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A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta

Part 6 - Concentration


"Happiness is the supporting condition for concentration": The attainment of access signals a major breakthrough which spurs on further exertion. As a result of such exertion the bliss generated in the access stage is made to expand and to suffuse the mind so completely that the subtlest barriers to inner unification disappear. Along with their disappearance the mind passes beyond the stage of access and enters into absorption or full concentration (samadhi). Concentration itself denotes a mental factor present in both the attainments of access and absorption. Its salient feature is the wholesome unification of the mind on a single object, and it brings about a harmonization between consciousness and its concomitants to a degree sufficient to free them from the distraction, vacillation, and unsteadiness characterizing their normal operations. The mind in concentration, fixed firmly on its object, is like the flame of a candle shielded from the wind or the surface of a lake on which all the waves and ripples have been stilled.

However, although both access and absorption partake of the nature of concentration, an important difference still separates them, justifying the restriction of the term "full concentration" to absorption alone. This difference consists in the relative strength in the two attainments of certain mental concomitants called the "factors of absorption" or "jhana factors" (jhanangani) — namely, applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, happiness, and mental one pointedness. These factors, aroused at the very beginning of serenity meditation and gradually cultivated through the course of its progress, have the dual function of inhibiting the hindrances and unifying the mind on its object. According to the commentaries, the factors are aligned with the hindrances in a direct one to one relation of opposition, such that each jhana factor has the specific task of countering and occluding one hindrance. Thus applied thought counteracts stiffness and torpor, sustained thought doubt, rapture ill will, happiness restlessness and regret, and one pointedness sensual desire.[1] At the same time the factors exercise a consolidating function with respect to the object, applied thought directing the mind to the object, sustained thought anchoring it there, rapture creating an interest in it, happiness experiencing its affective quality, and one pointedness focusing the mind on the object.

In the access attainment the jhana factors are strong enough to keep the hindrances suppressed, but not yet strong enough to place the mind in absorption. They still stand in need of maturation. Maturation comes as a result of continued practice, which gives them the power to lift the mind beyond the threshold plane of access and plunge it into the object with the unshakable force of full absorption. In the state of absorption the mind fixes upon its object with such a high intensity of concentration that subjective discriminations between the two no longer occur. The waves of discursive thinking have at last subsided, and the mind abides without straying even the least from its base of stabilization. Nevertheless, even full concentration admits of degrees. At the plane of absorption concentration is divided into four levels called the four jhanas. These are distinguished by the aggregation of factors present in each attainment, the order of the four being determined by the successive elimination of the comparatively coarser factors. In the first jhana all five jhana factors are present; in the second applied and sustained thought are eliminated, in the third rapture is made to fade away; and in the fourth the feeling of happiness is replaced by equanimity, the peaceful feeling tone which veers neither toward pleasure nor toward pain. One pointedness remains present in all four jhanas, the one constant in the series. To rise from the first jhana to the second, the yogin, after emerging from the first jhana, must reflect upon the coarseness of applied and sustained thought and the first jhanas inadequacy due to the proximity of the hindrances. Then he must consider the second jhana as more peaceful and sublime, arouse the aspiration to attain it, and exert his energy to achieve a stronger degree of mental unification. Similarly, to rise from the second to the third jhana he must repeat the same procedure taking rapture as the coarse factor needing to be eliminated, and to rise from the third to the fourth jhana he must reflect on the coarseness of happiness and the superiority of neutral, equanimous feeling.

Beyond the fourth jhana lie four even subtler stages of concentration called the four formless attainments (arupasamapatti). In these attainments the luminous counterpart sign serving as the object of the jhanas is replaced by four successively more refined formless objects, which give their names to their respective attainments — the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither perception nor non perception. At the peak of this scale of meditative equipoise consciousness arrives at a point of unification so fine that, like the geometric point, it eludes detection, and its presence can be neither affirmed nor denied.

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Footnotes and references:


Vism. IV.86, Nanamoli, p. 147.

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