What is the difference between delight, joy, rapture, tranquility and bliss?

This question arose in an EBT study group. It is an interesting question, so we thought to share it with the public D&D forum. These terms are quite specific in their meaning in Bhante Sujato’s translations and they are also used consistently throughout his translations. Note that in English, we tend to blur these somewhat. However, we do need to understand each of these terms personally as we experience the Dhamma, and a shared understanding will help us all.

How do you experience the difference between delight, joy, rapture, tranquility and bliss as you read the EBTs?


Joy/rapture and happiness/bliss can be either worldly or unworldly, and this determination is the focus of the second foundation of mindfulness.

Using the seven factors of enlightenment as a reference, joy/rapture is a compoent of the active trio of investigation, energy, rapture. Tranquillity and its resultant bliss (sukha) are components of the passive samadhi group. The combination of active and calming factors is a necessary process in keeping the mind steady between the poles of torpidity and agitation.

This exercise can be found in the four tetrads of the Anapanasati sutta, where the practitioner first sensitizes themselves to a particular phenomenon, then brings it to calm. At first sight the second tetrad might seem to include two similar factors, rapture and pleasure (sukha), but they are in fact opposite in terms of their dynamic (active and passive). The exercise then goes on to investigate how mind states are dependent on feelings:

[5] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.’ [6] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’ [7] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to mental fabrication.’[4] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to mental fabrication.’ [8] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming mental fabrication.’—-MN 118


To really read the EBTs, we do need to know some Pali:

  • delight is usually translated from somanassa, but you need to check to be sure.
  • joy may be translated from pīti or pāmojja.
  • rapture is most likely translated from pīti.
  • tranquility is probably from passaddhi.
  • bliss is probably from sukha.

Good to bear in mind that a few different Pali words are rendered as “delight”. Nearly all those descriptions are associated with unwholesome and wrong view, though there are cases of encouragement to delight in seclusion and delight relinquishment.

Joy, rapture and tranquility all build off one another with connotations of the the experience being brought together and understood within virtue. Needless to say they seem to be exclusively associated with wholesome. A good example:

Thus, Ānanda, the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtuous behavior is non-regret; the purpose and benefit of non-regret is joy; the purpose and benefit of joy is rapture; the purpose and benefit of rapture is tranquility; the purpose and benefit of tranquility is pleasure; the purpose and benefit of pleasure is concentration; the purpose and benefit of concentration is the knowledge and vision of things as they really are; the purpose and benefit of the knowledge and vision of things as they really are is disenchantment and dispassion; and the purpose and benefit of disenchantment and dispassion is the knowledge and vision of liberation. Thus, Ānanda, wholesome virtuous behavior progressively leads to the foremost.” AN 10.1

EDIT: Just realized how old the OP was… :grimacing:


I’m still enjoying this conversation being restarted - it’s something I’ve often wondered about myself in relation to jhanas -

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.

So vivicceva kāmehi, vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.

They drench, steep, fill, and spread their body with rapture and bliss born of seclusion. There’s no part of the body that’s not spread with rapture and bliss born of seclusion.

So imameva kāyaṁ vivekajena pītisukhena abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati, nāssa kiñci sabbāvato kāyassa vivekajena pītisukhena apphuṭaṁ hoti.

but then

Furthermore, giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, a mendicant enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness.

Puna caparaṁ, mahārāja, bhikkhu sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā, pubbeva somanassa­domanassā­naṁ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṁ upekkhā­sati­pā­ri­suddhiṁ catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.


So there is a move from bliss to pleasure in the translation, my vibe is that the formula indicates first a physical pleasure accompanied by an emotional elation in the first and second jhanas, then the fading of the emotion in the third, then the fading of the physical pleasure in the fourth, but as with so many of our english translations there seems to be a tendency to use somewhat obscure or antiquated words for buddhist technical terms, like “rapture”, which i don’t think i have ever heard anyone say out loud in my lifetime in an actual conversation. Joy i get, tranquility, sure, but rapture seems like a word from a different century and also to evoke thoughts of nuns and christ .

like drenching your body of bliss free of rapture just makes no sense, like its two equally arbitrary synonyms, both of which evoke emotional states in english, and it loses what I take to be the pretty clear progression indicated in the formula where one has ceased to have affective, emotional states by that point and instead have a quite explicitly physical sensation that one is no longer “blissful” about, before finally in the 4th jhana transcending even the hedonic to arrive at equanimity.

using rapture and bliss obscures the affective/hedonic distinction and makes it harder to understand IMO.

Of course I always feel like a fool talking like this on @sujato 's forum since he has provided me with the most amazing resources for the study of buddhism I have come across int he last 20 years and I will forever be in his debt and therefore should not criticize, but to hell with it, i’m going to anyway. :slight_smile:

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Have you read this: https://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/clairification-on-feelings-in-buddhist-dhyana_jhana-meditation_kuan_jip_2005.pdf

It’s a great discussion of the interpretations of vedana in jhana, and specifically of piti and sukha.

Personally I think the simplest and most grounded way to analyze piti/sukha in jhana is to base ourselves on SN 48.40 and its parallel. Or at least it would be the simplest and most grounded if the agama parallel agreed! What we find instead is a different ordering of the various feelings in jhana in the agama parallel. If we look closely at SN 48.40 we also find that it contradicts several suttas. Bhikkhu Bodhi comments on the peculiarity of the sutta as well in his translation notes to it. So it seems to me the agama parallel to SN 48.40 (which is only fragmentary btw-we have only quotes from it preserved in abhidharma works) is more likely correct. If the agama parallel is the original ordering then we can identify piti with somanassindriyam born of mind-contact, and sukha with sukhindriyam born of body contact. For more detail, read Kuan’s paper linked above.

Regardless of which is correct we have a very explicit statement in each of them that kayika vedana of some sort is present in jhana (SN 48.40 allows only pleasant kayika vedana while its parallel allows both pleasant and unpleasant kayika vedana depending on the jhana).

Finally, I’ve also entertained the idea that both SN 48.40 and its parallel were additions to the canon made after abhidhamma debates about the nature of jhana had already begun in order to provide support for each school’s interpretations.


Thank you @Preston ! will read the article and SN48.40 and get back to you.

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initial thoughts on SN48.40 are that its either late, corrupt or both - I struggle with suttas that say weird things that are not repeated anywhere else in the canon and the leap from the 4th jhana to the cessation of perception and feeling seems quite strained.

reading the article I am definitely one of those who think that the Theravada exegesis here is flat wrong. the whole idea of separating sukkha into a physical body pleasure and a mental body pleasure is just so far from the “vibe” of the EBT’s that I do not find it a plausible or workable interpretation of the jhana formula. the fact that there appear to be alternative and much more plausible explanations that maintain the elegant and straightforward progression from sensuality - mentalitiy - emotionality - physicality - equanimity in the jhana formula in the chinese materials only reinforces my reading.

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WOW! :open_mouth:

Thanks for that reference. SN48.40 is quite the gem. It answered many of my questions. I’ve added “faculty of equanimity” to the Voice examples.


Ayya @Sabbamitta, perhaps a new example candidate for German?

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Check out the strange hoops Ven Buddhaghosa has to jump through to explain Sn 48.40 (I’m not sure if the commentary jumps through the same hoops here or not):

It is said in that way there referring to reinforced cessation. For in the first
jhána, etc., it is their reinforced cessation, not just their cessation, that takes
place. At the moment of access it is just their cessation, not their reinforced
cessation, that takes place.
For accordingly, during the first jhána access, which has multiple adverting, there could be rearising of the [bodily] pain faculty due to contact
with gadflies, flies, etc. or the discomfort of an uneven seat, though that pain
faculty had already ceased, but not so during absorption. Or else, though it has
ceased during access, it has not absolutely ceased there since it is not quite
beaten out by opposition. But during absorption the whole body is showered
with bliss owing to pervasion by happiness. And the pain faculty has absolutely
ceased in one whose body is showered with bliss, since it is beaten out then by

So the VM introduces the idea of ‘reinforced cessation’ to explain away SN 48.40, an obvious artificiality which is not present at all in the original discourse and its parallel. It seems this was a difficult sutta for him as well.

Notice as well that this passage contradicts other places in the VM where the five sense bases are said to cease in jhana. The quote only makes sense if there is bodily experience of some sort in first jhana-otherwise how is the pain faculty “beaten out by opposition”? However it also seems some commentaries wanted to have it both ways-the five senses cease and there is still some kind of bodily experience in jhana, so perhaps that’s what’s being described here… Anyways, I think this is evidence that VM is more of a ‘collection of opinions’ than ‘perfectly-self-consistent-authoritative-doctrine’. Of course it’s considered heretical to say so by some.

