Unpleasant pain in Jhana?

Do you feel unpleasant feelings ( pain )when you are in Jhana?

In the 1st and 2nd there is Piti and Sukkha so no Dukkha so no un-pleasantness. Similar reasoning for the 3rd and the 4th.
The Buddha was using Jhana to alleviate pain.


In the radical sense Mahasi Sayadaw speaks of (in the section on the 1st NT in his lectures on the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/damachak.pdf) anything short of nibbana is dukkha. Jhana, being transitory, has, is characterized with dukkha from that perspective, for instance when one reflects on the experience during vipassana following absorption.

On a more mundane level, one wouldn’t usually associate “unpleasant pain” with true jhana.


Does this mean you can’t experience Jhana when you are in pain?

The Buddha was using Jhana to manage pain. So the sequence is : he experiences pain then he goes into Jhana by, IMHO, transforming pain into Piti then adding Sukkha and when enough of both are present he enters the 1st Jhana and from there with his mastery of Jhanas, quickly moves to 2, 3 and 4.


AN 5.176 (excerpt):

[The Blessed One said:] “Excellent, Sariputta. Excellent. When a disciple of the noble ones enters & remains in seclusion & rapture, there are five possibilities that do not exist at that time:

The pain & distress dependent on sensuality do not exist at that time.
The pleasure & joy dependent on sensuality do not exist at that time.
The pain & distress dependent on what is unskillful do not exist at that time.
The pleasure & joy dependent on what is unskillful do not exist at that time.
The pain & distress dependent on what is skillful do not exist at that time.

When a disciple of the noble ones enters & remains in seclusion & rapture, these five possibilities do not exist at that time.”

Also, if one interprets jhana as being without the five senses, one would not be aware of any physical feelings in a jhana.

In the context of a no-five-senses jhana, I think one would have to either be able to let go of the pain, which is really the same as letting go of the five senses, or one would have to have a mental pīti feeling strong enough to suck the mind into absorption away from the pleasure/pain associated with the senses.

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It’s a quite common description of entering jhana in terms of emphasizing piti – Leigh Brasington (and his teacher Ayya Khema), apparently also V. Brahmavamso (judging from a couple of mp3/mp4 talks), and others. They might call it piti-sukha, but other aspects of the description seem to indicate a predominance of the piti flavor.

There’s another way, though, where the method uses more subtle one-pointed focus, as in the sensation at the nostrils that is quite fine (“fine-material”) and develops more steadily deepening tranquility that leads into absorption. Piti can be discerned in the mix, but not dominant, and in fact might seem less preferable for it’s excitement, inclination towards a kind of motion (waves, welling of energy, etc.) that can inhibit the letting go into ever deeper stillness.

The difference might be some combination of individual temperament, or also the conditioning of the teaching method and the inclination of the teacher.

In either case, absorption to the 4th level clearly “turns-off” pleasure/pain in the mind. At earlier levels, esp. the 1st, strong sensory stimulation may jiggle or collapse the absorption.

Leg pain, back pain, neck pain, those can still be present in the jhānas. IMO 3rd and 4th jhāna, most people who can do proficiently do it would have undergone a sublimation of energy in the body to the point where beginner problems like gross leg pain, back pain, are not going to happen unless you sit really long, like 8 hours straight or something. A 3 hour sit would probably be free of any discomfort.

Vimuttimagga mentions sound and leg pain being things that could knock you out of jhāna after sitting a few hours.

The above two statements seems contradictory.

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These two statements also seem to contradict each other.

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“Not depending on sensuality” means non depending on the usual six types of objects that we are craving for in “normal” life.
Instead Piti is a physical pleasure arising independently of any sensual objects. That is why you cannot make Piti arises by focusing on an object.
Once Piti arises with a bit of practice, you can make it move around the body and eventually make it fills up the whole body.

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I thought Piti is mental.

Sukkha (joy, happiness) is mental. Can you have two mental factors at the same time in the mind. No. So Piti has to be physical.

It appears that there is some divided opinion on this.


The way I understand Sukha and Dukkha is physical.
Somnasa and Domnasa is mental.

Where do you get that from? As far as I know there’s nothing to this effect in the Suttas. The commentarial abhidhammic doctrine is that all consciousnesses are accompanied by a plurality of mental factors. I think you might be confusing cetasikas (a consciousness’s accompanying mental factors) with ārammaṇas (what consciousnesses takes as their object).


