Unpleasant pain in Jhana?


Here are two references to discussions on the topic, with links to a talk by ‘Bhante Jag’ which goes into the Buddha’s remarks on suicide in detail:


Thanks for the citation! The way I read the poem, the Buddha was stating what had happened and praising his qualities as an arahant. More of a eulogy than speaking in “praise of his abandoning of the aggregates.”

While suicide isn’t eternal damnation in Buddhism, I still think it’s mighty important that we choose our words carefully, as there are a lot of people suffering from depression on these forums. :pray:


I seem to recall a sutta where the Buddha said he abided in the signless meditation toward the end of his life because it was the only abiding that would give him refuge from the pain he was enduring. That would suggest that the other jhanas would not give complete refuge from physical pain.

I couldn’t locate this sutta, though. Is anyone familiar with it?


It’s possible to attain arahathood. But abiding in nibbana is possible in cessation of perception or phalasamapatti, in the current life when aggregates/senses have ceased (or, the ceasing aspect of the DO).

Nibbana is a ‘meditative’ state where nothing is felt: AN9.34
To use it denote the state of mind of a living arahanth while traditional is, to my mind, sometimes confusing. I rather say nibbana is ‘experienced’ at the point of attaining arahathood, in meditation after that and at the death of an arahanth. But the arahanth experiences all the benefits of having a mind devoid of craving, aversion and delusion.


You can find that in SN 47.9 and I think in DN 16 too.

“Whenever, Ānanda, by nonattention to all signs and by the cessation of certain feelings, the Tathagata enters and dwells in the signless concentration of mind, on that occasion, Ānanda, the body of the Tathagata is more comfortable."


Ok, so then do you say :

  • it is not possible to complete the Noble EIghtfold Path while alive Or,
  • The Noble Eightfold Path does not result in the cessation of suffering.

Also, since nibbāna is the extinguishment of the 3 fires, are you saying that the Buddha did not extinguish those fires? So they manifested in him (lust etc.)?

If you say an arahant does not have those fires, then how can you not say they have attained extinguishment of those fires (i.e. nibbāna)?


The end ‘meditative’ product of the Noble eightfold path is Nibbana (Vimutti), the non-meditative state is the mind of the arahanth. It’s the cessation accessible due to the ending of craving, aversion and delusion. It’s result is the end of emotional suffering but the arahanth knows that birth and rebecoming has ended too.

He extinguished the three poisons.

The Buddha and other arahanths all extinguish the three poisons, thereby making access to Cessation of Nibbana or the cessation sequence of the DO.


Thank you, Christopher. SN 47.9 reads, in part:
“Sometimes the Realized One, not focusing on any signs, and with the cessation of certain feelings, enters and remains in the signless immersion of the heart. Only then does the Realized One’s body become more comfortable.”

This seems to suggest either

  1. The Buddha could feel pain in other jhanas when he was deathly ill, so he didn’t practice them. Instead he practiced the signless where he was the most comfortable and presumably experienced the least amount of pain. (Note: the sutta says cessation of certain feelings, not all feelings, which may be important). or

  2. Perhaps he wouldn’t have felt pain in the other jhanas, too, but they weren’t available to him at that time, but the signless was; so he abided there.

Possibility 1 seems more likely to me, but I don’t know. I had the impression that the signless meditation was a higher meditation than say the first jhana.

Are there other possible interpretations and inferences that can be made?

Also, even though Buddha apparently experienced pain, presumably he didn’t experience suffering at this time.


Assuming that jhana is without any five sense consciousness:

If there is no perception of the body in jhana, it would make no sense to talk about the comfort of something you cannot perceive.

Therefore, the signless immersion is a type of state where you have access to the five senses and have more bodily comfort.

When the Buddha was in jhana, he would be not be available to teach or react to events, so he might prefer to the signless immersion most of the time out of compassion.

Regardless of the assumption made at the top, since the Buddha could enter the cessation of perception and feeling, it does not make that much sense to say he could feel pain in other jhanas.

Edit: To clarify the last bit; if you also take the immaterial jhanas into account, it is hard to think of ‘jhana’ as not being an escape from bodily pain.


Cessation of perception and feeling (‘Cessation, without perception and feeling’ or sanna vedaita nirodha ) is a place where everything ceases. It’s where monks become confused for being unconscious. It’s not a superficial state of calm. There’s a lot of stilling and focusing to do before you get there, and it’s beyond the jhana.


I’m not a 100% sure what you’re arguing here; my point is that the Buddha had access to states where it is likely he could escape the body and therefore its pain (the immaterial jhanas, the cessation of perception and feeling being the most unambiguously painless).

In other words, if the Buddha chose the signless immersion over the jhanas becase of bodily pain, what about the immaterial jhanas?


Anything below the formless jhanas will have body or breath sensations, and therefore pain is possible. However cessation has the advantage of being accessible immediately without having to go up the jhana ‘ladder’ and might be the reason that it was picked, but also it’s the total cessation of all suffering.


How can the cessation be ‘accessible’. If those 3 things have ended, then there is their cessation plain and simple. That you say it is ‘accessible’ due to the ending of craving, aversion and delusion, implies that the cessation is not the state of affairs but rather you can then access that cessation from that position. I cannot see that making sense - take an example, if I have a fire, and I poor water over it and it is totally extinguished, then I’m not in a situation where the absence of fire is ‘accessible’. There simply is no fire.

Are you talking here about 1, or 2 things. Sounds like 2, and that makes sense in light of the above quote I gave of yours. So you seem to be saying that nibbāna is not merely the cessation of the 3 things, but rather it is something in particular of itself, which can be accessed once cessation of the fires has been accomplished.

