Pháp Danh : Varapañño

Tiến Sĩ Phật Học - Đại Học Kelaniya, Srilanka

Giảng Viên Học Viện Phật Giáo Việt Nam - TP.HCM

P4 – An Analytical Study of the Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation in Theravāda Buddhism





            This PhD thesis is titled “An Analytical Study of the Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation in Theravāda Buddhism” and was prepared under the guidance of my supervisor Prof. G. D. Sumanapala, the Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya. I am very thankful to him for his constant encouragement and support towards the successful completion of my research.


            The following lecturers of the institute who gave their full support directly or indirectly are also truly worthy of my respect and gratitude:

            Mr. Vijitha, research assistant and assistant to my supervisor without whose kind assistance I would have been unable to successfully complete this work.


            I am grateful to the Registrar, Assistant Registrar, Librarian and all academic and non-academic staff for their assistance throughout my research at the institute.

            I am also thankful to all my friends who helped me whole-heartedly and encouraged me to complete my research.



            I must especially mention the following names:


The most Venerable Vimala Joti (Director Buddhist Cultural Centre)

Upasika Thuy & Dayton Hibbs’ noble family (Ph. D)

Madam Paticia Melander, Senior teacher of British Council.

I must also mention the following teachers and supporters:

Venerable Khanti Palo (Former: President of Theravada Buddhist of Vietnam)

Venerable Sumana Cara (Agga Maha Panditha, Dhamma Cariya)

Venerable Dhamma Rakkhita (Agga Maha Panditha) (Dai Truong lao Ho phap)

Venerable Indobhasa (Agga Maha Panditha; Bhivamsa)

(The Chief Abbot Mahagandhayan monastery Amrapura Mandalay Myanmar)

Venerable Cittara (Dhammasariya)

(Former Second Director International Pauk Meditation Centre, Myanmar)

Venerable Dhamma Dhara

Venerable Indaka (Dwi Pitaka: Suttanta and VInaya Pitaka)

Venerable Waruna (Linkara; Dhamma cariya; Bhivamsa)

Venerable Sundara (Linkara; Dhamma Cariya) etc.

Venerable Kovida ( Dhamma cariya, B.A, M.A candidate)

Venerable Dr. Chon Minh (Sacca Panna)

Venerable Master Dhamma Cariya Jawtika

The Director Eng. Nguyen Dinh Kim & Kim Chi’s noble family

The Gent Truong Quoc Su (Thien Quoc), Architect (Ph.d- candidate)

Madam Nguyen thi Huynh Nhu, Nguyen thi Huynh Nga Family

Director Hong Ngoc’s Family

Director Gent. Nguyen Thanh Binh (Chon Tri) & Kim Lien (Dieu Thien)

Director Thu Huong (Dieu Minh) (B.A)

Director Le Quang Lam’s family

Master Ngo Thanh Phuc’s family

Lawyer Nguyen Thanh Hung+Tran Thi Yen Nga

Director- Lawyer  Ngo Thi Ngoc Lien

Madam Nguyen Thi Ngoc Oanh’s family

Director Le Thi Thuy Huong (Tu Thuy)

All my dear friends and lay devotees



            I would never have been able to come to Sri Lanka, and complete this research without their support and guidance, and I am very grateful to them.  I am also extremely grateful to my parents and relatives.

            May they always be well and happy with the Blessings of the Triple-Gem.


            Sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhῑtatta.

            Ven. Varapañño.

            (Ngo ThanhThanh )






            All Pali Texts, if not otherwise indicated are editions of the Pali Text Society, London

A                     Aṅguttara Nikāya

Asl                   Aṭṭhasālinῑ

B.D                  Buddhist Dictionary – by Ven. Nyanatiloka

BPS                 Buddhist Publication Society

BCC                Buddhist Cultural Centre (Srilanka)

BMS                Buddhist Missionary Society (Malaysia)

D                     Dῑgha Nikāya

Dhp                 Dhammapada

Ed                   Edition/  Edited

M                     Majjhima Nikāya

PTS                 Pali Text Society, London

PS                    Paṭisambhidāmagga

P/PP                Page/Pages

Pub                  Publication

S                      Saṃyutta  Nikāya

Sn                    Sutta  Nipāta

Tr.                    Translation/ Translated

Vin.                  Vinaya Pitaka

Vism                Visuddhimagga




            The aim of this research was to analyze in detail the forty subjects of Samatha meditation in Theravāda Buddhism. Although we do not find such a definite number of subjects recommended for Samatha meditation in the Pāli discourses, these are scattered throughout the canon. Commentators, especially Ven. Buddhaghosa have successfully taken an attempt to systematize the methods of meditation under Samatha and Vipassanā in the Visddhimagga.


            Under the method of Samatha meditation Ven. Buddhaghosa has recommended forty subjects in accordance with the nature of different characters. It is a well-known fact that the human mind is very complex consequently, we need various methods to train the mind in order to suit different mental levels.

            In order to accomplish the above mentioned task we have planned the research under five headings:

            The first chapter clarifies the early Buddhist context of the practice of meditation and it provides a background to the main research.


            Based on the findings in the first chapter we have made an attempt to explain the origin and development of the two methods as a result of historical evolution in the second chapter.


            The third chapter explains the background of the forty subjects of Samatha meditation. There is a long description regarding the preparatory activities for Samatha meditation in the commentaries especially in the Visuddhimagga.


            The fourth chapter is an attempt to analyze the relevant details with reference to the early Buddhist discourses.

            The fourth and fifth chapters being the main subject of our research, analyses present the forty subjects of Samatha meditation in relation to the five aggregates which in turn represent the Buddhist concept of personality. This is a new finding in our research and our conclusion in this regard was that the majority of the forty subjects are directly or indirectly related to the aggregate of feeling (vedanā) and perception ( saññā ) in the concept of five aggregates.


            The five aggregates represent the personality and without reference to this, the mere analysis of the subjects becomes useless. So, we feel that our comparative analysis of the forty subjects and the five aggregates in the fourth and the fifth chapters together with the final conclusion will be a considerable contribution to the field of Buddhist psychology and psychiatry.





            According to Theravāda Buddhism, methods of meditation have been classified    into two Samatha and Vipassanā. These two stages represent Samādhi and Paññā respectively in the Buddhist path to Nibbāna.

            Their basis is sῑla (morality). The three stages are gradual and they are closely related to the Noble Eightfold Path.


            In this gradual path Samādhi means one-pointedness of wholesome consciousness. It is an essential element for the development of wisdom, the final attainment.

            Samādhi should be developed on moral grounds, in order to get desired results.


            Most the Buddhist texts belonging to the Theravāda and Mahāyāna discuss the two aspects Sῑla and Paññā in the Buddhist path.

            Except Vijññānavada or Yogacara tradition in Mahāyāna, the other Buddhist traditions have paid little interest to the Samādhi aspect.


            This aspect has not been taken into much consideration even in modern works on Buddhism. So my intention in this research is to analyze the forty subjects of Samatha meditation and clarify their efficacy in relation to the practice of the Buddhist path.


            This subject has been discussed in the following works, but we find some stylistic numerical lists with short introductions in them. Bodhi, Bhikkhu , ed, A comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Kandy, 1993. Narada Thera, tr. A Manual of Abhidhamma. Kandy, 1968.  Aung .S. Z., tr. Compendium of philosophy, London:  P.T.S, 1910.

Nyanatiloka, Guide Through the Abhidhamma pitaka. Colombo, 1938.

Watanabe, F. Philosophy and its Development in the Nikayas and Abhidhamma, Delhi, 1983.

Ñānamoli Bhikkhu, tr. The Path of Purification. Colombo, 1964…



 In the primary sources :

Abhidhammatthasangaha Vibhavinitika, ed. Panññananda,W. Colombo 1988.

