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

Leigh makes very public his views of other teachers. That only one of his claims is challenged—and contrasted with the Suttas—is definitely not a witch hunt.

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I’d like to say that a lot of the nastiness has come from Leigh himself (even using the Buddha’s teaching as ad hominems, twice—and even if Ven. Sujato had rebuked him the first time). And at one point, even trying to belittle me, sarcastically saying that I don’t teach.

Anyway: I’m mostly bummed out and not much interested in discussing with Leigh anymore. If anyone wants to discuss the topic, please address the points raised in the OP—that I and even others have been trying to re-direct members and Leigh into discussing since the start of the discussion.

Debate can be wearisome! Anyone up for a group hug?? :smiley: :slightly_smiling_face: :grin: :rofl:

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I for one think he is definitely mistaken in his understandings of the higher jhanas for sure and he is also mistaken in thinking he has reached all these states himself (given how he describes them and how they are not in line with how they are described in the suttas). Not only that but he has shown that he does not know how to respond to criticism well, that is, by responding to the fundamental point of dispute instead of reacting as if he is being personally attacked.

On the other hand, I appreciate how you edited your initial post to remove any personal criticisms of Leigh. Leigh himself however, even though he has been admonished by a knowledgeable bhikkhu on this, has continued to respond in a very defensive manner.

While this is definitely not how a debate should unfold on these issues, I think we need to point out that one party (samseva) responded properly when the community advised him on his tone, while the other party (leigh) has not responded in kind and instead just accuses his opponent of clinging to views (a classic ad hominem).

This difference in how both parties proceeded in the above debate needs to be acknowledged.

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It sounds plausible to me that all of the arguing about the definition of Jhana has actually distracted from the real cause of disagreement - the definition of “in” in English or Viharate in Pali.

If the muffin man is currently located just outside your front door, delivering muffins, can he honestly say he lives in a home on Drury lane? He is currently alive, not in that home on Drury lane. Yet it is true that in some sense that he does currently live there.

My understanding is that the Jhanas, Brahmaviharas, etc are quite strong, narrowly defined states, but that it is often correct to describe oneself as located in one when your mental state at that precise moment does not match the full definition. As in the case of one in 2nd or further Jhana trying to progress further. They might think, “what is unsatisfactory about my current level of concentration, the second Jhana? Just as the muffin man might think, “what is unsatisfactory about my current address?” meaning Drury Lane, even though his GPS says his current address is 123 Street Road (where he’s delivering muffins)

This is not necessarily to defend Mr. Brasington. I’ve literally never heard of him outside of this thread. I just think the specific argument being used here is a bit too narrow, textual, literal, or legalistic.

I believe that the Buddha provided instructions on how to know if someone really has achieved these feats, and that method is based on living with a person, observing them closely, having a good practice yourself, etc. That’s true for both the positive and negative. Leigh’s words are absolutely not evidence of him having even ever once been close to Jhana. Nor are they proof he hasn’t. Even if he gave the worst, most incompatible description ever, it could just be because he’s bad at talking. Someone could conceivably have Jhana, and total aphasia, describing it with word salad - “the wombat is made of cheese”. There are private buddhas who achieve enlightenment on their own but are never able to correctly teach a single disciple the noble eightfold path.

There’s just no sufficient basis on which, or good reason, to talk about whether or not a stranger or his followers truly have attained jhana(/Iddhi/ariya).

But when considering what written descriptions to follow - of course, follow the Buddha’s first and foremost. I just don’t think it’s wise to either view the string of words in the suttas like a large tangle of rope where you have to find contradictions and logical knots that you twist and pull to undo, nor do I think it’s wise to imagine you’ve got it all straightened out already into a whip and use that to lash at people.

Unfortunately, we don’t speak Pali anymore so we do need people like Bhantes Sujato and Brahmali to engage in the logic puzzle of translation, of course, and I am deeply thankful that they have done so. But that work having been done, actually practicing according to the suttas leaves little use for trying to narrowly define terms and then apply those definitions to others to say, “ha, you are defeated! You lie outside of this definition”

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Hi everyone,

Wow, it seems like there have been a lot of emotions flying around! After reflecting on whether I could improve upon silence, I just had three small points to contribute here.

  1. On reading the entire thread and exchange, I was reminded of these two passages in the Aranavibhanga Sutta (MN 139, Ajahn @sujato 's translation):

‘Know what it means to flatter and to rebuke. Knowing these, avoid them, and just teach Dhamma.’
… And how is there neither flattering nor rebuking, and just teaching Dhamma? You don’t say: ‘Pleasure linked to sensuality is low, crude, ordinary, ignoble, and pointless. All those who indulge in such happiness are beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and they are practicing the wrong way.’ Rather, by saying this you just teach Dhamma: ‘The indulgence is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.’

and this:

‘Don’t talk behind people’s backs, and don’t speak sharply in their presence.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? … When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are untrue, false, and harmful, then if at all possible you should not speak. When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true and correct, but harmful, then you should train yourself not to speak. When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true, correct, and beneficial, then you should know the right time to speak. ‘Don’t talk behind people’s backs, and don’t speak sharply in their presence.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.

And I thank Ajahn @sujato not just for the translation, but embodying this with action in this thread. Thank you Ajahn! :anjal:

  1. I was also reminded by another Buddha’s saying that the Dhamma isn’t for the purpose of debate, but it is for the realisation of Nibbana. (Unfortunately I cannot recall which passage this is: anyone who can contribute on this please?) So the corollary question to each person’s views on this debate really should be: how does my view help deepen my practice?

The corollary questions to the corollary depend on where you’re at.

  • If you’re on the “deeper” end of the spectrum (i.e. that you think that jhana is without thought etc.), I think it might be worthwhile considering "does this debate bring you away or towards the five-sense world?"
  • If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, the corollary question would probably then be "if there are meditative states deeper than what I know with my own experience, what does that mean for my practice?"
  1. Hi @lbrasington , I echo Ajahn @sujato 's welcome. :slight_smile:

One thing I wanted to respond to was this:

My main response has to do with adding a modern Chinese language perspective. I have noticed in my studies of the suttas that there are parallels between Pali terms and modern Chinese terms, and the topic of the body is perhaps one of those parallels.

The term kaya in Pali means the body, and the phrase sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī (if I’m not mistaken) can mean ‘direct experience’ rather than just experiencing the whole body. Just to share that in modern Chinese, 亲身体验 qīnshēnti3yàn literally translates as " own body body experience", but the main meaning is “personal direct experience” or “firsthand experience”, and not literally just a body sensation or physical body experience. It can mean a body experience in the right context, but much more commonly it just means “personal direct experience”. (A Chinese-only explanation in Baidu here)

PS: The term raga is used as a synonym for lobha, but can also mean color. In modern Chinese, the word for lust, sexual desire, etc. is 色 , which is also the word for color (e.g. a sex maniac is literally called a “color wolf” in Chinese 色狼)

I hope the above helps, and I hope everyone calms down!

With much metta,
PJ

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I’ve been coming to D&D almost daily for 5 1/2 years and read or perused most of the discussions. I’ve seen lots of respectful debates and disagreements and a few not so respectful. Sadly, some members have been suspended for not behaving themselves.

Very recently the Forum Guidelines were updated and everyone was encouraged to read them, so I did. That same morning I read this OP just as it was posted and I was concerned about the direction it could head if we weren’t mindful and careful, thus my reply.

I think this thread is a good example of where we all need to stick to discussing or debating what the EBTs say and what they don’t without taking things so personally. Often it’s not easy, particularly when it comes to subjects like jhanas. One can be strong in presenting or debating and still maintain metta. I’m reminded of the threads on Daniel Ingram and Mattie Weingast, where we could have done a little better comparing a person’s public teaching to the Buddha’s teaching and the suttas.

Sadhu sadhu sadhu!

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A public message of thanks to all the Forum Moderators who put so much effort into making this forum a place of civil discourse.
Thank you!

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Thank you for bringing up this point. It is concerning to end up like them “stuck” in formless state which could lead to rebirth in that state. Traditional texts put these formless meditation states AFTER the Jhanas, which had confused me a lot. In maha parinibbhana sutta, it described Buddha going “up and down” from 1st Jhana to the highest formless state of Neither Perception nor Non Perception, and finally entering nirvana from 4th Jhana.

I always wondered for someone who is not a Buddha, how do we know where to Exit at 4th Jhana than continuing to formless Jhanas, given that once you are in Jhana there is little will you can exercise and little accessment you can do to understand “where” you are.

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HelloWorld, I sincerely hope when you feel the Stream of Nirvana you fully enter into it and swim your Way towards Metta, Karuna, and Buddhahood. You have had enough of a walk through the desert, chasing mirages, and craving. You know how forgiven you are by the power of a Buddha on the Dhamma Seat of Right View. Don’t let go of Metta. One day we will all be the Same as the Buddha. You can say you’ve won because you have already made it, one day, into the wellspring of Buddhahood and Mahaparinirvana. I hope you accept your Path and forgive yourself, for once the Buddha made a Vow to help all beings become like Himself. How do you think this ends?

Hanu Bha Sha Bhara He Ye Svaha.

@lbrasington,

How do you define vitakka and vicara? There are different definitions floating around and you really need to know what they mean to understand the jhanas. Thanks.

Just wanted to come on here and thank @samseva and most especially @lbrasington for this thread, I have personally found it fascinating and it has sharpened a lot of my understandings and ideas around Buddhist meditative practice.

I think it’s great to have a place where robust debate on these issues can occur, and I think that even though feelings can be hurt and tempers can get hot, it is still just fantastic to be able to engage in discussion like this.

I would also like to thank @lbrasington for the great chart mentioned above, I am really fascinated by this formula and the chart really helped pack a lot of info into a small space.

Just to contribute my own 2 cents, I am very sympathetic to the reading of the jhana formula as refering to the actual physical body, and my impression of the sutta material is that it originates in a much more practical and “earthy”, dynamic and pragmatic approach, that over years, possibly many years, developed into an increasingly abstract, reified and “abhidarmic” picture.

My sense is a lot of the people presenting the case against Leigh are relying consciously or otherwise on the abhidhamma literature for their interpretations, but I think it is well worth considering that the sutta material is probably earlier, maybe a great deal earlier in places.

I sometimes translate the 4 jhanas as the 4 “aha!s” in my head, and think of the sequence more or less as:

  1. cessation of the sensual (in the sense of externally directed senses)
  2. cessation of the cognitive (in the sense of conscious direction of the mind)
  3. cessation of the affective (in the sense of the emotion of joy)
  4. cessation of the hedonic (in the sense of the feeling of pleasure)

at each stage there is an aha! - this thing i took for myself has ceased entirely and I am happier than i was when i had it!

although it uses different language to the other “heavyweight” in the canon, the 4 foundations of mindfulness, I think it lines up with it rather neatly.

I know its a bit un-Buddhist but Hooray for passionate debate and hooray for the jhana controversy! long may these fruitful discussions continue!!

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Hello,

@samseva please, can you give us your method to reach the first jhana? Do you think that we have to focus on the breath first and then focus on a pleasant feeling? Or do you think like Pa Auk that we have to concentrate on the conceptual breathing all the time?

I want to thank all the speakers in the debate.

I also wanted to emphasize that Leigh’s method and other methods are not necessarily all incompatible. For example, one can practice Leigh Brasington’s method from time to time, and from time to time practice Pa Auk’s method.

Thank you in advance.

This is a good thought, that we are free to practice meditations in those forms that we find helpful and useful. The key, though, I think, is that we really need to determine as best as is possible what the Buddha was teaching in terms of samma samadhi. This is important insofar as we might wish to pursue a Buddhist path of practice and to embrace as fully as possible the Eightfold Path.

Even when we might disagree about what experiences or practices constitute Dhammic Jhana, it’s also important to appreciate, I feel, that the jhanas are the companion wing of the two winged bird that involves vipassana, insight or clear seeing. Cultivating jhanas needs as a precursor abandonment of mundane sensuality, and a mindfulness that is founded on an ethical, renunciant, wise path of practice. We might see this kind of mindfulness and experience in someone like an Ayya Khema, or in Ajahn Chah, or in some of the monks and nuns that have trained with Ajahn Chah, and other dedicated Forest monastics like the students and present/former monastic colleagues of Ajahn Brahm, by way of example. You can see evidence that these monastics have “touched” the jhanas as they seem to live their lives in compatibility with the Eightfold Path.

I just think it’s difficult, maybe impossible, to live in the mundane world, to immerse oneself in sensual pursuits, such as romantic relationships, culinary experiences, etc. In other words, if someone is truly practicing (or teaching) within a path to the jhanas, they are probably a serious, wise, compassionate, renunciant monk or nun. They are likely not a lay person…how can we be in the lay world and believe that we can approximate the samadhi to the depths that the Buddha has prescribed?

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Thank you it’s interesting

One can live in the secular world without immersing oneself in sensual pleasures. Achieving nirvana in the secular world is not impossible, but it is indeed more difficult.

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