Question for Pali-knowers re: Kumāra Bhikkhu's translations

Hi Venerable, :wave: thanks for replying.

Pardon my ignorace, but I had to google what the AHD is. If I’m correct it’s the American Heritage Dictionary. But that’s an English dictionary, not a Pali one, so it can’t tell us what Pali terms mean. The definitions you’ve given don’t agree with Pali dictionaries like the Critical Pali Dictionary (CPD), Cone’s Dictionary of Pali (DOP), and Rhys-Davids’ Pali-English Dictionary (PED).

Take the CPD for example, which says for kāma: “(mostly in sg.) wish, desire, […] (in pl.) the objects of sensual pleasure viz. rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba.” That is to say, the objects of the five senses: sights, sounds, etc. The most natural reading in kāmasaññā would be this plural of “objects” (because otherwise, if we interpret it as “desire”, why would the hindrance of sense desire be emphasized over the other four?) And in the jhana entry formula vivicceva kāmehi (“withdrawn from the kāmas”) we definitely have a plural, which I think the CPD correctly notes are the objects, not “the desires”.

As to limiting the meaning of saññā to recognition or memory, I think that does not agree, well, firstly with the PED which glosses it as ‘consciousness’ and ‘awareness’, but also not with suttas that say you can’t really distinguish consciousness (viññāṇa) from perception (saññā), because the two always go together (along with feeling, vedānā). (E.g. MN43) So going by this, if kāmasaññā ceases, “kāma-viññāṇa” (made-up word, but you get the idea) will cease as well. So I don’t think sañña means a memory-based recognition but just perception in the sense of awareness; at least in this case.

AN9.31, which says kāmasaññā ceases in the first jhana, also say that rupasaññā ceases in the first arupa, (and in the following arupas certain “saññās” of the respective previous arupa cease). I think we interpret the nature of these perceptions very differently, but putting that aside, I don’t see how this can be interpreted as a memory-based interpretation. Do we then forget about the rupa, even though it is still there? To me it simply means that rupa has gone, so you’re not aware of it anymore, you’re not perceiving it anymore. The perception of it has ceased.

Or take the following: “Furthermore, take a mendicant who, with the fading away of rapture, enters and remains in the third absorption. While a mendicant is in such a meditation, should perceptions (sañña) and attentions accompanied by rapture beset them, that’s an affliction for them.” (Sujato tl. AN9.34) I think the most natural reading is that when rapture fades away, you’re no longer aware of it. In other words, you don’t perceive it anymore. If perception (i.e. awareness) of rapture comes back, that’s an affliction because it essentially means you’re back in the second jhana. I don’t think this is about interpretation or memory. By analogy, kāmasaññā also means awareness of some specific thing, which I take to be the objects of the five senses, following the CPD’s interpretation quoted above.

So how do you understand the phrases “withdrawn/secluded from kāma” and “cessation of kāmasaññā”? Excuse me for not having read the entire draft. :slight_smile: I searched for it but couldn’t find it.

(PS. DN9 also has the cessation of kāmasaññā in the first jhāna. So far that’s 4 Pali suttas. Still unaware if any of these have parallels in other languages.)

Hey Giovanni. Good question. :+1:

First of all this reflection must happen outside of the attainment, because, as you point out, all agree there is no thinking there. So the thoughts that are mentioned can’t happen while you’re in the attainment. (Just like the passage I linked earlier.) But what the DN9 passage exactly means, admittedly is somewhat obscure to me, at least at the moment. It’s definitely a very non-standard way to describe the process, as you can attest by comparing to other suttas. Perhaps @brahmali has an idea?

But for now I think this might be the idea: Interestingly, the terms ceteti (“intend”) and abhisaṅkharoti (“choose” or “generate”) are elsewhere repeatedly connected to the rebirth process. (ceteti eg in SN12.38-40, abhisankaroti eg in SN12.51) Especially the latter, I don’t know a place where it ever describes meditation. So perhaps the passage talks not about what happens in a single meditation session, but about the general tendencies of the mind that need to be overcome. If you still intend towards existence in a form of awareness/perception, you can’t overcome it, you’re still attached. To move beyond, you need to let go of those intentions, i.e. you must become enlightened. And that seems to make some contextual sense because just a few lines later it talks about attaining “knowledge”, which I think we can be quite sure refers to enlightenment. Also, there is this “peak of perception as both one and many”, which may refer to the fact that enlightenment is also a peak of perception, not just deep meditation.

