Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby marc108 » Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:27 pm

reflection wrote:I did listen to Brahmavamso, but not to Sujato. I know he is a good scholar, so do you happen to know any talk where he goes into suttas with respect to the topic a bit?


Bhante Sujato is an amazing scholar. He really opened my eyes to a lot of things re: early Buddhism.

These are some of his talks on Jhana that are worth listening to:

1st is the Sutta Class:
http://santifm.org/santi/download/Class ... _Jhana.mp3

2nd are just talks on Jhana:
http://santifm.org/santi/download/Dhamm ... tJhana.mp3
http://santifm.org/santi/download/Dhamm ... _Jhana.mp3


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjBzABP8tCg

also some commentary by Ajahn Brahm:
on Anapansati:
http://media.bswa.org/sutta_study/Brahm ... _10_02.mp3
on the Anapanasati Sutta:
http://media.bswa.org/sutta_study/Brahm ... _03_14.mp3

Why are you capitalizing jhana? It's not, AFIK, a proper noun. It implies reification.
Brahm and Sujato are way off here. Very narrow interpretation; very typical of Brahm's personality cult, class clown driven hermeneutics (they're good teachers in general, though). Besides, all this hinges on the fuzzy notions of "mind" and "physicallity".... Very silly to nit-pick about absorption. Jhana is easy; learning it's lesson is the hard part.


Hey Daniel :) I capitalize Jhana because its a factor of the Noble 8Fold Path. I tend towards not adhering to completely proper rules of writing on forums and informal emails... it's more to emphasis the respect in my own mind.

Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato both make very coherent, convincing & Sutta based arguments for the disembodied type Jhana. I have heard convincing arguments for both 'types' of Jhana in the Suttas... I think peoples interpretations generally boils down to experience.

If you find stable Jhana easy then you are a rockstar and should ordain ASAP! :jumping:
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:57 pm

danieLion, thanks for sharing your opinion.

marc108, thanks for the links!
I look forward to listening to them and hope they can benefit many who are interested in where this thread is coming from. If I find some sutta quotes in there that I find particularly helpful, I'll repost them here so they can serve for the benefit of all.
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby marc108 » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:11 pm

reflection wrote:danieLion, thanks for sharing your opinion.

marc108, thanks for the links!
I look forward to listening to them and hope they can benefit many who are interested in where this thread is coming from. If I find some sutta quotes in there that I find particularly helpful, I'll repost them here so they can serve for the benefit of all.



Do you practice in this way?
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:46 pm

I do, but I never really based my faith in that approach on the suttas as much as I did on experiences and what I felt was right. But recently I saw a general opinion arise that mental jhana is only found in the Vishudimagga, which I think is not true, and at least very unhelpful for it may put confusion in those who have similar feelings or experiences. So that's why I wanted to make a thread with suttas supporting mental jhana, although admittedly I'm not the best person to do so. I hope the links you provided can help me a bit.

Also I hope it may help in changing this label "vishudimagga jhana" into something else which is a bit more productive, so I suggest "mental jhana".
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby marc108 » Mon Aug 20, 2012 10:23 pm

reflection wrote: But recently I saw a general opinion arise that mental jhana is only found in the Vishudimagga, which I think is not true, and at least very unhelpful for it may put confusion in those who have similar feelings or experiences. So that's why I wanted to make a thread with suttas supporting mental jhana, although admittedly I'm not the best person to do so. I hope the links you provided can help me a bit.

Also I hope it may help in changing this label "vishudimagga jhana" into something else which is a bit more productive, so I suggest "mental jhana".



right, i've noticed that too. i used to believe the same as well until listening to some of Bhante Sujatos & Leigh Brasingtons commentary and exploring the Suttas a bit myself. it seems to me the Suttas talks about both. the thread was a good idea, thanks :)

are you practicing under any specific tradition?

here are some other resources you may fine useful:
http://www.leighb.com/jhanas.htm (specifically the Forest Refuge writing)

Samadhi: Exploring the Range of Teachings and Controversies on Concentration & Jhana Talk Series- Richard Shankman
http://www.audiodharma.org/series/135/talk/1854/

The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation Book - Richard Shankman
http://www.amazon.com/The-Experience-Sa ... an+samadhi

the end of this book has commentary/opinions from basically all the well known Lay and Ordained Meditation Teachers, which is really neat to read.

and of course 2 meditation practice manuals I think all meditators should have on hand (free PDF's):
Mindfulness Bliss & Beyond - Ajahn Brahm
http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books11/Ajah ... ers1-5.pdf
The Jhanas - Ajahn Brahm
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/thejhanas.pdf
alternately:
http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books ... Jhanas.htm
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:38 am

marc108 wrote:I capitalize Jhana because its a factor of the Noble 8Fold Path. I tend towards not adhering to completely proper rules of writing on forums and informal emails... it's more to emphasis the respect in my own mind.

