Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Nirāmisa Sukha?
Revised October 29, 2019; August 18, 2022
1. There are three kinds of happiness:
- Sensory pleasures (āmisa sukha)
- Mundane meditative (jhānic) pleasures
- Nibbanic (nirāmisa) sukha
What is Āmisa?
2. Āmisa means material; “āmisa dāna” is the offering of material things. Thus āmisa 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.
3. People who have been doing Samatha meditation (for example, breath or kasina) know that it gives a pleasure different from any sensory pleasure.
- 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.
- If one dies while in a jhānic state, one will be born in the corresponding Brahma world (either in the rupa loka or in the arupa loka depending on the jhānic state). However, a birth in one of the lowest four realms is not ruled out in the future.
- The ability to get into jhānic states could be lost even in this lifetime if one commits an evil kamma or indulges heavily in sense pleasures.
- Jhānic states are attained via TEMPORARY blocking the evils of greed and hate from the mind by focusing the mind on a neutral object such as breath, rising and falling of stomach, or a kasina object, for example.
4. The nirāmisa sukha is more stable even compared to jhānic pleasures. It starts even before the first stage of Nibbāna, the Sotapanna stage.
- Nirāmisa is the opposite of the āmisa that we mentioned earlier. Thus nirāmisa sukha does not arise due to material things. Nirāmisa 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 nirāmisa sukha of a Sōtapanna (or above) is permanent. The Sōtapanna status is never lost, even through future lives.
- On the other hand, physical suffering arises due to kamma vipaka. That cannot be overcome by meditation. One must seek medical attention for physical ailments.
6. Upon attaining Nibbāna (i.e., Arahanthood), there is nothing else to do. An Arahant who has developed higher jhānā can even experience the full Nibbanic pleasure (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. Rather, it is the complete absence of ANY suffering.
- 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.
- Even before the Sōtapanna stage, one can start feeling the nirāmisa sukha by systematically removing greed, hate, and ignorance; see “How to Taste Nibbāna.”
More information on nirāmisa sukha at “Niramisa Sukha“.
More in-depth analyses at: “Nibbāna.”