Yes, I believe this is so, as least In every instance when people did use @moderators in a thread I never received any notification (where naturally, I did when it was used to address a PM). If you’d like I can have a poke around the meta forum and get back (elsewhere so as not to clutter up Karl’s thread) if I find anything useful.
2500 years ago, this happened:
"You don’t understand this teaching and training. I understand this teaching and training. What, you understand this teaching and training? You’re practicing wrong. I’m practicing right. I stay on topic, you don’t. You said last what you should have said first. You said first what you should have said last. What you’ve thought so much about has been disproved. Your doctrine is refuted. Go on, save your doctrine! You’re trapped; get yourself out of this—if you can!”
And this is why we all really need to learn Pali.
You should all recite this in concert, without disputing, so that this spiritual path may last for a long time.
Thanks on both counts @Nadine . As usual ATM I’m testing my understanding on the technical and human levels together. I discover the @ mods tag, isn’t worth using. Re the other, I am not inclined ATM to contribute to the shifts in my practice biography thread, but I may use that question to start a new thread to discuss that question in more general terms. It arose out of my thoughts as I was reading this thread.
Did you have a better experience in jhana practice by following the meaning of VV that you find more accurate? (I’m not asking for you to reveal your attainments) Is that why you want us to figure out the “wronger than wrongness” of Ajahn Sujato’s translation? If that’s the case I am interested to look into your argument.
Ajahn Brahm has matched the VV experience to a “wobble” which means the subtle movement in and out of bliss. I think Ajahn Sujato means the same by his translation “placing the mind and keeping it connected” but we can play with words and interpret a totally different meaning here as well.
As for word by word pali translation the meaning of VV that you think is accurate would be good enough. (I could be wrong)
Thank you for trying to clarify it as best as you can. However, I wish it was kind especially considering the person you are aiming the blame. His conduct, advice, knowledge and compassion has given us this opportunity to discuss sutta translations and it’s accuracy and we should truly show our gratefulness and not just say we are grateful for the sake of it.
And if you are trying to inspire people out of compassion to look at suttas literally word by word and achieve liberation you have to use a better method than what you have used here. I would like to learn from other people too but my priority listening ears will be on the virtuous beings who have practised well.
It is obvious that Frank has experience in jhana that makes him say what he says about V&V.
In the same, Banthe S. and Ajahn B. haved their own experience with jhanas that make them say what they say. I can understand that it would be difficult to translate without taking one’s own experience into consideration.
It is clear to me that they are taking about different kind of jhanas and that’s the whole issue of the debate.
I follow Frank because the four similes of jhana (the ball of soap, etc.) are obviously describing, in a very powerful way (as the Buddha’s similes so often do) something that is happening in the flesh-and-blood-body. For example in jhana one pīti has to be spread out in the whole flesh-and-blood-body. So if the flesh-and-blood-body is fully functioning in jhanas then V&V have the usual meanings of thinking and pondering.
Another hint for me is that the four jhanas were later on called rupa-jhana (not in the EBTs). If they were pure-mind-activities with a dead-like-body they would not have been labeled rupa but arupa as it is in the arupa realms that being are pure consciousness.
Another hint is : why is sound a possible disturbance for the 1st jhana is one is not hearing?
This is really getting a bit far from the OP, and indeed has already been discussed in a couple of other threads on the forum.
This is a highly debated topic in Buddhism.
Ajahn Sujato has an essay on his blog, that starts with the following paragraph.
Here’s one of the most often contested issues in Buddhist meditation: can you be thinking while in jhana? We normally think of jhana as a profound state of higher consciousness; yet the standard formula for first jhana says it is a state with ‘ vitakka and vicara’ . Normally these words mean ‘thinking’ and ‘exploring’, and that is how Bhikkhu Bodhi translates them in jhana, too. This has lead many meditators to believe that in the first jhana one can still be thinking. This is a mistake, and here’s why.
The link for it is in the link below.
I’d suggest that perhaps further discussion can be continued here
And please note
According to Ajahn Brahm it means that when on perceives the sound, one is no longer in jhana. First jhana is “the cessation of the world of the five senses together with the body and all doing”. If one finds this experience incorrect, has that person not had the first “jhana” yet? Who knows. The only way to double check about jhanas apart from asking kalyamamittas (who will only tell you to keep going) and suttas is by understanding the progress of your level of wisdom.
“There is no Jhana without wisdom, there is no wisdom without jhana, but for one with both jhana and wisdom, they are in the presence of nibbhana.”
Not me (obviously) Buddha
Viveka, thanks for posting this link. The material here is quite helpful and I was actually thinking about turning it into an MP3 for offline study. I also wonder why this valuable essay is not on SuttaCentral itself without all the wordpress ads?
But what do you do when different virtuous beings who have practised well are saying contradictory things?
So you could start by asking why Ajahn Brahm contradicts his teacher. Many other virtuous, famous, widely followed teachers like B. Thanissaro, Ajahn Lee, B. Gunaratana, also interpret V&V, jhanas, consistently with a straightforward reading of the suttas.
You have the right idea that one should compare their meditative experience with what the suttas say, and not rely on suttas alone.
Ideally, one could do the VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana) and the EBT jhana (straightforward reading of the sutta), and then see which matches the suttas better. Both methods work. It’s not an issue of whether either system works as advertised.
The difference is EBT jhana fits like the glass slipper on cinderella’s foot.
Ajahn Brahm (VRJ without abhidhamma baggage) requires a convoluted redefinition of important basic terms, much like cinderella’s stepsisters trying to jam the glass slipper on. The only way they would be able to get the EBT passages on jhana to support their position is to mutilate kāya, vitakka, vicāra, perhaps cut off a few toes to get the feet to fit in the slipper. If you could call a bloody stump of a foot fitting inside the glass slipper a good fit, then you could say Ajahn Brahm’s interpretation of jhana from the EBT passages is a reasonable fit too.
The pali+english audits I’ve provided are there for when people are ready to examine the evidence for themselves to sort out who has reasonable interpretations of the suttas and who does not.
Examine the evidence for yourself and come to your own conclusions. But you can start with asking why Ajahn Brahm contradicts his own teacher.
Something that strikes me as being perhaps relevant is that Ajahn Brahm in his book Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, which focuses a lot of jhana, had Jack Kornfield write a foreword. Kornfield, while in some ways, sings the praises of the book, does also caution that this is not necessarily the one true way and that there are many other useful ways. One also has to presume that the inclusion by Ajahn Brahm of this foreword is perhaps indicating he is not that dogmatic about the issue. Here’s a relevant snippet from the foreword anyway:
While I acknowledge with pleasure the fruit of Ajahn Brahm’s rich experience as a guide for meditators, Ajahn Brahm presents this way of developing jhana and insight as the real true way the Buddha taught and therefore the best way. It is an excellent way. But the Buddha also taught many other equally good ways to meditate and employed many skillful means to help students awaken. The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Ajahn Buddhadasa, and Sunlun Sayadaw are among a wide spectrum of masters who offer different and equally liberating perspectives. Together they comprise a rich mandala of living Dharma, of which Ajahn Brahm reveals one important facet.
So, those of you interested in the practice of jhana and the depths of the Buddhist path: read this book carefully. And try its practices. Much will be gained from its rich and wise words and even more from the experiences it points to. And as the Buddha and Ajahn Brahm both advise, test them out, use them, and learn from them, but do not cling to them.
Thank you for this article. It is quite beautiful and profound. But I can also understand why Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato were cautious not to translate it directly as thoughts and evaluation. (again I could be wrong) This method that Ajahn Chah is talking about (according to my experience) is hard to achieve without breaking firm mind frames. You can evaluate thoughts but one’s evaluation method might differ to another and there is a danger of getting stuck or going round and round with false perceptions.
He talks about “wrong samadhi” and “lucid calmness” here which I have seen in “expert” mediators which doesn’t feel right because when you talk to them the peacefulness that have been achieved seems like a facade. I think this false calmness might be when you have a false perception that you have achieved jhana while perceiving the five senses. But I don’t think it relates to everybody. As some people like Ajahn Chah who are virtuous and 100% honest in his evaluation, there is no problem in this method. He also talks about contemplating about virtues of Buddha and dhamma which seems like what VV is all about and not really the random chatter that arise in our mind.
I have gone through both these processes and I know how my mind reacted. Therefore I whole heartedly accept both translations as they both can have a profound effect on the individual. Please don’t for a moment think that it’s misleading. According to my experience it isn’t. We have to open our eyes wider and look at these translations.
All these beings are pretty amazing and I see their work in spreading the truth as calling us to grab their hands and come out of this dark pit we have fallen in without a scratch. That makes my heart swell with happiness.
Seems like one relevant question is, “what did the Buddha actually teach/say?” Even with the best of literary and archeological evidence, how can we ever know for sure exactly what the Buddha said 2,500 years ago?
