Zazen and the Jhanas

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
alan...
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by alan... » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:13 am

Huseng wrote:
I often find Chan unsystematic and baffling.

fully agree! so much amazing potential and very real practical ideas that seem to function beautifully, but alas, spun in a web of conflicting ideas or at best, ideas that are not systematized in any consistent manner, leaving the practitioner out in the cold so to speak. as always, the key is to find a good teacher, but there in lies the real challenge: who is a good teacher?

back to the topic at hand, i too have heard zen and chan practitioners claiming their methods to be superior. in particular silent illumination. i in some way find this plausible. if one could actualize all reality at one moment and see through delusion by using the singular method of looking DIRECTLY at reality it seems one could make nearly instant progress. but then, as mentioned above, without a good teacher where does one find a foothold on this mountain of a task? there's no steps to be found, no rungs on the ladder, it's just a sheer cliff face. limitless potential at the summit, but without some seriously skilled instruction it's VERY difficult. whereas jhana can be learned from a book with some dedication, effort and comparison to the suttas, because it was designed from the ground up to be step by step and an easily transmitted skill.

alan...
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by alan... » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:30 am

BuddhaSoup wrote::goodpost: , Huseng.

It's my impression that so much of what is practiced in the US these days is far more "Zen," or the American new-age post Beat type stuff that has cemented itself well in the practice of Zen, but, to me, is now Zen, but really not so much Buddhism. I have noted in some Zen sanghas almost a reluctance to acknowledge Gautama Buddha, and a suggestion that the Agamas/Nikayas are to be forgotten or ignored. I feel that Zen in the west has evolved, and in doing so, moved further away from the original path and onto a path almost entirely of its own design. The evolution does seem to have root in not early Mahayana, but in later Mahayana, where there seems almost a perjorative attitude taken toward the early teachings of Buddha. What seems to have emerged is a grand tradition of storytelling, with later sutras designed to characterize the Buddha as a god, a mythical deity, a supernatural being. I have the sense that some of the Zen patriarchs were really carving out for themselves new philosophical territories at the expense of what they themselves were taught when they were young monks. Dogen may be just one example of this phenomenon.

I note that a few years ago, after sitting sesshin for a few days, all of us sitting, and sitting and sitting, with no instruction and no perspective on the sitting, one of the priests at the zendo, in a private moment, cut loose with " all this sitting is just bulls**t!" I think what he was trying to express was that in Zen, the marathon sessions of silent sitting were not what Buddha taught, and seemed not to be doing much for anyone other than seeing whose knees and backs could withstand the torture the longest.

There is such a beauty and strength to Mahayana practice. The bodhisattva ideal is absolutely the proper template for practice in the modern world, and it's my feeling that Gautama himself is still such a strong example of that ideal. Early Mahayana took the traditional practices and in so many ways expanded and energized the teachings, in a very authentic way. Yet, modern Zen may need to be careful that in throwing out the bathwater (the Agamas) it doesn't toss out the baby (Shakyamuni Buddha) as well.
i've heard many people say on multiple occasions that zen can and does exist independently of buddhism! how absurd! it has it's existence from day one inside buddhism. without buddhism there never would have been any zen. so yes you're not alone in noticing this odd trend of ignoring everything and making zen something new and different.

teachers saying "all this sitting is just bullsh**t!" is kind of odd. however the buddha did teach to sit in meditation, likely in marathons. however he taught jhana. one who learns jhana is in limitless bliss for hours at a time. sitting zazen is not jhana and so unless one has actualized nirvana with this method one will probably not be ready to enjoy extremely long stretches of sitting in this fashion. in my experience it was as you said, painful, torturous, some moments of clarity, but mostly just painfully looking at the floor for an hour. whereas in jhana you close your eyes and enter the amazingly pleasant jhana spheres one by one, your body doesn't even exist let alone bother you. this is probably the difference. i never understood the monks looking blissed out at the zendo, gently swaying unconsciously while sitting with perfect composure. perhaps they had penetrated the heart of this method? once one has entered ultimate reality i imagine zazen feels as good or maybe even better than jhana for hours at a time!