This seems to be confirmed by:

So you have extinguishment of the 3 fires; and nibbāna, as two separate things.

You are referring to the Noble Eightfold Path I take it. So, you are saying that for an arahant, the 3 fires are extinguished, they have no emotional suffering, and they have dukkha. Is that your position?

If so, your position seems to be:

  • The Noble Eightfold Path cannot result in cessation of dukkha while you are alive.

Is that your view?


You are stating this as if it were fact, but there are people (e.g. Ajahn Brahm) who argue a different view. Depending on one’s understanding/assumptions about jhana, different arguments make sense.

You are also here stating as fact what is actually one of several views about how jhana and the immaterial states work.

It would be helpful to me if you would be explicit about the reasoning behind what you are trying to say, it’s very hard to engage with a post formulated as a list of facts.


If the fire was the five aggregates that simile is valid.

Nibbana is noted as cesssation of everything (‘…is where nothing is felt’; cessation) and as the end of the three poisons (akalika formula). Doesn’t it make sense that the explanation that unifies these two definitions is that one is meditative state, as arahanths aren’t totally unconscious, and that they are free from suffering emotional and existential in the waking state. However they have a modicum of dukkha in the form of sensory phenomena.

the mind attains to peace,
passed beyond all grief,
griefless, fires put out.

Sabbasokaṃ atikkanto,
asoko hoti nibbutoti. SuttaCentral


It’s not. I thought it was obvious, it is an analogy for craving, aversion and delusion. You can see if you read my comment in context. And I believe it is still valid. If you think not, welcome to challenge it! I believe that is also the original metaphor, apparently designed to satirise the 3 sacred fires of Brahmanism. But regardless of the traditional analogies, this analogy in this context I have given seems to highlight the flaw in your argument so far.

You still say arahants have dukkha. If that is the case, the Noble Eightfold Path does not lead to the cessation of dukkha while you are alive, according to your view as stated here.


The problem with positing that the Noble eightfold path leads to stopping craving, aversion and delusion AND NOT to a meditative experience of nibbana is that you are lopping off bits of the canon that doesn’t fit that description.

By your view of nibbana it would be better if we have psychologically removed craving, aversion and delusion and lived forever. A sort of eternal heaven. Or you would need to expunge every sutta which say the five aggregates are impermanent, from the canon.

There would be no reason for cessation of feeling and perception to lie at the end of the succession of jhana. It could be in the sensual realm devoid of the 5 hindrances.

‘Form’ is said to be ‘ruppati’ an affliction. As arahanths still have a body, they are still afflicted, but not affected, but does this mean they have dukkha?

Arahanths are subjects to illness, aging and death and this is dukkha by definition.

It’s important to consider the background of numerous or rather innumerable lifetimes, to make sense of the immediate nature of the solution.


This is not assumed at all in the suttas otherwise one will not be able to fill up his whole body with piti and sukha in jhanas 1 to 3.


You do not speak for the suttas, you are not their arbiter, it is bad form to present your own opinion as such, especially when you know well that there are other interpretations of what ‘the body’ means in the suttas.

Edit: hope I don’t come off as harsh or angry here, it’s always a bit difficult to set the tone in text :cowboy_hat_face:

I put ‘Assuming that jhana is without any five sense consciousness’ in my post so other people can understand where I am coming from. I’m trying to make my reasoning explicit, so that other people can make sense of my arguments, and agree or disagree in an intellectually productive way.

My goal was to answer @brooks’s question by showing how a different assumption about the nature of jhana would lead to a different interpretation. I invite anyone to disagree with that assumption, but let’s not get into another round of fruitless polemics about the nature of jhana :slight_smile: (which I am certainly guilty of having done many times over my Buddhist forum career).


I see, so then, indeed it seems you have confirmed that your view is:

  • The Noble Eightfold Path does not lead to the cessation of dukkha while you are alive.

I do not understand the benefit of your imagining this view.

It would seem that the 4 jhāna are essential for enlightenment (become arahant), but not the immaterial attainments, not those 4 or 5 attainments after jhāna. According to my understanding of Early Buddhist doctrine. Does this answer that question?

That depends on whether that is defined as dukkha in the EBT’s. Can you provide evidence that it is? If so, I will consider that it my indeed be. Otherwise I am highly unlikely to consider this idea. I have seen no evidence that arahants have dukkha so far, but you are welcome to provide any solid evidence. I am much more drawn to solid evidence than speculation, though of course I do see great value in speculation. And I am still open to the possibility that my current position may be wrong. Just have not seen any evidence to suggest so.

I am not sure if that is the case. In non-arahants, those things can trigger dukkha. That is the ‘second arrow’ - the emotional response to the negative sensory affects associated with those experiences. Those things are experienced in a very different way by arahants, due to no negative emotional affect being triggered by negative sensory affects. That’s why it is possible to overcome emotional suffering. And that, so far as I currently understand, is why it can be said that the Buddhist path can fbring us in this very life to the cessation of dukkha, but not the cessation of negative sensory affect.

This point only challenges 1 of those 5 - the sense of touch. That’s worth noting.
Then, regarding that one sense, it is significant to consider whether the experience of sensation in the body is caused from sense input via the body; or whether it is in fact generated in the brain, and being experienced as qualities with a bodily aspect to the experience.

I believe it is the latter. And if this is the case, they you may consider that the body may be inactive as a sense organ in terms of what physical objects it comes into contact with. So this is likely to be emotional affect felt in the body, rather than sensory affect - two quite different phenomena which concern different parts of the brain.