Turing test for first jhāna

MN 14 when 1st jhana is part of your arsenal, no more desire for 5kg.
(bodhi trans.)

  1. “Even though a noble disciple has seen clearly as it actually is with proper wisdom that sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering and despair, and that the danger in them is still more, as long as he still does not attain to the rapture and pleasure that are apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, or to something more peaceful than that, he may still be attracted to sensual pleasures.208

But when a noble disciple has seen clearly as it actually is with proper wisdom that sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering and despair, and that the danger in them is still more, and he attains to the rapture and pleasure that are apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, or to something more peaceful than that, then he is no longer attracted to sensual pleasures. [92]

There are many more passages that illustrate this idea clearly. The most important point about first jhāna is that you’re turning away from worldly pleasures that lead to suffering, and instead choosing to partake in the pleasure that is based on renunciation, and takes you to the end of suffering/dukkha.

I hope everyone can see this has nothing to do with being able to attain an arupa samadhi where sound disappears and you can’t feel mosquito bites.

If you want to know if your first jhana is a genuine first jhana, ask yourself if you’d rather do your jhana, or indulge in 5kg (5 cords of sensual pleasure), such as sex, drugs, rock and roll, drink fine liquor, gamble, etc.

From history, unfortunately we can see many cases of ordained meditation masters (of any religion) who could do the arupa frozen samadhi, but disrobed and married, etc. They did not pass the turing test for real first jhāna.

Even someone with the lowest quality of first jhāna, but they’ve contemplated and understood the four noble truths to the point where they genuinely would choose their low quality jhana over worldly pleasure every time, I would rather be in their position than that of the meditation master in the former scenario.


It seems that an important key here, as you pointed out in your reference from MN 14, is the insight into the drawbacks of sensual pleasures. Otherwise, it is possible to be able to attain the jhanas and still become overwhelmed by sensual desire, as AN 6.60 points out:

Then, friends, secluded from sensual pleasures … some person enters and dwells in the first jhana. [Thinking,] ‘I am one who gains the first jhana,’ he bonds with [other] bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, male and female lay followers, kings and royal ministers, sectarian teachers and their disciples. As he bonds with them and becomes intimate with them, as he loosens up and talks with them, lust invades his mind. With his mind invaded by lust, he gives up the training and reverts to the lower life. (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation)

The sutta continues with several good similes for how lust can reappear after each jhana and after the signless concentration of mind. A good reminder that jhana alone is not enough, but should be partnered with insight for lasting transformation to occur.


Does this mean a married person (enjoy sex) can not experience first Jhana?

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What is the method to attain Arupa Jhana without going through Rupa Jhana?
Do you find this in Sutta?

I cannot find in the suttas. Meanwhile I read a year ago or so a post someone on a forum (Sorry for this total lack of precision) who claimed he was doing easily the attainments without having to go thru the Jhanas.
This made total sense to me as the Buddha-to-be learned two of these attainments with his two teachers. There were no mention of learning Jhanas with these two teachers.
If he had learned the Jhanas with them his recollection of his Jhana experience as a boy after having being with these two teachers then doing Jain-like tough ascetic practices, would make no sense at all.

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This is why Jhana is not important until practicing to become a non-returner.
Before that one has to reduce sensual desires and ill-will enough to become a once-returner.
Jhana is of not much help for stages 1 and 2 of awakening.
Instead one has to undertake a transformative process of dealing with, for stage 2, the sensual desires and ill-will that we have developed during our formative years; the Buddha calls this transformative process “dry up the remains of your past” Sn 5.11.

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I agree that the suttas seem to indicate that jhāna ability isn’t necessary for the first two stages of awakening. But I think

may be going a bit too far.

Although not strictly necessary for insight to arise, the state of mind that the jhānas cultivate is certainly the ideal one for seeing things clearly, as DN 2 indicates:

When his mind is thus concentrated, pure and bright, unblemished, free from defects, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge and vision. He understands thus: ‘This is my body, having material form, composed of the four primary elements, originating from father and mother, built up out of rice and gruel, impermanent, subject to rubbing and pressing, to dissolution and dispersion. And this is my consciousness, supported by it and bound up with it.’

