Hello dear all,
I’d like to share with you some thoughts on the jhanas in the Kāyagatāsati Sutta (MN119), in the hope of getting some useful comments, perhaps references to past studies. In brief, I think the jhanas not an original part of this sutta, and I will explain why. I will do so mainly on a text critical basis.
This is an important matter, because it is mainly on the basis of this particular sutta that some, like Richard Shankman, have argued the jhanas contain bodily awareness. But others disagree with this assertion.
First some apologies for the style of this post. I typed this quickly, and without rereading, so there will be typos and mistakes. Maybe in future I will make a better version, but first I’ll wait for your thoughts, so I can incorporate those.
The Kāyagatāsati (Mindfulness of the Body) Sutta is very similar to the first of four sections of the Satipaṭṭhāna (Establishing Mindfulness) Suttas (MN10 & DN22). In both we find the following 14 practices of body contemplation:
- mindfulness of the breathing (1)
- awareness of the four postures (2)
- clear awareness regarding activities (3)
- contemplating the body’s anatomical parts (4)
- contemplating the four elements (5)
- contemplating nine stages of decomposition (6-14)
The Kāyagatāsati Sutta is different in some major ways. First, to these 14 practices it adds the four jhanas together with their similes. Second, it adds a refrain after each practice, including after every jhana. Third, after all practices are finished, the Buddha mentions 10 benefits these practices can give us.
The refrain repeated after every practice goes as follows:
As he abides thus diligent, ardent, and resolute, his memories and intentions based on the household life are abandoned; with their abandoning his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. That is how a bhikkhu develops
mindfulness of the body. (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation)
The phrase “his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated” is a standard way of referring to entering samadhi, that is, the jhanas. “Memories and intentions based on the household life”, found also in other suttas, seems to be a synonym for the five hindrances in meditation. So the Buddha says here that doing mindfulnees of the body practices leads to the jhanas. This corresponds well with the suttas as a whole, which repeatedly say things like (paraphrased): “mindfulness should be developed to abandon the five hindrances” (AN 9.64, Cf. MN44), “right mindfulness leads to right samadhi” (AN10.121). The Kayagatasati Sutta itself also mentions the four jhanas as one of the ten benefits of practicing mindfulness of the body.
I see a few inconsistencies here:
- The jhanas are here explicitly mentioned as part of the path factor of sati, which to my knowledge is unique in the suttas. The jhanas are normally always part of samadhi.
- The refrain after each jhana says that it leads to abandoning the hindrances, in other words to jhana. This is going in circles. It appears to say that the jhānas (the removal of the hindrances and the attainment of samādhi) lead to the removal of the hindrances and the attainment of samādhi (the jhānas).
- The 10 benefits include the jhanas, but the jhanas are also mentioned as a practice. A practice does not have itself as a benefit. The purpose of the jhanas is never mentioned to be jhanas themselves; the purpose is said to be knowing and seeing things as they truly are (E.g. AN11.2).
- After each jhana the refrain says “that is how a bhikkhu develops
mindfulness of the body”. But the development of jhanas is not the development of sati; it’s the development of samadhi. Two suttas even explicitly state that the jhānas are the development of samādhi. (AN4.41 & AN5.28)
We could also question why the very complete Satipatthana Suttas do not include the jhanas and their similes, if these where indeed part of satipatthana. Also, Elizabeth Harris, according to Analayo, wrote: “[the Kayagatasati Sutta] changes mood completely after the cemetery meditations are described. From meditation on corpses, it suddenly turns to joy and rapture.” I agree, and take this as another indication that the jhanas do not really fit in.
Yet another indication comes from the commentary to the Kayagatasati Sutta. Interestingly, it seems to be unaware of the jhanas, and just says “All the practices in the Kayagatasati Sutta were addressed under the fourteen body-centered meditation practices in the Satipaṭṭhāna [Sutta].” … This is very odd, especially because I would expect the commentary to pick up such a glaring inconsistency.
On a more pragmatic note, in the experience of many meditators the jhanas also don’t fit in with mindfulness of the body because they are experiences where the body is no longer felt or even thought about. I think this is also supported by many suttas, but to keep this short I will not include my thoughts on this here.
So far I’ve identified some problems with the jhanas in the Kayagatasati Sutta. They seem to not fit in for several reasons. Could it perhaps be that they were added later to a more original text on kayagatasati? According to Sujato, Analayo and others, the Satipatthana section on kayagatasati is already a later expansion. They have come to these conclusions by comparing various different editions of the text. Mindfulness of the breath, for example, seems to not have been a part of it originally. These sections are added because of the obvious connection with the body.
But why would the jhanas be added? It seems to be on the basis of the word ‘kaya’ which is used in the similes. Here, however, the word kaya means not ‘body’ but something like ‘person’. This is comparable to how English uses the word ‘somebody’. The pleasure mentioned in the jhanas is obviously a mental pleasure (physical pleasures are always to be avoided), so it can not be spread through the “body”, but has to be spread throughout one’s whole awareness, i.e. throughout oneself.
There is a Chinese parallel to the Kayagatasati Sutta, MĀ81. (Kuan has made a translation.) Both it and the parallel to the Satipatthana Sutta (MA98) include the jhana similes, but NOT the jhana formulas themselves. It’s quite obvious that the jhana similes are later additions to these texts, in part because they include many other additions not found elsewhere, such as fighting mental states “with the teeth clenched”, and perceiving light, among others. Like the jhanas, these are also not about bodily awareness. I don’t read Chinese, so unfortunately I can’t say whether these other pratices are included because of a particular word corresponding to “kaya”.
My preliminary conclusion is that there was a root Kayagatasati text, perhaps derived from a root Satipatthana Sutta. It did not contain the jhanas and their similes as practices of kayagatasait, and therefore was consistent. The refrain made sense, and the mention of the jhanas as one of the benefits of kayagatasati was also consistent.
However, at some point the jhanas were added to the root Kayagatasati text–or perhaps only their similes. This happened simply because these similes also contain the word kaya, even though its meaning is very different in this context.
That’s how far I’ve come. Perhaps you guys and gals can take this further. Some questions I’ve not answered are:
- Do the other added practices in MA81 also include a word corresponding to “kaya”? Is there another reason why these practices may be added?
- Are there other instances where the commentary seems to be unaware of certain passages in the suttas?
- Are there other indications of tampering in the Pali Kayagatasati Sutta? Inconsistencies? Errors?
Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your replies.