Vitakka vicāra (Jhana-factors)


in SN 40 moggallana, the first 8 suttas talk about impure versions of the 8 meditative attainments (four jhanas, and then four formless attainments)

they all follow the same template:

  1. ven. moggallana reflects on the standard formula for that meditative attainment
  2. then he enters that attainment
  3. but he notices that it’s defiled by impurities
  4. buddha steps in, advises him not to be heedless (pamaado), to improve his samadhi.
  5. moggallana purifies and then enters a pure version of standard jhana/attainment formula.

so if we look at first jhana and second jhana in particular, you get a good sense of what kind of mental activity is possible while dwelling in that attainment.

SN 40.1 first jhana

…paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharāmi. (moggallana entered standard formula first jhana)
tassa mayhaṃ, āvuso, / friends, then I,
iminā vihārena viharato /(while in) that dwelling (I) dwelled,
kāma-sahagatā saññā-manasikārā samudācaranti. / sensuality perceptions-(and)-attention occurred

then the blessed one said … don’t be heedless (pamādo) about your first jhana.
:diamonds: “atha kho maṃ, āvuso, bhagavā iddhiyā upasaṅkamitvā etadavoca — ‘moggallāna, moggallāna! mā, brāhmaṇa, paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ pamādo

second jhana

tassa mayhaṃ, āvuso,
iminā vihārena viharato
vitakka-sahagatā saññā-manasikārā samudācaranti.

so in 2nd jhana, you have perception and attention to vitakka (thought), basically the beginnings of, but not a fully formed thought.

in first jhana referenced in SN 40.1, sensuality is equivalent to desire for 5 cords of sense pleasure.

if you do visuddhimagga style jhana, resolve to enter first jhana for 20 minutes, and during that time the only thing you’re aware of is visual light, no body sensations, no sounds, and you can not do anything until you emerge 20 minutes later, what is the sense of talking about speech (vaca) ceasing in first jhana, kamehi (sensuality) and 5 hindrances being able to perturb and throw you out of first jhana?

clearly what vism. and ajahn brahm define for their first jhana has a much greater difficulty than what the buddha is asking for. it’s like you’re in line for a roller coaster and it has a sign that says you need to be at least 3 feet tall to get on the first jhana roller coaster. then ajahn brahm comes along and crosses out the 3 foot and writes in 6 feet 5 inches tall (198 cm). he just disenfranchised 99 percent of the population.

so here’s why this is important. if you can do a lousy impure first jhana, then it’s possible you can do a mediocre first jhana. if you can do a mediocre first jhana, it’s possible to do a high quality first jhana…
…its possible for you to do a lousy second jhana… etc.

but when people think, “man there’s no way i can ever get into a samadhi where there’s absolutely no thinking, body disappears, i can’t hear sounds” … guess what happens? they give up. i’ve seen so many meditators in the vism. system give up when it’s obvious to me they can do at least a decent first jhana and very likely at least a lousy second jhana according to a simple EBT reading. they gave up because they were meditating under the influence of vism. jhana (MUI). too much emphasis on “one pointedness”, not nearly enough emphasis on passadhi-sambojjhanga, kaya-passadhi and citt-passadhi. if they had instead followed arahant’s upatissa’s instructions on 16 steps anapanasati in vimuttimagga, or ajahn lee’s method 2 anapanasati, then they would have n excellent chance to break through. i believe this is how the mahasi movement got started. people just gave up because they imagined first jhana to be too difficult, so they pioneered a vipassana only path without samatha, and then created vipassana jhanas and other weird workarounds, when an occams razor reading of the EBT would have preempted the need for those fabricated complications.


It’s one thing to reason about what the jhanas meant to the 1st generation editors or in the original teachings, but I’d be careful to draw doctrinal conclusions based on single suttas. For me it’s more about to develop practical guidelines that do not contradict the suttas, rather flexibly and playfully.

Take for example sound being the thorn in the first jhana. We can argue about if sense perceptions are possible or not, but in truth we can’t come to a definite conclusion based on the suttas simply because they don’t make a consistent point out of it - we have to collect crumbs from anywhere.

Just to give an example of another thing we don’t know in that respect. You are aware how in the gradual training there is before meditation the practice of ‘sense restraint’ (indriyasamvara), or more properly ‘covering the senses’. In the yoga sutras it’s pratyāhāra - withdrawal of the senses.

I never practiced it extensively apart from meditation and I don’t know anyone who did and I don’t know a teacher who would teach extensive period of sense covering and sampajanna as in the gradual path prior to sitting. Me and most people I know started meditation right away. But I can imagine that if someone gained mastery over the covering of the senses before even meditating and then sitting down and developing piti, that might be enough for the mind to withdraw the last bit of connection to the senses.

I’m not saying that was the case, but it’s just one of the complications we have with getting a realistic perspective about how this question of perceptions in jhana were treated or seen in the early sangha. Or to make it more complicated - maybe some gifted bhikkhus could do it and many others couldn’t? Who knows, we simply can’t tell from the suttas.


