What's the point of jhana?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

What's the point of jhana?

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Nov 28, 2013 10:10 am

What is the purpose of developing jhana in the context of the 8-fold path?

We've touched on this in the "jhana and hindrances" thread, but I feel it would be interesting to address the question directly.

As a starting point I'd like to observe that samma samadhi is defined in terms of jhana.

Your thoughts?
Well, oi dunno...
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Thu Nov 28, 2013 10:20 am

To paraphrase Leigh Brasington, if you try to cut a table in half with butter knife, it will take very long. If you do it with a sharpened knife it will take less time. The time you spend developing jhana is compensated next.

Besides, the path without samatha is very hard. What better than walk the path happily?
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: What's the point of jhana?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 28, 2013 10:34 am

Numerous suttas have the gradual training pattern of:
Virtue, sense restraint, mindfulness and alertness, abandoning the hindrances, jhana, knowledge and liberation. Jhana seems to be a preparation for liberating insight in those suttas:
MN 27 wrote:“Again, with the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the fourth jhāna, which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity. ...

When his concentrated mind is thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. ...
... he directs it to knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings. ...
... he directs it to knowledge of the destruction of the taints. He understands as it actually is: ‘This is suffering’;…‘This is the origin of suffering’;…‘This is the cessation of suffering’;…‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’;…‘These are the taints’;…‘This is the origin of the taints’;…‘This is the cessation of the taints’;…‘This is the way leading to the cessation of the taints.’
http://suttacentral.net/mn27/en/

Or: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .horn.html

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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Mkoll » Thu Nov 28, 2013 11:16 pm

I posted this in the "Jhana and Hindrances" thread but it applies here. The experience of jhana is incomparably peaceful and sublime. With the wisdom one has developed, one sees that even the most peaceful and sublime states are impermanent and conditioned. One's mind becomes "disgusted" even with jhana and one directs the mind to the deathless, Nibbana.

To me, this sounds like the apex of the conditioned path and is something most of us needn't concern ourselves with yet. But I would surmise that knowing this idea will be useful when the time comes.

"And what, Ananda is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters? Here, with seclusion from the acquisitions, with the abandoning of unwholesome states, with the complete tranquillization of bodily inertia, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.

"Whatever exists therein of material form, feeling, perception, formations and consciousness, he sees those states as impermanent, as suffering, as a disease, as a tumour, as a barb, as a calamity, as an affliction, as alien, as disintegrating, as void, as not self. He turns his mind away from those states and directs it towards the deathless element thus: 'This is the peaceful, this is the sublime, that is, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbana. If he is steady in that, he attains the destruction of the taints. But if he does not attain the destruction of the taints because of that desire for the Dhamma, that delight in the Dhamma, then with the destruction of the five lower fetters he becomes one due to reappear spontaneously [in the Pure Abodes] and there attain final Nibbana without ever returning from that world. This is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters

-MN 64, Mahamalunkyaputta Sutta, trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby manas » Fri Nov 29, 2013 3:42 am

Well, jhana is limb number eight of the Noble Eightfold Path, so obviously we will have to learn it at some stage to attain full release, whether in this or in a future life. I did read, however, a well-written and, to my mind, convincing argument by Bhikkhu Bodhi (as I recall), that jhana is most likely not essential for attaining stream-entry, though. But when different practitioners define the standard of what jhana 'really' is differently, that issue gets clouded. Because might it be that, some folks are practicing jhana as described in the suttas unawares, because they have been taught that it's only 'real' jhana if it's in accord with the Visuddhimagga, and thus label their samadhi as 'neighbourhood' or 'access', terms which aiui are not mentioned in the suttas in relation to jhana...?

Anyway, as I understand it: concentration (not the ideal translation for 'samadhi' so I've heard, but will have to do) is the supporting condition for 'the knowledge and vision of things as they really are', one of the stages towards full release:

"The knowledge and vision of things as they really are, monks, also has a supporting condition, I say, it does not lack a supporting condition. And what is the supporting condition for the knowledge and vision of things as they really are? 'Concentration' should be the reply.