So in short, I think it’s not about meditation per se but about becoming enlightened. At least that’s what I think for now. :slight_smile:

Hello again also. :wave:

But in my interpretation whatever is described after the jhana can happen after it. For example, as I said above, the second jhana happens after the first, not during it. Yet we continually find the second jhana directly following the first. It means the first jhana has “ceased” and the second jhana is now “in effect”. We also have the passage shared above where there is thinking immediately follows the fourth jhana; but everybody agrees that thinking isn’t present inside the fourth jhana, so it must happen after.

Let me explain in a bit more linguistic detail, then. As @Sylvester explained in a post I linked to before, the phrase “upasampajja viharati” can denote that the jhana doesn’t continue into the following phrases. Although Ven Sujato translates it as “enters and remains in” more literally it says “dwells, having attained”. In other words, you could read it as “dwelling (in general) having attained the jhana”. Or Sylvester reads it as a periphrasis, which is to say the two verbs describe one idea, just like English “I am going to do” has three verbs but the idea is one. I tend to agree with that. The verb viharati often functions more like an auxiliary (“extra”) verb. So the idea of upasampajja viharati is that you have (recently) attained jhana, not necessarily that you are currently still in it (although you perhaps could).

Other readings are also grammatical possible, I won’t discount that, but as I see it you can’t do recollection of past lives inside jhana, so therefore those readings don’t make much pragmatic sense to me.

Hope that helps. :slight_smile:


Thank you for your reply Venerable :pray:

Yes, it’s quite puzzling to me too, however I think the same idea is also present in MN 111 where the Venerable Sāriputta lists intention (cetanā) as present in all Jhanas and formless attainments until the dimension of nothingness, exactly as DN 9 describes.

Ok Venerable, I think I solved the dilemma! (At least in my mind :sweat_smile:)

I did find one instance where abhisaṅkhāra is found in a meditative context, it’s MN 43 where it is said:

“Three conditions are necessary to remain in the signless release of the heart:
“Tayo kho, āvuso, paccayā animittāya cetovimuttiyā ṭhitiyā—

not focusing on any signs, focusing on the signless, and a previous determination.
sabbanimittānañca amanasikāro, animittāya ca dhātuyā manasikāro, pubbe ca abhisaṅkhāro.

So the term abhisaṅkhāra (which in DN 9 is used as a synonym for cetanā) seems to indicate the previously developed intention of the mind to stay with the object, not an intention that is formed while within the Jhana.

From this, it would follow that MN 111 that I mentioned above lists cetanā as a Jhana factor simply because (arguments for lateness aside) this “previously developed intention” is carried into the Jhanas, much like the “momentum” that Ajahn Brahm says it’s needed to transitions through the Jhanas.

Even though there is no vitakka-vicāra to direct and sustain the mind at will while inside the Jhana (2nd onwards), the original intention of the mind is still present, which is what assures its internal clarity and confidence (ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ).
When this original intention runs out, the mind reverts to coarser perceptions and the Jhana is lost.

Incidentally, this is exactly the usage of the same term, abhisaṅkhāra, in AN 3.15:

Then the chariot-maker rolled forth the wheel that had been finished in six days.
Atha kho, bhikkhave, rathakāro yaṁ taṁ cakkaṁ chahi divasehi niṭṭhitaṁ taṁ pavattesi.

It rolled as far as the original impetus took it, then wobbled and fell down.
Taṁ pavattitaṁ samānaṁ yāvatikā abhisaṅkhārassa gati tāvatikaṁ gantvā ciṅgulāyitvā bhūmiyaṁ papati.