Hi Frank,

I have wanted to respond to your comments about jhāna, but only now have I got around to it.

I’ll just get straight into it. You say that, “ven. thanissaro … gives a pretty convincing argument that sound being a ‘thorn’ in first jhana does NOT mean that there can’t be hearing in first jhana.”

I don’t agree with this. Ajahn Thanissaro makes a series of assertions that do not, in fact, lead to the conclusion he draws. He starts off by saying that a thorn is said by Buddhaghosa to be “something whose presence destroys what it pierces.” He then goes on to propose an alternative understanding – “An interpretation of ‘thorn’ that consistently fits all ten items in the list, however, would be that ‘thorn’ means something that creates difficulties for what it touches” – which I largely agree with, but with some important provisos and nuances. AT also uses the narrative context to bolster his argument. His understanding of this context seems right but, as far as I can see, he draws the wrong conclusions from it.

To start with I do not think it is accurate to say that a “thorn” “creates difficulties for what it touches”. This is already a loaded expression that skews the rest of the argument. If something “creates difficulties,” it is implied that it is an obstacle but not an insuperable one. This, however, needs to be shown rather than assumed. It is quite conceivable, for instance, that the degree of ‘thorniness’ is not the same in all ten situations. And a careful analysis – as I intend to show – actually requires such a nuanced reading. Similarly “for what it touches” also has an inbuilt assumption that skews the debate, for it is not at all clear that the thorn actually touches what it hinders, but quite possibly that it just stops it from happening.

That Ajahn Thanissaro gets it wrong becomes clear when he applies his description of a thorn to specific instances. He states, “thus to say that directed thought and evaluation is a thorn for the second jhana means that these mental activities make it difficult to enter or remain in the second jhana”. But this is incorrect. Vitakka and vicāra (his “directed thought and evaluation”) are specifically said not to exist in the second jhāna. This means they have to be abandoned prior to entry, and if they re-arise after the entry, then one has already left the attainment. In other words, these two factors of the first jhāna cannot exist in the second jhāna. (AT’s actual wording is quite ambiguous, but regardless it is misleading.) When he then states, based on this flawed argument, that this means “noise is a thorn for the first jhana simply means that noise makes it difficult to enter or remain there,” he is drawing a conclusion that is unwarranted. In fact, basing himself on the precedent of the second jhāna, the only logical conclusion is that noise is incompatible with the first jhāna, and that this is the meaning of ‘thorn’, at least in this case. As so often, we should be careful with being too quick to dismiss the understanding of the commentaries.

So what about AT’s other argument that, “if ‘thorn’ were to mean something that cannot be present without destroying what it pierces, then nearness to women would automatically destroy a man’s celibacy, or a show would destroy one’s guarding of the senses, which isn’t true in either case”? This seems reasonable enough, and that is why I said the word ‘thorn’ does not seem to have an entirely consistent meaning in this sutta. The Buddha is grouping a number of different situations into one sutta, and it seems to me that strict consistency in the use of ‘thorn’ is not required. The Buddha, I believe, was first and foremost practical; he used language in a pragmatic manner, not with absolute mathematical consistency. If he had tried to be absolutely consistent, I suspect he would have failed. In other words, as so often, it is the context that clarifies the details.

If I am right that the word ‘thorn’ is not used with absolute consistency, then the question remains as to how it is used in the context of the first jhāna. It seems to me that here, as is usually the case, the jhānas belong together as a group, and thorn thus needs to be understood in the same way for all four. This is because the jhānas are all ‘states’ of a certain duration – this is implied by the fact that one enters and emerges from them and remains in them according to predetermined length, etc. (And yes, these qualities of jhāna are mentioned in the EBTs, e.g. in the Jhāna-saṃyutta, SN34, and AN6.24+AN6.63+AN7.40+AN7.41.) Such states lose their meaning if all sorts of things can be experienced within them, since their boundaries are no longer clear. Whether one is in jhāna or not becomes quite arbitrary, which is borne out of the many disagreements in debates on this topic. When you are not in jhāna, however, boundaries are far more blurry (what are the precise limits of ‘shows’ and ‘nearness to women’?), and I suspect this may be one reason why ‘thorn’, too, has a slightly less precise meaning in these contexts.

As for the narrative context, AT says, “had he wanted to make the point that noise cannot be heard in the first jhana, he would have criticized them for going to the trouble of leaving the first monastery, and recommended that if they wanted to escape the disturbance of noise, they should have entered the first jhana and dwelled comfortably there instead.” This argument does not hold if we regard noise as a hindrance to entry to the first jhāna, which it fairly obvious is, regardless of how one interprets it. In this case AT has trapped himself in an untenable position because of his narrow definition of ‘thorn’ as “something that creates difficulties for what it touches,” implying that the thorn is only relevant after one has attained jhāna. I can only conclude that AT’s argument fails.

Ok, Frank, now let me respond to some of the points you make about SN40.1. You state, “so in 2nd jhana, you have perception and attention to vitakka (thought), basically the beginnings of, but not a fully formed thought,” and you seem to base this on the phrase iminā vihārena viharato “(while in) that dwelling.” Again, it seems to me that you are trying to squeeze too much meaning out of the Pali. The meaning of phrases like iminā vihārena viharato are simply not that precise. The phrase recurs in MN122, where the meaning is quite elliptic and means something like “at the general time I was practising such a state”. (E.g.: Ayaṃ kho panānanda, vihāro tathāgatena abhisambuddho yadidaṃ sabbanimittānaṃ amanasikārā ajjhattaṃ suññataṃ upasampajja viharituṃ. Tatra ce, ānanda, tathāgataṃ iminā vihārena viharantaṃ bhavanti upasaṅkamitāro bhikkhū bhikkhuniyo upāsakā … uyyojanikapaṭisaṃyuttaṃyeva kathaṃ kattā hoti, “And, Ānanda, this attainment has been discovered by the Tathāgata, that is, to enter upon and remain in internal emptiness, because of the non-attention to all objects. If in regard to this, the Tathāgata is remaining in this attainment, and people approach him, whether monks, nuns, lay followers … then (the Tathāgata) speaks words connected with dismissal.”) Here it seems clear, at least to me, that the dismissal of people doers not happen while the Tathāgata is in the described state, but during the general period of time he is involved in the practise of it.

At SN40.1 the meaning seems to be more precise than this, but the point is that the expression is more flexible than you seem to allow for. Since we know that the second jhāna is defined, at least in part, by the absence of vitakka and vicāra, it only stands to reason that as soon as these arise in your mind you are out of the attainment. The same argument holds for the first jhāna and sensuality. In this case the argument is perhaps even stronger: in all cases you have to abandon sensuality (the five hindrances) to enter jhāna and it is, as you would know, vivcc’eva kāmehi (which, by the way, means much more than simply abandoning the hindrance).

You then say, “clearly what vism. and ajahn brahm define for their first jhana has a much greater difficulty than what the buddha is asking for. … he just disenfranchised 99 percent of the population.” But this is missing the point. The point is that we need to interpret the suttas correctly, otherwise there is absolutely no way we will reach the goal. Should we also make Awakening easier to achieve, by interpreting it in novel ways, or should we be as realistic as possible about what it entails? If ending saṃsāra is as important as the Buddha says, we would be doing a great disservice to everyone by misinterpreting what he is trying to say. When you get to the jhānas, you are next door to Awakening. The jhānas and the stages of Awakening are frequently grouped together in the suttas. They form a group of phenomena that are otherworldly. Once you start looking at the Buddha’s description of the jhānas in this light, it is no wonder that they demand a lot of perseverance and commitment to attain. But anyone can do it with the right attitude. This is not about disenfranchising, but exactly the opposite. You want to give people the real deal. If people get led up the garden path, that’s disenfranchising.

“They give up”. Well, they shouldn’t. This just means their commitment isn’t there, or they are looking in the wrong place. People often focus too much on meditation and forget about the factors that enable meditation. A holistic approach to the path is required. I have no doubt that anyone can do it. And no, I don’t think the Mahāsi movement is the answer. I know too many people who have been in that system and who were told they had attainments, but later realised it was nothing of the sort. If the student doubts his own attainment, what does that say about the method or the teacher?

I have no idea whether we will ever see eye-to-eye on this, but the argument is still worthwhile, I think. At least for now!


Thanks for that dear Ajahn Bramhali.
Look at the topics of discussions on discourse. It’s mostly about meditation.
I can’t wait to hear how dedicated practitioners eradicate their fears, aversions, desires and delusions.


Look at the Sutta Pitaka. It is as well mostly about meditation - or at least how to get ready for meditation ! :wink:

I think it is worth acknowledging that it is at the factors of sati (mindfulness) and samadhi (stillness/concentration) that people’s experience of the cultivation of the path narrows down enough for meaningful conversations around the practice to take place.

Although clearly put by the Buddha in the suttas the earlier factors of right thought, speech, action and livelihood are not necessarily to be cultivated in the same way by different people.

Pick the case of a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni nowadays, he/she has practical challenges that probably were just unimaginable in the times of the early sangha.

What to say about us lay disciples? How close is my cultivation to the one of a pre-historic Indian villager? Even when I travel to Thailand’s countryside and interact with other lay disciples there I find almost impossible to communicate the practical challenges I find myself with in carrying on with my job, family life, etc.

While it is crucial to keep in mind that one should not ever grow hopeful of progress in terms of “meditation” without having checked all boxes in terms of previous factors of the path, it is not realistic as well to expect people to engage in meaningful conversations around how they take up the challenge of dealing with things like right speech, action and livelihood in their own uniquely conditioned individual existence.

The only space in which there could be hope for such a thing to occur would be in a monastery, amidst the bhikkhu or bhikkhuni sangha!

This is for at least in those places people are (hopefully) genuinely interested in make their existences less about their own personal narrative of self and more about making happen a community of individuals fully engaged in pursuing the highest of the targets: the noble task of realizing by themselves of the end of suffering.


thanks for the explanation Bhante.

it will take me some time to evaluate everything you said in the post regarding sound and thorns, but we are on the same page as far as wanting to adopt an interpretation of jhana, samadhi, vitakka, vicara that is true to EBT.

i’m open minded and i’ll change my position 180 degrees in 5 minutes if i can see compelling evidence.

i’m aware of some of the suttas you cited such as AN 7.40 where it’s supportive of the type of jhana ajahn brahm advocates.

AN 7.40 (9) Mastery (1) ( b.bodhi translation)

183“Bhikkhus, possessing seven qualities, a bhikkhu exercises mastery over his mind and is not a servant of his mind. What seven? Here, (1) a bhikkhu is skilled in concentration, (2) skilled in the attainment of concentration, (3) skilled in the duration of concentration, (4) skilled in emergence from concentration, (5) skilled in fitness for concentration, (6) skilled in the area of concentration, and (7) skilled in resolution regarding concentration.1499"" Possessing these seven qualities, a bhikkhu exercises mastery over his mind, and is not a servant of his mind.”

here in pali, with some key words in bold

:diamonds: 40. “sattahi, bhikkhave, dhammehi samannāgato bhikkhu cittaṃ vase VAR vatteti, no ca bhikkhu cittassa vasena vattati. katamehi sattahi? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu samādhi-kusalo hoti, samādhissa samāpattikusalo hoti, samādhissa ṭhitikusalo hoti, samādhissa vuṭṭhāna-kusalo hoti, samādhissa kalyāṇakusalo hoti, samādhissa gocarakusalo hoti, samādhissa abhinīhārakusalo hoti. imehi kho, bhikkhave, sattahi dhammehi samannāgato bhikkhu cittaṃ vase vatteti, no ca bhikkhu cittassa vasena vattatī”ti. navamaṃ.

so “vase” = mastery, kusala = “skilled in it”, vuthhana-kusalo = “skilled in emergence” .

i never said that EBT doesn’t support the type of samadhi ajahn brahm teaches, what i’ve tried to show is that the formless attainments, and 4th jhana, being imperturbable, is where it fits in more naturally with EBT, and extending mastery to the default prerequisite requirement for 1st jhana is unwarranted.

in AN 7.40 quoted above, it talks about it as “mastery” of samadhi. no mention of first jhana. certainly one who can do formless attainments and 4th jhana with mastery, can do first jhana with mastery as well. but from the point of view of a new disciple who is working through the stages of taming the mind, replacing incessant thinking with thinking that’s only pertaining to the dhamma is a big step, a big deal. to learn how to calm both the body and mind to the point of experiencing a momentary spike of piti sukha from first jhana is a big deal and a big milestone.


But are these superhuman states, worthy of the noble ones (i.e of a stream-winner or above)?

From MN31:

“Good, good, Anuruddha. But while you abide thus diligent, ardent, and resolute, have you attained any superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones, a comfortable abiding?”

“Why not, venerable sir? Here, venerable sir, whenever we want, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, we enter upon and abide in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Venerable sir, this is a superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones, a comfortable abiding, which we have attained while abiding diligent, ardent, and resolute.”

Here is a sutta which tells us how to think about jhanas: they’re superhuman states, worthy of stream-winners and above :slight_smile:

Edit: And from one of my favorite suttas, AN9.34:

"Now there is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

If, as he remains there, he is beset with attention to perceptions dealing with sensuality, that is an affliction for him.

Just as pain arises as an affliction in a healthy person for his affliction, even so the attention to perceptions dealing with sensuality that beset the monk is an affliction for him.

So, attention to perceptions of sensuality, is like pain is to a healthy person, from the standpoint of a first jhana. This may shed some light on the thorn analogy as well :slight_smile:


hi Eric,
that’s a fair point, but looking at all of the EBT, such as AN 3.100 goldsmith simile where first jhana is described as a weak concentration, the cook simile in the satipatthana samyutta (SN 47.8 i think, or near there) where right effort, satipatthana, and ekaggata citta and samadhi (the hallmark keywords of 2nd jhana are used), MN 125 where first jhana clearly would involve an ordinary understnading of vitakka vicara, MN 78 again where first jhana would have ordinary thinking and evaluation, with the qualification that they are connected to thoughts of the dhamma, not the 5 hindrances, etc…

i’m not dismissing your point, but to be more convincing i’d have to examine what “superhuman” means in more detail. if you look at the general population of meditators, to think thoughts not connected with the 5 hindrances, and only thoughts connected to the dhamma and meditation practice, then that is superhuman, not an ordinary human thing and takes quite a bit of training.

and let’s not overlook perhaps the most EBT of all EBT in samadhi contexts, the standard formula for first and second jhana. it is only in 2nd jhana that the Buddha first proclaims it as "ekodi-bhavan… samadhi-jam ". the first jhana is simply “vivekajam piti-sukham”, rapture and pleasure based on seclusion, which supports the AN 3.100 goldsmith simile that describes first jhana as weak quality of samadhi.

now there are a couple of places where the pali suttas (i don’t know if it’s EBT) states ekaggata is a factor of first jhana, but if i recall correctly those 2 rare instances are spoken by Sariputta, who happens to be the poster boy for abhidhamma. i don’t think the pali suttas actually have the Buddha claiming that ekaggata is a factor of first jhana. in any case, the vast majority of jhana passages, you would only have vitakka and vicara instead of ekaggata as the factors in first jhana.


AN 3.100

"When he is rid of them, there remain only thoughts of the Dhamma. His concentration is neither calm nor refined, it has not yet attained serenity or unity, and is kept in place by the fabrication of forceful restraint. But there comes a time when his mind grows steady inwardly, settles down, grows unified & concentrated. His concentration is calm & refined, has attained serenity & unity, and is no longer kept in place by the fabrication of forceful restraint.

This seems to say that when there are only thoughts of Dhamma, then you don’t have any good samadhi (not calm, refined, no serenity or unity)?

SN 47.8:
This sutta seems to be about noticing when satipatthana practice works for you and when it doesn’t - which makes sense because right mindfulness is supposed to take you into right samadhi. Can you explain your thinking here?

Here you have morality, sense-restraint, moderation in eating, vigilance, mindfulness and clear comprehension, overcoming the five hindrances and sattipatthana practice coming before jhana. Isn’t this a little excessive for a weak state that most people can achieve?

Edit: Also like in the gradual training (MN 27), why do all the gradual training? Wouldn’t it make sense to start doing jhanas earlier if they’re more accessible?


"And what are unskillful resolves? Being resolved on sensuality, on ill will, on harmfulness. These are called unskillful resolves. What is the cause of unskillful resolves? Their cause, too, has been stated, and they are said to be perception-caused. Which perception? — for perception has many modes & permutations. Any sensuality-perception, ill will-perception or harmfulness-perception: That is the cause of unskillful resolves. Now where do unskillful resolves cease without trace? [in the first Jhana].

If any sensuality/ill will/harmfullness-perception is the cause for unskillful resolves - and unskillful resolves don’t exist in a first jhana - this must mean the cause does not exist in the first jhana*.

If you don’t have any sensuality-perception in a first jhana, that would lend credit to the idea that you cannot feel the body, hear sounds etc. in first jhana.

For second jhana, the renunciation/metta/compassion-perceptions must go. Following the same line of reasoning - well there’s not a lot of perception left. I’m not sure how this bodes for the interpretation :slight_smile:

*I’m basing this on the English, this might not be accurate based on a thorough analysis of the Pali.


hi Erik,
i’ll have to defer the discussion for now. i do plan to collect my notes sometime in 2017 on vitakka and vicara in the context of first jhana, and present a detailed pali+english walk through so you can see the reasoning in full detail.

i (try) to only allocate 1 hour per day to participating on dhamma discussion…


excerpt from AN 10.72 thorns (b.bodhi)

“Good, good, bhikkhus! Those great disciples spoke rightly when they said that I have called noise a thorn to the jhānas.
There are, bhikkhus, these ten thorns. What ten?
(1) Delight in company is a thorn to one who delights in solitude.
(2) Pursuit of an attractive object is a thorn to one intent on meditation on the mark of the unattractive.
(3) An unsuitable show is a thorn to one guarding the doors of the sense faculties.
(4) Keeping company with women is a thorn to the celibate life. [135]
(5) Noise is a thorn to the first jhāna.
(6) Thought and examination are a thorn to the second jhāna.
(7) Rapture is a thorn to the third jhāna.
(8) In-and-out breathing is a thorn to the fourth jhāna.
(9) Perception and feeling are a thorn to the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling.
(10) Lust is a thorn, hatred is a thorn, and delusion is a thorn.
Dwell thornless, bhikkhus! Dwell without thorns! The arahants are thornless. The arahants are without thorns. The arahants are thornless and without thorns.”


a response to Ajahn Brahamali’s post to me:

i’ve read Bhante’s post several times and mulled it over the past few days. i quote the relevant passage of the 10 thorns in the post immediately above this one for reference.

#6, #7, #9, are the 3 items from 10 thorns that stand out to me as the insuperable obstacles according to frequent EBT passages.
(i have no idea why SC is using super big font bold for above sentence)

the other 7 out of 10 would be a majority where ven. Thanissaro’s more permissive definition of thorn fits better.

also consider that the first 4 items are right on the border of the types of thoughts one trying to enter or stabilize first jhana might encounter. they’re on the border of being included under the 5 hindrances, but are just momentary blips of sankharas and perception that haven’t fully formed into thoughts and evaluations.

unless there are other EBT passages on sound in jhana that strongly indicate one way or the other, personally i favor an interpretation that is more conservative, meaning not a narrow interpretation that excludes other possibilities. ven. Thanissaro’s interpretation is more conservative by that definition.

also we should note that once we invoke the “the buddha was pragmatic” line of reasoning, it can be used to support many positions, not just the one we favor.

i’m completely sympathetic to preventing an overly relaxed interpretation of jhana that is so watered down as to make enlightenment impossible. i just don’t think ajahn brahm’s way is the only way or best way to accomplish that.


You entered # symbol followed by a number. Add a space in between or refer to these things in a different way (e.g. “items X,Y and Z above”)


Hi Frank,
I think you make a good point. Here are some others that I think are relevant (apologies if they have already been mentioned):

"A monk endowed with these five qualities is incapable of entering & remaining in right concentration. Which five? He cannot withstand [the impact of] sights, he cannot withstand sounds… aromas… tastes… tactile sensations. A monk endowed with these five qualities is not capable of entering & remaining in right concentration.
“A monk endowed with these five qualities is capable of entering & remaining in right concentration. Which five? He can withstand [the impact of] sights… sounds… aromas… tastes… tactile sensations. A monk endowed with these five qualities is capable of entering & remaining in right concentration.”

— AN 5.113

If the five senses are shut down in the jhanas then there would be no reason to talk about withstanding sights, sounds, etc. to remain in jhana.

"And how is a monk resilient to sounds? There is the case where a monk, on hearing a sound with the ear, feels no passion for a sound that incites passion and can center his mind. This is how a monk is resilient to sounds. - AN 5.139

This sutta – though not specifically mentioning jhana - picks up a very similar theme as the thorns sutta you mentioned and also AN 5.113 above.

"A monk who has not abandoned these six qualities is incapable of entering & remaining in the first jhana. Which six? Sensual desire, ill will, sloth & drowsiness, restlessness & anxiety, uncertainty, and not seeing well with right discernment, as they actually are present, the drawbacks of sensual pleasures…
“A monk who has not abandoned these six qualities is incapable of entering & remaining in the first jhana. Which six? Thoughts of sensuality, thoughts of ill will, thoughts of harmfulness, perceptions of sensuality, perceptions of ill will, perceptions of harmfulness.”
— AN 6.73-74

Sensual desire is not the senses. Further more, thoughts in general are not ruled out. If there could be no thoughts at all then why would the Buddha specify only certain types of thoughts as preventing one from entering and remaining in jhana?


thanks Charlie, those are good passages.

it would be for the group to collect all such passages related to sound in jhana. even if we get our conclusions wrong, at least we leave a valuable set of clear notes and exact sutta referernces for future generations to audit.

here’s another passage:
from vin parajika 4

:diamonds: pārājikapāḷi
:diamonds: 1. pārājikakaṇḍaṃ
:diamonds: 4. catutthapārājikaṃ
:diamonds: 232. atha kho āyasmā mahāmoggallāno bhikkhū āmantesi — “idhāhaṃ, āvuso, sappinikāya nadiyā tīre āneñjaṃ samādhiṃ samāpanno nāgānaṃ ogayha uttarantānaṃ koñcaṃ karontānaṃ saddaṃ assosin”ti. bhikkhū ujjhāyanti khiyyanti vipācenti — “kathañhi nāma āyasmā mahāmoggallāno āneñjaṃ samādhiṃ samāpanno saddaṃ sossati! uttarimanussadhammaṃ āyasmā mahāmoggallāno ullapatī”ti. bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesuṃ. “attheso, bhikkhave, samādhi so ca kho aparisuddho. saccaṃ, bhikkhave, moggallāno āha. anāpatti, bhikkhave, moggallānassā”ti.

Then the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna addressed the monks: “Friends, after attaining an imperturbable samādhi on the banks of the river Sappinikā, I heard the noise of elephants plunging in, emerging and trumpeting.”

The monks criticised and denounced him: “How can Venerable Mahāmoggallāna say such a thing. He is claiming a super-human achievement.” They informed the Master.

“Monks, there is such a samādhi, but it is not wholly purified. Moggallāna spoke truly. There is no offence for Moggallāna.”

from other sutta references, the imperturbable samadhi refers to 4th jhana or formless attainments. so the important point to take away here is even with an imperturbable samadhi being impure, the buddha only said it was impure, not that it doesn’t qualify as being called imperturbable, just as in the SN 40 moggallana (first 8 suttas) is practicing impure versions of the the 4 jhanas and formless attainments.


Isn’t this (AN 5.113) just referring to the sense restraint (which is a necessary precursor to jhana) though? I mean, there’s no reason to talk about withstanding sights if you have your eyes closed. Or to withstand taste if you’re not eating.