Yathābhūtañāṇadassanampahaṃ bhikkhave saupanisaṃ vadāmi, no anupanisaṃ. Kā ca bhikkhave, yathābhūtañāṇadassanassa upanisā? Samādhītissa vacanīyaṃ.

(from the Upanisa Sutta: Discourse on Supporting Conditions: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .bodh.html


Does 'samadhi' in this specific context refer to jhana, or to the principle of samadhi in general? I'm not sure about that (maybe another could elaborate?) But we can note, that 'samma samadhi' [emphasis added] is often simply defined as the four jhanas.

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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby cooran » Fri Nov 29, 2013 4:58 am

Hello Manas,

Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to indicate that, though Jhanas may be attained earlier, they are necessary for a Non-Returner onwards:

Jhanas and the lay Disciple according to the Pali Suttas
http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha267.htm

With metta,
Chris
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:10 am

mikenz66 wrote:Numerous suttas have the gradual training pattern of:
Virtue, sense restraint, mindfulness and alertness, abandoning the hindrances, jhana, knowledge and liberation. Jhana seems to be a preparation for liberating insight in those suttas:


So in simple terms is it correct to say that sati is the foundation for samadhi ( ie jhana ), which in turn is the foundation for ditthi ( ie insight )?

And is there a correlelation here with the 7 factors of enlightenment?
Well, oi dunno...
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:14 am

Mkoll wrote: The experience of jhana is incomparably peaceful and sublime. With the wisdom one has developed, one sees that even the most peaceful and sublime states are impermanent and conditioned. One's mind becomes "disgusted" even with jhana and one directs the mind to the deathless, Nibbana.


So wisdom is dependent on the experience of jhana?
Well, oi dunno...
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Ben » Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:31 am

Spiny Norman wrote:What is the purpose of developing jhana...?


It keeps one off the street, and off the internet.
Developing the jhana factors is recommended.
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby manas » Fri Nov 29, 2013 9:23 pm

cooran wrote:Hello Manas,

Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to indicate that, though Jhanas may be attained earlier, they are necessary for a Non-Returner onwards:

Jhanas and the lay Disciple according to the Pali Suttas
http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha267.htm

With metta,
Chris


Thank you Chris for the clarification. I will read that link with interest.

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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Anagarika » Sat Nov 30, 2013 12:22 am

This article by Ven. Thanissaro seems to place the jhanas at the center of the meditative path: http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writ ... 0Jhana.pdf

The purpose is to get the mind steady enough, long enough, so it can see. When it sees, it can let go. When it lets go, it’s free. That’s what this practice is all about. That’s what the Buddha meant when he said, “Go, do jhana.” It encompasses all of the aspects of developing the mind.

I read the Bhikkhu Bodhi article, and it is interesting to see the argument that stream entry may be attainable without jhana. By comparison, Ven. Thanissaro suggests that jhana is at the core of the meditation process. Jhana establishing samatha and vipassana, and then when in jhana, elevating samatha and vipassana to a higher level. This reading resonates with me. Why else would the Buddha admonish the monks to find the root of a tree or an empty building and "do jhana" unless it was fundamental to the path? Perhaps Bhikkhu Bodhi's scholarship involves the later commentaries and Abhi views to such an extent that this fundamental point becomes blurred. I don't have an answer, but it's an interesting question.
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Pondera » Sat Nov 30, 2013 5:10 pm

"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.


An.9.36
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an09/an09.036.than.html

Interesting that "unbinding" can be realized in any of the jhanas.

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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Dhammanando » Sat Nov 30, 2013 7:26 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:
Ven. Thanissaro: The purpose is to get the mind steady enough, long enough, so it can see. When it sees, it can let go. When it lets go, it’s free. That’s what this practice is all about. That’s what the Buddha meant when he said, “Go, do jhana.” It encompasses all of the aspects of developing the mind.

I read the Bhikkhu Bodhi article, and it is interesting to see the argument that stream entry may be attainable without jhana. By comparison, Ven. Thanissaro suggests that jhana is at the core of the meditation process.


I don't think their respective statements are in conflict. Bhikkhu Bodhi is using 'jhāna' in the sense of the states of meditative absorption (the four rūpajjhānas), while Ven. Thanissaro is using it in its broader Sutta sense, where it is virtually synonymous with bhāvanā and encompasses the full range of activities involved in mental development.

