I’ve just read it and it is very useful in clearing misunderstandings.
It does imply that most practitioners get jhana wrong. What I’m wondering is if people practicing the focused (not based on Suttas) type of jhana, can in some cases naturally end up with the same results/insight that the ones practicing according to this essay ?
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Most of the monastics on this forum have a different take, and if they reply I imagine it will be in such a manner. I find the arguments presented interesting and compelling, but I am not knowledgeable enough to refute or argue in support of them.
I would just add that Venerable Anigha, the author of the article, is actively participating in the discussions in r/HillsideHermitage on Reddit. His presentation of the article in the subreddit can be found here: New Essay: What the Jhānas Actually Are
Bhante seems to suggest that vitakka-vicāra are present right up until the cessation of perception & feeling. If I recall this was also a Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika position, but I see little support for it.
The problem I have with this is that it suggests that the early sangha just didn’t know what it was doing when it comes to, not only the translation of words, but also the practice of meditation. The Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika defined samādhi as an “application of a pure mind onto a single object”. The Sautrāntika also accepted this definition. The Mahīśāsaka and Pudgalavādins also defined it in a similar way. Did all these masters and schools get it wrong? Did they all fall to Brahmin yogic practices? Did they badly misunderstand the languages they were dealing with? I don’t think they did. Whilst samādhi means collected, it also means concentrated. Your mind is collected and concentrated upon a single thing or theme, without the distractions of the hindrances.
What Bhante forgets here is that the Buddha also recommended not giving attention to a hindrance, or substituting it with its opposite.
Yup, that seems to be pretty much how it all shook out.
Polak’s Reexamining Jhāna suggests precisely that, to cite just one scholar’s support.
I find it hard to believe that multiple schools fell into the same error, that the early sangha just didn’t know what they were doing until modern Phenomenologists came along. I have read some of his work. I’m not all that convinced.
Sādhu sādhu sādhu
I have studied the Dhamma for 20 years and have since long abandoned traditions as well as modernistic buddhism and the technical kind of view on meditation. This Bhante is surely one of the ”right view monks” I admire so much.
I’ve tried to find words that describe the Dhamma I see in the suttas. If much of todays approach to Dhamma and meditation could be called technical, I guess my view would be called organical.
Let’s compare with qigong. I learned the technique of a certain kind of qigong. Movements and visualisations enhance the flow of qi and make it harmonious. According to the school, it’s possible to go deep in the qigong and discover the original qi that is the source of everything. Even though moral and a humble mind is very helpful, it is not the core of the practice. The core is connecting to qi through movements, visualisations and sharpening the felt sense of qi. It is possible to practice qigong and still base my actions on greed, hatred and delusion. Of course qigong as a good spiritual practice promote an ethical mind, but it uphold views on life, the creation and the origin of the creation that the Buddha would say are wrongly based. ”Everything is qi, I am qi, your are qi, and we are one” is such a view that Buddha said is wrong. It is based on greed, hatred and delusion, however peaceful and loving a qigong practicioner is.
The practice of Dhamma is rather putting everything we experience in the right context (align us to right view) to base our behaviour on non-greed, non-hatered and non-delusion instead of their opposites. This practice is much like how we navigate successfully in life. We contemplate on the good results of being disciplined and working hard to avoid being overcome by laziness and avoid actions that are detrimental for getting more wealthy and making a career. Of course some motivational books and speakers presents this as a technique, but if your parents when you were young talked about the gain of working hard, avoiding games and alcohol, and also by observing their behaviour and seeing that they are right, you would get inspired so much that you lost interest in fruitless behaviour, would you say you were you practicing a technique? By talking and observing, contemplating what you have seen and heard?
The suttas are stuffed with motivational talks that are supposed to make you turn away from sensuality and other unwholesome actions and qualities of your body, speech and mind. When you do that you are in jhāna.