Again, in a meditative context this “original impetus” that’s needed in order to enter cessation is confirmed in MN 44:

“A mendicant who is entering such an attainment does not think:
“Na kho, āvuso visākha, saññā­ve­dayi­tani­r­odhaṁ samāpajjantassa bhikkhuno evaṁ hoti:

‘I will enter the cessation of perception and feeling’ or ‘I am entering the cessation of perception and feeling’ or ‘I have entered the cessation of perception and feeling.’
‘ahaṁ saññā­ve­dayi­tani­r­odhaṁ samāpajjissan’ti vā, ‘ahaṁ saññā­ve­dayi­tani­r­odhaṁ samāpajjāmī’ti vā, ‘ahaṁ saññā­ve­dayi­tani­r­odhaṁ samāpanno’ti vā.

Rather, their mind has been previously developed so as to lead to such a state.”
Atha khvāssa pubbeva tathā cittaṁ bhāvitaṁ hoti yaṁ taṁ tathattāya upanetī”ti.

So going back to DN 9, it now seems that what it is saying is that the mind needs to be previously developed so that upon reaching the “peak of perception” (the dimension of nothingness), it lets go of the intention to sustain the object (in this case, nothingness) but without forming a new intention which, as the sutta points out, would result in coarser perceptions and throw the meditator out of Jhana.
Instead, if the mind has been previously developed properly it will let go of the original intention without forming any new intentions and therefore enter cessation.

What do you think?

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Happy you solved for yourself. :smiley: :sweat_smile: I’m still confused. :wink: It’s definitely an interpretation that I should look at more closely. It might indeed have something to do with an intention you set before jhanas. I think there’s some hints to that in the suttas, but I never found it very explicitly. So maybe this is.

Though it doesn’t work so well (imo) with this somewhat sudden mention of “knowledge” and this “peak of perception being one and many”. Anyway, this DN9 passage may deserve its own thread if it doesn’t already. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

(Good finds on some of the references, by the way.)

MN111 is also interesting. :smiley: By mentioning ‘intention’ “in” jhana it indeed doesn’t really help the case for the kind of jhanas I support, at least not on the surface. But with some flexible reading it still works.

When it comes to the word intention and some other factors, the locative case could perhaps be interpreted, instead of as a locative of place (“intention in jhana”), as locative of reference (“intention with regards to jhana”). I.e. intentions about or concerning jhanic states but not inside of them, for example the intention to be reborn in a jhana realm. Admittedly, it’s a tad awkward, but I don’t think this is totally impossible. It would work with your ideas about DN9, and also with my earlier suggestion.

Alternatively, while the factors are repeated for contemplation after every state, perhaps they aren’t implied to actually be present in every state. The sutta mentions equanimity in the first and second jhāna, for example, which is awkward, because equanimity is usually reserved for the later jhanas (where equanimity is erroneously mentioned twice in the list). So when Sariputta would have contemplated the equanimity after the first jhana, his conclusion would be “it didn’t arise”. Similarly, when he contemplated intention after coming out of the second or later jhanas, his conclusion would be “it went away” in the transition from first to second jhana.

But those may be unnecessarily complicated interpretations, because for a variety of very good reasons this sutta is generally regarded as a later text. So if we’re just interested in what the Buddha had in mind, it can quite comfortably be disregarded.


By the way, earlier I called the opposition of “Visuddhimagga jhanas” versus “sutta jhanas” “a bit of a straw man”. I realize that’s quite an accusation. :blush: So I’d like to clarify one reason why I said this.

By calling the deeper jhanas “Visuddhimagga jhanas” it creates the image that these are quite late ideas, conjured up in Sri Lanka :sri_lanka: many centuries after the Buddha. But the idea of absorption where the senses disappear goes back way before the Visuddhimagga. Putting aside the suttas, the Abhidhamma unambiguously supports it in the Katthavatthu, which was written after the third council, around the time of Ashoka. In it, the Theravada unambiguously denied that in jhana you can perceive any of the senses (Kv18.8) and that jhanas are not sequential states (Kv18.6). The Abhidhamma Vibhanga, which is even earlier—parts of it perhaps even earlier than parts of the suttas—also describes the sukha of jhanas to be mental experiences, not bodily. (Vb12) I’m not saying that the Theravada is always correct, of course, (or consistent for that matter) but it does show that absorptive ideas are not from around 500CE, when the Visuddhimagga was written, but from at least 800 years earlier.

