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Stages of Mindfulness and Absorption


...the Wanderling

Begin with BOTTOM of list "A," and work up:

E. NIRODHA (cessation, extinction)

Complete cessation of all psychomental activity; complete suppression of all samsaric conditionality; complete tranquillity "on the edge of the world" without, however, "going over" to Nirvana. Can last several days. Nirodha is attained after passing through the four formless absorptions, but only an Arahant can achieve Nirodha.

D. JHANA OR DHYANA WITHOUT FORM (arupa jhana): absorption without form, leading to increasing rarefaction or incorporeality (similar to Patanjali's asamprajnata samadhi. Asamprajnata-samadhi is sometimes known in Vedanta circles as nirvikalpa-samadhi). Asamprajnata-samadhi is generally considered to incorporate the following four Jhanas within its scope:

8) Eighth Jhana: jhana beyond perception and nonperception (nevasannanasanna) Saijojo.
7) Seventh Jhana: jhana of pure emptiness (akinci, lit. "nothingness") Ken-Chu-Shi.
6) Sixth Jhana: jhana of pure expansive consciousness (vinnana).
5) Fifth Jhana: jhana of boundless space (anantakasa).

Arupa-jhana not overcome is arupa-raga, number seven of The Ten Fetters of Buddhism

C. JHANA OR DHYANA WITH FORM (rupa-jhana): absorption in supporting content (similar to Patanjali's samprajnata samadhi). Samprajnata-samadhi is generally considered to incorporate the following four Jhanas within its scope:

4) Fourth Jhana: delete sense of well-being, leaving absorbed equanimity.
3) Third Jhana: delete joy, leaving equanimity and sense of well-being.
2) Second Jhana: delete mental activity, leaving joy and sense of well-being.
1) First Jhana: mental activity, joy, and sense of well-being.

See also: The Five Varieties of Zen.

Rupa-jhana not overcome is rupa-raga, number six of The Ten Fetters of Buddhism

B. ACCESS CONCENTRATION (upacara samadhi): powerful, unwavering attention on the focal object.

Traditionally, when the Five Hindrances are overcome it is called Upacara Samadhi, also known as neighborhood concentration or neighborhood samadhi, where you are right NEXT to jhanas but not fully in them.


Access Concentration and Absorption Concentration are developed on the path to jhana by fixing the mind one-pointedly on a single meditation object. Such meditations include visualization of fixed forms or colors, or concentrating the mind on one particular feeling like loving-kindness. When Access and Absorption Concentration are developed, bliss and tranquillity arise. The meditator becomes fully absorbed in the object and no hindrances can disturb him. This provisional eradication of defilementsa state free from desire, aversion and confusion lasts only as long as the meditator keeps the mind on the meditation object. As soon as the mind leaves its absorption in the object, bliss disappears and the mind is again beset by the flow of defilements. There is additionally a danger of this fixed concentration. Since it does not generate wisdom it can lead to clinging to bliss or even misuse of the powers of concentration, thereby actually increasing defilements.(source)

The difference between Access Concentration and Absorption Concentration is not in the absence of the hindrances, which is common to both, but in the relative strength of the jhana factors. In Access Concetration the factors are weak so the concentration is fragile. In Absorption Concetration the jhana factors are strong and well developed so that the mind can remain continuously in concentration (Vism.126; PP.131).

A. TRANQUILLITY (samatha or shamatha): the practice of one-pointed mental attention.

It is said that the path of tranquillity-concentration-absorption can lead to supernormal powers (e.g., extrasensory perception, knowledge of previous lives). All of the attainments of this path, however, are considered samsaric. Buddhism holds that absorption by itself cannot lead to Nirvana. It is, rather Mindfulness Leading To Insight that is said to end in Nirvana. The mastery of "Access Concentration," however, is said to be an effective means to more stable mindfulness, and the mastery of the higher absorptive states is said to be an effective means to deeper insight. In a similar vein, please comepare the above with: Siddhi.

NOTE: In Buddhism, the meditative stages of samatha (or shamatha: tranquillity), Samadhi (specifically, access concentration: upacara samadhi), and jhana [Pali] or dhyana [Sanskrit] (absorption) correspond roughly to Patanjali's dharana, dhyana, Samadhi, respectively.