For all my years I have seen and heard buddhists wonder, ”where are the meditation instructions?” They look at the suttas and see only stories but want to find the kind of instructions you can get in qigong or yoga. Mahāsatipatthānasutta and Anāpānāsatisutta are of course the closest we come to these kinds of instructions, so no wonder they are held in such high esteem by everyone who looks for technical instructions. How many realize that when the Buddha say that sensuality is like a bone bereft of meat, or that sensuality is a murderer, they are encountering ”meditation instructions”?
Just pretend that you find a dead body in your freezer and you realize that your partner is a murderer. You would in half a second be repelled by your partner, drop all sensual thoughts about your partner, and you would leave him or her faster in mind than you can run away. That is what the Buddha call dispassion, and what happens to your relation he would call cessation. You don’t want to identify with this relation anymore, there’s no more ”we”. The reason this experience doesn’t lead to jhāna is that you haven’t turned away from sensuality as such, only an object in the world that gave you sensual gratification. And that’s why we don’t attain jhana and keep wandering in samsara - we never turn away from sensuality, we just keep changing sensual objects when the one we enjoy now starts generating suffering.
The practice of Dhamma is the same as developing the dispassion you experienced towards your murderous partner toward sensuality and clinging as such. Through dispassion towards sensuality and clinging you attain cessation, the ending of your relationship (clinging) to the world. When qigong says that ”all is one” there is an ”I” which is based on something, there is a relationship and no cessation, and all relationships are based on greed, hatred and delusion. That’s why ”all is one” is wrong.
Imagine Lord Buddha sitting in front of you, with his glorious apperance, telling you about the heavens and hells, that heaven is no escape and that sensuality always ends in hell. By mearly listening to this enormously charismatic monk, shining of composure and truth, you would immediatly feel dispassion against this wandering-around and completely loose interest in sensuality, even feel horror about the thought of sensuality. Many did, as is evidenced by the suttas, but of course not everyone. It depends on the amount of dust in the eyes.
So the Dhamma is not a technique, it is more organic, it is living life in a certain way. We practice (meditates) by reading or listening to the suttas, by teaching the Dhamma, by being near people that confirms the Dhamma - which strengthens our Dhamma-mind, by putting interest in the Sangha and their behaviour, observing them, and connecting to them by giving them gifts, a powerful way of investing our minds in these bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs and their behaviour, and connecting to their qualities. Sitting alone in the forest and contemplating the Dhamma is the cream of the practice, supported and protected by the sangha that confirms that you’re on the right track when you come out from the forest, not saying that your time alone is fruitless. We are herd animals and the mind is so easily affected by the social environment. That’s why the Buddha tells Ananda that spiritual friendship is the whole practice, not the half of it only. If your friends look at sensuality with horror, very soon you also turn away from sensuality, with or without a ”technique”. Just by living in and interacting with this modern world that is so infused in thoughts of sensuality we are meditating based on wrong view, weather we realizes it or not. No wonder it is so difficult to attain jhana.
Thanks for sharing. Nice examples.
I think the greatest obstacle for jhana is, in general, the tendency of the mind to start conceiving and getting lost in these constant projections of ideas, plans, ambitions, goals, thoughts, images.
Sensual thoughts are just one way of conceiving , but it is also possible that ones mind all the time tends to drift away in thoughts about what happened earlier, made impact, must be done , or one starts thinking about what to reply on the forum. Oh, oh, that never happens to me
What was the original phrase?
We must be careful not to read-in modern, anachronistic or mistaken ideas into ancient texts. People thought differently in that time and culture.
Thanks. I agree with most of what is said there. Of course, it does not confirm those views, because my views could also be wrong. Most of the article does appear to correlate with everything I have experienced so far.
This is from a cheat sheet for the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma. We find similar definitions in the schools I mentioned.