From DN 9:

“Quite withdrawn from sensual pleasures, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, the monk enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. His earlier perception of sensuality ceases, and on that occasion there is a perception of a refined truth of rapture & pleasure born of seclusion. On that occasion he is one who is percipient of a refined truth of rapture & pleasure born of seclusion. And thus it is that with training one perception arises and with training another perception ceases.

Like in AN 6.73-74, it’s the perception of sensuality that ceases and a new perception that arises.

A bit further down in DN 9:

“Now, when the monk is percipient of himself here, then from there to there, step by step, he touches the peak of perception. As he remains at the peak of perception, the thought occurs to him, ‘Thinking is bad for me. Not thinking is better for me. If I were to think and will, this perception of mine would cease, and a grosser perception would appear. What if I were neither to think nor to will?’ So he neither thinks nor wills, and as he is neither thinking nor willing, that perception ceases and another, grosser perception does not appear. He touches cessation. This, Potthapada, is how there is the alert step-by step attainment of the ultimate cessation of perception.

In each jhana (as described in DN 9) a grosser perception is replaced by a finer one. The method to achieve this is described in the quote above: not thinking and not willing.

If one were to think and will a “grosser perception would appear.”

So if you were to think in a first jhana, the perception of a “refined truth of rapture & pleasure born of seclusion” would disappear, and the perception of sensuality would appear again. That’s how I interpret it anyway :slight_smile:


That’s a good one, Erik, but it would be considerably clearer if we just chuck Ven Thanissaro’s translation of kāmā in this pericope and go straight to the CPD.

Instead of translating the word as the singular “sensuality”, we should just accept that kāmā is plural as follows -

kāma, m. [ts., cf. BHSD, SWTF, Encyclop. of Bud-
dhism VI, 1 1996 s.v.; Hôb. s.v. ai], 1. (mostly in sg.)
wish, desire, pleasure; 2. (in pl.) the objects of sensual
> pleasure viz. rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba,
cf. kāmaguṇa,

See especially how MN 75 distinguishes the “cords of sensual pleasure” (kāmaguṇā) from plain old kāmā.

It’s only in Ven Thanissaro’s translation of the First Jhana pericope that the meaning of being secluded from the objects of the 5 senses is completely obscured by his rendering kāmā as singular, when it is plainly plural.

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

Hi Frank

I consider AN 9.37 to be conclusive on this matter, if one is not persuaded by the lexical analysis of kāmā as used in the First Jhana pericope. But whose translation of AN 9.37 should one refer to?

First, the uncontentious bits. There are 2 narratives in that sutta, one setting out Ven Ananda’s hiatus at Ghosita’s monastery and his conversation with Ven Udayin and company. Nestled within that narrative, Ven Ananda recounts a narrative setting out his earlier encounter with Jatila Bhagika in the Black Forest.

Secondly, the uncontentious doctrinal subject discussed in both narratives. Both narratives discuss the loci and contents of this situation -

where the eye will be, and forms, and yet one will not be sensitive to that dimension; where the ear will be, and sounds… where the nose will be, and aromas… where the tongue will be, and flavors… where the body will be, and tactile sensations, and yet one will not be sensitive to that dimension

per Ven T :

In the Ghosita monastery narrative, the loci where one is percipient and yet not sensitive to the objects of the 5 senses are clearly the formless attainments.

In the Black Forest monastery narrative, the locus where one is percipient and yet not sensitive to the objects of the 5 senses are described as follows -

samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gato, vimuttattā ṭhito, ṭhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati.

One could nit-pick on the differences between Ven T’s and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations of the above, but I do not propose to be detained by these for now. Using BB’s translation, we have -

the concentra­tion that does not lean forward and does not bend back, and
that is not reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the
defilements]—by being liberated, it is steady; by being steady,
it is content; by being content, one is not agitated.

What is also uncontentious is Ven Ananda’s assertion that in this samādhi, one does not experience the objects of the 5 senses.

We now come to the really contentious part about Ven T’s translation of this part that follows the above -

yāyaṃ, bhante ānanda, samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gato, vimuttattā ṭhito, ṭhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati. Ayaṃ, bhante ānanda, samādhi kiṃphalo vutto bhagavatā’ti?

The concentration whereby—neither pressed down nor forced back, nor with fabrication kept blocked or suppressed—still as a result of release, contented as a result of standing still, and as a result of contentment one is not agitated: This concentration is said by the Blessed One to be the fruit of what?’

I’ll leave it to you chaps to read BB’s analysis of the bolded compound (fn 1930 & 1931). Ven T has rendered it as a genitive tappurisa, while BB offers his reasons as to why it should be a bāhubbīhi compound. One can also refer to Cone’s entry for ka, and see how it is used in compounds and whether or not kiṃphalo is more probably a tappurisa or bāhubbīhi. In any event, BB reads it as a bāhubbīhi, giving -

Bhante Ananda, the concentration that does not lean forward
and does not bend back and that is not reined in and checked
by forcefully suppressing [the defilements]—by being liber­ated, it is steady;
by being steady, it is content; by being content,
one is not agitated.1929 Bhante Ananda, what did the Blessed One
say this concentration has as its fruit?'1930
(9) “When she asked me this, I replied: 'Sister, the concentra­tion that does not
lean forward and does not bend back, and
that is not reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the
defilements]—by being liberated, it is steady; by being steady,
it is content; by being content, one is not agitated. The Blessed
One said this concentration has final knowledge as its fruit.'1931
When one is thus percipient too, friend, one does not experi­ence that base.”

Now, leaving aside the linguistic analysis for why the bāhubbīhi is preferable, there is also the doctrinal reading to suggest why the tappurisa reading is nonsensical. Taking Ven T’s translation -

‘The concentration whereby—neither pressed down nor forced back, nor with fabrication kept blocked or suppressed—still as a result of release, contented as a result of standing still, and as a result of contentment one is not agitated: This concentration is said by the Blessed One to be the fruit of what?’

“I said to her, ‘Sister, the concentration whereby—neither pressed down nor forced back, nor with fabrication kept blocked or suppressed—still as a result of release, contented as a result of standing still, and as a result of contentment one is not agitated: This concentration is said by the Blessed One to be the fruit of gnosis.’ This is another way of being percipient when not sensitive to that dimension.”

On Ven T’s translation, it would appear that each time an arahant (implied by the aññāphala) accesses this samādhi, he/she will then have to go through the entire sequence leading up to non-agitation. That is plainly ridiculous, as the arahant is beyond the clinging that gives rise to agitation in the first place.

The 2nd doctrinal analysis looks at the predicate of this samādhi being na sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gata. Where else do we find such a state? In AN 3.101, we find that -

"But, bhikkhus, there comes a time when his mind becomes internally steady, composed, unified, and concentrated… That concentration is peaceful and sublime, gained by full tranquilization, and attained to unification; it is not reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the defilements] (na sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gata ).561.Then, there being a suitable basis, he is capable of realizing any state realizable by direct knowledge toward which he might incline his mind.

Doesn’t this passage militate against reading that word in AN 9.37 as a tappurisa? This is placed right smack in the nexus between what appears to be the supernormal powers and mental development, which is the place occupied by the jhanas.

Thirdly, we have DN 34 saying point blank that sammāsamādhi is, inter alia, na sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gata -

Katame pañca dhammā uppādetabbā? Pañca ñāṇiko sammāsamādhi: ‘ayaṃ samādhi ­pac­cup­pan­na­su­kho ceva āyatiñca sukhavipāko’ti paccattaṃyeva ñāṇaṃ uppajjati. ‘Ayaṃ samādhi ariyo nirāmiso’ti paccattaññeva ñāṇaṃ uppajjati. ‘Ayaṃ samādhi akāpuri­sa­sevito’ti paccattaṃyeva ñāṇaṃ uppajjati. ‘Ayaṃ samādhi santo paṇīto paṭippas­sad­dha­laddho eko­dibhā­vā­dhi­gato, na sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gato’ti paccattaṃyeva ñāṇaṃ uppajjati. ‘So kho panāhaṃ imaṃ samādhiṃ satova samāpajjāmi sato vuṭṭhahāmī’ti paccattaṃyeva ñāṇaṃ uppajjati. Ime pañca dhammā uppādetabbā.

Given the weight of this evidence, AN 9.37 is about as equivocal as one can get for an EBT assertion that one is not percipient of the objects of the 5 senses in the jhanas.


Hi Erik,

It specifically speaks of entering and remaining so it doesn’t seem so. Did Buddha instruct monks to close their eyes? I don’t know. As far as taste goes – maybe they didn’t brush their teeth? :slight_smile:

With regard to DN 9, I think you have to keep in mind the statement that Buddha makes that precedes this discussion:

“In this regard, Potthapada, those brahmans & contemplatives who say that a person’s perception arises & ceases without cause, without reason, are wrong from the very start. Why is that? Because a person’s perception arises & ceases with a cause, with a reason. With training, one perception arises and with training another perception ceases. And what is that training?”

His talk is all about how perception is not random. He sets out to show how each stage of the path – starting with virtue – unfolds as a result of effort made at the preceding stage. At each stage, the perception that ceases is that of the previous stage (for example 1st jhana) and the perception that arises (for example 2nd jhana). It is no different than if I am looking at the table and I turn my head to look out the window, the perception of the table ceases and the perception of the window arises. So the perception of sensuality here refers to the hindrances ceasing and the arising of seclusion from sensuality – but I think this refers to passion for the senses not the senses themselves.

I think you will find that he only makes that statement in the 7th jhana (and he is thinking!). Basically, thought has been present all the way up through the 7th jhana and it is only at this point that he reflects on the possibility of ceasing thought and will.

AN 9.35 is similar.


Good question! Worth starting a topic?!