Why does a brief moment of metta mean you have jhana?

In AN 1:53-55, we get a series of suttas that say a bhikkhu who develops metta does not lack jhana. I don’t really understand what this means because its obviously possible to develop brahmaviharas w/o obtaining jhana. Any ideas?

The suttas:

“If, mendicants, a mendicant cultivates a mind of love even as long as a finger-snap, they’re called a mendicant who does not lack absorption, who follows the Teacher’s instructions, who responds to advice, and who does not eat the country’s alms in vain. How much more so those who make much of it!”
“If, mendicants, a mendicant develops a mind of love even as long as a finger-snap, they’re called a mendicant who does not lack absorption, who follows the Teacher’s instructions, who responds to advice, and who does not eat the country’s alms in vain. How much more so those who make much of it!”
“If, mendicants, a mendicant focuses on a mind of love even as long as a finger-snap, they’re called a mendicant who does not lack absorption, who follows the Teacher’s instructions, who responds to advice, and who does not eat the country’s alms in vain. How much more so those who make much of it!”

“Accharāsaṅghātamattampi ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu mettācittaṁ āsevati; Variant: mettācittaṁ → mettaṁ cittaṁ (bj); mettacittaṁ (sya-all, km, pts1ed, mr)ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave: ‘bhikkhu arittajjhāno viharati satthusāsanakaro ovādapatikaro, amoghaṁ raṭṭhapiṇḍaṁ bhuñjati’. Ko pana vādo ye naṁ bahulīkarontī”ti.
“Accharāsaṅghātamattampi ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu mettācittaṁ bhāveti; ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave: ‘bhikkhu arittajjhāno viharati satthusāsanakaro ovādapatikaro, amoghaṁ raṭṭhapiṇḍaṁ bhuñjati’. Ko pana vādo ye naṁ bahulīkarontī”ti.
“Accharāsaṅghātamattampi ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu mettācittaṁ manasi karoti; ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave: ‘bhikkhu arittajjhāno viharati satthusāsanakaro ovādapatikaro amoghaṁ raṭṭhapiṇḍaṁ bhuñjati’. Ko pana vādo ye naṁ bahulīkarontī”ti

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There is also the series of “finger snap” suttas AN 1.394-574, where if any of these 180 things are developed, one is said to “not be devoid of jhana” (Ven. Bodhi). Seems to be saying that such developments are, by nature, conducive to samadhi. Each is accompanied by, ““How much more, then, those who cultivate it!” So, while it is clear that the first jhana is not always the result of all such developments, it would not be correct to say it is completely absent either.

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I wonder what degree of development is meant here. SN20.4 depicts metta as very powerful even for a short time, too. I’m not sure how to make sense of that, unless they mean a very high level of metta.

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For me, it does not sound logical to say one that has attained the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th jhana is “not devoid of jhana” (arittajjhāno).

“If, mendicants, a mendicant develops the first absorption, even as long as a finger-snap, they are called

“Accharāsaṅghātamattampi ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ bhāveti, ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave:

a mendicant who does not lack absorption, who follows the Teacher’s instructions, who responds to advice, and who does not eat the country’s alms in vain.

‘bhikkhu arittajjhāno viharati, satthusāsanakaro ovādapatikaro, amoghaṁ raṭṭhapiṇḍaṁ bhuñjati’.

AN 1.394

For me, the phrase: “‘bhikkhu arittajjhāno viharati, satthusāsanakaro ovādapatikaro” should first be examined before making inferences.

Not completely fluent with Pali, I ask about the word “viharati”, which I cannot discern in the translation. What I find problematic about the Pali are the commas.

I am examining for the following meaning, if it is possible in the Pali (@dhammanando):

A bhikkhu (bhikkhu; nominative) dwells (viharati; verb) not devoid of the absorption (arittajjhāno; nominative) of the complying with the instructions (sāsanakaro; nominative) of the Teacher (satthu).

In other words, the bhikkhu has absorption in the instructions of the teacher. However, since all the words are in nominative case, it cannot be translated as directly as “absorption in the instructions” because “in” would be locative case. :slightly_smiling_face:

Agreed. A peculiar redundancy for AN 1.394-397. Though, perhaps it comes clear in the difference between “develop” (bhāveti) and “cultivate [seriously]” (bahulīkaroti)?

The suttas to my mind are full of hyperbole, allusion, similie, metaphor, idiomatic speech, vernacular, allegory and analogy.

Buddhism today is often full of people who are literal, absolutist, rigid, formal, didactic and dogmatic.

Some Buddhists, and some Theravadans especially, sometimes seem to approach their religion a bit like advanced dungeons and dragons where every word has to be a “rigid designator” and mean exactly the same thing in every context, and the whole system has to be interpreted as an incredibly elaborate rule book that the practitioner steps through to get from A to B to Z to Nibanna.

