Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Mkoll » Tue Dec 31, 2013 3:10 am

Dear friends,

Another significant indication related to the nature of absorption can also be gathered from the Upakkilesa-sutta. According to its account, before his awakening the Buddha had to make quite an effort in order to overcome a whole series of obstructions until he was able to attain the first absorption (MN III 157). This suggests the first absorption to be a state of mind reached only after prolonged practice and requiring considerable meditative expertise.

This impression is confirmed by turning to the cases of Anuruddha and Mahāmoggallāna. In the case of each of these two chief disciples the personal intervention of the Buddha was required for them to be able to attain and stabilize the first absorption (MN III 157 and SN IV 263). If Anuruddha and Mahāmoggallāna, who later on were reckoned as outstanding among the Buddha’s disciples for their concentrative abilities (AN I 23), had such difficulties, then it can safely be concluded that the first absorption stands for a level of concentration that requires considerable meditative training.

Elsewhere the discourses in fact indicate that during the first absorption it is impossible to speak (SN IV 217), and the hearing of sounds is an obstruction to its attainment (AN V 135). With the first absorption one has gone beyond Māra’s vision (MN I 159), having reached the end of the world of the senses (AN IV 430). These passages confirm that the first absorption is indeed a state during which the mind is “absorbed” in deep concentration.

-From Ven. Anālayo's Excursions into the Thought-World of the Pāli Discourses, page 244-245, Pariyatti: 2012

Highly recommended book.

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Re: Re:

Postby manas » Tue Dec 31, 2013 3:37 am

I'd like to see this clarified. I think that it's not the fact that we want to attain jhana that hinders us from attaining it. I think the problem is that, if you are focusing on the breath, with the anticipation in the back of your mind of geting to 1st jhana, you are not totaly focused on the breath. It is probably a form of restlessness, but I think this distinction, if true, must be made. It's not desiring jhana that prevents you from attaining it. It's a more a result of a defective focus, due to the antecipation of jhana, due to not being focused with your whole mind on the object.

This is a subtle difference, but it explains the (apparent) contradiction that to get to jhana you have to not desire it.


Hi Modus,
this written on phone, so briefly: what you said, that's what I was getting at. We agree.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Sati1 » Tue Dec 31, 2013 5:41 am

Hi Sarah,

SarathW wrote:Hi Satti
Please to see that you are a dedicated meditator.
I am not sure whether I ever experienced rapture. (because I do not have a teacher)
Could you explain how it feel like.
Anyone else in this forum can answer my question if you have personally experience it.
:)


Rapture is a pleasure that pervades the whole body and feels like a real physical pleasure, like some sort of extremely pleasant tingling inside the body. For me it came spontaneously early on, but then It stopped for several months because I was trying to get it. That was very frustrating. Even when I discovered the trying to be the cause of the cessation, I found it very hard to stop trying. It got harder to let go of the desire the more I read about jhanas and wished the rapture back. Eventually I realized that the true benefit of meditation is not the rapture one can attain, but the ability to see things clearly during the day and release the vast amount of concepts, urges, cravings, etc that burden us. That realization was a huge relief. As far as I understand, several meditation masters such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Ven. Vimalarasi argue that jhanas aren't even necessary for liberation, at least at the early stages. My advice would be not to bother with trying to feel anything during meditation, but just to cultivate mindfulness of breathing.

manas wrote:I'd like to see this clarified. I think that it's not the fact that we want to attain jhana that hinders us from attaining it. I think the problem is that, if you are focusing on the breath, with the anticipation in the back of your mind of geting to 1st jhana, you are not totaly focused on the breath. It is probably a form of restlessness, but I think this distinction, if true, must be made. It's not desiring jhana that prevents you from attaining it. It's a more a result of a defective focus, due to the antecipation of jhana, due to not being focused with your whole mind on the object.

This is a subtle difference, but it explains the (apparent) contradiction that to get to jhana you have to not desire it.



