sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby manas » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:39 am

Hello fellow dhamma-farers,

I wish to discuss a youtube I watched, where Ajahn Kukrit briefly discusses jhāna, and how it's importance appears to have been downplayed, and misunderstood, in some sections of the Buddhist world:



I feel that the points made by the Ajahn warrant our attention, and despite being no expert on jhana, either in theory or in practice, this issue is too important to be ignored. (On that point I might add that people feel free to post topics about nibbana while not yet having attained it, and so we should certainly feel free to discuss jhāna even if we have not yet attained it). It is important because whenever I read in the suttas the Buddha ask, "what is right concentration?" he gives as the answer, the four jhānas. The one thing we all seem to agree on here is that the Noble Eightfold Path is the way to the cessation of craving. That being the case, we should not either fear or be intimidated by jhāna, because if it were not for our benefit, the Blessed One would not have taught it. Clearly, as the one of the eight limbs of the Path, we cannot simply pass over it, or ignore it.

I particularly liked how the Ajahn describes it as a "sophisticated teaching of factor reduction". From the Samaññaphala Sutta:

DN2 wrote: "Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal...

"Furthermore, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters and remains in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure...

"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.' He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture...

"And furthermore, with the abandoning of pleasure and stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress — he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure nor stress. He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness...

(http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)


We can see here what the Ajahn meant by 'factor reduction'. By the time one is in the fourth jhana, not only rapture but also bliss have faded, with only "purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure nor stress" remaining. And although I have much study to do in this subject, as far as I know, jhana is for giving the mind the strength with which to penetrate to insight - to see directly the impermanence, suffering and self-less-ness of the five clinging-khandhas. Like the archer practising on the 'straw man' in this following sutta excerpt, we first strengthen the mind by practising jhana, so that we will prevail in the real battle, and properly see through our identification with the five khandhas. This is from the Jhana Sutta:

AN 9.36 wrote: "'I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.' Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, 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.'

"Suppose that an archer or archer's apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk... enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, 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.'

"Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental fermentations. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters[1] — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world.

"'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.

(http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)


It is my hope that we can, together, assist each other in searching out the path of practice as it was originally taught by the Buddha.Sometimes this might take a combination of study, a little bit of detective work (as it were), and our own meditative experiences. I think the 'time has come' for us to admit that jhāna has been de-emphasized a bit in much of the Buddhist world, and it's time now to redress the balance.

:anjali: sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā
Last edited by manas on Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:27 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Path-limb no.8: sammā samādhi, the four jhānas

Postby manas » Mon Nov 28, 2011 2:06 am

Hi all, I thought I should also place here Bhante Gunaratana's video, regarding the de-amphasizing of jhana, as well:



:anjali:
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Re: The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:07 am

The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end Okay, but then the question is: what is meant by jhana?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end

Postby manas » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:54 am

tiltbillings wrote:The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end Okay, but then the question is: what is meant by jhana?
Hi Tilt,

I wish I had direct personal experience with which to answer this, but looking at the standard formula:

Idha bhikkhave bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.


The first jhana would appear to be the "rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation," but I sense that the Buddha specifies "enters & remains in" for a reason; it is meant not just to be a momentary thing, but something more lasting and stable, that one can 'abide' in (as indicated by the word 'viharati'). We can also note that the five hindrances are always stated as having been abandoned already, and thus jhana would appear to be a deepening and stabilization of an already wholesome state. But I invite some persons more experienced and knowledgeable in the topic of jhana to clarify or expand on this, please!

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Re: The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end

Postby Jhana4 » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:06 am

In regards to the title of this thread, that has already begun. I never used to be able to find anything to read about the jhanas. Now, there are many how-to books out there, I have a list I am slowly working my way through. There are also specialized retreats to go to, here and there.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end

Postby manas » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:44 am

Jhana4 wrote:In regards to the title of this thread, that has already begun. I never used to be able to find anything to read about the jhanas. Now, there are many how-to books out there, I have a list I am slowly working my way through. There are also specialized retreats to go to, here and there.
Considering what you wrote, I changed the title to something a bit less controversial sounding. Maybe, as you say, the issues being spoken about by Venerables Kukrit and Gunaratana are already being rectified, if that's the case then, great.

I need to give a little background here. From time to time I hear some strange things. One practitioner I spoke to alluded to jhana as being 'superhuman' and something that the majority of practitioners nowdays are not capable of. It is that kind of notion that I am concerned about, as well as a quite different one: the notion that one could somehow be led astray by these states. As Bhante Gunaratana points out in the youtube vid, if it's samma samadhi then only good can come of it.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Zom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:06 am

One practitioner I spoke to alluded to jhana as being 'superhuman' and something that the majority of practitioners nowdays are not capable of.


Jhana is indeed called by the Buddha "a superhuman state" - uttari manussa dhamma

FROM MN 31:


"Good, good, Anuruddha. But while you abide thus diligent,
ardent, and resolute, have you attained any superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble
ones, a comfortable abiding?"

