Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:48 pm

. . . Or You Have To Remain Open To Change

Whenever anyone takes up the study of a subject, they endeavor to obtain the clearest, most inclusive explanations of that subject that they are able to obtain in order to get an accurate and truthful conception of the material at hand. In the case of general subjects like meditation (and Buddhist meditation in particular) it can be somewhat confusing and frustrating to have to sift through differing accounts describing meditation instruction. Especially when one comes across instruction from different sources that are either dissimilar or that contradict one another. For how is someone who is new to the practice able to weed out the truth from the misperceived with regard to what is being stated?

The only answer to this question is: through one's own direct experience. Yet, even that, at times, can become confusing, as things are liable to change (or at least our perception of them is) as their development matures. This is no different with meditation than it is with other subjects which are liable to subjective opinion. For the most part, the path (the Noble Eightfold Path) that the Buddha laid out for others to practice in order to arrive at the same realizations as he had is rather straightforward and unambiguous. At least as far as it goes when dealing with the larger issues of right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness. It's when we get to the area of right concentration, the area dealing with meditation, that things can become a bit confusing if we are not given the correct conceptual maps with which to deal or are unable properly to discern the ones we are given.

One of the most difficult subjects to teach in Buddhist meditation is the practice of absorption (also known as jhana). Not because absorption itself is necessarily difficult to achieve. But because it can be difficult to get a conceptual handle on if one has not been able to connect the experience to something that they have experienced in their past. I contend that virtually everyone has, at one time or another in their life, experienced absorption (at least the first level) whether they were aware of it or not. From this point, as an instructor, it's just a matter finding an experience that the person can relate to in order to communicate to them what absorption "feels like" when they experience it. Once they get the idea, then you have something to work with.

One of the other hindrances to being able to recognize absorption when it is occurring is thinking that one has to be able to recognize the factors for absorption: vitakka, vicara, piti, and sukkha, and how these change from one level of absorption to the next higher level as they are utilized for a unification of the mind on an object. In a perfect world, while it would be nice to be able to recognize these factors when we're first starting out, the fact of the matter is that the mind of the beginning practitioner is likely not settled enough (still enough) to always be able to adequately identify these subtle factors. Therefore, it is probably best not to fret over one's inability to identify these factors in the beginning. The most important thing is to be able to find a way to enter absorption at will whenever one wishes and to recognize that this has occurred. We can work on noticing the details later.

Now, this isn't meant to be an essay about the nuts and bolts of practicing absorption. It is meant to address an issue regarding the perception of instruction and how that perception can be manipulated by the language used in description. The English language can tend to be rather harsh and unforgiving in its written form. Ideas can seem to be set in stone just in the course of composing a description of a phenomenon that is constantly in flux and therefore subject to change, such as the present subject matter of the mind and its relationship to the practice of meditation.

When these descriptions become cauterized by tradition, they can seem to be almost impossible to break through in order to rediscover the actual truth of the matter. In other words, the mind accepts one description as being unalterable truth, and then shuts down to the possibility of any change or alteration of that description which might occur in actuality. What this presentation will endeavor to accomplish is to explore some aspects of the experience of absorption in order to arrive at a more fair (and hopefully more fact-based) conceptual template of this experience.

This isn't meant to be combative or to offer up for debate any of the ideas express here. It's meant to allow others, who might perhaps have had similar experiences to the ones being described, a place to voice the discernment of their experiences and to confirm, correct, or add to the possibilities being explored here. Hopefully, people long in the tooth with absorption experience, like Geoff and possibly even Tilt and Kenshou, will contribute their impressions.

One of the first (and most important) lessons I learn from a former spiritual preceptor was that if I was going to speak at all, I should speak only from my own experience of the matter under discussion, and not make things up that I had not experienced in order to forward my own view of the matter. If you speak only from your own experience, there may be occasions in which you are not able to speak at all (on account of a lack of experience in the subject matter). This acts as a kind of filtering mechanism, to filter out biases and prejudices (as well as preconceived ideas that haven't been tested in actuality) so that they do not get in the way of the facts under discussion. It would be good if those who respond to this thread would keep this in mind before they post here.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:09 am

Personal background material

In order to establish the correct foundation for this thread, I need to recount some of my own personal history with the practice of meditation so that readers can establish a baseline with regard to the matters being discussed. I will endeavor to keep this short and to the point.

I have been practicing meditation for over thirty years, a fact which is not much different from several on this forum; but a fact, nevertheless, that gives me some experiential background on which to propose some of the ideas I intend to propose. I'm not asking anyone to accept what I am proposing; only to keep an open mind as you go through the material.

Perhaps needless to say, my experience (or rather perception) of meditation and what it is like has changed over the years. My education and practice in meditation began coming from the background of Hindu techniques as practiced by Paramahansa Yogananda and his practice of kriya yoga. I was taught a mantra based technique which I practiced for the better part of twenty years, until about ten years ago when I came upon the techniques taught in the suttas, generally known as samatha and vipassana. This change in techniques happened to coincide with a renewed interest in studying the Buddha's Dhamma, in returning to the root of the practice that had been taught in the earliest days following Gotama's enlightenment and up until his death, having been preserved in the Pali discourses of the Buddha. I wanted to "hear" the teachings from the horse's mouth and to practice them myself.

Practicing the technique of anapanasati was like a literal breath of fresh air. It was such a different style from that which I was used to that I took to it like a fish to water. It didn't require a complex visualization of bodily energies coursing up and down the body, but rather direct attention paid to the process of breathing itself. It was the simplicity of the Buddha's instruction which intrigued me and which I began to see the wisdom in. Not only that, but the clarification of ideas I was reading related to what the Buddha taught made more sense to me than those things which Yogananda taught. As I began to read a translation of the Majjhima Nikaya I realized that the man who had first taught me how to meditate seemed to know far less about meditation practice, how to use it and how to describe it, than the Buddha.

In picking up this new meditation technology, I was also having to work with revamping my ideas about what meditation is and what I should actually be paying attention to. In other words, I was having to root out preconceived ideas I had developed about meditation and to just go with the flow of whatever came up. Being able to quiet the mind was the first hurdle needing to be overcome. Once I was able to achieve that, everything else now had the foundation it needed to fall into place.

Inevitably my attention was drawn to this practice known as jhana or absorption. The very first thing I wanted to know was: what does it "feel like" to be in jhana meditation. A lot of my meditation practice had been guided by intuition, and I was confident that if I could determine how absorption felt when practiced, that I could eventually locate the intersecting factors from my own meditative experience which amount to a definition of jhana practice.

I read two or three accounts about how to enter absorption and stumbled upon my own method based on a childhood experience I had had with swings and the pleasant sensation it created in the center of my forehead when swinging back and forth. I used that pleasant sensation as a doorway (a nimitta) in order to enter absorption.

