Can you explain something about joy?

For example it's mentioned in AN 11.1:

“But what’s the purpose and benefit of having no regrets?”
“Avippaṭisāro pana, bhante, kimatthiyo kimānisaṃso”?

“Joy is the purpose and benefit of having no regrets.”
“Avippaṭisāro kho, ānanda, pāmojjattho pāmojjānisaṃso”.

I can imagine several specific question, please answer any or none of these (from scripture or experience, any tradition of Buddhism).

I'm especially interested in the context of everyday lay life, rather than specifically/only during formal meditation.

  • Can you explain the joy/rapture/tranquillity/bliss/immersion sequence? What's the difference between these, what's the connection? Is some of this specifically meditative? I'm guessing that at least the start of the sequence, "skilful ethics" isn't only meditative. If this is too long to explain in an answer is there a text/reference you recommend instead?
  • Does some condition or thing cause joy, apart from a lack of remorse? Is it a matter of choice, at all? When dukkha arises would you say "that's dukkha, I'd better wait for it to cease", or would you say, "that's dukkha, I'd better 'choose joy' instead?"
  • Is it "primarily ethical", if that makes sense as a question, e.g. if ethics is doing the right thing then is joy (or choosing joy, or intending joy) also "the right thing" in that way?
  • Would I be right to assume that these maybe happen in stages, like one before the other -- with earlier ones having each next one as their eventual purpose? Is it something of a gradual training, does it make sense to focus on sometimes improving or cultivating one stage (e.g. joy)? How do you "cultivate" joy (is it only by cultivating skilful ethics and non-remorse or...)?
  • I'm a bit conscious of this answer:

    People need Buddhism when their current raft has sunk. If there is food on the table, a comfortable place to sleep, and they have no complaints about their daily routine, then our jobs as Buddhists is to rejoice in their success (mudita).

    Anyhow, I don't claim to have a good solution for the problem-- how do we stay optimistic and positive or happy once we realize the muddle we are in, but at least the Mahayana version, provides a path towards how to find happiness-- by taking action to solve everyone's problems.

    Do you agree with that and is that all there is to say on that subject?

    Does it happen that Buddhism provides a new raft, or tells a person how to swim, but they still tend to be "depressed" e.g. unhappy and ineffective, as well as troubled or restless?

  • There's an illustration of "household joy" and "renunciation joy" at the end of this question. Assuming I can imagine a bit what "household joy" might be, would it be worth explaining that illustration of "renunciation joy"?

    "Joy" seems to me to appear quite late in the "Ten Bulls" sequence -- relatively late compared to its being quite early in the Kimatthiyasutta -- i.e. it's the last, Return to society, which says, "I am ever blissful" etc. Is that significant? Or maybe it's earlier, like at the 5th of 6th stage.

  • @InstructionPointer Thanks for the edit. "Condition" is often used as a verb, though, e.g. "X is conditioned by Y".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 2:51

5 Answers 5


The word for joy in AN 1.11 is "pamojja":

Pāmojja (p. 454) Pāmojja Pāmojja=pāmujja

Pāmujja (p. 453) Pāmujja Pāmujja (nt.) [grd. form. tr. pa+mud, see similar forms under pāmokkha] delight, joy, happiness; often combd with pīti. -- D i.72, 196; S iii.134; iv.78=351; v.156, 398; A iii.21; v.1 sq., 311 sq., 339, 349; Sn 256; Nett 29; DA i.217; Sdhp 167. See also pāmojja.

The connection here is to the five hindrances.

From SN 46.40:

“Bhikkhus, these five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from Nibbāna. What five? The hindrance of sensual desire is a maker of blindness … The hindrance of ill will … The hindrance of sloth and torpor … The hindrance of restlessness and remorse … The hindrance of doubt is a maker of blindness … leading away from Nibbāna. These five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from Nibbāna.

Ajahn Brahm commented on remorse (kukkucca) in this essay:

Remorse refers to a specific type of restlessness which is the kammic effect of one's misdeeds. The only way to overcome remorse, the restlessness of a bad conscience, is to purify one's virtue and become kind, wise and gentle. It is virtually impossible for the immoral or the self indulgent to make deep progress in meditation.

So, basically, the purpose or virtue or ethics is to remove remorse, in such a way that it will cause the arising of joy. From joy, it goes next to rapture (piti), then tranquility (passadha) then bliss (sukha).

Piti and sukha seems to refer to jhana.

Hence, the joy arising from the removal of remorse, is basically the effect of the removal of the hindrance of remorse i.e. kukkucca (which is tied to kammic effect of one's misdeeds), by inculcating virtues. Why is it called a hindrance? It's because it hinders progress in meditation, immersion and insight.

Once the hindrance of remorse is removed, then joy results. With this joy (and the removal of all other hindrances), one can progress more easily into jhana.

There is only one small problem here. The word for remorse in AN 1.11 is "vippatisara", while the word for remorse in SN 46.40 as a hindrance is "kukkucca". But the dictionary entry for kukkucca solves this problem:

Vippaṭisāra (p. 628) Vippaṭisāra Vippaṭisāra [vi+paṭisāra] bad conscience, remorse, regret, repentance Vin ii.250; D i.138; S iii.120, 125; iv.46; A iii.166, 197, 353; iv.69; J iv.12; v.88; Pug 62; DhA iv.42; VvA 116; PvA 14, 60, 105, 152. -- a˚ no regret, no remorse A iii.46.

Kukkucca (p. 218) Kukkucca Kukkucca [kud -- kicca] 1. bad doing, misconduct, bad character. Def. kucchitaŋ kataŋ kukataŋ tassa bhāvo kukkuccaŋ Vism 470 & Bdhd 24; -- Various explanations in Nd2 on Sn 1106=Dhs 1160, in its literal sense it is bad behaviour with hands and feet (hattha -- pada˚) J i.119=DA i.42 (in combn with ukkāsita & khipitasadda); hattha˚ alone J ii.142. -- 2. remorse, scruple, worry. In this sense often with vippaṭissāra; and in conn. w. uddhacca it is the fourth of the five nīvaraṇas (q. v.) Vin i.49; iv.70; D i.246; S i.99; M i.437; A i.134=Sn 1106; A i.282; Sn 925; Nd2 379; DhA iii.483; iv.88; Sdhp 459; Bdhd 96. -- na kiñci k˚ŋ na koci vippaṭissāreti "has nobody any remorse?" S iii.120=iv.46. The dispelling of scrupulousness is one of the duties and virtues of a muni: k˚ŋ vinodetuŋ A v.72; k. pahāya D i.71=A ii.210=Pug 59; chinnakukkucca (adj.) free from remorse M i.108; khīṇāsava k˚ -- vūpasanta S i.167=Sn 82. -- akukkucca (adj.) free from worry, having no remorse Sn 850. Kukkuccaŋ kurute (c. gen.) to be scrupulous about J i.377; kariŋsu DhA iv.88; cp. kukkuccaŋ āpajjati (expl. by sankati) J iii.66.

  • Let's agree that remorse would hinder joy. What I was asking is for example, once there is no remorse then does joy simply arise spontaneously (and even permanently), or should it be cultivated somehow as well (e.g. user12901's answer suggests it follows from anussati)? And what about other hindrances like uddhacca -- isn't uddhacca too a hindrance to joy ... and separate from remorse? Perhaps it's obvious how lack-of-remorse arises (i.e. the cause is sila) what causes lack-of-restlessness? Does it arise or is it developed? Is joy the cause or the consequence of a lack of restlessness?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 19:05

Translators vary wildly on how they render the many pali words that describe happiness/joy. So the first thing you want to do is find out which pali word you're really asking about.

Here are my notes, comparing some of the words used for joy/happiness. http://lucid24.org/tped/s/sukha/index.html

For AN 11.1, the word we're interested in is pamojja, a conjugated form of modati and mudita (the 3rd brahma vihara). Pīti and mudita are often used together in a compound word, and they have a very similar meaning, if not synonymous. Here is a concise yet comprehensive summary of pīti.


7sb (the 7 awakening factors), often appear in a slightly different form in the suttas, not explicitly labeled bojjhanga, but clearly is the 7sb sequence. The AN 11.1 sequence is meditative, a causal sequence, just like 7sb, but also they're independent factors one can develop out of order, and simultaneously.

