The Jhana states and the Anapanasati sutta

We’ve had several discussions about the Jhana states in regards to the APS. I think this is a very important topic because both are key meditation practices. A helpful thread is here:

I’ve been thinking more about the comments made by samantha_vipassana in his opening post, and to better understand the relationship between these two, I tried to compare the Pali words used in the APS and Jhana descriptions.

My general conclusion, for which I welcome feedback, is that the APS essentially includes the Jhana states (this is a view shared by many others, such as Ajahn Brahm and Bhikkhu Nanamoli). Thus, with all due respect to samantha_vipassana (for whom I am grateful that they started this discussion), I do not think that the APS is Jhana-lite, but instead includes the actual Jhanas. Thus, regular practice of APS leads to the Jhana states.

More specficially, I think the first three tetrads are a gradual process of seclusion which in essence represents the cultivation of the first Jhana state. We use intentional thought (vitaka and vicara) throughout contemplations 1-10 of APS to “seclude” our mind. Specifically, in the first three tetrads, we intentionally (i.e., using vitaka/vicara) calm our body, our feelings and our mental thoughts. In this process, we experience joy/bliss, another element of the first Jhana. Then, in the 11th contemplation, we immerse and concentrate the mind, which I think is similar to the 2nd Jhana. After that, in the 12th contemplation, we free the mind, which is similar to the 3rd and 4th Jhanas. We can then turn our concentrated mind towards insight in the fourth tetrad. Paul1 made this comment:

Below is a more detailed explanation; I do not know Pali, so there are likely many spelling or other errors below, and I welcome corrections/advice. I used MN 118: Mindfulness of Breathing —Bhikkhu Sujato for APS and for the Jhana descriptions, I used SN 45.8: Analysis —Bhikkhu Sujato

1st Jhana:
Seclusion (vivekajam): This is the trait that leads to the 1st Jhana
Key elements: 1) Intentional thought (vitaka-vicara): savitakkam, savicaram; 2) joy/bliss (pitisukham). This joy/bliss arises from seclusion

2nd Jhana:
Concentration or immersion (vitakkavicarranam): This is the trait that leads to the 2nd Jhana. However, later it says avitakkam and avicaram which implies that intentional thought is not needed to bring about the concentration. Of note, in MN44, at the 2/3rds point approximately, the sutta mentions that one enters a state of concentration naturally, without intention, which supports this idea.

Key elements: Pitisukham (joy/bliss) which arises from the effortless immersion/concentration (in contrast to the 1st Jhana, in which pitisukham arises from seclusion).

3rd Jhana:
Rapture (piti) fades and one feels bliss (sukha). Dispassion (viraga) and disinterest (upekkhako) are experienced, which seems to align with the concepts of freedom or liberation mentioned in the 12th contemplation.

4th Jhana:
Sukha fades and there is pure equanimity (upekkha).

In the APS, here are some relevant parallels:
5th contemplation: Joy (piti)
6th contemplation: Bliss (sukha).

Jhana parallel: A key question is whether the piti and sukha of the 5th and 6th contemplation are the same as pitisukham in the 1st and 2nd Jhana. If so, is this the same as the 1st and 2nd Jhana? I think most likely this is not the case for two reasons. 1) From a sutta textual perspective, the 1st Jahna has many elements (vitaka, vicara, piti, and sukha–also ekagatta (one-pointedness) if one wants to include the Abhidhamma formulation), thus it is more than just piti and sukha alone; 2) From a practice perspective, since we go onto the 7th/8th/9th contemplations after the 6th one, these later contemplations can take one away from the concentrated mind to instead examine feelings/clear feelings/experience the mind. If the 5th and 6th contemplations were the 1st and 2nd Jhanas, then the 7th contemplation should be the 3rd Jhana, etc., which does not seem to be the case. In terms of my own practice, I find it hard to transition from the expanded mind that I imagine would occur in the 2nd Jhana to redirect more internally to the 7th contemplation of internal feelings. Thus, it seems that the 1st Jhana cannot occur only in the 5th and 6th contemplations, and most likely extends all the way into the 10th contemplation (see 10th contemplation).