For the first five years of this practice, much of my view of jhana had been colored (conditioned) by what I had read it was supposed to be like. It wasn't until my practice began to mature (in the sixth year and beyond) that my perceptions about absorption began to change. As the mind becomes more and more still, rather than having mystical experiences (although not to say that that cannot occur) I was beginning to experience what the Buddha described in the Digha Nikaya (DN 2.83; i 76): ". . . with mind concentrated, purified and cleansed, unblemished, free from impurities, malleable, workable, established, and having gained imperturbability. . ."

In other words, it was a state and clarity of mind that was able to become more and more established in the present moment via mindfulness. The increase in my ability to remain concentrated on an object or subject (whether during meditation or in waking consciousness) was directly proportional to the increase in mindfulness and vice versa. Rather than viewing absorption as some kind of dull "altered state of consciousness," I began to see it as a clear and lucid state in which all phenomena became crystal clear almost to the point of boredom. Mundane phenomena, for lack of an alternative description, became "bright and unblemished, purified and cleansed," like bright pebbles over which sparkling clear water flowed. One could see the phenomenon for what it was, "free from alien admixtures and from points of view not pertaining to it," to quote Nyanaponika Thera.

All this is as a prelude to the next section.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:09 am

Breaking Through Age Old Ways

Traditional descriptions of jhana that one can find in ancient works like the Visuddhimagga or the Vimuttimagga tend to be invested in carrying forth an established line of doctrinal or orthodox practice. Originally designed to preserve the highlights of meditative practice and instruction, they tend to be a little more rigid in their presentation. Whereas more contemporary works like Ajahn Brahmavamso's Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond or Bhante Gunaratana's Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English may take more liberties in their descriptions, they also may become so invested in not offending a traditional outlook of the practice that they seem to end up parroting a lot of what has gone before. (In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't read Bhante G's latest work and so cannot really comment on it per se; although I have read other works by him on this subject, which is what I am relying on as indicative of his outlook on this issue.)

Owing mostly to descriptions like those given by Ajahn Brahm, many practitioners have been lead to think that "true" absorption involves the inability to think, to hear sound, or to be aware of the fleeting nature of the breath itself. Perhaps this impression is so when one is first learning to dive down into absorption from the standpoint of calming the mind into a profound stillness. I don't deny the validity of the perception of any of these experiences at all. Yet, when one's practice becomes more mature, there seem to be two modes of absorption practice which can be seen to contradict one another in how they are described and experienced. The first relates to the initial effort to calm the mind to stillness during the practice of samatha with all that that stillness implies, and the second relates to the contemplation of phenomena in insight (vipassana) practice, with all the activity of the arising of insight that concentration implies.

In understanding this second mode, it might be illustrative to look at an analogous example of how this can be so. When we consider the example of becoming absorbed in reading a book, it seems quite natural to observe, for instance, that the mind can become absorbed in an activity, totally unified on the subject at hand, while still being active itself. The process of reading is itself an active mental event. And yet the mind, when absorbed in a particularly engrossing read, can become quite oblivious to the outer world such that sound may not be noticed even though it is there on the periphery, to take but one example. If you've ever experienced being absorbed in a book then you know what I'm speaking about.

This is not the same kind of absorption as when the mind is focused on becoming aware of the calm and serenity of, let's say, the fourth jhana. But there is a laser beam of concentration mixed with contemplation that is worked up such that the mind does become unified on the subject at hand, and yet it remains quite calm and still. In fact, it is the all-encompassing calmness that allows the laser beam of concentration and contemplation to arise at all. At this point in absorption, it just becomes a matter of where one wishes to incline directing one's attention.

It is further interesting to note that this kind of absorption is accompanied by strong sati or mindfulness. One of the things I've noticed from my own continuing practice in jhana is that my perception about how I am able to go about getting into it has changed over the years. I used to have an initial focus on a mental experience (like the catalyst of the swing mentioned above) to see and feel it happening in my mind's eye in order to get the process rolling. Nowadays, a strong sense of mindfulness seems to become established at the very outset of the session such that if I begin focusing on the pleasantness of the breath, the absorption process begins automatically with little effort on my part.

Throughout these processes, I am able to experience inner verbalization while also being able to focus (on the periphery) on the breath itself as it carries the mind into the absorption. The absorption is able to adapt to wherever I wish to avert the mind, be that the object of the breath or a subject like the five aggregates. This has led me to view this process in quite a different manner than the way I did when I initially began to experiment with the jhanas. I understand now why samadhi is often translated as "concentration." Bhante Gunaratana has explained this very succinctly in his treatise "The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation:"

". . . when samadhi is considered in its broader meaning it involves a wider range of reference than jhana. The Pali exegetical tradition recognizes three levels of samadhi: preliminary concentration (parikammasamadhi), which is produced as a result of the meditator's initial efforts to focus his mind on his meditation subject; access concentration (upacarasamadhi), marked by the suppression of the five hindrances, the manifestation of the jhana factors, and the appearance of a luminous mental replica of the meditation object called the counterpart sign (patibhaganimitta); and absorption concentration (appanasamadhi), the complete immersion of the mind in its object effected by the full maturation of the jhana factors."


In attempting to describe these processes, I personally endeavor to keep things as simple as possible, something that the ordinary reader can readily relate to. I don't differentiate between the three levels of samadhi as many instructors do; I simply refer to it as "establishing concentration" (or samadhi). In other words, concentration is concentration is concentration. Yes, I recognize the subtle differences pointed out in Bhante G's excerpt above. But the way this is described in the discourses, the term concentration (or samadhi) is usually the only term used, since concentration is concentration is concentration. It would seem that Gotama wanted to keep things simple also.

My insistence on there being two modes of absorption practice receives backing from none other than Sayadaw U Pandita, who has described this very same observation in his own words in his book In This Very Life. And while not everyone may subscribe to this viewpoint, the fact that experienced practitioners from a variety of backgrounds keep mentioning it is proof enough that this viewpoint is not going away anytime soon. In his book, U Pandita describes it this way:

Samatha Jhāna
There are two types of jhāna: samatha jhāna and vipassanā jhāna. Some of you may have read about the samatha jhānas and wonder why I am talking about them in the context of vipassanā. Samatha jhāna is pure concentration, fixed awareness of a single object — a mental image, for example, such as a colored disk or a light. The mind is fixed on this object without wavering or moving elsewhere. Eventually the mind develops a very peaceful, tranquil, concentrated state and becomes absorbed in the object. Different levels of absorption are described in the texts, each level having specific qualities.

Vipassanā Jhāna
On the other hand, vipassanā jhāna allows the mind to move freely from object to object, staying focused on the characteristics of impermanence, suffering and absence of self that are common to all objects. Vipassanā jhāna also includes the mind which can be focused and fixed upon the bliss of nibbāna. Rather than the tranquility and absorption which are the goal of samatha jhāna practitioners, the most important results of vipassanā jhāna are insight and wisdom.

Vipassanā jhāna is the focusing of the mind on paramattha dhammas. Usually these are spoken of as “ultimate realities,” but actually they are just the things we can experience directly through the six sense doors without conceptualization. Most of them are sankhāra paramattha dhamma, or conditioned ultimate realities; mental and physical phenomena which are changing all the time. Nibbāna is also a paramattha dhamma, but of course it is not conditioned.


When I read this passage several years ago, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. I had no experience from which to form an opinion, which is to say that my practice had not matured enough to be able to make out these subtleties. Today, though, I understand exactly what he is discussing in these passages, and I agree with his description.

With regard to some of these differences we see reflected in the discourses as opposed to the commentaries, it would seem that those who wrote the commentaries had in mind to describe in a more exacting way the phenomena about which they wrote. They wanted their descriptions to be unambiguous for their readers, so they endeavored to describe in minute detail every little last scintilla of a subtlety. No doubt they wanted to fill in the missing pieces of insight (as though in a footnote) that could not be included in the discourses themselves.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:37 am

The Problem of Language and Direct Experience

What happens when someone reads the discourses about jhana and then compares that with what is described by ancient commentators? Because of the way the language is structured, it can make it seem as though the instruction is either this way or that way, but that it cannot be both. The inflexibility of language itself can get in the way of being able to express the true fluidity of an impermanent experience in flux that is liable to change at any moment. In an effort to define and describe an experience with any accuracy, language and the way it is used can make it seem as though the experience is written in stone, that there are no exceptions.

Yet, when one experiences the continuity of concentration (samadhi) within the context of absorption attainment and makes a slight averting of the mind from an object to a subject, then how is one to describe such an event? Does the absorption break down the moment the mind changes from object to subject? This might depend upon how the event is perceived by the eye of the beholder. If the mind moves from unification on an object to unification on a subject and concentration remains strong, does that signal something that can be called less absorbed? And if so, by what criteria is it being judged?

All I know is that when I meditate anymore, what I'm more likely to pursue than anything else usually involves contemplation on a subject for purposes of obtaining insight. I may start out paying attention to the breath in order to develop jhana, but once I sense concentration having become established and absorbed, my attention switches to a subject for contemplation. My mind still feels unified on the subject of contemplation, and with strong concentration, it becomes easier for insight to arise during this contemplation.

Among the faculties that I notice during these contemplations are a mind that is incredibly clear, unblemished, malleable, workable, and established in mindfulness. It is able to be directed toward any object or subject whatsoever with relative ease. This sets up the condition for insight to arise. While in this state, I can hear sounds (although I may not avert the mind toward them) and not be bothered by them. Thoughts can surface, but be quickly banished if need be. The mind is extremely obedient to whatever direction it is given to execute. This reflects a mind that has let go of "hankering and fretting for the world." Nothing is disturbing this mind from accomplishing its intended tasks, and it is fully in the present moment, ready to be directed this way or that.

For those wanting a bit more direct confirmation of these abilities (while being established in absorption) from the discourses, we have only to look at the Anupada Sutta (MN 111) in which the Buddha describes the venerable Sariputta's development of insight when he was training for the attainment of arahantship.

2. ". . . Sariputta has penetrative wisdom. During half a month, bhikkhus, Sariputta had insight into states one by one as they occurred. Now Sariputta's insight into states one by one as they occurred was this:

3. "Here, bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, Sariputta entered upon and abided in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained attention, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.

4. "And the states in the first jhana — the applied attention, the sustained attention (examination), the rapture, the pleasure, and the unification of mind; the contact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention — these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred;[1047] known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared. He understood thus: 'So indeed, these states, not having been, come into being; having been, they vanish.' Regarding those states, he abided unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free, dissociated, with a mind rid of barriers.[1048] He understood: 'There is an escape beyond,' and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is."[1049]

5. "Again, bhikkhus, with the stilling of applied and sustained attention, Sariputta entered and abided in the second jhana, which has self-confidence and singleness of mind without applied and sustained attention, with rapture and pleasure born of concentration.

Footnotes:
[1047] The first five states in the list are the jhana factors proper of the first jhana; the following states are additional components each performing their individual functions within jhana. This minute analysis of mental states into their components anticipates the methodology of the Abhidhamma, and it is thus no coincidence that the name of Sariputta is so closely linked with the emergence of the Abhidhamma literature.

[1048] All these terms signify the temporary suppression of the defilements by the power of the jhana, not the full liberation from defilements through their eradication by the highest path, which Ven. Sariputta had yet to attain.

[1049] The "escape beyond" (uttarim nissaranam) here is the next higher attainment, the second jhana.


Of particular note from this passage are the two references to the "birth" of the absorption in the two levels discussed. In the instance of the first jhana, this absorption is said to be "born of seclusion." Seclusion, here, is explicitly stated to include seclusion from unwholesome states (a condition brought on in part by the attainment of jhana and its suppression of the five hindrances) and therefore the practitioner contemplates "ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world." This temporary suppression of defilements and worldly concerns is a crucial component of being able to attain the first jhana. It represents (or heralds) the strengthening of concentration around the object of attention.

In the instance of the second jhana, the absorption is said to be "born of concentration." This has to do with the dropping away of "directed and sustained attention" (vitakka and vicara) as the mind's unification on the remaining factors of the absorption is consumed in the strengthening of concentration, which allows for the dropping of vitakka and vicara. (Anyone who is paying close attention to what is being stated here will find a hint included about how to obtain the first jhana. The hint has to do with the "directing" and "sustaining" of attention. When the significance of this is realized, a practitioner can more readily attain the first jhana.)

In both instances, the point being made is that the strength of concentration needed in order to attain absorption is a crucial element. If that concentration has been previously cultivated and developed within a practitioner's practice, and the mind has been responding to this development and cultivation, then an adept meditator, with ample concentration and mindfulness, is able to simply avert the mind toward the attainment of absorption and accomplish that feat at will, thus to remain there as long as he wishes.

Also, it seems fairly obvious from the above quoted passage that insight can indeed be cultivated and developed from within a given level of jhana. Is the jhana practitioner able to mentally verbalize such insight? I really don't see why not (although perhaps in many instances, the verbalization may be superfluous, and therefore dispensed with, given the quickness of the mind's to ability pick up on non-verbal realizations as they occur). It is therefore not beyond the realm of reason to contemplate that skilled meditators may be able to accomplish quite a bit more than what seems possible judging by what is written in certain quarters, such as the following excerpt from Ajahn Brahm's book:

"Furthermore, one should know that during any jhana it is impossible to experience the body (e.g., physical pain), hear a sound from outside, or produce any thought—not even a “good” thought. There is just a clear singleness of perception, an experience of nondual bliss that continues unchanging for a very long time. This is not a trance but a state of heightened awareness. I say this so that you may know for yourself whether what you take to be a jhana is real or imaginary."

