Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Nyana » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:43 am

Here is a paper by Keren Arbel: Buddhist or Not? Thinking Anew the Role of the Jhānas in the Path of Awakening.

Jhana - Buddhist-or-Not.pdf
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Paper presented in "Buddhism in Asia." A Day Seminar with Prof. Jan Nattier and Prof. John McRae, Tel Aviv University.

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:48 am

Interestingly unconvincing or confused or totally redefining jhana. If jhana is really a total, complete cessation of temptation by sensual pleasure, we have this, as she quoted:

‘I realized that when my father the Sakyan was working, while
I was sitting under the cool shade of the rose-apple tree, detached from sensual
pleasures and unwholesome states, I entered and abided in the first jhāna, which
is rapture and pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied with applied and
sustained thought."


Which would mean that the Buddha-to-be attained jhana as a kid outside a Dhammic context. The type of meditation experience, identified here as jhana, can be completely devoid of a Dhammic context, and it can sufficiently give a sense of freedom from physical sensual desire, and so it goes with the other levels of concentrative meditation. And let us not forget that DN 1.37 makes it quite clear that jhana can be a basis for serious wrong view. As L. Brasington states:

    > There are a number of different ways to interpret the ancient literature about the Jhanas.
    > We don't really know exactly what type of Jhanas the Buddha and his disciples were practicing.
    > Since it is very clear that the Buddha did not regard the Jhanas as anything more than a tool, what is really important is not so much which version you learn, but that you apply the jhanic state of mind to insight practice, either while still in the Jhana or immediately thereafter

It is not the jhana, in and of itself, that does it. It is only jhana in context of insight, but this essay does not really answer the question of how jhana should be understood within a Buddhist context.

What it seems she is trying to argue for is an integrated understanding of jhana in relation to insight; whereas, it seems that the commentaries separated to the two apart. With the the notion of vipassana jhanas, there is a practical reintegration of the the two based upon actual experience.

Anyway, another interesting voice in the jhana wars.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Ben » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:51 am

Thanks Geoff!
Thanks Tilt for getting the discussion going.
kind regards

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:39 am

Interesting. Needs more thought. My initially response which will have to be revisited at leisure is that some of her points are convincing. And possibly timely. There is no other area in the actualisation of Dharma which gives rise to so much obvious self delusion.
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Nyana » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:41 am

tiltbillings wrote:It is not the jhana, in and of itself, that does it. It is only jhana in context of insight, but this essay does not really answer the question of how jhana should be understood within a Buddhist context.

This is obviously just a short presentation. I imagine that her dissertation, when completed, will examine this subject in much greater detail.

tiltbillings wrote:What it seems she is trying to argue for is an integrated understanding of jhana in relation to insight; whereas, it seems that the commentaries separated to the two apart.

It's worth exploring all of the relevant source materials. There are a few good questions regarding commentarial notions that are worth investigating and which haven't been thoroughly explored yet. I don't have the time or interest to look into these commentarial issues, but I think it's a good thing that there are people who do.

tiltbillings wrote:With the the notion of vipassana jhanas, there is a practical reintegration of the the two based upon actual experience.

Sammāsamādhi offers more than what is commonly presented as vipassanā jhāna. Awakening is not easy. The Pāli dhamma has a significant number of meditative practices which are effective for working directly with specific hindrances, and so on. Regarding these practices as unable to assist or induce insight isn't very helpful in the long run.

All the best,

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:57 am

Ñāṇa wrote:Sammāsamādhi offers more than what is commonly presented as vipassanā jhāna. Awakening is not easy. The Pāli dhamma has a significant number of meditative practices which are effective for working directly with specific hindrances, and so on. Regarding these practices as unable to assist or induce insight isn't very helpful in the long run.
I would not down play the "vipassana jhanas," given that they look a lot like what some call the sutta jhanas, but the thing that needs to be kept in mind that the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition is not averse to jhana in the more traditional forms. What we have with the Burmese vipassana traditions are very effective methods for cultivating the states of mind that help give rise to insight. One thing is experientially clear from those who have worked within those traditions is they are not as "dry" as as the commentarial literature's notion of "dry" insight would lead us to believe. After sotapanna, things seem to be a bit different in terms of practice.

