October 12, 2017; revised April 28, 2018; February 11, 2020; June 26, 2022; rewritten February 1, 2023
1. Many people have recently attained magga phala (with or without jhāna) worldwide. We are indebted to the late Waharaka Thēro for this great awakening through his correct interpretations of Buddha’s teachings. Many work tirelessly to make those interpretations available to others; see “Parinibbāna of Waharaka Thēro.”
- Over the years, I have seen some critical issues related to jhāna and magga phala discussed at many online forums without reaching a definitive conclusion. I hope this series of posts will be of use to bring more clarity.
- I will create a consistent picture based solely on material from the Tipiṭaka. One common problem I see in online forums is that many people put Tipiṭaka on the same footing as commentaries (such as Visuddhimagga) written much later by people (non-Ariyā) like Buddhaghosa or Nagarjuna. That leads to confusion because those accounts have many contradictions with the Tipiṭaka.
- These posts are supposed to be read in the given sequence. Please read carefully at a quiet time.
What Is Samādhi?
2. Samādhi (“sama”+”adhi” where “sama” means “same” and “adhi” means “dominance.”) For example, if someone thinks, speaks, and acts like a thief, they will get to the mindset that is the same as that of a thief, i.e., they will have a samādhi (or mindest) the same as that of a “thief.” In formal meditation, if one contemplates the benefits of morals and the dangers of immoral, they will get in a “moral samādhi” compatible with such thoughts.
- A good analogy is the following. We become restless if our environment becomes too hot. Then we try to find a way to cool ourselves. We get very uncomfortable if we are in a “too cold” environment also. Then we try to be warm by turning on a heater or wrapping ourselves with blankets.
- However, if the room temperature is moderate and away from both those extremes, we feel comfortable. We feel contended.
3. The definition of samādhi is more restricted when we discuss that in the context of formal meditation or even living a moral life. Here samādhi is to get closer to “equilibrium.” If we move away from the equilibrium, we will feel that physically, mentally, or both.
- To be physically in equilibrium, our bodies need to be in equilibrium. For example, we become uncomfortable if the environment is cold or hot. To reach equilibrium, we need to heat or cool the room we are in. If we are in a noisy environment, we like to move away from there, etc.
- The opposite of the Pāli word “sama” is “visama.” When either the body or the mind gets “away from equilibrium” (meaning “visama“), we become uncomfortable.
- A greedy or angry mind is in a “visama” state and is away from samādhi.
- However, if the focus is a dhamma concept, the mind moves toward “equilibrium.”
- This type of samādhi is essential to attain Magga phala. Jhāna is a particular category of samādhi. It can be conducive but is not essential to get to sammā samādhi.
Sammā Samādhi Are Two Types
4. Sammā Samādhi can be of many types. What is essential to attain magga phala is lokuttara Sammā Samādhi. As we have discussed before, there is mundane sammā samādhi that is reached by getting rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. Then there is lokōttara Sammā Samādhi that is reached by comprehending Tilakkhana to some extent; see “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”
- As discussed in the previous post, “Sīla, Samādhi, Pannā to Pannā, Sīla, Samādhi,” one gets to mundane Sammā Samādhi via “Sīla, Samādhi, Pannā.” Then one can comprehend the Tilakkhana and follow the Noble Path via ” Pannā, sīla, Samādhi,” with Sammā Diṭṭhi taking the lead.
- There is nowhere in the Tipiṭaka that says one needs jhāna to attain magga phala or Nibbāna. See, “Samādhi, Jhāna (Dhyāna), Magga Phala.”
- Magga phala means one is starting to break the bonds (dasa samyōjana) to this world; see “Dasa Samyōjana – Bonds in Rebirth Process.” One attains magga phala by getting into lokōttara Sammā Samādhi (samādhi to remove “san“: “san” + “mā“; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Samsāra)“.
Jhāna and Samāpatti
5. Jhānās are mental states experienced by Brahmas in the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms. A human can reach those mental states by overcoming akusala and kāma raga. If only suppression of them happens, then those are anariya (mundane) jhānās; if those defilements (anusaya) are removed in attaining them, they are Ariya (supermundane) jhānās attained by those with magga phala. See “Mundane versus Supramundane Jhāna.”
- There are only four jhānic states discussed in the Tipiṭaka. The first jhāna is split into two in the Abhidhamma analysis.
- The mental states above those jhānic states are called four higher (fifth through eighth) jhānās these days. Those are mental states of the arupāvacara (formless) Brahmas in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms. In the Tipiṭaka, those “formless attainments” (arupa samāpattis) are never called “arupa jhānās.” This is a later designation, especially by Buddhaghosa.
6. For a human, getting to the first jhāna means (at least temporarily) transcending the kāma loka. Initially, that is only for a couple of thought moments (citta). Then the mind “gets back” to citta vithi associated with the kāma loka. The “breakthrough” to jhānic states happens with the “gotrabu citta” (changing the “gotra” or the lineage). This is evident in an Abhidhamma analysis of citta vithi; see “Citta Vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
- Only with practice one lengthens the “time in the first jhāna.” But the problem is identifying whether one has reached the jhāna stage. So, this may not be easy for someone who has not cultivated jhāna in previous lives. Many misidentify various sensations as jhānās.
