Question for Pali-knowers re: Kumāra Bhikkhu's translations

Hi everyone,

I’ve been reading the most recent public draft of “What You Might Not Know About Jhāna and Samāhdi” by Kumāra Bhikkhu, and I was wondering what those of you who know Pali feel about the document’s translations of samadhi, jhana, etc. They make sense to me, I must say, from a practical perspective, but I’m not really qualified to speak as to their linguistic soundness. Thanks!

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Not really a Pāḷi-knower, but this is more-or-less the conclusion I’ve been coming to for a while now

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Had a brief glance. Well-writting, but unfortunately with more wrong ideas of jhana. :frowning: You just have my word for that, though :smiley: So let’s look at the Pali, as that is what you are asking about.

The translation “concentration” for samadhi definitely isn’t really very accurate. So it’s good to get away from that. I’m not too happy about “collected”, though.

The literal meaning of samadhi is “brought (dhi) together (sam)”. You could say bringing things together is collecting them, but in English “to be collected” means something very different than “collecting things”, so it’s a bit misleading, imo, to translate samadhi that way. Because “to be collected” means to be calm, while samadhi has much deeper implications than that.

To me samadhi means “brought together” in the sense of bringing to one place. This is first of all how the word is used in a non-meditative context. A turtle “brings together” (“samadhi-s”) his limbs and head under it’s shell. (SN35.240) Or when you light a fire you bring together (“you samadhi”) the burning kindle with the wood. And this is also how samadhi is defined in a meditative context: as ekodibhava and citassa ekaggata, both having the idea of “unity” (eka) in there. (E.g. MN44)

So one idea behind samadhi, which I adhere to, is that there is just one (eka) sense going on in jhana, which is the mind. You “bring together”, in a sense, all your awareness under the mind, and lose all awareness of sounds and body. Also the sense of “self versus object” disappears, and the experience is “unified” in a sense that there is no feeling of “meditation and me the meditator” but just the meditatio nitself. (Which, tangentially, is super weird, but exactly why the jhanas can lead to insight into anatta, the absence of a self.) And in the second jhana, which is said to be “born of samadhi”, also the movement of the mind ceases, so here it means oneness in the sense of stability of the object and awareness, which doesn’t move.

As to the word “jhana”, it’s true that it can in some rather rare contexts mean “meditation” in a general sense. However, when talking about the jhanas in context of samma samadhi, they are not. Here the jhanas are obviously numbered (as the first, second, third, fouth), and they are always described with very specific formulas, where they always follow one another in a definite sequence. So we are obviously talking about very specific states. It no longer means meditation in general, but certain definite states. Context is important here.

On a more general note, superficial ideas about jhanas such as these perhaps may seem to make some sense from a practical perspective, probably because they are more “accessible”, but don’t forget that in the suttas even great arahants-to-be like Mogallana had trouble with accessing the jhanas. Also, the jhanas are on the same level of “attainment” as psychic powers, such as reading minds, remembering past lives, astral projection, and such, and the stages of enlightenment, too: all these very deep and non-ordinary things that require a lot of practice, they are all called extraordinary superhuman states. Again, together with the jhanas. So if someone has jhanas, they also will have these kind of powers available, according to the suttas.

Also, in the suttas the jhanas are described exactly the same for the Buddha as for anybody else. That means that when you enter jhana, your mind is exactly like the Buddha’s would be in a jhana. I think that gives you an idea of how high the bar is. All sense of self and delusion are gone (temporarily).

And that’s why as monks we are not allowed to tell lay people we have attained such things. If jhanas were some ordinary easy-to-reach state of “collected meditation” this wouldn’t make sense, because just about everybody could do it. There wouldn’t be much bragging rights involved. :smiley: And it wouldn’t be extraordinary. Reality is, however, that jhanas are quite rare.

Though it’s well-intended, from what I’ve read I find this writing unfortunate as it’ll lead people the wrong way. I don’t mind saying that. :slight_smile:

Sorry, I went on a bit of a rant there that went beyond just the translations of the words. But again, context is important. Hope I was of any help.

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FYI, this is a mistake, one that I repeated for many years. There’s actually another root with the meaning “kindle” that is used in this context (from dahati). Samādhi, like jhāna, has a dual sense of unification and illumination.

