Weak jhana with nimitta, strong without, and who cares

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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rageatm
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Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:37 pm

Weak jhana with nimitta, strong without, and who cares

Post by rageatm » Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:47 pm

This forum is full of debates regarding Soft Jhanas, Hard Jhanas, nimittas and so on.
Appart from the sticky thread, a sexy sumup of associated debates can be found there - https://simplesuttas.wordpress.com/2013 ... irst-pass/
while i do not know the blogger, i found the posts clear and complete.
TL;DR : there are Soft Jhanas partisans, Hard Jhanas partisans, each one saying their vision is true.
if Sutta do not solve this debate, this is because there is nothing to be solved.


Now the long version!

once, i went to a temple three months, asking to take ordination for a temporary period. Turned out, it was not accepted, instead i could stay at the temple three months as a layman, which was a very generous proposal. This means the temple offered me to stay, to sleep, to eat, without expecting anything of me. So this is the context, and i keep in mind i owe something really precious. So, i did practice, not all day but several hours a day, walking and being mindful in every day taks, and obviously this included sitting meditation. I already knew meditation when i arrived at the temple, however - as expected - staying sitting for long time proved to be sometimes difficult. Sometimes it was less difficult, but more calm. Sometimes i missed the outside world, sometimes i was enjoying the quietness.

One afternoon, i was sitting, eyes shut, rather concentrated, following breathe. My heart started to pulse, i felt a bit excited. It was not the first time, so i maintained practicing because i started to be accustomed with excitement, I could deal with excitement. Then breathe started to change. It was not like a sudden big light, nor i saw the moon. Instead, something tactile : the breathe had become sweet like silk, and the sensations were not anymore in nostrils, but more profound like in sinus. Anyway, that day, I could not yet maintain the practice properly, then the end of sitting became confused. I remember about this specific day because this was the day i found a sensation i never lost. I may have had time with less practice, but the silk breathe came back, I may have weeks with doubt, sometimes i may practice very few because i lack time but i never really stop practicing.

So, what's the point? I wanted to find guidance in books, to understand where i was standing. I looked at theravadin litterature. At the beginning it seemed i did not find much in Suttas. I read about Visuddhimagga concept of nimitta, "Sign". Basically the sign is an object one does focus on. At the beginning one does "learn" the sign, then the sign changes with "access concentration". I wondered wheter what i lived was access concentration, or what. I thought, "this kind of breathe must be a sign, it's no more the direct perception of the breathe, it's a mental creation, it's a sign and this means i am getting closer". But when i read about jhanas in Visuddhimagga or Suttas, i thought "i do not know yet this kind of thing, maybe one day". So i believed only (Visuddhimagga style of) nimitta description could guide me. I felt surprised only Visuddhimagga talked about what i lived. Why would suttas completely ignore this step of practice?

I discovered, through reading, that "access concentration" as opposed to jhana level of concentration, was something not existing in Suttas. I did not understand why would Sutta ignore this step. Another day I started discovering the debate about jhanas, some people arguing Suttas are state of very deep and still aborsobption implying losing perception of outside world while some people argue jhanas, might be some light experience. I would recommend "The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation", Richard Shankman.
Then i've read that the term "nimitta" exists in the Suttas, but with different meaning than in Visuddhimagga. (this thread eg : viewtopic.php?t=15578). Basically, the idea is that Sutta uses "nimitta" as the "sign that concentration exists in someone", while Visuddhimagga uses "nimitta" as "an object on which the meditator focus".

At some point, i thought "The suttas necessarily describe, and provide guidance, for what i lived". If there is no access concentration, neither "counterpart nimitta" in sutta, then which sutta does explain what i live? I started considering Sutta description with a refreshed look. Maybe considering attention, joy, serenity, concentration, as part of my experience is not that absurd. So, after all, if jhanas factors seem to be a fair description of the meditative experience, why not considering this light experience to be jhanas? On the other hand, i do not discredit people considering Sutta to be deep and very long lasting states.

Some people consider first jhana to be a light experience, some people argue one does not perceive sound anymore and might maintain jhana like ten hours. Is that completely incompatible?
Now i consider things differently. There are several properties of Jhana. There are the factors obviously : like joy, rapture, concentration, equanimity.
But then, there is the entrance (quick or long). There is the length (once again, quick or long). There is the intensity of sensations. There is the seclusion from outside world - how much one is isolated? Maybe should i even add the stability (we can imagine someone enters a jhana step by step, or even loses a jhana step by step). Basically the Suttas tell what factors someone lives, but let the other characteristics as part of specific stories. This is the whole point of the debate, because partisans of Hard vs Soft Jhanas have to pick up this or that specific Sutta and ignore the others to make their opinion.

Why should we? Why not accepting the Jhana, are sometimes rather weak, sometimes strong, depending on the people, the environment, the previous meditation, the context (is that a layman? a retreat? a very intense meditative period? a period of issues in practice?). If Sutta do not say how long lasts a jhana, this is because it depends. Do we still hear sounds? It depends! Do we fill a rather subtle bliss, or are we shaking and boom!? Once again, it all depends, even for one given person. So, how do we measure practice? Well, we look at the factors we live, and we will see.

Because the factors might be the right angle to help people practicing. There is this sutta, "The Cow" that says,

In the same way, there are cases where a monk — foolish, inexperienced, unfamiliar with his pasture, unskilled in being quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, and entering & remaining in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation — doesn't stick with that theme, doesn't develop it, pursue it, or establish himself firmly in it. The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, were to enter & remain in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.' He is not able... to enter & remain in the second jhana... The thought occurs to him, 'What if I... were to enter & remain in the first jhana... He is not able... to enter & remain in the first jhana. This is called a monk who has slipped & fallen from both sides, like the mountain cow, foolish, inexperienced, unfamiliar with her pasture, unskilled in roaming on rugged mountains

( https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html )
( there seems to be also a Angutarra Nikaya IV 418 but i did not read it )
Mastering a jhana would be becoming capable of mastering entrance, staying, leaving. ( eg one might look there http://www.buddhanet.net/mettaf3.htm )

So, my point is that, for the one lost in debates, Sutta are a guidance. One should master five factors before to look for a jhana with different factors. this is not pure theory : for example as long as joy fades away, indeed one might lose track. So before to look for equanimiy, one has to master entrance in joy, staying in joy, quitting joy. So, we do not need to know how long lasts a jhana, how long it's strong : we need to master their factors, one after the other.

Now, about Nimitta. Once again, it all depends. People have nimitta with weak concentration, because of faith. Some people with strong concentration have no nimitta. Some have visual hallucination, some have other kinds. Reading the suttas, we might conclude this object is not that important - otherwise it would be taught -, in one sense or in another : it is possible to advance without, but perceiving it is not an obstacle. Otherwise it would be taught. Many suttas do advise to look at factors. Several teachers consider at some point, factors become the real object of meditation. Well it's fair, since the mind is completely focused, there is not really anymore "subject/object", and even the sole distinction of an "object" is not really anymore meaningful. So to sumup the meditation might become a focus on either factors or object, actually the object is the factors in the end, and the factors are the object. And that means if someone has no "Nimitta" anyway he has the factors nimitta, which is the real nimitta, the one is taught in the Suttas.

paul
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Joined: Tue May 31, 2011 11:27 pm
Location: Vietnam

Re: Weak jhana with nimitta, strong without, and who cares

Post by paul » Tue Feb 13, 2018 6:01 am

All the points raised are covered here:
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... html#ch2.1

rageatm
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:37 pm

Re: Weak jhana with nimitta, strong without, and who cares

Post by rageatm » Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:08 am

paul wrote:
Tue Feb 13, 2018 6:01 am
All the points raised are covered here:
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... html#ch2.1
The link heads to "The Moral Foundation for Jhana", is that the part you mean? or maybe the whole text
Also according to Leigh Brasington then he (partly) changes his mind :http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

"The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation ~ Mahathera Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist Publication Society (a scholarly and much earlier work reflecting his earlier understanding) "

paul
Posts: 1273
Joined: Tue May 31, 2011 11:27 pm
Location: Vietnam

Re: Weak jhana with nimitta, strong without, and who cares

Post by paul » Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:23 am

What is meant is that the fundamental role of sila is overlooked as a necessary basis for samadhi. Then the complete text to address other questions.

rageatm
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:37 pm

Re: Weak jhana with nimitta, strong without, and who cares

Post by rageatm » Tue Feb 13, 2018 12:20 pm

paul wrote:
Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:23 am
What is meant is that the fundamental role of sila is overlooked as a necessary basis for samadhi. Then the complete text to address other questions.
ah ok sorry i was not sure you really meant this part -> have read it.

the quick argument i wrote did not address this topic of sila, however this does not imply sila has no role in samadhi. The behavior obviously has a very strong impact in meditation, which actually is just a tool for our real lives. Maybe the debate on strong / weak jhanas is too intrusive and trumps other points, which are less funny and shiny , but actually more important : this is how i understand your comment.

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