An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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waryoffolly
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An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by waryoffolly » Tue Jun 23, 2015 8:00 pm

As most people here are aware of the canon is filled with references to jhana. As most people people here are also aware of there is a significant amount of debate trying to figure out exactly what constitutes a jhana. This can be confusing for a person who would like to experience jhana at least once in order to understand this central part of the Buddha's teaching.

How do we resolve this confusions?
Here is my suggestion: Let's develop a strategy of practice that follows a natural progression through deeper and deeper states of meditation that passes through all suggested (reasonable) understandings of jhana.

What does this look like in practice then?
1. Master jhana-lite 1 and 2. By jhana-lite I mean jhanas that still have the full experience of the body in them. Be ridiculously strict with your definition of jhana here in the sense that you make sure that all physical distress is absent from your body and that the piti-sukha born of renunciation of unwholesome states of mind is experienced with the body all as a single object of experience. Make sure awareness is clear. According to (reasonable versions of) jhana-lite you can still hear sounds if you actively direct your attention outwards, but for the most part they are not really experienced. Learn to enter at will both of these lite-jhanas.
(Teachers such as Ajahn Thanissaro and Ayya Khema teach these kind of jhanas)

2. If you have properly master jhana-lite 2 then continue to make the rapture and bliss of renunciation/love/whatever grow until that is the main aspect of your experience (this will probably be experienced as a nimitta) abandoning the perception of your body. (Note that in this scheme you should only be experiencing your body and not any other sense-faculty at this point since you have unified your mind with the body.) Now just follow the nimitta/development of unification of the mind on the object of piti/sukkha born of renunciation until you enter the "hard" jhanas that teachers such as Ajahn Brahm, and Pa Auk Sayadaw teach.

Notice here that whichever system of thought you subscribe too you should still practice in the same way in the beginning.

For a person who believes in (and practices for) jhana-heavy then he will naturally pass through jhana-lite 1 and 2 on the way there. (Just read Ajahn Brahm's Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond -the beautiful breath is essentially just what (imo) jhana-lite teachers call jhana-1).

For a person who believes in jhana-lite then there is no reason why you might not at least try to experience the heavier jhanas (probably need a long retreat setting) after you have mastered jhana-lite 1 and jhana lite 2 (Incidentally you probably will master these if you have a serious meditation practice. I think jhana-lite is obtainable by pretty much anyone, although the perfection of it may teach several years of consistent practice.). Even if the heavier jhanas are not the "real" jhana (in the opinion of a jhana-lite person) surely experiencing them just once is not harmful. In doing so you guarantee that you have experienced the Buddha's jhana at some point since you would then have experienced all possible (reasonable) intepretations of jhana.

So, in conclusion: It seems to me that there is a reasonable amount of suprising consistency across various (reasonable) meditation techniques. The steps of most jhana-heavy instructions usually pass through jhana-lite 1 and 2 on the way. So then the question of which version is correct can be set aside for the person who is not sure of which is the Buddha's jhana and we can instead focus on you know... actually practicing. We can be confidant that we are either practicing the Buddha's jhana by mastering jhana-lite or at the very least setting up the foundation for developing jhana-heavy in the future.

(I'm well aware that I am not the first to suggest such a strategy, but I can't remember the name of the other person(s) that have as well.)

Sorry if this post is a bit disorganized,
waryoffolly

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Goofaholix
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by Goofaholix » Tue Jun 23, 2015 8:10 pm

Teachers teach what they've experienced, and what they found to be useful.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Alex123
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by Alex123 » Thu Jun 25, 2015 5:41 pm

I really like your approach.

In any case, one should go as deep as possible and don't worry about calling it A, B or C. As long as it is correct practice, under right views.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Zom
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by Zom » Thu Jun 25, 2015 6:45 pm

Everything is quite easy. In the 1st jhana all bodily painful feelings just end (SN 48.36/40). If you can't sit because of pain, if you feel bodily fatigue - this is not a jhana, not matter how light or hard 8-) BUT, if there is no such feeling at all (even tiny one) for quite some time and everything is filled with bliss and pleasant feelings - both mental and bodily, then, obviously, this is jhana. Worth noting that suttas strongly recommend to evaluate this state by examining precisely mental and bodily feelings - and not something else. Just take a look - all standard jhana formulas are about feelings. Even extended formulas like those in DN2 are also about feelings - similes and metaphors there describe feelings, not something else.

waryoffolly
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by waryoffolly » Thu Jun 25, 2015 7:31 pm

Zom wrote:Everything is quite easy. In the 1st jhana all bodily painful feelings just end (SN 48.36/40). If you can't sit because of pain, if you feel bodily fatigue - this is not a jhana, not matter how light or hard 8-) BUT, if there is no such feeling at all (even tiny one) for quite some time and everything is filled with bliss and pleasant feelings - both mental and bodily, then, obviously, this is jhana. Worth noting that suttas strongly recommend to evaluate this state by examining precisely mental and bodily feelings - and not something else. Just take a look - all standard jhana formulas are about feelings. Even extended formulas like those in DN2 are also about feelings - similes and metaphors there describe feelings, not something else.
I agree that if there is any bodily pain we can be 100% certain that it is not jhana-lite nor 'hard' jhana. However I don't want this thread to turn into more debate about whether the senses are present in jhana- The point of my post is to provide a way of practice that allows one to put aside the question of what jhana in the canon is by covering/attempting all the possible reasonable interpretations of it thereof.

