Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

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Kabouterke
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Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by Kabouterke » Mon May 16, 2016 9:29 am

Many people on this forum are already aware of the long-standing debate between the two camps of jhana meditation teachers/practitioners. One group takes its cue from the description of the jhanas found in various suttas in the Pali Canon (for example, MN 111) in which the jhanas are described as a lighter experience with vitaka/vicara and body-awareness present in the initial jhanas. The second group ascribes to the descriptions found in the Visuddhimagga/Visuttimagga (as well as later canonical texts such as the Abhidhamma) in which the jhanas are described as deeper, more-concentrated, one-pointed and fully absorptive experiences. However, the point of my post isn't to flesh this difference out. There's already enough literature on the subject by meditation teachers and academics (Analyo, Bucknell, Griffiths, Stuart-Fox).

It appears to me, though, that the vast majority of meditation teachers who teach sutta-style jhanas are Westerners. I did a survey of prominent meditation teachers and their techniques. It struck to me that teachers who teach sutta-style jhanas are all Westerners (think of Bhante Vimalaramsi, Ayya Khema, Leigh Brasington, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (as far a I am aware), etc.). It makes me wonder if teaching sutta-style jhanas is primarily a Western phenomenon. Are there really so few teachers in S/SE Asia teaching sutta-style jhanas and techniques? Is the interpretation of the Visuddhimagga/Visuttimagga and later canonical writings universally seen to be the authoritative interpretation in Theravadan countries? Do teachers of sutta-style jhanas exist in S/SE Asia, but get lumped together with other samatha teachers because they do not openly self-identify with one side or the other as Western teachers do? Is this debate itself a moot point in Theravadan countries, something only Westerners have started obsessing about?

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mikenz66
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon May 16, 2016 10:04 am

Hi Kabouterke,

Interesting point. Of course, some "sutta jhanas", notably those taught by Ajahn Brahm and his students (Sujato, Bramali, etc) are "Visdhimagga strength".

As for the whole debate about Samatha, Vipassana, Samadhi, I've found it very useful to listen to Bhikkhu Analayo's lectures on the MA:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 54#p376197
There is some discussion in the first series, but of course the last series, which features a number of suttas that address tranquillity and insight, has a great deal of detail. What I like about Bhikkhu Analayo (and his mentor Bhikkhu Bodhi) is how he presents a variety of possible interpretations without being too forceful about his personal opinions, which means that his analysis is very interesting to listen to even if you don't necessarily agree with every detail.

I'm sure I would not be the first to comment that the level of concentration in the "sutta jhanas" taught by the teachers you mention seems not so different from the "vipassana"/"dry insight" approach taught by Mahasi's students, Goenka, and so on. In fact, Mahasi (and U Pandita) speaks of "vipassana jhanas": http://www.softerviews.org/AIM/inthisve ... sanaJhanas.

:anjali:
Mike

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mikenz66
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon May 16, 2016 10:22 am

In the Nikayas there are a variety of development approaches. For example in the Samādhibhāvanā sutta we have:
“Monks, these are the four developments of concentration (samādhi). Which four? There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.
https://suttacentral.net/en/an4.41
The first of these samādhi developments is jhana. The second is light, knowledge and vision, the third and four are more like what are today referred to as "vipassana", rise and fall of feelings, etc. Clearly equating samādhi with jhana would not be accurate.

See also: AN 2.31:
“These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

“When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.

“Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus from the fading of passion is there awareness-release. From the fading of ignorance is there discernment-release.”
My impression is that the different approaches I see being taught develop samatha and vispassana in different orders and with different emphases.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by dagon » Mon May 16, 2016 10:41 am

From Pa Auk Forest Monastery
Teaching:
•Mindfulness-of-Breathing (ānāpānassati) - to develop absorption concentration (the four jhānas)
•Most of the 40 Samatha subjects taught by The Buddha - including loving-kindness (mettā) meditation, the thirty-two parts of the body, the ten kasiṇas and the four immaterial jhānas
•Four-Elements Meditation - to analyze ultimate materiality and ultimate mentality
•Dependent Origination - to discern past, present and future lives by analyzing their causes and conditions
•Vipassanā Meditation - to discern the five aggregates (materiality and mentality) as impermanent, subject to suffering and without a self
http://www.paaukforestmonastery.org/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

metta
dagon

Kabouterke
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by Kabouterke » Mon May 16, 2016 10:41 am

Hi Mikenzz66.... thanks for the reply. Sayadaw U Pandita did indeed coin the term "vipassana jhanas" in In This Very Life and describes these jhanas in a way which that sounds very similar to the sutta jhanas. However, I'm more interested in knowing if there are Theravadan meditation teachers in Asia who teach these jhanas as the primary practice (and not vipassana) outside the Mahasi tradition. There are many teachers in S/SE Asia who teach jhana practice as their main form of meditation, but few (if any, as far as I know) that teach students to attain sutta jhanas as opposed to Visuddhimagga jhanas.

