Please note that making claims of personal attainments is taboo on this forum and is not considered evidence for your position.
It’s not true that I deny the absorptive states. In fact, I’ve
included a whole sub-heading ‘Concentration Meditation’ to address it.
Bhante, there is such thing as an object in the Suttas. It’s called
“nimitta”, such as “pasādanīya nimitta”.
Greetings Ven Kumara and thank you for your participation in this discussion
Bhante, while I agree with you that that meditation in Early Buddhism obviously involves focusing the mind (“anuyoga”, etc) on an object (“placing the mind [where?] and keeping it connected [to what?]”), I believe that nimitta in this sense is a late usage of that term, no?
With due respect, I think that’s a silly rule, and I hope whoever is in charge here will revise it. The rule should be simply, don’t brag about experiences, whether they are mundane or not.
How can we talk about jhanas or anatta or nibbana if we can’t admit to having any direct experience of them?
In that case all we have are the blind leading the blind.
In fact that is exactly what turned me off from Buddhism for so long when I was younger. I read a lot of books about what Buddha taught, but until I read Ajahn Brahm’s book, it seemed like nobody had ever actually experienced what they were preaching was possible. Immediately upon reading his book, I felt that if he was able to experience these things, then I should also be able to. That inspiration is ultimately worth more than a million people being respectfully modest and quiet about their experiences.
What do you mean, bhante? The words may be different, but the idea is clearly there, this idea of the dependency of consciousness on something it is aware of, which I call the object. By that I mean the six sense objects such as often mentioned in SN35, for example, in the context of ‘contact’. And as also explained in MN28 or MN148 for example. In this case of first jhana the object, the dhamma, for the mind consciousness being the pitisukha.
If you were referring to the word nimitta, though, then I agree that it doesn’t seem to mean object, but that’s not what I referred to.
PS hello Ven Kumara.
What I meant is that you deny the absorptive states are what Buddha taught. You say they are from the Visuddhimagga.
I agree with the first post in this thread by Sunyo that there is a lot of evidence that the absorptive states indeed are referred to in the suttas, but I value your contribution to a wider field of meaning for the word jhana.
If I have misunderstood your position I apologize. Hopefully you won’t mind clarifying what I miss.
But when I don’t focus on the foundation of the light, but focus on the foundation of the forms, then I see forms and do not perceive light.
Yasmiṁ panāhaṁ samaye obhāsanimittaṁ amanasikaritvā rūpanimittaṁ manasi karomi, rūpāni hi kho tasmiṁ samaye passāmi na ca obhāsaṁ sañjānāmi—
Bhante. Are you saying absorptive states is part of N8FP?
No, I don’t mind :D. But those are some big questions! which could take a whole book to answer!
Except for the second question, actually, which can be answered quite briefly. Because what do you do in jhana? Nothing! You can’t do anything, because “you” aren’t there. There is no sense of self, so there is not the illusion of free will that we usually have: the illusion of “I am in control” or “I own will (sankhāra)”. (See SN22.59.)
Further, in the second jhana all intentions have ceased, so there isn’t even involuntary will. (In the first jhana there is still a tiny bit of non-voluntary intention to go deeper into the peace.) To bring it back to the suttas (and the topic ) MN78 says: “And where do wholesome intentions cease completely? [In the second jhana.]” Interpretations of the jhanas where you can still intentionally scan the body or do anything else intentionally, don’t fit this sutta. (Some say, I imagine, that ‘intentions’ here means verbal thoughts, but clearly we have intentions that are more subtle than that, and they are included too.)
As to your first question, how to get into jhanas? To focus on the suttas again, you enter the jhanas when you have “made letting go your means (or ‘foundation’)”. (E.g. SN48.10) What do you let go? Well, the five hindrances, of course, but also, as the first jhana entry formula says, you “withdraw from sense experiences (kāma)”. AN9.31 clarifies the meaning of this statement further: when you have reached the first jhana, “the perception of sense experiences has ceased”. This doesn’t mean you go and sit in a non-sensual place like a cave, it doesn’t mean you have no sense desire (which was already included in the five hindrances): it means you have let go of awareness, the perception, of the five senses, so that there is only the mind.
