Can you explain why this doesn't settle the Great Jhana Debate once and for all?

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MN 59
There are these five kinds of sensual stimulation. What five? Sights known by the eye that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. Sounds known by the ear … Smells known by the nose … Tastes known by the tongue … Touches known by the body that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. These are the five kinds of sensual stimulation. The pleasure and happiness that arise from these five kinds of sensual stimulation is called sensual pleasure.

There are those who would say that this is the highest pleasure and happiness that sentient beings experience. But I don’t grant them that. Why is that? Because there is another pleasure that is finer than that. And what is that pleasure? It’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. This is a pleasure that is finer than that.

This looks like a pretty straightforward criterion to determine if a given experience corresponds to the first jhāna: does it provide a pleasure that trumps sensual pleasures and cuts them at the root?

So why does this not settle the Great Debate once and for all?

Here is MN 14 for extra context

Before my awakening—when I was still unawakened but intent on awakening—I too clearly saw with right wisdom that: ‘Sensual pleasures give little gratification and much suffering and distress, and they are all the more full of drawbacks.’ But so long as I didn’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that, I didn’t announce that I would not return to sensual pleasures. But when I did achieve that rapture and bliss, or something more peaceful than that, I announced that I would not return to sensual pleasures.

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Let’s temporarily look at another scenario: In your opinion, how can the blind men who touched different parts of an elephant can settle their debate by themselves - without a man with clear eyes?

The canon is a collection of many doctrines presented as if it were one. When you realize that you realize that someone will always be able to pull out a quote to the contrary to just about anything. That is why I don’t think you can understand the canon until you identify the layers and the similarities and differences between them. Above all, the canon is most inconsistent about the jhanas. The best you can do is comment on the position taken in different layers.

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It is true that some suttas have later works copy-pasted back into them, and sometimes that contradicts the rest of the suttas. In such cases one indeed needs to have a sound understanding of history, oral transmission, and to be able to take a critical step back. It does require being astute.

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Yeah that very short phrase from MN 14

I would not return to sensual pleasures

pretty much obliterates any notions of jhana being something that anyone but a sakadagami could have any reasonable hope of working towards and achieving, effectively equating or at least strongly tying the attainment of the first jhana with the attainment of anagami.

There’s also AN 6.73 which states the 1st jhana is impossible without

the drawbacks of sensual pleasures have been truly seen clearly with right wisdom

So this effectively puts the minimum qualification for the 1st jhana at sotapanna because without supermundane Right View you don’t even know what sensuality is, let alone understand its drawbacks. Right View is the forerunner, but they’re not going to have you put your entire social and emotional life in to question at your local 10-day retreat. Let’s just get the pleasure rolling in the body with some breathing exercises and call it jhana…

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At the same time, wouldn’t the Buddha have told us if this was the case? Assuming he wouldn’t have would be assuming he was badly incompetent. While there is another reading where we don’t assume that “I would not return” means “there was an absolute impossibility for me to return”, but rather that it means “I was firm enough in my practice to be able to credibly make that claim”.

This is a good example of why it does require to be astute and why people who are used to walking backwards from their conclusions can make the suttas say pretty much anything by taking a passage and twisting its meaning in the direction they want to go in.

Thankfully I don’t think that there are a lot of people adhering to this interpretation.

Again, overinterpretation, it seems from the kind of people who like to claim that it is impossible to practice the Buddha’s teaching nowadays, stating that basically you can’t start the practice if you are not already at an advanced stage. Again if this were the case, the Buddha would have been a grossly incompetent teacher.

It certainly depends on the people involved. I know it can happen

Here is a question: let’s imagine this happens. This pleasure that the person is feeling arises due to contact at which sense door?

Of course you can still practice by working your way through the first six steps of the gradual training, studying Dhamma, and working towards attaining Right View. You can even still meditate; it’s just not until the later stages of the practice that that meditation will be actually brought to the point of consummate Samma Samadhi. It’s the last step of the gradual training before release.

Body door.

Because of the power of attachment.

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So if you truly think that one cannot enter jhana without being an ariya, how do you explain that the Vinaya ascribes to Devadatta enough psychic power to manifest at will the body of a boy, which would imply attainment of the 4th jhana, and then describes him as going to hell?

If that sensation they feel is due to contact at the body door, how come those people experience it when they go for a meditation retreat, but not every time they are driving or sitting in the cinema, or at their desk at work, or indeed at any time throughout their life? Isn’t the particular kind of mental activity involved a condition for this experience to arise?

Basically because the question in the great debate is about what constitutes “pleasure”.

On one side you have the (mainstream therevadan) interpretation that in the jhana formula “pleasure” is meant to be a “mental” thing, not related to the “body” at all.

On the other side you have the (mostly historical but recently revived) argument that the formula as given says that the pleasure is in the “body” and is therefore not just “in the mind”.

To which the standard reply is that this “body” is the “body in the mind” or the “body of mental states”.

THe reason the debate isn’t settled in my opinion is because the “mentalists” have obviously drifted into an idealism that is not supported by the philosophical content of the EBT’s and the “body pleasure” camp drift towards a materialism that is likewise rejected in teh EBT’s.

in the EBT’s there is NO SUCH THING as a mental state not related or dependant on a physical state and vice versa, in fact the EBT’s reject even statements like “the mind is different from the body” or “the mind is the same as the body”.

My take is that the sensual pleasures are pleasures contingent on “the maddening crowd” like sex or food or whatever, while the pleasure of seclusion is a pleasure that pervades the body and is discernible to the mind when the mind stops seeking “outside” pleasures (and avoiding “outside” pains) and settles to rest in equanimity on the body unattached to “worldly” pleasures.

THis is of course only the first step, as the formula progresses we let go of even the “healthy” pleasure born of seclusion and achieve a transcendence of depending even on this.

tldr: Therevada can occasionally drift into a kind of monist idealism that is NOT compatible with the EBT’s. The “Jhana Controversy” is really a proxy for this deeper philosophical issue, and like anywhere else in the history of philosophy the idealist/materialist controversy will rage forever until all sentient beings “let it go”.

Metta.

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We can really take it even farther than this.
None of tetralemma applies.

So also:
Not the same and different
Not Neither the same nor different

Resolving this ends the Jhana debates.
But it’s nonconceptual.
Hence the problems
:stuck_out_tongue:

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Bhante, I just realized it is a bhikkhu I am conversing with and that I have not been addressing you as such. I apologize.

As you yourself have pointed out in this thread, there are very subtle contradictions in the canon that require taking a critical step back to interpret. One example relevant to this discussion is the Buddha himself having attained the first jhana as a child, which contradicts AN 6.73 unless the Buddha already recognized the dangers of sensuality as a child, which seems a bit of a stretch.

I would argue in the case of Devadatta that, with all the emotional turmoil involved in the fallout of an attempted schism, there was naturally a great impetus towards making a cautionary tale out of him. Doesn’t it seem a bit suspect that someone who has reached a level of spiritual power such that they were able to literally bend the laws of reality to their will and had direct, personal access to the Buddha himself wasn’t even able to attain stream-entry as any number of milkmaids at that time did after hearing a single Dhamma talk?

Your point is well taken, though, and also points towards the whole issue of other ascetic, contemplative traditions and whether or not their meditative attainments have any relationship to the jhanas at all. I would imagine the greatest barrier to a noble attainment for any person who, for whatever reason, had the ascetic determination to restrain themselves from sensuality for enough time and in a radical enough way that they would be able to attain a jhana would be their underlying metaphysical, doctrinal context for that effort being invested in the view of the atman or soul. But in contemporary Buddhist contexts this would, hopefully, not be an issue at all.

The position I’m voicing here is arrived at by simply following Arbel in Early Buddhist Meditation and (PDF) The notion of stream-entry in the early Buddhist texts (MA Thesis) | Bernat Font-Clos - Academia.edu. Page 15 of Font-Clos in particular makes a relatively convincing argument that stream-entry, in terms of a hierarchy of the progressive difficulty of attainments, would come before the first jhana. As I said before, Right View is the forerunner. Suttas like MN 64 stating that the first jhana is a requirement for the attainment of anagami or AN 3.94 stating that any sotapanna who attained the first jhana would instantly become an anagami further raise the spiritual prestige of the meditative attainments.

I will admit, though, that it is never explicitly stated in the Canon that the first jhana must necessarily lead to the attainment of stream-entry. So yes, maybe some ascetic in another tradition or deeply doctrinally ignorant Buddhist practitioner could theoretically attain jhana without simultaneously reaching any noble attainments, but I don’t think it’s a particularly radical view to consider such a possibility to be exceedingly unlikely, nigh impossible in modern times.

There’s always a mental context involved with physical pleasure. And I can think of a variety of ways someone might experience pleasure in their body while engaging in the activities you describe. Just something as simple as reacting emotionally to a passing memory can bring up pleasurable feelings felt directly in the body. Reclining on the couch and letting the body relax brings up pleasurable feelings. I myself once engaged in a very unskillful but pleasurable experience where, before I had more fully understood how wrong such an activity was, I actively radiated very intensely pleasurable sexual feelings throughout my body with only some controlled breathing and imagination. It took a lot of concentration to do such a thing and was very pleasurable, but was it Right Concentration? Absolutely not. It was a form of meditation totally contrary to the Dhamma, deeply entangled with sensuality, and something I regret doing.

I’m sure the pleasant feelings people feel during the average meditation retreat are much less unwholesome than what I just described, but I’m just making the point that pleasure generated in the body via relaxation, breathing, and concentration is not indicative of a supermundane attainment and can, whether or subtly or grossly, potentially be moving in the completely wrong direction. Given how deeply enmeshed in sensuality both Western and Eastern cultures have gotten in today’s age, there’s a very high chance that a practitioner who isn’t intensely focused on discerning the difference between sensual meditation and non-sensual meditation is falling prey to the former. Knowing whether or not you’re headed in the right direction is what stream-entry is all about.

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AN 3.86 may be of assistance. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Language is extinct in the 1st jhana, does this translate to telepathy? Is omniscience already achieved in the first jhana?

DN2 gives the standard canonical description of the first jhana including the simile;

4.3.2.5. First Absorption
4.3.2.5. Paṭhamajhāna

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.
So vivicceva kāmehi, vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.

They drench, steep, fill, and spread their body with rapture and bliss born of seclusion. There’s no part of the body that’s not spread with rapture and bliss born of seclusion.
So imameva kāyaṁ vivekajena pītisukhena abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati, nāssa kiñci sabbāvato kāyassa vivekajena pītisukhena apphuṭaṁ hoti.

It’s like when a deft bathroom attendant or their apprentice pours bath powder into a bronze dish, sprinkling it little by little with water. They knead it until the ball of bath powder is soaked and saturated with moisture, spread through inside and out; yet no moisture oozes out.
Seyyathāpi, mahārāja, dakkho nhāpako vā nhāpakantevāsī vā kaṁsathāle nhānīyacuṇṇāni ākiritvā udakena paripphosakaṁ paripphosakaṁ sanneyya, sāyaṁ nhānīyapiṇḍi snehānugatā snehaparetā santarabāhirā phuṭā snehena, na ca paggharaṇī;

In the same way, a mendicant drenches, steeps, fills, and spreads their body with rapture and bliss born of seclusion. There’s no part of the body that’s not spread with rapture and bliss born of seclusion.
evameva kho, mahārāja, bhikkhu imameva kāyaṁ vivekajena pītisukhena abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati, nāssa kiñci sabbāvato kāyassa vivekajena pītisukhena apphuṭaṁ hoti.

This, great king, is a fruit of the ascetic life that’s apparent in the present life which is better and finer than the former ones.
Idampi kho, mahārāja, sandiṭṭhikaṁ sāmaññaphalaṁ purimehi sandiṭṭhikehi sāmaññaphalehi abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca.

There is no mention of “language extinction” here. Something that could be interpreted as “language extinction” does appear in the descriptions of 2nd jhana:

Furthermore, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, a mendicant enters and remains in the second absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of immersion, with internal clarity and confidence, and unified mind, without applying the mind and keeping it connected.
Puna caparaṁ, mahārāja, bhikkhu vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ avitakkaṁ avicāraṁ samādhijaṁ pītisukhaṁ dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.

If we take the “without applying the mind or keeping it connected” to mean something to do with “language” or the “voice in ones head” then we might be able to argue that 2nd jhana is without language.

However this does not imply telepathy, which IS mentioned in the same formula as occurring by the intentional development of the mind after 4th jhana:

4.3.3.5. Comprehending the Minds of Others
4.3.3.5. Cetopariyañāṇa
When their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward comprehending the minds of others.
So evaṁ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte cetopariyañāṇāya cittaṁ abhinīharati abhininnāmeti.
They understand the minds of other beings and individuals, having comprehended them with their own mind.
So parasattānaṁ parapuggalānaṁ cetasā ceto paricca pajānāti—
They understand mind with greed as ‘mind with greed’,
sarāgaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sarāgaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
and mind without greed as ‘mind without greed’.
vītarāgaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītarāgaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
They understand mind with hate …
sadosaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sadosaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
mind without hate …
vītadosaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītadosaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
mind with delusion …
samohaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘samohaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
mind without delusion …
vītamohaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītamohaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
constricted mind …
saṅkhittaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘saṅkhittaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
scattered mind …
vikkhittaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vikkhittaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
expansive mind …
mahaggataṁ vā cittaṁ ‘mahaggataṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
unexpansive mind …
amahaggataṁ vā cittaṁ ‘amahaggataṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
mind that is not supreme …
sauttaraṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sauttaraṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
mind that is supreme …
anuttaraṁ vā cittaṁ ‘anuttaraṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
immersed mind …
samāhitaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘samāhitaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
unimmersed mind …
asamāhitaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘asamāhitaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
freed mind …
vimuttaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vimuttaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
They understand unfreed mind as ‘unfreed mind’.
avimuttaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘avimuttaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.

Suppose there was a woman or man who was young, youthful, and fond of adornments, and they check their own reflection in a clean bright mirror or a clear bowl of water. If they had a spot they’d know ‘I have a spot,’ and if they had no spots they’d know ‘I have no spots.’
Seyyathāpi, mahārāja, itthī vā puriso vā daharo yuvā maṇḍanajātiko ādāse vā parisuddhe pariyodāte acche vā udakapatte sakaṁ mukhanimittaṁ paccavekkhamāno sakaṇikaṁ vā ‘sakaṇikan’ti jāneyya, akaṇikaṁ vā ‘akaṇikan’ti jāneyya;
In the same way, when their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward comprehending the minds of others.
evameva kho, mahārāja, bhikkhu evaṁ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte cetopariyañāṇāya cittaṁ abhinīharati abhininnāmeti.
They understand the minds of other beings and individuals, having comprehended them with their own mind.
So parasattānaṁ parapuggalānaṁ cetasā ceto paricca pajānāti—
sarāgaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sarāgaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
vītarāgaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītarāgaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
sadosaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sadosaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
vītadosaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītadosaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
samohaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘samohaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
vītamohaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītamohaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
saṅkhittaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘saṅkhittaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
vikkhittaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vikkhittaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
mahaggataṁ vā cittaṁ ‘mahaggataṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
amahaggataṁ vā cittaṁ ‘amahaggataṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
sauttaraṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sauttaraṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
anuttaraṁ vā cittaṁ ‘anuttaraṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
samāhitaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘samāhitaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
asamāhitaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘asamāhitaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
vimuttaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vimuttaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti,
avimuttaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘avimuttaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.
This too, great king, is a fruit of the ascetic life that’s apparent in the present life which is better and finer than the former ones.
Idampi kho, mahārāja, sandiṭṭhikaṁ sāmaññaphalaṁ purimehi sandiṭṭhikehi sāmaññaphalehi abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca.

In conclusion, there is a lot of material in the canon that goes in to a fair degree of detail about a lot of this, it might be best to focus on DN2 as a starting place if you are interested in the canonical relation between jhana and the psychic powers.

Metta

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I don’t think it was directed and exclusively an attribute of the 4th jhana. Please read the Sutta again.

But then there’s Rahogata Sutta (SN 36.11 Alone)

Then, bhikkhu, I have also taught the successive cessation of formations. For one who has attained the first jhana, speech has ceased. For one who has attained the second jhana, thought and examination have ceased. For one who has attained the third jhana, rapture has ceased. For one who has attained the fourth jhana, in-breathing and out-breathing have ceased. For one who has attained the base of the infinity of space, the perception of form has ceased. For one who has attained the base of the infinity of consciousness, the perception pertaining to the base of the infinity of space has ceased. For one who has attained the base of nothingness, the perception pertaining to the base of the infinity of consciousness has ceased. For one who has attained the base of neither-perception-nor-nonperception, the perception pertaining to the base of nothingness has ceased. For one who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, perception and feeling have ceased. For a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed, lust has ceased, hatred has ceased, delusion has ceased.

Then, bhikkhu, I have also taught the successive subsiding of formations. For one who has attained the first jhana speech has subsided…. For one who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, perception and feeling have subsided. For a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed, lust has subsided, hatred has subsided, delusion has subsided.

There are, bhikkhu, these six kinds of tranquillization. For one who has attained the first jhana, speech has been tranquillized. For one who has attained the second jhana, thought and examination have been tranquillized. For one who has attained the third jhana, rapture has been tranquillized. For one who has attained the fourth jhana, in-breathing and out-breathing have been tranquillized. For one who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, perception and feeling have been tranquillized. For a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed, lust has been tranquillized, hatred has been tranquillized, delusion has been tranquillized.