The jhanas in the Kāyagatāsati Sutta

Thank you for this thoughtful reply. It has helped me to advance my understanding of this sutta and its relationship to the practice. As we have increasing access to parallels from other branches of Buddhism, it allows us to have a more nuanced understanding of what sections of a specific sutta may be closer to the original intent and what sections may be a (likely well-intended) later modification.


Yes, you are right. I was thinking vitarka-vicara are ceased during the second, but according to the Kosa at least, they aren’t present. So, ceasing them would be a pre-condition for entering the second dhyana.

Hi Charles, interesting repyl. Can you give a link for that text? I can’t find it.

The Sariputra Abhidharma (i.e., the Dharmaguptaka’s Abhidharma) isn’t on SuttaCentral currently. There are just a couple parallel references that pop up, but no source text. The Chinese can be found on CBETA → here<–. I’m working on a translation to post on my blog and the forum. It’s a direct and very close parallel to AN 5.28.


In the first Jhana, speech is calmed.
In second Jhana, vitakka and vicara are calmed.
In third Jhana, piti is calmed.
In fourth Jhana, in and out breath are calmed.
In cessation of perception, feeling is calmed.
In cessation of asava, loba, dosa and moha are calmed.

paraphrase from a sutta.

@sunyo I posted a working translation of the parallel to AN 5.28 on the forum.


I feel very unqualified to get involved here @Sunyo but I will give my 2 cents for your consideration. IMHO MN119 (and MA81) are obviously late, composite, and anthologising. It is clear, to me at least, that the instruction regarding mindfulness is found in it’s earliest form in places like DN2 and it relates to how a monastic should behave when going into town to get their food, and how they should eat and so on;

And how does a mendicant have mindfulness and situational awareness? It’s when a mendicant acts with situational awareness when going out and coming back; when looking ahead and aside; when bending and extending the limbs; when bearing the outer robe, bowl and robes; when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting; when urinating and defecating; when walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, waking, speaking, and keeping silent. That’s how a mendicant has mindfulness and situational awareness.

This simple subformula is given in the Sekha Paṭipadā in a perfectly prosaic and pragmatic context, is eminently understandable and is part of a clear and sequential order of training that leads, after contentment with little and sense restraint, to jhana practice.

MN119 however has the monk first sitting under his tree and breathing and then mindfully going for alms round before switching to contemplation of the corpse, and so on, it seems quite straightforward to explain this nonsensical arrangement by assuming that the sutta was built up from all the passages relating to the body that appear in the canon and amalgamating them.

It is therefore arbitrary to imagine that the Jhana are a “late addition” when it is almost certain that every part of it is late in the sense that each formula is well attested early doctrine but the arbitrary thematic collection of such formulas with no narrative or even any particularly logical ordering makes using it to discern things about the relationship between Jhana and mindfullness and body awareness and so on pretty tenuous at best.

As to the “controversy” I am not sure I understand it really, but my reading of the Jhana formula and the jhana similes makes it enormously difficult to believe that kaya meant anything other than this very body, and in fact i think that the philosophy of mind that early buddhism gives us makes it very difficult to believe that mental awareness of anything other than this very body is even possible.

just because a person experiences their sight, hearing, touch and limbs and shape etc disappear and experience a limitless glowing joy with no differentiable diversity doesn’t mean that what they’re aware of isn’t this very body, what else is there to be aware of? who says the body can’t feel like that? the Buddha repeatedly says that the practitioner reaches the very ends of the world within this fathom long body - so how could jhana be any different?

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Hi Sunyo,

To my personal opinion it is not similar but it is just a small part of what The Buddha taught. The Buddha taught only 1 & no other, the overall teaching as can be seen in the Satipathana or Maha Satipathana Sutta. The Kayagatasati is just a repetition of the 1st part of Satipathana Sutta. It is explaining in detail a small portion of the Kayanupassana. There are other Suttas explain in detail about the other.

I think we should take the Tipitaka or Tripitaka as a whole and each sutta explain and explained the other sutta or sutra.

Anyway it is just my opinion. It may wrong but it maybe true.


Yes, the Kayagatasati Sutta I also think is quite clearly a composite text using formulas which are borrowed from elsewhere. You can read Analayo’s or Sujato’s studies of the Satipatthana sutta, the arguments of which largely apply to the Kayagatasati Sutta also.

In fact, in the Majjhima and Digha Nikāya such composite texts seem to be rather frequent; less so in the other Nikayas. This was also recently discussed here under the name “play of formulas”: the idea is that reciters remembered certain standard formulas and created new discourses using them. Later editors of the texts contributed to this process too, which is clear from comparative analysis. Quite clearly such things happened in the Kayagatasati Sutta, where the jhana formulas I suggest were borrowed from AN5.28. All this “play of formulas” usually would not have caused any doctrinal problems, but in the Kayagatasati Sutta the inclusion of the jhanas does not work well for the reasons I described. And I agree with your reasons also, thanks for those.

But in Buddhism there are six senses, not five, so there can be experiences totally devoid of the five senses. I think everybody agrees on that, but there is disagreement on where the line should be drawn. To me, it actually already happens before the jhanas, but in the jhanas it is stabilized. It is that sixth sense of the mind that makes up the jhanas. That is why they are said to be “vivicceva kāmehi”, withdrawn from the five sense experiences. In fact it is the total other-ness of these experiences that allows for insight to arise from them. If they were bodily experiences, there would not be that much difference from everyday life.

As I argued before, to me it’s pretty clear the jhanas were included because of the four similes containing the word ‘kaya’, as the Chinese only has the similes and not the actual jhana formulas themselves. It’s not because of the jhana formulas, which only have “kayena” once (referring to the personal experience, not the body). We could wonder whether the jhanas were included because they were wrongly thought to be bodily experiences by whoever included them, or just because of a play on words (with kāya actually meaning ‘person’ or ‘being’ in the jhana similes, and the editor being aware of that).

The nature of jhanas was already doubted in the early days, but the traditional Theravada position has always been that they were without any bodily feelings, as described various times in the Abhidhamma already. So the fact that the Kayagatasati Sutta made it into the Theravadin Canon might favor the play on words option. The play on words is, after all, already present in the fourth jhana simile, which describes a white cloth covering a whole body (kaya), yet in the actual jhana part of the simile kāya means the whole person or whole experience. One reason is that you just can’t “fill your whole body (kāya) with a pure bright mind”, which just makes no sense if you read it literally. Do you put your mind inside your toes for example? But you can fill your whole experience or being (kāya) with a pure bright mind, meaning your experience is a fully mental one. Then it makes sense when read literally.

The first and second jhana similes further say “fill the whole kāya with pīti”. But pīti is categorically said to be mental. E.g.: “Whenever rapture not-of-the-flesh (nirāmisa) arises, on that occasion the awakening factor of rapture is aroused.” (SN46.3) Even though rapture of-the-flesh also exists, notice that to count towards the awakening factor, and hence towards samadhi (SN46.52), it specifically refers to rapture not-of-the-flesh, i.e. mental rapture. Rapture which leads towards samadhi is also called “mental rapture” (pītimana) in at least 10 suttas, for example AN11.2. So if we would interpret the jhana simile as “fills the whole body with pīti”, that just doesn’t make sense, because you can’t fill the body with mental rapture. So kāya must mean the whole experience or whole being again.

The second jhana simile also compares the rapture to water that fills a lake. This water is said to come from within the lake itself, it does not come from the north, south, east, or west, nor from the sky. This is an analogy to the rapture coming from the mind itself, not from the five senses. To me that is rather clear, and I wonder how else it could reasonably be interpreted.

So that is just more reasons why the jhanas are out of place in the Kayagatasati Sutta.

And the thing is, the meaning ‘person’ or ‘being’ for kāya is very well established and given in all dictionaries. And all translators I know of use this meaning in other contexts. But then some choose to use ‘body’ instead in the jhana similes. In archaic English you could use the word “body” to refer to a person too. For example, Shakespear wrote in “As you like it”: “Ah, sir, a body would think this was well counterfeited.” But nowadays we don’t use the word ‘body’ in that sense anymore, so to translate kāya as ‘body’ in the jhanas will now be misunderstood to mean something it doesn’t.


Oh @Sunyo thank you so much for your kind and well thought out reply! I of course completely disagree with what you say but I suppose we are in thousands of years of excellent company on this matter so I will not worry about that too much.

I think I will perhaps have to draft a more considered reply at a later date but in the meantime I will merely say that I think that

  1. the 5 senses that are talked about by the buddha are the 5 outwardly directed senses, that is the senses that connect us to worldly pleasures, but I argue that one can be aware of the body without externally directed senses.

  2. there can be a world of difference between everyday life and a clear and settled awareness of the body as a not to be clung to site of impermanence, in fact i think that usually the body we think we perceive in everyday life is almost entirely the product of our imagination! when we allow our mind to settle on the actual moment to moment experience of embodiment it becomes evident just how much of the “solidity” and “corporeality” we think we experience is actually just in our minds :slight_smile:

  3. I think that perhaps we are mostly arguing about semantics, when you say fill your experience adn i say fill your body i think we illustrate rather well the “two extremes” you point out that you can’t literally fill a physical thing up with a non physical thing, while I point out that you can’t literally fill up an abstract thing, like “experience” with anything either! there must be a middle way that avoids these two extremes.

  4. I take rapture of the flesh to mean earthy or sensual rapture, i.e basically sexual arousal, I take not-of-the-flesh to simply mean the spiritual or renunciant rapture, i.e a non-sexual rapture or pleasure, so I don’t really see a major problem for my interpretation here.

  5. The second simile is again to me merely saying that the rapture comes from “within” i.e is not dependant on the rapture you might experience seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting a beautiful woman for example.

Anyway, I seem to have managed to make all the points I wanted to after all! I will jsut say again that I thank you for your kind and considerate reply to my input and greatly appreciate the opportunity to rehearse an ancient Buddhist debate with a well informed and erudite fellow follower!



Thanks for your kind reply also. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

We might both think of many more arguments about what jhanas are like; this has been done many times before by others, and will probably continue for many more years to come! But the main point in this thread is whether or not the jhanas were originally spoken by the Buddha in a discourse like the Kāyagatāsati Sutta—whether they are bodily experiences or not—and we both agree they weren’t, so on that we don’t have to argue. :wink:

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The more accurate way to understand it is that Sarvastivadins don’t include the jhana formulas with the similes, treating them as referring to a different sort of samadhi. Dharmaguptakas include them with the jhanas likes the Theravadins do. In their Sariputra Abhidharma, the similes are included in the standard chapter on jhana as well as the later chapter on samadhi. So, Chinese sources indicate both positions. It’s not just a spurious addition in this one sutta in Pali. It was apparently a bone fide controversy among later traditions.


my two cents,

It is possible to be aware of your whole body and indeed, put awareness in the toes, for example. Often you feel just a part of your body. But sometimes you can put your mind in the toes, as it were and be very aware of the specific sensations there.
Sometimes it also happens, maybe while awaking, that you sense the whole body as a whole. Like the mind is diffuses in the whole body.

I think withdrawn does not mean there are no sense-experiences. I think it means that the mind does not jump on it. It does not attach to it. The mind is not all over the place, like a monkey-mind.
When the mind does not function as a monkey-mind jumping from sense-object to sense-object, scattered, it is withdrawn. Sometimes this just happens spontaneously too. Mind can also with sense-object be withdrawn and very peaceful. Not moving like a monkey mind.

Why are they other? I belief because the five hindrances are absent, temporarily. This is great difference from everyday life. Those hindrances represent heat and burden and this is gone at the moment of jhana. That is why jhana is said to be a kind of fortaste of Nibbana. Nibbana in a provisional way, Bodhi translates, i belief. It shows how burdened mind is during everyday life.
But, coming out of jhana, the hindrances come back, defiling the mind, heating and burdening body and mind again.

lol no. “internally or externally… whatever is felt is ‘feeling’”

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lol yes. If the first jhana formula refereed to all feelings whatever in the first jhana then one would immediately be in the cessation of perception and feeling and there would be no sense to be made of it.

I see. But the first jhana doesn’t mention the cessation of any feelings. It says “secluded from sensuality” which is a very different thing.

Yes! I agree, and in fact I don’t think the jhana formula ever mentions the complete cessation of bodily, physical feeling, in fact the progression seems to be from external to internal, then from cognitive (vitakka and vicara) to emotional (piti) to physical (sukha) to neutral (but still physical )upekkha.

I think that the argument that kaya in the jhana formula means “the mental body” or any such is wrong.

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Exactly! Just read the sutta. “experiencing the body” “withdrawn from sensuality” No need for esoteric arguments :slight_smile:

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This can be interpreted in two different ways.

The commentaries take this to mean sensuality as in the senses, so they say you can’t hear anything in jhana, it’s very deep, can’t walk in jhanas, etc…

However in EBT sensuality means something different, it means thoughts of sensual desire

There are five varieties of sensuous pleasure.

pañcime bhikkhave kāmaguṇā

Visible objects known via the visual sense…​ tangible objects known via the tactile sense, all of which are likeable, loveable, pleasing, agreeable, connected with sensuous pleasure, and charming

cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā…​ kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā iṭṭhā kantāmanāpā piyarūpā kāmupasaṃhitā rajaniyā.

These however are not sensuous yearnings.

Apica kho bhikkhave nete kāmā

In the [terminology of the] Noble One’s training system they are called the varieties of sensuous pleasure.

kāmaguṇā nāmete ariyassa vinaye vuccanti

The sensuous yearning of a man is his thoughts bound up with attachment.

Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo

The world’s attractive things are not sensuous yearning

Nete kāmā yāni citrāni loke

The sensuous yearning of a man is his thoughts bound up with attachment.

Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo

The world’s attractive things remain as they are

Tiṭṭhanti citrāni tatheva loke

The wise eliminate their hankering for them

Athettha dhīrā vinayanti chandan ti.

— A.3.411

This is why in EBT one can walk in jhanas as iti111 shows and several other suttas because the definition for sensuality is different.

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My experience with foulness is also
Powerful. I think it’s the most powerful