Jhana and Lokuttarajjhana

by Ajahn Brahmali


1. Introduction

When reading the (1) Suttas of the Pali Canon it is difficult not to be struck by the central importance of samādhi and jhāna on the Buddhist path, (2) Samādhi and jhāna appear in Sutta after Sutta, often as the pivotal condition that allows deep insight into the nature of existence. In spite of this, there appears to have been an historical tendency to underestimate the importance of these states.(3) Perhaps the most potent of the many factors that have lead to such underestimation was the early post-Nikāya rise of the Abhidhamma concept of 'lokuttarajjhāna'. In this paper I wish to examine this concept, to investigate whether it has any counterpart in the Suttas, to discuss the implications of using it to interpret the Suttas, and finally to look more closely at the Abhidhamma's treatment of lokuttarajjhāna. I will argue that the common Commentarial practice of using lokuttarajjhāna to define jhāna is misleading.

2. The Concept of Lokuttarajjhāna

The very name 'lokuttarajjhāna' suggests a connection to jhāna and by implication to sammāsamādhi and samādhi in general. However, whereas jhāna and samādhi are important doctrinal terms of the Pali Suttas, lokuttarajjhāna first appears in the Abhidhamma. To avoid any confusion between these various terms it is necessary to look more closely at the Abhidhamma's definition.(4)

According to Abhidhamma theory each stage of Enlightenment is experienced through two types of consciousness, known as magga (path) and phala (fruit). The first type of consciousness, the magga, which lasts only one mind moment, has the function of cutting off mental fetters. The second type, the phala, is the experience of bliss that results from the cutting off of the fetters by the magga consciousness.(5) Again according to the Abhidhamma, these two types of consciousness are experienced together with a particular set of jhāna factors that correspond to each of the four jhānas respectively.(6) Thus they are called 'lokuttarajjhānas', 'transcendent jhānas',(7) because they combine the jhāna factors with an Enlightenment experience.

From this it emerges that the Abhidhamma term lokuttarajhāna is a name for the particular moment one attains one of the various stages of Enlightenment. The Suttas have their own terminology for describing these attainments, terminology that does not refer to momentary experiences and that never explicitly relates to samādhi or jhāna.(8) Consequently, it seems from the outset that lokuttarajjhāna and jhāna/samādhi refer to very different types of experience.(9)

3. Ariyo Sammāsamādhi

In spite of the above, it has been argued that lokuttarajjhāna, in its momentary Abhidhamma sense, is implicitly referred to in the Suttas but using different terminology. Of all the Sutta terminology it is perhaps 'ariyo sammāsamādhi', 'noble right samādhi', which is most often identified as lokuttarajjhāna.(10) It appears it is the qualifier 'ariya' which has made this identification common. 'Ariya', 'noble', is a Sutta term usually referring to the persons who have attained one of the stages of Enlightenment. Therefore, when it is used as a qualifier, it is likely to signify some connection to the stages of Enlightenment. To discover what this connection is we need to look at how this phrase is used in the Suttas.

Ariyo sammāsamādhi is only found on five separate occasions in the Suttas.(11) Two of these occasions are simply the same bare definitions:

"There are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness. The one-pointedness of mind equipped with these seven factors is called noble right concentration (sammāsamādhi) 'with its supports', and also 'with its accessories'."(12)

This is not enough to give a precise idea of the phrase, but at least it makes it clear that only a person practicing the Noble Eightfold Path can have this kind of samādhi.

The third occasion is found at M117 where 'ariyo sammāsamādhi' is initially explained in the same way as above, but then expanded on considerably. Of particular importance here is that the factor of sammāditthi, one of the seven 'equipments' mentioned above, can be either the Noble Right View of the Sotāpanna or it can be ordinary right view possessed by the person who is not yet a Sotāpanna.(13) Thus it seems that it is possible to possess ariyo sammāsamādhi without yet having attained to Sotāpatti. If this is correct, it is impossible that this samādhi is the 'lokuttarajjhāna' of the Abhidhamma.(14)

The fourth occurrence of ariyo sammāsamādhi does not add anything of interest but the fifth occurrence is important: it is a statement of what this samādhi consists of.(15) Not surprisingly it is said to consist of the four jhānas and also "the reviewing sign which is well-grasped, well-attended to, well-considered, and well-penetrated by wisdom".(16) Note that there is nothing here about attaining any of the stages of Enlightenment, just the standard passage on the four jhānas together with the usual similes. If there ever was a time for clearly defining 'lokuttarajjhāna', if that were what is meant by ariya sammāsamādhi, this would seem to be the ideal opportunity. Each time an obvious opportunity for an explicit definition is missed, any claim that lokuttarajjhāna is what is meant is severely undermined. Even the Commentary does not seem to define ariyo sammāsamādhi here as anything but 'ordinary' jhāna.(17) In conclusion, there is no evidence in the Suttas that ariyo sammāsamādhi refers to lokuttarajjhāna, but the evidence to the contrary is sufficient to throw serious doubts on this interpretation.(18)

It thus appears that even the most promising candidate-term from the Suttas has nothing to do with the Abhidhamma's lokuttarajjhāna. If this is correct, then it is unlikely that there is any terminology at all in the Suttas that is equivalent to lokuttarajjhāna. If the most promising terminology fails to hit the mark, then any other terminology is even less likely to do so.

However, it is still necessary to investigate whether the terms 'jhāna' or 'samādhi' in themselves, as they occur in the Suttas, have a twofold meaning, sometimes refering to ordinary jhāna but at other times referring to lokuttarajjhāna.(19) This takes us to the Commentaries, which often assert that particular instances of jhāna or samādhi in the Suttas actually refer to lokuttarajjhāna.

4. Commentarial Interpretations

An important aspect of the Commentaries' method is the use of later concepts, especially from the Abhidhamma, to explain the Suttas. In practice this means that when jhāna or samādhi occur in the Suttas, the Commentaries decide whether 'ordinary' jhāna is meant or lokuttarajjhāna.(20) The result is that the Commentaries back-read a later concept into the Suttas themselves. To find out whether this is reasonable, it is instructive to investigate a few examples of such Commentarial interpretations.

4.1 Samanamandika Sutta, M78 (21)

This Sutta contains a, for our purposes, interesting discussion on the ending of intentions. The Sutta states that all unwholesome intentions cease without remainder in the first jhāna and that all wholesome intentions cease without remainder in the second jhāna.(22) The Commentary then goes on to define both instances of jhāna here as lokuttarajjhāna: the first being equivalent to the state of Anāgāmī and the second that of Arahant.(23)

There are several issues here. Firstly, one might ask why the Sutta speaks of jhāna when in fact, according to the Commentary, it means the attainment of Anāgāmī and Arahant respectively. There are several standard ways in which the Suttas describe the attainments of Anāgāmī and Arahant, but 'jhāna' is not one of them. One may then wonder why this Sutta does not apply one of these standard ways of describing such attainments rather than use a term, i.e. jhāna, which ordinarily has a completely different meaning. According to the Suttas the "brahmacariya is endowed with all aspects, fulfilled in all aspects, not deficient, with nothing superfluous, well-proclaimed, fully complete, well-expounded",(24) but if the Commentary is right, then one could rightfully question whether this Sutta is indeed "well-proclaimed". The fact is that using jhāna in this context while meaning the attainments of Anāgāmī and Arahant would obscure the passage considerably and one would be totally dependent on outside expertise, i.e. the Commentaries, to unravel the meaning.(25) The Buddha never said that one needed to depend on outside expertise to understand his teachings, quite the contrary according to the above quote.(26)

Even more problematic for the Commentary's interpretation is the differentiation in the present Sutta between the use of the first jhāna to describe the ending of unwholesome intentions and the second jhāna to describe the ending of wholesome intentions. If indeed, as the Commentary holds, this refers to the attainments of Anāgāmī and Arahant respectively, then the level of jhāna is in fact completely irrelevant as far as the ending of the corresponding intentions is concerned. Again, one can only wonder whether such a presentation could be considered "well-proclaimed".

Lastly, the Sutta is perfectly well explainable in terms of 'ordinary' jhāna without having to bring in an explanation from the Abhidhamma. The first jhāna is throughout the Suttas qualified as "secluded from unwholesome states",(27) which would include unwholesome intentions. In the second jhāna the vitakka and vicāra aspects of first jhāna cease. In the first jhāna these aspects are the movement of the mind onto the object and the holding on to the object respectively. It is easy to see how this could be regarded as the last vestige of intention, the mind intending towards the wholesome object of the first jhāna. In the second jhāna the mind is perfectly concentrated,(28) all movement has been abandoned, and therefore all intention, wholesome and unwholesome, has "ceased without remainder".(29)

4.2 So Vata Sutta (30)

This Sutta is of particular importance because it gives a sequence of conditions without which a given effect cannot occur. The most interesting relationship for the purposes of this paper is the one between "sammāsamādhi" (i.e. jhāna) and "the abandoning of the fetters", where the latter is said to be impossible ("thānam n'etam vijjati") without the former. This is clearly an important statement as it gives a fixed sequence of how the Buddhist path must be developed.

It is therefore highly significant when the Commentary to this passage states that what is meant here by sammāsamādhi is in fact lokuttarajjhāna.(31) It is not difficult to see how this Commentarial interpretation undermines the vital necessity of jhāna on the path and potentially has a significant impact on our understanding of the Suttas. It is therefore necessary to investigate whether there are any grounds for the Commentary's assertion.

The first thing to note is that if sammāsamādhi here really is a reference to lokuttarajjhāna, this passage in effect says that the necessary condition for lokuttarajjhāna (i.e. "the abandoning of the fetters", which in Abhidhamma terminology is a lokuttarajjhāna mind moment) is lokuttarajjhāna itself. Thus the whole purpose of the causal sequence is defeated.(32) Moreover, as the sammāsamādhi here is defined by the Commentary as including both path and fruit, whereas "the abandoning of the fetters" is just a path moment, one ends up with a situation where the effect precedes the cause.(33) This clearly makes no sense.

At this point it seems worthwhile to quote a larger portion of the passage we are concerned with:

" 'Not grasping the sign of the mind, one will fulfill right view', this is not possible. 'Not having fulfilled right view, one will fulfill sammāsamādhi', this is not possible. 'Not having fulfilled sammāsamādhi, one will abandon the fetters', this is not possible. 'Not having abandoned the fetters, one will realize Nibbāna', this is not possible."(34)

Of interest here is that sammāditthi must be fulfilled before sammāsamādhi can be fulfilled. In Sutta usage the fulfilment of sammāditthi is equivalent to the attainment of Sotāpatti. The attainment of Sotāpatti in turn is a lokuttarajjhāna moment according to Abhidhamma terminology. Thus, once again, if one is to follow the Commentarial interpretation, one arrives at a situation where lokuttarajjhāna (i.e. sammāditthi) is the cause for lokuttarajjhāna (i.e. sammāsamādhi). Thus the conditional relationship expressed in the Sutta is apparently reduced to something quite trivial. To summarise, both "the abandoning of the fetters" and "the fulfillment of right view" are redundant if sammāsamādhi (as lokuttarajjhāna) encompasses both of them.

The final question we need to answer is whether reading sammāsamādhi in the present passage as 'ordinary' jhāna is confirmed or negated by other Suttas. It is well known that jhāna and sammāsamādhi occur very frequently in the Suttas as part of the training leading to the attainment of Arahantship. Perhaps the most significant of these occurrences is the listing of the four jhānas in the gradual training immediately prior to the attainment of the three higher knowledges (tevijjā). This sequence is found countless times throughout the Suttas.(35) However, this does not establish that attaining Arahantship is impossible without 'ordinary' jhāna, as the So Vata Sutta seems to imply. To find such a passage we need to turn to M64:

"There is a path, Ānanda, a way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters; that anyone without relying on that path, on that way shall know or see or abandon the five lower fetters - this is not possible. Just as when there is a great tree standing possessed of heartwood, it is not possible that anyone shall cut out its heartwood without cutting through its bark and sapwood ...

And what Ānanda is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters? Here Ānanda a bhikkhu ... enters upon and abides in the first jhāna ... the second jhāna ... the third jhāna ... the fourth jhāna ...".(36)

Note that this passage is very clear that it is impossible to become an Anāgāmī without having attained at least the first jhāna. Also significant is that the Commentary does not define jhāna here as lokuttarajjhāna, and thus one has to assume that also the Commentary regards this as 'ordinary' jhāna.(37)

Again, given this evidence from the Suttas, one can only conclude that there is no evidence to support the Commentarial assertion that what is meant by sammāsamādhi in the So Vata Sutta is in fact lokuttarajjhāna. Quite the contrary, the standard Sutta explanation of sammāsamādhi, as referring to the (ordinary) four jhānas, fits the situation perfectly.

4.3 Other Suttas

The above examples are only two among a large number where the Commentaries claim that jhāna or samādhi in the Suttas actually refer to lokuttarajjhāna. It would be an enormous amount of work to investigate each one of these occurrences to evaluate whether the Commentarial interpretations are reasonable. In many instances it would in fact be impossible to come to any satisfactory conclusion because of a lack of revealing contextual evidence. In these circumstances one is left with the Commentarial interpretation without any way of validating the Commentary's assertions. This is surely not satisfactory, particularly when there is no convincing evidence from the Suttas that jhāna or samādhi ever refers to the attainment of the stages of Enlightenment.(38) There appears to be only one possible solution to this problem and that is to assume that jhāna and samādhi in the Suttas always refer to 'ordinary' jhāna and samādhi even if this goes directly against the Commentarial view.(39)

5. The Danger in Reduced Respect for samādhi and jhāna

If the analysis so far, on the whole, is accepted, it might reasonably be asked why the Commentaries would mistakenly reinterpret the jhāna/samādhi of central Sutta passages in terms of the later Abhidhamma concept of lokuttarajjhāna and thereby significantly distort the message of the former. There are in fact several Sutta passages that relate to this question. These passages concern the future of the Dhamma and, in particular, they mention how a reduced respect for samādhi is a condition for the decline of the Buddha's teaching as a whole. Consider the following:

"Just as, Kassapa, gold does not disappear so long as counterfeit gold has not arisen in the world, but when counterfeit gold arises true gold disappears, so the true Dhamma does not disappear so long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma arises in the world then the true Dhamma disappears. ...

It is senseless people who arise right here who cause the true Dhamma to disappear.

The true Dhamma does not disappear all at once in the way a ship sinks. There are, Kassapa, five detrimental things that lead to the decay and disappearance of the true Dhamma. What are the five? Here the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunis, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers dwell without reverence and deference towards the Teacher ... towards the Dhamma ... towards the Sangha ... towards the training ... towards concentration [samādhi]. These are the five detrimental things that lead to the decay and disappearance of the true Dhamma."(40)

Thus it appears that over time there is a natural tendency for the Dhamma to get distorted, that the distorters are members of the Sangha itself, and finally that one of the factors that lead to the gradual confusion and disappearance of the Dhamma is a lack of reverence and deference for samādhi.(41) It is easy to see why the Triple Gem and the training as a whole are mentioned here, because lack of respect for any of these is tantamount to a repudiation of the entire Dhamma. But it is quite remarkable that samādhi is the one aspect of the training that is singled out here, not wisdom, not the four satipatthānas or any other aspect of the path. And this is only one among many instances where samādhi is singled out in this way.(42) This is surely highly significant and says much about the central importance of samādhi in the Dhamma.

So it seems that it is to be expected that the important role of samādhi is undermined over time, and therefore one should perhaps not be surprised that this is exactly what seems to happen in the Pali Commentaries.(43) Maybe this is because samādhi can appear so difficult to achieve. But this is obviously not a sufficient reason to downgrade its importance. Samādhi is an integral part of the Buddhist path and any attempt to reduce its importance because it is hard to achieve, will only result in the exact opposite, making the true goal of the path, Enlightenment, even more difficult to achieve. By overlooking the absolutely central importance of samādhi one is in grave danger of making the supreme goal of the Buddhist practice unattainable.

6. Abhidhamma-bhājaniya & Suttanta-bhājaniya

In light of the above, it may prove useful to take a closer look at the Abhidhamma.(44) The first thing to notice about the Abhidhamma's treatment is that it is divided into two separate categories, the Sutta-exposition (Suttanta-bhājaniya) and the Abhidhamma-exposition (Abhidhamma-bhājaniya).(45) This is of great importance for this study because it suggests that the Suttas and the Abhidhamma must be kept strictly apart and, more particularly, that the Abhidhamma analysis is not applicable to the Suttas.

This conclusion is reinforced by a closer comparison of the Sutta-exposition with the Abhidhamma-exposition. The Suttanta-bhājaniya is a list of factors, together with definitions, of some of the most important doctrinal sets found in the Suttas.(46) The exposition is largely identical to that of the Suttas, as one would expect. In the Suttas these sets are concerned with the pragmatic problem of how to arrive at Enlightenment, and the various factors listed refer to qualities of mind that have to be developed for Enlightenment to be possible.(47) The Abhidhamma-bhājaniya, however, is a significant departure from the Sutta-exposition. It discusses the same sets, but the definitions of the individual factors are here quite different from those found in the Suttas. The emphasis is now on how these factors, when they are fully developed, take part in the experiences of the stages of Enlightenment.(48) The Abhidhamma's purpose, therefore, is to describe the contents of specific states of mind rather than the path by which one arrives at those states.(49) In other words, where the Suttas and the Abhidhamma speak of what appears to be the same sets, they are actually speaking of quite different things. It now becomes clear why the Sutta-exposition has to be kept apart from the Abhidhamma-exposition.(50)

The above can now be related to jhāna/samādhi and lokuttarajjhāna. Samādhi and jhāna are terms used in the Suttanta-bhājaniya and thus they refer to Sutta usage. In particular, as they are closely related to the above mentioned sets that constitute the path to Enlightenment, they are factors of that same path. Lokuttarajjhāna, on the other hand, belongs to the Abhidhamma-bhājaniya and is a term for the constellation of mental factors present at the moments of Enlightenment. Being a term peculiar to the Abhidhamma-bhājaniya, it only relates to the Abhidhamma and can therefore not be used to explain samādhi or jhāna as it appears in the Suttas. If this is correct, it follows that the Commentaries make a dangerous blunder when they explain jhāna and samādhi with Abhidhamma terminology that was never capable of being used in this way.

7. Conclusion

It is sometimes claimed that the Abhidhamma is simply a natural extension of the Suttas, and that its ideas flow without conflict straight out of concepts already established in the Suttas. This may be largely correct, but there is always a problem of unforeseen consequences when one elaborates on a body of texts of such fundamental importance for Buddhism as the original Suttas. I hope I have been able to show one such instance of unforeseen consequences, and an important one at that, in which the Suttas are effectively rewritten in line with later concepts and terminology.(51) It shows that one has to be careful about uncritically accepting the Commentaries' interpretations of the Suttas. This is particularly so when established Sutta concepts are redefined by the Commentaries in accordance with ideas that arose after the Suttas were composed.

As for the term lokuttarajjhāna, I suggest that it was never meant to be used apart from the Abhidhamma itself. The idea of lokuttarajjhāna may very well be a reasonable description of attainments on the Buddhist path, but this does not mean that it has any direct counterpart in the Suttas: in fact it seems clear that it does not. Because lokuttarajjhāna concerns the goal of the path, and not the path itself, the Commentaries' redefinition of jhāna/samādhi in terms of lokuttarajjhāna has the effect of shifting the reality of jhāna from being a factor of the path to becoming a result of the practice of the path. Thus the Suttas' insistence on the centrality of jhāna/samādhi as a path factor is undermined, an undermining which only serves to seriously distort the timeless message of the Buddha.

Brahmāli Bhikkhu

Perth, April 2005


References: All references are to volume number, page number, and line number of the Pali texts published by the Pali Text Society.

Abbreviations: Vin: Vinaya Pitaka; D: Dīgha Nikāya; M: Majjhima Nikāya; S: Samyutta Nikāya; A: Anguttara Nikāya; Dhs: Dhammasangani; Vibh: Vibhanga; DA: Dīgha Nikāya Commentary; MA: Majjhima Nikāya Commentary; AA: Anguttara Nikāya Commentary.



  • (1) The term 'Sutta' in this paper generally refers to the four main Nikāyas of the Sutta Pitaka: the Dīgha Nikāya, the Majjhima Nikāya, the Samyutta Nikāya, and the Anguttara Nikāya.


  • (2) By samādhi I generally understand the four jhānas, sometimes a slightly broader concept.

    It might be thought that this is a narrow understanding of samādhi because the Suttas contain many instances of samādhi that are clearly not jhāna. These samādhis can broadly be classified into two types: samādhi that can arise prior to jhāna and samādhi that comes after jhāna and that depends on jhāna. Into the latter category fall the formless attainments, the samādhi that leads to Arahantship (see A.II.45,23-33) and also the samādhi that is the result of Arahantship (see A.V.7,7 - 10,2). Because these samādhis are based on jhāna their existence confirms the importance of jhāna on the path.

    Into the former category fall such samādhis as animittasamādhi, su˝˝atasamādhi and appanihitasamādhi (see e.g. D.III.219,21-22), samādhi gained from walking meditation (see A.III.30) and possibly samādhi in conjunction with satipatthāna (see S.V.144,19 - 145,19 & A.IV.300,24 - 301,15). But even with these samādhis it is far from clear that they do not, or at least cannot, rely on jhāna. In the case of (A.IV.300,24 - 301,15), if one is to follow the sequential presentation in the Sutta strictly (which presumably one must), jhāna precedes the samādhis based on satipatthāna. The same is quite possibly true of (S.V.144,19 - 145,19). As for the first three samādhis of animittasamādhi etc., it seems that they also are normally practised after jhāna (see M.III.111), although the evidence may not be conclusive that they have to be.

