Evolution of Bhante Gunaratana's Interpretation of Jhāna
Not sure I see any conflict between Vism. and the Suttas. Vism X.19 even agrees with the Sutta regarding hearing sound in lower jhanas:
[Vism]…In fact it is because they have not been abandoned already before this[Base of Infinity of Space] that it was said by the Blessed One that sound is a thorn to one who has the first jhána (A V 135). And it is precisely because they are abandoned here that the imperturbability (see Vibh 135) of the immaterial attainments and their state of peaceful liberation are mentioned (M I 33), and that Álára Káláma neither saw the five hundred carts that passed close by him nor heard the sound of them while he was in an immaterial attainment (D II 130).
Dhammasangani and Vibhanga are indeed very useful in clarification of terms.
As for Visuddhimagga, it is quite ambiguous on the subject of jhana, with different, somewhat contradictory positions (@santa100 has quoted one of such passages).
AFAIK, it’s only much later, in medieval Abhidhamma, that no-perception jhana came to be the only interpretation.
Thanks for the OP (I rather liked the “Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English” book when I read it; IMO he has a nice writing style). FYI, in case you haven’t seen this already, there is an even more recent 22 page article by Bhante Gunaratana (from 2017 I think): “Should We Come Out of Jhana to Practice Vipassana?” My linking this article doesn’t even necessarily mean I even agree with what’s in it! I think I’ve ended up as something of a fence-sitter and fairly open-minded on the topic of jhana. There are certain core details that seem clear and solid enough to me from the texts. Disagreement seems to lessen amongst the different jhana approaches, eventually to effectively nothing, as they get to higher and higher stages of jhana. On the more controversial aspects, I’ve really seen no stance/position/argument that is on completely stable and solid ground and without its potential weaknesses (I think holes can be picked in or reasonable doubts raised for all of them), though, obviously, one of them must have been the original method! Btw thanks too for going to the trouble of writing down some of your actual jhana experiences elsewhere on the site!
Awesome! Thanks for that link, I ididn’t know about article. It looks like an expanded version of the “vipassana in fourth jhana” section of his book “beyond mindfulness”.
I’ve been taking lots of clear notes auditing the pali and english on the EBT passages related to the Jhana controversy, leaving a clear audit trail so future generations who don’t know pali can see clearly for themselves where things contradict.
And that’s how things are when you read the Vism. as a whole. it’s hard to keep track of when you’re reading quoted EBT text, in a commentary , subcommentary, sub-sub-commentary, or abhidhamma text.
The quote you provided makes it seem like it could be taken to mean in first jhana, a loud enough noise can knock you out of jhana. But if you read the text before and after that, it rules that that possibility.
CHAPTER X THE IMMATERIAL STATES
THE IMMATERIAL STATES
[(1) THE BASE CONSISTING OF BOUNDLESS SPACE]
-  Now, as to the four immaterial states mentioned next to the divine abidings (III.105), one who wants firstly to develop the base consisting of boundless space sees in gross physical matter danger through the wielding of sticks, etc., because of the words: “‘It is in virtue of matter that wielding of sticks, wielding of knives, quarrels, brawls and disputes takes place; but that does not exist at all in the immaterial state,’ and in this expectation he enters upon the way to dispassion for only material things, for the fading and cessation of only those” (M I 410); and he sees danger in it too through the thousand afflictions beginning with eye disease. So, in order to surmount that, he enters upon the fourth jhāna in any one of the nine kasiṇas beginning with the earth kasiṇa and omitting the limited-space kasiṇa.
In short, it’s saying that the advantage of arupa attainments over four rupa jhanas is that in arupa, you wouldn’t feel the pain of mosquito bites, wind, heat, cold, hunger, getting stabbed by swords, violent winds in digestion producing sharp stabbing pains that make you wish for death, etc.
By definition of a-rupa vs. rupa, this means in rupa attainemnts (i.e. four jhanas), it is possible to feel all of those physical pains. Buddhaghosa tries to wiggle out of that obvious fact with this weak sauce argument:
2.Now, although he has already surmounted gross physical matter by means of the fourth jhāna of the fine-material sphere,
nevertheless he still wants also to surmount the kasiṇa materiality since it is the counterpart of the former.
How does he do this?
tassa kiñcāpi rūpāvacara-catutthaj-jhāna-vasena karajarūpaṃ atikkantaṃ hoti,
atha kho kasiṇa-rūpampi yasmā tappaṭibhāgameva,
tasmā tampi samatikkamitukāmo hoti.