Starting around PG 157 : Visuddhimagga


I have seen explanations that are two kind of major vedana categories:

  1. The first is a vipaka vedana. This is the kind of sensation one feels when tasting something, smelling, feeling a tactile sensation, see something etc.
    Tactile feelings are said to be of 3 kinds: neutral, painful or pleasant. The other vipaka vedana, the vedana which accompanies the initial sense contact and sense-vinnana, is neutral.

  2. mind made feelings. As i have understood this, these feeling are the kind of feelings connected with, for example, sympathy and like and antipathy and dislike.

A sense contact of for example pain is called a dukha vedana, unpleasant bodily sensation. But based on this vedana there arise also mind-made vedana. The mind becomes dark dus to its reactions on the pain. Maybe aversive, irritated or depressed, desperate. That comes also with a kind of feeling, vedana.
That is called domanassa vedana. A depressed or dark feeling. This is mind-made. It accompanies the reactions.

If you have a nice bodily contact, for example during massage or sex, that is a sukha vedana and there mostly arise mind-made feelings too. Feelings connected with like and delight. The mind creates happy feelings. These are called somanassa vedana’s.

It is especially those mind-made feelings (somanassa and domanassa) we get attached to. For example music. It brings the mind in a certain sphere, pleasant, somanassa, light. And that is what one really longs for to experience again. One longs that happy sphere in the mind again, those somanassa feelings.

It is like the seasons. The first nice sunny day is not only tactile nice but also mind-made nice. Or the first flowers are not only nice to see but also it creates somanassa vedana.

Buddhaghosa seems to be including an initial incomplete absorption that’s unstable as part of the first jhana. I’ve seen this idea of incomplete absorption in other sources. E.g. MA 176 also assumes a meditator will drop into a between state when moving through the eight samadhis. They aren’t dropping out of samadhi entirely because they are depicted as mentally orienting and assessing themselves for the move to another samadhi and then either succeeding or not. If they fail, then they “lose their samadhi.” So, this idea of partial and complete absorption seems to be used to explain practical details like how a person enters and exists absorption.


Having a small mind, I’m a bit puzzled by all the preceding, but regarding SN48.40, with the cessation of perception and feeling, what need would there be for equanimity?

That for me is part of the wow of SN48.40.



“Adverting” is just about the best example of using an English word that no one knows the meaning of to translate a Pali word that no one knows the meaning of.

The article you shared gives a really nice and naturalistic explanation of the jhana formula, that readily overcomes all the difficulties that the Therevada exegetical tradition runs into. I find myself in more or less complete agreement with it: piti refers to an affective state and sukha a hedonic one, the affective state settles first and the hedonic one later, with that understanding the formula makes sense and is intelligible. The idea that sukha is the pleasure you feel in the “body in your mind” does such violence to the straight-forward and direct nature of the early material that it borders on esoteric. I am glad there is an alternative.

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I tried to read the linked article but it is quite opaque with its usage of words such as “affective” and “hedonic.” These are not simple words. In a conversation with most people, using such words would simply make them walk away.

However, when I think about the meaning in EBT terms, insight follows.

So when you say “base ourselves on SN48.40”, that totally makes so much more practical sense to me than the words of the article. To base ourselves on a sutta is to align our understanding with our own reading of SN48.40 in order to reconcile and dissolve any dissonance with other suttas we have read. As I study the suttas, I simply question my own understanding more and, incredibly, in that questioning a new understanding inevitably arises. The definitions of words long used change in my head. These gentle transformations are magic. Indeed, the magic of the Tipitaka is actually in the subtle differences that challenge established perspectives.

It’s been years since I asked the original question about delight, joy, etc. In those years, I’ve come to treat these words simply as labels (e.g., A,B,C,D…) for ordering experiences. And that ordering has proven quite helpful in pointing me to understanding stages of attachment to what is perceived. As attachment decreases, awareness blooms. From the delight of a single chocolate, we might progress to the joy of making chocolates, and from that joy we might proceed to the rapture of cooking for others to share our joys, and from that rapture, we might take a step back into the bliss of feeling replete.

What’s fascinating about SN48.40 is that the ordering extends to equanimity and beyond. SN48.40 touches the signless release of the heart without mentioning it. And that non-mention to me is quite the remarkable “pointing without pointing”.

Thank you for your insight.



What they meant by manaskaya is a collection of things related to the mind, like vedana, samjna, samskara, vijnana, etc. It’s not that esoteric, Kuan just doesn’t attempt to explain it. Kaya can be used that way to mean a collection of things taken as a whole, like the English expression “body of an author’s works.” It’s similar to “skandha” in that meaning.

