Samādhi is both a gathering and a fire

@sujato @frankk Frank @SCMatt

in a loose sense I take the EBTs as the 4 nikayas, 6 early books of the Khuddaka, the Vinaya (except the Parivara), and corresponding texts in Chinese, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. This is the corpus that, on the whole, stems from the earliest perid

Thanks, that’s how I think of it as well with some texts within that being later than others.

MN 43 and MN 44 are often cited as examples of this sort

Interesting, I wasn’t aware of this. Any references? MN 44 happens to be one of my all-time favorite suttas so I’m always particularly interested it it :slight_smile:

“be-sorb, re-sorb, …” is Ven. Thanissaro’s translation.

yeah, my mistake, BB’s translation of the AN wasn’t even out yet when I read it

Did you find them?

He he, if I recall correctly, no, except for ‘resorbs’ which I knew as a medical term (e.g. the process of bone resorption) ! I do remember being puzzled.

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Indeed, this is one of the very few places where samadhi is referred to pre-jhana.

Of course, like all such unusual cases, it is a one-off sutta, not one of the hundreds of texts where the Buddha laid out clearly and explicitly his path to liberation, and in which jhana and samadhi are invariably equated. You can’t just take one saying and use it to throw out everything else the Buddha said on the subject.

But if we look at the text, I’m afraid it doesn’t support your interpretation. After describing the weak samadhi, it goes on to describe “proper” samadhi:

cittaṃ ajjhattaṃyeva santiṭṭhati sannisīdati ekodi hoti samādhiyati

This refers to jhana. That is to say, after the weak samadhi, which is mentioned only here, and which is never said to be part of the path or adequate for reaching awakening, the meditator reaches “real” samadhi aka jhana, which is the path (in AN 4.170 the exact phrase is followed with Tassa maggo sañjāyati), and which does lead to awakening (sakkhibhabbataṃ pāpuṇāti).

Such passages should be read for what they are: interesting expansions that shed new light on details that are not covered so explicitly in the main texts. They don’t replace the mainstream, explicit definitions of the path and path factors found in so many other places.

Forgive me, I don’t mean to be dismissive, because I know you’re only trying to understand the Dhamma. So I really am sorry to insist on this point. But I just can’t understand why people—and not just you by any means!—seem so intent on finding some new, radical meaning in the suttas. The texts that you’re talking about make up well under 1% of the texts on this topic in the suttas. The other 99% talk about samadhi as equivalent to jhana. By any standards, this is an astonishing degree of consistency.

It’s hardly surprising that in a teaching career spanning 45 years, the Buddha would occasionally use words in different ways. Maybe it’s just boring to say that, when the Buddha said that A=B again and again and again, he really just meant that A=B.

But I would not be so concerned with this point if I had not seen this and similar arguments used so very many times as a starting point which ends up very quickly by saying, you don’t need to get deep meditation, heck, just be mindful and you’ll be a stream-enterer in no time! I’m not saying this is your intent, just that it is something I have seen often.

For the record, I don’t go around classifying suttas as EBT and non-EBT. What I do is to look at particular texts and passages in context and see if there are any reasons for taking it to be authentic or not. Such judgments are not made on the basis of whether it agrees with my personal views, but on a wide range of textual criteria. Only if a number of independent criteria point in the same direction do I reach a conclusion with any degree of confidence.


Nothing off hand, but you should check Analayo’s essay on it.

thanks, I have that & will reread.

Hi Bhante

Thanks for the thoughtful posts. I guess you’d put AN 4.41 in the 1 percent? Have you written about that sutta?

No; here samādhi just means jhana. The operative term here is bhāvanā. In the suttas this means “development” in the sense of “making more of” something. It is literally a causative form from the root “to be”, which has the sense of making something bigger, more, or better, etc.

So the “development of samadhi” in this case doesn’t mean “how to get samadhi”. It means, “what do you do to take samadhi even further, where does it go from here, how do you grow it”.

