Is it actually true that only one in a million people are capable of achieving even the first jhana?

“The kasina preliminary work is difficult for a beginner and only one in a hundred or a thousand can do it. The arousing of the sign is difficult for one who has done the preliminary work and only one in a hundred or a thousand can do it. To extend the sign when it has arisen and to reach absorption is difficult and only one in a hundred or a thousand can do it.”
-Vsm. XII.8

Thus only 1 in 100 x 100 x 100 = 1,000,000 can reach absorption (Jhana) - using the most optimistic figures.
-Leigh Brasington

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That sounds right to me. Theres this common misconception among modern western Buddhists that anyone and their mom can enlighten if you try hard enough. Just as people wrongly believe anyone can become rich if they work hard enough (try telling that to the poor villagers in Africa with malaria that the reason they arent rich is because their lazy and didnt work hard enough).

The Buddha even noted that many of his disciples could not become arahants in their current life and could achieve at most sotapanna or another lower stage of enlightenment. Its not just Buddhas and the chief disciples that take multiple lifetimes of accruing merit and perfections to achieve their goals. Even common arahants need to accrue parami for many lives before they can achieve arahantship. It seems pretty logical that only people of a certain level of merit and parami can achieve jhana. For the rest they will need to accumulate merit and parami in the hopes of reaching the level in a future life.

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Enlightenment, yes, very rare. What about only jhana?

Id think its similar, just not as difficult? Kinda like, you would never expect a poor villager in Africa to be as rich as Bill Gates, but you also wouldnt expect a poor villager to become a successful millionaire either? There are of course some villagers who can become millionaires, if they happened to have access to education or oppurtunity, but many do not.

You would need at least some degree of bhavana merit and panna and nekhemma parami from prior lives to achieve even the first jhana, which not everyone has. Just not nearly as much as enlightenment. I doubt the various ascetics with abhinna powers who lived in periods without Buddhism were just run of the mill people with no recent past life merit from bhavana at all.

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That’s fair. Thanks.

Ven dhammanando and I had a conversation shortly before I left dhammawheel at the end of the dark jhāna post
I thought he was a member of CT, but i guess not…

He criticized that the number of pa-auk yogis exceeded percentage of the world population. I’d like to say that might actually be true with the current calculation system, but the calculation system used also prohibits anyone from achieving the psychic powers spoken of in the vsm itself or in the Buddha’s time if we exclude pārāmī to be born during that time. That too also gives another question mark.

However, I propose that we are interpreting the calculation methods wrong, although I don’t have a solution other than, we are misinterpreting the calculations due to time and culture. Furthermore, we are taking the very bottom minimum calculation number of 1 in 100 rather than 1 in 1000. The number range is wide… 100 vs 1000 is 10 x fudge factor…

Ven Dhammanando also said that this calculation refers to yogis who are practicing already rather than the general population
That number from google is:

A rough estimation of people who meditate globally ranges between 200 and 500 million people

The .odds of the psychic powers is 2 more iterations of 100 to 1,

  • one time for 14 ways
  • one more time for getting the psychic powers.

1,000,000 x 100 x 100 which is 10,000,000,000 (10 billion)
The world population is shy of 8 billion and surely more than at the time of the Buddha.

So … perhaps our math is wrong? Maybe it is not a literal expression?
According to legend (from what I heard someone tell me in the sri Lanka chronicles) there were so many monks that could fly in the sky, the sky went black from so many flying monks blocking the sun and farmers complained that it was disturbing the crops.(!)

So perhaps the calculation is wrong.
Furthermore, there were quite a few on record in the suttas and dhp stories (and what more to say those not on record), that had psychic powers.

so perhaps we can say the calculation is wrong and it is just a large number and in each step, it is more and more difficult.

We also cannot take this literally, because they were not obviously calculating the odds based on 10 billion to one having psychic powers.

I’m also not sure… but if I live to 80, the population is a rolling average of population at one single time. would it be 5 x 8 = 40 billion total before I die as a total number of people?
And better yet… Perhaps we are interpreting the statement wrong and adding up the wrong calculations and expressions from that time.

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This was heartening, thank you, Venerable! :slightly_smiling_face:

I don’t think I responded properly to ven dhammanando like I did here. I wonder what he would say.

If any of you post on dhammawheel, perhaps you can bring up post points (I did edit my post with new calculations as well). (no need to mention classical theravada there).

If I recall, Venerable Dhammanando said it can be read in a more figurative way. It just means its hard to attain. Personally I wouldn’t read it as an exact calculation. I don’t think Venerable Buddhaghosa did a full and proper survey to arrive at these figures. It’s more like when we say there were hundreds or thousands at the stadium. It’s not exact.

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Thanks, I think that’s a good and resonable understanding.

I brought this up before on Dhammawheel that the Venerable Nyanatiloka translates this so that the “mathematics” only apply to people with no jhana experience in previous life times. The Venerable Dhammanando comments that this is a possible translation and adds that the Pali numbers are in plural. So it is not 1 in a 100 but 1 in the 100s. This adds to the vagueness of the numbers making them less likely to be used in a mathematic function as proposed by Brasington.


Much appreciated.

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Pa-auk saydawgyi usually says that if you are here on earth now, then you are one who has previously attained jhāna before. Why? Because when the past world destruction happened, we all had to go to the arūpa realms to survive the great fires. There were only great hell and great arūpa realms that could survive (although dying is for sure in any case). soo…those who are in the great hells are still there now. Those who went to the arūpa realms are us right now.

I think this is from the sutta on 7 suns appearing and the devas come to warn us to develop jhāna.

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Hmm, that doesn’t sound right to me. Lifespans in the great hells may be long, but beings do eventually get out. Isn’t it likely that there are some beings that have escaped the hells since then, even if they are not great in number? If that is the case, then most of us may have attained jhana in the past, but it doesn’t seem like a guarantee.

As far as I know those who are worthy and stuck in the deepest hells are still there.
The rest have moved on from the arūpa realms to other realms and rebirths from the last great destruction. You just don’t likely have a saṃsāra sense of time to conceptualize this.

Well! That is very reassuring and heartening! Thank you for sharing, Venerable!

I’m not sure if that logic holds up. Aren’t those who are not in the higher brahma realms when the world is destroyed die and are simply reborn in a different world system? It’s possible those on earth now were simply swept up from the destruction of a different world system into ours.

It’s not like those who die at the end of the world cycle disappear, they have to be reborn somewhere else in accordance to thier karma.

It is written down somewhere. Probably in the sutta with the 7 suns… not sure though. Best of luck. I don’t worry about what was said.


You can read about it the Commentary to Brahmajala sutta.


@bksubhuti and @RobertK are correct:

“There comes a time, bhikkhus, when after the lapse of a long period this world contracts (disintegrates). While the world is contracting, beings for the most part are reborn in the Ābhassara Brahma-world. There they dwell, mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the air, abiding in glory. And they continue thus for a long, long period of time."
-DN 1