7th contemplation: Experience feeling

8th contemplation: Clear feelings

9th contemplation: Experience mind

10th contemplation: Rejoices in the ability to train the mind.

Jhana parallel: As mentioned earlier, I think perhaps the most compelling argument can be made for the 1st Jhana to be occurring across contemplations 1 through 10, culminating in the 10th contemplation. The first Jhana, after all, has vitaka-vicara (thought) and pitisukham (joy/bliss), and is characterized by seclusion, which is essentially the state we are cultivating in the first 10 contemplations (seclusion from distractions from the body (contemplations 1-4), feelings (contemplations 5-8) and mind (contemplations 7-9), then rejoicing in this state in the 10th contemplation). If one follows Buddhagosa’s visuddhimagga, contemplations 1-10 could be viewed as the path from access to the deeper absorption contemplation. If we accept this formulation, then it is logical that a case can be made that the subsequent contemplations (11 and 12) represent the 2nd/3rd/4th Jhanas, since the 1st Jhana state would need to occur before the 11th contemplation (see 11th contemplation below). Other interpretations: Could this be the first Jhana? However, it uses the term abhippamoday for rejoice, so this does not match the 1st or 2nd Jhana use of the term pitisukham. Could this be the 3rd Jhana instead? However, the mention of “training” implies intentional effort, and in theory this was put aside in the 2nd Jhana (intention or vitaka/vicara occurs only in the 1st Jhana). Thus, this is most likely not the 3rd Jhana.

11th contemplation: Concentrate (samadhi). The term samadhi is mentioned in the 2nd Jhana also. This maybe one of the strongest arguments linking the 11th contemplation to the state attained in the 2nd Jhana.

12th contemplation: Free the mind (vimocayam). One interpretation is that the 12th contemplation is the 3rd and 4th Jhanas. The concept of “freeing the mind” seems to match dispassion (viraya) and disinterest (upekkhaka) which are mentioned in the 2nd Jhana. In addition, if one postulates that the 4th tetrad (contemplations 13-16) are insight stages that should be entered after the Jhana states are attained, then all of the 4 rupa Jhana (and 4 arupa Jhana) states need to be completed before the 13th contemplation. Of note, the term vimocayam used in the 12th contemplation does not seem to match any term used in the rupa Jhana descriptions. In terms of results, though, the ultimate result does seem to match the state one would achieve by the end of the arupa Jhana states (Jhanas 5-8). In this case, the 11th contemplation would match the 2nd Jhana state, and the 12th contemplation would be the 3rd and 4th Jhana (or 3rd to 8th Jhana if you wish to include arupa Jhana states). Correspondingly, if the 2nd Jhana is in the 11th contemplation, the 1st Jhana must occur before the 11th contemplation (i.e., across the 1st to 10th contemplations, culminating in the 10th contemplation).

The next four contemplations are part of the dhamma tetrad, which may reflect the insight stage of meditation during which the concentrated mind attained in the Jhanas is applied to understanding the fundamental nature of reality.

13th contemplation: Impermanence (anicca)

14th contemplation: Fading away (viraga). This Pali word does not appear in the rupa Jhana description in SuttaCentral

15th contemplation: Cessation (nirodanupassi). This Pali word does not appear in the rupa Jhana description in SuttaCentral

16th contemplation: Letting go (patinissagganupassi). This Pali word does not appear in the rupa Jhana descriptions in SuttaCentral

Any feedback or suggested edits are welcome,

With metta


Thank you for the detailed post. I would add one caveat.

There is a warning in the suttas regarding jhana views:

MN8:4.1: It’s possible that a certain mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, might enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. They might think they’re practicing self-effacement. But in the training of the noble one these are not called ‘self-effacement’;

It is a warning that has caused people much confusion and consternation, even to the point of leading some to argue that MN8 is a dismissable anomaly. Instead of dismissing MN8, I choose to incoporate MN8 and other suttas like it into my own understanding.

Focusing too much on the specific details of jhana leads one into the perilous chasm of grasping attainments. And that grasping is an obstacle leading nowhere. Jhana qualities are perceived via contact and are phenomena like any other. So we must practice immersion without grasping at those phenomena. Sifting out jhana perceptions too precisely into categories forms a basis for clinging and therefore becomes an obstacle.

This warning is repeated in MN64:

MN64:9.2: It’s when a mendicant—due to the seclusion from attachments, the giving up of unskillful qualities, and the complete settling of physical discomfort—quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self. They turn their mind away from those things,

Because of this repeated warning, I always attach “maybe” to all jhana descriptions and perceptions. That one word, “maybe”, allows me to let go of any perceptions that may arise during meditation. Maybe one might find emptiness and peace there. :meditation:


Thank you for your helpful comment and the additional suttas. I looked over both of them. I agree with you that one can get caught up in “attaining” the Jhana states and that is unproductive. This is why I find the APS so helpful–it encourages us to go beyond the Jhana states and apply the concentrated mind towards insight in contemplations 13-16.

One aspect of Buddhism that is so fascinating is the concept of progressively deeper stages of awareness, even when rereading the same sutta. This applies for the APS. We start by learning the 16 contemplations and at first approach them in a fairly superficial way, moving from one to the next until we can encompass all sixteen contemplations within a 30-45 minute meditation session. Then, we just keep doing it. Over and over. Every day. And then there is the opportunity to have progressively deeper levels of insight, even though you are still doing the same sixteen contemplations you were doing a year ago or five years ago or fifteen years ago. Your approach of using “maybe” is a helpful mnemonic trigger to encourage humility in our practice.

Since the APS concludes with insight into the dhammas, it represents a comprehensive path that helps us avoid getting hung-up on a particular step; we can avoid the trap of asking “have I attained the first Jhana? I better just stop here until I do that.”

One might suggest that the Satipatthana Sutta
is a better option for our practice, but it contains a broad range of diverse practices that can be difficult for a lay person to consistently practice. In addition, as I believe Bhikkhu Analayo and others have suggested, the Buddha may never have actually said the Satipatthana Sutta and it may instead be a later compilation of his teachings.

Lastly, the APS was the practice that the Buddha used to attain enlightenment, and what he chose to practice when he went on a 3 month retreat in the middle of building the sangha.

The relationship to the Jhanas is important, I feel, because I believe the Jhana practices may pre-date Buddha. Thus, Buddha took an extant meditation practice, the Jhana states, and augmented it with the dhamma tetrad in the APS, amongst many other key meditation, practice and sangha innovations. In essence, the Buddha emphasized the point you made–attaining the Jhanas alone is insufficient–and there is a need to gain insight, which is cultivated in the fourth tetrad of APS.


I’ve also been studying DN1, which has a remarkable quote:

DN1:3.24.6: But giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, this self enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness. That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life

What’s remarkable about this quote is that it is one of the enumerated wrong views. I recall studying DN1 for many many times misreading this quote. I originally thought “oh, it’s just the jhana formula and therefore correct.” Then one day I listened more carefullly and thought. “Wait! What!? It’s wrong view!” :open_mouth:

I had fallen into the :hole: :scream_cat: :laughing:
That rascally Buddha!

So many slippery fish to not grasp at!

Thanks for mentioning this link to the DN1:3.24.6. You also mention:

Apologies for my ignorance, but exactly what wrong view are you referring to? Is it the wrong view of “self” when Buddha says “this self enters…”?

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The wrong view is the phrase That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life (and it is also as you mention in “this self”)

It is a wrong view that arises subtly as we read jhana formulas. It arises because when we study jhana views we are grasping at the path wondering where we are. Am I here? Am I there? All these bubbling notions of “I” trap us with their silent siren song that arises out of that neutral feeling, that need to connect and know.

Ajahn Brahmali recently quoted SN36.7 in another thread. I had not seen it before (thank you, Ajahn!) and was reading it today. The instructions offered are quite simple and direct:

SN36.7:2.1: “Mendicants, a mendicant should await their time mindful and aware.

There is no grasping at jhana here.


I continue to reflect on this question of the jhana states and the 16 contemplation steps in the APS. I was recently reading/listening on MN119, Mindfulness of the Body, and I was reflecting on the fact that MN119 essentially contains the first tetrad of APS (MN118), which is Mindfulness of the Body. Here is a summary of each sutta and its components

MN118 (Anapanasati, “Mindfulness of Breathing”) components

  1. Core instructions: 16 contemplations (the first four contemplations are mindfulness of body, for example)
  2. Four frames of reference
  3. Seven factors for awakening

MN119 (“Mindfulness of Body”) components

  1. Core instructions: first four contemplations are identical to MN118, then MN119 describes body position awareness, then body movement awareness, body labeling, body elements, and charnel ground contemplations
  2. Four jhanas
  3. Ten benefits

It is interesting to me that in MN119, after discussing mindfulness of the body alone, the sutta then goes on to describe the jhana states. On the other hand, in MN118, after discussing mindfulness of the body, MN118 goes on to describe mindfulness of feelings (starting with the fifth contemplation in the chain of 16 contemplations in APS), then mind, and finally mental formations.

MN119 thus suggests that mindfulness of the body alone is sufficient to attain the jhana states. Yet MN118 adds additional elements in the subsequent three tetrads (contemplations 5-16 which discuss feeling, mind, mental formations) and does not explicitly mention the jhana states. Furthermore, Buddha mentioned that mindfulness of breathing was the path that he followed to enlightenment, thus implying that it includes the deep immersion characteristic of the jhana states.

This suggests the possibility that the jhana states are essentially “embedded” in the subsequent three tetrads of MN118, but not explicitly mentioned using the standard jhana formulation phrasing. Overall, I would suggest that this is another interpretation that supports the argument that the jhana states are attained within MN118.

I’m not certain that the matching of MN118 contemplations to jhana stages that I initially proposed in my first post in Feb 2020 is correct and I know that different teachers “map” steps of APS to different jhana states, but the overall progression is there. There is also the risk, as karl_lew has mentioned, of “focusing too much on the specific details of jhana” in an earlier post. However, I think it is helpful to try to follow the roadmap that the Buddha has described for us. If my interpretation above is correct, one that appears to be shared by other more experienced practitioners (but also discounted by others), then the 16 contemplations articulated in MN118 (APS) remain one of the most concise and helpful paths to enlightenment because it includes the jhanas, a necessary step.

A challenge I often face with the suttas is that there is so much information there, but if the 16 succinct contemplations of MN118 contain the main elements of a necessary meditation practice, then that provides much needed clarity.

In AN 4.170 plus all the accounts of the awakening, both tranquillity and insight are described. If a practitioner according to temperament finds tranquillity a suitable starting point well and good, but at some point they have to take up insight practice. For some practitioners including the Buddha, insight is their first natural path and tranquillity constitutes a resting of the mind from that activity:

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding. If I were to think & ponder in line with that even for a night… even for a day… even for a day & night, I do not envision any danger that would come from it, except that thinking & pondering a long time would tire the body. When the body is tired, the mind is disturbed; and a disturbed mind is far from concentration.’ So I steadied my mind right within, settled, unified, & concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind would not be disturbed.”—-MN 19

Tranquillity is easy for students to understand and easy to explain, while insight is obscure and only understood after practice reveals the dynamic relationship between sila, samadhi and panna. To study the tranquillity thread in MN 118 (Anapanasati sutta) and other suttas is on the right track as it utilizes the ‘meaning’ similarity between suttas as recommended by the Buddha, but like the DNA double helix, MN 118 contains intertwined threads of both insight and tranquillity and to claim precedence for tranquillity blocks an accurate understanding.