These are four ways of taking samadhi further. The first is simply by repeating and reinforcing by practice your basic common-or-garden variety samādhi, i.e. the four jhanas. In such contexts we regularly find such phrases as āsevati, bhāveti bahulīkaroti (cultivates, develops, makes much of). I.e., do it again and again and you’ll get better at it.

The remaining three kinds of “development of samadhi” are not three things that replace samadhi. They are three meditative practices for someone who already has samadhi, and wants to go further, by developing psychic powers (2), improving mindfulness as a basis for insight (i.e. “bare awareness”) (3), and of course the insight into impermanence that leads to awakening (4).

And yes, I have written about this, in Swift Pair I believe.



Thanks for the clarification. That reading is not particularly apparent from the translations.

from AN 4.41 samadhi-bhavana sutta (b.bodhi trans.)

(3) “And what is the development of concentration that leads to
mindfulness and clear comprehension? Here, a bhikkhu knows feelings as
they arise, as they remain present, as they disappear; he knows
perceptions as they arise, as they remain present, as they disappear; he
knows thoughts as they arise, as they remain present, as they
disappear.720 This is the development of concentration that leads to mindfulness and clear comprehension.

this is similar to MN 111 anupada (one after another sutta) where sariputta is doing that while IN first jhana, second, third jhana, etc. and the smoking gun is that it’s only in the attainment of the na-sanna-na-asanna-ayatana (neither perception nor non perception dimension) and sanna-vedita-nirodha attainment that one has to emerge from that attainment to be able to reflect and examine what happened during the attainment

the same “sato and sampajanno” is part of the standard 3rd jhana formula.

also in AN 9.36 jhana sutta, one can do the same contemplations on the 5 aggregates and attain nibbana while IN jhana.

in the cook sutta SN 47.8 (a few posts above i quote pali/english and give detailed comments) satipatthana and samadhi are happening at the same time.

in MN 78, we have a detailed process of samadhi development, with a noticable omission of 1st jhana and skipping directly to 2nd jhana, but if you look carefully and make appropriate inferences, it’s making the same point as the goldsmith simile sutta (AN 3.102 ) regarding what kind of skillful thinking is happening while IN first jhana (basically vitakka synonymous with the 3 kinds of samma sankappo )

one of samma sankappo is abyapada, which any of the 4 brahmaviharas qualify under. the standard 4BV formula all include "vipulena, mahaggatena, a-byapajjena.

so it’s pretty safe to infer from this sutta MN 78 at the very least first jhana can be done at the same time as a brahma vihara

and in AN 8.63
all 4 brahmaviharas are explicitly referred to as types of samadhi.
same with 4 satipatthanas.

and here all of those 8 samadhis can be done with (b.bodhi trans.)" with thought and examination; you should develop it without thought but
with examination only; you should develop it without thought and
examination. You should develop it with rapture; you should develop it
without rapture; you should develop it accompanied by comfort; and you
should develop it accompanied by equanimity.

somewhere in sambojjhanga samyutta and in other places, 4 brahmaviharas are linked to 4 formless attainments.

i have no problem with the statement that in meditation contexts samadhi is always equivalent with jhana, but that’s because i understand jhana in a broader sense than ajahn brahm, using the occams razor straightforward reading of the suttas where vitakka and vicara mean thinking and evaluation, kaya means anatomical body.

so in third jhana standard formula, “sukhanca kayena patisamvediti”, sukha is experienced in anatomical body simultaneously while one is contemplating cause, rise, fall of the 5 aggregates with the "sato sampajanno part of standrd 3rd jhana formula) described in AN 4.41.

i don’t believe the goldsmith simile sutta (AN 3.100 ) is a one off situation saying something unusual from the 99% of the suttas. in the standard definition of first jhana and second jhana, it is only in second jhana where the specialized terms “ekodi-bhavan, samadhi-jam piti-sukham” first appear. standard first jhana formula is described as “vivekajam, piti-sukham”, effectively making the same point as AN 3.100 in a concise way: that is, first jhana is weak, the buddha won’t even deign to call it “samadhi”, you have to wait till vitakka and vicara to drop out in second jhana before its worthy of being called samadhi.

ajahn brahm’s definition of first jhana is that you can’t hear sounds, your body has disappeared, you can’t think until after you’ve emerged from that samadhi, contrary to AN 9.36 and MN 111 (and one or 2 more suttas) where only the 8th and 9th samadhi attainments requires emerging from.