Kabouterke
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by Kabouterke » Mon May 16, 2016 10:43 am

dagon wrote:From Pa Auk Forest Monastery
Teaching:
•Mindfulness-of-Breathing (ānāpānassati) - to develop absorption concentration (the four jhānas)
•Most of the 40 Samatha subjects taught by The Buddha - including loving-kindness (mettā) meditation, the thirty-two parts of the body, the ten kasiṇas and the four immaterial jhānas
•Four-Elements Meditation - to analyze ultimate materiality and ultimate mentality
•Dependent Origination - to discern past, present and future lives by analyzing their causes and conditions
•Vipassanā Meditation - to discern the five aggregates (materiality and mentality) as impermanent, subject to suffering and without a self
http://www.paaukforestmonastery.org/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

metta
dagon
Hi there. Pa Auk Sayadaw definitely teaches a much deeper, one-pointed form of jhanic practice that is based on the Visuddhimagga. This can clearly be seen in his teachings as well in his descriptions of the practice/jhanas. I would therefore not classify him as a "sutta jhana" guy.

Kabouterke
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by Kabouterke » Mon May 16, 2016 11:05 am

mikenz66 wrote:In the Nikayas there are a variety of development approaches. For example in the Samādhibhāvanā sutta we have:
“Monks, these are the four developments of concentration (samādhi). Which four? There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.
https://suttacentral.net/en/an4.41
The first of these samādhi developments is jhana. The second is light, knowledge and vision, the third and four are more like what are today referred to as "vipassana", rise and fall of feelings, etc. Clearly equating samādhi with jhana would not be accurate.

See also: AN 2.31:
“These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

“When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.

“Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus from the fading of passion is there awareness-release. From the fading of ignorance is there discernment-release.”
My impression is that the different approaches I see being taught develop samatha and vispassana in different orders and with different emphases.

:anjali:
Mike
Just to keep things on topic, I'd like to refrain from discussing the nature of the jhanas themselves. I'm simply taking the difference in interpretation of sutta-style, visuddhimagga-style jhanas as a starting point, and asking if it really is only Westerners who are teaching jhana practice to achieve sutta-style jhanas, and why that is.

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katavedi
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by katavedi » Mon May 16, 2016 12:01 pm

Hello Kabouterke,

If you haven't already read it, this page on Leigh Brasington's website might be useful.

Also, Ayya Khema's method of jhana practice was verified by Ven. Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera, a well-known Sri Lankan meditation master with whom she studied. However, this may not indicate that Ven. Nanarama taught jhanas in the same way.

Kind wishes,
katavedi
“But, Gotamī, when you know of certain things: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to attachment; to diminution, not to accumulation; to having few wishes, not to having many wishes; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to socializing; to the arousing of energy, not to indolence; to simple living, not to luxurious living’ – of such things you can be certain: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the Discipline; this is the Master’s Teaching.’”

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mikenz66
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon May 16, 2016 1:43 pm

Kabouterke wrote: Just to keep things on topic, I'd like to refrain from discussing the nature of the jhanas themselves. I'm simply taking the difference in interpretation of sutta-style, visuddhimagga-style jhanas as a starting point, and asking if it really is only Westerners who are teaching jhana practice to achieve sutta-style jhanas, and why that is.
Well, yes, but my point is that if what Vens Thanissaro, Vimalaramsi, etc, call "jhana practice" is essentially the same as what is labelled "vipassana" in other circles (practice like Mahasi or Goenka where there is the development of strong focus on changing phenomena, not the "extra dry" practice like Ajahn Naeb') that's very relevant to your question - it could be viewed as simply be a shift of definition.

Furthermore, that the idea of a sutta-style approach seems to be largely a western phenomenon is probably also relevant to your question.

:anjali:
MIke

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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by pegembara » Tue May 17, 2016 4:06 am

