Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation
by Bhikkhu Henepola Gunaratana
Jhana and The Noble Disciples
All noble persons, as we saw, acquire supramundane jhana along with their attainment of the noble paths and fruits. The noble ones at each of the four stages of liberation, moreover, have access to the supramundane jhana of their respective fruition attainments, from the fruition attainment of stream-entry up to the fruition attainments of arahatship. It remains problematic, however to what extent they also enjoy the possession of mundane jhana. To determine an answer to this question we will consult an early typology of seven types of noble disciples, which provides a more psychologically oriented way of classifying the eight noble individuals. A look at the explanation of these seven types will enable us to see the range of jhanic attainment reached by the noble disciples. On this basis we will proceed to assess the place of mundane jhana in the early Buddhist picture of the arahat, the perfected individual.
Seven Types of Disciples
The sevenfold typology is originally found in the Kitagiri Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya (M.i,477-79) and is reformulated in the Puggalapannatti of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. This typology classifies the noble persons on the paths and fruits into seven types:
1. the faith-devotee (saddhanusari),
2. the one liberated by faith (saddhavimutta),
3. the body-witness (kayasakkhi),
4. the one liberated in both ways (ubhatobhagavimutta),
5. the truth-devotee ( dhammanusari),
6. the one attained to understanding (ditthipatta), and
7. the one liberated by wisdom (pannavimutta).
The seven types may be divided into three general groups, each defined by the predominance of a particular spiritual faculty, The first two types are governed by a predominance of faith, the middle two by a predominance of concentration, and the last three by a predominance of wisdom. To this division, however, certain qualifications will have to made as we go along.
1. The faith-devotee is explained the sutta thus:
Herein, monks, some person has not reached with his own (mental) body those peaceful immaterial deliverances transcending material form: nor after seeing with wisdom, have his cankers been destroyed.  But he has a certain degree of faith in the Tathagata, a certain degree of devotion to him, and he has these qualities -- the faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. This person, monks, is called a faith-devotee. (M.i,479)
The Puggalapannatti (p 182) defines the faith-devotee from a different angle as a disciple practicing for the fruit of stream-entry in whom the faculty of faith is predominant and who develops the noble path led by faith. It adds that when he is established in the fruit he becomes one liberated by faith. Although the sutta excluded the "peaceful immaterial attainments," i.e. the four immaterial jhana, from the faith-devotee's equipment, this implies nothing with regard to his achievement of the four lower mundane jhanas. It would seem that the faith-devotee can have previously attained any of the four fine-material jhanas before reaching the path, and can also be a dry-insight worker bereft of mundane jhana.
2. The one liberated by faith is strictly and literally defined as a noble disciple at the six intermediate levels, from the fruit of stream-entry through to the path of arahatship, who lacks the immaterial jhanas and has a predominance of the faith faculty.
The Buddha explains the one liberated by faith as follows:
Herein, monks, some person has not reached with his own (mental) body those peaceful immaterial deliverances transcending material form; but having seen with wisdom, some of his cankers have been destroyed, and his faith in the Tathagata is settled, deeply rooted, well established. This person, monks, is called one liberated by faith. (M.i,478)
As in the case of the faith-devotee, the one liberated by faith, while lacking the immaterial jhanas, may still be an obtainer of the four mundane jhanas as well as a dry insight worker.
The Puggalapnnatti states (pp.184-85) that the person liberated by faith is one who understands the Four Noble Truths, has seen and verified by means of wisdom the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata, and having seen with wisdom has eliminated some of his cankers. However, he has not done so as easily as the ditthipatta, the person attained to understanding, whose progress is easier due to his superior wisdom. The fact that the one liberated by faith has destroyed only some of this cankers implies that he has advanced beyond the first path but not yet reached the final fruit, the fruit of arahatship. 
