The Great Jhana Debate

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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mikenz66
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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Oct 21, 2017 8:48 pm

aflatun wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:21 pm
What I find myself questioning are the very terms of the debate.
:thinking:

It certainly is curious that the description of this key aspect of the path is described in the suttas in such a way that allows such different interpretations:
“And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration.”
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn45.8/11


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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:44 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:46 am
Hmm, I think we are talking at cross purposes. Quite apart from the summary given above, Ven Thanissaro (among others) certainly talks about being about hear and so on in jhana. Ven Brahm and others claim that that would not be real jhana. I'm not sure why you're not getting my point that different teachers (and posters on this Forum) have different interpretations of what constitutes jhana according to the suttas..
I wasn't really trying to agree with your points, but I was mostly giving my thoughts on Leigh Brasington's interpretations which you gave (not necessarily discrediting them, but just discussing), as well as stating what I considered actual jhāna in relation to it since I think my own interpretation of jhāna was an important part regarding my previous posts. I do get that different teachers and members have different interpretations of jhāna from the Suttas—that's obvious (I hope I wasn't giving the opposite impression).

Cheers.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:53 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:46 am
[...]
But I did make an important point that Ajahn Brahm bases his understanding of jhānas on the Suttas, and while they might not be as deep as say how Buddhaghosa/Visuddhimagga describes jhānas, they are definitely much deeper (no external perceptions) than those who would consider "jhāna-lite" as being the Sutta jhānas.

Therefore, "jhāna-lite" (Leigh Brasington, Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, etc.) might not necessarily be Sutta jhāna; and "jhāna-medium" (Ahahn Brahm, other monks) might not necessarily be Sutta jhāna as well—meaning that even Leigh Brasington, when claiming that his interpretation of jhāna is the Sutta jhānas, is making the same exact mistake.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Oct 22, 2017 5:53 am

I still don't see the use of the term "sutta jhana". From my reading (and listening to talks) I see little difference in depth between the depth of jhana described by Vens Brahm/Analayo/Sujato/etc and the Visuddhimagga. Whereas the difference between them and Ven Vimalaramsi, for example, is huge.

I have a suggestion. Rather than trying to guess about "depth", it might be more useful to put a dividing line between
those who say that it is possible to develop insight within jhana and those who say that one must emerge from jhana first. That seems like a fairly clear distinction, with Brahm/Analayo/Sujato/Visuddhimagga clearly in the latter category, and the so-called sutta jhana teachers in the former.

I hasten to reiterate that I do not know who is "correct" about this point, since my practice is at nowhere near that level (as far as I can understand it).

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by pyluyten » Sun Oct 22, 2017 7:23 am

samseva wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:53 am
mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:46 am
[...]
But I did make an important point that Ajahn Brahm bases his understanding of jhānas on the Suttas, and while they might not be as deep as say how Buddhaghosa/Visuddhimagga describes jhānas, they are definitely much deeper (no external perceptions) than those who would consider "jhāna-lite" as being the Sutta jhānas.

Therefore, "jhāna-lite" (Leigh Brasington, Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, etc.) might not necessarily be Sutta jhāna; and "jhāna-medium" (Ahahn Brahm, other monks) might not necessarily be Sutta jhāna as well—meaning that even Leigh Brasington, when claiming that his interpretation of jhāna is the Sutta jhānas, is making the same exact mistake.
there is indeed a huge issue, origin of many subtopics : we cannot reliably measure states of mind. Some try to find criteria like the time one is able to meditate, light perception (nimitta as in commentaries), hearing of external sounds. This is a workaround, live with it...

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Re: Monks Average Meditation Routine

Post by cjmacie » Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:27 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:09 am
...Sutta/VM is not a useful division. It seems to have been coined by Leigh Brasington, who writes:
http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm
Leigh, at least in conversations with him on a retreat a couple of years ago, derives “sutta-jhāna” from Rodney Bucknell’s paper “Reinterpreting the Jhānas” (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (JIAMS), Volume 16, No. 2, Winter 1993), and Bucknell’s further sources in writings of Paul Griffiths (“Buddhist Jhānas: A Form-Critical Study”, in Religion, Volume 13, Issue 1, 1983) and Martin Stuart-Fox (“Jhānas and Buddhist Scholaticism” in JIAMS, Volume 12, No. 2, 1989). – All of which available on-line, and all having been subject to negatively critical review by a number of more respected scholars.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by aflatun » Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:30 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 8:48 pm
aflatun wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:21 pm
What I find myself questioning are the very terms of the debate.
:thinking:

It certainly is curious that the description of this key aspect of the path is described in the suttas in such a way that allows such different interpretations:
“And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration.”
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn45.8/11


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Mike
Yes! Curious and for me sometimes disheartening, as very intelligent, well equipped and well meaning individuals come to different conclusions about what it all means.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by cjmacie » Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:34 pm

.
About the discussion of the relationship of jhāna and samma-samādhi:

Samma” – one of it’s meanings is “tuned”, as in musical instruments. All 8 factors, correctly tuned together and established, constitute the Path that Buddha taught.

On the other hand, that the Buddha used jhāna as samma-samādhi doesn’t mean jhāna can’t be used for other purposes. (To perhaps echo a point made by others here.) There’s good evidence that Vedic/Brahmanic practitioners used it, but sans the integration in a path insight directed at achieving mental liberation in this life, i.e. they used it more or less as temporary escape from suffering, along a path which was fulfilled in post-death merger with some Self-Brahma sort of thing. At least that’s the picture I get from some study of that tradition.

Jhāna is, in Sanskrit, dhyāna, which most generally means sitting still there “meditating”. It would seem perfectly plausible that anyone doing that extensively could happen across full absorption, which is, after all, a distinctive mental capability that can be trained as a skill, independently of any particular religious dhamma system. Using it to hone the mind for penetrative insight into the nature of phenomenal experience (deconstruction of anicca, dukkha, anatta etc.), in integrated partnership with sila and paññā, is another matter, which what distinguishes the Buddha’s discovery.

And vis-a-vis the discussion as to whether sensory stimuli are perceived in jhāna or not, it depends on what’s meant by perception. I find it quite plausible that one can, at least at the earlier (1st to 3rd) stages, be “aware” in some sense that external stimuli are present (the bare mind-moments of passive contact), but the mind, being unified, stilled (some say “frozen”, but that’s a bit extreme), doesn’t react, doesn’t engage and further interact with those stimuli; it’s as if they bounce-off a sort of invisible shell surrounding the absorbed mind. With deeper absorption (4th stage and beyond), the mind is beyond reach of any awareness of contact with external stimuli. Possibly excepting relatively violent intrusions that can knock the mind out of absorption, and for one maybe not having fully mastered the skill.

(Relatively deep psychedelic experience offers a comparison here. There the mind can become artificially disabled from higher-order cognitive processing of sensory stimuli; a forced sort of absorption into more primitive layers of consciousness. Colors, shapes, sounds etc. are there but the mind is incapable of integrating them with memories, associations, concepts, etc. One doesn’t “hear” music, or “see” a painting in the conventional sense, but only fascinating (but otherwise meaningless) swirls of visual and auditory effects. This doesn’t involve skill or understanding, per se, but can lead, upon later reflection, to insight into the distinction between the nervous system functions of receiving sensory stimuli and the activities of the (intact) mental powers of higher cognition; can open the door to realizing the difference between pure phenomena (bare appearance) and “reality” (their meaning as supplied by the mind). )

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by cjmacie » Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:42 pm

.
As boring as jhāna-war debates have become, I’ve come to a perspective that works well in clarifying it all, and which pertains to sub-topics raised here:

Anchoring at perhaps the most important moment in the life of practice – attainment of any of the 4 Paths – it’s been well-presented that at that immediately prior to that moment a practitioner achieves an ultimately intense degree of samādhi; the mind is so trained and concentrated as to be in position to break-through in a fundamental transformation.

The best formulation of this I’ve found in the writings of the Mahasi Sayadaw, though it’s also found in many other variations in the teachings of other authoritative teachers. His formulation is that totally established sammā-samādhi is required to achieve path – i.e. as that factor is the final step in the 8-FNP – and although the Buddha usually spoke of this with reference to jhāna, it’s plausibly interpreted in later (commentarial) tradition, and on the basis of millennia of generations of practical experience in the matter, that the necessary degree of sammā-samādhi can be furnished using any of the three basic forms of samādhi : upacara­-samādhi (“access concentration”), vipassana-khanika-samādhi (“momentary concentration”), as well as appana-samādhi (the absorption of jhāna) – the key ingredient being the consummate intensity which can be achieved with, and can be comparable across any of these three types. With the proviso that whatever the concentration, it’s highly cultivated and intensified. Many of the popular “easy” methods don’t really cut it.

Differentiating factors include the propensity (innate temperament) of the practitioner, and other conditioning such as method taught and extensively trained in. Accepting that different flavors of samādhi work for different people could (but probably not in fact) help to truncate these on-and-on discussions. What generates the debate (samsāra-like, with no determinable beginning or ending) appears to be people taking as dogmatic (ekāyano, so to speak – arguing the “only” way) personal viewpoints related to this or that definition, as well as a large range of depth of actual practical experience. These positions are often supported with detailed interpretations of this or that sutta passage, and quite often influenced by unexamined biases with respect to the meanings of various English words used in the translations.

btw: Appreciating the difference between appana-samādhi (absorbed jhāna) and vipassana-khanika-samādhi (“momentary concentration") could help cut through the confusion as to whether insight happens afterwards (the former), or during (the latter) type of samādhi.
Last edited by cjmacie on Mon Oct 23, 2017 5:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:26 pm

aflatun wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:30 pm
mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 8:48 pm
It certainly is curious that the description of this key aspect of the path is described in the suttas in such a way that allows such different interpretations: ...
Yes! Curious and for me sometimes disheartening, as very intelligent, well equipped and well meaning individuals come to different conclusions about what it all means.
Yes, of course it bothers me less off-line, where nuances of one's practice can be better explored, and there is much less polarization into this or that approach being "right".

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:37 pm

cjmacie wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:42 pm
btw: Appreciating the difference between appana-samādhi (absorbed jhāna) vipassana-khanika-samādhi (“momentary concentration") could help cut through the confusion as to whether insight happens afterwards (the former), or during (the latter) type of samādhi.
Yes, I guess we might as well use the well-established terms.

If one is in a charitable mood, perhaps both momentary and absorbed concentration could reasonably be considered jhana on the basis of the basic definitions in the suttas. So the levels of concentration of Vens Vimalaramsi, Thanissaro, etc are jhana-allowing-insight and those of Vens Brahm/etc require withdrawing from the absorption for insight, but in either case insight is possible. With these definitions, "vipassana" approaches such as those taught by Mahasi or Goenka (and, of course, "dry-insight" in the Visuddhimagga) fall into the momentary-concentration-jhana category.

As pointed out by Brahm/Zom/etc, there are sutta passages that seem to talk about the absorbed version, which is presumably where the Visuddhimagga definitions are derived from.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by cjmacie » Mon Oct 23, 2017 5:41 am

Note: Edited the quotation you cited adding “and”:
cjmacie wrote:
btw: Appreciating the difference between appana-samādhi (absorbed jhāna) and vipassana-khanika-samādhi (“momentary concentration") could help cut through the confusion as to whether insight happens afterwards (the former), or during (the latter) type of samādhi.
mikenz66 wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:37 pm
cjmacie wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:42 pm
btw: Appreciating the difference between appana-samādhi (absorbed jhāna) and vipassana-khanika-samādhi (“momentary concentration") could help cut through the confusion as to whether insight happens afterwards (the former), or during (the latter) type of samādhi.
Yes, I guess we might as well use the well-established terms.
Trying to force Mahasi’s terminology on anyone probably wouldn’t get too far. Being aware of his distinctions, however, may provide a perspective that others may recognize from their own viewpoint.

The distinction – momentary vs absorbed concentration – as well as their interrelationship is further worked-out in some detail in the teachings of both the Mahasi Sayadaw and the Pa Auk Sayadaw.

Mahasi clearly recognized that the Buddha defined sammā-samādhi in terms of jhāna, and I suspect that he and many (probably most) other monastics in his following know that skill. The “revolutionary” aspect of his teaching, however, which created such a large and influential following, was devising a dhamma exposition to demonstrate that the other shades of samādhi could also function as sammā-samādhi for those not inclined to achieving jhāna. That is to say, those yogis for whom it doesn’t come easily by temperament, or, more significantly, the large number of people living in modern high-stress “civilization”, which is not conducive to cultivating deep absorptive concentration. His method for those was “noting”, moment to moment in a concentrated manner, phenomenal experience; which, when highly developed, gains intensity as, so to speak, very brief “absorption” in gnosis (deeply knowing first hand – the deeper meaning of “noting”) the momentary phenomenon, and in turn triggers then “seeing” (insight) it’s true nature. At the end point (entering Path realizations) the intensity of such vipassana-khanika-samādhi is functionally identical to that of appana/jhāna-samādhi.

The Pa Auk teaching, on the other hand, begins with strict training in appana/jhāna-samādhi, which is actually just a stepping stone into deeper practice of insight. At advanced stages of jhāna mastery, he teaches yogis to enter and exit absorption very rapidly – up to many times per second – to alternate with insight moments then more sharply seen. The insight stage of practice here, in Pa Auk teaching, is actually examining the “elements” (mahadhatu – earth, air, fire, water perceptual characteristics) that make up the experience of phenomena, which is the same as what the Mahasi method teaches, e.g. in noting with walking meditation.

Those are both Burmese lineages, highly formal and analytic, heavily using Visuddhimagga and other commentarial sources to support interpreting the sutta-s.

Thai (“Forest”) teachers have quite a different perspective, less formal and textually analytic. Living in the wilderness means not having access to or spending lots of time studying texts. (For other factors separating the Thai and Burmese traditions, see a discussion of the long history of Thai-Burmese enmity: https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/wh ... tions/6755)

The bulk of my practical training has been in this tradition, with reading and listening to Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Than-Geoff, or just TG). After later exposure to the Burmese teaching methods, I’ve come to see that TG’s methods, on the surface so different, basically arrive at the same level of practice as in the Burmese methods. TG shies away from teaching “jhāna-by-the-numbers”, as he puts it, and his introductory instructions are more like access and momentary concentration, but he aims it at further states similar to “absorption”. (And it’s certain that he knows totally absorbed jhāna practice.) More specifically, when he describes very advanced practice, e.g. approaching stream-entry, he characterizes it as alternating between episodes of deepening concentration (direct experience, knowing the stilled mind) and then noticing (seeing into) residual tinges of dukkha; and repeating this sequence to an ultimate point of refinement where the mind is still enough (purified) that it can relinquish the trying and opens to the “Deathless” (nibbana). At other times, he teaches investigating conditioned arising and passing, knowing in ever greater detail how every moment of phenomenal awareness is conditioned; when this is carried-out exhaustively, then the mind is in position to recognize the “Unconditioned” (again, nibbana).

These findings have been described before – maybe becoming just as boring as the other issues repeatedly raised. (Someone just started a new thread asking the difference between jhāna and samādhi...)

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:00 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 5:53 am
[...]
I think the intention with considering a style of jhāna as "Sutta jhāna" is wanting to know that what one is practicing is what the Buddha authentically taught. I don't think people are debating which is the best type of jhāna. I'd imagine that would be an entirely different discussion—and I'd guess this would be what the Buddha taught (hence the value in the "which jhāna is Sutta jhāna" debate).

