Hey Ian, thanks . . .
Before I go on, I would like to address another part of your posts above. Namely about the unnecessary hostility expressed in that other thread toward Nibs, Clayton and others. My only valid complaint is that they lecture the Theravada from a markedly different perspective.
I agree with your thoughts regarding the second highlighted passage. And I saw nothing untoward in any of the questions you were asking Nibs to respond to.
With regard to the first passage, what may have seemed like "lecturing" (in Nib's case in particular) may be a valid point. But I saw no evidence on Clayton's part at any attempt to lecture. He was simply presenting some information in a respectful manner; yet the beating that he took at the hands of some members here was uncalled for, and was, in part, a catalyst for the reason I decided to compose and post this thread, in order to help perhaps clear the air and to further explore people's differing perceptions and opinions of subtle experiences like absorption.
. . . I do think we need to talk about what we experience, but not in a manor that devalues the doctrine. For me it is paramount that I always relate what I experience back to the suttas, and acknowledge [when] my understanding is incomplete.
I think that that is a fair assessment of the practice of many of the members here who appreciate the discourses for the information they provide on practice. That is certainly the way in which I have used the discourses.
Now, about the various modes of concentration, I will say this: the term jhana seems suitable for a wide spectrum of experience. So far that I can tell, the mind uses the same factors time and again in creating these experiences, but the manor in which they are applied varies.
The only useful test is in the results they bare: do they provided a clear platform from which to evaluate ourselves. If so, then continue with them, experiment with them, see what they show you, see how they work. Don't get bent out of shape if they do or do not meet official definition or not.
But if you do decide to pursue a particular definition of jhana, then keep in mind that the experience is much less important than seeing the 'how' and 'why' of its being.
Now we're getting into the heart of the matter I wanted to highlight and discuss by starting this thread.
Occasionally while on this path (i.e. the practice of meditation in general) I've been told to "expect this or that result" as a consequence of the instruction I've been given to practice. And quite often I've come to learn from my direct experience that either the power of suggestion was at work in what I was "told to expect to occur" and that expectation was met, or that what I experienced totally abrogated the expected result and something different occurred which may have contradicted what I was told would occur.
I think it is important that people be informed about these two contradictory outcomes and situations so as to be aware how vulnerable the mind can be to "suggestion" (or preconditioning) when it comes to subjective practices like meditation in general, and subtle mind states like absorption in particular.
While, in general, I may pay attention to "official definitions" of this or that, I also endeavor to practice with an open mind
and to let whatever does
happen to occur in whatever way it may occur. In other words, I endeavor to be as unbiased and mindful of what is taking place such that I might be able to "see" the experience "for what it actually was" as opposed to seeing it as I may have been told it would be. This all comes back to being able to hone and sharpen our discernment, which is one of the important components we are training for in the first place.
All I wanted to point out is that to blindly accept and expect to be able to live up to "official" or "traditional" pronouncements about anything (especially delicate subjective areas of experience like meditation) can be fraught with disappointment when what we are told to expect does not meet with our experience, and thus, in some cases, the person could become disillusioned and quit the practice because what they are expecting to achieve is too difficult (or maybe even impossible) for them to achieve. The whole point of a person's becoming involved with the practice of the noble eightfold path and the Buddha's Dhamma is to be able to take practical steps toward ending the personal suffering and dissatisfaction that they experience in life. If, on the other hand, we are telling them that this practice is difficult (which it is) and that it is unlikely that you will be able to reach your goal within this lifetime, then that seem to me to be a particularly negative development which might cause the person to give up. While such a circumstance might have been avoided if the person had been given a more realistic picture going in, rather than a dogmatic approach which espoused "you can achieve this or that, but not
I've probably not made myself very clear about this. There is more that can be said about these matters, but that will have to wait until later, when I have more time to compose.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV