Is jhana possible?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Is jhana possible?

Postby mydoghasfleas » Thu May 20, 2010 11:34 am

Hello friends,

Perhaps this question has been asked before. If so, please direct me to that thread. But I was wondering if jhana is possible for lay practitioners. ... Especially for lay practitioners who don't have access to a real live teacher and who has to depend on meditation books, online dhamma talks and the suttas for their instruction.

I have been meditating for 5 years in the above manner and I have yet to attain any sort of deep concentration that would even come close to being jhana. Of course, being a "householder" I only have time to sit for about 45 minutes (max) a day.

Not having attained jhana has not dampened my enthusiasm for meditation, though. I was just wondering if these mental states are mainly for monks and nuns.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby PeterB » Thu May 20, 2010 11:38 am

I think that the Jhanas are possible for lay people bdah, but not easy for anyone monk or lay.
I think maintaining a steady practice is the thing. I suspect that some who think they have knowledge of the Jhanas may be mistaken.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Ben » Thu May 20, 2010 12:06 pm

I agree with Peter.
My own teacher says that jhanas are only really possible during long retreats where one's sila is perfect.
My focus is mainly vipassana.
While I am not familiar with it, many people practice Ajahn Brahms instructions in Mindfulness, Bliss & Beyond.
kind regards

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu May 20, 2010 12:20 pm

Greetings bdah,

In a recent topic I asked if the Buddha taught jhanas to householders.

What did the Buddha teach the Lay people?
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=4372

Between the group, we couldn't identify any suttas, but Mike & Fig Tree remembered SN 41.8, which contains a reference to a householder who attained jhana.

So is it possible? Yes.

Is it practical? That may depend on your living circumstances. The lack of such teachings to householders may be considered conspicuous by their absence, though of course one can claim that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby nathan » Thu May 20, 2010 12:22 pm

Jhana concentrations are possible. I've had discussions with many people over the years about jhana and individual descriptions of their experience with jhana are generally quite consistent.

The same common preconditions make the biggest difference for whether people find it easier or harder to enter the jhana concentrations and they are all related to investments of significant time and effort. One group that typically finds it much easier to enter the jhanas are those people who have worked through the vipassana nanas thoroughly at least once and usually this is the result of at least one, typically several, long retreats. These would be long retreats where vipassana is practiced all day every day (12 - 18 hours) for a month or more. After working through the vipassana nanas meditators often find the jhanas are much more accessible.

The other group that finds it easier to access the jhanas are those who practice either vipassana or samatha or both for three hours or more every day consistently for months and years. For most people these days, even for monastics, other commitments mean that they are more often able to put in more time and energy during scheduled long retreats as opposed to being able to put in less but still significant amounts time on a daily basis for much longer periods.

After the greater investments of time have reached the point where the practitioner has had significant results with vipassana and samatha meditation it will not be as necessary for them to put in the same amount of time in order for them to maintain and repeat their results with the vipassana nanas and the samatha jhanas. An hour or two a day will be sufficient to maintain the capacity to revisit the nanas or access the jhanas.

The main thing preventing people from seeing significant results from their efforts with vipassana and samatha is not committing enough time to meditation to achieve significant initial results. There are exceptions and a relatively few people have had significant results without the investment of long hours of practice but in most cases people have had to set aside several months for extensive practice before things really start to happen.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby nathan » Thu May 20, 2010 12:31 pm

retrofuturist wrote:The lack of such teachings to householders may be considered conspicuous by their absence, though of course one can claim that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Metta,
Retro. :)
I don't know why you would imply that Retro. We recently had a thread on lay disciples which cited an article by a learned bhikkhu which detailed an extensive list of sutta references to the hundreds of lay disciples who were capable of entering the jhanas and listed many others by name who had achieved various noble paths and fruitions. That is ample evidence when taken together with the contemporary reports which indicate that most of these accomplishments are still not uncommon today.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu May 20, 2010 2:25 pm

It strikes me that the core question is not whether one has to have ordained or not, but whether one has to have permanently eliminated the hindrances or not.

