What Ven. Anālayo gets wrong about samādhi: a review of “A Brief History of Buddhist Absorption”

I was recently handed an article by Ven. Anālayo which suggests that deep samādhi, especially jhāna, may not be as important on the Buddhist path as is sometimes made out. I found the article weak. Knowing how influential Ven. Anālayo is in many Buddhist circles, I thought it would be useful to present an alternative point of view. The following is a critique of the parts of his paper I found the most problematic. The original paper can be read here.

In 2019 Ven. Anālayo published a paper called “A Brief History of Buddhist Absorption”. In it, he attempts a review of the semantic significance of jhāna, which he renders “absorption”, from pre-Buddhist times until the present day. He is especially concerned with the depth of meditation that has been ascribed to jhāna, and how this has varied over time. My concern in the present essay is to evaluate some of Anālayo’s suggestions, especially those that relate to the EBTs.

Ven. Anālayo’s paper is important and interesting. One of his main focusses is on the relationship between pre-Buddhist and Buddhist samādhi. He makes a few observations that are important to further this debate. In particular, he adds nuance to the question of whether jhāna was practiced before the Buddha, and if so, what the implications of this might be. Towards the end of his paper, he discusses the emergence of the vipassanā movement and how this has affected our contemporary understanding of jhāna. He shows, I think convincingly, that in some circles jhāna has acquired a new meaning, partly emerging from the idea of vipassanā jhāna, that is shallow compared to how jhāna is described in the EBTs. My focus here will be on neither of these issues. Instead, I will consider the arguments Anālayo makes concerning the meaning of sammāsamādhi, “right stillness”, and its significance on the path to awakening.

Ven. Anālayo begins his paper with a rather long section in which he makes the case that jhāna was practiced in India prior to the Buddha’s awakening (pp.571-575). Although I do not agree with his analysis in all respects, I accept his overall conclusion on this point. Next, Anālayo examines the Buddha-to-be’s practice of jhāna, which leads him to awakening. This section, too, is mostly unproblematic.

“Potential Drawbacks of Absorption”

We then come to the first section where I have major disagreements with Anālayo’s presentation. This section is called “Potential Drawbacks of Absorption” (p.577). Ven. Anālayo starts his argument (p.577) on the potential drawbacks of jhāna as follows:

At the same time, however, the early discourses also reflect a keen awareness that, in spite of the indubitable benefits that absorption has to offer, there can be potential drawbacks.

“Keen awareness” of “potential drawbacks” is a strong expression. To back this up, he quotes only a handful of suttas passages. We will have a look at each one of these in turn. He starts with AN 4.178 and it’s parallel at SĀ 492. Here is the relevant passage from the Pali version as translated by Ven. Sujato:

Suppose a person were to grab a branch with a glue-smeared hand. Their hand would stick, hold, and bind to it. In the same way, take a mendicant who enters and remains in a peaceful release of the heart. They focus on the cessation of identification, but their mind isn’t secure, confident, settled, and decided about it. You wouldn’t expect that mendicant to stop identifying.

Anālayo comments as follows:

Similar to the hand glued to the branch, a practitioner might end up being glued with attachment to the meditative experience of deeper levels of concentration and as a result lack the inspiration to progress to Nirvana.

One might conclude from this, as Anālayo seems to do, that “concentration”, cetosamādhi, is a problem. Yet this is not what the sutta suggests. The problem is the attachment. The contextual point is that even if you practice deep meditation, there may be some residual holding on. Without the cetosamādhi, the holding on would be much stronger. The training in meditation is a gradual process of letting go, culminating in the very simple and unified experiences of the jhānas. The attachment is much reduced.

Anālayo tries to buttress his argument by referring to MN 29:

For this reason, according to another Pāli discourse and its parallel, developing conceit around attainments of deep concentration and losing the inspiration to progress further to the final goal is comparable to mistaking either the bark or else the roots of a tree for its heartwood (MN 29 and EĀ 43.4). The point made with this simile is that, being in need of heartwood for some construction purpose, one will not be able to put to use these other parts of a tree to achieve one’s goal. Similarly, the glue of attachment and conceit can turn deep concentration experiences into obstacles for progress to liberation.

MN 29 goes through a number of the steps of the path, including the obtaining of possessions and respect, the accomplishment of morality, the achievement of samādhi, and the achievement of knowledge and vision, all of which can give rise to conceit. Again, this is not specifically about samādhi or jhāna. In fact, as the sutta progresses, with each deeper quality one is said to come closer to the heartwood. In other words, samādhi is shown as superior to the preceding qualities as a basis for achieving the end of the path. The message is not that samādhi is to be avoided, but that one needs to deal with it in a skilful way.

