SuttaCentral

Buddhas first jhana as a child

Before the Buddha’s enlightenment he recalled a memory of being a child sitting or laying underneath the shade of a tree and entering into the 1st jhana. My question(s) is:

Didn’t the Buddha practice the jhanas under 2 teachers before this recollection?

If so, why wouldn’t of he recalled the 1st jhana then?

If not, why or how was the jhana he experienced as a child different than that which he experienced with his two other teachers?

What would’ve been different about his childhood experience from his practice with his then meditation teachers?

Also, when I read the text, it didn’t seem like the then bodhisattva was meditating under the shade of the tree but merely watching what was going on. Is there any texts that state why he was able to enter into the 1st jhana without meditation when he was a youngster?

Sorry for the long winded question. Its just a bit confusing to me.

Any help would be much appreciated…
Maha metta…

Bill

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In which text did you read that?

See here in MN 100:

MN100:28.1: Then it occurred to me,
MN100:28.2: ‘I recall sitting in the cool shade of the rose-apple tree while my father the Sakyan was off working. Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.
MN100:28.3: Could that be the path to awakening?’
MN100:28.4: Stemming from that memory came the realization:
MN100:28.5: ‘That is the path to awakening!’

The same description occurs in MN 36 and MN 85.

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I guess when i read that he was just sitting while his father was working that that’s all he was doing… is it implied that he was meditating?

If so, what was so different between that meditation and the ones he practiced with his 2 prior teachers?

Thanks for responding… :slightly_smiling_face:

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The description “Quite secluded from sensual pleasures …” is exactly the stock formula for the first jhana as used everywhere in the Suttas. I haven’t studied the training under the first teachers in detail, so can’t really answer that part at the moment.

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MN 26 says that Samana Gotama learned formless meditative attainment (arupayatana) from his 2 teachers. It doesn’t say anything about jhanas.

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The achievement of enlightenment is preceded by the period of austerities, and the experience under the rose-apple tree is not essential to enlightenment because of jhana, but because of feeling— the experience of pleasure had by an innocent child not yet exposed to unskillful mental qualities.

“In this way, the recollection of his absorption experience appears to have corroborated the bodhisattva’s dawning insight that the path to freedom does not require just engaging in pain and avoiding all forms of pleasure and happiness, which the fruitlessness of his asceticism had already made plain to him”—-Analayo

"I thought: ‘I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?’ Then following on that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.’ I thought: ‘So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?’ I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities’ —-MN 36

The Brahmajala sutta (DN 1) indicates that wrong views arise from jhana practised by recluses and Brahmins without the guidance of sila, that’s why the discourse begins with a section on morality. Right concentration is called so for that reason.

Throughout the suttas the Buddha frequently instructs meditation should begin at the foot of a tree. This is because the presence of nature has a necessary influence on establishing a peaceful mind. The rose-apple tree experience illustrates how this influence can invoke absorption.

Just as that experience of feeling was important to enlightenment, it also becomes key in personal practice with the investigation of joy and pleasure in the second tetrad of Anapanasati, followed by the discrimination of feelings of the flesh and not-of-the-flesh in the second foundation of mindfulness.

In practice overall, both intellectual insight and feeling are necessary, and feeling apart from sensuality is a necessary substitution:

“I myself, before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened bodhisatta, saw as it actually was with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, but as long as I had not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, I did not claim that I could not be tempted by sensuality. But when I saw as it actually was with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and I had attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, that was when I claimed that I could not be tempted by sensuality.”—MN 14

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I wonder if all past Buddhas would have gone across that same immersion experience when young and still on the path to awakening and rediscovery of the four Noble truths. :thinking:

I recall that the Sutta in DN describing the awakening of previous Buddhas seems to suggest that for some all it took was inference from active investigation of the process of dependent origination. It seems to me a bit of a stretch … :man_shrugging:

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IMHO, its the realization that relaxing the body and mind while being completely free from the pressures of the world, (like the innocent Bodhisattava child, completely at ease, feeling safe and secure watching his father work, not wanting anything more in this world or beyond this moment) leads to an effortless ‘letting go’ - which is the first step to the recognition and ending of craving.

In contrast the meditation methods taught by the previous two teachers were active, involving the doing of something (meditation) in order to get somewhere (the formless zones) and become something (enlightened)… thus not conducive to the identification or end of craving.

