jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby PadmaPhala » Sun Sep 09, 2012 1:17 am

Zen means jhāna...
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:36 am

I've been working my way through Patrick Kearney's retreat talks which used to be here:
http://www.dharmasalon.net/Audio/Bodhi% ... _2011.html
[unfortunately only the introductory talk is now there.]
Bodhi Tree 2011
Talks given at the Bodhi Tree Meditation Centre, September 2011

Among various other interesting things [followers of this thread: viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538 may be interested to hear how many times he reminds the retreatants that sati involves memory...], he make some remarks about the connection between Burmese Vipassana (he teaches basically Mahasi style) and Shikantaza (he started in Zen a long time ago).
As some Mahasi practitioners will recall, as one gets more adept with following rising-falling of the abdomen, etc, and builds up some concentration there tend to be gaps visible between in and out breaths. And the usual instruction is to note "sitting" and/or "touching" in that space. And sometimes just the "sitting" and/or the "touching".

Now "sitting" from the Mahasi POV means observing wind element (which is what is holding the body up), but one can also think of it as a kind of whole-body-awareness. And this is the parallel Patrick draws with Shikantaza - sitting very aware of the posture (and keeping the exactly correct posture). As others have suggested on the various Zen/Theravada meditation threads, and as Patrick notes, Shikantaza would be a rather advanced practice from the Mahasi POV. Without the preparatory work of following objects such as rising-falling, which builds up mindfulness and concentration, "just sitting" and paying attention to the posture is quite difficult.

[This discussion, and other remarks about how various Burmese schools teach paying attention to the whole body also suggests that the Mahasi and Goenka/U Ban Kihn approaches that happen to have become well-known elsewhere are just part of a whole spectrum of approaches, and are therefore not as separate as one might think from just examining the beginners instructions of both approaches.]

:anjali:
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby Alex123 » Sat Oct 13, 2012 4:02 pm

Dan74 wrote: Just sitting is very simple, but can you "just sit"?


You are right. It is VERY hard to just sit, just eat, or just drink. Nearly impossible for some people, at least in the beginning.

Also isn't being aware of sitting part of 4 postures in satipatthana sutta?
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby Dan74 » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:53 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I've been working my way through Patrick Kearney's retreat talks which used to be here:
http://www.dharmasalon.net/Audio/Bodhi% ... _2011.html
[unfortunately only the introductory talk is now there.]
Bodhi Tree 2011
Talks given at the Bodhi Tree Meditation Centre, September 2011

Among various other interesting things [followers of this thread: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538 may be interested to hear how many times he reminds the retreatants that sati involves memory...], he make some remarks about the connection between Burmese Vipassana (he teaches basically Mahasi style) and Shikantaza (he started in Zen a long time ago).
As some Mahasi practitioners will recall, as one gets more adept with following rising-falling of the abdomen, etc, and builds up some concentration there tend to be gaps visible between in and out breaths. And the usual instruction is to note "sitting" and/or "touching" in that space. And sometimes just the "sitting" and/or the "touching".

Now "sitting" from the Mahasi POV means observing wind element (which is what is holding the body up), but one can also think of it as a kind of whole-body-awareness. And this is the parallel Patrick draws with Shikantaza - sitting very aware of the posture (and keeping the exactly correct posture). As others have suggested on the various Zen/Theravada meditation threads, and as Patrick notes, Shikantaza would be a rather advanced practice from the Mahasi POV. Without the preparatory work of following objects such as rising-falling, which builds up mindfulness and concentration, "just sitting" and paying attention to the posture is quite difficult.

[This discussion, and other remarks about how various Burmese schools teach paying attention to the whole body also suggests that the Mahasi and Goenka/U Ban Kihn approaches that happen to have become well-known elsewhere are just part of a whole spectrum of approaches, and are therefore not as separate as one might think from just examining the beginners instructions of both approaches.]