My concern with this article by a bhikkhu is not its comprehensive errors (such as its ignoring of how progress to jhana is described in MN 19 & SN 48.9 or how the overcoming of thought is described in MN 20 or how reflection to end hindrances is a prerequisite to Anapanasati in MN 62 & MN 118 ) but its potential disregard of the Bhikkhu Vinaya. The Bhikkhu Vinaya regards jhana as a Superhuman State and this article not only makes jhana sound very ordinary & mundane but makes jhana sound so easy to attain that it creates confusion about the Vinaya rule of not declaring Superhuman States. To me, I would not expect this type of article from a bhikkhu; given its Vinaya consequences.
For what it is worth, I think that he is in error as well, but I do not think you are fairly addressing his arguments. There is a book on the website THE ONLY WAY TO JHANA – Hillside Hermitage
The book does not make jhana sound very ordinary & mundane; in fact, the book in one sense makes it sound even harder. The book’s thesis is that you have to really and actually renounce sensuality before jhana occurs. I think that a lot of practitioners are tempted to meditate, and set aside sensual thoughts while meditating, but see renouncing sensuality as something that will happen later, or maybe on its own accord, after one has attained jhana. Even monastics can be prone to this I imagine.
I see no reason to trash other groups of people in order to trash this bhikkhu. Just engage with the arguments.
It’s definitely there in my opinion. I think it’s correct if I say that advanced practitioners of qigong can fuel and fan ‘qi’ , purely as a deliberate mental act without resorting to movements etc. I think the instructions in the suttas are more than less, at this level. See for example Āhārasutta(SN46.51).
I was fair. MN 19 says the mind still thinking thoughts of renunciation is “far from samadhi”. SN 48.9 says jhana is developed by making “letting go” the object of meditation. It sounds like there is a very long time period between quieting the mind & giving up sensuality until reaching jhana. During this period of quietude, Anapanasati would logically develop, until the breathing becomes too refined to discern, which would be approaching jhana. It sounded liked the bhikkhu dismissed Anapanasati, as though it has no relationship to jhana; as though jhana begins immediately when sensual thoughts stop. If I read the PDF accurately, the bhikkhu in the PDF made it sound like all wholesome meditation is “jhana” and as soon as sensual thought stops this is jhana.
What you wrote here is not related to anything I posted. I addressed your comment here in my previous reply to you. Elder bhikkhus have said there is no reflective thinking in any jhana, which is confirmed by MN 19, which says wholesome reflective thinking is “far from concentration”.
I was pointing out if the bhikkhu says he personally has allayed sensual thoughts for any amount of time, this sounds like a declaration of a Superhuman State by the bhikkhu, which is a transgression of the Vinaya. Fortunately, for the bhikkhu, the Vinaya does not say temporarily stopping sensual thought is a Superhuman State but says “jhana” is a Superhuman State. The PDF does not sound like it is about jhana. The PDF sounds like it is simply some attempted book scholarship. Instead of writing an article accusing others of being wrong & misguided, it is probably wiser for the bhikkhu to discuss his views first with other bhikkhus outside of the Hillside group. To reiterate, declaring attainments of jhana is like a “crime” under Vinaya and to redefine what jhana is is similar to redefining what murder is in secular law. I hope the seriousness of my point is understood.
If sensuality refers to kama raga, only a non returner has totally abandoned this anusaya. Does this mean that only at this level one can enter and abide in jhana? If so, Buddha was as child already a non-returner. But i do not believe that even any anusaya must be permanently uprooted or dismantled to enter and abide in jhana.
Hi! Can you provide any sources for this please? I would very much like to read about the views of these other schools on jhāna but don’t know where to start. Thanks!
