SuttaCentral

Discussing jhana


#42

But what is the purpose in talking of their experience?? If they are seeking clarification or further instructions they really should be wary of accepting
meditation advice from unknown people on an internet forum! Who knows how much they could be led astray?? There are many dubious ideas out there…

This should be done with a qualified teacher in real life. I know they are not easy to find… :cry: But they are out there!

And if they are talking about this experience to show off or get meditation credit or self aggrandisement or whatever, this is actually to be discouraged for their own benefit. It is the opposite of what they should understand about ‘self’ if they had actually experienced deep meditation. So…

If they are looking to workshop their experience there are probably much better ways to do it than here.


#43

Someone may correct me if I’m wrong about this, but: Any experience of this type is to my understanding certainly not jhana. Just going by what you’ve written, there is doubt present, and doubt is never compatible with jhana.


#44

Futhermore, I think I’d have another problem with talking about meditation experiences. It signals “you should trust me, I have experience.”

IMHO, others shouldn’t trust me. I would be very hesitant to signal, directly or indirectly, that others should trust me or my experience.


#45

I disagree. There is no consensus on what qualifies as jhana, no commonly agreed standard, even among “qualified teachers” (another subjective label). So doubt is actually a sensible and valid position here.


#46

Doubt is one of the five hindrances. I don’t know how to evaluate an experience involving doubt, except to say that it can’t be jhana. If the diversity of opinions among various teachers has caused you doubt – well, that’s still doubt. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Get rid of it if you want to experience jhana.

And again, someone may correct me if I’m wrong about this.


#48

I’m not saying I haven’t experienced jhana. I’m saying there is no objective standard which is commonly held.


#49

Is it different than with any other topic people discuss?

That would be very helpful actually! If someone came up with a good system we could use it to help exchanging ideas.

I don’t think this is realistic anymore. Most lay people don’t have a personal teacher they have access to. And many people actually get good suggestions on forums.

On the other hand the monastic system, it seems to me, has so far also not come up with reliable consensual criteria for jhana. Teachers have their legitimate opinions and that’s it. And if someone is not obviously fishing for devotees, what’s the harm in discussing it?

Discussion and exchange will help a good amount of people more to develop and question their first initial euphoria than secrecy.

And as with other topics, who doesn’t want to share - simply doesn’t have to.


#50

I’ve seen some evidently long-term practitioners occasionally share some experiences here, which I found useful/inspiring (and I’d reckon not coming from an ego-based place).

Sharing experience IMO, like most things, can be double-edged. There are Buddhist internet forums which are basically all about describing experiences and swapping notes on this (usually all very attainment driven). Am not a great fan of all that.

But the opposite extreme is to not discuss experience at all and just confine such things to the teacher-student relationship. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a lay practitioner to be able to get some kind of broad and rough idea of possible experiences if s/he stays on the path long enough. If there’s not at least some degree of discussion/sharing of experience, that’s not really going to happen (or come in a very top-down fashion). Presumably these experiences often tend to be somewhat similar. Could be motivating and make things all a little less mysterious.

Or, conversely, possibly more confusing too if the descriptions of supposedly the same phenomenon differ a lot. Restricting discussion to the teacher-student relationship will limit that. Though, personally, if there simply isn’t a consensus, then I’d rather live with the uncertainty than have some kind of overconfidence in one approach. Though, in a good teacher-student relationship, presumably/hopefully one will get direct guidance from a person very experienced in a particular approach, and the common problems that may crop up with that approach. So, sure, there’s probably no substitute for a direct relationship with an experienced teacher (if one is available).


#51

It’s been my sense that part of the work we’re supposed to be doing lies precisely in figuring it out for ourselves. Jhana is an attainment in part because it takes work to reach certainty, and no one else can do that work for you. It’s very difficult for an outsider to verify an attainment, and it’s very difficult for you to be sure of yourself. If you’re not sure, keep working.

Which is not to say that I’ve gotten anywhere. It’s just the path as I understand it.


#52

I agree with this idea, as with all experiences. It’s like being uncertain if you’ve eaten ice cream or not - you will know from the experience. Jhana takes a long time to develop and it’s about how someone know whether they are still en-route, at a comfort break or finally arrived at the destination.


#53

I don’t think the ice cream analogy works here. It would be like asking what is “proper” ice cream? You would get different answers from different ice cream experts, and their answers would depend on their ice cream mentors, and so on. And then you’re told that you’re only allowed to talk about icecream to the experts, even though they can’t agree among themselves… :laughing:


#54

The hindrance that is often translated as “doubt” is not referring to just any sort of doubt. That would be a bad thing to eliminate - doubt is often a very valuable attitude. The hindrance of doubt is the skepticism in the Buddha’s teachings or one’s ability to master it to the point of not even trying it, or perhaps sitting in meditation obsessing on “I’m so stupid/bad/evil/worthless/lazy … I’ll never get enlightened”.

Having doubt about what label to apply to one’s meditation experience, after one has emerged from it, doesn’t seem, to me, to be a case of the hindrance of doubt.


#55

Both exalting oneself and disparaging others and having a stronger sense of self can be by-products of jhana experience for the uncultivated according to the suttas.

Exalting and disparaging because of Jhana:

Furthermore, take a bad person who, 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. They reflect: ‘I have attained the first absorption, unlike these other mendicants.’ And they glorify themselves and put others down on account of that. This too is a quality of a bad person. A good person reflects: ‘The Buddha has spoken of not identifying even with the attainment of the first absorption. For whatever they think it is, it turns out to be something else.’ Keeping only non-identification close to their heart, they don’t glorify themselves and put others down on account of their attainment of the first absorption. This too is a quality of a good person.

Furthermore, take a bad person who, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, enters and remains in the second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption. They reflect: ‘I have attained the fourth absorption, unlike these other mendicants.’ And they glorify themselves and put others down on account of that. This too is a quality of a bad person. - MN 113

Eternalism/strengthening the sense of self as a result of jhana induced retrocognitiom:

“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 honourable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

“In the first case, bhikkhus, some recluse or a brahmin, by means of ardour, endeavour, 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], 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.

“He speaks thus: ‘The self and the world are eternal, barren, steadfast as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. And though these beings roam and wander (through the round of existence), pass away and re-arise, yet the self and the world remain the same just like eternity itself. What is the reason? Because I, by means of ardour, endeavour, application, diligence, and right reflection, attain to such a degree of mental concentration that with my mind thus concentrated, I recollect my numerous past lives in their modes and their details. For this reason I know this: the self and the world are eternal, barren, steadfast as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. And though these beings roam and wander (through the round of existence), pass away and re-arise, yet the self and the world remain the same just like eternity itself.’ - DN 1

And it’s also, according to the suttas, possible to mistake a jhana for Nibbana:

There are some ascetics and brahmins who speak of extinguishment in the present life. They assert the ultimate extinguishment of an existing being in the present life on five grounds. And what are the five grounds on which they rely?

There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view: ‘When this self amuses itself, supplied and provided with the five kinds of sensual stimulation, that’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life.’ That is how some assert the extinguishment of an existing being in the present life.

But someone else says to them: ‘ That self of which you speak does exist, I don’t deny it. But that’s not how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life. Why is that? Because sensual pleasures are impermanent, suffering, and perishable. Their decay and perishing give rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, this self enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life.’ That is how some assert the extinguishment of an existing being in the present life.

But someone else says to them: ‘ That self of which you speak does exist, I don’t deny it. But that’s not how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life. Why is that? Because the placing of the mind and the keeping it connected there are coarse. But when the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, this self 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 placing the mind and keeping it connected. That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life.’ That is how some assert the extinguishment of an existing being in the present life.

But someone else says to them: ‘ That self of which you speak does exist, I don’t deny it. But that’s not how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life. Why is that? Because the rapture and emotional excitement there are coarse. But with the fading away of rapture, this self enters and remains in the third absorption, where it meditates with equanimity, mindful and aware, personally experiencing the bliss of which the noble ones declare, “Equanimous and mindful, one meditates in bliss”. That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life.’ That is how some assert the extinguishment of an existing being in the present life.

