I've been trying to understand the descriptions of each of the Jhānas in various Suttas, and I don't get what's meant by an element in some descriptions of the fourth Jhāna. For example:

When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breathing has been totally stilled.

SN 36:11

It seems to me that that passage is saying that the breath literally stops, but this seems physiologically impossible. So perhaps the correct interpretation is that volitional in-and-out breathing ceases? Or is the passage, perhaps, referring to the perception of in-and-out breathing?

I've even gone so far as to look up the words in Pāli, but this has only added to my confusion, since they seem to translate as literally the cessation of breath. Is this, perhaps, a shortcoming of our understanding of Pāli?

If this is to be taken literally, what is the scientific basis for this phenomenon? Is it perhaps a perceptual phenomenon, where the meditator merely perceives the breath as having stopped? Or, if this is indeed an error in interpretation, then how is it to be interpreted?

I should clarify that I'm not seeking to troll, or challenge the tradition. I myself am a lay disciple of the Dhamma. I'm prepared to accept an answer one way or the other, but I really want to have a solid understanding.


3 Answers 3


The breathing is imperceptible, that is all, because there must be movement of the breathing for it to be perceived. However, obviously the body continues to have breath flowing through it.

  • Hi @Dhammadhatu. Thank you for your answer! What do you mean by "breath flowing through [the body]"?
    – arturovm
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 14:29
  • The body still breathes but the breathing is not perceptible because the breathing has become so refined. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 20:47
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    Yes, I think that's the explanation that makes the most sense, to be honest. And based on this forum post, it seems that a certain translation and interpretation of the same text I linked to supports it.
    – arturovm
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 3:00

As i understand it,

That which is thought & spoken about as breath is an object of perception and is tied to the body.

In the fourth jhana the object of perception is not thought & spoken about as the breath.

In general the object there is a kasina, there are various types of kasina, ie light & colors associated with absorbtion 'visions'.

An interesting circumstance about the passage:

When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breathing has been totally stilled.

Is in the case where the fourth jhana is sustained in dependence on the air element as the air kasina because the in & out breaths are the air element.


It would seem physiologically impossible, and it is so, to the mind, until one experiences it. This is why it is taught that true knowledge comes from direct experiencing (through practice), and not from what one has read, or is told, even by one's teacher/guru (read: guide).

But then consider that deep sea divers, or certain tribes that live by oceans/seas free dive for prolonged periods of time on a single breath. The official Guineas book of record is > 20 minutes... The average swimmer can hold their for 2-3 minutes without breathing.

In my own subjective personal meditations the deeper I go, the shallower I realize I'm breathing. In fact, one of my methods of going in deep, fast, is to still my breath as much as possible, and prolong the holding periods in-between to close to a minute (or more). At a certain point, i consciously let go, and my body subconsciously continues it on its own. Kinda like a subtle hand-over. If I follow my breath, I've gone up to a single breath every 2/3 minutes before I lost sense of my body. And on an occasion or two, I have snapped out of deep meditation to instantaneously realize that I wasn't breathing. And I had no idea how long I was under. It could have been two minutes, it could have been 10.

Thus to me, Science has proof it is possible, but my own personal experiences remove all doubt (for me).

  • Hello again @xxandra. I notice you're new. Welcome and thank you for contributing. I'm not sure that the practice of holding your breath in the way you suggest is helpful in the Buddhist domain. This is considered an extreme practice, but in the Buddha's teachings we try to realize a middle way.. I think it would be better to edit that part out, otherwise I may flag the answer for moderator inspection.
    – user17652
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 21:55
  • True, sounds like yoga - are you sure this answer is not offtopic?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 22:34
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    It is probably why your answers come off as those of an outsider. That being said, you should not let anyone here tell you what is and isn't Buddhism because mods should have suspended judgement in regards to these things, that is the official policy (anything is buddhism unless otherwise specified).
    – user8527
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 14:38
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    You are also not required to post references or substantiate your claims. So when a mod or anyone tells you it's not Buddhism you can ignore them because it's not up to them to decide. You can also complain to the site admins if the mod is harassing you by playing buddhism police.
    – user8527
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 14:48
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    I generally don't like your answers but you should definitely be allowed to post them without mods harassing you. That is simply the current policy here. So mods curb that judgement and keep to moderating spam.
    – user8527
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 14:56

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