Difference between revisions of "Samadhi"

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{{Main|Noble Eightfold Path#Right concentration}}
{{Main|Noble Eightfold Path#Right concentration}}
The Buddha identified [[Noble Eightfold Path#Right concentration|right concentration]] (''samma samādhi'') as the eight element in the [[Nobel Eightfold Path]].
The Buddha identified [[Noble Eightfold Path#Right concentration|right concentration]] (''samma samādhi'') as the eight element in the [[Noble Eightfold Path]].
In this context, ''samādhi'' refers here to the [[Dhyana|jhanas]], levels of gradual deepening of meditation.
In this context, ''samādhi'' refers here to the [[Dhyana|jhanas]], levels of gradual deepening of meditation.

Revision as of 19:34, 17 September 2018

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Samadhi (Skt. samādhi) is often translated as meditative absorption or concentration.

The term samadhi derives from the root sam-a-dha, which means 'to collect' or 'bring together', and thus it is often translated as 'concentration'.

Samma samādhi (right concentration)

The Buddha identified right concentration (samma samādhi) as the eight element in the Noble Eightfold Path.

In this context, samādhi refers here to the jhanas, levels of gradual deepening of meditation.

Mental factors

The rupa-jhānas are described according to the nature of the mental factors which are present in these states:

  1. Movement of the mind onto the object (vitakka; Sanskrit: vitarka)
  2. Retention of the mind on the object (vicāra)
  3. Joy, rapture (pīti; Sanskrit: prīti)
  4. Happiness (sukha)
  5. Equanimity (upekkhā; Sanskrit: upekṣā)
  6. One-pointedness (ekaggatā; Sanskrit: ekāgratā)[note 1]

Dhyana and insight

Two traditions

A core problem in the study of early Buddhism is the relation between dhyana and insight.[1][2][3] The Buddhist tradition has incorporated two traditions regarding the use of jhana.[2] There is a tradition that stresses attaining insight (bodhi, prajna, kensho) as the means to awakening and liberation. But it has also incorporated the yogic tradition, as reflected in the use of jhana, which is rejected in other sutras as not resulting in the final result of liberation.[1][4][3] The problem was famously voiced in 1936 by Louis de La Vallee Poussin, in his text Musila et Narada: Le Chemin de Nirvana.[5][note 2]

Schmithausen discerns three possible roads to liberation as described in the suttas,[6] to which Vetter adds the sole practice of dhyana itself, which he sees as the original "liberating practice":[7]

  1. The four Rupa Jhanas themselves constituted the core liberating practice of early buddhism, c.q. the Buddha;[8]
  2. Mastering the four Rupa Jhanas, where-after "liberating insight" is attained;
  3. Mastering the four Rupa Jhanas and the four Arupa Jhanas, where-after "liberating insight" is attained;
  4. Liberating insight itself suffices.

This problem has been elaborated by several well-known scholars, including Tilman Vetter,[1] Johannes Bronkhorst,[2] and Richard Gombrich.[3] Schmithausen[note 3] notes that the mention of the four noble truths as constituting "liberating insight", which is attained after mastering the Rupa Jhanas, is a later addition to texts such as Majjhima Nikaya 36.[6][2][1] Both Schmithausen and Bronkhorst note that the attainment of insight, which is a cognitive activity, cannot be possible in state wherein all cognitive activity has ceased.[2] According to Vetter and Bronkhorst, dhyana itself constituted the original "liberating practice".[7][2][9] According to Alexander Wynne, the ultimate aim of dhyana was the attainment of insight,[10] and the application of the meditative state to the practice of mindfulness.[10] According to Frauwallner, mindfulness was a means to prevent the arising of craving, which resulted simply from contact between the senses and their objects. According to Frauwallner, this may have been the Buddha's original idea.[11] According to Wynne, this stress on mindfulness may have led to the intellectualism which favoured insight over the practice of dhyana.[12]

Two kinds of dhyana

According to Richard Gombrich, the sequence of the four rupa-jhanas describes two different cognitive states:

I know this is controversial, but it seems to me that the third and fourth jhanas are thus quite unlike the second.[13][note 4]

Alexander Wynne further explains that the dhyana-scheme is poorly understood.[12] According to Wynne, words expressing the inculcation of awareness, such as sati, sampajāno, and upekkhā, are mistranslated or understood as particular factors of meditative states,[12] whereas they refer to a particular way of perceiving the sense objects:[12]

Thus the expression sato sampajāno in the third jhāna must denote a state of awareness different from the meditative absorption of the second jhāna (cetaso ekodibhāva). It suggests that the subject is doing something different from remaining in a meditative state, i.e. that he has come out of his absorption and is now once again aware of objects. The same is true of the word upek(k)hā: it does not denote an abstract 'equanimity', [but] it means to be aware of something and indifferent to it [...] The third and fourth jhāna-s, as it seems to me, describe the process of directing states of meditative absorption towards the mindful awareness of objects.

[14][note 5]

In Buddhist tradition


In the early Buddhist texts, samadhi is also associated with the term samatha (calm abiding). In the suttas, samadhi is defined as one-pointedness of mind (Cittass'ekaggatā).[15]

Buddhagosa defines samadhi as "the centering of consciousness and consciousness concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object...the state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered" (Vism.84-85; PP.85).

The Theravada Pali texts mention four kinds of samadhi:

  • Momentary concentration (khanikasamadhi): A mental stabilization which arises during vipassana.
  • Preliminary concentration (parikammasamadhi): Arises out of the meditator's initial attempts to focus on a meditation object.
  • Access concentration (upacarasamadhi): Arises when the five hindrances are dispelled, when jhana is present, and with the appearance the 'counterpart sign' (patibhaganimitta).
  • Absorption concentration (appanasamadhi): The total immersion of the mind on its meditation of object and stabilization of all four jhanas.


Bodhisattva seated in meditation. Afghanistan, 2nd century CE
Indian Mahayana

The earliest extant Indian Mahayana texts emphasize ascetic practices and forest dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative oneness. These practices seem to have occupied a central place in early Mahayana, also because they "may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration."[16]

In the Indian Mahayana traditions the term is also to refer to forms of "samadhi" other than dhyana. Section 21 of the Mahavyutpatti records even 118 samadhi.[17] The Samadhiraja Sutra for example has as its main theme a samādhi called 'the samadhi that is manifested as the sameness of the essential nature of all dharmas' (sarva-dharma-svabhavā-samatā-vipañcita-samādhi).[18][note 6]

A traditional Chinese Chán Buddhist master in Taiwan, sitting in meditation

Indian dhyana was translated as chán in Chinese, and zen in Japanese. Ideologically the Zen-tradition emphasizes prajna and sudden insight, but in the actual practice prajna and samādhi, or sudden insight and gradual cultivation, are paired to each other.[19][20] Especially some lineages in the Rinzai school of Zen stress sudden insight, while the Sōtō school of Zen lays more emphasis on shikantaza, training awareness of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference.

See also


  1. In the Suttapitaka, right concentration is often referred to as having five factors, with one-pointedness (ekaggatā) not being explicitly identified as a factor of jhana attainment (see, for instance, SN 28.1-4, AN 4.41, AN 5.28).
  2. See Louis de La Vallée Poussin, Musial and Narad. Translated from the French by Gelongma Migme Chödrön and Gelong Lodrö Sangpo.
  3. In his often-cited article On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism
  4. Original publication: Gombrich, Richard (2007), Religious Experience in Early Buddhism, OCHS Library 
  5. theravadin.wordpress.com: "In this order, therefore, what we should understand as vipassanā is not at all a synonym for sati but rather something which grows out of the combination of all these factors especially of course the last two, samma sati and samma samādhi applied to the ruthless observation of what comes into being (yathābhūta). One could say, vipassanā is a name for the practice of sati+samādhi as applied to anicca/dukkha/anatta (i.e. generating wisdom) directed at the six-sense-process, including any mental activity." According to Gombrich, "the later tradition has falsified the jhana by classifying them as the quintessence of the concentrated, calming kind of meditation, ignoring the other - and indeed higher - element.[13]
  6. Gomez & Silk: "This samadhi is at the same time the cognitive experience of emptiness, the attainment of the attributes of buddhahood, and the performance of a variety of practices or daily activities of a bodhisattva—including service and adoration at the feet of all buddhas. The word samadhi is also used to mean the sūtra itself. Consequently, we can speak of an equation, sūtra = samādhi = śūnyatā, underlying the text. In this sense the title Samadhiraja expresses accurately the content of the sūtra."[18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Vetter 1988.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Bronkhorst 1993.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gombrich 1997.
  4. bronkhorst 1993.
  5. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 133-134.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Schmithausen 1981.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Vetter 1988, p. xxi-xxii.
  8. Vetter, 1988 & xxi-xxxvii.
  9. Cousins 1996, p. 58.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wynne 2007, p. 105.
  11. Williams 2000, p. 45.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Wynne 2007, p. 106.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Wynne 2007, p. 140, note 58.
  14. Wynne 2007, p. 106-107.
  15. Henepola Gunaratana, The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation © 1995
  16. Williams 2008, p. 30.
  17. Skilton 2002, p. 56.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Gomez & Silk 1989, p. 15-16.
  19. McRae 2003.
  20. Hui-Neng & Cleary 1998.


