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Three Fundamental Concepts:
What is Samadhi?

By U Nu

President, Burma Pitaka Association, 1985

          It is a well-known fact that mind does not ordinarily stay fixed on one object. It is flitting about in all directions. If, however, one can culture one's own mind in a proper way, it stays fixed, without flitting about even once, on an object, from a few hours to a few days. This kind of mental concentration on an object is called samadhi.

Two kinds of samadhi

          There are two kinds of samadhi. They are—

1. Upacara samadhi.

2. Appana samadhi.

          Appana samadhi is another name for Jhana. Upacara samadhi is samadhi that precedes appana samadhi.

          Upacara samadhi is defined as samadhi which is close to appana samadhi. It helps appana samadhi to take place.

          Appana samadhi is defined as samadhi which fixes cittas (thought-moments) on the mental object. As soon as the appana samadhi takes place, it appears as if one's cittas are continuously running into the mental object.

What is samadhi good for?

          There are five nivaranas (obstacles in the path of one's mental progress). They are as follows:

          1. Kamacchanda. Hankering after five kamagunas, namely, good sight, good sound, good smell, good taste, good touch.

          2. Byapada. Harbouring evil desires to ill-treat or destroy others or to bring others into trouble.

          3. Thina-middha. Feeling of indolence, particularly for doing good and meritorious deeds.

          4. Uddhacca-kukkucca. It has two parts. The first part is flitting about of cittas in all directions. The second part is worrying over past commissions and omissions.

          Is the Buddha really omniscient? Are his teachings good enough for putting an end to all mental deferments, namely, greed, anger, ignorance of the four Ariya Truths. Can there be persons who have really got one or some all or of the four maggas?

          Through introspection one can discern that one's mind is continually filled with one or the other nivaranas. These are the mental defilements—

          (a) that give one untold miseries while one is alive;

          (b) that will cause one's rebirth to take place in one of the four Apaya bhumis, on one's death;

          (c) that prevent a person from perceiving the true nature of mind and matter.

          Samadhi or extraordinary mental concentration can keep these nivaranas out. That is the reason why one has to culture one's mind to get samadhi. The Buddha clearly illustrated, in Samannaphala Sutta, how one would feel when one was free from these nivaranas. The discourse was delivered to King Ajatasattus.

Extracts from the Samannaphala Sutta

          "King! Let us first of all take the example of a man who borrows a sum of money for his business. After some time he makes a profit, so he can not only return the money he has borrowed, but also he can give some to his family. Therefore the man is very happy.

          "King! I will give you a second example. A man is very seriously ill. He has lost his appetite and his strength. After some time, he recovers. He regains his appetite as well as his strength. Therefore that man is very happy.

          "King! I will give you a third example. A man is imprisoned. After some time, he is released. No harm has been done to him and to his possessions. Therefore this man is very happy.

          "King! This is the fourth example. There is a slave. He is not free. He is under the control of his masters. After some time he is set free. He can go wherever he likes. This man who has been freed is very happy.

          "King! This is the fifth example. A man is going on a very perilous journey. He carries with him silver, gold and precious stones. After some time he reaches his destination without harm. Therefore the man is very happy.

          "King! Just as the debtor sees the debt and its attendant evil; just as the sick man sees his illness; just as the prisoner sees the place of confinement; just as the slave sees his state of bondage; and just as the traveller sees the perilous journey, the monk clearly sees these nivaranas very clearly when he has them.

          "King! Just as the borrower sees the freedom from indebtedness and its attendant advantages when he is free of debt; just as the patient sees the absence of sickness when he regains his health; just as the prisoner sees the absence of confinement when he is released; just as the slave sees his freedom when he is set free; and just as the traveller sees the peaceful place when he reaches his destination, the monk also clearly sees the absence of these nivaranas when he has entirely kept them out by means of Samadhi.

          "King! The monk, who clearly sees the complete absence of Nivaranas in him, will have Pamojja (joy). He, who has joy, will have Piti (flood of joy). He, who has flood of joy, will have Passaddhi (calmness). He, who has calmness, will have Sukha (happiness). He, who has happiness, will have Samadhi (mental concentration)."

What should one do to get samadhi?