Mudita works very much like piti, it's a specific type of altruistic joy from appreciating virtuous qualities that lead to the end of dukkha. For example, you see someone get a promotion at their work, and you are happy for them. That's not mudita, in the EBT sense of the word.


Joy is important because it is how you turn satipatthana into samadhi, which is done by knowing that you are doing something good, not meritorious, but really good, skillful, the proper thing to end dukkha.

In the anussati like buddhanussati, it is this joy which is generated and this is how to get straight to nibanna. As usual, when it comes to knowledge, aryans are privileged over puthujjanas. Puthujjanas doubt (at best) the dhamma, the buddha, the sangha, sila and so on and they deeply hate satipattha since sati, right view, right thoughts (the dispassion-nekhamma part) is really the opposite of what they believe and as puthujjanas the least worst wrong doctrine they can create is the non-ill will, compassion, love stuff which is at best meritorious (ie when puthujjanas do not make the usual mistake that ''as long as I feel compassionate, I can do whatever I want and it will be good karma") but still not the non-dark non-bright karma... Puthujjanas will always lack the dispassion part, the nekhamma and even more over papanca, ideas, consciousness, birth, becoming (the usual stuff non-returners still love), which is the other half required to nibanna. This is why doubt is the biggest fetter, then the next one is lack or too much energy (mostly lack).

Joy is always meritorious and it is what it means (or rather lack of regrets) to clean thoughts when the vitakka are tracked in satisampajanna. In fact, cleaning the thoughts is really the first time somebody does an activity with good karma, unless there is dana to some arya because this is easier (when aryas are here). Then the continuation of this is cleaning the vedanas and sannas going from dirty sensual vedanas to whatever pleasant vedana there is in jhanas. But puthujjanas cling too much to thoughts to even want to change their bad thoughts into good thoughts, let alone be skilled at it.


Buddha taught joy as a step on the way to Nirvana.

If we take complete absolute "everything is wrong!" dukkha of a hell, and complete absolute "everything is just so" of Nirvana, then joy with its "this is right!" is somewhere half way.

Although some Zen and Vajrayana schools teach the suchness of Nirvana right away, the Buddha of Pali Canon taught gradual path, which involves approximating Nirvana step by step, rather than trying to skip all the way to the end. The Cow Sutta illustrates the principle of gradual training. If one does not get stable on previous state before moving up, one risks regressing even below where one started. So Nirvana is to be approximated step by step.

When something is wrong, we experience dukkha. When everything's wrong, we experience a lot of dukkha. The more wrongness - the more dukkha, and vice versa. As things get better, there's less dukkha.

Amount of wrongness we experience depends first of all on amount of disharmony we got ourselves in. Disharmony by definition is about clashes and conflict, and conflict means some right is challenged by some wrong. When our life is a mess, when we are messed up enough to create major trouble for ourselves, then disharmony is pretty much the norm, then conflict, clashes, wrongness is all around us, and correspondingly there's a lot of dukkha. So reducing dukkha starts with reducing objective real life trouble. Which basically means, reducing amount of conflict and disharmony we generate. Which basically corresponds to what the worldly people recognize as good ethics.

Once the external disharmony in our individual life is mostly eliminated, in the sense that things are now simple and there's no drama, what remains are internal sources of dukkha. To understand these we need to understand how our mind evaluates experience.

When we have a frame of reference in our mind, a coordinate system that defines some right and wrong, and when we use it to evaluate any experience, then we recognize some things as right and some as wrong, and thus we experience dukkha according to rules inherent to that frame of reference. When we switch frame of reference, the experience is now evaluated differently, so some other right/wrong comparison is made, and it generates a different amount of dukkha.

When our external life has little drama and things are simple, we can focus on purely internal dukkha. We start looking at our patterns of evaluation, to see what we label as right and wrong, and how we generate dukkha. We see that most of it comes from some ideas about ourselves, how our life is structured, where we are, where we should be, what we have, what we should have etc. Our goal on this stage is to genuinely reorientate our frame of reference in such way, that our experience is evaluated from the perspective of Dharma. In other words, we should stop worrying about being wrong by the worldly standards (not successful, not rich, not famous etc.) and instead be happy if our life is correct by the standards of Dharma. Which means NOT that we should live on the mountain in the monastery, but that we are no longer creating major trouble, that our ethics is strong, our mind is more or less stable etc.

So on this phase we both achieved some everyday harmony. and we convinced ourselves that we are on the right track and nothing else is principally missing, nothing else matters. As a result of this, our frame of reference used for evaluating our experience is not finding anything wrong. Everything is more or less right, both externally (our actual life is alright) and internally (our opinion about ourselves). So we finally experience a moment when everything is good. When we actually get to this moment, and we look at ourselves - what we experience at that very second is The Joy. It is that feeling that we finally got somewhere in your Buddhist practice, your life is not a mess, you have nothing to be guilty about in terms of ethics, and you managed to stop worrying about worldly standards and goals, so basically you are good. Finally! This is a good reason for joy, isn't it?

This joy is good in all respects. It gives you some reward for all your ethics, fixing life, simplifying it. It gives you something good that you can enjoy right here, so you don't have to run after worldly achievements. And it is an actually harmonious state that can be used as platform for further practice.

The game is not over yet, Nirvana is a much more refined state than this joy, and eventually you will see how much hidden dukkha you still have, but for now, this is some very good achievement. It is totally worth being cultivated, to wash away residual trouble-making patterns (both external and internal), and to stabilize on this level.

In some sense, this joyful state of harmony is like a basic version of Nirvana, similar in the sense of having less disharmony and more harmony, just not as deep as the real thing.

  • Piti - This is bliss due to absorption. This is what is discussed in Kimatthiyasutta. Following are some of the types:
  • Weak rapture only causes piloerection.
  • Short rapture evocates some thunder "from time to time".
  • Going down rapture explodes inside the body, like waves.
  • Exalting rapture "makes the body jump to the sky".
  • Fulfilling rapture seems to be a huge flood of a mountain stream.

When you experience this the body will sway, vibrate or even bounce when is it at reasonably intense.

  • Somanassa - this is an agreeable feeling like when one gets a present one likes or doing and activity one likes. A householder may do something agreeable to him without proper understanding that this results in pain in the future. He may get attached to possessions without knowing that there is misery to protect it from thieves and when it breaks or get lost, etc. The joy of renunciation is the fruits to recluseship like Jhana or other meditative attainments.

  • Pamojja, pamudita - this is a result of:

    • due to non-guilt by being virtuous - Kimatthiya Sutta, Cetanā’karaṇīyā Sutta
    • faith - Upanisā Sutta
    • wise attention - Das’uttara Sutta
    • The practice of the Ground of liberation - Vimutt’āyatana Sutta
      1. listening to the Dharma
      2. teaching the Dharma
      3. reciting the Dharma
      4. reflecting on the Dharma
      5. meditation
  • beginning with moral virtue, sīla
  • would naturally experience non-guilt, avippaṭisāra
  • which leads to joy, pamudita
  • which leads to zest, pīti
  • which leads to a tranquil body, passadha,kāya
  • which brings happiness, sukha
  • which conduces to mental concentration, samādhi
  • which allows us to see true reality, yathā,bhūta
  • which leads to revulsion, and nibbidā
  • which results in the knowledge and vision of freedom. vimutti,ñāṇa,dassana

Nibbida by Piya Tan

Up to pamudita one can realise without meditation by means of what is mentioned above. Beyond this one needs to meditate. One can achieve pamudita through meditation also. These stages above need to be developed one after the other.

Joy (pīti) comes after Pamojja. This arises due to the suppression of the 5 hindrances by practising the 1st Jhana. When one person concentrates on one object exclusively there is sense withdrawal.

"There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.


One cannot choose joy over Dukkha as joy is subjected to Viparinama-dukkha.

Within the Buddhist sutras, dukkha is divided into three categories:

  • Dukkha-dukkha, the dukkha of painful experiences. This includes the physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from what is not desirable.
  • Viparinama-dukkha, the dukkha of pleasant or happy experiences changing to unpleasant when the causes and conditions that produced the pleasant experiences cease.
  • Sankhara-dukkha, the dukkha of conditioned experience. This includes "a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance." On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.


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