Was there a conflict between scholars and meditators?

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I don’t know what you mean by that. I have never said Mahāyāna people never practiced jhāna. I can just find no trace of any jhāna practice in Mahāyāna in the last few centuries. If you know of any evidence of any, please do let me know, as I am very interested in this specific topic!


The Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa is a staple of East Asian Mahāyāna every bit as much as Visuddhimagga is for Theravāda. Visuddhimagga much like Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa is an ancient text.

These texts inform practice. I don’t understand why you don’t consider this substantiation because its “old”.

What is the fifth pāramitā?


You would have to ask him about his lineage.


For instance, this is Mahāyāna Buddhism. It isn’t “ancient” Mahāyāna Buddhism any more than Visuddhimagga & Abhidhammatthasangaha is “ancient” śrāvakayāna:



The four formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti) are: i) the sphere of infinity of space (ākāśānantyāyatana), ii) the sphere of infinity of consciousness (vijñānānantyāyatana), iii) the sphere of nothing at all (ākiṃcanyāyatana), iv) the sphere of neither-discrimination-nor-non-discrimination (naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana).

  1. Defiled absorptions, acquired by birth, acquired by effort.

These four formless absorptions are each of three kinds: stained (samala), acquired by birth (upapattiprātilambhika) or acquired by effort (prāyogika).[49] [212a]

  1. The thirty-one bad propensities (anuśaya) contained in the four ārūpyas[50] and the formations associated with the mind (cittasaṃprayuktasaṃskāra) arising within these propensities are stained (samala).

  2. Acquired by birth (upapattiprātilambhika). – Those who have practiced the four immaterial absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti) are reborn by virtue of ripening of these actions (karmavipāka) in the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu) and obtain four clear (vispaṣṭa) and morally undefined (avyākṛta) skandhas.[51]

  3. Acquired by effort (prāyogika). – Examining the grossness (audārya) and harmfulness of form (rūpa), the cause of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi), death (maraṇa) and all kinds of suffering, the yogin considers it ‘as a sickness, as an ulcer, as a poisoned arrow’ (rogato gaṇdatah śalyatah samanupaśyati).[52] He tells himself that all of it is deception (vañcana) and falsehood (mṛṣāvāda) that he must avoid. Having reflected in this way, he overcomes all notion of matter, he destroys all notion of resistance, he forgets all notion of multiplicity and penetrates into the absorption of infinity of space (sa sarvaśo rūpasaṃjñānāṃ samatikramāt pratighasaṃjñānām astaṃgamān nānātvasaṃjñānām amanasikārād ākāśānatyāyatanasamāppattiṃ praviśati).[53]

  1. Process of access to the absorptions

Question. – How can these three kinds of notions [of matter, resistance, multiplicity] be destroyed?

Answer. – These three kinds of notions (saṃjñā), all coming from a complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrī), are without intrinsic nature (niḥsvabhāva) and, since their intrinsic self nature does not exist, they are all deceptions, non-realities, easily destroyed.

Furthermore, [the yogin says to himself], distinctions (vikalpa) regarding form are eliminated little by little (bhāgaśaḥ) and finally no longer exist. This is why, if they do not exist later, neither do they exist now. Under the influence of error (viparyāsa), beings seize the characteristics of identity (ekatva) and difference (anyatva) in composite matter, and their minds become attached to the nature of matter. As for me, I must not imitate these fools; I must seek the true reality (bhūtavastu) in which there is neither identity nor difference.

Furthermore, the yogin reflects thus:[54]

  1. When I rejected and avoided dharmas, I obtained considerable benefits. First I abandoned my wealth, my wife and children; I left home and found the pure discipline (viśuddhaśīla); my mind is secure (yogakṣema); I have no more fear.

  2. Putting away desires (kāma), evil and wicked dharmas (pāpā akuśala dharmāḥ), I obtained the first dhyāna. joy and happiness (prītisukha), the result of detachment (vivekaja),

  3. By suppressing enquiry and analysis (vitarkavicārāṇāṃ vyutpaśamā), by inner purification (adhyātmaṃ saṃprasādāt), I obtained the second dhyāna where there is great joy and happiness (mahāprītisukha).

  4. By renouncing joy (prīter virāgāt), I found myself in the third dhyāna which is by far the happiest.

  5. Suppressing this happiness (sukhasya prahāṇāt), I obtained the fourth dhyāna, purified by renunciation and reflection.

  6. Now I abandon these four dhyānas, for it is still necessary to obtain the wonderful absorptions (samāpatti).

This is why the yogin ‘transcends the notion of matter (rūpasaṃjñām atikrāmati), destroys the notion of resistance (pratighasaṃjñām nirodhayati) and no longer thinks about the notion of multiplicity (nānātvasaṃjñāṃ na manasikaroti)’.

-from the same text


I would also recommend looking at the 天台四教儀, Tiāntāi Four Teachings Exegesis, a para-catechism text for basic instruction in bodhisattvayāna.

It’s here: Outline of the Tiantai Fourfold Teachings 天台四教儀


Would you also claim that the bible is evidence that 21st century Christians stone their neighbours to death in the street for committing adultery?

Let’s think about your Visuddhimagga also. It describes methods of mindfulness meditation. And yet we know that large sections of Theravada stopped practicing that, if not all Theravada perhaps. And that the current vipassana lineages date back to the creation of methods inspired by that text, at around 1900 CE. And even Theravadin jhāna practice almost entirely died out, and many who practice now do so through jhāna revival movements rather than continuous practice lineages.

Furthermore, we have countless Theravadins who have faith in the Visuddhimagga, and study and teach it, and yet do not practice jhāna, and even teach to avoid jhāna, despite jhāna being the normative path in the Visuddhimagga. So again I reaffirm that a group having a practice in their ancient texts is no proof whatsoever of that group actually doing that practice.

That is an interesting idea, but without proof, it remains only an idea.

In the same way I don’t assume modern Christians to be stoning their neighbours to death based on their ancient texts.

The answer is not relevant to the question we are dealing with here. The appropriate question would rather be “What practices do contemporary (or last few centuries) Mahayana followers actually practice, which they consider constitute the 5th paramita?” This is precisely the kind of question I have asked expert samatha teachers from the Tibetan tradition. One of whom I was on a dzogchen retreat under, so that was precisely in the context of samatha for dzogchen practitioners.


I don’t really know how to respond to this.

Imagine if you had said “EBTs inform Buddhadharma practice” and I had said “you have no proof”.

That is sort of where we are now in our conversation.

Here: this is an even more mainstream text:śa/d/doc115543.html


It’s possible to fetishize “proofs”.

Do you need a proof to know Mahāyāna dharma comes from Mahāyāna scriptures? After all, why not say that Mahāyāna dharma proceeds from Christian scriptures interpreted by Buddhists?

“Prove” to me that Mahāyāna scriptures exist, and aren’t just made up on the stop based on Christian scriptures.

It’s a little bit odd, isn’t it?

That’s the situation I am in, if I can try to explain it.

If you are still interested, perhaps Master Sheng Yen’s freely-available-online text “Orthodox Chinese Buddhism” will be interesting, and not too old a source for your standards of proof.

You can search for “four absorptions”.


I do not deny that the texts have an influence on practice. I am just saying that you cannot say that because someone has a 2 millennia old text, that they are doing the practices that are in that text. I have explained that in detail and given a number of examples for you. I am not sure how you are not getting the point.

Please try applying your logic to this passage:

And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.
Leviticus 24:16

Do you now insist that 21st century Christians in the US and UK stone people to death for blasphemy? Because they have this text? You don’t get more ‘mainstream’ a text for Christians than the bible!

You are giving exactly the same argument again, but I have addressed it multiple times. That is an ancient text, which in no way proves anything about what has been practiced for the last several hundred years. I am confused why you don’t get this point.

Perhaps you also think that 21st century Mahayana practitioners fly through the sky and create multiple emanation bodies, because there are texts about such things from 2,000 years ago?

It is extremely easy to prove that many Theravadins believe thy practice jhāna in 21st, 20th, and even 19th centuries. It is also easy to prove that they are deliberately and consciously trying to attain the 4 jhānas which the Buddha taught. This is not hard. This is not mysterious. It’s easy. Because there are plenty of writings about it, plenty of teachers teaching it, and students practicing it.

If you can find me any genuinely qualified Tibetan Buddhist who has received traditional Tibetan instruction in any of the 4 jhānas, I will very happily believe you. And if your claim is true, that should be very easy to either do that, or find some proof of it. Asking me to believe it without proof is literally like asking me to believe in the tooth fairy.


For instance, Jews and Christians, depending on their sects, read this passage very differently.

For instance, the “put to death” can be read as “denied resurrection”. Or “fail at the spiritual life”. In either case the expectation to be expected to kill someone is avoided. Both are fully reasonable.

Similarly, the matter is not as simple with the other examples.

For instance, the Christians interpret the murdered Babylonian children in the Psalms as Christ’s victory over the small seeds of wicked-thoughts-to-be.

Some people just interpret it as people wanted Babylonian children dead.


Quite frankly, you dont have to believe me. That’s OK. People can disagree. Or decide to not believe each other. Or decide that a source isn’t satisfactory.


Some of them most definitely think they do.

Much like this dhyāna issue.


I already did this. Go ask Malcolm about it on DharmaWheel if you want more info.

Of course, “their four dhyānāni” may not be “your four dhyānāni”. That’s my whole point.


Apologies, it just occurred to me, Malcolm Smith is a translator of texts from this tradition. Non-restricted ones. I am asking him which translation of his I should recommend to you.

Obviously you are not going to try to practice Dzogchen from a book alone, if at all, ever, so there is no issue.


I think I understand where some misunderstand could have arisen based on my choice of terminology. By “later Mahāyāna” practice, I mean specifically particular sects that emerged after 1000AD. Not “later” (i.e. contemporary) Mahāyāna as a whole.


My point is that though I have been searching for years, I have been totally unable to find any evidence of contemporary Mahāyāna jhāna practice at all (apart from some Mahāyāna people influenced by Early Buddhist teachings who may have ben inspired to depart from the contemporary practice of Mahāyāna). And have not even found any evidence of any jhāna practice in Mahāyāna over the last few centuries. So I am very interested in any real evidence on this - evidence of people actually deliberately trying to cultivate jhāna practice. And like I said, I have even asked dzogchen teachers, including on a dzogchen retreat with a famous samathā and Dzogchen teacher.

So I am very interested if there is actually any evidence, if there really are any Mahāyāna people doing Mahāyāna practice of any of the 4 jhānas.


A few examples of Mahayana practicing Jhana, guided by Bhante U Punnananda, Bhante U Mangala, Sayalay Dipankara.

Bhante U Punnananda in Taiwan:
Sutta aspect : 南北傳《阿含經》讀書會

Meditation aspect:

Bhante U Mangala in China: 马来西亚吉祥尊者广州大佛寺一日禅修_广州大佛寺

Sayalay Dipankara

:point_up_2:look for photo of 三學苑

:point_up_2: scroll down to Sayalay’s retreat.


That’s Mahāyāna practitioners doing Theravāda meditation practice. So that’s a good example of Mahāyāna practitioners having to look outside of their tradition to train in jhāna, right?


This book which I already mentioned to you via PM but will share here for the sake of the discussion is by Thích Nhất Hạnh and introduces newcomers to Mahāyāna Buddhism. The exposition of the eightfold path includes fourfold dhyāna practice.’s%20Teaching

Fourfold dhyāna practice is part of the path of seeing (darśanamārga), the accomplishment of which leads to the renunciation of the very first bodhisattvabhūmi. Thích Nhất Hạnh, being familiar with Mahāyāna Abhidharma, included it.

For the above four nirvedhabhāgīyāni (which involve dhyāna practice) see Abhidharmakośakārikāyāḥ Mārgapudgalanirdeśaḥ (20a-b):

Very brief instructions, but also very to-the-point.

All this being said, the Path of Seeing was not taught by the Buddha in the EBTs.


Yes, there are quite many practicing Pa Auk & Mahasi style, from what i read on some discussion of China meditators favouring Mahasi style compare to Pa Auk style, those discussion is in Chinese language. So there is quite a mixed there already. I’m not familiar with Mahasi teachers, so perhap other can help on this.