Not many people seem to consider this, but its clear from the suttas (e.g. DN16) that the Buddha (or any arahant for that matter) wasn’t always in jhana. They couldn’t do it while on alms round or while in a conversation, for example. They needed to sit down and meditate. Now that’s interesting, because it implies they also needed to do something to get into jhana, they also needed to “make letting go their means”. Letting go of what? Not the five hindrances, clearly, because they didn’t have them anymore. Not just “sensuality” in the sense of a sensual environment, because even in the forests they weren’t always in jhana. Instead, it means they needed to let go of the five senses. They needed the mind to be “withdrawn from sense experiences”. So this phrase “truly withdrawn (vivicc’eva) from sense experiences (kāmehi)” is actually quite significant.
Many suttas illustrate this idea of mind-only jhanas further. For example AN5.176: “Bliss and rapture (sukha and piti) connected with sense experiences (kāma) do not occur [in jhana]”. The pīti of jhana is also named “mental delight” (e.g. AN11.2) and “delight apart from the flesh” (eg. SN36.31). That’s why the first jhana is called “bliss and delight born of separation/withdrawal”. Withdrawal from what? Again, the five senses.
The similes for the jhanas that occur in a few suttas have a beautiful image for the absence of the five senses. In those similes the second jhana is compared to a lake of still water which is filled from a source inside of itself. (E.g. AN5.28) The simile says there is no water coming from the four cardinal directions, nor from the sky. Here the water is an analogy for the piti-sukha. The water is still because in second jhana there is no movement of the mind, no intention, as I explained above. The lake only being filled from within means the piti-sukha only comes from the mind. The five other sources where the water (piti-sukha) doesn’t come from stand for the other five senses. To me it’s a very clear image. (But unfortunately people miss its point when “kāya” is mistranslated as “body” which should be translated “person” or “himself” or something like that: alternatives which are given by all dictionaries.)
Then your last question, what do you do after jhana? It’s funny, the suttas are relatively quiet on specifics about this, but very often say things like, “if your mind gets unified [gets ‘samadhi-ed’], you do not have to use willpower to get to know and see things as they really are. It is natural to get to know and see things as they really are if your mind gets unified.” (AN11.2) In other words, the jhanas seem to quite naturally lead to insight (granted you’ve “heard the true teaching”, SN55.62). To me that’s another sign that jhanas are very deep: they are quite close to stream entry. But a powerful way to use the jhanas is to reflect upon Dependent Arising. Ajahn Brahmali and me have talked on how to do this in a course we gave about a year ago.
I think all this gives a tiny bit of a flavor of how a book similarly can be written on the other side of the argument: to show, on a sutta basis, that jhanas are very deep. It is very unfortunate, then, that such deeper jhanas are often called “Visuddhimagga jhanas”, versus supposed “sutta jhanas”. That is a bit of a straw man, because nobody who aims for the deeper jhanas believes they aim for non-sutta “Visuddhimagga-only” jhanas. From the limited bits I know of the Visuddhimagga I think the two, “Visuddhimagga jhana” and “sutta jhana” may be very much the same. So I belief the early commentaries were rather OK when it comes to this topic. Just like the early Abhidhamma, by the way, which as far as I know describes jhanas in a similar fashion, i.e. describing sukha as a purely mental experience. (e.g. Vibhanga 12) (I mean, those guys knew their Pali as well, they weren’t making things up out of thin air.)
However, the only way to convince people of what jhanas are, is to have them experience it. So instead of reading and writing, it’s better to go and practice it. If you experience it once and you’re not too afraid of it, I don’t think you’ll ever doubt again.
