The case for bare awareness?


I agree with both you and Mat that certain meditative states are not conducive to chopping vegetables. But I’m getting this rather peculiar inclination to think that the jhanas are highly specialized wonderful tools for working on oneself. And like all tools, they can be picked up and put down. I certainly don’t walk around in daily life with my circular saw, drill, guitar, etc.

MN121 keeps nagging at me and the word used is emptiness. MN121 talks at length about emptiness:

Consider this stilt longhouse of Migāra’s mother. It’s empty of elephants, cows, horses, and mares; of gold and money; and of gatherings of men and women. There is only this that is not emptiness, namely, the oneness dependent on the mendicant Saṅgha. In the same way, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of the village and the perception of people—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of wilderness.

The Buddha and Ananda are alone in a stilthouse talking about emptiness just as you and I might over a cup of coffee. They are in daily life having a conversation. And what they are talking about is the path of seclusion, how it leads from the village, into the wilderness and beyond. This path to emptiness is a daily life path that sloughs off the non-essential, the ephemeral nonsense. When I went climbing, I went to become empty of the modern world. I went to climb in peace without needing to speak. And after a few days of this, the peace of emptiness seeped in and became my everyday reality walking about just taking care of the needs of the moment. It is that very emptiness that also emerges in cutting vegetables, that peace without a hurry, a quietness that needs nothing beyond itself.

And the Buddha continues talking with Ananda, chatting quietly, speaking from that very emptiness, describing how even the wilderness empties into the perception of earth.

Furthermore, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of people and the perception of wilderness—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth
54Furthermore, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of people and the perception of wilderness—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth.

And that too also happens out there on the cliff. Yosemite is basically huge chunks of granite. It is earth covered with a sprinkle of wilderness. Alone on the cliff, the birds and trees disappear and one simply exists with the earth, aware and present in the moment without needing anything else beyond the task of the moment.

The strange thing about this sutta is that the described experience is palpable in daily life as well as in meditation. It is the same emptiness. I can sit here as I type, close my eyes and feel that same emptiness that I once drove miles for to experience on a mountain after days of effort. It’s there because when all the noise disappears (the people, the village, the wilderness), what’s left is a certain quiet emptiness that is always there and everywhere. It’s nothing special except that we usually don’t see it because our minds are always playing the elevator music of craving.

MN121 goes further in the ladder of emptiness. And the implication that I get in reading MN121 is that one simply lives within that emptiness, at peace, living the remainder of life extinguished, aware and empty of all but the thinnest thread of bodily “stress” as Bhante Sujato translates:

There is only this that is not emptiness, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’ And so they regard it as empty of what is not there, but as to what remains they understand that it is present. That’s how emptiness is born in them—genuine, undistorted, and pure.

I read this and feel quietly happy, not really wanting anything else. It is enough.



The jhanas are not ‘tools’ that can be picked up and put down - why? This is not to say, jhanas are invaluable in the progress of insight. I will provide a quote which explains why the idea of ‘picking up and putting down’ jhanas makes no sense.

“This meditation is a natural process of coming to rest
and it requires ‘you’ to get out of the way completely. Deep meditation only occurs when you
really let go, and this means REALLY LET GO to the point that the process becomes inaccessible
to the ‘doer’.” - Ajahn Brahm

When there is no ‘doer’ there can be no picking up and putting down of anything at all. I will provide a quote that may help to clarify what this means.

“You will emerge from the Jhana only when the mind is ready to come out, when the ‘fuel’ of
relinquishment that was built up before is all used up. These are such still and satisfying states of
consciousness that their very nature is to persist for a very long time. Another feature of Jhana is
that it occurs only after the nimitta is discerned as described above. Furthermore, you should
know that while in any Jhana it is impossible to experience the body (e.g. physical pain), hear a
sound from outside or produce any thought, not even ‘good’ thoughts. There is just a clear
singleness of perception, an experience of non-dualistic bliss which continues unchanging for a
very long time. This is not a trance, but a state of heightened awareness. This is said so that you
may know for yourself whether what you take to be a Jhana is real or imaginary.” - Ajahn Brahm

The quote above starts with this: You will emerge from the Jhana only when the mind is ready to come out, when the ‘fuel’ of
relinquishment that was built up before is all used up.

What is absent in this statement is: it’s the relinquishment that is giving rise to the earlier stages of ‘the basic method’ and it’s inevitable outcome - absorption, deep natural stillness, immersion.

Relinquishment isn’t really’ (fuelling) the process but it’s completely necessary - just let go. It’s not providing ‘fuel’ it’s eliminating distraction. Denuding consciousness of all extraneous activity.

Nobody does Jhanas, nobody picks them up, puts them down etc. It simply happens when there’s no interference whatsoever with the natural process of deepening stillness.

When it’s over there is a greater clarity of seeing/being that enables insight. Why, because the mind has been stripped of that which obstructs, clouds, impedes bare awareness.

Jhanas are not something that can be ‘used’ for working on oneself. They are not ‘tools’ that can ‘used’ in a self-help exercise.


The Buddha says this in DN33/en/sujato:

Skill in meditative attainments and skill in emerging from those attainments.

What Ajahn Brahm says also makes sense. Note his use of “fuel”. Just as a rocket cannot be turned off, it has to run out of fuel. Note that NASA has calculated exactly when each of its rockets will run out of fuel. That is skill in emerging from active rocket flight. That also is not controlled during the burn. It is controlled before the burn. Rockets are tools for getting us into space.

DN33 also makes clear distinction between four ways to develop meditative immersion. Only the first one (italicized) deals with jhana. The other three do not. Basically jhana leads to blissful meditation. Jhana does not directly work to end defilements, because that is the fourth way to develop immersion:

Four ways of developing immersion further.
There is a way of developing immersion further that leads to blissful meditation in the present life.
There is a way of developing immersion further that leads to gaining knowledge and vision.
There is a way of developing immersion further that leads to mindfulness and awareness.
There is a way of developing immersion further that leads to the ending of defilements.

There is actually another sutta that warns not to focus on jhana too much because it can get to be just blissing out. I think the Self Effacement sutta goes into that. And my own experience with zazen confirms that sitting blissfully on a zabuton does not take care of personal baggage–I was an experienced blissful meditator who experienced numbing fear on a cliff. I had blissed out without working on what I should have been working on.


Now we need to wisely discern what ‘skill’ means in relation to ‘natural’ stillness. Not a stillness that is produced through the activity of a ‘doer’. If this is the case, it cannot be the kind of skill that is exercised in making something, in making something happen. It’s not like baking a cake or, crafting a piece of wood etc. It’s a different kind of skill! This reminds me of a verse I once read that went something like this: Zen, is the art of no-art!

The calligraphied verse was about nondual awareness. Jhanas are nondualistic happenings.

It’s the ability too completely relax and stay aware at the same time - it’s called letting go. Once this skill is available to us we are bound to be successful. Start again, with a calm and equanimous mind - does this sound familiar?


In the Buddha’s last moments, he skillfully entered…

Then the Buddha entered the first absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the second absorption. Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the third absorption, the fourth absorption, the dimension of infinite space, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, and the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. Then he entered the cessation of perception and feeling.

…and exited from the jhanas (and beyond).

Then he emerged from the cessation of perception and feeling and entered the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the dimension of nothingness, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of infinite space, the fourth absorption, the third absorption, the second absorption, and the first absorption.

Then he died.

Are we agreed on this?


We can be bewitched by language? Particularly, when we use conventional ways of expressing something which does not lend itself to a conventional frame of reference.

We have to remember that Jhanas are odd! They are not like the ordinary state of waking consciousness that we are all familiar with. When it is said: (he) entered, (he emerged), how could this apply to the ‘Tathagata’? Think about the etymology of this word - Tathagata - do you see?

It’s not that there isn’t a beginning and end to Jhanic states. It’s just that there isn’t anybody - no she or he - that enters and emerges. It’s not an activity, the doings of a doer, that is carried out, it’s a letting go - plain and simple.

I mean to say, there is the delusion of a doer that is a consequence of personality-belief. This belief is untenable after stream-entry. In fact, there is an intention and a consequence - cause and effect. There’s nobody going nowhere!

‘Somebody’ coming and going, entering and emerging - does the Tathagata come and go???


I am just repeating Bhante’s translation verbatim, apply the first quote to the second quote with the assumption that the Buddha was skillful. Are you saying that Buddha did not_skillfully_ enter and emerge from jhanas before he died?

Now I am truly puzzled!

The Buddha certainly had more skills than I.

Perhaps there is a confusion on enter/emerge as being volitional?
They need not be. When I drop a marble into a tube, it enters the tube, travels through the tube and emerges from the tube. There was no volition. However, the entering and the emerging do happen and I can skillfully write equations that specify the time of entry and emergence. Yet all I did was, as you say, “let go”.


Bhante points out that what we are doing in all of this is engaging in a conversation. The words of the teachings are not absolutes. I will find the quote!

“Exactly! It’s a conversation, not a series of absolutes.” - Ajahn Sujato


Oh no fair! You can ask Bhante directly!
I have to read his mind from California.


There is a thread on this, the bewitchment of language. We have a tendency to confuse the pointing finger for the :waxing_crescent_moon: it’s pointing at!

Wittgenstein* couldn’t shut up about it! He is one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century.

We can have the impression that we have understood what a teaching ‘means’ by grasping the ideas it conveys.

When we use language, many aspects of reality are left out of the description. We do the best we can but it never really takes us to freedom.

The Dhamma which liberates, that involves direct knowledge and vision, is not like this!

There is not a word of ‘truth’ that has ever been spoken or written.

There are plenty of facts that can be expressed through language but they aren’t the truth that sets us free.

“The description is not the described.” - J. Krishnamurti

*Language game (philosophy) - Wikipedia


Yes - this is an example of the inadequacy of language in the light of Aryan realisation. It can’t be helped. You can’t make a mirror by polishing a brick and, so it goes …


Where is this quote from exactly and what was the context :slight_smile:


Yes, that sounds ok I guess. You let go - what does that mean? Does that mean you ‘do’ letting go??? Or, is there a letting go, a release that takes place and the assumption that a ‘somebody’ is the ‘doer’? Something arises that takes credit for a simple happening - cause and effect.

In the case of the marble example that ‘seems’ obvious - I guess? The hand opens and bingo!

There ‘appears’ to be a somebody you call ‘myself’ who releases their grip and the marble drops. An interesting perception but it ain’t necessarily so - correct? There may be more going on than meets the eye and, is contained in the description provided???

You could call it a cognitive-shortcut for the sake of convenience - is that possible? Or, is all this an irrefutable ‘given’ for you? My apologies, I am questioning your perception of what takes place when a seeming ‘somebody’ does this, that, you name it!

I seem to remember something about causes and supportive conditions and, empty phenomena rolling on? How does that factor into this?

I remember ‘Ayya Khema’ wrote a book called: Being Nobody going Nowhere - had she lost touch with reality?

‘Who’ is letting your marble fall - exactly??? ‘Who’ is doing jhanas - exactly??? ‘Who’ is entering and emerging - exactly??? I take these questions seriously - can you provide answers?

It doesn’t happen that way when it comes to letting go - letting things be - without interference, in natural stillness.

We don’t ‘do’ letting go, we don’t ‘do’ natural stillness. We don’t enter the building and then exit again. We don’t drop marbles down any tube.

The metaphor is bewitching! We can confuse the idea conveyed in the metaphor for what it is attempting to point to and, they aren’t the same thing - plain and simple.

Truth is not a metaphor - the jhanas are not metaphors. I hope this is not confusing - is it?


I tried to do the link thing but on my phone things prove tricky. I could be wrong about what the Ajahn was trying to convey. I would like to ask him directly if he feels I am confused about the relativity of language and, it’s inadequacy when getting at what the Aryans attempt to share with us. I thought this was ‘basic’ Dhamma - I could be wrong?


We all know about the underlying assumption - we may feel it - that is, there is a ‘somebody’ going ‘somewhere’. This entity is said to be the doer, the one who experiences - correct?

I think this is related to the teaching on ‘sakaya ditti’ (personality belief), I-making? Is it the person who is the ‘doer’? Is it the person that is said to be doing things?

Who is this joker who is dropping marbles, entering and emerging from jhanas etc - exactly? Who is doing this - in reality? Or, is it just more empty phenomena rolling on - cause and effect?


Lord Buddha said, ‘for one who indulges in Jhana, four results are to be expected: Stream-Winner,
Once-Returner, NonReturner or Arahant’ (Pasadika Sutta, Digha Nikaya).” - Ajahn Brahm

"For those who are misled to conceive of all this as ‘just Samatha practice’ without regard
to Insight (Vipassana), please know that this is neither Vipassana nor Samatha. It is called’
Bhavana “the method taught by the Lord Buddha …” - Ajahn Brahm


“Mendicants, there are these four meditators. What four? One meditator is skilled in immersion but not in practicing persistently for it. …” SN34.9

“Mendicants, there are these four meditators. What four? One meditator is skilled in entering immersion but not in remaining in it. …” SN34.11

“Mendicants, there are these four meditators. What four? One meditator is skilled in entering immersion but not in emerging from it. …” SN34.12

Its a bit like learning to and mastering riding a bicycle!


Yet all (I) did was, as you say, “let go”, does not follow - in anyway - from the fact that there can be the writing of: equations that specify the time of entry and emergence - does it?


Again, we are in metaphorical overdrive! I have learned to ride a bicycle and it ain’t like riding a bicycle - it’s more like letting go.

In learning to ride a bike there is a keen sense of doing something difficult, extremely challenging and, potentially dangerous - is this a mistaken understanding of what it’s like?

People often fall-off don’t they? They may get abrasions etc. There is tribulation and tight concentration on what we are doing, a need to keep the attention on a complex task and, then it becomes easier - when we learn to ride a bike.

None of these types of experiences are there in the basic method - from beginning to end. There is the abandoning of complexity, the abandoning of diversity, a movement towards a calm unity of perception. An increased simplicity and ease, particularly, in the last stages.

Tribulation, tight concentration, complexity, risk of injury, are not the ‘factors’ present in natural stillness - just let go. :blush:


Thanks for the clarification :slight_smile: It was just such a short and general fragment…