Saturday, March 28, 2020

Comprehensive gloss of vivicc’eva kāmehi from STED 1st Jhāna

 'vivicc’eva kāmehi' of first jhana = seclusion from sensuality, 

seclusion from desire for sensual pleasure,
seclusion from desire for sensual pleasure objects.

Surveying every reference  of first jhana formula in the suttas, you can verify it yourself. Whenever first jhana occurs in a gradual samadhi training sequence, the kama/kamehi being referenced will also be explicitly explained prior to first jhana formula in the form of:
1. kāma sankappo or kāma vitakka, desire of sensual pleasure in opposition to nekkhamma sankappo/vitakka (renunciations thoughts and resolves).  (AN 6.73AN 6.74AN 6.75).
2. 5kg = panca kāma-guṇā = 5 sensuality strings
3. kāmacchanda, the first of the 5niv⛅ = pañca nīvaraṇā = 5 hindrances
4. kāma, raga, or lobha of the 3am 😈🌱= 3 a-kusala mulani = 3 un-skillful roots, The Unholy Trinity, aka 3 aggi 🔥(fire)

 Athough kāma in some contexts in Theravada scripture (not sure if it occurs in EBT?) can mean objects of the 5 senses, rather than desire for sensual pleasure objects, in first jhana context, this is never the case. Even in Abhidhamma Vibhanga.

AN 6.63 explains that in EBT, kāmā specifically means #1 and #2 from above

 kāma (sensual pleasures) is slurped from AN 6.63Standard EBT Definitions. EBT = Early Buddhist Texts.
and equated with STED  → 5kg kāma-guṇā  
and this most important explicit explanation of that in the context of EBT and first jhana
...kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā.
...Touches known by the body that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing.
Api ca kho, bhikkhave, nete kāmā kāmaguṇā nāmete ariyassa vinaye vuccanti—
However, these are not sensual pleasures. In the training of the noble one they’re called ‘kinds of sensual stimulation’.
Saṅkappa-rāgo purisassa kāmo,
Greedy intention is a person’s sensual pleasure.
Nete kāmā yāni citrāni loke;
The world’s pretty things aren’t sensual pleasures.
Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo,
Greedy intention is a person’s sensual pleasure.
Tiṭṭhanti citrāni tatheva loke;
The world’s pretty things stay just as they are,
Athettha dhīrā vinayanti chandanti.
but a wise one removes desire for them.

Viveka, vivicc'eva means:

Secluded. Specifically in this context, secluded from sensuality, sensual pleasure and desire for them. There can be both mental and physical seclusion, but by far the only one that matters in the end, is mental seclusion from sensuality based on wisdom.

Where physical seclusion may be implied in the EBT, would be in passages such as MN 150, where the physical seclusion is meant as a preliminary training aid to develop the samadhi and practice.

 It absolutely never means the 5 senses of the body are shut off, that one has entered an arupa/formless attainment as late Theravada Abhidhamma such as Vism. claims (in contradiction to EBT and even early Abhidhamma).

(MN 150):

te āyasmanto araññavanapatthāni pantāni senāsanāni paṭisevanti. Natthi kho pana tattha tathārūpā cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā ye disvā disvā abhirameyyuṃ, natthi kho pana tattha tathārūpā sotaviññeyyā saddā ye sutvā sutvā abhirameyyuṃ, natthi kho pana tattha tathārūpā ghānaviññeyyā gandhā ye ghāyitvā ghāyitvā abhirameyyuṃ, natthi kho pana tattha tathārūpā jivhāviññeyyā rasā ye sāyitvā sāyitvā abhirameyyuṃ, natthi kho pana tattha tathārūpā kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā ye phusitvā phusitvā abhirameyyuṃ.

[T]hose venerable ones resort to remote jungle-thicket resting places in the forest. For there are no forms cognizable by the eye there of a kind that they could look at and delight in. There are no sounds cognizable by the ear there of a kind that they could listen to and delight in. There are no odors cognizable by the nose there of a kind that they could smell and delight in. There are no flavors cognizable by the tongue there of a kind that they could taste and delight in. There are no tactual objects cognizable by the body there of a kind that they could touch and delight in.

