"Sutta" and "Visuddhimagga" jhanas

Possibly the vociferous group of “sutta followers” are interpreting the suttas in their image…:koala:

Which quotes? The tenuous assumption that in the Theravada tradition there are, at least, two schools regarding the Jhanas: the Visuddhimagga school and the Sutta school?

To be frank, this idea, to me, is completely imaginary. If you actually read my posts, I quoted the Thai scholar monk with name Buddhadasa who represented Thailand at the 6th Buddhist Council, who translated & compiled much of the suttas from Pali to Thai, who was a vocal critic of Buddhaghosa, the Visuddhimagga & Commentaries yet who held views contrary to your so-called vociferous group of “sutta-followers” about the jhanas & ekaggata.

The idea that there is a vociferous “sutta-school” that holds jhana is shallow sounds like an imaginary idea. Good night. :rabbit2:

Perhaps, but the references I gave seemed to suggest otherwise.

The suttas use brief concise terms. They obviously do not explain every nuance. For example, when walking meditation is referred to in the suttas, it does not explain any technique or that when walking occurs, this means ‘the foot touching the ground in various phases’.

Similarly, when the word ‘ekaggata’ is used extensively in the suttas as the very foundation of each jhana, the suttas do not need to mention ‘nimitta’ since these two things are inherently interrelated in respect to the attainment of jhana. However, the difference between them is a ‘nimitta’ (an ‘image’) is not the mark of jhana. It is ‘ekaggata’ (fixed stability) that is the mark of jhana.

In short, there appear to be two schools on jhana in respect to this discussion: (i) the school of 20th century practitioners that have dedicated some period amounting to years to full-time meditation; and (ii) the school of 21st century vociferous Internet Buddhists that have dedicated years to full-time posting & arguing on internet chat sites such as DW.

Your implicit assertion that a diverse range of forest monks such as Ajahn Mun, Buddhadasa, Maha Boowa, Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo, Brahmavamso, Sujato, etc, who spent years dedicated to meditation (before becoming preachers) somehow did not follow suttas but followed the Visuddhimagga was utterly erroneous.

My conclusion is this entire discussion revolves around the term ‘citta ekaggata’. Imo, you (MikeNZ66) need to define this term clearly before any further discussion can continue. What exactly is your view of the word ‘citta ekaggata’ as used to define jhana in the suttas?


Paṭhamaṃ kho āvuso jhānaṃ pañcaṅgikaṃ: idhāvuso paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa bhikkhuno vitakko ca vattati vicāro ca. Pīti ca sukhañca cittekaggatā ca. Paṭhamaṃ kho āvuso jhānaṃ evaṃ pañcaṅgikanti.

The first jhana has five factors. There is the case where, in a monk who has attained the five-factored first jhana, there occurs directed mind, evaluation, rapture, pleasure & singleness of mind. It’s in this way that the first jhana has five factors. MN 43

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I have said clearly that there are many good practitioners out there. If you are interested in a conversation about the point of this thread, which was the terms used in many conversations, here and elsewhere, describing different depths of jhana, you are welcome to read and comment on the links that I gave in the first post of this thread, and the links to Leigh Brasington’s site further down.

Otherwise, thank you for your opinions, which I have noted.


The vociferous sect seem to have been carrying on this genre of discussion on DW for many years now. Haven’t you considered to yourself this might be getting rather stale & repetitive?

I have personally never read Leigh describe jhana in his writings as I personally understand it, let alone read Leigh describe the lesser degree of absorption & rapture developed from ‘upacaara samadhi’, as instructed in the Anapansati Sutta. My understanding is ‘jhana’ is not about searching for pleasant feelings, delighting in & build up those feelings. To me, Leigh’s explanations of how to enter jhana sound more like a very subtle form a ‘laughter yoga’ rather than samadhi bhavana.

Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter. Wikipedia.

Personally, I regard there is not much to discuss if the Leigh Brasington view is to be used as some kind of benchmark. In my view, Leigh’s view quoted hereunder has no basis in the suttas.

The first broad categorization would be into “Sutta Style Jhanas” and “Visuddhimagga Style Jhanas”. These two phrases are not ideal, but I use them until someone comes up with a better pair. “Visuddhimagga Style Jhanas” use a nimitta for access and involve very deep concentration. “Sutta Style Jhanas” do not require a nimitta and involve more accessible states of concentration.

As I already posted, ‘nimitta’ is not jhana but only a ‘sign’ of jhana. For the Buddha to mention the ‘nimitta’ was not necessary. In fact, I would speculate the Visuddhimagga-style instructions about using a ‘nimitta’ were developed from meditators mentioning naturally arising ‘nimitta’. A ‘nimitta’ arises when the breath is lost as an object due to tranquilisation. But jhana itself is a state of fixed mental stability (ekaggata), which was necessary for the Buddha to mention.

I do sense most people wish to feel they have succeeded with the Buddhist practise or even better have made enough (jhana) merit for rebirth in a heaven but my impression is jhana has always been regarded as a supernormal state, including in the Vinaya. I can speculate why Sujato said: “I wouldn’t worry about it” since clinging to Brasington-jhana as a personal attainment is bound to bring grief & vexation under the scrutiny of real jhana. Your vociferous sect sound like Protestants who believe with their dodgy interpretations of the Bible that they know better than the saints (Ariya Sangha). Take care Mike. :deciduous_tree:

Better than sole sovereignty over the earth, better than going to heaven, better even than lordship over all the worlds is the supramundane Fruition of Stream Entrance. Dhp 178

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It’s not my sect at all, I’m merely discussing different interpretations from a number of different modern teachers.

These “light jhanas” come up quite often in discussions, as being “what the Buddha actually taught about jhana”, including a number of threads here. See the OP and:

As you point out (and as I pointed out at the start of the thread), teachers such as Ajahn Brahm don’t teach these “light jhanas”. They teach deep jhanas with similar characteristics to those described in the Visuddhimagga.

I’m reluctant to dive back into this. Oh, well.

I understand that you’re just responding to Deele’s point, but still, even to use these terms is to engage, however innocently in a way of thinking that just wastes time. I’m not meaning to criticize you, but to call attention to the way these terms distort the whole topic.

It’s impossible to briefly describe all the things that are wrong with this distinction, but one of the many, many problems is that it treats the treatment of jhanas in the Visuddhimagga as if it were straightforward and well understood. But in fact it is a complex and difficult text, and there are many areas that are hard to interpret. In one place—I can’t find the reference—it says that the first jhana “lasts for a single mind moment”. What could this even mean?

Unlike most of the teachers lumped as teaching the Visuddhimagga approach, I have actually studied the text in some detail, and have some idea of some of the issues.

Here’s just one passage I found in a quick scan of the chapter on the earth kasina (which, problematically, is where the main treatment of jhana is found). (my translation):

Athassa yadā paṭhamajjhānā vuṭṭhāya satassa sampajānassa jhānaṅgāni paccavekkhato vitakkamattaṃ oḷārikato upaṭṭhāti, vicārādayo santato. Tadāssa oḷārikaṅgappahānāya santaṅgapaṭilābhāya ca tadeva nimittaṃ ‘‘pathavī pathavī’’ti punappunaṃ manasikaroto vuttanayeneva dutiyajjhānaṃ uppajjati.
Then after emerging from the first jhana one reviews the jhana factors, mindful and aware, regarding the remnant of vitakka as coarse and vicāra, etc., as peaceful. Giving up the coarse factor and regaining the peaceful factors, they once again focus on that nimitta, thinking “earth, earth” and attain the second jhana by the method already explained.

No-one that I know teaches anything even vaguely like this. Maybe in some the Burmese systems, where they are in fact following the method of the Visuddhimagga. But it’s completely different to the approach taught by Ajahn Brahm and so on.

Like I said, this is just one example, I could go on for days. The division of jhanas into “sutta” and “visuddhimagga” approaches is baseless and useless. It’s a category error, and is best ignored entirely.


Thanks Bhante. Unfortunately the thread wandered off rather from my original point that Ajahn Brahm, you, and others teach a much deeper jhana than what Leigh Brasington and others describes as “sutta style jhanas” http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

Perhaps Sylvester’s post sums it up well:

Best Wishes.


Thanks again Mike but, again, I can only suggest to provide exact quotes from the suttas that might possibly describe 'light jhanas" (rather than general interpretations of Brasington or Polak).

As I previously suggested, the arising & experience of rapture is not always the fruition of jhana because both momentary & neighbourhood concentrations can result in rapture, as described in MN 118 (which does not mention jhana & the cessation of breathing in the 4th jhana, as described in SN 36.11).

Also, what is described in MN 119 (regardless of how the word ‘kaya’: ‘this body’ is interpreted) does not necessarily mean the meditator is aware of the rapture within the nervous system of the physical body. Further, MN 119 mentions a mark of jhana, namely, the abandonment of sensuality i.e., resolves of the household life. I think it is questionable that one can regularly experience ‘jhana’ & still be attracted to or engage in sensuality after emerging from jhana.