The next sutta Ven. Anālayo brings up is MN 138:

Furthermore, they enter and remain in the fourth absorption … Their consciousness follows after that neutral feeling, and is tied, attached, and fettered to gratification in that neutral feeling. So their mind is said to be stuck internally. That’s how their consciousness is stuck internally.

Just as in AN 4.178, the problem is the grasping, not the jhāna. In fact, the parallel sutta at MĀ 164 has an interesting alternative reading, in which the attached mind is said to be “not settle within”, asaṇṭhita. “Settled within” is a common sutta metaphor for samādhi. What this suggests, then, is that the attachment becomes an obstacle for samādhi. If this reading is authentic, it becomes abundantly clear that it is the attachment that is the problem, not the meditative state.

Ven. Anālayo then proceeds to make an argument that is rather extraordinary. He says the following:

According to yet another passage, even a monastic able to attain the fourth absorption has not yet undergone a transformation of the mind sufficiently strong to prevent that on a later occasion sensual lust overwhelms the mind to such a degree as to lead to disrobing.

I am not sure anyone would disagree with this. Yet it is missing the point. If you don’t achieve deep samādhi, your chances of being overwhelmed by sensual lust and disrobing are much higher. Samādhi protects the mind from lust, at least temporarily. It also gives you an insight into what can be achieved when lust is overcome. Both of these facts will make you more committed to meditation practice and indeed the monastic life.

Anālayo finishes up by quoting AN 4.123:

They enter and remain in the fourth absorption. They enjoy it and like it and find it satisfying. If they abide in that, are committed to it, and meditate on it often without losing it, when they die they’re reborn in the company of the gods of abundant fruit.

He then goes on to claim (p.578) that the Buddha censures this:

A Pāli discourse and most of its parallels go so far as to place a monastic’s aspiration for a heavenly rebirth on a continuum that includes succumbing to various types of sexual attraction (AN 7.47, or AN 7.50 in the alternative count by Bodhi 2012, and Hahn 1977).

It is clear enough that AN 7.47 refers to the lower heavenly realms, which are sensual, not the non-sensual brahmā realms. Anālayo should have realised this. The fourth jhāna is part of the Buddhist path, not part of the problem.

What all the above arguments by Ven. Anālayo have in common is a lack of a broader perspective. He fails to see the overall dynamics of the path, and thus misinterprets a few relatively marginal teachings. The reality is that the path of meditation is a path of gradual letting go. This means you are attaching less and less as you progress. It is still possible to attach to samādhi experiences, but you are on the path of detachment. Your job is to let go of the last bits of holding on. If we follow Anālayo’s suggestion of seeing the potential dangers in samādhi, this would naturally lead to a reduced commitment to practicing it. You would then be doing the opposite of what you should.

Attachment is an aspect of the unawakened human condition. It is an unavoidable consequence of the sense of self. If you do not attach at least somewhat to samādhi, you will attach to something coarser. The coarser the attachment is, the further you are from awakening.

“Absorption and Right Concentration”

The next section in Ven. Anālayo’s paper is called “Absorption and Right Concentration” (p.578). Here, too, there is much that I disagree with.

Anālayo starts off by saying that sammāsamādhi is only rarely defined as the four jhānas in the suttas. He then adds that none of these rare cases have a parallel with the same definition. This is no doubt true, so far as it goes. Yet it is also not very useful. The first problem is that Anālayo does not tell us whether there are other non-parallel suttas outside the Pali where sammāsamādhi is defined as the four jhānas. It may well be that these definitions do not occur in parallel suttas, yet that the overall tendency is the same. What I am suggesting is that the four jhānas may well be the majority definition of sammāsamādhi in all early texts, but that these definitions occur in different places.

The second problem is that sammāsamādhi is only rarely defined in the early suttas. We need a broader perspective to understand what samādhi as a path factor refers to. A good place to start is with the gradual training, a common exposition of the path that occurs at least 20 times in the suttas, e.g. at MN 27. This presentation invariably includes the four jhānas. The exposition is essentially an expansion of the noble eightfold path, with the addition of the insights that arise dependent on it. The gradual training starts with right view, here expressed as the hearing and acceptance of the Dhamma, and then goes through all the factors of the noble eightfold path, with the four jhānas replacing sammāsamādhi. The result of this practice is the tevijjā, the triple insight that includes full awakening. Because of how common it is, this exposition is far more important to our understanding of sammāsamādhi than the definitions that occur only rarely.

In fact, the introduction of definitions is necessarily a secondary development. I would suggest the definitions were not seen as necessary in the earliest period because the nature of sammāsamādhi could so readily be inferred from the incorporation of jhāna in the large number of suttas that describe the training. Definitions may have been added only at a certain point in history when greater precision was required, perhaps as a result of the division of the Sangha into schools of reciters (bhaṇakas), each of which was responsible for a limited number of Canonical texts. To give all reciters a complete picture of the Dhamma, Canonical texts may have been duplicated and definitions added. This would also explain the lack of parallels to the Pali definitions of sammāsamādhi.