Printed sources

  • Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Bucknell, Rod (1984), "The Buddhist to Liberation: An Analysis of the Listing of Stages", The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 7, 1984, Number 2 
  • Buddhaghosa; Bhikkhu Nanamoli (1999), The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga, Buddhist Publication Society, ISBN 1-928706-00-2 
  • Crangle, Eddie (1984), "A Comparison of Hindu and Buddhist Techniques of Attaining Samādhi", in Hutch, R.A.; Fenner, P.G., Under The Shade of the Coolibah Tree: Australian Studies in Consciousness (PDF), University Press of America 
  • Crangle, Edward Fitzpatrick (1994), The Origin and Development of Early Indian Contemplative Practices, Harrassowitz Verlag 
  • Cousins, L. S. (1996), "The origins of insight meditation", in Skorupski, T., The Buddhist Forum IV, seminar papers 1994–1996 (pp. 35–58) (PDF), London, UK: School of Oriental and African Studies 
  • Diener, Michael S.; Erhard, Franz-Karl; Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid (1991), The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala, ISBN 0-87773-520-4 
  • Farquhar, John Nicol (1920), An outline of the religious literature of India, Oxford University Press 
  • Forman, Robert K.C. (1999), Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness, SUNY Press 
  • Gombrich, Richard F. (1997), How Buddhism Began, Munshiram Manoharlal 
  • Gomez, Luis O.; Silk, Jonathan A. (1989), Studies in the Literature of the Great Vehicle: Three Mahayana Buddhist Texts, Ann Arbor 
  • Hui-Neng (n.d.), On the High Seat of "The Treasure of the Law" The Sutra of the 6th Patriarch, A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam [permanent dead link]
  • Hui-Neng (n.d.), The Sutra of Hui-Neng (PDF), T.Cleary 
  • Jianxin Li (n.d.), A Comparative Study between Yoga and Indian Buddhism, asianscholarship.org, archived from the original on 2016-03-04 
  • Jones, Constance; Ryan, James D. (2006), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Infobase Publishing 
  • Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • Maehle, Gregor (2007), Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, New World Library 
  • McRae, John (2003), Seeing Through Zen. Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism, The University Press Group Ltd, ISBN 9780520237988 
  • Pradhan, Basant (2015), Yoga and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Springer 
  • Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2012), Samadhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga, SUNY Press 
  • Schmithausen, Lambert (1981), On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism". In: Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus (Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf), hrsg. von Klaus Bruhn und Albrecht Wezler, Wiesbaden 1981, 199-250 
  • Shankman, Richard (2008), The Experience of Samadhi - an in depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Shambala publications 
  • Skilton, Andrew (2002), "State or Statement?: Samādhi in Some Early Mahāyāna Sūtras", The Eastern Buddhist, 34 (2) 
  • Sutcliffe, Steven (2004), Religion: Empirical Studies, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. 
  • Taimni, I.K. (1961), The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali in Sanskrit (PDF), Nesma Books India, ISBN 978-81-7059-211-2 
  • Thurman, Robert (1984), The Central Philosophy of Tibet, Princeton University Press 
  • Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL 
  • Werner, Karel (1994), The Yogi and the Mystic, Routledge 
  • Whicher, Ian (1998), The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classical Yoga, SUNY Press 
  • White, David Gordon (2014), The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography, Princeton University Press 
  • Wijebandara, Chandima (1993), Early Buddhism, Its Religious and Intellectual Milieu, Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya 
  • Williams, Paul (2000), Buddhist Thought. A complete introduction to the Indian tradition, Routledge 
  • Williams, Paul (2008), Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Routledge 
  • Woods, James Haughton, trans. (1914), The Yoga System of Patanjali with commentary Yogabhashya attributed to Veda Vyasa and Tattva Vaicharadi by Vacaspati Misra, Cambridge: Harvard University Press [page needed]
  • Wynne, Alexander (2007), The Origin of Buddhist Meditation (PDF), Routledge 

Web sources

Further reading


  • Crangle, Edward Fitzpatrick (1994), The Origin and Development of early Indian Contemplative Practices, Harrasowitz Verlag 


  • Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL 
  • Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Shankman, Richard (2008), The Experience of Samadhi. An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Shambhala 


  • White, David Gordon (2014), The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography, Princeton University Press 
  • Maehle, Gregor (2007), Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, New World Library 

External links

Advaita Hinduism
Theravada Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism

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