In 2007 Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi published a paper in the
Journal of the Pali text Society titled The Susīma-sutta and the
Wisdom-Liberated Arahant, in which he argued that the idea of an arahant
devoid of jhāna may be traceable in the Pali Canon itself. I subsequently
wrote a response to that article. Unfortunately, the Pali Text Society refused
to publish it, stating that the article was not focussed enough on Pali as a
language. Here, then, at long last, is my response to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's
In his paper The Susīma-sutta and the Wisdom-Liberated Arahant in vol. 29
of the PTS Journal, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi provides a valuable investigation into
the provenance and development in early Buddhist literature of the idea of the
arahant devoid of jhāna. By using a broad range of texts, he
succeeds in showing parallel developments across several Buddhist schools.
Despite agreeing with much of what Ven. Bodhi has to say, it seems to me that he
goes too far when he suggests that the idea of arahantship without jhāna
may already be implied in the very earliest strata of Buddhist texts. As part of
his argument he presents a number of sutta passages which, in his opinion, may
allow for this idea.2
In the present critique I wish to scrutinize Ven. Bodhis interpretation of
these passages. My purpose is twofold. Firstly, I intend to show that the sutta
passages Ven. Bodhi refers to as hinting at the possibility of arahantship
without jhāna, are unlikely to be meant in this way. Secondly, I aim to
point out that the clear overall message from the suttas3
is that jhāna is indispensable for the attainment of arahantship.
I will structure the critique around those of Ven. Bodhis arguments that I
disagree with. In each section below I will quote one of these arguments and
then discuss my reasons for disagreeing. When I have discussed them all, I will
draw the rather loose threads together in a summary and conclusion. But first of
all it is necessary to consider a couple of general issues.
1.1 The Problem of Multiple Voices in the Pali Canon
It is clearly the case that the Pali suttas contain a number of different
voices4, and this fact is also the basis for much
of Ven. Bodhis argument.5 An important question
that underlies Ven. Bodhis paper is whether such diversity of authorship also
implies a diversity in doctrine.6
In general, even if the suttas are a result of multiple authorships, one cannot
automatically assume that this implies discrepancies in the doctrine. In fact,
it seems more reasonable to assume the exact opposite: that the suttas are
homogenous except if there is clear evidence to the contrary.7
One important reason for this is that the inclusion of material in the Canon was
governed by rules, the most important of which would have been the four great
standards of the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta.8 Thus, the
extent to which the early Buddhist Saṅgha properly implemented these standards
is also the extent to which one would not expect to find any diversity in
doctrine. And since it would only have been natural for the Saṅgha as a whole to
do its best to preserve the word of the Buddha,9 it
is incumbent on the person who wants to show doctrinal diversity to prove his
case beyond reasonable doubt. That is, if anyone wishes to argue for the
existence of a minority view that contradicts the more common or dominant
doctrines, then such a view has to be clearly present. If it is mostly hinted at
or it can reasonably be explained in terms of the majority view then, in my
opinion, that would not be enough to dislodge a presumption of doctrinal unity.
Basing my argument on the above approach, I will point out that the numerically
and doctrinally dominant position in the suttas is that jhāna is required
for arahantship. Further, I will argue that there is no clear and unambiguous
statement anywhere in the suttas to the effect that arahantship can be reached
without jhāna and, consequently, that there is no basis for proposing
that this exists even as a minority view in the Nikāyas.
1.2 A Preliminary Look at the Meaning of Paññāvimutta
At an early point in his paper Ven. Bodhi states:
they did not want to force an
ambiguity that was hovering over the notion of the wisdom-liberated arahant
to become resolved too starkly in black-and-white terms.11
Ven. Bodhis paper is framed as a discussion of the Nikāya concept of the
paññāvimutta arahant. The question of whether arahantship without jhāna
is allowed by the suttas, at least as a minority view, is approached by
asking whether a wisdom-liberated arahant may in fact be destitute of
jhāna. It would therefore seem useful already at this point to make a
preliminary assessment of the term.
In the Nikāyas wisdom-liberated is a universal term that describes all
arahants regardless of what other attainments they may have.12
Wisdom-liberated simply means that one has reached the highest liberation by
fully penetrating reality with wisdom.13 In this
sense all arahants are wisdom-liberated. Thus, in its most general usage,
the term is neutral as far as other attainments are concerned.14
It is only when the wisdom-liberated arahant is contrasted with the
both-ways-liberated arahant, the ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant,
that he becomes more narrowly defined. When these two types of arahants
are compared, only the both-ways-liberated arahant is said to possess the
immaterial attainments.15 But even when the suttas
contrast the wisdom-liberated arahant with other arahants in this
way, the jhānas never enter into the comparison. Indeed, as I intend to
show, in the Nikāyas the place of jhāna on the Buddhist path is so
central that there are no solid grounds for doubting that jhāna is
required for arahantship of any kind.16 It follows
that, from a sutta perspective, there is no basis for seeing any ambiguity in
the idea of the wisdom-liberated arahant. The rest of this critique will
provide detailed reasons for this conclusion.
Before pointing out suttas that might be read as allowing for the attainment of
arahantship without jhāna, Ven. Bodhi clarifies how he understands
central concepts and passages in the Nikāyas that otherwise would seem to oppose
this idea. The most important of these is the concept of sammāsamādhi.
P.57,25: If we rely upon these texts, taking them literally, it would follow
that any monk liberated by wisdom must have attained all four jhānas.17
Such a conclusion, however, would be extreme, for other texts equally
authoritative recognize the possibility of attaining arahantship on the basis of
Here Ven. Bodhi is in effect arguing that the standard sutta definition of
sammāsamādhi as the four jhānas need not be taken literally. At a
later point, he refers to certain suttas as suggesting that one may be able to
practice the Buddhist path to its end without a single experience of jhāna.18
For this to be possible one or both of the following two propositions must be
true: either sammāsamādhi is not limited to the four jhānas and
includes pre-jhāna samādhi or it is redundant for certain types of
Let us look at the second proposition first. The problem here is that the idea
of sammāsamādhi being redundant is a plain contradiction of the suttas.
The most obvious reason for this is that the path to awakening has precisely
eight factors.19 If one removes sammāsamādhi
one no longer has an eightfold path, and thus this cannot be a path to
awakening. In my opinion this is an insurmountable obstacle and, as I intend to
show, it is an opinion firmly supported by a number of sutta passages.20
What about the proposition that sammāsamādhi includes pre-jhānic
forms of samādhi? Sammāsamādhi is universally defined as the four
jhānas. There is very little if any sutta evidence to suggest that this
definition may be expanded, particularly in the direction of pre-jhāna
samādhi.21 In the end, to take sammāsamādhi
as including pre-jhāna samādhi is little more than speculation.
In light of this, one of my basic assumptions in the subsequent discussion will
be that wherever sammāsamādhi occurs one can freely substitute the four
jhānas. Before moving on, however, we must investigate the remaining
question of whether the definition of sammāsamādhi should be taken
literally as saying that all four jhānas are required for
The suttas Ven. Bodhi uses to back his argument22
all show that one can attain arahantship (and thus become wisdom-liberated) by
attaining any one of the four jhānas and then contemplating it to gain
insight. The point of these suttas seems to be that one first attains a jhāna
any jhāna and then immediately or soon afterwards investigates
it. These suttas do not say, however, this is the first time one attains
a jhāna. It is therefore quite possible, even if one bases ones insight
contemplation on a lower jhāna, that one has attained the higher
jhānas, including the fourth, at an earlier point.23
Thus it can be argued, without contradicting these suttas, that attaining all
four jhānas is required before the attainment of arahantship.
Still, it is perhaps more natural to read the suttas referred to by Ven. Bodhi
as saying that any jhāna attainment may be sufficient to serve as a
foundation for insight leading to arahantship, irrespective of previous jhāna
attainments. How then can one explain that sammāsamādhi is defined as
the four jhānas? Even if some meditators are able to reach arahantship
based on the first jhāna alone, it seems clear that other meditators
would need to ascend to the higher jhānas, some all the way to the
fourth. This is because the higher the jhāna the more power it has to
give the desired result.24 Thus, as one ascends to
the higher jhānas the task of developing insight becomes progressively
easier. It would seem, therefore, that although it may be possible to gain full
awakening based on the first jhāna alone, some meditators would require
one or more of the higher jhānas.25 Given
that the suttas treat the noble eightfold path as universal, and given that at
least some meditators would require the fourth jhāna, it follows that the
definition of sammāsamādhi must comprise all four jhānas.
Understanding sammāsamādhi in this way allows one both to take its
definition literally and to avoid any inconsistency with other suttas.
Finally, it would seem possible to understand the sammāsamādhi definition
to mean that each one of the jhānas in its own right constitutes
sammāsamādhi.26 This way of understanding
sammāsamādhi is perhaps the one that is easiest to square with those suttas
that show the attainment of arahantship based on any one of the jhānas.27
3. Netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati
Having explained how, in his view, sammāsamādhi may accommodate the idea
of arahantship without jhāna, Ven. Bodhi next turns to MN64 to explain
how this sutta may be interpreted to allow for the same idea.
P.59,13: If the above words that anyone, without relying on that path, shall
know or see or abandon the five lower fetters, this is impossible are
taken as categorical, there is indeed no possibility at all that an arahant
liberated by wisdom can be destitute of the first jhāna.28
[He then goes on to propose that they do not need to be taken as categorical,
The passage from MN64 quoted here by Ven. Bodhi is one of the most important in
the Nikāyas for deciding the place of jhāna on the Buddhist path. It is
therefore necessary to be as clear as one can about what it means.
The Pali phrase here translated as this is impossible, netaṃ ṭhānaṃ
vijjati, literally means this case does not exist. The immediate
impression is certainly that this is a categorical statement. This impression is
reinforced by a general knowledge of how this phrase is used on the numerous
occasions it is found in the suttas. Nowhere, to the best of my knowledge, does
this expression allow for exceptions. Indeed, in the present instance the
statement is accompanied by a simile that makes it as clear as can be that no
exception is envisaged:
Just as when, Ānanda, 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, so too, Ānanda, there is a path, a way to the abandoning
of the five lower fetters; that anyone, without relying on that path, on that
way, should know or see or abandon the five lower fetters, this is impossible.30
Ven. Bodhi next argues that MN64 may not be as categorical as it appears:
P.60,5: We should remember that, while the suttas are remarkably consistent
with each other, they are not rigidly so, and one can often find in some texts
exceptions made to principles apparently laid down as categorical in other
As a generalisation I would tend to agree that the suttas are not rigidly
consistent. But this does not mean that they do not contain any categorical
statements. Indeed, as far as I am aware, when any statement is combined with
the phrase netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati it is precisely such a case.31
If the presence of netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati means a statement is
categorical, then any sutta passage that appears to contradict such a statement
can only be considered a genuine contradiction if it is clear, unambiguous and
incapable of being interpreted in a way that agrees with the categorical
statement. This is significant for the validity of Ven. Bodhis arguments that I
quote in sections 6 and 7 below. These arguments are based on sutta passages
that do not amount to clear and unambiguous statements, and they are therefore
incapable of being categorised as genuine contradictions to statements such as
the one quoted above from MN64. Rather, as I will show below, it is quite
straightforward and natural to interpret them in line with MN64.
In sum, I cannot see how the passage quoted by Ven. Bodhi from MN64 can be
interpreted except categorically. And, as Ven. Bodhi himself admits, this leads
to the inevitable conclusion that jhāna is an absolute requirement for
the attainment of arahantship.
4. Support for MN64 from Other Suttas32
Not only is it virtually impossible to view the above passage from MN64 as
anything but categorical, but the position of MN64 is supported by other suttas.
Just as categorical is AN6:68:
not having fulfilled right concentration (ie, jhāna), one will
abandon the fetters (ie, attain arahantship), this case does not exist.33
In the Aṅguttara-nikāya we find several suttas that state that the anāgāmī
has fulfilled samādhi.34 It would seem
highly likely that fulfilment of samādhi should be a reference to
jhāna. However, if any doubt should remain, each of these suttas introduces
the discussion by mentioning the training in the higher mind. Thus it seems
clear that the fulfilment of samādhi is equivalent to the training in the
higher mind. At AN3:88 the training in the higher mind is defined precisely as
the four jhānas.35
5. Is Jhāna Perhaps Lokuttarajjhāna?
Sometimes the Abhidhamma concept of lokuttarajjhāna is brought forward as
a potential substitute for ordinary jhāna. If lokuttarajjhāna is
able to take the place of jhāna on the path, then it is quite obvious
that jhāna, in its normal sense, is no longer required. In this
connection Ven. Bodhi says the following:
P.59,16 + 59,26: It will not suffice, either, to appeal to the Abhidhamma
distinction between form-sphere (rūpāvacara) and supramundane (lokuttara)
[since it] draw[s] upon modes of analysis derived from a later
phase of Theravāda Buddhist thought.
Certainly the Abhidhamma is derived from a later phase of Theravāda Buddhist
thought, and I therefore agree that it is prudent not to use its particular
methodology to interpret the suttas. But in the case of MN64 it is possible to
be much more specific.
In MN64 each jhāna is described in the standard way and then contemplated
in terms of the three characteristics.36 According
to the Abhidhamma method, however, lokuttarajjhāna is nothing less than
the realization of Nibbāna, and thus the characteristics of suffering and
impermanence do not apply.37 Thus, as far as MN64
is concerned, one can reach a much firmer conclusion than Ven. Bodhi does: the
Abhidhamma concept of supramundane jhāna is clearly not relevant.38
6. The Suttas Used by Ven. Bodhi to Support His Argument
Having shown how, in his opinion, concepts and passages that are normally taken
to affirm the importance of jhāna on the path in fact may be regarded as
allowing for arahantship without jhāna, Ven. Bodhi next presents suttas
and passages that he regards as implying, or even overtly hinting, that
arahantship can be achieved without jhāna.
P.60,2: Although the words of the Mahāmāluṅkya-sutta [MN64] quoted above might
seem to rule out the possibility that those destitute of jhāna can
achieve arahantship, several texts scattered across the Nikāyas hint that this
conclusion would be a bit stern.
Here Ven. Bodhi is suggesting there are suttas that contradict MN64. Since this
is an important part of his argument, I will go through Ven. Bodhis
interpretation of these several texts in some detail.
This sutta describes four modes of practice that lead to realization.40
Two of these modes are based on jhāna practice and two on five specific
contemplations. Ven. Bodhi then argues that a practitioner who relies on one of
the latter two modes may have little or no acquaintance with jhāna. There
are several problems with this suggestion.
The first problem is that this sutta, taken literally, does not in fact contrast
one who relies on contemplation with any jhāna attainer, but with someone
who attains all four jhānas. There is thus room for the one who
relies on contemplation to attain any of the first three jhānas and still
not fall into the category of the one who relies on jhāna. If this is
granted, the difference between the practitioners described in A4:163 is not as
hard and fast as it might seem at first glance. However, even if this is not
granted, there are further problems with Ven. Bodhis suggestion.
An important point about this sutta is that its description of the practice that
leads to realization is very brief. The first of the four modes of practice
occupies no more than ten lines in the Pali text. A full description of the
practice that leads to realization, by contrast, such as the standard paradigm
known as the gradual training, typically occupies 4-5 pages.41
The text describing the training found in AN4:163 consequently occupies less
than one fifteenth of the standard description.
Once this is appreciated it becomes clear that the description in AN4:163 is
equivalent to no more than a tiny extract of the full gradual training. It
follows that the purpose of this text cannot possibly be to give a complete
picture of the training; its purpose, rather, is to focus on one particular
aspect, an aspect which in this case is central to a particular persons
progress on the path. Thus, while it is true that jhāna is not
specifically mentioned for this person, neither is virtue, sense restraint,
contentment, the abandoning of the five hindrances, or the three higher
knowledges,42 each one of which either invariably
or often is part of the gradual training. The fact, therefore, that the first
mode of practice in this sutta does not explicitly mention jhāna does not
in any way imply that the practice described should be understood as excluding
That the jhānas are part of the practice for the person who relies on the
five contemplations is further supported by the fact that all the practitioners
described in this sutta are said to possess the samādhi of the five
faculties. However, Ven. Bodhi thinks there is a way around this:
P.60,29: It is true that the definition ascribes to this practitioner the five
faculties, among them the faculty of concentration, sometimes defined by the
jhāna formula. It is likely, however, that this practitioner has merely a
facile acquaintance with jhāna or even none at all
To back this statement Ven. Bodhi notes that there is an alternative definition
of the faculty of concentration which does not mention the four jhānas
and that this could be the definition intended for the first type of
practitioner found in this sutta.44 Because the
practitioners mentioned in AN4:163 progress all the way to the end of the path,45
Ven. Bodhis suggestion implies that this same alternative definition of the
samādhindriya applies from the moment one first acquires it until one
reaches full awakening.46 Before we can evaluate
whether this is reasonable we will have to take a closer look at how the
indriyas evolve during the course of practice and also investigate the
alternative definition of the faculty of concentration.
