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Leigh Brasington and "Jhana-Lite" (Why there is no such thing as "jhāna-lite")

Let’s then all take a nice, relaxing breath and bring some goodwill back into our minds and online speech :slight_smile:

:slight_smile: :pray: :purple_heart: :pray: :yellow_heart: :pray: :slight_smile:

Another way to evaluate one’s meditation experience might be MN 14:

Sensual pleasures give little gratification and much suffering and distress, and they are all the more full of drawbacks. Even though a noble disciple has clearly seen this with right wisdom, so long as they don’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities [jhanas (arupas too probably)], or something even more peaceful than that, they might still return to sensual pleasures. But when they do achieve that rapture and bliss, or something more peaceful than that, they will not return to sensual pleasures.

[comments in brackets mine]

Whatever meditation system someone is following, they could evaluate it by seeing whether the meditation is working as a substitute for worldly pleasures.

Another aspect is just whether wholesome states of mind are increasing or lessening.

Edit: I.e. if someone is seeing a lot of benefit from their meditation practice, they should probably keep doing what they’re doing regardless of whether it perfectly fits the definitions or not.

Definitions are uncertain, wholesome mind states can be directly experienced :slight_smile:

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That’s quite neat: indeed it would be a way to solve that conundrum.

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Indeed. Regardless of what we think about a person’s ideas, we do not have access to their mind or meditation, and it is uncharitable and unhelpful to speculate.

That would be because they are regularly presented as such in the suttas. Eg. AN 9.31 on anupubbanirodha “gradual cessation”, different aspects of the mind gradually cease as one progresses through the attainments. Or AN 9.32 we have the nine “gradual abidings” in the same sense.

This is a common shorthand for jhana.

Again, jhana by another name. See eg. AN 10.26, the kasinas are described in answer to a question that references jhana.

There are lots of words for the experience we usually call “jhāna” today. Samādhi, āyatana, sampatti, cetovimutti, vihāra, and plenty of others.

This is not a conundrum.

The passage explicitly states that, following the guidance of his teachers, he first mastered samādhi, in the context of the five spiritual faculties, which is elsewhere defined as the four jhanas.

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Would you say that the ‘heart’s release by love’ refers to using mettā as a way to enter the jhanas?

I’ve always been a bit confused as to whether the brahmaviharas are meditation states in their own right, something that aids development of samadhi, something to be done after jhanas, or some, all or none of these.

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One of our problems is, I think, that we have an overly-“engineering” approach to reading Suttas. And one of the little ironies of this is that such an approach is the root method of the Abhidhamma—for better or for worse. But those who try to ground understanding on a “Sutta only” approach all too often end up simply re-engineering, thinking they can do better. It rarely works out well!

Try not to think of jhanas as a “thing” and whether other “things” are the same “thing”. We’re talking about a spectrum of human meditative experience. Each of the descriptions of meditation in the suttas talk about this experience from a slightly different perspective. Are they all talking about similar kinds of experience? Of course! Are there, nonetheless, important differences in the experiences? Also of course! They are conditioned, and are affected by the things that condition them.

Look more closely at the language used to describe these various experiences. In the gradual training, the jhanas are said to follow from the abandoning of the hindrances (AN 10.99), including the following:

So abhijjhaṁ loke pahāya vigatābhijjhena cetasā viharati …
Giving up desire for the world, they meditate with a heart rid of desire
Byāpādapadosaṁ pahāya abyāpannacitto viharati …
Giving up ill will and malevolence, they meditate with a mind rid of ill will

The meditator then goes on to enter in sequence the 4 jhanas and formless attainments.

Now compare in the context of the brahmaviharas (SN 42.13):

evaṁ vigatābhijjho vigatabyāpādo asammūḷho sampajāno paṭissato mettāsahagatena cetasā
rid of desire, rid of ill will, unconfused, aware, and mindful. They meditate spreading a heart full of love

Now this is just one example which I found in a quick search; there are many other details like this. Clearly the jhanas and the brahmaviharas are described in similar ways.