The Anapanasati sutta contains the seven factors of awakening and SN 46.53 describes them in terms of two groups of dynamics. In those terms in the seven factors of awakening the insight group (active), precedes the tranquillity group.

In the opposite case when tranquillity is the starting point, then insight always remains the governing factor:

“Just as if one person were to reflect on another, or a standing person were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person were to reflect on a person lying down; even so, monks, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-pondered, well-tuned by means of discernment. This is the fifth development of the five-factored noble right concentration.”—AN 5.28

This factor of discernment is found in germinal form throughout the four tetrads where the practitioner ‘discerns’ or ‘trains’ themselves.

Thank you for your helpful reply; I agree that insight and tranquility need to be cultivated in equal measure, as the Buddha describes in the analogy of the ox cart, with one ox being tranquility and the other being insight.

Another important point you mention relates to the 7 awakening factors (7AF), which is an important aspect of MN 118 that I had previously elided in my studies (it took me some time to fully ken the 16 contemplations). Only recently have I started exploring the 7 awakening factors in relation to the 16 contemplations. In this regard, I have two comments and would appreciate if you had any thoughts on this:

  1. The 7AF are described as occurring sequentially and repeatedly AFTER each of the four foundations individually. MN118 mentions “And how are the four frames of reference developed & pursued so as to bring the seven factors for awakening to their culmination? On whatever occasion the monk remains focused on the body… then mindfulness as a factor for awakening becomes aroused…” (this is repeated for the other 6 AF, each developing sequentially, then the Buddha mentions the vedana foundation, and again mentions the 7AF sequentially, etc. Thus, there are 28 steps here (4 foundations x 7 AF). My question to you is: do you believe these 7AF steps each are repeated at the end of each set of 4 tetrads? So after the 4th contemplation (the final contemplation of the kaya (body) tetrad or foundation of mindfulness), one does the 7AF, then after the 8th contemplation (the final contemplation of the vedana (feeling) foundation, one does the 7AF again, etc.)? Or do you think the 7AF are occurring mixed in with the four steps in each of the four foundations? I tend to support the later. The reason for this is because of the phrase “on whatever occasion the monk remains focused on the body” (which Sujato translates as “Whenever a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body”)–the phrase “whatever” or “whenever” implies a flexibility to the timing of the 7AF within the 4 contemplations of the body tetrad (or any other tetrad)
  2. How do the 7AF differ from the 16 contemplations? I think the 16 contemplations are intentional, while the 7AF occur naturally and sequentially. The verbs used for the 16 contemplations are active (he discerns, he trains), while the verbs for the 7AF, at least initially, are passive: “a factor for awakening becomes aroused” (and then later the monk “develops” it). Thus the 16 contemplations are intentional steps and the 7AF flow naturally from them, thereby explaining why they are described in different sections of MN118 and not woven together.
  3. Why do you think the Buddha did not discuss the four jhanas as part of MN118, perhaps before the 7AF or after the 7AF section? Is it because many of the elements of the jhanas, such as piti, are in the 7AF? The jhanas are mentioned nearly a 100 times in the suttas using the standard pericope–why not include it again here?


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Most of the questions can be answered by taking a step back and understanding the seven factors of awakening and the Anapanasati sutta for what they are. There is the English “can’t see the forest for the trees” analogy which applies. The kind of mindstate which encourages focus on individual words should be discarded in favour of a broader view which intuitively perceives the meaning in suttas. The former mind is a product of western academic institutions while the latter a consequence of contact with wilderness and jhana practice. That former results in imbalance if pursued exclusively just as excessive insight can have the same result. If the Anapanasati sutta is viewed as a whole without imposing excessive preconceptions about jhana on it, it’s shown to be an elementary instruction intended for beginners, and so would not include sila or jhana in section A.

SN 46.53 describes the seven factors of awakening in terms of dynamics, and Vism IV 45 forward contains further necessary information on the process of maintaining balance.