"Yesterday I came across an article by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi titled “The Jhānas and the Lay Disciple According to the Pāli Suttas”, which happens to accurately disprove the contemporary idea that the jhānas are indispensable for stream-entry, and should also make lay followers of this day and age who think of themselves as jhāna-attainers seriously re-consider whether they are right in assuming themselves to be capable of a superhuman attainment that the enlightened lay followers, who had been receiving direct instruction from the Buddha for many years in his time were not capable of (the point is implied throughout the article as well, not just in this Sutta).
It seems the author does not realize this, but his conclusions also implicitly add weight to the argument that samādhi is not “concentration” on an object. This is because the recollections of the Triple Gem, virtue and generosity, the “pleasant abidings here and now”―a term for samādhi―cannot be taken as “objects” to give one’s fixed attention to in any meaningful way.
We have in the past spoken about how the recollection of the Triple Gem is a form of “pleasant abiding here and now” that would be accessible to a noble lay disciple who has gained unshakable confidence in the Buddha’s teaching (stream entry), and that the jhānas require a higher degree of restraint, specifically celibacy. This is further supported by the article, which proves the point that sammāsamādhi is not limited to the four jhānas, despite them usually making up the factor of samādhi in the Noble Eightfold Path. This fits perfectly with AN 6.73 that we often quote: attaining those 4 establishments of mind is impossible for one who has not fully discerned the danger in sensual pleasures, which would necessarily be the case for whoever continues to partake in them on the coarsest level of sexual intercourse.
There exists a custom of using either “buddho”, “dhammo” or “saṅgho” as individual “mantras” in the name of recollection of the Triple Gem, but hopefully, no one who has studied the suttas would claim that the world fails to realize the Deathless owing to a failure to perform this mechanical, mental repetition of a mere sound properly.
The word translated as “recollection” in this case is just the word “sati” with the prefix “anu”, so, to argue based on logic alone, whatever can be called a “recollection” should be very close in its manner of practice to what “anapana-sati” is. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the theme of one’s practice of samādhi would completely change how it is developed, and what it even is.
The contemporary “breath observation” and the associated techniques used to aid it such as “counting”— and just the general idea that sati of the breath is to be centered around the awareness of body parts and sensations—form a completely different approach to practice than what would be done by recollecting, for instance, your conviction in the righteousness of the noble saṅgha, or the qualities of the Dhamma being “well taught, visible here and now, timeless, etc.”. Such direct-attention and sensation-observation practices not taught in the Suttas— unlike this recollection of the Triple Gem, or the understanding of the breath that is the authentic ānāpānasati (“breathing in long, he understands (pajānāti :: paññā) [the action of] breathing in long” —Ānāpānasatisutta)—result in an entirely different mental state.
This is a fundamental crossroads, as these two forms of practice are so divergent that only one of them can be “sammāsati”—and only one claims support from the Suttas. The fact alone that both result in feelings of pleasure is a very tenuous link. Yet the most important consequence of following either is the radically different sort of “knowledge and vision” that will be attained. As the Buddha makes sure to tell us, incorrect samādhi does result in knowledge, and even in a type of “liberation”.
As evidenced by AN 10.106, the liberation that is not of the right kind leads to unskilful states. Here it must be kept in mind the fact that “liberation” is by definition always pleasant and unburdening, and frees one from one’s issues (or at least so it will seem). Also, the previous factor of “knowledge” resulting in “liberation” will always by nature appear as enlightening and earth-shattering when it arises. This danger is made worse by the fact that the ordinary person does not see unskilful as unskilful, and is said throughout the texts to be “untrained and unseeing of the noble Dhamma”, which of course includes sammāsamādhi.
Finally, it should be clear that we would, of course, choose to disagree every single time the word “concentration” as a translation for samādhi occurs in the article, and with commentarial notions such as “mundane jhānas”, “access concentration”, and Visuddhimagga-biased, etymologically unjustifiable renderings such as “one-pointedness”. Apart from this, the author’s conclusions, someone whom we can at least give due credit for having studied the Suttas more than nearly anyone else on the planet, are mostly solid and well-supported.
On nearly all other instances apart from this paper we would disagree with the author, including even the footnotes on his translations of the Nikāyas, and his renderings of many crucial terms in the translations themselves, where he sides with modern/commentarial interpretations.
•The texts sometimes speak of the worldling jhāna-attainer as “an outsider devoid of lust for sensual pleasures.” [This connects with what I’ve alluded to in my latest essay and Dhamma talk: that one who learns to abide in and develop the jhānas taught in the Suttas would have to become free from sensuality, even without noble attainments].
•“What is noteworthy about this list is that samādhi, as a faculty, does not determine a class of its own until after the fruit of stream-entry has been realized. That is, facility in [composure] determines a distinct type of disciple among the arahants (as the both-ways-liberated arahant) and among the aspirants for the higher stages (as the body-witness), but not among the aspirants for stream-entry. In this lowest category we have only the faith-follower and the Dhamma-follower, who owe their status to faith and wisdom, respectively, but there is no type corresponding to the body-witness.”
•[…] the thesis that jhāna is necessary at every stage of enlightenment claims powerful support from the canonical account of the Noble Eightfold Path, which defines the path factor of right [composure] (sammā samādhi) with the stock formula for the four jhānas. From this definition, it might be argued that […] the jhānas are indispensable from the first stage of awakening to the last.
This conclusion, however, does not necessarily follow. […] It could be that attainment of jhāna is necessary to complete the development of the path, becoming mandatory at a relatively late point in the disciple’s progress."
•…since the passage simply inserts the formula for the four jhānas without qualification into the definition of the [composure] faculty, we would have to conclude that all noble disciples, monks, and lay followers alike, possess all four jhānas, not just one. Even more, they would have to possess the four jhānas already as faith-followers and Dhamma-followers, at the very entry to the path. This, however, seems too generous, and indicates that we need to be cautious in interpreting such formulaic definitions.
•At AN 5:179/III 211, the Buddha speaks, with reference to “a lay follower clothed in white” (gihī odātavasana), of four “pleasant dwellings in this very life pertaining to the higher mind” (cattāro ābhicetasikā diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihārā). Now in relation to monks, the Nikāyas invariably use this expression to mean the four jhānas. If it were considered commonplace, or even paradigmatic, for a lay noble disciple to attain the four jhānas, one would expect the Buddha to explain the above expression in the same way as he does for monks. But he does not."
-By Bhikkhu Anīgha
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