Samādhi, Jhāna, and Sammā Samādhi

Sammā Samādhi is possible only for a Noble Person (Ariya at or above the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage) with the comprehension of the Four Noble Truths. In comparison, various types of samādhi and jhāna are accessible to all humans.

June 16, 2022; revised December 14, 2022 (#8)

Elephants in the Room – Change of Format

1. On February 28, 2022, I started a new series of posts on “Elephants in the Room.” The goal is to highlight the contradictions in current English (and other) translations of critical concepts in Buddha Dhamma.

  • I call these “elephants in the room” because these apparent contradictions have gone unnoticed all these years.
  • It is a puzzling phenomenon because it is not necessary to know Pāli to see some of these contradictions. Even a child should be able to see some of these contradictions once pointed out!

2. The main issue is that most translators do not seem to understand the underlying fundamental concepts in Buddha Dhamma fully. That itself has roots in incorrect/incomplete translations of some Pāli keywords. In a simple example, “viññāṇa” is universally translated as “consciousness,” but that gives rise to many contradictions; see “First Elephant: “Elephant in the Room 1 – Direct Translation of the Tipiṭaka.”

  • I am starting on the Second Elephant, “Elephant in the Room 2 – Jhāna and Kasina,” today.
  • The Third Elephant is Elephant in the Room 3 – Ānāpānasati.” I wrote two posts on a series of posts on Ānāpānasati, but that needs to be on hold. Discussing the background on jhāna/kasina meditations first is a good idea.
  • Because of many prevalent misconceptions about jhāna/kasina, it is good to take a “deep dive” into the Tipiṭaka for a comprehensive analysis. Please make necessary comments in the discussion forum at “Posts on ‘Elephants in the Room‘”
Billions of Samādhi – Can be Good or Bad

3. Samādhi (“sama” +” adhi” where “sama” means “equilibrium” and “adhi” means “dominance”) means keeping the mind focused on a single ārammaṇa or a nimitta. When attention is tightly focused on something, the mind gets to “samādhi.” However, there can be billions of samādhi: some are neutral, some are good, and others are bad.

  • For example, if one is fully absorbed in an exciting book, one may not hear external disturbances. That is a neutral Samādhi. A suicide bomber assembling a bomb is also entirely concentrated on it because if he makes a mistake, that will blow him up. That is an example of evil or immoral Samādhi.
  • Someone listening to a discourse or meditating can be in a good Samādhi. They may be fully absorbed in it too.
  • Therefore, there can be billions of types of Samādhi with the mind focused on a specific ārammaṇa.
Jhānā are Special Types of Samādhi

4. There are only four types of jhāna. But they can be either anariya jhāna or Ariya jhāna. We will discuss the distinction in upcoming posts.

  • Jhānā are particular types of “good samādhi.” They correspond to the mental states experienced in rupāvacara Brahma realms.
  • One may realize such jhānic states via cultivating a particular type of puññābhisaṅkhāra (puñña abhisaṅkhāra.) Here one’s mind becomes focused enough to be detached from “kāma saṅkappa” or sensual stray thoughts. Then one’s mind transcends the “kāma loka” and grasps the mindset of a particular rupāvacara Brahma realm. There are only four jhānic states. However, in a “normal jhānic state,” the mind is not fully focused. Only in a “jhāna samāpatti” is a mind fully absorbed in a jhānic state.
  • Today, many English texts incorrectly label the “higher rupāvacara samāpatti” as the fifth through the eighth jhāna. In the Tipiṭaka, they are labeled as  ākāsānañcāyatana, viññāṇañcāyatana,  ākiñcaññāyatana, and nevasaññānāsaññāyatana samāpatti. When mind transceds the fourth jhāna samāpatti, it goes to ākāsānañcāyatana samāpatti straight away; there is no ākāsānañcāyatana jhāna. The same holds for the other three arupāvacara states. (I have used that incorrect terminology too, but I will try to make necessary revisions.)
  • One can attain anariya jhānā and samāpatti by cultivating two types of abhisaṅkhāra with avijjā. Let us briefly address that.
Anariya Jhāna/Samāpatti Reached via “Avijjā Paccayā Saṅkhāra

5. There are mainly three types of abhisaṅkhāra that come into play in the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda. Those three types of abhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths among the 31 realms as follows:

  • The worst type, apuññābhisaṅkhāra (apuñña abhisaṅkhāra,) leads to rebirths in the four lowest realms. Immoral deeds take place with apuññābhisaṅkhāra. 
  • The next higher level of puññābhisaṅkhāra (puñña abhisaṅkhāra) leads to rebirths in the higher seven realms in kāma loka and the 16 realms in the rupa loka. Those lead to rebirths in the human realm, and the six Deva realms in kāma loka involve moral deeds. Cultivation of rupāvacara jhāna takes place via a particular type of puññābhisaṅkhāra.
  • The third type of āneñjābhisaṅkhāra (āneñja abhisaṅkhāra) leads to rebirths in the highest four realms of this world belonging to the arupa loka. Today, many textbooks label those as “higher jhānās,” but they are samāpatti; see #4 above. Cultivation of āneñjābhisaṅkhāra leads to arupavacara samāpatti.
  • In brief, engaging in apuññābhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths with direct suffering. Engaging in puññābhisaṅkhāra or āneñjābhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirth in higher realms with less suffering, but when such lives end, one is back to “square one,” i.e., to rebirths in lower realms. That is the endless “Saṃsāric journey.” I recommend reading “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra” for details/insights.

6. Therefore, samādhi, jhāna and samāpatti can be attained by humans even when Buddha Dhamma is not present in the world.

  • Our Bodhisatta, who became Buddha Gotama, learned to cultivate anariya jhānā and samāpatti from two yogis, Āḷārakālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. He quickly realized the unfruitfulness of such anariya jhānā and samāpatti and was left to strive alone.
Sammā Samādhi Is Necessary to Attain Magga Phala

7. Sammā Samādhi is a unique Samādhi. One can get into Sammā Samādhi only after beginning to comprehend the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana starting at the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage of Nibbāna. That is when one realizes the futility and danger of remaining in the endless “Saṃsāric journey.” When that “broad worldview” sinks into the mind, one becomes a Sotapanna Anugāmi. It is like comprehending one plus one is two. No one will be able to persuade otherwise after that.

  • Therefore, Sammā Samādhi REQUIRES an understanding of the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana.
  • It is not necessary to have jhāna or samāpatti to “see that worldview” and to get to Sammā Samādhi/magga phala
  • One can get to Sammā Samādhi/magga phala ONLY by first getting to Sammā Diṭṭhi (correct worldview) and then cultivating the Eightfold Noble Path to disengage from the “suffering-filled world” systematically.
  • As we know, the first step in the eightfold path is to get to Sammā Diṭṭhi. Just with that “correct worldview,” the possibility of future rebirths in the apāyās will cease.
Arahants With and Without Jhāna

8. A Noble Person on the Noble Path may or may not attain various jhāna or samāpatti. That is why there is a wide range of Arahants.

  • Those who attain Ariya jhāna early cultivate them methodically to nirodha samāpatti to become Arahants; they are Cetovimutta Arahants.
  • But there are Paññāvimutta Arahants who had not cultivated jhāna but attained Arahanthood in relatively short times. However, they also get to the vicinity of the first jhāna briefly at the moment of Arahant magga phala, but they need to practice jhāna to get into jhāna at will.
  • Then Arahants like Ven. Cūḷapanthaka and Minister Santati were both Cetovimutta and Pannavimutta (i.e., Ubhatovimutta) Arahants. They attained all jhānās, samāpatti, and many kinds of iddhi (supernormal powers) at the moment of attaining Arahanthood within a very short time. They had not cultivated any jhānafor example, Ven. Cūḷapanthaka could not even memorize a single gāthā after trying hard for months. He had almost completed pāramitā in previous lives, but a strong kamma vipāka was blocking his progress. With Buddha’s help, he was able to attain Arahanthood in a day and simultaneously attained iddhi powers as well: “Cūḷa­pantha­ka. “
It Is Foolish to Strive for Anariya Jhānā and Samāpatti

9. The point here is that one needs to focus on attaining magga phala by first getting to Sammā Diṭṭhi, which automatically leads to the first stage of Sammā Samādhi. That REQUIRES learning the correct version of Buddha Dhamma from a Buddha or a true disciple of the Buddha, i.e., a Noble Person (Ariya.)

  • If one has attained jhāna/samāpatti/iddhi in recent lives, those people may attain anariya jhāna at any point, many of them even before getting to the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage. Others will be able to cultivate Ariya jhāna/samāpatti once reaching the Anāgāmi stage when it becomes possible to remove kāma rāga permanently (not just suppress).
  • However, there is no point in attempting to attain anariya jhānā/samāpatti/iddhi. Upon death, all those “attainments” will be gone, and Saṃsāric suffering will still be there if one has not attained any magga phala!
  • We have attained the highest samāpatti many times over in the rebirth process that has no discernible beginning.
  • That is why one must entirely focus on attaining the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage. That attainment happens only once, yet enough to overcome unimaginable suffering in the four lowest realms (apāyās) PERMANENTLY.
  • We will discuss the etymology of  Sammā Samādhi, jhāna, and kasina in the upcoming posts in the section “Elephant in the Room 2 – Jhāna and Kasina.
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