This is rarely how spiritual insight or language works. And it’s not really how the suttas work. (It is how Abhidhamma works, which might be the source of the problem.)

If I say “If the child shares their jelly beans even once then they do not lack generosity” I am not saying that the child is the same as the person who gives away their entire fortune to live on the streets as a beggar. On seeing my cat avoid the dog by hiding in the couch, when I say “very wise” I do not imply that my cat is Socrates.

There is absolutely no need to interpret “does not lack absorption” literally, the whole tone of the passage more or less directly implies that it is specifically talking about people who CANNOT achieve jhana, it’s reassuring them that they are worthy, and that earnestly practicing and getting things going even for a second, makes them legitimate recipients of almsfood.

Metta

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When wanting to reach a destination, it’s useful to have a detailed map.

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yeah but if you make it a requirement of your map that every time San Jose is mentioned it has to be referring to the same place then you rmap might be… suspect?

San Jose . San Jose (or San José) is the most common locality/place name in the world, with over 1,700 places being called San Jose or a variation of the name (1,716 to be exact). San Jose is a Spanish name meaning Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is a Christian religious figure recognized in many Christian denominations.

I agree, it would be wise to assume that the “finger snap” series of suttas implies a degree of stillness or samadhi. That’s the impression I got as well when reading them.

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It definitely seems that the Pāli word ‘jhāna’ has a few shades of meaning, and does not always mean ‘the jhanas, 1-4’.
Maybe someone has written about this?

Perhaps here, ‘jhāna’ implies a highly purified state of mind. Surely, in the quoted sutta ‘mettā’ entails a fully developed mental state, not one of a person squirming on a cushion while repeating coached phrases! :slightly_smiling_face:

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I’m fairly certain Ajahn Brahm and/or Bhante Sujato mentioned that samadhi and jhana are synonyms. They both have so many talks that I’m sure you’ll probably come across it in one of them (talks on youtube).

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Do you mean that the word jhāna can only imply one of the 4 jhānas, equated with samma samadhi?

I really do think it can mean something more like ‘meditation’ in some cases, i.e. not ‘full absorption’

Of course, there are endless debates on what a true jhanic state really is, so this discussion could go on ad infinitum.

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Far from being an expert but so far whenever I’ve read about jhana in the suttas it is usually referred to the 4 jhanas. and yes samma samadhi. Correct.

Yep absolutely and I’m not one, to get into one. All I know is what I’ve read in the suttas. All I can say is that when in doubt we need to ‘assume’ that what is being referred to in the suttas is a very very refined state of perception which is not easily attainable by anyone who does not live a virtuous life, restrains their senses and has a solid meditation practice. IMHO :anjal:

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One ‘for instance’-

A fairly common refrain is something like

(MN 8) - Etāni, cunda, rukkhamūlāni, etāni suññāgārāni, jhāyatha, cunda, mā pamādattha, etc…

Which can mean something like,
Cunda, here are these bases of trees and empty huts. Go meditate Cunda! Don’t be heedless!

Ven. Bodhi translates the imperative verb as ‘Meditate’.
Yes, this is the verb form, not the noun, I know.

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How are these two analogous?
Generosity can vary from very minor to deep and expansive.
Absorption can only mean Jhana, and there is no minor form of it like khanika Samadhi or whatever.
For even a blip of metta to mean one is not without absorption would necessarily mean they have Jhanas.

Sure, but for a word to mean something else in a given context, there has to be a reason to interpret it differently that time. We can’t just decide that absorption in this context doesn’t mean Jhana because we might think it makes sense. That would close off other possibilities unnecessarily.

Your point that

is exactly the reason I doubt the meaningfulness of jumping to the conclusion that Jhanas aren’t meant here. The suttas are famously understated and we should be careful in assuming that any development of mind could refer to something lower than its fullest potential. This is not to say this is never the case, but there should be good reason for such interpretations so as to avoid diluting the Buddha’s message. Looking at the large picture of Buddhist practices in the world, the tendency to underestimate the height of meaning far outweighs overestimation.

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this is exactly what i disagree with, i think concentration or absorption is a very common state, while jhana, at least in the standard formula means a quite specific and particular form of it.

“he didn’t hear his wife say his name 3 times because he was too absorbed in his book”
“he barely even noticed his finger was bleeding because he was concentrating so so hard on the radio announcer”

I think it’s clear from the context that when the sutta says that someone who feels loving-kindness in their

heart even for a split second “does not lack jhana” it is very clearly meaning something quite different from someone who enters and remains in a state of concentration for 7 days straight.

The reason is that if it did mean the same thing then there would be two ways in the suttas to achieve jhana, 1, the way where a person finds a secluded place, brings mindfulness to the fore, applies and sustains thier thought, experiences joy and pleasure and enters an absorbed state of mind, and another, much less often attested to where a person has one moment of loving kindness. which is ridiculous.

