What form of thinking/pondering while in the 1st Jhana

Not a new topic but I felt it needed some revisiting.
When people are saying that it is impossible to think/ponder while in Jhana 1 it is because they interpret thinking/pondering as the usual discursive thinking.

While in Jhana 1 the mind is too much enjoying the pleasure of piti and sukha for having any desire for the usual thinking.
Instead the thinking/pondering we are talking about is simply reflecting on what’s going on.
Something like “oh. it’s so nice” with no further development.

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Here’s what Ajahn Brahm has to say about the subject in http://dhammatalks.net/Books/Ajahn_Brahm_The_Jhanas.htm:


Even the sense of ‘silently being there’ as an observer in the meditation is a huge disturbance (compared to the absence of it) and something to be let go of, in my opinion.

Usually we have the ability to reflect and make sense of things on things on-the-fly (“is this good? is this bad?”), but it seems to me that this ability does not exist in a still enough meditation (including pre-jhana experiences).

The process of making sense of ‘what the heck just happened’ starts when you’re out of the medtiation. And it starts pretty immediately because what the heck just happened???

But you’re not able to formulate or have any idea of ‘what the heck is this’ as it is happening. That ability to reflect or have an opinion about what is going on is not there, IMO.

And this is all based on pre-1st jhana experience, so there’s no doubt in my mind that thinking/pondering while in the 1st jhana must refer to extremely subtle mental phenomena compared to ordinary thinking, as Ajahn Brahm teaches.


In the Theravada tradition there are, at least, two schools regarding the Jhanas: the Visuddhimagga school and the Sutta school.
The Visuddhimagga (800 years after the Buddha) school presents a type of Jhanas (with five items for Jhana 1) that are very difficult to attain. If we expend the Visuddhimagga statements about the chance to get into Jhana 1 we have a probability of something like one in a million. So lay people and many monastics have a bit of a challenge to get there.

The Sutta school (list of some teachers: Thailand: Ajaan Lee, Sri Lanka: Ven. Nannarama Thera, U.S. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Leigh Brasington, Germany/Australia: Ayya Khema, U.K. Rob Burbea) presents a more “doable” type of Jhanas (with four items for Jhana 1). For this type of Jhanas vitaka-vicarra is of the type I describe in my original posting.

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The way I see it you can make a case for lofty jhanas and doable jhanas based only on the suttas.

I think that naming convention is a bit unfair; it makes it sound like it’s suttas vs. Visuddhimagga, when it’s actually about how the suttas should be understood.


Hi Erik

This classification comes from Leigh essay: http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

I think the Commentaries and the Visuddhimagga (the work of scholars and not
meditators, it would seem) have left a terrible legacy of over-exalting of jhāna.

The classic descriptions of the 4 stages are not the only description of the
REALITY in the suttas. It is easily forgotten that "Dhammavicaya"
is one of the bojjhaṅgas, - clearly alongside with Sati, in many
ways a foundation, and the usual description clearly implies thought

  • So tathā sato viharanto taṃ dhammaṃ paññāya pavicinati, pavicayati,
    parivīmaṃsaṃ āpajjati. - MIII.85 (PTS) and it goes on to describe how it
    leads to Pīti - Pītisambojjhaṅgaṃ tasmiṃ samaye bhikkhu bhāveti.

Descriptions like the this and the below also seem to be describing jhāna in
other terms, or rather, not different terms but different wording.

Yonisomanasikaroto pāmojjaṁ jāyati, pamuditassa pīti jāyati,
pītimanassa kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukhaṁ vedeti,
sukhino cittaṁ samādhiyati, samāhite citte yathābhūtaṁ jānāti passati,
yathābhūtaṁ jānaṁ passaṁ nibbindati, nibbindaṁ virajjati,
virāgā vimuccati. - DIII.288 (PTS)

A state of mind of deep peace and very strong real joy and exaltation
(pāmojja) is surely likely to be the first stage of real, effective jhāna
(meditation) in the sutta sense of the word. One can be mulling over
a new insight into Dhamma, with both spontaneous thought and directed
thought in a quiet, meditative way, without in any way breaking out
of the state of bliss and peace - indeed STRENGTHENING it. The
classic image the Buddha gave for this state, of a masseur working up
the lather is itself very evocative of a certain active encouragement,
and almost deliberate holy ‘wallowing’ in the joy. This dhammavicaya
thought is very different from scholarly looking up references in a dictionary,
one hardly needs to add.

Of course, I should have mentioned that in non-discoursive meditations like ānāpānasati, thoughts will be few and far between.

On the subject of no thoughts, even in the lowest level of jhāna, how about the following from the Poṭṭhapāda sutta?

(bhikkhu) sabbaso viññāṇañcāyatanaṃ samatikkamma 'natthi kiñcī’ti
ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati . . Tassa saññagge
ṭhitassa evaṃ hoti: 'cetayamānassa me pāpiyo acetayamānassa me
seyyo. Ahañceva kho pana ceteyyaṃ abhisaṅkhareyyaṃ, imā ca me
saññā nirujjheyyuṃ, aññā ca oḷārikā saññā uppajjeyyuṃ.
Yannūnāhaṃ 'na ceva ceteyyaṃ na cābhisaṅkhareyya’nti. -
DI.184 (PTS)

And this is at the very highest level, shortly before complete nirodha!

“tassa evaṃ hoti”, incidentally, is the usual Pali expression for “the thought occurs to him”.

It is only the third-hand and garbled accounts of the Visuddhimagga that makes this sort of arid text-quoting necessary.

Thanks very much for pointing out the “wobble”. Integrating Ajahn Brahm’s wobble definition of vitakka/vicara has really helped my understanding of the EBTs. In particular, it has helped me understand the following passage from DN33:

Three kinds of immersion.
Tayo samādhī—
Immersion with placing the mind and keeping it connected.
Immersion without placing the mind, but just keeping it connected.
Immersion without placing the mind or keeping it connected.
savitakkasavicāro samādhi, avitakkavicāramatto samādhi, avitakkaavicāro samādhi. (50)

The interesting point about the three kinds of immersion is the middle immersion, where one transitions from vitakka/vicara to not vitakka/vicara. It’s interesting because placing the mind ceases first.

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