The Ubiquitousness of Samādhi

Sadhu! Very well put.

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G. C. Pande in Studies in the Origins of Buddhism (pp. 245-246), expresses the perspective on AN 10.2 that “a revision took place in the wordings of some of the older formulae”:

Nipata 10.-Sutta 2 converts the moral exhortation of sutta 1 into the statement of a natural law (Dhammata) operative in independence of any will (cetana).

This transformation is readily intelligible in terms of a growing vogue of scholasticism which sought to replace the picture of an individual now progressing, now regressing, but always in pursuance of his own volitions, his own striving-about which one could at best state that such and such activities, being contributory to such and such ends (attha) should lead to such and such results (Anisamsa) but could never dogmatise in the way one could about natural events – by the picture of certain sequences of mental phenomena progressing through inevitable stages towards good or towards evil, always regulated rigidly by necessary laws.

In the eagerness to treat mind systematically, to give to psychological conclusions and ethical distinctions the form of necessary, objectively valid formulae, the more popular conception of mental events as bearing the imprint of the vagaries of an individual “minder” acting from behind the scenes was increasingly thrown into the shade, and pari passu, a revision took place in the wordings of some of the older formulae also.


Hi Venerable @Cintita,

Thanks for the clarifications. I think I got the gist correctly. When I said things fall out of the sky, that was rhetorical. I do understand you think some development is required. However, I think our disagreement isn’t just about “where the intervention happens that results in jhāna”. I think your interpretation is omitting jhāna altogether.

I’m happy you share an appreciation for the early texts, Venerable, putting these center stage when interpreting the Buddha’s teachings. Our conclusions differ, indeed. But I think our general interpretive approach is rather different too.

For instance, such sequences of factors as we find in AN11.1 and others you referred to, in my point of view are largely mnemonic devices which remind the practitioner of the direction of the meditation. Here prior knowledge of the practice is assumed. They’re not meant to be detailed instructions or descriptions of what samādhi is actually like. As a general example, such texts mention virtue but with no explanation of what that entails. What does the Buddha mean when he says ‘virtue’? These kind of texts don’t tell us. For those details we need to look elsewhere.

Likewise, when it comes to samādhi, such texts also aren’t particularly illustrative. Take the seven enlightening factors you mentioned in your reply. To understand how to practice them, we should not base ourselves on texts that list them without much details, but suttas such as the Anapanassati sutta (MN118), which is the most detailed text on the matter (afaik). And how are the seven enlightenment factors said to be fulfilled here? By starting with Anapanassati.

Your suggestion is, in brief, that these summarizing explanations don’t tell us that samādhi requires focusing on something, and therefore that it doesn’t. My suggestion—and I think the common understanding of such explanations—is that an object of focus (such as pītisukha) is implied. This is how discourses generally work, by assuming a standard set of detailed ideas is already known to the audience.

Any argument based on absence of what is said is also problematic by its own nature. We logically can not infer much if anything from what is not said: in this case that the less informative lists don’t have “a step ‘now focus the mind’”, as you put it. This kind of argument based on absence occurs all the time in Buddhist discourse, e.g., “the Buddha never said there is no self, hence there is a self”, “he didn’t say life is suffering, hence it’s not”; or in general, “the sutta doesn’t say X, therefore not-X”. In this case, “these specific texts don’t say ‘focus the mind’, therefore we don’t have to focus the mind”. It’s flawed reasoning. That is why I think these texts don’t support your point.

I could also argue: these specific texts don’t say we have to abstain from killing (since they don’t talk in detail about virtue), hence we don’t have to abstain from killing. Or that to develop insight we don’t need to contemplate or even hear the Buddha’s words—or whatever other things are not specifically mentioned in such summaries.

Most of these texts don’t say that development is “natural” (or “spontaneously”) either. That is referred to only in AN10.2/11.2, which I’ve explained can be interpreted differently.

Some of the very texts you refer to also support the opposite point of view. Take SN54.13–14. It does include the shorter descriptions you mention indeed, but only after saying:

"Concentration by mindfulness of breathing, Ananda, is the one thing which, when developed and cultivated, fulfils the four establishments of mindfulness. The four establishments of mindfulness, when developed and cultivated, fulfil the seven factors of enlightenment. […] Here, Ananda, a bhikkhu, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut, sits down. […] “Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he understands: ‘I breathe out short.’ [etc. throughout Anapanassati]” (Bodhi)

So if you want to argue that “there is almost no hint of the employment of such techniques [such as focusing on the breath] in the early texts”, that these text show that developing the four establishments of mindfulness factors don’t include focusing on anything, you’ll first have to show that Anapanassati, the Canon’s foremost (though not only) explanation of how to develop them, is not about focusing on something.

In short, to properly interpret the general mentions of samādhi, we have to consider suttas that explain it in detail, not the mnemonic ones. This way the suttas start to fit together as a comprehensive whole.

To infer a skilled artist is in jhāna when performing (in “flow”) seems to me very problematic from many other perspectives which I won’t go into now.

Thanks again for replying, Bhante. Contrary to your generous assumption, though, I’m doubtful we’ll reach a consensus on this matter. Perhaps we should spend our conversational efforts on some other topic one day.

PS. I wouldn’t have brought this up otherwise, but since you say you have “a desire to remain faithful to the EBT (and [I] can certainly serve as a check on that),” the thing you said about arahattaphala I believe is the commentarial interpretation (which seems to me contextually out of place), which is not mentioned in the sutta.

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