Also, I never said anything about "these practices as [being] unable to assist or induce insight." Jhana, in and of itself, does not produce insight. Jhana is a factor among others that helps give rise to the conditions favorable to insight.
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.

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Nyana » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:18 am

tiltbillings wrote:I would not down play the "vipassana jhanas," given that they look a lot like what some call the sutta jhanas

I'm not downplaying them by any means. I think that they are necessary. If anything, I'm in favor of upgrading the status of other meditation practices that can be very helpful and liberating if used appropriately.

tiltbillings wrote:One thing is experientially clear from those who have worked within those traditions is they are not as "dry" as as the commentarial literature's notion of "dry" insight would lead us to believe. After sotapanna, things seem to be a bit different in terms of practice.

Sure.

tiltbillings wrote:Also, I never said anything about "these practices as [being] unable to assist or induce insight."

The statement wasn't directed at you.

tiltbillings wrote:Jhana, in and of itself, does not produce insight. Jhana is a factor among others that helps give rise to the conditions favorable to insight.

I'm all for the threefold training aggregations of ethical conduct, meditative composure, and discernment.

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby reflection » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:32 am

"I wish to reconsider the wide spread assumption in Buddhist scholarship and the Theravāda tradition, that the jhānas are not really Buddhist, but rather a Brāhma1ical-yogic technique which was integrated into the Buddhist meditational structure."

Afaik this is not that widespread, especially not in Theravada. While the meaning of jhana is discussed between meditative traditions, at least most that I know of teach some form or another. Or am I wrong here?

However this essay could be pointed towards some Zen traditions, where there does not seem to be any particular emphasis on jhana, or any meditative stages at all. Just sit and don't move, hehe. :sage:
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:45 am

reflection wrote:"I wish to reconsider the wide spread assumption in Buddhist scholarship and the Theravāda tradition, that the jhānas are not really Buddhist, but rather a Brāhma1ical-yogic technique which was integrated into the Buddhist meditational structure."

Afaik this is not that widespread, especially not in Theravada. While the meaning of jhana is discussed between meditative traditions, at least most that I know of teach some form or another. Or am I wrong here?

However this essay could be pointed towards some Zen traditions, where there does not seem to be any particular emphasis on jhana, or any meditative stages at all. Just sit and don't move, hehe. :sage:


I beg to differ. I think that assumption IS widespread. I know many Theravadin Buddhists, including members of the ordained sangha who assume that " Jnana speak " is frequently tantamount to delusional identification with reified samsaric mind states that happen to be outside of the subjects usual functioning.
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Keren Arbel » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:10 am

Dear Dhamma friends,

Just today a friend sent me a link to this thread, and I am happy to see that my conference paper from 2007 produced some discussion on the jhànas and their place in the Buddhist path.

Just wanted to add that this paper presented only my initial and preliminary thoughts about the first jhàna, when I was just starting to write my PhD dissertation.

Since then I have developed my analysis of the fourfold jhàna model and its relation to other path factors considerably. The aim of the dissertation is to call into question some fundamental assumptions in the Buddhist tradition about the four jhànas in the Buddhist path to awakening by offering a theory regarding the nature and liberative role of the jhànas in the Pàli Nikàyas.

So please consider this paper as preliminary work which lacks all the appropriate references (since it was a conference paper) and wait for the complete research...:-) (almost finished)

Mettacittena,
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:27 am

Keren Arbel wrote:Dear Dhamma friends, . . .Mettacittena,
Keren Arbel.
Thank you for taking the time for your clarification. I hope that your dissertation, when you publish it, if you choose to, will be easily accessible to those of us who cannot afford Routledge prices. Any further papers that you have done since the above would be most welcome.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Oct 25, 2012 3:43 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Jhana, in and of itself, does not produce insight. Jhana is a factor among others that helps give rise to the conditions favorable to insight.

And insight, in and of itself, does not lead to the total cessation of sense desire. You can have all the insight in the world, but the Buddha is very clear in many, many suttas that such knowledge is still not perfectly applicable until one reaches Jhana.

Tranquility and insight are the pair of swift messengers the deliver one to Nibbana; tranquility is not the guy who polishes insight's boots before he goes out and does it alone.

