The Role of Blissful States in Buddhist Meditation


when you overcome the 5 hindrances you are in first jhana

I can’t see how this is true. Of course to be in jhana, the five hindrances have been overcome (temporarily, i.e. while in that mind state) but that does not imply that the other way around is necessarily true–i.e. that when the five hindrances are temporarily overcome, one is automatically in jhana. For example, there are times in daily life when one might be temporarily free of the five hindrances but that certainly does’t mean one is in jhana. The same holds true for walking meditation. And even in collected meditative states, it’s not inevitably true. For example, one can even abide in the brahmaviharas, being temporarily free of the hindrances, but while still not having reached jhana.

But without knowing what you think constitues jhana, I suppose it’s difficult to discuss because we may well have different definitions/understandings of what jhana is.


Hi Linda, I use the suttas as my reference point. In the suttas, brahma viharas are the same as jhanas. Also, as I wrote, in the suttas there is no state between the 5 hindrances and jhanas, so it’s either/or the 5 Hindrances or Jhanas.

Well, there are quite a few passages in the suttas such as the following from MN91 where someone becomes a stream-enterer while listening to teachings from the Buddha:

When he said this, Brahmāyu got up from his seat and arranged his robe on one shoulder. He bowed with his head to the Buddha’s feet, caressing them and covering them with kisses, and pronounced his name: “I am the brahmin Brahmāyu, Master Gotama! I am the brahmin Brahmāyu!”

Then that assembly, their minds full of wonder and amazement, thought, “It’s incredible, it’s amazing, that Brahmāyu, who is so well-known and famous, should show the Buddha such utmost devotion.” Then the Buddha said to Brahmāyu, “Enough, brahmin. Get up, and sit in your own seat, since your mind has such confidence in me.” So Brahmāyu got up and sat in his own seat.

Then the Buddha taught him step by step, with a talk on giving, ethical conduct, and heaven. He explained the drawbacks of sensual pleasures, so sordid and corrupt, and the benefit of renunciation. And when the Buddha knew that Brahmāyu’s mind was ready, pliable, rid of hindrances, joyful, and confident he explained the special teaching of the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path. Just as a clean cloth rid of stains would properly absorb dye, in that very seat the stainless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma arose in the brahmin Brahmāyu: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.”

Then Brahmāyu saw, attained, understood, and fathomed the Dhamma. He went beyond doubt, got rid of indecision, and became self-assured and independent of others regarding the Teacher’s instructions.

He said to the Buddha:

“Excellent, Master Gotama! Excellent! As if he were righting the overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there, Master Gotama has made the teaching clear in many ways. I go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha.

It sounds like the Buddha brings Brahmāyu’s mind, while explaining the gradual training, to a state free of hindrances (joyful too to give at least a token nod to the subject of the OP :slight_smile: ). Then the Buddha explains the four noble truths. It’s arguable that perhaps Brahmāyu spontaneously briefly enters jhana during or after the noble truths have been explained. I’m not sure that this is a given, maybe it’s also a type of samadhi that’s not quite at the jhana level :man_shrugging: (it has been a while since I read Analayo’s writings on this point, but IIRC the definition of samma samadhi as the four jhanas only occurs in a handful of places the Pali canon and not at all in the Agamas, except perhaps for one parallel; my memory is a bit fuzzy on this point). However, on MN91, it does sound like Brahmāyu is free of hindrances prior to hearing the explanation of the four noble truths. Obviously, he cannot be in jhana at that point (well, unless one’s understanding of jhana allows one to be listening to a discourse at the time). This type of passage pops in several places, e.g., for Suppabuddha the Leper in Ud5.3.

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Studying DN34 has shifted my understanding fundamentally. In particular the following quote was difficult to assimilate at first since it can so easily be read as an open invitation to hedonism:

DN34:1.2.5: What one thing should be developed?
DN34:1.2.6: Mindfulness of the body that is full of pleasure.

However, upon lengthy reflection, one may understand that grasping at pleasure is neither mindful nor pleasant. Indeed, one may also understand that mindfulness of the body that is full of pleasure is actually a blissful state.

This latter understanding is explored later in DN34:

DN34:1.6.68: What five things should be produced?
DN34:1.6.69: Right immersion with five knowledges.
DN34:1.6.70: The following knowledges arise for you personally: ‘This immersion is blissful now, and results in bliss in the future.’
DN34:1.6.71: ‘This immersion is noble and spiritual.’
DN34:1.6.72: ‘This immersion is not cultivated by sinners.’
DN34:1.6.73: ‘This immersion is peaceful and sublime and tranquil and unified, not held in place by forceful suppression.’
DN34:1.6.74: ‘I mindfully enter into and emerge from this immersion.’

So meditation can be understood as the production of the knowledge of blissful states. And the role of blissful states can be understood as simply the confirmation of meditation.

Going beyond that might be…grasping. :laughing:


The Buddha can also infuse beings with piti and sukha, and this appears to be what he means by spreading metta in all directions. There’s a sutta where he infuses an elephant, and also a snake with these feelings. So it seems in order to spread metta, you need to have jhana. Which makes sense, since metta thoughts is the type of vitakka/vicara one generally has in first jhana. Also both brahma viharas/jhanas have to do with the brahma planes.

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It’s such a good feedback loop, isn’t it? Man, the Buddha was such a genius :pray:


Tan Ajahn Anan says that you can develop metta to the first jhana. He calls it metta-jhana. It sounds wonderful.