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Invincibility Whilst in Jhana

This is a topic I saw last year on a separate forum, but can’t for the life of me remember where.

I had heard of at least 3 accounts of invincibility during jhana (and 3 accounts of time skipping), and was always curious how it could have appeared to any passerby. Then, while reading the 10000 Songs of Milarepa, I found a description of one such incident.

First, the three that I recall (and please forgive me if I get the accounts wrong):

  1. Ajahn Mun’s Biography, p. 434: ‘The Adventures of Acariya Chob’
    “All awareness of the external world, including his physical presence, had utterly disappeared. Which meant that awareness of the tigers had also disappeared. His citta had ‘converged’ completely, dropping to the very base of samãdhi, and many hours passed before it withdrew from that state. When his citta finally withdrew, he found that he was still standing in the same position as before. His umbrella and alms bowl were still slung over his shoulder, and in one hand he still carried a candle lantern, which had long since gone out.”

  2. An account I read on the internet somewhere of a monk who, while meditating in a shack near a river, entered into a deep state of meditation. During it, he had apparently a very nice experience where he watched two lights flying around and dancing. When he awoke, he found that his shack was gone, and the area around him was completely destroyed. He want back to the village for alms, and found out that the river near where he had been meditating had flooded, and the whole area had been underwater for several days.

  3. Ajahn Brahm told a story once, of his own student, who got into such a deep state of meditation that, apparently, it looked like he had died. The wife of the student rushed him to the hospital, after they found no pulse. They then tried to bring him back using a defibrillator, to no avail. It was only after they had declared him dead that the student awoke. Apparently, it was a very nice meditation that he was having. (Hard for me to remember which talk this was from, so my apologies).

The other three accounts of time skipping are of the masters Han Shan, Xu Yun, and Sheng Yen. Han Shan, while he was walking through the forest, stopped for a brief moment to enjoy a deep meditation, and when he awoke, he found dust all in his abode. Xu Yun, after making taro, went into meditation while waiting for it to finish. Instead of several minutes, he sat for several weeks, and only awoke because of a neighboring monk coming in to check up on him, having not heard from him and seeing nothing but tiger tracks around his place. Sheng Yen, while several hundred books between floors, to a library, suddenly had the thought “Who is moving the books?” after which he awoke and found that 2 hours had passed, and all his work had been completed.

Finally, this account that I just read shows how the invincibility can appear, to external parties.

When the Jetsun Milarepa was practicing the River-Flow Samadhi and observing silence in the Riga Daya Cave of Nyi Shang of Mon, a few local huntsmen came that way. Seeing the Jetsun sitting motionless, they were all struck with wonder and doubt. After staring at him for a while, they suddenly became frightened and ran away. After a time they crept back one by one. Drawing their bows, they asked the motionless Jetsun: “Are you a human or a ghost? If you are a man, answer us.” But the Jetsun still sat motionless without uttering a word. The huntsmen then shot many poisonous arrows at Milarepa, but none of them could hit him. They tried to throw him into the river, but they could not lift his body. Then they lit a fire, but even this could not bum him. Finally, they moved his body [by lifting the seat and ground he sat on] and heaved it over a steep cliff into the great turbulent river below. Yet, still in a serene lotus posture, the Jetsun’s body did not touch the water, but floated above the river. Then it started moving upward and finally came back to rest in its original place, all this without Milarepa
having uttered a single word.

10000 Songs of Milarepa, Pg. 287

Now, one can imagine how, in the first case, the tigers probably also had a hard time dealing with the monk, and how, in the second case, the monk might have been rooted to the floor, making it impossible to be moved. These are curiosities that I’d had, and I’m quite happy to have at least some answer to them.

I wonder if anyone else has stories such as these; I find them riveting and faith-inspiring.

However, not too interested in discussing their factuality, as that’s a different topic, and one which the Buddha already addresses.

So, does anyone have any additional stories? Or perhaps can supplement #2 and #3 with additional details?

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Bhante Brahm tells the story in this video for example, starting at 1:11:15:

Yes :slight_smile: I discovered that monk very recently actually, what a life! That story can be found at page 88 and onwards here for example: https://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Translations/Empty-Cloud_The_Autobiography_of_Xu_Yun.pdf

There is another passage in this book where he enters samadhi while teaching people and stays like that for several days (page 106):

A few days after I had finished expounding the Sutra of Ksitigarbha, I continued to expound the Universal Door73 to an audience of several hundred people.
One day as I sat cross-legged, I involuntarily entered the state of samadhi and thus forgot all about expounding the sutras. After I had been so sitting for nine successive days, the news spread in the capital (Bangkok). The King, high ministers, male and female disciples came to pay their reverence. I came out of samadhi and after I had finished expounding the sutras, the King of Thailand invited me to his palace to recite them once more. He presented me with many offerings and respectfully requested me to accept him as a disciple. The literati and people who became my disciples numbered several thousand persons. After this experience of samadhi, both of my legs became numb and I could only walk with difficulty. Soon my whole body became paralyzed, and as I could not hold my chopsticks, others had to feed me.

At that time he was 68, just a bit over half his lifespan! I let that sink in…

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If by “jhana”, you mean the 4 jhanas, I don’t think invulnerability happens in those states.

In the EBT, that usually happens in cessation of perception in feeling, such as here:
MN 50 they tried to cremate previous Buddha

10.“It happened once, Evil One, that the venerable Sañjīva had seated himself at the root of a certain tree and entered upon the cessation of perception and feeling. Some cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers saw the venerable Sañjīva sitting at the root of the tree having entered upon the cessation of perception and feeling, and they thought: ‘It is wonderful, sirs, it is marvellous! This recluse died while sitting. Let us cremate him.’ Then the cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers collected grass, wood, and cowdung, and having piled it up against the venerable Sañjīva’s body, they set fire to it and went on their way.

11.“Now, Evil One, when the night had ended, the venerable Sañjīva emerged from the attainment.520 “” He shook his robe, and then, it being morning, he dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, he went into the village for alms. The cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers saw the venerable Sañjīva wandering for alms, and they thought: ‘It is wonderful, sirs, it is marvellous! This recluse who died while sitting has come back to life!’ [334] That was how the venerable Sañjīva came to have the designation ‘Sañjīva.’521

There’s an incident with V.Sariputta where he gets smashed in a head by a wicked deva, and he comes through with just a minor head ache I think. Anyone know the sutta ref for that?

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It’s Ud 4.4

9Then the yakkha taking no notice of that other yakkha, gave a blow on the elder venerable Sāriputta’s head: it was such a great blow that with that blow a seven, or seven and a half cubit Nāga elephant might have been felled, or a great mountain top might have been burst open.

10Then that yakkha calling out: “I’m burning, I’m burning” right there and then fell into the Great Hell.

11Venerable Mahāmoggallāna saw with his divine-eye, which is purified, and surpasses that of normal men, that yakkha giving a blow on venerable Sāriputta’s head. And after seeing it, he went to venerable Sāriputta, and after going, he said this to venerable Sāriputta: “Can you bear up, venerable friend? Can you carry on? Do you have any pain?”

12“I can bear up, friend Moggallāna; I can carry on, friend Moggallāna, but I have a little pain on my head.”

13“Wonderful, friend Sāriputta, marvellous, friend Sāriputta, such is the venerable Sāriputta’s great power and great majesty. Here, friend Sāriputta, a certain yakkha gave a blow on your head: it was such a great blow, that with that blow a seven, or seven and a half cubit Nāga elephant might have been felled, or a great mountain top might have been burst open. But then venerable Sāriputta said this: ‘I can bear up, friend Moggallāna; I can carry on, friend Moggallāna, but I have a little pain on my head.’ ”

14“Wonderful, friend Moggallāna, marvellous, friend Moggallāna, such is the venerable Mahāmoggallāna’s great power and great majesty, in as much as he can even see a yakkha, whereas we at present do not even see a mud-demon!”

But the sutta doesn’t actually say what kind of meditative attainment Ven. Sariputta was in:

Then at that time venerable Sāriputta, on a moonlight night, with his hair freshly shaved off, was sitting in the open air, having attained a certain concentration.

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But are they invincibility?

There are many possible explanations for this, one of which is that the tigers may have perceived him as being dead. If they are anything like lions, then they may be conditioned to not eat dead meat (risk of food poisoning). Sometimes this happens also with antelope being chased, going into shock and dissociating, and sometimes due to appearing dead they are not eaten, left alone, then at some stage they stop being dissociated, come to their senses, and run away.

Slowed metabolism in jhāna could possibly be so slow that there was no need for additional air. And if his mouth were closed and his head upright, the downward pointing nostrils stop water from entering the lungs (this is quite possibly a development from a time when humans went through a water stage, living in the rivers - see the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis). So he could have been submerged but not drowned. Or, could have been floating around.

You have probably also heard of people in deep meditation for months or years with no need for water or food, staying all the time in meditation. This shows drastically slowed metabolism.

This is the case of someone who was not dead, being not dead. That has nothing to do with ‘invincibility’. One thing it does say however, is that the pulse was either non-existent, or so weak that they did not notice it. Again, this relates to slowed metabolism.

Don’t believe everything you read in Tibetan hagiographies.

That’s kind of funny that they had this reaction to a monk who could not control his own mind.

This is already more than what science accepts.

You are right in the sense that he did not seem in control of his attainment, but to involuntarily enter a higher attainment is still a praiseworthy deed, and something that most people will never experience in their lifetime. And to be witness of something like (imperfect as it is) this would be quite inspiring for many people.

That doesn’t make it ‘invulnerability’.

If someone can’t attain jhāna, they have very little qualification in teaching Buddhism. It would be like being a guitar teacher but just knowing guitar theory, and not being able to even play guitar. It’s funny that we are now at a stage where even if there is proof that someone is at least on the path (can attain jhāna for example), even if not in control of their mind, that they will receive the highest praise.

If it were open who attains what, then sure there would be confusion about who is telling the truth or not, as there always is and was in the Buddha’s time too, but then people would not have to get all flustered when they finally realise someone is on the path. Rather, they could seek out whatever teacher is nearby and suitable to them, who can properly instruct them in attaining these states for themselves.

I believe there would be complete confusion as it will create a spiritual arms race or undermining between various gurus and the original message will be lost as people begin to claim they understand better than the Buddha himself. The Buddha said if a teacher displays no cravings aversions or delusion, and come to see this in them after a period of associating with them , and even then by a wise individual that is the teacher to accept.

With metta

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This sounds more like imperturbability rather than invincibility. They still will die and bleed if cut.

Great connection! I didn’t think about this Sutta, but it does fit the theme.

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