In the Suttas the sense in which Bhikkhu Bodhi is using the noun 'jhāna' is its primary sense, while Thanissaro's use is a secondary one. But with the verb 'jhāyati' it's the other way around. Now it's the sense of mental development in general (i.e. of both calm and insight) that becomes primary, while the narrower sense of 'to enter one of the absorptions' becomes secondary (and of rather uncommon occurrence in the Suttas).

For this reason I think the rendering of "Jhāyatha, bhikkhave!" as "Bhikkhus, go do jhāna!" is apt to be tendentious and misleading, inasmuch as the noun jhāna will be likely to be construed in the narrower of the two senses when in fact it's the broader one that is more often intended.
    ...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: What's the point of jhana?

Postby fivebells » Sat Nov 30, 2013 8:30 pm

Thanissaro covers the translation of this phrase in detail in Go, Do Jhana (pdf). While his brief translation is still "Go, Do Jhana," his explanation agrees with Dhammanando.
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Spiny Norman » Sun Dec 01, 2013 12:48 pm

Dhammanando wrote: Bhikkhu Bodhi is using 'jhāna' in the sense of the states of meditative absorption (the four rūpajjhānas), while Ven. Thanissaro is using it in its broader Sutta sense, where it is virtually synonymous with bhāvanā and encompasses the full range of activities involved in mental development.


I'm not sure about this second interpretation because in the suttas the absorption factors are described quite explicitly. But if this analysis is correct, which sense of jhana would you say applies to fullfilling samma samadhi?
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Anagarika » Sun Dec 01, 2013 6:01 pm

Dhammanando wrote:For this reason I think the rendering of "Jhāyatha, bhikkhave!" as "Bhikkhus, go do jhāna!" is apt to be tendentious and misleading, inasmuch as the noun jhāna will be likely to be construed in the narrower of the two senses when in fact it's the broader one that is more often intended.


Thank you, Ven. Dhammanando, for this explanation; this clarifies the issue for me. I'm always appreciative when you weigh in on questions here at DW. I'm still left with questions as to why the broader sense or use of jhana is not more prevalent in modern Theravada. It seems relegated to a "specialty practice," and in the west, it's been displaced to some degree by former Thai Bhikkhus who now teach insight/vipassana without much mention of jhana, if any at all. Of course, Ven. Thanissaro and others (Ven. Gunaratana, Ven. Bodhi, Ven. Brahm) teach it as a core course, but a cursory glance of many Buddhist seminars neglect it almost completely. My local (United States) Theravada temple makes only rare mention of it, and does not incorporate it into the teachings to the laity there.

Taken the way that Ven. Thanissaro uses it... "The word he uses for going to meditate is “to go do jhana”—jhayati is the verb in Pali. It’s a homonym with a verb for burning, as when a flame burns steadily. And the same verb is used for doing jhana. As you practice concentration, you try to make the mind burn steadily, with a clean, clear flame. Flames that flicker up and down are hard to read by, but a steady flame is one you can read by clearly. That’s the quality you’re trying to develop so that you can read the mind" ...the definition resonates nicely. I also have this sense that the piti and sukha that can be generated in jhana complements the eradication of attachment to the sense fetters that bind us to samsara. In other words, if we are working to free ourselves from these attachments to sensuality, why not integrate a practice daily that affords a supermundane form of pleasure? If western insight teachers are teaching detachment from sense fetters, why not teach jhana as an antidote?
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Dec 01, 2013 6:24 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote: I'm still left with questions as to why the broader sense or use of jhana is not more prevalent in modern Theravada. It seems relegated to a "specialty practice," and in the west, it's been displaced to some degree by former Thai Bhikkhus who now teach insight/vipassana without much mention of jhana, if any at all. Of course, Ven. Thanissaro and others (Ven. Gunaratana, Ven. Bodhi, Ven. Brahm) teach it as a core course, but a cursory glance of many Buddhist seminars neglect it almost completely. My local (United States) Theravada temple makes only rare mention of it, and does not incorporate it into the teachings to the laity there.

