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MN68 reference by Ajahn Brahm


#1

I’ve been reading and learning much from Ajahn Brahm’s very helpful paper on Bahiya’s Teaching.

I am, however, having a bit of difficulty with the following passage which refers to MN68:

It is well known among serious students of Buddhism that the only way to suppress these Five Hindrances is through the practice of Jhāna. As it says in the Nalakapāna Sutta (MN 68), in one who does not attain a Jhāna, the Five Hindrances (plus discontent and weariness) invade the mind and remain. Anything less than Jhāna is not powerful and lasting enough to suppress the Five Hindrances sufficiently. So, even if you are practising bare mindfulness, with the Five Hindrances still active at a subconscious level, you are not seeing things as they truly are, you are seeing things as they seem,distorted by these Five Hindrances.

When I read MN68 myself, I notice:

  • there is no mention of Five Hindrances (pañca nīvaraṇe)
  • there is a mention of Five Fetters (pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ)
  • there is no mention of jhana

Help!


#2

Well, not using those terms, but they are there:

Take someone who doesn’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are secluded from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that. Their mind is still occupied by desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, doubt, discontent, and sloth. That’s someone who doesn’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are secluded from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that.

Take someone who does achieve the rapture and bliss that are secluded from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that. Their mind is not occupied by desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, doubt, discontent, and sloth. That’s someone who does achieve the rapture and bliss that are secluded from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that.

(https://suttacentral.net/mn68/en/sujato#6.2–6.5)

Here the hindrances are listed (“Their mind is still occupied by desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, doubt, discontent, and sloth”) and jhana is referred to by “rapture and bliss”.


#3

Ah! Thanks for pointing that out. I was searching so hard for the literal word “hindrance” that I did not see the hindrance! Quite funny since it proves Ajahn Brahm’s point of not seeing the seen in the seen.

I remain somewhat hesitant to take the bold step at declaring “rapture and bliss” to be jhana here in MN68 until I study a bit more (although I do acknowledge that they are key). Other suttas such as AN4.161 clearly mention jhana as the “pleasant path” and certainly not the only path (see “painful path”) for ending defilements in the present life. Jhana study does seem to be more rational (i.e., pleasant vs. painful)!

Indeed, there are other suttas that support his point more directly (e.g., AN5.28), so I was a bit confused at the use of MN68 as a strong reference.

Thank you!
:pray:


#4

Always a wonderful idea, and indeed, as I understand it a crucial part of the practice. Wishing you much fun. :smile:

Fully accepting your wise inclination to find confidence for yourself, I’ll nevertheless note that I believe it can be taken in this context as something of an oft used shorthand for jhana within the Canon in this context. Maybe it would help to cross-reference with another passage from another sutta, by which the link might become clearer:

They give up these five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom. Then, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.

(https://suttacentral.net/mn27/en/sujato#sc36)

Here it is shown that rapture and bliss are the defining qualities of the first absorption/jhana (I think it you do a grep for this you’ll find it pop up quite a lot).

Do share your discoveries, if you will. :pray:


#5

The link you posted does match my own understanding from DN33

Four absorptions.
Cattāri jhānāni.
A mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.
, , ,

From the above I understand that “rapture and bliss” are required but not sufficient for first jhana. Indeed, the third jhana is defined by the fading away of rapture, therefore rapture itself is transient and not a part of all jhanas.

And with the fading away of rapture, they enter and remain in the third absorption

Your quote is itself VERY interesting (I had not seen this before) in that the five hindrances are given up prior to studying jhana. I.e., they are hindrances to jhana. This is also a bit different than what Ajahn Brahm says in the paper:

the only way to suppress these Five Hindrances is through the practice of Jhāna.

Thank you for this additional reference. My study list just got longer. :laughing:

:pray:


#6

From the point of view of my theoretical understanding, it all fits together well (and Ajahn Brahm’s advice makes good sense) but again, I heartily wish you very happy studies.

As an aside though, you might be interested in a couple of talks on the hindrances Ajahn Brahm gave some time ago, that @musiko very kindly shared on the forum here within a full collection of talks from a retreat (may I take the opportunity to offer musiko my deep thanks for doing so).


#7

It’s not just “rapture and bliss”. It’s

This is quite an explicit description of the first Jhana (as mentioned further down, “quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption , which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion”).

i.e. second Jhana upwards…


#8

and don’t forget…

while placing the mind and keeping it connected

:grin:

I’m just a bit cautious here since neither jhana nor samadhi are used in MN68. The Buddha everywhere else uses the entire first jhana formula. And I have found the Buddha to be precise (maddeningly so!) and never hand-wavy. In fact, the Buddha keeps pushing the mendicants to be precise in their own talks. Indeed, if I were grilled by the Buddha on my understanding of MN68, I would just say “rapture and bliss” exactly like the Buddha did. I would not embellish what I said with jhana or samadhi, which the Buddha did not use in MN68.

Only two suttas use “rapture and bliss that”. They are MN68 and MN14. And MN14 defines “rapture and bliss that” is strong enough to lead away from sensual pleasure.

