Studying as a method of jhana?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Individual » Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 am

In this thread, Retrofuturist said of kasinas:

retrofuturist wrote:I think it's just a basis for jhana, presumably one that existed prior to the Buddha's dispensation. I don't know if there's any great significance or reasoning behind any of it.

So, does this mean that just about any object, if intently focused upon, can be an object for jhana? What exactly is meant by jhana?

As a specific example: I don't like studying for biology because it's boring, there are many more entertaining things I could be doing, and I usually put off studying to the very end, to the point that I have to cram large amounts of information into my mind in a relatively short period of time. Obviously, there are limits -- you can't memorize a biology text in five minutes. But during a cram session, I will spend several hours straight of studying.

Tomorrow is such an example, where I intend to spend nearly the entire day -- from the time I wake up until I go to sleep -- learning all of the material for my biology final exam.

Anyway, back to the point: In case it isn't already clear, this is an activity I am averse to. I would say in fact that I "hate" it, although in a casual sense, not the same sense that I "hate" thieves, suffering, etc.. But I really strongly dislike it.

Well, when I study like this for several hours, when I am finished, I feel strange. I feel impersonal, de-individualized, powerful, in control of my life, free, a sense of clarity and rationality, unemotional, detached (from my problems, my suffering, my self and the world), like a robot but not in the sense that a person might feel anxious about or fantasize about. So, seeing the various phenomenon around me as merely floating around without personal relevance, I have a clearer, better perspective on the way things actually are and a stronger focus on the present experiences without regard to fantasies about the past or future. It is a feeling which is as if it were the polar opposite of the animalistic irrationality that comes from relishing in pleasure. The tension in my chest and my head is gone, replaced with a feeling of light-weightedness and lifelessness, as if these eyes are the eyes of a porcelain doll, seeing nothing at all because they are made of glass and there is nothing behind them, or rather what's behind them goes much further than this mind and body alone.

It is this occasional feeling from time to time that supports my faith in the total elimination of suffering (for example, how Thich Quang Duc showed no sign of suffering -- much more than overcoming the suffering of immolation, but the mental suffering that's even more difficult to overcome).

Tomorrow, because I am going to study for the entire day (and I certainly will study for the entire day, because today I had a biology exam I didn't prepare for, and regretting that mistake, I feel compelled to not repeat that mistake again), I am certain I will feel this way again.

Is this intense studying a means of jhana?

Of course, during these studying sessions, I also consume large amounts of caffeine, so perhaps I'm merely intoxicated by that.
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby appicchato » Wed Aug 12, 2009 3:01 am

Individual wrote:What exactly is meant by jhana?

(From the 'Buddhist Dictionary' by Nyanatiloka)


jhāna

'absorption' (meditation) refers chiefly to the four meditative absorptions of the fine-material sphere (rūpa-jjhāna or rūpāvacara-jjhāna; s. avacara).

They are achieved through the attainment of full (or attainment -, or ecstatic) concentration (appanā, s. samādhi), during which there is a complete, though temporary, suspension of fivefold sense-activity and of the 5 hindrances (s. nīvarana).

The state of consciousness, however, is one of full alertness and lucidity. This high degree of concentration is generally developed by the practice of one of the 40 subjects of tranquility meditation (samatha-kammatthāna; s. bhāvanā).

Often also the 4 immaterial spheres (arūpāyatana) are called absorptions of the immaterial sphere (arūpa-jjhāna or arūpāvacara-jjhāna). The stereotype text, often met with in the Suttas, runs as follows:

(1) "Detached from sensual objects, o monks, detached from unwholesome consciousness, attached with thought-conception (vitakka) and discursive thinking (vicāra), born of detachment (vivekaja) and filled with rapture (pīti) and joy (sukha) he enters the first absorption.

(2) "After the subsiding of thought-conception and discursive thinking, and by gaining inner tranquility and oneness of mind, he enters into a state free from thought-conception and discursive thinking, the second absorption, which is born of concentration (samādhi), and filled with rapture (pīti) and joy (sukha).

