"Sutta" and "Visuddhimagga" jhanas

It is quite common to see the mention of “sutta jhanas” that are less absorbed than “Visuddhimagga jhanas”:

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).

It’s not clear to me what is different between a “Visuddhimagga jhana” and the jhanas taught by, for example, Ajahn Brahm:

Another feature of jhana is that it occurs only after the nimitta is discerned,
as described above. Furthermore, one should know that during
any jhana it is impossible to experience the body (e.g., physical pain),
hear a sound from outside,or produce any thought—not even a “good”
thought. There is just a clear singleness of perception, an experience of
nondual bliss that continues unchanging for a very long time. This is
not a trance but a state of heightened awareness. I say this so that you
may know for yourself whether what you take to be a jhana is real or

Rather than “sutta” and “visuddhimagga” jhanas, it appears to me that the division is between “shallow” and “deep” jhanas. Since I’m not an expert on either, it would be interesting to hear some comments on this issue.


In my (always humble) opinion, this distinction is just a distraction. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Curiously enough, also a list of experienced meditators who have actually practiced what the suttas teach for many years, without making excuses and trying to explain things away; and who have studied and worked with the texts in Pali deeply and extensively for decades, discussing them in communities of learned and intelligent and well-practiced people who care about these things.


Very good and relevant topic.

While it has helped me a lot playing down the expectations on attaining such cessation-based samadhi I still find in the suttas the mention of something called static/imperturbable concentration (āneñjena samādhi).

In the Ud3.3 the Buddha is shown to dwell in that state, as well as a group of monks, for many many hours, with no one being able to “bring them back”:

Then at that time the Gracious One was sitting in imperturbable concentration. Then it occured to those monks: “Now in what state is the Gracious One dwelling at the present time?”

19Then it occured to those monks: “The Gracious One is dwelling in a state of imperturbability at the present time,” and they all sat in imperturbable concentration.

20Then venerable Ānanda, when the night had passed, when the first watch of the night had gone, after rising from his seat, arranging his robe on one shoulder, and raising his hands in respectful salutation, said this to the Gracious One:

21“The night has passed, reverend Sir, the first watch of the night has gone, for a long time these visiting monks have been sitting, let the Gracious One exchange greetings, reverend Sir, with the visiting monks.”

When that was said, the Gracious One was silent.

22For a second time venerable Ānanda, when the night had passed, when the middle watch of the night had gone, after rising from his seat, arranging his robe on one shoulder, and raising his hands in respectful salutation, said this to the Gracious One:

23“The night has passed, reverend Sir, the middle watch of the night has gone, for a long time these visiting monks have been sitting, let the Gracious One exchange greetings, reverend Sir, with the visiting monks.”

For a second time the Gracious One was silent.

24For a third time venerable Ānanda, when the night had passed, when the last watch of the night had gone, when dawn had risen, when the night had a joyful appearance, after rising from his seat, arranging his robe on one shoulder, and raising his hands in respectful salutation, said this to the Gracious One:

25“The night has passed, reverend Sir, the last watch of the night has gone, dawn has risen, the night has a joyful appearance, for a long time these visiting monks have been sitting, let the Gracious One exchange greetings, reverend Sir, with the visiting monks.”

26Then the Gracious One, after rising from that concentration, addressed venerable Ānanda, saying:

27“If you knew, Ānanda, you would not say even this much about them. I and these five hundred monks, Ānanda, have all been sat in imperturbable concentration.”


Nah, the distinction is spurious. The true distinction should be between Pali jhanas and English jhanas. If only the pesky English jhanalabhis get a grip on the periphrasis in the jhana pericopes, they wouldn’t surmise that one could “do” vipassana in a jhana.


Thanks Bhante, Sylvester.


is the best approach, but there is a vociferous group of “sutta followers” who maintain that the idea of deep absorption is “not what the Buddha taught”. To me, this really muddies the water on a very practical level, as it sets up an unnecessary dichotomy between the suttas and the practice hints preserved in the commentaries.

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… and man created the suttas in his image…

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How would you classify Leigh’s approach?

While he suggests the first jhana to have thought and a lot of pleasure he describes having attained deeper levels through his practice in a way that indicate they are worth cultivating as well (at least that’s the impression I got).

His own classification is here:

He does place Ajahn Brahm under the “Visuddhimagga Jhana” section… :slight_smile:

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Lol, Ajahn Brahm has never even read the Visuddhimagga …


Yes, that’s what’s why a sutta/visuddhimagga classification seems misleading. Ajahn Brahm’s description of jhana depth and of his use of a breath nimitta appear to have more in common with the Visuddhimagga than the “sutta” jhana practitioners on that page.

But perhaps I’m missing something …

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Like I said, it’s a distraction, best just to ignore it. Anyway, that’s my feeling.

Look on the bright side: at least people are actually arguing about jhanas! A decade or so ago, American meditative culture was so benighted that jhanas were just dismissed out of hand; a couple of decades before that, meditation didn’t exist. They’re learning. Give them time to grow up, and in another few decades, maybe it will be less amateurish.


Based on what I have read of Leigh’s teachings, I would reply that all jhana has rapture as a factor but not all rapture (pleasant feelings) in meditation has jhana as a factor.

The Buddhist commentaries mention three degrees of concentration (samadhi), which will have three commensurate degrees of rapture, namely, momentary (khanika), neighborhood (upacaara) & attainment (appanā). Many experienced meditators, who have no allegiance to the commentaries or Visuddhimagga, have experienced these three degrees of concentration & rapture and thus do not take dispute with the commentaries here.

That SN 36.11 (for example) states the in & out breathing is stilled in the 4th jhana presents the case that the Anapanasati Sutta is on the level of neighborhood (upacaara) concentration since awareness of breathing is described at every stage of anapanasati.

The early works of the Thai monk Buddhadasa include the three degrees of samadhi & in more recent lectures referred to different degrees of samadhi:

In our practice of step four of Anapanasati, it is not necessary to try to enter jhana completely. In the practice of Anapanasati those very refined levels of concentration are not necessary. We only need to have a sufficient and appropriate level of concentration to continue with our practice, that is, enough samadhi that there are the feelings of piti and sukha (contentment and happiness). We need to use piti and sukha in the next steps of our study. If you can go on into jhana, into the material absorptions (rupa-jhana), that will be useful. It will make the next steps easier. Even if you do not reach jhana, as long as there is some piti and sukha you are doing fine…When the feelings piti and sukha are strong enough for the mind to feel them clearly, this is sufficient concentration to be able to go on to step five. If you enter the first, second, third, and fourth rupa-jhana that is more splendid yet. But samadhi sufficient to experience piti and sukha distinctly is enough for step four.

Bhikkhu Buddhadasa - Anapanasati Mindfulness with Breathing


What exactly is a “sutta follower”? :neutral_face:

I recall the suttas delineate Buddhists as arahants, non-returners, once-returners, stream-entersrs, dhamma-followers & faith-followers. So where to these “sutta followers” fit within this six-fold schemata?

In Pali, there are three terms: Pariyatti, Patipatti, Pativedha. Possibly you may be missing two of these three and, as a helpful hint: ‘not the 1st’.

It seems the “idea” of “deep absorption” is an idea of you & your friends since the ‘ekaggata’ may not preclude expansiveness, exaltedness & clarity. ‘Ekaggata’ & ‘nimitta’ may not necessarily infer awareness concentrated in a manner as pictured below. ‘Ekaggata’ may possibly be like the axle that holds a wheel in place, where the mind’s awareness is represented by the wheel.

Please note that the descriptions of jhana in MN 119, for example, may not necessarily mean the meditator is aware of all of the rapture that saturates the entire nervous system of the entire physical body.

With metta :slight_smile:


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No, I think you missed the quotes.

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.