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I think it is more subtle than that.
Possibly, it is because the sort of samadhi they were preaching and attaining was not caused according to the process and causal linkages found in suttas like AN10.2 and SN12.23:

:anjal:

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Yes, indeed … these two suttas describe perfectly what I was most imperfectly trying to convey… the sense of letting go of the ‘doer’, being the ‘watcher’, wherein the mind moves effortlessly and naturally to being at rest, free of the hindrances, clear…where the 7 enlightenment factors arise and the dependent origination of all phenomena and the suffering consequent to craving becomes evident.
:slightly_smiling_face:

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As far as I’m aware, the formless attainments, which the Buddha would have learned under his first teachers, are never actually described as jhana in the suttas. It’s possible one can get to them without needing jhana. That’s a line of thought nicely explored in the article here:
https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-buddhas-radical-path-of-jhana
The Brahmavihara and some of the formless attainments seem to have been meditation practices already known in the Buddha’s time. The Brahmavihara may have been used as a launching pad to the formless attainments, though the original intention was something like union with Brahma, and the Buddha later repurposed these practices. In this theory, the Buddha would not have needed to learn jhana from his first teachers.

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Here are some excerpts from MN 100. I hope it helps!

And that is how my teacher Āḷāra Kālāma placed me, his student, on the same position as him, and honored me with lofty praise.

Then it occurred to me, ‘This teaching doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in the dimension of nothingness.’ Realizing that this teaching was inadequate, I left disappointed.
*
And that is how my spiritual companion Uddaka, son of Rāma, placed me in the position of a teacher, and honored me with lofty praise.

Then it occurred to me, ‘This teaching doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.’ Realizing that this teaching was inadequate, I left disappointed.
*
Then it occurred to me, ‘I recall sitting in the cool shade of the rose-apple tree while my father the Sakyan was off working. Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected . Could that be the path to awakening?’ Stemming from that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to awakening!’

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure, for it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures or unskillful qualities?’ I thought, ‘I’m not afraid of that pleasure, for it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures or unskillful qualities.’

After eating solid food and gathering my strength, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities , I entered and remained in the first absorption … As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected were stilled , I entered and remained in the second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption.

When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward recollection of past lives.

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Thank you. So this is to be read that the buddha was meditating under the rose tree as a child when he first experienced jhana. Would this be the correct interpretation?
Much appreciated

Yes.

Who knows? We don’t have a record of the Buddha’s thoughts, only a very partial record of what he taught. Beware of inferences from absence.

This episode is almost always misinterpreted because people ignore the kind of text they’re dealing with. It is a narrative, and its purpose is to tell a story. Comparing state-to-state is not the point. What matters is to understand the role the states play in the narrative. This is a systematic problem in modern Sutta interpretation: we have too many engineers and not enough story-tellers and poets!

Let me illustrate this by paraphrasing the story of the Buddha’s former teachers in a more familiar narrative style. The exact nature of the teaching of the two former teachers is not stated in the texts, so I indicate this with [square brackets].

The bodhisatta, looking for the end of the cycle of birth, ageing, and death, tried to find the answer by studying under the foremost contemplative teachers of his time.

He mastered the theory and texts [of the Upanishads], but unsatisfied with mere book learning, he wished to experience the advanced states that were described in the texts. His teachers encouraged him, even though these states were so very subtle and difficult that only one of his teachers had actually achieved what he taught, while the other was just passing down second-hand knowledge of his own teacher’s experiences.

The bodhisatta went on to achieve mastery of the peaceful states of meditation (samādhi AKA the four jhanas) and beyond, even to the exotic and elusive formless states. His teachers were so impressed that they invited him to lead their communities—they had never before witnessed a student so talented.

However, he realized that even these, the very highest and most sublime states taught in the spiritual circles of his contemporaries, aimed not to the ending of rebirth but to rebirth in the Brahma realms [following the Upanishadic philosophy]. He became disillusioned with that philosophy (dhamma) and departed to pursue his original quest.

The overriding imperative of the narrative is to depict the bodhisatta as one who has achieved the very highest that any contemplative alive had done; that he was, even before awakening, a spiritual master of all traditions. It’s not about the states. That’s just an implementation detail. He is said to have experienced the formless states because that’s what is regarded in Buddhism as the highest states achievable by non-Buddhists.

