Imprecise interpretations of jhanas: which method to apply?


I feel that many interpretations of jhanas are imprecise.

For example, some say that vitakka and vicārā mean “applied attention” and “sustained attention”, respectively, when in truth it seems that vitakka and vicara mean, respectively, simply, “knowingly willed and time-limited verbal discursive thought”. and “automatic verbal discursive thought having continuity over time”. This interpretation seems proven in SN 21.1, where the Noble Silence allows entry into the second jhana. This is the true interpretation.
This is important because “true interpretation” means that in the first jhana we still have verbal discursive thoughts. Now, often, those who support the “imprecise interpretation” think that during the first jhana, there is no longer any verbal discursive thought. In general, these people teach much more difficult jhanas to live. Among these people are Pa Auk Sayadaw, and Stephen Snyder (and possibly also Henepola Gunaratana, who in any case believes in the first interpretation of vitakka and vicārā - as applied/sustained attentions)

Then there are people who have a correct understanding of vitakka and vicārā. Leigh Brasington is one of them. However, Leigh Brasington himself admitted that the jhanas he teaches are less intense than the Buddha’s jhanas (he showed great and useful honesty - credit to him). So there is surely something imprecise somewhere in his interpretation of jhanas.

So I ask you: what should be practiced? Personally, I practice the Pa Auk method, but also the Leigh Brasington method depending on the session. These two methods are excellent for progressing, and I am sure that by practicing them one manages, in one way or another, to live the jhanas.
But both of these methods have difficulties: that of Pa Auk leads to a first jhana without verbal discursive thoughts (whereas according to the sutta there are verbal discursive thoughts in the first jhana), and that of Leigh Brasington leads to less intense jhanas than those of the Buddha. Is there a middle way between the two? Can you detail its steps?

Thanks in advance.

May all beings be freed from the infernal cycle of suffering.

Pa-Auk has the orthodox view:

“That is, the first jhàna is close to the five hindrances, has gross jhàna
factors of applied and sustained thought, and is thus less calm than the second jhàna, which is without them.”—Pa-Auk Sayadaw, “Knowing & Seeing”

As does Henapola Gunaratana:

“The first jhana possesses five component factors: applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, happiness and one-pointedness of mind. Four of these are explicitly mentioned in the formula for the jhana; the fifth, one-pointedness, is mentioned elsewhere in the suttas but is already suggested by the notion of jhana itself.”—“The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation.”

The seven factors of awakening prescribe “tranquillity,” so as long as that element is being developed in some form is enough, but ambition is a legitimate painful feeling not of the flesh.

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Yes thanks. And Pa Auk and Snyder consider that the first jhana is devoid of any verbal discursive thought. (For them, the first jhana is already a concentration of absorption, and is therefore incompatible with verbal discursive thoughts).

Hi. Just because the second jhana is called “Noble Silence” does not necessarily mean the first jhana is composed of mental chatter. MN 19 is very clear about the Buddha-To-Be’s development of jhana, where ordinary thought was ended prior to the first jhana.

Then, as I meditated—diligent, keen, and resolute—a thought of good will arose … a thought of harmlessness arose. I understood: ‘This thought of harmlessness has arisen in me. It doesn’t lead to hurting myself, hurting others, or hurting both. It nourishes wisdom, it’s on the side of freedom from anguish, and it leads to extinguishment.’ If I were to keep on thinking and considering this all night … all day … all night and day, I see no danger that would come from that. Still, thinking and considering for too long would tire my body. And when the body is tired, the mind is stressed. And when the mind is stressed, it’s far from immersion. So I stilled, settled, unified and immersed my mind internally. Why is that? So that my mind would not be stressed.,

My energy was roused up and unflagging, my mindfulness was established and lucid, my body was tranquil and undisturbed, and my mind was immersed in samādhi.

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption…

MN 19

Ajahn Brahm has explained vitakka & vicara in the first jhana refer to the “jhana wobble”. Here, even though the mind is quiet & one (ekaggata), a part of the conscious mind is drawn towards the rapture. This very subtle movement of mind towards the rapture, to explore (vicara) the rapture, is vitakka. Then when the mind sees this movement towards & exploration of the rapture causes the rapture to weaken, the mind lets go of the vitakka & vicara, causing the rapture to increase. This very subtle movement of consciousness towards & away from the rapture Ajahn Brahm calls “the jhana wobble”.

If the correct method is not known; how can it be known Leigh Brasington has correct understanding?

The suttas say jhana results in the giving up of sensuality. Since Leigh Brasington’s method seems very easy to practice, I suppose his method can be tried to see if it frees the mind from sensuality (which seems very unlikely).

Jhana seems to be the result of having continuance mindfulness of Right View. Refer to MN 117. Ajahn Brahm has said the method to reach jhana is described in SN 48.9. :sunny:



Thank you.

Yes, there is no absolute connection, but it seems to me that there is a strong connection between the two.

The passage you quote explains that thinking too long is an obstacle to the first jhana, and it explains that one must therefore calm the mind to avoid thinking too long. But it doesn’t seem to say that “a shorter thought is harmful, and one must still the mind to avoid having a shorter thought”.

Thanks to the Sutta, we know that Leigh Brasington has a correct understanding of Vitakka and Vicārā. However, its method does not lead to the Jhânas practiced by the Buddha.

I don’t know, I haven’t tried hard enough.

Thank you so much. The ethical aspect is clear. But I find it difficult to understand the right method of intensive meditation (concentration on the breath? on the body? etc.)

Leigh Brasington’s understanding seems highly questionable. I noticed you posted on a topic where Leigh Brasington himself participated & was disagreed with by a number of members of this forum.

SN 48.9 says what to concentrate on, and it is neither the breath or the body. Regardless, why don’t you simply concentrate on the breath & see if it works. If this does not work, then concentrate on the body to see if it works. Keep in mind, the suttas seem to say jhana is a “superhuman” state (Dhp 373) and only Non-Returners & Arahants have completed jhana development (AN 3.86) :sunny:

Thank you very much for your message, it is interesting.

Please, what should we focus on? I didn’t quite understand the sutta. Should we focus on the truth of the nature of phenomena?

I do. I mostly practice the Pa Auk technique focusing on conceptual breathing.

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