Now, in the Katthavatthu according to Buddhaghosa it was the Pubbaseliyans who argued that you could hear sounds in jhana, so better labels may be “Theravada jhana” and “Pubbaseliya jhana”. Though that still doesn’t quite work, because at least the Pubbaseliyans still believed in jhana you couldn’t feel your body. And they seem to have still believed jhanas were specific states of mind. Now in various current interpretations we’ve also lost those ideas, and ‘jhana’ has just become general ‘meditation’.

The tendency of the Pubbaseliyans is of course a human one. :slightly_smiling_face: When something is difficult to attain, people tend to lower the bar and make it easier. You see this in all walks of life, not just meditation. But it’s not usual for people do the opposite: to raise their bar, make things more difficult for themselves. So though theoretically not impossible, I don’t think it’s very natural to suggest it was the Theravadins who deviated from the Buddha’s teachings by making things more difficult to attain.

Either way, let’s get rid of these unhelpful labels “Visuddhimagga jhana” and “sutta jhana”.


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Much is possible with flexible reading.

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Hi Venerable, :upside_down_face:

Sure, I don’t disagree. But here in MN111 I think some extra flexibility is warranted, because the text is regarded as late. Perhaps I should have just left it at that: the fact that MN111 is quite clearly not spoken by the Buddha (at least the list of jhana factors which includes “intention”). So let me clarify that for everybody, because it quickly becomes quite obvious:

  • the list is not mentioned anywhere else in the suttas,
  • it’s very Abhidhammic in nature (see E.g. Ds 2.1.7 which also lists the first five terms),
  • ‘equanimity’ is mentioned twice for the fourth jhana, a mistake by later addition,
  • most obvious to me, the ca (“and”) is repeated for the more more standard factors but not for the Abhidhammic factors. Let’s take the third jhana: sukhañca sati ca sampajaññañca cittekaggatā ca, phasso vedanā saññā cetanā cittaṁ chando adhimokkho vīriyaṁ sati upekkhā manasikāro … “bliss and mindfulness and awareness and unification of mind; contact, feeling, perception, intention, mind, enthusiasm, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, attention …”
  • the text has no parallel in any other language,
  • and more.

But instead of just disregarding a sutta as late and stopping there, I always try to see if the text can still somehow work. I think in this case it does, but not when reading it rigidly as “intention must exist in the second jhana”, as I explained before it doesn’t rhyme with some other suttas. So I think there are other ways to read it. Perhaps you could reply to those, and to my earlier questions?


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Just a quibble … it’s in Buddhaghosa’s Kathāvatthu commentary that the debated views are assigned to particular schools. In the Kathāvatthu itself the debaters are identified merely as sakavādī (“one of our own doctrine”) and paravādī (“one of another doctrine”).

Now if Warder is right in identifying the Pubbaseliyas / Pūrvaśailas as a late (in fact the very last) of the post-Aśokan Mahāsamghika schools, then there would seem to be two possibilities:

  1. There wasn’t any debate about hearing sound in jhāna at the time of composition of the ur-Kathāvatthu; the Saddaṃsuṇātītikathā is just one of the many late additions to the text. Or…

  2. The matter was debated but with the paravādin view being merely that of some individual or other, not a whole school.

I’m inclined to favour the first possibility, based mainly on the placement of the Saddaṃsuṇātītikathā in Book 18, where all of the debates seem to reflect rather late preoccupations.

Better still, assuming that no one but the Pubbaseliyas / Pūrvaśailas held this view:
“Jhāna of mainstream Indian Buddhism” vs “Jhāna as conceived by a late and obscure conventicle called the Pūrvaśailas — long-forgotten until their their error came to be revived in the 21st century”.


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The Sautrāntika also argued for this, their views informing much of Yogācāra and the Dhyāna sutras. In the Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra Harivarman states that the majority of masters were of the opinion that the 5 senses aren’t experienced when in Jhāna. Naturally this means that some were of the opinion that you could. Who these masters are is never mentioned, sadly. However, even amongst those who accepted absorption not all of them agreed on where it starts. For the Sarvāstivādins and Harivarman the 5 senses are experienced in the 1st but not the 2nd, 3rd or 4th.


