Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Sati1 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 5:43 pm

Hello,

I was wondering why it is that the pleasure from jhanas, especially rapture and tranquility, is considered superior to the sensual pleasures. One quote I think of is "Here, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a monk enters and dwells in the first jhana" (AN 4:196), or in MN 13:32, where it is suggested that sensual pleasures but not jhanic pleasures cause affliction. But can jhanas not also result in craving and therefore cause suffering? I ask because I've been experiencing rapture during meditation for a few months now and am starting to wonder whether the loss of interest in sensual pleasures that has come with this experience is really worthwhile. I understand that rapture is more enjoyable than a typical sensual pleasure, but that doesn't in my opinion make it superior to the sensual pleasure. Or is the only reason jhanas are considered superior to sensual pleasures that they provide additional benefits such as enhanced concentration, insight, etc?

Many thanks.
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Mkoll » Mon Dec 30, 2013 6:04 pm

Dear Satti1,

Please note that I have not attained jhana so I am not speaking from personal experience.

From my understanding of reading the words of those who say they've attained jhana (eg Ajahn Brahm and Shaila Catherine), the experience is so profoundly blissful that it is unmistakably superior to sensual pleasure and more enjoyable.

But can jhanas not also result in craving and therefore cause suffering?

I'm guessing that one could become attached to the bliss and calm of jhana and therefore not devote time and effort into practicing insight. In this way, they could be a hindrance.

But the jhana state itself suppresses the hindrances ("secluded from unwholesome states") so when there is the experience of jhana, there is only the creating of wholesome kamma which is really good.

After describing the four jhanas to Udāyin, the Buddha says:
"This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared.
-MN 66.21, trans. Ven. Bodhi

If I were experiencing rapture in meditation, I would try to pursue and develop it without clinging!

:anjali:
Peace,
James
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Babadhari » Mon Dec 30, 2013 6:15 pm

in relation to sensual pleasures:

The Blessed One has said that sensual pleasures are of little satisfaction, much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks. The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a chain of bones: of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks. The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a lump of flesh... a grass torch... a pit of glowing embers... a dream... borrowed goods... the fruits of a tree... a butcher's ax and chopping block... swords and spears... a snake's head: of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks."

MN 22

with reference to the Jhanas

"'I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.' Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.

(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)

"'I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.' Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] 'Infinite space,' enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'

AN 9.36

sensual desires are a hindrance to the Path leading to more Dhukka (suffering)

:namaste:
Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion.
Aflame, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs ......

Seeing thus, the disciple of the Noble One grows disenchanted. SN 35.28
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Sati1 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 6:47 pm

Hi James and Kitztack,

Thank you very much for your responses (this is my first post on Dhammawheel, and it's great to learn how active this forum is! :smile: ).

The bliss from jhanas does seem far more intense than sensual pleasures, and perhaps it is the benefit of hindrance supression and refinement of concentration for insight what makes the jhanas so beneficial. When I started meditating, I didn't expect to lose interest in sensual pleasures, but now that is definitely happening, and it feels a bit strange and sometimes "abnormal". Today, for example, a few colleagues from work were eagerly discussing how to party and celebrate New Year's eve. My wife and I decided not to do anything special that day, and whereas before that I would have felt uncomfortable with "being different", now this feels just fine. It just seems less "necessary" to have fun with other stuff and much more exciting to stay at home, meditate and read. Given that this experience is unusual in our society, I began to wonder if it is healthy or not.

Metta.
:namaste:
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby santa100 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 6:50 pm

Satti1 wrote: But can jhanas not also result in craving and therefore cause suffering?

Sensual pleasures are like salt water. The more a person drinks, the more thirsty s/he will feel. Jhanas are like fresh water. As one continues to practice and makes progress on higher levels of jhanas, the initial rapture and pleasure will naturally fall away.
"And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.'" ~~ http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ~~
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Mkoll » Mon Dec 30, 2013 7:33 pm

Satti1 wrote:Today, for example, a few colleagues from work were eagerly discussing how to party and celebrate New Year's eve. My wife and I decided not to do anything special that day, and whereas before that I would have felt uncomfortable with "being different", now this feels just fine. It just seems less "necessary" to have fun with other stuff and much more exciting to stay at home, meditate and read. Given that this experience is unusual in our society, I began to wonder if it is healthy or not.


Dear Satti1,

Healthy or unhealthy in what sense?

:anjali:
Peace,
James
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby manas » Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:18 pm

Satti1 wrote:The bliss from jhanas does seem far more intense than sensual pleasures, and perhaps it is the benefit of hindrance supression and refinement of concentration for insight what makes the jhanas so beneficial. When I started meditating, I didn't expect to lose interest in sensual pleasures, but now that is definitely happening, and it feels a bit strange and sometimes "abnormal". Today, for example, a few colleagues from work were eagerly discussing how to party and celebrate New Year's eve. My wife and I decided not to do anything special that day, and whereas before that I would have felt uncomfortable with "being different", now this feels just fine. It just seems less "necessary" to have fun with other stuff and much more exciting to stay at home, meditate and read. Given that this experience is unusual in our society, I began to wonder if it is healthy or not.

Metta.
:namaste:
Hi satti,

there's nothing 'healthy' about going out and getting drunk on New Years' though, is there? Which is how lots of folks will be celebrating it.

So long as you can still be a loving husband to your wife (I mean in the emotional, supportive sense), then if you find that sensual desires have lost their appeal, I would say just enjoy the peace. Don't worry about what 'the rest of society' would think. Maybe start hanging out with more fellow Buddhists instead, and you will not feel so different. :)

kind regards,
manas.
:anjali:
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Sati1 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:41 pm

Dear Santa100,

the analogy you provide is wonderful. I wasn't aware that sensual pleasures and jhanas differ in how the body "gets addicted" to them.

Dear James and Manas,

It took me a while to figure out why I used the expression "healthy vs unhealthy" when referring to how to spend New Year's Eve. I guess I was just returning to the good old "partying is good, solitude is bad" social mantra. Of course, these norms are just views (ditthi) and I might just have expressed how I still cling to that view (ditthupadana). So thanks to the two of you for pointing this out. The reality is that neither is fundamentally good or bad, but what matters is the specifics of what will actually be done and where the mind will be at. In this case, staying at home with my wife will be fine and beneficial to everybody involved.

It's amazing to learn how so many "social rules" are nothing but meaningless fabricates...

Thanks again for your insights.
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
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Postby Weakfocus » Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:43 pm

I am also not speaking from personal experience, since I have not attained any of the Jhana(s).

Satti1 wrote:But can jhanas not also result in craving and therefore cause suffering?

The first Jhana is nothing but perfect one pointed awareness. So if there is any craving for Jhana the meditator will fall out of Jhana and won't attain it again until he/she notices the tendency for craving and overcomes it. This is a problem that is auto-correcting.

Satti1 wrote:Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

And the reason Jhanas are considered superior to sensual pleasures is that they are not origin from craving towards impermanent fabrications. There can be no craving when you are in Jhana, for any craving (or aversion) would break the eqaunimous concenteration. Developing towards first Jhana (one-pointed awareness) makes it easier to observe the mind-matter phenomenon and its true nature (annica aka impermanence). Thus developing strong concenteration or Jhana actually leads one towards final liberation, rather than building fresh attachments as is the case with worldly pleasures.

I find it best to not think of jhana as some special attainment, but rather as a 'certificate' that you have developed a certain level of concenteration. And this strong concenteration can only help later in Vipassana.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Sekha » Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:59 pm

There is no answer to this question. It has to be experienced.
Where knowledge ends, religion begins. - B. Disraeli

http://www.buddha-vacana.org
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Re:

Postby manas » Mon Dec 30, 2013 9:10 pm

Weakfocus wrote:And the reason Jhanas are considered superior to sensual pleasures is that they are not origin from craving towards impermanent fabrications. There can be no craving when you are in Jhana, for any craving (or aversion) would break the unanimous concentration. Developing towards first Jhana (one-pointed awareness) makes it easier to observe the mind-matter phenomenon and its true nature (annica aka impermanence). Thus developing strong concentration or Jhana actually leads one towards final liberation, rather than building fresh attachments as is the case with worldly pleasures.