(…some similes that don’t make any sense follow…)
Basically, the idea behind those 2 similes he gives is that even though transcending
rupa with arupa lets you escape from potential horrible physical bodily pains, the physicality of the rupa kasina itself (a mental visual image of a brown colored disk), is still fearful and frightening because it reminds you of the deathly physical body pain that you left behind in four rupa jhanas.
I have a much better simile that actually makes sense. The rupa jhanas are like being lower middle class in the economic hierarchy. If you get a 30$ parking ticket, it gives you some stress. If you forget to pay the ticket on time, it becomes a 300$ ticket and now you’re really stressed out.
Arupa attainments is like being a billionaire. You get a 30$ parking ticket, you sneer and ignore it. You get a late notice letting you know it’s now a 300$ ticket. You just laugh and ignore it. You get a court summons which you fail to show up for, they rule contempt of court, give you a 30 day jail sentence on top of a hefty $10,000 fine. You’re not smiling anymore, but you’re still not stressed. You decide its better to take care of the situation now than wait for the police to show up. You call up the super attorney you have on retainer, tell him to take care of the situation, and you go on with your business, still stress free. The total price of this 30$ ticket affair, most of it attorney cost, 250,000$ The cost of being a billionaire who doesn’t have to worry about such trifling things, priceless.
The difference between rupa and the a-rupa is the difference between price and priceless. The brown rupa disk kasina is the 30$ parking ticket.
- With the disappearance of perceptions of resistance: perceptions of resistance are perceptions arisen through the impact of the physical base consisting of the eye, etc., and the respective objects consisting of visible objects etc.; and this is a term for perception of visible objects (rūpa) and so on, according as it is said: “Here, what are perceptions of resistance? Perceptions of visible objects, perceptions of sounds, perceptions of odours, perceptions of flavours, perceptions of tangible objects—these are called ‘perceptions of resistance’” (Vibh 261); with the complete disappearance, the abandoning, the non-arising, of these ten kinds of perceptions of resistance, that is to say, of the five profitable-resultant and five unprofitable-resultant;6 causing their non-occurrence, is what is meant.
Now here is the key part:
17.Of course, these are not to be found in one who has entered upon the first jhāna, etc., either; for consciousness at that time does not occur by way of the five doors. Still  the mention of them here should be understood as a recommendation of this jhāna for the purpose of arousing interest in it, just as in the case of the fourth jhāna there is mention of the pleasure and pain already abandoned elsewhere, and in the case of the third path there is mention of the [false] view of personality, etc., already abandoned earlier.
If the possibility to feel mosquito bites and hear loud sounds is not possible in first jhana like the quote above shows, then the sutta reference you quoted earlier rules out the posssiblity that sound knocks out you. It can only mean the Ajahn Brahm style interpretation of AN 10.72, which is that sound is a thorn because it prevents you from getting into first jhana.
Vism. frequently uses tactics like that where they ambiguously quote or paraphrase EBT passsages in a way that makes you think it supports the straightforward interpretation, then they pull a bait and switch and deliver something else.
You’re welcome! I think you mentioned elsewhere here that you may share some of those jhana notes here later in the year. I’ll look forward to those with interest anyway!
One more point of ambiguity in Visuddhimagga:
4.98. But when pervading (rapturous) happiness arises, the whole body is
completely pervaded, like a filled bladder, like a rock cavern invaded by
a huge inundation.
4.99. Now this fivefold happiness, when conceived and matured, perfects
the twofold tranquillity, that is, bodily and mental tranquillity. When
tranquillity is conceived and matured, it perfects the twofold bliss, that
is, bodily and mental bliss. When bliss is conceived and matured, it
perfects the threefold concentration, that is, momentary concentration,
access concentration, and absorption concentration.
Of these, what is intended in this context by happiness is pervading
happiness, which is the root of absorption and comes by growth into
association with absorption. 
But that’s about ambiguity, not about a conflict with the Suttas right? Maybe you can provide sample excerpts from Suttas versus Vism. where you see a conflict?
