I’ve been reading a few sources, books, essays and teachings that discuss the idea that the current orthodoxy of Theravada and its modern meditation methods show great differences with what the suttas tell us (especially the ones characterized as being part of the early doctrinal strata) about meditation, jhana and its importance in the buddhist soteriology (i.e. the path towards “salvation” from dukkha and the cycle of rebirth).
For instance, we have a few quotes (which I hope are not taken out of context) by Ajahn Chah which seem to contradict the vital importance given to jhanas in the Sutta Pitaka, placing them as a necessary factor for uprooting the asavas:
- Question: Is it necessary to be able to enter absorption in our practice?
Answer: No, absorption is not necessary. You must establish a modicum of tranquillity and one-pointedness of mind. Then you use this to examine yourself. Nothing special is needed. If absorption comes in your practice, this is OK too. Just don’t hold on to it. Some people get hung up with absorption. It can be great fun to play with. You must know proper limits. If you are wise, then you will know the uses and limitations of absorption, just as you know the limitations of children verses grown men. (Kornfield, 1996:42)
- We must use Upacara Samadhi. Here, we enter calm and then, when the mind is sufficiently calm, we come out and look at outer activity. Looking at the outside with a calm mind gives rise to wisdom. (Chah, 1995:23)
- That which can be most harmful to the meditator is Absorption Samadhi (JHANA), the samadhi with deep, sustained calm. This samadhi brings great peace. Where there is peace, there is happiness. When there is happiness, attachment and clinging to that happiness arise. The meditator doesn’t want to contemplate anything else, he just wants to indulge in that pleasant feeling. When we have been practicing for a long time we may become adept at entering this samadhi very quickly. As soon as we start to note our meditation object, the mind enters calm, and we don’t want to come out to investigate anything. We just get stuck on that happiness. This is a danger to one who is practicing meditation. (Chah, 1995:23)
As another example (and I think this could be less controversial) some investigations conclude that methods such as Vipassana are not “methods” in the suttas, but qualities to be developed (along with samatha) within the practice of Jhana. And so, all the foundations of modern vipassana meditation would come from later sources, and not from the Buddha himself. The same could be said about concepts such as kasina, access/momentary concentration, nimitta (as lights seen during meditation), etc.
How well accepted is this idea between bhikkhu/nis, scholars, and lay practitioners?
And what consequences does this have for our practice?
Should we look for methods of meditation that could go back to the ones described in the suttas, putting aside (or at least, in a secondary place) other sources, such as Abhidhamma or Visuddhimagga?
Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily saying that modern methods are wrong or that they contradict the path laid by the Buddha. I’m just asking if those methods are recognized as not authentic (if we define “authenticity” as the quality of something conforming in form and content with what the Buddha supposedly taught, if we have any way of knowing that with more or less degree of certainty), although useful, inside buddhist circles in general.
Thanks in advance for your time.