Considering these verses of the Anapanasati Sutta

He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.'

He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.'

In the commentaries I have read rapture and pleasure (bliss) are taken as jhana factors as detailed here. What exactly is been suggested here? Is it possible to experience these factors in meditation without being in the jhanas and maybe encourage them? Can one encourage them by focusing on them and almost willing them into being? I was always told this was counterproductive. Presumably this part of the sutta is samatha. Is it being suggested that you should be in the jhanas before going on any further in this meditation?

I think generally I'm just wanting some additional explanation to what these verses mean and the implication of them to meditation practice.

  • See "stages of anapanasati" in the wikipedia link you provided.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 23:55
  • With that being said, I'd also like some more explanation, especially about the stages of Anapanasati, as I've never seen/heard about that before! Every explanation of Anapanasati I've seen or heard has been very basic, just watching the breath and that's it.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 6:23

5 Answers 5


From my experience, it is correct to encourage and "will the rapture into being".

The most important point perhaps is that the bliss/rapture here are not just any contrived bliss/rapture, they are bliss/rapture born of the (cultivated, confirmed with insight) feeling that everything is right, that you are right. That's the key here. Suchness!

Total complete non-conceptual Emptiness is like this. You don't have ground but (and therefore) you are very steady. Some call it unmovable diamond ground, or Diamond Samadhi. That's the nature of bliss we are talking about!

Deep Groundlessness and Complete Thusness-Confidence stemming from it. The bliss of meditation is a proximate cause thereof, to induce by virtue of being a simile of.

(That said, it must be remembered that the rapture/bliss in-and-of-itself is not part of the liberating realization, groundlessness is)

PS. This is shamatha, yes, all jhanas are. But if you skip it and get to the realization through other (i.e. intellectual) means you will still have to come back and polish your suchness anyway, so why not do it upfront.

As I said before, jhanas is not something you find yourself in, it is what you work on. Any meditation that involves deliberate cultivation of certain mindset is not vipashyana. The four jhanas are a kind of shamatha specifically aimed at generation of rapture-bliss-suchness-groundlessness. Once the fourth jhana has been attained, our friend Gotama naturally found himself in vipashyana. Anapanasati is a very generic description of the same basic method, perhaps less centered on Gotama's personal experience than is the four jhanas story, a little more generalized for an average practitioner.

As I understand, the five precepts were the preliminary practice for taming the mind, followed by kasinas and cultivation of disgust (later replaced by Anapana!), followed by the four jhanas (generation of progressively subtler suhkha-becoming-suchness), followed by vipashyana. So it is like first you achieve basic isolation from unskillful qualities, then learn to focus inside and see your own mental and emotional obscurations, then learn to overcome these and generate certain mindset and mood, then start crossing over to the four noble truths while at the same time exploring relationship between suffering and craving on one hand, and bliss and suchness on the other, and then falling out from blissful kinds of suchness into true groundlessness.

So you can see that the role of rapture/bliss generation here is to both provide pleasant dwelling in the here and now, but more importantly to serve as the stepping stone to suchness and then groundlessness of nirvana.


I assume that by rapture and bliss you mean the Pali words Piti and Sukha.

Piti and Sukha are supposed to be comfortable and pleasant states of mind that arise whenever the mind is sufficiently calm, abiding in itself. However, these states have degrees of maturity, and they are not always conventionally pleasant. Diarrhea or sensations of ants crawling for example are results of Piti that the commoner wouldn't enjoy as pleasures.

Piti and Sukha can arise both in Samatha and Vipassana, leading some to compare the nanas of Vipassana with the Jhanas of Samatha, and claim they are one and the same with subtle differences. However, this is not agreed upon by all, who think there's a big difference between khanika samadhi and jhana.

My own view is nanas & jhanas are equally beneficial, but different in character to some extent, yet not as different as the hardliners make it out to be.

However Piti and Sukha are false fruits - one may be captured by them, and remaining content in them, may return to them time and again without making more effort to enter higher nanas or jhanas.

There are five types of Piti with the final kind being the jhana factor Piti.

One can be practicing Vipassana, and from the final Piti depart to a Samadhi, or exit a jhana samadhi directly into a Vipassana nana.

Five kinds or types of Piti

1. Khuddaka piti (minor rapture)

This state is characterized by the following:

  • The meditator may be aware of a white color.
  • There may be a feeling of coolness or dizziness and the hairs of the body may stand on end.
  • The meditator may cry or feel terrified.

2. Khanika piti (momentary rapture)

Characteristics of this piti include:

  • Seeing flashes of light.
  • Seeing sparks. Nervous twitching.
  • A feeling of stiffness all over the body.
  • A feeling as if ants were crawling on the body.
  • A feeling of heat all over the body.
  • Shivering.
  • Seeing red colors.
  • The hair on the body rising slightly.
  • Itchiness as if ants were crawling on one's face and body.

3. Okkantika piti (flood of joy)

In this piti:

  • The body may shake and tremble.
  • The face, hands and feet may twitch.

  • There may be violent shaking as if the bed is going to turn upside down.

  • Nausea and at times actual vomiting may occur.
  • There may be a rhythmic feeling like waves breaking on the shore.
  • Ripples of energy may seem to flow over the body.
  • The body may vibrate like a stick which is fixed in a flowing stream.
  • A light yellow color may be observed. The body may bend to and fro.

4. Ubbenka piti (uplifting joy)

In this piti:

  • The body feels as if it is extending or moving upwards.
  • There may be a feeling as though lice are climbing on the face and body.
  • Diarrhea may occur.
  • The body may bend forwards or backwards.
  • One may feel that one's head has been moved backwards and forwards by somebody.
  • There may be a chewing movement with the mouth either open or closed.
  • The body sways like a tree being blown by the wind.
  • The body bends forwards and may fall down.
  • There may be fidgeting movements of the body.
  • There may be jumping movements of the body.
  • Arms and legs may be raised or may twitch.
  • The body may bend forwards or may recline.
  • A silver gray color may be observed.

5. Pharana piti (pervading rapture)

In this piti:

  • A feeling of coldness spreads through the body.
  • Peace of mind sets in occasionally.
  • There may be itchy feelings all over the body.
  • There may be drowsy feelings and the meditator may not wish to open his or her eyes.
  • The meditator has no wish to move.
  • There may be a flushing sensation from feet to head or vice versa.
  • The body may feel cool as if taking a bath or touching ice.
  • The meditator may see blue or emerald green colors.
  • An itchy feeling as though lice are crawling on the face may occur.


The fourth defilement of vipassana is sukha which means "bliss" and has the following characteristics:

  • There may be a feeling of comfort.
  • Due to pleasant feelings the meditator may wish to continue practicing for a long time.
  • The meditator may wish to tell other people of the results which he has already gained.
  • The meditator may feel immeasurably proud and happy.

  • Some say that they have never known such happiness.

  • Some feel deeply grateful to their teachers.
  • Some meditators feel that their teacher is at hand to give help.

Source: http://www.vipassanadhura.com/sixteen.html

One cannot understand the meaning of these terms sufficiently by poring through a Pali dictionary; true understanding in these cases is experiential.

Not everyone attains these states in sequence, one's mind can skip some steps, or one's attention may not catch them when they occur.

If one is on a retreat, and only practicing Anapanasati for several days, one can certainly come very close to the textbook definitions, but that doesn't make the experience special. What makes the experience special is the several days of sustained practice.

If all the Buddha's teachings are lost, one can recover all of them by faithfully following the breath.

I instinctively felt this statement arise in me with no doubt whatsoever when I first encountered the Anapanasati Sutta, which was the first Buddhist text of any sort that I had read. I was pleasantly surprised some days back to see the Buddha has said much the same - that one can reach enlightenment with just the Anapanasati practice.

Most monasteries in ancient times only had a few suttas at any one time, and this accounts for the great profusion of texts today which were each written from an individual's personal realization of the grand truths.

The ancient masters who took Buddhism to several distant lands had certainly not read every text there was on the topic - they couldn't have because many of them weren't yet written. Yet, their transmission was pure because their realization was personal - they had walked the same path as the Buddha, and seen the same things. That was enough.

Being flooded with various texts from several traditions today thanks to the Internet, the challenge for each of us is to find time from reading to actually practice. A foundational text like Anapanasati actually contains all the necessary elements of practice. All we need is the confidence to read no more, and lock ourselves away in the practice room.


I think there are a few specific questions I forgot to answer:

  1. Is it possible to experience these factors in meditation without being in the jhanas and maybe encourage them?

    • Yes
  2. Can one encourage them by focusing on them and almost willing them into being?

  3. I was always told this was counterproductive.

    • Usually yes, because meditation becomes a strain, and goal oriented.
  4. Presumably this part of the sutta is samatha.

    • It is a core meditation technique for mindfulness and concentration - both. It is mentioned in the Satipatthana sutta as such.


"There is the case where a monk — having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building — sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect and setting mindfulness to the fore [lit: the front of the chest]. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.

The Buddha himself rarely made a clear distinction between Samatha states and Vipassana states, to him it was all meditation that co-existed, he often called out the jhanas specifically.

A lot of the modern emphasis on Vipassana, and the resulting mindfulness movement is based on an excessive reliance on the Abhidhamma (itself a commentary), and the Visuddhimagga (which is brilliant, but has some controversial roots since Buddhagosa is said to have burned up ancient manuscripts that preceded it for reasons unknown).

In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together. One simile, for instance (SN 35.204), compares samatha and vipassana to a swift pair of messengers who enter the citadel of the body via the noble eightfold path and present their accurate report — Unbinding, or nibbana — to the consciousness acting as the citadel's commander. Another passage (AN 10.71) recommends that anyone who wishes to put an end to mental defilement should — in addition to perfecting the principles of moral behavior and cultivating seclusion — be committed to samatha and endowed with vipassana. This last statement is unremarkable in itself, but the same discourse also gives the same advice to anyone who wants to master the jhanas: be committed to samatha and endowed with vipassana. This suggests that, in the eyes of those who assembled the Pali discourses, samatha, jhana, and vipassana were all part of a single path. Samatha and vipassana were used together to master jhana and then — based on jhana — were developed even further to give rise to the end of mental defilement and to bring release from suffering. This is a reading that finds support in other discourses as well.

  1. Is it being suggested that you should be in the jhanas before going on any further in this meditation?

    • No, that isn't the intent.

Below are what I hope is some relevant material from several prominent teachers of jhāna.

Ajahn Brahm

Here are what I take to be some helpful comments from Ajahn Brahm's book, The Jhanas regarding pitisukha:

Pitisukha—Joy and Happiness

In Pali, the compound word pitisukha means the combination of joy and happiness. One can use those words for all sorts of experiences, even for worldly experiences. But in meditation, pitisukha refers only to that joy and happiness that is generated through letting go. Just as various types of fire may be distinguished by their fuel—such as a wood fire, oil fire or brushfire—so the various types of happiness can be distinguished by their cause. The joy and happiness that arises with the beautiful breath is fueled by the letting go of burdens such as past and future, internal commentary and diversity of consciousness.

What if pitisukha hasn't appeared?

When pitisukha doesn’t arise, it must be because there is not enough contentment, that is, one is still trying too much. One should reflect on the first two of the five hindrances. The first hindrance, sensory desire, draws the attention towards the object of desire and thus away from the breath. The second hindrance, ill will, finds fault with the experience of breath, and the dissatisfaction repels the attention away from the breath. Contentment is the “middle way” between desire and ill will. It keeps one’s mindfulness with the breath long enough for the pitisukha to arise...Putting all one’s effort into the knowing is another way of generating pitisukha along with the breath. For the energy of the mind is equivalent to happiness. So if pitisukha hasn’t appeared yet, it might be that one is not directing effort away from the doer and into the knowing.