Cula-dukkhakkhandha Sutta wrote:"Even though a disciple of the noble ones has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, and greater drawbacks, still — if he has not attained a rapture and pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that — he can be tempted by sensuality. But when he has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, and greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture and pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:16 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Jhana, in and of itself, does not produce insight. Jhana is a factor among others that helps give rise to the conditions favorable to insight.

And insight, in and of itself, does not lead to the total cessation of sense desire. You can have all the insight in the world, but the Buddha is very clear in many, many suttas that such knowledge is still not perfectly applicable until one reaches Jhana.
Of course, the real question is: what is meant by jhana? Whose interpretation of it?

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=8854&p=212731#p137797
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.

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:46 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Of course, the real question is: what is meant by jhana? Whose interpretation of it?

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=8854&p=212731#p137797

That seems to be your response to any objection towards the Mahasi method's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility, but I don't particularly buy it. The stock passages as well as longer discourses like the Anapanasati Sutta have far enough explanatory value to make the recourse to "Well what do you mean by Jhana?" not much more than a distraction.

I guess I should ask, what do you think is meant by Jhana? Whose interpretation of it?
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:15 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Of course, the real question is: what is meant by jhana? Whose interpretation of it?

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=8854&p=212731#p137797

That seems to be your response to any objection towards the Mahasi method's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility, but I don't particularly buy it.
It is not my response to "any objection towards the Mahasi's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility." It is simply the fact of the matter when it comes to the question of what jhana actually means, which we have seen in the various debates on the forum (many of which I have not been part of), opinions vary.

The stock passages as well as longer discourses like the Anapanasati Sutta have far enough explanatory value to make the recourse to "Well what do you mean by Jhana?" not much more than a distraction.
And regarding such terminology as vitaka and a vicara, can you say with absolute certainly what they mean? And it is not at all a distraction to ask the question. It is a reasonable question to ask of those who are jhana advocates.

I guess I should ask, what do you think is meant by Jhana? Whose interpretation of it?
The jhana that I was trained in by a Mahasi Sayadaw trained teacher and experienced is the sort of thing described in the Visuddhimagga. As to exactly what jhana means in the suttas, it seems opinions vary. Mostly, I don't give a rat's ass. I just do the practice.
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.

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:34 pm

tiltbillings wrote:It is not my response to "any objection towards the Mahasi's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility." It is simply the fact of the matter when it comes to the question of what jhana actually means, which we have seen in the various debates on the forum (many of which I have not been part of), opinions vary.

And I'm arguing that the debate in the Jhana camp is not nearly as divided as you claim. In all the debates here as well as other more scholarly ones in the public arena, the vast majority seem to come down to one group just rejecting Jhana completely and the other group arguing for its necessity; within the latter there are disagreements over minor issues, but you seem to be painting it as a far more divisive free-for-all than it is. In truth, most advocates of Jhana can agree on enough of a basic general structure to allow for hassle-free practice.

And regarding such terminology as vitaka and a vicara, can you say with absolute certainly what they mean? And it is not at all a distraction to ask the question. It is a reasonable question to ask of those who are jhana advocates.

There is historical and linguistic evidence abounding for the standard definitions given to the Jhana factors, but they're secondary anyway because we can know just from direct experience of meditation whether or not piti is arising, when vicara ceases, etc.

It's not like the Buddha is naming five types of plants in a far-away jungle we can never get to; it's far more like he's describing sights we'll see along the way as we go there ourselves. The job is matching the points on the map, i.e. the terms like vicara and vitaka, to the real experiences of Jhana itself, and I don't think there is a huge diversity of experience when it comes down to that actual examination.

I think the real "Jhana debate" is far more the role of Jhana in practice and far less what "Jhana is," although honestly I think that both questions are easily put to rest if one simply makes recourse to the suttas.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:45 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:It is not my response to "any objection towards the Mahasi's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility." It is simply the fact of the matter when it comes to the question of what jhana actually means, which we have seen in the various debates on the forum (many of which I have not been part of), opinions vary.

And I'm arguing that the debate in the Jhana camp is not nearly as divided as you claim.
And how divided is that, since you are making that claim? My point is that opinions can vary and have varied considerably. Just take a look at the negative response to Ajahn Brahm's version of jhana, dismissively characterized here as "ambulance jhana."

