Sensory experience in jhanas - selected quotes

““It is possible here that with the complete surmounting of perceptions of form, with the disappearance of perceptions of sensory impact, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, aware that ‘space is infinite,’ some bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of infinite space.
MN 8”

“Friend, what can be known by purified mind-consciousness released from the five faculties?”“Friend, by purified mind-consciousness released from the five faculties the base of infinite space can be known thus: ‘Space is infinite’; the base of infinite consciousness can be known thus: ‘Consciousness is infinite’; and the base of nothingness can be known thus: ‘There is nothing.′” MN 43

There is, bhikkhus, equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity; and there is equanimity that is unified, based on unity. “And what, bhikkhus, is equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity? There is equanimity regarding forms, sounds, odours, flavours, and tangibles. This, bhikkhus, is equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity.

“And what, bhikkhus, is equanimity that is unified, based on unity? There is equanimity regarding the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. This, bhikkhus, is equanimity that is unified, based on unity.20. “Here, bhikkhus, by depending and relying on equanimity that is unified, based on unity, abandon and surmount equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity. It is thus this is abandoned; it is thus this is surmounted. MN 137

Equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity is surmounted only by immaterial states not by jhanas.

(1) The eye itself as well as those forms will actually be present, and yet one will not experience that base.(2) The ear itself as well as those sounds will actually be present, and yet one will not experience that base. (3) The nose itself as well as those odors will actually be present, and yet one will not experience that base. (4) The tongue itself as well as those tastes will actually be present, and yet one will not experience that base. (5) The body itself as well as those tactile objects will actually be present, and yet one will not experience that base.”

When this was said, the Venerable Udāyī said this to the Venerable Ānanda: “Is it, friend Ānanda, while one is actually percipient or while one is non-percipient that one does not experience that base?”

“It is, friend, while one is actually percipient that one does not experience that base, not while one is non-percipient.”

“But, friend, of what is one percipient when one does not experience that base?”

“Here, friend, with the complete surmounting of perceptions of forms, with the passing away of perceptions of sensory impingement, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, [perceiving] ‘space is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the base of the infinity of space. When one is thus percipient one does not experience that base. (…) AN IX 37

This is an orthodox position which says that total absence of sensory experience occurs with immaterial attainments.

But even this orthodox position isn’t without ambiguity since there are Suttas which suggest that sensory experience ceases already in the fourth jhana.

“Sister, the arahants maintain that when the eye exists there is pleasure and pain, and when the eye does not exist there is no pleasure and pain. The arahants maintain that when the ear exists there is pleasure and pain, and when the ear does not exist there is no pleasure and pain….
SN 35: 133

And the definition of the forth jhana contains absence of pleasure and pain.

Another way of thinking that experience of the body should be absent already in the fourth jhana is based on cessation on bodily sankhara - in-and-out breathing.

So as usually things are complicated, but the only true controversial point about sensory experience in jhanas is “the fourth jhana or immaterial attainments?”

Otherwise Suttas are quite unabiguous and clear. But since things always are more complicated than they seem to be, it is quite possible that one can attain in meditation such states where senses doesn’t work. That’s great, and we can only congratulate such skillful meditators.

If they like, it is up to them call such states jhanas, but the quotes above say that whatever they attained, such states cannot be reconcile with descriptions as they are found in Suttas.

But of course it is merely scholary objection, after all absence of sensory contact is very pleasant and wholesome due to absence of sensual desire and one should enjoy it, without bodering about how such states should be named.


Since this thread is already here: What Jhana, if any, is feeling exstatic, almost like high on drugs?

People love to get high because of the effect of removing ordinary pressure/anxiety. So, as much as it would seem that something is added to the experience while high, it is really the removal that is euphoric. The mind is overwhelmed by the pleasure.

Samadhi is rooted in the joy of having trained the mind to be composed even amidst circumstances that once caused the mind to become obsessed and agitated. So there is knowledge of seclusion to whatever extent that samadhi has been developed. From that perspective, jhana - which is even broader - is far beyond what any drug could induce temporarily.


Piti is said to arise before jhana as well. For example, an5.26.

“‘Then the potter Ghaṭīkāra thought: “It is a gain for me, it is a great gain for me that the Blessed One Kassapa, accomplished and fully enlightened, has so much trust in me!” And rapture and happiness never left him for a half-month or his parents for a week. MN 82

In fact any factor of jhana could appear separately, so absence of thoughts is not a guarantee that one is in jhana. In practice to harmonize these two factors may turn out difficult since when mind is for certain reasons upset and compulsory thoughts appear, which is recognised as painful, it is easier to escape in no thinking state, mind knows that there is pain in thinking. On the other hand when piti factor is present mind is happy and usually finds some pleasant thoughts that give it more joy than just keeping quiet.

Expression “the feeling extatic” is acceptable, but perhaps it is better to avoid comparison with drugs.
So feeling extatic comes from experience of timelessnes, suspension of time. You can see that in Brahmajala, jhanas lead to wrong views formulated in terms: nibbana here and now, mind is settled on the present and doesn’t care about past and future. There could be various explantions for that, but such experience isn’t unique to jhanas, supposedly it appears before epilepsy - Dostoyevsky describe it (based on his own experience) in his books:

He fell to thinking, among other things, about his epileptic condition, that there was a stage in it just before the fit itself (if the fit occurred while he was awake), when suddenly, amidst the sadness, the darkness of soul, the pressure, his brain would momentarily catch fire, as it were, and all his life’s forces would be strained at once in an extraordinary impulse. The sense of life, of self-awareness, increased nearly tenfold in these moments, which flashed by like lightning. His mind, his heart were lit up with an extraordinary light; all his agitation, all his doubts, all his worries were as if placated at once, resolved in a sort of sublime tranquillity, filled with serene, harmonious joy, and hope, filled with reason and ultimate cause. But these moments, these glimpses were still only a presentiment of that ultimate second (never more than a second) from which the fit itself began. That second was, of course, unbearable. Reflecting on that moment afterwards, in a healthy state, he had often said to himself that all those flashes and glimpses of a higher self-sense and self-awareness, and therefore of the “highest being,” were nothing but an illness, a violation of the normal state, and if so, then this was not the highest being at all but, on the contrary, should be counted as the very lowest. And yet he finally arrived at an extremely paradoxical conclusion: “So what if it is an illness?” he finally decided. “Who cares that it’s an abnormal strain, if the result itself, if the moment of the sensation, remembered and examined in a healthy state, turns out to be the highest degree of harmony, beauty, gives a hitherto unheard-of and unknown feeling of fullness, measure, reconciliation, and an ecstatic, prayerful merging with the highest synthesis of life?” These vague expressions seemed quite comprehensible to him, though still too weak. That it was indeed “beauty and prayer,” that it was indeed “the highest synthesis of life,” he could not doubt, nor could he admit of any doubts. Was he dreaming some sort of abnormal and nonexistent visions at that moment, as from hashish, opium, or wine, which humiliate the reason and distort the soul? He could reason about it sensibly once his morbid state was over. Those moments were precisely only an extraordinary intensification of self-awareness— if there was a need to express this condition in a single word— self-awareness and at the same time a self-sense immediate in the highest degree. If in that second, that is, in the very last conscious moment before the fit, he had happened to succeed in saying clearly and consciously to himself: “Yes, for this moment one could give one’s whole life!”—then surely this moment in itself was worth a whole life.[67] However, he did not insist on the dialectical part of his reasoning: dullness, darkness of soul, idiocy stood before him as the clear consequence of these “highest moments.” Naturally, he was not about to argue in earnest. His reasoning, that is, his evaluation of this moment, undoubtedly contained an error, but all the same he was somewhat perplexed by the actuality of the sensation. What, in fact, was he to do with this actuality? Because it had happened, he had succeeded in saying to himself in that very second, that this second, in its boundless happiness, which he fully experienced, might perhaps be worth his whole life. “At that moment,” as he had once said to Rogozhin in Moscow, when they got together there, "at that moment I was somehow able to understand the extraordinary phrase that time shall be no more.[68]Probably," he had added, smiling, “it’s the same second in which the jug of water overturned by the epileptic Muhammad did not have time to spill, while he had time during the same second to survey all the dwellings of Allah.”

The Idiot

Polish writer Bobkowski experienced such atemporal states during war, and apart finding suspension of time pleasant, was genuinely puzzled by it:

But I’m not sure such blissful moments can be conveyed—you have to live through them to understand. All of this is possible in these circumstances, precisely these and none other. For example, during holidays or vacations in normal times each pleasant moment of vacation is poisoned, if only subconsciously, by the thought of what is waiting upon the return: you have to pay this or that bill, Mr. X is a swine, though you must keep on good terms, because “he can pull strings,” and so on. This entire burden of concerns under normal conditions, the burden of the future, has fallen away. There’s a war; I’m struggling to return to Paris; I haven’t the slightest idea what will happen tomorrow or a month from now, and I really don’t care. The future may turn out this way or that, but in any case, not as I might have imagined. So I don’t think about it at all—what’s too distant to be seen doesn’t count. This civilization may not be worth very much, but on most continents it has accomplished at least one great thing: the hardest way to die in our time is from hunger. If this too goes to the devil, then it’s all over. But no such danger for the moment, so I’m eating grapes. The NOW is what really counts, and one mustn’t be afraid to drain this NOW to the last drop, then toss it aside and figure out how to make the most of the next NOW. One thing alone gives me pause: it’s neither the Carpe diemof Horace nor Après nous le déluge. For the first you need peace and quiet, the second comes from boredom or fatigue. I don’t know.

Andrzej Bobkowski
Wartime Notebooks

In Dhamma, it is the task of yoniso manasikara to introduce timelessnes to ones one experience.

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Yes, even before jhana, e.g. if one falls out at some earlier stage (see e.g. MN128), the piti→tranquility→bliss can be by far the most pleasant experience one will have had in one’s entire life. A way to put it would be like, what if you could inject pure heroin directly into your mind, but better.

Nevertheless, having seen these debates go on for almost 10 years now, I’m not sure whether it makes any sense to keep the ball rolling with another post :cowboy_hat_face: