October 12, 2017; revised April 28, 2018; September 13, 2018; February 11, 2020
1. Apparently, there are a considerable number of people who have attained magga phala (with or without jhāna) recently all over the world. We are indebted to the late Waharaka Thēro for this great awakening by clarifying the correct interpretations of Buddha’s teachings; now many are working tirelessly to make those interpretations available to others; see, “Parinibbāna of Waharaka Thēro“.
- Over the years, I have seen some key 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 settle this matter.
- I will try to put together a consistent picture solely based on material from the Tipitaka. One common problem that I see in online forums is that many people put Tipitaka 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 Tipitaka.
- 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 “equilibrium” and “adhi” means “dominance”) means turning the mind towards an equilibrium state away from distractions (especially greedy, angry, or foolish thoughts.)
- The opposite of the Pāli word “sama” is “visama.” When either the body or the mind gets “away from equilibrium,” that is “visama” and we become uncomfortable.
- 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, then we feel comfortable. We feel contended.
- A similar effect takes place when the mind stops going to the extremes. A greedy or angry mind is in a “visama” state and is away from samādhi.
- However, if the focus is a dhamma concept, then the mind moves toward “equilibrium.”
- Samādhi is essential to attain Magga phala. Jhāna are a special category samādhi and are not essential to attain magga phala.
Sammā Samādhi Are Two Types
3. Samādhi can be of many types. What is essential to attain magga phala is Sammā Samādhi. As we have discussed before, there is mundane sammā samādhi that is reached by getting rid of the 10 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 Tipitaka that says one needs jhāna to attain magga phala or Nibbāna.
- 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 Are Not Necessary to Attain Magga Phala
4. April 28, 2018: I found a desana by Waharaka Thero where he presents clear evidence that jhāna are not necessary to attain magga phala (It is of course in the Sinhala language):
- The main point the Thero makes is that we know that there are jāti Sotāpannas born in the human realm. But if a jhāna was REQUIRED to attain the Sōtapanna stage, then that person WOULD NOT be born in the human realm, but in a Brahma-realm corresponding that jhāna.
Attaining Jhāna Has Nothing to Do With Nibbāna
5. In simple terms, jhāna are mental states existing in the 16 rūpa realms and the four arūpa realms. Thus by definition, attaining jhāna has nothing to do with Nibbāna. This can be easily 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 we will discuss in this section.
- 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) an 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) the 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
6. If those Brahmā are born there via cultivating mundane jhāna, then kāma rāga remain with them as anusaya (which means deeply hidden). So, when they die and are reborn in the lower realms, those 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 Tipitaka 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 obviously exposed to correct Tilakkhana (he was ordained by the Buddha himself), he had apparently not grasped them.
- 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 easily get into mundane jhāna.
- However, if one gets into even the first Ariya (Supramundane) jhāna, one has essentially attained the Anāgāmi stage by removing kāma rāga; see, “Mundane versus Supramundane Jhāna“.
Magga Phala Require Sammā Samādhi
7. Magga phala (including the Arahant stage) can be reached via going through any of the jhānic states or without going through any jhānic state; see, “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 come back 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.
8. More detailed information with references to suttās at, “Ascendance to Nibbāna via Jhāna (dhyāna)”, “Mundane versus Supramundane Jhāna” , “Nirōdha Samāpatti, Phala Samāpatti, Jhāna, and Jhāna Samāpatti”.
- There are a series of posts on jhāna (in simpler terms, without too many Pāli words) in an older section: “Power of the Human Mind“.