Simile of Bath Powder & Losing Sense of Body

I’ve heard that when someone is in Jhana, his/her sense-consciousnesses shut down. He/she won’t hear anything, know if something external happens to their body, etc.

However, similes about bath powder, deep lake fed by spring water, etc seem to say that one knows his/her body when in Jhana. They are found in AN 5.28.

Does one know his/her body when in Jhana?


Hi Punna,

Threads on ‘the nature of jhana’ have a tendency to get heated and quarrelsome.

I think it’s because most of us are here mediators, so this topic can sometimes feel deeply personal, and it’s easy to get caught in up in defending one’s own preferences, and trying to attack and beat down opposing views that threaten our investment in a certain mode of practice / view.

On the flip side, we all benefit from a deeper understanding of this important topic.

So let’s keep this thread super harmonious and productive by remembering that we all win by gaining a deeper understanding regardless of our views on this. If you (‘you’ here referring to anyone posting in this thread) find yourself slipping into ‘fight or flight’-mode upon posting or reading, please consider taking a short break to do a bit of metta or breath (or something else) meditation :slight_smile: :heart:


There has more than one thread on this topic here in the past, e.g. see here. It’s complicated and IMO there’s scope for more than one viewpoint.

As alluded to above, jhana can be a fraught issue. There’s a saying that in polite company it’s best to avoid talk of sex, politics and religion (probably because things can get heated and contentious when conversation heads in that direction). I think there’s a sense in which jhana is the “sex, politics, and religion” of Buddhist discussion! :grin: IMO there’s a fair bit of fuzziness in the sutta details. There are various camps on most aspects of the topic. Be prepared for strong opinions!


Very tricky topic indeed
My approach is to take the words in suttas as they are and not force it against any specific contemporary mode of instruction
This means the words in suttas can inspire you to seek to witness for yourself this super nice states if immersion which consist of the factor of right immersion in the eightfold path without getting the usual analysis paralysis and thicket of views the topic tends to throw you into! :sweat_smile:
Hope this thread becomes a less troubled reference point for the discovery on the topic!


From Bhikkhu Bodhi’s DN2 and it’s commentaries translation.

What has always seemed confusing to me about the assertion that in first jhana one’s five senses no longer function is how then can one experience/feel rapture? In other words, if the meditator’s five senses and ability to feel are no longer functioning in first jhana, how does the meditator feel rapture in first jhana? How does the meditator saturate his body with rapture as described in the EBTs?

Is it possible that when some meditators describe first jhana as including a shutting down of the five senses, that they are actually describing a higher jhana?

Does anyone know where in the EBTs the Buddha describes the first jhana as the shutting down of the five senses?

Perhaps a good example of how this is not a simple matter is the story of the monk who had attained first jhana but thought he didn’t. Then, he proceeded to tell others he had attained jhana believing it to be a lie. And I think this occurred while the Buddha was still alive.

Does anyone know where this story comes from? Perhaps the vinaya? If it’s in the EBTs, this story demonstrates that it may not be so easy to clearly define exactly what the first jhana is like.

with metta,

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I’ve been researching samādhi and jhāna in the early discourses lately in an effort to set others’ interpretations aside and form my own impression of how these concepts were understood in Early Buddhism. I’m not arguing here for or against any specific interpretation but would like to share some of my evidence, as it relates to the OP. There are a couple of comments indicating my impression of the evidence, but that’s all it is – just my impression so far, open to adjustment.

The stock description of the jhānas given in the OP uses the word kāya for body. Some have interpreted this as meaning “body of mental factors” (i.e., the whole mind). There are indeed suttas where the Buddha used the word kāya in a way that can’t be interpreted as the physical body. For example, in the suttas from AN 9.43 to AN 9.61 he describes the kāyasakkhi , the “body witness” (Ven. Bodhi) or “personal witness” (Ven. Sujato), which is one who attains the four jhānas, the four formless states, and cessation of perception and feeling. For each of these nine states, it is said that the person

Yathā yathā ca tadāyatanaṃ tathā tathā naṃ kāyena phusitvā viharati .”

“He dwells having contacted that base with the body in whatever way [it is attained].” (Bodhi)

“They meditate directly experiencing that dimension in every way” (Sujato)

It seems clear from many suttas that one no longer experiences the physical body in the formless states (and certainly not in cessation), so kāya, in these suttas, can’t mean physical body.

On the other hand, the stock phrases describing the four jhānas and the similes referred to in the OP do seem, to me, to refer to physical experience.

Also, in MN 119 (Kāyagatāsati Sutta) the four jhānas are listed as one of the ways of developing mindfulness of the body, alongside the other methods, which are clearly concerned with the physical body.