NOTE: In Buddhism, it is usually 'jhana' or 'dhyana', but sometimes also 'samadhi', that is used for absorption. Samadhi, understood as means of access to absorption, is usually considered a precondition of absorption (jhana/dhyana).(BACK)


Just prior to the threshold of Tranquility, and sometimes in an overlap of early stages and sometimes indistinguishable is a preliminary or early stage called 'Laya'. Laya is a mental state of quietude easily slipped into that occurs usually in the course of spiritual practice. The experience is temporary as the arrest of thoughts return the moment the pressure is released. The stillness comes and goes. The experience is pleasant and can be sought about by `deep concentration' and/or breath regulation. It happens, therefore, with one's own volition. It can be repeated by the practitioner and it can also equally be dropped if it is considerd unnecessary or obstructive to further progress. 'Entering into Laya' can be a clear sign of one's progress --- the danger lies in mistaking it for the final goal of spiritual practice and being thus deceived.


The past several years has seen a proliferation of smartphone meditation apps come on the market, all designed in such a way to ease, assist, familiarize, and put into use meditation techniques for almost anybody interested in learning and implementing the various ins-and-outs of meditation, at least as the manufacturers of the apps view meditation.

Beyond the manufacturers advertisement and promotions, for every page that shows up on the internet or elsewhere in support of using the apps, there is an equal number of pages knocking their use. What the knocking their use people are selling varies, but the in support folk seem to be in line with the app builders and promoters because if nothing else, the apps sell --- and sell big time, especially so the two top brands, Headspace and Calm.

People use all kinds of things to enhance or increase their ability to accomplish things. They wear glasses to improve the clarity of their physical vision. Some use dental implants and dentures to chew, eat, or look better. The same for the use of prosthetics, crutches, canes, or wheelchairs. They help people get things done and walk or move about who otherwise might not be able to. But, if glasses to read or see aren't needed, or implants or dentures, or canes, crutches, or wheelchairs, why use them? Initially, with meditation, other than a coming to know what meditation is and what it can do if you do it, nothing much than the desire to do so and then doing it is required Painting legs on a snake doesn't make it walk any better. Electronically painting photon-pushing meditation legs to swath your synapses with trompe l'oeil may be for some, better than nothing. However, and this is one of the biggest however's ever, it is that better than nothing that makes it not, not nothing, the goal of meditation.


BUDDHIST MEDITATION: Stages of Mindfulness and Absorption




Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.







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Ni (without) + rodha (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment): without impediment, free of confinement

The word Nirodha has been translated as "cessation" for so long that it has become standard practice, and any deviation from it leads to queries. For the most part this standard translation is for the sake of convenience as well as to avoid confusing it for other Pali terms (apart from lack of a better word). In fact, however, this rendering of the word "Nirodha" as "ceased" can in many instances be a mis-rendering of the text.

Generally speaking, the word "cease" means to do away with something which has already arisen, or the stopping of something which has already begun. However, Nirodha in the teaching of Dependent Origination (as also in dukkhanirodha, the third of the Four Noble Truths) means the non-arising, or non-existence, of something because the cause of its arising is done away with. For example, the phrase "when avijja is Nirodha, sankhara are also Nirodha," which is usually taken to mean "with the cessation of ignorance, volitional impulses cease," in fact means "when there is no ignorance, or no arising of ignorance, or when there is no longer any problem with ignorance, there are no volitional impulses, volitional impulses do not arise, or there is no longer any problem with volitional impulses." It does not mean that ignorance already arisen must be done away with before the volitional impulses which have already arisen will also be done away with.

Where Nirodha should be rendered as cessation is when it is used in reference to the natural way of things, or the nature of compounded things. In this sense it is a synonym for the words bhanga, breaking up, anicca, transient, khaya, cessation or vaya, decay. For example, in the Pali it is given: imam kho bhikkhave tisso vedana anicca sankhata paticcasamuppanna khayadhamma vayadhamma viragadhamma nirodhadhamma: "Monks, these three kinds of feeling are naturally impermanent, compounded, dependently arisen, transient, subject to decay, dissolution, fading and cessation."[S.IV.214] (All of the factors occurring in the Dependent Origination cycle have the same nature.) In this instance, the meaning is "all conditioned things (sankhara), having arisen, must inevitably decay and fade according to supporting factors." There is no need to try to stop them, they cease of themselves. Here the intention is to describe a natural condition which, in terms of practice, simply means "that which arises can be done away with."

As for Nirodha in the third Noble Truth (or the Dependent Origination cycle in cessation mode), although it also describes a natural process, its emphasis is on practical considerations. It is translated in two ways in the Visuddi Magga. One way traces the etymology to "ni" (without) + "rodha" (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment), thus rendering the meaning as "without impediment," "free of confinement." This is explained as "free of impediments, that is, the confinement of Samsara." Another definition traces the origin to anuppada, meaning "not arising", and goes on to say "Nirodha here does not mean bhanga, breaking up and dissolution."

