Jhanas - what for?

There had been a lot of discussions about the type of Jhanas, the Jhana factors (at least Vitakka and vicara) but I could not find any exchange on DiscourseSC regarding what the Jhanas are for.

We all know they must be very important as the Buddha put them as the number eight component of the 8FP and because we find many repetitions of the stock jhana formula in the suttas. Also his famous remembering of his childhood experience and the then realisation that they are the path to awakening.

But how, practically, do the Jhanas work on this path?

Have anyone found suttas explaining when and how and why to use Jhanas and what exactly is the lasting transforming effect of Jhanas that make them so special on the Path?

It seems to me that this understanding was quickly lost after the passing away of the Buddha, resulting in many traditions ignoring Jhanas all together, considering them as an indulgence, a diversion, not essential. If we knew precisely what Jhanas can do for us then this tendency may be reversed.

I tried to tackled this issue in the topic on stillness and liberating insight I started few months ago:

There I tried to call attention to AN9.47 in which we find an interesting concept of non-provisory nibbana (nippariyāyenā nibbānaṃ) being the outcome of a specific process of liberating insight.

As I noted originally, a key issue that arises from AN9.47’s detailed description of how the totally ending or destruction of taints / fermentations (āsavā parikkhīṇā honti) is dependent on a vision and insight (paññāya cassa disvā) born of such immaterial attainment is that elsewhere the usual categorical definition of what right stillness consists of does not include such immaterial attainments but only the four jhanas (see SN45.8).

To be clear, the formula for AN9.47’s model of liberating insight is:

saññā­ve­dayi­ta­nirodhaṃ upasampajja viharati, paññāya cassa disvā āsavā parikkhīṇā honti

I wonder if @sujato or @Sylvester could help us with a proper translation of this formula.

Also, I would like to suggest that we make an effort to bring together alternative descriptions of the specific process of stillness-born liberating insight which brings about the total ending or destruction of taints / fermentations found across AN9.

IMO, tackling this may help answering the topic’s question of what is the purpose of jhanas.

Last but not least, I believe that, as per the big picture suttas AN10.2 / AN11.2, SN12.23, the purpose of samadhi is to bring about insight into how things come to be. That in turn, is the foundation for revulsion, which then feeds into dispassion. Dispassion is then the basis for liberation, which then brings about knowledge of the destruction (of the asavas):

(…) with concentration (samadhi) as proximate cause, the knowledge and vision of things as they really are;
with the knowledge and vision of things as they really are as proximate cause, revulsion;
with revulsion as proximate cause, dispassion; with dispassion as proximate cause, liberation;
with liberation as proximate cause, the knowledge of destruction.
– SN12.23

:anjal:

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Acting immorally leads to a chaotic state of mind and that person will be far from happiness or peace. They will be far from a unified mind (samadhi). It won’t be possible to develop insight (vijja) without Unification of mind. Overcoming the Five hindrances (panca nivarana) would be a good level of Samadhi. Developing up to the first jhana would be very good. Developing up to the fourth jhana or 8 jhana would be great.

Reasons for samadhi and jhana:

  1. Helps discourage the five hindrances.
  2. Helps suppress many defilements and allows them to spotted as a disturbance in a mind with samadhi.
  3. Allows for long lasting (not permanent!) peace of mind.
  4. Allows the meditator to see subtle workings in the mind, such as aggregates arising and passing away. It is vital for insight practice.
  5. Jhana can also be thought of as a degree of development of samadhi. The first jhana degree of samadhi is required to attain Nibbana (sutta?).
  6. Have an 'out of this world ’ experience! It is worthwhile having at least once in a lifetime, to know what amazing undiscovered capacities the mind has.

With metta

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Samdhi is the last factor in Noble Eightfold Path.
From there you move to the right knowledge and right release. (Noble Tenfold Path)

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After defining sila and jhana, this sutta goes on to say that nibbana is attained whilst the mind is stilled and in a state of fermentation-free awareness:

And what is the training in heightened discernment?
There is the case where a monk, through the ending of the mental fermentations, enters & remains in the fermentation-free awareness release & discernment release, having known & made them manifest for himself right in the here & now. This is called the training in heightened discernment. an3.90

also

The enlightened, constantly
absorbed in jhana,
persevering,
firm in their effort:
they touch Unbinding,
the unexcelled rest
from the yoke. dhp 23

Liberating insight is attained whilst the mind is stilled, whilst in a state of fermentation-free awareness. So, I would say jhana prepares the mind for Liberating Insight, Release, Nibbana, Unbinding.
:anjal:

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Here is a recent article by Ajahn Brahm called ‘How Jhana Quells the Five Hindrances’ which you might be interested in.

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in AN 6.29

the purpose of the first 3 jhanas:


tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
third Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.

Idaṃ, bhante, anus-satiṭ-ṭhānaṃ
This, Lord, (is a) practice-to-be-recollected.
evaṃ bhāvitaṃ evaṃ bahulīkataṃ
Thus developed, thus pursued,
diṭṭha-dhamma-sukha-vihārāya saṃvattati.
In-this-very-life-(a)-happy-dwelling (it) leads-to.

and the purpose of the 4th jhana


catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati
fourth Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.

Idaṃ, bhante, anus-satiṭ-ṭhānaṃ
This, Lord, (is a) practice-to-be-recollected.
evaṃ bhāvitaṃ evaṃ bahulīkataṃ
Thus developed, thus pursued,
aneka-dhātu-paṭi-vedhāya saṃvattati.
Many-elements; -(their)-full-penetration it-leads-to.

This is a particularly important sutta, the Buddha expects his disciples to have the 5 recollections memorized, as illustrated in the beginning when he rebukes Ven. Udāyi:

Atha kho bhagavā āyasmantaṃ ānandaṃ āmantesi:
Then *** the-Blessed-One {addressed} Venerable Ananda:
“aññāsiṃ kho ahaṃ, ānanda:
{I} *** knew, Ananda:
‘nevāyaṃ udāyī mogha-puriso
’this udāyi (is a) foolish-man!
Adhi-cittaṃ anuyutto viharatī’ti.
[he does not] {dwell} devoted (to the) higher-mind.

[quote=“alaber, post:1, topic:5336”]
I could not find any exchange on DiscourseSC regarding what the Jhanas are for.
[/quote]A lot of Buddhists claim that the Buddha utilized jhana do manage his back pain towards his death. There is nothing in the suttāni corroborating this AFAIK, I think it is just inference. That would be a “use” for them, though.

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Not specifically jhana, but the suttas do mention him abiding in a “signless mind-concentration” to avoid the pains of the body. Doubtless, this requires a high degree of meditative proficiency and possibly mastery of the jhanas.

I, Ānanda, at present, am old, elderly, of great age, far gone, advanced in years, I am eighty years old. It is like, Ānanda, an old cart, which only keeps going when shored up with bamboo, just so, Ānanda, I think the Realised One’s body only keeps going when shored up with bamboo.

When the Realised One doesn’t pay attention, Ānanda, to any of the signs, when all feelings have ceased, he lives having established the signless mind-concentration, and at that time, Ānanda, the Realised One’s body is most comfortable.

DN 18

There’s another sutta where the Buddha talks about the escape from pain. The worldling only knows sensual pleasure as that escape whereas the noble disciple knows concentration to be the escape. Being able to escape the physical pain we must face secondary to disease and and injury and death is a pretty darn good reason by itself to develop the jhanas. Not to mention they serve as the basis for penetrating insight.

If anyone remembers that sutta’s reference, that’d be great.

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Sila – moral behavior – frees the mind from having to watch-out in fear constantly. It is prerequisite for samadhi; the mind can’t settle down when worried about the consequences of bad behavior.

The Brahma-Vihara-s can be seen as a sort of bridge – dwelling in a beneficent, non-harming mental condition, that also culminates in cetovimutti, i.e. jhana, as amply documented in the EBT.

In the other direction, the settled mind (notably exemplified by jhana-samadhi) is the whetstone whereon the mind hones clarity of vision, the sword that cuts through the tangle of confusion to enable realization of paññā and Unbinding.

This brief characterization of “what for”, echoing much of what’s been said above, does reflect the Visuddhimagga perspective, which is “commentarial”. But then again, the entirety of contemporary emphasis on determining and insisting on the EBT perspective is plausibly also just a 20th-21st-century commentarial tradition in the making.

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What seems most significant to me about the descriptions of the stages of samadhi is that each one begins with a statement about some mental phenomenon that was present in the previous stage, but is no longer present in the new stage. That means that the person advancing through these stages is gradually succeeding in letting go of one thing after another, at each stage extinguishing factors that were producing the phenomena that were present in the previous stage, but have now ceased.

All of those mental phenomena are dukkha. They all involve some form of pain, misery, unsatisfactoriness, bondage, what have you. But we can’t release ourselves from all of our pain, all at once. We have to put out the fire of craving and mental proliferations gradually. Once we have put out some of the more obvious, raging flames, we can then direct our attention to more subtle forms of craving and attachment.

As our samadhi depends, we suffer less. Each stage is a more pleasant state of mind in which to abide - in the truest, non-sensory meaning of the word “pleasure”- than was the previous stage. The gradual deepening of samadhi is just the natural progress of the cessation of suffering. Maybe if we are really fortunate, we can get all the way to the ultimate goal of the complete absence of suffering. But if not, at least we can make gradual progress in cultivating a less-and-less painful mode of existence. Asking “What is the point of deepening our samadhi?” seems similar to me to the question “What is the point of having only my hand on fire instead of having my whole body on fire?”

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Hi Gabriel

Sorry if I cannot help you fully on this, as there’s a wee bit that escapes me. But for the bits I can understand, here goes -

saññā­ve­dayi­ta­nirodhaṃ upasampajja viharati =

he dwells having entered the cessation of perception and that which is felt (in ugly Buddhist Hybrid English :smiling_imp:)

he dwells in the cessation of perception and feeling (in idiomatic English, following Warder)

paññāya cassa disvā āsavā parikkhīṇā honti

Parikkhīṇā honti is a periphrasis and is rendered “are completely destroyed”

Paññāya … disvā has pañña in the instrumental, therefore = “with wisdom”, while disvā is a gerund/absolutive, so = “seeing/having seen”. So, “paññāya … disvā” = “having seen with wisdom”.

What I’ve not been able to figure out is the role of cassa = ca+assa (opt of atthi). Perhaps Bhante @Brahmali could advise on the function of c’assa? Is it just an idiom?

If I may add to your catalogue of suttas that set out the function of jhana, I would suggest AN 9.35. It appears that after arising from any of the 9 Attainments

his mind becomes malleable and wieldy. With the mind malleable and wieldy and wieldy, his concentration becomes measureless and well-developed.
per BB.

I think this goes back to Ajahn Brahm’s point about how the mind stays free of the hindrances well after arising from a jhana, long enough for one to use the mind in a yoniso manner.

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@alaber: Jhannas are important but not the most important in the Buddha teaching. For example, a Sotapana person is better and higher than one who obtains Jhannas as per DN6.

‘Then, Sir, is it for the sake of attaining to the practice of such self-concentration that the brethren lead the religious life under the Blessed One?’

‘No, Mahāli. There are things, higher and sweeter than that, for the sake of which they do so.’

‘And what, Sir, may those other things be?’

‘…a brother by the complete destruction of the Three Bonds,…a Once-returner,…a brother by the complete destruction of the Five Bonds,…Arahatship…

‘Such, Mahāli, are the conditions higher and sweeter for the sake of which the brethren lead the religious life under me.’

‘But is there, Sir, a path, is there a method, for the realisation of these conditions?’

‘Yes, Mahāli, there is.’

‘And what, Sir, may be that path, what that method?’

