Pannāvimutti – Arahanthood without Jhāna

September 12, 2018; revised February 24, 2019

1. One could get to magga phala without ever going through jhāna. The Noble Eightfold Path, at its completion, takes one to Sammā Samādhi. Then one becomes an Arahant by completing the next two steps — Sammā Ñāna and Sammā Vimutti — to become an Arahant.

This is stated clearly in the Maha Cattarisika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 117): “..Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti. Kathañca, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti? Sammādiṭṭhissa, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo pahoti, sam­māsaṅkap­passa sammāvācā pahoti, sammāvācassa sammākammaṃto pahoti, sammā­kammaṃ­tassa sammāājīvo pahoti, sammāājīvassa sammāvāyāmo pahoti, sammāvāyāmassa sammāsati pahoti, sammāsatissa sammāsamādhi pahoti, sammā­samā­dhissa sammāñāṇaṃ pahoti, sammāñāṇassa sammāvimutti pahoti. Iti kho, bhikkhave, aṭṭhaṅ­ga­saman­nā­gato sekkho, dasaṅ­ga­saman­nā­gato Arahā hoti. Tatrapi sammāñāṇena aneke pāpakā akusalā dhammā vigatā bhāva­nā­pāri­pūriṃ gacchanti..”

  • Thus the Noble Path starts with Sammā Diṭṭhi and gets to Sammā Samādhi, at which point one is said to have completed 8 steps and is still a sekkha (in training): aṭṭhaṅ­ga­saman­nā­gato sekkho.
  • Then one fully comprehends the real nature with Sammā Ñāna and attains full release or Sammā Vimutti (Arahantship). Now, one has completed all 10 steps and is no longer in training (dasaṅ­ga­saman­nā­gato Arahā hoti).

2. Each and every one of us have had attained anariya jhāna in many births during our deep past. Thus attaining a jhāna is insignificant compared to attaining a magga phala. 

  • It is also clear that even a Sōtapanna Anugāmi is million-fold better than one with not just the ability to get into jhāna, but even abhiññā powers, including the ability to travel through the air, create things by mind power, etc.
  • Attaining jhānās can sometimes become a hindrance since many people get attached to jhāna and stop making an effort towards magga phala, which is sad to see.

3. It takes time to cultivate jhāna, especially for those who had not cultivated them in recent past lives. People who have high wisdom (paññā) may attain magga phala (even Arahanthood) within a very short time, and they are called paññāvimutti Arahants or “wisdom-liberated”. Bahiya Daruchiriya, who attained Arahantship upon listening to a single verse by the Buddha is a good example; see, “Bahiya Sutta (Udana 1.10)“.

  • The Susima Sutta, also called “Susima­parib­bāja­ka Sutta (Samyutta Nikāya 12.70)” discusses a group of Arahants who were paññāvimutti Arahants. 
  • In that sutta, the Buddha explained to Susima that there are Arahants without any supernormal (iddhi) powers, because they were paññāvimutti Arahants. Once attaining Arahanthood, they have no desire to cultivate iddhi (abhiññā) powers, since they have seen the anicca nature of those powers too.

4. In some exceptional cases, one may simultaneously gain abhiññā powers together with the Arahanthood, within a very short time.

  • There are many who got to magga phala without ever getting to a jhāna. Alavaka Yaksa, Upatissa, kolita, Angulimala, minister Santati, and many others attained various stages of Nibbāna by just listening to a single desanā. The account of Santati can be found at: “Dhammapada Verse 142“.
  • Another prominent example in the Tipiṭaka is the story about the Culapanthaka Thero. He almost disrobed because he could not even memorize a single gāthā after trying hard for months. But with Buddha’s help, he was able to attain the Arahanthood in a day, and simultaneously achieved abhiññā powers as well: “Cūḷa­pantha­ka“.

5.Some argue that Sacca Vibhanga Sutta (MN 141) states that Sammā Samādhi is attained ONLY WHEN one attains the first four jhānās. This is not correct. All one needs to do is to get to the vicinity of to ANY of those four jhānās (thus one could get to the upcāra samādhi for the first jhāna, for example), and attain magga phala from there.

  • Here is the relevant verse from the above sutta: “..Katamo cāvuso, sammāsamādhi? Idhāvuso, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, vitak­ka­vicārā­naṃ vūpasamā ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati … pe … tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ … pe … catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, ayaṃ vuccatāvuso: ‘sammāsamādhi’..”.
  • The key is “upasampajja viharati“, which means one stays close to any one of those jhāna (“upa” means close or in the vicinity), which means one can either get to that jhāna or can get to upcāra samādhi for that jhāna. This is why it is not labelled as “Sammā Jhana” but “Sammā Samādhi“.
  • This becomes clear when you analyze how 89 types of citta become 121 citta, as explained below.

6. The 89 (or 121) citta existing in the 31 realms are discussed in “The 89 (121) Types of Citta“.

  • There are 54 citta that could arise mainly in the kāmavacara realms; 15 and 12 citta respectively mainly arise in the rupāvacara and arupāvacara realms respectively. The total so far is 81 citta.
  • Without going through any jhāna at all, there are 8 citta associated with the attainment of the four stages of Nibbāna (4 magga citta and 4 phala citta). Then the total number of citta is 81 +8 = 89.
  • Now, one can attain each magga phala from the vicinity of 5 rupāvacara jhāna. For example, the Arahanthood can be reached from the vicinity of each of those five jhāna. Thus in this case, the total number of citta becomes 81 + 40 = 121.
  • It is to be noted that the five jhāna in the terminology of Abhidhamma are the same as 4 jhāna in the terminology of the suttā; the first jhāna in sutta terminology is split into two in Abhidhamma.

7. In Anhidhamma, the above explanation becomes even more clear when one looks at the citta vithi to attain a magga phala):

B B B B B “BC BU MD P U A G M P P” B B B B B…..

where, B = bhavaṅga, BC (bhavaṅga calana), BU (bhavaṅga upacceda), MD = mind door, P = parikamma, U = upcāra, A = anulōma, G = gotrabhu (change of lineage), M = magga citta, P = phala citta.

  • So, there is no jhāna citta preceding the magga or phala citta in the citta vithi for a magga phala. Once one gets to the upcāra samādhi, it goes through anulōma and gotrabhu (change of lineage) to the magga and phala citta. This is why upcāra samādhi (which is Sammā Samādhi) is enough to attain even the Arahanthood.

8. on the other hand, a citta vithi to attain a jhāna:

B B B B B “BC BU MD P U A G J” B B B B B…..

where, J = jhāna citta.

  • Note that upcāra citta for jhāna is different from upcāra citta for magga phala, even though they are represented by the same symbol normally. upcāra means “close”, either to the jhāna or to magga phala, which are two different attainments. As we discussed earlier, jhāna are associated with “this world” and magga phala are associated with Nibbāna.
  • Gotrabhu (change of lineage) citta is the one that induce either a magga phala or a jhāna, and those are two very different changes: jhāna is just change of lineage to one of the 31 realms, whereas magga phala is to be dissociate from the 31 realms.
  • For a discussion on citta vithi, see, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs“.

9. There is another piece of strong evidence from the Tipiṭaka that one does not need to attain even the first Ariya jhāna in order to attain the Sōtapanna stage. We all know that Ven.Moggallana (who was Kolita before becoming a bhikkhu), attained the Sōtapanna stage upon hearing a single verse uttered by Ven. Assaji.

  • Then Kolita (and Upatissa) went to see the Buddha and were ordained. It took them a week to two weeks to attain the Arahanthood. The Moggallana Samyutta in the Samyutta Nikāya has 9 suttā that describe step-by-step how Ven. Moggallana attained Ariya jhānās one by one starting with the first Ariya jhāna. This is conclusive evidence that one does not need to attain any Ariya jhāna before attaining even the Sōtapanna stage.
  • In particular, the very first sutta there describes how the Buddha came to him by iddhi bala and encouraged him to cultivate the first Ariya jhāna (Paṭha­ma­jhāna­ Pañhā­ Sutta; SN 40.1):  “..Atha kho maṃ, āvuso, bhagavā iddhiyā upasaṅkamitvā etadavoca: ‘moggallāna, moggallāna. Mā, brāhmaṇa, paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ pamādo, paṭhame jhāne cittaṃ saṇṭhapehi, paṭhame jhāne cittaṃ ekodiṃ karohi, paṭhame jhāne cittaṃ samādahā’ti..” OR “..the Buddha came to me by iddhi bala and told me: Moggallana, Moggallana, Brahmana, do not become delayed, cultivate the first jhāna..”.
  • The subsequent suttā in the Moggallana Samyutta describe how the Buddha instructed him through each successive rupāvacara and arupāvacara jhānās, where Ven. Moggallana developed all iddhi bala and became second only to the Buddha in supernormal powers; see, “Ascendance to Nibbāna via Jhāna (Dhyāna)“.

10. Therefore, one could get to the higher stages of Nibbāna via two paths.

  • One could cultivate jhānās and attain successively higher jhānās by comprehending the anicca nature of those jhānās (as we mentioned above, they still belong to this world), and REMOVING successive jhāna factors.
  • I will write more about this in the future, but the point is that those jhānic states are still subjected to both the saṅkhāra dukkha and the viparināma dukkha, even though exempt from dukkha dukkha temporarily.
  • The second path does not require jhāna; Sammā Samādhi is enough.  For those with higher levels of wisdom (paññā), higher stages of Nibbāna can be arrived without going through jhāna.

11. The second path is discussed in the Kimatthiya Sutta (Anguttara Nikāya 11.1). Here one can start with comprehending dukkha, which leads to Nibbāna via the following steps: saddhā, piti, passadhi, sukha, samādhi, yathabhutananadassana, nibbida, virāga, and to vimutti; see, “Upanisa Sutta (Samyutta Nikāya 12.23)“.

  • When one starts with lōkuttara Sammā Diṭṭhi and follows the ariyakānta sila (Sammā Vaca, Sammā Kammanta, Sammā Ajiva), one will automatically get to Sammā Vāyāma, Sammā Sati and Sammā Samādhi (these three path factors constitute Samādhi). By the way, Sammā Diṭṭhi and Sammā Saṅkappa constitute paññā. So, the sequence is paññā, sila, samādhi.
  • That Sammā Samādhi is all one needs to get to Sammā Ñāna (ultimate wisdom) and Sammā Vimutti (ultimate release) and thus to attain the Arahanthood; fulfilling all ten factors lead to the Arahanthood (“dasahangehi samannagatō“).

12. One time a bhikkhuni asked Ven. Ananda: “..‘yāyaṃ, bhante ānanda, samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gato, vimuttattā ṭhito, ṭhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati. Ayaṃ, bhante ānanda, samādhi kiṃphalo vutto bhagavatā’ti?“, OR

bhante ānanda, I have this  samādhi  which is stable, without defilements, contented, joyful, and without agitation. What did the Blessed One call this  samādhi?”

Ven. Ananda replied: “..‘yāyaṃ, bhagini,  samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gato, vimuttattā ṭhito, ṭhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati. Ayaṃ, bhagini, samādhi aññāphalo vutto bhagavatā’ti. Evaṃsaññīpi kho, āvuso, tadāyatanaṃ no paṭisaṃvedetī”ti“, OR,

“Yes, bhikkhnuni, there is such a  samādhi.  The Blessed One called it Arahant phala samādhi that is without any defilements”.

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