          There are forty methods for acquiring samadhi. They are known in Buddhism as "Forty Samatha Bhavanas". Samatha means mental concentration. The term Samatha is used here, in order to distinguish the forty bhavanas from vipassana bhavana.

          The following are forty samatha bhavanas:

  1. 10 kasina bhavanas.
  2. 10 asubha bhavanas.
  3. 10 anussati bhavanas.
  4. 4 brahmavihara bhavanas.
  5. 4 aruppa bhavanas.
  6. 1 sanna bhavana.
  7. 1 vavatthana bhavana.

          Total 40

Bhavanas and Samadhi

          1. Out of the forty bhavanas, only thirty bhavanas, namely, ten Kasina bhavanas, ten Asubha bhavanas, two Anussati (Kayagata Sati and Anapanassati) bhavanas, four Brahmavihara (Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Upekkha) bhavanas, four Aruppa bhavanas, will enable the yogi to get Appana Samadhi (Jhana).

          2. Out of the above thirty bhavanas, only ten Kasina bhavanas and Anapanassati bhavanas will enable the yogi to go up to the fourth Rupa Jhana.

          3. The ten Asubha bhavanas and Kayagata Sati bhavana will enable him to acquire only the first Rupa Jhana. The yogi cannot go higher than the first Rupa Jhana by means of these eleven bhavanas, because the objects of these eleven bhavanas are highly abominable.

          4. Out of the four Brahma-vihara bhavanas, Metta, Karuna, Mudita bhavanas will enable the yogi to go up as high as the third Rupa Jhana. He cannot go up to the fourth Jhana by means of these three bhavanas. This is the reason: Metta, Karuna, Mudita Jhanas are associated with Sukha Vedana. The fourth Jhana is associated with Upekkha Vedana. If, therefore, the yogi wants to go up to the fourth Jhana, he must change his object, after he has acquired the third Jhana, by means of one of these three Brahmavihara bhavanas. For example, the yogi is practising Metta bhavana. The object on which he concentrates is the mental image of the person, whom he loves and respects. Up to the time of achieving the third Jhana, the yogi uses the same object. If, however, he wants to achieve the fourth Jhana, he must give up his original object of the mental image of the person, whom he loves and respects. He must concentrate on the mental image of a person, to whom he is indifferent. And while he has the third Jhana, the Jhanangas (parts of the Jhana) are Sukha Ekaggata. However, from the very moment when the yogi achieves the fourth Jhana, the Jhanangas will be Upekkha, Ekaggata.

          5. Four Arupa bhavanas will enable the yogi to go as high as the fourth Aruppa Jhana.

          6. The remaining ten bhavanas, namely, Buddhanussati, Dhammanussati, Sanghanussati, Silanussati, Caganussati, Devatanussati, Upasamanussati, Marananussati, Patikkula-sanna, Dhatu Vavatthana, will enable the yogi to get only Upacara Samadhi. The yogi cannot get Appana Samadhi (Jhana) by means of these ten bhavanas. This is the reason. The nature of the objects of these ten bhavanas is not similar to that of the objects of other thirty bhavanas. It is very deep.

Rupa and arupa jhanas

          There are two types of jhanas, namely, rupa jhanas and arupa jhanas. Rupa jhanas are jhanas that take place as a result of concentrating one's mind on a corporeal object. And arupa jhanas are jhanas that take place as a result of concentrating one's mind on an incorporeal object. There are four rupa jhanas and four arupa jhanas.

         Four rupa jhanas

1. First rupa jhana,

2. Second rupa jhana,

3. Third rupa jhana.

4. Fourth rupa jhana.

          Four arupa jhanas

1. Akasanancayatana jhana,

2. Vinnanancayatana jhana,

          3. Akincannayatana jhana.

          4. Nevasannanasannayatana jhana.

          Four rupa and four arupa jhanas are called attha samapatti (eight attainments). One, who has these eight attainments at his beck and call, can have abhinnas (supernormal powers). One, who has either anagami magga or arahatta magga and these eight attainments at his beck and call, can enter into nirodha samapatti (attainment of suspension of Consciousness).

          Due to lack of space I regret my inability to explain, (1) how each of the 40 bhavanas are practised, (2) how jhanangas are formed, (3) how some jhanangas are obliterated. However, one important bhavana, from the 40 samatha bhavanas, will be taken and explained, in order to give the readers a very rough idea of how the samatha bhavanas are practised. Let us take pathavi kasina.