3. The body-witness is a noble disciple at the six intermediate levels, from the fruit of stream-entry to the path of arahatship, who has a predominance of the faculty of concentration and can obtain the immaterial jhanas. The sutta explanation reads:
And what person, monks is a body-witness? Herein, monks, some person has reached with his own (mental) body those peaceful immaterial deliverances transcending material form, and having seen with wisdom, some of his cankers having been destroyed. This person, monks, is called a body-witness. (M.i,478)
The Puggalapannatti (p. 184) offers a slight variation in this phrasing, substituting "the eight deliverances" (atthavimokkha) for the sutta's "peaceful immaterial deliverances" (santa vimokkha aruppa). These eight deliverances consist of three meditative attainments pertaining to the fine-material sphere (inclusive of all four lower jhanas), the four immaterial jhanas, and the cessation of perception and feeling (sannavedayitanirodha) -- the last a special attainment accessible only to those non-returners and arahats who have also mastered the eight jhanas.  The statement of the Puggalapannatti does not mean either that the achievement of all eight deliverances is necessary to become a body-witness or that the achievement of the three lower deliverances is sufficient. What is both requisite and sufficient to qualify as a body-witness is the partial destruction of defilements coupled with the attainment of at least the lowest immaterial jhana. Thus the body witness becomes fivefold by way of those who obtain any of the four immaterial jhanas and the one who also obtains the cessation of perception and feeling.
4. One who is liberated in both ways is an arahat who has completely destroyed the defilements and possesses the immaterial attainments. The commentaries explain the name "liberated in both ways" as meaning "through the immaterial attainment he is liberated from the material body and through the path (of arahatship) he is liberated from the mental body" (MA.ii,131). The sutta defines this type of disciple thus:
And what person, monks, is liberated in both ways? Herein, monks, someone has reached with his own (mental) body those peaceful immaterial deliverances transcending material form, and having seen with wisdom, his cankers are destroyed. This person, monks, is called liberated in both ways. (M.i,477)
The Puggalapannatti (p.184) gives basically the same formula but replaces "immaterial deliverances" with "the eight deliverances." The same principle of interpretation that applied to the body-witness applies here: the attainment of any immaterial jhana, even the lowest, is sufficient to qualify a person as both-ways liberated. As the commentary to the Visuddhimagga says: "One who has attained arahatship after gaining even one [immaterial jhana] is liberated both ways" (Vism.T.ii,466). This type becomes fivefold by way of those who attain arahatship after emerging from one or another of the four immaterial jhanas and the one who attains arahatship after emerging from the attainment of cessation (MA:iii,131).
5. The truth-devotee is a disciple on the first path in whom the faculty of wisdom is predominant. The Buddha explains the truth-devotee as follows:
Herein, monks, some person has not reached with his own (mental) body those peaceful immaterial deliverances transcending material form; nor, after seeing with wisdom, have his cankers been destroyed. But the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata are accepted by him through mere reflection, and he has these qualities -- the faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. This person, monks, is called a truth-devotee. (M.i,479)
The Puggalapannatti (p.185) defines the truth-devotee as one practicing for realization of the fruit of stream-entry in whom the faculty of wisdom is predominant, and who develops the path led by wisdom. It adds that when a truth-devotee is established in the fruit of stream-entry he becomes one attained to understanding, the sixth type. The sutta and Abhidhamma again differ as to emphasis, the one stressing lack of the immaterial jhanas, the other the ariyan stature. Presumably, he may have any of the four fine-material jhanas or be a bare-insight practitioner without any mundane jhana.
6. The one attained to understanding is a noble disciple at the six intermediate levels who lacks the immaterial jhanas and has a predominance of the wisdom faculty. The Buddha explains:
And what person, monks, is the one attained to understanding? Herein, monks someone has not reached with his own mental body those peaceful immaterial deliverances transcending material form, but having seen with wisdom some of his cankers are destroyed, and the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata have been seen and verified by him with wisdom. This person, monks, is called the one attained to understanding. (M.i,478)
The Puggalapannatti (p.185) defines the one attained to understanding as a person who understands the Four Noble Truths, has seen and verified by means of wisdom the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata, and having seen with wisdom has eliminated some of his cankers. He is thus the "wisdom counterpart" of the one liberated by faith, but progresses more easily than the latter by virtue of his sharper wisdom. Like his counterpart, he may possess any of the four mundane jhanas or may be a dry-insight worker.
7. The one liberated by wisdom is an arahat who does not obtain the immaterial attainments. In the words of the sutta:
And what person, monks, is the one liberated by wisdom? Herein, monks, someone has not reached with his own (mental) body those peaceful material deliverances transcending material form, but having seen with wisdom his cankers are destroyed. This person, monks, is called one liberated by wisdom. (M.i,477-78)
The Puggalapannatti's definition (p.185) merely replaces "immaterial deliverance" with "the eight deliverances." Though such arahats do not reach the immaterial jhanas it is quite possible for them to attain the lower jhanas. The sutta commentary in fact states that the one liberated by wisdom is fivefold by way of the dry-insight worker and the four who attain arahatship after emerging from the four jhanas.
It should be noted that the one liberated by wisdom is contrasted not with the one liberated by faith, but with the one liberated in both ways. The issue that divides the two types of arahat is the lack or possession of the four immaterial jhanas and the attainment of cessation. The person liberated by faith is found at the six intermediate levels of sanctity, not at the level of arahatship. When he obtains arahatship, lacking the immaterial jhanas, he becomes one liberated by wisdom even though faith rather that wisdom is his predominant faculty. Similarly, a meditator with predominance of concentration who possesses the immaterial attainments will still be liberated in both ways even if wisdom rather than concentration claims first place among his spiritual endowments, as was the case with the venerable Sariputta.
Jhana and the Arahat
From the standpoint of their spiritual stature the seven types of noble persons can be divided into three categories. The first, which includes the faith-devotee and the truth-devotee, consists of those on the path of stream-entry, the first of the eight noble individuals. The second category, comprising the one liberated by faith, the body-witness and the one attained to understanding, consists of those on the six intermediate levels, from the stream-enterer to one on the path of arahatship. The third category, comprising the one liberated in both ways and the one liberated by wisdom, consists only of arahats. 
The ubhatobhagavimutta, "one liberated in both ways," and the pannavimutta "one liberated by wisdom," thus form the terms of a twofold typology of arahats distinguished on the basis of their accomplishment in jhana. The ubhatobhagavimutta arahat experiences in his own person the "peaceful deliverances" of the immaterial sphere, the pannavimutta arahat lacks this full experience of the immaterial jhanas. Each of these two types, according to the commentaries, again becomes fivefold -- the ubhatobhagavimutta by way of those who possess the ascending four immaterial jhanas and the attainment of cessation, the pannavimutta by way of those who reach arahatship after emerging from on of the four fine-material jhanas and the dry-insight mediator whose insight lacks the support of mundane jhana.
The possibility of attaining the supramundane path without possession of a mundane jhana has been questioned by some Theravada scholars, but the Visuddhimagga clearly admits this possibility when it distinguishes between the path arisen in a dry-insight mediator and the path arisen in one who possesses a jhana but does not use it as a basis for insight (Vism.666-67; PP.779). Textual evidence that there can be arahats lacking mundane jhana is provided by the Susima Sutta (S.ii, 199-23) together with is commentaries. When the monks in the sutta are asked how they can be arahats without possessing supernormal powers of the immaterial attainments, they reply: "We are liberated by wisdom" (pannavimutta kho mayam). The commentary glosses this reply thus: "We are contemplatives, dry-insight meditators, liberated by wisdom alone" (Mayam nijjhanaka sukkhavipassaka pannamatten'eva vimutta ti, SA.ii,117). The commentary also states that the Buddha gave his long disquisition on insight in the sutta "to show the arising of knowledge even without concentration" (vina pi samadhimevam nanuppattidassanattham, SA.ii,117). The subcommentary establishes the point by explaining "even without concentration" to mean "even without concentration previously accomplished reaching the mark of serenity" (samathalakkhanappattam purimasiddhamvina pi samadhin ti), adding that this is said in reference to one who makes insight his vehicle (ST.ii,125).
In contrast to the pannavimutta arahats, those arahats who are ubhatobhagavimutta enjoy a twofold liberation. Through their mastery over the formless attainments they are liberated from the material body (rupakaya), capable of dwelling in the very life in the meditations corresponding to the immaterial planes of existence; through their attainment of arahatship they are liberated from the mental body (namakaya), presently free from all defilements and sure of final emancipation from future becoming. Pannavimutta arahats only possess the second of these two liberations.
