'Forgetfulness' in Buddhism

I have been wondering why the Buddha, who experienced a jhana as a child, (and a famous contemporary teacher says that although jhanas are not to be equated with enlightenment, they give a ‘taste’ of enlightenment and are otherwordly experiences) then did not seem to take this experience into account (even though it’s supposed to be the most significant experience of one’s life) in his early life and for seven years during his search for enlightenment (during which he wasted time instead for example with ascetic practises). It was only after seven years that it occurred to him that jhanas were the path to enlightenment.

I am not sure if this kind of ‘forgetfulness’ or at any rate of not taking into account his early experience (in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be a huge event) can be explained in terms of delusion? What is the explanation for why the Buddha did not take into account his experience of jhana as a child earlier on in his search (or for that matter, earlier on in his life)?

I am also reminded of the ancient Greek word for truth, aletheia, where the ‘a’ means the negation of ‘lethe’ (forgetfulness, concealment). So truth was understood as unconcealment by the Greeks: it’s as if things naturally get covered up and forgotten, and seeing the truth is an act of uncovering. Perhaps not too different from the idea of avijja(?)

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One reason might be I guess, is that it’s really difficult when all the people ‘in the know’, are saying that the way to enlightenment is through ‘pain’ and ‘striving to get’, to then relate something soooo ‘pleasurable’ which arises through ‘letting go’ with the spiritual path. It’s still there in your mind as a big event, but you can’t reconcile it with it being ‘the way’.

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It could also be that as a child he could not place its significance in any context, and was only able to grasp its full meaning after exploring all these other avenues.

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Is it not Buddha practicing formless Jhana (with implication of Jhana) with his first two ascetic teachers tho?

some teachers say that these were not really the immaterial attainments but ‘watered down’ forms of them

It is not jhana that is the key to enlightenment but the discrimination of pleasant feeling not of the flesh:

“I thought: ‘So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?’ I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities,”—MN 36

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…by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to enlightenment?’
I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenment?’ Then, following on that memory, came the realisation: ‘That is indeed the path to enlightenment.’

Jhana is not mentioned in the Anapanasati or Satipatthana suttas, but the cultivation of the feeling of joy is a primary theme:

" before my awakening, when I was still an unawakened bodhisattva, I also thought thus: “Happiness is not to be gained by being happy; happiness is to be gained through pain.”—MN 85

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Most of the EBT’s on mindfulness of breathing are located in the Anapana collection of the SA / SN.

SA 814 and SN 54.8 both link the practice with the 4 dhyanas and 4 formless attainments.

EA 17.1 also connects anapana with the 4 dhyanas and the higher knowledges.

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As far as I ve understood jhana corresponds to step 9 of the Anapanasati sutta

Later edit. I made a mistake-I meant step 12

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Yes. Anapanasati sutta says that Anapanasati fulfills the satasambojjangha (seven factors of awakening). The seven factors of awakening is basically the tail end of the noble eightfold path, which is samma sati and samma samadhi.

So yes, jhanas are non-negotiable.

As to op’s question regarding the Buddha not remembering the path. There is a sutta that states from life to life memory of the dhamma learned from a previous life can come up quickly or slowly. So even if Gotama had right view (knew the N8FP) because he learned it when he was Jotipala under Kassapa Buddha, he would still need to trigger a bunch of things in his next life as Gotama to re-remember the path. So it could be his trials and error bouncing between luxury and extreme asceticism, allowed him to zero in on the hunch which led him to re-attain samma samadhi.

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The third terrad (steps 9-12) deals with bringing the mind to balance from either lack of inspiration, or on the other hand over-activity, and that task is continued in the third foundation of mindfulness:

“And further, he remains focused on feelings… mind… mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on mental qualities in & of themselves, a fever based on mental qualities arises within his body, or there is sluggishness in his awareness, or his mind becomes scattered externally. He should then direct his mind to any inspiring theme. As his mind is directed to any inspiring theme, gladness is born within him. In one who is gladdened, rapture is born. In one whose heart is enraptured, the body grows calm. His body calm, he feels pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind grows concentrated. He reflects, ‘I have attained the aim to which my mind was directed. Let me withdraw.’ He withdraws & engages neither in directed thought nor in evaluation. He discerns that ‘I am not thinking or evaluating. I am inwardly mindful & at ease.’—SN 47.10

Inspiring themes to gladden the mind are found in AN 11.13, and for steadying the mind in MN 62.