Pathavi kasina

          Pathavi means earth. Kasina means a sight object which must be observed in its entirety.

         How is it made?

          In the centre of a piece of cloth, paint a disc with earth. The diameter of the disc should be about nine inches. Put this cloth on a wooden frame. This is pathavi kasina. Then fix it on a suitable post. A portable kasina can also be made. It can be kept on a suitable table or hung at a suitable place on the wall of a room.

          The place where one is going to practise the bhavana must be clean. The person who practises is called a yogi. The yogi must be clean also. He should take a bath and put on clean clothes before the practice.

          The chair on which the yogi sits should be kept about 3 feet 9 inches away from the pathavi kasina. The yogi can adjust the distance to his convenience. If the chair is too close, the flaws on the surface of the earthen disc may interfere with his concentration. If it is far away, the visibility of the Kasina may be poor.

          The chair must be neither too high nor too low. If too high or too low, the bending or raising of the head may easily cause a strain on the neck of the yogi. The yogi may squat on a dais, if he prefers.

          Before he begins, it will be helpful if he contemplates, for a little while, on the evils of attachment to sensual pleasures. For a few moments, he should remember the fact that samadhi, which he is going to acquire, will eventually lead him to the liberation from these attachments and endless suffering. He should also think of the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

          This will give him feelings of elation. He should also make himself aware of the fact that the meditation which he is going to practise is not an ordinary one but that it is a mediation practised by all Buddhas, Pacceka-Buddhas and Arahats for liberating themselves from endless suffering.

         How to concentrate

          While gazing at the Kasina, if the yogi opens his eyes too wide, his eyes will be strained. Because of the strain, the yogi will find it hard to get a mental picture of the earthen disc. If his eyes are too narrow, he may not see the disc properly. Therefore, he may fail to get a mental picture of the disc.

          The best way to look at the disc in the Kasina is to look as one looks at one's face in the mirror. Just look at the earthen disc naturally, without any effort.

          While the yogi is looking at the disc, he must not concentrate on the colour, nor on the hard nature of the earthen disc. He must concentrate on the earth, of which the disc is made, saying mentally "Pathavi, pathavi". If the yogi prefers, he may say "Earth, earth" or the word "earth" in his own language.

          While concentrating on the disc, the yogi will find that, very frequently, his mind is flitting about in all directions. The fact that the yogi is aware of his mental restlessness is a step forward, because most of the time in one's life, one does not know that mind is flitting about.

         The first stage

          The first stage of mental concentration is called upacara samadhi. When that stage is reached, nivaranas (obstacles in one's mental progress) become entirely absent.

         Jhana stages

          After the upacara stage, Jhana stages take place, roughly in this way.

          When one is not in a jhana state, he has either bhavanhga cittas or vithi cittas. Bhavanga citta is subconscious mind. Vithi citta is conscious mind.

          When he is asleep or when he is unconscious, he has bhavanga cittas. Even when he is awake, he has bhavanga cittas, as soon as the seventeen thought-moments, which a thought process (i.e., a set of vithi) is composed of, come to an end. The bhavanga cittas last till the next set of vithi cittas take place. They are a vital continuum in the absence of vithi cittas.

         Limitless Jhana cittas

          However, it is different when one is in a jhana state. His jhana cittas are not like ordinary vithi cittas which are limited to seventeen thought-moments at a time. Sometimes, under extraordinary circumstances, the vithi cittas are less than seventeen in a set. Jhana cittas are limitless. If, for example, he is in a jhana state for one hour; his jhana cittas take place, one after another, for lone hour. Bhavanga cittas have no chance to take place during that period.


          Moreover, one point, which distinguishes jhana cittas from ordinary vithi cittas, should also be mentioned.