The only ideas I agree with here being expressed with regard to the eight absorptions are the references to: "This is not a trance but a state of heightened awareness," and "There is just a clear singleness of perception. . ." If the state that one reaches, which one is attempting to define, can be defined in any way as being a "trance state" it is not jhana. Absorption is not analogous with "altered" states of mind, but rather, as Ajahn Brahm clearly states, with "heightened awareness." Such "heightened awareness" (in my experience) unequivocally includes being aware that one is AWARE! Which implies awareness of the body, mind (consciousness), feelings, perceptions, and volitions. However, this is true only for the traditional eight levels of jhana (the four material and the four fine material sense spheres), but not for the ninth jhana (the cessation of perception and feeling). In the case of the ninth jhana, I would have to agree with the severity of the description quoted above by Ajahn Brahm, namely that "it is impossible to experience the body (e.g., physical pain), hear a sound from outside, or produce any thought."

What I hope readers have come away with from this brief exposition is that the experience of absorption should be approached with an open mind (i.e. a mind that has not been preconditioned by conceptions that may or may not be an accurate description of the state). If one has never experienced absorption before (or at least were unaware of having done so), then they have no basis on which to make a comment about it. On the other hand, those who have yet to achieve the full heights to which a mature practice of absorption can take them would do well to reserve commentary (or at least to qualify their commentary if they are unable to confirm certain criteria based upon a still developing practice) until later when, perhaps, they may experience realizations they have yet to experience.

Two things about this subject seem certain: that there will likely continue to be confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the communication of the practice of jhana (at least in certain quarters), and that absorption attainment is a dynamic process, itself open to the same impermanence to which all other phenomena are liable, and therefore not immune from misperception. At least, that's how I perceive it at the moment. As for tomorrow, who knows. . . ?
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby 5heaps » Fri Sep 17, 2010 1:13 am

i think its quite clear that what actually happens is that the practitioner is constantly switching between their concentration and their analysis. when switching from analysis to concentration, analysis suffers. when switching from concentration to analysis, concentration suffers.

when a person can switch without either a loss in concentration or a loss in analysis, then you can NAME that vipassana jhana, but there is no such actual entity.


i think realizing ultimate truth is neither of these, since its not an ordinary mental consciousness but rather a yogic mental consciousness, and these function differently. the yogic direct cognition of ultimate truths however does resemble both concentration and analysis, but in perfected forms, since this special type of mind is freed from operating by samsaric means (ie. gotta wait for the mental sense power, gotta wait for a mental object, etc).


(the four material and the four fine material sense spheres)

the siddhis afforded by the formless realms are so ridiculous that there is almost no point even talking about having achieved formless absorption without illustrating them in action.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Ben » Fri Sep 17, 2010 1:18 am

Hi Ian, thank you for this interesting thread and for taking the time to produce a very eloquent exposition on the jhana from your experiential perspective. While I am sure your posts will generate an interesting discussion and provoke some people to chime in with anecdotes from their experience, I have to admit that I find discussing my experiences in an open forum - difficult. In part, its due to language conspiring against my attempts to describe certain experiences. And that is not to suggest by any means that my experiences are anything out of the ordinary. Some of your comments resonate with me, while others are raising questions.
My own context is that I have been meditating since 1985 and have remained under the guidance of my teacher, SN Goenka, since then. I practice the samatha-variation of anapana during the first 1/3 of all retreats I have attended before switching to and remaining with vedananupassana for the remainder of the retreat. Meditation in daily life, for me, is centred around practicing vedananupassana and finishing with metta bhavana.
kind regards

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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Modus.Ponens » Fri Sep 17, 2010 1:30 am

Thank you Ian for speaking openly about your experience in a series of long posts. :bow:
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Fri Sep 17, 2010 7:47 am

Ben wrote:My own context is that I have been meditating since 1985 and have remained under the guidance of my teacher, SN Goenka, since then. I practice the samatha-variation of anapana during the first 1/3 of all retreats I have attended before switching to and remaining with vedananupassana for the remainder of the retreat. Meditation in daily life, for me, is centred around practicing vedananupassana and finishing with metta bhavana.

Hi Ben,

Thanks for responding. Yes, I'm familiar with your background from your previous posts. This is going to be off topic, but I wanted to touch base with you nevertheless. Perhaps you have some insight into the questions I ask below.

S.N. Goenka is a curious fellow (and I don't mean that in a disparaging way). When, ten years ago, I was beginning to get back into a study of Buddhism, I read an interview he did with Tricycle magazine (2000 Winter edition; at the time I had a subscription, otherwise I might not have seen the interview) and what he had to say in that interview really impressed me. Especially the answers he gave to the first couple of questions. It was the story he told of his teacher, U Ba Khin, that impressed me. The relative simplicity of the answers to his questions that U Ba Khin gave really made practical sense:
Goenka: He asked me if, as a Hindu leader, I had any objection towards sila, that is, morality. How can there be any objection? But how can you practice sila unless you have control of the mind? He said, I will teach you to practice sila with controlled mind. I will teach you samadhi, concentration. Any objection? What can be objected to in samadhi? Then he said, that alone will not help—that will purify your mind at the surface level. Deep inside there are complexes, there are habit patterns, which are not broken by samadhi. I will teach you prajna, wisdom, insight, which will take you to the depth of the mind. I will teach you to go to the depth of the mind, the source where the impurities start and they get multiplied and they get stored so that you can clear them out.

So when my teacher told me: I will teach you only these three—sila, samadhi and prajna—and nothing else, I was affected. I said, let me try.

I wondered if you had ever come across this interview and were aware of his outlook. I also wondered whether or not Goenka presents himself in that manner at gatherings he attends. I'm speaking primarily about his view of the Buddha, which after I had an opportunity to read the discourses and do a little a little more reading and thinking about the matter, I tended to agree with. Goenka mentioned:

"When I began to learn Vipassana meditation, I became convinced that Buddha was a not a founder of religion, he was a super-scientist. A spiritual super-scientist." Then toward the end of the interview he states again: "Buddha never taught any isms. In all his words, and the commentaries, which number thousands of pages, the word 'Buddhism' is not there. So this all started much later, when Buddha’s teaching began to settle. I don’t know when it started, how it started, calling it Buddhism, but the day it happened it devalued the teaching of Buddha. It was a universal teaching, and that made it sectarian, as if to say that Buddhism is only for Buddhists, like Hinduism is for Hindus, Islam is for Muslims. Dharma is for all."

He was probably one of the first people I came across who presented the idea that Gotama never intended to found a religion. He did, however, intend to set up a mechanism that passed along the truths he had learned, which is why he set up monastic colonies to preserve the teachings for future generations. Yet, when you stop to think about it, sila, samadhi, and prajna, these are simple concepts to get the mind around. Of course, the Dhamma is a little bit more complicated than that. But that's why virtue, concentration, and wisdom are stressed as keys which will help open the door to comprehension and eventual awakening.

I've gotten the impression from your posts, as well as others in the Goenka movement, that it seems hesitant to teach samadhi. Is that correct, or do I have that all wrong? Perhaps he does teach samadhi, but it is jhana that he is hesitant to teach. The reason I ask is that it seems strange that he would talk openly about this in an interview and yet not included it in his general curriculum. Curious. But then, I can understand why he might be hesitant to teach jhana given the way the organization he runs is set up.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Kenshou » Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:01 am

My teeth are as of yet quite short, but I can't say I object to anything you've said on this topic, Ian. I am currently of the opinion that the whole jhana thing is not such a terribly complicated, difficult, or mystical thing, but not to imply that it doesn't take practice, that'd probably be the single most important factor.

It's really quite simple. By sitting mindfully, keeping the mind in line, guiding it back to our chosen object, supported with daily mindfulness and sense-restraint, we are able to overcome the 5 hindrances. The unhindered mind naturally is unperturbed and calm. By continuing in this way, the mind becomes more still, mindfulness more stable, concentration stands more firmly, as it would for anyone who practices diligently. As these factors mature the pleasure of the still mind grows proportionately, even moreso if we allow ourselves to be attentive to it, though to regard it with craving tends to subvert this whole thing. Because this process is pleasant, the mind is more keen to keep at it, and so the satisfaction of freedom from the hindrances, happy non-irritation, "vivekajam pitisukha", bolsters the mindfulness and concentration already established, and so all these factors help each other grow.

Continuing in this way, one eventually becomes "absorbed" in the process, and mind, body and everything else are brought together lucidly and attentively to this cooperative process of mindfulness and pitisukha. When it really becomes "absorbing", there's little question about it, and though the senses are by no means turned off, attention is firm enough that what little sounds or perturbations might come at you make so little impact on concentration that they may not even be noticed. And though the capacity to form thoughts is not disabled, it is calmed and under control, though a subtle flux of attention always remains. Not proliferative thought by any means but the acts of noticing and comprehension continue to operate, and preferably are put to work on insight themes. And in this place where everything in the body and mind, the 5 aggregates you might say, are brought together calm and collected, insight is ripe for the picking.

I'll stop the babbling since I've babbled about this before. But it's as simple as establishing mindfulness, overcoming the hindrances, allowing the peacefulness of an unperturbed mind to be noticed, and continuing on in that way and allowing the mind to become more and more concentrated. As long as that practice is kept in context, that is, the Buddhist context, and not used as a support for funky wrong-views, it's extremely helpful.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby cooran » Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:32 am

Hello Ian,

I had a phone call from Ben this morning. His computer is disabled due to some sort of virus and it won't connect at all to the internet. He mentioned this thread and asked me to let you know the reason he hasn't got back to it at this point. He hopes to continue towards the end of next week when his computer woes should be fixed.

with metta
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Sat Sep 18, 2010 6:23 am

Kenshou wrote:My teeth are as of yet quite short, but I can't say I object to anything you've said on this topic, Ian. I am currently of the opinion that the whole jhana thing is not such a terribly complicated, difficult, or mystical thing, but not to imply that it doesn't take practice, that'd probably be the single most important factor. . . .

Yes, I realized that you and thereductor (who I almost included in my call for responders) are "short in the tooth" with absorption practice as of yet, although I also recognize that you are both fairly consistent in your descriptions and that the both of you are working from a "right view" Dhamma context and not from any mystical tradition, which I really appreciate. Finding other people who have pretty much the same kind of experience of absorption as oneself can be a daunting task at times. Paññāsikhara isn't going to participate because he can't (he's a monk). Geoff, I'm fairly certain, has similar experiences to mine. And Tilt . . . well Tilt is Tilt, you never know what he might say, if anything at all, regarding this subject. But he's mentioned having practiced absorption with reputable teachers, so I was rolling the dice with him.

From the point I reestablished my jhana practice in 2005 after a two year layoff, it took me several months (18 to 21 months) to become confident enough in being able to accurately account for what I was able to observe to be willing to describe it to a wider audience. Accurate discernment is something we all have to strive for, and I am no different. I went through a period where my sati was not strong, and I developed a bad habit of entering absorption with a "dull" mind in pursuit of the pleasant experience, because I was lead to believe that this was the way to do it. A pitfall if there ever was one! Fortunately, I was corresponding with a fellow practitioner who had a little more experience than I, and he mentioned this possibility of a lack of sati to me. I recognized what I was doing and immediately took steps to correct it. So, yes,I agree that it does take practice. And preferably with someone who has some experience, if that can be arranged.

Fortunately, you managed to address the point I was hoping would be addressed in your testimony below. You might be a lot farther along at this point than I was at a similar point in my practice. I was kind of hoping for that. Which just goes to show that with the correct instruction and the right amount of dedicated practice good things can happen in one's pursuit of awakening.
Kenshou wrote:Continuing in this way, one eventually becomes "absorbed" in the process, and mind, body and everything else are brought together lucidly and attentively to this cooperative process of mindfulness and pitisukha. When it really becomes "absorbing", there's little question about it, and though the senses are by no means turned off, attention is firm enough that what little sounds or perturbations might come at you make so little impact on concentration that they may not even be noticed. And though the capacity to form thoughts is not disabled, it is calmed and under control, though a subtle flux of attention always remains. Not proliferative thought by any means but the acts of noticing and comprehension continue to operate, and preferably are put to work on insight themes. And in this place where everything in the body and mind, the 5 aggregates you might say, are brought together calm and collected, insight is ripe for the picking.

. . . But it's as simple as establishing mindfulness, overcoming the hindrances, allowing the peacefulness of an unperturbed mind to be noticed, and continuing on in that way and allowing the mind to become more and more concentrated. As long as that practice is kept in context, that is, the Buddhist context, and not used as a support for funky wrong-views, it's extremely helpful.

I couldn't agree more with this description.

My reason for starting this thread was as a gentle response to another thread. I was a bit concerned about some of the undeserved ridicule that some visitors to this forum had received from some of our members here with regard to a thread in the Dhammic free-for-all forum. Passion and personal bias seem to prevail more often than not in that forum, where reason and tolerance in an effort to understand each others' points of view ought to prevail. Although not all of the responses were done in ridicule.