I would agree with manas that there is a way to strive for jhanas without craving them, but that the distinction is subtle and hard to navigate. It's the distinction between Right Effort and Craving.
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Tue Dec 31, 2013 11:54 am

Satti1 wrote:Rapture is a pleasure that pervades the whole body and feels like a real physical pleasure, like some sort of extremely pleasant tingling inside the body.


I tried to describe it yesterday but I couldn't. For me, it's true that it's pleasurable. But it's not heavy, like sensual pleasures. SarathW, if you have experienced the deep peace that comes with a good sitting practice, you can imagine piti like a pleasurable, joyful sensation that is as refined and light as that peace. It's tingly and it feels like a burst of energy. I can't describe it better. Can someone add to this?
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: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:13 pm

seeker242 wrote:Or, you could say that Jhana pleasure has the potential to lead to "higher state" or "closer to enlightenment" or whatever you want to call it. Whereas sensual pleasure has no potential for that at all.


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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:14 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:...you can imagine piti like a pleasurable, joyful sensation that is as refined and light as that peace. It's tingly and it feels like a burst of energy. I can't describe it better. Can someone add to this?


I've experienced it like a mild electric shock which persists pleasantly.
( I used to be an electrician ;) )
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby manas » Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:23 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:
Satti1 wrote:Rapture is a pleasure that pervades the whole body and feels like a real physical pleasure, like some sort of extremely pleasant tingling inside the body.


I tried to describe it yesterday but I couldn't. For me, it's true that it's pleasurable. But it's not heavy, like sensual pleasures. SarathW, if you have experienced the deep peace that comes with a good sitting practice, you can imagine piti like a pleasurable, joyful sensation that is as refined and light as that peace. It's tingly and it feels like a burst of energy. I can't describe it better. Can someone add to this?


From what I have read over my time here, piti is not experienced in the same way by all practitioners. I can recall a commentarial passage talking about the burst of energy as an early manifestation, when the meditator has not as yet learnt to stabilize it. I can relate to that. I will just say that, I suspect we need to be more detached, that is the case with me anyway. After all, jhana is not the be-all-and-end-all, it's a pleasant abiding etc, and even the Buddha described it as such, but really we want it for the cessation of all ill, not merely as a pleasant abiding, so I think we need to 'remain calm and don't get too excited' :meditate: , if you know what I mean. For me at this stage, it's kind of a happy mental / emotional feeling, but in this body. Now that is unusual in my life experience, and yes it's not like sensual pleasure...

So, like learning a musical instrument, practice, practice, practice! And, as much virtue, mindfulness in daily life, and 'turning away' from sensuality as possible as well, will help with this endeavour, I think.

I'm glad we are all able to have a discussion about this.

metta,
manas.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:54 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote:...you can imagine piti like a pleasurable, joyful sensation that is as refined and light as that peace. It's tingly and it feels like a burst of energy. I can't describe it better. Can someone add to this?


I've experienced it like a mild electric shock which persists pleasantly.
( I used to be an electrician ;) )


That's a good aditional description. It describes the thingling part.
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: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Zom » Tue Dec 31, 2013 2:57 pm

Subj. answer: Because jhana pleasure is a pleasure of abandoning sensual pleasures:

1st jhana formula:
"..quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from (this) seclusion..."

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Dec 31, 2013 3:41 pm

Zom wrote:1st jhana formula:
"..quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from (this) seclusion..."


Yes, good point.
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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Mkoll » Tue Dec 31, 2013 10:04 pm

Also see the below excerpt from MN 14. Even the Bodhisatta himself saw that he could be tempted by sensuality when he hadn't yet attained jhana.

"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, & greater drawbacks, still — if he has not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that[4] — 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, & greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality.

"I myself, before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened bodhisatta, saw as it actually was with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, but as long as I had not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, I did not claim that I could not be tempted by sensuality. But when I saw as it actually was with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and I had attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, that was when I claimed that I could not be tempted by sensuality.


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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby manas » Tue Dec 31, 2013 11:47 pm

So maybe jhana isn't about 'getting' anything, but rather, about casting off burdens...temporarily letting go of a heap of trouble.


I just wish to clarify what I wrote here. That is one useful strategy, for how to not get too hung up on trying to 'get' piti etc; but cultivation of jhana is not *just* about letting go, there is also much to do, one has to fabricate alot of wholesome intention, in my experience, to counter the hindrances, not merely 'let go'. I see the process as requiring quite a bit of positive energy, it's not merely a passive process, although as the mind settles down, one can begin to let go a little more, I've found.

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Last edited by manas on Wed Jan 01, 2014 9:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby daverupa » Wed Jan 01, 2014 2:18 am

manas wrote:So maybe jhana isn't about 'getting' anything, but rather, about casting off burdens...temporarily letting go of a heap of trouble.


SN 48.10 wrote:"And what is the faculty of concentration? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, making it his object to let go, attains concentration, attains singleness of mind. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana...
    "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: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jan 01, 2014 2:56 am

Hi Dave,

There seems to be some disagreement on how to translate that sentence.
Ānandajoti Bhikkhu wrote:Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako, vossaggārammaṇaṁ karitvā, labhati samādhiṁ,
Here, monks, a noble disciple, having relinquished sense objects, attains concentration,
http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/T ... suttam.htm

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind, having made release the object.


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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Mkoll » Wed Jan 01, 2014 3:09 am

Dear friends,

Here's another excerpt from Ven. Anālayo's book about letting go (vossagga). It's the subject of a whole, albeit small, chapter in his book.

In relation to the development of concentration, to let go would stand for letting go of concern with the world of the senses, first of all, and eventually also for letting go of the subjective sense of 'I'. Only once this sense of 'I' goes into abeyance, allowing for a subjective experience of a merger between observing subject and observed meditative object, will entry into absorption become possible. Preconditions for developing such letting go into deep meditative absorption are faith, energy, and mindfulness (SN V 225)

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby Sati1 » Wed Jan 01, 2014 8:57 am

manas wrote:So maybe jhana isn't about 'getting' anything, but rather, about casting off burdens...temporarily letting go of a heap of trouble.

But might the challenge be, that until one has really made that effort, and let go of sensuality for a while (plus the other mental hindrances), and entered into jhana - one doesn't yet know that...hence, the struggle to attain the 1st jhana, which I admit I can relate to?


The pleasure of jhana is, I would say, twofold: (1) the physical sensation (the "electric shocks" described by Spiny Norman, and similar sensations), and (2) the relief of having let go. The latter is the real BIG value of concentration, since it extends to the rest of one's daily life, and isn't confined to the practice session. This relief is achieved through samatha practice combined with insight, which is guided by the teachings of Buddha, chiefly nonself, impermanence and suffering (see SN 35:147-149). It is possible, however, to gain a deep grasp into "letting go" without entering deep meditation states (jhanas), as explained in this essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi (http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha267.htm). I would agree though that in order to get into deep meditation states, one must let go at least enough to not be distracted by the hindrances. Another trick that sometimes works for me is to remember the terms "nonself / anatta" when I struggle to concentrate. In some way that dispels the distracting activities of "I must (relax / concentrate / attain rapture / etc)" and instead creates a mindset of "just being" (not "I am just being", but "just being"). This in turn facilitates doing what ought to be done (just be with the breath). If deep states arise, great, if not, that's great too, since there was practice in letting go, and tremendous relaxation and peace.

Metta.
Sati1
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----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby manas » Wed Jan 01, 2014 9:37 am

So maybe jhana isn't about 'getting' anything, but rather, about casting off burdens...temporarily letting go of a heap of trouble.


I just wish to clarify what I wrote here. That is one useful strategy, for how to not get too hung up on trying to 'get' piti etc; but cultivation of jhana is not *just* about letting go, there is also much to do, one has to fabricate alot of wholesome intention, in my experience, to counter the hindrances, not merely 'let go'. I see the process as requiring quite a bit of positive energy, it's not merely a passive process, although as the mind settles down, one can begin to let go a little more, I've found.

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby manas » Wed Jan 01, 2014 9:44 am

So maybe jhana isn't about 'getting' anything, but rather, about casting off burdens...temporarily letting go of a heap of trouble.


I just wish to clarify what I wrote here. That is one useful strategy, for how to not get too hung up on trying to 'get' piti etc; but cultivation of jhana is not *just* about letting go, there is also much to do, one has to fabricate alot of wholesome intention, in my experience, to counter the hindrances, not merely 'let go'. I see the process as requiring quite a bit of positive energy, it's not merely a passive process, although as the mind settles down, one can begin to let go a little more, I've found. (As for 'entering and remaining in jhana' fully, though, I do not think I have done that as yet, just to be clear on that. That's why I said 'cultivation'...)

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Re: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby daverupa » Wed Jan 01, 2014 2:13 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Ānandajoti Bhikkhu wrote:Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako, vossaggārammaṇaṁ karitvā, labhati samādhiṁ,
Here, monks, a noble disciple, having relinquished sense objects, attains concentration,
http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/T ... suttam.htm

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind, having made ...release the object.



This is delightful; now, how can it be that some have chosen a 'sensuality' term as part of the phrase, and others have not? It's an interesting difference, perhaps informed by other learning in the different cases.

I don't think this difference has much of an effect on the meaning, however, as it is all in the same ballpark (release, letting go, withdrawn from, etc.). These are descriptors of what the terminal instruction in each anapanasati tetrad accomplishes.
    "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: Why are jhanas considered superior to sensual pleasures?

Postby melancholy » Sat Apr 12, 2014 1:51 am

Mkoll wrote:Dear Satti1,

Please note that I have not attained jhana so I am not speaking from personal experience.
...
But can jhanas not also result in craving and therefore cause suffering?

I'm guessing that one could become attached to the bliss and calm of jhana and therefore not devote time and effort into practicing insight. In this way, they could be a hindrance.
...


“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu attains to the first dhyana. . . second dhyana. . . third dhyana. . . fourth dhyana. To this is said the non sensual pleasure, the pleasure of seclusion, appeasement and enlightenment. It should be practised, made much and should not be feared, I say.”
[Majjhima Nikāya 139, Araṇavibhaṅga Sutta]


attached to jhana and jhana no need is an idea advertised by the so-called "dry vipassana" tradition. one could not become attached to the bliss and calm of jhana if he is following lord buddha's "path" correctly starting with the "right view". hindus might get attached to it thinking it is the final goal, the brahma, but we buddhists know jhana is not the final goal. jhana is the path.

“Bhikkhus, samadhi is the Path, no samadhi is the wrong Path.”
[Aṅguttara Nikāya 6.64, Sīhanāda Sutta]

“Ānanda, samadhi has knowledge and insight of reality as its purpose, as its reward.”
[Aṅguttara Nikāya 11.1, Kimatthiya Sutta]


if one really has jhana, once out of it the world will be a different place, i mean the way he or she sees the world (yatha-bhuta), then you can know for your self whether the jhana is an attachment or is it the path out of the attachment. people should be very careful when talking things that they do not know, because these things are not some cheap crap to speak lightly :smile:

“Bhikkhus, just as the River Ganges leans, inclines, and flows towards the east, so too a bhikkhu who develops ( bhāvento) and
makes much (bahulīkaronto) of the four dhyanasleans, inclines, and flows towards Nirvana.”
[Saṃyutta Nikāya 53.1, Jhāna Sutta]


... and therefore not devote time and effort into practicing insight. In this way, they could be a hindrance.
...


also there is no separate "practicing insight".

“No dhyana ifwisdom(paññā) lacks, no wisdom if dhyanalacks, in whom are both these qualities, near to Nirvanais that one.”
[Dhammapada 372]

may all you find the genuine path :namaste:

note: all the references copied from this http://www.scribd.com/doc/64780914/The-Nude-Monk-s-Burning-Robes
Power can make things disappear, so does me :D

Then the Blessed One said to Ven. Ananda, "Now, if it occurs to any of you — 'The teaching has lost its authority; we are without a Teacher' — do not view it in that way. Whatever Dhamma & Vinaya I have pointed out & formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone.

-Dīgha Nikāya 16, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta
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