katavedi wrote:Hello Seladhamma,
Yes, this is a typical argument against jhana from the Mahasi tradition, but it's based on the definition of a jhana being the Visuddhimagga's extraordinarily-difficult-to-attain definition of jhana (which is the standard orthodox Theravadan definition), rather than what is described in the suttas. And if you use the Visuddhimagga jhanas as the standard, then Bhante Rahula is quite correct.
katavedi wrote:...those who have practiced in this tradition know that, once the mind is mostly staying in the present, the labels are dropped and one continues knowing the sense contacts wordlessly, without any concepts.
cjmacie wrote:The experiences I depict (in the last post) are very much along the lines of what katavedi so well discusses. A couple of differences of emphasis:katavedi wrote:Yes, this is a typical argument against jhana from the Mahasi tradition, but it's based on the definition of a jhana being the Visuddhimagga's extraordinarily-difficult-to-attain definition of jhana (which is the standard orthodox Theravadan definition), rather than what is described in the suttas. And if you use the Visuddhimagga jhanas as the standard, then Bhante Rahula is quite correct.
I disagree about "extraordinarily-difficult-to-attain"; it's over-exaggeration, does not apply across the board to everyone.
Now 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
cjmacie wrote:And also that it's the "standard orthodox Theravadan definition". There are reputable viewpoints, within the tradition, that are less extreme. For some reason that sense of extreme has become the popular notion – perhaps due to defensiveness on the part of so many teachers having not been exposed to, not properly trained in jhana.
katavedi wrote: 30% of the monks and nuns at the monastery are able to access the jhanas in the way that he [Pa Auk Sayadaw] teaches.
katavedi wrote:I think the "true jhana" debates are quite silly, ...
spacenick wrote:Sure, you can even live in the first jhana on a daily basis. You might not be as quick to do stuff, and it might not be appropriate at work or so;...
spacenick wrote:...but if you think about the jhanic factors it's nothing too crazy, especially since there's still thinking involved.
spacenick wrote: ...If you let go of the 5 hindrances, you'll be in jhana. Retreats provide good environments for that, but if you strengthen your mind you can be at ease (in jhana) anywhere. endurance+perseverance are gonna be big factors in cultivating that serenity in the midst of daily life ...
cjmacie wrote:Re-reading this thread, here's another, individual perspective.
My experience was working towards jhana (with Shaila Catherine, personal student of the Pa Auk Sayadaw), for several 7-10 day retreats. I wouldn't call it frustrating, though many do, but "no banana" – couldn't get it. On a subsequent retreat, with Ven. U. Jagara (who'd also worked with the Pa Auk for a couple of decades) assisting Shaila, his instructions greatly helped. At one point he led a guided meditation, which did it for me. In brief (he used lots of repetition, over about ½ hour), focusing on breath (at nostrils/upper lip), getting closer up to it (the object, as it gradually became nimitta), slowly, again and again, more and more deeply, closer and closer, as it seems to get larger and larger,… then, when very close, seemingly very large, as he put it "suddenly the mind falls into the nimitta; the nimitta swallows the mind." The sense is the nimitta is surrounding the mind, like a sphere.
This was not the multi-hour-long solid absorption that the Pa Auk Sayadaw emphasizes, but there's no doubt it was the real McCoy – an unmistakable qualitative shift that stilled all mental motion; not total oblivion to sensory stimuli (as more likely in 4th jhana) – sounds, light, etc are still there, but just "somewhere out there", and as if bouncing off; the mind doesn't follow them, doesn't react. Consulting with U. Jagara, he readily confirmed that this was really it. He also mentioned that once known, repeated reliably, there grows a sense, a memory of "how it feels", which one can eventually recall next time, and, often, very quickly re-invoke it.
Another factor, relative to my own progress, was to gradually realize, trying again and again (all those retreats), the negative effect of all the distractions of meditating in a room full of 20-30 people, with the creaking sounds (some in chairs), others breathing or coughing, some coming and going,… Tried instead sitting in the bedroom, or off in a remote "meditation" cottage on the premises – i.e. alone. Much better. Also recalling the standard sutta instructions: go off to abandoned hut, roots of a tree, charnal ground, etc. – i.e. SECLUSION. The standard Insight-Meditation retreat format is, IMO, often something of a hindrance.
After the breakthrough it turned-out to be relatively easy to reproduce, and away from retreat. At first it took some effort (though not of the straining sort), and only after a minimum of 40-50 minutes. With continued practice – just like, say, playing the piano, or riding a bicycle – it became like a trained habit. Now, except at times of notably unsteady energy, it's accessible in as little as 10-20 minutes.
Subsequently, along lines that Thanissaro teaches, the mind naturally combines it with vipassana. During absorption, something happens, often some 6-door stimulus (coming not from external sensation, but from the mind itself) arises; the mind moves slightly out of fixation, and looks closely at what came up – often seeing it in a totally new way. Then the mind can easily drop back into absorption. U. Jagara also taught that – that even when, say, shifting physical position, one is still close enough to easily drop back in.
Also, subsequently attending week-end retreats at a Mahasi-style monastery nearby (TMC, San Jose Calif.) I found that jhanic absorption could similarly be integrated with Mahasi-style khanika samadhi. I had initially talked to the instructor (Thuzana Sayadaw), and he did not disapprove of the use of appana-samadhi (jhana). My recent study of some of Mahasi's deeper writings also finds that Mahasi himself in no way discourages [i]jhana practice; he even states that this is a primary practice, and that the khanika vipassana samadhi[/i] practice that the Mahasi-technique is better known for, is just an alternative for some who find it easier than appana-samadhi. Jhana-samadhi isn't absolutely necessary (though some degree of samadhi is necessary), but can greatly enhance vipassana.
A major factor remains that all this is individually conditioned. The process I've described above will be different for each individual. I do believe that if one's able to practice under close guidance, over some time, of someone like the Pa Auk Sayadaw, or U. Jagara, it becomes much easier for almost anyone to relatively quickly gain the still of jhana. At least the initial ability – the beginning of a long road along which the skill strengthens in ways that can't be anticipated. (I can't yet at all claim, for instance, full mastery of the "5 masterys" of jhana, as in the Visuddhimagga.)
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