The broad reality is that jhāna is found in a large number of contexts in the suttas. A count of jhāna in the four main Nikāyas gives us about 1,000 instances. In many of these instances the context makes it clear that the jhānas take the place of sammāsamādhi. We can deduce from this that this is generally applicable in the suttas, even when the context does not allow us to come to a definite conclusion. Moreover, the large number of occurrences of jhāna speaks for itself. It must be a fundamental part of the path. To focus narrowly on the definition of sammāsamādhi shows as lack of appreciation for this broader context.

Ven. Anālayo then quotes an alternative definition of sammāsamādhi found at MN 117:

And what is noble right immersion with its vital conditions and its prerequisites? They are: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness. Unification of mind with these seven factors as prerequisites is called noble right immersion with its vital conditions and also with its prerequisites.

But is this really an alternative definition, or it just a different way of presenting the same thing? We have seen above that the gradual training shows that jhāna, when supported by the other seven factors of the noble eightfold path, leads to awakening. In addition, we know that jhāna is the preeminent example in the suttas of “unification of mind”, cittassa ekaggatā. It makes sense, then, to see the definition at MN 117 not as different to the others, but as an alternative expression of the same basic idea.

Anālayo opens the final paragraph of this section in the following manner:

On reflection, this is indeed the more meaningful perspective. What makes concentration “right” must be the input provided by right view and the other path factors, rather than merely the depth of concentration reached.

Yes, sammāsamādhi needs to be supported by right view and the other path factors. Yet this does not mean that it does not refer to jhāna. Rather, it means that jhāna itself needs to be supported by these path factors, especially right view. And as it happens, this is exactly the context for jhāna in a large number of places in the EBTs.

Moreover, the phrase “merely the depth of concentration reached” severely underestimates the importance of meditative depth. According to the Naḷakapāna sutta (MN 68), it is precisely the jhānic attainments that ensure that the hindrances do not arise again for some time. Without jhāna, the hindrances are prone to arise at any time. This proneness for the hindrances to arise tends to materialise in challenging situations, especially when the mind is moving towards deep insight. Apart from this, jhāna provides the mind with many other qualities that promote the achievement of deep insight. These include a high degree of letting go with concomitant insights, as well as a powerful and blissful mind that is not easily frightened or perturbed even when the deepest of personal illusions are challenged.

“Absorption and the Qualities Required for Awakening”

Next, we arrive at a section titled “Absorption and the Qualities Required for Awakening” (p.579). Ven. Anālayo opens this part as follows:

That mere absorption attainment was not considered an indispensable requirement for progress on the path to awakening can also be seen in a listing of qualities that are considered pertinent for progress to awakening (bodhipakkhiyā dhamma) … This listing does not mention the four absorptions.

It is true that this listing does not mention jhāna directly, but it does mention samādhi and sammāsamādhi. In fact, samādhi is one of the most common factors of the 37, altogether occurring eight times. The only other factors that occur equally often are sati and viriya/padhāna. What these three factors have in common is that they relate directly to mental development.

So what does samādhi refer to in the context of the 37 bodhipakkhiyā dhammas? I have already argued that sammāsamādhi refers to the four jhānas. The faculty of samādhi (samādhindriya) and by implication the power of samādhi (samādhibala) are also defined as the four jhānas (SN 48.10). That the samādhi factor of awakening (samādhisambojjhaṅga) also refers to jhāna can be seen at SN 46.52, where it is defined as samādhi with and without vitakka and vicāra. Finally, we have the four paths to spiritual power, the iddhipādas. According to SN 50.11, developing the iddhipādas lead to realising the three higher insights, the tevijjā. In the gradual training this always happens after the four jhānas. And so it seems clear enough that the iddhipādas, too, refer to the jhānas.

But the fact is that the above demonstration is not actually required to show that jhāna is the normal meaning of samādhi in the EBTs. I have already pointed out that jhāna occurs about 1,000 times in the four main Nikāyas. No other kind of samādhi comes even close to this number of occurrences. There are a few instances where samādhi cannot refer to jhāna, such as in the case of walking meditation (AN 5.29) or in the Upakkilesa Sutta. But the prevalence of jhāna means that in all situations where the context does not require otherwise, we should understand samādhi as referring primarily to jhāna. This means, of course, that jhāna is the meaning of samādhi in the 37 bodhipakkhiyā dhammas. Since these 37 are said at DN 16 to constitute the teaching of the Buddha, we must again conclude that jhāna is a core aspect of the path to awakening.

