Paññāvimutti – Arahanthood without Jhāna

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Paññāvimutti – Arahanthood without Jhāna

September 12, 2018; revised February 24, 2019; January 30, 2024

[paññāvimutti : [f.] emancipation through insight.][WebLink: suttacentral: Paññāvimutti Sutta (AN 9:44)]

1. One could get to magga phala without ever going through jhāna. The Noble Eightfold Path, at its completion, takes one to Sammā Samādhi. Then one becomes an Arahant by completing the following two steps — Sammā Ñāṇa and Sammā Vimutti — to become an Arahant.

This is stated clearly in the WebLink: suttacentral: Mahā Cattārīsika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 117): “..Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti. Kathañca, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti? Sammādiṭṭhissa, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo pahoti, sammāsaṅkappassa sammāvācā pahoti, sammāvācassa sammākammanto pahoti, sammākammantassa sammāājīvo pahoti, sammāājīvassa sammāvāyāmo pahoti, sammāvāyāmassa sammāsati pahoti, sammāsatissa sammāsamādhi pahoti, sammāsamādhissa sammāñāṇaṁ pahoti, sammāñāṇassa sammāvimutti pahoti. Iti kho, bhikkhave, aṭṭhaṅgasamannāgato sekkho, dasaṅgasamannāgato Arahā hoti. Tatrapi sammāñāṇena aneke pāpakā akusalā dhammā vigatā bhāvanāpāripūriṁ gacchanti..”

Thus the Noble Path starts with Sammā Diṭṭhi and gets to Sammā Samādhi, at which point one is said to have completed eight steps and is still a sekkha (in training): aṭṭhaṅgasamannāgato sekkho.

Then one fully comprehends the real nature with Sammā Ñāna and attains full release or Sammā Vimutti (Arahantship). Now, one has completed all ten steps and is no longer in training (dasaṅgasamannāgato Arahā hoti).

2. Every one of us has attained anāriya jhāna in many births during our deep past. Thus attaining a jhāna is insignificant compared to attaining a magga phala. 

It is also clear that even a Sotāpanna Anugāmi is a million-fold better than one with the ability to get into jhāna, or even abhiññā powers, including the ability to travel through the air, create things by mind power, etc.

Attaining jhānā can sometimes become a hindrance since many people get attached to jhāna and stop making an effort towards magga phala, which is sad.

3. It takes time to cultivate jhāna, especially for those who have not cultivated them in recent past lives. People who have high wisdom (paññā) may attain magga phala (even Arahanthood) within a very short time, and they are called paññāvimutti Arahants or “wisdom-liberated.” Bahiya Daruchiriya, who attained Arahantship upon listening to a single verse by the Buddha is a good example; see, “WebLink: suttacentral: Bahiya Sutta (Udāna 1.10).”

The Susima Sutta, also called “WebLink: suttacentral: Susimaparibbājaka Sutta (Saṁyutta Nikāya 12.70)” discusses a group of Arahants who were paññāvimutti Arahants. 

In that sutta, the Buddha explained to Susima that there are Arahants without any supernormal (iddhi) powers, because they were paññāvimutti Arahants. Once attaining Arahanthood, they have no desire to cultivate iddhi (abhiññā) powers since they have seen the anicca nature of those powers.

4. In some exceptional cases, one may simultaneously gain abhiññ powers together with the Arahanthood, within a very short time.

Many got to magga phala without ever getting to a jhāna. Alavaka Yaksa, Upatissa, Kolita, Aṅgulimāla, minister Santati, and many others attained various stages of Nibbāna by just listening to a single desanā. The account of Santati can be found at: “WebLink: Dhammapada Verse 142.”

Another prominent example in the Tipiṭaka is the story about the Culapanthaka Thero. After trying hard for months, he almost disrobed because he could not even memorize a single verse. But with Buddha’s help, he was able to attain Arahanthood in a day and simultaneously achieved abhiññā powers as well: “WebLink: Cūḷapanthaka.”

5. Some argue that WebLink: suttacentral: Sacca Vibhaṅga Sutta (MN 141) states that Sammā Samādhi is attained ONLY WHEN one attains the first four jhānā. This is not correct. All one needs to do is get to the vicinity of ANY of those four jhānā (thus one could get to the upacāra samādhi for the first jhāna, for example), and attain magga phala from there.