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Thanks, bhante, I was aware of that (the idea of different roots, not the fact that you repeated the “mistake” for many years!) If i recall correctly we may have even talked about this before on the forum. But I still think the two ideas are directly connected. For one thing, because in the Upanishads samadhi (exact word upasamaadhaaya) seems to be used in this sense of bringing a coal together with grass to light a fire. (Chandogya 7.6.5. Note my Sanskrit is not good so if this is a mistake please correct me.) I mean, nowadays we light a fire with a press of a button, but in the Buddha’s time it usually involved bringing yesterday’s glowing embers together with today’s firewood and kindle. So it makes sense from that perspective, that a single root may have evolved into a specialized meaning of “lighting”.

If this is wrong, though (which may be), then I stand corrected on that detail. But it doesn’t change what samadhi means for meditation, because it quite obviously doesn’t literally mean “to light a fire”. (Although the connection may be interesting.)

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But that’s the point: the suttas do make the direct connection between samādhi and fire:

Niccagginī niccasamāhitatto,
Always blazing, always converged (= “akindle”),
Arahaṃ ahaṃ brahmacariyaṃ carāmi.
I am a perfected one living the spiritual life.

Just as they make the direct connection between jhana and fire:

Suppose an oil lamp was burning with impure oil and impure wick.
Seyyathāpi, āvuso kaccāna, telappadīpassa jhāyato telampi aparisuddhaṁ vaṭṭipi aparisuddhā.
Because of the impurity of the oil and the wick it burns dimly, as it were.
So telassapi aparisuddhattā vaṭṭiyāpi aparisuddhattā andhandhaṁ viya jhāyati;

Because of this [physical discomfort etc.] they practice absorption dimly, as it were.
So kāyaduṭṭhullassapi na suppaṭippassaddhattā thinamiddhassapi na susamūhatattā uddhaccakukkuccassapi na suppaṭivinītattā andhandhaṁ viya jhāyati.

It’s not just etymology, it’s application. These are states that are defined both by their peaceful and unified nature, and by their bright and luminescent nature.

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Right, right. Thanks Bhante. I don’t discount that. I just thought the idea of lighting a fire ALSO comes from the idea of “bringing together”, namely of a fire source and a fuel. So that we can also use it, apart from these connections, to explain what samadhi linguistically (and hence in the meditative sense) means. But now I see how its sense of lighting could be connected to the root daha instead. However, unless I’m missing something here, Cone and the CPD seem to see the verb ādahati in both its meanings (as lighting and in meditation) as coming from the same root dhā. So if it’s indeed a mistake, it seems to be avery common one. :person_shrugging:

I’ll give it another look later. Perhaps this is not the right topic for these details, anyway. Thanks again. :slight_smile:

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It’s interesting that in Ven. Kumārajīva’s dhyāna sutras he also talks of nimittas and one-pointedness but also of still experiencing bodily bliss. I believe he even talks about being able to walk whilst in Jhāna. The sutras themselves of course are based on the meditative practice of the Sarvāstivādins of Kasmir, likely within the Sautrāntika sub-tradition. There is a history then of interpreting samādhi as unity of mind, but still with the 5 senses. Interestingly in Ven. Anālayo’s new book he argues that Right Samādhi originally didn’t mean simply the 4 Jhānas, and so samādhi can include absorbed and non-absorbed states (which informs part of his argument regarding the Jhānas not being needed for stream-entry according to early Buddhism).

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Right, there might be a deeper etymological level where both the senses come from the same idea.

Personally, I’d be thrilled if both these senses ultimately harked back to the idea of a sacrifice by fire, the worship of agni. Transformation, sublimation, everything being consumed and transmuted to pure energy. But I haven’t been able to chase back the meanings so far.

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@Sunyo

Is 1-4 jhana without any tanha, avijja, anusaya, asava, kilesa? Is all this temporarily surpressed?

According to SN12.70 Susimaparibbājakasutta, this is not the case. Many Arahants when questioned claimed they don’t have any supernatural psychic power. They are liberated by wisdom.

How would you know if such experience is an illusion or insight? When meditator is not in Jhana and still have the same perception that self and object are one, would another person says that this is enlightenment or would the psychiatrist be called in for consultation?

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Hi all,

The word kilesa is used in different ways. In the suttas it mainly seems to refer to the five hindrances (as upakilesa), so going by that interpretation the kilesas are gone in jhana. Tanha also isn’t there.

But the anusaya are “underlying tendencies”, or in other words, the dispositions of the mind. They are still not removed, and the mind still has this tendency to fall back into things like craving or ignorance.

Avijja I see as not really a thing in itself. To me it mainly refers to the absence of a thing, namely final knowledge of the arahant (a + vijja = no vijja). That knowledge is still absent as long as we’re not enlightened. So avijja is still there in a sense that there is no final knowledge.

However, that’s looking at it all very technically and in terms of factors. The temporary experience of jhana, though, that’s what I referred to, and that in my view is not really different for anybody, whether enlightened or not. But when the mind comes back out non-enlightened people fall back into old “habits”, which is the difference.

Well, technically the knowledge of enlightenment is also one of the powers, which is why I made sure to include “stages of enlightenment”. I’d guess it’d be an exception, though, for arahants not have other psychic powers. A standard description, for like often in the Theragata/Therigata, is repeatedly describing arahants as having the threefold knowledge, which includes remembering past lives and the divine eye.

Well, it’s not truly “one” even in jhana, not the kind of oneness you hear about in Hinduism for example, where the “self” becomes one. Because in jhana the awareness still relies on the object. So there is still that duality.

But it’s close enough that I think that in part explains why jhanas are called ekodibhava and ekaggata, and why it is called samadhi (“coming together”). However, the main reason is probably that there is just one (eka) sense going on.

You would know if the hindrances are truly gone.

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Thank you for your reply. If you don’t mind, could you explain the whole process in more detail. For instance, what you do before, during and after Jhana. What is experienced and how can insight be attained with the practice?

@Sunyo , i agree with you that jhana is no experience of non-duality. Like you say:

I think the texts also confirm this, for example, by describing that in the sphere of nothingness there is noticed “there is nothting”. That seems to be at that moment the object.

Regarding avijja, the theravada Thai forest monk Maha Boowa described (in arahatatta magga/phala) that fundamental avijja is that factor in the mind which creates the seemingly duality of observer and observed.

Fundamental avijja creates a kind of center in the mind, a personal perspective. The All is experienced from this personal or subjective perspective. . When this personal perspective desintegrates, according Maha Boowa, then there is non-dual reality. He calls this the Citta, and he refers to it as the knowing essence of mind. So this Citta is not vinnana.

I cannot tell from experience.

But the following simile once arose in me. Suppose there is a large rubber. Underneath that rubber there hang down weights at different places. The effect of those spreaded weights in the rubber is that the rubber is stretched down on these points and a kind of center is created in these places. Do you see it :sweat_smile:

I imagine that what Maha Boowa says is that fundamental ignorance, and in fact all other defilements too, create this center, this personal perspective. What remains unseen is that it is still one great undivided rubber. One cannot see this from that personal perspective and one will never ever see this from that personal perspective.
Once that personal perspective is there, there is also a strong belief that the personal perspective is reality, is given, is not constructed reality, is not part of Paticca Samuppada.
But once one has directly seen that the personal perspective can fall away and the Citta reveals itself (the large rubber) than one knows that also the personal perspective is constructed reality.

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Maha Boowa was basically an advaitist posing as a Buddhist.

Now i now the truth about Maha Boowa :grinning:

Do you KNOW this or is it gossip and proliferation? Is it wise or kind to talk in this tone? Are there more skillful ways to express your opinions? Can you give supportive evidence for example, rather than blanket criticism? Please remember this forum is based upon Right Speech

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Yes I KNOW Ajahn Maha Boowa was an advaitan type because I read his book, Path to Arahantship. Many people have pointed out that he was an advaitan. It is quite obvious, because he talks about the One Mind as enlightenment. I don’t feel like pulling quotes from his book but anyone can read the pdf online.

Actually most Ajahns in the Ajahn Chah lineage are advaitans. Read their books and you’ll see. Ajahn Brahm does not seem to be, however, from what I can tell. Ajahn Chah himself definitely had a lot of advaitan leanings from the teachings of his that I’ve read, so it makes sense most of his students ended up with the true self perspective even if they called it Dharmakāya - Wikipedia

As for Ajahn Chah’s teacher, Ajahn Mun, I originally suspected he was beyond the advaitan illusion based upon his (very vague) instructions to Mae Chee Kaew from her biography/hagiography. However, now I suspect I was wrong about Ajahn Mun based on reading Anattā - Wikipedia

I am not here to start arguments. People are free to have their own opinions. DYOR.

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(There’s no such thing as an object in the Suttas. At all. Try reframing your thinking on this, the results may surprise you!)

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