Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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Sudarsha
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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Sudarsha » Sat Oct 17, 2009 8:51 pm

Hello, again, thereductor

My tuppence, for what it might be worth, isn't generally along the lines of thought expressed by others here. Yes, if the first time you tried to meditate you fell into jhana, I suppose it would be quite surprising. But let us not neglect to remember that this is exactly what the Buddha himself described/remembered had happened to him as a child.

Two things seem to come into play: first, most of us are lay persons, householders, regular folks. We have rent and mortgages to pay, cars to maintain, children to feed, spouses to enjoy, jobs to do ... in short, we have many hindrances to our practice. Second, however, is the life of the monastic, very, very little to worry about, a great deal of unhindered time for practise.

However, with persistent practise, we learn to let go of the everyday distractions, hindrances and our meditation deepens. This is hardly something new to anyone, I suppose. I have been told point-blank by two revered monastics in the Theravada tradition that jhana is simply not possible. Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to inquire if they thought the Buddha only taught the Seven-Fold Path. Nor the presence of mind to ask why the Buddha would teach samma samadhi if it was not possible!

We so often cannot see the great hindrance of doubt. We are so often only willing to follow our faith in the Buddha just so far.

However, one of my teachers, Ajahn Punna Dhammo (http://www.arrowriver.ca) often teaches from the Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html). Here is, I think, one of the "keys" to the how to of jhana: let go.

And this is exactly what the Buddha did at that festival, as a child. He just let go. Remembering this as an adult, determined to find the solution to the conundrum of suffering, he sat and let go.

As my own practice continues to mature and as I am somewhat less burdened by ordinary hindrances owing to having retired, I find that it is easier to let go, to "sink" (not necessarily a very good word) deeper and deeper into focus/concentration. When we look at the Buddha's description and analysis of samma samadhi, we see that he is describing a process of recognition and letting go.

Simple as that?

Hardly. But I think doable. For the majority of practitioners, both insight/wisdom/understanding/recognition and clarity of practise develop hand in hand, the one encouraging and enabling the other. Thus, and not meant as criticism, I suspect that catmoon's description of sticking a finger into a light socket, as far as meditation experiences go, is somewhat rare. However, if we are able to participate in an extended retreat where, day-by-day we pick up nearer to where we left off the previous day (unlikely in our normal householder lives), then we are much more likely to experience deep conditions of clarity of awareness with little or nearly no hindrances to jhana.

Some interesting reading and listening you may find of value: Ayya Khema's Who is my Self ; Bhante Gunaratana has, on his web site, an MP3 of a jhana retreat which can be helpful; Bhante Vimalaramsi has an excellent text on meditation available to download from his web site as well as many recorded talks; a teacher I have recently encountered, Bhante Sujato (http://santipada.googlepages.com/), has some very insightful and I found very helpful writings and recordings. I especially liked A Swift Pair of Messengers.

But doing a "home" retreat is extremely difficult, requiring much discipline and, very sadly, retreats lead by accomplished teachers do not come cheap. This is simply an unhappy fact of our way of life. I think one can only practise and study, get to know one's abilities and strengths while being aware of weaknesses and things that have to have attention.

Then, I think, growth and even jhana, come by themselves.
Sudarsha
parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Oct 17, 2009 9:19 pm

Hi thereductor,

There is much good advice above.

I don't have a Jhana-oriented practise, but any meditation approach can lead to various blissful and calm states. I find the advice in MN111 Anupada Sutta: One After Another http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; to be useful whatever is arising:
"There was the case where Sariputta — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities — entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Whatever qualities there are in the first jhana — directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness,2 desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention — he ferreted them out one after another. Known to him they arose, known to him they remained, known to him they subsided. He discerned, 'So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.' He remained unattracted & unrepelled with regard to those qualities, independent, detached, released, dissociated, with an awareness rid of barriers. He discerned that 'There is a further escape,' and pursuing it there really was for him.
[Similar for all the jhanas and immaterial attainments.]
I've found keeping that in mind useful: No matter what is being experienced it is not to be clung to - there is a "further escape".

My opinion is that I don't see any downside in underestimating my attainments (I don't see what difference it would make to my practise). On the other hand, overestimating could be a serious problem.

Metta
Mike

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Rui Sousa » Sat Oct 17, 2009 10:24 pm

Hello thereductor,

Very good posts above, and very good advice. I will just add a thought.

My focus in practice, at the moment, is trying to understand what I experience. It used to be concentration and tranquility of mind, but now I feel that concentration is a tool to use in the path, not a goal in itself, and it is equally important as other aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path.

looking at it as a part of the Noble Eightfol Path, to wonder if it is Jhana or no Jhana, lie or no lie, slander or not slander, renunciation or not renunciation, awareness or not awareness, Right livelihood or wrong livelihood, or whatever other aspect of the path is just a doubt.