As others have said, seems like the most important thing is dhamma study coupled with practice to see what works for each of us to reduce and ultimately remove greed, hatred and delusion. Fortunately, the Buddha shows us many paths that lead to the same goal.
Allow me to put my spin on it. We’ll never know what the Buddha actually said. I don’t think that text critical work aims at that. What we can aim at is to approximate a) what the oldest layers of the texts are b) what the meanings of the words and sentences involved are.
Not every eventuality needs to be tested - if we want to practice according to the texts. Some readings are more founded than others. The crux is that in the end the Dhamma is a verbal/literal corpus. It is essential what the Dhamma means literally. If you want to reach Mars you don’t just aim at the sky and hope for the best. You better aim as well as humanly possible so that in space you only have to navigate a little bit for correction.
The cautious thing to do, for a translator whose job is to translate (rather than be consciously or unconsciously influenced by biases and other religious agendas), is to translate the term consistently unless there is compelling reason not to.
For example, B. Sujato translates kāya correctly and consistently as “body” in the 16 APS (anapanasati), and in MN 119. If he didn’t do that, the kāya would be incoherent and inconsistent in those 2 contexts.
V&V (vitakka & vicara) is the same situation, and B. Sujato does not choose the cautious approach on this one, and causes incoherence. There are numerous explicit examples given in my detailed pali+english audit.
I’m all in favor of diversity in various samadhi training systems, and I personally encourage people to experiment with various ones, not just Buddhist methods either. But Suttacentral is purported to be an accurate translation of the EBT and pali suttas, and therefore the translation must be held accountable to EBT standards.
And Bhante Sujato needs to revise his V&V translation to follow his own excellent standard of “principle of least meaning” and “ockhams razor is usually correct.” His published writings on why he translates V&V have been refuted point by point not only by myself and others, with an abundance of explicit evidence in the pali + english audit. He doesn’t have to change his translation, but the mountain of evidence and reason against his translation demands some kind of response. At the very least, a published attempt to justify his translation and understanding of how V&V and EBT jhana works, which would involve a rebuttal and counter argument of at least the major errors pointed out in the pali+english audits.
I have nothing personal against B. Sujato. I’m targeting his translation because I anticipate it will become the most popular and widely read version of the pali suttas, largely because it’s free, complete, available in digital formats, including audio, as well as being written in a plain but eloquent, accessible style of writing.
His English translations are likely affecting how other foreign language sutta translations are being made. I shudder with horror at the thought of the damage to the Buddha’s dispensation being done when important terms are mistranslated.
The preconditions to first jhana clearly stipulate the V&V of first jhana are kusala/wholesome/skillful, not just any kind of random V&V (thinking and pondering). I’ve done a digital search and looked at every single reference to first jhana in the pali suttas. I’d estimate over 95% of them either have abandoning the 5 hindrances, or the supression of the 5 cords of sensual pleasure (which is the first of the 5 hindrances), as the sentence right before the standard first jhana formula.
And in the standard first jhana formula itself, “vivicceva kamehi” and “vivicca akusalehi” would also dictate V&V needs to be free of 5 hindrances.
I don’t get the impression from your response that you actually have a sincere intention to try out EBT jhana meditation, compare it to the sutta passage, and objectively investigate whether Ajahn Brahm’s redefinition of jhana in the EBT is justified.
If I am mistaken, I’ll be happy to point you to specific essays and clarify any points you have doubt on. I will be very busy the next 10 days though, so response may be delayed.
Do you mean this? Why vitakka doesn’t mean ‘thinking’ in jhana | Sujato’s Blog
If so can you send me the posts of your arguments? I’m interested in reading them. Thanks.
I understand. However, I am quite convinced that this translation will not effect dhamma negatively. It depends on the reader and sometimes highly knowledgeable people (I am assuming you are one) would benefit from direct translations where as people with less knowledge might understand and practice better with another. Actually as an inexperienced meditator when I first started meditating I found A. Brahm’s techniques full of freedom, easy to comprehend and not dangerous. But nothing helped me more than investigating my thoughts with open eyes and in the moment. But without the right mindfulness I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it.
Sorry about my ignorance regarding this. Conciously letting go of 5 hindrances was a hard one for me. Because of this I trusted my teacher to guide me and it really helped.
Most in this forum seem like they can totally understand suttas on their own and are highly intelligent. It’s now apparent why the meaning of suttas matter so much to such people.
You could be half right my friend as I think I am slowly understanding this dhamma business. Not much just a little.
But I would like to read about your perspective more and truly understand whether having different interpretations have a big impact. So thanks for the posts. I will let you know if I need more information. Also thank you for this discussion.