As far as the evolution of the indriyas is concerned, it is clear from
the suttas that as one advances in the Buddhist training the spiritual faculties
are continuously strengthened. A number of suttas in the Indriya-saṃyutta,
SN48:12-18,47 make it clear that as one proceeds on
the Buddhist path, starting with the attainment of saddhānusārī48
and ending with arahantship, the five faculties are strengthened with every
single attainment on the way. It seems reasonable to conclude that there must be
a considerable gulf in the strength of the faculties, including the
samādhindriya, between a saddhānusārī and an arahant.49
Next we turn to the alternative definition of the samādhi faculty.50
Since Ven. Bodhi is arguing that this alternative definition may be applicable
for a practitioner who practices all the way to arahantship without jhāna,
it is clear that he considers it possible that it may consist entirely of pre-jhāna
samādhi. That is, it does not have to consist of just pre-jhāna
samādhi, but in certain circumstances it may. But such pre-jhāna samādhi
is already close to first jhāna. As with first jhāna it only
occurs when the hindrances are absent.51 Moreover,
all types of pre-jhāna samādhi share a weaker version of the five
jhāna factors with first jhāna.52
Combining these two findings - that the arahant has a samādhi
faculty considerably stronger than the saddhānusārī and that even the
least form of samādhi is already close to jhāna - it is virtually
inconceivable that an arahant should not possess jhāna. This makes
it highly improbable that the samādhi faculty could consist of pre-jhānic
samādhi from the moment it is acquired all the way to full awakening, as
implied by Ven. Bodhi.
Ven. Bodhi adds one final argument in his discussion of this sutta:
P.61,3: [Since the five contemplations are contrasted with jhāna
meditation then] [f]or the contrast to be meaningful, one would have to conclude
either that the meditator on the painful path has no experience of jhāna
or that he assigns jhāna to a subordinate place in his practice.53
I have already argued at some length that the option no experience of jhāna
is directly contradicted by a number of suttas. But even Ven. Bodhis
alternative conclusion that the meditator assigns jhāna to a subordinate
place in his practice might be misleading. It is clear from the suttas that
different people may adopt different emphases in their practice, for example in
regard to vipassanā and samatha.54
However, these differences may not just be a matter of assignment or choice.
As is amply testified in the Nikāyas, different people have different strengths
and proclivities: using the present discussion as an example, for some people
contemplation may come more naturally than deep meditation. It is not so much
that they see jhāna as subordinate in their practice but rather that
they, by default, emphasize what comes most naturally to them.55
In sum, as I see it, the point of AN4:163 is to show the primary
meditation activity of specific meditators, not an exclusive type of practice.
In this way, I hold, the contrast between the different types of meditators
described in AN4:163 is still fully meaningful.
This sutta also contrasts the jhānas with the same five contemplations.
As far as the present discussion is concerned this sutta is virtually identical
with AN4:163. As such, all the above arguments put forward against Ven. Bodhis
interpretation of that sutta are equally valid for this one.
These three suttas are similar to the first and second types of practice
mentioned in AN4:163+169 in that they show the practice of the five
contemplations and then the realization of arahantship. But they differ from
AN4:163+169 in that they do not mention the five powers of a trainee or the five
spiritual faculties. Thus they are even simpler in structure. The argument that
one cannot expect all the factors of the path to appear in a sutta as short as
AN4:163 is even more valid for the present three suttas: the only practice they
mention are the five contemplations. Just as in the case of AN4:163, it is
obvious that these five do not in themselves describe a full path. Important and
necessary path factors such as virtue, sense restraint, mindfulness, and
samādhi are not mentioned at all.
How then should these three suttas be understood? The first thing to note is
that this type of sutta, describing how a single aspect of the path leads all
the way to arahantship, is quite common in the Nikāyas. In a number of suttas in
the Iddhipāda-saṃyutta, the four iddhipādas on their own are said to lead
to arahantship.58 At SN49:35-54 the same is said of
the four right efforts.59 At AN3:163 it is
suññata samādhi, animitta samādhi, and appaṇihita samādhi that
should be developed for arahantship.60 At AN6:122
it is the six recollections, and at AN8:91 the eight bases of transcendence.61
In all the above instances it seems clear enough that the qualities mentioned
cannot in their own right represent the entire path to arahantship. I would
therefore again suggest that these suttas represent the main area of
striving for a particular meditator. The early parts of the path such as virtue
and sense restraint are presumably assumed to be already firmly established. The
results of these practices which might include all the jhānas and the
four stages of awakening would then be subsumed under the final purpose of
arahantship. If the suttas AN5:69-71 are interpreted in this way, then the fact
that they do not mention jhāna is not relevant for whether jhāna
is required before attaining arahantship.
Alternatively, some of these brief suttas can perhaps be explained as an
expansion of the terminology to include aspects of the path not usually included
within these terms. For example, the usual explanation of the four right efforts
as the striving to overcome the unwholesome and develop the wholesome could, at
least in theory, be expanded to include virtue, the satipaṭṭhānas, the
jhānas, and even the stages of awakening. A similar sort of expansion would
seem to be possible for the six recollections and perhaps the iddhipādas.
As for the five contemplations mentioned at AN5:69-71, it would seem clear
enough that they are intended to lead to greater and greater detachment from the
world of sensual experience, kāmaloka. One of the main prerequisites for
samādhi and jhāna is specifically aloofness from the sensual
world,62 and thus one is here creating the
foundation for these attainments to occur. Later on, the same contemplations
would lead to even further detachment until, with the help of the jhānas,
they give rise to arahantship. Thus, taken very broadly, there seems to be no
reason why the five contemplations cannot be understood to include both the
jhānas as well as the first three stages of awakening.
This sutta describes four types of eminent ascetics. Ven. Bodhi compares two of
these, the red-lotus ascetic (the arahant who has attained the eight
vimokkhas) and the white-lotus ascetic (the one who has not), to argue
that the latter one does not appear to possess any of the jhānas.
However, there are at least two problems with this suggestion.
Firstly, Ven. Bodhis argument relies on understanding the first three
vimokkhas, or one or two among them, as equivalent to the four jhānas.
But it is not obvious that this is the case. The way the vimokkhas are
worded gives the impression that they are specific states based on a type of
liberation (vimokkha) that is achieved by cultivating very specific
perceptions. Using the commentarial explanation,64
they are specific perceptions used to achieve jhāna. Alternatively, they
can perhaps be regarded as perceptions that are developed after jhāna. In
either case it is likely that these perceptions leave an impact on the mind - a
liberation - beyond the experience of the simple jhāna. Thus, although
the exact nature of the vimokkhas will have to remain speculative, their
very specific wording points to a type of liberation different from, or
additional to, that of jhāna.65
A second and more powerful reason why we cannot place much emphasis on AN4:87 in
the present debate, is that Ven. Bodhi may have misconstrued the Pali. The
crucial point here is to decide what is meant by the white-lotus ascetic not
having attained the eight vimokkhas and the red-lotus ascetic having
attained them. Ven. Bodhi evidently takes the first of these not to have any
of the eight vimokkhas and the second to have one or more of them.66
But it is unclear to me why Ven. Bodhi reads the Pali in this way. If we take
the red-lotus ascetic first, the Pali quite literally says that he has directly
experienced the eight vimokkhas.67 I
contend that in normal English usage this means that he has attained all
eight vimokkhas.68 Indeed, this
understanding is supported by a passage in DN15 which is quite clear that the
ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant has all eight vimokkhas.69
If the red-lotus ascetic has attained all eight vimokkhas then it would
seem reasonable to take the white-lotus ascetic as having attained not all
eight. Indeed, this is a reasonable reading of the Pali, which states that he
has not directly experienced the eight vimokkhas.70
The implication is that the white-lotus ascetic, and therefore also the
paññāvimutta arahant, can possess any of the first seven vimokkhas,
but not the eighth.71 If this is correct then the
whole problem surrounding AN4:87 falls away.
7. The Susīma-sutta
Of the suttas that Ven. Bodhi quotes to back his argument that I have so far
investigated, none directly mentions the paññāvimutta arahant. In the
Susīma-sutta, however, the paññāvimutta arahant is centre stage, and
consequently this is Ven. Bodhis main exihibit.
P.55,18: It is intriguing that Susīmas questions do not pry into any
attainments that the monks might possess below the level of the formless
P.62,29: The absence of the questions accomplishes two things
it deftly hints that these monks did not have the jhānas. If the
intention of the sutta were otherwise, Susīma could have asked about the
jhānas, and the monks could have said, Some of us attain one jhāna,
some attain two, some attain three, and some attain all four. But by passing
over this issue in silence, they discreetly imply that they do not attain the
jhānas at all.