Maybe this doubt about Jhanas is an hindrance in your efforts to develop the Jhanas. ;)
With Metta

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Sudarsha » Sat Oct 17, 2009 10:38 pm

To paraphrase Browning: a person's reach should exceed his/her grasp, or what's jhana for?

Thanks, mikenz66, for the reference to MN111 Anupada Sutta: One After Another. At University, a friend quipped that God was like a dancer with 7 veils. Six had fallen away, but one remained, which is what made God so interesting. It's probably wicked on many levels, but that's also what makes meditation so captivating, the more we let go, the farther we reach, the farther we see we can and should reach. Finally we penetrate that last veil and, well, all is revealed!

The more we can keep consistent with daily practise, the more we can treat ourselves to a day of nothing but meditation, the more we welcome that far-reaching into our daily lives.

Worrying whether or not we or someone else has reached jhana is just another impediment to let go.

Many thanks, thereductor, for this very inspiring and revealing subject.
Sudarsha
parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by AdvaitaJ » Mon Oct 19, 2009 1:52 am

Hello thereductor,

I also don't have access to a teacher and am relying on books, podcasts, and this forum. If you haven't already, I highly recommend a book by Shaila Catherine titled Focused and Fearless... I also liked Ajahn Brahm's Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond, but have found Catherine's book to be much more tightly focused on jhana practice without some of the ambiguities of Ajahn Brahm's more generalized work.

It is quite the intriguing paradox to have a goal that requires you to genuinely put aside striving for it in order to achieve it.

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 3:30 am

My understanding is that to develop proper jhana, one has to have sila established (extended precepts, including celibacy). Please correct me if I am wrong.

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Ben » Mon Oct 19, 2009 3:56 am

Hi Dan
My teacher contends that not only established, but perfect. Hence, it is neigh-on impossible to experience jhana in the midst of the 'dusty life of a houselholder'.
Kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Oct 19, 2009 3:58 am

Greetings Ben,

How perfect is perfect though?

Would those who have attained the jhanas prior to the establishment of the Buddhasasana have had the same perfected sila of the Buddha?

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 4:03 am

retrofuturist wrote: Would those who have attained the jhanas prior to the establishment of the Buddhasasana have had the same perfected sila of the Buddha?
There's nothing peculiarly Buddhist about Sila or clinging to sensual pleasures:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .ntbb.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
12. "Though certain recluses and brahmans claim to propound the full understanding of all kinds of clinging... they describe the full understanding of clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, and clinging to rules and observances without describing the full understanding of clinging to a doctrine of self. They do not understand one instance... therefore they describe only the full understanding of clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, and clinging to rules and observances without describing the full understanding of clinging to a doctrine of self.
Mike
Last edited by mikenz66 on Mon Oct 19, 2009 4:07 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Ben » Mon Oct 19, 2009 4:05 am

Hi Retro
As you may recall, I had a dilemma recently regarding an issue of sila at work (requested to participate in an event where I would be asked to serve alcohol), after speaking to my spiritual mentor, he reminded me of the formula that was mentioned on the long course I attended a few years ago. And I think this would form the basis of perfecting the silas:

Perfected in three ways. Not performing the action, not encouraging others to perform an action we would not do, nor not approving of someone else to do something we would not do.

I think those ascetics who attained to the eighth jhana before the Buddhasasana had just as perfect sila as the Buddha, but not perfected the paramitas to the same extent.

Hi AJ,
AdvaitaJ wrote:It is quite the intriguing paradox to have a goal that requires you to genuinely put aside striving for it in order to achieve it.
Quite! It was something that I had to face in the long course. Even subtle craving for jhana seemed to be a barrier.
metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 4:10 am

Ben wrote:Hi Dan
My teacher contends that not only established, but perfect. Hence, it is neigh-on impossible to experience jhana in the midst of the 'dusty life of a houselholder'.
Kind regards

Ben
I am guessing (and from what I recall reading) to establish jhana, one really needs 100% focus and that can't be "in the midst of the 'dusty life of a house-holder.'" Not to say that at a later stage one cannot return to household life. But it will not be the same of course.

I am speculating here, so I will stop.

