What Ven. Anālayo gets wrong about samādhi, part II

Hello again Bhante and Dhamma friends. Last week I took Venerable Anālayo to a doctor appointment, and we had a lot of time for conversation on the long drive there and back. Among the things we discussed was your response here in your OP and his thoughts on some of your points.

Because he spends five days of every week in retreat, leaving him only two days to work on his articles and books, he’s understandably reluctant to make a habit of participating in an online forum. But he said that I could summarize his thoughts, if I wished, and post them as a reply. I felt that it might be of interest and potential benefit to those reading this thread to do so, so I’ll pass them along here.

Venerable Anālayo said that he discussed this in his first satipaṭṭhāna book (Satipaṭṭhāna: The Direct Path to Realization, 2003) on p. 81ff (how he knew the page number I have no idea). There are three suttas in the Aṅguttara Nikāya that say that a stream-enterer and a once-returner have not fulfilled samādhi, while a non-returner and an arahant have fulfilled it. This makes it clear that there is a difference between a stream-enterer and an arahant in terms of their samādhi requirement.

We can also look at this from the perspective of cosmology. The difference between a once-returner and a non-returner is that the once-returner is reborn once more in this world (the kāmaloka), while the non-returner is not reborn again in this world, but is reborn in the Brāhma realm (namely, the Pure Abodes). So if, as Venerable Brahmāli would argue, all once-returners are jhāna-attainers (and have not lost that ability by the time of their death), they would all be reborn in the Brāhma realm. This means that the very concept of the once-returner would be meaningless if we were to argue that all once-returners are jhāna-attainers.

In reply to this point, Venerable Anālayo said that when encountering the term samādhi in the suttas, there are several possibilities for interpreting it:

  1. Samādhi does not equate to jhāna (e.g., when it refers to walking meditation)

  2. Samādhi includes jhāna but also includes other meditation practices (e.g., the threefold division of the path into sīla, samādhi, and paññā, where samādhi covers right effort, restraint of the sense doors, etc.)

  3. Samādhi includes jhāna but also includes what the commentaries call access concentration

  4. Samādhi just means jhāna

Because samādhi has this broad range of possible meanings, each time we must determine from the context which of these cases fits. So it’s not possible to just say that samādhi = jhāna.

Regarding these comments, he seemed uncertain as to the point you were trying to make. The passage you quoted from DN 18 shows that satipaṭṭhāna practiced internally can lead to samādhi, something that he feels you’re both in agreement on. And I believe he felt that contemplating the samāhitaṃ cittaṃ arising and passing (as per the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta) can only be prior to entering jhāna or after emerging, which he feels shows that the word samādhi cannot be confined to jhāna. Instead, it must include more than jhāna because it’s included in the state both before and after jhāna.

In reply to this, the Venerable said that he said “even” because this part of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the most detailed description of the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna that he knows.

Venerable Anālayo acknowledged that there are quite a number of interpretations of this term, but if we go by the suttas, the only other occurrence of this term is in MN 12, where it refers to a path that is straight or direct.

I hope that sharing Venerable Anālayo’s thoughts here might help to enrich the discussion and provide a valuable perspective on these topics. If any of the above fails to make sense or misrepresents his viewpoints, that is undoubtedly due to my own shortcomings!


Thanks so much @Christopher for conveying this message from Ven. Anālayo. As it happens, I have also been in direct communication with him. As always, we had a very pleasant chat. It is clear that we are in agreement on the importance of samādhi on the path. More importantly, perhaps, we agree that the jhānas are profound states of mind where there is no thinking and no five-sense experience. We agree on the issues that really matter.

It is nonetheless interesting and important to discuss some of the details around samādhi. And so, I welcome this response. Once again, I am not in full agreement with his position, which means I will reply once more. We may not reach any final agreement on these lesser matters. If so, so be it. At the very least, we will have gone through the arguments and tested our understanding of the suttas.

The suttas in question are AN 3.86, AN 3.87, and AN 9.12.

