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Themeless Concentration (Sn 2.11, MN 121, SN 41:7)

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  • Themeless Concentration (Sn 2.11, MN 121, SN 41:7)


    "Themeless concentration" appears to be somewhat of an oxymoron to me which probably means I don't understand it (Sn 2.11, MN 121, SN 41:7)

    Are there alternate translations of “themeless concentration?”

    Does A. Brahm’s stillness correspond to “themeless concentration” or is stillness more in the rupa jhana area?

    How does "themeless awareness" correspond to 9th jhana - ending of feeling and perception?

    Metta, eddie

  • #2
    Hi Ed,

    a good question.

    The term is a-nimitta, "without nimitta" or "nimitta-less". Nimitta doesn't really mean "theme", so it's no surprise you don't get "themeless". Nimitta means something like "sign/aspect" (or "cause/basis", but not in this context). In one place at least animitta samadhi seems to refer to the cessation of perceptions and feelings (ie. the cessation of awareness) and therefore I think "aspectless samadhi" may be decent translation, at least in that context. Alternatively there is "signless" as Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi has it.

    The thing is, there is no perfect translation, and the reason is that the mentions of this animitta samadhi with useful context are quite rare. Texts that do contain it don't define it (by this I mean non-commentarial texts) and may even seem to be in slight disagreement on its place in the practice. In one place it seems to be the cessation of perceptions and feelings, at other places not. Having little context, it is hard to pin down an exact meaning, if even there ever was one. Of course that doesn't mean people haven't tried--ideas go back as far as the earliest commentaries, which Bhikkhu Bodhi relies on in his notes--but I myself have not yet come across an explanation that is fully convincing to me.

    But I must say I've never studied this much. I do know scholars have quite extensively written on it, so if you use google ("animitta cetosamadhi" I think is the full term) I think you'll find words much wiser than mine. I know of an article by Peter Harvey called "Signless Meditations in Pali Buddhism". Don't know if it's any good, though.

    I'm sorry I can't be of more help. Please let me know if you find anything that answers your question.

    Now after typing the above, I remember I've once actually asked Ajahn Brahm in an interview about this thing, but he gave a practical reply (as he tends to in such interviews) about not following what the mind "points at", ie. not looking at the "signs" made by the mind. I'm not sure this is actually what the Buddha had in mind (and I think Ajahn Brahm wasn't sure either) but I was satisfied with the advice anyway. Perhaps it's good enough for you too!

    With kindness,



    • #3
      Thank you Sunyo,

      Good enough!

      Metta, eddie



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