Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby DorjePhurba » Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:07 pm

I've been reading two books on attaining the jhanas, but I think I've found two different views on one part of the practice that leaves me confused. 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?

Thanks,
Chris
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby meindzai » Tue Jan 12, 2010 3:08 pm

They can both be right depending on your definition of thought. The factors of the first jhana include directed thought and evaluation. (vitaka and vicara, if I'm remembeing correctly). They can be translated differently of course.

If by thought one means the kind of noise or distracting thoughts that we normally encounter in our attemps at attaining concentration, (I gotta mow the lawn, feed the cat, etc.) I think it's safe to say those are gone. But it cannot be said there is no mentation whatsoever.

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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby Reductor » Tue Jan 12, 2010 4:43 pm

It might be that thoughts occur but not fall within the categories of the hindrances. This might be Bhrams meaning of that 'coarse' thoughts cannot arise. It is right that some thought must occur in the first Jhana, but it is directed thought and involves the object of meditation.
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Jan 12, 2010 4:58 pm

DorjePhurba wrote:Now, both of these monks seem wise, but both can't be right. Can anyone offer any thoughts on which of them is right?

Two monks were arguing. One maintained that it was vital to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist, the other maintained that it was unnecessary, that one could understand the Dhamma only in the present moment.

The first went and asked the abbot whether it was essential to believe in rebirth. The abbot replied, “Yes you are right.” The second went to the abbot and asked whether one could understand the Dhamma only in the present moment. The abbot replied, “Yes you are right.”

The monks argued again, each saying that the abbot had told him he was right. So they went in together, and each said to the abbot, “You said I was right. We can't both be right.” The abbot thought for a while, and then replied, “Yes, you are right!
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby IanAnd » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:19 pm

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?

Hi Chris,

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.

In peace,
Ian
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby AdvaitaJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:43 am

DorjePhurba,

Shaila Catherine's book also draws the line on thoughts at the first jhana and I have to agree with her. I think Ian made some excellent points re: the feedback loop mechanism, but it's also important to consider the "malleability" of the mind in absorption including the first jhana. When the mind is being "well mannered" and not trying to leap from thought to thought like a wild beast, uncontrolled thoughts naturally diminish in frequency and those few that may arise are easily tamed.

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:40 am

Emphasis added
DorjePhurba wrote:I've been reading two books on attaining the jhanas, but I think I've found two different views on one part of the practice that leaves me confused. 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 thoughts are not course! I would imagine that he is referring to thoughts that just pop up unrelated to anything, then as the practice progresses it would solely be dhamma related, to do with the object of meditation.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby DorjePhurba » Wed Jan 13, 2010 5:29 pm

I've been reading what everyone has said, but I still don't think everyone gets what Ajahn Brahm is saying. So I'm going to quote from his book on the characteristics of the first jhana.

On page 155 he begins: "All jhanas are states of unmoving bliss,almost. However, in the first jhana, there is some movement discernible. I call this movement the "wobble" of first jhana. One is aware of great bliss, so powerful it has subdued completely the part of the ego that wills and does. In jhana, one is on automatic pilot, as it were, with no sense of being in control. However, the bliss is so delicious that it can generate a small residue of attachment. The mind instinctively grasps at the bliss. Because he bliss of the first jhana is fueled by letting go, such involuntary grasping weakens the bliss. Seeing the bliss weaken, the mind automatically lets go of its grasping, and the bliss increases in power again. The mind then grasps again, then lets go again. Such subtle involuntary movement gives rise to the wobble of the first jhana.

On page 156 he continues: "This process can be perceived in another way. As the bliss weakens because of the involuntary grasping, it seems as if mindfulness moves a small distance away from the bliss. Then the mindfulness gets pulled back into the bliss as the mind automatically lets go. This back and forth movement is a second way of describing the wobble.
(Now here is the part about thought in the context of Jhana) "This wobble is, in fact, the pair of first jhana factors called vitakka and vicara. Vitakka is the automatic movement back into the bliss, vicara is the involuntary grasping of the bliss. Some commentators explain vitakka and vicara as "initial thought" and "sustained thought". While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in jhana they certainly mean something else. It is impossible that such a gross activity as thinking can exist in such a refined state as jhana. In fact, thinking ceases a long time prior to jhana. In jhana, vitakka and vicara are both subverbal and so do not qualify as thought. Vitakka is the subverbal movement of the mind back into bliss. Vicara is the subverbal movement of mind that holds on to the bliss. Outside of jhana, such movements of mind will often generate thought, and sometimes speech. But in jhana, vitakka and vicara are too subtle to create any thought. All they are capable of doing is moving mindfulness back into the bliss and holding mindfulness there."

So, I'm confused on that last part and I wonder about his interpretation of vitakka and vicara. Does anyone find problems with what Ajahn Brahm is saying here?

Thanks,
Chris
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 8:38 pm

Ajahn Brahm wrote:Some commentators explain vitakka and vicara as "initial thought" and "sustained thought". While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in jhana they certainly mean something else.



Chris wrote:
So, I'm confused on that last part and I wonder about his interpretation of vitakka and vicara. Does anyone find problems with what Ajahn Brahm is saying here?



I don't have a problem with it, though he seems to be describing vitakka and vicara in terms of the factor of piti(bliss) where I've heard it explained in terms of one's meditation object, which might be the breath. If what I've heard is incorrect, it still serves to illustrate. If you are focusing on the breath, you have moments where you put your attention on the breath (vitakka) and then it stays there (vicara). At a gross level such as this maybe we'd call it attention or focus instead of thought. He's talking about the way it occurs in jhana though, where piti is the predominant factor, and is telling us that it's not really an intentional effort at that point. vitaka and vicara are directed towards piti.

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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby IanAnd » Wed Jan 13, 2010 11:25 pm

meindzai wrote:
Ajahn Brahm wrote:Some commentators explain vitakka and vicara as "initial thought" and "sustained thought". While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in jhana they certainly mean something else.



Chris wrote:
So, I'm confused on that last part and I wonder about his interpretation of vitakka and vicara. Does anyone find problems with what Ajahn Brahm is saying here?



I don't have a problem with it, though he seems to be describing vitakka and vicara in terms of the factor of piti(bliss) where I've heard it explained in terms of one's meditation object, which might be the breath. If what I've heard is incorrect, it still serves to illustrate.

If you are focusing on the breath, you have moments where you put your attention on the breath (vitakka) and then it stays there (vicara). At a gross level such as this maybe we'd call it attention or focus instead of thought. He's talking about the way it occurs in jhana though, where piti is the predominant factor, and is telling us that it's not really an intentional effort at that point. vitaka and vicara are directed towards piti.

-M

Meindzai has explained this very well, indeed.

This is apparently what Ajahn Brahm means when he is talking about vitakka and vicara with regard to the "bliss" factor or piti. It is this so-called "bliss" factor that I was endeavoring to refer to when I mentioned the "pleasantness of the breath" and the "pleasant sensation" as becoming the object of one's focus as one endeavors to enter absorption. It just goes to show that different people describe these processes in different ways, using different words. Once you've experienced it, though, you should be able to make out what any given person is talking about. I never would have thought to identify the "pleasant sensation" with the jhana factor of piti as the piti I envision is something somewhat different than this simple little sensation. But I understand now how he is using the words to describe his experience.
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby AdvaitaJ » Thu Jan 14, 2010 2:37 am

DorjePhurba wrote:Vicara is the subverbal movement of mind that holds on to the bliss. Outside of jhana, such movements of mind will often generate thought, and sometimes speech. But in jhana, vitakka and vicara are too subtle to create any thought. All they are capable of doing is moving mindfulness back into the bliss and holding mindfulness there."

So, I'm confused on that last part and I wonder about his interpretation of vitakka and vicara. Does anyone find problems with what Ajahn Brahm is saying here?


DorjePhurba,

Far be it for me to have a problem with what Ajahn Brahm is saying and, in fact, I learned a very great deal from his book. However, I think his usage of vitakka and vicara may perhaps be a bit of a metaphor, but not by much. I believe that actual "verbalized" thoughts are limited to the first jhana, and even then, only in a very minimal fashion. I think that rather than using vitakka and vicara, a better choice would have "intention" since intention is all that is necessary to "navigate" within jhana and intention is also subverbal.

With regards to the "wobble", I think Ajahn Brahm ends up saying this is something that time and practice will get you through. I've also read it described as a "bounce" where the sudden jolt/joy/shift into jhana shocks the mind right back out of it. Again, time and practice are prescribed to adjust.

Having read both Ajahn Brahm's book and Shaila Catherine's, I highly recommend them both. I found them complimentary despite the overlapping subject matter due to the inherent vagaries and ambiguities of describing such an "internal" working of the mind.

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby catmoon » Thu Jan 14, 2010 7:53 pm

DorjePhurba wrote:I've been reading two books on attaining the jhanas, but I think I've found two different views on one part of the practice that leaves me confused. 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?

Thanks,
Chris


The question is in error. Both can be right, without logical difficulties.

The apparent logical problem is due to a category error, specifically equating "thought" with "coarse thought".

In the first jhana there is directed and sustained thought, neither of which is "coarse"

In the second jhana and higher jhanas these forms of thought cease, though I'm a bit foggy on what ceases when.
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Re: Thoughts occuring in Jhana?

Postby quincy_edgar_despres » Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:20 am

Hi,

There are atleast two schools on what the jhana factors mean in practice, one stemming from the suttas and the other from the Visuddhimagga. Ajahn Brahm is coming from a Visuddhimagga perspective which emphasizes single absorption with the object above anything else. The sutta jhanas can be understood to include discursive thought and can see the three characteristics while in absorption. For a recent discussion on this at length, including interviews with Brahm and Bhante G as well as several others you can check this book out:
http://www.amazon.com/Experience-Samadh ... 1590305213

also, you may want to read this(i'm not commenting on the accuracy, but just for breadth):
http://www.leighb.com/jhana_4factors.htm
and this:
http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

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