- As one lengthens the time in the first jhāna, one can start feeling those bodily experiences described in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta; see “Jhānic Experience in Detail – Sāmaññaphala Sutta (DN 2).”
- When jhānic citta vithis start running without falling back to kāmāvacara citta vithi, one is in a jhāna samāpatti.
- The higher arupāvacara citta vithis always run continuously; thus, they are always arupāvacara samāpatti.
Jhāna Are Not Necessary to Attain Magga Phala
7. April 28, 2018: I found a desana by Waharaka Thero where he presents clear evidence that jhāna is not necessary to attain magga phala (It is, of course, in the Sinhala language):
- The main point Thero makes is that if a jhāna were REQUIRED to attain the Sōtapanna stage, then that person WOULD NOT be reborn in the human realm, but in a Brahma-realm corresponding to that jhāna.
- However, the Tipiṭaka asserts that King Bimbisara (a Sotapanna) was reborn in a lower Deva realm. Another is that Sakka, the king of the Tāvatiṁsā Devas, became a Sotapanna while listening to a discourse by the Buddha and was reborn as Sakka (i.e., he died and was reborn a moment later; he did not even realize that until Buddha told him.)
- One must be an Anāgāmi to attain the FIRST Ariya jhāna since kāma raga is eliminated even in the first Ariya jhāna. No sensual attraction can perturb one’s mind if one has reached that. So, one can watch any X-rated movie, for example, without getting aroused. That is the ultimate test of attaining either the Anāgāmi stage or the first Ariya jhāna; of course, one can be an Anāgāmi without attaining any jhāna.
Attaining Jhāna Has Nothing to Do With Nibbāna
8. In simple terms, jhāna are mental states in the 16 rūpa realms and the four arūpa realms. Thus by definition, attaining jhāna has nothing to do with Nibbāna. This can be seen in “The 89 (121) Types of Citta“.
Jhāna falls into two categories (Ariya and anariya) and — depending on the category — could be an asset or hindrance, as discussed in this section. The two categories are discussed in “Mundane versus Supramundane Jhāna.”
- As discussed in “31 Realms Associated with the Earth,” those 20 realms lie above the realms of kāma lōka. Those rūpi and arūpi Brahmā enjoy only jhānic pleasures, which are better than sensual pleasures.
- We all have been born in most of the 31 realms (except for the realms reserved for the Anāgāmis) uncountable times and thus had attained those jhānic states uncountable times in previous lives.
- As we know, sensual pleasures are present only in kāma lōka (human realm, six dēva realms, and the animal realm).
- Humans can cultivate jhāna by suppressing (anariya) or removing (Ariya) craving for sensual pleasures (kāma rāga). The jhānic experience is discussed in “Jhānic Experience in Detail – Sāmaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)“.
- One could approach Nibbāna via Ariya or anariya jhāna; see, “Ascendance to Nibbāna via Jhāna (dhyāna)“.
Difference Between Ariya and Anariya Jhāna
9. If those Brahmās are born there via cultivating mundane jhāna, then kāma rāga remains with them as anusaya (which means deeply hidden). So, when they die and are reborn in the lower realms, kāma rāga re-surface. The suppression is only during the time they live as Brahmā in those higher realms.
- In the same way, those humans who get into jhānā SUPPRESSING kāma rāga can lose the ability to get into jhānā even in this life. The best example from the Tipiṭaka is Devadatta, who developed not only anāriya (mundane) jhānā but also abhinnā powers and then lost all that and ended up in an apāya. Even though Devadatta was exposed to correct Tilakkhana (the Buddha himself ordained him), he did not comprehend.
- The ability to get into jhāna is also related to our gati (pronounced “gati”; our habits from past lives). Those who have cultivated mundane jhānā in relatively recent past lives can quickly get into mundane jhāna and stay in it for even hours.
- However, if one gets into even the first Ariya (Supramundane) jhāna, one has essentially attained the Anāgāmi stage by removing kāma rāga; see “Ascendance to Nibbāna via Jhāna (Dhyāna).”
Magga Phala Require Sammā Samādhi
10. Magga phala (including the Arahant stage) can be reached via going through one of the jhānic states or without going through any jhānic state; see “Pannāvimutti – Arahanthood without Jhāna” and “The 89 (121) Types of Citta“.
- This is also discussed in “Paññāvimutta Sutta (AN 9.44)” and “Susimaparibbājaka Sutta (SN 12.70)“.
- Furthermore, a Sōtapanna may attain anariya jhāna and be born in Brahma realms lying below the Suddhāvāsa realms reserved for the Anāgāmis. But they also do not return to kāma lōka; see “Pathama Metta Sutta“. Of course, those who attain anariya jhāna without magga phala will come back to kāma lōka and could be born in the apāyās subsequently.
11. More detailed information with references to suttās in the section “Samādhi, Jhāna (Dhyāna), Magga Phala.”
- There are another series of posts on jhāna (in simpler terms, without too many Pāli words) in an older section: “Power of the Human Mind.” A new series with more details at “Elephant in the Room 2 – Jhāna and Kasina.”