From Ajahn Chah

Q:
You have said that samatha and vipassanā or concentration and insight are the same. Could you explain this further?
A:
It is quite simple. Concentration (samatha) and wisdom (vipassanā) work together. First the mind becomes still by holding on to a meditation object. It is quiet only while you are sitting with your eyes closed. This is samatha and eventually this samādhi-base is the cause for wisdom or vipassanā to arise. Then the mind is still whether you sit with your eyes closed or walk around in a busy city. It's like this. Once you were a child. Now you are an adult. Are the child and the adult the same person? You can say that they are, or looking at it another way, you can say that they are different. In this way samatha and vipassanā could also be looked at as separate. Or it is like food and feces. Food and feces could be called the same and they can be called different. Don't just believe what I say, do your practice and see for yourself. Nothing special is needed. If you examine how concentration and wisdom arise, you will know the truth for yourself. These days many people cling to the words. They call their practice vipassana. Samatha is looked down on. Or they call their practice samatha. It is essential to do samatha before vipassanā, they say. All this is silly. Don't bother to think about it in this way. Simply do the practice and you'll see for yourself.
Q:
Is it necessary to be able to enter absorption in our practice?
A:
No, absorption is not necessary. You must establish a modicum of tranquillity and one-pointedness of mind. Then you use this to examine yourself. Nothing special is needed. If absorption comes in your practice, this is OK too. Just don't hold on to it. Some people get hung up with absorption. It can be great fun to play with. You must know proper limits. If you are wise, then you will know the uses and limitations of absorption, just as you know the limitations of children verses grown men.

https://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Questions_Answers1.php" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Practicing mahasati means we develop enough concentration so we can clearly see what is happening in our own minds. The more mindfulness we cultivate like this, the more we can deal with in life.

Luang Por Teean believed striving for deep states of concentration was ultimately a dead-end. He likened it to placing a large boulder on a patch of weeds. While the boulder is in place, the weeds will begin to die, but they will grow back as soon as the boulder is removed. Mahasati is about treating the soil so that the weeds can never grow again.

http://paulgarrigan.com/luang-por-teean ... editation/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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Chula
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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by Chula » Mon Aug 15, 2016 9:47 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Kabouterke wrote: Just to keep things on topic, I'd like to refrain from discussing the nature of the jhanas themselves. I'm simply taking the difference in interpretation of sutta-style, visuddhimagga-style jhanas as a starting point, and asking if it really is only Westerners who are teaching jhana practice to achieve sutta-style jhanas, and why that is.
Well, yes, but my point is that if what Vens Thanissaro, Vimalaramsi, etc, call "jhana practice" is essentially the same as what is labelled "vipassana" in other circles (practice like Mahasi or Goenka where there is the development of strong focus on changing phenomena, not the "extra dry" practice like Ajahn Naeb') that's very relevant to your question - it could be viewed as simply be a shift of definition.

Furthermore, that the idea of a sutta-style approach seems to be largely a western phenomenon is probably also relevant to your question.

:anjali:
MIke
From the conversations I have had with thanissaro bhikkhu he does not think the goenka method is essentially the same as what he teaches.

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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by practitioner » Tue Aug 16, 2016 1:33 am

In my humble opinions, all paths are practical, just depend on the suitability of the meditators. It may be extremely hard for many meditators, including myself, to attain deep jhana. I am still trying.

Each path has its advantages and disadvantages. It is all a matter of experimentation for every meditator to find the one that suits him/her the best.

Ultimately, the most important meditation is the 18 hours non-stop meditation called mindfulness. When this mindfulness is attained, Samadhi will also be attainable.

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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Aug 16, 2016 2:06 am

Chula wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:
Kabouterke wrote: Just to keep things on topic, I'd like to refrain from discussing the nature of the jhanas themselves. I'm simply taking the difference in interpretation of sutta-style, visuddhimagga-style jhanas as a starting point, and asking if it really is only Westerners who are teaching jhana practice to achieve sutta-style jhanas, and why that is.
Well, yes, but my point is that if what Vens Thanissaro, Vimalaramsi, etc, call "jhana practice" is essentially the same as what is labelled "vipassana" in other circles (practice like Mahasi or Goenka where there is the development of strong focus on changing phenomena, not the "extra dry" practice like Ajahn Naeb') that's very relevant to your question - it could be viewed as simply be a shift of definition.

Furthermore, that the idea of a sutta-style approach seems to be largely a western phenomenon is probably also relevant to your question.

:anjali:
MIke
From the conversations I have had with thanissaro bhikkhu he does not think the goenka method is essentially the same as what he teaches.
I did use the word "if", and I'm was talking only about the depth of concentration, not the other aspects of his approach.

I'm not familiar with Ven Thanissaro's detailed methods, so I don't know how "deep" his jhana definition is, though it does sound much less deep that what Ajahn Brahm, or the Visuddhimagga-style teachers, use. However, I do know that one can get quite concentrated with the Mahasi or Goenka approach, but not to the Brahm/Visuddhimagga level, because that would require a simpler object.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Sutta-style jhanas: A Western phenomenon?

Post by Chula » Tue Aug 16, 2016 11:19 am

I think the main difference between the Thai and burmese anapanasati sutta interpretations is on the "breach sensitive to the body" section. The Thai tradition considers it to be the body as it is sensed through the breath and the burmese consider it to be just the body of the breath near the nose.

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