What did the Buddha mean by 'music'?


Forms, sounds, odours, tastes,
Tactiles and all objects of mind—
Desirable, lovely, agreeable,
So long as it’s said: ‘They are.’

“These are considered happiness
By the world with its devas;
But where these cease,
That they consider suffering.

“The noble ones have seen as happiness
The ceasing of identity.
This view of those who clearly see
Runs counter to the entire world.

“What others speak of as happiness,
That the noble ones say is suffering;
What others speak of as suffering,
That the noble ones know as bliss


Is that to say that you agree with my point?


This is very good. I do, however, have this feeling that I get sensory pleasure when I am cold and put on coat, or when many insects are eating me and I stop them by covering up. “Oh what a relief, now I’m happy.” :wink:

Tied to this we have the instructions to go to the forest, the root of a tree or an empty hut. So each of these three gives us a certain type of sensory based environment. I presume the Buddha is suggesting that these sensory conditions are effective for the development of jhana? We might say that part of that is the sonic environment? A forest is a very loud place with a lot of unordered sounds. Is this the sort of sonic environment that we might want to recreate at home or in a city based retreat centre for the purpose of jhana practice?

From speaking to both Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioners, it is not my understanding that either of these two traditions reject jhāna, just that they suggest that it needs to be supported by prajñāpāramitā for the purpose of Mahayana. The actual practitioners (especially the Tibetan lamas that I’ve got to know) seem to make a lot of jhana practice. But I don’t really know what I’m talking about here.

If that one song is sung by me, then you clearly haven’t heard me sing! A mass of suffering indeed. :wink:

But this is very interesting. If you are playing loud music at 3am, this is going to wind up your neighbours, and that can cause all sorts of problems. On the other hand there is definitely a sense of sharing in the context of family that can bind around sensory pleasures. Sometime when I’m listening to my strange and abstract “music”, the grandkids tease me mercilessly, and much amusement and joy for all comes with that. I remember overhearing a telephone conversation where the person on the other end of the line had obviously asked what I was doing. The response from my spouse was “Oh, they’re in the other room listening to static”. Very concise. Very funny.

This is interesting: Is it dangerous and distracting to listen to music in the car?

I’ll do you a mix tape :wink:

But was he actually practicing jhana? For me the default condition of a mind with craving is plotting and planning (what EBT’s might call kamma) and the default condition of a mind without (or with very little) craving is jhana. The effort of the Buddha would be to move away from jhana to teach - presumably out of compassion?


As a professional musician myself, this is something I’ve pondered as well. It is true that the more I delve into the practice, the more I have stopped listening to music, and I’ve all but abandoned my side career performing music, as it not only came with the baggage of clinging to sound and expression but also came with baggage like reinforcing ego identity/sense of self and myriad ways to break most of the 5 precepts.

That said, I did recently compose, record and release an album of Dhamma-themed music, with sales proceeds going directly to charitable/Buddhist causes (the first box of CD’s donated to Portland Friends of the Dhamma for fundraising efforts).

So what if the creation of the music is for skillful means, and the listener is hearing sounds that were created in the spirit of Dhamma?


Indeed, this is the impression Mahayana and Vajrayana people will give about their schools, even that very same school entirely rejects jhāna practice.

Mahayana schools do not generally advertise that they reject jhāna. Not surprising, since it was the Buddha’s main practice, and the final stage of the Noble Eightfold Path! Furthermore, almost all Mahayana and Vajrayana members do not know what jhāna is, and yet many of them are eager to claim that their school uses it. This is in almost every case, statement based on assumption, not on knowledge.

I say almost every case, because I have heard of some branches of Chan in China practicing jhāna. Although I cannot say I am totally sure how legitimate the information I received on that was. And, I think in Taiwan, there is also a teacher, again of the Chan school I think, who apparently advocates jhāna, but does so due to study and influence from EBT’s, not from any continuous lineage through Chan (which so far as I understand abandoned jhāna practice many centuries ago).

Tibetan teachers (those who have knowledge of jhāna theoretically - and I have never heard of any who have practical knowledge of jhāna, by the way) tend to categorically reject jhāna, since it is a ‘vile’ (hīna) practice, and because they want to open their awareness rather than close it down (away from the sense sphere) - such is the explanation I have come across.

I’ve actually found it quite hard to research whether there is any jhāna practice in Mahayana becaue of this tendency to either lie (claiming they have it when they know they have no idea what they’re talking about - quite common); because they assume that jhāna refers to the various dhyāna practices they have (which it does not), and therefore giving confidence claims based on this ignorance; or because they are having a reflex reaction to defend their system against the question of them having this practice, though this is related to the first point of lying.

In many cases I have had to keep pressing to finally find out that they have absolutely no evidence for their claim. Basically, if someone makes that claim but has no evidence at all of any teachers in their school writing texts or giving oral instructions in jhāna practice (not jhāna theory), and no evidence of any members actually practicing jhāna (and some things like the absence of sense experience during meditation but be confirmed to see if it may indeed be jhāna), then it is most likely that their claim is false.

If anyone does actually have evidence of people being instructed in jhāna practice in Mahayana, please do share the evidence and tag me!

We need a verb. If you prefer, we can say he was ‘doing jhāna’. Or ‘jhāna-ing’. Basically he was consciously deciding to sit down and enter specific states. So yes, he was doing that.

It would seem that you do not understand the term jhāna. A mind which is without craving but aware of the senses, or walking, or talking, is not in jhāna.


Please provide EBT quote. This statement was surprising!
As I read DN10, the section on immersion, walking meditation is not excluded. Indeed there is mention of guarding the sense of sight not getting caught up in the features and details. One has to walk with this mindfulness. I will admit that the breathless absorption would be a bit elusive while walking. But you have made a rather emphatic statement here in saying “not in jhana”.

How did you make the leap to denying any jhana whatsoever in walking meditation?


The four jhānas are incredibly important in most Gelug-derived Buddhisms particularly amongst the Tibetic branches and I am thinking here particularly of in the tantras, so in my experience the statement about jhāna cultivation being considered hīnayāna is incoherent with both vajra and bodhisattvayāna. We already have a disagreement on this issue though so it’s best not to bring that fight here.


I agree with observation that arahant regard jhana as more pleasant than sensual experience,
However, my personal opinion is that they avoid doing sensual activities for sake of sensual pleasure, rather than avoiding them entirely. After all, they still ate food, and talk to each other.
And they can do whatever activity they want, some teach, some meditate, some go to wilderness, and if they have to choose how to pass time between jhana or sensual pleasure, they probably choose jhana


If it helps reduce craving, aversion and delusion and is calming… Anything that increases cravings aversion and delusion and agitation must be avoided by a person intent on developing the path, but the same song which is soothing can become something to become attached to.


Sorry that was meant to be senses, not sense.
Have you read much about jhāna? That’s pretty standard I think! I’m a bit busy to find sources just now but did you not notice that jhāna is never talked about regarding anyone doing any movement or any action? It’s always seated in silent meditation. Read up on what jhāna states are (there are articles on it on accesstoinsight website for example, with sources - maybe some here too?) and you will see what the attributes of jhāna are.

One example of the extreme of no sense input is when … the Buddha?.. didn’t even notice that hundreds of wagons had rummbled past him while he was in jhāna.

For many people though, perhaps a loud sound would actually pull them out of jhāna. Jhãna is specifically beyond the sense sphere, so you have to let go of the sense sphere to enter that state.

Not excluded from immersion, or not excluded from jhāna. Because we are talking about jhāna. Find me any example of anyone doing jhāna while walking, in any EBT and I will be extremely surprised.

By studying the doctrine.

Are you willing to provide any evidence of jhāna practice instructions given to any Gelugpa for the purpose of said Gelugpas actually practicing jhāna? And if there is no evidence, then, is there any reason not to abandon this view?

That view is not in line with the quote:

And that was the surprising part for me. Of course I do not assume however that it is surely the opinion/statement of the Buddha.

I had a Theravadin bhikkhuni ask me to play music during her dhamma teachings in India once. I’ve had a few Mahayana teachers do the same but it was the Theravada case that I found interesting, because Tibetans rather famously dismiss much (most?) of the vinaya anyway! Her reasoning was that it was conducive the the dhamma. I expect this was because of the nature of the music, with is suffused with relaxation and concentration, both what we need for meditation. As it happens the music is from a Japanese Buddhist tradition (Fuke Shū) and was used as their main practice, so we believe - we have the music but don’t actually know so much about the life of the members of this school since it was abolished during the Buddhist persecution of the Meiji period.


I am very familiar with sitting meditation and for many years led meditation for others. I am also familiar with the receding of the senses with deeper meditation. In fact I meditate sitting with eyes closed. I also am very familiar with Bhante Sujato’s EBT jhana descriptions.

With walking meditation, I enter into the same stillness of sitting meditation simply by closing my eyes and walking slowly. Clearly this is will never be as deep or long as sitting meditation, if only because one might run into a tree or car in the street, so one has to open eyes every now and then to orient. But it is the same stillness as for sitting meditation. Not as deep, but the same quality.

Regarding EBT to corroborate, here is MN4:

I didn’t stand still or sit down or lie down until I had got rid of that fear and dread while walking.

The only way I can get rid of fear and dread is to abide in the stillness I first found in sitting meditation. MN4 discusses lying, standing, walking and sitting. Then it goes on to discuss jhana. In my experience, the stillness found in sitting meditation does dissolve fear and dread while lying, standing, walking and sitting. I actually used that stillness for over a decade unravelling fear and dread in movement. It does work. Sitting did not help this fear and dread because the fear and dread only showed up when moving. Therefore, seeking stillness in movement was the only way to get rid of that fear and dread. Exactly as per MN4.

From this experience, I would really hesitate to say “no jhana in walking”. However, I would quite
agree that walking in stillness is much more difficult than sitting in stillness.


Sorry that was meant to be while walking. Edited the original now.

If by the same, you mean you have no awareness of sense input, then I am surprised you don’t fall over or fall into something.

Besides, giving motor commands and so on, it not a state of one-pointedness.

I believe the trouble is that you have experienced some sense of stilness, and then seem to believe that that stillnss is jhāna. And so when you feel that stillness while walking, you apparently believe you are in jhāna. I would suggest that your assumption may not be in accordance with what jhāna means in the EBT’s.

I’m not sure it’s useful for me to fill up this thread with this same conversation so I might leave it at that regarding your definition of jhāna - I don’t mean to be rude, just it’s taking too much time and I doubt it is useful to many people.

Stillness and Jhana

Actually, in the other thread, my sources revolved around a Nyingmapa source. Unfortunately you did not see the link in time to read it, it seems. I was unemployed when I was able to assemble those various extensive documentations that did not impress you. I don’t have the same time now, unfortunately.

I will see if any of my old contacts at the Tendai Buddhist Institute in New York can write to you personally. I offered this initially in our disagreement on the other thread but you didn’t seem to want such contact. It seems apparent to me that you believe Mahāyānika to be liars generally, from your posts earlier above and in our past contact, so I don’t know what good this would do, but I really don’t know what could possibly convince you of this obvious fact other than an authentic teacher reaching out to you.

We can have it on the record here that we have a severe disagreement and leave it at that. No need to go back into it. I’m sure the last dialogue was at least as frustrating and pointless for you as it was for me.


Indeed, not only ‘more difficult’ but actually impossible! Walking is definitely not stillness. And what you’re describing is not jhana either. Sorry! :pensive:


I would agree that stillness isn’t jhana. However jhana is used for the blissful state after attaining to a jhana, as well, it seems, in the EBTs. While walking in the state of abiding-in, which is jhana is impossible, walking in the state after arising from jhana, is possible, and this is one possibility…


Good effort! That is definitely worth a quick link . Am I right in assuming that it is this:

This is an important point. This idea of a movement away from ‘agitation’ towards ‘calm’. In this way we can see that a mind which is highly agitated can be made calm using a piece of music and a mind that is very calm can be agitated by the same piece of music. As is often the case, the correct course of action is conditional on the current state of mind.

You are probably right that I do not understand what the term jhana means - I come from a different tradition and we slice up states of being (or states of consciousness, or realms of existence, or whatever) in a different way. But if the term jhana means what is on the other side of (what I believe is referred to as) nimitta, then my understanding of the term jhana coincides with your understanding in that there is clearly no walking, talking or awareness of the five senses in jhana. Regardless of this agreement with you, my statement stands.

Having said that, maybe I would now put it in a somewhat different way and expand on what I said. Maybe I would suggest that the natural, default state of mind is jhana and that the movement of mind away from that still state is an aberration. The mind of a non-arahant is often moved away from jhana by craving, whereas the mind of the (living) arahant is only moved away from jhana by such things as compassion (to teach, and in order to do that: to feed and exercise the body, etc…) and never by craving

I think it is incumbent on those who can recollect these deeper states free from the five senses to tell those who have forgotten them that these states are your home, your birthright - normal, natural and the default state of the unagitated mind.

Just some thoughts from a non-buddhist. :anjal:

No way! Really? Is that your experience? Is there anything about this in the EBT’s? The mind can toggle quite fast in and out of (my naive and crude understanding of the term) jhana, but the senses have gone whilst one is actually in jhana, surely? If a yogi were to hear a sound, then at that moment they are surely going to be this side of jhana?

