Questions of interpretation re jhanic factors

I’ve been researching the background of the popular theory of the ‘sutta-jhana-s’ (in the ‘GSFBB’ lineage – Paul Griffiths/Martin Stuart-Fox/Rodney Bucknell/Leigh Brasington – aka ‘jhana-lite’) vs the ‘Visudhimagga jhana-s’.

  1. One source is Sujato’s Blog (“Why vitakka doesn’t mean ‘thinking’ in jhana”), as the ‘jhana-lite’ theory is predicated mainly on interpretations of vitakka-vicara and ekaggata.

QS: There was mention in the blog-dialog of Chinese usage of two different words (characters) to translate vitakka in general and for vitakka in jhana – has this been verified? Is it documented further anywhere?

  1. Then there’s one-pointedness – ekaggata – that’s actually not used in the standard formula, but rather ‘ekodibhavam’ (having become (pp) limited to one point), and only with 2nd jhana.

QS: Isn’t vitakka-vicara (as directing and sustaining/evaluating) in the 1st absorption in fact a form of ‘working’ one-pointedness (like kneading moisture into dough)-- which then in the 2nd has become (pp) established?

This is all predicated on an interpretation of jhana as absorption (appanā-samādhi – fixed concentration, or, as Than-Geof translates Ajahn Lee: “fixed penetration”). (Disclosure: I’ve studied / practiced samādhi methods in the PaAuk Sayadaw lineage.)

In Rod Bucknell’s rendition, absorption comes only in the 8th level of jhana (-lite), understood there as equivalent to the 1st level in the Visudhimagga sense, and there is characterized (also by Griffiths and Stuart-Fox) as blacking-out, total loss of consciousness.

  1. I also wonder if the formula “… jhanam upsampajja viharati” isn’t also relevant here.

QS: Can one interpret the formulation “entered upon and dwelt in” as implying some distinct quantum shift of mental state? Upasampanna, for instance, is used with reference to ordination in such a strong sense of change-of-state?

  1. On the other hand, a wide range of interpretations of jhana / dhyana would seem perfectly legitimate, as jhayati refers to just some sort of “meditation” (using an English/Latin Christian term that originally means ‘to attend to’, ‘to apply oneself to’, ‘to reflect upon’, and is related to the word ‘medical’) – Jhana can mean just ‘sitting’.

Even in the sutta-s appears this curious passage I ran across in MN108 that uses jhayati rather unconventionally:

Na ca kho, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā sabbaṃ jhānaṃ vaṇṇesi, napi so bhagavā sabbaṃ jhānaṃ na vaṇṇesīti.
“The Blessed One, brahmin, did not praise every type of meditation, nor did he condemn every type of meditation…"

so kāmarāgaṃyeva antaraṃ karitvā jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati.
"…While he harbours [some hindrance] within, he meditates, premeditates, out-meditates, and mismeditates. The Blessed One did not praise that kind of meditation."

(QS: Where is this sutta considered in terms of EBT or later? The poetic word-play perhaps points to a later style?)

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I’ll resist a detailed answer, as I’ve spoken and written extensively on this. Just one point:

Actually this is a very common idiom used in a lot of contexts, and shouldn’t be interpreted as having anything specific to do with jhanas. Among other things you “enter and abide” in are enlightenment and the suttas, for example. Consider also the ovadapatimokkha: “kusalassupasampadā”. It’s not easy to cover these uses in English, but basically it seems to mean that you “get” or “undertake” something in a lasting sense.

Re your last point, in the suttas jhāna almost always means “meditative illumination”, and other uses are exceptional. See my A Swift pair of Messengers for a discussion of these.

Thanks. That gives some perspective and leads to work with.

Perhaps you know of Bhikkhu Anālyo’s work, but if not, you may want to check it out. Re: your first question and the Chinese characters, he has done a lot of comparative studies between the Pali canon and The Chinese MĀ collection and I think he cites references re this issue in one or more of his papers.

The Wikipedia article on him gives links to many of his papers which are avaiable for download. There is also a link for his past on-line comparative study courses, some of the lectures touch on this topic. But there are many lectures so I’m sorry that off-hand form memory I can’t point you to specific ones.

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What do one makes of what Sariputta is able to do while in the 1st Jhana?
“There was the case where Sariputta—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities—entered & remained in the first jhana … Whatever qualities there are in the first jhana—directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness [or, in a variant reading, “intent”], desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention—he ferreted them out one after another. Known to him they arose, known to him they remained, known to him they subsided. He discerned, ‘So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.’” — MN 111

realize impermanence (anicca) of jhanic qualities, thereby having gotten rid of attachment to them

however the question is whether he was able to do that while in jhana or afterwards through vipassana