Which jhana as a boy

The Buddha-to-be after unsuccesful attempts with two teachers then doing tough ascetic practices, remembered his jhana experience as a young boy and decided that jhana was the way to nibbana.

Question is which jhana did he experience as a boy. Very likely Jhana 1.
If so he had to discover and master Jhana 2, 3 and 4 before his awakening night.
This could have taken a bit of time.

To help the conversation I paste below the translation of the relevant passage, as found in MN36:

“I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.
Could that be the path to enlightenment?’
Then, following on that memory, came the realisation: ‘That is indeed the path to enlightenment.’
“I thought: ‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’
I thought: ‘I am not afraid of that pleasure since it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.’
“I considered: ‘It is not easy to attain that pleasure with a body so excessively emaciated. Suppose I ate some solid food—some boiled rice and porridge.’
And I ate some solid food—some boiled rice and porridge. Now at that time five bhikkhus were waiting upon me, thinking: ‘If our recluse Gotama achieves some higher state, he will inform us.’
“Now when I had eaten solid food and regained my strength, then quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.
But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.
“With the stilling of applied and sustained thought, I entered upon and abided in the second jhāna…
With the fading away as well of rapture…I entered upon and abided in the third jhāna…
With the abandoning of pleasure and pain…I entered upon and abided in the fourth jhāna…
But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.
“When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives.
I recollected my manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births…as Sutta 4, §27…Thus with their aspects and particulars I recollected my manifold past lives.
“This was the first true knowledge attained by me in the first watch of the night. (…)


The Buddha already attained the 1st jhana when he was a child as per MN 36:

I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion."

In MN 26, the Buddha already mastered both Rupa and ARupa jhanas when studying under the two masters Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. So basically He already had the tranquility components. But the other component vital to enlightenment, insight, was missing and that’s why He left the teachers to go on his own and eventually filled in the missing link by Himself.

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The Pali for the passage in bold in my previous post is:

Tassa mayhaṃ, aggivessana, etadahosi: ‘abhijānāmi kho panāhaṃ pitu sakkassa kammante sītāya jambucchāyāya nisinno vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharitā.
Siyā nu kho eso maggo bodhāyā’ti? Tassa mayhaṃ,

I wonder if instead of reading first jhana one could read jhana for the first time?

Bhante @Sujato, how did/would you translate this specific piece?

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The 1st jhana’s fingerprint was included at the end of that passage. So I’d suppose “First” jhana was emphasized in the English translation for clarification…

…which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion."


That’s the STED (standard EBT definition) for first jhana that appears everywhere. It’s a stock phrase pericope, so however you interpret paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja vihariti , it would have to mean that everywhere, which would rule out “jhana for the first time”.

This is why I recommend people to memorize the standard formula for samma samadhi. It’s a short passsage. Once you know every word very clearly, you’ll never get confused about what factors are in which jhana.

from SN 45.8

STED sammā-samādhi

STED right concentration
“katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsamādhi?
What **, *********, is right concentration?

STED 1st Jhāna

vivicceva kāmehi
withdrawn (from) sensuality,
vivicca akusalehi dhammehi
withdrawn (from) unskillful qualities,
sa-vitakkaṃ sa-vicāraṃ
With-thinking, with-evaluation,
vivekajaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ
withdrawal rapture-pleasure,
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
first jhana (he) enters, dwells.

STED 2nd Jhāna

Vitakka-vicārānaṃ vūpasamā
Thoughts-evaluation stilling,
ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ
internal assurance,
cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ
awareness unification,
a-vitakkaṃ a-vicāraṃ
No-Thoughts no-evaluation,
samādhi-jaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ
Samādhi-based rapture-pleasure,
dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
second Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.

STED 3rd Jhāna

pītiyā ca virāgā
Rapture ** fading,
upekkhako ca viharati
Equanimous ** (he) dwells,
sato ca sampajāno,
mindful and alert,
sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedeti,
pleasure in-body (he) experiences,
yaṃ taṃ ariyā ācikkhanti —
that those Noble-Ones declare -
‘upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī’ti
“equanimous (and) mindful (he has) pleasant abiding.”
tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
third Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.

STED 4th Jhāna

sukhassa ca pahānā
Pleasure's ** abandoning,
dukkhassa ca pahānā
pain's ** abandoning,
pubbeva somanassa-domanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā
previous elation-(and)-distress disappearance,
Neither-pain nor-pleasure
catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati
fourth Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.
ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sammāsamādhī”ti.
This is called, *********, right concentration.
eighth [sutta in chapter ended]

Thanks @santa100 and @frankk. I am aware this is the standard 1st jhāna formula found everywhere else.

I am not however in position to say that this is the only possible translation or interpretation of what it means in this specific and unique context.

The key reason I decide to keep this understanding open for alternatives is it seems that the term paṭhamaṃ can mean both first and first time.

I truly look forward to learn what Bhante @Sujato has chosen to do when translating this specific passage.

I can recall that terms of doctrinal relevance can have very mundane and simpler meaning when in different and specific contexts.

I can’t recall now specific cases but I remember coming across few when translating the Bhikkhu Vibhanga from English having as well the Pali in front of me.

Last but not least, for the sake of disclaimer, I take no sides in any of the jhana debates. I am still too early in the path to say anything about this.


I don’t believe his 1st two teachers taught him the rupa jhanas.
The attainments (so-called arupa) can be attained without having to go thru the four rupas.

His remembering of his jhana experience as a boy makes no sense if he had already mastered the four jhanas with his two teachers.

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Tranquility (samatha) and insight (vipassanā) together, not separate, form the two sides of the dhamma meditation.
In the suttas the word vipassanā appears very unfrequently (some 30 entries for 400+ for samatha) and when it does vipassanā is always associated with samatha. One cannot “do” or “practice” insight (vipassanā) as a meditation; insight is like having an aha!-eureka moment; these moments happen outside our “doing” when conditions are right for them to happen. Deep insights usually appear unexpectedly in daily life (Archimedes was having a bath. Newton and the apple. Most scientific discoveries are made while the scientist is not thinking about it (of course the scientist has to do the footwork before)). jhānas are the conditions for deep vipassanā (insights) to occur either while meditating or after coming out. In the suttas there is no description of “vipassanā meditation”. Some people today are teaching “vipassanā meditation”; this is not dhamma.

So the Buddha didn’t discover insight (vipassanā) he discovered bhavana, a combination of samatha and vipassanā together not separate. Jhanas and how to use them was the key discovery of the Buddha.

My post is all about how long did it take him once he remembered his first experience with jhana as a boy, to discover, develop and master the four jhanas and progressively got the insights that culminated with his awakening night?


Regarding 1., Ven. Bodhi’s note citing Comy. in “Middle Length Discourses”:

…he (Alara Kalama) taught Him (the Buddha) the seven attainments of serenity meditation ending in the base of nothingness, the third of the four immaterial attainments. Though these attainements are spiritually exalted, they are still mundane and not in themselves directly conducive to Nibbana.

  1. In order to attain the ARupa, one’d need to attain the 4th Rupa jhana as the basis, which is frequently referred to in the suttas as the state of “imperturbable”/aninjita.
  2. I don’t follow your logic here.
  3. Remember that was before the “Dhamma” was discovered by the Buddha. He studied under those 2 teachers BEFORE the “Dhamma” was established.

I don’t think any sutta will answer this question.

What I quoted from MN36 suggests it was not an immediate thing. First the memory occurred to him, then he gained confidence it was a valuable thing to go for. To give it a try he had to revert some of the effects of the extreme austerities he was going through (he resumed eating). Only then, it seems, he was able to go through all four absorptions in a night gaining as result the threefold knowledge.

Bhāvana is a generic term for cultivation or development. It is exactly what the fourth noble truth is all about, as its ennobling task is to develop or cultivate the noble eightfold path.

What he discovered was the eightfold a path and the timeless and dependent originated awakening it brings about.

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I thought Alaber go a point there.
Could you explain it more.

What point? What does mastering the 4 jhanas gotta do with preventing the recalling of his childhood jhana? Gnlaera provided good explanation in his post above.

So in your opinion this recalling of his childhood jhana is not some thing important?

I have no idea why you mention important or not important here?

I am wondering why recalling of his childhood jhana is mentioned in Sutta.
Can we learn some thing from this?

You gotta remember the full context of the His recalling in MN 36: He wasn’t able to attain enlightenment even after mastering the Rupa and ARupa jhanas under His 2 teachers. That’s why He left and tried another way: the practice of extreme severe austerities. That also didn’t work. But due to its not working, it triggered His memory about childhood. And the memory in turns lead to the realization that He gotta stop emaciating the body and start eating solid food again. Then one thing leads to another and the rest of the story you’d already knew.

Everything we know about what happened to the Buddha-to-be to become an Arahat is found in very few suttas in the MN (can someone please confirm that there is no information of this type in the SN AN DN and other collections). As result we can all have opinions including Bhikkhu Bodhi about for example what he learned from his two teachers. My opinion is that these two guys were of the Yogic tradition and thus where teaching the kind of meditation that Yogic people are still practicing today I.e what in the suttas is called attainments. The Theravada tradition wants you to believe that these attainments can only be reached after Jhana four. This is not true they can be reached directly from scratch. With this opinion of mine it is why I consider the recollection of the boy Jhana experience is key because the Buddha-to-be did not expérience Jhana since when he was a boy. And then back to the original question which of course has no answer in the suttas (as suttas are not dated or timed) which is now how long did he may have taken to discover Jhana 2,3,4 master them and got insights all the way to Nibbāna?

If you take MN36 as a reliable source for the account of the events he went all the way from jhana 1 to 4 and insights / visions in one night.

It remains an unanswerable/unsolvable/unresolvable question nevertheless if, in the period between giving up austerities, getting his body healthy and nourished again, he gradually experimented with jhanas.