As far as I’ve been able to find, here are the bits of sutta evidence that describe the first jhāna:

  • Secluded from sense pleasures (kāma)
  • Secluded from akusala states
  • With vitakka vicāra
  • With pīti sukha from seclusion (MN 4, et al)

  • Detachment/seclusion from attachments/possessions (upadhiviveka)
  • Complete calming of bodily disquiet (kāyaduṭṭhullānaṃ); this may refer to ‘body tranquil, untroubled’ in MN 4, and ‘body becomes calm’ in MN 7 and MN 40 (MN 64)

  • Makes the pīti sukha drench, steep, saturate, suffuse whole body; like skilled bath man sprinkles bath powder gradually with water, kneads it, soaks it (MN 39, DN 2)

  • 5 factors: vitakka, vicāra, pīti, sukha, ekaggatā (one-pointed, unscattered)
  • 5 factors abandoned: 5 hindrances (MN 43)

  • Vitakka vicāra that hasn’t ceased is the agitation there (MN 66)

  • When one attains the pīti sukha that is secluded from sensual pleasures and akusala states, or to something even more peaceful, hindrances, discontent, laziness don’t invade mind (MN 68)

  • Akusala thoughts/intentions (sankappa) cease, but kusala thoughts/intentions continue (MN 78)

  • Speech has ceased (SN 36.11)

  • Perceptions of sensuality (kāmasaññā) have ceased (AN 9.31)

  • Previous kāmasaññā cease; there is subtle/fine (sukhuma) and real/true (sacca) perception of pīti sukha born of seclusion (viveka) (DN 9)

I haven’t found any sutta that describes the body dropping away in the first jhāna. It seems to me that would be a significant change to one’s experience and would warrant mention.

However, descriptions of the first formless state (sphere of limitless space) do seem to be explicit about the body and senses dropping away, which may indicate that this is when it happens:

  • Completely passing beyond all perceptions of form (rūpasaññā)
  • Perceptions of sensory impact (paṭighasaññānaṃ) disappear (MN 25)

  • Rūpasaññā has ceased (SN 36.11, AN 9.31)

  • Previous perception (of rūpasaññā) ceases, one has subtle and real perception of sphere of limitless space (DN 9)

Since looking into samādhi and jhāna further, I’ve come to feel less certain that pīti is a physical phenomenon, as I used to interpret it, and may be referring to a primarily mental phenomenon. Here’s what has given me pause:

SN 46.52 describes two types of pīti: with vitakka vicāra and without vitakka vicāra. Since vitakka vicāra are mental, this suggests that pīti is mental too. In the same sutta, passaddhi (tranquility) is also of two types: physical and mental. If pīti were mental and physical, it presumably would have had the same division.

Also, pīti is one of the seven factors of awakening. It seems odd to me that a physical sensation should be a factor of awakening.

There are also several suttas that describe the causal sequence leading to samādhi that say “when the mind is full of/uplifted by pīti (pītimanassa)".

I like the word “delight” as the translation for pīti. For the pītisukha of the first and second jhānas, I’ve been interpreting it as the pleasure (sukha) — both physical and mental pleasure — derived from mental delight (pīti). In other words, “pīti” modifies “sukha” in the term “pītisukha” — it’s the sukha of pīti. This seems to be supported by MN 66, which refers to the upekkhāsukhaṃ (pleasure of equanimity) of the third jhāna, seeming to indicate the pleasure (sukha) derived from equanimity (upekkhā).


Because is brain-generated affect. So it’s not coming from external sense inputs. And remember, it’s only the 5 senses, not including the 6th (mind) which are shut off in jhāna.

An example of brain generated affect not in jhāna, is mettā practice. You deliberately generate that emotional affect if mettā. Similarly if you deliberately generate anger! And these are felt in the body. As are the affects generated by a brain in jhāna.


Perhaps referring to the pīti in 1st jhāna vs. pīti in 2nd jhāna.

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mn44: “Verbal processes cease first, then physical, then mental.”

Notice that placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes:

mn44: First you place the mind and keep it connected, then you break into speech. That’s why placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.

You ask about the body, which is physical. MN44 replies:

mn44: “Breathing is a physical process. Placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes. Perception and feeling are mental processes.”

That would mean that fourth jhana, with its cessation of breathing, is coincident with the cessation of physical processes. From that point onwards, into the formless meditations we are dealing with the stilling of mental processes.