“Great king, suppose there were a beautiful beryl gem of purest water, eight-faceted, well cut, clear, limpid, flawless, endowed with all excellent qualities. And through it there would run a blue, yellow, red, white, or brown thread. A man with keen sight, taking it in his hand, would reflect upon it thus: ‘This is a beautiful beryl gem of purest water, eight faceted, well cut, clear, limpid, flawless, endowed with all excellent qualities. And running through it there is this blue, yellow, red, white, or brown thread.’ In the same way, great king, when his mind is thus concentrated, pure and bright … the bhikkhu directs and inclines it to knowledge and vision and understands thus: ‘This is my body, having material form …. and this is my consciousness, supported by it and bound up with it.’

Also, by practicing the jhānas, one gets very good at overcoming the five hindrances, which are often described as encumbering the mind and weakening wisdom. That would seem to be useful at any stage of practice.

As Frank pointed out in his OP, the jhānas also provide one with a source of pleasure that isn’t based on sensual desire, giving one a hint that true happiness is found through letting go, not through craving and clinging.

Perhaps most importantly, each successive jhāna calms the constructing activities of the mind (sankhāras) more and more, which leads in the direction of nibbāna, the stilling of all constructions. As I understand it, even stream entry entails an experience of nibbāna, a moment when all sankhāras have ceased. Not an easy task, especially letting go of constructing the “experiencer” to whom things are happening. It seems to me that any help in this direction would be useful.

These are the main reasons that it seems to me that, though the jhānas may not be necessary for the first two stages of awakening, they can sure be helpful.


I do agree with all this except that you don’t “do” jhana.
Jhana happens on its own accord when the causes and conditions are there.
They include the removal of the five hindrances. Unfortunately it is not meditation that will remove the five hindrances. They are removed by “outside the cushion” transformative processes such as, using a modern terminology, a psychological cleaning of the past.

I don’t mean to be argumentative, my friend, but just wanted to clarify a couple of points:

I didn’t see anywhere in my post that I used the term “do jhana”. I agree that one cannot just sit down and “do jhana” with the same kind of effort that one uses to cook a meal, sweep a floor, etc., and that it is the letting go of doing that is one of the important conditions for jhāna to arise. But one can certainly have the intention to enter and remain in jhāna and can bring this state about by intentionally setting up the right conditions for jhāna to arise. And this can be practiced to the point that one can “obtain at will…the four jhānas” (MN 53, et al).

The hindrances need only be temporarily suppressed for jhāna to arise, which can be done in formal meditation. Suttas describing the gradual training, such as DN 2, seem to indicate that overcoming the hindrances before jhāna arises is done during meditation:

Endowed with this noble aggregate of moral discipline, this noble restraint over the sense faculties, this noble mindfulness and clear comprehension, and this noble contentment, he resorts to a secluded dwelling—a forest, the foot of a tree, a mountain, a glen, a hillside cave, a cremation ground, a jungle grove, the open air, a heap of straw. After returning from his alms-round, following his meals, he sits down, crosses his legs, holds his body erect, and sets up mindfulness before him.

“Having abandoned covetousness for the world, he dwells with a mind free from covetousness; he purifies his mind from covetousness. Having abandoned ill will and hatred, he dwells with a benevolent mind, sympathetic for the welfare of all living beings; he purifies his mind from ill will and hatred. Having abandoned dullness and drowsiness, he dwells perceiving light, mindful and clearly comprehending; he purifies his mind from dullness and drowsiness. Having abandoned restlessness and worry, he dwells at ease within himself, with a peaceful mind; he purifies his mind from restlessness and worry. Having abandoned doubt, he dwells as one who has passed beyond doubt, unperplexed about wholesome states; he purifies his mind from doubt.