Kuan also ignores the problem of what vitakka and vicara mean in the jhana formulas. They also were redefined, and how exactly they are understood drives how kaya is understood in the third jhana. If sensory perception isn’t noticed anymore when both have ceased, then it makes little sense that kaya means the physical body. He sets all of that aside, but it’s another central problem with the jhana formulas.

Another thing Kuan leaves out is the Sariputra Abhidharma’s commentary on the jhanas. The Theravada version wouldn’t look so spurious if there was another tradition saying similar things in the comparison.


Yes, and like English when it has the meaning of ‘body of X’ in the suttas, it almost always requires the use of a compound to take on that meaning, especially in the accusative and nominative cases (at least for the singular that I’ve looked at). The instrumental case seems to allow an idiomatic reading of ‘directly/personally’ in some suttas when used on its own, although this is fairly rare. I don’t find a single case of singular accusative/nominative where it could be interpreted as ‘mental body [to the exclusion of the physical body]’ in the sutta’s, and we have of course hundreds of examples for both of these. There are a few places where kaya could mean the entire being/person though, and including the bodily experience. (Not disagreeing, just adding some nuance.)

Is there an agama or Abhidharma work that connects vitakka-vicara to sense experience? I don’t see this in the pali canon, or the abhidhamma that I’ve looked at.

Heh, I’m really looking forward to its translation :grinning:.


but by your reading @cdpatton its even more esoteric, in the sense that the formula itself says

sukhañ·ca kāyena paṭisaṃvedeti

which appears to say something like “experiencing a pleasurable embodiment” again, any gloss that somehow makes that kaya into a manas is esoteric in the sense that it means basically the opposite of what it in fact says.

the picture I have of the process in the EBT’s at least is one where the attention is shifted away from the sense organs in as much as they are connected with the “out there” of race cars, tiki bars and hot babes, and brought to bear on “this right here” i’e the soon to be rotting corpse that is your body. once this “sense restraint” is achieved there is the inevitable period of the mind attempting to gnaw its own feet off (the 5 hindrances) and then once the mind settles down to rest and immerse itself in the physical body not as a vehicle for the outreaching sense organs but as the locus of phenomenal, hedonic, affective and cognative experience. observing the cessation of first the cognative, in the transition from activly applying the mind to the meditation subject, then the affective, with the cessation of joy, then the hedonic with the cessation of pleasure (and the phenomenal if you then go thru space, awareness, nothing, norperception) constitutes the embodied experiential realization of the path (when understood rightly)

that is “this (conditioned physical body) is the arising of suffering, this (the sequential cessation of the conditioned physical body in jhana) is the cessation of suffering, this (mastery of jhana) is the way leading to the cessation of suffering,”

I am no Abbhidarma scholar, but my impression is that after (wrongly) reifying dhammas as separable substances and (wrongly) asserting that jhana could have no physical/sensory content at all they had to do backflips to make a simple statement like “experiencing pleasure in the body” to mean “experiencing pleasure in the mind”.

when a sentence that appears to say one thing actually means it’s opposite that is what i mean by esoteric.

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AN8.63 really helped me with vitakka-vicara. AN8.63 treats these as a three-stage rather than a two-stage transition.

  1. savitakkampi savicāraṁ
  2. avitakkampi vicāramattaṁ
  3. avitakkampi avicāraṁ

AN8.63:3.1: When this immersion is well developed and cultivated in this way, you should develop it while placing the mind and keeping it connected. You should develop it without placing the mind, but just keeping it connected. You should develop it without placing the mind or keeping it connected. You should develop it with rapture. You should develop it without rapture. You should develop it with pleasure. You should develop it with equanimity.

The three stage enumeration makes clear the progression of immersion. What’s also fascinating about AN8.63 is that this transition occurs in repeated stages through love, compassion, rejoicing, etc. In other words, vitakka-vicara is transitional and not specific. Vitakka-vicara is used like we use “hot-warm-cool” for comparing a set of temperatures. The temperatures are not specified. Hot-warm-cool applies to cryogenics, humans and forging steel. And this is how vitakka-vicara is used in AN8.63.

So the connection with sense experience is simply as Bhante Sujato translates, “placing the mind and keeping it connected etc.” The object or sense is not specified. Vitakka-vicara is transitional from “placing” to “not connected”. It is about the mind letting go of sensory concerns.

Vitakka-vicara can therefore even be applied to completely different realms such as sightreading music:

  1. Learning to sightread (placing)
  2. Sightreading effortlessly (keeping connected)
  3. Playing from memory (not placing or connected)