Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby Nyana » Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:02 am

Sobeh wrote:for a long time in my practice I was under the impression that one sat on the first tetrad until jhana, whereupon one explored the other anapanasati tetrads solely within a jhana state. This is simply false, and it is all I am trying to show.

Okay. I agree completely. Which is why I mentioned earlier in this post that translating pīti solely as "rapture" isn't a very helpful translation.

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby legolas » Sun Oct 03, 2010 2:05 pm

Re : previous posts concerning piti. I actually understand it better in my own practice as gladness or pamojja (a mental quality ) giving rise to piti (a physical and mental experience). Perhaps the mental part of piti could be likened to heightened gladness. The piti then giving rise to sukha a physical & mental experience. Like I said this is just how I understand it within my own practice. I would be interested if anybody could provide sutta evidence that piti is actually only a mental quality as described in the commentaries.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby Nyana » Wed Oct 06, 2010 10:53 am

legolas wrote:Re : previous posts concerning piti. I actually understand it better in my own practice as gladness or pamojja (a mental quality ) giving rise to piti (a physical and mental experience). Perhaps the mental part of piti could be likened to heightened gladness. The piti then giving rise to sukha a physical & mental experience. Like I said this is just how I understand it within my own practice. I would be interested if anybody could provide sutta evidence that piti is actually only a mental quality as described in the commentaries.

Hi Legolas,

I'd suggest that it's really just a question of the designation (i.e. labeling) of what is being experienced.

Anyway, DN 2 states:

    Tassime pañca nīvaraṇe pahīne attani samanupassato pāmojjaṃ jāyati, pamuditassa pīti jāyati, pītimanassa kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti, sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati.

    Seeing that the five hindrances have been abandoned within him, gladness is born. Gladdened, joy is born. With a joyful mind, his body becomes tranquil. His body tranquil, he experiences pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated.

This implies that pīti is a heightened mental quality related to and arising from gladness (pāmojja). With the onset of pīti the body becomes tranquil (kāyo passambhati), and when the body is tranquil one experiences pleasure (passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti).

And SN 47.10:

    Tenānanda, bhikkhunā kismiñcideva pasādanīye nimitte cittaṃ paṇidahitabbaṃ. Tassa kismiñcideva pasādanīye nimitte cittaṃ paṇidahato pāmojjaṃ jāyati. Pamuditassa pīti jāyati.

    Then Ānanda, the monk should direct his mind to some inspiring representation. When he directs his mind to some inspiring representation, gladness is born. Gladdened, joy is born.

    Pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. Passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedayati. Sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati. So iti paṭisañcikkhati – ‘yassa khvāhaṃ atthāya cittaṃ paṇidahiṃ, so me attho abhinipphanno. Handa, dāni paṭisaṃharāmī’ti. So paṭisaṃharati ceva na ca vitakketi na ca vicāreti. ‘Avitakkomhi avicāro, ajjhattaṃ satimā sukhamasmī’ti pajānāti.’

    With a joyful mind, his body becomes tranquil. His body tranquil, he experiences pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated. He reflects thus: ‘The purpose for which I directed my mind has been achieved. Let me now withdraw it.’ So he withdraws his mind and does not think or evaluate. He understands: ‘Without directed thought and evaluation, internally mindful, I am [experiencing] pleasure.’

Also, the Paṭisambhidāmagga (and the Dhammasaṅgaṇī) offers the following register of near-synonyms and synonyms for pīti: gladness (pāmojja), delight (āmodanā), joyfulness (pamodanā), shining mirth (bhāsa pabhāsa), felicity (vitti), elation (odagya), satisfaction (attamantā), and mental uplift (cittassa).

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby legolas » Thu Oct 07, 2010 7:40 am

Yes, its definitely a personal internal map. As far as experiences go for the "sutta jhana" I would hesitatingly suggest that most peoples experience follows a similar path, it is the labels we use and how we relate to the experiences that differ.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby Nyana » Thu Oct 07, 2010 12:36 pm

legolas wrote:I would hesitatingly suggest that most peoples experience follows a similar path, it is the labels we use and how we relate to the experiences that differ.