    The most important fact about the various types of samādhi, however, is that by far the most frequently occuring type is jhāna. The three samādhis of animittasamādhi, su˝˝atasamādhi and appanihitasamādhi occur very rarely in the Suttas compared to jhāna, and the same is true for "satipatthāna samādhi". Thus the relative importance of jhāna far outweighs the importance of any of the other types of samādhi and jhāna is therefore the preeminent type of samādhi on the Buddhist path. Thus when the Suttas only speak of samādhi, without further qualification, it seems reasonable to conclude that this is predominantly a reference to jhāna.


  • (3) By historical tendency I primarily mean the shift in focus from the Nikāyas to the Commentaries. Where the Nikāyas put great emphasis on samādhi and jhāna, even saying that full Enlightenment is impossible without jhāna (see "So Vata Sutta", section 4.2), the Commentaries shift the emphasis towards pure vipassanā practice and in the process invent new terminology such as "sukkhavipassaka" (one who practises dry insight) and "suddhavipassanā" (pure insight). This shift in emphasis has been very influential to the present day. vipassanā meditation with little emphasis on samādhi, and often no emphasis on jhānas, has been by far the most influential "meditation system" of the Theravada tradition worldwide in the second half of the 20th century.


  • (4) It should be noted that, although the term lokuttarajjhāna first appears in the Canonical Abhidhamma, it is precisely defined only in the Abhidhamma Commentaries. Whether the Abhidhamma Commentaries understand lokuttarajjhāna in the same way as the Canonical Abhidhamma is a moot point. However, because my main critique in this paper is aimed at the Sutta Commentaries, which presuppose both the Canonical Abhidhamma as well as its Commentaries, I have made no distinction between the two.


  • (5) According to the Abhidhamma Commentaries the fruit consciousness lasts two or three mind moments (see "A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma" by Bhikkhu Bodhi, p.177).


  • (6) And also to a fivefold classification of jhāna adopted by the Abhidhamma (cf. Dhs. 167-174) but which is only rarely mentioned in the Suttas (cf. M.III.162,15).


  • (7) Lit. 'jhānas beyond the world'.


  • (8) The Suttas, in contrast with the Abhidhamma, never focus exclusively on the precise moments that the stages of Enlightenment are attained. Rather, the Suttas seem to speak of these stages as "ongoing realities". Typical terminology used in the Suttas include: "dhammacakkhum udapādi", "the eye of the Dhamma arose", (e.g. Vin.I.11,34); "sammāditthiyā uppadāya", "the arising of right view", (M.I.294,1); "sotāpattiphalam pi sacchikaronti, sakadāgāmīphalam pi sacchikaronti, anāgāmīphalam pi sacchikaronti, arahattam pi sacchikaronti", "they realised the fruit of streamentry, they realised the fruit of once-returner, they realised the fruit of non-returner, they realised the fruit of Arahantship", (D.I.229,4); "anupadāya āsavehi cittāni vimuccimsu", "(their) minds were freed from the outflowings without grasping", (e.g. Vin.I.14,35); "āsavānam khayam pāpunāti", "he attained the destruction of the outflowings", (M.I.436,4). Each of these refers to enduring realities.


  • (9) For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that the Suttas on a few occasions mention types of samādhi that possibly are directly related to the attainment of the four stages of Enlightenment. The most important example would seem to be animittasamādhi, see (A.IV.78,18-30). However, even these samādhis do not appear to be momentary in the sense that lokuttarajjhāna is said to be.


  • (10) This is how the Commentaries tend to understand this term, e.g. (MA.IV.130,22-24): "Tattha ariyan ti niddosam. Lokuttaram niddosam hi ariyan ti vuccati. sammāsamādhin ti maggasamādhim" - "Therein ariya means undefiled. For ariya is called the undefiled which is supramundane. Sammāsamādhi means path-samādhi [i.e. lokuttarajjhāna]"; (AA.IV.28,19): "samādhiparikkhārā ti maggasamādhissa sambhārā" - "Requisite of samādhi means a constituent of path-samādhi". See also Rupert Gethin's "The Buddhist Path to Awakening", p.218, line 19-22: "Secondly there is the attainment of right view etc. as noble, without āsavas, lokuttara, a factor of the path. It is precisely this second stage that must be understood as ariyo sammāsamādhi sa-upaniso sa-parikkhāro."


  • (11) It should be noted that only 5 occurrences in the four main Nikāyas makes the phrase a rare one. There are also two occurrences of a samādhi (as opposed to sammāsamādhi) which is said to be 'ariya' (D.III.278,27 & A.III.24,15).


  • (12) (S.V.21,13-17) & (A.IV.40,23-27) -

    "Seyyathīdam sammāditthi sammāsankappo sammāvācā sammākammanto sammā-ājīvo sammāvāyāmo sammāsati. Yā kho bhikkhave imehi sattahangehi cittassa ekaggatā saparikkhārā, ayam vuccati bhikkhave ariyo sammāsamādhi sa-upaniso iti pi saparikkhāro iti p ti."

  • (13) (M.III.72,4-28) -

    "Katamā ca, bhikkhave, sammāditthi? Sammāditthi p'aham, bhikkhave, dvayam vadāmi. Atthi, bhikkhave, sammāditthi sāsavā pu˝˝ābhāgiyā upadhivepakkā; atthi, bhikkhave, sammāditthi ariyā anāsavā lokuttarā maggangā."