The Upanishadic theory (as interpreted by Buddhists) posits that the practice of jhanas brings you to the state of Brahma (which a Buddhist would agree with), and that that state is permanent and eternal (which a Buddhist would disagree with). When practicing jhanas under his former teachers, the bodhisatta was already trained in the Upanishadic philosophy to see the experience of samadhi through this lens. Wrong view, however, leads to wrong samadhi, and wrong samadhi doesn’t lead to liberation.

Compare with the narrative context of the recollection of jhana as a child, once again paraphrased to bring out the narrative force:

Disillusioned with his painful exertions [under the Jains, and also following his earlier experience under the two Upanishadic teachers], the bodhisatta realized that he could not find the path he sought among the spiritual practitioners of his time.

Even though he had been inspired to follow their example, and had learned much under their guidance, at the end of the day, it turns out that none of them had truly realized the ending of rebirth. They were still bound by their theories and ideas, which aimed at providing some sense of personal continuity, at achieving a permanent state of bliss for the self. But such states were produced by conditions, and anything produced by conditions could not be eternal. It seems he must abandon the idea that he could achieve awakening by following the teaching of others.

What, then, was his path? How could he move forward? Had he wasted the last six years?

Since he could not rely on others to show him the path, he was of necessity thrown back on to his own experience. It took him six years to learn this lesson: that the spiritual path was something he had to find for himself.

Then he recalled a long-forgotten episode from his childhood. Sitting under a rose-apple tree while his father was off working, he went into a peaceful state of meditation. Even as a child! He knew no philosophy, was following no path, had submitted to no guru. And yet this peace was there, falling unasked upon a child in nature.

“Might that be the path to awakening?" he wondered. And as soon as he thought that, somehow he intuitively knew: “Yes! That indeed is the path to awakening!”

Since that state was not embedded in a philosophy, it was not associated with wrong view. It was just a state of nature. This was the key insight: that peaceful states of meditation are not a manifestation of a specific metaphysical view, but are simply a condition of the mind. This opened up the possibility of the Buddha’s way of letting go.

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Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu…

Thank you Bhante. That makes a lot more sense now. You put it in a better context for me to understand. I guess i a more "engineer " than “poet”…lol

Much metta

Bill

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This is a brilliant question.

IMO He was practicing just one pointed concentration, one pointed concentration makes one peaceful while practicing. But once he ends meditation, the peace doesn’t lost longer.

How can one knows one is practicing one pointed concentration? When a sudden sound comes while meditating, one jerks and develops dislike towards sound. If he doesn’t jerks he doesn’t know that there was a sound due to one pointed concentration. It applies to all other senses.

IMO, Samadhi Buddha found is different than other meditations of those times. Buddha taught Serenity and Insights going together(at the same time).
How can one knows one is practicing Buddha’s Samadhi? When a sudden/lot of sound comes he allows the sound to be there, his mind doesn’t develops any dislike as he treats sound as sound. Same applies to other senses.

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People are talking about the Buddha practicing the jhānas with his teachers, but, as far as I know, the texts only mention him practicing with the immaterial attainments with them. Am I mistaken?

Something I gleaned from the book Reexamining Jhāna (at least I think it was that book) was that the four jhānas were a novel discovery of the Buddha. In other words he was the one who systematized and classified them and gave them importance.

Bhikkhu Analayo in the freely downloadable A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-Nikaya summarizes a lot of points of similarity and difference between the suttas in the MN and their parallels. The parallels are another angle on this question. In Volume 1 there are several pages discussing parallels to the Buddha’s first jhana experience described in MN36 (for several pages from p. 240 onwards or from p. 266 in the PDF file numbering system). Mostly, but not entirely, they agree that this happened before his going forth. There are some variances on other points though.

Hi Clay, Bhante Sujato addressed this above:


The short argument is that MN26 SuttaCentral mentions the highest state of absorption that the bodhisattva achieved under his teachers, but that doesn’t rule out him progressing though the other states.

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Isn’t assuming he practiced the jhānas with his teachers precisely making an inference from an absence? It makes little sense to believe the Buddha practiced the first jhāna hundreds or thousands of times as an adult before it occurred to him that it was the path to awakening. It renders the story about his childhood experience nonsensical. Why would he have to recall that far back when he could have just recalled last Tuesday?

I can only guess this way of thinking comes about by believing that one has to progress through each of the eight jhānas/immaterial realms in strict sequential order. But if that were true (and known), one wonders why Alara Kalama didn’t go and study under Uddaka Ramaputta.

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