Dear excellent fellow monastics and Dhamma friends
This may be a bit strange to discuss with non-monastics, but some of you have vast experience and i’d actually appreciate your sharing on this point. I’d also appreciate it if we can avoid off-topic proliferation here! (because it can easily happen on a topic like this!)
I’m reflecting on Parajikas no. 4, and pacittiya no. 8. Let’s say that together, they make it quite difficult for a mendicant to speak openly, or at all, about meditation and practice. Firstly, they engulf nearly every aspect of practice:
- All jhanas
- 3, & 4. Three emancipations (vimokkha), samadhis, and attainments (samapatti): (1) emptiness (suññata), (2) signless (animitta), (3) desireless (appanihita).
- knowledge-and-vision (ñanadassana): knowledge of past lives, knowledge of the rebirth of beings, and knowledge of the ending of mental effluents (asava);
- path-development (magga-bhavana): the 37 (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma)—the four establishings of mindfulness, the four right exertions, the four bases of power, the five faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors for Awakening, and the noble eightfold path;
- the realization of the noble fruits (phala-sacchikiriya): stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, arahantship;
- the abandoning of defilements (kilesappahana): the abandoning of passion, aversion, and delusion;
- the mind’s freedom from hindrance (vinıvaranata cittassa): the mind unhindered by passion, aversion, and delusion;
- and delight in an empty dwelling (suññagare abhirati).
I mean maggabhavana alone is a deal-breaker here!
Parajika 4 prohibits mendicants from “lying” about attaining any of these, and Paccittiya 8 applies to a mendicant who expresses his ‘true’ experiences to unordained people. And though it is clear that the Parajika 4 applies only in the case of intentional lying, still, some conscientious mendicants will have absorbed these rules so much to the extent that they will avoid talking about their experiences at all, just in case they may be misunderstood or to avoid criticism. This is particularly the case for those who -like me- rarely ever speak about anything that they haven’t themselves experienced.
Now I love meditation! But I can’t see how I can possibly talk about it with unordained people any more (including maggabhavana)! I am not so much used to bending phrases, and I don’t like it. Rather I will usually say outright that “this is only my experience”, “in my experience it has been such and such”, and so on. And if one should observe the list of experiences a mendicant is not allowed to talk about, then what is still there to talk about?!
The same applies to some extent also with Parajika 3, where I can no longer speak freely about “death”, another favourite subject of mine! In this case I can’t speak about “fearlessness of death”, for example, even with other mendicants; lest it be misunderstood for an invitation to suicide or carelessness with life and so on! The parajika will not apply because of the absence of certain conditions, but still you get caught up in the kind of unfortunate controversy that we have already seen unfolding among well-known and highly respected mendicants!
And while in the case of talking about death, one is naturally justified to talk from without experience (!), yet in the case of meditation, how is it ever possible that one should even allow oneself to give instruction or describe a meditative event to lay people, without having experienced it oneself at first? I mean the rule doesn’t make sense to me here!
This actually opens up the discussion on the relationship between the patimokkha’s problematic “wording” of some rules, and the original “logic” of those rules. The origin story of Pc 8 clearly shows that telling lay people about one’s true experiences is problematic in the event where one does so merely to get alms food. If we were to generalise (which seems to be the function of the patimokkha’s wording), then it would suffice to apply the rule on seeking “any” gains, whether alms food or otherwise, and whether material or immaterial (fame, prestige, etc.); but not to prohibit speaking of one’s experiences altogether (such as in the context of giving instruction for example).
Another thing that puzzles me on the subject of jhana specifically: The Buddha does speak highly of it (as in MN 59 para:6-7 & MN 80 para:13 and elsewhere).
“This [four jhanas] is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared.”
Yet, the teaching emphasises how jhana is evidently samsaric and conditioned, thus insufficient for attaining the goal:
MN 79 para:28: “It is not for the sake of realising that entirely pleasant world [jhana] that bhikkhus lead the holy life under me. There are other states, Udayin, higher and more sublime [than that] and it is for the sake of realising them that bhikkhus lead the holy life under me.”
& MN 26: “[arupajhana as final dhamma] does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana, but only to reappearance in the [formless bases].”
_tr. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.
What is it then that is so “super human” about jhana, when we know that it only suppresses defilements, and ceases to have even that effect sometime after cessation of practice? Why is it such a big thing to talk about experiencing it? I mean if one may eventually return down to the realms of hell after rebirth in the jhanic realms, why would it be such a big thing in a Dhamma context that exalts and honours nibbana on top of everything else?
And this gets you wondering about whether all these rules were made because lay people and other ascetics in the time of the Buddha may had inflated the significance of these meditative experiences, even equating them with Enlightenment, precisely due to their continued ignorance of the possibility of bhavanirodha. And sometimes it shocks me that this is unfortunately still the situation today in so many circles, including monastic ones!
Anyways, I wonder how do other monastic practitioners handle this issue, what opinions and practices there are regarding observing these rules.
Most appreciatively. :).