‘Verily it is this Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say: Right views, right aspirations, right speech, right action, a right means of livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right ecstasy in self-concentration. This, Mahāli, is the path, and this the method, for the realisation of these conditions." DN6

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Jhannas are sukhā paṭipadās (pleasant practice) as per an4.163.

“Monks, there are these four modes of practice. Which four? Painful practice with slow intuition, painful practice with quick intuition, pleasant practice with slow intuition, & pleasant practice with quick intuition.

“And which is painful practice with slow intuition? There is the case where a monk remains focused on unattractiveness with regard to the body, percipient of loathsomeness with regard to food, percipient of non-delight with regard to the entire world, (and) focused on inconstancy with regard to all fabrications. The perception of death is well established within him. He dwells in dependence on the five strengths of a learner…but these five faculties of his…appear weakly. Because of their weakness, he attains only slowly the immediacy that leads to the ending of the effluents. This is called painful practice with slow intuition.

“And which is painful practice with quick intuition?..a monk remains focused on unattractiveness with regard to the body…but these five faculties of his…appear intensely…This is called painful practice with quick intuition.

“And which is pleasant practice with slow intuition? There is the case where a monk…enters & remains in the first jhana…he enters & remains in the fourth jhana…He dwells in dependence on these five strengths of a learner…but these five faculties of his…appear weakly…This is called pleasant practice with slow intuition.

“And which is pleasant practice with quick intuition?..enters & remains in the first jhana…he enters & remains in the fourth jhana…but these five faculties of his…appear intensely…This is called pleasant practice with quick intuition.

“These are the four modes of practice.” AN4.163

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In addition to AN 6.29 which I quoted relevant passsages above, these 2 suttas are particularly good at giving you an idea of the comprehensive utility of jhana and samadhi.

AN 4.41 : 4 developments of samadhi
AN 7.63 the fortress

Not only do the similes in this sutta give a great picture of how all factors of the noble eightfold path work together, if you study it carefully you see how intertwined the factors are, how they can’t be reduced to 8 independent pieces. I could talk about this sutta for a long time, I’ll just stick to jhanas for now. To give a quick picture, right effort is the army, mindfulness is the gatekeeper for the fortress, piece of dhamma that you’ve memorized are the weapons used for protection of the fortress, and the four jhanas correspond to:

:diamonds: “katamesaṃ catunnaṃ jhānānaṃ ābhicetasikānaṃ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṃ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī?
(Thanissaro Trans.)“And which are the four jhānas—heightened mental states that provide a pleasant abiding in the here & now—that he can obtain at will, without difficulty, without trouble?

seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, rañño paccantime nagare bahuṃ tiṇakaṭṭhodakaṃ sannicitaṃ hoti abbhantarānaṃ ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya bāhirānaṃ paṭighātāya. evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako vivicceva kāmehi … pe … paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati attano ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya okkamanāya nibbānassa.
“Just as a royal frontier fortress has large stores of grass, timber & water for the delight, convenience, & comfort of those within, and to ward off those without; in the same way the disciple of the noble ones, quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhāna—rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation—for his own delight, convenience, & comfort, and to alight on unbinding.

:diamonds: “seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, rañño paccantime nagare bahuṃ sāliyavakaṃ sannicitaṃ hoti abbhantarānaṃ ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya bāhirānaṃ paṭighātāya. evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā … pe … dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati attano ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya okkamanāya nibbānassa.
“Just as a royal frontier fortress has large stores of rice & barley for the delight, convenience, & comfort of those within, and to ward off those without; in the same way the disciple of the noble ones, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, enters & remains in the second jhāna—rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation—internal assurance—for his own delight, convenience, & comfort, and to alight on unbinding.

:diamonds: “seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, rañño paccantime nagare bahuṃ tilamuggamāsāparaṇṇaṃ sannicitaṃ hoti abbhantarānaṃ ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya bāhirānaṃ paṭighātāya. evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako pītiyā ca virāgā … pe … tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati attano ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya okkamanāya nibbānassa.
“Just as a royal frontier fortress has large stores of sesame, green gram, & other beans for the delight, convenience, & comfort of those within, and to ward off those without; in the same way the disciple of the noble ones, with the fading of rapture, remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhāna—of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding’—for his own delight, convenience, & comfort, and to alight on unbinding.