Thanks Bhante! :slightly_smiling_face: I’ve edited my original post.

Your names for the jhanas just roll off the tongue. :rofl:

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Can you please provide supporting quotes for the two claims about the Tattvasiddhi-Sastra you’ve made here?
Those claims are:

  1. In the Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra Harivarman states that the majority of masters were of the opinion that the 5 senses aren’t experienced when in Jhāna.
  2. For the Sarvāstivādins and Harivarman the 5 senses are experienced in the 1st but not the 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

I found the section I think you’re referencing pretty ambiguous and confusing myself, perhaps that’s due to the translation. Let’s see if we are thinking of the same place.

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Nah. I’ve seen the way you ‘discuss’ enough to know not to.

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Not sure what I did to discourage you; :confused: I was genuinely interested. But OK, Venerable! Be well. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

  1. In the Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra Harivarman states that the majority of masters were of the opinion that the 5 senses aren’t experienced when in Jhāna.

My apologies on this one. I was getting confused with Sthiramati and Kuiji

According to the Cheng weishi lun 成唯識論, the position of the Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā is in terms of “majority” to state that the five sensory consciousnesses do not occur while one is in a meditative attainment.215 Kuiji explains that the “majority” signifies “most people” who maintain that the five sensory consciousnesses do not work while they are in a meditative attainment, and “most sensory consciousnesses” do not act when śrāvakas (hearers) and pratyekabuddhas (selfrealizers) are in a meditative attainment.216 According to Kuiji, when śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas attain and abide in a meditative attainment, only ear-consciousness can arise, not the other four sensory consciousnesses. In contrast, all five sensory consciousnesses can arise when Bodhisattvas are in a meditative attainment.217 Kuiji‟s explanation that śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are only aware of sounds while in a meditative attainment seems incorrect, but his indication that most meditators do not experience the five sensory objects when in a meditative attainment seems to reflect the mainstream opinion of early Buddhist schools on this issue

Issues in Śamatha and Vipaśyanā: A Comparative Study of Buddhist Meditation

  1. For the Sarvāstivādins and Harivarman the 5 senses are experienced in the 1st but not the 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

From the same work

In the Mahāvibhāṣā, vitarka and vicāra are not the condition for the arising of the displeasure faculty, but the arising of the pain faculty.317 This treatise explains that the cessation of the pain faculty occurs through the stilling of vitarka and vicāra in the second dhyāna, because wise people have perception of suffering in relation to vitarka and vicāra.318 For wise people, the presence of vitarka and vicāra gives rise to perception of suffering, and thus the pain faculty or bodily pain ceases without remainder when vitarka and vicāra have been abandoned in the second dhyāna. With regard to the cessation of the pain faculty, this treatise also expounds that the pain faculty arises dependent on sensory consciousnesses, and in the first dhyāna plane, sensory consciousnesses are still present; hence the pain faculty does not cease while one is in the first dhyāna.319

Issues in Śamatha and Vipaśyanā: A Comparative Study of Buddhist Meditation

The Sarvāstivādin position then is quite complicated, if not contradictory at times. It seems for them the 5 senses do not occur when in Jhāna yet one is aware of the body.

Dharmatrāta, in his Saṃyuktābhidharmahṛdayaśāstra, says that one discerns the
entire body like a bamboo tube, and the breath flows throughout the body like a thread
through a pearl, and at that time body-consciousness does not arise while one is in
dhyāna.486 Yet, Dharmatrāta adds that some meditators suggest that body-consciousness can occur when the breath flows throughout the whole body within dhyāna.487 In
addition, even though the Mahāvibhāṣā suggests that one employs perception of the
breath as the meditation object while in dhyāna, this treatise also records the statement of
Vasumitra, a Sarvāstivāda scholar monk, thus: when one breathes in and out experiencing
the whole body, one can still remain in dhyāna because of the employment of upāya.488
These two cases illustrate that some Sarvāstivādins maintain that awareness of the body
and awareness of the breath can occur while one is in dhyāna, and thus breath sensations
can be used as meditation object before and while one is in dhyāna.

