would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby alan... » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:22 pm

mynameisadahn wrote:To answer the OP's question directly. Yes.

You can learn directly from the suttas. My example would be Ayya Khema. If you are interested in more explicit discussion about the jhanas then I would suggest googling her name (she was a buddhist nun, originally from germany, who passed away several years ago). As I understand, she learned jhanas from the suttas herself, before she was later told she did it correctly (or something like that). Many of her talks can be found online in audio file form. She appears to have done what you are interested in doing, so she would seem like a good source.

Personally, I really like her dhamma talks and find them very helpful. Learning about the jhanas directly may not be really emphasized by many of the posters in this forum, though, so perhaps Ayya Khema's approach is a bit different and more focused on teaching the jhanas in advance, and trying in some way to get into them, before the experiences actually happen.

To the OP, also, I would suggest that this forum -- while a great forum -- isn't going to be focused on explicitly discussing different jhanas and teachings of how to get into them. (IME). I have seen you post at least one other question about the jhanas. If you are taking a somewhat different approach and wanting to learn more explicitly about the absorptions, you may want to branch out some in your research.

This isn't disparaging anyone here. I am just answering the OP, who asked a very reasonable question, even if some people here think other approaches are better.


i love ayya khema so much. she is one of my favorite buddhist authors. i'll look into that thanks.

why do you feel this forum is not the place? all i notice is a lot of vipassana people who don't think it's necessary but other than that i've gotten some good info. what approach should i go with?
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Jerrod Lopes » Fri Jan 18, 2013 3:45 am

To be clear, at least for me, I never said jhanas weren't important. I think they are vital for one who really wants to realize nibbana one day. I also think this level of absorption is extremely helpful in gaining the insight needed to understand anatta, rebirth, kamma and other things. What I WAS saying was that a desire for jhana will impede you from getting jhana. Expectations will distract and distort your meditations until it is near impossible to get to these states. This is why people will tell you about jhana or jhana like experiences when they were children. It is because there isn't this desire and misconceptions about what jhanas are and will do for you. I known dozens, if not more people over the years discuss a desire to get jhanas. They feel like its some sort of Buddhist merit badge to be worn proudly, to boast "I have known the jhanas!" And invariably these people go away unfulfilled and still wanting.

I went to flight school when I was younger. The first time up in the air I was asking the instructor about barrel rolls and loops, stalls, all kinds of advanced aerobatics. He pretty much said to me that if I didn't know how to get the plane from its parking spot on the apron, to the runway and into the sky, how on Earth could I ever hope to do all of those things? And in a haste to do them, I would probably crash and die trying to take off. Maybe not the best analogy, but I hope that helps explain. I've also never classed myself as vippasana this or samadhi that. If you box yourself into one thing or the other you've conditioned yourself to be unable to do the other one(s). Best of luck and be well. Wishing shiny happy nimittas for you, always.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Doshin » Fri Jan 18, 2013 9:03 am

SarathW wrote:...
Please read attached for more info.


You link to a book containing 252 pages, what in particular are you thinking about, in this context ?



If reading on a e-reader, I would recommend (same book different formatting):
http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/scrnguna.pdf

_/\_
Knowing about dhamma, does not imply knowing dhamma
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Anagarika » Fri Jan 18, 2013 2:25 pm

Jerrod some really good stuff you're contributing here. Thanks for sharing this, as it can really make a difference when intelligent people kindly and thoughtfully share important insights.

I'm not one to get all Zenny about these issues, but it's reminiscent of Shunryu Suzuki's admonition about "beginner's mind" and possibilities. I have known Thai Bhikkhus to express frustration that they are not stream enterers....I've had the sense that the striving toward stream entry is the impediment that they are building, walling themselves off from authentic jhana states.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby mynameisadahn » Fri Jan 18, 2013 4:24 pm

alan... wrote: why do you feel this forum is not the place? all i notice is a lot of vipassana people who don't think it's necessary but other than that i've gotten some good info. what approach should i go with?


I think this is a great forum, but as I said, I have seen you ask at least two questions about jhanas and most of the responses are saying, basically 'don't worry about them, don't think about them'.

I am not an expert, so I am not defending one approach over the other regarding the jhanas. There are a lot of knowledgable people here, it seems, saying don't worry about the jhanas. However, if you feel that you want to learn about these directly, and explore actually approaching jhanas more directly, then many of the posters in this forum are going to continue to tell you 'don't worry about jhanas, don't strive for them.'

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to pick their teachers, and you are responsible for that. Myself, I like Ayya Khema's approach and those of others like her, who explicitly discuss jhanas and encourage appropriate striving for jhanas.