What I thought to accomplish here (hopefully with the help of other Dhamma Wheel members who are experienced in absorption) was to discuss some of the fine points being mocked in light of certain passages in the discourses in order to show that perhaps some room for a reservation of judgment might be in order. I probably won't succeed with everyone, but at best it might give some room for reconsideration about what is possible within the absorption state, seeing that others here also experience some of the same things without having gone off the reservation (if you understand what I'm speaking about).
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Sep 18, 2010 6:53 am

IanAnd wrote:My reason for starting this thread was as a gentle response to another thread. I was a bit concerned about some of the undeserved ridicule that some visitors to this forum had received from some of our members here with regard to a thread in the Dhammic free-for-all forum. Passion and personal bias seem to prevail more often than not in that forum, where reason and tolerance in an effort to understand each others' points of view ought to prevail. Although not all of the responses were done in ridicule.
The ridicule may have been undeserved, but the criticism was not.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Sep 18, 2010 7:28 am

IanAnd wrote: And Tilt . . . well Tilt is Tilt, you never know what he might say, if anything at all, regarding this subject. But he's mentioned having practiced absorption with reputable teachers, so I was rolling the dice with him.
That was in the very early 80's and was initially with an Indian teacher trained by Mahasi Sayadaw, but there is no way in hell I would discuss this on an open forum, even though there is an anonimity here and even though no one here really knows me in a direct face-to-face way. This is something between me and my teacher(s). I have described an early experience during a three month retreat at IMS in the late 70's ( viewtopic.php?f=16&t=4956&start=40&hilit#p76894 ). While it is not jhana, it is interesting, but I would certainly make no claim based upon it.

As for jhana, I cannot get too excited about it. It has been pointed out that as to what they are depends:

Interpretations of the Jhanas

and what is more, the jhana experience easily can be colored by one's beliefs and expectations, which is why working with a teacher is not at all a bad idea and why not taking any of it too seriously is even a better idea. Mind you, I am not saying do not work with the jhanas; rather, I would say be mindful of their limitations and dangers, just as one should be aware of the dangers of attainment.

Be that as it may, this is an interesting discussion, and please carry on.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby elcfa » Sat Sep 18, 2010 8:52 am

Kenshou wrote:And though the capacity to form thoughts is not disabled, it is calmed and under control, though a subtle flux of attention always remains. Not proliferative thought by any means but the acts of noticing and comprehension continue to operate, and preferably are put to work on insight themes.


I would like to add to the "no thought" observation.

I am quoting Tina Snyder, who is authorized by the Pa Auk Sayadaw to teach Jhana meditation in the Buddhist Geek interview:
http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2010/02/bg ... he-jhanas/

The Sayadaw talked to us about what he called slight imperfection of jhana, where you might kind of pop out into a high level of access and then go back in; and if that’s not happening too much then that’s considered to be full absorption, but if there’s thought arising, that is not jhana.

Stephen: In this tradition, that’s one of the characteristics of jhana is that there is no thinking.

Tina: Right, so you know, this is where a lot of people get confused about access concentration versus full absorption...


Another data point from the sutta: quoting from SN 18:1-9 translated by Bhikkhu Bohdi (In Buddha's words, pg 296-298).

First jhana: which is accompanied by thought and examination.
Second jhana: subsiding of thought and examination.
Third jhana: mindful and clearly comprehending.
Infinity of space jhana: complete transcending of perceptions of forms, with the passing away of perceptions of sensory impingement.
Base of nothing: aware of nothing.
Neither perception nor nonperception: complete transcending the base of nothingness. Cessation of perception and feeling.

To be 100% correct, the sutta mentions cessation of perception (saññā) and feeling (vedanā), not of mental formations (saṅkhāra) in which thoughts are normally grouped into, but based on the description, it seems unlikely that thoughts (even in its subtlest form per conventional definition) are there at the higher levels.

so if I do not misunderstand, TRUE absorption in higher level of jhanas does not have thoughts. My two cents

On the "off" topic of ability to engage in a conservation while one is in the jhana for me beyond comprehesion.

In modern science, the ability to verbalize and the concept of I are commonly shown to be associated with the left, analytical brain. As one moves into deep meditative states, the typical left brain's activities are significant slowed down as shown in the same sutta I use above "It must be because I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit have been thoroughly uprooted in your mind for a long time that such thoughts did not occur to you." How could one then be able to talk in such states? I have not seen anywhere any mentioning of the Buddha or any arahats able to do so, I guess it can be done by more modern arahats :bow:
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Kenshou » Sat Sep 18, 2010 9:41 am

Depends how we define "thoughts". I would agree with what Ian has stated that the "verbal" articulation of thoughts is not necessarily somehow impossible, but superfluous, you might be able to but you've got no reason to. Subtler mental activity remains but I wouldn't call that thought so much. Of course you've got a problem if the mind is buzzing out of control, though.

Aaanyway though, as Tilt has pointed out there are a variety of interpretations on the jhana issue, to start cross-comparing them all has been done to death and I don't think there'd be much benefit in doing it again. It kinda comes down to the individual choosing what's good for them and seems sensical, as far as I'm concerned whatever concentration practice you do is going to be beneficial..... when kept in context, that is. Weather or not you're doing some thingie fit to be called a "jhana" is beside the point. Not that we can't discuss it.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Ben » Sat Sep 18, 2010 10:04 am

Hi Ian,

IanAnd wrote:S.N. Goenka is a curious fellow (and I don't mean that in a disparaging way). When, ten years ago, I was beginning to get back into a study of Buddhism, I read an interview he did with Tricycle magazine (2000 Winter edition; at the time I had a subscription, otherwise I might not have seen the interview) and what he had to say in that interview really impressed me. Especially the answers he gave to the first couple of questions. It was the story he told of his teacher, U Ba Khin, that impressed me. The relative simplicity of the answers to his questions that U Ba Khin gave really made practical sense:
Goenka: He asked me if, as a Hindu leader, I had any objection towards sila, that is, morality. How can there be any objection? But how can you practice sila unless you have control of the mind? He said, I will teach you to practice sila with controlled mind. I will teach you samadhi, concentration. Any objection? What can be objected to in samadhi? Then he said, that alone will not help—that will purify your mind at the surface level. Deep inside there are complexes, there are habit patterns, which are not broken by samadhi. I will teach you prajna, wisdom, insight, which will take you to the depth of the mind. I will teach you to go to the depth of the mind, the source where the impurities start and they get multiplied and they get stored so that you can clear them out.

So when my teacher told me: I will teach you only these three—sila, samadhi and prajna—and nothing else, I was affected. I said, let me try.

I wondered if you had ever come across this interview and were aware of his outlook.

Yes, I still have a copy of it either on my computer or on an external hard-drive. I am happy to attach it to a post should anybody be interested.