Yes. Even in first jhana the mind isn’t completely still is it? In first jhana there’s still a little … ummm … ‘bounciness’? Is that right? - Just trying to hone my understanding of what the term jhana (and it’s subdivisions) means.


Here the Buddha describes that while his mind is established on a higher theme, he can also be in any of the four bodily postures.

“But, Master Gotama, what is the celestial high and luxurious bed that at present you gain at will, without trouble or difficulty?”

Here, brahmin, when I am dwelling in dependence on a village or town, in the morning I dress, take my bowl and robe, and enter that village or town for alms. After the meal, when I have returned from the alms round, I enter a grove. I collect some grass or leaves that I find there into a pile and then sit down. Having folded my legs crosswise and straightened my body, I establish mindfulness in front of me. Then, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I enter and dwell in the first jhāna, …

Then, brahmin, when I am in such a state, if I walk back and forth, on that occasion my walking back and forth is celestial. If I am standing, on that occasion my standing is celestial. If I am sitting, on that occasion my sitting is celestial. If I lie down, on that occasion this is my celestial high and luxurious bed. This is that celestial high and luxurious bed that at present I can gain at will, without trouble or difficulty.”


In the @sujato translation, the line that you highlighted says: “When I’m practicing like this …” rather than “when I am in such a state …”, maybe suggesting that these two activities are part of a larger retreat.

I also find it curious that in the first paragraph, the Buddha says:

I collect some grass or leaves that I find there into a pile and then sit down.

and in the second paragraph he says:

if I walk back and forth

You can’t sit down and walk at the same time.


Sorry which thread? It seems I only get notifications if I’m tagged or directly replied to, but not when someone just replies like how Facebook works. If you wouldn’t mind tagging me, that would be awesome.

I myself found one Nyingma source, so I wonder if it’s the same. It was just one instruction from one person to one student, and it’s the only single reference I have ever found for any Tibetan being instructed to do jhāna practice. Whereas I have seen many examples in writing and from directly questioniong Tibetan Lamas where jhāna practice is very specifically rejected.

If you have no Gelug sources, why are you convinced that they practice jhāna?

I’m genuinely open to the possiblity that some Tibetans practice jhāna. Which is why I try to follow up such claims. But all the years I’ve been asking, all my sources bar that one teaching from an old text of one person being instructed, is the only single source that goes against the common thread I have found throughout Tibetan Buddhism of explicitely rejecting jhāna practice. And often accompanied by explicit reasoning as to why, also.

This also makes me curious as the what the reasoning was for any rare pro-jhāna Tibetans. I would be very interested in that!

I wonder if you know Alan Wallace. I’ve been on one of his retreats, and talked in depth with him on this subject. He specialises as a samatha teacher. He has led many… 3 month I think… samatha retreats. He’s published many samatha books. He was a Gelugpa monk and used to translate for the Dalai Lama when he came to teach in Europe. He has been a disciple of the Dalai Lama for many years and done samatha retreats under his guidance. And he is heavily into Nyingma, having translated several books for his Nyingmapa guru.

And he insists that Tibetan Buddhism rejects jhāna categorically, and insists that the peak of samatha in Tibetan Buddhism, is what Theravadins call ‘access concentration’ - the stage immediately preceeding jhāna - no further.

He is only one of my many sources. But since he is an extreme insider of Gelug and Nyingma, and a samatha specialist, both doctrinally and in practice, he would seem to be a highly qualified source.

That would be wonderful. Please do tag me if any of this comes, I’d be very interested. I have found it so hard to find any genuine practice of jhāna in Mahayana, but it does seem that there is some, albeit apparently extremely rare.

And if you do contact them, and if they do indeed practice jhāna or know that it is practiced in Tendai, then could you perhaps ask them if they know the reasoning against the Mahayana claim that jhāna practice can end you up becoming a stream enterer or even arahant, which are of course terrible traps according to Mahayana, and even stream entry destroys their path since their number of lives will be thereby limited to 7 more, and they will be unable to complete the bodhisattva path since they need to wait until there is no Buddhism in a world system, in order for them to become a buddha (each world system has maximum capacity for only one buddha, and even that one cannot appear in a world system that still has any Buddhist teachings in it). I believe that is a significant reason behind the general rejection of jhāna in Mahayana.