Abhidhammatthasangaha, ed. Rhys David T.W., JPTS, 1884.

Abhidhammatthavikasini, ed.A.P.Buddhadatta, Colombo,1961.

Abhidhammavatara, ed.A.P.Buddhadatta, Buddhadatta’s Manual, I. (pp.1-142), PTS,1915.

Abhidharmadipa (with Vibhasaprabhavatti), ed. P.S. Jaini, Tibetan Sanskrit Work Series, IV, Patna, 1959.

Abhidharmakosavyakhya (Sinhalese Edition), ed, and tr. M.Sasanaratana, Colombo, 1976.

Abhidharmasamuccayabhasya, ed. N,Tatia, Patna, 1976.

Abhidharmarthasamgrahasannaya, ed. Pannamolitissa, Ambalangoda, 1926.



In the secondary Sources:

Adikaram. E.W. Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon, Colombo, 1953.

Bauna, B.M., A  History of Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy, Delhi, 1970.

Jaini, P.S. The Sautrantika Theory of Bija, BSOAS, vol. XXII. 1959. ( pp236-250).

Jaini, P.S., The Vaihhasika theory of  words and meanings. BSOAS, vol. XXII, 1959 (pp.95-108).

Jayatilleke, K.N., Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. Allen and Unwin Ltd. London, 1963.

Jayatilleke, K.N., The Message of The Buddha, ed. Ninian Smart, London, 1975.

Jayawardhana, Somapala., Handbook of Pali Literature, Colombo, 1994.

Jha, R.C., The Vedantic And The Buddhist Concept Of Reality As Interpreted (By Samkara And Nagarjuna,) Calcutta, 1973…etc.



            I have consulted the Pali Canon, in order to find the origin of the subjects of samatha meditation and examined the Theravada sources especially the commentarial literature in order to find details of the forty subjects of samatha meditation. Dighanikāya and Majjimanikāya were very useful, because they include a number of discourses extremely, related to the practice of meditation.




            Brahmajālasutta of Dῑghanikāya and Vanapattha, Anupada, Dvedhāvitakka, Vitakkasaṇṭhāna, Indriyabhāvanā, Bhayabherava, hathavinita and many other Suttas…include details related to both samatha and vipassanā methods of meditation.


            Instead we find the difference as Cetovimutti (libration of  mind) and Paññāvimutti  (libration through wisdom).

            It is understood that these two the interconnecting aspects of meditation have been developed as samatha and vipassanā in the later Theravāda sources.

            Further, the latter sources have paid much attention to include definite methods and subjects for those two practices.

            It was found that a large number of the forty subjects of samatha meditation included in the later sources can be found even in the early discourses too.

            The second stage of the development of the forty subjects is related to the character analysis.

            Although we find character analyses in the discourses as well as other texts such as Puggalapaññatti, its systermatic version, can be found only in the later Theravāda sources like Visuddhimagga.

            The forty subjects of samatha meditation as mentioned in the Visuddhimagga are as follows:

            i.            Dasakasiṇa                        – 10                  kasiṇas

            ii.           Asubha                               -10                   asubhas

            iii.          Anussati                             -10                   anussatis

            iv.          Brahmavihāra                     -4                     brahmavihāras

            v.           Ārupa                                 -4                     ārupas

            vi.          Āhāre paṭikkūlasañña        -1                     saññā

            vii.         Catudhātuvavatthāna         -1                     vavatthāna.



            The subjects belong to the above groups are given below:

            i.            Paṭhavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo, nῑla, pῑta, lohita, odāta, āloka, ākāsa.

            ii.           Uddhumātaka, vikkhāyitaka, vikkhitaka, hatavikkhitaka, lohitaka, vinῑlaka, vipubbaka, vicchiddaka, puḷavaka, aṭṭhika.

            iii.          Buddhānussati; Dhammānussati; Sanghānussati; Sῑlanussati; Cāgānussati; Devatānussati; Marananussati; Upasamānussati; Kāyagatāsati; Ānāpānasati;

            iv.          Mettā; Karuṇā; Muditā; Upekkhā.

            v.           Ākāsānañcāyatana.




            vi.         Āhāre patikkūlasaññā.

            vii.        Paṭhavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo.



            The practitioners of meditation are divided into six main characters, and the forty subjects have been allocated accordingly.

            The six characters and suitable subjects for them:

            i.            Rāgacarita            – 10 asubhās

                                                       – 1 kāyagatāsati.

            ii.           Dosacarita            – 4 brahmavihāras

                                                       – 4 ( nῑla, pῑta, lohita, odāta) kasiṇas.

            iii.          Mohacarita           – 1 ānāpānasati.

            iv.          Saddhācarita       – 6 anussatis ( Buddha, dhamma, saṅgha, sῑla, cāga, devatā ).

            v.           Buddhicarita        – 1 maraṇasati

                                                     – 1 upasamānussati

                                                     – 1 āhāre paṭikkūlasaññā.

                                                     – 1 catudhātuvavatthāna.

            vi.          Vitakkacarita       – similar to mohacarita.

            The six kasiṇas (paṭhavi, āpo, teno, vāyo, āloka, ākāsa)

            And the four ārupas:





            are suitable for all characters.


            Kasiṇa is a round material object, coloured with suitable colours related to characters.

            Asubha means the filthy attitude that should be developed towards the ten kinds of changes of a dead body.

            Reflection on the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, sῑla, cāga, etc…is meant by anussati.

            Four sublime states are called Bramavihāra.

            Ārupa refers to four kinds of immaterial trances.

            Filthy attitude to be developed in regard to edible food is called āhāre paṭikkūlasaññā.

            And reflection on four great elements is called catudhātuvavatthāna.



            Among these forty subjects, the four sublime states, four immaterial trances, filthy attitude to food and reflection on four great elements, etc…are directly mentioned in the early Buddhist discourses.

            Although the systematic presentation of these subjects, and the methods of meditation related to them have arranged at a later period, the subjects and their analyses are mostly found in suttas.

            Venerable Buddhaghosa himself says that the practitioners of meditation at his time are mostly failed in their attempts to achieve results of meditation.


            One of the main purposes of writing Visuddhimagga was to supply them with a systematic presentation of methods of meditation.

            In the rest of my research work, I hope to analyse the forty subjects in relation to the methods of meditation and point out their importance in practical and theoretical contexts.

            The details especially given in Visuddhimagga regarding the development processes of these subjects in meditation will reveal very important facts relevant to the practical aspect of Buddhism.



            The common methods used in research based on literary works such as data collection, data analysis, data classification and in conclusion based on the above will be followed here.The Pali Canon, its commentaries and especially the Visuddhimagga and related secondary works will be the main source of this research. In order to accomplish the above mentioned task, the research plan will include the following chapters:


            Chapter one:

             – Early Buddhist Context of the Practice of Meditation.

            Chapter two:

            – Development of the Concepts of Samatha and Vipassanā in Theravāda Tradition.

            Chapter three:

            – Background of Samatha Meditation.

            Chapter four :

            – Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation .

            Chapter five:

            – Analysis of the Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation


            Table of Contents

            Acknowledgements                                                                                   I – III

            Abbreviations                                                                                            IV – V

            Abstract                                                                                                     VI – VII

            Introduction                                                                                               1 – 8

            Chapter 1 – Early Buddhist Context of the Practice of Meditation            9 – 24 

            Chapter 2 – Development of the Concepts of Samatha and

            Vipassanā in Theravāda   Tradition                                                          25 –  41

            Chapter 3 – Background of Samatha Meditation                                      42 – 58

            Chapter 4 – Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation                                   59 – 71

            Chapter 5 – Analysis of the Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation          72 – 257           

            Conclusion                                                                                                258 – 262           

            The pictures of the forty subjects of Samantha Mediation                        263 – 302

            Bibliography                                                                                              303 – 306


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