Ven. Analayo also mentions an interesting passage at MN 125 which has only three of the four jhānas:

The passage in question depicts a progression from an establishment of mindfulness cultivated in the absence of thought directly to the second absorption (MN 125). This could convey the impression that at least the first absorption is implicitly included once the four establishments of mindfulness are mentioned. Consultation of the Chinese parallel, however, makes it fairly probable that the presentation in this Pāli discourse is the result of an error in textual transmission (Anālayo 2006a). It follows that a reference to the four establishments of mindfulness would also not imply absorption.

Although this passage is interesting, it is not an important issue for our understanding of the relationship between mindfulness and jhāna whether “the first absorption is implicitly included once the four establishments of mindfulness are mentioned”. The main issue is that mindfulness, in the sense of the four satipaṭthānas, always leads to jhāna. This is what we find in the noble eightfold path, in the seven factors of awakening, and in the five spiritual faculties, which are some of the most important categories that explain the development of the mind. It is also what we find in the gradual training, e.g. at MN 27. This fact, that the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna is jhāna, is one of the most undercommunicated aspects of the Buddhist path.

Still, the passage at MN 125 does suggest that in some circumstances the first jhāna can be regarded as included within satipaṭṭhāna. Anālayo claims that the parallel in Chinese shows that the “Pāli discourse is a result of an error in textual transmission”, yet this ignores the text-critical principle of lectio difficilior potior, which says that unusual readings are to be preferred over standard passages. In the present case it is hard to see how the first jhāna could be lost from the list of four, which is standardised throughout the suttas. It is more likely that the first jhāna has been added to the version preserved in Chinese, whether by accident or by design.

It is, in fact, quite clear from the Satipaṭthāna Sutta (MN 10) that samādhi and jhāna can be regarded as included within satipaṭṭhāna. Expressions such as nirāmisa sukha, mahaggata citta, anuttara citta, samāhita citta, and vimutta citta all refer to samādhi and jhāna, as does the contemplation of the seven factors of awakening in the last section of that sutta. And so there is nothing truly anomalous about MN 125. The higher levels of satipaṭṭhāna may indeed include the contemplation of the first jhāna.

I conclude that Anālayo has not provided any convincing evidence to back up his summarising assertion that:

In all of these cases, it seems as if, with the passing of time, in some Buddhist traditions an increasing importance had been accorded to absorption attainment as required for progress to awakening.

At this point Ven. Analayo changes focus to consider the emergence of the term vipassanā jhāna and how this has affected our contemporary understanding of jhāna. Much of what he says here is reasonable, and so I will end my critique at this point.

Why samādhi and jhāna are a crucial part of the path to awakening

Before I conclude this commentary on Anālayo’s paper, I wish to set out once more why samādhi and jhāna are so indispensable on the path to awakening. One of the principles encountered throughout the EBTs is that it is samādhi that leads to deep insight, not sati. This can be seen, for instance, in the sequence sometimes known as dependent liberation (AN 10.1-3) where samādhi (sometimes sammāsamādhi) is said to be the proximate cause for seeing things according to reality (yathābhūtāñāṇadassana). This is also the message we get from core doctrinal categories such as the noble eightfold path, the seven factors of awakening, the five spiritual faculties, mindfulness of breathing, the gradual training, and much more. In other words, this principle is deeply embedded in the EBTs.

There is no equivalent connection between sati or satipaṭṭhāna and deep insight. Arguably this is true even for the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, the key sutta for those who argue against the necessity of jhāna. The purpose of satipaṭṭhāna, rather, as I have discussed above, it to achieve samādhi or jhāna.

The reason samādhi is critical for deep insight is that it gives the mind the stability and power to see things that are otherwise impossible to see. Seeing nonself goes against everything we think we know. This is one of the reasons even samādhi can sometimes be scary. It challenges some of our deepest convictions about what we are. Because deep insight is deeper than samādhi or jhāna, it is even more challenging to achieve. Only a very powerful and stable mind, such as the imperturbable mind of the fourth jhāna, is able to deal with the full depth of reality.

An important point here is that the natural process of meditation goes from jhāna to deep insight. Sometimes the question arises whether jhāna is absolutely required for streamentry. To my mind, this is the wrong question to ask. We should instead ask what is the natural progression. A sensible person would follow what is natural, because this is bound to be the path of least resistance.

When it comes to jhāna and streamentry, jhāna is a natural preliminary step. Streamentry means full insight into the nature of the five aspects of personality, the khandhas. With jhāna, however, one can still hold on to a slither of the five khandhas. Because the Buddhist path of the EBTs is a gradual letting go and insight into the five khandhas, it is natural to achieve jhāna before streamentry. Trying to achieve streamentry before jhāna is like taking a giant leap instead of small steps. To put it simply, jhāna is easier than streamentry. The sensible approach is to take all the intermediary steps instead of going straight to the deeper attainments.