zazen being "goalless" means you set a timer and try to sit it out without looking at the clock (until one reaches ultimate reality obviously, then it's a different story!). jhana is very goal oriented, so you sit with a clear plan in mind, for example: practice anapanasati up to access concentration, enter the first jhana, bliss out for as long as you please, then come out and contemplate the arising of thoughts, the body, the mind, etc. (or whatever you want, there are many methods). timers serve no purpose once you learn how to enter jhana anymore than they do once you learn how to paint a picture: you paint it until you are done with it or satisfied with your progress as you have a clear idea of what you are going to do. but i imagine timers are extremely important for zazen practitioners until they learn to enter ultimate reality. i never got this far unfortunately, and i always hated the darn clock! the bell was release from zazen, the achievement of a goal instead of trying to reach a goal in the meditation itself, i was just proud when i waited it out without thinking about it or checking the time. now i bliss out, sometimes i have no idea how long i sit, my wife has had to come get me before as i pay no attention to how long it has been. then i lie back and contemplate reality with my jhana focused mind.

again i feel that the zen methods have total potential and are very important to the tradition, but they're easy to get frustrated with as the only reward is the end goal which is as far away as it is in theravada but in theravada you are in bliss until you get there. even if you never get there you enjoy the ride. i felt like i wasted years practicing zazen because i had no fruit for all of my work. now even if i gain no new insights or anything even for a month at a time i still crave the joy of jhana meditation (and no i'm not a jhana junkie, i still contemplate reality and my main practice is satipatthana).

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m0rl0ck
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by m0rl0ck » Sun Dec 09, 2012 12:23 pm

alan... wrote:sitting zazen is not jhana and so unless one has actualized nirvana with this method one will probably not be ready to enjoy extremely long stretches of sitting in this fashion. in my experience it was as you said, painful, torturous, some moments of clarity, but mostly just painfully looking at the floor for an hour. whereas in jhana you close your eyes
I was waiting for someone to mention the eyes. It does make a difference in the quality of concentration. Additionally, zazen and silent illumination can be extremely pleasant experiences if one has good concentration and the ability to relax and surrender. Dogen called zazen "peacfulness and blessedness itself" and my experience with chan methods bears this out.

Chan and zen methods are misunderstood because most of those willing to talk about them lack sufficient experience of them. I would suppose this is true of jhana methods too.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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Anagarika
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by Anagarika » Sun Dec 09, 2012 2:14 pm

alan... wrote: i've heard many people say on multiple occasions that zen can and does exist independently of buddhism! how absurd! it has it's existence from day one inside buddhism. without buddhism there never would have been any zen. so yes you're not alone in noticing this odd trend of ignoring everything and making zen something new and different.

teachers saying "all this sitting is just bullsh**t!" is kind of odd. however the buddha did teach to sit in meditation, likely in marathons. however he taught jhana. one who learns jhana is in limitless bliss for hours at a time. sitting zazen is not jhana and so unless one has actualized nirvana with this method one will probably not be ready to enjoy extremely long stretches of sitting in this fashion. in my experience it was as you said, painful, torturous, some moments of clarity, but mostly just painfully looking at the floor for an hour. whereas in jhana you close your eyes and enter the amazingly pleasant jhana spheres one by one, your body doesn't even exist let alone bother you. this is probably the difference. i never understood the monks looking blissed out at the zendo, gently swaying unconsciously while sitting with perfect composure. perhaps they had penetrated the heart of this method? once one has entered ultimate reality i imagine zazen feels as good or maybe even better than jhana for hours at a time!

zazen being "goalless" means you set a timer and try to sit it out without looking at the clock (until one reaches ultimate reality obviously, then it's a different story!). jhana is very goal oriented, so you sit with a clear plan in mind, for example: practice anapanasati up to access concentration, enter the first jhana, bliss out for as long as you please, then come out and contemplate the arising of thoughts, the body, the mind, etc. (or whatever you want, there are many methods). timers serve no purpose once you learn how to enter jhana anymore than they do once you learn how to paint a picture: you paint it until you are done with it or satisfied with your progress as you have a clear idea of what you are going to do. but i imagine timers are extremely important for zazen practitioners until they learn to enter ultimate reality. i never got this far unfortunately, and i always hated the darn clock! the bell was release from zazen, the achievement of a goal instead of trying to reach a goal in the meditation itself, i was just proud when i waited it out without thinking about it or checking the time. now i bliss out, sometimes i have no idea how long i sit, my wife has had to come get me before as i pay no attention to how long it has been. then i lie back and contemplate reality with my jhana focused mind.

again i feel that the zen methods have total potential and are very important to the tradition, but they're easy to get frustrated with as the only reward is the end goal which is as far away as it is in theravada but in theravada you are in bliss until you get there. even if you never get there you enjoy the ride. i felt like i wasted years practicing zazen because i had no fruit for all of my work. now even if i gain no new insights or anything even for a month at a time i still crave the joy of jhana meditation (and no i'm not a jhana junkie, i still contemplate reality and my main practice is satipatthana).
:goodpost:

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convivium
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by convivium » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:53 pm

it seems important to distinguish between dogen zen and soto zen in general. i prefer the former, while i don't resonate with a lot of the teachings that fall under the wider umbrella of 'soto'. in the suzuki roshi lineage, they are open to satipatthana practice. however, the jhanas are not taught. certain teachers within the lineage will sympathize with jhana practice while others won't. however, if you 'do' jhana without making distinctions or maps (in general) and just by way of anapanasati (in it's minimalist forms) then it's essentially zazen. that's what i gathered from my three months at tassajara.
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php

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m0rl0ck
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by m0rl0ck » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:02 pm

convivium wrote:it seems important to distinguish between dogen zen and soto zen in general. i prefer the former, while i don't resonate with a lot of the teachings that fall under the wider umbrella of 'soto'. in the suzuki roshi lineage, they are open to satipatthana practice. however, the jhanas are not taught. certain teachers within the lineage will sympathize with jhana practice while others won't. however, if you 'do' jhana without making distinctions or maps (in general) and just by way of anapanasati (in it's minimalist forms) then it's essentially zazen. that's what i gathered from my three months at tassajara.
I have read and heard that dogen used koans, what are the other differences between dogen and soto ? I thought dogen was revered as the founder of soto zen and that was where soto looked for its methodological grounding, ie "just sitting".
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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convivium
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by convivium » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:14 pm

Dogen's koans aren't in the rinzai style. they are more like poetic sutras. To answer your question very handwaivingly, other soto teachers emphasize doctrines like buddha nature etc. in a way i don't like. if you are interested in dogen studies i'd recommend anything by Okumura to begin with. Also if your interested in reading the Shobogenzo itself the Nishijima/Cross edition as the Tanahashi version are the best, if you can get your hands on them. Having said that, there's a lot of bad Dogen scholarship to watch out for. edit: soto is a mahayana school; these schools don't often stay the same over time.
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php

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m0rl0ck
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by m0rl0ck » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:25 pm

convivium wrote:Dogen's koans aren't in the rinzai style. they are more like poetic sutras. To answer your question very handwaivingly, other soto teachers emphasize doctrines like buddha nature etc. in a way i don't like. if you are interested in dogen studies i'd recommend anything by Okumura to begin with. Also if your interested in reading the Shobogenzo itself the Nishijima/Cross edition as the Tanahashi version are the best, if you can get your hands on them. Having said that, there's a lot of bad Dogen scholarship to watch out for. edit: soto is a mahayana school; these schools don't often stay the same over time.
Ive read some dogen various places by various translators, just wanted to know your thoughts, thanks :)
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

alan...
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by alan... » Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:33 am

m0rl0ck wrote:
convivium wrote:it seems important to distinguish between dogen zen and soto zen in general. i prefer the former, while i don't resonate with a lot of the teachings that fall under the wider umbrella of 'soto'. in the suzuki roshi lineage, they are open to satipatthana practice. however, the jhanas are not taught. certain teachers within the lineage will sympathize with jhana practice while others won't. however, if you 'do' jhana without making distinctions or maps (in general) and just by way of anapanasati (in it's minimalist forms) then it's essentially zazen. that's what i gathered from my three months at tassajara.
I have read and heard that dogen used koans, what are the other differences between dogen and soto ? I thought dogen was revered as the founder of soto zen and that was where soto looked for its methodological grounding, ie "just sitting".

dogen did use koans, for some reason long after his death the soto school decided to stop using them. as far as i know he is revered as the founder and in some circles his writings are far more important than sutra. yes soto looks to him for "just sitting" but he was taught the idea from a caodong teacher in china, the original method is silent illumination popularized by hongzhi. dogen took it to japan and dogenized it. now it's fairly different from silent illumination but still the same at the core i believe, although many would differ on that point.

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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by lojong1 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:15 am

Christopherxx wrote:Is it possible for their practice to have such experiences as defined in our tradition.
Taiwanese Dharma Drum Mountain Soto and Rinzai Master Sheng Yen (deceased; not the shady Living Buddha Sheng Yen) talked about Jhanas happening with his methods--nothing special but a sign of progress--and they looked doable to me, at least on the Soto side, with personal guidance.
One of his students in North America (though not the head successor) considers breath meditation inferior, only useful for the most just-startingest of beginners. I think Shen Yen had good Dhizzle, and hope he left it in good hands.

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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by alan... » Mon Jan 14, 2013 8:18 am

lojong1 wrote:
Christopherxx wrote:Is it possible for their practice to have such experiences as defined in our tradition.
Taiwanese Dharma Drum Mountain Soto and Rinzai Master Sheng Yen (deceased; not the shady Living Buddha Sheng Yen) talked about Jhanas happening with his methods--nothing special but a sign of progress--and they looked doable to me, at least on the Soto side, with personal guidance.
One of his students in North America (though not the head successor) considers breath meditation inferior, only useful for the most just-startingest of beginners. I think Shen Yen had good Dhizzle, and hope he left it in good hands.
this is how zen goes, whoever says things and is believed can re write or change whatever they want, when they pass their successors can do the same. there is no solid base to look upon for hard and fast rules.

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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by tiltbillings » Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:23 am

alan... wrote:
lojong1 wrote:
Christopherxx wrote:Is it possible for their practice to have such experiences as defined in our tradition.
Taiwanese Dharma Drum Mountain Soto and Rinzai Master Sheng Yen (deceased; not the shady Living Buddha Sheng Yen) talked about Jhanas happening with his methods--nothing special but a sign of progress--and they looked doable to me, at least on the Soto side, with personal guidance.
One of his students in North America (though not the head successor) considers breath meditation inferior, only useful for the most just-startingest of beginners. I think Shen Yen had good Dhizzle, and hope he left it in good hands.
this is how zen goes, whoever says things and is believed can re write or change whatever they want, when they pass their successors can do the same. there is no solid base to look upon for hard and fast rules.
Though, what you are saying about Zen teachers is something of an exaggeration, you do not think that is not true for Theravadin teachers?
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by alan... » Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:19 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Though, what you are saying about Zen teachers is something of an exaggeration, you do not think that is not true for Theravadin teachers?
it is to a degree but the deliberate non reliance on texts in zen makes this more of a snowball kind of issue. the ball keeps getting bigger and bigger and nothing stops it whereas in theravada if some teacher gets too far from the original texts someone will melt that ball by holding it up to the heat of the canon. compare the dogen version of zen to what it was before. VERY different. soto maintains some consistency today because they use dogen's writings very much in the same way theravada uses the pali canon, but other schools such as modern caodong lineages and what not are constantly changing. also compare different teachers of zen to their fore bearers teachings and to their contemporaries, huge differences. look at what bodhidharma supposedly taught and compare it to linjii or hakuin. compare yunmen wenyan to dogen and so on. it's night and day. of course held together with some key points but other than that they are frequently totally different.