:anjali:
Mike


I think shikantaza is an advanced practice from any point of view. My view is that of someone who has not practiced shikantaza under a Soto teacher, so a big disclaimer here.

When I sat with a Soto group for over a year (under a teacher in Deshimaru lineage) we were taught to do breath awareness meditation. If I recall correctly, Dogen himself said that shikantaza is something one who has passed through the gate of Zen (seen the nature of mind (anatta/streamentry?)) can do. This is corroborated by the writings of the Hongzhi, Dogen's master's master and one of Dogen's favourites. And it goes without saying that before shikantaza proper, the practitioner would have to have mastered anapanasati equivalent to a very good degree.

The thing about shikantaza, or just sitting, is that there is no special attention given to anything. No focal point. Thought arise and pass away. Perceptions, Volitions.. etc. There is an openness, an alert radiance with no subject/object duality to obstruct and this dissolve all formations, until only propensities are seen and gradually swept away.

The attention given to posture is I think to settle into shikantaza - to focus on the physical and sweep away any fantasies of attainment present, past or future. Just sit and don't add anything to it, not even the sitter. Just sit in everything you do - don't let the mind arise with its reification and then the wants and fears and the whole lot (this is very much related to deep equanimity). Just this and this and this...

It's obviously not an easy practice at all. I am not sure if this is what Kierney had in mind, or rather something else. Some teachers have spoken of the space between two thoughts (eg Krishnamurti), and my (Korean Zen) teacher had asked me to watch the space between the breaths early on in my practice too. But her lineage is not big on detailed instructions - they believe in the practitioner finding out for themselves, I guess - how else can we find the openness of the mind that does not yet know?

My understanding is that in Vipassana tradition, the focus is important to take the meditation deeper and not slacken off. While shikantaza is done when the meditator has sufficient momentum from the deep glimpse of emptiness/anatta and it is more about cultivating this radiant emptiness, dissolving all conditioning and extending the unconditioned into every aspect of the practitioner's life. It is controversial among some Rinzai teachers because enlightenment is understood by them to be sudden and not requiring cultivation. But this is a long saga of little interest to most here, I am sure.

So when a Soto practitioner "just sits" I imagine they get the posture right and sit unencumbered by agendas. Or (more realistically) gradually through the practice and exposure to the teachings, they let go of agendas and sit (and breathe) more and more while doing less and less of everything else (while sitting). Likewise with everything other activity. Just this, this, this.

The danger is perhaps that the Vipassana practitioner stays too focused on the object until the mind manufactures objects to keep the practitioner occupied. And that the shikantaza practitioner sinks into a stupor-like objectless state and gets stuck there. Leaves, branches, trees and the whole forest - it's all essential and we should not lose sight of any part of it in favour of another.

Or so it seems to me.
_/|\_
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:44 pm

Thanks for your comments, Dan,
Dan74 wrote:My understanding is that in Vipassana tradition, the focus is important to take the meditation deeper and not slacken off. While shikantaza is done when the meditator has sufficient momentum from the deep glimpse of emptiness/anatta and it is more about cultivating this radiant emptiness, dissolving all conditioning and extending the unconditioned into every aspect of the practitioner's life.

In relation to what Patrick Keaney's was talking about the "momentum" would be sufficient mindfulness and concentration, but perhaps a bit of insight is also necessary as well...
In the Mahasi approach, there is a "primary object" (abdomen or feet) and one pays attention to "secondary objects" as they arise. After several days on retreat, when mindfulness and concentration have built up sufficiently, it can be possible to just "lock on" to anything that arises, without having to make decisions about what to pay attention to. And as I understand it, that's the aim of such a practice, to be aware of everything that arises, rather than to have to choose what to focus on.

Dan74 wrote:The danger is perhaps that the Vipassana practitioner stays too focused on the object until the mind manufactures objects to keep the practitioner occupied.

I'm sure that's what happened to me for a few months... :tongue: It's easy to imagine the abdomen rising and falling...
Dan74 wrote:And that the shikantaza practitioner sinks into a stupor-like objectless state and gets stuck there. Leaves, branches, trees and the whole forest - it's all essential and we should not lose sight of any part of it in favour of another.

That can happen to anyone, and can be easily mistaken for good samadhi...

:anjali:
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby chang zhao » Sun Aug 04, 2013 3:18 pm

Dan74 wrote:As for jhanas vs shikantaza, I think there is a lot of evidence to show that shikantaza is an advanced practice and the practitioner would have reached a level of maturity before practicing silent illumination.

The practice of silent illumination as Master Sheng Yen explained (in stages) starts from allowing the full body to relax well. And then goes some breath contemplation.
Sheng Yen Shifu didn't encourage to engage in the breath meditation too much, because it could guide to losing the balance of calmness and alertness (shifting to more calmness but less clarity). But of course it's up to the practitioner to regulate his practice, as he feels his needs and his state.
Next stages involve the widening and integrating of all our perceptions in one mass. If you are not very successful with the current stage, you return to previous stages. So this method as a whole does not require much preparations, it is taught to novices too. Then they progress gradually.
(I don't mean that the practitioner doesn't need to learn principles, like the explanations on the nature of mind).

Dan74 wrote:What is silent illumination? It's when formations have already been silenced to a great extent, so that awareness is spacious and luminous and as Honzhi taught formations and old habits can be seen and swept away.

http://chancenter.org/cmc/1995/02/01/sh ... umination/
Sheng Yen says:
While you maintain the sitting posture, you should also try to establish the “silent” state of the mind. Eventually you reach a point where the mind does not move and yet is very clear.
...
When we meditate or work, we may fall into a worldly samadhi state and feel that time passes very quickly. In an ordinary state we may feel that time passes quickly or slowly. However, in the mind of wisdom there is no such thing as slow or hurried time. If we can say there is thought in the mind of wisdom, it is an endless thought which never changes. This unchanging thought is no longer thought as we usually understand it. It is the unmoving mind of wisdom.

With this kind of concentration, the mind is unified and there is no hurried time, no slow. The difference between the previous thought and the next one goes away. The mind becomes unmoved.
See also about the stages of Chan practice:
http://chancenter.org/cmc/2011/10/13/what-is-chan-1/

johnny wrote:i don't know what he meant, but i think he left many statements like that open and he often wrote in vague and ethereal speech.

Most easily to say is that Dogen meant by "just sitting" not to engage in expectations or efforts to do something with your mind. They would lead away from the pure and natural quality of awareness.
This way you gradually diminish all the phenomena that come to interrupt your meditation. You attentively and calmly let them go, and the inner struggles and concerns come to the rest. Until, more and more, "just sitting" becomes easy and comfortable, without hurries and worries.
This way the nature of mind could reveal itself more and more easily. With this revelation, we really enter the reality. (Earlier "I myself" was a bit "separate" from the reality).

johnny wrote:in the pali canon it says that one may go into the forth jhana and then up too the fourth of the formless realms and develop insight into reality
...
jhana is required according too the buddha. it is indispensable. so if you decide not too develop the jhanas, you may be missing out, at least according too theravada.

According to Yuganaddha Sutta etc., the arahantship comes as the unity of tranquility and insight. It must be true for Zen methods too.

johnny wrote:that's why it matters which one you practice. many zen masters will say you don't need jhana, most theravada say you do.
...
i'm positive it is a "thing" in zen that jhana is not often taught or recommended.
...
most part. other traditions may practice it by default, but they generally don't use the theravada systematized explanation and progression.

Yes. However in the "Hoofprint of the Ox"
http://www.amazon.com/Hoofprint-Ox-Prin ... 0195152484
Sheng Yen discusses early Buddhism methods (during several chapters), and only then goes to Chan methods.
I believe there are some explanations about jhana, samadhi, "Mahayana samadhi" and non-attachment to samadhi.
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby Anagarika » Sun Aug 04, 2013 8:40 pm

It's been my experience from practice in Zen sanghas years ago that what is taught as sitting meditation, shikantaza, zazen, 'silent illumination' bears little resemblance to the jhanas that the Buddha taught. I spent some time sitting with a Soto sangha in more recent years as I felt the need to be a part of a large sangha, but I could not endure what really amounted to hours of sitting, very limited instruction to beginning meditators, overemphasis on posture, and a wholesale rejection of jhana and dismissal of vipassana elements. The Roshi even stated once that doing insight meditation "aggravated' him. Others' mileage may vary, but I do feel that there are many, many people in Zen spending countless hours on a zafu with their eyes focused on a spot on the wall, and missing what the Buddha intended by his instructions: "Do jhana."
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby chang zhao » Mon Aug 05, 2013 12:31 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:The Roshi even stated once that doing insight meditation "aggravated' him.

People are really different... I love insight - as exploration... But I had some hard time trying to practise tranquility. Especially at the beginning, when it seemed like hundreds of ants crawled over my body... :)
Might the cause with the Roshi be that efforts to concentrate on insight just made it harder? And for some people that can work more, than for the others?
Like Krishnamurti said:
Attention needs not be practised at all!
If you practise it you already become inattentive...
Are you following all this?..
So when you are attentive and your mind wanders off, which indicates that it is inattentive, let it wander off and know that it is attent-inattentive, and the very awareness of that inattention is attention...
Don't battle with inattention. Don't say "I must be attentive", which entails this. Know that you are inattentive.
Be aware choicelessly that you are inattentive. What of it?..
But the moment in this inattention there is action - be aware of that action.
etc.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYBUzrLyti4
By the way, dear Theravada brothers and sisters, what would you recommend to read if I want to try to develop jhanas? What text is the most clear, deep and easy practiceable at home?
I have good conditions now: relatives are in travel, I'm on vacations, my town is quiet and some forest is nearby.
Thanks. _/|\_
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby Alex123 » Mon Aug 05, 2013 1:41 am

chang zhao wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:The Roshi even stated once that doing insight meditation "aggravated' him.

People are really different... I love insight - as exploration... But I had some hard time trying to practise tranquility. Especially at the beginning, when it seemed like hundreds of ants crawled over my body... :)
Might the cause with the Roshi be that efforts to concentrate on insight just made it harder? And for some people that can work more, than for the others?


It seems to me that, strictly speaking, insight and tranquillity are effects. One can't practice them. One can't practice insight, one either has it or not.
Insight is what happens as an effect of certain causes like meditation, silent observation, and circumspect studying of experience.

As for Jhana books:
Ajahn Brahm's books such as "Mindfulness bliss & beyond", "simply this moment" and after these two books "the art of disappearing" (or something like that) are interesting.

http://wat-lao.org/PDFs/Bibliothek/Ajah ... Moment.pdf

http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/upl ... -Janas.pdf
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: jhana vs silent illumination or other zen methods

Postby Anagarika » Mon Aug 05, 2013 2:55 am

As for Jhana books:
Ajahn Brahm's books such as "Mindfulness bliss & beyond", "simply this moment" and after these two books "the art of disappearing" (or something like that) are interesting.

http://wat-lao.org/PDFs/Bibliothek/Ajah ... Moment.pdf

http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/upl ... -Janas.pdf


Alex, thanks so much for these links, above. I feel like an old dog given two large bones to chew on for a few weeks. :twothumbsup: I know that some have been slightly critical of Ajahn Brahm's approach to Jhana, but with my quick look at the first pages of both of these e-books, his scholarship looks very strong. I kinda see him as the Steven Colbert of Theravada...once you get past the humor, there's some incredible teaching going on. I'm a fan and glad to have these books on my laptop to carry with me and to read and reread. Very cool of you to take the time to share these.

Metta

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