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Ben » Mon Oct 19, 2009 4:36 am

Absolutely. A retreat environment, preferably silent and secluded from the usual distractions of the world, and if one has a spouse, permission to go.
metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Reductor » Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:19 am

When it comes to sila, I would just suggest ambition thinking. Think about how poor sila affects your mediation now: you mind finds it's way back to the offense, and either dwells with regret, or dwells with regret and a little pleasure (guilty pleasures, anyone?). If you have resolved on perfecting your sila, and are making a consistent effort in regular life, then you sila will improve for sure, leaving less to regret. In your effort to perfect sila you will find yourself scrutinizing all that you do, looking to see if it is inline or not, and if not then why not. It is by doing this that you see it's drawbacks, and by seeing drawbacks more clearly there will be less pleasure derived from those guilty pleasures. Even those thoughts and desires that normally knocked you on your ass will carry less punch, and, although it is hard, you will be able to do battle with them as they push on you.

When you sit down to meditate you might not have perfected sila, but you will have the peace of mind that comes from non-complacency. Knowing that you are putting up that fight, that you are resolved on victory, one way or another, is what I think gives mediation the real spark it needs.

Just a thought.

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Re: Jhana: yes, no, neither, could be? Hmm?

Post by Ben » Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:37 am

Hi thereductor
There are some excellent benefits to sila, no doubt.
When we breach our sila, we create agitation in our mind and plant the seeds of particular types of citta that make it impossible to develop samadhi - let alone sammasamadhi. Samadhi is dependent on sila. You can't develop jhana without sila.
metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Re: Jhana: could be?

Post by IanAnd » Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:14 am

thereductor wrote: Now days I don't get the big body, nor the small body, sense anymore, but just a gradual awakening of the body as the mind also calms and latches onto the breath. A point comes where the breath and my attention do not separate, with the body feeling like a statue: present, relaxed, comfortable and seemingly immovable. I can move, but there seems almost no inclination in the mind to move, even when pain sets in (from sitting on a hard floor I do experience the onset of pain after a time; not sure how long into it). At that point I can rest with the breath as backdrop with very little effort. Mostly I just avoid adjusting the breath and this state will persist. If I focus in on the breath again then things start to change.

There's more, but maybe I should stop here. Mostly, does this sound like it's progressing how it should?
Hello thereductor,

Although we have never met, I've been around these Buddhist forums for quite some time. I'm also a former monastic (Western contemplative monastic, old Catholic) who left the religious order several years ago to take up a study of Buddhist meditation and the Dhamma. Also, I've been a meditator for over 29 years, the last nine of which I have practiced Theravada Buddhist meditation techniques as taught in the discourses. I have also read/contemplated most of the Nikayas in translation (Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, and 1/10 of the Anguttara Nikayas, along with volumes in the Khuddaka Nikaya: the Itivuttaka, the Udana, and the Sutta Nipata). Over the last nine years I have been able to corroborate my meditative experience and Dhamma understanding with other highly developed Buddhist practitioners, both in person and over the internet, so I have a fairly solid background in the Dhamma and meditation practice. The bulk of my work in Buddhist meditation has taken place during a five year period of secluded practice devoted solely to the practice (i.e. no outside involvements) on private retreat (quite a luxury, I might add, if you can afford to do it). Indeed, I live in seclusion even today. Since I am not tied to any monastic vows or niceties that might prohibit my speaking about my experience, I am able to speak freely about that which I have experienced.

From your description above, it does sound as though you could be experiencing absorption. It is not so much the various sensations or images that one should necessarily go by in order to arrive at this determination as it is the unification of mental faculties on the object of meditation, just as you have described above. While there can be a variety of experiential sensations that one in absorption experiences in the beginning stages of the practice (much of which can be due to the preconceptions set up in the mind regarding whatever the meditator has read or been otherwise taught of these descriptions), the most telling is the establishment of the mind in unification on an object or subject wherein the mind is malleable, workable, imperturbable, and it will go with ease wherever the person directs it to go for knowing and seeing phenomena.

Absorption helps establish the mind in concentration (that is, it helps one to strengthen one's ability at concentration). The time one spends in samadhi assists in conditioning the mind to remain still and calm, not only during meditation, but also during moments of normal consciousness. Gradually, the mind's calm is extended more and more into one's waking conscious moments, which in turn helps strengthen concentration abilities there also.

As others here have pointed out, sila is important when establishing a Buddhist practice in meditation. This is primarily for very obvious reasons: a mind that is restless or worried about one's erstwhile immoral or unethical worldly behavior is not a calm mind ready to experience even more stillness. A guilty or troubled conscience can be a restless mind indeed. You seem to have a decent understanding of this as your description of the level of sila necessary for successful meditation would qualify you ("When you sit down to meditate you might not have perfected sila, but you will have the peace of mind that comes from non-complacency.")

If you have any further questions and you feel comfortable about asking them, I'm open to them.

In peace,
Ian
Last edited by IanAnd on Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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