Stopping of heart in Nirodha Samapatti?

Greetings everyone :pray: hope you all are in good health. I searched through the forum to check any past discussion on this topic so as not to repeat the subject, but didn’t find any.
Recently, I came across a description of Nirodha Samapatti, the attainment of Cessation , in Peter Harvey’s ‘An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices’. Here, the attainment is described as - “Cessation is an anomalous state in which the mind totally shuts
down, devoid of even subtle perception or feeling, due to turning away from
even the very refined peace of the formless level. In this state,the heart stops,
but a residual metabolism keeps the body alive for up to seven days
.” The sources quoted for this are M.i.296,
Vism.702–9; Griffiths, 1987. I searched through the Majjhima Nikaya, but couldn’t find a specific mention as such.
My question is, is there anything in the EBTs which supports this description of Nirodha Samapatti? Or are the details a later addition?


The MN reference given by Harvey is to the PTS volume and page nmber. He means the Cūḷavedallasutta, MN 44. The sutta does speak of kāyasaṅkhāras, vacīsaṅkhāras and cittasaṅkhāras ceasing in nirodhasamāpatti, and defines kāyasaṅkhāras as the in-breaths and out-breaths. It doesn’t say anything about the heart, though presumably if one wasn’t breathing, then there wouldn’t be much for the heart to do.

The nature of nirodhasamāpatti became a major subject of debate in later times and each school supplemented the sutta account with its own details.


The sutta referenced there (MN43) does say that physical activities cease, but it doesn’t seem clear to me that these kāyusaṅkhāras should include the heartbeat, as that very same sutta indicates that “the life forces” (āyusaṅkhārā) don’t stop at cessation:

because the life forces and the phenomena that are felt are different things, a mendicant who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling can emerge from it.


Thank you for answering Bhante @Dhammanando and Bhante @Khemarato.bhikkhu :slight_smile::pray:

Thanks for clarifying that, I’m still learning to navigate through the suttas :sweat_smile:
So, this kind of establishes that the idea of the stopping of heart during Cessation attainment is not mentioned in the early suttas!


However, I am tempted to think , the residual life force is said to last only up to a maximum of seven days. I have read of monks dying in that attainment since they didn’t emerge from it in time. That could only happen if the heart has stopped. Since the heart is controlled by the autonomous nervous system and the mental activity during Cessation attainment is completely stopped, that would seem to suggest the stopping of heart too, along with the already ceased breathing.
This is of course, just my speculation!

Air was the supreme element in the pre-Christian era (water became dominant as that latter era developed) and the Vishuddhimagga states that the body is motivated by air being forced through the veins (XI, 37). This is not stated in the suttas but it’s possible there was the same medical understanding. The heart was considered the material support for the mind-element (XIV, 60), and the brain was thought to be the source of mucus issuing from the nostrils. That this view was held at the time of the suttas is supported by the brain not being included in the contemplation on the thirty-two parts of the body.


Greetings! So , the inference being, with the total stilling of the mental activity, there is the corresponding stilling of the heart too, right?

Thanks for the reference. I consider this a reasonable basis for interpreting as mostly “blood circulation” what in EBTs are references to wind element within the body.


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So, blood, which is the water/liquid element, is forced through veins by the wind element, giving rise to blood circulation ? Is that what you are saying ?!

I’m not sure blood was associated with water at all.
Probably to them blood and external aspects of circulation like pulsation, numbness, swelling, etc all was understood under a broad umbrella of the wind element.

Seems like it was

"And what is the liquid property? The liquid property may be either internal or external. What is the internal liquid property? Anything internal, belonging to oneself, that’s liquid, watery, & sustained: bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, oil, saliva, mucus, oil-of-the-joints, urine, or anything else internal, within oneself, that’s liquid, watery, & sustained: This is called the internal liquid property. Now both the internal liquid property & the external liquid property are simply liquid property. "

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Air was the predominant element in the pre-christian millennium both in India and western cultures. It could be observed that the blacksmith’s bellows made the flame increase, that ships moved along due to the force of the wind, and that life was vitally dependent on air. Life in general was more tenuous then. This meant that when an early Buddhist inhaled, they had a greater respect for air than now. During the water/oil based Christian era the meaning of the Greek words for breath changed to ‘spirit’: Pneuma - Wikipedia. Now there is a return to concern for the element air shown by wind turbines and the transmission of coronavirus via contaminated air. So in breath meditation the value of clean air should not be taken for granted.

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You’re very right.
The question for me is if they understood as blood or air element issues things like the pulsation one feels in oneself once quiet or issues faced when circulation is interrupted or unbalanced (numb limbs etc).

Since it is markedly not mentioned as something distinct from the breath, certainly they thought the pulse was caused by air pressure and that the heartbeat was driven by air from the lungs. And the function of the blood is said to be to keep the organs moist (VIII 130), that is lubrication not locomotion. This is supported by the Vism’s statement (XIV 60) that the heart has another function, the material basis for thought, and they did not know the function of the brain, apart from thinking it was the source of the mucus that issues from the nose. That these beliefs are also held in the suttas is supported by the fact that the brain is omitted from the 32 parts of the body.


This is a very interesting point.
It amazes me how growing up with the understanding that brain does the thinking makes me really hard to think of the heart as having that function!
My wife who is Thai says she can locate feelings and emotions taking place in the chest area!
At the same time, when I am sad, angry or happy, I struggle to “place” it elsewhere than my brain! :sweat_smile:


Vism XIV note 26 gives the reasoning why the heart is the material basis for the mind and consciousness, including this:
“It is known that its location is there because of the heart’s exhaustion (khijjana) in one who thinks of anything, bringing it to mind intently and directing his whole mind to it” (Vism-mhþ 449–50).”

Also it was known that the breath was an involuntary response (consciousness-originated) so I think the physical proximity of the heart to the lungs led them to the conclusion that it was the basis of mind as the driver of the breath.

The location of feelings is brought into focus with the second tetrad in the Anapanasati sutta and the second foundation of the Satipatthana sutta, where joy and pleasure are the subjects. The task is to move from feelings of the flesh located in the body to feelings not of the flesh associated with the mind and renunciation.

" “Even though a disciple of the noble ones has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, still — if he has not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that[4] — he can be tempted by sensuality. But when he has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality.”—MN 14

Even though Thanissaro here in note 4 links feelings not of the flesh exclusively to absorption, they are also present as a result of insight.

“And what are the six kinds of renunciation joy? The joy that arises when — experiencing the inconstancy of those very forms, their change, fading, & cessation — one sees with right discernment as it actually is that all forms, past or present, are inconstant, stressful, subject to change: That is called renunciation joy. (Similarly with sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, & ideas.)”—MN 137

Why does the observation of corpses, the change in natural materiality such as fallen and decaying leaves etc lead to joy? Because it aligns the observer with the law of the dhamma.


Thanks @Gabriel_L and @paul1 for your wonderful insights and contributions to this discussion and rejuvenating it !
Much Metta :anjal:

In AN 9.41 a sensation of the heart is referred to:

"Then the thought occurred to me: 'If, having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures, I were to pursue that theme; and if, having understood the reward of renunciation, I were to familiarize myself with it, there’s the possibility that my heart would leap up at renunciation, grow confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace.”

"So at a later time, having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures, I pursued that theme; having understood the reward of renunciation, I familiarized myself with it. My heart leaped up at renunciation, grew confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace. Then, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.”

AN 9.41 is a case of insight preceding serenity, the order in the seven factors of awakening, where the investigation group (investigation, energy, joy) precedes the tranquillity group.

AN 9.41 refers to a time before and after MN 19, where the Bodhisatta discerned supermundane right view, the second and third noble truths, that suffering is caused by craving and removed by the extinction of craving. Like the Bodhisatta, this central truth is to be investigated by all beginning practitioners through observing the cause and result of thoughts and actions.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

"As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”—-MN 19

Turning to MN 28 the expression “ His mind… leaps up, grows confident, steadfast and released ” as a result of discerning impermanence is used. Compared with the similarity of expression in AN 9.41, this shows that ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ were synonymous in the suttas, that the heart was regarded as the physical basis of mind.

"Now there comes a time, friends, when the external wind property is provoked and blows away village, town, city, district, & country. There comes a time when, in the last month of the hot season, people try to start a breeze with a fan or bellows, and even the grass at the fringe of a thatch roof doesn’t stir.

"So when even in the external wind property — so vast — inconstancy will be discerned, destructibility will be discerned, a tendency to decay will be discerned, changeability will be discerned, then what in this short-lasting body, sustained by clinging, is ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘what I am’? It has here only a ‘no.’

"Now if other people insult, malign, exasperate, & harass a monk [who has discerned this], he discerns that ‘A painful feeling, born of ear-contact, has arisen within me. And that is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on contact.’ And he sees that contact is inconstant, feeling is inconstant, perception is inconstant, consciousness is inconstant. His mind, with the [wind] property as its object/support, leaps up, grows confident, steadfast, & released.”


In MN 36 a debater from another religion engages the Buddha, and showing that the common belief was the condition of the heart is linked to state of mind:

"Then there are some brahmans & contemplatives who live committed to the development of the mind but not to the development of the body. They are touched by mental painful feeling. It has happened in the past that when one (of them) was touched by mental painful feeling, his thighs would grow rigid, his heart would burst, hot blood would gush from his mouth, he would go mad, out of his mind. His body was thus subservient to his mind and fell under the power of the mind. Why was that? A lack of development of the body. The thought has occurred to me that the disciples of Gotama the contemplative live committed to the development of the mind but not to the development of the body.”

The Blessed One said, "And how is one undeveloped in body and undeveloped in mind? There is the case where a pleasant feeling arises in an uneducated run-of-the-mill person. On being touched by the pleasant feeling, he becomes impassioned with pleasure, and is reduced to being impassioned with pleasure. His pleasant feeling ceases. With the cessation of the pleasant feeling there arises a painful feeling. On being touched with the painful feeling, he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. When that pleasant feeling had arisen in him, it invaded his mind and remained because of his lack of development of the body. When that painful feeling had arisen in him, it invaded his mind and remained because of his lack of development of the mind. This is how one is undeveloped in body and undeveloped in mind.”

MN 130 delineates the various punishments after death administered to those undeveloped in body, speech and mind, unable to heed impermanence and restrain a pleasant feeling from developing into passion, and shown here in a populist depiction of beings awaiting judgment, then afterwards being dealt with by hell wardens. The Buddha exercising the divine eye sees the fates of beings according to their thoughts and actions.

“Lack of development of the body” means absence of sense restraint due to no belief in the results of good and bad actions;

“And what is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? ‘There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives & brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions.”—MN 117

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It is interesting to note that in bhante @sujato’s translation the term “heart” is not found.
Which translation were you quoting? Is it the case of an idiomatic use of the word in the translation you referred to?