Step 12 in the third tetrad “releasing the mind” refers to the “clear knowing and release” which is experienced at any stage of overcoming the defilements:

"These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

"When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

"When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.

"Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus from the fading of passion is there awareness-release. From the fading of ignorance is there discernment-release.”—-AN 2.30

Yes I am sorry I made a mistake in my earlier post; I meant step 12 corresponds to the jhanas; my understanding is that the third tetrad relates to the part where you experience nimittas and then jhanas, with jhanas being number 12. Would you agree?
Though I still am a bit confused by the fact that there’s the reference to breathing in and breathing out, even though in the fourth jhana (I think) one apparently stops breathing.

No. The third tetrad is about examining and correcting the state of the mind. The exercises connected with the third tetrad prepare the mind and the result is peaceful abiding. This is all the result of overcoming of hindrances. The development of jhana is free of hindrances, has a different focus, and if undertaken would be a more advanced stage.

“He withdraws & engages neither in directed thought nor in evaluation. He discerns that ‘I am not thinking or evaluating. I am inwardly mindful & at ease.”—SN 47.10

Well… it’s been my experience that many sits (even good ones) are hard to remember. The unemotional mind states leave little trace in memory. Plain awareness is so “ordinary” it’s easy to overlook how profound it is. At least that’s how I’ve always read this story. :man_shrugging:

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That’s correct but the practitioner should cultivate the perception that the seemingly ordinary state of mind is a cause for positive results:

“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding.”—MN 19

Practice is about restructuring the mind to right view.

Furthermore it depends upon what context the ordinary state of mind is in. When the practitioner is behaving according to it in an environment contrasted with others driven by desire following conventional values, the situation assumes a greater intensity. This kind of real experience common in lay life has a strengthening effect, and constitutes tranquillity and insight as a combined process resulting in clear knowing and progressive release:

"These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

"When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

"When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.

“Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus from the fading of passion is there awareness-release. From the fading of ignorance is there discernment-release.”—AN 2.30

The factors of awakening request ‘tranquillity’ not jhana:

“And what is lack of food for the arising of unarisen serenity as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of serenity… once it has arisen? There is bodily serenity & there is mental serenity. To foster inappropriate attention to them: This is lack of food for the arising of unarisen serenity as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of serenity… once it has arisen.”—SN 46.51

But it is mentioned in Kayagasati Sutta MN 119 and it’s parallel in MA 81

The Satipatthana sutta is described in the introduction as the ‘establishing’ of the foundations of mindfulness. Then SN 47.40 describes the ‘development’ of the establishing of mindfulness, and shows the establishing as described in the Satipatthana sutta as a beginning stage. If practitioners overlook this stage and try to read things into the sutta, and align their practice with teachings beyond their capability they miss the information and perspective most relevant to them. It’s a conceit.

Don’t forget the parallels of Satipatthana Sutta in Madhyama Agama and Ekottarika Agama does mention about four jhanas

The way to ‘prove’ the suttas is through practice to discover the veracity of the second and third noble truths in actual experience (MN 119). The practitioner should be looking inward. The Buddha was referring to the suttas when he spoke, and they have produced arahants over the past 2000 years who knew nothing of the Chinese system. The issue is not gathering more and more information, it is rather the taking of a small amount of information ( the four noble truths) and investigating them thoroughly:

“While in a literate culture in which systematic thought is highly
prized the lack of such a text with a unifying function might be viewed
as a defect, in an entirely oral culture—as was the culture in which the
Buddha lived and moved—the lack of a descriptive key to the
Dhamma would hardly be considered significant. Within this culture
neither teacher nor student aimed at conceptual completeness. The
teacher did not intend to present a complete system of ideas; his pupils
did not aspire to learn a complete system of ideas. The aim that united
them in the process of learning—the process of transmission—was that
of practical training, self-transformation, the realization of truth, and
unshakable liberation of the mind.”—Bikkhu Bodhi

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