Sāmisa, nirāmisa, and nirāmisatara are qualities associated with kāma loka, above kāma loka, and Nibbāna.
Revised September 15, 2017; September 17, 2021; October 15, 2022; July 30, 2023
Sāmisa, Nirāmisa, Nirāmisatara
1. Those three terms describe various qualities associated with kāma loka, above kāma loka (Brahma loka), and Nibbāna.
- The basic concepts can be understood by looking at the three types of sukha. See “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Nirāmisa Sukha?“
- Thus sāmisa sukha is the pleasure that arises while enjoying all five sensory inputs, particularly those associated with taste, smell, and body touch. Those are present only in kāma loka, which includes the six Deva realms.
- There is better happiness in giving up sensory pleasures (i..e., transcending kāma loka) and getting to jhāna. That is nirāmisa sukha experienced in rupāvacara Brahma realms. Those are temporary for anariya versions and permanent for Ariya (Noble) versions.
- The ultimate nirāmisa sukha is nirāmisatara. It is reached at the Arahant stage and holds for a living Arahant.
- The “Nirāmisa Sutta (SN 36.31)” describes various aspects of the three terms in detail. Let us go through the sutta.
Nirāmisa Sutta (SN 36.31)
2. Nirāmisa Sutta discusses several aspects of sāmisa, nirāmisa, and nirāmisatara. Those are pīti (joy,) sukha (happiness,) upekkhā (neutral mindset,) and vimokkha (freedom/liberation.) Let us quickly discuss what these entities mean.
- As discussed in “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Nirāmisa Sukha?” pīti and vedanā are different mental factors (cetasika.) Sukha is a type of vedanā.
- Upekkhā means neutrality.
- Vimokkha means transcending some state or overcoming that state, i.e., freedom/liberation from that state.
- In general, Nibbāna is the release from this world, and the world consists of kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka. But pīti and sukha are not present in certain higher realms, particularly in arupa loka.
- I will translate the descriptions of each category.
Sāmisa, Nirāmisa, and Nirāmisatara Categories for Pīti and Sukha
3. Pīti and sukha are fully experienced in the kāma loka and are associated with the five types of kāma guṇa. They are associated with sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and bodily contacts. See “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā)” and “Kāma Guna, Kāma, Kāma Rāga, Kāmaccanda.”
- Thus, pīti and sukha arising from sensory contact with eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and the body are sāmisa pīti and sukha.
- When one transcends the kāma loka and enters the first or the second jhāna, a different kind of pīti is experienced in those two jhānās. They are jhāna factors (jhānaṅga) and are of “higher quality.” That is nirāmisa pīti.
- Proceeding to the next (third) jhāna, pīti jhānaṅga goes away, and only sukha remains. Thus, nirāmisa sukha experienced in the first three jhānās.
- The ultimate versions of pīti and sukha (nirāmisatara pīti and sukha) are reached at the Arahant stage.
Sāmisa, Nirāmisa, and Nirāmisatara Categories for Upekkhā
4. When sensory contact with eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and the body leads to a “neutral state of mind,” that is, sāmisa upekkhā (also called “adukkhamasukha.”)
- When a “neutral state of mind” is reached at the fourth jhāna (after overcoming nirāmisa pīti and sukha; see #3 above), that is nirāmisa upekkhā.
- The ultimate version of upekkhā (nirāmisatara upekkhā) is reached at the Arahant stage.
Sāmisa, Nirāmisa, and Nirāmisatara Categories for Vimokkha
5. When one transcends the kāma loka and enters rupa loka (i.e., rupāvacara jhāna), that is liberation from the kāma loka. In the sutta this is expressed by “Rūpappaṭisaṁyutto vimokkho sāmiso vimokkho” or “entering the rupa loka is sāmiso vimokkho.”
- Nirāmisa vimokkha is attained when one overcomes the rupa loka and enters arupa loka (i.e., arupāvacara jhāna.) That is liberation from the rupa loka and entering the higher arupa loka. Suffering is even less there.
- But the “ultimate release from all suffering” is with the Arahanthood. That is nirāmisatara vimokkha.
- What we discussed above is the essence of the Nirāmisa Sutta (SN 36.31.)
6. The nirāmisatara pīti, sukha, or upekkhā are experienced by a living Arahant who has transcended the corresponding āmisa and nirāmisa states.
- There are no words to describe the “Nibbāna sukha” state of an Arahant after Parinibbana (or an Arahant in nirodha samāpatti.) They will not be reborn in ANY realm of this world. All we can say is that there will be absolutely no suffering after Parinibbana. Ven. Sariputta explained that in the “Nibbānasukha Sutta (AN 9.34).”
- The status of an Arahant is not understandable to those just starting on the Path. It is better not to think that far at the beginning because that could lead to confusion.
- The closest analogy for the “Nibbāna sukha” or “Nibbānic bliss” is the following: Think of someone who has had a chronic headache from the time as a baby. That person has never experienced a moment without a headache. How would that person feel if that headache went away? That relief is not a vedanā but a “blissful experience” for that person.
- Further information is in “Paṭhamavibhaṅga Sutta (SN 48.36).”
7. The Buddha never said there is no sāmisa sukha/piti (sensory pleasure/joy) to be had in this world. The only reason people cling to this world is BECAUSE of the sensory delights available.
- Buddha taught that such sensory pleasures are short-lived and lead to harmful consequences in the future. Even if one inherits a fortune and lives in luxury the whole life, suffering is inevitable in the next life or the next life. The real suffering (dukkha) is in the four lowest realms (apāyā).
- We all live with a baseline “chronic headache” that we don’t even realize. We have gotten used to it and don’t even realize we have headaches. Only when that ever-present “stress” goes away, that one starts feeling the “reduced stress” of nirāmisa sukha. That is the real inspiration for attaining the higher stages of Nibbāna.
8. It is essential to realize that nirāmisa sukha cannot be attained by “just giving up things” or by leaving everything behind and going to seclusion. Some yogis (even today) cultivate jhāna by “hiding from sensual pleasures in jungles.” But any jhāna cultivated without comprehension of the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana are mundane (anariya) jhāna.
- Such yogis will be born in a Brahma realm and will enjoy nirāmisa sukha/piti until the end of that existence. After that, they can be reborn in any realm because they are not released from even the apāyās.
- Only when one gets to the Sotapanna stage by comprehending the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana that one will be free from the apāyās.
- Thus, “giving up worldly things” needs to come through a proper understanding of the fundamental nature of “this world.” Many people gave up worldly things and became bhikkhus, but only after seeing the fruitlessness of craving for material things.
9. The mind’s nature to see the benefit or pleasure of something before embracing it.
- One may force the mind to “forcibly give up” some sensory pleasures, but one cannot sustain that effort. “Giving up” happens automatically with realizing anicca/anatta nature.
- The mind has to “see” that there is a better option than the sāmisa sukha or sensory pleasures. When one starts on the Path and living a moral life, one will gradually see the nirāmisa sukha emerge.
10. The Buddha gave a simile to explain this effect. When people took to the oceans to look for new lands in the old days, they took caged birds. When they got lost, they released a bird. The bird would fly around and return to the ship if it did not see land.
- The same is true for the mind. It will not latch on to something new (nirāmisa sukha) unless it is better than the one it already has (sāmisa sukha).
- The nirāmisatara sukha experienced by a living Arahant or the Nibbāna sukha (which is not a vedanā) realized after the Parinibbana of an Arahant is even better. When one realizes that it is possible to get there (by recovering the “hidden pure mind”), one will start seeing both sāmisa sukha in the kāma loka and nirāmisa sukha in Brahma loka to be of “anicca nature;” see “True Happiness Is the Absence of Suffering.”
- The points in #9 and #10 are discussed in the “Cūḷadukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 14)“.