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 [Dhamma Talk]


MN 39

The Buddha gives the bhikkhus a full curriculum for the realization of Nibbāna.

Read the Sutta

Index to available translations: MN 39



This sutta presents the descriptions of the jhānas together with similes for each.

These similes are very helpful when it comes to the subjective judgment as to one's attainment of the jhāna. You should be able to see in what is happening in your own body the exact parallel with the simile.

It is significant that the terms used to indicate the way the jhāna is to be cultivated change at the fourth jhāna.

There is an internal parallel within these terms between them and the similes which should be reflected in their degree and order.

Again, the idea is of a progression in degree of wetness. Here from wetting dry soapflakes to the total immersion of the flowering lotus.

These 'wettings' apply with regard to pleasant sensations from the first to the third jhāna.

Entering the fourth jhāna requires that these sensations be let go, and the simile is a dry image characterized by the idea of purity, cleanliness, and a stationary posture.

PED's definitions vaguely hint at the idea of progressive saturation.

So for the similes, the progression is:
first a wetting,
second a penetrating injection,
third a flowering in total immersion,
and fourth a dry image which suggests a view detached from the completely encompassed body which in turn suggests that the idea may be more of an objective view of what is happening to the body than the subjective view being implied by the terms indicating how the first three jhāna are to be cultivated.

Done properly the result should be a dual progression from the point of first attaining to the first jhāna to the point where it can be abandoned, to the point of first attaining the third jhāna to the point where it can be abandoned, to the point where by abandoning the third jhāna one emerges from the wetness by abandoning the totally encompassed body altogether.

To the end of making this more evident in the terms, the following new translations are suggested here:

Pali Abhisandeti[1] Parisandeti[2] Paripūreti[3] Parippharati[4]
New Suggested Translation permeates pervades submerges encompasses
Olds [course] soak permeate suffuse saturate
Rhys Davids [DN 2] pervade drench permeate suffuse
Horner [MN 39] drenches saturates permeates suffuses
Hare [AN 5.28] steeps drenches fills suffuses
Bhk. Thanissaro [MN 39] [DN 2] permeates pervades suffuses fills
Bhk. Bodhi [AN 5.28] drench steep fill pervade


[1] Abhisandeti. PED: to make overflow, to make full, fill, pervade

[2] Parisandeti. PED: to make flow round, to make overflow, to fill,

[3] Paripūreti. PED: to fulfil; to fill (up), make more full, supplement, fill out, add to

[4] Parippharati. PED: to pervade

In addition to the similes for the jhānas, similies are also given for the 'three knowledges' of the Arahant: Seeing past lives, seeing the outcome of kamma (which is also given as the Buddhist understanding of forseeing the future), and knowledge of the Corrupting Influences (āsavas).
All these similes are emensely helpful when it comes to 'bending down the mind' to understanding. The concluding simile, for the state of having got rid of the assavas, is one of the most revealing images of the Arahant one could ask for:

Seyyathā pi, bhikkhave,||
pabbatasankhepe udakarahado accho vippasanno anāvilo,||
tattha cakkhumā puriso tīre ṭhito passeyya||
sippisambukam pi,||
sakkharakaṭhalam pi,||
macchagumbam pi,||
carantam pi,||
tiṭṭhantam pi,||
tassa evam assa:
|| ||

"Ayaɱ kho udakarahado accho vippasanno anāvilo,||
tatir'ime sippisambukā pi||
sakkharakaṭhalā pi||
macchagumbā pi||
caranti pi||
tiṭṭhanti pī' ti.
|| ||

Just as though there were, beggars,
at the summit of a rugged mountain range,
a waterhole,
translucent, pure, tranquil,
standing on the edge,
a man with eyes, seeing
just oyster-shells
just potsherd-fragments
just schools of fish
just meandering around
just remaining still.

Thus it would be for him:

"This then is a waterhole,
translucent, pure, tranquil,
and these are just oyster-shells
just potsherd-fragments
just schools of fish
just meandering around
just remaining still."


... what more cool, utterly devastating way could you put it?




See also: AN 5.28,
DN 2,
MN 77



The similarity of the image in the simile for the Fourth Jhāna to that of a corpse wrapped in its shroud should not be overlooked.

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