Samadhi Sutta (Concentration) [Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.] “Develop concentration, monks. A concentrated monk discerns things as they actually are present...

Is this an accurate translation of this part of the sutta? Isn't seeing things as they are mindfulness territory or mindfulness and concentration territory?

My understanding is that a strongly concentrated monk usually focuses on concepts not actual reality. When one concentrates on reality as it is(reality without concepts) then it's difficult to get strong concentration but when one concentrates on a concept that doesn't move around and is more stable than actual impermanent reality then the concentrated monk can reach those great blissful jhana states.

Only meditation of reality will lead one to the understanding of reality or panna.

I don't know but it kinda sounds like this translation is implying that concentration always shows one reality as it actually is but usually, concentration meditation involves one pointed attention on one concept not reality as it is.

The kind of concentration that is usually used for "seeing things as they are" is khanika samadhi or momentary concentration. This kind of concentration is used in Satipathana Vipassana meditation. It's like one pointed concentration only when a distraction comes, the distraction becomes the new focus until the distraction falls then it's back to the original focus that is often the sensation breath as it happens, moment by moment.

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    To really understand the terminology, you would need to study the Abhidharma. There is a recent book by Beth Jacobs about that, I have just begun reading it.
    – user2341
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 21:34
  • I'm not sure what you're asking -- are you asking whether it's correct to translate samadhi as "concentration"? Or, asking whether it's normal for a sutta to associate yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti with samadhi?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 17:54
  • Some would argue that a concentrated monk does not discern things as they actually are present because of concentration.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 16:02
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    You are making a dualism v. non-dualism argument while at the same time using both dualism and non-dualism to support your premise. I venture that the source of your cognitive dissonance over the sutta (extract) is that you have paused where you should have continued study. If you are going to hold to one position then you need the context offered by the "Group" of discourses presented in the Salayatana Vagga. If you are going to hold to another position then you need to shift over to the parallel suttas (MN 52; SN 22:5; AN 3:74; AN 4:41; AN 5:28; AN 9:36). Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 7:38
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    @Wermske Please post an answer instead of a comment.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 17:28

7 Answers 7


Develop concentration, monks. A concentrated monk discerns things as they actually are present.

Samādhiṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha. Samāhito, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti

Seeing things (pajānāti) is the terrority of wisdom (panna indriya), similar to seeing the signs, traffic, bends, dangers & safety in a road while driving a motor car in the rain.

Concentration is the mind undistracted & clear; similar to the clear windscreen of a car in the rain.

Mindfulness remembers to keep the mind undistracted & clear; similar to the windscreen wipers of a car constantly moving back & forth, keeping water off the windscreen of a motor car in the rain.

Mindfulness does not engage in 'seeing things'. The word 'sati' ('mindfulness') means 'to remember'; 'to bring to & keep in mind' (refer to MN 117).

The false idea that mindfulness 'perceives', 'sees' or is 'bare awareness' is possibly the greatest error in Buddhism, made by many notable mass-market 'teachers', including Ajahn Brahm, Henepola Gunaratana, Bhikkhu Yutadhammo & Joseph Goldstein.

Ajahn Jayasaro provides a correct explanation of mindfulness in this short video.

  • Where do those teachers teach that false idea or have a market? When by concentration one is absorbed into a kasina, that is seeing things as they actually are?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 4:47
  • You can ignore the question but your always so eager to answer questions with technical brilliance that you got to have something to say. Ignoring is not in line with truth , is it? It's not nice. If I have ever done it, it's because I am not perfect.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 15:50
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    That's how those teachers teach. vipassana.com/meditation/mindfulness_in_plain_english_15.php Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 19:14
  • Where? You expect me to read Bhante G's book? You made the claim, I know all the other teachers but not Bhante G.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 23:49
  • Maybe it's just me but this issue seems important because if you are right then a lot of western Buddhists are wrong and spreading wrong Buddhism. I hope your mistaken but I would hope I would be delighted when I learn something new or I am redirected from going the wrong way. I could try to find examples of what you mean and I hope it's just a misunderstanding. I appreciate you being real to what you believe or know and not pulling any punches, that is in line with truth.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 0:42

I'm here burning the mid-night oil for the bounty!! :))))

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find the corresponding Agama Text, else it would be more clear, to me at least.

However, Samadhi normally remained as "Samadhi" (三昧/三摩地) in Chinese, not translated, despite the rich knowledge of meditation inherited from the Daoist understanding what's going on in the mind and body. I very doubted if "concentration" can capture all the intrinsic meanings of Samadhi.

Samadhi is a state of mind. This state of mind is not working on the ordinary intellect level. If one able to abide in Samadhi, he knows things not via his five senses, nor by his thinking. He just simply knows it. I had the experience when 1st time trying out meditation (of course Mahayana style!) that inferred to my understanding of samadhi. It was a 12 days intensive retreat, we did all day Dynamic Meditation in a dark room... but it was bright. It gave me idea that correct meditation was to induce different state of mind... to access higher dimension. The desirable state of mind should be cultivated is Samadhi; a mind so bright that it knows thing as it is directly.

Now it seems you concerned that meditation as concentration needed to concentrate on a concept, yet how concentrating on a concept that will arrive at "seeing things as they are", for concept an abstract, not reality. This is unnecessary. I suggest you emptied all those jargons dumped by those "teachers" in your mind. A concept is just a tool for you to focus, like a rubbish bin for collecting rubbishes (interfering-thoughts). Finally you should throw away the rubbish bin too! Then you will be able to access the deeper mind. It's also like a lake, when there are six rivers filling the lake, they create ripples, can't reflect the clear image of the sky. If the rivers emptied (one concept), no ripples, clear image - seeing things as they are. So using one concept to remove all conceptions (fetters, chit-chats, thoughts...), like using a wedge to get out another wedge stuck in the hole (以幻修真). To understand the above more properly, I'm afraid you will need to have knowledge on Yogacara.

Those who never experienced the "bright mind" in meditation, I'm afraid unlikely these graduated from the primary school, no matter how many 20-30 years they meditated. Likely their method is incorrect, else how come spending decades but not arriving at anywhere? Some people don't like this truth, but the Sutta-nikaya suitable for Bhikkhus only, just like notes dropped in a lecture, the complete instructions not written down... Still those "scientists", a supposed intelligent mind is not necessarily more conducive to meditation, in fact a hindrance. Simply, Samadhi is not abiding on the intellectual mind. Neither Ariya Jhana is anything more "advance" in the wisdom cultivation sense, for Ariya Jhana just a static state of mind. Why don't these people understand it but sending out "troops" to proclaim (if it's even real, or violating the precept of falsely claiming attainment?) to allure others? Because they don't have Nagarjuna and his treatises to teach them the correct understanding of meditation :D.

  • I agree. It seems that every person arrives at insight / realization / calm abiding etc differently. I think some people are predisposed and have similar experiences throughout life, others not, and they will have a harder time getting to an awareness beyond concepts and discursive thought. So, methods are just "It worked for me!" and not much more, like weigh loss methods or anything else. Beware what you buy in to.
    – user2341
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 13:16
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    My father had a sign on his desk at work that said: "There is no reason, it is just our policy." So I do not try to explain anymore. I am a terrible student too :)
    – user2341
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 17:55
  • ;)) @nocomprende Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 4:16
  • (...) good one, nocomprende, methods are just "It worked for me!" :). i don't believe any experts/ professionals/ "teachers"... most time i'm a terrible bad student. we have "assets" (good+bad) inherited before we born here, else how could we explain the unexplainable? Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 12:28
  • It is all "Multi-Level Marketing" - a big pyramid scheme.
    – user2341
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 13:50

In this context Samadhi stands for "meditation". So a better translation of that passage would be:

Cultivate meditation, monks. One who meditates gets clear vision into the nature of things as they really are.

Or as my teacher said, "in order to have clarity you need to sit".

Here "as they really are" does not mean the raw appearance which Theravada tradition emphasizes so much, it means how things work at a deeper level, that can only be seen with the wisdom eye, not with the regular sight.

  • I once translated the Bible verse "Where there is no vision, the people perish" as this: When people don't meditate, they become materialistic.
    – user2341
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 20:53
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    Sometimes things mean more than one thing.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 20:57

It is an accurate translation.

Concentration is needed to achieve mindfulness.

Thus, it makes sense saying "a concentrated monk discerns things as they actually are present".

A mindful monk, must be concentrated. There is no other way. Only a very concentrated monk can be mindful enough to discerns things as they actually are present.

Maybe study more the difference between the word sati (translated as mindfulness) and samadhi (translated as concentration):


"Now what is concentration, lady, what qualities are its themes, what qualities are its requisites, and what is its development?"

"Singleness of mind is concentration, friend Visakha; the four frames of reference are its themes; the four right exertions are its requisites; and any cultivation, development, & pursuit of these qualities is its development."


Only with concentration one can discern things as they actually are.


A concentrated monk discerns things as they actually are…

Lets try to understand the importance of a concentrated mind. A mind that is not concentrated creates a lot of heat. A defiled or wayward mind creates actions that lead to “heat” or “thäpa” in us in the longer term. Long after that “initial satisfaction” gained by such actions, if for instance it is one of aversion, one will be “burning inside” for long times, even if one does not realize that. Removal of this thäpa or “fire” in us is what is meant by the phrase “athäpi sampajano” in the Satipattana Sutta. That will in the case of aversion, help reduce our tendency get “worked up” at the slightest provocation, i.e., to change our 'gathi' in the right direction.

Just as angry thoughts unleash a high degree of heat which results in feelings filled with suffering, when the mind attains the state of Samadhi (concentration), the mind releases low intense heat, resulting in peaceful, happy feelings. What is important in this state of mind is the clarity of mind. Such a state helps to cultivate a clear, unbiased mind. The mind maintains an unbiased, calm state which is devoid of attachment and hostility. In other words, this is the state of Samadhi (concentration) which gives rise to a clear vision. A concentrated person is able to view the truth, depending on the degree of wisdom gained by Samadhi.

Let us take for example, a concentrated person (meditator) practicing dhatu manasikara (reflection of elements). When this is practiced in a practical way, a meditator ought to have developed a stable mental state where he could perceive his respiration very clearly. In other words, the meditator needs a strong Samadhi (concentration) to accomplish the practice of dhatu manasikara.

The meditator who contemplates the mental phenomena with a strong mindfulness based on Samadhi, would perceive the changes in the mind on the basis of ‘dhatu manasikara’. Accordingly, the meditator perceives two types of consciousness within the mind. First is the consciousness produced as a result of amplification of ‘pathavi’ effect. Second is the consciousness produced by diminishing effect of ‘pathavi’ element. The mediator keeps identifying and analyzing these two types of consciousness during the course of the dhatu manasikara practice. Now, this is his primary aspect of meditation.

The meditator who experiences a blissful mental state, now, begins to catch the first glimpse of the transient nature (anicca) of the mind, the inability to maintain anything to ones liking, the repeated arising/destruction of all things, and thus the worthlessness of worldly things. He begins to observe the changes that take place even in the blissful mental states.

He perceives slight differences of bliss he experiences during Samadhi states which give rise to the understanding of the characteristic of dhukka (altering the current state and transforming to a different state) inherent even in blissful mental states. Thus, a meditator begins to realize, for the first time, the characteristics of anicca the transient nature and the inability to maintain anything to ones liking, dukkha (alter & transform nature) and anatta (no-self) as one who is trying to find refuge in this world will become truly helpless in the long run. This is first hand wisdom that one gains when one is concentrated and through the reflection of one’s mind.

This is the positive outcome or gain that a meditator achieves through the practice of dhatu manasikara while in a concentrated state of mind. Mere discussions aimed at the characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta or reciting the nature of anicca, dukkha, and anatta would not bring any fruitful benefits to an individual. One needs to realize the nature and characteristics pertaining to anicca, dukkha and anatta through a direct reflection of one’s mind based on the meditation techniques prescribed by the Buddha while in a concentrated state of mind. That is the only approach for an individual to attain Nibbana.

  • I was taught that you do not get wisdom from just clarity of mind (Samadhi). You get wisdom from "seeing things as they are"(Panna) supported by khanika Samadhi. Would you agree?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 9:59
  • We must always have the momentary mindfulness or khanika samadhi. But this is the lesser of the 3 types of samadhi, and is not considered a formal meditation. Access concentration (uapacara samadhi) is more focused, such as when listening to a Dhamma discourse or reading about a Dhamma concept. What is most important is the appana samadhi or absorption in mindfulness that can lead to a jhanic state with practice. The focus should always be a Dhamma concept or Nibbana itself, such as when one comprehends anicca, dukkha, anatta. To be mindful is easier if the five hindrances are not there. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 1:44

It depend on your theravāda-tipitaka culture skill. Your question begin from reading study system. Although you trust in abhidhamma and commentary, but the question still going on. Because the reading let you lose many tipitaka culture which is require to access the tipitaka's content.

Samādhiṃ bhikkhave bhāvetha . samāhito bhikkhave bhikkhu Yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti .

Develop concentration, monks. A concentrated monk (not meditating concentration monk) discerns things as they actually are present.

Also, in abhidhamma, 3 characterizes are concepts, paññatti, too. 6th's and 8th jhāna's objects are reality, too. Another, both jhāna-mind and vipassana-mind must be arising with paññā.

So, it doesn't means paññā can understand only reality, but it means paññā understanding both the concept-object, such as 3 characterizes or jhāna-object, and the reality-object, such as 5 aggregates and nibbāna, as each object is.

But the main object of each meditation is difference. The vipassanā-meditation require the reality-object as the main object, because 3 characterizes are the concepts of reality-object, 5 aggregates in paṭiccasamuppāda cycle.

Therefore, the vipassanā practitioner require reality-object to understand the 3 characterizes concept.

Note: most of sources from the path of purification, concentration meditation chapter, and abhidhammatthasaṅgaha 8th/9 chapters. You can require me the pāli, if the translation version is not understandable enough.

The concept, paññatti, is almost the hardest part of tipitaka. I try to explain it to everyone. But just the jhāna&vipassanā-teachers in tipitaka-memorizer-school, such as pa-auk forest monastery, can understand it. After you understand the concept, paññatti, you will receive the actually open-mind, which is very important tool to destroy 3 below saṅyojana.

Another, no translation good enough for me, included my translation, because no just one translation can keep the whole tipitaka's meaning.


According to the Kimsuka Sutta:

“So too, bhikkhu, those superior men answered as they were disposed in just the way their own vision had been well purified. “Suppose, bhikkhu, a king had a frontier city with strong ramparts, walls, and arches, and with six gates. The gatekeeper posted there would be wise, competent, and intelligent; one who keeps out strangers and admits acquaintances. A swift pair of messengers would come from the east and ask the gatekeeper: ‘Where, good man, is the lord of this city?’ He would reply: ‘He is sitting in the central square.’ Then the swift pair of messengers would deliver a message of reality to the lord of the city and leave by the route by which they had arrived. Similarly, messengers would come from the west, from the north, from the south, deliver their message, and leave by the route by which they had arrived.