I think that it depends on who you talk/read/listen to, and how you interpret it. What Ven Thanissaro discusses seems to me to be basically the same as what most Mahasi-based teachers teach (U Pandita uses the term "Vipassana Jhana" for non-absorbed samadhi: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pandita/html/jhanas.html), so that probably covers quite a lot of teachers. Many such teachers do discuss absorbed jhana (e.g. http://buddhanet.net/vmed_1.htm), but point out that it is not easy to achieve without relatively long retreats. The Goenaka-style body-scanning is another approach that gives strong non-absorbed concentration. And of course Pa Auk Sayadaw and his students teach absorbed jhana, similar to Ajahn Brahm.

I think that what particular teachers teach depends on what they find works for their students in their particular circumstances. It would be fruitless to teach absorbed jhana to casual students who turn up occasionally, for example. Also, just because they teach in a particular way doesn't mean that they are not knowledgeable about other approaches, and won't help you with those if you show interest and dedication.

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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Dhammanando » Sun Dec 01, 2013 8:16 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:I'm not sure about this second interpretation because in the suttas the absorption factors are described quite explicitly. But if this analysis is correct, which sense of jhana would you say applies to fullfilling samma samadhi?


“And what, friends, is right concentration? Here, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first absorption (jhāna), which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. With the stilling of applied and sustained thought, he enters upon and abides in the second absorption (jhāna) ... etc.”

Here ‘jhāna’ in its narrow sense is identified with sammāsamādhi.

______________________________

“Jhāyatha, bhikkhave, mā pamādattha!”
“Bhikkhus, meditate, don’t be negligent!”

In this context ‘jhāyatha’ (the verb concerned usually with jhāna in its broader sense) is glossed in the commentaries as “samathañca vipassanañca vaḍḍhetha!” — “Make calm and insight grow!” Here sammāsamādhi is included within ‘jhāna’.

In Dhammapada 372 we have an example of the noun ‘jhāna’ in its broad sense:

“There is no meditation (jhāna) for one who is without wisdom, no wisdom for one who is not meditating (ajhāyato). He in whom there are meditation (jhāna) and wisdom, is indeed close to nibbāna.”
(translation: K.R. Norman)
    ...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.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Mkoll » Sun Dec 01, 2013 8:29 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
Mkoll wrote: The experience of jhana is incomparably peaceful and sublime. With the wisdom one has developed, one sees that even the most peaceful and sublime states are impermanent and conditioned. One's mind becomes "disgusted" even with jhana and one directs the mind to the deathless, Nibbana.


So wisdom is dependent on the experience of jhana?

I would agree with Ven. Bodhi (from the article that cooran posted) that jhana is necessary for the higher stages of wisdom, namely that of non-returning and arahantship. The evidence for this is the sutta I quoted as well as thinking about it thus: if the non-returner has completely eradicated sensual desire, that presupposes attainment of jhana because the Buddha said that until one has attained jhana, one does not know if a pleasure higher than sensual pleasures and thus one is in constant danger of being swept up in the flood of sensual desire. The non-returner severs that fetter by jhana and seeing with wisdom things as they truly are.

I think we regular people can and definitely should still develop wisdom independent of jhana. The wisdom may be conditioned but it is this conditioned volution that leads to the unconditioned. We must use the conditioned to eventually "reach" the unconditioned. Again, the limitations of language ensure that whenever one talks about "conditioned" and "unconditioned", confusion will result if one takes the labels too seriously so please don't this kind of talk too seriously.

The map is not the territory.
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Re: What's the point of jhana?

Postby Dhammanando » Sun Dec 01, 2013 8:32 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:I'm still left with questions as to why the broader sense or use of jhana is not more prevalent in modern Theravada.


I think modern teachers' choice of words is influenced by the fact that in the texts the Suttas' 'bhāvanā' and the Atthakathās' 'kammaṭṭhāna' are used far more often than than the noun 'jhāna' in its broad sense. An additional reason, specific to Thailand, is that the noun 'chaan' (Thai pronunciation of 'jhāna') is popularly associated with the sort of trance states that mediums and shamans go into. And so some teachers will avoid the word jhāna because they want to distance themselves from such déclassé associations.
    ...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.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,
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