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Meditation is important but not the main practice


#1

After all the Buddha meditation (i.e the jhanas) appears as number 8 of the 8FP and same as number 8 in the Gradual Training of MN 107.
Gradual Training (from MN107)

  1. Virtue by maintaining the five precepts
  2. Guard the doors of the six sense faculties
  3. Be moderate in eating
  4. Be devoted to wakefulness (when awake purify the mind of obstructive states)
  5. Be possessed of mindfulness and full awareness (in all activities).
  6. Resort to a secluded place.
  7. Abandon the five hindrances.
  8. Enter the jhanas.

MN 107 and the sutta that tells us that samadhi is the result of the 1st 7 components of the 8FP clearly show the Buddha meditation (i.e the jhanas) is not something that you “do” but something that happen to you when the prerequisites are met.

So why does all Buddhist traditions modern and ancient insist so much on meditation and do not teach what really counts: the practices that lead to transforming ourselves that in particular will allow to “dry up the remain of the past” (Sn 5.11.4) ? Why spending so much time teaching something that is not doable per se?


#2

Hi @alaber

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer this question but from my own practice meditation is the one truely enjoyable thing that I do that doesn’t break any precept and causes no harm to myself or others. I also find that walking the path can at times be very mentally tiring and meditation is a way in which I give the mind space to rest and recover. But maybe the reason it’s further down the list is because the steps in the lead up to meditation help prepare the mind for the absorption that comes. I hope I’ve not got the wrong idea here and please correct my view if I do.

:pray:t3::pray:t3::pray:t3:


#3

I think there’s a difference between “important” and “advanced.” Practicing deep meditation is both highly important and highly advanced.

Why spending so much time teaching something that is not doable per se?

Because this is the Buddha’s path—ethics, immersion, wisdom. The Buddha frequently taught immersion+ to lay people. Ajahn Brahm compares teaching advanced teachings with planting seeds. People will not understand it now and might even rebel against it, but it will help them later on. And of course, the more fundamental teachings are also taught. It doesn’t have to be either/or.


#4

One profitable point to consider is that right concentration is not the culmination of the noble eightfold path, wisdom is (sila, samadhi, panna), meaning that the progressive development of right view is the culminating factor. MN 107 is a discourse delivered to a layman, and the Buddha states that it is an instruction for learners, thus it does not include the information on the insight that develops the wisdom factor.


#5

I would phrase it differently, to “Don’t expect that much from meditation”. I also think that in pop-culture there is an over-emphasis on ‘meditation’. People do it with an app, while walking, 10 minutes a day, etc.

In itself there is nothing wrong with that, but because it often lacks the foundation the results will accordingly be shallow.

But of course it is: how often do people in the suttas go underneath a tree, sit down crossed-legged, evoke sati - that’s a procedure and a ‘doing’. And this action is necessary for a source of very specific information - the direct exposure to one’s mind. If we don’t have it we will be governed by concepts about the mind only, and not its momentary reality.

So yes, we need the conceptual clarity, faith, determination, right restraint. But we need the meditation also the check our progress, to reap the results, and as an important source to feedback into our reflections. And eventually of course for more substantial progress in liberation.


#6

For Insight. There’s no insight without immersion.

There’s no nibbana without insight - morality leads to concentration, leads to wisdom, leads to release and subsequently vision of release, as per EBTs. Sorting out the psychological problems is the Right effort of sorting out various kinds of craving, aversions including misapprehensions of what’s reality, which is part and not the whole.


#7

Thank you for mentioning this. Your wariness is refreshing!

In MN8, the jhanas are dismissed as:

they’re called ‘blissful meditations in the present life’.

The jhanas are tools for the practice. They are NOT the practice. The practice is self-effacement.

The MN8 lesson was brought home to me quite forcefully when I cowered in fear on a cliff, a trained meditator helpless with my useless tools. I had not worked on self-effacement. So now I read the suttas looking for those inner hiding places of self, evicting them one-by-one.


#8

I changed the title to reflect what I really wanted to say: that focusing on meditation practice is putting the cart before the horse.


#9

Yes they go underneath the tree … once they have done all the 7 prerequisites (of the 8FP or as presented in MN 107) they will enter jhana naturally without having to “do” anything. A good sign is when one starts experiencing piti in the body and the mind both in meditation and in normal life; this is why piti is the 1st of the 7 factors … and so on for the other 7 factors of awakening.


#10

I personally rather agree than not, but it would be nice to see that reflected in some suttas. I still find your premise too strong though and think there is a route for people who don’t have instant piti to sit down and do investigations or other practices before the first jhana appears.

Also, you have suttas like AN 4.198, AN 5.75 that still sound like ‘work’, namely in abandoning the hindrances:

After his meal, on returning from his alms round, he sits down, folding his legs crosswise, straightening his body, and establishing mindfulness in front of him. Having abandoned longing for the world, he dwells with a mind free from longing…

Also, anapanassati is a ‘doing’ and piti doesn’t just come by itself as the first step but as a result of the other breath related practices before.


#11

Piti is not the first of the seven factors of awakening, mindfulness is and it is the manager of all the factors, a ‘mobile’ actor, so in effect investigation is the first procedural factor. It’s interesting that in this case piti is a result of investigation, not jhana, illustrating that piti can arise from insight, and since these are the authoritative factors of awareness, that is the preferred course. Apart from mindfulness, the factors are arranged into three active and three passive components.


#12

You’re right piti is number four. I maintain that piti is not under my control it happens on its own when the prerequisites are fulfill.


#13

That is not what I witness in monastic communities in Thailand.

The focus of renunciation is to first remove oneself from the entangled householder lifestyle.

This requires some level of right view as it acknowledges the futility of the goals, pleasures and achievements of a life in family and among the wider community.

With the physical removal of oneself from that setting and adoption of an uniform appearance and clothing (shaving of head, wearing of robes).

With that done one is mentored over years in how to develop the foundation elements of the path, which in short can be summarized as cultivation and dedication to thoughts, words, actions and livelihood rooted in renunciation, friendliness and non- violence.

A friend of mine who is monastic says that it took him 6 years to detox himself from his householder’s ways of mind and thought enough for a real cultivation of right thought to gain momentum!

This should bring about a minimum level of purity of conduct which then clears one’s mind from any remorse or anxiety in regards to conduct.

This in turn only serves to clarify where further right effort is needed so as to bring about right mindfulness and right immersion needed for right understanding to arise, and right liberation to take place.

Any formal ‘practice of meditation’ - walking meditation, sitting meditation or mere memorization and reflection of the teaching and its principles - is then the way for those in robes to establish and develop mindfulness, which is indeed something one needs to do, apply oneself to - this being the reason it is the first of the seven factors of awakening.

Important suttas which support this model of cultivating the path are: AN10.2 / AN11.2, SN12.23, MN117, MN118.


#14

Quote: “I maintain that piti is not under my control it happens on its own when the prerequisites are fulfill.”

It is true and verifiable that piti arises as a natural consequence of sila, but it depends on the degree of sila. “Consumate in sila” means supreme, faultless. Up until the stage of perfection in sila, practice is necessary:

"For a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May freedom from remorse arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.

"For a person free from remorse, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May joy arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that joy arises in a person free from remorse.

"For a joyful person, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May rapture arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that rapture arises in a joyful person.”—-AN 11.2

The Satipatthana sutta shows that focussed practice of piti is necessary, implicitly based on the connection to sila:

“There is the case where, there being rapture as a factor for Awakening present within, he discerns that ‘Rapture as a factor for Awakening is present within me.’ Or, there being no rapture as a factor for Awakening present within, he discerns that ‘Rapture as a factor for Awakening is not present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen rapture as a factor for Awakening. And he discerns how there is the culmination of the development of rapture as a factor for Awakening once it has arisen.”—-DN 22, MN 10


#15

What you are describing is not a practice of piti but that one notices when piti is present and not.


#16

I’m talking about Buddhism in the West as taught to lay people by monastics or by lay people. They primarily teaches meditation which is to me useless as the meditation that concerns me is the Buddha meditation i.e. the jhanas, that are not achieved by “doing” them but are obtained as by-product of transforming oneself using the 8FP or the Gradual Training proposed in MN 107 with the purpose of eliminating greed, hatred and delusion. Once these three poisons are eliminated, of course by a practice outside the cushion, then jhana falls on your lap.


#17

“He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen rapture as a factor for Awakening. And he discerns how there is the culmination of the development of rapture as a factor for Awakening once it has arisen.”

“And what is the food for the arising of unarisen rapture as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of rapture… once it has arisen? There are mental qualities that act as a foothold for rapture as a factor for Awakening. To foster appropriate attention to them: This is the food for the arising of unarisen rapture as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of rapture… once it has arisen.”—SN 46.51


#18

I think the idea of jhana just appearing is like seeing a sunrise :sunrise: , from behind a mountain. Issues with morality, defilements, upakilesa (sub-defilements), hindrances are all in front.

An Arahant might make that kind of samadhi. :star2:


#19

And yet if one waits long enough, the sun will rise from behind a mountain.
Similarly, when immersed in any ethical task (e.g., woodworking on a gift for a friend), the self withers as metta grows. Mindfulness grows and deepens.

However, I do agree that at some point one has to understand and commit to the N8P to make further progress.


#20

I think I hold with a lot of that. Right concentration does come towards the end of many of the sets in the 37 enlightenment factors. For example, from MN117 (and other suttas), right unification seems to be a kind of capstone placed upon the earlier factors, supported by and relying on them and locking everything into place:

And what is noble right immersion with its vital conditions and its prerequisites? They are: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness. Unification of mind with these seven factors as prerequisites is called noble right immersion with its vital conditions and also with its prerequisites.

I’d reckon there’s a strong, even if not inevitable, sequential flow to many of these sets. The earlier steps are like preparing ground for a future harvest: digging the ground, fertilizing it, hoeing it and planting the seeds. Even a large part of the function of mindfulness seems to be preparing the mind for immersion/jhana. Though, a lot of the wisdom/insight magic does seem to happen in conjunction with Samma Samadhi.

I’d agree that often the final meditation steps are overemphasized and the earlier preparation they should be resting on are neglected in relative terms. Often it does sound in the suttas as if the later steps should flow a lot more effortlessly and naturally if the earlier work has been done already.