Jhāna is the "dictionary" and therefore nominal form. This implies you are reifying jhāna. But now I suspect you're not even aware of it!
Thanissaro wrote:There are many passages in the Canon where the Buddha — after explaining the path of practice, or talking about the urgency of following the path — sends the monks back to meditate. "Look," he says. "Over there are roots of trees, over there are empty dwellings. Meditate. Don't regret later that you didn't meditate, that you didn't practice." The word he uses for going to meditate is "to go do jhana" — jhayati is the verb in Pali. link


marc108 wrote:Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato both make very coherent, convincing & Sutta based arguments for the disembodied type Jhana....
I'm quite familiar. What I meant was I've evaluated and dismissed their arguments as erroneous.

marc108 wrote:If you find stable Jhana easy then you are a rockstar and should ordain ASAP! :jumping:

Jhana's easy for everyone--with a little sammā-vāyāma.
It does not follow that being successful at jhāna means one should ordain.
Did you say all this just to avoid my "physicality," "mind" comment?
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby marc108 » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:40 am

danieLion wrote:It does not follow that being successful at jhāna means one should ordain.


not successful, easy. if you find it easy you should!

danieLion wrote:For your edification:


nice, thanks for those. i enjoy Nana's posting
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Tue Aug 21, 2012 11:22 am

DanieLion thanks for sharing. I know those debates exist. If you wish to add anything to those debates, may I ask you to do it in the respective thread? Thanks!

marc, I'm not practicing in a specific tradition. Thanks for the links.

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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:33 pm

I have some new material.

First, I'll let everybody read the suttas for themselves so one can get their own interpretation. Than I'll post my understanding of them to show why I posted those specific three together.

"And what is the diversity in sensuality? Sensuality with regard to forms is one thing, sensuality with regard to sounds is another, sensuality with regard to aromas is another, sensuality with regard to flavors is another, sensuality with regard to tactile sensations is another. This is called the diversity in sensuality.

"And what is the cause by which sensuality comes into play? Contact is the cause by which sensuality comes into play.
AN 6.63 - http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .html#fn-1


"'The six classes of contact should be known.' Thus was it said. In reference to what was it said? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises consciousness at the eye. The meeting of the three is contact. Dependent on the ear & sounds .. Dependent on the nose & aromas ... . Dependent on the tongue & flavors ... Dependent on the body & tactile sensations there arises consciousness at the body. ...
MN 148 - http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


The Blessed One said: "Monks, sensuality is inconstant, hollow, vain, deceptive. It is illusory, the babble of fools. Sensuality here & now; sensuality in lives to come; sensual perceptions here & now; sensual perceptions in lives to come: both are Mara's realm, Mara's domain, Mara's bait, Mara's range. They lead to these evil, unskillful mental states: greed, ill will, & contentiousness. They arise for the obstruction of a disciple of the noble ones here in training.

"In that case, the disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'Sensuality here & now; sensuality in lives to come; sensual perceptions here & now; sensual perceptions in lives to come: both are Mara's realm, Mara's domain, Mara's bait, Mara's range. They lead to these evil, unskillful mental states: greed, ill will, & contentiousness. They arise for the obstruction of a disciple of the noble ones here in training. What if I — overpowering the world [of the five senses] and having determined my mind — were to dwell with an awareness that was abundant & enlarged? Having done so, these evil, unskillful mental states — greed, ill will, & contentiousness — would not come into being. With their abandoning, my mind would become unlimited, immeasurable, & well developed.' Practicing & frequently abiding in this way, his mind acquires confidence in that dimension. There being full confidence, he either attains the imperturbable[1] now or else is committed to discernment. With the break-up of the body, after death, it's possible that this leading-on consciousness of his will go to the imperturbable. This is declared to be the first practice conducive to the imperturbable.
MN 106 - http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


Now there are two ways one can interpret sensuality (kama):
1. 5 senses (activity)
2. 5 sense (activity) desire
(See critical pali dictionary and elsewhere)

I'll try to show why I think kama can't be interpreted as 5 sense desire (which would be kamachando), and why I go with option number 1, kama = 5 senses activity. (in the quoted occasions at the very least)

AN 6.63 says kama comes from contact. Now MN 148, the second quote, shows contact is just an object meeting a sense, it has no preference and it has no quality to it (that would be feeling). So kama, as it results from contact, is a general term for the five sense activity. If kama were sense desires, the Buddha would have said they arise from feelings.

But we can also see this directly in the third quote, MN 106. Here kama is not sensual desire, because that is already a form of greed while the sutta says it leads to greed. So to take kama as sense desire would mean desire leads to desire, which is true in a way, but probably the Buddha didn't intent to be that vague. Also, what would 'perception of kama' mean if kama was sensual desire? I can imagine how one could find a way to interpret this, but at least it would not be as directly understandable as just perception of 5 sense activity.

So the Buddha "overpowering the world [of the five senses] ", went into a state from which "those unskillful mental states would not come into being", that means a state where there was no kama, no sensuality, no five senses activity. And the standard prescription for the first jhana 'secluded from kama' can be taken to mean literally away from the activity of the 5 senses.

I hope I can give people some understanding of this perspective.

Again, I'm not a pali scholar and am just starting to learn the language. I mainly based the above on my experiences and the available translations of the sutta. If I made some serious errors in translation feel free to correct me, but I think I'm at least quite accurate here for I only did little translation myself. Again I would prefer to keep matters of interpretation (rather than translation) outside of this thread, because we already have many of these threads. So feel free to revive the jhana debate on this issue. But if you can feel where I'm coming from and think you add to this thread in a new and positive way, please go ahead here.


With metta,
Reflection
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby daverupa » Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:02 pm

I don't understand why it is being taken as referring to five senses only, and not six. Can you elaborate? I understand that the five cords are five in number, of course, but kamachanda doesn't seem limited to just those five...
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:13 pm

Thanks for the question daverupa.

I can approach that from different directions, depending on why you don't understand it. Perhaps you could explain where you don't understand.

Jhana aside, another the reason the Buddha made this distinction between the mind and the other senses, is that craving for bodily sense activities has to be be let go before craving for mind activities can be let go. That's because the 5 senses are coarser than the 6th sense, which also is the master of the others, always follows the others.

In other words, non-returning comes before arahantship. The craving for mind sense is included in the fetters specific to the arahant. If it were not, but were part of kamacchando, there would be no reason for a non-returner to have another life in another realm, because there is nothing else to cling to but the 6 senses.

Hope this helps. If it's not clear yet, feel free to illustrate where you don't understand.

With metta,
Reflection
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby daverupa » Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:34 pm

Well, the entry for kama in the PED does not say that only five of the six senses are meant. Sense desire can operate across all six senses, based on contact, feeling, and craving, so to limit this word to encompass only five of the six senses seems artificial. So, I was hoping to see your reasoning with respect to a five-sense understanding of this term.

The five cords of sensual pleasure (kamaguna) seem to set the mentality sphere aside, so is there some other sort of desire and craving which operates in that sphere? For example, kamacchanda is a mental phenomenon, as I understand it, and there is the case of kam'asava, a mental influx. So while kamaguna is the five physical senses, kama itself as a term doesn't appear to me to be limited to 5/6.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:07 pm

Craving in the most general use of the word applies to all 6 senses, that's sure. And indeed there is another term for all those together, the Buddha used the word tanha for that. When sense activity (kama) or sense desire (kamachanda/kamatanha), is mentioned, it inexplicitly refers to just 5 senses. That's a bit confusing, I can agree, but that's a problem in the translations.
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:53 pm

marc108 wrote:
danieLion wrote:It does not follow that being successful at jhāna means one should ordain.


not successful, easy. if you find it easy you should!


As Kant noted, "ought implies can."

Jhāna's easy BECAUSE we're all capable of succeeding at it.

The jhāna factors are part of ordinary human psychology. That's why it's easy to SUCCSEFULLY manipulate the factors into discrete jhānas (it also relates to the fact that there are a plurality of methods by which one can be successful at jhāna; the Brahm-Sujato "method" is not one of them).