There was a suggestion earlier that even attempting to strive for jhanas would make it impossible. If 'striving' in any sense for a jhana made it impossible, then what are retreatants at Pa Auk Sayadaw's center doing? Not obtaining jhanas?

There are different viewpoints on whether to explicitly try to obtain jhanas in one's practice. And I think that should be respected more.

The OP, Alan, is taking a very reasonable view and many teachers would answer his questions. But here, there is a great deal of discouraging rather than answering the question "can you learn jhanas from the suttas" which is a very interesting question. I would have really appreciated seeing a discussion of that question.

I hope that if other posters disagree with my views that they see I am encouraging respecting different views on this issue, and also encouraging engaging the OP's actual, stated question.

Personally, I prefer a 'concentration first, then vipassana' method. However, I arrived at my preferred meditation methods (like metta, instead of using the breath as an object) partly due to my own idiosyncracies. I have an abundance of ill-will that needs correcting.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jan 18, 2013 5:11 pm

mynameisadahn wrote: Myself, I like Ayya Khema's approach and those of others like her, who explicitly discuss jhanas and encourage appropriate striving for jhanas. . .
There is a world of difference between working directly with an experienced teacher and getting advice on an internet forum.

There was a suggestion earlier that even attempting to strive for jhanas would make it impossible. If 'striving' in any sense for a jhana made it impossible, then what are retreatants at Pa Auk Sayadaw's center doing? Not obtaining jhanas?
Again, it depends upon the context. Working at a retreat with an experienced teacher is one thing, working at home with books and forum advice is another. It is not a matter of "Don't try this at home." It is, however, a matter of realistic expectations of trying this at home, both in terms of what to expect and the pitfalls, of which there are a fair few. Ideally, one would have a teacher with whom one could consult as needed, or barring that because such a teacher is not available in one's location, then attending a retreat or two with a qualified teacher, which would help give a good basis for continuing at home, would be a very good way to go. If that is not possible, then work from the books that carefully outline the practice written by experiernced teachers. But keep in mind the best advice is do the practice, be consistent with it and don't worry so much about the results. In doing the practice itself, there is a great deal that can be learned, and one needs to always keep in mind that the bottom line is that it is not about getting.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby mynameisadahn » Fri Jan 18, 2013 5:56 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Working at a retreat with an experienced teacher is one thing, working at home with books and forum advice is another. It is not a matter of "Don't try this at home." It is, however, a matter of realistic expectations of trying this at home, both in terms of what to expect and the pitfalls, of which there are a fair few.


I would agree with your comments, I believe. There is a great deal of personal responsibility placed on an individual who tries to follow meditation instructions from an online dharma talk, forum, or written source. I certainly wanted to emphasize this personal responsibility in my own posts on this thread.

Unfortunately, it can be hard finding some typs of meditation instruction, in person, without significant travel. Or, even if one has a good in-person teacher, you may not have the ability to do longer retreats (this is my situation). So it really comes down to the indiviudal, making an intelligent and wise choice given their resources, time, etc. about the most effective ways to have a practice that alleviates suffering. And, like you said, what is possible in this situation - on retreat, off retreat, etc.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Jerrod Lopes » Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:06 pm

I answered the OP directly. I'll state it again.

Not likely, improbable, ill-advised, but not impossible.

The Buddha wasn't a Buddhist. What did he do? He tried different things until it worked.

What I am seeing here seems to be a cyclical debate between those who say you do need all the toys, names, and terminology and those who say you don't need these things. In the end, each person has to explore and see for themselves.
It might be good first, and a teacher would perhaps ask this in person in response to the OP; how long have you been meditating? Do you meditate often, or only occasionally? What do you know about the 4 Noble Truths? How did you come to be interested in the middle way?

Personally, I don't see discouraging the practice of jhanas as a bad thing when we don't know whether the person asking about them has been meditating twice daily for hours on end for years and years, or just picked up a dhamma pamphlet someone dropped in a shopping mall yesterday. I gave the flight school analogy above. What is most important here is giving the person who asked the question the best answer for the given situation. There are no hard and fast rules for giving answers to anything in life. Just a sone person cares to meditate this way and name each part of that process a different label, another just sits and breathes and couldn't care less about what it's called. Everythign is different, everyone is different. What is the same is that trying to ATTAIN jhanas for the wrong reasons without a proper foundation ends in disappointment and frustration.

But yes... you could maybe learn jhanas from the suttas. Yet I still wonder...how are you to empty your mind and let it be still if you're remembering what a book told you someone else did?
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Kenshou » Sat Jan 19, 2013 1:00 am

Well, you could also say "how are you to empty your mind and let it be still if you're remembering what a teacher told you you ought to be doing?" That's also a potential source of non-productive distracting thoughts. A certain finesse is required, regardless of the origin of one's meditation instruction.

It is sort of an ironic predicament, how meditation instruction or method itself can become an object of worry or doubt, which then makes it even harder. As a person who is naturally driven to lay ideas out in words in just the right way, it's an irony I've been pretty cozy with.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Jan 19, 2013 1:06 am

Kenshou wrote: A certain finesse is required, regardless of the origin of one's meditation instruction.

:anjali:
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Kamran » Sat Jan 19, 2013 1:56 am

Extreme stress, or mental suffering can help you attain jhana faster since you see promising results right away during meditation and become very motivated and strive in your practice.
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Ben » Sat Jan 19, 2013 2:05 am

Kamran wrote:Extreme stress, or mental suffering can help you attain jhana faster since you see promising results right away during meditation and become very motivated and strive in your practice.


Hmmm...
I disagree.
Kind regards,
Ben
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby nibbuti » Sat Jan 19, 2013 2:16 am

Kamran wrote:Extreme stress, or mental suffering can help you attain jhana faster since you see promising results right away during meditation and become very motivated and strive in your practice.

Indeed (unless it is pathological of course), extreme stress, or mental suffering can help one attain jhana. One may think jhana is some special treat or requires a secret trick, but it is really only a side effect of seeing the noble truth of suffering and letting go.

The Buddha taught that direct/personal seeing of dukkha (stress) leads to saddha (trust) in the Dhamma, which again leads to joy (piti), energy (viriya), tranquility (passadi), concentration (samadhi or jhana) and relinquishment.

:juggling:
Last edited by nibbuti on Sat Jan 19, 2013 2:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jan 19, 2013 2:21 am

Kamran wrote:Extreme stress, or mental suffering can help you attain jhana faster since you see promising results right away during meditation and become very motivated and strive in your practice.
Well, how extreme before it becomes too extreme?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby alan... » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:37 am

Kamran wrote:Extreme stress, or mental suffering can help you attain jhana faster since you see promising results right away during meditation and become very motivated and strive in your practice.



it depends on how you are meaning stress. if you are saying someone with lots of mental stress will reach jhana faster even if the stress is a problem on the cushion, i'm not so sure.

however if you mean that someone may have lots of stress and then drop it while meditating and reach jhana faster because of their motivation to lessen the stress they feel off the cushion then i agree fully. this is how i learned it quickly. i have a really stressful job and meditation is one of the few things that truly cures my stress and it's the place i can let go of everything. i learned to quiet my mind first from books and from a zen temple so this has always been my method of dropping off the stress. the motivation of being so stressed out pushed me to practice more and more until i got good at jhana because just the zen meditation wasn't cutting it for me, it allowed me to drop the stress but just lead to a neutral state that faded the moment i got up whereas jhana brings me into amazing heights of bliss and concentration that give my mindfulness great momentum after i get up and go on about my day. nothing against zen, i probably wasn't doing it right.

now i would say i'm about 40% as stressed as i was before. i practice jhana and then satipatthana all day, it works out pretty good. i'm still stressed while at work but not on my days off, before i was stressed most of every day unless distracted by tv or books or some other distraction. now i can be at peace whatever i'm doing except for being at work itself.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby SarathW » Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:25 pm

Doshin wrote:
SarathW wrote:...
Please read attached for more info.


You link to a book containing 252 pages, what in particular are you thinking about, in this context ?



If reading on a e-reader, I would recommend (same book different formatting):
http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/scrnguna.pdf

_/\_


Hi Doshin
This is such a complex subject. Please read the whole book. Sorry. :reading:
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby SarathW » Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:33 pm

Ben wrote:
Kamran wrote:Extreme stress, or mental suffering can help you attain jhana faster since you see promising results right away during meditation and become very motivated and strive in your practice.


Hmmm...
I disagree.
Kind regards,
Ben

Hi Ben
I see your point but, pain (Vedana) can be a meditation object. When I have a headache I keep headache as meditation object. When I do meditation I have back pain so I keep that as meditation object. As pain is so powerful your mind will not go anywhere else. Just some thought only. :)

By the way how did you go with your retreat? :namaste:
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby mynameisadahn » Tue Jan 22, 2013 5:29 pm

Coming back to this thread over the weekend, I was a bit strident earlier talking about Ayya Khema etc. Sorry about that! Please chalk it up to enthusiasm.

To Alan ... I definitely see where you are coming from with the stressful job and concentration being a reprieve from that. Yoga is a good break from work stress, in my job, but a bit of concentration and associated piti or sukka in meditation is definitely the most wholesome way, short of drinking heavily, of stepping away from work stress.

Whether the piti and sukka I experience in my own meditation rise to the level of a jhana (or by whose definition of "jhana") I don't really know - when it comes down to it. It probably doesn't rise very high, even though it seems pretty cool to me.

To Jerrod, I see a bit more of where you are coming from now.

In the end, I think the suttas about different meditative techniques or attainments are very interesting. It is enjoyable reading them and reading different interpretations. But for me, I try to follow more detailed, specific instructions, like my in-person teacher's description of metta practice, and I also read the vissudhimagga on the topic of metta, or mahasi sayadaw on this topic. I would trust that following these instructions, in a concentration practice, would leave me through jhanas as described in the suttas, whatever those states actually are, provided I was putting sufficient effort/time into the practice. But just practicing metta in my own, less than perfect manner, I cultivate kindness and lessen my stress, which are pretty good results.
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby Sekha » Sun Jan 27, 2013 11:24 pm

alan... wrote:is this possible? assuming no other knowledge of meditation could one read every sutta on jhana and perhaps on meditation in general and end up with the know how to enter jhana?

Don't forget that the suttas dealing with jhanas are primarily intended for monks, that means people who are following a rather strict and extensive code of self-discipline. Without strict self-discipline (chiefly about sex, food, and other entertainments such as music, TV, internet, discussing on forums etc.) it is not possible to apply what is written in those suttas. Take for example:

santi kho, migajāla, cakkhu·viññeyyā rūpā... etc.. mano·viññeyyā dhammā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piya·rūpā kām·ūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. tañ·ce bhikkhu abhinandati abhivadati ajjhosāya tiṭṭhati. tassa taṃ abhinandato abhivadato ajjhosāya tiṭṭhato uppajjati nandī. nandi·samudayā dukkha·samudayo, migajālā·ti vadāmi.

There are, Migajāla, forms cognizable by the eye... etc.. mental phenomena cognizable by the mind which are pleasing, enjoyable, charming, agreeable, connected with sensuality, enticing. And a bhikkhu delights in them, welcomes them and clings to them. In one who delights in them, welcomes them and clings to them, delight arises. And I say, Migajāla: the arising of delight is the arising of suffering.
http://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/samy ... 5-064.html


more specifically in the case of samadhi:
cakkhundriyaṃ... etc.. manindriyaṃ a·saṃvutassa, bhikkhave, viharato cittaṃ byāsiñcati. cakkhu·viññeyyesu rūpesu... etc.. mano·viññeyyesu dhammesu. tassa byāsitta·cittassa pāmojjaṃ na hoti. pāmojje a·sati pīti na hoti. pītiyā a·sati passaddhi na hoti. passaddhiyā a·sati dukkhaṃ hoti. dukkhino cittaṃ na samādhiyati.

In one living without restraint over the eye faculty... etc.. the mind faculty, the mind is defiled by forms cognizable by the eye... etc.. mental phenomena cognizable by the mind. In one whose mind is defiled, there is no joy. There being no joy, there is no exaltation. There being no exaltation, there is no serenity. There being no serenity, there is suffering. The mind of one in suffering does not get concentrated.
http://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/samy ... 5-097.html


moreover:
Cha, bhikkhave, dhamme appahāya abhabbo ajjhattaṃ kāye kāy-anupassī viharituṃ.
There are, bhikkhus, six dhammas, without abandoning which it is not possible to remain observing kāya in kāya internally.

Katame cha? Kamm-ārāmataṃ, bhass-ārāmataṃ, nidd-ārāmataṃ, saṅgaṇik-ārāmataṃ, indriyesu aguttadvārataṃ, bhojane amattaññutaṃ.
Which six? Delight in activities, delight in conversations, delight in sleep, delight in socialization, lack of indriyesu guttadvāratā and lack of bhojane mattaññutā.
http://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/angu ... 6-118.html

good to have high aims. But if you really want to succeed, make sure you really take the right steps. Otherwise, you are just deluding yourself.
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As a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus flower may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown on the highway, so also, out of the rubbish heap of beings may appear a disciple of the Buddha, who with his wisdom, shines resplendent in wisdom. -/ Dhp 58-59
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Re: would learning jhana solely from sutta be possible?

Postby mogg » Mon Apr 22, 2013 5:44 am

Of course. Ramana Maharshi was spontaneously liberated at the age of 16 without any teachings of any kind.

Its kammically dependent.
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