Scholars generally regard the “Chapter of Eights” to be one of the earliest Buddhist texts. I think MN119, Mindfulness of the Body, may qualify as well. I say this because neither references the five aggregates which would have come in handy to describe concepts more precisely and because of the other parallels I will discuss.
Assuming that both are early texts, I think that an analysis of both the Chapter of Eights and MN119 will shed some light on the Jhanas. Jhana meditation appears to be referenced in the “Chapter of Eights”. Snp4.14 references the practice of immersion in samadi and MN119 describes samadhi practice and includes descriptions of the jhanas which also use the phrase “immersion in samadhi”. I bold the phrase in quotes from MN119.
“He whose eyes are open has explained
the truth he witnessed, where adversities are removed.
Please now speak of the practice, sir,
the monastic code and immersion in samādhi.”
“And how, mendicants, is mindfulness of the body developed and cultivated to be very fruitful and beneficial?
It’s when a mendicant has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut. They sit down cross-legged, with their body straight, and establish mindfulness right there. Just mindful, they breathe in. Mindful, they breathe out. When breathing in heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing in heavily.’ When breathing out heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing out heavily.’ When breathing in lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing in lightly.’ When breathing out lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing out lightly.’ They practice breathing in experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing out experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing in stilling the body’s motion. They practice breathing out stilling the body’s motion. As they meditate like this—diligent, keen, and resolute—memories and thoughts of the lay life are given up. Their mind becomes stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi. That’s how a mendicant develops mindfulness of the body.
If you scroll down the MN119 quotes on the first and second jhana also use the phrase. See bolded portions below.
Another parallel appears to be that the Chapter of Eights allude to vitakki and vicara while MN119 uses them without describing them. I bold references.
Consider the definitions of vitakka and vicara below.
vitakka is often combined with vicāra or “initial & sustained application Mrs. Rh. D.; Cpd. 282; “reflection & investigation Rh. D.; to denote the whole of the mental process of thinking (viz. fixing one’s attention and reasoning out or as Cpd. 17 explains it “vitakka is the directing of concomitant properties towards the object; vicāra is the continued exercise of the mind on that object.” See also above defn at Vism.142). Both are properties of the first jhāna (called sa-vitakka sa-vicāra) but are discarded in the second jhāna
The brahmin speaks not of purity from another
in terms of what is seen, heard, or thought; or by precepts or vows.
They are unsullied in the midst of good and evil,
letting go what was picked up, without creating anything new here.
Here “picking up” what is seen. heard, or thought alludes to the initial application of the mental process, and “creating something new” would be the sustained application.
“Great hermit, I ask you, the Kinsman of the Sun,about seclusion and the state of peace. How, having seen, is a mendicant quenched,not grasping anything in this world?”
“They would cut off the idea, ‘I am the thinker,” said the Buddha,“ which is the root of all concepts of identity due to proliferation.
Here “having seen” is vitakka and the idea, “I am the thinker”, is vicara.
In both cases, vitakka is an act of perception, but I suppose it could be a more general term.
What is note worthy here is that vitakka and vicara are very much under control. What is picked up is put down. Nothing new is created. Nothing is grasped when seeing. The idea that I am the thinker is cut off.
This level of control would seem to justify the use of the word jhana even if there is perception or even a deliberate response. It would also seem appropriate that the first jhana would be required for truly mindful right action and right speech. In these cases the action and speech are appropriate rather than shutdown.
The first jhana is descibed here:
Furthermore, 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 controlling vitakka and vicara.(this is my wording)] 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. 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. In the same way, 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. As they meditate like this—diligent, keen, and resolute—memories and thoughts of the lay life are given up. Their mind becomes stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi. That too is how a mendicant develops mindfulness of the body.
Yet another parallel to be found is that there are references to purity in The Chapter of Eights and MN119. In The Chapter of Eights purity appears to be the cessation of namarupa/name-form by implication
When a person sees, they see name and form,
and having seen, they will know just these things.
Gladly let them see much or little,
for experts say this is no way to purity.
and in MN119 it is achieved in the fourth jhana. There are references to pure bright mind and being clothed in white. White symbolizing purity.
Furthermore, a mendicant, giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness. They sit spreading their body through with pure bright mind. There’s no part of the body that’s not filled with pure bright mind. It’s like someone sitting wrapped from head to foot with white cloth. There’s no part of the body that’s not spread over with white cloth. In the same way, they sit spreading their body through with pure bright mind. There’s no part of the body that’s not filled with pure bright mind. As they meditate like this—diligent, keen, and resolute—memories and thoughts of the lay life are given up. Their mind becomes stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi. That too is how a mendicant develops mindfulness of the body.
I said at the beginning that neither the Chapter of Eights nor MN119 reference or include the five aggregates. Note: Namarupa predates Buddhism. The closest thing to feelings is the mention of pleasure and pain. Consciousness and volition are not explicitly mentioned.
Could the fourth jhana be the cessation of namarupa? Given that the closest thing to perception, vicara, and the closest thing to feeling, pleasure and pain, do not exist in the forth jhana, and these texts may very well predate the five aggregates, this would be the the closest thing to a cessation of perception and feeling that could be expressed.
The canon is very inconsistent about samadhi so proof texting across different strata of text against this argument will be as easy as it will be pointless. I hope that feedback will be centered around validity and soundness of the argument.