It seems that Ven. Bodhi considers the absence of the jhāna question as
intriguing and as a deft hint because Susīma asks about a whole range of
high attainments but not the jhānas. Ven. Bodhi is suggesting,
presumably, that the jhānas are conspicuous by their absence.
But this way of looking at this issue assumes that there is more in common
between these high attainments and the jhānas than what separates them.
If it could be shown that the jhānas should be regarded as quite distinct
from the other attainments, then their absence might be easy to explain. And
indeed, there are good reasons for placing the jhānas in a quite separate
category from the attainments that Susīma actually asks about.
The paramount thing that makes the jhānas different is that they are a
central factor of the path to awakening. The jhānas are included in the
most important sets of qualities that take one to awakening, such as the
eightfold path, the factors of awakening, and the spiritual faculties. They are
part of the standard description of the path to awakening, that is, the gradual
training. In addition to this they occur on numerous occasions throughout the
suttas as an aspect of the Buddhist practice.72
From Susīmas point of view one might perhaps just as well ask about the
necessity of virtue, effort, or mindfulness as to ask about the jhānas.
On the other hand, none of the high attainments mentioned in the Susīma-sutta is
a central factor on the path.73 They are also much
rarer in the suttas overall.74 It follows that the
jhānas are in a completely different category from the other attainments.
This, in my opinion, is why Susīma did not ask about them: if he knew anything
at all about the Buddhas teachings, which seems highly likely,75
he would almost certainly have heard about the jhānas being an important
part of the path.76
Additionally or alternatively, as Ven. Bodhi himself suggests, it could simply
be that Susīma measured spiritual accomplishment in terms of special powers.77
Thus he may have thought that one could not possibly make any spiritual claims
without having attained any of them. The Buddhist idea that the destruction of
all defilements and the ending of rebirth is the highest achievement may have
been difficult for outsiders to grasp.
The Chinese Versions of the Susīma-sutta
An interesting question that Ven. Bodhi considers in some detail is whether any
of the Chinese versions of the Susīma-sutta might be more original than the
Pali.78 If such a version can be found then it is
this, rather than the Pali, that needs a reasonable interpretation. Which of the
Chinese versions, if any, is likely to be more ancient than the Pali? In this I
follow Ven. Bodhis suggestion that the Mahāsāṅghika version of the Susīma-sutta,
found in the Mahāsāṅghika-vinaya,79 is likely to be
more original than the Sarvāstivāda version.80
Moreover, I take it as likely that this version is more ancient than the Pali
due to its simpler structure.81 Thus, I will now
turn to the Mahāsāṅghika version and see if it is able to shed any light on why
Susīma did not ask the monks about their attainments of jhāna.
In the Mahāsāṅghika version, as in the Pali, Susīma hears a number of monks
declare arahantship in the presence of the Buddha. He then asks these monks
whether they have acquired various attainments, again parallelling the Pali. A
significant difference from the Pali, however, is that in Mahāsāṅghika version
Susīma only asks about three things: the divine eye, the recollection of past
lives and the formless emancipations.82 The
arguments from the previous section, that the jhānas are in a different
category from the attainments Susīma actually asks about and that Susīma may
have measured spiritual accomplishment in terms of special powers, are also
valid for this version of the sutta. But how might one understand the
Mahāsāṅghika version considering its differences from the Pali?
The obvious explanation for Susīmas questions is that he actually thought one
or other of these attainments was required for awakening.83
For example, Susīma might have heard a version of the gradual training that
included the recollection of past lives and the divine eye before the attainment
of full awakening.84 He might also have heard a
teaching such as the nine gradual cessations85
where one reaches full awakening only after attaining each of the immaterial
attainments in succession and then the cessation of perception and feeling.86
Combining these two teachings, he may have concluded, quite reasonably, that
either one or the other would be required for full awakening to be possible.87
In sum, it seems that confusion about the Buddhas teaching could in numerous
ways have led to Susīmas misunderstanding. And there might even be other
explanations for Susīmas ideas. In general, it is not difficult to find
plausible reasons why Susīma questioned the monks in exactly the way he did. But
my main point is that, instead of seeing the lack of inquiry into the jhānas
as intriguing or as a deft hint, such a lack should be expected since it
seems highly likely that Susīma would have known about the jhānas as a
path factor and therefore could not have doubted that they were required for
awakening to occur.88
8. Conclusion and Summary
If the suttas are understood as I have proposed in this critique, Ven. Bodhis
understanding on p.75,4 that But as I read it, even the older version of the
sutta, S 12:70 and perhaps too M-Vin, originally intended to establish the
possibility of arahantship without jhānas becomes difficult to sustain.
The evidence throughout the Nikāyas points to jhāna as an indispensable
path factor, particularly so for the attainment of arahantship. Any passages
that might be regarded as minority voices are ambiguous and easily interpreted
in such a way that they fit with the clear majority position. It follows that in
the Nikāyas paññāvimutta refers to an arahant who is liberated
after attaining, at the very least, first jhāna.
To summarize, I have given the following arguments in support of this:
In the Nikāyas sammāsamādhi is always equivalent to the four jhānas.
Any suggestion that sammāsamādhi also includes pre-jhānic samādhi
is speculation, in my opinion.
The jhāna of the suttas, particularly in MN64, cannot be understood as
The suttas which indicate that jhāna is required as a foundation for
attaining arahantship are unequivocal and do not allow for exceptions.
None of the suttas Ven. Bodhi presents as suggesting the possibility of
arahantship without jhāna, including the Susīma-sutta, are clear and
unambiguous. Given that they can be interpreted one way or the other, they have
to fall into line with the dominant, and at times categorical, position in the
Nikāyas that jhāna is required for awakening.
I would propose that all the above can be summarized in the answer to a single
question: Would anyone, without any knowledge of post-Nikāya Buddhist
literature, ever conceive of the idea of arahantship without jhāna purely
by reading the Pali suttas? To me it seems clear that the answer to this
question must be no.
9. Postscript: Jhāna and Sotāpatti
We have seen there is strong evidence in the Nikāyas that jhāna is
required before the attainment of arahantship. Indeed, from such suttas as MN64
it seems clear enough that this is also the case for becoming a non-returner.
But this begs a further question: at what point on the path is jhāna
required? Is it required for the attainment of stream-entry?
A thorough search of the suttas leads us to conclude that there is no
incontrovertible statement in the Nikāyas to the effect that jhāna is
required before stream-entry. Nor is there any such statement in regard to the
once-returner. The conclusion must be that we have solid evidence for jhāna
being an absolute necessity only for the non-returner.
But it is vital not to lose sight of what is much more important than deciding
on absolute requirements. What is really important, particularly for those who
are intent on Buddhist practice, is surely to establish what is the most natural
and effective way to reach ones desired goal. And as far as stream-entry is
concerned it is easy to show from the suttas that jhāna is a natural
stepping-stone for its achievement.
At MN68 we find that: While he still does not attain to the rapture and
pleasure that are secluded from sensual pleasures and secluded from unwholesome
states, or to something more peaceful than that, covetousness
restlessness and remorse
his mind and remains.89 The rapture and pleasure
that are secluded from sensual pleasures and secluded from unwholesome states
is a reference to the first two jhānas.90
The negative qualities that invade the mind and remain are the five hindrances
plus discontent and weariness. Thus what this sutta is saying is that without
attaining a jhāna there is no stability in the abandoning of the five
hindrances and they may arise with relative ease. Now from AN5:51 it is known
that any attainment such as sotāpatti can only be achieved when the
hindrances are absent.91 Putting these two suttas
together, the significance of jhāna becomes clear.92
At DN29 the following statement is found: Then such wanderers might ask: Well
then, those who are given to these four types of pleasure-seeking (ie, the four
jhānas93) - how many fruits, how many
benefits can they expect? And you should reply: They can expect four fruits,
four benefits. 94 The text then goes on to list
the four stages of awakening.95
But probably the most powerful indication of the importance of jhāna for
sotāpatti is the commonly occurring sequence of conditionality sometimes
known as transcendental dependent arising. In this sequence samādhi or
sammāsamādhi invariably precedes knowledge and vision of things as they
really are.96 Since by far the most important form
of samādhi described in the suttas is jhāna,97
and since knowledge and vision of things as they really are is required for
realizing sotāpatti, this comes close to saying that jhāna is
required for stream-entry.
None of the above quotes requires absolutely that jhāna be attained
before sotāpatti. At the same time they leave little doubt that jhāna
is highly desirable. And this, it seems to me, is really the important
point: at best, not attaining jhāna is going to make the attainment of
stream-entry much more difficult; for certain meditators it may even make it
There is also another way of looking at this question. Firstly, one needs to
take into account that one of the important principles used in the suttas is
gradualness: the suttas always start off with the more basic training and then
stage by stage show the attainment of states of mind that are more and more
lofty. This has an important consequence for what is more natural to attain
first, jhāna or sotāpatti. To attain jhāna one has
temporarily to leave behind the world of sensory objects, kāmaloka.
Kāmaloka is the lower of the three worlds constituting saṃsāra. But
to become a sotāpanna one has to see all five khandhas as
subject to the three characteristics and thereby temporarily leave behind
saṃsāra altogether.99 Thus, from the
perspective of the gradualness of the path, it seems very clear that attaining
jhāna is easier, probably much easier, than attaining stream-entry. It
follows that the idea of attaining sotāpatti before jhāna,
although perhaps possible under special circumstances,100
goes against the general philosophy propounded by the Nikāyas.101
A Red Herring
As a final point I want to briefly address the practical consequences of the
present debate for someone attempting to follow the practice prescribed by the
It seems to me that the entire discussion of whether jhāna is required or
not is at best devoid of practical consequences, at worst harmful. To see this,
consider the following. The noble eightfold path is the path to awakening, to
arahantship. Somewhere along that path, before attaining arahantship, one has to
reach jhāna and sotāpatti. There is no absolute statement in the
suttas as to which one of these one has to reach first. The correct way of
practicing, therefore, is simply to practice the eightfold path including both
samatha and vipassanā and let jhāna and sotāpatti
happen in their natural order, whatever that may be.102
If based on the present discussion one were to decide that jhāna is not
necessary before sotāpatti and therefore to deliberately avoid it as
seems to have happened in certain meditation circles103
- one is narrowing down the possibilities for how the path may unfold. It is not
wrong for jhāna to happen before sotāpatti, just as it is not
wrong for sotāpatti to happen before jhāna. What is wrong is to
insist that one must happen before the other. By not allowing these states to
happen naturally as outcomes of the practice, one could end up not attaining any
of them, let alone full awakening. Since for many the purpose of any discussion
of the Buddhas teachings is to clarify how one should practice, that would
indeed be a sad irony. It follows that anyone seriously interested in Buddhist
practice must be careful not to allow this whole debate to become a red herring.
Notes [Please use the default BACK button of your
browser to return.]
1 My sincere thanks are in particular due to Ven.
Bhikkhu Bodhi, who in spite being the object of this critique, gave much time to
provide detailed feedback on an earlier version. My thanks are also due to Ven.
Bhikkhu Analayo and Dr. Rupert Gethin, both of whom kindly provided much useful
feedback. [Please use the default BACK of your browser to
2 See in particular section 2 of his paper, pp.55-62.
3 I use the terms suttas and Nikāyas throughout this
critique to refer to the four main Nikāyas of the Pali canon and occasionally
other canonical texts that have parallels in other languages. I have sometimes
supplied references to parallels in the Chinese canon, in particular where
existing correspondence tables are not accurate or to give the precise location
of a small portion of text.
4 This is clear even on an immediate level: a number
of suttas are explicitly said to have been spoken by disciples of the Buddha,
some after the Buddhas passing away. Then there is the narrative aspect of the
suttas, which most likely was added by redactors. Further, the discrepancies
between parallel suttas of different textual traditions, often in different
languages, makes it clear that the suttas have undergone a substantial number of
minor changes, and sometimes major changes, in the course of history. Also, a
number of suttas in each textual tradition do not have parallels in the other
traditions. This could point to a late date for the authorship of these suttas.
5 For example, he often speaks of the influence of
the redactors on the formation of suttas.
6 Without going into details, it seems clear enough
that there are minor inconsistencies between suttas, sometimes even within the
same sutta. But these discrepancies are of such an insignificant nature that
they do not affect the main doctrinal positions.
7 In his book The Buddhist Path to Awakening Dr.
Rupert Gethin tries, among other things, to show consistency of doctrine not
only within the suttas, but also between the suttas and later Pali literature.
With a few possible exceptions, he seems to have been successful in that
8 Cattāro mahāpadesa: DN16/DN II 123-126 and
AN4:180/AN II 167ff.
9 Moreover, this would have been reinforced by such
institutions as the bhāṇaka tradition. This tradition of having groups of monks
responsible for memorising sections of the canon would have ensured that
unorthodox views and erroneous recollection were weeded out.
10 Here, and in the following discussion, I refer to
page and line numbers of Ven. Bodhis article as it appears in the PTS Journal.
11 The ambiguity referred to concerns whether jhāna
is required prior to becoming a wisdom-liberated arahant.
12 Such as the supernormal powers or special
attainments in samādhi, particularly the immaterial attainments.
13 See for example the standard phrase for attaining
arahantship at MN6/MN I 35,26-36,1: āsavānaṃ khayā cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ
diṭṭhe va dhamme sayaṃ abhiññāya sacchikatvā upasampajja vihareyyan ti. It
should be noted that it is paññāvimutti which is the indicator of arahantship
here, not cetovimutti. Cetovimutti has a much wider usage in the suttas,
particularly as a term for deep samādhi.
14 It should be noted, however, that it is usually
paññāvimutti that is used in the most general sense while paññāvimutta is
normally used in the more restricted sense discussed below. Despite this
difference in usage the two terms are so similar that I take them to be
15 See MN70/MN I 477,25-478,1.
16 For details on this centrality see section 7
below. [Please use the default BACK of your browser to
I would propose that the ambiguity perceived by Ven. Bodhi in the meaning of
paññāvimutta is the outcome of the discussion in later Buddhist texts, in
particular the commentaries. It seems to be generally accepted that part of the
Abhidhamma and commentarial projects is to clarify any ambiguities and fill
perceived lacunae in the original Nikāyas. Quite apart from the moot point of
the extent to which the Abhidhamma and commentaries actually succeed in this, it
seems clear that they actually create a number of previously non-existent
ambiguities, including the one in paññāvimutta.
17 Ven. Bodhi is referring to texts where the
sammāsamādhi of the eightfold path, and also other central occurrences of
samādhi, is defined as the four jhānas.
18 See in particularly his comments at p.60,2-8.
19 Of particular interest here is the well-known
verse from the Dhammapada which states that there is no path to awakening apart
from the eightfold path (Dhp. 274). There are at least four existing parallels
to this verse: T IV 572a18-19 in the Chinese version of the Dharmapada; T IV
766b29-c1 in the Chinese version of the Udāna-varga; verse 360 of the Patna
Dhammapada (Cone 1989); and verse 12.11 in the Sanskrit Udāna-varga (in Franz
1965, according to communication from Ven. Bhikkhu Anālayo).
20 See sections 3 and 4 below.
21 The most common argument that sammāsamādhi may be
broader than the four jhānas is to point to an alternative definition
occasionally encountered in the suttas. This definition equates ariya
sammāsamādhi with the one-pointedness of mind that is equipped with the other
seven factors of the noble eightfold path (eg, at MN117/MN III 71,16). Yet this
definition does not say anything about the contents of this samādhi. The only
place where such a content is given is AN5:28/AN III 25-27 and it is no surprise
that this content is precisely the four jhānas plus a fifth item:
paccavekkhanānimittaṃ suggahitaṃ hoti sumanasikataṃ sūpadhāritaṃ suppaṭividdhaṃ
paññāya. Despite the fifth factor, this reinforces our understanding of
sammāsamādhi as the four jhānas.
For the sake of completeness we also need to briefly investigate the nature of
the paccavekkhanānimitta. Firstly, this concept occurs nowhere else in the
Nikāyas. On this basis alone I think it is reasonable to disregard it also in
the present context. However, if I should make an attempt at pinning this term
down, I would suggest that for the present purposes the most important point is
that it appears to be a post-jhāna type of samādhi. This is so because the
suttas almost invariably have a graduated structure (according to AN5:159/AN III
184,18 this is how Dhamma should be taught) and here paccavekkhanānimitta comes
after the four jhānas. Moreover, this interpretation seems to be supported by
the commentarial definition of suggahitaṃ:
tena jhānavipassanāmaggā suṭṭhu
, the ways of insight into jhāna (or perhaps the ways of jhāna
and vipassanā) are well grasped by him (Mp III 235,15). This could mean, then,
that ariya sammāsamādhi includes the four jhānas as well as post-jhāna samādhi.
There is no indication, however, that sammāsamādhi might include pre-jhāna
samādhi. [Please use the default BACK of your browser to
22 AN9:36, MN52, and MN64, respectively mentioned by
Ven. Bodhi on p.58,3; p.58,11; and p.59,1.