But I also agree with you that the hindrances are to be dealt with outside of formal meditation as well, which I think is outlined in the “devotion to wakefulness” stage of gradual training:

Come, bhikkhu, be devoted to wakefulness. During the day, while walking back and forth and sitting, purify your mind of obstructive states. (BB translation of MN 125 and others)

Of course, all the other trainings contained in the gradual training help to starve the hindrances and feed the awakening factors as well. This is just more evidence that overcoming the hindrances is a 24/7 affair, as I believe you pointed out.

But the seclusion of meditation is often required in order to detect and work with those very subtle hindrances that may be present. It seems to me that, if one is undertaking the practices in the gradual training, then all that remains when one sits down to meditate is to scan the mind for any remaining subtle hindrances (through satipaṭṭhāna contemplation) and overcome them, ideally by replacing the unwise attention that’s feeding them with wise attention that feeds the awakening factors instead.

But I think we would both agree that the hindrances are only fully removed through insight and the stages of awakening.

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I’m going to start another thread to share my notes on this, but first jhāna is not just for maximizing pleasant abiding/bliss. When you’re not in pleasant abiding maximizing mode, that quality of samadhi is used to do 4sp (satipatthana) while one is in jhāna. See the STED third jhana formula, “sato ca sampajano” (4sp) is build right in the 3rd jhana, so one can very reasonably assume 2nd and 1st jhana are able to do “insight” while in the 4 jhanas as well.

It’s only with Vism. and late abhidhamma that you get the hard separation between insight and samatha. They do this by redefining jhana, and creating a new thing, access concentration (not in the EBT), to take over the function that were stripped from the S&S (sati & sampajano) built into the EBT jhanas.

In AN 4.41, all 4 of those samadhi developments, you don’t leave jhana to do them. You do them while in jhana. This appears to be a radical concept only because we’ve been indoctrinated by Vism. redefined ideas of samadhi. As Bhante Sujato said, it took him years to unlearn the things he learned from Abhidhamma.


No, that’s not what I meant. The turing test for a genuine EBT jhana is that given the free will and choice we have in our leisure time, between indulging in 5kg (cords of sensual pleasure), or doing jhana, you would choose to do jhana because you see the dukkha in the 5kg. Someone whose first jhana has full body orgasmic bliss that can last for hours, it’s very easy to see why they would choose that. But even for someone with a low quality first jhana where it’s barely distinguishable from ordinary worldly relaxation and bodily comfort, if it’s based on the wisdom of seeing dukkha in 5kg and the far superior pleasure of renunciation based happiness, I would consider that genuine EBT first jhana. For example, the person who isn’t experiencing orgasmic bliss from first jhana, but willingly and gladly reads EBT suttas for hours, instead of going out to parties and so forth, that to me is a genuine first jhana.

I hope everyone can see this has nothing to do with being able to attain an arupa samadhi where sound disappears and you can’t feel mosquito bites.

I’m not sure if you’re just asking a tangential question, or I didn’t make my point clearly enough in the above quote. In VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana), the meaningful distinction between rupa and arupa in the 4 jhanas disappears. VRJ is basically a frozen arupa samadhi where it’s not possible to feel mosquito bites or hear sounds. In EBT jhana, you can hear sounds and feel mosquito bites.

My point is with the Turing test idea is to show that even if the Buddha was asking for a frozen arupa samadhi in first jhana, that wouldn’t satisfy the criteria he’s actually asking us to work on for first jhana, that distinguishes it from the samadhi from other traditions.

Agree, perhaps this is another topic.

This statement is incorrect I think.
Jhana (Samadhi) is a salient factor in Nobel Eightfold Path.

I think that even hearing about or reading about jhana can have the effect of changing our behavior (as it relates to pursuing sensual pleasures). We may be inspired to practice meditation or study the Dhamma, rather than go out partying or whatever - despite never having experienced jhana ourselves. Although one may not yet be an Anigami (having eradicated sense desire and ill will), nor even attained deep concentration, if there is sufficient faith and interest in that direction then we already have a pretty powerful antidote to sensual temptations. We no longer believe that sensuality can offer the highest happiness, and we see the danger and the drawbacks there…This is all very good, as it should be - but it doesn’t mean we have attained jhana (maybe you actually have, I’m just speaking in hypotheticals of course)…But I do see your point, and I agree with the spirit of it.

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Dear Christopher

I didn’t mean to challenge you at all.
Anyway your reply is very beautiful.
Thanks for it.

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I agree samadhi is key . samadhi is the end result of developing the 1st seven factors of the 8FP.
Until we have progressed enough in removing the DADs (unecessary Desires, Aversions/fears/ill-will, Delusions) then jhana is not likely to occur because the first two DADs are also the first two hindrances and if the hindrances are not suppressed (temporarily while meditating) then no jhana.
If Jhana happens already at stage 1 or 2, good on the practitioner who is lucky to have sensual desires and ill-will under control that early in his/her development.

My statement was not well formulated; I should have said “Jhana is not very likely to occur until between stage 2 and 3”.

Maybe there’s a rhetorical oversimplification here, but the non-sensual sukha of jhāna does not, on it’s own, take one to the end of dukkha, other than temporarily and relatively. True, on the other hand, it is a kind of fore-taste of the sukha of total release, and reflective insight into the experience of jhāna, after the fact, can be an important insight practice.

As Mahasi Sayadaw points out, attainment of any stage of awakening requires the highest degree of concentration, be it from the practice and mastery of either appanā-samādhi ( jhāna) or vipassanā khaṇika samādhi, which at that degree of mastery is equivalent in intensity to the former. As Ayya Khema famously noted, such a degree of concentration is a necessary condition for awakening, but not in itself sufficient – it’s integral partnership with insight is what does the job. Attainments as far as full awakening are possible without explicit jhanic absorption, but not with samādhi of equivalent intensity.

A key problem with this “Turing test”, and statements such as “low quality first jhana where it’s barely distinguishable from ordinary worldly relaxation and bodily comfort”, is that, as practiced and taught by monastics thoroughly embodying the tradition (where often allowance to even teach is contingent upon at least 2 decades of dedicated practice), there is no question, no fuzziness as to attainment of appanā-samādhi jhāna. It’s a vividly unmistakable mental shift of mode, a fixation that enhances clarity while disabling mental reactivity.

Common contemporary talk of not really knowing whether one has reached jhāna or not reflects a lack of proper training. The idea that jhāna is not so special, and should be easy to get on one’s own is more a function of Western modernist conceit, and related to the s/t subtle but at times explicit notion that leadership and embodiment of the Buddha’s tradition is passing from the monastic tradition to that of non-renunciate lay teachers.

While the EBT idea has crucial value in understanding the historical evolution of interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings, the idea that Theravāda tradition has contradicted, redefined those teachings is likewise more rhetorical than substantive. The authors of the abhidhamma and commentarial tradition, by and large, were every bit as cognizant and immersed in understanding of the suttanta as any modernist lay commentator.

An interesting anecdote: The well-known teacher Leigh Brasington has recounted that, after a couple of decades of his own work with jhana concentration, beginning with training by Ayya Khema, as he was attending a three-month retreat with the Pa Auk Sayadaw (ca. 2011 or 2013?), Leigh, for the first time, experienced, vividly understood the phenomenon of being clothed, head to foot, in white cloth (a key suttanta description of 4th jhāna).

While I have no doubt as to the depth of his skills and worthiness of his intentions, the attempt to make jhāna “more accessible” for lay practitioners, leads his teaching into s/w paradoxically misleading assertions. For instance, in a week-long retreat with him (and Gil Fronsdal), he denied that absorption is a necessary aspect of jhāna, although his teacher Ayya Khema emphatically states the opposite. And he often indulges in rhetoric to the effect that the Visuddhimagga “got it totally wrong”.

All this attempt to assert modern authority by interpreting radical shifts, contradictions in the evolution of Theravada tradition might be more just an attention-getting mechanism.

As the Pa Auk Sayadaw put it (in Richard Shankman’s book “The Experience of Samādhi”, page 174):
“One reason there is disagreement about jhāna is because people do not understand the Pali texts well. According to our Therevāda tradition, jhāna practice if explained clearly in the Visuddhimagga, the Path of Purification. People should trace back to the original suttas, the original commentaries and subcommentaries, and then to the Visuddhimagga, and only then will they understand the meanings.

“Although jhāna practice if described clearly in the Visuddhimagga, it is very brief and concise on some points. Because of this, there are certain points they may not understand well, especially the signs of concentration, nimitta, and how to do jhāna practice. This is why they should study the suttas and the commentaries, too.”


That’s a fair point, and I’m not advocating one should strive for a low quality first jhana.

The main point I am shooting for is when one follows Vism. and THOX (theravada orthodox) model of redefined jhana, it’s qualitatively a different, significantly different than the EBT jhana system.

In this thread I quote from Abhidhamma, KN Peta, with relevant passages.

Someone could be ordained for 500 years, practicing 500 years of THOX redefined jhana, but it’s still different from EBT jhana. I’ve taken great pains to do an audited pali and english, often broken down to word by word correspondence the relevant passages, and I encourage people who really want to know, examine the passages yourselves. There is no appana samadhi, no access concentration in EBT jhana. Perhaps one thinks THOX samadhi training system is better. That’s fine. But there should be no delusion that THOX redefined jhana is simply a more detailed explanation of EBT jhana.

And when they study the suttas and commentaries and subcommentaries carefully, they find there are staggeringly huge contradictions on important doctrinal points of practical importance. Take one example, the understanding of kāya in in samma samadhi jhana.

AN 5.28, which contains the 4 jhana similes is probably one of the most unequivocal jpassages on the body being anatomical body of flesh and blood.

Even the THOX commentary agrees:

Why does Vism. Not talk about the famous 4 jhāna similes?

Buddhaghos, in Vism., can wax eloquent on the etymology of a single pali word for seemingly pages on end. But when it comes to some of the most famous similes in EBT, the four jhānas, they’re completely absent from Vism. Why is that? Is he trying to hide from something? Let’s take a closer look. Here’s what the commentary has to say about the four jhāna similes. They explicitly identify the meditator’s body in jhāna as flesh and blood anatomical.

AN 5.28 commentary

Dīghanikāya Sumaṅgalavilāsinī Sīlakkhandhavagga Aṭṭhakathā Sāmaññaphalasuttavaṇṇanā ↩
> The Sumaṅgalavilāsinī commentary on the Sāmaññaphala Sutta explains this passage as follows:2
> “This very body:” this body born of action [i.e. born of kamma]. “He drenches:” he moistens, he extends joy and pleasure everywhere. “Steeps:” to flow all over. “Fills:” like filling a bellows with air. “Permeates:” to touch all over.
> “His whole body:” in this monk’s body, with all its parts, in the place where acquired [material] continuity occurs there is not even the smallest part consisting of skin, flesh, and blood that is not permeated with the pleasure of the first jhāna.

The THOX explanation earlier of why the physical feels the body of mental only bliss, follows the sub-commentary explanation of the same AN 5.28 passsage.
In other words, Vism. Skips right over the earlier composed commentary, and reaches instead for the sub-commentary which is later than the commentary and contradicts it. With no explanation. Ironically, both the commentary and subcommentary are part of THOX. So they not only contradict EBT, they contradict their own elders within their own hierarchy.
Vimuttimagga on the other hand, has no problem dissecting the four jhana similes word by word. They have nothing to hide, arupa is arupa, rupa is rupa, four jhānas are rupa, and they talk about the anatomical body of rupa that experiences physical bliss in jhāna. Being an earlier abhidhamma than Vism., it’s likely they’re also following the commentary explanation which agrees with EBT.
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