Thanks for bringing this extremely interesting point up, Pasanna.
Often, translations of the term Saṃvega(which can be found e.g. in Sn 46.57 and Itivuttakha 28-49) such as “urgency” appear to clash with several philological considerations based on the Pali Canon.
Wiltshire (1990**) goes as far as saying "The term Saṃvega […] is a word that occurs within the vocabulary of Buddhism and Jainism, having a comparable doctrinal meaning in both. The term denotes the rudimentary emotional experience that brings about disillusionment with the world and material things, so making it possible for the process to begin of non-attachment and disregard (P. Nibbida, Skt.Nirveda) of worldly objects"
Wiltshire’s interpretation definitely resonates with Polak’s (2011*) understanding that the Jhanas have no object of concentration whatsoever (no matter how much we search and research – we cannot find any Jhanic stock formula specifying Jhanic objects of concentration in Early Buddhism).
A right translation of the term Saṃvega would have immense, tremendous interpretative consequences, especially when we consider SN 56.13 (which mentions Viraga as in “dispassion”, Skt. Vairagya).
Keeping the Samvega point in mind (Samvega having to do with disillusionment) and Polak’s interpretation, we may come to the conclusion that the Jhanas are mostly about “what not to do”, while seeing danger in the slightest fault – disillusioned with anything that is anicca, dukkha, and anatta i.e. fleeting, unsatisfactory, and alien/not pertaining to the self.
The main Jhanic challenge would be to mindfully, alertly, while clearly comprehending, “drop” (also as reflected in Vitakkasanthana Sutta MN 20 e.g. and the Jhanic stock formulas) any maladaptive bodily/mental urge the very moment this arises – while not directing the attention anywhere in particular (apranahita samadhi? animitta samadhi?)
Suttas including Mn 111 (which goes as far including insight within the Jhanas) seem to support this interpretation. The same goes for MN 152 which mentions “not seeing forms” while apparently remaining in peaceful, sublime, equanimity.
Polak convincingly argues that the various types of “samadhis” (animitta, sunyata, apranahita etc.) described/mentioned in the Pali Canon (and perhaps even Jhana and Tathata/“suchness”) all refer to the same meditative state.
These considerations would shine a light on otherwise-obscure parts in the Pali Canon and on why not much is discussed about Jhanas in ancient texts such as Udana and Sutta Nipata.
In brief, through this "mindful, alert, and “sampajano” insight, one attains a peaceful, sublime, equanimous, Tathata, apparently as it appears e.g. in Udana “In the seen there will be the seen etc etc”. That said, Samvega may play an initial role of “disillusionment” towards anything conditioned (i.e. the sankharas) and the gradual jhanas depicted in the Pali Canon may represent little more than a description of what gradually and automatically happens when we start being mindful (in a silently mnemonic sense) of what has to be done (instantly dropping conditional urges as per various suttas, including SN 56.13 and MN20).
I hope this helps!
Thanks again for bringing this up.
River Fideda aka Davide Ferri
Meditator/Buddhist studies enthusiast
*G. Polak Re-Examining Jhana (2011)
**M.G. Wiltshire. Ascetic Figures Before and in Early Buddhism (1990)