In Buddhism, If I ask the following question:

Suppose you completely empty your mind of all thoughts. You go into complete emptiness of mind, where nothing is arising. Suppose that in that state you make a choice to arise a thought. If in that state a choice is made to arise a thought, "choice" is the arising of "this thought". "Choice" must be arisen before "this thought" is arisen. Is there something that must arise before "choice" in order for "choice" to arise? If there is "something that must arise before 'choice' in order for 'choice' to arise", is there something that must arise before "something that must arise before 'choice' in order for 'choice' to arise"? etc. etc. etc. So, where does it end? What is the first "thing" that arises in your mind before the rest arises out from this first "thing"?

Does the above question fall into the category of the Four imponderables? Specifically "The jhana-range of a person in jhana... [i.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana]"? http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.077.than.html

If yes, why? If no, why?

  • Is this not tantamount to asking how did I begin? This seems clearly to not be the path of Buddhism, but as far as the technicalities of Jhana states, I do not know.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 7:36
  • 1
    In my experience prolonged absence of thoughts is accompanied by equanimity. Thus, the only cause for the thinking brain to startup then would be external causes and conditions, like someone talking to us. However, even in such no-mind states it is impossible to know if there aren't underlying invisible brain processes - because most no thought states end sooner or later, it implies the brain is constantly changing even when we think it isn't.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 7:52
  • 1
    Zeno's Paradox - motion is impossible, because in order to go thus far, I must first go half that far, and so on.
    – user2341
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


Let me try to answer the question with basis in the 2 of The Four Imponderables and with quotes from the book "What Buddhists Believe" by Ven. K. Sri Dhammanda.

The 4th acinteyya:

"Speculation about [the origin, etc., of] the cosmos is an imponderable that is not to be speculated about".

This acinteyya discusses the origin of the cosmos but i think the question about the origin of the intention that must give rise to the forming of a mental formation, here a choice, might fall into the same category. Why is that?

It is similar to be searching for a "first cause". A first cause complicates the entire picture. One can then ask what caused the first cause? Or what caused the cause that caused the first cause? And so to infinity. It will not give a satisfying answer, unless one is a Buddha. If one is not, then it will only leave the mind agitated and stressed out which is not conducieve to practice.

Here are some quotes that i think fit to your question. They can be found in above mentioned book, from the chapter: "Can the First Cause be Known?", p. 166-168:

  • "According to the Buddha, it is inconceivable to find a first cause for life or anything else. For in common experience, the cause becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In the circle of cause and effect, a first cause is incomprehensible."

  • "With regard to the origin of life, the Buddha declares, ‘Without cognizable end is this recurrent wandering in Samsara (cycle of birth and death). Beings are obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving. A first beginning of these beings is not to be perceived.’ (Anamatagga Samyutta in Samyutta Nikaya)."

  • "... And it is more difficult to understand how that first cause came into existence at the beginning. For if the first cause can exist though uncreated, there is no reason why the other phenomena of the universe must not exist without having also been created."

  • "As to the question how all beings came into existence without a first cause, the Buddhist’s reply is that there is no answer* because the question itself is merely a product of human beings’ limited compre- hension. If we can understand the nature of time and relativity; we must see that there could not have been any first beginning. It can only be pointed out that all the usual answers to the question are fundamentally defective. If it is assumed that for a thing to exist, it must have had a creator who existed before it, it follows logically that the creator himself must have had a creator, and so on back to infinity. On the other hand, if the creator could exist without a prior cause in the form of another creator, the whole argument falls to the ground. The theory of a creator does not solve any problems, it only complicates the existing ones."

About the 2nd Acinteyya which says:

"The jhana-range of a person in jhana... [i.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana]".

Based on that i would think examples of questions could be: Can one learn to fly? Can one read others minds? Can one travel in time? Can one become invinsible? Can one perform magic tricks? Can one see through walls? Can one transform into another physical form?

If you are interested in this "The Visuddhimagga" has a section called "THE SUPERNORMAL POWERS" on p. 369-400. In here you will find the benefits of concentration and the kinds of Supernormal Powers.

Here is an example of a power:

"24. That given as follows, “Having abandoned his normal form, he shows [himself in] the form of a boy or the form of a serpent ... or he shows a manifold military array” (Paþis II 210), is called success as transformation because of the abandoning and alteration of the normal form."

  • Thanks. That's a very good answer. Do you know examples of questions that fall into the category of 2nd acinteyya (The jhana-range of a person in jhana)?
    – beginner
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 10:19
  • I have updated my answer and tried to bring in some examples of questions pertaining to the 2nd acinteyya. There is also a link to the Visuddhimagga. Let me know if this answers your question or if you need further info.
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 11:21

Knowledge has limits.

"Mind is not Buddha. Knowledge is not the Way." But then, even saying this is leading you astray again, so I should shut up. Your question can be asked, because you have asked it. But not all questions make any sense. I think that the error is the choice of your second word, "Suppose you..." This word has no referent. But to communicate with you, I need to resort to meaningless terms like 'you' and 'I'. Try not to get hung up on them.

"Have you had breakfast?"

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