But someone else says to them: ‘ That self of which you speak does exist, I don’t deny it. But that’s not how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life. Why is that? Because the bliss and enjoyment there are coarse. But giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, this self enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness. That’s how this self attains ultimate extinguishment in the present life.’ That is how some assert the extinguishment of an existing being in the present life.

These are the five grounds on which those ascetics and brahmins assert the ultimate extinguishment of an existing being in the present life. Any ascetics and brahmins who assert the ultimate extinguishment of an existing being in the present life do so on one or other of these five grounds. Outside of this there is none. The Realized One understands this … And those who genuinely praise the Realized One would rightly speak of these things. - DN 1


#57

@Polarbear,
Disparaging others because of having a real attainment is one thing (bad!) but deliberately misleading others about false attainments is quite another and much worse, so should always be disparaged! Overestimation without the intention of deceiving is a different thing, and probably more common. But such overestimation arises out of not-knowing, though it is perpetuated by a wrong view of self. If people’s overestimation is questioned and their self starts to defend itself, when doubts appear, hopefully it won’t slip over into a deliberate lie to further protect the self, which would be deceitful. This happens though and was the arrogant conceit I was pointing to above.

So. Thanks for posting about these views of self. DN1 is all about wrong view and right view, which is useful to this conversation on jhana. Wrong views of self, are a ‘reverse’ guide for those who, by overestimation , think they have made an attainment. Having wrong view of self should also be disparaged as the Buddha said time and time again! In the context of jhana, a wrong view of self is that one is special, puffed up etc, (because the jhana is based on causes and conditions of not-self, not a doing of the self) and the opposite of this is the “non-identification” you quote in MN113. Identifying with the self would also signal a lack of insight into the 3 characteristics, which would have been clarified on the emergence from the jhana, if that had been attained and seen with right view.


#58

“It” meaning any teaching about what they are?
Or “it” meaning claims to attainment?

Overestimating ones attainments, abilities, desirable characteristics is the norm for humans. Data for that is abundant in the social sciences and polling data.

Does the vinaya block monastics even asking their teachers about it?

I understand some lineages have a policy of never teaching about it and downplaying it when asked. That poses a very strange situation for any student who reads the EBTs. It seems that teachers who avoid the topic show that they attribute a rather dismal level of maturity to their students. Further it seems that most aspects of the dharma and practice are potentially problematical. Keeping students “off the rocks” is one reason why spiritual guides are valued.

It seems to me this all begs the question: How does knowing about, teaching, comparing experiences, etc. about jhana help along the path.

The path, or so it seems to me, that is in part, rightly called a jhana path.


#59

No. In conversations between upasampannas (i.e., bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs) the Vinaya doesn’t impose any limitations on questioning about and disclosure of attainments, other than the obvious requirement that they speak the truth.


#60

Several criticisms of the nimitta method for attaining jhana…

First, it appears that one must exert a considerable amount of concentration in order to bring about/stabilize the nimitta. But in the “Kimattha Sutta” the following is said:

And what is the purpose of joy? What is its reward?"

“Joy has rapture as its purpose, rapture as its reward.”

“And what is the purpose of rapture? What is its reward?”

“Rapture has serenity as its purpose, serenity as its reward.”

“And what is the purpose of serenity? What is its reward?”

“Serenity has pleasure as its purpose, pleasure as its reward.”

“And what is the purpose of pleasure? What is its reward?”

“Pleasure has concentration as its purpose, concentration as its reward.”

… so rapture and pleasure are developed before concentration.

Second. If all sense of self is lost in the nimitta is one still able to pervade and suffuse the body with the jhana factors?

Third. Nimitta practitioners seem quick to translate “piti” as joy - rather than “rapture”. Is there a reason for this? Is rapture not felt in the nimitta?


#61

Leigh Brasington has produced a pretty good overview of the jhanas: The Jhānas (Concentration States)

The “Interpretation of the Jhanas” article is particularly relevant to this discussion: Jhana Interpretations


#62

Clearly there isn’t a consensus, just a lot of different interpretations. I would need to travel a long way if I wanted to find a jhana teacher, and it would then be hit and miss as to the particular interpretation they favoured.


#63

It meaning discussions about different jhanas and limiting that to teacher student discussion, in this information age.