It is true that many highly respected meditation teachers interpret the jhana passages in the suttas as suggesting a highly absorbed state. The term absorption itself, nor the vocabulary associated with it (neighborhood concentration etc.) is found in the suttas. All that traces from Visuddhimagga. I am not sure if absorption is a good descriptive term of one abiding in jhana, but to suggest that jhana is to be reached through concentration on the object of meditation to the exclusion of other phenomena is to suggest that jhana is a state of suppression. I cannot find any evidence in the suttas that supports this view. I think any such interpretation laid onto the suttas is still a case of viewing the suttas through the lens of the Visuddhimagga. It is a matter of force of tradition. Most Theravadin meditation teachers came up through an environment and tradition heavily influenced by Buddhaghosa’s work.
Heres a great talk by Ajahn Brahm about the Anupada sutta. In the talk he properly translates the sutta and talks about how controversial it is based on language and lateness of text.
I tried to watch it but video is unavailable. I am quite interested to see Ajahn Brahm’s talk on this sutta.
Thank you. I will watch at earliest convenience. It is certainly an interesting subject for teachers and practitioners of jhana. I have heard of Ajahn Brahm but have not heard one of his dhamma talks. Is he a teacher of yours?
I watched the video. Thank you Badscooter. What Ven. Ajahn Brahm has to say is quite interesting and well worth considering. I found many of his points to be very helpful and will probably watch the whole video a second time. To get a more complete picture of his approach, I need to learn a bit more. I am very curious as to what is his method to get into the first jhana (and beyond). Do you know of any videos where he gives these instructions? Also, is there somewhere I can obtain a copy of his translation of MN 111?
The is a vast repository of resources on the BSWA website, under teachings
Thank you Viveka.
The most concise teachings describing the eight factor of the noble eightfold path, with the detailed descriptions of jhanas (based on the suttas and—without doubt—on deep personal experiences) by Ajahn Brahm are available in the following book: “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond—A Meditator’s Handbook” (also known as “Happiness Through Meditation”).
The preview (full ToC and chapter one) is available here:
The first part of the book describes the prerequisites for the deep states of calm, that culminate in the stillness of jhanas, and is targeted to all meditators.
In the second part titled “To Bliss and Beyond” Ajahn Brahm goes into great detail on what jhanas are, how one achieves them and what their final purpose is.
There are also numerous meditation retreats, where Ajahn Brahm teaches according to the topics described in the book, and they are all available right here
If you are interested in more sutta readings by Ajahn Brahm and other members of the BSWA dual sangha, they are also available right here:
Thank you Musiko.
I have read with interest the preview on Ajahn Brahm's book. I also revisited the MN 111 talk. I am interested to hear and read more. I think he is an excellent teacher and has much to offer from his own experience.
At this point I cannot agree with his assessment of MN 111 as not being a teaching of the Buddha. I have read the the book “The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts” which he cites in support of his view. As a whole, I really like the book, but I do not find the arguments given therein concerning MN 111 to be convincing, and some of them seem to be very questionable. However, I am open to further considering the criticism leveled at MN 111, and have noticed a previous discussion on the topic here at Sutta Central.
There are five points the two venerable authors raise in their book and Ajahn Brahm presents a sixth point. By Ajahn Brahm’s own admission in the video, his system of jhana does not correspond with the sutta on many points. Personally, this does not give me any problems, as I believe there may be various productive ways to approach jhanas. However, Ajahn Brahm seems to be holding out that his way of jhana is the only correct way, and other teachers of, for instance, the Tranquil Wisdom (TWIM) approach to jhana are somehow lowering standards or making claims that are not in keeping with monks vows. I am not sure it is helpful to be making this sort of statement, especially when his system is somewhat at odds with the Buddha’s words and Ven. Sariputta’s experience as related in Anupada Sutta.
I very much like Ajahn’s translation of jhana as ‘silence of mind’ and this is much better than calling it ‘concentration’. And in reading his book, he is giving some excellent advice to practitioners on how to proceed in their practice.
In my experience, the practitioners who are working with the Tranquil Wisdom jhanas are also attaining very deep and profound silence and cessation. That is, cessation of senses, cessation of body, cessation of thinking and all mental activity. There has been a tendency to disparage the Tranquil Wisdom approach to jhana as ‘jhana lite’, or ‘not real jhana’ but I would maintain that this is the view of those who are looking at the practice from the outside, with pre-conceived ideas of what a jhana should be and how to get into one. The Tranquil Wisdom approach fits MN 111 much more closely than the system of Ajahn Brahm.
In any case, I will continue to follow Ajahn Brahm with interest, and to benefit from his teachings, and I support those who look to him as their main teacher and guide along the Noble Eightfold Path.
With metta, smiles, and best wishes…and thanks for the leads to the resources.
Funny because that is exactly what vimalaramsi and his students state to others. I have heard directly from his lips that only he and his method are correct and eveyone else is wrong… …
That being said, i have never heard ajahn brahm say such things…
Be wary of teachers who state only their method is the one true method… ive seen vimalaramsi take out entire sections of a sutta stating they were"commentary that had slip into the sutta" but had given no evidence of it. The only evidence he was using for authenticity was that fact that the sutta didnt fit his method.
Yes, any teacher who holds that his way is the only way is being quite presumptuous. How could they know that unless they have tried all the other methods? I have noticed this on the part of some TWIM teachers, and have cautioned them against such statements. In the case of Bhante Vimalaramsi I don’t know what you heard from him, but what I have heard from him and read from his books is that other methods are slow, complex, and often ineffective because they do not skillfully deal with craving as a structured part of the meditation, which he feels TWIM does very well. Most current methods also separate samatha from vipassana which Bhante Vimalaramsi feels is an unfortunate development stemming from Buddhaghosa’s changes in the Visuddhimagga. This also tends to slow down progress and makes for complex systems of meditation. Bhante Vimalaramsi has spent years with the Mahasi Sayadaw type Burmese methods and was a personal friend of SN Goenka. I have heard him say that these methods can be effective but tend to be slow and difficult, and that progress at the highest levels is very rare as practitioners usually take many years getting through each of the various steps. But he never said (to me) that the methods were of no value. If he said it to you, that would be an unfortunate statement.
I did not say that Ajahn Brahm was making a claim his method was the only way. What I referred to was right in the video you or the other person sent me on MN 111. He was obviously referring to Bhante Vimalaramsi and TWIM, although he was polite enough not to mention the names directly. He was making it sound as if the claims for jhana were misleading and that it was not the real thing. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it is right there in the video, and he elaborated on it.
However, I don’t want this to be a ‘my teacher vs. your teacher’ exchange. I have since watched yet another teaching video by Ajahn Brahm on a different sutta, and I found it to be quite good. So I am grateful that his teaching was put to my attention and I now consider him as one of my precious teachers and guides and am quite impressed by his knowledge, skill in teaching, and I also very much like his sense of humour.
So I agree with you that we need be wary of ‘my way is the only way’ from any teacher, including our own. A friendly discussion about how best to practice is very helpful. Negative (and usually ill-informed) views of other teachings are less than helpful and need not be encouraged.
The section of sutta that Bhante Vimalaramsi objects to is MN 20. especially verse 7, which is about crushing mind with mnd and having the teeth clenched and pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth. this may very well be a case of oral tradition cut and paste put in at the wrong place, as it is exactly the same wording as MN 36.20 where the Bodhisatta Gautama was practicing extreme asceticism. In the latter passage, he is warning against such methods, then in MN 20.7 he seems to be recommending it, an apparent contradiction. But I have heard Bhante Vimalaramsi say that people are welcome to try the method. He thinks it useless and counter-productive, and for the above reasons doubts it to be an authentic teaching of the Buddha. It seems not to be a crucial technique in any method, so whether or not it is authentic, it is of little importance. However, challenging Anupada Sutta, MN 111 as being inauthentic is a much deeper challenge, as this sutta shows in some detail the operation of insight/vipassana while in jhana. Maybe its not an original teaching of the Buddha, if the doubters are correct, but that is what MN 111 very clearly shows. Thus, it is problematic for those who believe no such activity can occur whole in jhana.
I have been reading some of Ajahn Brahm’s book on basic meditation and much of it is quite good. He has a quote from the Buddha as follows, which i would like to find: “a meditator whose mind inclines to abandoning, easily achieves Samadhi”. do you know where this statement is found? Thank you for the help.
In the book “Mindfulness, bliss and beyond” this quote is found on page 2 and is referenced as SN 48.9
I believe Ajahn Brahm uses his own translations in that book and this translation might be from this passage:
Katamañca, bhikkhave, samādhindriyaṃ?
Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvakovossaggārammaṇaṃ karitvā labhatisamādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ—
Tanslation by Bhante Sujato for comparison:
And what is the faculty of immersion?
It’s when a noble disciple, relying on letting go, gains immersion, gains unification of mind.
Many thanks for the reference and for the two translations. I like that Ajahn Brahm has left the word samādhi untranslated. All English translations such as concentration, absorption, immersion seem either inadequate or misleading.
In India, samādhi means “union with the divine, especially on the death of a saint”.
In Thailand, samādhi means “meditation”, as in “I was sitting samādhi and just felt annoyed because of the pain in my knees!”
In the vipassana schools, samādhi means “continual moment by moment awareness of different objects as they change.”
In modern meditation teachings, samādhi means “concentration”, understood as “trying to keep focus on a single thing”.
None of these is what samādhi means in the early texts. There, it refers primarily to a profound state of meditative absorption. Unless it is translated so as to clearly convey this sense, almost all readers will simply read it according to their own preconceptions.
Greetings @sujato… Venerable, what you have written about the various usages of the word samādhi, and the need to clarify the translation so as to avoid everyone reading in their own meaning makes total sense. The usage in the early suttas does seem quite different from the usages in India, Thailand, etc., which you gave here. I have noticed in the Advaita Vedanta that the usage of the word samādhi seems similar to that of early Buddhism (as noted in ‘Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi’ and other accounts like that of David Godman of his life and teachings, ‘Be As You Are’ ). My question to you for clarification would be what do you mean by meditative absorption? Eagerly awaiting your reply on this point. Thank you for the clarification and for your attention to this matter.