SuttaCentral

Buddhism holds the only available information about jhānas(?)

The Buddha explains his journey before the enlightenment in Ariyapariyesanasutta where he explains how he learned from Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. He learned arūpa jhānas from these two teachers. There are other suttas that mention people who achieved jhānas with paṭhavi, āpo, etc. Currently it appears that there is no other tradition or a religion that explains jhānas and their nature otherthan Buddhism.
Eventhough Hinduism and Upanishads discuss about meditation I could not find any discriptions about the characteristics of jhānas. They have explainations about samādhi and vipassana; are different from Buddhist teachings. Some people argue the Buddha adopted the path from Upanishads and such teachings which is doubtful where no poper discriptions about jhānas found in those teachings.

The Buddha takes up some of the thoughts of the Upanisads and gives to them a new orientation. The Buddha is not so much formulating a new scheme of metaphysics and morals as rediscovering an old norm and adapting it to the new conditions of thought and life (Radhakrishnan, 1957)

Radhakrishnan’s opinion is somewhat true because the Buddha gave new definitions to some teachings which were already there. In some occations the Buddha showed the right way to find what they are looking for.
Ex: Tevijjasutta

But when it comes to the path to nibbāna (nirvāna) it is the Buddha who formulated the practice as he explained to the group of five ascetics in SN 56.11 where the Buddha says four noble truths were not learned before (pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu). And this is confirmed in Cūḷasīhanādasutta where the Buddha says there are no true ascetics in other sects (suññā parappavādā samaṇebhi aññehīti).

If there are no details about jhānas in Upanishads and other scriptures it is reasonable to assume that teachers who practiced and tought meditation to achieve jhānas are independent from the main stream.

Are there teachings other than Buddhism which explains jhānas (Dhyānas) ?
If not what may be the reason?

2 Likes

Q1: yes :kissing_smiling_eyes:
Q2: he was the best! :heart_eyes:

"There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are eternalists, and who on four grounds proclaim the self and the world to be eternal. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honorable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

"In the first case, bhikkhus, some recluse or a brahmin, by means of ardor, endeavor, application, diligence, and right reflection, attains to such a degree of mental concentration that with his mind thus concentrated, [purified, clarified, unblemished, devoid of corruptions],[5] he recollects his numerous past lives: that is, (he recollects) one birth, two, three, four, or five births; ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty births; a hundred, a thousand, or a hundred thousand births; many hundreds of births, many thousands of births, many hundreds of thousands of births. (He recalls:) ‘Then I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance; such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my span of life. Passing away thence, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance; such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my span of life. Passing away thence, I re-arose here.’ Thus he recollects his numerous past lives in their modes and their details.

3 Likes

I don’t think there are any pre-Buddhist texts on jhana but there are descriptions of meditation that parallel the Buddhist jhana pericope. I’ve read of one in the Mahabharata and also I believe in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. See Roots of Yoga for reference, awesome book if you’re willing to buy it.

2 Likes

The reason is the guru is of central importance to the Hindu system and any systemization of jhana would undermine the guru’s authority, who is responsible for personal transmission. The Kalama sutta (AN 3.65) is revolutionary in this context because it establishes personal experience as one of the main criteria for progress.

“So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” — then you should enter & remain in them.’ Thus was it said.”

2 Likes

If we keep in mind that jhāna is probably an East Indian sramana term and not Vedic it’s more understandable that it doesn’t appear much in the pre-Buddha upanisads. But still we have some occurrences…

Chandogya-Upanisad 7.6.1: dhyāna , undoubtedly, is greater than citta , for the earth in a sense is reflecting deeply; the intermediate region in a sense is reflecting deeply ( dhyāyatīva ), sky…, waters…, hills…, and gods and men in a sense are reflecting deeply. Therefore, those who achieve eminence among men in this world have, in some sense, received their share of the fruits of deep reflection. Small-minded men are cantankerous, backbiting, and offensive, whereas those who are noble-minded have, in some sense, received their share of the fruits of deep reflection. So, venerate deep reflection.

CU 7.6.2: If someone venerates brahman as dhyāna - well, a man obtains complete freedom of movement in every place reached by dhyāna , if he venerates brahman as dhyāna .

CU 7.7.1: "Perception ( vijñāna ), undoubtedly, is greater than dhyāna , for it is through the
faculty of perception that one comes to perceive the [Vedas]

(Also in CU 7.26.1)

In the Kauṣītaki-Upaniṣad it apparently means 'thought:
KU 3.3: When a man is fast asleep and sees no dreams at all, then these become unified within this very breath—his speech then merges into it together with all the names; his sight merges into it together with all the visible appearances; his hearing merges into it together with all the sounds; and his mind merges into it together with all the dhyānas .
[similar in KU 3.2, KU 3.4, and KU 4.20]

6 Likes

There may be some stages or results of meditation that believed to be jhānas in Upanishads as you qouted above. Indeed it is true jhāna does not appear as is.