:diamonds: “seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, rañño paccantime nagare bahuṃ bhesajjaṃ sannicitaṃ hoti, seyyathidaṃ — sappi navanītaṃ telaṃ madhu phāṇitaṃ loṇaṃ abbhantarānaṃ ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya bāhirānaṃ paṭighātāya. evamevaṃ kho bhikkhave, ariyasāvako sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṃ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati attano ratiyā aparitassāya phāsuvihārāya okkamanāya nibbānassa. imesaṃ catunnaṃ jhānānaṃ ābhicetasikānaṃ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṃ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī.
“Just as a royal frontier fortress has large stores of tonics—ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, molasses, & salt—for the delight, convenience, & comfort of those within, and to ward off those without; in the same way the disciple of the noble ones, with the abandoning of pleasure & pain, as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress, enters & remains in the fourth jhāna—purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain—for his own delight, convenience, & comfort, and to alight on unbinding.

Pay close attention to the first jhana. All four jhanas are used toward the aim of nibbana. But with fourth jhana being ghee and butter, 2nd jhana being rice, first jhana being water and firewood and grass, the first jhana in particular contain absolute necessities of survival. You’re not going to survive long without firewood, drinking water, grass (to feed your horses presumably).

Now consider how you understand the nature of first jhana. If you think Vism. and Ajahn Brahm are right about first jhana (body disappears, can’t hear sound, can’t think, etc), compared to a straightforward reading and an understanding of the EBT jhanas.

If the Buddha had meant for first jhana to be that difficult to attain, how is that fortress going to recruit and keep any inhabitants alive? How long can you live without drinking water?

It would be nice to have a thread about jhanas without going into this particular topic again :slight_smile: :strawberry: :bird:

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How to use Jhannas? Jhannas along is not sufficient to be liberated. One will need Jhanna + apply four noble truths per MN52 and MN64.

“Here, householder, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. He considers this and understands it thus: ‘This first jhāna is conditioned and volitionally produced. But whatever is conditioned and volitionally produced is impermanent, subject to cessation.’ If he is steady in that, he attains the destruction of the taints. But if he does not attain the destruction of the taints because of that desire for the Dhamma, that delight in the Dhamma, then with the destruction of the five lower fetters he becomes one due to reappear spontaneously in the Pure Abodes and there attain final Nibbāna without ever returning from that world." MN52

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“And what, Ānanda, is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters? Here, with seclusion from the acquisitions, with the abandoning of unwholesome states, with the complete tranquillization of bodily inertia, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.

“Whatever exists therein of material form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness, he sees those states as impermanent, as suffering, as a disease, as a tumour, as a barb, as a calamity, as an affliction, as alien, as disintegrating, as void, as not self. He turns his mind away from those states and directs it towards the deathless element thus: ‘This is the peaceful, this is the sublime, that is, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna.’ If he is steady in that, he attains the destruction of the taints. But if he does not attain the destruction of the taints because of that desire for the Dhamma, that delight in the Dhamma, then with the destruction of the five lower fetters he becomes one due to reappear spontaneously in the Pure Abodes and there attain final Nibbāna without ever returning from that world. This is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters." MN64

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What do you mean by this? :wink:

As Ajahn Brahm puts it like this:

“The experience of this pure mind, released from the world, is incredibly blissful. It is a bliss better than sex.”

I’m just experimenting with emoji use. I guess I’m thinking that :strawberry: and :bird: makes the post feel less serious, which is sort of what I was aiming for.

Sometimes I feel a single smiley can risk seeming sarcastic or disingenuous, so how to convey a sense of lighthearted friendliness through text? :grimacing: :hamster:

Perhaps a topic for another thread!

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