The first point to make is that this is only a small number of suttas, all of them from the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Moreover, they are mostly short and do not have much content apart from the enumeration of various people who have fulfilled sīla, samādhi, and paññā. The gradual training, by contrast, which I quoted in my previous response, is found about twenty times, across three different Nikāyas (Dīgha, Majjhima, and Aṅguttara). It is a major teaching paradigm that sets out the path to awakening in detail. These suttas are far more significant in every respect than those short ones from the Aṅguttara. What this means is that, in the case of a conflict, the more prominent teachings should guide our understanding.

More importantly, I do not think there is any conflict here. So far as I can tell, these suttas are not actually about the “samādhi requirement” to reach various stages of awakening. Here is the relevant extract from AN 3.86:

Take the case of a mendicant who has fulfilled their ethics, but has limited samādhi and wisdom. They break some lesser and minor training rules, but are restored. Why is that? Because I don’t say they’re incapable of that. But they’re constant and steady in their precepts regarding the training rules that are fundamental, befitting the spiritual path. They keep the rules they’ve undertaken. With the ending of three fetters they’re a stream-enterer, not liable to be reborn in the underworld, bound for awakening. … With the ending of three fetters, and the weakening of greed, hate, and delusion, they’re a once-returner. They come back to this world once only, then make an end of suffering.

Take another case of a mendicant who has fulfilled their ethics and samādhi , but has limited wisdom. They break some lesser and minor training rules, but are restored. Why is that? Because I don’t say they’re incapable of that. But they’re constant and steady in their precepts regarding the training rules that are fundamental, befitting the spiritual path. They keep the rules they’ve undertaken. With the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.

We see here that the difference between the stream-enterer (or once-returner) and the nonreturner is that the former have “limited samādhi”, whereas the latter have “fulfilled” their samādhi. “Limited samādhi” could also be rendered as “partially fulfilled samādhi.” In fact, “limited samādhi” may give the impression that this is about depth of samādhi, when this is not necessarily the case. Perhaps, Bhante @Sujato, you are open to rephrasing this?

As it happens, it is quite clear that this cannot be about depth of samādhi, but about ease of access to samādhi. “Limited samādhi” is here used as a description of all streamenterers and oncereturners, and yet no-one disputes that streamenterers may have achieved jhāna, even the higher ones. In fact, it is clear from the suttas that the even the highest samādhi attainments are available to ordinary people, let alone the noble ones. This means that fulfilling samādhi must refer to something else.

The obvious solution is that this is about access to samādhi. The nonreturners, those who have fulfilled samādhi, are able to access samādhi easily, whereas for streamenterers it may not be as straightforward. Nonreturners have eliminated the main fetters that obstruct one form achieving samādhi, most prominently sensory desire. The streamenterer, on the other hand, still has some degree of interest in the world of the five senses.

It seems, then, that the three suttas from the Aṅguttara Nikāya do not contradict the gradual training. The jhānas are an essential part of the path to awakening and part of the definition of sammāsamādhi in the noble eightfold path.

Yes, you get reborn in the Brahmā world if you attain jhāna on your deathbed, not simply because you have had a jhāna at some point in your life. We seem to agree on this. And the suttas are clear that this requires a high degree of proficiency and much practice of these states. This is how it is expressed in the suttas at AN 4.123:

… a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first jhāna, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. 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 Brahmā’s Host.

This means a streamenterer may have attained jhāna one or more times, even many times, and still not get reborn in the Brahma world.

I agree with this. The meaning of samādhi in any particular case must indeed be determined from the context. Yet there are many instances where the context is not sufficient to determine exactly what is meant. In such a situation, I believe the right approach is to assume that the meaning is the majority meaning of the suttas, which is jhāna, by a wide margin. Or, at the very least, we should assume that jhāna is included.

I am not sure is we disagree here. I would just say that contemplation always happens after the experience. One has an experience – whether a jhāna, a lesser state of samādhi, or whatever – and only then does one contemplate it. I think this is what we see in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

Thanks again, @ Christopher. Ven. Anālayo and I agree that samādhi is a fundamentally important part of the path. Once you have that sort of basic agreement, discussion of the details can be so much more fruitful. Thanks for taking part!


Even if there would be no info processed from the five senses there is still the sensory experience of the 6th sense, right? Or do you believe there is nothing perceived (no percepience) in even the 1th jhana?

Yes, thanks. I’ve now fixed it.

Sure, do you have a suggestion? Perhaps, “they have a degree of samadhi”?

The Pali is:

samādhismiṁ mattaso kārī paññāya mattaso kārī

The crucial point it seems to me that that such a person, namely a stream enterer, clearly does not have no wisdom: they have seen the four noble truths and dependent origination “as they really are”. In the same way, they clearly don’t have no samādhi, since they’ve fulfilled the noble eightfold path, the three trainings, the five faculties, and so on.

In the case of samadhi, the one who has “fulfilled” or “perfected” it is the non-returner. This is obviously in reference to the fact that they have completely got rid of greed and hate and therefore have none of the underlying tendencies that obstruct jhana. This doesn’t tell us anything about the actual attainment of jhana by a stream-enterer, it simply reminds us that their samadhi is not perfected until they have eliminated the relevant fetters, because until then they can always fall away. This applies even to a stream enterer who has mastered the eight attainments.


What about: “they have partially fulfilled samādhi”?

The problem is that no matter how you phrase it, it is open to interpretation. I would say the same is true for the Pali. And so we should probably not look for a perfect doctrinal fit. Still, I think “limited samādhi” conjures up a sense of lack of depth. As it happens, at MN 128 you use the word “limited” in exactly this way.

Right. The parallel to the samādhi is actually quite close. The stream-enterer has the same depth of wisdom as the arahant, but does not always have access to it. The implication is that the stream-enter has, or at least may have, the same depth of samādhi as the arahant.


Not sure if this helps the discussion but according to the Abhidhamma a stream-enterer can be without mundane Jhana but never without supramundane Jhana, since all 4 levels of awakening are a Jhanic experience (when samatha and vipassana are yoked evenly together).

Wouldn’t this make sense in light of no stream-enterer or once-returner is reborn in the Brahma realms and above, yet they have right samadhi?

They do get reborn in the Brahma realm. They are the so-called jhānānāgāmis, who attain final Nibbāna right there in the Brahma world, see for instance AN 4.123.

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Which Abhidhamma you refer to?

The Theravadin one, hence the spelling :slight_smile:

I don’t see how that supports your view Bhante?

If you could be a bit more specific, I might be able to respond meaningfully.

there is also the idea that powers increase gradually, such as in SN48.12.
It is not really in conflict with what you say here but at least the power of samadhi is not the same.
If the power is not the same, is the depth the same?

Alright, I will assume you mean my view about the relationship between jhāna and stream-entry. Here it is, quoted from the other thread on this topic:

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 original post is here.)

Ven. Anālayo says:

So if, as Venerable Brahmāli would argue, all once-returners are jhāna -attainers (and have not lost that ability by the time of their death), they would all be reborn in the Brāhma realm.

First of all, as you can see above, I have not actually said this. Second, the sutta at AN 4.123 shows that attaining jhāna once or a few times is not enough for rebirth in the brahma world. You have to be proficient at it, especially at the time of death.

But even the stronger claim that jhāna is required for stream-entry is not contradicted by any of the suttas quoted by Ven. Anālayo. Whether this claim is true or not, I am not sure, but I certainly don’t discount it. There is strong evidence pointing in that direction, for instance:

When there is sammāsamādhi, one who has fulfilled sammāsamādhi has fulfilled the vital condition for true knowledge and vision. (AN 10.3)

Yes, this sutta says that the faculty of samādhi, the samādhindriya, is stronger for the arahant than for the stream-enterer. In line with the discussion above, I take this to mean that the arahant gains samādhi more easily. This includes generally having deeper samādhi than the stream-enterer.

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Thank you Bhante. Some argue that stream entry may be attained by just “listening to a talk”, but the suttas describing those cases speak of their minds as being:

ready, supple, without hindrances, elated, and confident.
(kallacittaṁ muducittaṁ vinīvaraṇacittaṁ udaggacittaṁ pasannacittaṁ)

“without hindrances” suggests, at the very least, that the student is close to jhāna.

Here is the full quote:

He gave a step by step talk especially for Suppabuddha on giving, ethical conduct, and heaven. He explained the drawbacks of sensual pleasures, so sordid and corrupt, and the benefit of renunciation. When the Buddha knew that Suppabuddha’s mind was ready, supple, without hindrances, elated, and confident, he revealed the teaching unique to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path. Just as a clean cloth rid of stains would properly absorb dye, in that very seat the stainless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma in Suppabuddha: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.”

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Yes, indeed. One of the classical suttas that discusses this in more detail is the Vimuttāyatana Sutta, at AN 5.26:

Firstly, the Teacher or a respected spiritual companion teaches Dhamma to a mendicant. That mendicant feels inspired by the meaning and the teaching in that Dhamma, no matter how the Teacher or a respected spiritual companion teaches it. Feeling inspired, joy springs up. Being joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, one feels bliss. And when blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi. This is the first opportunity for freedom.

And so you hear the teaching, based on which you achieve samādhi, and only then do you attain freedom, including, presumably, stream-entry.


My opinion is that this is not complete. There must also be knowledge of asankhata, that element in our lifes/mind/heart that has not the characteristics of arising, ceasing and changing. I believe, with both, knowlegde of sankhata and asankhata, it is complete. One has entered the stream.

Knowing asankhata is like knowing there is already an element of purity, peace, dispassion, unburdeness in all our lifes. A stream enterer sees and knows this. He/she sees and knows that purity, peace, dispassion is not made, created, but if defilements are removed, it will only become more and more apparant. Purity, peace, dispassion, unburdedness, onloadedness, egoless, reveals to be the nature of mind that is without grasping and clinging. A sotapanna knows this, i believe.

Samadhi in general makes one more easily see this element of peace, dispassion, purity, onloadedness is allready present. But it also becomes easily shrouded when formations arise and are grasped and when the mind tends to become lost in the khandha’s arising.

To put it simply: to be on the Noble Path one must be connected to purity, dispassion, peace.
Without an eye for that, i believe, one cannot be connected with the Noble Path (supra mundane)

I don’t understand Bhante. Since without Right view there can’t be any Right composure, and since jhana are not Right composure without Right view, why would you need jhana before stream entry ? Is there a clear sutta saying so ?
Also, on a practical pov, if you start with jhana first you then becomes oblivious to your felt suffering in life. It’s like being in an enclosure with a lion but since you practice jhana you are now unable to see the danger, you by-passed it. Once you stop doing jhana the lion is still there and you are still prey to suffering.
In fact, I think this could be an excellent testing device for people practicing absorption jhana everyday. Totally stop for a week, and put yourself under pressure, skip a meal or wake up even earlier. Then check your immovability. Bring a thought of aversion or lust, and then check also how you react. Then you know if you have uprooted craving or just managed it this whole time.


You need right view and samādhi. Even if jhāna is not strictly necessary, it is going to be very helpful. It is the natural preliminary to stream-entry. But again, jhāna plus right view.

The closest you get is probably the sutta I have quoted above:

When there is sammāsamādhi, one who has fulfilled sammāsamādhi has fulfilled the vital condition for true knowledge and vision. (AN 10.3)

We all have plenty of suffering. Even when you come out of jhāna, you have to deal with the realities of existence. Moreover, you know that jhāna is conditioned and therefore temporary. That’s a big problem.

It makes no sense to increase the burdens of life. If that made sense, then the greater the suffering the quicker would be the path to awakening. Yet suffering usually brings delusion along with it. The jhānas are states of non-delusion, where the barriers to insight are removed.


Thank you for this helpful answer !