Five Factors for the First Jhana - NOT!

There is a wide spread misunderstanding that the first jhana has 5 factors. But this is not what is described in the suttas and is certainly not what the Buddha taught and practiced. The first jhana has 4 factors (Yes! Four - look it up, see it in Pali):

  1. vitakka - thinking
  2. vicara - more thinking, examining
  3. piti - rapture, glee, zest
  4. sukha - happiness

In the vast majority of cases - over 100 suttas, the first jhana is described as having only the 4 factors listed above. However the Abhidhamma and the Commentaries do speak of 5 factors for the first jhana - they add ekaggata (one-pointedness). Ekaggata isn't mentioned in the suttas because it is not and cannot be part of the formula. In the first place, vitakka and vicara always and only mean "thinking" and "examining" in the suttas - there is no place where they can be interpreted to mean "initial and sustained attention" or any such thing. It is even explicit in the canon that vitakka and vicara refer to thinking in the context of the first jhana - see for example SN 21:1. There "Noble Silence" is defined as the 2nd Jhana because vitakka and vicara are now absent. It is simply not possible to have one-pointedness and thinking at the same time, so experiencing ekaggata in the same jhana as vitakka and vicara makes no sense whatsoever.

Furthermore in the 2nd Jhana, vitakka and vicara are replaced with "vupasama, ajjhattam sampasadanam" and "ekodi-bhavam" - "inner tranquility" and "unification of mind." If there was ekaggata in 1st Jhana, there would be no need to specify the gaining of "ekodi-bhavam" to replace vitakka and vicara in the 2nd Jhana.

Now there are 2 suttas where 5 factors are given for the first jhana and a 3rd sutta where unification of mind is mentioned in regard to the 1st Jhana:

  1. M I 294 - MN 43 "The Greater Set of Questions-and-Answers"
  2. M III 25-29 - MN 111 "One After Another"
  3. S IV 263 - SN 40.1 "The First Jhana" (not ekaggata, but ekodim; the context makes it a real stretch to consider this a 5th factor!)
But all of these appear to be "late" suttas - written at the close of the sutta era and the beginning of the abhidhamma era. Sutta MN 111 is actually internally contradictory: it first gives the standard 1st jhana formula with vitakka and vicara and then says Sariputta examined the factors of the 1st jhana and found ekaggata. As mentioned above, you just can't have ekaggata and vitakka & vicara happening at the same time.

Of course this was a problem for the abhidhammaikas and the commentators. So they redefined vitakka and vicara to mean initial and sustained attention. But clearly the Abhidhamma has tinkered with the definitions of the jhanas, converting the first jhana into 2 different states: one with vitakka & vicara and one with only vicara. There is no basis for this in the suttas except again in a couple of "late" suttas.

And by the time of the Visuddhimagga, the definitions of what constitutes a jhana had diverged significantly from the sutta definitions. The Visuddhimagga has made the jhanas so difficult that only one in a million who come to meditation can enter the first jhana (section XII.8) - while in the suttas, the monks and nuns were all practicing jhana (the Buddha didn't have millions of followers - probably only a few thousand at most, yet there are many accounts of monastics successfully practicing the jhanas). The absorption level described in the Visuddhimagga is so deep that "sounds are a thorn to the 1st jhana" as found in AN 10.72 makes no sense at all.

Clearly ekaggata as a factor of the 1st jhana is a later addition making the 5 factors of the 1st jhana a later schema. In fact, looking at the jhanas with the traditional abhidhamma/commentarial factors misses some of the important information in the sutta schema - see

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 16 July 12