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Kammaṭṭhāna (Skt. karmasthana) literally means the place of work. Its original meaning was someone's occupation (farming, trading, cattle-tending, etc.) but this meaning has developed into several distinct but related usages all having to do with Buddhist meditation.

Its most basic meaning is as a word for meditation. In Burma, senior meditation practitioners are known as "kammatthanacariyas" (meditation masters). The Thai Forest Tradition names itself Kammaṭṭhāna Forest tradition in reference to their practice of meditating in the forests.

In the Pali literature, prior to the post-canonical Pali commentaries, the term kammaṭṭhāna comes up in only a handful of discourses and then in the context of "work" or "trade."[lower-alpha 1]

Buddhaghosa uses "kammatthana" to refer to each of his forty meditation objects listed in the third chapter of the Visuddhimagga, which are partially derived from the Pāli Canon. In this sense "kammatthana" can be understood as "occupations" in the sense of "things to occupy the mind" or "workplaces" in the sense of "places to focus the mind on during the work of meditation". Throughout his translation of the Visuddhimagga, Nanamoli translates this term simply as "meditation subject".[1]

Buddhagosa's forty meditation subjects

Of the forty objects meditated upon as kammatthana, the first ten are known as kasiṇa; these are a class of basic visual objects of meditation identified in the Pali tradition.

The ten kasina are:

(1) earth, (2) water, (3) fire, (4) air, wind, (5) blue, green, (6) yellow, (7) red, (8) white, (9) enclosed space, (10) bright light.

The next ten are objects of repulsion (asubha):

(1) swollen corpse, (2) discolored, bluish, corpse, (3) festering corpse, (4) fissured corpse, (5) gnawed corpse, (6,7) dismembered, or hacked and scattered, corpse, (8) bleeding corpse, (9) worm-eaten corpse, (10) skeleton.

Ten are recollections (anussati):

First three recollections are of the virtues of the Three Jewels:
(1) Buddha
(2) Dharma
(3) Sangha
Next three are recollections of the virtues of:
(4) morality (Śīla)
(5) liberality (cāga)
(6) the wholesome attributes of Devas
Recollections of:
(7) the body (kāya)
(8) death (see Upajjhatthana Sutta)
(9) the breath (prāna) or breathing (ānāpāna)
(10) peace (see Nibbana).

Four are "abodes of Brahma" (brahmavihāra):

(1) loving-kindness or goodwill (mettā)
(2) compassion (karuna)
(3) sympathetic joy over another's success (mudita)
(4) equanimity (upekkha)

Four are formless states (four arūpajhānas):

(1) sphere of infinite space (ākāśānantyāyatana)
(2) sphere of infinite consciousness (vijñānānantyāyatana)
(3) sphere of nothing whatsoever (ākiñcanyāyatana)
(4) sphere of neither perception nor non-perception (naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana)

One is of perception of disgust of food (aharepatikulasanna).

The last is analysis of the four elements (catudhatuvavatthana): earth (pathavi), water (apo), fire (tejo), air (vayo).

Meditation subjects and jhanas

According to Gunaratana, following Buddhaghosa, due to the simplicity of subject matter, all four jhanas can be induced through ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breathing) and the ten kasinas.[2]

According to Gunaratana, the following meditation subjects only lead to "access concentration" (upacara samadhi), due to their complexity: the recollection of the Buddha, dharma, sangha, morality, liberality, wholesome attributes of Devas, death, and peace; the perception of disgust of food; and the analysis of the four elements.[2]

Absorption in the first jhana can be realized by mindfulness on the ten kinds of foulness and mindfulness of the body. However, these meditations cannot go beyond the first jhana due to their involving applied thought (vitakka), which is absent from the higher jhanas.[2]

Absorption in the first three jhanas can be realized by contemplating the first three brahma-viharas. However, these meditations cannot aid in attaining the fourth jhana due to the pleasant feelings associated with them. Conversely, once the fourth jhana is induced, the fourth brahma-vihara (equanimity) arises.[2]

Meditation subjects and temperaments

All of the aforementioned meditation subjects can suppress the Five Hindrances, thus allowing one to fruitfully pursue wisdom. In addition, anyone can productively apply specific meditation subjects as antidotes, such as meditating on foulness to counteract lust or on the breath to abandon discursive thought.

The Pali commentaries further provide guidelines for suggesting meditation subjects based on ones general temperament:

  • Greedy: the ten foulness meditations; or, body contemplation.
  • Hating: the four brahma-viharas; or, the four color kasinas.
  • Deluded: mindfulness of breath.
  • Faithful: the first six recollections.
  • Intelligent: recollection of death or peace; the perception of disgust of food; or, the analysis of the four elements.
  • Speculative: mindfulness of breath.

The six non-color kasinas and the four formless states are suitable for all temperaments.[2]

See also


  1. For instance, in the first three nikayas, the term is found only in the Subha Sutta (MN 99), although there it is found 22 times. In this discourse, it is contextualized, for instance, in this question to the Buddha by the Brahmin Subha:
    "Master Gotama, the brahmins say this: 'Since the work of the household life [Pali: gharāvāsa-kammaṭṭhāna] involves a great deal of activity, great functions, great engagements, and great undertakings, it is of great fruit. Since the work of those gone forth [Pali: pabbajjā-kammaṭṭhāna] involves a small amount of activity, small functions, small engagements, and small undertakings, it is of small fruit.' What does Master Gotama say about this?"[3]
    Similarly, in the famed Dighajanu Sutta (AN 8.54):
    "And what does it mean to be consummate in initiative? There is the case where a lay person, by whatever occupation he makes his living [Pali: yena kammaṭṭhānena jīvikaṃ kappeti] — whether by farming or trading or cattle tending or archery or as a king's man or by any other craft — is clever and untiring at it, endowed with discrimination in its techniques, enough to arrange and carry it out. This is called being consummate in initiative."[4]
    An identical phrasing can be found in the very next discourse, the Ujjaya Sutta (AN 8.55), and in the Dutiya Sampadā Sutta (AN 8.76). A last canonical use of this term can be found in the Sakya Sutta (AN 10.46):
    "What do you think, Sakyans. Suppose a man, by some profession or other [Pali: yena kenaci kammaṭṭhānena], without encountering an unskillful day, were to earn a half-kahapana. Would he deserve to be called a capable man, full of initiative?" [5]


  1. Buddhaghosa & Nanamoli (1999), pp. 90–91 (II, 27–28, "Development in Brief"), 110ff. (starting with III, 104, "enumeration"). It can also be found sprinkled earlier in this text as on p. 18 (I, 39, v. 2) and p. 39 (I, 107).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Gunaratana (1988).
  3. Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, p. 809; the square-bracketed Pali is from Bodhgaya News' searchable Tipitaka database at [1].
  4. Thanissaro, 1995; the square-bracketed Pali is from Bodhgaya News' searchable Tipitaka database at [2].
  5. Thanissaro, 2000; the square-bracketed Pali is from Bodhgaya News' searchable Tipitaka database starting at [3].


  • Buddhaghosa, Bhadantacariya & Bhikkhu Nanamoli (trans.) (1999), The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-00-2.
  • Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) & Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed.) (2001). The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-072-X.

External links

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