Or maybe brhamavihara states can be powerful, life changing absorptions :fire::exploding_head::heartbeat:…?

(I.e. metta not just as some empty phrases or general well wishes but on another level altogether)

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In MN108 we get this exchange which seems to use “jhāna” in this sort of way

This one time, Master Ānanda, Master Gotama was staying near Vesālī, at the Great Wood, in the hall with the peaked roof.
Ekamidāhaṁ, bho ānanda, samayaṁ so bhavaṁ gotamo vesāliyaṁ viharati mahāvane kūṭāgārasālāyaṁ.
So I went there to see him.
Atha khvāhaṁ, bho ānanda, yena mahāvanaṁ kūṭāgārasālā yena so bhavaṁ gotamo tenupasaṅkamiṁ.
And there he spoke about meditation in many ways.
Tatra ca pana so bhavaṁ gotamo anekapariyāyena jhānakathaṁ kathesi.
He meditated, and made a habit of meditating.
Jhāyī ceva so bhavaṁ gotamo ahosi jhānasīlī ca.
And he praised all kinds of meditation.”
Sabbañca pana so bhavaṁ gotamo jhānaṁ vaṇṇesī”ti.

“No, brahmin, the Buddha did not praise all kinds of meditation, nor did he dispraise all kinds of meditation.
“Na ca kho, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā sabbaṁ jhānaṁ vaṇṇesi, napi so bhagavā sabbaṁ jhānaṁ na vaṇṇesīti.
And what kind of meditation did he not praise?
Kathaṁ rūpañca, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā jhānaṁ na vaṇṇesi?
It’s when someone’s heart is overcome and mired in sensual desire, and they don’t truly understand the escape from sensual desire that has arisen.
Idha, brāhmaṇa, ekacco kāmarāgapariyuṭṭhitena cetasā viharati kāmarāgaparetena, uppannassa ca kāmarāgassa nissaraṇaṁ yathābhūtaṁ nappajānāti;
Harboring sensual desire within they meditate and concentrate and contemplate and ruminate.
so kāmarāgaṁyeva antaraṁ karitvā jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati.
Their heart is overcome and mired in ill will …
Byāpādapariyuṭṭhitena cetasā viharati byāpādaparetena, uppannassa ca byāpādassa nissaraṇaṁ yathābhūtaṁ nappajānāti;
so byāpādaṁyeva antaraṁ karitvā jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati.
dullness and drowsiness …
Thinamiddhapariyuṭṭhitena cetasā viharati thinamiddhaparetena, uppannassa ca thinamiddhassa nissaraṇaṁ yathābhūtaṁ nappajānāti;
so thinamiddhaṁyeva antaraṁ karitvā jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati.
restlessness and remorse …
Uddhaccakukkuccapariyuṭṭhitena cetasā viharati uddhaccakukkuccaparetena, uppannassa ca uddhaccakukkuccassa nissaraṇaṁ yathābhūtaṁ nappajānāti;
so uddhaccakukkuccaṁyeva antaraṁ karitvā jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati.
doubt, and they don’t truly know and see the escape from doubt that has arisen.
Vicikicchāpariyuṭṭhitena cetasā viharati vicikicchāparetena, uppannāya ca vicikicchāya nissaraṇaṁ yathābhūtaṁ nappajānāti;
Harboring doubt within they meditate and concentrate and contemplate and ruminate.
so vicikicchaṁyeva antaraṁ karitvā jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati.
The Buddha didn’t praise this kind of meditation.
Evarūpaṁ kho, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā jhānaṁ na vaṇṇesi.

And what kind of meditation did he praise?
Kathaṁ rūpañca, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā jhānaṁ vaṇṇesi?
It’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.
Idha, brāhmaṇa, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.
As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, they enter and remain in the second absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of immersion, with internal clarity and confidence, and unified mind, without placing the mind and keeping it connected.
Vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ avitakkaṁ avicāraṁ samādhijaṁ pītisukhaṁ dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ …
And with the fading away of rapture, they enter and remain in the third absorption, where they meditate with equanimity, mindful and aware, personally experiencing the bliss of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, one meditates in bliss.’
tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ …
Giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, they enter and remain in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness.
catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.
The Buddha praised this kind of meditation.”
Evarūpaṁ kho, brāhmaṇa, so bhagavā jhānaṁ vaṇṇesī”ti.

“Well, Master Ānanda, it seems that Master Gotama criticized the kind of meditation that deserves criticism and praised that deserving of praise.
“Gārayhaṁ kira, bho ānanda, so bhavaṁ gotamo jhānaṁ garahi, pāsaṁsaṁ pasaṁsi.

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Yes, exactly. A good find.

Wonderful point @woodrow couldn’t agree with you more :anjal: