Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby Sudarsha » Thu Oct 22, 2009 7:45 pm

Ah, IanAnd - The Wings to Awakening - I have tried so often to make my way through this most profound of Dhamma texts. Sadly, it appears I'm short a brain cell or three! It's so difficult. That said, I am very grateful for the discussion you have presented. My own childhood memory of something vaguely similar is staring at the stars and imagining endlessness (I don't think that, then, I knew the word infinity ) - I was just, somehow, aware that it went on and on - perhaps even the word "forever" was beyond my vocabulary then.

Over the past 10 years I developed an interest in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen practises (mostly because they were "secret" and, well, I wanted to know :spy: ). The Dzogchen practise of togal is very much like my childhood experience of imagining endlessness - but to what end one practises this is particular I hae me doots. I suspect very strongly that your take on the matter that one slips into jhana fairly much as a matter of fact is a far more common experience than many of us recognize. Certainly your explanation is very confirming for me and I am very happy to thank you for that.

When it comes to identifying the jhana factors ... I want to ask why - isn't it sufficient to just continue to let go? I think it was very important for the Buddha to identify the minutia of our mental operation because he was in the entirely unique position of, to no small extent, having to confirm for others that (1) he was what he said he was and (2) he also had to confirm for his students that they, too, were able to attain the same awakening. For myself, I seem to only get confused. When, for example, Bhante Gunaratana or the Buddha explains JOY, I don't see their explanations as what I call joy when I have those experiences - I see them as "relief" and I see that sense of relief as dependent upon contrast with something else.

So my predicament seems to be one of being somewhat less than "in tune" with the language. To me, passing from a mind of discursive thinking to one of increasing spaciousness and non-clinging is just pleasant, that is, not unpleasant. I return to the awareness right in front and, when the body's had enough, I don't seem to be able to sustain it any longer. It usually lasts about an hour.

I presume that maybe some day I'll get more sensitive (although that's a lot to presume as I've always been a bit of a curmudgeon. Still, I remain so very grateful to all of you for your clarity and scholarship. I was so hesitant to join this group and very afraid, sort of, that y'all'd laugh at my foolishness.
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby IanAnd » Thu Oct 22, 2009 10:43 pm

Sudarsha wrote:Ah, IanAnd - The Wings to Awakening - I have tried so often to make my way through this most profound of Dhamma texts. Sadly, it appears I'm short a brain cell or three! It's so difficult.

Don't feel bad. Take away whatever you are able to and build on that later. As concentration and clear comprehension develops, you should begin to understand more and more, based on the feedback from your own experiences. You have to be able to identify the subtle phenomena from your experiences in order to begin making some sense of all this. Just keep working at it, and it will eventually come.

Sudarsha wrote:That said, I am very grateful for the discussion you have presented. My own childhood memory of something vaguely similar is staring at the stars and imagining endlessness (I don't think that, then, I knew the word infinity ) - I was just, somehow, aware that it went on and on - perhaps even the word "forever" was beyond my vocabulary then.

I don't know whether or not this experience you describe had any of the factors of absorption involved in it since there is no discussion of any kind of feeling or sensation that may have been experienced. But generally speaking, it is that mental sensation of wonder and awe, and the physical sensation of rapt (as in "rapture", one of the jhana factors) attention on an object or subject of observation that I am primarily speaking about. Some call it an "alpha" mind state. (That description helped me to understand what others were speaking about because I had experienced "alpha mind states" before. I knew what they were talking about from experience.) Such an experience is a very pleasant experience (both mentally and physically), if you can grasp what I mean. As you can see, this is difficult to explain (especially to someone who thinks he's never experienced it before) on the Internet. You just have to kind of flow into it (absorption, that is) and go with it.

As one becomes more experienced with entering absorption, one develops the knowledge of how to get there from the get go, like from the first meditative breath. This is the advantage of using the breath as the meditation object — the breath is always with us, it never leaves (except at the death of the body). Once one understands how this works, just paying attention to the breath can be a calming activity.

Sudarsha wrote:When it comes to identifying the jhana factors ... I want to ask why - isn't it sufficient to just continue to let go? I think it was very important for the Buddha to identify the minutia of our mental operation because he was in the entirely unique position of, to no small extent, having to confirm for others that (1) he was what he said he was and (2) he also had to confirm for his students that they, too, were able to attain the same awakening.

If I'm reading your first sentence here correctly, and you are bemoaning the drudgery of having to "identify" subtle phenomena, then I quite agree with you, and I said as much in my reply. I said not to worry too much about identifying the jhana factors (especially when first beginning the practice), because I have found that it can sometimes hinder one's progress to reach and sustain absorption. Whether or not one identifies the the jhana factors is up to the person. Some people will want to, others will not. What is important is to be able to enter absorption in order to take advantage of the effect that it can have on one's concentrative ability. The calmness and tranquility that it brings can be carried into normal consciousness (i.e. after the meditation session), which then allows the mind to be a more impartial observer of phenomena.

Clue: Just so you know, it has taken me a few years of jhana practice to be able confidently to identify the factors accurately within my own experience of them. This ability is enhanced by strengthening one's ability of concentration which comes with time and practice and allows one to become more certain of the subtle phenomena that one is observing. Also, there are certain all-encompassing clues that one can look for which tell you instantly whether or not you are in the first or second level of jhana (especially if it was a fabricated experience, which is what the Buddha described in the following passage from Thanissaro's Mind Like Fire Unbound. Read all the way from "Precepts & practices" down to "Doctrines of the self". This passage describes one instruction given by the Buddha in the discourses of how to enter absorption.). From there, it is just a matter of calming the mind even more until one reaches the fourth level of "mindfulness and equanimity," which some have described as "noble silence." It's not a state that you'll soon forget.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby Sudarsha » Fri Oct 23, 2009 9:14 pm

Thank you, IanAnd - I reviewed the section from Mind Like Fire Unbound that you recommended. I read this a long time ago. This time, it made sense. Whaddyano 'bout that! :P

I didn't describe my experiences/feelings/impressions when gazing at the on-and-on-ness of the stars because I find it nearly impossible to describe things. All the time I see people (on TV, of course) who describe someone to a sketch artist! I couldn't describe my mother to a sketch artist. It's apparently a gift I do not possess.

But you have given me great encouragement, IanAnd - I will start reviewing the books and essays that didn't make any sense or very little sense when I first read them.

Perhaps I have "improved". :jumping:
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby IanAnd » Sat Oct 24, 2009 12:20 am

Sudarsha wrote:Thank you, IanAnd - I reviewed the section from Mind Like Fire Unbound that you recommended. I read this a long time ago. This time, it made sense. Whaddyano 'bout that! :P

It appears that you have gained some insight! Congratulations! You have much more (insightful moments, that is) to look forward to experiencing. Always be alert to your intuition and where it is leading you. If you will follow it, it will lead you to the truth. When reading about someone's experience or about meditative instruction, compare what you are reading against your own experience and endeavor to find the points of intersection. It will help you to see what is being said.

Sudarsha wrote:I didn't describe my experiences/feelings/impressions when gazing at the on-and-on-ness of the stars because I find it nearly impossible to describe things. All the time I see people (on TV, of course) who describe someone to a sketch artist! I couldn't describe my mother to a sketch artist. It's apparently a gift I do not possess.

Quite understandable. I was only trying to communicate that I wasn't really certain from the description that you did give whether or not you might have been experiencing a reverie type experience, which is characterized by rapt attention or what some call absorption. That's all.

Sudarsha wrote:But you have given me great encouragement, IanAnd - I will start reviewing the books and essays that didn't make any sense or very little sense when I first read them.
Perhaps I have "improved". :jumping:

It is a common experience that literature we read early on suddenly makes sense to us later on, somewhere down the line. When you are ready to attempt the practice of satipatthana, there are two books I can recommend that had a tremendous influence on my progress. The first is the classic Nyanaponika Thera tome The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. It goes into some description of "bare attention" and how to use that in conjunction with clear comprehension to deepen your practice. This is not to be missed. It helps to clarify the "how to" of satipatthana — how it is to be properly practiced. The second book will delve into a more detailed description of the many ways that satipatthana is used to approach awakening directly. That book is Ven. Analayo's Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization. What he has to say in the text and the footnotes, it is almost like having the Buddha right there to guide you through the practice. His insight in that book is astounding. Also, it is based upon an understanding of the Dhamma as it is taught in the suttas. If you follow the suttas, you cannot go wrong.

In peace,
Ian
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby pink_trike » Sat Oct 24, 2009 12:22 am

I feel compelled to note here for the sake of those early on the path that in order to ride a bicycle hands-free we need to have a very good comfortable experiential relationship with the essentials of bike riding first...no point in trying to ride hands-free until we can ride a bike with a at least a basic level of confidence and experience.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby Sudarsha » Sat Oct 24, 2009 4:21 am

Many, many thanks, IanAnd. I have read both books that you recommend and will dig them out for re-reading. Yes, with continued practise comes insight. This experience is familiar to me. Regarding looking at the on-and-on-ness of the stars when I was little, perhaps reverie is a useful term. It let me feel ... oops, no idea what the words for that are. I'll take a stab and say "big" ... now, see? I am at a complete loss, even now with, believe it or not, a couple of university degrees! One in English literature, too.

:shock:

Thanks to you, pink_trike, for your very correct words. Despite having practised for many years and having read many books, attended many talks, yadda, yadda, it's like the really silly joke: the man asks little boy, why are you pulling that chain; little boy replies have you ever tried pushing one? - I'm afraid that during my many years of learning to practice many mistaken twists and turns were not at all unlike trying to push a chain.

So much thanks to all of you. This is a wonderful discussion venue and I hope to learn a great deal from all of you.
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 24, 2009 6:03 am

Does anyone here understand the difference between applied thinking and sustained thinking? Seems to me that if you are going to apply a thought it has to be sustained or you are not applying it. So the two terms mean the same thing to me. This has to be wrong. Doesn't it?
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby puthujjana » Sat Oct 24, 2009 10:17 am

Hej catmoon,

this is the classical explanation of vitakka-vicāra:

Nyanatiloka wrote:
vitakka-vicāra

'thought-conception and discursive thinking', (or 'applied and sustained thought') are verbal functions (vacī-sankhāra: s. sankhāra) of the mind, the so-called 'inner speech ('parole interieure'). They are constituents of the 1st absorption (s. jhāna), but absent in the higher absorptions.

(1) "Thought-conception (vitakka) is the laying hold of a thought, giving it attention. Its characteristic consists in fixing the consciousness to the object.

(2) "Discursive thinking (vicāra) is the roaming about and moving to and fro of the mind.... It manifests itself as continued activity of mind" (Vis.M. IV).

(1) is compared with the striking against a bell, (2) with its resounding; (1) with the seizing of a pot, (2) with wiping it. (Cf. Vis . IV.).

http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/u_ ... icaara.htm


with metta
:anjali:
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby puthujjana » Sat Oct 24, 2009 10:28 am

Hej Jack,

BlackBird wrote:Here's an essay by Leigh Brasington called 'Interpretation of the Jhanas' which might provide some content to muse over:
http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

thank you for giving this link.

I like Leigh's conclusions, especially the fourth:
Leigh Basington wrote:1. Mistakes in the above are quite possible!
2. There are a number of different ways to interpret the ancient literature about the Jhanas.
3. We don't really know exactly what type of Jhanas the Buddha and his disciples were practicing.
4. 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.


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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:18 pm

puthujjana wrote:Hej catmoon,

this is the classical explanation of vitakka-vicāra:

Nyanatiloka wrote:
vitakka-vicāra

'thought-conception and discursive thinking', (or 'applied and sustained thought') are verbal functions (vacī-sankhāra: s. sankhāra) of the mind, the so-called 'inner speech ('parole interieure'). They are constituents of the 1st absorption (s. jhāna), but absent in the higher absorptions.

(1) "Thought-conception (vitakka) is the laying hold of a thought, giving it attention. Its characteristic consists in fixing the consciousness to the object.

(2) "Discursive thinking (vicāra) is the roaming about and moving to and fro of the mind.... It manifests itself as continued activity of mind" (Vis.M. IV).

(1) is compared with the striking against a bell, (2) with its resounding; (1) with the seizing of a pot, (2) with wiping it. (Cf. Vis . IV.).

http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/u_ ... icaara.htm


with metta
:anjali:


Wow, finally a clear answer, and in perfect accord with experience and what little Dharma i know too. Good stuff.
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby IanAnd » Sat Oct 24, 2009 5:15 pm

catmoon wrote:
puthujjana wrote:Hey catmoon,

this is the classical explanation of vitakka-vicāra:

Nyanatiloka wrote:
vitakka-vicāra

'thought-conception and discursive thinking', (or 'applied and sustained thought') are verbal functions (vacī-sankhāra: s. sankhāra) of the mind, the so-called 'inner speech ('parole interieure'). They are constituents of the 1st absorption (s. jhāna), but absent in the higher absorptions.

(1) "Thought-conception (vitakka) is the laying hold of a thought, giving it attention. Its characteristic consists in fixing the consciousness to the object.

(2) "Discursive thinking (vicāra) is the roaming about and moving to and fro of the mind.... It manifests itself as continued activity of mind" (Vis.M. IV).

(1) is compared with the striking against a bell, (2) with its resounding; (1) with the seizing of a pot, (2) with wiping it. (Cf. Vis . IV.).

http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/u_ ... icaara.htm


with metta
:anjali:


Wow, finally a clear answer, and in perfect accord with experience and what little Dharma i know too. Good stuff.

Hi Catmoon,

Don't get your bloomers in too much of a ruffle over this until you understand some subtle differences with regard to how it is applied. The way that vitakka and vicara are applied to absorption meditation is a bit different than the impression given by the classical definition above (although I'm not at all discounting the definition above). It took me some time to understand this (principally because no one ever explained it in any of the literature I came across before), but I eventually figured it out for myself.

If you read the discourses where the Buddha is giving instruction on entering absorption, he talks about becoming mindful of the breath first, which relates to applied thought (vittaka) — or directed thought or attention to the breath. Then comes examination or evaluation (vicara; or sustained thought, sometimes described as "discursive thinking") of the breath: "Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long."

Thanissaro Bhikkhu has given an excellent example of this instruction in his book Mind Like Fire Unbound. Rather than explain this myself, I'll let Thanissaro's explanation of it stand, as it is relatively clear and unambiguous. When you come to the final two paragraphs in the quotation below you will find out what this difference is:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote: The first step is simply being mindful of the breath in the present:

There is the case of a monk who, having gone to a forest, to the shade of a tree or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, & keeping mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.

Then comes evaluation: He begins to discern variations in the breath:

Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long. Or breathing in short, he discerns that he is breathing in short; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short.

The remaining steps are willed, or determined: He 'trains himself,' first by manipulating his sense of conscious awareness, making it sensitive to the body as a whole. (This accounts for the term 'mahaggatam' — enlarged or expanded — used to describe the mind in the state of jhana.)

He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body, and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body.

Now that he is aware of the body as a whole, he can begin to manipulate the physical sensations of which he is aware, calming them — i.e., calming the breath — so as to create a sense of rapture & ease.

He trains himself to breathe in calming the bodily processes, and to breathe out calming the bodily processes. He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to rapture, and to breathe out sensitive to rapture. He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to pleasure and breathe out sensitive to pleasure.

(As we will see below, he maximizes this sense of rapture & pleasure, making it suffuse the entire body.)

Now that bodily processes are stilled, mental processes become apparent as they occur. These too are calmed, leaving — as we will see below — a radiant awareness of the mind itself.

He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to mental processes, and to breathe out sensitive to mental processes. He trains himself to breathe in calming mental processes and to breathe out calming mental processes. He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the mind, and to breathe out sensitive to the mind...

— MN 118

The standard description of jhana, however, does not refer to any particular object as its basis, but simply divides it into four levels determined by the way the mind relates to the object as it becomes more & more absorbed in it....

