Cormac Brown wrote:Even focussing on the qualities of the Triple Gem isn't said to lead to jhana,
It's true that the commentaries state that these recollections lead only to neighbourhood concentration. But the Suttas on the other hand say that one who develops and makes much of them "is not devoid of jhana". This seems also to be indicated in the Mahānāmasutta:
“Here, Mahānāma, you should recollect the Tathāgata thus: ‘The Blessed One is … the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.’ When a noble disciple recollects the Tathāgata, on that occasion his mind is not obsessed by lust, hatred, or delusion; on that occasion his mind is simply straight, based on the Tathāgata. A noble disciple whose mind is straight gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. When he is joyful, rapture arises. For one with a rapturous mind, the body becomes tranquil. One tranquil in body feels pleasure. For one feeling pleasure, the mind becomes concentrated. Mahānāma, you should develop this recollection of the Buddha while walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. You should develop it while engaged in work and while living at home in a house full of children.
Cormac Brown wrote:so how much less so on the qualities of a deluded deity.
I don't find this at all a persuasive objection to the claim that some theistic contemplatives may be attainers of jhana.
Though the deity whose attributes a theist brings to mind may from a Buddhist point of view be regarded as a deluded being or even a purely fictional entity, it goes without saying that the theistic contemplative herself will not be including "being delusional" or "not really existing" among the deity's attributes that she recollects. Like the Buddhist practising buddhanussati she will be bringing to mind the inspiring qualities of an ideal and perfect being that she happens to believe in. That a deity possessing such attributes actually exists will of course be for her a matter of faith rather than knowledge. But are matters any different in the case of Buddhists practising buddhanussati? How many of them really *know* that the Tathāgata is "possessed of gnosis and good conduct" or that he is a "knower of worlds" and a "teacher of devas and humans"? I suspect the number is few and that for the average puthujjana Buddhist the recollections of the Three Jewels will be just as much faith-based practices as those of theists. In both cases the object of their contemplation is an ideal concept in which they have faith. Is it your opinion that success in jhana is dependent upon this concept representing something factual? If so, why?
Some interesting points. In the case of an Abrahamic creator God, the meditator would surely have to be exercising some strong ignorance towards the fact that they're meditating on an impossibility - i.e. a compassionate, all-powerful, and
intelligent creator. Either God is a well-meaning, powerless imbecile or he is an intelligent, omnipotent psychopath. I'd grant other variations, but none of them seem at all genuinely inspiring. They'd also be trying to gain joy from what would be, if he were what they believe, the cause of all suffering and pain. I honestly don't see very positive results emerging from this practice. Perhaps some strong states of concentration divorced, by necessity, from reality. Granted, some Buddhist teachers seem to teach jhanas like this - absorbed in "nimittas", the senses disappearing and what have you - but it seems a far cry from what's described in the suttas, which is simply cool, pleasant states of full-body awareness, freed from afflictive thoughts/states of mind.
The Buddha is different in that he actually offered a path of practice out of suffering that one can verify and test for oneself. Mahanama was, it's fair to say, a stream-enterer, which meant he had "verified
confidence" in the Buddha. This means that he'd put the Buddha's teachings to the test and found that they produce the promised results - the third noble truth, the end of suffering. So in taking the Buddha as a meditation theme, he's not simply focusing on a nebulous concept but on a teacher in whom he has confirmed, evidential confidence. As regards gaining rapture and pleasure from thinking about the Buddha, this is one of the hallmarks of a sotapanna:
AN 5.179 trans. Ven. Thanissaro
"Sariputta, when you know of a householder clothed in white, that he is restrained in terms of the five training rules and that he obtains at will, without difficulty, without hardship, four pleasant mental abidings in the here & now, then if he wants he may state about himself: 'Hell is ended; animal wombs are ended; the state of the hungry shades is ended; states of deprivation, destitution, the bad bourns are ended! I am a stream-winner, steadfast, never again destined for states of woe, headed for self-awakening!'
"Now, in terms of which five training rules is he restrained?
"There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking life, abstains from taking what is not given, abstains from illicit sex, abstains from lying, abstains from distilled & fermented drinks that cause heedlessness.
"These are the five training rules in terms of which he is restrained.
"And which four pleasant mental abidings in the here & now does he obtain at will, without difficulty, without hardship?
"There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with verified confidence in the Awakened One: 'Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy & rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.' This is the first pleasant mental abiding in the here & now that he has attained, for the purification of the mind that is impure, for the cleansing of the mind that is unclean.
(Similarly with the Dhamma, Sangha, and virtues.)