Sorry about that, I am quite disorganised, it’s possible that I got distracted into other things and never came back to this site to read new comments…? But if you do provide that information, I will be very eager to read it.

Not sure if I think like that! I would say that there’s a large amount of cognitive dissonance among Mahayanists - there is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that their sutras are not authentic, in terms of their authorship and claimed age. And they generally seem to bury their heads in the sand in light of all of this evidence, choosing instead to have blind faith in what their teachers say about those texts. That doesn’t amount to lying, rather, a strong kind of ignorance.

But certainly some of them will lie. There is a lot of lying about attainments and experience, often lying to say they have no attainments, no experience and so on. That is definitely a strong tradition, which I find in the context of the West massively decreases the efficiency of teaching, just as if a music teacher were telling their students that they cannot understand music theory well, cannot perform well, just passing on things their teachers told them etc.

But when it comes to jhāna, sure some Mahayana teachers do claim their school teaches jhāna, especially if it’s an outsider asking. One lama told that to me, and his brother, who is a teacher of mine, told me the opposite. I heard that same lama say a number of other things which were factually untrue. That was about saving face, or not disturbing the faith of the other people there, who knew almost onthing of detailed doctrine. They would have been confused if he had answered truthfully, that they reject the Buddha’s own meditation practice.

And some others make kind of ‘soft’ lies, in that they insist their school practices jhāna, when they actually don’t know what they’re talking about. Like for example when you examine their claim, and it turns out they don’t know what jhāna even is, and the practices they are referring to have nothing to do with jhāna, and are actually states where the mind is open to the sense realm, not the form realm. We have a good example right here in this thread of someone claiming to practice jhāna, but it turns out on deeper inspection that they are claiming they are doing that while walking. This is a rather perfect example of why you can’t believe someone is practicing jhāna just because they say so. Further questioning can often reveal there is no jhāna there.

So, for sure I never take a claim at face value without investigating it in detail, to establish wherer the actual state we ae talking about is the same. The main issue here is the fact that the term dhyāna has evolved over the centuries in Mahayana, and even ended up with multiple meanings. So it’s easy to be thinking you’re talking about the same thing, when you’re just using the same term to refer to totally different practices.

That’s why whenever I’m asking Tibetan lamas about this, I never say jhāna or dhyāna, I specifically say the 4 jhānas, and I give the Tibetan term, and I give the context, i.e. whihc kind of texts I’m referring to for these practices. This makes it clear enough for a Tibetan with extensive doctrinal knowledge to understand the precise topic, otherwise their answer may be unreliable.

Sure, I will not force any reply! And, only just rad this part as I’ve been going through step by step, so, hope you don’t mind my above responses.


Singing is regarded as wailing in the training of the noble one.
Dancing is regarded as madness.”

How could sounds or music develop ones mind in Understanding/wisdom? How can it help in renunciation?
Even in terms of “natural” sounds?

If he delighted, it was in dispassion, because why would the Buddha be calmed and delighted in the screams and cries of insects or animals?
Birds and insects don’t really sing for us or for wholesome reasons ,they shout to maintain their territory, the call for a mate, they try to protect their young with alarming chirps. In fact most of the insect sounds are about survival, sex and defending themselves.
It’s a pretty rough world for animals and insects.
It obviously sounds better than drunken screams in a village, but it’s still a type of screaming. :scream:

Sure, a larger retreat being ones lifestyle.

Yes, but If he chooses to walk, he walks in that same state which he has developed.

A person who has developed jhana i.e can practice it at will, can be said to have a strong mind, a mind which overwhelms things and does not get overwhelmed by things, therefore if changing your bodily postures overwhelms your mind to the extent that the jhana-strength falls apart…you were not in jhana and you have not developed strength of mind.
Jhana equals resilience.
"When you reflect upon these eight thoughts of a great person and gain at will … these four jhānas … then, while you dwell contentedly, your dwelling place at the foot of a tree will seem to you as a house with a peaked roof, plastered inside and out, draft-free, with bolts fastened and shutters closed, seems to a householder or a householder’s son; and it will serve for your delight, relief, and ease, and for entering upon nibbāna…etc "

Whether walking or standing,
sitting or lying down,
one who thinks bad thoughts
connected with the household life
has entered upon a dire path,
infatuated by delusive things:
such a bhikkhu cannot reach
the highest enlightenment.

But one who, whether walking,
standing, sitting, or lying down,
has calmed his thoughts
and delights in the stilling of thought:
a bhikkhu such as this can reach
the highest enlightenment.