Samadhi (Buddhism)

Samadhi (Buddhism)

This article is about the concept in Buddhism. For the concept in Hinduism, see Samadhi. For other uses, see Samadhi (disambiguation).

In Buddhism, samādhi (Pali / Sanskrit: समाधि) is mental concentration or composing the mind. It is one of three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path.


The term samādhi is common to the Sanskrit and Pali languages.

Common Chinese terms for samādhi include the transliterations sanmei (三昧) and sanmodi (三摩地 or 三摩提), as well as the translation of the term literally as ding (定 "fixity"). Kumarajiva's translations typically use sanmei (三昧), while the translations of Xuanzang tend to use ding (定 "fixity"). The Chinese Buddhist canon includes these as well as other translations and transliterations of the term.

Pali Nikayas and Chinese Āgamas

Upon development of samādhi, one's mind becomes purified of defilements, calm, tranquil, and luminous. Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration, his mind is ready to penetrate and see into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering.

Lists of topics

In the Pāli canon of the Theravada tradition and the related Āgamas of other early Buddhist schools, samādhi is found in various lists of topics:

  • In the noble eightfold path, "right concentration" (samma-samādhi, S. samyak-samādhi) is the eighth path factor. Right concentration (Pāli: sammā-samādhi; Skt.: samyak-samādhi) involves attainment of the successively higher meditative states known as the four jhānas.[1]
  • Similarly, samādhi is the second part of the Buddha's threefold training: sīla (morality or virtue), samādhi, and pañña (wisdom; S. prajña).
  • In the development of the four jhānas, the second jhāna (S. dhyāna) is "born" from samādhi (samādhija).

Four types of samadhi

In AN IV.41,[2] the Buddha identifies four types of concentration development, each with a different goal:

  1. A pleasant abiding in this current life — achieved through concentrative development of the four jhānas
  2. Knowledge and the divine eye — achieved by concentration on light
  3. Mindfulness and clear comprehension — achieved through concentrative mindfulness of the rise and fall of feelings, perceptions and thoughts.[3]
  4. The destruction of the taints — achieved through concentrative mindfulness of the rise and fall of the five aggregates.[4]

Supernatural powers

The Buddhist suttas mention that samādhi practitioners may develop supernormal powers (abhijna, cf. siddhis), and list several that the Buddha developed, but warn that these should not be allowed to distract the practitioner from the larger goal of complete freedom from suffering.

Theravada commentarial tradition

According to the Visuddhimagga, samādhi is the "proximate cause" to the obtainment of wisdom.[5] In the Buddhist tradition, samādhi is traditionally developed by contemplating one of 40 different objects, which are mentioned throughout the Pali canon, but explicitly enumerated in the Visuddhimagga, such as mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) and loving kindness (metta).

Samādhi in Mahāyāna teachings

Indian Mahāyāna

The earliest extant Mahāyāna texts are those translated by Lokakṣema in the 2nd century CE. This corpus of texts often includes emphasizes ascetic practices and forest dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative concentration:[6]

Paul Harrison has worked on some of the texts that are arguably the earliest versions we have of the Mahāyāna sūtras, those translated into Chinese in the last half of the second century CE by the Indo-Scythian translator Lokakṣema. Harrison points to the enthusiasm in the Lokakṣema sūtra corpus for the extra ascetic practices, for dwelling in the forest, and above all for states of meditative absorption (samādhi). Meditation and meditative states seem to have occupied a central place in early Mahāyāna, certainly because of their spiritual efficacy but also because they may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration.

In the Indian Mahāyāna traditions samādhi is used in the earlier sense, but

There also appear in Mahayana literature references to a number of specific samadhi, each with a name and associated benefits, and a number of which are associated with specific sutras [...] one notes the appearance of lengthy lists of samadhi names, which one suspects have acquired their own aura of magical potency. Thus we can find samadhi-name lists, some of considerable length, in the Akṣayavamatinirdeśa, Bodhisattvapiṭaka, Daśabhhūmīśvara, Gaṇḍavyūha, Kāraṇḍavyūha, Mahāvyutpatti, and various Prajñāpāramitā texts. Section 21 of the Mahāvyutpatti records some 118 samādhi.[7]

Heart Sutra

This is reflected in the Heart Sutra, a famous Mahāyāna discourse, in which Avalokiteśvara gives a teaching in the presence of the Buddha after the Buddha enters "the samādhi which expresses the dharma called Profound Illumination," which provides the context for the teaching.

Samādhirāja Sūtra

Likewise, the Samādhirāja Sūtra

... declares its main theme to be a particular samādhi that is supposed to be the key to all elements in the path and to all the virtues and merits of buddhas and bodhisattvas. This state of mind, or spiritual practice, is called 'the samādhi that is manifested as the sameness of the essential nature of all dharmas' (sarva-dharma-svabhavā-samatā-vipañcita-samādhi). One may be tempted to assume that this refers to one particular form or state of contemplation; however, here the term 'samādhi' is understood in its broadest signification. This samādhi is at the same time the cognitive experience of emptiness, the attainment of the attributes of buddhahood, and the performance of a variety of practices or daily activities of a bodhisattva—including service and adoration at the feet of all buddhas. The word samādhi is also used to mean the sūtra itself. Consequently, we can speak of an equation, sūtra = samādhi = śūnyatā, underlying the text. In this sense the title Samādhirāja expresses accurately the content of the sūtra.[8]


Main articles: Zen, Chinese Chán, Japanese Zen and Zen in the United States

Ideologically the Zen-tradition stresses prajna and sudden insight, but in the actual practice prajna and samadhi, or sudden insight and gradual cultivation, are paired to each other. The distinction between sudden and gradual awakening was first introduced in China in the beginning of the 5th century CE by Tao Sheng. In the 8th century it became part of a struggle for influence at the Chinese court by Shenhui, a student of Huineng. Here-after "sudden enlightenment" became one of the hallmarks of Chinese Chán, though the sharp distinction was softened by subsequent generations of Zen-practitioners.[9]

This softening is reflected in The Platform Sutra, a text ascribed to Hui Neng, but composed by later writers of various schools.[9] In chapter 4 Huineng, the renowned Sixth Ancestor of Chinese Chan (Zen), teaches that samādhi and prajñā are not different:

Learned Audience, in my system Samadhi and Prajna are fundamental. But do not be under the wrong impression that these two are independent of each other, for they are inseparably united and are not two entities. Samadhi is the quintessence of Prajna, while Prajna is the activity of Samadhi. At the very moment that we attain Prajna, Samadhi is therewith; and vice versa. If you understand this principle, you understand the equilibrium of Samadhi and Prajna. A disciple should not think that there is a distinction between 'Samadhi begets Prajna' and 'Prajna begets Samadhi'. To hold such an opinion would imply that there are two characteristics in the Dharma.[10]

In Chapter 5 of the Platform Sutra, Huineng described the role of samādhi in meditation practice as follows:

When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace. Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in. He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi. To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi.[11]


According to B. Alan Wallace, samādhi is also viewed as serving as the basis for increasing intelligence.[12] Wallace also maintains that Buddhist psychology suggests that concentration may be a factor in the emergence of extraordinary intelligence.[13]

See also

Buddhism portal



  • Brasington, Leigh (1997). Sharpening Manjushri's Sword: The Jhanas in Theravadan Buddhist Meditation. Retrieved 2007-10-04 from "Leigh Brasington's Web Site" at
  • Buddhaghosa, Bhadantācariya and Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli (trans.) (1999). The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-00-2.
  • Nyanaponika Thera & Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans.) (1999). Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 0-7425-0405-0.

External links

  • Samma Samadhi - by Ajahn Chah
  • Samadhi for Liberation - by Ajahn Anand Akincano
  • Wisdom Develops Samadhi - by Maha Boowa
  • Developing Samadhi - by Lama Gelek Rinpoche
  • Lessons in Samadhi by Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo

nl:Samadhi (boeddhisme) ja:三昧 no:Samadhi (buddhisme) zh:三昧