Is jhana possible?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby nathan » Wed May 26, 2010 12:23 am

PeterB wrote:We may half convince ourseves that because we have developed an interest in things Buddhist that means we have left behind all our driven ,goal orientated behaviour, for many of us moderns however that can simply be displaced into other channels...like seeking to affirm our identity through Jhana states for example.
I think identification with the pure and simplified functional qualities of fully concentrated consciousness that are more directly exposed by the form and formless jhana states has a lot to do with the identifications codified in many religious and philosophical viewpoints but this need not be so in relation to the Buddhadhamma when it is rightly understood.

When consciousness is variously concentrated (or as some would say 'purified') it improves the quality of day to day experience considerably. On that basis people can take up various positions about having achieved some kind of a pure consciousness such as the many views common in the Buddha's time and no less common today. That's why I pointed out the value of observing how concentrated consciousness is conditional and dependent by developing full concentration and examining a concentrated consciousness with insight. When concentration is taken to the point of conscious cessation, cessation is found to be without conditions entirely. Then all of the potential basis for any and all misperception of a self either in conditions or in the absence of conditions is removed. Concentration can be supportive of self making, just as you say, but it can also be a valuable support for insight into no self and what is observed in the absence of identifications which is dependently arising conditional phenomena.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby christopher::: » Wed Oct 29, 2014 9:03 am

nathan wrote:Here is my reflection on dwelling in emptiness and what it is like, in keeping with MN 121 &122.

Concentration is always, to one extent or another, a simplification of conscious attention that is developed and perfected by cultivating a conscious abandoning of attention to the complexity and diversity of perception in favor of simple and steady, singular and unified kinds of conscious attention. In the form Jhanas as typically described in the Sutta discourses the body as a whole is taken as the object of conscious perception. When the diversity of the thoughts and feelings ordinarily composed by reflexive combination of diverse forms of conscious attention and diverse sensations settles down to one form of simple consciousness that pervades the whole body then the diversity of sensations also settles down to a simple form of perception of the presence of consciousness throughout the whole body.

As the simple and steady concentrated attention to a body filled with consciousness is further developed it becomes easier to maintain this simple kind of attention without effort. When it is effortless to maintain the simple awareness that there is a body and that it is filled with consciousness then conscious attention has become well concentrated in and on the form of the whole body. Concentrated well, consciousness will then easily note that there is no diversity of sensations or of the diverse feelings and thoughts that changing forms of attention and the resulting diverse sensations produce.

When consciousness is noting the simple pleasant sensation that consciousness fills the body then it can further note that there is a corresponding simple pleasantness that fills consciousness. When this simple pleasantness that fills consciousness is noted to be more subtle and pleasant than the pleasant perception of the body as simply a body filled with consciousness then concentration will shift predominantly to the simple pleasure that consciousness has achieved by freeing itself from attending to the diversity of conscious perceptions. Consciousness can then note how very peaceful this simplicity of attention is.

This process of simplification of attention is how concentration in it's purest forms always proceeds. If attention to the body as a single form that is present and sensed by being filled with consciousness is intruded upon by various other changing forms of attention and diverse sensations, concentration can then again be interrupted by various feelings and thoughts as well. The concentration that develops by practicing consciousness of the whole body in one simple way begins by progressively steadying and simplifying the untrained or unskilled habits of a consciousness that moves attention from place to place in the body and from one quality to another of sensation or from one kind to another of compounded thoughts and feelings.

When concentrated conscious attention is cultivated by attention to the whole body filled simply with a conscious presence this will progressively tone down the diversity of perceptions. By practicing the sense of a the whole body as a form pervaded by conscious awareness, consciousness develops an appreciation for the relative pleasantness of simplicity and the degrees of concentration that results from developing this simple kind of attention.

When concentration of the simple presence of consciousness in the whole body has become entirely peaceful and it gives up the attention to the resulting pleasantness in the body and in consciousness then this is what fourth Jhana is like. It is a very simple and steady state of consciousness with a very simple awareness of it's presence in a body.

When the concentrated awareness of the presence of a body slips away and consciousness has attention to only the simple awareness that consciousness is present then consciousness is giving its full concentrated attention to the formless Jhanas or to only the qualities of concentrated consciousness apart from all attention to form.

The four formless jhanas are increasingly subtle concentrations of consciousness wherein concentration has reduced the diverse qualities typical of the varieties of ordinarily changing conscious attention to forms and sensations to only the four, three, two, or one simple qualities of the condition of consciousness.