(I'm not sure if you are arguing for a jhanic state with the senses present or not, so I apologize if you aren't taking a side in the debate here and I misinterpreted your post. )

Cheers,
waryoffolly

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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by SarathW » Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:04 pm

Zom wrote:Everything is quite easy. In the 1st jhana all bodily painful feelings just end (SN 48.36/40). If you can't sit because of pain, if you feel bodily fatigue - this is not a jhana, not matter how light or hard 8-) BUT, if there is no such feeling at all (even tiny one) for quite some time and everything is filled with bliss and pleasant feelings - both mental and bodily, then, obviously, this is jhana. Worth noting that suttas strongly recommend to evaluate this state by examining precisely mental and bodily feelings - and not something else. Just take a look - all standard jhana formulas are about feelings. Even extended formulas like those in DN2 are also about feelings - similes and metaphors there describe feelings, not something else.
What about if you do not have bodily pain but you hear sound and are aware of your surrounding. (as the eye is open)?
:thinking:
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Zom
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by Zom » Thu Jun 25, 2015 11:28 pm

(I'm not sure if you are arguing for a jhanic state with the senses present or not, so I apologize if you aren't taking a side in the debate here and I misinterpreted your post. )
No, I'm not - but well, you reminded me about noticable thing in SN 48.40 - that is - that pleasant bodily feeling ceases only in the 3rd jhana.

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daverupa
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by daverupa » Fri Jun 26, 2015 12:17 am

Suppose jhanas 1-4 were a progressive set of moves away from the five senses; fourth jhana was the final settling-in to initial full seclusion; arupa states proceed in a manner of continual moves to more & more refined objects, as it were, up to various sorts of subtle cessations, up to perception & feeling.

Having the four truths as something seen for oneself, that knowledge comes to bear throughout this progressive seclusion, all throughout allowing for the possibility of the "seeing with wisdom" precursor leading to the final destruction of the taints (...there being a suitable basis :tongue: ).

(Or, not. <-- and, maybe this is part of any approach to the jhanas... they seem quite nebulous...)
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

waryoffolly
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by waryoffolly » Fri Jun 26, 2015 4:39 pm

daverupa wrote:Suppose jhanas 1-4 were a progressive set of moves away from the five senses; fourth jhana was the final settling-in to initial full seclusion; arupa states proceed in a manner of continual moves to more & more refined objects, as it were, up to various sorts of subtle cessations, up to perception & feeling.

Having the four truths as something seen for oneself, that knowledge comes to bear throughout this progressive seclusion, all throughout allowing for the possibility of the "seeing with wisdom" precursor leading to the final destruction of the taints (...there being a suitable basis :tongue: ).

(Or, not. <-- and, maybe this is part of any approach to the jhanas... they seem quite nebulous...)
Hmm, I'm not sure how this is relevant. Are you arguing for the senses in jhana? If so I refer you to the OP where I explicitly try to find a way to not have to debate this issue. Do you have a comment that refers to that strategy of avoiding the debate? If not then I respectfully ask you to constrain your defense of your type of jhana to one of the many, many threads already consumed by the debate.

I cannot control what people post in this thread, but I'd rather focus on strategies that allow one to not have to be obsessed with this debate (instead of focusing on the debate itself- Do you see how arguing for one type of jhana over the other is the exact opposite of my intent in the OP?)

I apologize if I have misinterpreted your statement. If your statement is providing another way to positively relate to the jhana debate then please elaborate.

Thanks,
waryoffolly

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daverupa
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by daverupa » Fri Jun 26, 2015 4:56 pm

I'm not trying to sustain one or another jhana argument; "or not", I said, and then made a point about that sort of light-handed approach being possible even on the tail end of an actual opinion-in-progress.

:heart:

I recommend setting jhana aside for a while altogether; they aren't anywhere near the beginning or the middle of the gradual Path, and should follow a strong satipatthana practice that's been sustained for a while. Nevermind what jhana is; most people still need to attend to what satipatthana is.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

waryoffolly
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Re: An Approach to Resolving Confusion with the Jhanas

Post by waryoffolly » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:12 pm

daverupa wrote:I'm not trying to sustain one or another jhana argument; "or not", I said, and then made a point about that sort of light-handed approach being possible even on the tail end of an actual opinion-in-progress.

:heart:

I recommend setting jhana aside for a while altogether; they aren't anywhere near the beginning or the middle of the gradual Path, and should follow a strong satipatthana practice that's been sustained for a while. Nevermind what jhana is; most people still need to attend to what satipatthana is.
I especially agree with the second half of what you've written here.

Sorry for being paranoid about the thread getting turned into another jhana-debate thread.

Cheers,
waryoffolly

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