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Why is the first jhana omitted from MN 125?

How is this omission related to the context of that sutta?

As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, they enter and remain in the second absorption …
So vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ avitakkaṁ avicāraṁ samādhijaṁ pītisukhaṁ dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ …

third absorption …
tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ …

fourth absorption.
catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.
MN 125

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  • You have a link under quoted text, where does quoted text exist in given link? When I go to the link, that page doesn't contain quoted text.
    – Pycm
    Commented Apr 29 at 17:37
  • @Pycm You have to turn on the Pali online text in SuttaCentral to see it.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Apr 30 at 0:11

3 Answers 3

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My annotated translation of MN 125 makes this clear: https://lucid24.org/mn/main/mn125/index.html#125.3.10.3

First jhāna is omitted because there's a 2nd satipatthana section created, that is free of kāma sensual pleasure (which is what the first jhāna formula's vivicceva kāmehi is referring to, the seclusion from sensual pleasures).

Satipatthana that is free of 5 hindrances, has thoughts/vitakka that are skillful and free of kāma, ill will, etc., meet the mental criteria of first jhāna.

at MN 125.3.9 - (4sp satipaṭṭhāna nonstop, like elephant tethered to post) is actively working to remove 5 hindrances

at MN 125.3.10 - (do 4sp with no kāma-vitakka/thoughts of sensuality = first jhāna) the 5 hindrances have been removed, and vitakka thoughts are free of kāma now = first jhāna

Also many detailed audits here where I explain in more detail: https://notesonthedhamma.blogspot.com/2021/10/mn-125_3.html

You'll find a common theme that heretics who have wrong views of jhāna will all often try to claim MN 125 is corrupt, MN 111 is corrupt, AN 9.36 is corrupt, and any other sutta that disagrees with their wrong view.

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There are many suttas (such as AN 10.61) that say to use wise thorough examination (yoniso manasikara) rather than blind faith when studying Dhamma.

When it comes to MN 125, the impression is there are different versions of the Pali text. For example, according to the Access To Insight Pali, the PTS version logically has "Kāyūpasaṃhitaṃ" to "Dhammūpasaṃhitaṃ" instead of the "kāmūpasaṃhitaṃ" found on Sutta Central. Thus both I.B. Horner and Bhikkhu Bodhi wisely chose to translate the following MN 125 passage logically:

The Tathagata then disciplines him further, saying: 'Come you, monk, fare along contemplating the body in the body, but do not apply yourself to a train of thought connected with the body; fare along contemplating the feelings in the feelings... the mind in the mind... mental states in mental states, but do not apply yourself to a train of thought connected with mental states.'

I.B. Horner

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Bhikkhu Bodhi

To the contrary, the Pali text used in Sujato's translation makes no sense because, prior to the above paragraph, the monk had already given up the five hindrances therefore if the monk had already given up the five hindrances why would the Buddha instruct to not think thoughts of sensual pleasures? The illogical unreflective translation of Sujato is as follows:

They give up these five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom. Then they meditate observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world.

Then the Realized One guides them further: ‘Come, mendicant, meditate observing an aspect of the body, but don’t think thoughts connected with sensual pleasures. Meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles, but don’t think thoughts connected with sensual pleasures (kāmūpasaṃhitaṃ).’

As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, they enter and remain in the second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption.

MN 125 independent Australian translation

Note: we can observe how the stock Satipatthana phrase: "vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ" is missing from the second mention of Satipatthana practice in MN 125. This demonstrates a more advanced level of Satipatthana practice where there is no longer any effort & mindfulness required to "give up/stop" covetousness and displeasure for the world.

In short, the impression is MN 125 is a corrupted text. It is also arguable to take a literal reliance on MN 125 is very foolish & equally corrupted. In the absence of precise confirmation, the impression is there are different versions of MN 125 in the Pali (which is common), such as a Thai version, a Sri Lankan version, a Burmese versions, etc.

In conclusion, the Pali version of MN 125 both I.B. Horner and Bhikkhu Bodhi have wisely used in their translations says vitakka is given up while practicing a more advanced level of Satipatthana; a more advanced level where there is no longer any effort & mindfulness required to be rid of coveteousness & displeasure; a more advanced level where there is such pure awareness that there are not even any thoughts of 'body', 'feelings', 'mind' & 'dhamma'. Therefore, in MN 125, when practicing this more advanced level of Satipatthana, vitakka is reduced, minimised &/or give up during this practice. This is obviously why the 1st jhana is not mentioned because this more advanced level of Satipatthana practice merges directly into the 1st & then 2nd jhanas.



However, regardless of DD's brilliant yoniso manasikara above, in the MN 125 satipatthana practice immediately prior to the 2nd jhana, it is never ever said to think any wholesome thoughts. Even in the dodgy illogical Pali version the Sujato monk chose to translate, all that is said is to give up thoughts of sensuality. It does not say to generate thoughts of renunciation or generate thoughts of non-harming or non-cruelty. This is why the following comment I read on the internet appears plainly wrong:

downvoted because you and your teachers don't understand how vitakka works in first jhāna. Look at MN 125 for example. first jhāna formula omitted, and replaced with an extra satipatthana that does linguistic thinking (samma sankappo), but free of 5 hindrances.

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Most of the modern day scholars agree that Majjhima Nikaya suttas are a later compilation of the material preserved in more fragmented form in Samyutta Nikaya and other more ancient strata. For example, right in the middle of MN 125 you see a phrase "As in the Moggalana Accountant Sutta so tell in full here". So we should take MN suttas with a grain of salt IMO, they are not exactly Buddha's direct speech.

That said, the overall theme of MN 125 is valid and clear, it's a take on the gradual path, emphasizing the continuity of training from basic to advanced. Within this overall theme, a specific context of MN 125 is Prince Jayasena's question about unification of awareness, cittassa ekaggata.

The thing is, the exact understanding of ekaggata differs from one Buddhist lineage to another. The way my teachers explained it, ekaggata is not a kind of superhuman concentration on one object (as understood in Theravada) but rather an absence of inner conflict or inner division within the mind. It's more like a political unity than a dictatorship. Moreover, unification of awareness is mostly about emotions, therefore attaining it depends on reconciliation of our internal values, opinions, assumptions, and priorities.

Notably, the standard definition of jhanas in suttas usually lists unification of awareness as distinct feature of the second jhana:

with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

This makes sense to me, because the point of the first jhana with its deliberate optimistic thinking and evaluation is, to use the language of MN 125, "to subdue memories and thoughts of the lay life, the stress, weariness, and fever of the lay life" and "to make the [metaphorical elephant] happy to be within a village".

So once the vitakka has been successfully applied to overcome the habitual negativity, cravings, and grudges (aka covetousness and displeasure towards the world), the mind becomes free of the inner conflict - the unification of awareness is attained, and this is the second jhana.

The reason MN 125 does not explicitly mention the first jhana, I think, is because it tries to de-emphasize the first jhana as something distinct and instead presents it as an integral part of the gradual training leading to the unification of awareness, the main topic of the discussion.

Remember, the audience of this particular sutta is the novice monk and so the teaching is adapted to his level, with the childish metaphor of elephant and so on. So instead of describing the first jhana as recollection of one's own perfect qualities (as would be suitable for an advanced student) the Buddha talks about Guarding the Sense Doors and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (what Thanissaro Bhikkhu aptly describes as the phenomenological frame of reference devoid of inferences about the world). Nevertheless, the overall point remains the same: the unification of awareness in the second jhana is achieved through deliberate thematic thinking designed to remove the inner conflict and generate happy, uplifted, optimistic state of mind.

When the deliberate thinking has produced its effect, it can be put aside, and the resulting state of the joyful harmony is the second jhana, "internal assurance".

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  • ekaggata is a factor of every jhana (MN 43; MN 111). The translation "unification of awareness" unique to the 2nd jhana is of "cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ" in Pali. Ekodibhāvaṁ is not a synonym of ekaggata Commented May 2 at 1:47
  • That seems to be Theravada misunderstanding. Anyway, we are not going to argue in the comments.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented May 2 at 4:14

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