Diverse thoughts, sensations, feelings, and the sense of changing forms that are typical of consciousness that is not concentrated are abandoned in the course of developing form based concentration. When concentration is developed enough to let go of it's simple and singular concentrated attention to form only concentrated consciousness remains. A concentrated consciousness no longer attending to form can examine its inherent qualities and as it lets go of each of these it becomes a still more concentrated and subtle consciousness condition.

If every quality of consciousness is entirely let go of consciousness will stop arising and there will be a complete cessation of consciousness.

After consciousness has observed the four formless jhana qualities and/or cessation it can then continue applying attention to maintaining the purity of the simplified qualities of concentrated consciousness as attention proceeds back towards complexity from the most refined types of formless concentration of conscious attention to simple concentrated conscious awareness of the body form to the diversity of conscious awareness of the body and sensations.

When consciousness is formlessly concentrated it is has a sense of the boundless infinitude of space, of the boundless infinitude of consciousness, of the no thing-ness of consciousness and of the nature of consciousness to be inclined to be present and thereby to have the volition to know.

When the pure and simple qualities characteristic of formless concentrated consciousness are present and steady together with the ordinary diversity of perceptions of forms and sensations then this kind of mindfulness is called dwelling in emptiness by the Buddha and Ananda in the Cula-suññata Sutta. One can develop the four qualities of concentrated consciousness either in the presence of form and formless concentration or not.

However, to discern the qualities of concentrated consciousness specifically for what each is like, in isolation from other kinds of attention, the most direct way is to do so by means of cultivating and experiencing the formless concentrations of consciousness the and/or the cessation of consciousness.

When the qualities of consciousness in the formless concentrations and the absence of all conditions and qualities thereof in cessation have been developed, known and understood, it is then much easier to give conscious attention to maintaining and or discerning the presence of these concentrated qualities of consciousness even together with the perception of diverse and changing forms and sensations.


I just came across a hard copy of this that I had printed out back in 2010. Such a clear and lucid explanation! Nathan, would it be okay if I put this up online? I have a blog where I could put it, with your name and source of course.

:thumbsup:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Mkoll » Wed Oct 29, 2014 6:48 pm

Good of you to bump up this thread, christopher:::. Great stuff!

:twothumbsup:
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby christopher::: » Thu Oct 30, 2014 10:11 pm

:group:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Dhammanando » Fri Oct 31, 2014 7:27 am

christopher::: wrote:I just came across a hard copy of this that I had printed out back in 2010. Such a clear and lucid explanation! Nathan, would it be okay if I put this up online? I have a blog where I could put it, with your name and source of course.


You probably won't get a reply as Nathan's Dhamma Wheel account has been deleted. He was on Dharma Overground for quite a long period, but hasn't posted there for about a year now.
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    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby VinceField » Fri Oct 31, 2014 11:47 am

mydoghasfleas wrote:Hello friends,

Perhaps this question has been asked before. If so, please direct me to that thread. But I was wondering if jhana is possible for lay practitioners. ... Especially for lay practitioners who don't have access to a real live teacher and who has to depend on meditation books, online dhamma talks and the suttas for their instruction.

I have been meditating for 5 years in the above manner and I have yet to attain any sort of deep concentration that would even come close to being jhana. Of course, being a "householder" I only have time to sit for about 45 minutes (max) a day.

Not having attained jhana has not dampened my enthusiasm for meditation, though. I was just wondering if these mental states are mainly for monks and nuns.


Here is an answer from Bodhipaska from his 60 Days to Jhana series. http://www.wildmind.org/going-deeper/60-days-to-jhana

As the hindrances start to settle down, we feel happier, the mind becomes calmer, and the body begins to settle, relax, and to feel more alive and energized. When these elements come together, leading to a stable experience of joy, calmness, and energized relaxation, we call the resultant state "jhana".... A state of "flow" where we're happy, effortlessly and unselfconsciously absorbed in a particular task, in this case the "task" is simply being mindful of what we're doing and experiencing in the meditation practice. We're happy because we're focused, and we're focused because we're happy. It's this feedback loop that leads to it being a relatively stable state of mind.