23 Two questions might be asked concerning this: If
the meditator has attained the four jhānas in the past, why is he now satisfied
with attaining a lower one? And why does he not contemplate the highest jhāna he
has attained, ie, the fourth jhāna? The answer to the first question is simply
that ones ability to attain any state of samādhi will vary from time to time
depending on all sorts of conditions. (The suttas provide several examples of
this, eg, AN9:35/AN IV 418-22 and SN4:23/SN I 120-2.) Just because one has
attained the fourth jhāna before does not mean that one can re-attain this jhāna
at will. The answer to the second question could be that one needs the jhāna
freshly in mind to be able to contemplate it successfully, ie, in order to
One might then perhaps pose a third question: What purpose does the previous
attainment of the fourth jhāna serve if one bases ones insight contemplation on
a lower jhāna? The answer to this will have to be speculative, but it seems to
me that a past attainment could well exert some influence over ones later
contemplation. Perhaps such past attainment gives one a broader understanding of
the mind, maybe a type of wisdom, which then helps yield results when one
contemplates a lower jhāna.
24 That each jhāna is more powerful than the
previous one can be seen for example in the standard description of the fourth
jhāna as upekhāsatipārisuddhi, purification of mindfulness by equanimity. In
other words, it is only when one attains the fourth jhāna that mindfulness
reaches its peak. That the jhānas are progressively more powerful is also
implicit in the gradual development of the jhānas, whereby each successive jhāna
builds on the previous one.
25 In fact, since the enumeration of all four jhānas
is so common in the suttas, I would contend that the practice of all four
constitutes the standard and most common path to arahantship.
26 It seems that sammāsati, the seventh factor of
the noble eightfold path, must be understood in the same way. Sammāsati is
defined as the four satipaṭṭhānas, and in MN118 it seems clear enough that each
satipaṭṭhāna in its own right, when practiced fully, has the ability to lead to
full liberation. Thus it seems that each and every satipaṭṭhāna on its own has
the potential to fulfil sammāsati.
27 Such as MN64, see section 3 below.
28 The text quoted by Ven. Bodhi is found at MN64/MN
29 Or perhaps that the statement in MN64 is
categorical but that there are alternative views elsewhere.
30 MN64/MN I 434,28-35: seyyathāpi, ānanda, mahato
rukkhassa tiṭṭhato sāravato tacaṃ chetvā phegguṃ chetvā sāracchedo bhavissatīti
netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati; evameva kho Ānanda yo maggo yā paṭipadā pañcannaṃ
orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ pahānāya taṃ maggaṃ taṃ paṭipadaṃ anāgamma
pañcorambhāgiyāni saṃyojanāni ñassati vā dakkhīti vā pajahissati vā ti netaṃ
31 Moreover, the present situation is perhaps unique
in that it supplies a simile whose only purpose seems to be to show that no
exception is allowed.
32 For further references concerning the importance
of jhāna for attaining arahantship, see Anālayo 2003: pp.79-85.
33 AN III 423,4-6: Sammāsamādhiṃ aparipūretvā
saṃyojanāni pajahissatī ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.
Note that this sutta, like MN64, uses netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati. The commentary to
this sutta states that sammāsamādhi (jhāna) in this case refers to supramundane
jhāna (lokuttarajjhāna). However, I have elsewhere tried to show that this
interpretation is untenable from a sutta point of view; see Brahmāli Bhikkhu
2007, pp.83-85. See also Ven. Bodhis own rejection of such commentarial
interpretation at p.59,16, and my discussion below in section 5.
[Please use the default BACK of your browser to return.]
34 AN3:85/AN I 232,12-20; AN3:86/AN I 233,22-36; and
AN9:12/AN IV 308,1-4+8-13: samādhismiṃ paripūrakārī.
A Chinese parallel is found at SĀ822/T II 211a23-28.
35 AN I 235,21-24: Katamā ca bhikkhave
adhicittasikkhā? Idha bhikkhave bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi
upasampajja viharati. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave adhicittasikkhā.
The same definition is also found at AN3:89/AN I 235,37-236,2. The Chinese
parallels SĀ817+832 contain the same definition.
36 The contemplation of the first jhāna is at MN I
435,31-35, and the contemplations of the other jhānas follow in succession.
37 This is also likely to be the reason why the
commentary to MN64 does not explain jhāna as supramundane.
38 See also Brahmali Bhikkhu 2007 where I have
argued more generally that the Abhidhamma concept of lokuttarajjhāna is not
applicable to the suttas.
39 Ven. Bodhi discusses this sutta at p.60,8.
40 This is Ven. Bodhis rendering of abhiññā or
ānantariyaṃ pāpunāti āsavānaṃ khayāya, which seem to be used synonymously in
41 See for example MN51/MN I 344,24-348,34. Some
versions are substantially longer: the one found in DN2/DN I 62,33-84,35
occupies a full 22 pages.
42 AN4:163 uses the expression ānantariyaṃ āsavānaṃ
khaya, which is not identical to any of the three higher knowledges.
43 The practitioner referred to here is the first of
the four types mentioned in AN4:163. This type of practitioner is distinguished
as one who relies on five types of contemplation for his progress on the path.
(He is also distinguished by the weakness of his faculties, but that is not
important for the present discussion.)
44 P.61,6: It could even be that an alternative
definition of the faculty of concentration found in the Indriya-saṃyutta is
intended precisely for such kind of practitioners.
It is possible, of course, that the two definitions are merely different ways of
stating the same thing, ie, that the four jhānas define the samādhindriya. (See
discussion in Gethin 2001, pp.118-119.) However, I think Ven. Bodhi may be right
to conclude that the alternative definition also encompasses a lesser form of
samādhi. This is so for the following reason. The usual definition of the
saddhindriya is given as the four factors of streamentry. That is, according to
this definition one must be at least a stream-enterer to possess the faculties.
But since also the saddhānusārī and the dhammānusārī are said to possess the
spiritual faculties, I would propose that the alternative definition has been
formulated specifically to include them. Indeed, the alternative definition is
expressed in terms of saddahati, rather than avecca pasāda, and this matches the
description of the saddhānusārī elsewhere. The saddhānusārī is described as
having saddahati that phenomena are conditioned (SN25:1-10/SN III 225/228) and
as having saddhāmatta in the Tathāgata (MN70/MN I 479,21).
45 Or very close to the end: ānantariyaṃ āsavānaṃ
khaya. [Please use the default BACK of your browser to
46 The indriyas are thus regarded as fairly static.
The same way of looking at the indriyas is also implied by Ven. Bodhis
translation of an extract of AN4:163 where he renders pātubhavanti as are
manifest (p.60,19). However, the usual translation of pātubhavati - the one
used by Ven. Bodhi himself in CDB and MLDB and the one which conforms much more
closely to the usage of pātubhavati throughout the Nikāyas - is appears. If
one adopts this standard translation there is no sense that the indriyas are
47 Close Chinese parallels are found at SĀ652/T II
183a24-b3 and SĀ653/T II 183b4-17.
48 It is at this point that the spiritual faculties
are acquired. At MN70/MN I 479,22-24 the saddhānusārī (the lowest category of
ariyapuggala) is said to possess the five faculties. The puthujjana on the other
hand is potentially completely devoid of the faculties, see SN48:18/SN V
49 The way the indriyas are used in AN4:163 might
seem unusual since they seem to appear only after the trainee powers are
acquired. Given this unusual situation, I would suggest that appears here
could refer to, not the initial appearance, but the subsequent strengthening of
the faculties. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, I believe the Pali can be
read as the trainee powers and the indriyas appearing together when the
practitioner first becomes an ariyapuggala.
It should also be noted that the faculties can remain relatively weak all the
way to arahantship. This does not imply that this person has not strengthened
his faculties during his progress on the path, but rather that despite such
strengthening his faculties are still weak compared to others at the same level.
50 On p.61,10 Ven. Bodhi translates this faculty as
follows: the concentration or one-pointedness of mind that arises having made
release the object.
51 For pre-jhāna samādhi see, eg, SN47:8/SN V 151,29
where the mind becomes concentrated when the upakkilesā are abandoned.
Upakkilesa has several shades of meaning in the suttas but here seems to refer
to refined aspects of the hindrances, in a manner similar to MN128. (In SN47:8
the meditator is already practicing satipaṭṭhāna and the coarse hindrances would
therefore already have been removed since this is a prerequisite for proper
The standard description of first jhāna includes the wording vivicceva kāmehi
vivicca akusalehi dhammehi, eg, at MN I 21,34. See also AN5:51/AN III 63,24-64,3
which makes it clear that one cannot attain any uttarimanussadhamma (which
includes jhāna) without first having abandoned the five hindrances.
52 The five jhāna factors of first jhāna are vitakka,
vicāra, pīti, sukha, and ekaggatā, see MN43/MN I 295,1-2. That pre-jhāna samādhi
possesses a weaker version of the jhāna factors can be seen from the following.
Ekaggatā is the generic definition of samādhi at MN44/MN I 301,13. Pīti and
sukha are mental qualities that arise before any form of samādhi is attained, as
can be seen from the standard sequence of transcendental dependent arising, eg,
at AN10:3/AN V 4,10. Vitakka and vicāra are the coarsest aspect of the first
jhāna. This is their last vestige before they completely disappear in second
jhāna. In any pre-jhāna samādhi vitakka and vicāra will be relatively
53 Again, note that the practice described here
leads all the way, or virtually all the way, to arahantship.
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54 See for example AN4:94, AN4:163, and AN4:170.
55 To deliberately subordinate jhāna in ones
practice would not seem wise given that jhāna in the Nikāyas has such a
prominent place on the path. Moreover, jhāna practice is proclaimed superior on
account of the happiness experienced therein, see AN4:166.
56 Ven. Bodhi discusses this sutta at p.61,12.
57 Ven. Bodhi discusses these three suttas at
58 See SN51:14/SN V 271,23-25; SN51:23/SN V
284,18-21; SN51:24/SN V 284,23-24; SN51:25/SN V 285,4-7; SN51:26/SN V 285,11-20;
SN51:31/SN V 289,1-5; and SN51:32/SN V 290,3-6.
59 SN V 246,29-248,5. The last ten of these suttas
specifically relate to the anāgāmī who is practicing to become an arahant.
60 AN I 299,15-27.
61 Respectively at AN III 452,6-10 and AN IV
62 This is clear from the standard description of
the first jhāna as vivicceva kāmehi.
63 Ven. Bodhi discusses this sutta at p.70,17.
64 See commentary to DN15 at Sv II 513,2.
65 To appreciate the apparent difference between the
vimokkhas and the jhānas, consider the third vimokkha which is described as
subhanteva adhimutto hoti. At SN46:54/SN V 119,16 we find subhaṃ vā kho
pana vimokkhaṃ upasampajja viharati, subhaparamāhaṃ bhikkhave mettācetovimuttiṃ
vadāmi. It would seem reasonable to assume that subha adhimutta is equivalent
to subha vimokkha. (Indeed, this is also the interpretation at Paṭis II 39.) Now
from the passage quoted at SN46:54 it is clear that this vimokkha is the highest
liberation that results from mettā practise. But mettācetovimutti, together with
the other three brahmāvihāras, is considered quite distinct in the suttas from
the jhānas. In fact, they seem consistently to be regarded as a higher kind of
vimokkha than the jhānas (see eg, MN52/MN I 350-352). It thus appears clear that
at least the third vimokkha is quite distinct from the jhānas.
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66 P.70,7-10. Ven. Bodhi does not actually say that
he takes the red-lotus ascetic to have one or more of the vimokkhas (rather than
all eight, see the following), but this seems to be implied by how he
understands the definition of the white-lotus ascetic.
67 AN II 87,14: aṭṭha ca vimokhe kāyena phassitvā
I translate kāyena phassitvā as directly experienced since this concerns the
mental body not the physical one.
68 I am not aware of any reason why Pali usage
should be different.
69 DN15/DN II 71,18-21.
This passage states that one is called an ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant when one
attains the eight vimokkhas in forward order, in reverse order, and in forward
and reverse order, and attains and comes out where one desires, what one
desires, and as far as one desires
. (I am assuming that the red-lotus ascetic
is equivalent to the ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant of DN15 and the white-lotus
ascetic to the paññāvimutta arahant.)
What about the definition of the ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant in MN70 as an
arahant who has attained the immaterial attainments? It seems possible that the
original reading in MN70 also referred to the eight vimokkhas rather than the
immaterial attainments, since this is what we find in its Chinese parallel
(MĀ195/T I 751b14-15). In fact, it seems that all known definitions of the
ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant, apart from the one in MN70, make use of the eight
vimokkhas (see discussion under MN70 in Anālayo forthcoming). Alternatively, the
definition in MN70 can perhaps be regarded as a weaker version of the one in
DN15. This would seem to be allowed by DN15, which specifically states that
there is no ubhatobhāgavimutta arahant beyond or more sublime than the one
described there. Thus there is apparently room for lesser such arahants who do
not possess all eight vimokkhas.
70 AN II 87,9-10: no ca kho aṭṭha vimokhe kāyena
71 I take it as given that AN4:87 should not be
interpreted as the white-lotus ascetic possessing no vimokkhas while the
red-lotus ascetic possesses all eight. This would leave a huge gap in the scheme
with all those possessing any one or more of the first seven vimokkhas excluded.
Such an interpretation would seem unlikely.
72 They are likely to be one of the most frequently
occurring of all the path factors. For a preliminary but non-exhaustive idea of
their importance see CDB, p.1489, table 7.
73 The recollection of past lives and the divine eye
are usually part of the gradual training. Apart from this, however, they do not
occur in any of the standard sets of path factors. The other three supernormal
powers (leaving out the destruction of the āsavas) are never presented as
important path factors. The immaterial attainments are sometimes included on the
path to awakening, but never in any of the standard sets or paradigms.
74 This is particularly so for the three supernormal
powers mentioned in the previous note. The immaterial attainments and the
recollection of past lives and the divine eye are relatively more common; but
the jhānas are still far more common, probably by several multiples.
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75 Otherwise he would not have been able to ask the
questions he did.
In in the Pali version of the Susīma-sutta it appears that Susīma goes to Ven.
Ānanda, receives his ordination, and asks his questions all on the same day. But
an important point to keep in mind is that the suttas are often very truncated
versions of the described events. It is impossible with any precision to guess
the actual time span even between events that are presented as consecutive. It
is conceivable, therefore, that there was a substantial time gap between
Susīmas approaching Ven. Ānanda and his questioning of the monks, and that he
would have learnt the basics of the Buddhas teaching, including the place of
jhāna on the path, during this period. In fact, in the Mahāsāṅghika version of
the sutta, Susīma is told he has to live on probation for four months before he
can be ordained (T XXII 362, c17), and the Sarvāstivāda version mentions a
two-week interval between Susīmas ordination and his questioning of the monks
(T II 97,a3).
76 Another problem with Ven. Bodhis interpretation
of the Susīma-sutta is that although he here ascribes the present appearance of
the Susīma-sutta to the redactors deft hinting, he later on (p.66,5) suggests
that the reason Susīma asked about the supernormal powers is because they would
have been regarded as particularly useful to impress gullible lay devotees.
With this latter suggestion Ven. Bodhi is arguing that the incident goes back to
a real historical event. But the fact that Susīma asks about these powers cannot
both be the outcome of the redactors deft hint and the result of a historical
incident. If the incident is a result of redactors intervention, then Ven.
Bodhis argument that the greater detail of the Pali can be explained through
assuming it is a historical incident must be rejected. (This could mean that the
Mahāsāṅghika version is more original than the Pali since, in the absence of
other explanations, greater detail would normally be taken as a sign of
comparative lateness. For the significance of this, see the next section, The
Chinese Versions of the Susīma-sutta.) On the other hand, if the Susīma-sutta
is based on a historical incident, and Ven. Bodhi is right to think that Susīma
asked about the special powers because they might impress lay devotees, then he
would have had no reason to ask about the jhānas in the first place. The jhānas
are not the sort of spiritual accomplishment that would normally strike
gullible lay devotees as impressive.
Alternatively, it might perhaps be suggested that the incident could be a
mixture of historical event and redactors editing. If so, and Susīma originally
only asked about the first and third supernormal powers (as suggested by Ven.
Bodhi, p.66,8), then the expansion to include all five supernormal powers could
be explained as a normalisation by the redactors. The suttas appear to have
been substantially normalised in this way since doctrinal formulas tend to be
identical in content and wording throughout the Nikāyas. Again, there is no
reason to think the jhānas are hinted at by their absence.
77 P.66,10: This would then better explain Susīmas
scepticism that there could be wisdom-liberated arahants who lack such powers.
The jhānas would probably have been regarded as too ordinary in such a context.
