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How do you interpret the lotus analogy for the third jhana?

I’ve often found the teaching analogies that the Buddha uses to be extremely helpful for my practice. One that continues to perplex me, though, is the analogy of the lotus immersed in the water for the third jhana state.

The common pericope is:

And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture, so that there is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture.

Just as in a blue-, white-, or red-lotus pond, there may be some of the blue, white, or red lotuses which, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those blue, white, or red lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture… (Jhana: jhana)

The sentence I’d like to draw your attention to is the phrase “born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water”

How would you interpret that component of the analogy? Why does the lotus stay immersed in the water?

I found a passage by Ajahn Brahm in which he wrote:

The Third Jhana is described by the metaphor of a lotus flower that thrives immersed in the cool water of a lake. The lotus represents the mind in Third Jhana. Water can cool the petals and leaves of a lotus but can never penetrate the lotus, since all water rolls off a lotus. The coolness stands for sukha, the wetness stands for piti. So like the lotus immersed in water, the mind in the Third Jhana is cooled by sukha but is not penetrated by piti. The mind in the Third Jhana experiences only sukha. In the Third Jhana, the mind continues to experience a rock-like stillness, never moving outside, just as the lotus in the simile always remains immersed within the water. Just as the bliss of the Third Jhana sustains the mind therein, so the cool water, which represents bliss, causes the lotus to thrive. Once again, the unique bliss of the Third Jhana pervades the whole mental experience form beginning to end, just as the cool waters in the simile pervade the lotus with coolness from its roots to its tips.
Ajahn Brahmavamso - The Jhanas

He mentions “never moving outside, just as the lotus in the simile always remains immersed” So in this sense, I believe he is perhaps referring to the mind not moving outside the jhana state.

I wonder if another interpretation is that while experiencing sukha (bliss/happiness), the mind remains tranquil and does not come out of the “water” as would occur when experiencing the stronger, disruptive emotion of piti (joy/rapture). The mind has found that delicate balance in the third jhana, one which allows happiness to be “born and grow…and flourish” while the mind still remains “immersed”. This parallels the last phrase from the preceding paragraph: “pleasure divested of rapture.”

So as we recall this analogy as a meditation guide for the third jhana, we can call to mind the image of a tranquil lake, full of multi-colored lotuses that flourish, yet remain immersed and sustained, stable, and unperturbed. This links to the analogy for the preceding second jhana (where piti is much stronger): a “lake with spring-water welling up from within…” A spring is a more forceful image which seems very appropriate when conceptualizing piti. One can imagine moving from the concept of a spring in the second jhana to the more tranquil image of a lotus, remaining immersed, to help with the transition into the sukha that characterizes the third jhana.

Does this interpretation make sense or do you have a different perspective (or is there a reference/source you could provide)? Thank you in advance.

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suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture.

If the body here refers to mind , how can you “fill up” the mind , which is a formless phenomena ? Following the same idea, the phrase entire body (sabbāvato kāyassa ) doesn’t make sense as you cannot segregate the mind, like the body, into parts.

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So f I read correctly, you are suggesting that here body means physical body and not the mind condition. It’s a process still part of fabrication. So in this case the simile refers to the sensation in the body. Is that your point?

Yes , see that the buddha says

so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those blue, white, or red lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture .

Notice the bolded part, it says from the roots to the tips, are suffused with cool water. You can’t divide the mind into parts where one part feels bliss , while other doesn’t. It is a formless phenomena.

It is quite simply from the top of the body to the bottom, there’s no part which does not experience the bliss. (piti-sukha).

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It refers to the suffusing of the nāmakāya and the whole mind with rapture and pleasure. It cannot mean the physical body, since each āyatana can only experience their respective object as per MN 43. The physical body can only experience touch. Only the nāmakāya and mind can experience rapture and pleasure, since they are mental dhammas.

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Indeed, if we think instead of “mind” as a unified object the different levels of consciousness as per Pali scriptures, we do have different parts

  • Eye consciousness.
  • Ear consciousness.
  • Nose consciousness.
  • Tongue consciousness.
  • Body consciousness
  • Mind consciousness

So the description may indeed indicate the progressive calming effects on each of them. At the end of the day body as material element cannot experience anything otherwise a cadaver could have reached perfect jhana.

I normally read it as a description of the different and progressive states of calming consciousness. Interesting enough, this will make sense in neurological terms as the different areas of brain activity will “cool down” (literally so) the deeper is the concentration and the jhana.

Well the six consciousness, arise only due to contact, it’s not like that the six consciousness are laying dormant somewhere, and you are calming them. You’ve already closed you eyes already before meditating, how would you calm it anymore? Also SN 46.2 differentiates kaya-passaddhi and citta-passaddhi. Now you could say that they don’t mention jhana. But you can’t end suffering without developing the seven factors of awakening.

I would interpret it around the all-pervading immersion element. You are of the water (born in and growing in it), and there is nowhere without water. And this concerns the body also - it is an embodied experience, as opposed to cognitive. Pervading your entire body-mind. And you don’t stand up out of the water because there is no part where there is no water. It’s all of you. Not partial.

And I think the affective side of this is rather important. The Buddha seems to have clearly differentiated between affective and cognitive aspects of the mind and experience. He is here describing affective, embodied experience.

Interesting to take it as a meditation guide. I take is rather as a description. Which may also be useful for the purpose of identifying. But I did not take it to be used with intent, as in trying to ‘summon’ the state. Like a menu - the description of food describes what it is, but it’s not something to wish for in order to create it. Though it does also help in identifying it - if 4 people order and unfamiliar food comes, at least they can know which food is who’s by examining the items and comparing them to the menu. But the actual creation procedure is another thing entirely.

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Thank you for your helpful comment. In regards to the “all-pervading immersion element”, I agree with what you and other commentators have mentioned. I guess what I am trying to get at is how this all-pervading immersion in the third jhana differs from the all-pervading immersion that characterizes the first, second and fourth jhanas as well, all of which equally emphasize an all-pervading component to their respective jhana states. In the second jhana, for example, the piti is also all-pervading and immersive. For me, I feel that the crucial aspect of this powerful analogy the Buddha has provided for the third jhana is that the state of happiness “flourish[es] without standing up out…” (i.e., it is restrained and controlled, unlike piti).

I can see your other point that it could be viewed as a description and it is very helpful that the Buddha does this in terms of helping us to understand each state. Perhaps what prompted me to use the term “guide” is that the Buddha has used fairly active verbs to describe this, which seems more in keeping with a “guide”. He begins with the phrase “Just as…” to describe the analogy, then says in the middle of the passage, when transitioning to actual practice “…even so, the monk…” and then uses active verbs like “permeates and pervades”. But it is not a complete guide in that the analogy does not fully explain how to arrive at the state; that is done elsewhere in the sutta.

I’ve struggled for nearly two years trying to understand this analogy for the third jhana state. Every time I read the suttas on jhanas, I would often skim over this section because it just didn’t resonate with me, whereas the other three analogies have been so wonderful and helpful. The Buddha’s teachings are so profound. Sometimes it just takes time. Undoubtably, there is still much more there than I can currently see, waiting to be uncovered.

You’re welcome! I’d guess that the total immersion aspect is the same, and that these are different ways of expressing that. But that some of the details, such as the pure brightness of the 4th jhāna, the still coolness of the 3rd, the cool internal stream of the 2nd, and the (mere) saturation of the 1st, point to the outstanding characteristics of these different affective experiences. These are further elaborated by the names of the affect, such as vivekajena pītisukhena etc. It’s hard to describe affects with much else than analogy!

The elements that you have pointed out do not make it seem instructional to me. It just sounds like an analogy being explained, as a description. Though this question would benefit from someone who knows how it would sound to a native Pāli speaker.

For actual instructions, I would turn to an instructional discourse. I forget where, I think somewhere in MN/MA, the Buddha instructs Anuruddha and his friends in jhāna. My memory tells me that might be… MĀ or MN 72? I don’t quite remember. Anyway, he even recounts his own jhāna practice before he was enlightened, which refutes the popular tale of him deciding jhāna was the path of enlightenment, eating some food, and then happening to attain all 4 jhānas and enlightenment in one sitting! So I like this sutta (with parallels) very much, as it seems to be the genuine story, in which he actually took a good amount of time to train himself to even experience the first jhāna! And so also for the next 3. It seems it could have been at least a number of days but more likely months or even years potentially! Either way, definitely for an extended period. So anyway, you can see his jhāna instructions there if you can find it.

Do you practice jhāna? A two year jhāna retreat with a suitable guide might find you the answer! :stuck_out_tongue:

Or… outside of practice, perhaps looking into Ayya Khema’s teachings would be helpful. She was a jhāna teacher and so far as I can see, she was teaching from direct and deep experience. There are books and talks available from her.

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Just thought it would be nice to have some picture or drawing of this in this thread:

:anjal:

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Thank you–I read Ayya Khema’s works and found them to be helpful. I’ve also found Leigh Brasington’s book very useful because of its very specific instructions.

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These images are really very interesting. As I look at them, I am struck by several additional insights related to this analogy.

  1. Even though immersed in the water, you can see an image of the sky above, but are insulated from it. To me, this suggest the concept that in the third jhana state, one withdraws even further from interaction with the external world, even though it is still there. It reminds me of the experience, perhaps one you have had also, of being at a public pool and hearing all the noise when your head is above water, then immersing your head and it becomes so much more tranquil and quiet.
  2. The image of the leaves above that have penetrated the water are seeking sustenance from the sun. This reminds me of the six sense base consciousnesses that are always reacting to the external world. The lotus immersed in the water is protected somewhat from that. The remaining in the water, while other fronds move up to the surface, implies a sense of restraint.
  3. The experience of being underwater invokes a sense of being languid due to the inherent nature of the water slowing us down, and much less frenetic that being out of water where there is less resistance from the air.
  4. The floor is murky and cluttered, yet the lotus rises out of it. The purpose of the jhana states is to move to ever high levels of mental purification.
  5. Foremost of all, though, is the sense of stability, equilibrium and balance since the lotus is positioned between two extremes (the lake floor and the surface), and to me that is very much the essence of the third jhana and what we are seek to cultivate through the sukha that characterizes this stage.
  6. Different colors–why did the Buddha explicitly mention this when he said “blue, white or red lotuses” instead of just saying “white lotuses”? What comes to mind here is the sense that we all bring to the path different characteristics and even as arahants, these persists. Moggallana, for example, cultivated psychic powers, while Sariputtra had a different temperament and focus. Another interpretation is that there are different paths to this happiness, such as a metta-based path or a seclusion-based approach.

Do any other insights related to the third jhana come to you as you look at these helpful images? In some ways, reflecting on these images seems like a form of anussati, specifically, Recollection of the Dhamma (Dhammānussati). I’ve been thinking lately that it would be nice to print these type of images drawn from the analogies of the Buddha (the frontier fortress for mindfulness, the hands of a soapmaker kneeding soap for the first jhana, etc.) as a way to remind myself of the tranquility and beauty of these states while struggling with the hectic nature of modern lay life.

The human mind has a substantial amount of cortex dedicated to visual processing. Some estimates are that as much as 50% of the cortex is dedicated to visual imagery. The images invoked by these analogies are a powerful way to leverage that extra processing power, those additional billions of neurons, as we seek to gain insight. Visual memory is also an important component of memory, one that tends to be nonverbal and thus less restrained by semantic limitations and thereby amenable to different forms of insight. Sati, or mindfulness, can be viewed as intertwined with recollection/memory. Thus it seems reasonable that the Buddha was encouraging us to use this resource as part of the path.

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They are not wrong when they say just 1 image can describe thousands words

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You forget the mind can experience other faculties

Even In jhana it experiences both rapture and faculties

I have tried this before I focused on a blue image I created in my mind but I still can hear external sound although the sound is not that clear

I think as we go deeper in jhanas, the external noise would decrease

All of that is still being experienced at the mind, rather than the physical body contacting rapture and pleasure. The physical body experiences physical touch. Nothing more. It therefore follows that the sutta is not talking about the physical body, but another type of body. As with English and Sanskrit, “body” can mean different things depending upon the context.

You can’t hear a sound whilst in Jhana, since the 5 senses are temporarily shut down. Sounds more like access concentration to me, but we are getting too far into personal practice here.

Of course it’s ,there is no way for body to feel rapture, body can only feel tactile sensation

But when you are aware of your entire body or what sutta calls “perception of form” you will aware of rapture in that whole body and this includes internal organs too, it’s this awareness that covers that entire body so if rapture arises the rapture contacts the awareness in that entire body it’s what the buddha called mind born contact, so the rapture is not in your head or your breath it’s in your entire awareness

Once you become aware of space or infinite space you will aware of pleasure in that whole space since buddha still calls dimension of infinite space as pleasure, your awareness becomes unlimited

That is the difference between form and formless, both mental and breath body are formless and when buddha refers to perception of form he refers to your friend’s form or your mother’s form or your phone’s form, anything that has form but if we only focus or aware on this very form we use to breath that’s where the rapture arises

It’s like mind made body even though it’s mental you can see it and touch it

When gods create and use a mind made body they don’t lose their heavenly rapture and pleasure in that very body

I think up to third jhana you would still aware of your breath it’s not until fourth jhana you cant sense your breath in this case you can’t sense the nimitta/tactile sensation in your nose, the sign of breathing

And buddha said bodily fabrication cease in fourth jhana while mental fabrication cease in cessation attainment so even the buddha carefully differentiated between the body and the mental

That’s not true though. Emotions are embodied experience. In fact a lot of my work as a psychotherapist has revolved around getting people in touch with their emotions if they are not [oh, editing that I just noticed the striking parallel of English to Pāli, in touch with emotions, Pāli: ‘touching with the body’], and that means bringing it into the body, noticing through the body how your emotions feel. If you are stuck in your head, you’re dissociated from your emotions. Hence I find it entirely relevant that the Buddha seems to specifically talk about touching these states with the body, this being a way to differentiation this affective experience from cognitive experience, for which he uses the analogy of sight.

But this bodily experience is not the same as sensory affect, which is what ‘touch’ is all about. This is brain-generated affect, that you feel in your body. And mind. The experience is you could say an embodied-mental experience.

See above. But also - have you never felt bliss permeate your body? Or even on a more mundane level, have you never noticed the bodily component of anger, disgust, love, pride, shame and so on?

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That’s certainly true and seems a pity that some ways of interpreting the suttas fall into a mind-body duality. I don’t see that in the suttas at all. I don’t see how rupa or vedana, in particular, can be cleanly separated into “body” and “mind”. baskets. Aren’t they just aspects of experience?

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