Sūda Sutta (sn47.8) - What exactly is the "mind’s hint"?

Hi everyone, I searched on the forum and can’t find the answer so I ask here.

I would like to ask 2 questions regarding this sutta and 1 question regarding Anapanasati.

In the sutta, the Buddha teaches about understanding the mind’s hint and taking advantage of it to boost immersion.

  1. Please help me understand in detail what the “mind’s hint” means

  2. and how to incorporate this understanding into practicing Anapanasati for the conducive of samadhi or the first jhana?

I practice Anapanasati strictly according to this guide. In the 3rd step of Anapanasati, I have a hard time maintaining the continuous awareness on the breath for longer than a few minutes, and I only feel a very little amount of joy, for the most part I only feel neutral feeling. Sometimes the breath become hardly detected, there are no distract thoughts, but I don’t feel great joy either, after awhile distractions thoughts comback.

In my 2 hours session this process keeps repeating, so I really need advice on how to make a breakthrough, do I suppose to just keep going like this until something strange happens or I have to make a move? And if I have to make a move, what exactly is the move that I have to make?


Welcome to the forum Lavantein :grinning:. I can’t help you, I’m afraid, being at much the same stage. So I can assure you that you ‘re not alone! Others will contribute. … My personal attitude is to continue practicing diligently, keep on letting go and be patient.

  1. I understand this phrase to mean “how the mind is disposed” and “how the mind is reacting (to its object)”. The word at issue is nimitta, which can also carry a meaning of “cause or condition”. For example, the word samādhinimitta occurs a lot in the suttas, which could be understood as “cause for samādhi” – in other words, what the mind does or the object it takes up that causes samādhi to arise.

In practical terms, I take this to mean that one needs to be sensitive, adaptable, and responsive during practice, noticing the mind’s state and becoming skilled in creating the conditions for it to become collected and unified.

  1. I think Venerable Anālayo could answer this question best. This is from Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna:

The Saṃyutta-nikāya parallel indicates that the foolish cook fails to notice whether the king or minister he is serving took much of something, or whether he reached for a particular dish and praised it. In both versions the example of the foolish cook illustrates a form of practice of the four satipaṭṭhānas that is not successful in overcoming defilements and in settling the mind so as to lead it into concentration.

Applying this simile to mindfulness of breathing, the breath as such is a bland object, devoid of intrinsic interest. Some meditators may be naturally capable of successfully directing their mind to this object and sustaining it there, but others find this difficult, simply because the breath as such does not attract one’s attention. Their predicament could be compared to being given a plate of plain rice, which on its own is tasteless. Just as with only plain rice, one would soon be on the lookout for something to add flavour to the meal, so the mind directed to an insipid object like the breath can find it boring and naturally turns to something tastier, like reviving memories of the past or devising plans for the future. When this happens, one need not stoically continue to swallow down plain rice, perhaps even counting each morsel of rice eaten as an additional measure to enforce the meal. Instead, with the help of the sixteen-steps scheme, one can take an alternative approach that keeps the mind more easily engaged with its object.

In order to please the mind, the skilful cook can accompany the plain rice with sixteen different dishes, according to the recipe given in the Ānāpānasati-sutta and its parallels. This would ensure that the breath becomes tasty enough for the mind to be pleased and remain interested. Appetizing the breath in this manner, by introducing a variety of perspectives and encouraging the arising of wholesome types of pleasure and joy, will go a long way in helping the mind to stay with the breath. The reason is that this approach naturally arouses interest in the object chosen for meditation practice.

As with the awakening factors, mindfulness and joy are important “kitchen appliances”. Mindfulness not only attends to the breath, but is also aware of various aspects related to the breath. Most importantly, mindfulness is aware of how the mind is taking to the present practice, just as the skilful cook needs to be aware of what dish the master prefers. With established mindfulness one realizes what pleases the mind, what arouses wholesome types of joy, and what makes the mind become interested and engaged. This can then be used skilfully to promote progress in the practice. Needless to say, the same applies to practice of the four satipaṭṭhānas that is not based on the breath. Skilfully working in line with the natural tendencies of the mind in this way can go a long way in speeding up one’s progress on the path.