Cultivate Sufficient Joy and Happiness (Pitisukha).

The state above [nimitta doesn't appear] arises because one did not cultivate sufficient pitisukha along with the breath. There was not enough delight when the breath disappeared, so mindfulness had no clear mental object of beauty to latch on to. Understanding this, one needs to put more value on developing delight when one is watching the breath, and cultivating that delight into a strong sense of beauty. For example, one may regard the breath as the messenger bringing you oxygen as a life support gift from the flowers and trees. The breath unites you vitally with all of the plant world, supporting one another with the pulse of the air. Whatever skillful means one employs, by paying careful attention to the beauty alongside the breath, the beauty will blossom. What one pays attention to usually grows. In the previous chapter, one was cautioned not to be afraid of delight in meditation. I regard this exhortation as so important that I am going to repeat it again almost word for word. (emphasis mine)

Do not be afraid of delight

I want to stress that one should be cautious not to be afraid of delight in meditation. Too many meditators dismiss happiness thinking it unimportant or, even worse, thinking that they don’t deserve such delight. Happiness in meditation is important! Moreover, you deserve to bliss out! Blissing out on the breath is an essential part of the path. So when delight does arise alongside the breath, one should cherish it like a valuable treasure, and guard it accordingly. The delight that arises at the stage of the beautiful breath is the “glue” that holds the mind’s attention on the breath. It results in the mindfulness staying with the breath without effort. One stays with full attention on the breath because the mind wants to stay with the breath. The mind, at this stage, enjoys watching the breath so much that it doesn’t want to go anywhere else. It just remains with the breath, automatically. It is so content being with the delightful, beautiful breath that all wandering ceases. One remains fully aware of the breath without any need to control the mind. Mindfulness of the breath, here, becomes effortless. Without the experience of delight, there will be some discontent. And discontent is the source of the wandering mind. Before one reaches the stage of the beautiful breath, discontent pushes mindfulness away from the breath.

Leigh Brasington

Leigh Brasington and some others teach a 'soft' version of the jhanas insofar as the level of concentration and absorption is much lesser than the 'hard' jhānas taught by Ajahn Brahm, Pa Auk Sayadaw, and others; this method involves focusing explicitly on the feelings of pitisukha; his instructions are as follows:

Instructions for entering 'soft' jhāna

So to summarize the method for entering the first jhana: You sit in a nice comfortable upright position, and generate access concentration by putting and maintaining your attention on a single meditation object. When access concentration arises, then you shift your attention from the breath (or whatever your method is) to a pleasant sensation, preferably a pleasant physical sensation. You put your attention on that sensation, and maintain your attention on that sensation, and do nothing else.

The hard part is the do nothing else part. You put your attention on the pleasant sensation, and nothing happens, so you might think to yourself, "He said something was supposed to happen." No, I did not say to make comments about watching the pleasant sensation. Or, you might put your attention on the pleasant sensation and it starts to increase, so you think, "Oh! Oh! Something's happening!" No. Or it comes up just a little bit and then it stops, and you sort of try and help it. No. None of this works.

You are to simply observe the pleasant sensation. You become totally immersed in the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation. And I mean by this just what I say: the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation. I don't mean the location of the pleasant sensation; nor its intensity; nor its duration. I don't mean whether the pleasant sensation is increasing or decreasing or staying the same. Just focus entirely upon the pleasant aspect of the pleasant sensation, and the jhana will arise on its own.

All you can do is set up the conditions for the jhana to arise, by cultivating a calm and quiet mind focused on pleasantness. And then just let go -- be that calm quiet mind focused on pleasantness -- and the jhana will appear. Any attempt to do anything more does not work. You actually have to become a human being, as opposed to a human doing. You have to become a being that is simply focused on the pleasant sensation which is existing, and then the jhana comes all on its own.

Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder

Two meditation teachers that I have worked with--Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder--that teach jhānas in the tradition of Pa Auk Sayadaw give instructions, as you say, to initially not take pīti or sukha as meditation objects; rather, one is instructed to remain with the breath at the 'anapana spot' and ignore them (although not pushing them away). They teach that the jhāna factors may be present in varying strengths prior to actual absorption. I do recall them saying on retreat that if, after sustained practice, the factors are imbalanced, e.g., one has a lot of one-pointedness of mind (ekkagatā) but little joy is arising, that there are ways one can try to encourage pitisukha.


Towards the later stages of the meditation you come to a stage where you are fully concentrated on the breath. Your concentration is very high. Rapturous joy, calm, and peace of mind are incredible experiences for you – something have have not experienced before. Now I will go to a third party person (You will become 'he/his/him from now on.) Remember, he is training himself. Therefore, he does not cling to this rapturous joy. He trains himself to breathe in experiencing rapture, and to breathe out experiencing rapture. He continues this in a calm detached way.

Some people become elated when they get the feeling of happiness and bliss to the body and mind. A mind that is obsessed by elation cannot concentrate. At that point, the concentration he gained would disappear. Then he starts regretting as to why he could not uphold the concentration he developed previously. Concentration, rapturous joy, calm, and peace of mind and body, are causally dependent; they are conditioned results. They do not arise by chance. If the mind is self, there wouldn’t be a problem. As it would be possible to say with regards to the mind, ‘Let my mind be thus.’ However, mind is not self.

Now he trains himself to breathe in sensitive to rapture, and to breathe out sensitive to rapture. Calming the entire process of body and mind, he is experiencing rapture. He is experiencing this as a result of continuous exertion for deliverance from mental defilements (atapi) and from clear comprehension (sampajano).

Is the rapture easeful or stressful? It is indeed easeful – physically and mentally. He is breathing in sensitive to pleasure and breathing out sensitive to pleasure, experiencing bliss. You can understand to what extent he has tamed his mind. The common nature of the mind is that it can be swayed by anything. He has trained himself and therefore, his mind is not being mesmerized by pleasure and rapture. His mind is tamed, controlled and restrained with continuous exertion for deliverance from defilements. His mind is fully concentrated on the breath, and his concentration is very high. What will he do next? He Trains Experiencing the Mental Formations. That is the next step.


Stage 4 is calming the breath ('kaya sankhara': 'body conditioner'). Thus, naturally, stage 5 (experiencing rapture) is a product of stage 4. Stage 4 is a product of the instruction: "He trains himself", which means training in letting go of craving & attachment. Therefore, why would anyone crave to experience rapture? Is not such craving contrary to the training instructions?

Rapture is certainly a jhana factor however rapture can also arise on the lower levels of momentary (khanikasamadhi) & neighborhood concentration (upacāra-samādhi).

Enthusiastic beginner meditators can generate momentary rapture from momentary concentration by heavily suppressing thought. Such beginners end up in the situation described in this thread by Saptha Visuddhi, where they cling to & crave this coarse rapture.

Neighborhood concentration (unlike momentary concentration) produces genuine rapture since in neighborhood concentration the mind is sufficiently detached for rapture to arise from tranquility (rather than from the will) and sufficiently detached to see the rapture as 'dukkha' & 'not-self'.

Both neighborhood concentration & attainment (jhana) concentration are path factors or transcendent (enlightened) concentration. (Stream-enterers, for example, have mastered neighborhood concentration but not reached jhana).

When the mind has path level concentration, it already knows the (preliminary) taste of peace (Nibbana) that comes from letting go. Therefore, when rapture arises, in comparison to the nibbanic peace, the rapture is felt as disturbing & dukkha.

The momentary concentration taught by people such as Leigh Brasington is spiritual materialism or spiritual egoism. It is unrelated to the instructions & description in the Anapanasati Sutta since the last 14 stages of the Anapanasati Sutta each have the instruction of: "He trains himself", which means full training in morality, concentration & wisdom.

Whenever the mind is engaged in clinging, craving & delighting in pleasant feelings, this is not training in wisdom. Instead, the Buddha compared it to children that delight in building sandcastles.

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