If my definition of piti is in fact the one for sukkha and vice versa then my argument is still valid, one is physical, the other mental.

I may have wrongly used the term “mental factors”. What I meant is, and this has nothing to do with the Suttas, you cannot occupy your mind with two things at the same time. You may be able to switch quickly between several things in your mind but that’s not the point for in Jhana both piti and sukha are present together.

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You can read Vimt. yourself on the section where they gloss the jhana formula and similes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but in the Q&A section it definitely gave me the impression that Arahant Upatissa understood the 4 jhānas very similar to how Ajahn Lee and Ven. Thanissaro understand it, regarding the possibility of physical pain and hearing sounds while in jhāna.

You’ll have to dissect the pali to really get a feel for what’s going on.
The “dependent on sensuality” part I bolded is also key. Leg discomfort, whether sharp pain, mild dull pain easy to ignore, or just slightly uncomfortable feeling of tightness and pressure is not pain based on sensuality. If you study SN 48.37 carefully, and the standard 4th jhana formula carefully, in pali, (hint, sukhassa, dukkhassa, somanassa, domanassa, a-dukkham-a-sukham in 4th jhana lets you know we’re talking about vedana) you’ll get a feel for what the bodily and mental aspects of jhāna are according to the EBT.

One of the reasons there are controversies on what Jhāna is, is because it’s not an exact science. You’ll only know from your own experience, and the testimony and experience of proficient jhāna meditators what jhāna is about. The Buddha was a pragmatist, the jhāna formula in samma samādhi is accurate but there are some very interesting details that are not in the EBT AFAIK. You’ll only get those details from a living tradition of proficient jhāna meditators.

For example, IMO I don’t think people will be confident they can do first jhāna until they’ve experienced a solid second jhāna to compare the difference. For second jhāna, there’s an energy shift internally where it feels like some switch got flipped, you get a much stronger surge of energy (usually experienced as piti sukha endorphin blast) compared to the spiky energy interrupted by vitakka and vicara for first jhana. 2nd jhāna, as you’re gaining proficiency is distinctly different from first jhana in power, intensity. Here’s an important detail that the suttas don’t tell you though. Not everyone is going to get strong orgasmic piti-sukha bliss. Some might experience it in much more subtle form and pass through the stages fairly quickly that it doesn’t stand out as an out of the world “holy shit” experience. For example, if someone was a skilled meditator in their immediate past life, in this current life they were very pure in mind, virtuous, virgin, started meditating in this life when they’re like 15 or 16, it’s very possible they go through jhanas very quickly and not have it feel like its an out of the world experience, and it might not seem to them from their perspective that they’ve experienced jhāna, as for example the 4 classic jhana similes.

But here’s what the suttas don’t tell you. The more you practice jhāna, the transition between first and second jhana gets smoother and smoother until you can’t really do first jhana anymore. That is, you can’t feel the transition from first J to second J because it’s so smooth. When I was first learning 2nd jhana, it would feel kind of like I was driving a car and then cruise control kicked in where it took “control” away from me and accelerated suddenly and continuously, smoothly. Or it could feel like I dropped into a large pit, like a free fall gravity. Then over the years as it got smoother, I might only get a really subtle energy feel, like my finger twitches for a microsecond.

Similarly, for higher jhanas the more you practice them, the smoother the transitions between them, and how you differentiate them becomes really subtle, or not distignshuisable at all in a meaningful way. Before I could do jhānas, I thought of the 4 jhānas in samma samādhi as analogous to the 4sp (satipatthana of right mindfulness), that is, each of the four modes you can independently enter at will in specific ways for specific reasons. Now I understand samma samādhi, right concentration, just in terms of samādhi, and that the 4 jhāna progression is just way for the Buddha to explain 4 quality levels, from low to highest. But this is different than 4sp because you’d never in practice shoot for first jhana if you can do fourth. You simply go into the best samādhi you can do, experience force, heat, light and let the bathtub fill up with water as fast as it can to charge up to 4th jhana. So now I understand 4 jhānas as just a rough measure of samadhi quality level. The more you practice, your base level, “normal” samadhi will go up. For example, for someone who keeps 8 precepts, meditates 5 hours a day or more, your base level samadhi would probably be fourth or 3rd jhana. That is, you abide in the highest quality samadhi you’re able to, and within minutes or seconds your base level “normal” level of samadhi would reach 4th jhana for example. I don’t even think about jhāna in terms of sitting or standing or walking anymore. I think in terms of having maximum samma samādhi at all times.

Here’s what the EBT doesn’t tell you about piti-sukha. You’re not going to get it at will. It’s dependent on biological factors. That is, you’re not going to get the endorphin euphoric rush that feels like a traumatic full body cosmic orgasm whenever and however long you want. It’s analogous to getting endorphin spikes of pleasure chemicals from eating . You only get that euphoric feeling from eating when your body needs those nutrients. When it no longer needs the nutrients, the food stops tasting delicious. Similarly, you try to get the euphoria from sexual orgasm, you can only get a few seconds of it, and maybe after 30 minutes, you can get a few more seconds but it already feels a lot weaker than the first one. The reason in first through 3rd jhāna it’s possible to maintain full body cosmic orgasm for hours, is because the energy is retained and coursing through the energy channels in your body as piti-sukha juice. But this is only a stage you go through. Once your energy channels are opened up, the body stops giving you the euphoric pleasure chemicals in the brain. The only way to get that stage again is you have to drop to a lower energy state by depleting your vital internal energy, for example, not meditating at all for many days, not keeping 8 precepts, will drop you into lower energy states and the subtle energy channels that were opened up close down. But someone who lives a pure life and meditates frequently, their base level of samadhi will be closer to 4th jhāna’s a-dukkham-a-sukham vedana and upekkha most of the time, and will rarely get any endorphin rush from piti-sukha unless they deplete their vital energy, from undersleeping, too much thinking, too much talking, too much sutta study for example. All youre going to get in jhāna is the feeling of force, electricity, light as long as you’re maintaining a pure lifestyle. The piti-sukha rush of the lower jhanas can only be experienced if you deplete internal energy and drop into lower energy states. The suttas don’t tell you that. For someone not experienced, you may think piti-sukha is something you can just access at will. In a qigong sense, you can learn the control the force, heat, light you experience in your samadhi, but you have no control over the piti-sukha beyond the constraints I explained, just like you can’t control the pleasure chemical euphoria from eating when you’ve eaten more than you need.

edit: force, electrical activity, light (visual), and heat. Below fourth jhana, the experience of those phenomena may have some degree of bliss, euphoria of piti-sukha. In fourth, it’s just force, vibrations, light, heat that feels neither unpleasant nor pleasant.

Force can feel like vibrations moving along routes circling all over your body, but if your channels are very opened up and smooth, it may just feel like an air balloon that inflates. If you touch your tongue to your palate, it may feel like touching a 9 volt battery with electrical activity running from your head/throat down to your belly.

One of the problems with Ajahn Brahm’s samādhi training system is his over emphasis on bliss of piti-sukha. Those are unreliable markers for jhāna, and those bench marks keep changing on you as your base level of samādhi becomes higher.

2nd edit: I hope you guys appreciate this post. I just spent over 2 hours depleting my internal energy to share some important knowledge that is not widely available, and not in the EBT AFAIK. I’m not fishing for “likes”, I could care less about social popularity, but only to the extent of gauging whether it’s worth my time and energy to share important info in a public forum.

3rd edit: Pīti is primarily a mental phenomena. If you search through the EBT for “pamojja and pīti” that occur together frequently you’ll see that. KN Ps also agrees on this. It is possible for someone to induce Piti on command, but IMO any physical sukha that follows, for someone whose base level of samadhi is 4th jhana, would have a very subtle and indetectable physical and mental smile of “sukha”. Sukha vedana has both a mental and physical component (SN 48.37), but the Buddha did go out of his way to point out 3rd jhāna’s sukha is physical (sukham ca kāyena patisamvedeti)


Could you please elaborate on what you mean here or perhaps point me to a previous post in some other topic where you’ve already done so?

BB-s translation of SN 48.37 says:

And a few suttas after that we have SN 48.40 saying:

To me this seems to say pretty clearly that you don’t feel painful feelings born of body-contact like leg pain for example when you’re in the first jhana.

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