In a way this shouldn’t be surprising though. There is not one singular Sarvāstivādin interpretation. There are many trends of thought under the umbrella of “Sarvāstivāda”. We see this for example in their debates regarding the nature of the tri-temporal existence of the dharmas

The Venerable Dharmatrāta says that there is change in mode of being (bhāva- anyathātva). The Venerable Ghoṣaka says that there is change in characteristic (lakṣaṇa-anyathātva). The Venerable Vasumitra says that there is change in state (avasthā-anyathātva). The Venerable Buddhadeva says that there is change in [temporal] relativity (anyathā-anyathātva).

[1] The advocate of “change in mode of being” asserts that when dharmas operate (pra-√vṛt) in time, they change on account of their modes of existence/being (bhāva); there is no change in substance. This is like the case of breaking up a golden vessel to produce another thing—there is just a change in shape, not in varṇa- rūpa. It is also like milk, etc., turning into curds, etc.—just the taste, digestibility, etc., are given up, not the varṇa-rūpa. Similarly, when dharmas enter into the present from the future, although they give up their future mode of existence and acquire their present mode of existence, they neither lose nor acquire their substantial essence (AKB: dravya-bhāva). Likewise, when they enter the past from the present, although they give up the present mode of existence and acquire the past mode of existence, they neither give up nor acquire their substantial nature.

[2] The advocate of “change in characteristic” asserts that when dharmas operate in time, they change on account of characteristic (lakṣaṇa); there is no change in substance. A dharma in each of the temporal periods has three temporal characteristics; when one [temporal] characteristic is conjoined, the other two are not severed. This is like the case of a man being attached to one particular woman— he is not said to be detached from other women. Similarly, when dharmas abide in the past, they are being conjoined with the past characteristic but are not said to be severed from the characteristics of the other two temporal characteristics. When they abide in the future, they are being conjoined with the future characteristic but are not said to be severed from the characteristics of the other two temporal characteristics. When they abide in the present, they are being conjoined with the present characteristic, but are not said to be severed from the characteristics of the other two temporal characteristics.

[3] The advocate of “change in state” asserts that when dharmas operate in time, they change on account of state (avasthā); there is no change in substance. This is like the case of moving a token [into different positions]. When placed in the position (avasthā) of ones, it is signified as one; placed in the position of tens, ten; placed in the position of hundreds, hundred. While there is change in the positions into which it is moved, there is no change in its substance. Similarly, when dharmas pass through the three temporal states, although they acquire three different names, they do not change in substance. In the theory proposed by this master, there is no confusion as regards substance, for the three periods are differentiated on the basis of activity (kāritra).

[4] The advocate of “change in [temporal] relativity” asserts that when dharmas operate in time, they are predicated differently [as future, present, or past], relative to that which precedes and that which follows (cf. AKB: pūrvāparam apekṣyānyo’nya ucyate avasthāntarato na dravyāntarataḥ); there is no change in substance. This is like the case of one and the same woman who is called “daughter” relative to her mother, and “mother” relative to her daughter. Similarly, dharmas are called “past” relative to the succeeding ones, “future” relative to the preceding ones, “present” relative to both.

Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma by Dhammajoti

For the Sarvāstivādins then there is a trend of thought which claims the 5 senses are not present in Jhāna, yet there is some kind of bodily experience. We see the same kind of ideas repeated in the Yogācāra tradition which of course was Sarvāstivādin/Sautrāntika influenced

Sthiramati, in his Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā, explains that the five sensory consciousnesses do not occur while one is in dhyāna, but it is ālaya-consciousness that sustains the body to experience bodily pleasure. 435 Vasubandhu and Asvabhāva, in their respective commentaries on Asaṅga‟s Mahāyānasaṃgraha, also indicate that the five sensory consciousnesses are not present while one is in dhyāna, but that mind-consciousness depends on the body to experience bodily pleasure through similar body-contact.436 Their discussion of bodily feeling is based on the position of six consciousnesses, not eight consciousnesses.