The double liberation of the ubhatobhagavimutta arahat should not be confused with another double liberation frequently mentioned in the suttas in connection with arahatship. This second pair of liberations, called cetovimutti pannavimutti, "liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom," is shared by all arahats. It appears in the stock passage descriptive of arahatship: "With the destruction of the cankers he here and now enters and dwells in the cankerless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, having realized it for himself with direct knowledge." That this twofold liberation belongs to pannavimutta arahats as well as those who are ubhatobhagavimutta is made clear by the Putta Sutta, where the stock passage is used for two types of arahats called the "white lotus recluse" and the "red lotus recluse":
How, monks, is a person a white lotus recluse (samanapundarika)? Here, monks, with the destruction of the cankers a monk here and now enters and dwells in the cankerless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, having realized it for himself with direct knowledge. Yet he does not dwell experiencing the eight deliverances with his body. Thus, monks, a person is a white lotus recluse.
And how, monks, is a person a red lotus recluse (samanapaduma)? Here, monks, with the destruction of the cankers a monk here and now enters and dwells in the cankerless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, having realized it for himself with direct knowledge. And he dwells experiencing the eight deliverances with his body. Thus, monks, a person is a red lotus recluse. (A.ii,87)
Since the description of these two types coincides with that of pannavimutta and ubhatobhagavimutta the two pairs may be identified, the white lotus recluse with the pannavimutta, the red lotus recluse with the ubhatobhagavimutta. Yet the pannavimutta arahat, while lacking the experience of the eight deliverances, still has both liberation of mind and liberation by wisdom.
When liberation of mind and liberation by wisdom are joined together and described as "cankerless" (anasava), they can be taken to indicate two aspects of the arahat's deliverance. Liberation of mind signifies the release of his mind from craving and its associated defilements, liberation by wisdom the release from ignorance: "With the fading away of lust there is liberation of mind, with the fading away of ignorance there is liberation by wisdom" (A.i,61). "As he sees and understands thus his mind is liberated from the canker of sensual desire, from the canker of existence from the canker of ignorance" (M.i,183-84) -- here release from the first two cankers can be understood as liberation of mind, release from the canker of ignorance as liberation by wisdom. In the commentaries "liberation of mind" is identified with the concentration factor in the fruition attainment of arahatship, "liberation by wisdom" with the wisdom factor.
Since every arahat reaches arahatship through the Noble Eightfold Path, he must have attained supramundane jhana in the form of right concentration, the eighth factor of the path, defined as the four jhanas. This jhana remains with him as the concentration of the fruition attainment of arahatship, which occurs at the level of supramundane jhana corresponding to that of his path. Thus he always stands in possession of at least the supramundane jhana of fruition, called the "cankerless liberation of mind." However, this consideration does not reflect back on his mundane attainments, requiring that every arahat possess mundane jhana.
Although early Buddhism acknowledges the possibility of a dry-visioned arahatship, the attitude prevails that jhanas are still desirable attributes in an arahat. They are of value not only prior to final attainment, as a foundation for insight, but retain their value even afterwards. The value of jhana in the stage of arahatship, when all spiritual training has been completed, is twofold. One concern the arahat's inner experience, the other his outer significance as a representative of the Buddha's dispensation.
On the side of inner experience the jhanas are valued as providing the arahat with a "blissful dwelling here and now" (ditthadhammasukhavihara). The suttas often show arahats attaining to jhana and the Buddha himself declares the four jhanas to be figuratively a kind of Nibbana in this present life (A.iv.453-54). With respect to levels and factors there is no difference between the mundane jhanas of an arahat and those of a non-arahat. The difference concerns their function. For non-arahats the mundane jhanas constitute wholesome kamma; they are deeds with a potential to produce results, to precipitate rebirth in a corresponding realm of existence. But in the case of an arahat mundane jhana no longer generates kamma. Since he has eradicated ignorance and craving, the roots of kamma, his actions leave no residue; they have no capacity to generate results. For him the jhanic consciousness is a mere functional consciousness which comes and goes and once gone disappears without a trace.