In all the debates here as well as other more scholarly ones in the public arena, the vast majority seem to come down to one group just rejecting Jhana completely and the other group arguing for its necessity; within the latter there are disagreements over minor issues, but you seem to be painting it as a far more divisive free-for-all than it is. In truth, most advocates of Jhana can agree on enough of a basic general structure to allow for hassle-free practice.
Firstly, I do not reject jhana completely. I don't reject it at all. And whether you want to admit it or not, which is up to you, but there is a fair amount of variation as to what is meant by jhana, as Brasington neatly points out.

And regarding such terminology as vitaka and a vicara, can you say with absolute certainly what they mean? And it is not at all a distraction to ask the question. It is a reasonable question to ask of those who are jhana advocates.

There is historical and linguistic evidence abounding for the standard definitions given to the Jhana factors, but they're secondary anyway because we can know just from direct experience of meditation whether or not piti is arising, when vicara ceases, etc.
Standard definitions? Whose standard definitions?

I don't think there is a huge diversity of experience when it comes down to that actual examination.
But you do not know.

I think the real "Jhana debate" is far more the role of Jhana in practice and far less what "Jhana is," although honestly I think that both questions are easily put to rest if one simply makes recourse to the suttas.
Sure, but what about the Visuddhimagga?
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: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:59 pm

tiltbillings wrote:And how divided is that, since you are making that claim? My point is that opinions can vary and have varied considerably. Just take a look at the negative response to Ajahn Brahm's version of jhana, dismissively characterized here as "ambulance jhana."

This is only a problem if you assume that anyone is arguing for a rigid, one-size-fits-all Jhana and I think most don't. Obviously there are different opinions, but to assume 1) that everyone thinks there is only one possible experience of Jhana or, more importantly, 2) that the majority of different experiences of Jhana can't be seen through the lens of a general framework is an odd position to take.

Firstly, I do not reject jhana completely. I don't reject it at all. And whether you want to admit it or not, which is up to you, but there is a fair amount of variation as to what is meant by jhana, as Brasington neatly points out.

No disagreement, but that doesn't render the standard formula meaningless; it just renders it accurately for what it is, which is a general framework for samatha practice.

Standard definitions? Whose standard definitions?

The standard definitions of the Jhana factors are, as I said before, hardly up for debate except in nuance.

But you do not know.

I have no reason to believe.

Sure, but what about the Visuddhimagga?

What about it? If it contradicts the suttas, then I think the answer is clear.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:59 pm

Hi LY,
LonesomeYogurt wrote:That seems to be your response to any objection towards the Mahasi method's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility, but I don't particularly buy it.

On what do you base this assertion? My experience of retreats practising this method is that quite a lot of tranquillity is built up. Certainly, the Visissudhimagga/Ajahn Brahm level jhanas are not normally encouraged, but the level of concentration normally encouraged is non-trivial in my experience.

Furthermore, as Tilt says, many teachers who primarily teach a Mahasi-based approach have tried a varierty methods and are quite happy to guide students who want to pursue that path. That's certainly what I've seen.

So, the question is very much to the point. Some, based on reading of Suttas or Commentaries, define Jhana as the very concentrated states described in the Visuddhimagga. Others, based on reading Suttas, define it as much less concentrated, and, in fact, similar to the "access concentration" level said to be suitable for "dry insight" in the Visuddhimagga, which is what the Mahasi teachers are generally advocating.
[In fact, reading between the lines of some of U Pandita's comments in various places, such as what I quoted in this post it's possible that he coined the term "vipassana jhana" rather than just come out and say "the sutta version of jhana seems to be a lot shallower than the Visuddhimagga version."]

My view is:
1. There is no general agreement of what the suttas define as Jhana (Visuddhimagga/Ajahn Brahm definition at one end through to a very shallow definition at the other).
2. There are a variety of valid interpretations and hence approaches.
3. No amount of analysis of texts can replace getting good advice from competent teachers and actually trying it out.

:anjali:
Mike
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:02 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi LY,
LonesomeYogurt wrote:That seems to be your response to any objection towards the Mahasi method's undue emphasis on insight over tranquility, but I don't particularly buy it.

On what do you base this assertion? My experience of retreats practising this method is that quite a lot of tranquillity is built up. Certainly, the Visissudhimagga/Ajahn Brahm level jhanas are not normally encouraged, but the level of concentration normally encouraged is non-trivial in my experience.
And this really cannot be over-emphasized.
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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