wants to be. This means your focus on the breath is feather-light, and you allow the breath to take whatever shape it wants. No will-power; no control. You are passenger on this amazing journey towards stillness. (Sorry, I had to use that word!)

And, of course, all three methods can be used in conjunction.


Thanks for the tips, Bhante.

What I sometimes do is practice metta with a phrase and with the breath concurrently. So for example, I’ll mentally recite “May all beings…” on the in-breath and “…be happy” on the out-breath, while basking in that feeling of metta and radiating it outward. The breath acts as a kind of metronome and helps keep extraneous thoughts away. What do you think of this?

For the record, I also do metta on its own (with or without a phrase) and anapanasati on its own.

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Why not? The real test is whether it works. If you are getting results, great. If there is a blockage, you need to investigate why.