Later commentators added the factor of "one-pointedness" (ekaggata) to the description of first jhana... It seems that in this case they wanted to be able to match up the five hinderances with the jhana factors, each factor having a particular hinderance that was its opposite. This addition creates problems, however. The term "one-pointedness" isn't found in the sutta version of the jhana factors at all... and that high level of focused attention, where we are literally aware only of one thing, is only found in the fourth jhana... The commentators were effectively "upgrading" it (the first jhana) to be equivalent to the Buddha's account of the fourth jhana... making it appear much more remote and hard to attain than it actually is.

In fact Buddhaghosa, the most famous of the commentators, who lived a millennium after the Buddha, believed that first jhana was attainable by only one person in a million. This makes no sense, given that many thousands of the Buddha's contemporary followers attained the jhanas, and the Buddha certainly did not have billions of followers.

Recently someone wrote to me saying that if you can hear external sounds, you're not in first jhana. This is the result of the same "upgrading" that Buddhaghosa applied.... The Buddha described noise as being "the thorn" in first jhana, so clearly he regarded jhana as being a state in which we can hear sounds, to the point where they can become problematic.

The commentators also changed the understanding of what two of the jhana factors are, so that vitakka and vicara, which in the suttas are explicitly explained as the mental precursors of speech(i.e. inner speech. or thought), are said to be forms of attention. But this interpretation leads to internal incoherence because we're told that in second jhana, vitakka and vicara disappear. How could second jhana involve the loss of attention? These conflicting accounts lead me to be very skeptical about the commentarial explanations of jhana.

We need to lose the naive assumption that the commentaries were written by meditators practicing in a thriving contemplative tradition. There's a good chance that Buddhaghosa never meditated. In fact around 100 BC, the Great Monastery where he wrote his treatises had decided that studying the texts was more important than the practice of meditation. This was understandable, since this was a very turbulent period in history, with religious persecutions, famines, civil wars, and invasions all taking place. That there may have been next to no meditation going on for 500 years before Buddhaghosa wrote suggests that we should be cautious about the reliability of his writings.

Just to summarize a few practical points from this: In first jhana we still have thinking going on and we can still hear sounds. Our experience in first jhana isn't at all one-pointed and it's not at all inaccessible. Many people with a few months experience of regular meditation, especially if they've gone on a meditation retreat, have experienced first jhana. Jhana is doable!
Last edited by VinceField on Fri Oct 31, 2014 11:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Viscid » Fri Oct 31, 2014 7:03 pm

Just to summarize a few practical points from this: In first jhana we still have thinking going on and we can still hear sounds. Our experience in first jhana isn't at all one-pointed and it's not at all inaccessible. Many people with a few months experience of regular meditation, especially if they've gone on a meditation retreat, have experienced first jhana. Jhana is doable!


Fantastic, I can finally add jhana to my résumé.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby randall » Fri Oct 31, 2014 9:47 pm

VinceField wrote:
In fact Buddhaghosa, the most famous of the commentors, who lived a millennium after the Buddha, believed that first jhana was attainable by only one person in a million. This makes no sense, given that many thousands of the Buddha's contemporary followers attained the jhanas, and the Buddha certainly did not have billions of followers.



And the Buddha said that being born as a human was as rare as a turtle in a world covered in water, trying once every hundred years to poke his head up from a single piece of wood with a hole in it...
SN 56.48


Lets count ourselves lucky!
"Bhikkhus, possessing five factors, speech is well spoken, not badly spoken; it is blameless and beyond reproach by the wise. What five? It is spoken at the proper time; what is said is true; it is spoken gently; what is said is beneficial; it is spoken with a mind of loving-kindness. Possessing these five factors, speech is well spoken, not badly spoken; it is blameless and beyond reproach by the wise."
AN 5 198
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby christopher::: » Sat Nov 01, 2014 12:44 am

Dhammanando wrote:
christopher::: wrote:I just came across a hard copy of this that I had printed out back in 2010. Such a clear and lucid explanation! Nathan, would it be okay if I put this up online? I have a blog where I could put it, with your name and source of course.


You probably won't get a reply as Nathan's Dhamma Wheel account has been deleted. He was on Dharma Overground for quite a long period, but hasn't posted there for about a year now.


okay, thank you. ;)

randall wrote:
And the Buddha said that being born as a human was as rare as a turtle in a world covered in water, trying once every hundred years to poke his head up from a single piece of wood with a hole in it...
SN 56.48


Lets count ourselves lucky!


