Disclaimer: This article is based on my current understanding of various teachers. It may or may not represent what they actually are trying to convey!
Ajahn Sona, Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Thanissao are well-known monks in the Forest Tradition. Culadasa is a lay meditation teacher, author of The Mind Illuminated. He has recently been involved in a scandal, so I can’t endorse him as a teacher.
karuna - compassion
metta - loving friendliness
mudita - feeling happy when you witness or think about another person/creature being happy
pamojja - gladness
passadhi - tranquility or ease
piti - various translations: joy or happiness most relevant here
samadhi - stillness
sankhara - usually used to mean our will, but more generally describes all fabricated mind states
sukkha - various translations: ease, pleasure, a more refined happiness most relevant here
upekkha - equanimity
vicara - sustained attention on the meditation object
vitakka - lifting our mind back onto the meditation object when it has drifted away
The development of the mind towards samadhi is sometimes described in the suttas as the movement from pamojja to piti to passadhi to sukkha to samadhi.
One example from SN 47 (translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi): “When he directs his mind towards some inspiring sign, gladness is born (pamojja). When he is gladdened, rapture is born (piti). When the mind is uplifted by rapture, the body becomes tranquil (passadhi). One tranquil in body experiences happiness (sukkha). The mind of one who is happy becomes concentrated.”
Another example from the Vinaya about Visakha reflecting on her generosity to the Sangha (translator unknown): “When I remember it, I shall be glad (pamojja). When I am glad, I shall be happy (piti), my body will be tranquil (passadhi). I shall feel pleasure (sukkha). When I feel pleasure, my mind will become concentrated. That will bring the development of the spiritual faculties… the spiritual powers and the enlightenment factors in me.”
The varying translations of the words in question show the difficulty of where to place emotional experience: in the mind or in the body. Personally, I have stopped worrying about the specific translations and focus instead on the general pattern of movement from coarser to more refined versions of pleasure and calm in the body-mind experience. And these are shades of grey. When does pamojja become piti become sukkha? Only experience can tell you. As Ajahn Thanissaro says, you have to put post-it notes on your experiences until you surpass them.
So, I have been thinking more about this “development of samadhi” list and how it might relate to various Dhamma structures: the 7 factors of awakening, the Anapanasati sutta, the 5 hindrances and the 4 jhanas.
A Parallel in the Seven Factors of Awakening
You can see a parallel to the “development” list in the 7 factors when they are presented as being divided into the energy-related factors and the tranquility-related factors. In this structure, the first factor in the list - mindfulness - has the job of maintaining a balance between the two sides.
investigation of dhamma passadhi
Ajahn Sona has said that if we don't build enough energy at the beginning of our meditation, if we go to tranquility too soon, we end up in dullness or even full-on sleepiness. Energy comes from investigation and the interest generated naturally leads to joy. Ajahn Sona says, “Interest, attention and well being go together.”
Ajahn Sona and lay teacher Culadasa both talk about building to samadhi being like riding a bicycle: pedalling uphill for a while - putting in right effort to prevent/eliminate the hindrances and create/maintain wholesome mind states - until we can coast downhill. Coasting happens when the wholesome mind states have developed to the point where they maintain themselves.
This change is expressed in the "effortlessness" of Culadasa's stage seven - eight and up (in his book, the Mind Illuminated, page 261) and by Ajahn Brahm's "beautiful breath" stage and beyond (In Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, page 132). Or by the switch from upacara (neighbourhood) to apana (fixed penetration) samadhi as described in the traditional meditation manuals that post-date the Buddha.
Going back to the “development” list, pamojja shading to piti would be on the pedaling uphill side. We could see pamojja as a more detailed instruction on how to get piti going to fulfil the seven factors or induce jhana states. Our wholesome mind states begin with gladdening the mind with something inspiring. This could be by investigating a spiritual topic (generosity) or investigating and inducing the emotion of metta (including mudita and karuna). Interest is being generated by investigation of dhamma.
Gladness can also come from the relief gained by overcoming the hindrances and resting content with the breath. Gladness and even piti are what naturally arise when the hindrances are fully suppressed. As Ajahn Brahm says, there is relief in not wanting anything. He often expresses this with the word “contentment.”
Notice that the other structure that includes the word pamojja is the Anapanasati sutta - the Buddha’s instructions on how to practise breath meditation. “Gladdening the mind, I breathe in.” He is telling us to do this deliberately. It might be worth investigating: what perception(s) can I bring to bear that makes me glad to breathe in or to associate gladness with the air element? The next instruction in the sutta is to “samadhi” the mind. So here is another teaching that shows the role of gladness en route to samadhi.
Now, back to the seven factors, with enough energy in place we reach the downhill coasting stage, arriving at the tranquility-related factors. On the “development” list, we express this change in the movement from pamojja and piti to passadhi and sukkha.
The takeaway: If we can get the mind energized, tranquil and feeling pleasant, we are in the neighbourhood of samadhi or perhaps even in first jhana… depending on how you interpret it. See below.
Counteracting the Hindrances
We can also see a parallel to the “development” list when making efforts to overcome the hindrances.
Ajahn Sona talks about the hindrances as off-balance energies. The two biggest, greed and aversion, are the opposite of contentment and interest. With contentment and interest the mind doesn't move. It stays in place in the present moment, energetically not pushing away nor pulling towards.
In the “development” list, pamojja and piti are related to interest, while passadhi and sukkha are related to contentment. The first two also counteract dullness, the energy of sinking down, while the second two also counteract agitation, overstimulated energy.
When all are in play they also implicitly overcome doubt, the energy of turning in circles.
In this framework, the “development of samadhi” list could be seen less linearly (a hallmark of the Buddha's teaching - his lists work in multiple ways). The list could be seen as areas to develop, depending on the state of mind we start with. What do I need to develop first in my meditation today - pamojja/piti or passadhi/sukkha?
This implies that we know our mind state when we sit down. Success in meditation means staying super mindful of mind states all the time. Mindfulness is balancing everything constantly, and making sure that we arrive at the meditation cushion in an optimal state: relaxed, happy and with energy that is smooth and flowing. Mindfulness has a job to do. "Everyday is mindfulness day."
Parallels in the Jhana Descriptions
There are also parallels to the “development” list in the descriptions of the jhana states. The first jhana contains vitakka and vicara, the placing and holding of attention that becomes more stable as the hindrances are overcome. The first jhana also has piti-sukkha "born of seclusion" from the hindrances. By the time we arrive at the full development of the first jhana, our attention is stable (vicara) and feelings of piti-sukkha are strong. The hindrances are fully suppressed.
Then we transition to effortlessness. As Ajahn Sona once described it, second jhana is "hands off the wheel". The second jhana description has no more vitakka/vicara and now piti-sukkha is "born of concentration", a mind fully absorbed in it's topic and no longer needing the work of placing and holding attention. Effortless samadhi is happening. Continuing on, piti goes and sukkha remains in the third jhana. The movement in the mind is getting more still and the emotional state more refined. We're arriving at upekkha in the list of the Seven Factors of Awakening. Upekkha will dominate the fourth jhana: full stillness or complete tranquility of mind and breath.
Two Guided Meditations: Ajahn Nitho on mixing breath and metta Ajahn Bodhidahja on appreciation, gratitude and thankfulness.
These two guided meditations really struck me recently... both working in new-ish ways to spark the gladness that will start the movement to samadhi. Both are from recent BSWA events.