The further in time we get from the Buddha, the more difficult it gets to interpret the suttas. Many of the contemporary discussions stem from the fact that the Dhamma is gradually disappearing. Yet debate will never provide a final solution to the true interpretation of the suttas. In fact, debate often makes the matter worse. The real solution to matters of interpretation is to practice the path and achieve results before it is too late. I believe we still have the Dhamma of the Buddha. Now is the time to practice it, before it is lost once and for all.


Bhante, the link in the OP is malformed, the correct link is https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/pdf/5-personen/analayo/briefhistoryjhana.pdf

Local copy:
briefhistoryjhana.pdf (467.3 KB)


Great paper, thanks. Saves me a bunch of work!

I dunno, I feel like people will look back in puzzlement on this period of Buddhism and wonder why so much effort was made to “prove” that we don’t have to practice the thing that the Buddha so very clearly wanted us to practice. :person_shrugging:

I’m interested in his conclusions on pre-Buddhist samadhi, I’ll have to check that out.

Worth noting that these two problems reinforce each other, as we don’t have any full Agama collections of one school, so it’s not uncommon that we’re just missing something.


Isn’t it just to make the goal seem more possible? I don’t agree with them, but it doesn’t seem so mysterious to me.


This fact, that the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna is jhāna , is one of the most undercommunicated aspects of the Buddhist path.

“This fact”, is a very strong statement and the sentence implies that Satipatthana has only one purpose, that of Jhana. From a practical perspective, Jhana is one objective of the practice of Satipatthana but it is not the only one. The Satipatthana Sutta states that

He lives contemplating origination factors[5] in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors[6] in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors[7] in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: “The body exists,”[8] to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached,[9] and clings to nothing in the world.
Nyanasatta Thera’s translation

If the meditator is contemplating dissolution factors and origination and dissolution factors, then he/she is contemplating Anicca. If he/she is contemplating Anicca, then he/she is developing insight/wisdom/vipassana. Also, anyone who “clings to nothing in the world” is doing more than just achieving Jhana.

Luang Poo Tate has a really good explanation of these matters in his book Satipatthana Bhavana, which is translated in to English in the Flavour of Dhamma, circa 1977.


I also see that the sutta’s teach that one can also know and see that states that rely on effort, volition, and are produced, are also all liable to cease.
This means that they are impermanent . What is impermanent must never be seen as the true goal of Dhamma. It is also not worth chasing after. It can never be stable, never be reliable, never be an island, the Truth, never safe, never protecting, never a refuge. What is impermanent must be seen as suffering.
One must not desire things or states that are impermanent, or at least see and understand what one does! This is also an important message in the EBT.

Ofcourse one can make skillfully use of things and states that are impermanent, like jhana, but the true goal it is not chasing impermanent states.

The sutta’s also teach that when one truly understands that all what is liable to arise also will cease, then one also sees the whole Path. One sees that it not worth making, producing, constructing any state.
We have a long history (even till today) that we seek safety, happiness, peace, protection in states that are impermanent. But when the Dhamma eye arises, one sees this is a mission impossible. So, at that moment one also sees that the Path to end suffering and really find what one wishes, is not really about making, constructing, producing this or that state, but to first of all end the view that temporary states can be happiness, can be peace, can protect etc. And after that one commits to that view and makes an end to the inner drifts, inclination, tendencies, desires to make, construct, produce, chase temporary things. In fact one sees that dispassion is the Path, the unconstructed, asankhata.

We have in endless lifes wanting to be in this or that state, and we have failed to see how this cannot bring us what we seek (protection, safety, a refuge, a home, also sought by the Buddha).
And now we see that safety, protection, refuge, peace of heart, comes from ending these longing to be in this or that state.

i feel this is also part of Dhamma and i feel this puts the role of any temporary state, also jhana, in perspective.


I just read this section, and it should be clarified that this analysis is entirely from the perspective of Buddhist texts. He’s discussing whether EBTs indicate jhana was practiced before the Buddha. Which is fine, although I was hoping for a discussion from the perspective of non-Buddhist texts.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a really satisfying discussion of this rather important question. The problem is that the suttas and the Upanishads (etc.) are very different kinds of literature, and each needs to be read with empathy for its own perspective and methods. If the discussion is just trying prove a point, then the essence is missed. It’s also, I think, impossible to have a meaningful take on such advanced matters so long as we do not have a careful and thorough assessment of the relation between these texts even in simple matters.

For one specific example of this, see my notes to MN 31, which is a close pair with MN 128:


There are multiple reasons for seeing a connection between these suttas and Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.3. They deal with important meditation topics, especially the vision of light. One detail that is completely misunderstood in the Pali tradition is the term attakāmarūpa. This appears to reference the Upanishadic idea that in contemplation (meditation or deep sleep?) one realizes one’s “true form” (rūpa) which is the desire for the self, attakāma, following which one is without desire.

