DorjePhurba wrote:First, Bhante Gunaratana says in his book 'Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English' that thoughts can occur in at least the first jhana. In Ajahn Brahm's book 'Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond' he states quite emphatically that coarse thought is impossible in jhana. Now, both of these monks seem wise, but both can't be right. Can anyone offer any thoughts on which of them is right?
All three responses you have received have their merits. I do not disagree with any of them.
This issue you bring up has been confusing for me also in the past. Until I began to look at what I experienced when in absorption. Thought can (and most likely does) continue when one enters absorption. Yet not if one is concentrated on samatha and calming the mind. During those occasions, thoughts will slow down to a trickle and may even disappear altogether if concentration is well developed on the object. Especially when one reaches the fourth jhana. And a lot of that is because one expects
this to be so from all of the descriptions that one reads about his. But thought can
occur even in the fourth jhana, too. It all just depends on how one is practicing.
When one is practicing insight while in absorption, directed thought toward a subject matter related to the Dhamma can be present. So, it is possible to have it both ways. It just depends upon what aspect of the practice is being emphasized. The mind is incredibly fluid and can turn on a dime! Isn't that great to know.
thereductor: "It is right that some thought must occur in the first Jhana, but it is directed thought and involves the object of meditation."
meindzai: "But it cannot be said there is no mentation whatsoever."
I have to agree with both these views.
The directed thought that thereductor is talking about is directed at entering absorption by paying attention to an object like the pleasantness of the breath. As one begins to become aware of the pleasant sensation of the breath, one can enter absorption instantly. As one transfers the pleasant sensation to an automatic feedback loop in the second level of absorption, one does not need to direct and sustain thought on the meditation object as that attention is automatically accessed via this feedback loop that becomes established on the periphery of one's attention. One may then direct one's attention to other subjects, such as insight meditation subjects, while the feedback loop keeps one's absorption going strong.
I hope that helps you, and others here, to better understand this phenomenon. This is why it is beneficial to have a qualified meditation guide handy to help one over these kinds of hurdles.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV