I happened to come across this sutta, in which there are a few points about the nature of thought in jhana which caught my attention. I've gotten the impression that there isn't exactly agreement about the cutoff point of certain types of thought while in jhana, and this sutta seems to address this issue. Though of course there is always room for interpretation, and my interpretation may not be correct. And of course the seeming disagreement might be a product of my lack of knowledge, but I suppose if that's the case, it will be pointed out to me. Anyhow, the bits in question, in bold:
"In him who has attained the first meditative absorption,  speech has ceased. Having attained the second absorption, thought-conception and discursive thinking has ceased. Having attained the third absorption, joy has ceased. Having attained the fourth absorption, inhalation and exhalation have ceased."
First off, on the cessation of "speech" in the 1st jhana. I put "speech" in quotes, because this strikes me a point where a number of interpretations could come up. I would interpret this as meaning that verbal thinking has stopped, since clearly one wouldn't be talking while in meditation. Thing is, I've read suggestions that though thinking is certainly less coarse in jhana, verbal thinking may not necessarily have completely stopped in the 1st jhana. Would my interpretation of this referring to verbalized thinking be correct? This might be an ambiguity that would be taken care of by knowing the original Pali, but that isn't anything I've got a clue about.
Secondly, the cessation of "thought-conception and discursive thinking" in the second jhana. I think it would be safe to say that at the point of the second jhana verbal thought will have stopped. But, having stopped thought-conception, how exactly can thinking function? Might this refer to only to the further refinement of thought, but not the banishment of it altogether? In the Anupada Sutta [ http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ] , in which Sariputta supposedly "ferrets out" the various aspects of the jhana whilst in it, this seems to be translated as "the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations", though weather this is referring to quite the same thing, I cannot be entirely sure.
Would it be safe to say that this simply refers to the further refinement of thought, though not an actual cessation? It seems that would be a reasonable interpretation, since if thought had stopped altogether, I don't know how exactly Sariputta would be able to ferret-out the aspects of the jhana while in it. I had taken the phrase "thought conception" to mean the birth of thoughts, but would this actually be referring to the stilling of gross conceptual thought, but with a more refined thinking which sees things as-they-are remaining? It seems that sort of thought would be quite useful for insight practice while in jhana, and then quite possible for Sariputta to be doing as in the Anupada sutta.
My third point of question, though partially unrelated to the above: "Having attained the fourth absorption, inhalation and exhalation have ceased." I'm assuming that the stopping of breathing refers to the awareness of the breathing, since if one was to actually stop breathing, they'd be dead. However, I've heard many times that the awareness of the breath tapers off as one goes deeper into samatha and becomes very refined in upacara-samadhi, (which my experience would agree with) and at the point of transition to full jhana, (and here's the pickle) the point of concentration is shifted from the breath to the various jhanic sensations, which become the new "object". Have I been in error for assuming that breath awareness is lost, while in fact it is simply shifted into the background? This quote that breath awareness stops in the 4th jhana implies that it is in fact there in all preceding jhanas, which as far as I knew was not the case. But as I said, this might be my error of assuming further than I should.
Thanks for reading, that's all I've got.