Literature about the practice of meditation and experience is not significant even in Buddhism. Pāli canon does not explain meditation experiences other than a little appear in Paṭisambhidāmagga. Main books that shed some light on the practice is Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga which shares some similarities. From those two Vimuttimagga is probably odler. There are issues with the explainations given in those books about meditation. Ex: The image of Ānāpānassati (visual or tactile)

I believe this was due to the separation of scholars and practitioners of meditation. Normally those who wrote books and commentaries had less understanding about the true practice and those who focused on the practice were busy with training their pupils and lack the tendancy to record.
Therefore the methods of attaining jhānas before the Buddha also disappeared within few generations without a trace and other teaching does not have any records on jhānas. What they have is somewhat absorbed from Buddhism.

Tattvārthasūtra – which is roughly contemporaneous with the Pātañjalayoga-śāstra and presents dhyāna as a tool of liberation on an equal par with austerity – the status of meditation in Jainism becomes considerably elevated.
A fourfold method of dhyānayoga, by which sages are liberated from worldly existence (saṃsāra) and attain nirvāṇa, is announced by Bhīṣma in the twelfth book of the Mahābhārata. Puzzlingly, Bhīṣma only describes the first stage, which some scholars have taken as an indication that this is not originally a Brahmanical technique, but one borrowed from Buddhism. The key Buddhist term nirvāṇa also suggests an originally Buddhist context. In the first stage of dhyānayoga the yogi pacifies the senses and the mind by withdrawing the senses from sense objects, as a result of which reflection (vicāra), attention (vitarka) and discernment (viveka) arise. One possible explanation for the Mahābhārata’s omission of the remaining stages of the Buddhist dhyānayoga is that while the first meditation is in keeping with the epic’s broader conception of yoga (viz. withdrawal of the senses), the remaining three are not, and therefore needed to be discarded (Roots of Yoga - Mark Singleton)

What you describe is very possible. But ‘true jhana’ is a difficult notion. We could say for example that the buddhist brahmacariya is not ‘true’ because it doesn’t follow the traditional Brahmin brahmacarya. So maybe the Buddhist jhana doesn’t have a predecessor…

There is an interesting short passage in SN 41.8 where a Nighantha follower says:

One who thinks that vitakka and vicara can be stopped might imagine he could catch the wind in a net or arrest the current of the river Ganges with his own fist.

Per implication this could mean that a vitakka-vicara-jhana, i.e. the first jhana, was known among sramanas. It’s not much of a proof, but we also cannot expect that Buddhist texts would advertise the spiritual accomplishments of other teachers…

2 Likes

That is interesting.
I cannot entirely agree with the fact that Buddhism would not advertise the spiritual accomplishments of other teachers where It openly discusses about other teachers and explains their views.
And the Buddha said about his teachers, and their achievements (7th and 8th jhānas). If Jains had a way of attaining first jhāna it would also be discussed at some point, however with all the debates recorded in Tipiṭaka it never came up.
But it is possible that they could have known the first jhāna.

1 Like

Some of it is obviously correct. After all we have some sramana voices in the suttas. But some voices are also clearly absent, e.g. Upanisadic Brahmanism - which is much closer to Buddhism than ritualistic Brahmanism. And aspects of sramana teachings which are close to Buddhism. For example the aspect of dukkha and samsara was probably shared by others too. Why else would they go into homelessness if they didn’t have some concept of dukkha. So it might be that aspects similar to Buddhism might have been systematically underplayed (with the notable exception of arupas and kamma).

1 Like

This may interest you. In it, the author establishes a correspondence between the Hindu and Buddhist yogic states. I warn; the author is of vajrayana inspiration ^^

1 Like

The topic is not controversial at all. The Yogasutras were composed around 500 years after the Buddha. At that time the Sanskrit epics have already been influenced by Buddhism. We have to keep in mind that at least since Asoka Buddhism was a dominant force in the Indian spiritual discourse.

See also


2 Likes

What? :thinking:
I didn’t say otherwise.

This book is still very interesting. It’s the only Buddhist commentary on the Yogas Sutras that I know of. Its author practiced Hindu yoga for years before becoming a Buddhist (vajrayana), he knows his stuff. :smile:

:pray: