SuttaCentral

Jhanas & the body

(I appreciate all members’ motivation to discuss jhāna, such as if in jhāna there is perception of the body, according to the Suttas, Ajahn Brahm, Bhante Gunaratana, the Commentaries, but I’d ask that posts please remain in relation to the topic. Thanks.)

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Hi Invo,

Indeed, in certain contexts, the word “kāya” has other meanings. However, in this particular context, “kāya” means “physical body”, as explained in the Commentary (Mp III 232):

imameva kāyanti imaṃ karajakāyaṃ. abhisandetīti temeti sneheti, sabbattha pavattapītisukhaṃ karoti. parisandetīti samantato sandeti. paripūretīti vāyunā bhastaṃ viya pūreti. parippharatīti samantato phusati.

“This body:” this body born of action (i.e. born of kamma). “He drenches:” he moistens, he extends rapture and happiness everywhere. “Steeps:” makes flow all over. “Fills:” like filling a bellows with air. “Pervades:” reaches everything [in the body].

sabbāvato kāyassāti assa bhikkhuno sabbakoṭṭhāsavato kāyassa kiñci upādinnakasantatipavattiṭṭhāne chavimaṃsalohitānugataṃ aṇumattampi ṭhānaṃ paṭhamajjhānasukhena aphuṭaṃ nāma na hoti.

“His whole body:” in this monk’s body, with all its parts, in the place where produced [material] continuity occurs there is not even the smallest part consisting of skin, flesh, and blood that is not pervaded with the happiness of the first jhāna.

So, despite the shift to the “mental body” in the later literature, the Commentary still preserves the literal “physical body” meaning in this particular context. And explanation in the earlier sources, namely the Paṭisambhidāmagga and the Vimuttimagga, gives support for such a reading.

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Hey Nibbanka. :slight_smile:

Thank you for the input.

I’ll just reply that there are many renowed scholars like Bhante Sujato, Ajahn Brahmali and Venerable Analayo who oftentimes say that commentarial interpretations are not always correct and that we should look mostly at what the suttas say. See for example Ajahn Brahmali Jhana and lokuttara jjhana article to see how commentarial tradition can sometimes distort some parts of the dhamma.

It is beyond my knowledge to judge this particular situation objectively, but subjectively I’m not convinced of commentarial tradition interpretation in this case. Also, it could be completely different during first and fourth jhana. Also, maybe there are actually different jhanas based on different meditation objects and levels of depth? I don’t know.

I hope someone more learned than I could reply to your inquiry. :slight_smile:

Please note my post was referring mostly to fourth jhana, development of samadhi related to radiant mind and related yathabhutananadassanan (knowledge and vision) and dibbacakkhu (eye of clairvoyance). I intentionally wasn’t speaking about lower jhanas there because I’m not sure about their nature in the suttas myself and I’m still learning. Even after participating in this thread my state of knowledge already changed thanks to some insightful posts.

With Metta :yellow_heart:

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Genuine question, how do you make sense of teachers like Ajahn Brahm who explain jhanas + immaterial attainments as states without access to the five senses?

From my perspective, a problematic issue is that [if what is in the suttas is really the “lesser” states] it makes it seem like some teachers (and even some lay people) are discovering more profound states of meditation than the Buddha did, or that the Buddha wasn’t aware of states beyond the five senses?

This seems a bit strange to me, but I’m sure it doesn’t look like that from other perspectives. Hence, my question :slight_smile:

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Thank you Erik, you’ve asked exactly the question I was wishing to ask, I just didn’t know if I should do it here or in another thread. :slight_smile: But since you’ve already did, I’ll expand it a little.

Importaint question is such: typical jhana formula goes like this:

Bhante Sujato translation:

It’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption…

Bhikkhu Bodhi translation:

Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhāna…

Ajahn Thanissaro translation:

There is the case where a monk—quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities—enters & remains in the first jhana…

In general they state that a mendicant is quite (which means totally) secluded from sensual pleasures. How did we go from seclusion from sensual pleasures to total seclusion of mind from all sensory input? There is a big difference between being a brahmacharin and not enjoying any sensual pleasure from any sense, and not registering any sensory input in mind/in field of experience. It’s a genuine question I’m pondering over, because Ajahn Brahm clearly states that there is no any sensory data even in 1st jhana.

Aside from that, I oftentimes think what Ajahn Brahm considers 1st or perhaps 2nd jhana, to my reading of the suttas sound more like 4th jhana or even immaterial attaintment. Even tho Ajahn Brahm is my absolutely beloved teacher so I trust him and his teachings deeply, he himself admits that he’s a teacher who was highest “requirements” of all in the world to count something as jhanas.

I think it is more a matter of classification. I honestly don’t know the right answer tho. But I consider that perhaps some great monks have profoundly deep samadhi, but they classify it a bit differently than the Buddha.

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PS: You might consider it quite crazy theory, but please take it as purely thought stimulating words and not any “truth”.

But I was wondering… what if “quite secluded from sensual pleasures” actually mean full realisation of brahmacarya = fully integrated celibacy as in yogic teachings? I don’t know if you read Swami Sivananda - Practice of Brahmacarya, but he argues in his book that in order to get to deep samadhi (equivalent of jhana), you need to fully transmute your sexual energy into ojas. Which means your energy must go upwards through central channel called sushuma. This energy is then called kundalini. Kundalini is fully and ultimately sublimated sexual energy into spiritual energy. Fully sublimated means it is not repressed sexuality, but fully transformed into pure divine love (something like metta). He says it is impossible for anyone who has not fully sublimated sexual energy into love of the divine, to get Ananda (cosmic bliss of samadhi), which sounds like buddhist jhana.

What if “quite secluded from sensual pleasures” actually mean fully integrated brahmacarya? (I could use word celibacy, but brahmacarya is something more - it is not just restraint but also metta and not feeling any lack from quenching sexuality) What if it means mind completely purified from this asavas?

Personally I take this reading as a possibility… I know this is from another tradition, but I just put it here as food for thought. I’m really curious about responses and just thought it is interesting enough to share. :slight_smile:

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Right, but this kinda forces you to assume that someone who is able to access the 4th jhana is more likely to be wrong than someone who is describing what is, potenially/allegedly, not even the 1st jhana?

Like, because Ajahm Brahm is so proficient in meditation, he is more likely to misinterpret the suttas. That seems a bit odd also :stuck_out_tongue:

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Hey Invo,

I fully agree with this. When the suttas give detailed explanation, it should be certainly preferred over the later ones. However, there are numerous cases when the suttas themselves just use this or that word, and later texts are necessary to understand its meaning in the context. If we will just fantasize about the meaning without any substantiation, we enter the territory of pure guesswork.

With Metta :heart:

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True, but there are other great meditators who has different opinions. My take is such: actually there are “much more states” than we read in the suttas, and you can dissect them in various ways. For example Ayya Khema seems to have quite deep meditation, but her classification is differnt. You can check it out in these videos:

Yes I know it sounds crazy, but especially because Ajahn Brahm meditation is so deep, he might classify jhanas too ambitiously. I don’t say he did, it is pure speculation. :slight_smile: I’m totally open to possibility that it is exactly Ajahn Brahm who is right. I’m not sure and I probably won’t ever be. :slight_smile: Still it is good discussion to have because some questions it asks are quite importaint and I hope some members of the sangha will illuminate this discussion a little bit. :pray:

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I am also not sure, but it’s good to learn how other people think about it sometimes :slight_smile:

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I’ve no doubt their experiences are real. I suppose the issue with these things is one can point to some other venerable senior teacher with different ideas and different experiences, e.g. Bhante Gunaratana.

The suttas are rather vague on many points. And IMO on almost any stance one takes on this question, there are almost inevitably some sutta(s) that act as a bit of a spoke in the wheel.

For example, are liberating insights supposed to happen within or after jhana? I haven’t encountered a sutta that really satisfactorily answers that question (the fact that sati-sampajanno is a factor of third jhana possibly does relate to this, but I’ve never quite understood the significance of that factor there).

I suppose too the answer depends on the depth of the jhana. It seems to be that there’s a certain cleavage point in described experiences in terms of depth: deeper experiences are likely to be without sensory perception and need one to come out of jhana before being capable of insight.

The opposite may be true for shallower states.

Does deeper necessarily imply experiences that are more authentic to what’s described in the suttas? I think it’s unclear.

For me, possible spokes in the wheel to the deeper stance would be the fact that at least the physical process of breathing and its stoppage is associated with fourth jhana. There are various possible explanations for that, of course (maybe that’s something externally observed by someone else, though it doesn’t seem the simplest solution to me, which is that this is still perceptible). Couple that though with the common pericope:

Going totally beyond perceptions of form, with the ending of perceptions of impingement, not focusing on perceptions of diversity, aware that ‘space is infinite’, they enter and remain in the dimension of infinite space.

and one has an argument for at least not ruling out perception of breath in whatever jhana is supposed to be.

There’s a definition for “perceptions of diversity” in the sutta SN14.7 based on the sense bases.

There’s nothing conclusive about any of the above and I could wheel out suttas tending in the opposite direction (as is almost always the case :slight_smile: ).

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Actually according to commentaries and sub commentaries jhana is hard but it’s not needed for enlightenment

According to sutta and vinaya jhana is lite because even in formless realms you can still hear sound and in sutta buddha said that a sounds pull him from his immersion so sound can trigger one in jhana it’s very difficult to not ask why sound can trigger one in jhana without entering their awareness while in jhana

So based on commentaries ajahn brahm is right but the sutta and vinaya disagree with him atleast that’s how I infer it

Hi Erik,

The states without access to the five senses can be extremely diverse, and the Buddha was well aware of this diversity. In the Indriyabhavana Sutta, he tells how the absence of sense-perception is in some cases a nonsensical exercise:

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.152.than.html

Therefore, I analyze the words of each teacher individually. Instead of checking the presence of access to the five senses, I ask the basic Buddha’s question - are the states skillful or unskillful?

The detailed discussion of Brahmavamso’s method may be off-topic here, so I’ll just remark that his jhāna instructions “to pay attention to that aspect of the nimitta which is beautiful, which is attractive, which is joyful, the pleasant part of it” raise a red flag for me. The Buddha explains in the Aññatitthiya Sutta (AN 3.68) that a beautiful nimitta leads to passion (rāga) - an unskillful state. So the “beautiful hole” where Brahmavamso’s mind “falls” into seems highly suspicious.

From my perspective, a problematic issue is that [if what is in the suttas is really the “lesser” states] it makes it seem like some teachers (and even some lay people) are discovering more profound states of meditation than the Buddha did, or that the Buddha wasn’t aware of states beyond the five senses?

This seems a bit strange to me, but I’m sure it doesn’t look like that from other perspectives. Hence, my question

Why should the states without sense-perception be necessarily more profound? It depends on their skillfullness. Unskillful “blackout” state of “asañña-samapatti” is just useless, since it doesn’t allow developing wisdom, and progressing further on the Path.

As for the methods of Ayya Khema/Leigh Brasington - they may have their advantages and disadvantages, but the key question is whether they help people to progress on the Path towards more skillful states. I have attended one of Leigh Brasington’s retreats, and from what I have experienced, his approach can be indeed quite helpful, even if it has certain limitations. IMHO, it’s impossible to use this approach for “spiritual bypassing”, since the whole body is involved. These Ayya Khema’s methods are used by respectable German monks.

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But the happiness of the nimitta, i.e. the meditation object which is perceived as a bright light in mind, must by definition be non-sensual pleasure since it is not connected to the five chords of sensual pleasure. It is rapture and joy apart part of sensuality (by definition).

Probably because it can be a direct experience of the impermanence of most of the five khandas :slight_smile:

I’m glad you have benefitted from your meditation practice, may it take you all the way to the end of the path :pray:

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I don’t know how you want to discuss “jhana-lite” without definining what is jhana-proper first? Especially when person you called (Leigh) responded with his understanding and it unfolded in such direction. It is quite importaint to exactly the subject you presented in the OP and I think you could actually appreciate the real effort people took to explore this subject. If we’re to “investigate” jhana-lite first we must really get line what jhanas are. And all the topics you listed are relevant to the subject.

If you create such strong topic especially related to specific person, I think it deserves a more broad an in-depth discussion… I really don’t understand you there.

PS: Whatever, it can happen in another thread as well. But I hope for some nice replies, because it is interesting if 5 senses can be present in jhana. And secondly: it seems relevant is assesing whether what Leigh defines as jhanas could be taken as such according to the suttas.

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I agree—and your post talking about perception of the body in the context of “jhāna-lite” is still in the thread.

The other posts don’t refer to “jhāna-lite,” but are about “if there is perception of the body/sound in jhāna—according to the Commentaries, Ajahn Brahm, Bhante Gunaratana, and the Sub-Commentaries.”

The topic of the other thread is “why jhāna-lite is not true jhāna, based on the Suttas.”

And Leigh doesn’t consider the Commentaries, Subcommentaries, or what Ajahn Brahm says on jhāna as valid.

(If you find something interesting about perception of the body/sound, in relation to “jhāna-lite” and the Suttas, do come mention it in the “jhāna-lite” thread. :slightly_smiling_face: )

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From memory (I wouldn’t be able to refer to the sutta, but perhaps you will know where it is since you seem very familiar with the suttas) there’s a kind of intermediate stage when transitioning from the 1st to the 2nd Jhana. I also heard Ajahn Brahm mentions this in a talk. So since this intermediate step only happens between the 1st and the 2nd jhana it’s likely that Ajahn’s understanding of them matches the suttas. But again I am just speaking from memory.

Of course. Still, the law delineated by the Buddha in the Aññatitthiya Sutta (AN 3.68) holds true - attending to the beautiful nimitta leads to passion (rāga). Only in this case, it is passion for immaterial becoming (arūpa-rāga), one of the ten fetters ( saṃyojana). Brahmavamso’s perseverant denial of any possibility of attachment to jhāna raises another red flag of such danger.

Well, sleep also provides such experience :slightly_smiling_face:

Thank you :pray:

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You are probably aware of DN 29?:

These four kinds of indulgence in pleasure, when developed and cultivated, lead solely to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. What four?

It’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. This is the first kind of indulgence in pleasure.

…[the second, third and fourth jhana]…

It’s possible that wanderers who follow other paths might say, ‘How many fruits and benefits may be expected by those who live indulging in pleasure in these four ways?’ You should say to them, ‘Four benefits may be expected by those who live indulging in pleasure in these four ways. What four?

…[the four stages of awakening]…

The point being that “attachment” to the bliss of jhana, in the context of the noble eightfold path, is not a bad thing. I.e the whole idea that wholesome jhana pleasure is not to be feared.

Anyway, thanks for explaining your view on this, I’m content to stop for now, we’re probably not going to solve this issue that people seem to have been debating for thousands of years :slight_smile:

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Thank you for the quote. The pleasure of jhanas is indeed beneficial. However, the Buddha repeatedly emphasizes the importance of not letting this pleasure invade your mind:

“So when I had taken solid food and regained strength, then — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, I entered & remained in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain. With the fading of rapture I remained in equanimity, mindful & alert, and physically sensitive of pleasure. I entered & remained in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain. With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — I entered & remained in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.”

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html

The wholesome jhāna pleasure is certainly not to be feared, however the attachment to the bliss of jhāna is certainly unwholesome:

"And how is the mind said to be internally positioned? There is the case where a monk, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. His consciousness follows the drift of the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal, is tied to… chained… fettered, & joined to the attraction of the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal. Or further, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. His consciousness follows the drift of the rapture & pleasure born of composure, is tied to… chained… fettered, & joined to the attraction of the rapture & pleasure born of composure. Or further, 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.’ His consciousness follows the drift of the equanimity & pleasure, is tied to… chained… fettered, & joined to the attraction of the equanimity & pleasure. Or further, with the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. His consciousness follows the drift of the neither pleasure nor pain, is tied to… chained to… fettered, & joined to the attraction of the neither pleasure nor pain: The mind is said to be internally positioned.

https://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.138.than.html

Moreover, if one indulges in the passion to immaterial becoming, one may end up in the “blackout” state (asañña-samapatti) instead of the jhāna.

OK, as you wish :slightly_smiling_face:

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