    Then the two types of right view are explained in more detail.


  • (14) Unfortunately it is not perfectly clear in the Sutta whether the twofold right view refers to two separate ways in which sammāditthi acts as a requisite to ariya sammāsamādhi or whether both aspects of the twofold sammāditthi are part of the same sammāditthi which is a requisite to ariya sammāsamādhi. But even if the latter is the case it is not necessary to bring in lokuttarajjhāna as an explanation. I would propose, instead, that in this case ariya should be understood as a direct reference to the person practising ariya sammāsamādhi, i.e. that he is at least a Sotāpanna. Ariya sammāsamādhi would then simply be sammāsamādhi attained by the ariyas. This fits well with the fact that ariyas are said to be endowed with the Noble Eightfold Path (S.V.348,3-4), i.e. ariya sammāsamādhi together with its seven requisites.

    There is still another way of looking at the passage from M117. According to the Commentary the second type of right view, the view that is supramundane, does in fact not refer to the right view of the Sotāpanna but to the right view at the moment of the four paths, i.e. the moment when each of the four stages of Enlightenment is attained. Thus it is identical with lokuttarajjhāna. This interpretation is probably the result of the peculiar vocabulary used to qualify sammāditthi in the present Sutta, in particular magganga and anāsava (but also the string pa˝˝ā, pa˝˝indriya, pa˝˝ābala and dhammavicayasambojjhanga), which is reminiscent of Abhidhamma usage. These terms are never used to qualify sammāditthi anywhere else in the Suttas, and several of the terms used, such as magganga, anāsavacitta and ariyacitta, are never found at all in the Suttas. It thus seems probable that these words are a late addition, a conclusion reinforced by the fact that the Āgama version of this Sutta (i.e. the Chinese equivalent) does not include this vocabulary.


  • (15) The fourth occurrence is found at (D.II.216,31 - 217,4) and the fifth at (A.III.25-27).


  • (16) (A.III.27,13) -

    "... paccavekkhanānimittam suggahitam hoti sumanasikatam sūpadhāritam suppatividdham pa˝˝āya".

    The paccavekkhanānimittam does not occur anywhere else in the Suttas and one has to look to the Vibhanga of the Abhidhamma to find a definition. At (Vibh. 334,1-8) one finds the following: "Tattha katamā sammāsamādhi? ... Tamhā tamhā samādhimhā vutthitassa paccavekkhanā˝ānam paccavekkhanānimittam." - "Therein what is the five-factored right samādhi? ... The reviewing knowledge, the reviewing sign of one who has come out of this or that samādhi (is the five-factored right samādhi)."

    If one is to follow the Vibhanga here, then "this or that samādhi" would seem to refer to the samādhis just mentioned in the Sutta prior to the mentioning of the paccavekkhanānimittam, i.e. the four jhānas. Thus the paccavekkhanānimittam would be based on one or more of the four jhānas.

    The same conclusion is arrived at when one takes account of the "gradual" nature of the Suttas (cf. A.III.184,17). This means that the standard way of exposition of Dhamma, explicitly recommended by the Buddha and a pattern which is easily recognizable in Sutta after Sutta, is one of natural progression. It is therefore to be expected that the paccavekkhanānimittam is a stage on the path which comes after the jhānas and which is based on the jhānas.


  • (17) (AA.III.232,11-12) -

    "Ariyassa ti vikkhambhanavasena pahinehi kilesehi ārakā thitassa".

    "(Of) noble (means): (of) one standing far from the defilements which have been abandoned due to suppression".

    "Abandoning due to suppression", "vikkhambhanavasena pahinehi", is a Commentarial reference to suppression due to jhāna. Thus it appears that the term 'ariya' here is related to (ordinary) jhāna and not to the stages of Enlightenment.

    It might be objected that this passage is about the 'development', 'bhāvanā', of ariya sammāsamādhi (i.e. "ariyassa bhikkhave pa˝cangikassa sammāsamādhissa bhāvanam desissāmi ..."; A.III.25,1-2) and not about ariya sammāsamādhi itself. However, in the Suttas the development of a particular quality is usually explained in terms of the quality itself. For example, the development (bhāvanā) of satipatthāna is explained using the standard satipatthāna formula (S.V.182,23 - 183,4); the same holds for the iddhipādas (S.V.276,15-19), the sammāppadhānas (S.V.244,21 - 245,13), and indeed for the jhānas themselves (S.V.308,2-11). Thus it seems safe to conclude that the "development of ariya sammāsamādhi" is identical with ariya sammāsamādhi itself.


  • (18) This still does not answer the question of why the name "ariyo sammāsamādhi" is used. I would suggest that because this samādhi is defined as the eighth factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, supported by the other seven factors, one is in effect developing the entire Noble Eightfold Path when developing this samādhi. It would therefore seem that the qualifier "ariya" is taken directly from the name of the Noble (ariya) Eightfold Path.


  • (19) I argued above that the Sutta terminology for the experiences of Enlightenment never refers to samādhi and jhāna. However, since the Abhidhamma's lokuttarajjhāna is not directly equivalent to this Sutta terminology, it is still necessary to investigate whether it might relate to jhāna or samādhi.


  • (20) The Commentaries use various terminology, such as maggasamādhi and phalasamādhi, which is equivalent to lokuttarajjhāna.


  • (21) (M.II.22-29)


  • (22) See (M.II.27,31 - 28,2) & (M.II.28,20-23) respectively.


  • (23) (MA.III.270,14) -

    "Pathamajjhānan ti anāgāmīphale pathamajjhānam."

    "The first jhāna means: the first jhāna with reference to the fruit of anāgāmī."

    (MA.III.270,22-24) -

    "Etth'ete ti arahattaphale bhummam dutiyajjhānikam arahattaphalam hi pāpunitvā, kusalasankappā aparisesā nirujjhanti."

    "Here these ('here' refers back to the second jhāna in the Sutta text; 'these' refers to the wholeseome intentions) means: with reference to the fruit of Arahatta, having attained the stage of Arahatta relating to the second jhāna, wholesome intentions cease without remainder."

  • (24) (D.III.126-7) -

    "Sabbākāra-sampannam sabbākāra-paripūram anūnam anadhikam svākkhātam kevala-paripūram brahmacariyam suppakāsitam".

    Because of the use of 'well-expounded' (svākkhātam) and 'well-proclaimed (suppakāsitam) to qualify brahmacariya. I understand brahmacariya here to be practically equivalent to dhamma.


  • (25) Moreover, the use of 'jhāna' does not appear to add anything that would be lost if the passage simply spoke of the attainments of Anāgāmī and Arahant respectively.


  • (26) Of course, a single Sutta may not be fully self-explanatory. But all the Suttas taken together should give one a comprehensive and complete understanding of the Dhamma.


  • (27) "Vivicca akusalehi dhammehi"; e.g. (D.I.73,23-24).


  • (28) The standard description of the second jhāna says: "avitakkam avicāram samādhijam pītisukham", "without vitakka without vicāra with rapture and happiness born of samādhi"; e.g. (D.I.74,15).


  • (29) One might think that the expression "ceased without remainder", "aparisesā nirujjhanti", is more likely to be connected with the stages of Enlightenment where defilements are completely uprooted than with jhāna where the defilements are only temporarily suppressed. However, in the Suttas this term is also used with reference to the jhānas (e.g. M.II.263ff).

    It might also seem that because this Sutta ends with a description of the Arahant, the previous stages are likely to concern stages of Enlightenment. But it is common in the Suttas to describe the attainment of Arahantship directly after the attainment of the jhānas, for instance in the gradual training (e.g. D2).


  • (30) (A.III.422,25 - 423,18), the title is taken from the summary (the uddāna) at the end of the chapter (vagga).


  • (31) (AA.III.410,21) -

    "Samādhin ti maggasamādhi c'eva phalasamādhi ca".

    Maggasamādhi and phalasamādhi are Commentarial names for the lokuttarajjhāna happening at the path moment (magga) and fruition (phala) respectively.


  • (32) It could perhaps be argued that sammāsamādhi here refers to the lokuttarajjhāna of the first three stages of Enlightenment but not to the fourth. But this would be an additional complication which would lead one even further away from the most straightforward meaning of the passage.


  • (33) "The abandoning of the fetters" is the path (magga) consciousness relating to the attainment of Arahantship. Sammāsamādhi is here defined in the Commentary in such a way that it appears to include the fruition (phala) consciousness relating to Arahantship. The fruition consciousness comes after the path consciousness.


  • (34) (A.III.423,2 - 423,7) -

    "Cittassa nimittam aganhanto sammāditthim paripūressatī ti n'etam thānam vijjati. Sammāditthim aparipūretvā sammāsamādhim paripūressatī ti n'etam thānam vijjati. Sammāsamādhim aparipūretvā samyojanāni pajahissatī ti n'etam thānam vijjati. Samyojanāni appahāya nibbānam sacchikarissatī ti n'etam thānam vijjati."

  • (35) See for example the Sāma˝˝aphala Sutta (D2). The Commentary does not explain the jhāna of the gradual training as lokuttarajjhāna (but it also does not exclude it), see (DA.I.217,14-18).


  • (36) (M.I.434,25-31 + 435,26-436,17) -

    "Yo Ānanda maggo yā patipadā pa˝cannam orambhāgiyānam samyojanānam pahānāya tam maggam tam patipadam anāgamma pa˝c'orambhāgiyāni samyojanāni ˝assati vā dakkhīti vā pajahissati vā ti n'etam thānam vijjati. Seyyathā pi Ānanda mahato rukkhassa titthato sāravato tacam acchetvā pheggum acchetvā sāracchedo bhavissatī ti n'etam thānam vijjati ...

    Katamo c'Ānanda maggo katamā patipadā pa˝cannam orambhāgiyānam samyojanānam pahānāya: Idh'Ānanda bhikkhu ... pathamam jhānam upasampajja viharati ... dutiyam jhānam ... tatiyam jhānam ... catuttham jhānam ...".

  • (37) In fact it would seem impossible that the jhānas of M64 refer to lokuttarajjhāna. In this Sutta the jhānas themselves are viewed as dukkha, anicca, and anattā for the purpose of going beyond them and attaining at least to Anāgāmī. This could therefore not refer to lokuttarajjhāna because that attainment is nothing but Nibbāna itself and consequently cannot be considered as dukkha.


  • (38) With the possible exception of animittasamādhi, see note 9 above. It is difficult, however, to draw any authoritative conclusions on the precise nature of animittasamādhi based on the Suttas alone. In the Suttas, it remains a marginal form of samādhi compared to the jhānas (see note 1 above) and as such its relevance is limited. Other types of samādhi that may or may not relate directly to the stages of Enlightenment, such as su˝˝atasamādhi, appanihitasamādhi, and even a˝˝āphalasamādhi (A.IV.428), are even more marginal. In any case, if the present discussion is limited to the jhānas (and thus sammāsamādhi) the situation is quite clear cut.


  • (39) This may seem more radical than it really is. As do most Buddhist monks, I agree that it is important to respect the Commentaries and all post-Nikāya Pali works. After all, these works are the opinions of (presumably) highly respected Buddhist monks. One is obliged to be extremely careful not to overestimate one's own understanding above that of a strong and respected tradition. If there is any doubt, and one does not have direct experience of the Dhamma oneself, one should always defer to the tradition.

    Having said this, however, one has to keep in mind what the Buddha stated in the Four Great Standards of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (D.II.13,30 - 126,5): that the word of any authority, other than that of the Buddha, which claims to speak the Dhamma should always be checked against what is known with adequate certainty to be the Buddha's own statements (i.e. the four main Nikāyas). What I have tried to do in this paper is simply to subject one specific Commentarial interpretation to this test.


  • (40) (S.II.224,14-21 + 224,25-225,4) -

    "Seyyathāpi Kassapa na tāva jātarūpassa antaradhānam hoti yāva na jātarūpapatirūpakam loke uppajjati. Yato ca kho Kassapa jātarūpapatirūpakam loke uppajjati atha jātarūpassa antaradhānam hoti. Evam eva kho Kassapa na tāva saddhammassa antaradhānam hoti yāva na saddhammapatirūpakam loke uppajjati. Yato ca kho Kassapa saddhammapatirūpakam loke uppajjati atha saddhammam antaradhānam hoti. ...

    Atha kho idheva te uppajjanti moghāpurisā ye imam saddhammam antaradhāpenti.

    Seyyathāpi Kassapa nāvā ādikeneva opilavati na kho Kassapa evam saddhammassa antaradhānam hoti. Pa˝ca kho me Kassapa okkamaniyā dhammā saddhammassa sammosāya antaradhānāya samvattanti.Katame pa˝ca? Idha Kassapa bhikkhū bhikkhuniyo upāsakā upāsikāyo satthari agāravā viharanti appatissā, dhamme agāravā viharanti appatissā, sanghe agāravā viharanti appatissā, sikkhāya agāravā viharanti appatissā, samādhismim agāravā viharanti appatissā. Ime kho Kassapa pa˝ca okkamaniyā dhammā saddhammassa sammosāya antaradhānāya samvattanti."

  • (41) All this seems to be a natural process. I think it highly unlikely that members of the Sangha would intentionally distort the Dhamma.


  • (42) A similar passage is found at (A.IV.84,9-19). There are also a number of passages that mention the same list of five things as being respected by various persons. For example at (A.IV.27,21 - 31,10) there are four Suttas mentioning seven qualities that lead to non-decline, the five factors common to all these Suttas being the Triple Gem, the training, and samādhi. Another such set of seven occurs at (A.IV.120,4 - 125,9). Finally, at (S.V.234,26-31) an Arahant is said to conduct himself with supreme honour towards the Tathāgata and the Dhamma by being reverential and deferential to the same basic set of five.


  • (43) Note the correspondence here between the Buddha warning that it is "senseless people" in the Sangha itself that cause the Dhamma to disappear and the fact that the Commentaries (written by the Sangha) seem to be distorting the Dhamma. (Again, this distortion seems to be natural and unavoidable. If it had not been for the Sangha's efforts in preserving the Dhamma, it would almost certainlty have disappeared long ago.)


  • (44) It is the second book of the Abhidhamma, the Vibhanga, which is of interest here.


  • (45) This division is one of the main organising principles of the Vibhanga. However, it should be noted that many scholars consider the Vibhanga to be the earliest part of the Abhidhamma. It thus seems likely that in the rest of the Abhidhamma this division is implied, even if rarely explicitly stated.


  • (46) I.e. the indriyas, the satipatthānas, the bojjhangas, etc.


  • (47) These sets are collectively known as the Bodhipakkiyadhammas and they are very prominent in the Suttas, see in particular volume V of the Samyutta Nikāya. (It should be noted that the Vibhanga includes other sets as well - i.e. apart from the Bodhipakkiyadhammas - but these sets are generally not concerned with lokuttarajjhāna and are therefore not relevant to this study.) It is significant that when these sets are spoken of in the Suttas they are always spoken of in terms of "development" or "cultivation", i.e. "bhāvanā". This seems to be a clear indication that they form part of the path of practice and not the result of practicing the path. This is in sharp contrast to the Sutta terminology used to describe the attainments of the stages of Enlightenment (i.e. the results of practice), terminology such as: "realization" (sacchikiriyā); "attainment" (anuppatta); "liberation" (vimutta); etc. This distinction seems to be very consistent in the Suttas, the former being the path, the latter the results.


  • (48) This is so for all the sets that make up the Bodhipakkhiyadhammas apart from the 5 indriyas; for the indriyas only an Abhidhamma exposition is given.


  • (49) This is not surprising because one of the main purposes of the Abhidhamma is precisely to analyze existence into its component parts.


  • (50) This does not mean that the Abhidhamma analysis necessarily is wrong, rather that it is not directly comparable to the Sutta usage. It could be argued that the Abhidhamma-exposition describes the culmination of the path as described by the Sutta-exposition (see "The Buddhist Path to Awakening" by Rupert Gethin). Although the two expositions may thus be compatible, they are still concerned with two very different aspects of Buddhist practice, i.e. the result of practicing the path and the path itself respectively.


  • (51) Rewritten, that is, for those who rely exclusively on the Commentaries to explain the Suttas.

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