Issues in Śamatha and Vipaśyanā: A Comparative Study of Buddhist Meditation

Here the 5 senses do not occur whilst in Jhāna but one can be aware of the body, but this bodily experience is not from body-consciousness but rather the ālāyavijñāna. I suppose the idea is that it is some kind of mental reflection of the body.

On a separate note, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra, and so the Yogācārins, argued that vitakka-vicāra are less to do with “initial and sustain attention” and more to do with thinking and pondering thoughts connected with renunciation, harmlessness and non-ill will.

According to the Yogācārabhūmi, vitarka and vicāra, the two dhyāna factors, are skillful thoughts or wholesome intentions which enable a meditator to abandon sensuality and the unwholesome qualities that belong to the sense-sphere realm (kāmadhātu).244 Asaṅga, in his Prakaraṇāryavācaśāstra, clearly points out that these two dhyāna factors are skillful thoughts connected with renunciation, non-ill will, and non-cruelty.245 Sthiramati, in his Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā, also says that the function of these two dhyāna factors is for one to abandon unskillful thoughts connected with sensual desire, ill will, and cruelty, giving rise to rapture (prīti/pīti) and pleasure (sukha).246 In this context, vitarka and vicāra signify skillful thoughts connected with renunciation, non-ill will, and non-cruelty, which enable a meditator to withdraw from sensual pleasures and unwholesome states, so as to enter the first dhyāna. After one attains the first dhyāna, vitarka and vicāra still act as skillful thoughts which steady the mind in this dhyāna. Then it is said that one enters the second dhyāna through the stilling of vitarka and vicāra.247…Sthiramati, in his Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā points out that vitarka and vicāra abandon thoughts connected with sensual desire, ill will, and cruelty pertaining to the sense-sphere realm (kāmadhātu), and give rise to rapture and pleasure in the first dhyāna. Inner clarity stills the agitation of vitarka and vicāra, leading to refined rapture and pleasure in the second dhyāna

Issues in Śamatha and Vipaśyanā: A Comparative Study of Buddhist Meditation

This of course accords well with suttas such as MN 19, MN 20 and MN 78 and their parallels. Personally I think this is a rather convincing interpretation. Either way, getting back to the topic it seems that what is derogatorily called “Jhāna-lite” is hardly modern. It has a long history, outside of the Pūrvaśailas.

I hope some of that was helpful. I’ve also attached a screen shot of where in the Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra Harivarman talks about 5 sensory consciousness occurring in the 1st Jhāna only.


Well, why would the Nigantha Nataputta think that stopping «initial and sustained attention» or to stop «placing the mind and keeping it connected» is impossible? That seems to be quite simple. Anyone can stop sustaining one’s attention. But can anyone stop thinking and pondering during meditation?

SN 41.8 (I quote Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation here, despite his usage of «concentration», because his translation of the disputed terms makes sense in this context, none of the others do without severe mental gymnastics):

He echanged greetings with Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, and when they had concluded their greetings and cordial talk, sat down to one side. Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta then said to him: “Householder, do you have faith in the ascetic Gotama when he says: ‘There is a concentration without thought and examination, there is a cessation of thought and examination’?

“In this matter, venerable sir, I do not go by faith in the Blessed One when he says: ‘There is a concentration without thought and examination, there is a cessation of thought and examination’.

When this was said, Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta looked up proudly towards his own retinue and said: “See sirs! How straightforward Citta is this Citta the householder! How honest and open! One who thinks that thought and examination can be stopped might imagine he could catch the wind in a net or arrest the current of the river Ganges with his own fist.”

“What do you think, venerable sir, which is superior: knowledge or faith?”

“Knowledge, householder, is superior to faith.”

“Well, venerable sir, to whatever extent I wish, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I enter and dwell in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. Then, to whatever extent I wish, with the subsiding of thought and examination, I enter and dwell in the second jhāna… Then, to whatever extent I wish, with the fading away as well of rapture… I enter and dwell in the third jhāna…. Then, to whatever extent I wish, with the abandoning of pleasure and pain… I enter and dwell in the fourth jhāna.

“Since I know and see this, venerable sir, in what other ascetic or brahmin need I place faith regarding the claim that there is a concentration without thought and examination, a cessation of thought and examination?”