Are we overthinking Jhana?

Some musings from the start of today‘s Uposatha. I hope I can properly articulate what I‘m thinking, so please bear with me.
So, I was listening to the most recent Q and A with Bhante Yuttadhammo, and at 35:52 (Meditation Q&A - YouTube) a question came up about jhana. Bhante‘s answer is pretty straightforward and got me thinking- are we overthinking jhana?
The way the Suttas describe them, they don’t seem like the intense states some teachers describe them as.
Where do we get some of our descriptions of the jhanas as these almost trance-like states?

Now, for clarification, I know Bhante Yuttadhammo‘s method is based on Mahasi Sayadaw‘s, but I‘ve noticed some departures in the Thai Vipassana approach from Mahasi‘s, or maybe just Bhante Yuttadhammo‘s:
Mahasi: jhana-like experiences occur (vitakka and vicara, piti, etc.) but these states should be avoided (from Manual of Insight)- this statement feels problematic in and of itself.
Yuttadhammo (not just from this video, but from others and from speaking with him in person): the experiences that can be labeled as „jhana“ occur, and should neither be chased after nor avoided . But in this video he does describe the refined meditative experiences as what are labeled jhana.

So, after all that my questions are:

  1. Are we over thinking jhana? Are they simpler to approach, with a broader range of experience as seen by the descriptions of say, our beloved Ajahn Brahm, or Thanissaro Bhikkhu? Are the different descriptions simply based on the varied experiences of teachers, just as the Buddha said if one were to ask any of the Arahants about the path, they would describe according to their individual experience.

  2. Where do we get our descriptions of jhanas? The general descriptions from the Suttas don’t seem to go into as much detail as we‘re sometimes given. Though I may be misremembering.

  3. If the Buddha was able to remain in „jhana“ while even walking around, can they have different intensities or is that simply first vs second, etc?

  4. Knowing that samatha and vipassana really go hand in hand, if the experiences of jhana can still occur, are the two approaches all that different?

I‘m sorry if this was long or disorganized. I think these questions are the ones I mean to ask. Personally, I have gone between „samatha“ and „vipassana“ practices and teachers, finding immense value in both. However, the longer I practice, the less the distinctions presented seem to make sense to me.

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I heard that Mahasi Sayadaw was at the head of a movement that lead to the decision not to teach jhanas to lay people because they were not likely to attain these states. So the way lay people were taught was different from the way monks were taught (in the latter case I think jhanas were still taught or encouraged).

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Honestly, I was starting to wonder something similar. Certain explanations and approaches started to look similar to „upaya“ in Mahayana sources- instead of focusing on and making jhana harder, here is a practice that will allow it arise, but without you dwelling on it.

The problem with that is that if everyone doesn’t know that it‘s upaya, well then we get what we kind of have now.

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This was a good QA by Bhante Yuttadhammo. He’s one of the first I encountered on the path and he helped me tremendously.
The specific question is from 36 minutes onwards and if I understood correctly he says that:

  • The 4 Rupa Jhanas that the Buddha taught in the Suttas can be entered either through Samatha practice or Satipatthana-Vipassana Practice.

  • Samatha practice requires one to focus on a concept (like a a mind made image - Nimitta) which is always a concept therefore it’s one-pointed.

  • In Vipassana practice one becomes aware of Ultimate realities and since they don’t last more than a moment then it’s not a single-pointed practice.

What’s kind of confusing for me is when he says they involve the same factors/abandonment of hindrances therefore they produce the same Jhana but each with a different context. He mentions the commentaries separate them into “aramanupanijhana” and “lakanupanijhana”. I have no idea what these terms mean so someone who is more knowledgeable can help here.

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I’ve never met anyone capable of talking himself into Jhana, and IMO, there more one talks about, the harder it gets. There seems to be a difference between the joy of doing Jhana and getting joy out of doing Jhana.

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I had a similar issue with those two terms. It seems to he purely commentarial, and the only English source seems to be here, on pdf page 154: http://www.dhammadownload.com/File-Library/Dr-Silananda-Bhivamsa/HandBook-Of-Abhidhamma-Studies-Volume-1-by-Silananda.pdf

I started to think about the use of these terms, and it reminds me of how Europeans would Latinize their philosophical and scientific findings/musings etc. I think the same thing happens with the commentaries. Palification of concepts due to Pali being the lingua franca.

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I‘m thinking that that is ultimately the Mahasi > Tong > Yuttadhammo approach. Not talking about it better allows those states to arise, and like Sariputta, observe the factors if they do so.

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Strange coincidence, I was just about to make a thread about this myself. I’m really confused, having just read Ajahn Brahms book mindfulness, bliss and beyond - you get the sense that slipping in to jhana is something that you build up to until you just get sucked in to it, and then it will completely change your life more or less. Bliss and beauty of such proportions that it will make seeing your newborn child being born will be like reading the newspaper. Once you get into the jhana you are without control of yourself, you are just there as a passenger while your five hindrances are temporarily dissolved, even for some time after the jhana, where you are supposed to go into insight meditation to ponder this newly squired state and thus have new insight. In the jhana you are without control of your body. Someone might find you without you breathing or having your heart beat, call and ambulance and have them try to start your heart up, only to have you waking up later having no recollection of any of this, you were just in a blissful jhana as far as you can tell.

And now I’m reading Leigh Brasingtons book Right concentration. What he is describing is a whole other thing. There a jhana is something that you do have control of while in it, you can freely change from level 1, 2,3 and 4 up and down as you like (if you have achieved the level of skill). . You have to watch your posture during the fourth jhana as you might slump down otherwise. He says people generally want to skip the first jhana or just dwell there for a short time since the piti is to intense, even though it sometimes is mild.

Now I’m a beginner so I have no idea of what a jhana is at all but these two books seem to contradict each other as far as I can tell!

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Here’s a topic you might find beneficial:

https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/leigh-brasington-and-jhana-lite-why-there-is-no-such-thing-as-jhana-lite

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When I read suttas, it seems not complicated at all, but it’s you who have to do it. It’s not just about Jhana, but also about from where one begins meditation. In the suttas it seems to me that one begins from the right hemisphere brain, but most of what is preached by teachers and lay practitioners today refers to the functions of the left hemisphere brain.

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There are indeed contradictory opinions about what jhanas are and their role in the Noble Eightfold Path. So like, if there seems like there are many contradictory opinions about jhana it’s because there are :slight_smile:

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Thanks, clears some fog on the issue :slightly_smiling_face:

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Someone shared this booklet or public draft by Kumāra Bhikkhu entitled “What You Might Not Know about Jhāna & Samādhi” in Dhammawheel which I find very insightful on this Jhana topic.

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Please remember that one enters jhana as result of having abandoned the five hindrances.
In exceptional circumstances you may succeed to temporarily abandon the five hindrances; this may result in experiencing the 1st jhana without having to do any special form of meditation. Meanwhile the goal is to abandon them for ever: this is the task associated with the second Truth: abandoning cravings (in all its forms). Once you have abandoned, for good, the five hindrances then you enter jhana all the time, again without having to do any form of practice. Then you can navigate from jhana to jhana and eventually abandon the latent tendencies, experience total equanimity in your daily life, … and realise nibbana.

Please focus on the task of abandoning craving. This is the only practice that we need to focus on. Do this by using the 1st 6 components of the 8FP in particular develop a specific “complete” view (1st component of the 8FP) for each of your cravings, fears and aversions. Then put in place your intention (2nd component of the 8FP) to abandon them one by one. Practice to abandon them by not going into your usual “reactions” to cravings/fears/aversions. You do this by doing nothing other than staying present (curious) with the situations that usually cause them and eventually they will go.

The components 7 and 8, sati and samadhi (the 4 jhanas) are the by-product of having fully developed the Path for abandoning the five hindrances.

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What follows is solely my opinion: I had read this and it left a rather bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. It has many good points, but doesn’t seem to say all that much different than others while trying to say that it does. And it was very easy to identify it as a standard Burmese tradition‘s critique of the Thai Forest- so much so that I figured he was in that lineage before he even got to the line „I‘m very wary of how the Thai (Forest) masters use Pali terms.“ Which was a big tell. Others may find it beneficial, but it was a solid „meh“ from me.

When Mahasi was in England, he was asked by one of the senior monks there his opinion of Ajahn Sumedho’s “sound of silence” meditation. (In that practice, you develop mindful awareness by focussing on a background hum.)

Mahasi’s response: “In real samādhi, you can’t hear anything.”

(The moral of the story is, be humble about what we think someone’s “method” is.)

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I‘m not sure I fully understand the response, but I do like the quote. Have I misrepresented something? I feel like I‘ve struck a nerve…

I think jhana is the condition and mental state where we can be happy and do the right thing no matter what others say. You know it’s about independence and detachment and self sufficiency I think. You don’t need to rely on other people and being good on your own. This way you are powerful and you don’t need to cheat and lie and bribe your way through life.

Wise words, because any teacher just explain his or her way of doing it, and one has to find one’s own way anyway. It might fit or it might lead astray, and still can’t find anyone to blame :rofl:

Who is Kumāra Bhikkhu?