(3) "After the fading away of rapture he dwells in equanimity, mindful, clearly conscious; and he experiences in his person that feeling of which the Noble Ones say, 'Happy lives the man of equanimity and attentive mind'; thus he enters the 3rd absorption.

(4) "After having given up pleasure and pain, and through the disappearance of previous joy and grief, he enters into a state beyond pleasure and pain, into the 4th absorption, which is purified by equanimity (upekkhā) and mindfulness.

(5) "Through the total overcoming of the perceptions of matter, however, and through the vanishing of sense-reactions and the non-attention to the perceptions of variety, with the idea, 'Boundless is space', he reaches the sphere of boundless space (ākāsānañcāyatana) and abides therein.



["By 'perceptions of matter' (rūpa-saññā) are meant the absorptions of the fine-material sphere, as well as those objects themselves . . . " (Vis.M. X.1).

"By 'perceptions of sense-reactions' (patigha-saññā) are meant those perceptions that have arisen due to the impact of sense-organs (eye, etc.) and the sense-objects (visible objects, etc.). They are a name for the perception of visible objects, as it is said (Jhāna-Vibh.): 'What are here the perceptions of sense-reactions? They are the perceptions of visible objects, sounds, etc.' - Surely, they do no longer exist even for one who has entered the 1st absorption, etc., for at such a time the five-sense consciousness is no longer functioning. Nevertheless, this is to be understood as having been said in praise of this immaterial absorption, in order to incite the striving for it" (Vis.M. X.16).

"Perceptions of variety (ñānatta-saññā) are the perceptions that arise in various fields, or the various perceptions" (ib.). Hereby, according to Vis.M. X.20, are meant the multiform perceptions outside the absorptions.]



(6) "Through the total overcoming of the sphere of boundless space, and with the idea 'Boundless is consciousness', he reaches the sphere of boundless consciousness (viññānañcāyatana) and abides therein.

(7) "Through the total overcoming of the sphere of boundless consciousness, and with the idea 'Nothing is there', he reaches the sphere of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana) and abides therein.

(8) "Through the total overcoming of the sphere of nothingness he reaches the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññā-n'asaññāyatana) and abides therein."

"Thus the 1st absorption is free from 5 things (i.e. the hindrances, nīvarana), and 5 things are present (i.e. the factors of absorption; jhānanga). Whenever the monk enters the 1st absorption, there have vanished sensuous desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and scruples, doubts; and there are present: thought-conception (vitakka), discursive thinking (vicāra) rapture (pīti), joy (sukha), and concentration (samādhi). In the 2nd absorption there are present: rapture, joy and concentration; in the 3rd: joy and concentration; in the 4th: equanimity (upekkhā) and concentration" (Vis.M. IV).

The 4 absorptions of the immaterial sphere (s. above 5-8) still belong, properly speaking, to the 4th absorption as they possess the same two constituents. The 4th fine-material absorption is also the base or starting point (pādaka-jhāna, q.v.) for the attaining of the higher spiritual powers (abhiññā).

In the Abhidhamma, generally a fivefold instead of a fourfold division of the fine-material absorptions is used: the 2nd absorption has still the constituent 'discursive thinking' (but without thought-conception), while the 3rd, 4th and 5th correspond to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively, of the fourfold division (s. Tab.I. 9- 13) . This fivefold division is based on sutta texts like A . VIII, 63 .

For the 8 absorptions as objects for the development of insight (vipassanā), see samatha-vipassanā. - Full details in Vis.M. IV-X.

Jhāna in its widest sense (e.g. as one of the 24 conditions; s. paccaya 17), denotes any, even momentary or weak absorption of mind, when directed on a single object.
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Aug 12, 2009 3:11 am

Greetings Individual,

I doubt intense study would lead to jhana because there's still "too much going on" - even though the focus of what you're paying attention to has narrowed (it now excludes video games, Buddhism, family etc.) there's still a lot of perception, conceptualisation and thinking going on.

The feeling you feel afterwards (ignoring the caffeine) may relate to the fact you've narrowed your focus as mentioned above, and therefore to some degree stabilised your mind. Because of the narrow focus, which is now devoid of clinging and craving (because its former object of attention has been done, finished, let go of), you're experiencing calmness in the absence of craving and clinging. In time however this wears off as our habitual tendencies resume their prominence and that modicum of concentration dissipates.

