Samādhi, Jhāna, and Sammā Samādhi

Sammā Samādhi is possible only for a Noble Person (Ariya at or above the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage) comprehending the Four Noble Truths. In comparison, various types of samādhi and jhāna are accessible to all humans. However, “regular jhāna” can be converted to “Ariya jhāna” by comprehending the Four Noble Truths.

June 16, 2022; rewritten March 28, 2024; major revision April 21, 2024 

Elephants in the Room 

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 even necessary to understand 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 fully understand the underlying fundamental concepts in Buddha Dhamma. 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.”

Billions of Samādhi – Can be Good or Bad

3. Samādhi (“sama” +” adhi” where “sama” means “same” 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,based on that mindset. There can be billions of samādhi: some are neutral, some are good, and others are bad.

  • A suicide bomber assembling a bomb is also entirely concentrated on it because if he makes a mistake, that will blow him up. Thus, he also gets into a samādhi, which is an example of evil or immoral samādhi.
  • Someone listening to a discourse or meditating is in a good samādhi. They may also be fully absorbed in it.
  • One may not hear external disturbances if fully absorbed in an exciting book. That is a neutral samādhi.
  • Therefore, there can be billions of types of samādhi with the mind focused on a specific ārammaṇa.
Jhānās – Mental States of Rupāvacara Brahma Realms

4. Only four types of jhānās discussed in the Sutta Piṭaka; they correspond to the mental states of various rupavacara Brahma realms. They are based on puñña abhisaṅkhāra, and thus, are “mundane jhāna.” They can be converted to “Ariya jhāna” as discussed below.

  • 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 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 entirely focused on the jhāna since pañcadvāra citta vithis flow intermittently. 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 make the necessary revisions as I come across them.)
  • One can attain jhānā and samāpatti by cultivating two types of abhisaṅkhāra with avijjā. Let us briefly address that.
Jhāna/Samāpatti  Are 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 (apāyās.) 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 leads to rebirths with direct suffering. Engaging in puññābhisaṅkhāra or āneñjābhisaṅkhāra leads 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 jhānā and samāpatti from two yogis, Āḷārakālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. He quickly realized the unfruitfulness of only cultivating jhānās and samāpatti and left them. 
  • A jhāna gets one’s mind to a state optimum for Vipassanā or “insight meditation.” Without following up with Vipassanā, cultivating jhāna is only a waste of time, as discussed below.
Sammā Samādhi Is Necessary to Attain Magga Phala

7. Sammā Samādhi is a unique Samādhi. One gets to it by understanding how to remove “sañ” (rāga, dosa, moha); here, “mā” means to avoid/remove, and “sañ” “mā” rhymes as “sammā.”  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.” That is the same as realizing the dangers of attaching to “worldly pleasures” or pañcupādānakkhandhā. See “Ārammaṇa (Sensory Input) Initiates Critical Processes.”

  • When that “broad worldview” sinks into the mind, one becomes a Sotapanna Anugāmi. It is like comprehending that one plus one is two. After that, no one will be able to persuade otherwise.
  • 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.
  • Therefore, the first step in the eightfold path is to get to Sammā Diṭṭhi. With that “correct worldview,” the possibility of future rebirths in the apāyās will cease.
Transcending the “Kāma Loka

8. Once reaching the Sotapanna stage, the next step is to “transcend the kāma loka.” As discussed in the two posts, “Rupa and Rupakkhandha- Not External Objects” and “Vipariṇāma – Two Meanings,” most akusala kamma are done while in kāma loka. There are two ways to “transcend the kāma loka.”

  1. By contemplating the dangers of attaching to “sensory pleasures” (or “kāma assāda“), one can temporarily dissociate from the “kāma loka and cultivate jhāna, which the Buddha recommended. However, it is also possible to cultivate jhāna by focusing on a neutral object such as breath (“breath meditation”) or a kasina object like a clay ball. Anariya yogis use that latter method. Even temporarily transcending the “kāma loka is beneficial because most akusala kamma are done while in kāma loka.
  2. One can permanently dissociate from the “kāma loka (i.e., remove “kāma rāga anusaya/samyojana) by engaging in Vipassanā meditation while in a jhāna, as we discuss next.
Turning a “Mundane Jhāna” to an “Ariya Jhāna

9.  When one is a jhāna, the mind is free of “agitation,” and it is easier to cultivate Vipassanā meditation.

  • But the drawback here is that many people get “fooled,” thinking “jhānic pleasure” is the same as “Nibbānic bliss.” Thus, instead of contemplating the dangers of “attaching to jhāna saññā,” they get stuck in it. 
  • However, it would be easy for someone with the ability to get into a jhāna to comprehend the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana and “see with wisdom” the anicca nature of that jhānaThen, with the attainment of a magga phala, that “mundane jhāna” becomes an “Ariya jhāna.” See “Jhāna and Magga phala – Very Different” (to be posted soon.)
  • It is critical to understand that “jhānic pleasure” is also a “distorted saññā,” just like “sensual pleasures” are. See “Mūlapariyāya Sutta – The Root of All Things” and “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).”
  • The Buddha has explained how to cultivate Vipassanā while in a jhāna in many suttās. See, for example, “Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta (MN 52).” 
Arahants With and Without Jhāna

10. Those two methods (engaging in Vipassanā with or without cultivating jhāna) can be used to attain the Arahantship

  • An Anāgāmi (without jhāna) can engage in Vipassanā and attain Arahanthood. They are Paññāvimutta Arahants. King Suddhodana, Minister Santati, and Bahiya Dharuciriya are examples. Their minds briefly experience jhānic states on the way but do not fully experience jhāna. To fully experience a jhāna, one must cultivate it and be able to get into “jhāna samāpatti” where “jhāna cittās” flow continuously.
  • Anyone with one of the four jhānās can cultivate Vipassanā and convert it to an “Ariya jhāna” simultaneously with attaining a magga phala
  • Some complete ALL “rupa jhāna” and “arupa samāpatti” while reaching the Arahant stage, thus attaining cetovimutti in addition to paññāvimutti. They are Ubhatovimutti Arahants who are “released both ways” (“ubhato” means “both”.) See “Ubhatobhāgavimutta Sutta (AN 9.45).” They are the ones who can get into “nirodha samāpatti” (saññāvedayitanirodha) and experience “full Nibbānic bliss” while alive (for seven days at a time). Here, saññāvedayitanirodha (saññā avedayita nirodha) means “both saññā and vedanā cease.” Without saññā and vedanā, cittās do not arise.

11. Of course, there can be Paññāvimutta Arahants who may have cultivated one or two jhānās and attained Arahanthood. See “Jhāna Sutta (AN 9.36).” There can be Paññāvimutta Arahants, who may not have cultivated even a single jhāna. This is explained well in Abhidhamma. For a Noble Person without jhāna, the total number of citta possible is 81. When jhānas are included (for those with jhāna at various levels), that number of possible cittās increases to 121. See “Jhāna and Magga phala – Very Different” (to be posted soon.)

  • Then there are also a couple of exceptions: Arahants like Ven. Cūḷapanthaka and Minister Santati were both Cetovimutta and Paññāvimutta (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 blocked his progress. With Buddha’s help, he was able to attain Arahanthood in a day and simultaneously attained jhānās and iddhi powers as well: “Cūḷa­pantha­ka.”
  • These complexities in jhāna illustrate why the Buddha stated that “jhānavisayo acinteyyo” OR “the subject of jhāna is fully comprehensible only to a Buddha.” See “Acinteyya Sutta (AN 4.77).” Four things are fully comprehensible only to a Buddha: “knowledge base of a Buddha and the subjects of jhāna, kamma vipāka, and the world (universe).”   

12. 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.)

  • First, one must entirely focus on attaining the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage. That attainment happens only once, yet it is enough to permanently overcome unimaginable suffering in the four lowest realms (apāyās). That happens by breaking the three “wrong views” of sakkāya diṭṭhi, vicikicchā, and silabbata parāmāsa.
  • Once becoming a Sotapanna, one can explore whether to do Vipassanā with or without jhāna. I prefer not to worry about jhāna but focus on Vipassanā. But that is a personal preference.
  • Those who have cultivated jhānās in recent past lives may be able to get into jhānās automatically or quickly. They must be careful not to be fooled by the “distorted jhānic saññā” and must engage in Vipassanā as explained in the Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta (MN 52).” They can convert that “mundane jhāna” into an “Ariya jhāna” simultaneously, attaining a magga phala.
  • The etymology of Sammā Samādhi, jhāna, and kasina is discussed in “Jhāna, Jhāya, and Jhāyi – Different Meanings.”
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