BUT: I also said there's something HARD ABOUT jhāna. Do you recall that?
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:57 pm

@ reflection, Daverupa,
When the Buddha distinguished "mind" from other things (e.g., the other five senses) do you interpret this to mean he thought "mind" and other things (e.g., the body) are independent?
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 21, 2012 11:11 pm

reflection wrote:So rather than a debate, I would like to use this thread as a sort of sutta reference for those who think or experience concentration can go into states where there is no contact with the 5 senses....

You're conflating this with the Brahm-Sujato view on jhāna. For centuries humans have practised a variety of ways of getting into mental states where there is no awareness of contact with the five senses. The "immersed in the body 'school'" does not contend with that fact. It's contention is with the methodological uniformism of the Brahm-Sujato view.
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 21, 2012 11:20 pm

reflection wrote: Again I would prefer to keep matters of interpretation (rather than translation) outside of this thread, because we already have many of these threads. So feel free to revive the jhana debate on this issue. But if you can feel where I'm coming from and think you add to this thread in a new and positive way, please go ahead here.


With metta,
Reflection

The distinction between interpretation and translation is not very pragmatic. Your Pāli studies should help you see that soon enough though.

My intention is not to debate. My intention is to participate in an open exchange (as opposed to a guided exchange--save where we are guided by the DW forum rules we agreed to when we joined).
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby reflection » Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:17 am

Dear danieLion,

You're right about the distinction between translation and interpretation, the line is thin and I should have been more clear or even said nothing at all about it. Thank you for pointing out. I had a certain intention behind what I said, but it didn't come out right. I apologize.

To get to your other point adressed to me, yes, this is a forum so it's natural there is some exchange. I just want to try and prevent a repetition of moves in those threads which already exist, where the exchange is sometimes all but creating a sense of harmony. Here I wanted a thread not to convince or argue, but a place to create some understanding of the interpretation of others and why it is incorrect calling it a "vishudimagga" interpretation. So the basis is different than other threads already existing. It's a bit of a balance I tried to create, the words to achieve this are hard to find and perhaps I'm desiring the impossible, but I hope you can understand the intentions behind it. But I'm happy so far, I think this thread has gone quite well, more considerable than I expected to be honest. I think I have explained this enough now and I hope it this thread may stay a friendly place and prove useful in creating harmony.

But let's get back to the topic at hand. To answer your question:
When the Buddha distinguished "mind" from other things (e.g., the other five senses) do you interpret this to mean he thought "mind" and other things (e.g., the body) are independent?

I don't. I think it is quite clear they are interconnected.

With metta,
Reflection
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Re: Purely mental absorption (jhana) in the suttas

Postby Sylvester » Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:28 am

reflection wrote:Now there are two ways one can interpret sensuality (kama):
1. 5 senses (activity)
2. 5 sense (activity) desire
(See critical pali dictionary and elsewhere)



Hi reflection

Actually, the CPD entry on kāma (singular) and kāmā (plural) makes the following points about their meanings in the different strata of the Canon.

In the Suttas and Vinaya, kāma (singular) refers to wish, desire, pleasure, while kāmā (plural) refers to the 5 sense objects of rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba. CPD makes the contrast to the sutta definition of kāmaguṇa. You can find this distinction between kāmā and kāmaguṇa set out in several suttas (sorry, too lazy to pull them out from the old threads).

It is only in the Abhidhamma, starting with the Vibhanga, that the meaning of kāmā (plural) evolves into the set of "chando ~o rāgo ~o chanda-
rāgo ~o saṅkappo ~o saṅkapparāgo ~o
". This unfortunate turn of course changed the meaning of the 1st Jhana's kāmā seclusion pericope, leaving poor Ven Buddhaghosa struggling to explain away the difference in the "eva" emphatic between the 2 seclusion pericopes.

The real issue to be posed to Ven T is why he chooses the singular noun "sensuality" to obscure the very clear Pali and Middle-Indic meaning conveyed by the plural kāmā. A lot of the translations floating out there, whether knowingly or unknowingly, use the Abhidhamma definition of kāmā, including Ven Nanamoli in his original translation of the MN. BB makes a global change of that to "sensual pleasures" in the MLDB, following a stricter philological approach.
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