however if we look at theravada we have more consistencey between teachers. the reason for this being that these teachers have to be able to reconcile their teachings with the pali canon. even if it's a forced match up with ambiguous definitions of the suttas, it still has to fit. in zen they can do whatever they want and as long as the master is respected it will be accepted as fact. in theravada if we compare different teachers there is less stark contrast. surely there is great variation and differences but not as dramatic as in zen.

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Dan74
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by Dan74 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:31 pm

alan... wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Though, what you are saying about Zen teachers is something of an exaggeration, you do not think that is not true for Theravadin teachers?
it is to a degree but the deliberate non reliance on texts in zen makes this more of a snowball kind of issue. the ball keeps getting bigger and bigger and nothing stops it whereas in theravada if some teacher gets too far from the original texts someone will melt that ball by holding it up to the heat of the canon. compare the dogen version of zen to what it was before. VERY different. soto maintains some consistency today because they use dogen's writings very much in the same way theravada uses the pali canon, but other schools such as modern caodong lineages and what not are constantly changing. also compare different teachers of zen to their fore bearers teachings and to their contemporaries, huge differences. look at what bodhidharma supposedly taught and compare it to linjii or hakuin. compare yunmen wenyan to dogen and so on. it's night and day. of course held together with some key points but other than that they are frequently totally different.

however if we look at theravada we have more consistencey between teachers. the reason for this being that these teachers have to be able to reconcile their teachings with the pali canon. even if it's a forced match up with ambiguous definitions of the suttas, it still has to fit. in zen they can do whatever they want and as long as the master is respected it will be accepted as fact. in theravada if we compare different teachers there is less stark contrast. surely there is great variation and differences but not as dramatic as in zen.
Dogen was a Mahayana scholar and would not dream of contradicting the scriptures. His Zen as I see it, is in line with at least a large portion of Mahayana and earlier Chan canon. What did you find in Dogen that was a departure from Mahayana Buddhism as it then was?
_/|\_

alan...
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Post by alan... » Mon Jan 14, 2013 8:32 pm

Dan74 wrote:
alan... wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Though, what you are saying about Zen teachers is something of an exaggeration, you do not think that is not true for Theravadin teachers?
it is to a degree but the deliberate non reliance on texts in zen makes this more of a snowball kind of issue. the ball keeps getting bigger and bigger and nothing stops it whereas in theravada if some teacher gets too far from the original texts someone will melt that ball by holding it up to the heat of the canon. compare the dogen version of zen to what it was before. VERY different. soto maintains some consistency today because they use dogen's writings very much in the same way theravada uses the pali canon, but other schools such as modern caodong lineages and what not are constantly changing. also compare different teachers of zen to their fore bearers teachings and to their contemporaries, huge differences. look at what bodhidharma supposedly taught and compare it to linjii or hakuin. compare yunmen wenyan to dogen and so on. it's night and day. of course held together with some key points but other than that they are frequently totally different.

however if we look at theravada we have more consistencey between teachers. the reason for this being that these teachers have to be able to reconcile their teachings with the pali canon. even if it's a forced match up with ambiguous definitions of the suttas, it still has to fit. in zen they can do whatever they want and as long as the master is respected it will be accepted as fact. in theravada if we compare different teachers there is less stark contrast. surely there is great variation and differences but not as dramatic as in zen.
Dogen was a Mahayana scholar and would not dream of contradicting the scriptures. His Zen as I see it, is in line with at least a large portion of Mahayana and earlier Chan canon. What did you find in Dogen that was a departure from Mahayana Buddhism as it then was?
he was not departing from Scripture he was departing from traditional zen methods and created his own school, probably without realizing it.

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