There are lots of things to be considered here, but the simplest is that the groundskeeper was not Buddhist, but was familiar with Upanishadic teachings (even if in a non-specialist way), and to him, there was no real difference between Upanishadic contemplatives and Buddhist monastics (which agrees with accounts like the Aggannasutta, which depict the rishis of old living a very bhikkhu-like life). This gives a strong indication that there were Brahmanical contemplatives in the time of the Buddha who lived much like meditative bhikkhus.

And it also indicates, albeit less conclusively, that what is being talked about in such Upanishadic passages is closer to Buddhist meditation than appears on the surface. I don’t feel I have a real handle on this, but I strongly suspect that the Upanishadic rhetoric around dreams and the like is a deliberately coded way of talking about meditation, for “the gods love hidden things”, and the Buddha’s framing of his experience as “awakening” is a direct rebuttal of that manner of discourse.

Sorry, I’m going on too long here!


Woah, Bhante! That is a fascinating line of thought. I remember a comment on this forum by @Brahmali asking, when you’ll write Buddhist and Vedic studies :sweat_smile: I can only hope we get some sort of formal study of the two traditions. Your essays on the matter are so interesting!


The basic formulation of mindfulness leading to samadhi, is very strongly reinforced by the formulas in the EBT’s, and especially in the SA/SN collections, with the 37 factors of awakening. It’s in the Five Roots, Five Powers, Seven Factors of Bodhi, and Noble Eightfold Path, and then scattered around in other lesser known sequences as well. And obviously across the other agamas and nikayas. By merely giving due weight to the contents and fundamental formulations of the EBT’s, these principles and relationships cannot be legitimately ignored.

My interpretation of the narratives about the Buddha’s former teachers is that they were able to reach some of the most profound samadhis. But neither was able to reach the 9th attainment, the cessation of perception and feeling, also called the Nirodha Samapatti. I think the narrative implies samadhis 1-7 (Alara Kalama), and 1-8 (Udraka Ramaputra), and 1-9 (Buddha). This would communicate that the Buddha went beyond those great teachers. It also provides us with a meaningful narrative function.

Many of the basic formulations of early Buddhism go in sequence from impure to pure, or from coarse to fine, basic to advanced, or earlier to later. The Four Elements are this way. The Five Aggregates. The Seven Factors of Bodhi. And also the nine attainments, which correspond to pacifying the three types of formations (samskaras), going from coarse (body) to fine (mind).


Thanks! Now corrected.

Glad to share the burden!

LOL! Unfortunately I fear history will repeat itself.

Indeed. I had expected Ven. Anālayo’s approach to be broader than merely checking for immediate parallels. An overall survey of the meaning of sammāsamādhi in the Āgamas would be both more useful and meaningful than what he has presented here.

This may be the case. But a little bit of reflection should make it clear that the goal of the path is only achievable if we interpret the suttas with care and follow the instruction accordingly.

The broader purpose of satipaṭṭhāna is obviously awakening. But the immediate purpose is samādhi. The path goes via samādhi. To me this is clear enough even in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

There is a bit to unpack here, but let me just say for now that paññā supports samādhi. There is no real contradiction.


True. The important point he makes, however, is that Buddhist samādhi is supported by right view, and that this is what distinguishes it from pre-Buddhist samādhi. Too often we hear the claim that the jhānas are not so interesting because they were practiced before the Buddha. Satipaṭthāna is supposedly the real innovation of the Buddha. In reality, both sati and samādhi existed before the Buddha (MN 26), while neither sammāsati nor sammāsamādhi did. So yes, jhāna probably existed before the Buddha, but not the Buddhist “sammājjhāna”, that is, the jhāna supported by right view.

I did see this. It’s interesting. It’s also better than what you had previously, that is, “gentlemen who love themselves”.

Please keep “going on too long”!

Thanks, this is helpful!


I agree, and think it’s hard for it not to be taken otherwise. There are a lot of connections to make, but one is between the sensual realm (kāmaloka) and waking human life, the realm of pure forms/the mind (rūpaloka) and lucid-dreams where the mind has mastery over a mass of mental domain, and the formless realm (arūpaloka) which is like peeling off the ‘details’ on the screen of the mind leaving just the underlying mass of unified consciousness out of which everything appears, but which is before differentiated perception.

I think part of the idea is that these layers of the “self” are intrinsic and are hiding in our experience, but with meditation they can deliberately be cultivated and made into transformative liberating experiences. They key is that you have to know (veda), and by knowing these secrets of the self as it functions in everyday life, you become a master with the secret knowledge and gain control.

The connection between ‘waking up’ is quite relevant, as here it is like one is sinking deeper and deeper into the dream mind, whereas the Buddha is saying you step out of it completely. We don’t dive into the core of what is our true self, we lose ourselves!

Other traditions, like Tibetan Buddhist discussions, contain lots of these connections between (1) states of consciousness from waking-dreaming-deep sleep, etc. (2) states of meditation or intentionally developed consciousness, and (3) states of consciousness from life-dying-death-rebirth. These are also found in the Upanisads. (Check out: “Sleep, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness” from the Dalai Lama in conference with brain researchers, NDE studies, etc.)


I’ll just have to finish going over and annotating all the suttas, updating my translations, updating the introductory essays, and some other things, then I’ll be able to get right to it!

But seriously I would love to, but my main focus at the moment is identifying possible points of connection so we can start to paint a more meaningful picture. Just for example, we’re interested in the question of how samadhi evolved. Okay, fine. But how significant is that from the texts’ point of view? Like, how many references do we have to say, sacrifice? How many to brahmin privilege? How many to the Self? How many to popular worship? As far as I can see, we don’t really have any position at the moment to really get a perspective on what kinds of things are related to what, and what is most important.

As just an example, my research this morning led me down the background for the name of the town Devadaha—a place of some significance in Buddhism, as it is the home of Maya and Pajapati. It seems, and I’m summarizing a complex situation here, that the name means “burned by the god”, indicating that Agni worship was established there, i.e. it was Aryanized. This points to the role of Brahmanical culture in establishing kingship in the Sakyan region, something already indicated by the use of the Brahmanical name Gotama (taken from the high priest’s clan).

Point being, we might be into meditation, but the texts are also interested in the establishment of kingship. If we really want to understand what the texts are saying, we need a little less, “what do they tell me about this thing I’m interested in”, and a little more, “what are they interested in?”

Ha ha, if you insist!

BTW, just to let you know that it was reading your post for too long yesterday that made me miss my train and be late for my Dhamma talk! Just be a bit more considerate about writing compelling and interesting posts in future, okay?! :pray:


Sometimes from essays and reactions written here i get the impression that the writers see the Buddha as some reactionairy. As if he was very concerned from the beginning to correct religious practices, views, ideas, attainments.

Personally i feel this was not at all on Buddha’s mind. I do not know this for sure but this is my gut-feeling. On his mind was finding the sublime state of supreme peace, safety, protection, Nibbana. And i feel he followed his hearts wisdom in this. That was his guidance.

He felt very unsafe, unprotected in a world on fire. He practiced in line with his heart wish to be at ease.
And when he found that sublime state of supreme peace via detachment, he ofcourse had to find ways to express his experiences.

In the way he does it might seem like he was an innovator or reactionairy but he was not i feel.
He was only seeking ways to express himself with words people can understand and were known by seekers, spiritual oriented people. If he gave them another meaning that was not a reactionairy intent.

Buddha was not like that. My Buddha at least :innocent:


This fact, that THE purpose of satipaṭṭhāna is jhāna , is one of the most undercommunicated aspects of the Buddhist path.

Having read your reply to my post above, I think we have another issue with words rather than intent. Your original post says that, THE purpose of Satipatthana is Jhana. If you meant that A purpose of Satipatthana is Jhana, then I think we can both be in agreement.

that paññā supports samādhi

I completely agree and this point is moot in this discussion if, as I suspect, you meant that Jhana is A purpose of Satipatthana.

As a general point regarding this subject, I would say that the no real comparison of Jhana and Samadhi can be complete without the commentaries’ division of Samadhi into three being included in the discussion. Whether the suttas mention this division or not, it is what happens in practise.

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There is no sutta, i think, that literally says we loose ourselves. I do not even know what that means. Is there a self we can loose?

I believe the EBT in general describe that the mind can loose adventitious defilements: lobha, dosa, moha, anusaya’s, asava’s, tanha’s, kilesa’s. That way the burden is lost. But that does not mean one looses oneself. I believe one finds oneself in a situation of a sublime state of supreme peace, the extinguishments of all defilements, the ending of all clinging, detachment, which the Buddha called Nibbana, attained and experienced in this very life.

MN11, Bodhi. “*Bhikkhus, when ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge has arisen in a bhikkhu, then with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to *
sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana. He understands: 'Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.'”

When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana”…
this describes the sublime state of supreme peace, because that is the state of a mind without clinging and agitation. A fire going out in the mind means an absence of all agitation…peace.

It was peace what Buddha sought:

"Having gong forth, bhikkhus, in search of what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace,…(MN26) This is, ofcourse, seeking Nibbana.

Buddha wanted a home for himself:

The world around was hollow ,
all directions were in turmoil.
Wanting a home for myself,
I saw nowhere unsettled.(Snp4.15)

It was not that he was searching to become non-existent as a lifestream after a last death. Also, there is no sutta that says that the end of rebirth implies a mere cessation, a cessation without anything remaining. One cannot find such sutta’s.

No, Buddha searched peace of which Snp1.11 says:

That wise mendicant here
rid of desire and lust,
has found the peace free of death,
Nibbana, the imperishable state. (Snp1.11)

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I don’t think he was concerned with correcting others per se, but he was concerned with not getting misrepresented.

The main purpose of satipaṭṭḥāna is samādhi. The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is an outlier with its stated goal of awakening. Here is the relevant passage from the OP:

One of the principles encountered throughout the EBTs is that it is samādhi that leads to deep insight, not sati. This can be seen, for instance, in the sequence sometimes known as dependent liberation (AN 10.1-3) where samādhi (sometimes sammāsamādhi) is said to be the proximate cause for seeing things according to reality (yathābhūtāñāṇadassana). This is also the message we get from core doctrinal categories such as the noble eightfold path, the seven factors of awakening, the five spiritual faculties, mindfulness of breathing, the gradual training, and much more. In other words, this principle is deeply embedded in the EBTs.

The Satipatthāna Sutta is only one individual sutta, whereas the categories listed above are more like paradigms, into which a large number of suttas fit. The message of these overall structures is far more important than the message of any individual sutta.

What the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta seems to say is that one practices satipatthāna until one reaches samādhi or jhāna and then continues the practices until awakening. Again, this is unusual. What comes after samādhi is normally called yathābhūtañāṇadassana (“knowledge and vision according to reality”) or sammāñāṇa (“right knowledge”), not satipaṭthāna. Again, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is an outlier, which means we should not give much weight to its presentation. In other words, the main purpose of satipaṭṭhāna remains samādhi.


From a practical perspective, I would say that “the main purpose” of Satipatthana is to provide a basis for the development of Sati.

One of the functions of Sati, together with Right View, Right Action and Right Effort, is to establish an environment where Samadhi can develop. One of the functions of Samadhi (and I use the term here rather than Jhana because there is more meaning to it), in conjunction with Sati, is to develop Panna. Samadhi and Panna are thus the hands that wash each other. Sati is therefore instrumental in training in both Samadhi and Panna. This is why the 4 Satipatthana are, in AN 10.61, referred to as the food of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. This is perfectly consistent with the Satipatthana Sutta. One could argue, therefore, that the “main purpose” of Satipatthana is Enlightenment and Jhana is but a secondary purpose.

On reflection, Satipatthana is the main form of Buddhist meditation. So, why would its main purpose be the attainment of the worldly state of Jhana? Instinctively, one would feel that its main purpose was freedom from suffering. If not, then what is beyond Satipatthana that bridges the gap between worldly Jhana and Nirodha?

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DN22 explains it itself:

Sujato translates:

The four kinds of mindfulness meditation are the path to convergence. They are in order to purify sentient beings, to get past sorrow and crying, to make an end of pain and sadness, to discover the system, and to realize extinguishment.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.

By the way…Sujato makes here different choice then other translators:

Anandajoti translates:

This is a one-way path, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of grief and lamentation, for the extinction of pain and sorrow, for attaining the right way, for the direct realisation of Nibbāna, that is to say, the four ways of attending to mindfulness. Thus, whatever was said, it is for this reason it was said.”

Walshe translates:

"There is, monks, this one way to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow anid distress, forthe disappearance of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realisation of Nibbana: - that is to say the four foundations of mindfulness", and it is for this reason that it was said.’

Thanissaro translates:
“‘This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of unbinding—in other words, the four establishings of mindfulness.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”

The Dutch translator translates: 'it is the only way for the purification of being etc…

I think the central goal is purification of beings or mind. And i also do not see another way.
If one is not mindful about what is going on in ones mind and does not guard the mind as a gatekeeper, not feeding unwholesome, the mind can never become purified.

I do not believe the goal is samadhi nor jhana but to see internally what is really going on, and be able to threat it wisely. Becoming introspective. And i do not think this is really the same as concentration because one can also be concentrated on external things.

Bhante Sujato has written an entire book to explain his translation choice for this; and a bit more.


Yes, this Buddha i also see in the sutta’s. I also take that seriously. I would really like the Buddha was still among us and we could ask him if a mere cessation is really the Goal of his teachings.

You know, i do not believe this, and see no evidence for this in the sutta’s, but i do not think lightly about misinterpretating Buddha. I feel everybody, really everybody, must be totallly honest towards him/herself and others about what one really knows and what is ones view, belief, interpretation.

I feel, one must never present interpretation as true knowledge, as something one really knows.
This a red line, i feel. Also not relying on any teacher because teachers can also be wrong. One must know things for oneself. And if one does not really know things for sure be totally honest about this.
Never faking true knowledge where there is no true knowledge. I believe Buddha would agree with this.