:thumbsup:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Nicolas » Tue Nov 18, 2014 3:29 pm

VinceField wrote:Here is an answer from Bodhipaska from his 60 Days to Jhana series. http://www.wildmind.org/going-deeper/60-days-to-jhana
[...]
Later commentators added the factor of "one-pointedness" (ekaggata) to the description of first jhana... It seems that in this case they wanted to be able to match up the five hinderances with the jhana factors, each factor having a particular hinderance that was its opposite. This addition creates problems, however. The term "one-pointedness" isn't found in the sutta version of the jhana factors at all... and that high level of focused attention, where we are literally aware only of one thing, is only found in the fourth jhana... The commentators were effectively "upgrading" it (the first jhana) to be equivalent to the Buddha's account of the fourth jhana... making it appear much more remote and hard to attain than it actually is.
[...]
Just to summarize a few practical points from this: In first jhana we still have thinking going on and we can still hear sounds. Our experience in first jhana isn't at all one-pointed and it's not at all inaccessible. Many people with a few months experience of regular meditation, especially if they've gone on a meditation retreat, have experienced first jhana. Jhana is doable!


What about this?
Anupada sutta (MN 111) wrote:There was the case where Sariputta — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities — entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Whatever qualities there are in the first jhana — directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness,[2] desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention — he ferreted them out one after another. Known to him they arose, known to him they remained, known to him they subsided. He discerned, 'So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.' He remained unattracted & unrepelled with regard to those qualities, independent, detached, released, dissociated, with an awareness rid of barriers. He discerned that 'There is a further escape,' and pursuing it there really was for him.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Dhammanando » Tue Nov 18, 2014 4:21 pm

Nicolas wrote:What about this?


Indeed. I don't know what this fellow is talking about — the presence of cittekaggatā is stipulated in dozens of Suttas.

    “Friend, how many factors does the first jhāna have?”

    “Friend, the first jhāna has five factors. Here, when a bhikkhu has entered upon the first jhāna, there occur applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, pleasure, and unification of mind. That is how the first jhāna has five factors.”

    “Friend, how many factors are abandoned in the first jhāna and how many factors are possessed?”

    “Friend, in the first jhāna five factors are abandoned and five factors are possessed. Here, when a bhikkhu has entered upon the first jhāna, sensual desire is abandoned, ill will is abandoned, sloth and torpor are abandoned, restlessness and remorse are abandoned, and doubt is abandoned; and there occur applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, pleasure, and unification of mind. That is how in the first jhāna five factors are abandoned and five factors are possessed.”
    (Mahāvedalla Sutta)
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby VinceField » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:24 pm

Dhammanando wrote:
Nicolas wrote:What about this?


Indeed. I don't know what this fellow is talking about — the presence of cittekaggatā is stipulated in dozens of Suttas.

Here, when a bhikkhu has entered upon the first jhāna, there occur applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, pleasure, and unification of mind.


Thanks for the information guys. My understanding of the author's point is that full body awareness is the ideal means for entering the first jhana, as opposed to one-pointed concentration on a single object such as a nimitta. Is singleness or unification of mind possible with full body awareness? My own experience would say that the answer is yes, although I cannot claim to have entered jhana so perhaps someone with more experience could help.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby daverupa » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:46 pm

VinceField wrote:one-pointed concentration on a single object such as a nimitta


This isn't what cittekaggatā means in the first place, so no worries.
    "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: Is jhana possible?

Postby Sylvester » Sat Nov 22, 2014 4:15 am

Dhammanando wrote:
Nicolas wrote:What about this?


Indeed. I don't know what this fellow is talking about — the presence of cittekaggatā is stipulated in dozens of Suttas.

    “Friend, how many factors does the first jhāna have?”

    “Friend, the first jhāna has five factors. Here, when a bhikkhu has entered upon the first jhāna, there occur applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, pleasure, and unification of mind. That is how the first jhāna has five factors.”

    “Friend, how many factors are abandoned in the first jhāna and how many factors are possessed?”

    “Friend, in the first jhāna five factors are abandoned and five factors are possessed. Here, when a bhikkhu has entered upon the first jhāna, sensual desire is abandoned, ill will is abandoned, sloth and torpor are abandoned, restlessness and remorse are abandoned, and doubt is abandoned; and there occur applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, pleasure, and unification of mind. That is how in the first jhāna five factors are abandoned and five factors are possessed.”
    (Mahāvedalla Sutta)



Including the Chinese parallel 大拘絺羅 MA 211 to the above.
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