Therefore, translating Nirodha as "cessation", although not entirely wrong, is nevertheless not entirely accurate. On the other hand, there is no other word which comes so close to the essential meaning as "cessation." However, we should understand what is meant by the term. In this context, the Dependent Origination cycle in its cessation mode might be better rendered as "being free of ignorance, there is freedom from volitional impulses ..." or "when ignorance is gone, volitional impulses are gone ..." or "when ignorance ceases to give fruit, volitional impulses cease to give fruit ..." or "when ignorance is no longer a problem, volitional impulses are no longer a problem."

Additionally, on NIRODHA, the following is presented:

There is a Sanskrit word NIRODHA described usually as cessation that carries with it a more in depth meaning. In the index of the Visuddi Magga, for example, there are over twenty-five references that need to be read in context in order to cull out a fuller more concise meaning. Briefly, like Deep Samadhi, it is a very, very high degree non-meditative meditative state. During Nirodha there is no time sequence whether a couple hours pass or many, many days, as the immediate moment preceding and immediately following seem as though in rapid succession, start and finish compressed wafer thin. During, heartbeat and metabolism continue to slow and practically cease, sometimes continuing below the threshold of perception at a residual level. Previously stored body energy that would typically be consumed in a couple of hours if not replenished can last days with very little need for renewal. The Visuddhi Magga cites several instances where villagers came across a bhikkhu in such a state and built a funeral pyre for him, even to the point of lighting it. During low-level residual states the body temperature drops well below the 98.6 degree point. If suddenly jarred to consciousness body metabolism is slower to regain it's normal temperature, and in turn, that is recorded by the quicker to return cognitive senses as "being cold."(source)

Thousands of people observed the great Indian holy man Swami Trailanga floating on the Ganges for days on end, sitting on top of the water or remaining hidden for long periods under the waves. A common sight at Manikarnika Ghat was the Swami's motionless body on the blistering stone slabs, wholly exposed to the merciless Indian sun.

Whether the great master was above water or under it, and whether or not his body challenged the fierce solar rays, Trailanga sought to teach men that human life need not depend on oxygen or on certain conditions and precautions.

The following is in regards the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ramana was Awakened to the Absolute following what has been called his First Death Experience at age 17. To wit:

"Now my body is dead. They will carry this body, motionless, to the cremation ground and burn it. But do I really die with this body? Am I merely this body? My body is now motionless. But still I know my name. I remember my parents, uncles, brothers, friends and all others. It means that I have a knowledge of my individuality. If so, the "I" in me is not merely my body; it is a deathless spirit."

Thus, as in a flash, a new realization came to Venkataramana. Usually a man wins God realization by performing tapas for years and years, without food and sleep; he subjects the body to great suffering. But Venkataramana won the highest knowledge without all these. The Fear of Death left him. Venkataramana became the Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Most people take it from there that he was thus then a fully Enlightened being and that was it, moving to the caves of the holy hill Arunachala then to his ashram in later years, eventually becoming the sage he came to be known by all. However, what most people don't realize is that some fifteen years following that initial death experience, in 1912 at age 32, Ramana had a little known and little talked about Second Death Experience. That second death experience, even though Ramana was known and admired as a fully Enlightened being, did however, even though fully Enlightened --- and this may seem an oxymoron --- modifiy his long standing approach to obscurity and life. Ramana's second death experience seemingly opened the door for or an embracing of family and outsiders that previously had not manifested itself in Ramana's previous outward actions.

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The Five Hindrances are but five defilemnts of what are called Medium Kilesa. The five are: (1)the desire for sensual pleasures, (2)anger, (3)indolence (laziness), (4)worry, and (5)doubt. The Pali Canon illustrates the effect of these hindrances with the help of five eloquent similes:

  1. The mind overpowered by the desire for sense pleasures is compared to coloured water which prevents a true reflection of a thing on the water. Thus a man obsessed with the desire for sense pleasures is unable to get a true perspective of either himself or other people or his environment.

  2. The mind oppressed by anger is compared to boiling water which cannot give an accurate reflection. A man overpowered by anger is unable to discern an issue properly.

  3. When the mind is in the grip of indolence, it is like moss covered water: light cannot even reach the water and a reflection is impossible. The lazy man does not even make an effort at correct understanding.

  4. When worried, the mind is like wind-tossed turbulent water, which also fails to give a true reflection. The worried man forever restless is unable to make a proper assessment of an issue.

  5. When the mind is in doubt it is compared to muddy water placed in darkness which cannot reflect an image well. Thus all the Five Hindrances deprive the mind of understanding and happiness and cause much stress and suffering.

    See also: DEFILEMENTS: Coarse, Medium, and Subtle Kilesa

NIRODHA description above through the graceful services of
P.A. Payutto