(That’s another thing, by the way, that shows that the jhanas are very deep: A few instances in the suttas say the Buddha pre-awakening was afraid of them! (E.g. MN36) I mean, this is coming from the man who wasn’t even afraid to starve himself to death, apparently. But, yes, it’s very scary to let go of will/control and let go of the five senses, because that’s what we identify with. Whereas it’s not so scary to just scan your body, or whatever shallower interpretations of jhana may exist.)
And the beautiful thing is, if you aim for these deeper jhanas you won’t be missing out on anything, because the kind of experiences and practices that people with non-real (in my opinion) jhanas teach are still useful, and many of those things will happen on the road to jhanas anyway. Whereas if you neglect these deep jhanas and feel satisfied with the more superficial meditations, in my view you will miss out. It’s like you want to climb mount Everest but settle in the foothills.
Anyway, enough about that.
I did not know you were a part of this message board, or else I would have tagged you in my initial post–my apologies! And thank you for your paper!
Thank you once again for the detailed explanation.
I have some reservation about this claim. According to MN138, one could choose to follow or not to follow the experiences from first to fourth Jhana. That defines whether the Jhana is considered internally positioned or not. My interpretation is that choice is still available in Jhana. Otherwise, there is no need for Buddha to highlight this.
"And how is the mind said not to be internally positioned? There is the case where a monk, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. His consciousness does not follow the drift of the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal, is not tied to… chained to… fettered, or joined to the attraction of the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal.
Of course not. But such things exists, and I’ve addressed them,
including saying that “I now see it as a form of meditation foreign to
the Noble Eight-factored Path.”
No, there are plenty of instances in the Suttas where “nimitta” means
object or basis.
Thanks for confirming. Otherwise, I will reject the book. Because that is not how I interpret your writing before.
Interesting read on MN 78. If one look at MN 78, one will know it is incomplete. Stilling of speech processes (wholesome thoughts) at 2nd jhana doesn’t equate to lost awareness. In fact, the awareness is clearer. And, The neutral feeling is still there. One needs to go up to higher jhana to let go of the “neutral feeling” to completely know the anatta. This explain in other Sutta.
To get into Jhana is not about going in and out. It is a process of let go. If one has let go five hindrances, their mind has been purified, then the more let go. The mind become more purified (higher jhana).
It is impossible to stay in jhana if one hasn’t purified their view and ethics.
If one can’t analyze the jhanic experince, then, it is just an experience. Not really a mind liberation.
Maybe you should write it.
My interpretation of that sutta is that it means the mind is generally still “stuck to” (as per Sujato’s translation, rather than “positioned”) the various aspects of jhana, or in other words, it’s still attached to those. That’s not so much a choice but a general tendency that we need to overcome.
Also, by the grammar of the jhana formula, whatever comes after the standard jhana descriptions I think can also be interpreted to happen after that jhana, not necessarily while you’re still inside it. Just like second jhana, which is the usual passage that follows the first jhana, does not happen during first jhana, of course, but follows it in temporal sequence. Likewise, here we could also interpret “consciousness follows after that rapture and bliss” to happen after first jhana, in my eyes.
Too much work!
I think Bhante Sujato’s translation uses the same word, follows or does not follows. It appears to be an wilful act.
Their consciousness doesn’t follow after that rapture and bliss born of seclusion, and is not tied, attached, and fettered to gratification in that rapture and bliss born of seclusion. So their mind is said to be not stuck internally.
In addition, I think it is done during Jhana. Otherwise, it would becomes a recollection, a thought which is covered under the first situation whereby Buddha described consciousness as scattered and diffused externally.
When they know a thought with their mind, their consciousness follows after the features of that thought, tied, attached, and fettered to gratification in its features. So their consciousness is said to be scattered and diffused externally.
The thing is that the purpose of this forum is to discuss Early Buddhist TEXTS rather than our own experiences. There are other places for doing that.