Kammaṭṭhāna | 40 Objects


1. Kammaṭṭhāna

In Buddhism, Kammaṭṭhāna is a Pāḷi word (Sanskrit: karmasthana) which literally means place of work.

Its original meaning was someone's occupation (farming, trading, cattle-tending, etc.) but this meaning has developed into several distinct but related usages all having to do with Buddhist meditation.

2. Etymology and meanings

Its most basic meaning is as a word for meditation, with meditation being the main occupation of Buddhist monks.

In Burma, senior meditation practitioners are known as Kammaṭṭhānacariyas (meditation masters).

The Thai Forest Tradition names itself Kammaṭṭhāna Forest tradition in reference to their practice of meditating in the forests.

In the Pāḷi literature, prior to the post-canonical Pāḷi commentaries, the term Kammaṭṭhāna comes up in only a handful of discourses and then in the context of work or trade.

Buddhaghoṣa uses Kammaṭṭhāna to refer to each of his 40 meditation objects listed in the 3rd chapter of the Visuddhimagga, which are partially derived from the Pāli Canon.

In this sense Kammaṭṭhāna can be understood as occupations in the sense of things to occupy the mind or workplaces in the sense of places to focus the mind on during the work of meditation .

Throughout his translation of the Visuddhimagga, Ñāṇamoli translates Kammaṭṭhāna simply as meditation subject .

3. Buddhaghoṣa’s 40 meditation subjects

Kasiṇas as kammaṭṭhāna

Kasiṇa (Pāḷi: kasiṇa; Sanskrit: kṛtsna; literally, a whole ) refers to a class of basic visual objects of meditation used in Theravāda Buddhism.

The objects are described in the Pāḷi Canon and summarized in the famous Visuddhimagga meditation treatise as Kammaṭṭhāna on which to focus the mind whenever attention drifts.

Kasiṇa meditation is one of the most common types of Śamatha meditation, intended to settle the mind of the practitioner and create a foundation for further practices of meditation.

The Visuddhimagga concerns Kasiṇa-meditation.

Although practice with Kasiṇas is associated with the Theravāda tradition, it appears to have been more widely known among various Buddhist schools in India at one time:

Asaṅga makes reference to kasiṇas in the Samāhita-bhūmi section of his Yogācārabhūmi.

Uppalavaṇṇā, one of the Buddha's chief female disciples, famously attained Arahantship using a fire (tejo) Kasiṇa as her object of meditation.

Of the 40 objects meditated upon as Kammaṭṭhāna, the 1-10 objects are kasiṇa described as 'things one can behold directly'. These are described in the Visuddhimagga, and also mentioned in the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka.

They are:

  1. earth (Pāḷi: paṭhavī kasiṇa, Sanskrit: pṛithivi kṛtsna)
  2. water (āpo kasiṇa, ap kṛtsna)
  3. fire (tejo kasiṇa, tejas kṛtsna)
  4. air/wind (vāyo kasiṇa, vāyu kṛtsna)
  5. blue (nīla kasiṇa, nīla kṛtsna)
  6. yellow (pīta kasiṇa, pīta kṛtsna)
  7. red (lohita kasiṇa, lohita kṛtsna)
  8. white (odāta kasiṇa, avadāta kṛtsna)
  9. enclosed space, hole, aperture (ākāsa kasiṇa, ākāśa kṛtsna)
  10. consciousness (viññāṇa kasiṇa, vijñāna kṛtsna) in the Pāḷi suttas and some other texts; the bright light (of the luminous mind) (āloka kasiṇa) according to later sources such as Buddhaghoṣa’s Visuddhimagga.

The Kasiṇas are typically described as a coloured disk, with the particular colour, properties, dimensions and medium often specified according to the type of kasiṇa.

The Earth Kasiṇa, for instance, is a disk in a red-brown colour formed by spreading Earth or clay (or another medium producing similar colour and texture) on a screen of canvas or another backing material.


The next 10, 11-20 Kasiṇas are impure (aśubha) objects of repulsion (Paṭikkūla), specifically 'cemetery contemplations' (sīvathikā-manasikāra) on 10 stages of human decomposition which aim to cultivate Mindfulness of Body (Kāyagatāsati).

They are:

  1. a swollen corpse
  2. a discoloured, bluish, corpse
  3. a festering corpse
  4. a fissured corpse
  5. a gnawed corpse
  6. a dismembered corpse
  7. a hacked and scattered corpse
  8. a bleeding corpse
  9. a worm-eaten corpse
  10. a skeleton


The next 10, 21-30 Kasiṇas are Recollections (Anussati):

1-3 recollections are of the virtues of the Three Jewels:

  1. Buddha
  2. Dharma
  3. Saṅgha

Next 3 are recollections of the virtues of:

  1. morality (śīla)
  2. liberality (cāga)
  3. the wholesome attributes of Devas

The additional 4 recollections of:

  1. the body (kāya)
  2. death (see Upajjhatthana Sutta)
  3. the breath (prāṇa) or breathing (ānāpāna)
  4. peace (see Nibbāna)


4 are “Stations of Brahma”, also known as Brahma-Vihāras, which are the virtues of the Brahma Realm (Pāli: Brahmāloka):

  1. unconditional kindness and goodwill (mettā)
  2. compassion (karuṇā)
  3. sympathetic joy over another's success (muditā)
  4. even-mindedness, equanimity (upekkhā)


4 are Formless States (4 arūpa-āyatana):

  1. infinite space (Pāḷi ākāsānañcāyatana, Skt. ākāśānantyāyatana)
  2. infinite consciousness (Pāḷi viññāṇañcāyatana, Skt. vijñānānantyāyatana)
  3. infinite nothingness (Pāḷi ākiñcaññāyatana, Skt. ākiṁcanyāyatana)
  4. neither perception nor non-perception (Pāḷi nevasaññānāsaññāyatana, Skt. naivasaṁjñānāsaṁjñāyatana)


Of the remaining 5:

  1. perception of disgust of food (aharepatikūlasanna)

And the last 4 are the “4 great elements” (catu-dhātu-vavatthāna):

  1. earth (pathavi),
  2. water (Apo),
  3. fire (tejas),
  4. air (vāyu).

4. Meditation subjects and the 4 Jhānas

According to Gunaratana, following Buddhaghoṣa, due to the simplicity of subject matter, all 4 Jhānas can be induced through Ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breathing) and the 1-10 Kasiṇas.

According to Gunaratana, the following meditation subjects only lead to access concentration (upacara samādhi), due to their complexity:

The recollection of the Buddha, Dharma, Saṅgha, morality, liberality, wholesome attributes of Devas, death, and peace; the perception of disgust of food; and the analysis of the 4 elements.

Absorption in the 1st Jhāna can be realized by mindfulness on the 10 kinds of foulness and mindfulness of the Body:

However, these meditations cannot go beyond the 1st Jhāna due to their involving applied thought (vitakka), which is absent from the higher Jhānas.

Absorption in the 1st-3rd Jhānas can be realized by contemplating the 1-3 Brahma-Vihāras.

However, these meditations cannot aid in attaining the 4th Jhāna due to the pleasant feelings associated with them.

Conversely, once the 4th Jhāna is induced, the 4th Brahma-Vihāra (equanimity) arises.

5. Meditation subjects and temperaments

Each Kammaṭṭhāna can be suggested, especially by a spiritual friend (kalyāṇa-mitta), to a certain individual student at some specific point, by assessing what would be best for that student's temperament and the present state of his or her mind.

All of the aforementioned meditation subjects can suppress the 5 Hindrances, thus allowing one to fruitfully pursue Wisdom.

In addition, anyone can productively apply specific meditation subjects as antidotes, such as meditating on foulness to counteract lust or on the breath to abandon discursive thought.

The Pāḷi commentaries further provide guidelines for suggesting meditation subjects based on one's general temperament:

  1. Greedy: the 10 foulness meditations; or, body contemplation.
  2. Hating: the 4 Brahma-Vihāras; or, the 4 colour kasiṇas.
  3. Deluded: mindfulness of breath.
  4. Faithful: the 1-6 recollections.
  5. Intelligent: recollection of maraṇa (mindfulness of death) or Nibbāna; the perception of disgust of food; or, the analysis of the 4 elements.
  6. Speculative: mindfulness of Breath.

The 6 non-colour kasiṇas and the 4 formless states are suitable for all temperaments.

6. Supernormal abilities

The Visuddhimagga is one of the extremely rare texts within the enormous literature of Buddhism to give explicit details about how spiritual masters are thought to actually manifest supernormal abilities.

Abilities such as flying through the air, walking through solid obstructions, diving into the ground, walking on water and so forth are performed by changing one element, such as earth, into another element, such as air.

The individual must master Kasiṇa meditation before this is possible. Dīpa Ma (1911-1989), who trained via the Visuddhimagga, was said to demonstrate these abilities.