Three kinds of happiness (sukha) are sensual pleasures (sāmisa sukha), jhānic (nirāmisa sukha), and Nibbānic (nirāmisatara sukha).
Revised October 29, 2019; re-written October 14, 2022; revised July 30, 2023
1. There are three kinds of happiness (sukha): (i) sensual pleasures (sāmisa sukha), (ii) jhānic (nirāmisa sukha) pleasures, and (iii) Nibbānic (nirāmisatara) sukha.
- Similarly, three types of joy (piti): joy due to (i) sensual pleasures (sāmisa pīti), (ii) jhānic (nirāmisa pīti) pleasures, and (iii) Nibbānic (nirāmisatara pīti).
- Sukha is a vedanā arising from bodily feelings (kayika vedanā) or mind-made somanassa vedanā. Pīti is a different cetasika arising in mind due to any type of experience. The Nibbānic versions arise in the mind of a living Arahant. After Parinibbāna, we cannot speak about the vedanā or pīti of that Arahant since that Arahant will not be reborn in this world.
- Those are explained in the “Nirāmisa Sutta (SN 36.31).”
What is Āmisa/Sāmisa?
2. Āmisa means material; “āmisa dāna” is the offering of material things. Sāmisa means “with āmisa.” Thus sāmisa sukha is the pleasure that arises in the mind while enjoying sensory inputs. We are familiar with sensory delights. Indulging in sensory pleasures is all we know to be providing happiness. We want to see beautiful pictures of people, hear soothing music, taste good food, etc.
- The drawback of sensory pleasures is that the experience lasts only during that particular sensory event. For example, the satisfaction goes away as soon as we finish eating. Also, we could not keep eating even if we wanted to. We will get sick of it soon enough, no matter how good the food is.
- The same is true for any other sensory pleasure. One cannot keep listening to music or watching movies for too long at a stretch.
- However, craving any sensory pleasure comes back after a while. It is never permanently satisfying.
Jhānic Pleasures – Nirāmisa sukha
3. Nirāmisa comes from “ni” + “āmisa” or “transcend/exceed” āmisa. People who have been doing mundane Samatha meditation (for example, breath or kasina) know that it gives a pleasure different from any sensory pleasure. That nirāmisa sukha transcends the āmisa sukha and is also longer-lasting.
- One could meditate for hours (especially if one gets into a jhānic state) and can enjoy it as long as one wants. Furthermore, even after the session, the calming effect is there. It gives a sense of peacefulness that can last for hours.
- Those who can enter a jhānic state will be born in the corresponding Brahma world. However, a birth in one of the lowest four realms is not ruled out in the future for those with anariya jhāna.
- The ability to get into anariya jhānic states could be lost even in this lifetime if one commits an evil kamma or indulges heavily in sensory pleasures.
4. However, such mundane Jhānic states are attained via TEMPORARY blocking of the evils of greed and hate from the mind by focusing the mind on a neutral object such as breath, rising and falling of the stomach, or a kasina object, for example. Thus such nirāmisa sukha is only temporary.
- Ariya jhānās are reached via step-by-step ELIMINATION of greed, hate/anger, and ignorance. They are ever-lasting, i.e., they remain through future lives.
- When complete cessation of greed, hate/anger, and ignorance is reached at the Arahant stage, that is the ultimate nirāmisa sukha.
5. The addition of “tara” (meaning “ultimate”) elevates nirāmisa sukha to a state with even less agitation of the mind. The nirāmisatara sukha is more stable even compared to jhānic pleasures. It starts even before the first stage of Nibbāna, the Sotapanna stage, but is entirely nirāmisatara only at the Arahant stage.
- Nirāmisa is the opposite of the āmisa that we mentioned earlier. Thus nirāmisatara sukha does not arise due to material things. Nirāmisatara sukha is purely mental and arises from dissociation from the stressful material world. It is a relief sensation rather than an enjoyment. Imagine the feeling when a pulsating headache goes away. It is a sense of calm and peacefulness.
- In other words, worldly stresses diminish as the nirāmisa sukha grows.
- The nirāmisatara sukha of a Sōtapanna (or above) is permanent. The Sōtapanna status is never lost, even through future lives. However, physical suffering may still arise due to kamma vipāka.
Three Types of Pīti – Similar to Sukha
6. As mentioned in #1 above, pīti and sukha are different cetasikās (mental factors.) Pīti is “joy that arises in mind,” and sukha is a type of vedanā that also arises in mind.
- Details in “Niramisa Sukha“.
7. The nirāmisatara sukha is experienced by a living Arahant. Of course, the complete absence of suffering (Nibbānic bliss) is reached at the Parinibbāna of an Arahant; it is not a vedanā, but the absence of any type of vedanā. See “Nibbānasukha Sutta (AN 9.34).”
- An Arahant who has developed higher jhānās can even experience the complete “Nibbānic bliss” (saññā vedayita nirōdha samāpatti) at will (up to seven days at a time.) The death of Arahant results in permanent Nibbāna, i.e., complete release from suffering or Parinibbāna.
- To emphasize, Parinibbāna is not a “place” with happiness. Instead, it is the complete absence of ANY suffering. Any type of vedanā can be experienced only within the 31 realms of this world. No vedanā (or citta) arise after the Parinibbāna.
- The four Nibbānic states result via PERMANENT removal of greed, hate, and ignorance in four stages. That involves insight (vipassanā) meditation, most importantly, on the three characteristics of existence: anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
- More in-depth analyses at: “Nibbāna.”