I'd add that labels are always inadequate and incomplete with regard to lived experience.... Poets sometimes come close to capturing meaning, even in translation:

    She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
    into her, so that, like an audience,
    she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
    and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

    as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
    and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
    inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
    suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

    --from "Black Cat" by Rainer Maria Rilke

All the best,

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby Shonin » Sat Oct 09, 2010 2:04 am

I've been thinking about this thread quite a lot since Geoff invited me to comment. I've not read the entire thread. Forgive me if I cover material that's already been brought up.

I suppose the reason this has taken a lot of thought is that although I've been practicing for approaching 10 years, Jhana has never been something I consciousnly cultivated nor thought about to a great extent. Nor have I had a very clear idea of the definition of the various Jhanas and how, if at all, they related to what I experienced on the cushion. There is no doubt that it is significant in the Suttas, and of course I'm aware of samatha as an aspect of meditation, however my background in Zen (even though the root of the word 'Zen' is 'Jhana') and in secular mindfulness meditation (using techniques from the Vipassana/Insight Meditation tradition) it has never been a specific goal. Also, I consider myself a relative beginner when it comes to the Nikayas. So, this is not 'Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas' so much as 'Jhāna According to my experience of meditation in various traditions'.

I have experienced all three of the states described here:

(i) attention training where one absorbs into a single object and thereby stills all mental factors to the point where, as Ajahn Brahmavamso explains, “Consciousness is so focused on the one thing that the faculty of comprehension is suspended … there is no comprehension of what is going on.”

(ii) attention training where one attends to a single object and thereby calms and unifies all mental factors to the point where, as Leigh Brasington explains, “It is possible to examine the experience because the state is so stable and self sustaining on its own.”

(iii) attention training where one attends to whatever occurs in the present moment (either with the aid of a support object such as abdominal movement, or choiceless awareness without the aid of a support object).


Putting aside visualisation for now, I see meditation as divided into two main types:

    'Concentrated': where attention is directed towards a specific phenomenon at a time, usually in a sustained way, for example Mindfulness of Breathing
    'Open': where attention is on present moment experience, but not limited to any one phenomenon or type of phenomenon, for example, Shikantaza, Choiceless Awareness

There is also a varying extent to which experience is absorbed or to which we open it to 'meta-cognition' - a sort of 'spaciousness' or 'detached awareness' which can allow us to recognise or understand truths about our experiences.

So...
    (i) above is absorbed concentration.
    (ii) is concentrated meditation with meta-cognition
    (iii) is open awareness

As I see it
    (i) is the type of meditation most conducive to Samatha and to Jhana. I think 'Samadhi' also refers to such states. I see Jhana as an altered state of conciousness, a type of trance state even, in which the quality of absorbed concentration is very high. I have not perceived a great deal of value in such states as they are necessarily impermanent. Although they may be highly blissful or tranquil, unless there is some kind of 'learning' or lasting insight to prompt a permanent shift in one's relation to experience then any 'benefit' is necessarily short-lived. It may help with concentration skills. And insights may naturally arise from it. It has never been my goal to attain rebirth among "the gods of Brahma's retinue".
    (ii) is most conducive to insight/Vipassana, as there is a 'space' for making observations about one's own experience
    (iii) is Choiceless Awareness or Silent Illumination/Shikantaza type zazen. I see this as having aspects of both Samatha and Vipassana ie. absorbtion and meta-cognition.

Reading descriptions of Jhana in the suttas I recognise them in my own practice to some extent at least. However, I recognise that in Theravada it's considered bad manners or bad practice to talk about one's own experiences in such a way lest it be taken as bragging about attainments. I don't see what is being described as four distinct states, but as increasingly absorbed concentration which is classified into four levels according to defining characteristics ('nimitta').
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby Nyana » Tue Oct 12, 2010 1:02 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Shonin.

And thanks to everyone else who replied. There were many, many thoughtful posts (too many names to mention each member individually).

:buddha1:

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby appamada » Tue Nov 30, 2010 11:42 pm

Hope to make the time to read this later...:)
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby gavesako » Thu Dec 02, 2010 3:37 pm

Somebody wrote "Jhanas Solved" here:

http://dreamwhitehorses.blogspot.com/20 ... art-i.html
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby IanAnd » Thu Dec 02, 2010 6:44 pm

gavesako wrote:Somebody wrote "Jhanas Solved" here:

http://dreamwhitehorses.blogspot.com/20 ... art-i.html

Thank you, Bhikkhu Gavesako for that link.

The writer (DarkDream) makes an extraordinarily good case for the interpretation that he adheres to. It is very similar to the case that I have endeavored to bring to light with regard to the interpretation of just what constitutes jhana as it has been described by others, both ancient and contemporary, as compared against one's own evolving experience of the phenomena. The thought that the description of the four jhanas are, as much as anything else, just a mnemonic device describing four different stages of one overall process makes a lot of sense to me and is something that I am able to confirm from my own experience.

This is, in part at least, related to the point I was endeavoring to make in my now infamously hijacked thread Not Everything is Written In Stone.

The Pali word jhāna is often encountered in the suttas within the context of the four jhānas or mental techniques the Buddha used as a vehicle for awakening.

The word jhāna has been frequently translated in English as “absorption” which connotes a technical mental technique that is extremely focused.

The word jhāna is based on the Sanskrit word dhyana that contains the root dhi meaning to “reflect, conceive and ponder over”. Surprisingly, this definition appears closer to the English word “meditation” than the traditional idea of "absorption".

Interestingly, there are instances in the the Pali Canon that support the idea of jhāna as a general form of meditation. There are multiple passages in the canon where the Buddha says, “jhayatha bhikkhave” (here), which translates much more intelligibly as “monks, meditate” instead of “monks, attain absorption.”

Even so, the overwhelming occurrence of the word jhāna in the suttas is used in a more technical sense of a specific form of meditation. The almost exclusivity of jhāna in the technical sense is somewhat of an illusion. Due to a small set of stock passages related to the four jhānas being repeated throughout the Pali Canon, the reader is left with the impression that jhāna has primarily a technical meaning that is often associated with absorption.

Not surprisingly, the Buddhist tradition has focused a lot of attention on the technical meaning of jhāna: its characteristics, how it is attained, the benefit and so on.

Historically, the attainment of jhānas has become increasingly difficult to obtain as time has passed since the Buddha’s death. Today, most of the Theravada orthodoxy proclaims that the attainment of the first jhāna, let alone other higher jhānas, can only be gained with difficulty by experienced meditators.

Whatever is the truth of the difficulty of obtaining jhānas, the Buddhist tradition, for the most part, has universally agreed that the jhānas are a series of discreet mental processes that progress in order from a lower jhāna to a higher one.

This assumption seems a very reasonable one given the fact that the jhānas are number from one to four and are always described in the same order. However, as I will try to show, this numbering may have been simply a helpful memorization device rather than a means of communicating four quite distinct processes.

I will argue in the following posts by examining key suttas of the Pali Canon and contemporary descriptions of personal experiences of jhāna that what is labeled as the four jhānas is actually a description of one meditative process that has four different stages.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:10 pm

It is unfortunate that the idea that the 4 jhanas are a mnemonic is even floating about. In my experience the phenomena comes before the lable- ie - there are 4 separate labels because there are 4 distinct states of consciousness which the yogi absorbs into quite suddenly. There is a distinct and sharp demarcation between one jhana and the next.

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby darvki » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:17 pm

gavesako wrote:Somebody wrote "Jhanas Solved" here:

http://dreamwhitehorses.blogspot.com/20 ... art-i.html


Thank you very much for pointing this out. Personally, that interpretation clears a lot of things up. Also gives an explanation of why so many have found jhanic absorption nigh impossible to reach for so long that is far better than the degenerate age theory, in my opinon.

Also, I find it qute ironic that the author made his case partly through references to Ajahn Brahmavamso.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:28 pm

Hi darvki,

To attain jhana it takes about 3, 1 hour sitting a day, for a lay person, over period of weeks and months. Often this difficult for lay people (understably). However this should not be taken to mean that after having tried with less amounts of viriya-determination, the solution, is to alter the meaning of the Pali terms to suit a more leisurely approach to the matter. It is 'pseudo-gold' like this which will destroy the Buddha's teaching.

'There is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world. Just as there is no disappearance of gold as long as a counterfeit of gold has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of gold when a counterfeit of gold has arisen in the world, in the same way there is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world.[1]

"It's not the earth property that makes the true Dhamma disappear. It's not the water property... the fire property... the wind property that makes the true Dhamma disappear.[2] It's worthless people who arise right here [within the Sangha] who make the true Dhamma disappear. The true Dhamma doesn't disappear the way a boat sinks all at once.

"These five downward-leading qualities tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma. Which five? There is the case where the monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers live without respect, without deference, for the Teacher. They live without respect, without deference, for the Dhamma... for the Sangha... for the Training... for concentration. These are the five downward-leading qualities that tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma.



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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby darvki » Sat Dec 04, 2010 1:31 am

Matheesha,

Calling it "pseudo-gold" in an effort to illustrate a point to me is pointless because there is no "real gold" for it to contrast with, as I see it. The absorptions may be a widely accpted idea, but to me the suttas do not explicitly describe jhanas as such. It's up for interpretation and simply restating the counterargument isn't going to have any effect.

Also, practice does not involve any less viriya without the absorptions, nor is it any more "leisurely". Absorption states have actually always struck me as a leisurely solution, which is why I was predisoposed to agree with the article.

The reasons that you have quoted these suttas are not clear to me. I can only assume that you think I am speaking counterfeit Dhamma and that I don't have proper respect for a teacher, the Dhamma, Sangha, training or concentration.

I see you put "concentration" in bold. Absorption states and concentration are not absolutely synonymous, if that's what you're getting at.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby rowyourboat » Sun Dec 05, 2010 4:32 pm

Hi Darviki

I didnt call it psuedo/fools gold - the Buddha did.

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby darvki » Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:40 am

The Buddha called counterfeit dhamma fools gold and there is nothing that concretely states that my view is counterfeit dhamma.

I'm not trying to say that your stance is wrong and that my stance is right. There isn't enough scriptural evidence that can satisfy proof for that, or for that matter satisfy that you are right and I am wrong. This is the point I'm trying to make. All you're doing is accusing me of being incorrect without any solid evidence. As such, I'd just like us to stop pretending that this exchange actually has the capacity to lead anywhere. This discussion board deserves actual debates that are reinforced with references rather than exchanges that simply involve repetitive statements of views.

My aplogies if any of this comes off as unwarrantedly accusatory. I'm just telling it as I see it.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Dec 06, 2010 3:30 am

I was going to say something about this discussion, but this is worth repeating:
darvki wrote:I'm not trying to say that your stance is wrong and that my stance is right. There isn't enough scriptural evidence that can satisfy proof for that, or for that matter satisfy that you are right and I am wrong. This is the point I'm trying to make. All you're doing is accusing me of being incorrect without any solid evidence. As such, I'd just like us to stop pretending that this exchange actually has the capacity to lead anywhere. This discussion board deserves actual debates that are reinforced with references rather than exchanges that simply involve repetitive statements of views.
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People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby rowyourboat » Mon Dec 06, 2010 6:31 pm

Hi Darvki

Well if the source (the tipitaka) cannot prove it, and if we are of the opinion that all other commentaries have the tipitaka as the root what use are other references/sources in resolving this?

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby darvki » Tue Dec 07, 2010 3:19 am

None. I don't think this discussion has the potential for any real resolution. That's my point.

I don't understand why you chose to debate views on absorptions. No harm done, obviously, but one can't refute an intepretation with another when the very existence of the different interpretations comes from a lack of utter explicitness in the source.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Postby rowyourboat » Tue Dec 07, 2010 6:38 pm

Hi darvki,

I think it is weakness of Buddhism that it is tolerant and 'anything goes' attitude is allowed to ferment, often at the cost of the teachings becoming something other than what was intended. Historically it has been shown that this is one of the leading causes of destruction of Buddhism in lands where it existed previously.

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