'Directed thought' mentioned in the reference to the first level of jhana corresponds, in the description of breath meditation, to the mindfulness directed to the breath in the present. 'Evaluation' corresponds to the discernment of variations in the breath, and to the manipulation of awareness & the breath so as to create a sense of rapture & pleasure throughout the body (the bathman kneading moisture throughout the ball of bath powder). The still waters in the simile for the third level of jhana, as opposed to the spring waters welling up in the second level, correspond to the stilling of mental processes. And the pure, bright awareness in the fourth level corresponds to the stage of breath meditation where the meditator is sensitive to the mind.

Thus as the mind progresses through the first four levels of jhana, it sheds the various mental activities surrounding its one object: Directed thought & evaluation are stilled, rapture fades, and pleasure is abandoned. After reaching a state of pure, bright, mindful, equanimous awareness in the fourth level of jhana, the mind can start shedding its perception (mental label) of the form of its object, the space around its object, itself, & the lack of activity within itself. This process takes four steps — the four formlessnesses beyond form — culminating in a state where perception is so refined that it can hardly be called perception at all.

The reference above in the last paragraph to "directed thought and examination are stilled" refers to the manipulation of this process becoming stilled as an automatic feedback loop is created in the mind which continues this process without the need to will it into existence. This is the key to recognizing that you are in the second level of jhana: you no longer have to will (with intention) directed thought and evaluation in order to bring on absorption. The mind has automatically, of its own accord, switched over its awareness of the absorption just in the process of your attending to the breath. And wah-lah. You're in the second jhana! It's that simple.
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby catmoon » Sun Oct 25, 2009 1:49 am

IanAnd wrote:[The reference above in the last paragraph to "directed thought and examination are stilled" refers to the manipulation of this process becoming stilled as an automatic feedback loop is created in the mind which continues this process without the need to will it into existence. This is the key to recognizing that you are in the second level of jhana: you no longer have to will (with intention) directed thought and evaluation in order to bring on absorption. The mind has automatically, of its own accord, switched over its awareness of the absorption just in the process of your attending to the breath. And wah-lah. You're in the second jhana! It's that simple.


Well the teaching is finally clicking with my meditation experience.

Applied thinking is when you say "I will now watch the breath" (and do so)
Sustained thinking includes evaluation of what you see, as in
"This is a long breath"
"The airflow is cool"
"There is contact at the lip"

So sustained thinking is indeed an ongoing observation experience, while applied thinking - "I will watch X" requires but a single thought to initiate an activity.

At least that's how it looks to me just now. It may not be dead accurate but it beats the pants off not having a clue. :woohoo:
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby IanAnd » Sun Oct 25, 2009 6:05 am

catmoon wrote:Well the teaching is finally clicking with my meditation experience. . . .

So sustained thinking is indeed an ongoing observation experience, while applied thinking - "I will watch X" requires but a single thought to initiate an activity.

At least that's how it looks to me just now. It may not be dead accurate but it beats the pants off not having a clue. :woohoo:

That's the right idea for as far as it goes. Let's take this one step at a time. You've got the right idea for the first step.

As you are able to go deeper into the absorption, past having set up the absorption in the first level, you will notice that vitakka and vicara are dropped in the second level, simply because they are no longer necessary. This is because the feedback loop has been created which keeps you in the absorption without any effort (manipulation of the sense of conscious awareness of the breath through the fabrication of the sensation) on your part at all. The sensation (which takes you deeper into the absorption) is now happening automatically, without your having to think that much about creating it at all. As you become more adept at this, you can be aware of it in the background without losing it while directing the mind to an insight object or subject for further examination. The sensation continues, and at the same time maintains the absorption effortlessly.

While the above paragraph may not make much sense now, it will make sense after you experience this transition from first to second jhana.

In my own case, the nimitta of the pressure in the center of my forehead is the sensation that I focus on once it becomes established. Once it becomes established, I no longer need pay attention to the process that helped it become established in the first place (that is, to "directed thought" about the breath and "examination" of the breath, namely: vittaka and vicara). See how that works? It's a very subtle process. But once you experience it, it will make more sense.
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Re: Jhana: sutta v commentary v abhidhamma

Postby Sudarsha » Sun Oct 25, 2009 8:53 pm

:bow:

Thank you, all, so much for your continuing contributions to this topic. No, I have no idea how to respond. I can only try my best to absorb your compassionate sharings into my daily practise.

:anjali:
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