The value of the jhanas, however, extends beyond the confines of the arahat's personal experience to testify to the spiritual efficacy of the Buddha's dispensation. The jhanas are regarded as ornamentations of the arahat, testimonies to the accomplishment of the spiritually perfect person and the effectiveness of the teaching he follows. A worthy monk is able to "gain at will without trouble or difficulty, the four jhanas pertaining to the higher consciousness, blissful dwellings here and now." This ability to gain the jhanas at will is a " quality that makes a monk an elder." When accompanied by several other spiritual accomplishments it is an essential quality of "a recluse who graces recluses" and of a monk who can move unobstructed in the four directions. Having ready access to the four jhanas makes an elder dear and agreeable, respected and esteemed by his fellow monks. Facility in gaining the jhanas is one of the eight qualities of a completely inspiring monk (samantapasadika bhikkhu) perfect in all respects; it is also one of the eleven foundations of faith (saddha pada). It is significant that in all these lists of qualities the last item is always the attainment of arahatship, "the cankerless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom," showing that all desirable qualities in a bhikkhu culminate in arahatship.
The higher the degree of his mastery over the meditative attainments, the higher the esteem in which an arahat monk is held and the more praiseworthy his achievement is considered. Thus the Buddha says of the ubhatobhagavimutta arahat: "There is no liberation in both ways higher and more excellent than this liberation in both ways"(D.ii,71).
The highest respect goes to those monks who possess not only liberation in both ways but the six abhinnas or "super-knowledges": the exercise of psychic powers, the divine ear, the ability to read the minds of others, the recollection of past lives, knowledge of the death and rebirth of beings, and knowledge of final liberation. The Buddha declares that a monk endowed with the six abhinnas, is worthy of gifts and hospitality, worthy of offerings and reverential salutations, a supreme field of merit for the world (A.iii,280-81). In the period after the Buddha's demise, what qualified a monk to give guidance to others was endowment with ten qualities: moral virtue, learning, contentment, mastery over the four jhanas, the five mundane abhinnas and attainment of the cankerless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom (M.iii,11-12). Perhaps it was because he was extolled by the Buddha for his facility in the meditative attainments and the abhinnas that the venerable Mahakassapa assumed the presidency of the first great Buddhist council held in Rajagaha after the Buddha's passing away.
The graduation in the veneration given to arahats on the basis of their mundane spiritual achievements implies something about the value system of early Buddhism that is not often recognized. It suggests that while final liberation may be the ultimate and most important value, it is not the sole value even in the spiritual domain. Alongside it, as embellishments rather than alternatives, stand mastery over the range of the mind and mastery over the sphere of the knowable. The first is accomplished by the attainment of the eight mundane jhanas, the second by the attainment of the abhinnas. Together, final liberation adorned with this twofold mastery is esteemed as the highest and most desirable way of actualizing the ultimate goal.
 The cankers (asava) are four powerful defilements that sustain samsara; sensual desire, desire for existence, wrong views and ignorance.
 The Visuddhimagga, however says that arahats in whom faith is predominant can also be called "liberated by faith" (Vism.659; PP.770). Its commentary points out that this statement is intended only figuratively, in the sense that those arahats reach their goal after having been liberated by faith in the intermediate stages. Literally, they would be "liberated by wisdom". (Vism.T.ii,468)
 The first three emancipations are: one possessing material form sees material forms; one not perceiving material forms internally sees material forms externally; and one is released upon the idea of the beautiful. They are understood to be variations on the jhanas attained with color kasinas. For the attainment of cessation, see PP.824-833.
 It should be noted that the Kitagiri Sutta makes not provision in its typology for a disciple on the first path who gains the immaterial jhanas. Vism.T.(ii,466) holds that he would have to be considered either a faith-devotee or a truth-devotee, and at the final fruition would be one liberated in both ways.
 The references are to: A,ii,23;iii,131,135,114;iv,314-15; v,337.
[Title Page] [Contents]
[1. Introduction] [2. Preparation for Jhana]
[3. The First Jhana] [4. The Higher Jhanas]
[5. Jhana & The Supramundane] [6. Jhanas & The Noble Disciples]
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