Hi WF,

I think you might want to take a look at the terms you are using. If by craving you refer to tanha, then there is definitely craving still present towards impermanent fabrications, both when aspiring for jhana, and while in it - unless one is an arahant. Because what phenomena are discernable in jhana, other than form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness - all of which are impermanent fabrications? And in jhana, there is delight and relishing of the various levels of pleasure. Which is not a bad thing, of course, so long as one doesn't remain stuck there too long, without gaining some insight into it. What is absent in jhana is sensual desire, along with the other mental hindrances, but tanha goes much deeper than that, as I understand it. Right up to the attainment of 'neither perception nor non-perception' tanha is still present, it's just much more subtle and refined, but it's still there...

(And as seems to be the fashion, I too had better disclose that my understanding of jhana is mostly from reading the suttas, I'm not claiming direct experience.)

kind regards,
manas.
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Re: Re:

Postby Weakfocus » Mon Dec 30, 2013 10:14 pm

manas,

You are correct. I did use some terms loosely.

Frankly I am so distant from attaining any Jhana that the issue of building any cravings towards it is not even an issue. That is a bridge I will cross if I ever get there.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Mon Dec 30, 2013 10:29 pm

Satti1 wrote:Hi James and Kitztack,

Thank you very much for your responses (this is my first post on Dhammawheel, and it's great to learn how active this forum is! :smile: ).

The bliss from jhanas does seem far more intense than sensual pleasures, and perhaps it is the benefit of hindrance supression and refinement of concentration for insight what makes the jhanas so beneficial. When I started meditating, I didn't expect to lose interest in sensual pleasures, but now that is definitely happening, and it feels a bit strange and sometimes "abnormal". Today, for example, a few colleagues from work were eagerly discussing how to party and celebrate New Year's eve. My wife and I decided not to do anything special that day, and whereas before that I would have felt uncomfortable with "being different", now this feels just fine. It just seems less "necessary" to have fun with other stuff and much more exciting to stay at home, meditate and read. Given that this experience is unusual in our society, I began to wonder if it is healthy or not.

Metta.
:namaste:


This is realtive. In a buddhist society, that would be praised, instead of seen as weird. Live the life you want, not the one other people expet you to live. If you are happier meditating than partying, then choose to be happy.

Jhanic pleasure/bliss/peace is different in the sense that, not only it is wholesome, but it leads to the goal. The Buddha said it was a pleasure not to be feared.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby SarathW » Mon Dec 30, 2013 11:21 pm

Hi Satti
Please to see that you are a dedicated meditator.
I am not sure whether I ever experienced rapture. (because I do not have a teacher)
Could you explain how it feel like.
Anyone else in this forum can answer my question if you have personally experience it.
:)
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Re: Re:

Postby Mkoll » Mon Dec 30, 2013 11:46 pm

Weakfocus wrote:Frankly I am so distant from attaining any Jhana that the issue of building any cravings towards it is not even an issue. That is a bridge I will cross if I ever get there.


Dear Weakfocus,

I am with you on the first sentence here. But for the second, I am firm in thinking: "That is a bridge I will cross when I get there." Even if it's not in this lifetime, I am intent on liberation and jhana is a necessary step towards that goal.

:anjali:

SarathW wrote:Could you explain how it feel like.
Anyone else in this forum can answer my question if you have personally experience it.
:)


Dear SarathW,

I think I've experienced rapture once during meditation. It was for the duration of a single in-out breath during ānāpānasati. It was definitely a whole-body experience: my entire body felt full of joy and delight. It was gross in that it was overpoweringly obvious what was happening but it wasn't gross like sensual pleasures are; it was a much more refined pleasant feeling. And then it quickly faded with successive breaths. There is no comparison to any sensual pleasure I've ever experienced - this was on a whole other level.

Whatever it was, it definitely left an imprint on my mind given that I can still remember the event even though it lasted for all of a few seconds.

:anjali:
Peace,
James
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby seeker242 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 11:52 pm

Satti1 wrote: But can jhanas not also result in craving and therefore cause suffering?


AN 4.123 "Jhana Sutta: Mental Absorption" talks about this. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

"There is the case where an individual, withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He savors that, longs for that, finds satisfaction through that. Staying there — fixed on that, dwelling there often, not falling away from that — then when he dies he reappears in conjunction with the devas of Brahma's retinue. The devas of Brahma's retinue, monks, have a life-span of an eon. A run-of-the-mill person having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, goes to hell, to the animal womb, to the state of the hungry shades. But a disciple of the Blessed One, having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, is unbound right in that state of being. This, monks, is the difference, this the distinction, this the distinguishing factor, between an educated disciple of the noble ones and an uneducated run-of-the-mill person, when there is a destination, a reappearing.


And IMO of course an "educated disciple of the noble ones" uses mental absorption for the purpose of attaining insight for liberation. An "ordinary person" uses it to "bliss out" and that's it.

Jhanas pleasure is considered superior to sensual pleasures because it leads to a higher deva realms whereas worldly pleasure leads to a worldly (or perhaps lower?) realm.

Or, you could say that Jhana pleasure has the potential to lead to "higher state" or "closer to enlightenment" or whatever you want to call it. Whereas sensual pleasure has no potential for that at all.

But as you can see from the above, getting "closer to enlightenment" is not necessarily the case, if the person is an "uneducated run-of-the-mill person".
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Re:

Postby manas » Tue Dec 31, 2013 1:33 am

Mkoll wrote:I think I've experienced rapture once during meditation. It was for the duration of a single in-out breath during ānāpānasati. It was definitely a whole-body experience: my entire body felt full of joy and delight. It was gross in that it was overpoweringly obvious what was happening but it wasn't gross like sensual pleasures are; it was a much more refined pleasant feeling. And then it quickly faded with successive breaths. There is no comparison to any sensual pleasure I've ever experienced - this was on a whole other level.

Whatever it was, it definitely left an imprint on my mind given that I can still remember the event even though it lasted for all of a few seconds.
:anjali:


I think a few of us will be able to relate, in that one can have a glimpse or two, and then nothing for a while. But with training, we can learn it, is is indeed a skill that like all things, takes dedicated daily practice. Something I am working on, is to try to remain really watchful and aware of the causes for such things arising. In my experience thus far, piti-sukha will not arise if you are hankering after it (which, really, is the hindrance of restlessness, which must be abandoned), so it's best to put thoughts of it right out of your mind. Instead, put energy & focus into cultivating the causes for it's arising. So if it is described as being 'born of seclusion / withdrawal' then if we put energy into achieving that - the seclusion from the five hindrances, as I understand it - then the piti-sukha will arise as the natural result. Not that I've been able to maintain this for very long at all, though. Still early days.

kind regards,
manas.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby manas » Tue Dec 31, 2013 1:49 am

On a lighter note, there are a few other advantages to the pleasure of meditation, as compared with sensual pleasure. Here's just a few:

1. Sensual pleasures can be really expensive; jhanic pleasure is free of charge, all you need is a quiet place to sit, and lots of practice.

2. Sensual pleasures, if over-indulged in, can leave you feeling drained or sick. Jhana (so I've heard) leaves you feeling light and refreshed.

3. You won't get in trouble with the law, beaten up on a night out, or catch a strange disease, doing jhana. But you can doing sensual pleasures.

4...(add your own list here)

I'm sure there are more, but you get the idea. :D
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Re: Re:

Postby Modus.Ponens » Tue Dec 31, 2013 2:40 am

manas wrote:
I think a few of us will be able to relate, in that one can have a glimpse or two, and then nothing for a while. But with training, we can learn it, is is indeed a skill that like all things, takes dedicated daily practice. Something I am working on, is to try to remain really watchful and aware of the causes for such things arising. In my experience thus far, piti-sukha will not arise if you are hankering after it (which, really, is the hindrance of restlessness, which must be abandoned), so it's best to put thoughts of it right out of your mind. Instead, put energy & focus into cultivating the causes for it's arising. So if it is described as being 'born of seclusion / withdrawal' then if we put energy into achieving that - the seclusion from the five hindrances, as I understand it - then the piti-sukha will arise as the natural result. Not that I've been able to maintain this for very long at all, though. Still early days.

kind regards,
manas.


Hello

I'd like to see this clarified. I think that it's not the fact that we want to attain jhana that hinders us from attaining it. I think the problem is that, if you are focusing on the breath, with the anticipation in the back of your mind of geting to 1st jhana, you are not totaly focused on the breath. It is probably a form of restlessness, but I think this distinction, if true, must be made. It's not desiring jhana that prevents you from attaining it. It's a more a result of a defective focus, due to the antecipation of jhana, due to not being focused with your whole mind on the object.

This is a subtle difference, but it explains the (apparent) contradiction that to get to jhana you have to not desire it.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby suttametta » Tue Dec 31, 2013 2:42 am

Becauseity cause cuz.
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