Were there periods where meditation fell out of favor with monastics?

I remember reading posts where it was implied or even explicitly stated that there were periods where meditation fell out of favor with monastics and that may have created some issues with some suttas regarding meditation. I didn’t ask at the time what reasons there were to believe this or what issues arose as a result, but I am now trying to dig deeper into the jhanas and their relationship to liberation and this outstanding issue potentially complicates things.

I would appreciate anyone pointing to discussions specifically about this or summaries of them. I am not looking for a wide open jhana discussion. The issue is did meditation fall out of favor, how do we know it did, what suttas may be evidence of a misunderstanding of jhanas that arose do to this.


Meditation skills declined at varying pace in various countries.

By the 18th century, the Sri Lankan Sangha went into such a decline that Upasampada and meditation practice had to be imported from Ayutthaya:

Meditative practice also died out in Burma, and had to be reconstructed from textual sources, especially Satipatthana Sutta:

Meanwhile, after the fall of Ayutthaya, this strongest original meditation lineage was almost extinguished.

Hence Burmese reconstruction has spread in South-East Asia. Then came the Western textual reconstruction, largely based on the Burmese one, with “mindfulness”, “Four Noble Truths”, collective sittings, etc.

Now that Chinese versions of the Satipatthana Sutta are available, they show that the Burmese and Western passive “mindfulness” reconstructions of the Satipatthana Sutta were inaccurate, and more work is needed.


The Burmese interpretation of mindfulness isn’t passive ie promotes equanimity exclusively, that’s purely a simplistic invention of modern western lay teachers. The Visuddhimagga on which the Burmese method is based doesn’t expound passive mindfulness, which is the exclusion of right effort. The Thai monks Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Mun and many before them became arahants without knowing anything about Chinese texts. The western monks who studied and wrote in Sri Lanka like Bikkhu Bodhi were influenced by Burmese vipassana and emphasized insight over serenity. In that period the fact that jhana only results in temporary suppression of the hindrances was prominent, I can testify because I was there. During the current era from 1990 onwards the understanding of insight has been lost and jhana predominates.

" The three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path provide the check against this threefold layering of the defilements. The first, the training in moral discipline, restrains unwholesome bodily and verbal activity and thus prevents defilements from reaching the stage of transgression. The training in concentration provides the safeguard against the stage of manifestation. It removes already manifest defilements and protects the mind from their continued influx. But even though concentration may be pursued to the depths of full absorption, it cannot touch the basic source of affliction — the latent tendencies lying dormant in the mental continuum. Against these concentration is powerless, since to root them out calls for more than mental calm. What it calls for, beyond the composure and serenity of the unified mind, is wisdom (pañña), a penetrating vision of phenomena in their fundamental mode of being."

Bikkhu Bodhi

Here the context is personal practice. But Buddhism over the last two millennia has shown it affords considerable benefit to societal cohesion and these qualities are more in demand in the current era (since 1990).


Yeah, I’m going to agree with the overall picture, that it never completely dies out but it does undergo periods of obscurity in certain places for a time. I’m reminded of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s quip that the Buddhadharma is always a bit counter-cultural in any culture.

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It seems the revival’s always center around Satipatthana style meditation. That would seem to imply a long drought for Jhana meditation.

Is it possible that the apparent emphasis on Satipatthana may be due to what was considered easy to teach to lay people, and also the particular teachers who happened to attract western students, and subsequently became famous in the west?

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If you take a close read of Thag 16.10 and Thag 17.1 - bearing in mind descriptions of the deterioration of the dispensation - the decline of the entire community practicing rightly would be steady. With that, I think it makes more sense to ask, “Will there be periods where practicing rightly is the current fashion?”

Don’t mean to paint such a despondent picture, but I think it is important that we take the accounts of the Buddha and arahants very seriously.


Sounds like it’s referring to the Mahīśāsaka, who wore blue robes.

They’ll be arrogant,
wrapped in robes of blue;
deceivers and flatterers, pompous and fake,
they’ll wander as if they were noble ones.

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Interesting. I wonder if there are records of any other sect wearing blue robes.


I’ve read some things by Burmese vipassana authors and Thanisarro Bhikkhu over the years that you aren’t there just to passively be aware, but actively observe what occurs to learn from the observations.

I never liked the translation of samadhi as “concentrate” ( implications of force, etc ) and loved it when a few years ago Ajahn Brahm mentioned that a translation from the Chinese had it as “stillness” which I felt through my experience was a MUCH better fit.

Would you happen to have a link to where a person could see that Chinese version of the Satipatthana in English?

It reminds me of how many wooded areas in the United States are not old growth/original growth forests, but replantings after the land was stripped bear in the 19th century.

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Well, strange as it may seem, three-quarters of the original Satipaṭṭhāna practice is about Jhana. It is in relatively recent Burmese reconstruction that Satipaṭṭhāna became mostly insight practice.

That’s an interesting idea. Are you referring the suttas of SN 47 as opposed to MN 10/DN 22?

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Some Japanese monks do:

I have heard that, but I don’t think many actually interpret it that way. Meaning that they do not believe jhana is implied.

SN 47 indeed helps to understand this, but Chinese parallels of the Satipatthana Sutta make it especially clear, since they include jhānas.

Yes, since modern practice is largely based on the Burmese-Western reconstruction.

Are you referring to just MA 98?

I think it is strange that people think insight occurs outside jhana. It is in the jhanas that sanna ceases and “you are not in that” to quote from Ud 1.10. This is seeing things as they really are. I think that later Buddhism became so obsessed with philosophy of self and winning debates that meditation went from the means of attaining enlightenment to a proof to be wielded against Brahmanism. I know we have a thread somewhere here discussing that Satipatthana was a later development, likewise another thread touching the Theravadin obsession with the anatta debate.