Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:06 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
Sure, but what about the Visuddhimagga?

What about it? If it contradicts the suttas, then I think the answer is clear.

As I said above, the range of interpretation of jhana by "sutta practitioners" such as Ajahn Brahm, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Bhante Vimalaramsi, etc, is just as wide as any disagreement between the Visuddhimagga and any one interpretation of the suttas, so this talk of "contradiction between sutta and commentary" appears to be a moot point, overshadowed by the "contradiction between sutta interpretations".

:anjali:
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:16 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
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.
Interesting, but we certainly do see arguments for particular understandings of what jhana supposedly is that are not always conguent.

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.
Of course the variations in jhana can be seen through a highly generalized framework. This is Brasington's point. The issue arise when one starts getting into particulars.

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.
I certainly did not say or even remotely suggest that the standard formula is "meaningless," but as to what the components of those formulae mean, opinions can vary, and at times significantly.

Standard definitions? Whose standard definitions?

The standard definitions of the Jhana factors are, as I said before, hardly up for debate except in nuance.
So, you can tell us what vitaka and vicara mean, laying to rest any questions about these terms?

But you do not know.

I have no reason to believe.
So, you are saying that you know, without question?

Sure, but what about the Visuddhimagga?

What about it? If it contradicts the suttas, then I think the answer is clear.
The author certainly did not think what he said contradicted the suttas, but do you actually know what the Visuddhimagga says?
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"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 7:21 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Mike wrote: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.

It's definitely non-trivial, and it's not Wrong Concentration; and if you are following the "Vipassana Jhana" model, then that's fine too. All I'm saying is that Jhana is a fundamental part of the Buddha's path, and relegating it to this "warm-up" position gives an emphasis to insight that I think is unwarranted.

As for disagreements in reference to sutta vs. commentary and sutta vs. sutta, I agree that in terms of what Jhana is there is quite a variation - although I have made it clear that I think such variation is not only not really an issue, but in fact a good thing. What I am referring to is the role of Jhana and the somewhat "disrespectful" treatment it gets in the commentaries vs. 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 LonesomeYogurt » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:24 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Interesting, but we certainly do see arguments for particular understandings of what jhana supposedly is that are not always conguent.

No disagreement there.

Of course the variations in jhana can be seen through a highly generalized framework. This is Brasington's point. The issue arise when one starts getting into particulars.

And I'm saying that the formula not only "survives" such examination of particulars, but actually is enriched by the possible variations of depth, insight, etc.

I certainly did not say or even remotely suggest that the standard formula is "meaningless," but as to what the components of those formulae mean, opinions can vary, and at times significantly.

My apologies, I never meant to imply that you did.

So, you can tell us what vitaka and vicara mean, laying to rest any questions about these terms?

I can tell you a working definition that aligns with Jhana experience and allows for an accurate-enough roadmap for measuring Jhana progress.

The author certainly did not think what he said contradicted the suttas, but do you actually know what the Visuddhimagga says?

I've had the privilege of reading large portions of the Visuddhimagga, and although I am no expert, I am at least familiar with 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 7:27 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:relegating it to this "warm-up" position gives an emphasis to insight that I think is unwarranted.
I am not sure what you are talking about here.

What I am referring to is the role of Jhana and the somewhat "disrespectful" treatment it gets in the commentaries vs. the suttas.
If taking the Visuddhimagga as being indicative of the commentaries, I do not think that the commentaries are at all disrespectful to jhana. Quite the contrary.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 8:28 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
Mike wrote: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.

It's definitely non-trivial, and it's not Wrong Concentration; and if you are following the "Vipassana Jhana" model, then that's fine too. All I'm saying is that Jhana is a fundamental part of the Buddha's path, and relegating it to this "warm-up" position gives an emphasis to insight that I think is unwarranted.

It's hardly a "warm up". One could just as well say that the standard sutta approach: "Go through jhanas then turn the mind to insight":
"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, the monk directs and inclines it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. ...

as in MN 27 is the "warm up" model.

Approaches such as taught by Mahasi involve the development of strong levels of mindfulness and concentration as a basis for insight, which is what I take the point of Jhana to be. Since the concentration that the Mahasi approach involves is comparable to some of the "Sutta Jhana" models taught by some teachers, I don't see any particular disrespect the development of concentration, and, of course U Pandita discusses specifically the importance of the development of the Jhana factors in his "Vipassana Jhana" chapter here.

It's common for "sutta jhana" teachers to quote suttas such as MN111 MN111, which seems to be talking about building insight and concentration together, to argue that the extremely deep levels of jhana are not necessary. Those approaches don't seem so different from U Pandita's description of "vipassana jhana". In fact, I've found that sutta quite valuable in my retreat practice:
MN 111 wrote:... '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.


I think that these suttas are a wonderful resource for practice...

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:26 pm

The Buddha said one of the causes of the decline of the dhamma would be the disrespect for concentration. So teachers should be very careful not to do this, because doing so contributes to the extinction of the most precious treasure humanity has.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:34 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:The Buddha said one of the causes of the decline of the dhamma would be the disrespect for concentration. So teachers should be very careful not to do this, because doing so contributes to the extinction of the most precious treasure humanity has.
Are there any teacher you are aware of that are being "disrespectful" of concentration?
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 26, 2012 1:04 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote:The Buddha said one of the causes of the decline of the dhamma would be the disrespect for concentration. So teachers should be very careful not to do this, because doing so contributes to the extinction of the most precious treasure humanity has.
Are there any teacher you are aware of that are being "disrespectful" of concentration?

Certainly not Mahasi Sayadaw and his students...

Mahasi Sayadaw wrote:The practice of the Dhamma enables the meditator to overcome defilements. By observing morality, the meditator seeks to avoid active defilements (vitakkama kilesā) such as greed and hatred, which lead to killing, stealing, and other misdeeds. The meditator who develops concentration overcomes the defilements that habitually arise in the mind (pariyutthāna kilesā). Finally, the meditator eradicates dormant defilements (anusaya kilesā) through the development of insight knowledge and wisdom.

http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Ari ... avasa.html



U Pandita wrote:There are yet deeper aspects to this business of not wandering. The mind that is not wandering is the mind that is penetratively mindful of what is happening. The word “penetrative” is not used casually. It refers to a jhānic factor that must arise in the mind. Jhāna is usually translated as “absorption.” Actually, it refers to the quality of mind that is able to stick to an object and observe it.

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pan ... ml#Blowing


Chanmyay Sayadaw wrote:So Vipassana meditation is of two types: The first, Vipassana meditation, insight meditation is preceded by Samatha meditation. The second is the pure Vipassana meditation or insight meditation not preceded by Samatha meditation. The first type of Vipassana meditation or Insight Meditation is practised by those who have ample time to devote to their meditation. They have to spend maybe three or four months on Samatha meditation. And when they are satisfied with their attainment of jhana concentration they proceed with Vipassana meditation.

Pure Vipassana meditation is practised by those who haven't enough time to devote to their meditation like yourselves, because you do not have three or four months or six months or a year for your meditation. So you can spend about ten days on your meditation. For such meditators pure Vipassana meditation is suitable. That's why we have to conduct a ten days Vipassana meditation retreat. Actually ten days meditation is not enough. The period is too short a time for a meditator to succeed in any noticeable experience in his meditation. But there are some who have some experience in Vipassana meditation who when their meditation experience becomes major can attain the higher stages of insight knowledge of the body-mind processes of their true nature. Although you can spend just ten days on your meditation, if you strive to attain the deep concentration with a strenuous effort without much interval or break in the course of your meditation for the whole day, then you are able to have some new experience of meditation. So the point is to practise intensively and strenuously as much as you can.

http://www.buddhanet.net/vmed_1.htm

:anjali:
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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:43 pm

It was not directed at Mahasi Sayadaw. But you know perfectly well that there are teachers that do what I said, be it in a subtle way or in a direct way.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby daverupa » Fri Oct 26, 2012 3:41 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:It was not directed at Mahasi Sayadaw. But you know perfectly well that there are teachers that do what I said, be it in a subtle way or in a direct way.


Here, it seems to me, is an example of a view which approaches such a description:

"Suffice to say that a common supposition is that the jhānas are a borrowed technique from Indian contemplative traditions, while vipassanā is the only unique liberating technique which is uniquely Buddhist."


The rose-apple tree event seems to be an origin story for the Buddha's experience and description of jhana, and it is in a context of the rejection of prevailing meditation technologies. He recalls a childhood/adolescent experience which provides the foundation for Buddhist jhana, which does not seem to have been associated with any other teacher or mode of practice.

To then say, as I have seen done, that these jhanas were part of the pre-Buddhist meditation repertoire - and therefore, that they precede any formless attainments and were thus a relatively common preliminary practice - is to see them as subordinate to formless attainments, which I think is a gross misunderstanding.

It doesn't seem to be an intentional disrespect, however.

As far as the paper goes, I see jhanas as descriptions rather than practices, so to that extent I can agree. That samatha-vipassana is also correctly recognized as a description of qualities, rather than practices, is encouraging.
    "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: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:17 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:It was not directed at Mahasi Sayadaw. But you know perfectly well that there are teachers that do what I said, be it in a subtle way or in a direct way.
Leading a sheltered life, no, I don't of any such teachers.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Jhāna: Buddhist or not?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 26, 2012 7:51 pm

Hi Dave,
daverupa wrote:Here, it seems to me, is an example of a view which approaches such a description:
"Suffice to say that a common supposition is that the jhānas are a borrowed technique from Indian contemplative traditions, while vipassanā is the only unique liberating technique which is uniquely Buddhist."

Whether or not one agrees with this particular assumption about what others think, or whether the people who may think that are correct or not, I would say that this a completely different issue from whether concentration is considered to be essential.

Dana and sila are not unique to the Buddha's teaching. That does not make them inessential.

According to the suttas the key to the path is insights into suffering and a doctrine of self. Which parts of the techniques used to achieve those insights are "unique" doesn't seem to me to be the important issue.

As for deciding on an approach, as the quote I gave above from Chanmyay Sayadaw indicates, one of the issues about which approach one uses is one's circumstance, i.e. what is the most useful thing to do if you can't devote 100% of your life to Dhamma practice? How much time should be allocated to dana, sila, development of mindfulness, concentration, insight, etc? Recommending some particular mix as a practical option for busy people doesn't necessarily imply negativity about parts of the path.

:anjali:
Mike


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