"Why not, venerable sir? Here, venerable sir, whenever we
want, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from
unwholesome states, we enter upon and abide in the first jhana,
which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with
rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.


The best idea how to define that this is the real jhana - is to detect that every even tiny part of your body is imbued with rapture and happiness:

From DN 2:

There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal...
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Zom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:14 am

As for the topic - I would also put one interesting question: Do you need all 4 jhanas for arahantship, or the 1st one is enough? ,)
Though from some texts we see that even 1st jhana is enough, something tells me that this is not the case and we shouldn't read such statements directly. The direct meaning, as it may be, is "jhana developed to the state of imperturbability" (that is jhana developed to the level of the fourth jhana).
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Jhana4 » Mon Nov 28, 2011 12:59 pm

Zom wrote:
One practitioner I spoke to alluded to jhana as being 'superhuman' and something that the majority of practitioners nowdays are not capable of.


Jhana is indeed called by the Buddha "a superhuman state" - uttari manussa dhamma

FROM MN 31:



Sounds like yet another example of a poor translation causing significant misunderstanding. "Superhuman" may be a technically correct translation, but like many other such translations, it gives native English speakers completely the wrong impression. The Jhanas are outside of the capability of most people, like running a marathon is. In that sense it is "superhuman" or beyond what most humans can do. However, like running a marathon, most healthy people with a lot of consistent, long term training can learn achieve at least some of the jhanas the way many people can learn to run 10 miles, 15 miles etc.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: The de-emphasizing of the jhānas must end

Postby Jhana4 » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:02 pm

manasikara wrote:
Jhana4 wrote:In regards to the title of this thread, that has already begun. I never used to be able to find anything to read about the jhanas. Now, there are many how-to books out there, I have a list I am slowly working my way through. There are also specialized retreats to go to, here and there.
Considering what you wrote, I changed the title to something a bit less controversial sounding. Maybe, as you say, the issues being spoken about by Venerables Kukrit and Gunaratana are already being rectified, if that's the case then, great.


Get thee to amazon.com. There are at least 4 very good books on the subject, including one written by Ven Gunaratana, and many more.

I need to give a little background here. From time to time I hear some strange things. One practitioner I spoke to alluded to jhana as being 'superhuman' and something that the majority of practitioners nowdays are not capable of.


It needs a fancy name like "Godwin's law", that it doesn't have yet, but I would say it is a rule there is no end to the amount of nonsense that gets associated with Buddhism and meditation.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Nyana » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:03 pm

Zom wrote:Jhana is indeed called by the Buddha "a superhuman state" - uttari manussa dhamma

This isn't a very good translation, given the connotations of the term "superhuman" in English.

Firstly, the phrase uttari manussa dhamma is a figurative expression. Secondly, while the Pāli term manussa does mean "human," the term uttari has a range of connotations including: over, beyond; additional, further, transcendent, etc. And so the phrase uttari manussa dhamma is better understood as figuratively expressing a dhamma which is "above average," i.e. "beyond [the experience of] the [average] human." Since most human beings are not meditators, they aren't experienced in these refined meditative states.

Jhana4 wrote:Sounds like yet another example of a poor translation causing significant misunderstanding. "Superhuman" may be a technically correct translation, but like many other such translations, it gives native English speakers completely the wrong impression. The Jhanas are outside of the capability of most people, like running a marathon is. In that sense it is "superhuman" or beyond what most humans can do. However, like running a marathon, most healthy people with a lot of consistent, long term training can learn achieve at least some of the jhanas the way many people can learn to run 10 miles, 15 miles etc.

Indeed.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Zom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:17 pm

Well, this "uttari manussa dhamma" also means such psychic powers as levitation, divine eye, ect.
Call it whatever you want - but these states are very hard to reach - even for meditator. So I see Ven. Bodhi's "superhuman" as an adequate translation.

I recall private talk with Ajahn Jayasaro in 2009 - he told me that even among monks who do practise meditation today - there are just few who can reach jhana.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Nyana » Mon Nov 28, 2011 2:35 pm

Zom wrote:Well, this "uttari manussa dhamma" also means such psychic powers as levitation, divine eye, ect.
Call it whatever you want - but these states are very hard to reach - even for meditator. So I see Ven. Bodhi's "superhuman" as an adequate translation.

I recall private talk with Ajahn Jayasaro in 2009 - he told me that even among monks who do practise meditation today - there are just few who can reach jhana.

I'm not suggesting that jhāna is commonplace. But the English term "superhuman" carries quite inaccurate connotations.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby manas » Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:18 pm

Zom wrote:Well, this "uttari manussa dhamma" also means such psychic powers as levitation, divine eye, ect.
Call it whatever you want - but these states are very hard to reach - even for meditator. So I see Ven. Bodhi's "superhuman" as an adequate translation.

I recall private talk with Ajahn Jayasaro in 2009 - he told me that even among monks who do practise meditation today - there are just few who can reach jhana.
Yet Ajahn Brahm seems to be having quite a bit of success in training even laypeople in reaching it.

Zom, all, I can't say I've 'attained' it, and I don't even like the word 'attained' because it seems so out of place in comparison to what happens when we practice meditation, whether it be vipassana bhavana, samatha bhavana or both...or whatever we decide to call our practice of meditation. It's all mental training, but this idea of having to 'attain' or 'reach' someting 'high up' seems to create a mindset in some people that might actually be hindering them, imho. When we sit peacefully, letting go of the normal burdens of daily life, and dealing only with this fathom-long body, bound up with consciousness as it is - even when it is challenging, and it often is, it doesn't feel like we are getting anything (or anywhere), it feels rather like we are letting go of things, this is imo what makes Buddhism most appealing in comparison to any other road we might take.

I'm not trying to contradict you, I just feel that there is a tendency in the Buddhist world to see jhana as 'too hard' when actually the Buddha clearly intends for us all to practise it. And he would not ask us to if he thought us incapable of it. It's an integral part of the Noble Eightfold Path. As Jhana4 pointed out, we should not be intimidated, just get the right training, and patiently train away, for years if need be...but then that's the Path, it's gradual...we only gradually develop all the Path factors, from Right View, all the way to Right Absorbtion, the whole lot is a gradual development.

I humbly offer this for your consideration.

:anjali:
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Zom » Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:16 am

I just feel that there is a tendency in the Buddhist world to see jhana as 'too hard' when actually the Buddha clearly intends for us all to practise it.


These are 2 different things: "need to practise" and "hard to attain" 8-)
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Mr Man » Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:41 am

Going slightly o/t It seems that some have a natural predisposition to deeper concentration possibly it the same way that some seem to have a natural predisposition for playing an instrument.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Nov 29, 2011 4:35 pm

Mr Man wrote:Going slightly o/t It seems that some have a natural predisposition to deeper concentration possibly it the same way that some seem to have a natural predisposition for playing an instrument.


Which I don't have.... :cry:
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby Jhana4 » Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:37 pm

manasikara wrote:
Zom wrote:I recall private talk with Ajahn Jayasaro in 2009 - he told me that even among monks who do practise meditation today - there are just few who can reach jhana.
Yet Ajahn Brahm seems to be having quite a bit of success in training even laypeople in reaching it.


What does that mean? I don't think Ajahn Brahm is keeping a tally of the number of students who come to him and the number who reach a jhana before parting ways with him.

I think Ajahn Brahm is brilliant and an innovative educator.

I am curious why you think Brahm is more successful in getting people to jhanic states than anyone else?

I'm not trying to contradict you, I just feel that there is a tendency in the Buddhist world to see jhana as 'too hard' when actually the Buddha clearly intends for us all to practise it.


I got a similar impression when I first got into all of this stuff in the 90s. I couldn't find hardly anything written about the Jhanas. Most western teachers just dismissed it as something "dangerous" that would seduce meditators. Years later there are all these good how to books out and retreats. Teachers are now saying it is no big deal. I'm guessing things were still new back in the 90s for the west, nobody knew much about it and just repeated epithets that they heard from other people.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby manas » Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:37 pm

Jhana4 wrote:What does that mean? I don't think Ajahn Brahm is keeping a tally of the number of students who come to him and the number who reach a jhana before parting ways with him.
I must admit, that maybe I was assuming too much here. I will ask him directly next time he visits Melbourne. But I really get the impression that he has been able to assist people in jhana practice.
Last edited by manas on Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: sammāsamādhi: the four jhānas

Postby manas » Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:50 pm

BlueLotus wrote:
Mr Man wrote:Going slightly o/t It seems that some have a natural predisposition to deeper concentration possibly it the same way that some seem to have a natural predisposition for playing an instrument.
There are some who would dispute that, the famous music educator Suzuki for example...

BlueLotus wrote:Which I don't have.... :cry:
BlueLotus, I get the feeling you still have quite a few years left to live and practise, in which case you just can't rule anything out. First we learn to crawl, then walk, then dance, right? Go easy on yourself! Imagine if little kids just gave up when they were taking their first few steps, and kept falling over...but all basically healthy kids eventually end up learning to walk. Why? Because they have the motivation, they remain attentive, and they don't judge themselves. We adults can learn from that. I read somewhere that initially, stillness doesn't last for long, like a child who walks a few steps, then falls over. Instead of getting upset over this, observe this process, over and over again. No, there's nothing 'wrong'; everyone at first falls, then gets up, then falls, then gets up...if we persevere, applying patience, kindness, and above all remaining aware of the mind and where it is right now - then we will gradually find that we fall a bit less often. And so on it goes...anyway please seek out the guidance of a qualified instructor in this, I was just sharing what helps me, but I'm not a qualified instructor...I really just wanted to encourage you, and anyone else, not to despair. People write novels, or design buildings, or do whatever, and in the end they have what is called their 'life's work'...well the way I see it, training the mind is our 'life's work', it is the work of a lifetime, even the work of many lifetimes but it is the most noble work we can engage in, and so even if you struggle, take heart that you are on the Path...and you are walking in the right direction!

:anjali:
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