IanAnd wrote:I also wondered whether or not Goenka presents himself in that manner at gatherings he attends. I'm speaking primarily about his view of the Buddha, which after I had an opportunity to read the discourses and do a little a little more reading and thinking about the matter, I tended to agree with. Goenka mentioned:

"When I began to learn Vipassana meditation, I became convinced that Buddha was a not a founder of religion, he was a super-scientist. A spiritual super-scientist." Then toward the end of the interview he states again: "Buddha never taught any isms. In all his words, and the commentaries, which number thousands of pages, the word 'Buddhism' is not there. So this all started much later, when Buddha’s teaching began to settle. I don’t know when it started, how it started, calling it Buddhism, but the day it happened it devalued the teaching of Buddha. It was a universal teaching, and that made it sectarian, as if to say that Buddhism is only for Buddhists, like Hinduism is for Hindus, Islam is for Muslims. Dharma is for all."

He was probably one of the first people I came across who presented the idea that Gotama never intended to found a religion. He did, however, intend to set up a mechanism that passed along the truths he had learned, which is why he set up monastic colonies to preserve the teachings for future generations. Yet, when you stop to think about it, sila, samadhi, and prajna, these are simple concepts to get the mind around. Of course, the Dhamma is a little bit more complicated than that. But that's why virtue, concentration, and wisdom are stressed as keys which will help open the door to comprehension and eventual awakening.

Having sat and served with him in Australia in the mid-to-late 1980s and sitting and serving with him during the 1989/90 Indian winter (long course) program at his main centre "Dhammagiri" west of Mumbai, I have had the opportunity to spend some time in close proximity with him as a student and also as a server. To quote a cliche, 'what you see is what you get', the Goenkaji one reads in the Tricycle article and the one on the ten-day course discourses is the same as the one who you see when you attend a one-on-one interview with him or in the presence of other servers discussing course management issues. He has a particular knack with humour. He's just a very natural man with no pretensions. Another impression I have of him is just being the font of unbelievable amount of metta. Sitting in front of him, with his metta, is at times almost overwhelming.

IanAnd wrote:I've gotten the impression from your posts, as well as others in the Goenka movement, that it seems hesitant to teach samadhi. Is that correct, or do I have that all wrong? Perhaps he does teach samadhi, but it is jhana that he is hesitant to teach. The reason I ask is that it seems strange that he would talk openly about this in an interview and yet not included it in his general curriculum. Curious. But then, I can understand why he might be hesitant to teach jhana given the way the organization he runs is set up.


Not quite so. Certainly during the 'introductory' ten day courses, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is a hesitancy to teach jhana. During the context of the ten-day course, the emphasis is on developing moment-to-moment samadhi during the 3.5 days one is practicing anapana. And for most people who are complete newbies not having had exposure to the Buddhadhamma and intensive retreat settings, that might be quite appropriate. In the afternoon of the fourth day, one ceases anapana and begins vedananupassana (vipassana). My understanding is, and I could be wrong here, the emphasis on acquiring less-than-jhana samadhi is common to many strands of the Burmese vipassana culture. Certainly during the special courses for 'old students' only, and during the long courses, there is far more emphasis on samadhi, greater precision of detail and on the 20-day course, more emphasis on upacarasamadhi and jhana. I have been augmenting my own practice by reading and integrating some aspects of Buddhaghosa's exposition on anapanasati in Vism. One of the things I am looking forward to in my upcoming 30-day course is actually practicing anapana uninterrupted for ten days.
Thanks for your patience. I have experienced some serious computer issues over the last 24 hours and I don't think I'm out of the woods yet. I did see your post yesterday and had written a long and detailed post but when I hit 'submit', my modem dropped out which was the beginning of some computer problems.
kind regards

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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Sat Sep 18, 2010 7:48 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
IanAnd wrote: And Tilt . . . well Tilt is Tilt, you never know what he might say, if anything at all, regarding this subject. But he's mentioned having practiced absorption with reputable teachers, so I was rolling the dice with him.

That was in the very early 80's and was initially with an Indian teacher trained by Mahasi Sayadaw, but there is no way in hell I would discuss this on an open forum, even though there is an anonymity here and even though no one here really knows me in a direct face-to-face way. This is something between me and my teacher(s).

Yes, that's why I mention I didn't know what you might say "if anything at all" on the subject, as I wouldn't think of compromising your privacy. Yet, what I was looking for didn't necessarily need to contain anything personal. Rather, just confirmation of various observations that are fairly common knowledge and not personal. Be that as it may, there may also have been nothing there for one to comment on. And I accept that also.

tiltbillings wrote:I have described an early experience during a three month retreat at IMS in the late 70's ( http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... lit#p76894 ). While it is not jhana, it is interesting, but I would certainly make no claim based upon it.

Indeed that was an interesting experience. And one well worth the recounting in this thread as it adds to the knowledge base. While it may not have been absorption technically speaking, your description did contain some aspects of the absorption experience, and therefore was very close. Although because of the lack of other aspects not recounted, I would agree with your evaluation that it was not absorption. Still in all, a very valuable Dhamma lesson, that.

tiltbillings wrote:As for jhana, I cannot get too excited about it. It has been pointed out that as to what they are depends:

Interpretations of the Jhanas

Yes. Leigh was one of the first sources I used to help me begin to get a handle on this phenomenon of consciousness. Yet, the astute reader will note that even Leigh admits that his "paper is a highly subjective attempt by one Jhana practictioner to simply list and categorize the various interpretations I have heard of..." (his emphasis). My point being that once experienced and fully digested, the experience and benefits of absorption practice are without a doubt extremely helpful. It also helps one to understand why the Buddha mentioned it so many times in the suttas.

Rather than putting the focus on the number of interpretations there are, I would highlight the discernment factor. By that I mean, a person having done the practice and gathered some experience in it, it is now up to the practitioner to determine (discern) what fits his (or her) perception of that experience. I would use these many interpretations to see where I agreed or disagreed with the interpretation, as well as to look deeper into the source of their origin. Following this procedure, I am more able to understand how the various interpretations came into being based upon the personalities involved who are proposing them.

(I realize that this outlook may go beyond the end goal of most aspiring practitioners, who are mostly just interested in finding a tool to be used for the ending of dukkha. That was my goal at one point also. Yet once I was able to achieve what I considered to be my goal in using absorption, it became an interest to see if I could figure out this other puzzle — the many interpretations, that is — which made this an individual pursuit.)

In reading over the various interpretations, it would seem that many of the views could be combined and amalgamated, thus lessening their number. For example, the fourth through the tenth variations (if they can be called that) are so similar that their differentiation is hardly worth mentioning. I could relate to each one of them quite easily. From there, Pa Auk and Ajahn Brahm's variations seem quite similar, too, on the side of a so-called "deeper" state in line with the Visuddhimagga. And while the different methodologies for entering absorption might have their distinctive qualities, the end result seems to be a quality that everyone agrees upon is helpful in the pursuit of the cessation of dukkha.

tiltbillings wrote:and what is more, the jhana experience easily can be colored by one's beliefs and expectations, which is why working with a teacher is not at all a bad idea and why not taking any of it too seriously is even a better idea. Mind you, I am not saying do not work with the jhanas; rather, I would say be mindful of their limitations and dangers, just as one should be aware of the dangers of attainment.

Yes, I would wholeheartedly agree with the two statements highlighted here. As for the middle statement about "not taking any of it too seriously," while there is some truth to that outlook, there is also a statement made by the Buddha in one of the suttas regarding those who don't consider absorption a worthy goal. He says that those who do not regard jhana as valuable also do not value concentration. (I've searched for the sutta but to no avail. If someone knows where the quotation I'm thinking about is, please mention it.) The only point being that it can be a useful tool on the path to liberation, a point on which we may all be able to agree.
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby IanAnd » Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:53 am

Hi Ben,
Ben wrote:Having sat and served with him in Australia in the mid-to-late 1980s and sitting and serving with him during the 1989/90 Indian winter (long course) program at his main centre "Dhammagiri" west of Mumbai, I have had the opportunity to spend some time in close proximity with him as a student and also as a server. To quote a cliche, 'what you see is what you get', the Goenkaji one reads in the Tricycle article and the one on the ten-day course discourses is the same as the one who you see when you attend a one-on-one interview with him or in the presence of other servers discussing course management issues. He has a particular knack with humour. He's just a very natural man with no pretensions.

I had a suspicion that that might be the case. It's good to hear it from someone who's been there and witnessed it.

Ben wrote:
IanAnd wrote:I've gotten the impression from your posts, as well as others in the Goenka movement, that it seems hesitant to teach samadhi. Is that correct, or do I have that all wrong? Perhaps he does teach samadhi, but it is jhana that he is hesitant to teach. . . .

Not quite so. Certainly during the 'introductory' ten day courses, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is a hesitancy to teach jhana. During the context of the ten-day course, the emphasis is on developing moment-to-moment samadhi during the 3.5 days one is practicing anapana. And for most people who are complete newbies not having had exposure to the Buddhadhamma and intensive retreat settings, that might be quite appropriate. In the afternoon of the fourth day, one ceases anapana and begins vedananupassana (vipassana). . . . Certainly during the special courses for 'old students' only, and during the long courses, there is far more emphasis on samadhi, greater precision of detail and on the 20-day course, more emphasis on upacarasamadhi and jhana.

Ah. Thank you for clearing that impression up. I wasn't aware that there were longer retreats offered and that that was where more emphasis was placed on samadhi and possibly absorption practice. It sounds as though his organization has taken all the requisites into consideration and designed a very good program for people to undergo. I can understand now why you like the organization so well.

Ben wrote:My understanding is, and I could be wrong here, the emphasis on acquiring less-than-jhana samadhi is common to many strands of the Burmese vipassana culture.

Yes. That's been my understanding also, from the information I've read on the web. Now that I'm more familiar with the practice and what's needed to succeed, I can understand why the Burmese Sayadaws approach the training in this way. Just my educated opinion, but I agree with them that regular samadhi (as opposed to absorption samadhi) is the minimum amount of concentration needed for insight practice to be effective. If a person can attain samadhi pretty regularly at will, they've developed a valuable tool to assist them in realization of the Dhamma.

It's been my experience that absorption samadhi helps one to more quickly recondition the mind for stronger and longer durations of concentration outside of meditation, concentration that can be carried into everyday consciousness. Of course, there are also little tricks that one learns along the way that help one establish concentration/mindfulness in key moments, like averting attention to the breath in order to reestablish concentration if concentration is at a low ebb. A practice of attaining regular samadhi should also allow one to use this trick.

Ben wrote:I have been augmenting my own practice by reading and integrating some aspects of Buddhaghosa's exposition on anapanasati in Vism. One of the things I am looking forward to in my upcoming 30-day course is actually practicing anapana uninterrupted for ten days.

Best of fortune to you on your upcoming retreat. Sounds like a good opportunity to really take advantage of.

In peace,
Ian
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Ben » Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:34 am

Hi Ian,

IanAnd wrote:Yes. That's been my understanding also, from the information I've read on the web. Now that I'm more familiar with the practice and what's needed to succeed, I can understand why the Burmese Sayadaws approach the training in this way. Just my educated opinion, but I agree with them that regular samadhi (as opposed to absorption samadhi) is the minimum amount of concentration needed for insight practice to be effective. If a person can attain samadhi pretty regularly at will, they've developed a valuable tool to assist them in realization of the Dhamma.

Yes, I remember Goenkaji saying on the 20-day course that all that is required to attain to sotapanna and sakadagami is moment-to-moment samadhi, but for anagamita and arahatta, one requires the first jhana. I also remember reading somewhere, perhaps its Vism - but honestly can't remember, that if one has not attained jhana before ariya attainment then the mind at attainment of an ariya state, it spontaneously experiences jhana.

IanAnd wrote:It's been my experience that absorption samadhi helps one to more quickly recondition the mind for stronger and longer durations of concentration outside of meditation, concentration that can be carried into everyday consciousness.

That doesn't surprise me. I rarely practice samadhi-bhavana outside of a retreat setting. However, two anecdotes come to mind following retreats - both involve reading. One was following the retreat and on the train from Blackheath to Sydney and the other was on the train following retreats at Goenkaji's main centre in Igatpuri and travelling back to Mumbai. What I noticed following the retreat, that when I was reading, my mind was acutely concentrated like a laser. And if you've done any traveling in India, you'll know the total anarchy on-board an Indian train. And there I was quietly focused on a modern history of India while all around me was chaos.

IanAnd wrote:Of course, there are also little tricks that one learns along the way that help one establish concentration/mindfulness in key moments, like averting attention to the breath in order to reestablish concentration if concentration is at a low ebb. A practice of attaining regular samadhi should also allow one to use this trick.

That's where the Vism has been really useful to me over the last few years.
Yes, I've also engaged in a few tricks during retreat time to either maintain the focus or get back 'in the zone', so to speak when practicing anapana.

IanAnd wrote:Best of fortune to you on your upcoming retreat. Sounds like a good opportunity to really take advantage of.
Thanks! Its still up in the air as it took the meditation centre way too long to send me an invitation and issue a recommendation for me to be issued a long-stay meditation visa. The fact that meditation visa requests are processed back in Myanmar and the apparent 'relaxed' approach Burmese authorities have to get things processed quickly may mean that I don't get my visa processed before I go. However, I live in hope.
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Not Everything Is Written In Stone. . .

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 19, 2010 5:12 am

Hey Ian,

I was wondering what you meant by 'subject':
Yet, when one experiences the continuity of concentration (samadhi) within the context of absorption attainment and makes a slight averting of the mind from an object to a subject, then how is one to describe such an event?
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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