You might find it helpful to emphasize gladness and joy (from wholesome sources) earlier in the meditation, perhaps by appreciating the subtle joy of the present moment or by enjoying the tranquility of the body and breath. The brahmavihāras can also be aroused in order to soften the mind and gladden it, perhaps as an “appetizer” before beginning the ānāpānasati practice. Other common EBT methods for arousing gladness are reflecting on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, your own generosity, your own sīla, or the qualities you share with the devas. If none of these are helpful, you can be a creative cook and find your own way of pleasing the king. :slightly_smiling_face:

Once the mind is sufficiently stable and there is gladness, joy, and pleasure, the only ingredient left would be letting go more fully into the experience, relinquishing control.

Best wishes for your practice.


The foolish cook works by rote without reflection, creativity or taking any input. So what does that mean in meditation, when you’ve got a script straight from the Buddha and earnestly want to follow it to the dot?

And what is this thing called “the mind’s hint” that you’re supposed to follow? Take a look at Ven Thanissaro’s past translation of The Cook sutta, here: the “theme of his own mind”. The “theme” of a king for a cook to notice, in the metaphor, is whatever foods apparently give the king delight. You must learn, then, what delights your mind during anapana meditation; you’ll have to watch for indications.

Ven Thanissaro explains in this essay on joy how to do that. Here’s the most relevant part:

To begin, simply notice when the breath is long and when it’s short. In the remaining steps, though, you train yourself. In other words, you have to figure out for yourself how to do what the Buddha recommends. The first two trainings are to breathe in and out sensitive to the entire body, then to calm the effect that the breath has on the body. How do you do that? You experiment. What rhythm of breathing, what way of conceiving the breath calms its effect on the body? Try thinking of the breath not as the air coming in and out of the lungs but as the energy flow throughout the body that draws the air in and out. Where do you feel that energy flow? …

He then goes on to describe ways to “play” with the breath, experimenting to discover what refreshes and delights your mind.

[Edited sentence describing link to Ven T’s previous translation of Cook sutta]


The Pali phrase here is cittassa nimitta or something similar. The meaning of nimitta in such contexts is, I think, fairly clear, but difficult to capture in translation. The meaning of nimitta in the early texts is not the same as it was used later on.

To understand the word nimitta, we must appreciate that it spans the semantic spectrum between a “sign” and a “cause”. As a “sign”, it is often something that appears before something else, as the dawn precedes the sunrise. Of course, it is not always easy to tell whether something just happens to precede something else, or whether it causes it, so these senses get conflated. The idea is that you observe patterns of phenomena, learning the way things tend to flow.

I would define it thus in the early texts:

In meditation, a nimitta is any aspect of experience which, when focused on, tends to promote the growth of similar or related qualities.

  • The samathanimitta is a quality that you focus on, such as the tranquil breath, that tends to promote the growth of tranquil states of mind. It need not be a meditation subject per se, but may be simply the feeling of calmness.
  • The paggahanimitta is something on which you attend, such as a reflection on death, that stimulates energy and effort.
  • The samādhinimitta is that which gives rise to samādhi, eg. the basic meditation subject AKA satipaṭṭhāna.
  • The cittassa nimitta means more generally understanding the qualities that promote or degrade different qualities of mind. Thus as the cook’s behavior is modified by noticing the King’s preferences, a meditator learns how the mind responds to different stimuli and responds accordingly.

Hi! I often encounter the same ‘obstacle’ myself. At that time, it usually helps to ‘nudge’ or as it were gently incline the mind/ heart to a theme which will help elicit joy. This is different at different times - the Buddha, Sila, Generosity etc as Christopher has mentioned. I try not to ‘grasp’ the theme, rather the aim is to ‘color’ the mind, while still retaining focus on the breath… somewhat akin to flavouring the rice with a spoonful of curry :grin: .
Of course, sometimes even after trying 2-3 times nothing happens. In those cases, I just skip directly to Gladness or Equanimity, reflecting quietly on how the mind’s processes are indeed Anatta and on how lucky I am to be able to experience this.
‘Mindfulness with Breathing’ by Ajahn Buddhadasa is a great text to read in this regard - everything is well explained.
Hope this helps!