But it’s not just the fact that the exact same words are used; that’s what an engineer looks for. In this case the words are the same; in other cases, the words are different, and an engineer might take this is a sign of different meaning. Which, in some cases it may be, in some cases not.

The more important thing is that the narrative context is the same. They are telling the same story (or a variation on it). Both these suttas tell the story of a person who first learns what is right and wrong, learns to understand the nature of the Dhamma, who learns and grows spiritually in their own way. And when ready, this spiritual growth prompts the arising of joy and tranquillity, which supports the development of profound meditation and fruits in wisdom and freedom.

Clearly the meditations developed along the way are of a similar nature. Are they exactly the same? Does one fit inside another, or the other inside the one? I mean, generally, sure? Or not? These questions are abhidhammic in nature, and the abhidhammas and commentaries expend a lot of energy to sort them out and define every point. But the Suttas tell us only so much, and human experience is vast and weird and unpredictable.

If we torture a text, we can make it confess anything we want. Better to sit down and have a cup of tea with it, and listen to the story that it wants to tell.

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There most certainly isn’t!! Please read the extended FAQ and Guidelines Guide,or click on FAQ under the hamburger menu, if you are in any doubt.

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This is interesting, I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s idea of ‘family resemblances’ (instead of looking for the ‘essence’ of something). For example, to consider a different field, when asking the question ‘what is art’ it might not be possible to find a single essence for all of art, and the family resemblances approach is more helpful.

Still, if the boundaries of these experiences are very fluid, it’s a bit difficult to reconcile this with stories of people going for interviews with meditation teachers and the latter assessing whether it was a jhana or not, and if so which jhana it was (1, 2, 3 or 4). Nor with the idea that there’s supposed to be a clear, discrete transition from the first to the second jhana, the second to the third etc. :thinking:

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Ahh yes, exactly.

The role of a meditation teacher is to support and guide, not to award trophies. I’ve never in my life told a student, “Yes, you have X jhana!”, and I’d heartily encourage everyone to avoid teachers who do this kind of thing. It’s gauche.

I’m not saying that there aren’t discrete experiences. I’m saying that it’s unreasonable to imagine we can fully and perfectly define and assess the range and scope of people’s experiences based on the limited descriptions found in 2500 year old texts.

The Suttas help us to let go. Jhanas are one of the outcomes of letting go.

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You can take anything as a “personal attack.” However, a personal attack (i.e., ad hominem) is criticizing another’s character—in other words, the person themselves—rather than criticizing ideas and content. I don’t do this here, but instead refute his ideas and literal words. I don’t know Leigh, and have nothing against him—but I do have an issue with false claims.

Um, no. The arūpa-jhāna are commonly described in a similar way as the jhānas in the Suttas. Even if they are named āyatana (rather than “arūpa-jhāna”) in the original Pāḷi, to say they aren’t arūpa-jhāna—or even jhāna at all—does not follow any form of logic whatsoever. It’s a complete non sequitur. See Sutta passage below.

(Also, it seems many of your points are beside the issue—due to how Leigh says “eighth jhāna,” it would seem like he himself is of the opinion that the arūpa-jhāna are subsequent to the four rūpa-jhāna.)

Uhh… wow.

Well…, it is the case:

[First jhāna]

  1. Again, bhikkhus, with the stilling of applied and sustained thought, Sāriputta entered and abided in the second jhāna, which has self-confidence and singleness of mind without applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of concentration.

  2. And the states in the second jhāna—the self-confidence, the rapture, the pleasure, and the unification of mind; the con- tact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention—these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disap- peared. He understood thus:…and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is.

  3. Again, bhikkhus, with the fading away as well of rapture, Sāriputta abided in equanimity, and mindful and fully aware, still feeling pleasure with the body, he entered upon and abided in the third jhāna, on account of which noble ones announce: ‘He has a pleasant abiding who has equanimity and is mindful.’

  4. And the states in the third jhāna—the equanimity, the pleasure, the mindfulness, the full awareness, and the unification of mind; the contact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention— these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared. He understood thus:…and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is.

  5. Again, bhikkhus, with the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, Sāriputta entered upon and abided in the fourth jhāna, which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity.

  6. And the states in the fourth jhāna—the equanimity, the neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, the mental unconcern due to tranquillity,1050 the purity of mindfulness, and the unification of mind; the contact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention— these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, [27] known they disappeared. He understood thus:…and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is.

  7. Again, bhikkhus, with the complete surmounting of perceptions of form, with the disappearance of perceptions of sensory impact, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, aware that ‘space is infinite,’ Sāriputta entered upon and abided in the base of infinite space.

  8. And the states in the base of infinite space—the perception of the base of infinite space and the unification of mind; the contact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention—these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared. He understood thus:…and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is.

  9. Again, bhikkhus, by completely surmounting the base of infinite space, aware that ‘consciousness is infinite,’ Sāriputta entered upon and abided in the base of infinite consciousness.

  10. And the states in the base of infinite consciousness—the perception of the base of infinite consciousness and the unification of mind; the contact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention— these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared. He understood thus:…and with the cuttivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is. [28]

  11. Again, bhikkhus, by completely surmounting the base of infinite consciousness, aware that ‘there is nothing,’ Sāriputta entered upon and abided in the base of nothingness.

  12. And the states in the base of nothingness—the perception of the base of nothingness and the unification of mind; the contact, feeling, perception, volition, and mind; the zeal, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention—these states were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared. He understood thus:…and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is.

  13. Again, bhikkhus, by completely surmounting the base of nothingness, Sāriputta entered upon and abided in the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.

  14. He emerged mindful from that attainment. Having done so, he contemplated the states that had passed, ceased, and changed, thus: ‘So indeed, these states, not having been, come into being; having been, they vanish.’1051 Regarding those states, he abided unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free, dissociated, with a mind rid of barriers. He understood: ‘There is an escape beyond,’ and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is.

  15. Again, bhikkhus, by completely surmounting the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, Sāriputta entered upon and abided in the cessation of perception and feeling. And his taints were destroyed by his seeing with wisdom.

  16. He emerged mindful from that attainment. Having done so, he recalled the states that had passed, ceased, and changed, thus: ‘So indeed, these states, not having been, come into being; having been, they vanish.’ Regarding those states, he abided unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free, dissociated, with a mind rid of barriers. He understood: ‘There is no escape beyond,’ and with the cultivation of that [attainment], he confirmed that there is not.

— MN 111

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I fully agree that speculating on others’ states of mind is something that is undesired. However, (in my defense) in the video and post, Leigh’s own words were presented and then contrasted with a Sutta passage—thereby showing the contradiction.

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@samseva : your editing in response to the community comments is much appreciated.
Thank you. :pray:

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In dn9 you can have sentence while in highest jhana

Dn9
Furthermore, a mendicant, going totally beyond the dimension of infinite consciousness, aware that ‘there is nothing at all’, enters and remains in the dimension of nothingness. The subtle and true perception of the dimension of infinite consciousness that they had previously ceases. At that time they have a subtle and true perception of the dimension of nothingness. That’s how, with training, certain perceptions arise and certain perceptions cease. And this is that training,” said the Buddha.

“Poṭṭhapāda, from the time a mendicant here takes responsibility for their own perception, they proceed from one stage to the next, gradually reaching the peak of perception. Standing on the peak of perception they think, ‘Intentionality is bad for me, it’s better to be free of it. For if I were to intend and choose, these perceptions would cease in me, and other coarser perceptions would arise. Why don’t I neither make a choice nor form an intention?’

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Strangely enough, the Chinese parallel DA 28 specifically says of the same passage:

“After they attain this perception, they think, ‘Having thoughts is bad, and having no thoughts is good.’ When they think that, there’s a subtle perception that doesn’t cease, and then a cruder perception arises. They again think, ‘Now, I’d rather not have any thought activity and not produce attention".
Once they don’t have any thought activity and don’t produce attention, the subtle perception ceases, and the cruder perception doesn’t arise. When they don’t have any thought activity, don’t produce thinking, the subtle perception ceases, and the cruder perception doesn’t arise, then they enter perception and knowing of the attainment of cessation.

The Pali seems to be missing the piece that describes how a coarser perception arises when a thought is formulated?
:thinking: :thinking: :thinking:

Can anyone more versed in Pali and Chinese than me take a look?

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For what it’s worth, my solution to the whole jhana issue has been a simile I read in a book by Analayo a long time ago. Basically he says that it seems that some suttas do say one can hear sound etc in jhana, but others say you cannot. He then says that it might be possible due to one being partly submerged in jhana, kind of like how one can be partially submerged in a lake, halfway submerged, or fully submerged. So in this model there is a kind of spectrum of depth in first jhana which can accommodate for many of these discrepancies (between an easier and a deeper jhana).

As such, I kind of think the whole debate is kind of pointless. Of course there are shallower and deeper states of meditation, why wouldn’t there be? All other human experiences related to skill, concentration and focus are also on a spectrum, the psychological realm can never be measured in strict absolutes (you are either in jhana or you are not in jhana!). Likewise, there are sure to be many other states of meditation which are pre-jhanic states that still have value (or that are not jhana at all - no, heresy!). Also, every person’s mind is different and experiences (and interprets those experiences) in different ways, so there is that to be taken into account as well. These things have to be taken on a case by case basis through a process of introspection and personal dialogue with a close spiritual friend. They are not engineering projects, the mind is not a computer…

So yea, sometimes the jhana wars…it’s kind of silly…only Sith deal in absolu - well sort of

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:laughing:

Though, another angle to the jhana debate is perhaps who is a legitimate interpreter of the Buddha’s teaching, and who is not.

Is it the 2500 year old unbroken lineage of monastics who have dedicated themselves to Dhamma study and meditation…

…or is people from non-Buddhist cultures who have no academic training in Buddhism, Pali or ancient languages? :stuck_out_tongue:

In other words, do you need any credentials or expertise to confidently explain the teachings of the Buddha found in ancient Pali, Chinese and Tibetan texts?

Is it enough to make a living as a lay meditation teacher? Is it enough to have written books about meditation?

Like, if someone from Japan wrote a book on Norse mythology, saying “This is what the Eddas really say”, I would be very surprised if I found out that person didn’t have any training in the old Norse language, or any immersion in Scandinavian culture and its folklore, such as one might get from growing up in Iceland.

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I’d only listen to that person if they studied the material intensively, knew the language well and made reasonable arguments backed up by the source texts. It is possible to do this without having a direct personal connection to Scandinavia and even without having a formal academic training. Of course, it is generally less likely such self-taught people will be competent, so a good rule of thumb is to listen to scholars who have academic training or traditional Buddhist training. But then again, such people make all sorts of ridiculous claims all the time too (like, we can’t say the Buddha existed or we can’t say anything about what Buddha taught…etc). Or with traditional monastics they will say the Buddha taught Abhidhamma and so on (lol).

So, as I said before, you have to take this on a case by case basis, there is no single algorithm you can apply in all cases.

And good thing that Bhikkhu Sujato is teaching a course on epistemology now! This is very apropos of this discussion.

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Perhaps @cdpatton can help here.

You mean the part that says “aware that ‘there is nothing at all’”?

You know “aware” is not “thought” or “thinking,” right?

Most of your post is just some kind of an appeal to relativism, where you say something like: “You know, man, there aren’t absolutes. This whole issue is pointless and silly, man.”

(However, contrary to you saying that jhāna is some kind of “case-by-case” thing, jhāna is defined by: the absence of the hindrances (nīvaraṇa), and the presence of the jhāna factors (jhānanga). If someone makes claims of attainment of being in the arūpa-jhāna, and also being able to have thoughts while in arūpa-jhāna, then such a person is by definition not in arūpa-jhāna—and also, nor in the fourth, third or second jhāna, since—exactly as described in the Suttas—thoughts subside at the second jhāna.)

Precisely.

DA 28 breaks the thought up, having the narrator interject part of it. DN 9 combines it all into a single quote. So, the two texts differ in that way.

The more interesting thing is that DA 28 takes the practitioner all the way up to nirodha-samāpatti, whereas DN 9 stops at the abode of nothingness, calling it the “peak of perception” (sañña-agga). Then after the practitioner has no more perception, DN 9 says they “touch cessation” (nirodhaṁ phusati).

Now, the Chinese doesn’t do this. Instead, the practitioner goes all the way to cessation. Then, after attaining it, they have a thought. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually in the nirodha-samāpatti when they have the thought. They may have fallen back into a kind of intermediate state that isn’t samādhi. But DA 28 doesn’t give us any explicit hint about that. It’s just kind of impossible to have any kind of mental activity while in the nirodha-samāpatti(!).

There’s another Agama sutra (MA 176) that does indicate this happening, which depicts practitioners not assessing correctly whether they are entering higher states of samādhi (i.e., dhyānas or formless samādhis) or dropping to lower ones. It explicitly indicates that before going from the first to the second dhyāna (etc.), there’s an intermission of sorts, during which time the practitioner has thoughts assessing themselves.

Below is the comparison of the Chinese and Pali passages.

Chinese English
彼得此想已,作是念:『有念為惡,無念為善。』彼作是念時,彼微妙想不滅,更麤想生。彼復念言:『我今寧可不為念行,不起思惟。 31. “After they attain this perception, they think, ‘Having thoughts is bad, and having no thoughts is good.’ When they think that, there’s a subtle perception that doesn’t cease, and then a cruder perception arises. They again think, ‘Now, I’d rather not have any thought activity and not produce attention.
彼不為念行,不起思惟已,微妙想滅,麤想不生。彼不為念行,不起思惟,微妙想滅,麤想不生時,即入想知滅定。 32. “Once they don’t have any thought activity and don’t produce attention, the subtle perception ceases, and the cruder perception doesn’t arise. When they don’t have any thought activity, don’t produce thinking, the subtle perception ceases, and the cruder perception doesn’t arise, then they enter perception and knowing of the attainment of cessation.
Pali English
“Yato kho, poṭṭhapāda, bhikkhu idha sakasaññī hoti, so tato amutra tato amutra anupubbena saññaggaṁ phusati. Tassa saññagge ṭhitassa evaṁ hoti: ‘cetayamānassa me pāpiyo, acetayamānassa me seyyo. Ahañceva kho pana ceteyyaṁ, abhisaṅkhareyyaṁ, imā ca me saññā nirujjheyyuṁ, aññā ca oḷārikā saññā uppajjeyyuṁ; yannūnāhaṁ na ceva ceteyyaṁ na ca abhisaṅkhareyyan’ti. “Poṭṭhapāda, from the time a mendicant here takes responsibility for their own perception, they proceed from one stage to the next, gradually reaching the peak of perception. Standing on the peak of perception they think, ‘Intentionality is bad for me, it’s better to be free of it. For if I were to intend and choose, these perceptions would cease in me, and other coarser perceptions would arise. Why don’t I neither make a choice nor form an intention?’
So na ceva ceteti, na ca abhisaṅkharoti. Tassa acetayato anabhisaṅkharoto tā ceva saññā nirujjhanti, aññā ca oḷārikā saññā na uppajjanti. So nirodhaṁ phusati. Evaṁ kho, poṭṭhapāda, anupubbābhisaññānirodhasampajānasamāpatti hoti. They neither make a choice nor form an intention. Those perceptions cease in them, and other coarser perceptions don’t arise. They touch cessation. And that, Poṭṭhapāda, is how the gradual cessation of perception is attained with awareness.
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