Like what I believe was mentioned a few posts earlier, I also think it is best that we each practice in line with our own interpretation of what is authentic jhāna. However, I think it is also important to shine light that the situation is completely different when an individual interprets others' style of jhāna (Leigh Brasington, in this case), conveys his interpretation of jhāna as being real jhāna to a following, and labels deeper jhāna practitioners as being "Visuddhimagga jhāna" (even if such a meditator as Ajahn Brahm studied and derives his understanding of jhāna from the Suttas)—hence, being not what the Buddha taught, i.e., not authentic. While I respect Leigh Brasington's work, this approach is hugely off-putting—and most importantly, I think that it should not be seen as unjust that his statements and interpretation are challenged.

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Re: Monks Average Meditation Routine

Post by samseva » Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:06 am

cjmacie wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:27 pm
mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:09 am
...Sutta/VM is not a useful division. It seems to have been coined by Leigh Brasington, who writes:
http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm
Leigh, at least in conversations with him on a retreat a couple of years ago, derives “sutta-jhāna” from Rodney Bucknell’s paper “Reinterpreting the Jhānas” (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (JIAMS), Volume 16, No. 2, Winter 1993), and Bucknell’s further sources in writings of Paul Griffiths (“Buddhist Jhānas: A Form-Critical Study”, in Religion, Volume 13, Issue 1, 1983) and Martin Stuart-Fox (“Jhānas and Buddhist Scholaticism” in JIAMS, Volume 12, No. 2, 1989). – All of which available on-line, and all having been subject to negatively critical review by a number of more respected scholars.
Thank you, cjmacie. I will definately look into these.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:24 am

cjmacie wrote:
Sun Oct 22, 2017 3:42 pm
The best formulation of this I’ve found in the writings of the Mahasi Sayadaw, though it’s also found in many other variations in the teachings of other authoritative teachers. His formulation is that totally established sammā-samādhi is required to achieve path – i.e. as that factor is the final step in the 8-FNP – and although the Buddha usually spoke of this with reference to jhāna, it’s plausibly interpreted in later (commentarial) tradition, and on the basis of millennia of generations of practical experience in the matter, that the necessary degree of sammā-samādhi can be furnished using any of the three basic forms of samādhi : upacara­-samādhi (“access concentration”), vipassana-khanika-samādhi (“momentary concentration”), as well as appana-samādhi (the absorption of jhāna) – the key ingredient being the consummate intensity which can be achieved with, and can be comparable across any of these three types. With the proviso that whatever the concentration, it’s highly cultivated and intensified. Many of the popular “easy” methods don’t really cut it.

Differentiating factors include the propensity (innate temperament) of the practitioner, and other conditioning such as method taught and extensively trained in. Accepting that different flavors of samādhi work for different people could (but probably not in fact) help to truncate these on-and-on discussions. What generates the debate (samsāra-like, with no determinable beginning or ending) appears to be people taking as dogmatic (ekāyano, so to speak – arguing the “only” way) personal viewpoints related to this or that definition, as well as a large range of depth of actual practical experience. These positions are often supported with detailed interpretations of this or that sutta passage, and quite often influenced by unexamined biases with respect to the meanings of various English words used in the translations.
While sammā-samādhi is usually defined as the 4 jhānas, I believe that general and strong concentration (samādhi) is also an important link of the Eightfold Path—since logically, daily life absorbed in jhāna would be impossible.

I am also of the opinion, and also don't de-value, that other forms of concentration are important and useful. In access concentration (upacāra-samādhi) the hindrances are absent, making the development of insight much more plausible/easier. It is also easier to access, making it a good tool among many for the development of insight and for a more vast number of people. However, and I think you might agree, that calling it absorption, and classifying actual absorption as a "difficult commentarial meditation system" (Visuddhimagga-jhāna) is another story.

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