Pīti (Pali; Skt. prīti; T. dga' ba; C. xi) is translated as "joy," "zest," "rapture," etc. It is an ethically variable mental factor that is characterized by "joyful interest". It has the function of refreshing the mind and body. The intensity of the joy or delight can vary depending upon the stability of one's meditative concentration.
Pīti is identified as:
- one of the six occasional mental factors within the Pali tradition
- the third of the five absorption factors (dhyānāṅga)
- the fourth of the seven factors of enlightenment
- an antidote to the hindrances of ill will (vyapada) and sloth-torpor (thīna-middha) within the five hindrances
- Pīti has the characteristic of endearing (sampiyāyana). Its function is to refresh mind and body, or its function is to pervade (to thrill with rapture). It is manifested as elation. Mind-and-body (nāmarūpa) is its proximate cause.
The Buddhist Dictionary states:
- pīti: ‘rapture’, enthusiasm, interest (rendered also as joy, happiness, zest); it is one of the mental factors or concomitants (cetasika) and belongs to the group of mental formations (saṅkhāra-kkhandha). Since, in Sutta texts, it is often linked in a compound word with ‘gladness’ (pāmojja) or ‘happiness’ (sukha), some Western translations have wrongly taken it as a synonym of these two terms. Pīti, however, is not a feeling or a sensation, and hence does not belong to the feeling-group (vedanā-kkhandha), but may be described psychologically as ‘joyful interest’. As such it may be associated with wholesome as well as with unwholesome and neutral states of consciousness.
- A high degree of rapture is characteristic of certain stages in meditative concentration, in insight practice (vipassanā) as well as in the first two absorptions (jhāna, q.v.). In the latter it appears as one of the factors of absorption (jhānaṅga) and is strongest in the second absorption.
The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism states:
- Prīti refreshes both body and mind and manifests itself as physical and mental tranquillity (praśrabdhi).
In the development of concentration
A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma describes pīti in the context of meditative concentration as follows:
- Pīti, derived from the verb pīnayati meaning “to refresh,” may be explained as delight or pleasurable interest in the object. The term is often translated as rapture, a rendering which fits its role as a jhāna factor but may not be wide enough to cover all its nuances. The commentators distinguish five grades of pīti that arise when developing concentration: minor zest, momentary zest, showering zest, uplifting zest, and pervading zest.
- Minor zest is able to raise the hairs on the body.
- Momentary zest is like flashes of lightning.
- Showering zest breaks over the body again and again like waves on the sea shore.
- Uplifting zest can cause the body to levitate.
- Pervading zest pervades the whole body as an inundation fills a cavern.
- The latter is identified as the pīti present in jhāna. As a factor of jhāna pīti inhibits the hindrance of ill will (vyāpāda).
Within the meditative absorbtions (dhyana)
Dhyāna (Pali: jhāna) refers to a state of meditative absorption where awareness is fully absorbed in the object of attention. The Buddha described four levels of absorption (dhyana/jhana), each of increasing depth.
The mental factor pīti, in the sense of "rapture" or "physical pleasure," is present in the first two of the four absorptions.
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo describes the mental factors related to the first absorption (jhāna, dhyāna) within the contexts of meditation on the breath.
To think of the breath is termed vitakka, directed thought. To adjust the breath and let it spread is called vicara, evaluation. When all aspects of the breath flow freely throughout the body, you feel full and refreshed in body and mind: This is piti, rapture. When body and mind are both at rest, you feel serene and at ease: This is sukha, pleasure. And once you feel pleasure, the mind is bound to stay snug with a single preoccupation and not go straying after any others: This is ekaggatarammana, singleness of preoccupation. These five factors form the beginning stage of Right Concentration.
Distinction between pīti and sukkha
The Visuddhimagga distinguishes between pīti and sukha in the context of the jhanas as follows:
- And wherever the two are associated, happiness [here, Ñāṇamoli's translation of pīti] is the contentedness at getting a desirable object, and bliss [sukha] is the actual experiencing of it when got. Where there is happiness [pīti] there is bliss (pleasure) [sukha]; but where there is bliss [sukha] there is not necessarily happiness [pīti]. Happiness is included in the formations aggregate; bliss is included in the feeling aggregate. If a man exhausted in a desert saw or heard about a pond on the edge of a wood, he would have happiness; if he went into the wood's shade and used the water, he would have bliss....
According to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, piti is a stimulating, exciting and energizing quality, as opposed to the calmness of sukha.
Within the heavenly realms
According to Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, the divinities in the five pure abodes (śuddhāvāsa) and those of the "heaven of universal radiance" (ābhāsvarāloka) literally "feed on joy" (prītibhaksa). That is, physical and mental rapture is their only sustenance.
- Nyanatiloka Thera 2019, s.v. pīti.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. Chapter II, Section "Ethically Variable Factors"; sub-section Zest (pīti).
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. prīti.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. Chapter 1, Section "Fine-Material-Sphere Consciousness", sub-section Zest (pīti).
- Keeping the Breath in Mind, Access to Insight
- Vsm. IV, 100 (Ñāṇamoli, 1999, p. 142). Similarly, see also the Abhidhamma's commentary, Atthasalini (Bodhi, 1980).
- Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Author), Santikaro Bhikkhu (Translator). Mindfulness With Breathing : A Manual for Serious Beginners. 1988, p. 69
- Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. (2000), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Pariyatti Publishing
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Nyanatiloka Thera (2019), Nyanaponika Thera, ed., Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, Pariyatti Publishing
- Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) (1999). The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-00-2.