As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of non-ill will arose in me…a thought of non-cruelty arose in me. I understood thus: ‘This thought of non-cruelty has arisen in me. This does not lead to my own affliction, or to others’ affliction, or to the affliction of both; it aids wisdom, does not cause difficulties, and leads to Nibbāna. If I think and ponder upon this thought even for a night, even for a day, even for a night and day, I see nothing to fear from it. But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body, and when the body is tired, the mind becomes strained, and when the mind is strained, it is far from concentration.’ So I steadied my mind internally, quieted it, brought it to singleness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind should not be strained…“Tireless energy was aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness was established, my body was tranquil and untroubled, my mind concentrated and unified. …Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna…
[quote=“frankk, post:1, topic:5896”]
first jhāna: …The world goes away. [/quote]
Venerable sir, what is that course of actions to realise the world of only pleasant feelings?
Here, Udāyi, the bhikkhu secluded from sensual desires and thoughts of demerit abides in the first jhana: Overcoming thoughts and thought processs and the mind in one point internally appeased, without thoughts and thought processes abides in the second jhana. Again with equanimuity to joy and detachment, feeling pleasant with the body too, abides in the third jhana. To this the noble ones say abiding in pleasantness with equanimity. Udāyi, this is the course of actions, for realising the world of only pleasant feelings. `
IMHO, there’s no point to look for a conflict. Visuddhimagga is rather a compilation of sources and opinions, sometimes contradictory, which Ven. Buddhaghosa struggles to align, as in:
175.Now, as to the clause he feels bliss with his body: here, although in one actually possessed of the third jhana there is no concern about feeling bliss, nevertheless he would feel the bliss associated with his mental body, and after emerging from the jhana he would also feel bliss since his material body would have been affected by the exceedingly superior matter originated by that bliss associated with the mental body. It is in order to point to this meaning that the words ‘he feels bliss with his body’ are said.
So, since Visuddhimagga doesn’t have a clear-cut position on perception in jhana, it’s useful to see it as rather a compilation of contemporaneous sources.
It’s only much later, probably in medieval Abhidhamma, that the absence of perception in jhana was strongly postulated.
That’s a terrific way to look at it, and the only way to look at it and understand why there are so many contradictions and incoherent things in Vism. Unfortunately most THOX (theravada orthodox) followers seem to insist that Abhidhamma pitaka, Vism, etc, are coherent, doesn’t contradict itself (within the Vism.) and doesn’t contradict the EBT. When asking these teacher about specific cases where it is contradicting, then they give answers like the piti mind/body contradiction.
Much of the Vism., when I’m reading it, feels like a young child asking their parent a question about something, then the parent (Buddhaghosa) says something that sounds sagacious but doesn’t make any sense. It just ends up confusing the child, making even scarring them and impairing their ability to think in a rational way.
about what range of years is medieval ABhidhamma? Looking in earth kasina section before the first jhana, we have:
76.But the Abhidhamma scholar, the Elder Godatta, quoted this text: “Preceding profitable states are a condition, as repetition condition, for succeeding profitable states” (Paṭṭh I 5). Adding, “It is owing to the repetition condition that each succeeding state is strong, so there is absorption also in the sixth and seventh.”
77.That is rejected by the commentaries with the remark that it is merely that elder’s opinion, adding that, “It is only either in the fourth or the fifth21 that there is absorption. Beyond that, impulsion lapses. It is said to do so because of nearness of the life-continuum.” And that has been stated in this way after consideration, so it cannot be rejected. For just as a man who is running towards a precipice and wants to stop cannot do so when he has his foot on the edge but falls over it, so there can be no fixing in absorption in the sixth or the seventh because of the nearness to the life-continuum. That is why it should be understood that there is absorption only in the fourth or the fifth.
I’m far from being knowledgable about Abhidhamma, but that kind of sounds like its supporting a first jhana with a frozen state. And the quote from my other post from space-infinitude-dimension definitively said in first jhana the 5 consciousnessess associated with the body can not happen.
Did you type all this text or did you find a freely available pdf version of the book?
unfortunately it’s not a free book, but I didn’t type the notes by hand. buying the book directly from widompub (instead of amazon) in digital form (link to that in OP), you get a DRM-less version of the ebook where it allows you to cut and paste.
That book is well worth the price, about 12$ USA I think. The cost of one lunch.
Many Thanks Frankk. I just bought the electronic version for iBooks for US$11.99 at wisdompub.
Thank you for that link–it is no longer active and it has changed to: Should We Come Out of Jhana to Practice Vipassana? | Bhavana Society