But so long as I didn’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that,
I didn’t announce that I would not return to sensual pleasures.

For example, when I walk mindfully practicing sammasati (Right Mindfulness), my sense doors are open but restrained–yet there is a sense of rapture and bliss that brings me back to walking meditation day after day. And it is that rapture and bliss of walking meditation that encourages and inspires me to investigate further, to find something “more peaceful than that”, i.e., jhana.

Therefore, I am not comfortable relying on “rapture and bliss” as the sole definer of first jhana. Instead, I think of rapture and bliss as arising in sammasati and as vital conditions for first jhana.


#9

It can be seen from the seven factors of awakening (linear interpretation), that rapture precedes concentration. In meditation on the breath it is of importance to induce and experience piti as a counteractive pleasure not of the flesh opposing sensual desire. DN 2, MN 39, and AN 10.99 all show that removal of the hindrances precedes the attainment of jhana, and the idea that jhana removes the hindrances is not supported in the suttas, and here it is a case of Ajahn Brahm struggling to find a reference.

Do not expect doctrinal clarity from a popularist. Note that Ajahn Brahm primarily claims for authority “It is well known among serious students of Buddhism”, and that is a typical popularist statement, where the moral force of the people contributes significantly as opposed to the perceived elitism of the texts.

After induction, piti is a result of abandoning the hindrances and leads towards jhana:
“Seeing that they (the five hindrances) have been abandoned within him, he becomes glad. Glad, he becomes enraptured. Enraptured, his body grows tranquil. His body tranquil, he is sensitive to pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated.”—MN 39


#10

I’m surprised no one has looked at the parallels of MN 68 yet. Though its counterpart MĀ 77 has no known translations into English, Ven Anālayo notes:

According to the Naḷakapāna-sutta, the Buddha explained to Anuruddha and his companions that, after going forth, they should develop non-sensual pleasure (by attaining jhāna), in order to be no longer overpowered by unwholesome states of mind. The Madhyama-āgama version introduces the same topic as an exposition on the causes for obtaining innumerable wholesome qualities, adding to the Majjhima-nikāya presentation that the experience of non-sensual pleasure will also enable them to patiently bear hunger and thirst, cold and heat, insect bites, evil words, and bodily pains.

Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya vol. 1, p. 371


#11

One way to understand MN68 is that it provides a standard to judge the rapture and bliss you are experiencing in your practice.

I.e. the effect of the rapture and bliss one is experiencing should ideally be that one’s mind is no longer occupied by ‘desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, doubt, discontent, and sloth’.

If you do find your mind being occupied by these things, you know your practice is not up to the level described in the sutta. This is how I judge my own practice (and how I know that I’m still a beginner despite years of practice).


#12

I agree and in MN118 rapture and bliss is mentioned before attainment of ‘release of mind’, which is the first jhana upwards. Rapture and bliss is a consequence of getting past the five hindrances!


#13

Thanks, Mat! I shall go study that reference. And I am also grateful for Ajahn Brahm’s enthusiasm which brought me to study more suttas!

They practice breathing in experiencing rapture. They practice breathing out experiencing rapture. They practice breathing in experiencing bliss. They practice breathing out experiencing bliss. They practice breathing in experiencing these emotions. They practice breathing out experiencing these emotions. They practice breathing in stilling these emotions. They practice breathing out stilling these emotions. --MN118

The above quote was quite helpful to me since I had previously identified with rapture/bliss as “Karl”. Now this too shall be “not mine…”

:pray:


#14

Not I, not ‘mine’ not my Soul-essence’


#15

Exactly. Previously I had used that feeling of rapture/bliss to inform my actions. Climbing for me brought rapture/bliss and I would always thank the mountain (i.e., Earth deva) for its kind gift of rapture/bliss. I would always be “born again” in the mountains.

Now with MN118, I see that I was stuck in rapture/bliss, a conditioned phenomenon. The gratitude remains, but the craving for that rapture/bliss leads to suffering, namely, the suffering at the lack of rapture/bliss. Hence, exactly as you say, ‘not I, not mine, not my Soul-essence’


#16

Pain requires the soothing bliss and rapture.


#17

Perhaps.

Or in the pain, just the pain?

As Bahiya might have thought…


#18

Not ‘I’, not mine, not my ‘story’ to tell.!


#19

:laughing:

Then I shall wish you with much metta that your story and practice be:

And what’s the pleasant practice with swift insight?
It’s when a mendicant … enters and remains in the first absorption … second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption …
They rely on these five powers of a trainee:
faith, conscience, prudence, energy, and wisdom.
And they have these five faculties strongly:
faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom.
Because of this, they swiftly attain the conditions for ending the defilements in the present life.


#20

"[10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in gladdening the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out gladdening the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’ [12] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’—Third tetrad, MN 118

The third tetrad is closely related to the second, in that gladdening or steadying the mind (releasing it from sensuality) employs piti, which has been developed or “trained” in the second tetrad. “Releasing” from an insight perspective means anything from release from unskillful states, all the way to total release from suffering.