You said, "It is this occasional feeling from time to time that supports my faith in the total elimination of suffering". I think that is a good observation and a good way to look at it.

Metta,
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Ben » Wed Aug 12, 2009 4:08 am

Hi Individual

I seem to remember answering the same question from you not so long ago.
My view is that what you are experiencing is not even close to jhana. For samadhi to develop you need to have your mind focused on a singular object for sustained periods of time. When you are studying, you are reading and comprehending different words, different ideas one after the other, so the object is continually changing. While you might be experiencing a range of unusual sensations, don't confuse them, through auto-suggestion, with jhana.
The extract from Nyanaponika Thera's dictionary, kindly posted by Venerable, should give you a clear idea of what Jhana is. And on a personal note - its a lot harder to set up the right conditions and 'achieve' than what some people believe.
Kind regards

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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Moggalana » Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:57 am

You are most likely experiencing flow.
Let it come. Let it be. Let it go.
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Individual » Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:06 pm

Ben wrote:Hi Individual

I seem to remember answering the same question from you not so long ago.

I can be somewhat forgetful. I'm relatively certain I've asked several of the same questions more than once. For instance, I think I may have asked the same question about kasinas at e-Sangha.

Ben wrote:My view is that what you are experiencing is not even close to jhana. For samadhi to develop you need to have your mind focused on a singular object for sustained periods of time. When you are studying, you are reading and comprehending different words, different ideas one after the other, so the object is continually changing. While you might be experiencing a range of unusual sensations, don't confuse them, through auto-suggestion, with jhana.
The extract from Nyanaponika Thera's dictionary, kindly posted by Venerable, should give you a clear idea of what Jhana is. And on a personal note - its a lot harder to set up the right conditions and 'achieve' than what some people believe.
Kind regards

Good points.

Moggalana wrote:You are most likely experiencing flow.

That is something I wanted to mention. Thanks for bringing it up. Is flow similar to jhana?
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Moggalana » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:11 pm

Individual wrote:
Moggalana wrote:You are most likely experiencing flow.

That is something I wanted to mention. Thanks for bringing it up. Is flow similar to jhana?


I think flow and samadhi are somewhat compareable. However, the flow experience seems to be too "weak" to lead to jhana. After all, I am experiencing flow quite often (usually while rock climbing) but have not yet established any jhanic states ;)

In his book "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond" Ajahn Brahm also compares or rather illustrates samadhi with the example of a surgeon operating for countless hours without getting tired or losing concentration. And this is also a classic example western psychologists are using to illustrate flow.
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby PeterB » Thu Aug 13, 2009 4:10 pm

I wonder whether this is similar to what athletes call being" in the zone" ? Where things flow with only a minimum of self referencing ?
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Moggalana » Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:17 pm

PeterB wrote:I wonder whether this is similar to what athletes call being" in the zone" ? Where things flow with only a minimum of self referencing ?


Yes, being "in the zone" and "flow" are exactly the same thing. The term "in the zone" was mainly coined by athletes, whereas "flow" is mostly used in a more general context and can actually be experienced through any activity.
I would compare flow to the kind of samadhi you get through walking meditation, which - according to Ajahn Brahm (but I don't know if this idea is generally accepted) - most likely can not lead to jhana.
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby PeterB » Sat Aug 15, 2009 10:23 am

I wonder whether the practice of " Sutta Copying " would also come into this catagory. Where people sit formally to copy Sutta's with pen and ink, as mindfully and neatly as they can.
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Re: Studying as a method of jhana?

Postby Moggalana » Sat Aug 15, 2009 3:40 pm

PeterB wrote:I wonder whether the practice of " Sutta Copying " would also come into this catagory. Where people sit formally to copy Sutta's with pen and ink, as mindfully and neatly as they can.


I think so. Some of them are certainly experiencing flow. However, this doesn't mean you encounter flow every time you meditate. Meditation can be hard work - especially in the beginning. But there seems to be a positive correlation between meditation and flow. The more you meditate, the more you tend to experience flow in any activity (including meditation).
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