“I have made up this simile, bhikkhu, in order to convey a meaning. This is the meaning here: ‘The city’: this is a designation for this body consisting of the four great elements, originating from mother and father, built up out of boiled rice and gruel, subject to impermanence, to being worn and rubbed away, to breaking apart and dispersal. ‘The six gates’: this is a designation for the six internal sense bases. ‘The gatekeeper’: this is a designation for mindfulness (sati). ‘The swift pair of messengers’: this is a designation for serenity (samatha) and insight (vipassana). ‘The lord of the city’: this is designation for consciousness. ‘The central square’: this is a designation for the four great elements—the earth element, the water element, the heat element, the air element. ‘A message of reality’: this is a designation for Nibbāna. ‘The route by which they had arrived’: this is a designation for the Noble Eightfold Path

Samadhi and samatha are related words. You practise samatha (serenity meditation) to achieve samadhi (concentration).

The ATI glossary defines samadhi and vipassana as:

samādhi: Concentration; the practice of centering the mind in a single sensation or preoccupation, usually to the point of jhāna.

vipassanā: Clear intuitive insight into physical and mental phenomena as they arise and disappear, seeing them for what they actually are — in and of themselves — in terms of the three characteristics (see ti-lakkhaṇa) and in terms of stress, its origin, its disbanding, and the way leading to its disbanding (see ariya-sacca).

So the message of the Kimsuka Sutta is that you establish mindfulness (sati) which then needs BOTH serenity (samatha) and insight (vipassana) to show reality clearly.

I would use the analogy of a camera. There are three parts of a camera you must control to take a photo.

First, you open the camera shutters to allow light to come in. That's mindfulness (sati).

Next, you have to control the zoom of the camera, while simultaneously moving the camera around and finding the right subject.

The zoom setting is the concentration (samadhi). Adjusting the zoom setting is serenity meditation (samatha).

Moving the camera around to find the right subject is insight (vipassana).

If you concentrate on the wrong subject, you will not get the photo that you originally intended to get. You want to take a photo of the sunset, but instead you zoom onto a tree, then you would see a tree clearly.

When you point to the right subject, but if you don't zoom correctly, you would see the right subject, but not clearly. You point your camera to the sunset but you did not correctly adjust the zoom, so you would inevitably see a blur image.

The main point of the Samadhi Sutta is not about seeing things, but it's about seeing things CLEARLY.

The Pali version of the sutta says: "Samādhiṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha. Samāhito, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti."

"yathābhūtaṃ" means "in truth; in reality; in its real essence."

"pajānāti" means "knows clearly".

So, without concentration, you cannot see reality CLEARLY.

Use concentration to see reality CLEARLY (pajānāti).

Use not only serenity (samatha), use BOTH serenity (samatha) AND insight (vipassana). With vipassana, you see reality, but with vipassana AND samadhi, you see reality CLEARLY.

From the Samatha Sutta:

"If, on examination, he knows, 'I am one who achieves internal tranquility of awareness but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment,' then his duty is to make an effort for the maintenance of internal tranquility of awareness and for insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. At a later time he will then be one who achieves both internal tranquility of awareness and insight into phenomena through heightened discernment.

"But if, on examination, the monk knows, 'I am one who achieves insight into phenomena through heightened discernment but not internal tranquility of awareness,' then his duty is to make an effort for the maintenance of insight into phenomena through heightened discernment and for internal tranquility of awareness. At a later time he will then be one who achieves both insight into phenomena through heightened discernment and internal tranquility of awareness.

"But if, on examination, the monk knows, 'I am one who achieves neither internal tranquility of awareness nor insight into phenomena through heightened discernment,' then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for gaining those very same skillful qualities. Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head; in the same way, the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for gaining those very same skillful qualities.

"But if, on examination, the monk knows, 'I am one who achieves both internal tranquility of awareness and insight into phenomena through heightened discernment,' then his duty is to make an effort in maintaining those very same skillful qualities to a higher degree for the ending of the effluents.

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