I agree, it needs to be clearer. Let me see …

here’s another sutta that agrees with the AN 3.100 gold smith sutta about first jhana being weak:,

notice after 5 hindrances, there’s satipatthana practice, and then it skips directly to 2nd jhana, which means 1st jhana IS (or at least it can overlap if one has sufficient passadhi-bojjhanga) the satipatthana supressing the 5 hindrances.

MN 125 excerpt, b.bodhi trans.:

“Having thus abandoned these five hindrances, imperfections of the
mind that weaken wisdom, he abides contemplating the body as a body,
ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief
for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings…mind as
mind…mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful,
having put away covetousness and grief for the world.1176
as, Aggivessana, the elephant tamer plants a large post in the earth
and binds the forest elephant to it by the neck in order to subdue his
forest habits…and to inculcate in him habits congenial to human beings,
so these four foundations of mindfulness are the bindings for the mind
of the noble disciple in order to subdue his habits based on the
household life, to subdue his memories and intentions based on the
household life, to subdue his distress, fatigue, and fever based on the
household life, and in order that he may attain the true way and realise
the Tathāgata disciplines him further: ‘Come, bhikkhu, abide
contemplating the body as a body, but do not think thoughts of sensual
desire. Abide contemplating feelings as feelings…mind as
mind…mind-objects as mind-objects, but do not think thoughts of sensual
the stilling of applied and sustained thought, he enters upon and
abides in the second jhāna…the third jhāna…the fourth jhāna.


so along with AN 3.100, MN 78, MN 125,
there’s also the standard samma sati formula with the refrain that appears 4 times, once for each satipatthana:
“vineyya loke abhijja domanassam” / having abandoned (or one must abandon? grammar ambiguous) covetousness and grief regarding the world.

so that refrain is not just right effort doing its job, you’ve supressed covetousness and grief, and your thoughts are connected with dhamma you’re in the first jhana, or right at the entrance. all you have to do is just passambhayam kaya and citta sufficiently and you’re in first jhana.

and it makes it very clear what vitakka and vicara are doing in first jhana as it overlaps with 4 satipatthana.

In SA 197 the text speaks of the Buddha “entering fire-samādhi” (入火三昧). Googling “fire samādhi” reveals a host of various meditative practises and seemingly parahistorical references to this practise, ranging from vajrayāna esoteric visualization to tales of a supernormal ability to alter the body temperature, and even spontaneously combust.

I wonder if there is any relation. Is “fire samādhi” here a later addition? Is there any other EBT substantiation of something called fire-samādhi?

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Russian scientists studied the “tummo” practice of Tibetan yogis and found the physical mechanism behind the trick, nothing superhuman. If I remember correctly it’s just hyperoxygenation and a diet aimed at activating brown fat (adipose tissue). Wim Hof now teaches his own method which is also just hyperoxygenation. No mantras, no visualizations, no initiation, no deities.

Some of the accounts of fire samādhi were reasonable. Some involved the generation of physical flames out of the body, like in the miracle described in SA 197.



I’ve heard that the jayati/jhana sense relating to fire can be understood in terms of the slow, steady burn of, say, an oil lamp, rather than the flaming / blazing sense.

Frankly, that makes a lot of sense, empirically.

Well, yes, jhāyati is used a few times in the sense of an oil-lamp burning, where it is implied as a metaphor for meditation. But the root of the idea, I believe, stems back to the Vedas, specifically the Gayatri Mantra, where dhī refers to the rising sun which propels the mind towards awakening.


The image of the rising sun also has a sense of dawning steadiness and intensity that would make sense as a metaphor for entering absorption.

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samādhi, the fire that dispels the darkness of ignorance.

Great explanation

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