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Zazen and the Jhanas - Dhamma Wheel

Zazen and the Jhanas

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
Christopherxx
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Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Christopherxx » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:38 am

Hey gals and guys!

So many of us know that the Zen tradition is named after Dhyana. Which is synonymous with Jhana.

I was having a discussion with a (I believe) a Soto practitioner where she noted that in Zazen practice (An open awareness meditation style where eyes are kept open) that they are able to have what she would consider absorption experiences.

As much of our traditions literature focuses on the breath or kasina practice in order to bring about the nimitta and then enter into Jhana (Both form Jhanas and formless attainments). Is it possible for their practice to have such experiences as defined in our tradition.

Obviously this is a discussion where Dharma Wheel participants *I think I posted there as well* and our own past and present Zen practitioners are encouraged to chime in! :anjali:

darvki
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby darvki » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:52 am

Mahayana polemics led to the seeming rejection of jhana, but any time with Zen will reveal an enormous emphasis on ever deepening samadhi that sets the stage for awakening experiences. It would seem that the sectarian differences are merely differences in the use of terms.

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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 05, 2012 7:17 am


Christopherxx
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Christopherxx » Wed Dec 05, 2012 7:46 am

Nana it's great to hear from you again!

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Anagarika
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Anagarika » Fri Dec 07, 2012 2:18 am

I have had the experience in some settings with Soto Zen where there was something of what I felt to be an aversion to jhana. I did not find in my limited study of Dogen anything resembling dhyana teachings. This is ironic in the sense that 'Zen' derives from 'Chan" which derives from dhyana, but I had a clear sense that Dogen sought to break well free of the traditional samatha-vipassana model and to create or brand his own style of "just sitting" meditation.

Others' mileage may vary, as it is said, and it may be true that there are Soto Zen teachers who embrace jhana type meditation, but to a great degree among Soto practitioners I see a lack of implementation of teaching of jhana, toward a more Dogen-ish approach of silent, sitting illumination.... maybe more like a samatha calming approach with an aversion to the active vipassana step.

I'm being careful not to sound critical, but only to recite my observations.

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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby alan... » Sat Dec 08, 2012 8:38 am


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Indrajala
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:07 pm






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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:10 pm






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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:42 pm

Let me just say that Japanese Zen and Chinese Chan, while aware of what dhyāna is, generally believe themselves to possess superior methods. I don't agree with this.

I was actually just recently discussing this with a Chan practitioner here in Taiwan who told me in no uncertain terms that there are "superior methods" when it comes to meditation. I was defending my inclination and dedication to dhyāna practice as Śākyamuni Buddha taught it. They insisted that it was far too gradual a method and that their practice was certainly superior. They insist that their version of Chan practice is not limited to quiet environments, but can be practised anywhere and everywhere, especially while carrying out your daily chores (chopping wood or typing on the computer).

Nevertheless, my issue with such an attitude is that I've never met anyone that demonstrated they possessed superior wisdom or capacities as a result of such a method. It often strikes me as a kind of mindfulness for guarding the mind against harmful thoughts and emotions, though not comparable to the richness and bliss of dhyāna. I think dhyāna is truly necessary as a means of culling kleśas. As the Abhidharma-kośa-bhāsya by Vasubandhu highlights, dhyāna "opposes" afflictive states and thus they are reduced. From a personal point of view I can clearly understand and appreciate this. In my opinion this is far more compelling and effective than gong'an/ko'an contemplation, or sitting waiting for the mind and body to drop away.

I often find Chan unsystematic and baffling. They'll talk about "awakening", but then say one can still fall into the lower realms and regress. In the Mahāyāna context they'll talk about "achieving buddhahood", but then state it is just "temporary" or "a moment" of buddhahood (that doesn't make sense because buddhahood is an irreversible elimination of all afflictions and ignorance). This is in great contrast to other Chinese traditions, particularly in the Tang and earlier which, while indeed Mahāyāna, still provided a systematic and logical general outline for the process of bodhisattvahood and eventual buddhahood without twisting any of the terms.

As I mentioned above the early Mahāyāna taught and practised dhyāna. It is through the experience of dhyāna that the bodhisattva truly cultivates compassion for all beings. One key aspect of this is having personal experience of the ārūpya-dhātu (formless realm). Without a point of reference to understand the subtle suffering of beings in that realm, your compassion for them would only be imagined and estimated based on speculation and the testimony of others. To understand their suffering requires one to actually have experience of that realm, which in turn requires dhyāna (specifically withdrawing from the kāma-dhātu and rūpa-dhātu). This is why merely being mindful or contemplating emptiness on an intellectual level won't cut it.

However, their counter argument for what I am saying here is that such texts as the Mahāprājñāpāramitā Upadeśa (attributed to Nāgārjuna) teach that the bodhisattva realizes all things as empty and thus abides neither in disordered thoughts or meditative absorption. However, they seem to overlook two critical things:

1. The "bodhisattva" in the text is generally assumed to be an advanced practitioner, not an ordinary person.
2. It also mentions that the dhyānas are cultivated before wisdom is attained, whereupon compassion and abilities emerge otherwise unavailable. This essentially means that while a bodhisattva can indeed abide neither in chaotic thoughts nor meditative absorption (transcending both basically), in order to really do that one needs to have mastery of dhyāna.

In my experience with Zen and Chan, the second point seems to be often overlooked. The assumption is that anyone can just jump right into rather advanced practices (anything related to emptiness is actually quite advanced, be it intellectual or yogic).





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Anagarika
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Anagarika » Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:13 pm

:goodpost: , Huseng.

It's my impression that so much of what is practiced in the US these days is far more "Zen," or the American new-age post Beat type stuff that has cemented itself well in the practice of Zen, but, to me, is now Zen, but really not so much Buddhism. I have noted in some Zen sanghas almost a reluctance to acknowledge Gautama Buddha, and a suggestion that the Agamas/Nikayas are to be forgotten or ignored. I feel that Zen in the west has evolved, and in doing so, moved further away from the original path and onto a path almost entirely of its own design. The evolution does seem to have root in not early Mahayana, but in later Mahayana, where there seems almost a perjorative attitude taken toward the early teachings of Buddha. What seems to have emerged is a grand tradition of storytelling, with later sutras designed to characterize the Buddha as a god, a mythical deity, a supernatural being. I have the sense that some of the Zen patriarchs were really carving out for themselves new philosophical territories at the expense of what they themselves were taught when they were young monks. Dogen may be just one example of this phenomenon.

I note that a few years ago, after sitting sesshin for a few days, all of us sitting, and sitting and sitting, with no instruction and no perspective on the sitting, one of the priests at the zendo, in a private moment, cut loose with " all this sitting is just bulls**t!" I think what he was trying to express was that in Zen, the marathon sessions of silent sitting were not what Buddha taught, and seemed not to be doing much for anyone other than seeing whose knees and backs could withstand the torture the longest.

There is such a beauty and strength to Mahayana practice. The bodhisattva ideal is absolutely the proper template for practice in the modern world, and it's my feeling that Gautama himself is still such a strong example of that ideal. Early Mahayana took the traditional practices and in so many ways expanded and energized the teachings, in a very authentic way. Yet, modern Zen may need to be careful that in throwing out the bathwater (the Agamas) it doesn't toss out the baby (Shakyamuni Buddha) as well.

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daverupa
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby daverupa » Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:25 pm


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Anagarika
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Anagarika » Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:07 pm


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daverupa
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby daverupa » Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:21 pm


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Anagarika
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Anagarika » Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:29 pm

Thanks, Daverupa, for these excellent citations. I had not been exposed to these suttas before, and look forward to reading them.

Metta

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Indrajala
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Indrajala » Sun Dec 09, 2012 2:46 am






alan...
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby alan... » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:13 am


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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby alan... » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:30 am


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m0rl0ck
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun Dec 09, 2012 12:23 pm

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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Anagarika
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby Anagarika » Sun Dec 09, 2012 2:14 pm


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convivium
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Re: Zazen and the Jhanas

Postby convivium » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:53 pm

it seems important to distinguish between dogen zen and soto zen in general. i prefer the former, while i don't resonate with a lot of the teachings that fall under the wider umbrella of 'soto'. in the suzuki roshi lineage, they are open to satipatthana practice. however, the jhanas are not taught. certain teachers within the lineage will sympathize with jhana practice while others won't. however, if you 'do' jhana without making distinctions or maps (in general) and just by way of anapanasati (in it's minimalist forms) then it's essentially zazen. that's what i gathered from my three months at tassajara.
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php


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