Sure. For the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika and Sautrāntika perspective I would recommend Ven. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, which presents both the Vaibhāṣika position on different topics and Sautrāntika critiques. Specifically you want Vol. 4, page 1215 Abhidharmakosabhasyam,vol_4,Vasubandhu,Poussin,Pruden,1991.pdf (lirs.ru). You can also look at the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra, which is claimed to be written by a Ven. Nāgārjuna but was more likely written by a Vaibhāṣika monk or nun who then converted to Mahāyāna. It sets out the Vaibhāṣika position, and then looks at things from the Prajñāpāramitā point of view. Specifically here you want to look at Chapter XXVIII - The Virtue of Meditation (dhyāna) and Chapter XXXII-XXXIV - The eight classes of supplementary dharmas. For the Mahīśāsaka point of view there is the Abhidharmasamuccaya (Abhidharmasamuccaya,Asanga,Rahula,1971,Boin-Webb,2001.pdf (lirs.ru) written by Ven. Asaṅga. Whilst Ven. Asaṅga became a Yogācārin, originally he was of the Mahīśāsaka and this work looks like it contains many elements of their Abhidharma. For the Pudgalavādins, all we know of their Abhidharma, in an English translation, is in Bhikshu Thich Thien Chau, The Literature of the Personalists of Early Buddhism ( Literature Of The Personalists Of Early Buddhism NUM Bhikshu Thich Thein Chau MLBD : Omprakash Chahal : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive and Leonard Priestley, Pudgalavada Buddhism - The Reality of the Indeterminate Self ( Pudgalavada Buddhism Priestley Leonard : Kausalya Anne : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. There are also the Sautrāntika inspired Dhyāna sutras such as Ven. Kumārajīva’s The Sutra on the Concentration of Sitting Meditation ( The Sutra on the Concentration of Sitting Meditation – BDK America
Sadly for the Mahāsāṃghika we don’t have any of their Abhidharma texts, except for what is quoted in other works (most of them currently untranslated). Concerning meditation however we can infer something about their views on meditation from the Kathāvatthu. By them I mean the Pubbaseliya sect of southern Mahāsāṃghika
Controverted Point: That one who has attained Jhāna hears sound.
Theravādin: If so, it must be equally allowed that he can also see, smell, taste and touch objects. This you deny … You must also allow that he enters Jhāna enjoying auditory consciousness. You deny, for you agree that concentration arises in one who is enjoying mental objects as such? But if you admit that anyone who is actually enjoying sounds hears sounds, and that concentration is the property of one who is actually enjoying mental objects as such, you should not affirm that one in the concentration of Jhāna hears sounds. If you insist that he does, you have here two parallel mental procedures going on at the same time … .
Pubbaseliya: But was it not said by the Exalted One that
“Sound is a thorn for First Jhāna”?
Hence one in Jhāna can surely hear sound.
Theravādin: You say that one in Jhāna can hear sound, and quote the Word as to it being for First Jhāna a “thorn”. Now it was further said that thought applied and sustained is a thorn for Second Jhāna—does one in Second Jhāna have applied and sustained thought? … Again, it was further said that the mental factor last eliminated is a thorn for the stage newly attained—zest for Third, respiration for Fourth Jhāna, perception of visible objects for consciousness of space-infinity, this perception for that of consciousness as infinite, this perception for that of nothingness, perception and feeling for cessation of these in trance. Now is “the thorn” actually present on the winning of the stage whence it is pronounced to be a thorn? If not, then how can you say that the “thorn” of hearing sound is present to one in First Jhāna?
Usually this is brought forward to show that there were sects of Buddhism who thought that sound (and so the other senses) operated whilst within Jhāna, but notice that the Pubbaseliya don’t deny absorption. They are merely arguing that whilst in the 1st Jhāna sound can occur, thus knocking you out of the attainment. Now I should say here that some sects did think that 5 sensory conciousness could occur whilst in Jhāna. For the Vaibhāṣika it occurs in the 1st Jhāna, but not in the 2nd onwards. This is because they associate vitakka-vicāra with the 5 senses. For the Sautrāntika, bodily bliss (sukha) is felt throughout until the 4th Jhāna.
I almost forgot to add the Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra. This work was written by Ven. Harivarman, and is likely a mix of Sautrāntika thought and Mahāsāṃghika, likely the Bahuśrutīya school Satyasiddhisastra Of Harivarman : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive Then of course you have the Theravādin Abhidhamma and commentaries, which I’m sure you are familiar with.
Hope that helps. Happy reading!