Here is the relevant verse from the above sutta: “..Katamo cāvuso, sammāsamādhi? Idhāvuso, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati, vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ avitakkaṁ avicāraṁ samādhijaṁ pītisukhaṁ dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati, pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati … pe … tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ … pe … catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati, ayaṁ vuccatāvuso: ‘sammāsamādhi’...”

The key is “upasampajja viharati,” which means one stays close to any one of jhāna (“upa” means close or in the vicinity), which means one can either get to that jhāna or can get to upacāra samādhi for that jhāna. This is why it is not labelled as “Sammā Jhāna” but “Sammā Samādhi.”

The fact that it is unnecessary to cultivate jhāna to attain Arahanthood becomes apparent when you analyze how 89 types of citta become 121 citta, as explained below.

6. The 89 (or 121) citta existing in the 31 realms are discussed in “The 89 (121) Types of Citta.”

There are 54 citta that could arise mainly in the kāmāvacara realms; 15 and 12 cittās respectively mainly arise in the rūpāvacara and arūpāvacara realms. The total so far is 81 citta.

Without going through any jhāna at all, there are 8 cittās associated with attaining the four stages of Nibbāna (4 magga citta and 4 phala citta). Then the total number of citta is 81 +8 = 89.

Now, one can attain each magga phala from the five rūpāvacara jhāna (these can be Ariya or anāriya jhāna.) For example, the Arahanthood can be reached from the vicinity of each of those five jhāna. Thus in this case, the total number of citta becomes 81 + 40 = 121.

It is to be noted that the five jhāna in the terminology of Abhidhamma are the same as the four jhāna in the terminology of the suttā; the first jhāna in sutta terminology is split into two in Abhidhamma.

7. In Abhidhamma, the above explanation becomes even more clear when one looks at the citta vīthi to attain a magga phala):

B B B B B “BC BU MD P U A G M P P” B B B B B…..

where, B = bhavaṅga, BC (bhavaṅga calana), BU (bhavaṅga upaccheda), MD = mind door, P = parikamma, U = upacāra, A = anuloma, G = gotrabhu (change of lineage), M = magga citta, P = phala citta. [Here, “anu” means “through the understanding of Tilakkhaṇa,” “lo” means “craving for worldly things,” and “ma” means “removal,” and thus anuloma” means “removal of craving for worldly things to some extent via the comprehension of Tilakkhaṇa.”]

So, there is no jhāna citta preceding the magga or phala citta in the citta vīthi for a magga phala. Once one gets to the upacāra samādhi, it goes through anuloma and gotrabhu (change of lineage) to the magga and phala citta. This is why upacāra samādhi (which is Sammā Samādhi) is enough to attain even the Arahanthood.

8. On the other hand, a citta vīthi to attain a jhāna:

B B B B B “BC BU MD P U A G J” B B B B B…..

where, J = jhāna citta.

Note that upacāra citta for jhāna differs from upacāra citta for magga phala, even though the same symbol represents them. Here, upacāra means “close,” either to the jhāna or to magga phala, which are two different attainments. As we discussed earlier, jhāna are associated with “this world” and magga phala are associated with Nibbāna.

Gotrabhu (change of lineage) citta induces either a magga phala or a jhāna, which are two very different changes: jhāna is just a change of lineage to one of the 31 realms, whereas magga phala is to be dissociated from the 31 realms.

For a discussion on citta vīthi, see “Citta Vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”

9. There is another piece of strong evidence from the Tipiṭaka that one does not need to attain even the first Ariya jhāna to attain the Sotāpanna stage. We all know that Ven.Moggallana (who was Kolita before becoming a bhikkhu), attained the Sotāpanna stage upon hearing a single verse uttered by Ven. Assaji.

Then Kolita (and Upatissa) went to see the Buddha and were ordained. It took them a week to two weeks to attain Arahanthood. The WebLink: suttacentral: Moggallāna Saṁyutta in the Saṁyutta Nikāya has nine suttā that describe step-by-step how Ven. Moggallāna attained Ariya jhānā in sequence, starting with the first Ariya jhāna. They both had attained the Sotāpanna stage the day they met Ven. Assaji. This is conclusive evidence that one does not need to attain any Ariya jhāna before the Sotāpanna stage.

In particular, the very first sutta there describes how the Buddha came to him by iddhi bala and encouraged him to cultivate the first Ariya jhāna (WebLink: suttacentral: Paṭhamajhāna Pañhā Sutta; SN 40.1): “..Atha kho maṁ, āvuso, bhagavā iddhiyā upasaṅkamitvā etadavoca: ‘moggallāna, moggallāna. Mā, brāhmaṇa, paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ pamādo, paṭhame jhāne cittaṁ saṇṭhapehi, paṭhame jhāne cittaṁ ekodiṁ karohi, paṭhame jhāne cittaṁ samādahā’ti..” OR “..the Buddha came to me by iddhi bala and told me: Moggallana, Moggallana, Brahmana, do not become delayed, cultivate the first jhāna...”

The subsequent suttā in the Moggallāna Saṁyutta describe how the Buddha instructed him through each successive rūpāvacara and arūpāvacara jhānā, where Ven. Moggallāna developed all iddhi bala (power) and became second only to the Buddha in supernormal powers; see, “Ascendance to Nibbāna via Jhāna (Dhyāna).”

10. Therefore, one could get to the higher stages of Nibbāna via two paths.

One could cultivate jhānā and attain successively higher jhānā by comprehending the anicca nature of those jhānā (as we mentioned above, they still belong to this world), and REMOVING successive jhāna factors.

I will write more about this in the future, but the point is that those jhānic states are still subject to both the saṅkhāra dukkha and the vipariṇāma dukkha, even though temporarily exempt from dukkha dukkha.

The second path does not require jhāna; Sammā Samādhi is enough. For those with higher levels of wisdom (paññā), higher stages of Nibbāna can be arrived at without going through jhāna.

11. The second path is discussed in the WebLink: suttacentral: Kimatthiya Sutta (Aṅguttara Nikāya 11.1). Here one can start with comprehending dukkha, which leads to Nibbāna via the following steps: saddhā, piti, passadhi, sukha, samādhi, yathabhutananadassana, nibbida, viraga, and to vimutti; see, “WebLink: suttacentral: Upanisa Sutta (Saṁyutta Nikāya 12.23).”

When one starts with lokuttara Sammā Diṭṭhi and follows the ariyakānta sīla (Sammā Vācā, Sammā Kammanta, Sammā Ājīva), one will automatically get to Sammā Vāyāma, Sammā Sati and Sammā Samādhi (these three path factors constitute Samādhi). By the way, Sammā Diṭṭhi and Sammā Saṅkappa constitute paññā. So, the sequence is paññā, sīla, samādhi.

That Sammā Samādhi is all one needs to get to Sammā Ñāṇa (ultimate wisdom) and Sammā Vimutti (ultimate release) and thus to attain the Arahanthood; fulfilling all ten factors lead to the Arahanthood (“dasahangehi samannagato”).

12. One time a bhikkhuni asked Ven. Ānanda: “..‘yāyaṁ, bhante ānanda, samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaṅkhāraniggayhavāritagato, vimuttattā ṭhito, ṭhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati. Ayaṁ, bhante ānanda, samādhi kiṁphalo vutto bhagavatā’ti?,” OR

bhante ānanda, I have this samādhi which is stable, without defilements, contented, joyful, and without agitation. What did the Blessed One call this samādhi?”

Ven. Ānanda replied: “..‘yāyaṁ, bhagini, samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaṅkhāraniggayhavāritagato, vimuttattā ṭhito, ṭhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati. Ayaṁ, bhagini, samādhi aññāphalo vutto bhagavatā’ti. Evaṁsaññīpi kho, āvuso, tadāyatanaṁ no paṭisaṁvedetī”ti,” OR,

“Yes, bhikkhnuni, there is such a samādhi. The Blessed One called it Arahant phala samādhi which is without any defilements.”

This is in the WebLink: suttacentral: Ānanda Sutta (Aṅguttara Nikāya 9.37). She was an Arahant and she did not even realize that!

That samādhi is tadāyatana or Nibbāna; see, “Nibbāna “Exists”, but Not in This World.”