(whenever you see nekkhamma, especially in jhāna context, it's being contrasted against its akusala/unskillful opposite, kāma, sensuality)

People often forget the 👑-8fold-☸ noble-eightfold-path

is a causal sequence, where thoughts of renunciation based on samma sankappo's nekkhama-sankappo, feed directly into samma samadhi's first jhana formula's "with directed thought and evaluation". For example, in first jhana, you may have the thought, "wow, I'm free of lust and 5 hindrances, and it feels GREAT!", so long as the excitement and intensity of that thought does not block kaya-passadhi (bodily pacification of 7 awakening factor sequence). 

正見 zhèng jiàn
1👁 sammā-diṭṭhi
正思惟 Zhèng sīwéi
2💭 sammā-saṅkappo
正語 Zhèng yǔ
3💬 sammā-vācā
正業 zhèng yè
4🏃 sammā-kammanto
正命 zhèng mìng
5👑 sammā-ājīvo
正精進 zhèng jīngjìn
6🏹 sammā-vāyāmo
正念 zhèngniàn
7🐘 sammā-sati
正定 zhèngdìng
8🌄 sammā-samādhi

From studyinevery reference to STED 4j🌕 formula, and examining what happens right before first jhāna, we can see the pattern. Whenever first jhana occurs in a gradual training context, almost always what comes right before the first jhana formula is a contrast with 5kg, or 5niv (full STED above). 

There are only 2 suttas in the canon titled "first jhana"

So it's worth taking a close look at what it has to say regarding 'vivicceva kamehi'.

You can click the links above to carefully study the full suttas (they're short), but in summary, the 3 wrong and right samma sankappos are contrasted against each other, and the 5 hindrances are listed. Here is a particularly important part of AN 6.73 that most people will miss. Most people will just look at it quickly and go, "ok, 5 hindrances, let's move on...", and miss this very important point:

(item #6 is method 2 of MN 20, i.e. first jhana purifying itself to qualify for 2nd jhana)

Cha, bhikkhave, dhamme pahāya bhabbo paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharituṃ.
But after giving up these six [bad] dharmas you can enter and remain in the first jhāna.
Katame cha?
What six?
1. Desire for sensual pleasures,
2. ill will,
3. dullness and drowsiness,
4. restlessness and remorse,
5. doubt,
kāmesu kho panassa ādīnavo
6. And the drawbacks of sensual pleasures
na yathā-bhūtaṃ samma-p-paññāya su-diṭṭho hoti.
have not been {well-seen}, as-they-actually-are, (with) right-discernment.
Ime kho, bhikkhave, cha dhamme pahāya bhabbo
After giving up these six [bad] dharmas
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharitun”ti.
you can enter and remain in the first jhāna.”

The sixth item is method #2 from MN 20, the type of skillful thoughts we think to purify our mind, our view, to properly learn to notice, acknowledge, and gain an intuitive understanding that lust, passion, sensual thoughts are dangerous, lead directly to dukkha. And their skillful kusala opposite, 'nekkhama' thoughts of renunciation, lead to and feed the fire of first jhana. Vitakka thoughts have a crucial role in first jhana. They're like the kindling  used to stoke and build up a fire before it's a big blaze and can sustain itself.  It's a critical part of gradual samadhi training, before one has learned the skill of entering into samadhi directly by pacification (passaddhi-sam-bojjhanga). 

So to destroy the meaning of vitakka (thinking) in first jhana, as Vism. and Ajahn Brahm do, is doing great harm to Buddhism. In the EBT, samatha and vipassana in jhana are conjoined, not separate entities to be practiced at different stages independently of each other, as the passage above clearly shows. 

KN Pe 7.72: word cmy on four jhānas

is the earliest Theravada 4 jhana formula gloss. It agrees completely with the pure EBT passages quoted above. (first paragraph 72. talks about tīṇi akusala-mūlāni (3 unskillful roots) and 5niv (hindrances) removal.
♦ tattha a-lobhassa pāripūriyā nekkhamma-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
576. Here, for non-greed fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-dosassa pāripūriyā abyāpāda-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
for non-hatred fulfillment, non-ill-will-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-mohassa pāripūriyā avihiṃsā-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
for non-delusion fulfillment, non-harm-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-lobhassa pāripūriyā vivitto hoti kāmehi.
577. “Here, for fulfilling non-passion he is secluded from sensual pleasures.
tattha a-dosassa pāripūriyā
Here, for fulfilling non-aggression and
a-mohassa pāripūriyā ca vivitto hoti pāpakehi akusalehi dhammehi,
fulfilling non-delusion he is secluded from unskillful phenomena.
savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ
And so he enters and remains in the first jhāna,
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
which includes directed thought and evaluation, as well as joy and pleasure born of seclusion.
♦ vitakkāti tayo vitakkā —
578. Directed thought: There are three kinds of directed thought, namely
the thought of renunciation,
the thought of non-aversion,
and the thought of harmlessness.
tattha paṭham-ābhinipāto vitakko,
579. Here, directed thought is the first instance
paṭiladdhassa vicaraṇaṃ vicāro.
while evaluation is the evaluation of what is thereby received.

B. Thanissaro commentary from his sutta footnotes, circa 2000 C.E.

... the Buddha defined sensuality not as the objects of the senses, but as the passion and delight that one feels for ones intentions toward such objects [ AN 6.63 ]. Although the objects of the senses are neither good nor evil per se, the act of passion and delight forms a bond on the mind, disturbing its immediate peace and ensuring its continued entrapment in the round of rebirth and redeath. Only by separating the desire from its object can one directly perceive the truth of these teachings.

Lets look at some Theravada Non EBT glosses

Te Ab Vb 10: Bojjhaṅga
Te Ab Vb 12: Jhana
Vimt. Vimutti-magga
Vism. Vi-suddhi-magga

“Vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehī”ti tattha katame kāmā? Chando kāmo, rāgo kāmo, chandarāgo kāmo, saṅkappo kāmo, rāgo kāmo, saṅkapparāgo kāmo— ime vuccanti “kāmā”.
“Aloof from sense pleasures, aloof from unskilful dhammas” means: Therein what are sense pleasures? Wish is sense pleasure, lust is sense pleasure, lustful wish is sense pleasure, thought is sense pleasure, lust is sense pleasure, lustful thought is sense pleasure. These are called sense pleasures.
Tattha katame akusalā dhammā? Kāmacchando, byāpādo, thinaṃ, middhaṃ, uddhaccaṃ, kukkuccaṃ, vicikicchā—ime vuccanti “akusalā dhammā”.
Therein what are unskilful dhammas? Wish for sense pleasure, ill-will, sloth, torpor, distraction, remorse, doubt. These are called unskilful dhammas.
Iti imehi ca kāmehi imehi ca akusalehi dhammehi vivitto hoti. Tena vuccati “vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehī”ti.
Thus from these sense pleasures and from these unskilful dhammas he is aloof. Therefore this is called “aloof from sense pleasures, aloof from unskilful dhammas”.

conclusion: Abhidhamma agrees with EBT on what kamehi means in first jhana: lust, passion, sensual desire, etc., and not "5 sense faculties shutting off"

Q. Since separation from demeritorious states is preached and lust as a demeritorious state is already within it, why should separation from lust be separately preached?
A. Lust is conquered through emancipation. Every Buddha's teaching can remove the defilements well. “The separation from lust is renunciation'. This is the teaching of the Buddha. It is like the attainment of the first meditation, jhāna. The thought connected with the perception of lust partakes of the state of deterioration.
Thereby lust is connected with the defilements. With the dispersion of lust all defilements disperse. Therefore, separately, the separation from lust is preached.
And again, thus is separation from lust: After gaining emancipation, a man accomplishes the separation from lust.

conclusion: vimt., which is based on canonical abhdhamma, also agrees with EBT and does not contradict it. No mention of "5 body senses shut off" here.


Their gloss is quite long, so will not be reproduced in this article. The latter portion of the first jhana gloss, seems to quote Abhidhamma gloss above. Prior to that, they seem to support the idea of kamehi referring to objects of sensual pleasure rather than 'desire for sensual pleasures' as the Earlier Buddhist texts, and Abhidhamma and Vimt. states. But note that it's an ADDITIONAL meaning of kamehi, not REPLACING the existing incontrovertible meaning of 'desire for sensual pleasures'.

From the Nyanatiloka's dictionary: (summarize Theravada including Vism. understanding of seclusion)
  • viveka

'detachment', seclusion, is according to Niddesa, of 3 kinds:
  • (1) bodily detachment (kāya-viveka), i.e. abiding in solitude free from alluring sensuous objects;
  • (2) mental detachment (citta-viveka), i.e. the inner detachment from sensuous things;
  • (3) detachment from the substrata of existence (upadhi-viveka).
In the description of the 1st absorption,
  • the words "detached from sensuous things" (vivicc' eva kāmehi) refer, according to Vis.M. IV, to 'bodily detachment';
  • the words "detached from karmically unwholesome things" (vivicca akusalehi dhammehi) refer to 'mental detachment';
  • the words "born of detachment" (vivekaja), to the absence of the 5 hindrances.

Rupert Gethin glosses vivicc’ eva kāmehi of first jhāna

vivicc’ eva kāmehi must mean ‘quite separated / secluded from kāma-s’; so the question is what are kāma-s exactly. I don’t think kāma means ’sense pleasures’. Early on (e.g. already in Peṭ and in NiddI) the exegetical tradition explains kāma-s as twofold: (1) ‘desires' as affliction/defilement (kilesa-kāma), namely taṇhā for the objects of the five senses, and (2) ‘desires’ as the objects of those desires (vatthu-kāma), namely  the objects of the five senses themselves (visible forms, sounds, smells, tastes, the objects of touch). So I take vivicc’ eva kāmehi to mean ‘quite separate/secluded from desires for the objects of the senses / from the objects of sense-desires. That certain words in Pali/Sanskrit can mean both the action and the object that action is directed towards is quite common. In fact this happens in all languages. So in English ’thought’ can mean both ’thinking’ and the object of thinking (what is thought about); ‘attachment’ can mean both being attached and then thing one is attached to; kāma in Pali is exactly like this, even though the English word ‘desire’, which is often used to translate kāma, is not so.

That jhāna is separate or secluded from the objects of the five sense is, of course, why it is rūpāvacara as opposed to kāmāvacara. The attainment of jhāna marks a radical transformation of mind.

gloss of avacara (spheres of consciousness)

  • the sensuous sphere (kāmāvacara),
  • the fine-material sphere (rūpāvacara),
  • the immaterial sphere (arūpāvacara).

B. Thanissaro notes that:

I was curious about your statement that kāma in some contexts can mean objects of the senses. What are those contexts? Is it unequivocal that that’s what the word kāma means in those contexts? Margaret Cone’s Pali dictionary does not give the meaning “sense object” under the entry for kāma at all.

Rupert Gethin responds:

As for Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s query, one of the contexts in which Buddhaghosa explains that kāma-s refer to the objects of sense-desire is precisely the phrase vivicc’ eva kāmehi introducing the first jhāna. At Vism IV.83 he cites the authority of the Niddesa (a late canonical text, but nonetheless likely to predate the Peṭakopadesa) where kāma-s are explained as objects (vatthu) and as referring to “agreeable visible forms, etc.” and concludes (in Ñāṇamoli’s translation):

[T]he words “quite secluded from sense desires” properly mean “quite secluded from sense desires as object,” and express bodily seclusion, while the words “secluded from unprofitable things” properly mean “secluded from sense desires as defilement or from all unprofitable things,” and express mental seclusion.

He elaborates on this in IV.84, before going on to say (IV.85) that kāma-s here can also be taken as referring to defilements (kilesa).

B.  Thanissaro notes that:

I don’t see how kāma in kāmāvacara has to mean sense object. Don’t the Brahmas who live in the rūpāvacara realm see sights, hears sounds, etc.? if they didn’t, how would Brahma Sahampati make requests of the Buddha?

my comment:

Even if Vism. is glossing kamehi to mean 'object', it seems to be adding that meaning as an addition to the main meaning of kamehi as 'defilement', rather than replacing it. In other words, for first jhana one being in an empty hut or wilderness has physical seclusion from sensual 'objects', as a bonus meaning, not a replacement meaning for kamehi as 'defilement'. 

In the Chinese EBT Agamas,  'kāmehi" translated as 5kg, agreeing with Pali EBT

Dr. William Chu says: 
Five strands of sensuality is almost invariably translated as wuyu (lit. "five desires"). In other words, the Chinese makes it clear that it is the "desire" that is renounced, and not the "sensual stimulation" (i.e. the sensory experience itself, as Sujato would have it) that is renounced.

other Relevant articles

MN 111, jhana 'lite', and simile of spaceship to mars:


  1. Hi Frank,This is the link of a PHD thesis regarding Samatha and Vipassana from Theravada and also other schools.