Regards :palm_tree:

For one who has attained the fourth jhana, in-breathing and out-breathing have ceased… have subsided…have been tranquillized… SN 36.11

…in the case of a monk who has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, his ‘kaya sankhara’ (in & out breathing) has ceased & subsided, his verbal fabrications … his mental fabrications have ceased & subsided, his vitality is not exhausted, his heat has not subsided & his (five sense) faculties are exceptionally clear. MN 43

Furthermore, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed mind & evaluation. He permeates & pervades, suffuses & fills this very body (kāyaṃ) with the rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal. Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again & again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within & without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal. And as he remains thus heedful, ardent & resolute, any memories & resolves related to the household life are abandoned, and with their abandoning his mind gathers & settles inwardly, grows unified (ekodi) & centered (samādhiyati). MN 119

This thread began as a simple observation that different teachers have different definitions of jhana. I’ve no interest in analysing, defending, or debunking the rather long list of teachers listed on Brasington’s web page. If you, or anyone else, is interested in such analysis, Brasington gives links to the teachings of each of them.


Thanks Mike. I was expressing the very same in my requests of you to make your posts more specific. Regards. :koala:

Sorry if I came across as too heavy, as you may have noticed I find the topic somewhat frustrating! :relaxed:


A bhikkhu I once knew told me how he got going in meditation.
Apparently at first he found it very hard to meditate at all. Being quite an intellectual
type his mind was always full of thoughts. He would sit, an hour at a
time, struggling desperately with the thoughts and trying to
concentrate on the breathing, but the thoughts just kept on coming.
On one occasion he had sat out the hour in the same ineffectual
battle, but was quite worn out with the struggle. He got up and
flopped into an easy chair to relax at last, and suddenly, quite out
of the blue, a great overwhelming joy welled up in him, like nothing
he had experienced before. He just sat there, basking in it, and
seeing that the thoughts just didn’t really matter - just the joy. He
said, he never had a problem with meditation again. He just sat down,
and relaxed into it, and the same joy and peace always came. He was
convinced this was when he really got going in meditation, the first
stage of real meditation. Before, he was just TRYING to meditate. He
always insisted meditation is much more about relaxation than

Pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. Passaddhakāyo sukhaṁ viharati. Sukhino cittaṁ
samādhiyati. Dii.313

When the mind experiences joy, the body relaxes, and when the body is
relaxed one finds satisfaction, and in satisfaction the mind becomes

Another, simpler description of the first level of jhana, surely.

Perhaps Buddhaghosa was more interested in concentration.


[quote=“mikenz66, post:1, topic:3317”]
I find this a little confusing, since there are a number of people who swear by the Early Buddhist Texts who interpret the jhana passages in the suttas as indicating a highly absorbed state (E.g. Vens. Brahm, Sujato, Bramali, Analayo).[/quote]

You can remove the Ven. Analayo from that list, because he wrote this:

An important term for meditative absorption is samadhi. We often translate that as concentration, but that can suggest a certain stiffness. Perhaps unification is a better rendition, as samadhi means to bring together. Deep samadhi isn’t at all stiff. It’s a process of letting go of other things and coming to a unified experience.

? I don’t think this is relevant. In fact all of us agree with Ven Analayo here, and avoid the use of “concentration” in the context of samadhi. Samadhi is indeed a “unified experience”, and in a unified experience you cannot have the presence of external senses.


Thanks Bhante. That’s also my understanding. The translation of samadhi and jhana is a separate issue fro whether external senses are operational in jhana, and Ven Analayo’s lectures http://agamaresearch.ddbc.edu.tw/teaching seem to me to clearly place him on the list that I gave (as opposed to other Venerables such as Thanissaro, Vimalaramsi, who have different interpretations).

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a yogic word for concentration is dharana, but samadhi they also have, so at least in the yogic context samadhi must mean something else

in the chapter Samadhi-pada of his ‘Yoga sutras’ Patanjali speaks of the state of yoga, that is unification

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I don’t know about the yogic systems, but it’s clear that samadhi sometimes involves jhana in the suttas, and sometimes doesn’t. See AN 4.41.


A Hindu Monk talking about lights.

From the Wiki article:
Vivekananda published a summary of Raja Yoga from Kurma Purana. In the summary, he defined the meaning, purpose and procedure of meditation. The procedures of meditation—[28]

Sit straight, and concentrate on the divine light(true form of God) between the eyebrows that’s what he meant by Samprkeshy Nasikagram (ie place between your eyebrows, not your nose tip).This whole process of divine meditation can only be initiated by an enlightened master who himself have seen God and can make you see that right at the time of Deeksha.Later on, we have to concentrate our mind on that divine light. And after daily practicing, you can attain the oneness with God.You need not to facade your appearance of humble man/woman as all the characteristics of dharma will originate from within

I don’t know much about Hinduism, but I find it striking compared to what the Buddha taught about the “meaning, purpose and procedure of meditation.” I don’t see much value in “attaining oneness with God”.