By verbal processes, you mean vacīsaṅkhāra? I wonder if the English might be misleading, and whether the Pāli does not mean actual verbal processes, but rather processes which precede speech. The mind may require a certain kind of directioning as a prerequisite to forming speech, but that may not necessarily be conceptual in nature. For example, if someone jumps out at you, you may suddenly let out an expletive. It seems like it happens instantaneously, but of course there are some subtle processes of the mind which happen in sequence leading to that verbal expression. However, that’s not an internal ‘verbal thought’ process, like having conceptual thoughts.

So I wonder if the English ‘verbal processes’ might be misleading by translating the etymology of the Pāli too strictly. And that vacīsaṅkhāra may be or include process which is non-conceptual, regarding the directing and holding of the mind, which can precede speech generation, but can also be used without generating any concepts at all, such as in jhāna. I gave some reasoning for that in another thread I made… my reasoning starts here if you’re interested:


What I have found in the study of the suttas is that my own definitions of words have altered over time to incorporate meanings consistent with the reading of the suttas. It’s almost as if one could start with any definition whatsoever only to find that the EBTs reforge, clarify and extend those initial personal definitions and views. For me this has been one of the most amazing takeaways of sutta study.

dn29: But when they say, ‘Yes!
dn29: This is the only truth, other ideas are silly,’
dn29: I don’t acknowledge that.

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Ah yeah. You mean like when you say ‘verbal processes’ you actually mean vacīsaṅkhāra, and are using the English term merely to refer to the Pāli concept? If that’s what you mean, then yeah I agree. And yes I think this is totally essential when learning any speciality - to learn what the technical words mean in the context of the speciality, whether that be engineering, music, Buddhism or whatever.

So what about your feeling of what the meaning of vacīsaṅkhāra is? How do you feel about what I proposed above? It would seem perhaps to potentially solve the argument between vitakka meaning thought in some places but not in jhāna, as if it has 2 meanings. What I am proposing is that it has one meaning which is merely broader than available English concepts, and yet also more precise in some way. I.e. referring to a mental process which is present in thought-creation, but is not only used for that, and can still function when there is no thought-generation going on, such as the directing of the mind in jhāna.

And same conversation for vicāra.

Or do you feel differently?

When climbing I sometimes find myself speechless, able to respond but essentially inarticulate. Climbing is immersive and demands full commitment and mindfulness. I was perplexed about this experience for many years until I read the suttas.

For me, MN44 was indeed the key that unlocked the puzzle. And it lead me to understand the distinction between verbal and mental processes. You’ve stated “mental process which is present in thought-creation”. I would express “verbal process which is present in thought-creation”. It’s a verbal process since after climbing I could not create the thoughts to answer someone’s question and I simply stood there mute, laughing at myself, shaking my head. He had asked me a simple question, “how was the climb?”. And I couldn’t answer. I was speechless.

Regarding directing the mind in jhana, I again have to draw on climbing to say that the mind adapts to circumstance through perception and feeling. The sense of identity, of direction itself, disappears into the process of climbing. There is just seamless awareness and…flow.

You know more about Pali than I do so it’s difficult for me to answer your question about vicāra. I’ll just note that while walking meditation listening to the suttas, my mind wanders and does have to be repeatedly placed and connected. On rare quiet days it just listens.

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Thanks for the detailed analysis!

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OK so then while you are climbing (I also love climbing by the way :blush: ) are you saying that you have no vitakka and vicāra? That they are totally absent?

For example, when you look above to see where you’ll aim for, if without any verbal thoughts at all (which you seemed to imply above), is vitakka totally uninvolved in that directioning of the mind and any of the intentioning?

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It’s a spectrum, not a definite for me, depending on the level of immersion. Naturally, when talking to a partner about a route looking above, there is vitakka vicara. However, when climbing peacefully in the flow of the moment there is a quietness absent thought, without wishes, simply moving as gravity and the breath dictates, conforming to the holds as they present themselves. Handholds and footholds beckon with simple recognition. There is no summit fever, only peace. Thoughts recede into movement with breath. It’s…blissful and immersive.

Similarly, when sitting, there is that dropping away of thoughts into the stillness of just sitting. However, when walking the quietness is more elusive, presumably because there is really no compelling need to be mindfully aware. With climbing, mindful awareness is a matter of safety. In the street I can walk for many feet with my eyes closed. My walking meditation is apparently less skillful than my climbing. :see_no_evil:

So it’s a spectrum of mind chatter dwindling to non-chatter. Because of this I hesitate to answer your question with either a yes or a no simply because the quietness of no vitakka no vicara is experienced as a direction, not an attainment. The quietness is there requiring no help or effort from me. Sometimes it is more apparent than other times. But I trust it is really always there. :man_shrugging:


There’s no way a definitive answer will come up in this thread.
I recommend moving it to the Warercooler category. @Viveka?

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Thank you for the references. :pray:
May we all be happy and free from suffering. :pray: