The Third Jhana - 'of which the noble ones declare'

I wonder how many of you also found this quote in the third-jhana-formula peculiar:

he enters and dwells in the third jhāna of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’

The Buddha usually doesn’t quote anyone else for dhamma, and why would he? After the first batch of arahants, did the Buddha catch them in a conversation where one said “do you agree friends, that one in the third jhana dwells happily?” “yes friend” - and from then on the Buddha used it as a standard quote??

I will list the possibilities of how this quote got into the formula, but I just can’t understand why the editors made it part of the standard version

1. The Buddha actually said it

  • He referred to the Buddhas of old as a kind of old traditional way to describe the third jhana (similar to the re-found old city)
  • The jhanas actually existed before the Buddha (in his lifetime) and he referred to a proverbial saying which picked up during his own years of study (this is part of an ongoing debate, see for example Snp 5.1 where the brahmins who visit the Buddha are ‘enjoyers of jhana’)
  • The Buddha actually heard it from his disciples as a standard reference to the third jhana and started to refer to it in this way regularly
  • Or the Buddha came up with the expression sometimes in a form “of which I say he dwells happily”, then it gained popularity, much more than he used it, and then he started to quote the sangha

2 Source is not the Buddha

  • It could have been an expression of a (or a few) influential bhanakas that was incorporated into the suttas
  • Or it was included at the time of one of the editions by editors/commentators only

As I see it, I would quote only an authority or common knowledge. So I would lean either towards ‘the jhanas already existed’ or ‘bhanakas referred to the 3rd jhana in this way’.

I would be interested in your understandings

  • do you see other possibilities for this peculiar expression/quote?
  • do you know other places in the sutta where the Buddha refers to dhamma-doctrine with a quote to others?
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I would speculate the 3rd jhana is praised by the “noble (enlightened) ones” as being a happy abiding because it is free from rapture (piti).

Since the word “noble ones” is used, it obviously would not refer to non-Buddhists practitioners of (ignoble) jhana or non-practitioners of the Noble Eightfold Path.

It would sound very indulgent for Noble Ones to praise an abiding with rapture, since it would make Noble Ones sound like pleasure or rapture junkies.

Also, all genuine Noble Ones have already had a foretaste of the peace, calm & liberation non-attachment of here-&-now Nibbana thus they prefer peace, calm & non-attachment to rapture.

The following book may help. I trust the translation is accurate. I specifically refer to the full extended discussion on rapture (piti) vs happiness (sukha).

Anapanasati: Unveiling the Secrets of Life: a Manual for Serious Beginners

With metta :deciduous_tree:


The important quality of piti for you to be aware of is that it is not peacefu1. There is a kind of excitement or disturbance in the thing, called piti. Only when it becomes sukha is it tranquil. Piti has varying levels but all are characterized as stimulating, as causing the citta to shake. Sukha is the opposite. It calms and soothes the mind. This is how piti and sukha differ. (96)

This piti has stimulating power. It makes the mind quiver, shake and tremble.

When piti has finished stimulating the citta in piti’s coarse way, it loses energy. That is, it calms down and transforms into sukha. We will see that the two feelings are very different This sukha does not stimulate or excite, rather it calms and soothes. Here we contemplate sukha as the agent which makes the citta tranquil. Usually piti obscures sukha, but when piti fades away sukha remains. The coarse feeling gives way to the calm feeling.

By now we have discovered that piti is an enemy of vipassana, whereas sukha is not. Happiness-joy is a friend or supporter of vipassana. “Vipassana” means “seeing clearly,” having direct insight into the truth of aniccam (impermanence), dukkham (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (not self). We require a very refined mind to realize aniccam, dukkham and anatta through vipassana. Should piti arise, vipassana is impossible. The mind gets all clouded and restless. Piti must be gotten rid of, for it is the enemy of vipassana, of clear, subtle mental vision. Sukha, however, is not like that at all. Sukha soothes and calms, it makes the mind active and ready for vipassana. For this reason, we must have the ability to regulate piti and sukha. (111)

In the end, we will realize that the feelings (e.g., piti and sukha) are mind-conditioners. When piti conditions it, the citta is coarse and its thoughts are coarse, both the mind and the thoughts are coarse. When sukha conditions or supports it, the citta is subtle and tranquil, and its thoughts are subtle and tranquil. Both feelings condition the mind, but from different angles. The vedana are conditioners of the citta, thus they get the name “mind-conditioner (citta-sankhara).”

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This doesn’t feel like a rock-solid argument to me. Although I couldn’t find a reference with a quick search (perhaps someone can help) I seem to remember a sutta or two where the Buddha says that the different stages of awakening including full awakening can happen after any jhana, even the first one. I agree that piti might disturb but I don’t think it would make vipassana impossible.

Sukha without piti is certainly calmer than sukha with piti but I suppose compared to the absence of both in the fourth jhana we could argue the same about sukha - that it’s a hindrance not a help to clear and penetrative vision into the nature of conditioned existence.

My own hypothesis about this ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily’ which I’ve always found to be a bit weird and out of place in the otherwise very concise jhana formulas, it that the third jhana is singled out because it features the highest pleasant feeling (sukha vedana) any being in the universe can experience.

So perhaps it’s a kind of advertisement for beings addicted to feelings: “You think you know pleasure? You don’t if you haven’t experienced the third jhana!” :stuck_out_tongue:


There is no evidence anywhere in the universe the Buddha spoke the AN 4.123 you are referring to. Thus, I cannot see the point of asserting “the Buddha says”. AN 4.123 sounds like Buddhist propaganda to me, where non-Buddhists in jhana will end up in hell while Buddhist in jhana will end up in Nibbana. The teaching in AN 4.123 is simply too sloppy & unconvincing to me.

Regardless, the focus of my post was not about vipassana thus your dispute here is not particularly relevant.

I doubt it intends to say this. For me, I remain satisfied with my original post; that the “pleasant abiding” also found in AN 4.41 is ideally the 3rd jhana.

As for ‘sukha’, the Dhammapada states: “Nibbana is the supreme sukha”, obviously to avoid the kind of excited (rapturous attached) post you made. The term “Noble One” will always refer to a viewpoint from the dispassionate & non-attached mind.

Monks, among things conditioned and unconditioned, dispassion is reckoned to be the best of them all: the crushing of all infatuation, the removal of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the cutting off of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, Nibbāna. Those who have faith in the Dhamma of dispassion have faith in the best; and for those who have faith in the best, the best result will be theirs. AN 4.34

Well, the whole topic was not about sukha or piti either, but why there is a quote at this place.[quote=“raivo, post:3, topic:3714”]
My own hypothesis about this ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily’ which I’ve always found to be a bit weird and out of place in the otherwise very concise jhana formulas

I think this is what made me suspicious too. The jhana formulas are indeed concise - so why is there a whole sentence with very little information? In fact the information is completely redundant: sati, sukha and upekkha are already mentioned in the third jhana.

It doesn’t seem to me that the text supports a reading of “highest pleasant feeling” - there is no superlative here, it’s ‘just’ the normal sukha.

There is in this sentence as I read it only one new nuance - the quote

I would suggest the 1st step is to examine the translation. I often gain the impression that many students of the suttas treat the English translations believing they are accurate & truly representative of the Pali.

The formula introduces the 3rd jhana by stating:

With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful & alert,

This translation might possibly be inaccurate. The translation possibly could read:

Pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca vihāsiṃ, sato ca sampajāno sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedesiṃ

With dispassion (virāgā) towards rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful & clearly-comprehending and sensing pleasure with the body, he enters & remains in the third jhana…

Then the next part could be:

of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’

Therefore, as I speculated in my reply to @raivo, this pleasant abiding may result from having cultivated “dispassion” ( virāgā) towards rapture & is the preferable pleasant abiding of Noble Ones that praise dispassion & equanimity (but still highly value the crucial liberation from sensual pleasures that jhanas offer).

So perhaps it’s a kind of advertisement for beings addicted to feelings: “Nanook, a-no-no, Don’t be a naughty Eskimo, Don’t you eat that yellow snow; don’t you get addicted to rapture/piti”. :penguin:

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By highest I meant the most refined form of it. If we divide vedana into pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, the third jhana is where the purest form of pleasant vedana can be found. After that we move into the neutral vedana territory and that might not feel very appealing to most (unawakened) people.

I’m not disputing that “Nibbana is the supreme sukha”, I was talking about supreme sukha vedana.

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OK… just checking… :penguin:

I was actually referring to AN 9.36:

and AN 11.16:

This translation does not sound like the attainment of Nibbana to me but just “inclining” to Nibbana; as I said in my post somewhere, having a foretaste of Nibbana.

I doubt this is possible; that this refers to Nibbana. Also, Ananda spoke this sutta rather than the Buddha.

I think this means that for some wise people, experiencing the first or second or third jhana is enough. Most people probably still need the fourth jhana and some might even need to go through the immaterial attainments to really see firsthand that even conciousness is anicca, dukkha and anatta.

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Dont all the Jhanas have the potential as a base for Nibanna? AN 9.36

“’I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite—the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Hi Gabriel

It may be possible to read the enclitic “iti” in the passage just preceding the “quote” as not functioning as English quotation marks " ", but as an object complementiser.

I cannot remember my source now, but a specialised linguistic text asserts that in Middle Indo-Aryan, “iti” also works as a complementiser, so that the passage in question can also be translated as -

“…of which the noble ones declare THAT one is…”.

This does not commit the Buddha to quoting a precedent, if we take the verb as having temporal vagueness and functions more like an optative “would declare”.

Another well-known passage where “iti” functions as a complementiser would be the tetrad in MN 118, eg “I shall breath in…” can be rendered as “so that one breathes in…”. That avoids the unusual situation of treating the exercises in MN 118 as repetitions of breath mantras.

Thanks, I can see that this is probably more elegant for ‘iti’ than the quote-marks. But it doesn’t change the fact that in a key doctrinal phrase the Buddha references “ariyā ācikkhanti”, i.e. the nobles declare, and not to himself. I have not found that phrase connected with anything else, it’s just highly unusual. The expectation would be to have “ariya ācikkhati”, i.e. the noble one (the Buddha) declares

What if you read the present tense as an optative, or as Warder describes as an "imperative " (p. 12)? Eg the stock phrase “a well-instructed disciple of the Noble ones discerns”. That verb is clearly an optative, regardless of its form as a present indicative.


I posted the following:

The translation possibly could read:

Pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca vihāsiṃ, sato ca sampajāno sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedesiṃ

With dispassion (virāgā) towards rapture…

Is this translation possible? Can you explain why ‘virāgā’ here means ‘fading away’ while in other contexts ‘virāgā’ means ‘dispassion’?

Thank you :seedling:

he enters and dwells in the third jhāna of which the noble ones would declare?
he enters and dwells in the third jhāna of which the noble ones should declare?
he enters and dwells in the third jhāna of which the noble ones may declare?

None of it sounds convincing, doctrinal statements usually come with an air of certitude, so the imperative interpretation ‘should’ would be the closest - but does it sound more revealing to you?

Unless there was a strong tendency in the sangha to be satisfied with the 1st and 2nd jhana, and then the Buddha would stress “No, only in the 3rd jhana you dwell happily!” But also that seems out of place when the 4th jhana still has to be realized, and nibbana anyway - there’s no time to chill in the 3rd…

Yet, Warder assigns to the simple present tense this very function in describing "timeless statements such as “eternal truths” '.

What is your perspective of this sentence then? Why does it belong there and what is the message to us that it conveys? I still don’t see what would be lost if we forgot about it, but without doubt, the editors at least weighed the words for this standard formula carefully.

I’ve not thought that this passage was unusual, except perhaps the translation of sukha as “happiness”. But if I had to eke out a contrived analysis of this and assume that this is an early commentarial insertion, I would venture to guess that the redactors thought it important to emphasise that in response to sukha/pleasure, the meditator was nevertheless in equipoise, in contrast to the earlier 2 responses involving pīti/zest.