78 See in particular p.66,2-12 and p.68,9-22.
79 Ven. Bodhi designates this version of the
Susīma-sutta as M-Vin. [Please use the default BACK of
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81 On p.66,4 Ven. Bodhi also recognizes this as a
criterion for deciding the relative antiquity of parallel texts: The twofold
scheme has the advantage of economy, and greater detail usually suggests
. He then counters this argument by assuming that the Susīma-sutta
originated from a historical incident and then suggesting that such an incident
can explain the greater detail of the Pali. But, as I have argued in footnote 76
above, if the Susīma-sutta is the outcome of redactors editing, or a mix of
editing and historical event (which to me seems the most likely hypothesis),
then simplicity and brevity are after all likely to be indicators of antiquity.
83 This would not be a likely explanation for the
Pali since several of the attainments mentioned there are not part of the path
leading to awakening.
84 Note, however, that the presentation in the
Mahāsāṅghika version seems to suggest that Susīma thought either the
recollection of past lives or the divine eye was required for awakening. If he
had based himself on the gradual training one would have expected him to
conclude that both were required.
Also note that, in the Pali, all versions of the gradual training appear to
include these two knowledges. Indeed, the frequency with which they are
mentioned must make them very important, although perhaps not indispensable. In
the Chinese, it seems, they are not always included (see discussion of MN27 and
MN39 in Anālayo forthcoming).
85 Nava anupubbanirodha, see AN9:31. See also
AN9:32+33 for the nine gradual dwellings, nava anupubbavihāra.
86 Again, it seems clear that Susīma had some
knowledge of the Buddhist teachings, since otherwise he would not have been able
to ask the questions he asked.
87 In contrast, note that all the standard path
factors, including jhāna, would be required under either scenario.
88 It is also worthwhile noting that a large part of
the Susīma-sutta is narrative: close to 50% in the Pali version and more than
50% in the Mahāsāṅghika version. In both versions the whole section where Susīma
asks the monks about their various attainments is part of this narrative. Since
the narrative is not spoken by the Buddha (at least it is not presented as such)
it is possible that it is a relatively late redactors addition. (Ven. Bodhi
seems to regard this matter in the same way. On p.55,20-23 he says: I assume
the actual dialogue, particularly in the first part, is partly the work
of the compilers of the texts.) Indeed, this may explain why this section
differs to such considerable degree in the various versions. Moreover, from the
point of view of authority, the word of the Buddha supersedes any doctrinal
lessons that may be drawn from purely narrative passages. (For the Nikāya
position on this see in particular AN5:79/AN III 107,11-27.)
89 MN I 463,32-464,1: Vivekaṃ, anuruddhā, kāmehi
vivekaṃ akusalehi dhammehi pītisukhaṃ nādhigacchati aññaṃ vā tato santataraṃ,
tandīpi cittaṃ pariyādāya tiṭṭhati.
90 The phrase rapture and pleasure that are secluded from sensual
pleasures and secluded from unwholesome states is found with slightly different
wording in the standard formula for the first jhāna. The phrase something more
peaceful than that is a reference to the third and fourth jhānas as well as the
91 AN III 63,24: So vata, bhikkhave, bhikkhu ime
pañca āvaraṇe nīvaraṇe cetaso ajjhāruhe paññāya dubbalīkaraṇe appahāya, abalāya
paññāya dubbalāya attatthaṃ vā ñassati paratthaṃ vā ñassati ubhayatthaṃ vā
ñassati uttari vā manussadhammā alamariyañāṇadassanavisesaṃ sacchikarissatīti
netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.
92 It might be thought that since the hindrances
need to be abandoned also for the attainment of jhāna, there is no apparent
reason why jhāna should be attained before sotāpatti. However, as I intend to
show below, jhāna is nonetheless easier to attain than sotāpatti.
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93 The four jhānas are listed immediately prior to
this passage, see DN III 131,16-132,8.
94 DN III 132,9-15: Ṭhānaṃ kho panetaṃ, cunda,
vijjati, yaṃ aññatitthiyā paribbājakā evaṃ vadeyyuṃ -- `ime panāvuso, cattāro
sukhallikānuyoge anuyuttānaṃ viharataṃ kati phalāni katānisaṃsā pāṭikaṅkhā'ti?
evaṃvādino, cunda, aññatitthiyā paribbājakā evamassu vacanīyā -- `ime kho, āvuso,
cattāro sukhallikānuyoge anuyuttānaṃ viharataṃ cattāri phalāni cattāro ānisaṃsā
The Chinese parallel at DĀ17 is quite close. As in the Pali it lists the four
jhānas (T I 75a19-26), but then adds for each jhāna that those who (attain)
that happiness thus [i.e. jhāna], are praised by the Buddha, 如是樂者。佛所稱譽 (T I
75a20+22+24+26). The Chinese then says that the jhānas have seven results rather
than the four of the Pali. These are two types of arahantship and five types of
anāgāmitā (T I 75a26-b4). The Chinese does not mention streamentry or once-returnership.
95 DN III 132,16-32.
96 See, eg, AN10:3/AN V 4,10: sammāsamādhimhi asati
sammāsamādhivipannassa hatūpanisaṃ hoti yathābhūtañāṇadassanaṃ; and the converse
at AN V 5,1: sammāsamādhimhi sati sammāsamādhisampannassa upanisasampannaṃ hoti
yathābhūtañāṇadassanaṃ. The same is found at AN5:24, AN6:50, AN7:61, AN8:81,
AN10:4+5, and AN11:3-5. See also SN12:23/SN II 30,13-16.
97 See discussion in Brahmāli Bhikkhu 2007, footnote
98 Such differences are to be expected since the
composition of the spiritual faculties will vary considerably from person to
99 That is, temporarily leave behind attachment and
Although I use temporary both in regard to jhāna and sotāpatti, this does not
mean that these states are in any way comparable. Exactly what time span is
involved could well be quite different for the two. The point is simply that one
abandons attachment to something temporarily, however long that may be.
100 Perhaps one such special circumstance would be
the presence of the Buddha or a particularly impressive arahant. Such a person
might cause faith of such strength to arise in a spiritually mature person that
the hindrances would soon be abandoned. This might be one plausible explanation
for the number of people who appear to have attained sotāpatti upon meeting the
Buddha for the very first time.
But there are other equally plausible explanations for these attainments. As I
have noted before, the narrative in the suttas is often truncated so that it
only describes the most important events in a particular story. It is thus quite
possible that it should be inferred that a substantial amount of time passed
from the time these people first met the Buddha until they attained sotāpatti.
Another plausible explanation is that these suttas are unreliable recollections
years after the actual events. Many of them are virtually identical and most of
them are narratives without any proper discourse from the Buddha except for a
highly standardised teaching. [Please use the default BACK
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101 The Buddhist path can be regarded as a gradual
relinquishment of craving and attachment. Gradualness implies that there is a
general order to that relinquishment. As ones meditation and wisdom deepen,
stage-by-stage ones craving and attachments become less. Again, jhāna comes
naturally before sotāpatti.
102 This does not mean that different people will
not place different emphasis on different aspects of the practice, particularly
samatha and vipassanā. All it means is that one should ensure that one develops
the full noble eightfold path and allow the mind to develop naturally in
accordance with that practice.
103 In particular where jhāna is warned against as
a potential obstacle since, the argument goes, one may become attached to it.
CBETA Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association
CDB Connected Discourses of the Buddha
JPTS Journal of the Pali Text Society
MLBD Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha
Mp Manorathapūranī, commentary on the Anguttara-nikāya
PTS Pali Text Society
Sv Sumangalavilāsinī, commentary on the Dīgha-nikāya
T Taisho edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon
All Pali references and quotes are taken from the Pali Text Societys edition of
the Pali canon. All Chinese references and quotes are taken from the CBETA
electronic version of the Taisho edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon.
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Buddhist Publication Society.
Anālayo, Bhikkhu, forthcoming. A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya.
Bernhard, Franz (ed.), 1965. Udānavarga, (Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden
X, Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen,
philologisch-historische Klasse, Dritte Folge, Nr. 54). Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, vol.1.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu, 2000. Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation
of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, 2 vols, Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu, 2007. The Susīma-sutta and the Wisdom-Liberated Arahant,
The Journal of the Pali Text Society, vol. 29, pp.51-75.
Bhikkhu, Brahmāli, 2007. Jhāna and Lokuttarajjhāna, Buddhist
Studies Review, pp.75-90.
Bucknell, Roderick S., 2004. Pali-Chinese Sutra Correspondences (draft),
Choong, Mun-keat, 2000. The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism,
Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Cone, Margaret (ed.), 1989. Patna Dharmapada I, Journal of the Pali Text
Society, vol.13, pp.101-217.
Gethin, Rupert M. C., 2001. The Buddhist Path to Awakening, Oxford:
Ñānamoli, Bhikkhu, and Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2001. The Middle Length Discourses of
the Buddha, Oxford: Pali Text Society in association with Wisdom