          There are what is known as cetasikas (mental concomitants). They are 52 in number. Whenever a citta (mind) takes place, appropriate cetasikas, out of these 52, also take, place simultaneously. When they take place with ordinary vithi cittas, these cetasikas are ordinary cetasikas. They have no power to prevent nivaranas from taking place in the mind. When, however, they take place in jhana cittas, these cetasikas are transformed. They are no longer ordinary cetasikas. They are known as jhanangas. Jhanangas mean parts of a jhana. These jhanangas are six in number. They are as follows:

1. Vitakka

2. Vicara

3. Piti

4. Sukha (vedana)

5. Upekkha (vedana)

6. Ekaggata

          1. Vitakka is a jhananga which paves the way for the bhavana object to appear in the mind.

          2. Vicara is a jhananga that examines the bhavana object. Vitakka is forceful. Vicara is delicate.

          3. Piti is a jhananga that gives emotion of joy.

          4. Sukha is happiness.

          Sukha is also so called because it eliminates bodily as well as mental pain. The distinguishing mark of sukha is pleasantness. Its function is to strengthen the four other jhanangas that are associated with it. Its phenomenon is its capability to maintain the concentration of the other four jhanangas. Its proximate cause is passaddhi. Passaddhi means tranquillity.

          5. Upekkha means equanimity. It is also defined as the zero point between love and hatred.

          6. Ekaggata means one-pointedness of mind, which is concentration.

         Jhanas and jhanangas

          The following tables will show how these jhanangas are associated with jhanas.

Rupa jhanas and jhanangas

1 First rupa jhana Vitakka, vicara, piti, sukha, Ekaggata
2 Second rupa jhana Piti, sukha, ekaggata
3 Third rupa jhana Sukha, ekaggata
4 Fourth rupa jhana Upekkha, ekaggata


          Upacara samadhi is close to nivaranas. Therefore, it is very much unstable, even though it can prevent them from entering the mind. The first jhana is next to upacara samadhi. Since there is upacara samadhi between it and nivaranas, the first jhana is comparatively safer than upacara samadhi, from the inroads of nivaranas.

          The second jhana removes vitakka and vicara of the first jhana. As a result of the removal, it is two jhanangas away from the nivaranas. Therefore it is more stable than the first jhana.

          The third jhana removes piti of the second jhana. As a result of the removal, it is three jhanangas away from the nivaranas. Therefore it is far more stable than the second jhana.

          The fourth jhana replaces sukha with upekkha. As a result of the replacement, it is four jhanangas away from nivaranas. Therefore it reaches the zenith of stability, among the rupa jhanas.

Arupa Jhanas and jhanangas

1 A kasanancayatana jhana upekkha, ekaggata
2 Vinnanancayatana jhana upekkha, ekaggata
3 Akincannayatana jhana upekkha, ekaggat
4 Nevasannanasannayatana jhana upekkha, ekaggata


          Upekkha of the first arupa jhana is more stable than that of the fourth rupa jhana. Upekkha of the second arupa jhana is more stable than that of the first arupa jhana. In this way, the third is more stable than the second. And, finally, the fourth is more stable than the third. Therefore the fourth reaches the zenith of stability, among the rupa as well as the arupa jhanas.

         Advantages of jhanas

          Visuddhimagga mentions five advantages of Jhanas. They are as follows:

          1. One who has a jhana or jhanas will have bodily and mental tranquillity. Visuddhimagga gives the following quotation from the teachings of the Buddha:

          "Cunda! I do not teach that jhanas can uproot anusayas, I teach that jhana can give one bodily and mental tranquillity."

          2. One who has either upacara samadhi or appana samadhi jhana, will speedily perceive the anicca, dukkha, anatta nature of his mind and body, if he practises vipassana bhavana. Visuddhimagga gives the following quotation from the Buddha's teachings;

          "Monks! Cultivate samadhi. Monks! One who can concentrate on an object well will perceive the true nature of mind and matter."

          3. One who has a complete mastery over the eight jhanas (four rupa and four arupa jhanas) can achieve abhinnas (supernormal psychic powers), provided that he has appropriate adhikara. (Adhikara means help. The yogi must have, in many of his previous existences, successfully practised to achieve abhinnas. These practices will positively help him, in his present existence, to achieve abhinnas.) Visuddhimagga gives the following quotation from the teachings of the Buddha: "After having achieved the necessary samadhi, if the yogi resolves that he wants to acquire a particular abhinna, he will get it. provided that he has adhikara."

          4. If a yogi acquires jhana and keeps it with him, he will be reborn as a brahma on his death. Upacara samadhi can cause him to be reborn as a human or a deva.

          5. An anagami or an arahat, who has complete mastery over the eight jhanas, can achieve nirodha samapatti.

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