If so, that would effectively put the jhanas out of reach for most laypeople -- except those who are single and planning to stay that way, or others who are in a celibate union (hopefully with the partner's agreement!).

If not, then the possibilities are broader, obviously.

I've run into folks (currently in a discussion on another forum about this, actually) who say the hindrances must be completely eradicated before jhana can be attained, let alone insight into the Four Noble Truths.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby PeterB » Thu May 20, 2010 2:31 pm

I think that the reality for most of us currently is that the conditions needed for the Jhanas to arise are not present in our lives for a number of reasons. This should not be a reason for failing to practice what we can.
As one of my teachers was in the habit of saying " practice as you can , not as you ( currently ) cant."
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby nathan » Thu May 20, 2010 2:37 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:It strikes me that the core question is not whether one has to have ordained or not, but whether one has to have permanently eliminated the hindrances or not.
My response to that question would be that this is not what the suttas and in most people's assessment not what the commentaries and abhidhamma is saying either. The hindrances have to be overcome for the purposes of establishing any kind of concentration, even the most rudimentary kind of concentration necessary for effective vipassana but this doesn't mean that the hindrances must first be permanently eliminated. If that were the case, a significant portion of the sutta discourses and commentaries would be wrong about many, many related points. The simplest way to put this would be to say that only Arahats could be considered to have permanently eliminated the hindrances and I don't think even in reference to Arahats this is specifically said in this way.

The considerable body of evidence from those who do practice is that overcoming the hindrances prior to establishing concentration of whichever type for whichever purpose is a necessary precondition for concentration. The vast majority of people who have a good working knowledge of the teachings or sufficient first hand experience would agree that to suggest that permanent elimination of the hindrances is a precondition to concentration is a very extreme view uniformed by either study or experience.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu May 20, 2010 2:42 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:It strikes me that the core question is not whether one has to have ordained or not, but whether one has to have permanently eliminated the hindrances or not.


They do not need to be eliminated permanently. The hindrances to meditation just need to be eradicated for that meditation session. This is why the jhanas are attainable by lay people. I don't have the exact reference handy, but may find it later, but you do not need to permanently eradicate those hindrances.

But I agree with Ben, that the most conducive atmosphere is the long-term retreat. During a short meditation session there are too many distractions, not just with the environment, but mostly with the mind ("I wonder what's for lunch, I wonder how I should respond to my co-worker tomorrow, etc., etc.").
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu May 20, 2010 3:51 pm

PeterB wrote:I think that the Jhanas are possible for lay people bdah, but not easy for anyone monk or lay.
I think maintaining a steady practice is the thing. I suspect that some who think they have knowledge of the Jhanas may be mistaken.
Oh, gawd, yeah. All too easy to fool oneself.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Reductor » Thu May 20, 2010 4:46 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
PeterB wrote:I think that the Jhanas are possible for lay people bdah, but not easy for anyone monk or lay.
I think maintaining a steady practice is the thing. I suspect that some who think they have knowledge of the Jhanas may be mistaken.
Oh, gawd, yeah. All too easy to fool oneself.


Which is why every arisen state has to considered on its own merit, and not on what one hopes. Also, a state has to arise repeatedly enough for close scrutiny by the observer, and each observer has to have a good deal of self honesty.

That said, I don't feel that jhana is the sole domain of retreat or of monks, but is attainable for laymen. Not easily, mind you, but the effort lies with application of the mind more than the physical conditions of living.

If you are the sort that lusts easily, for instance, then there has to be a consistent effort to restrain the sense bases and the mind in daily life. In time the agitation that might arise because of wandering eyes or tounge, or what not, will be lessened enough that your mind is not so hopelessly scattered in meditation. The same for ill-will, in that you have to work on that hindrance in daily life by cultivating loving kindness as much as possible.

Whether there is a lot of time on the seat, or only 45 minutes, matters less than the way that you apply your mind in the other 23 hours and 15 minutes of your life. While in meditation the settling and establishing of samatha is step one, and important one, but there is a second step that most people never attempt - concentration of that calm mind on one single object.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu May 20, 2010 11:08 pm

Greetings Nathan,

retrofuturist wrote:The lack of such teachings to householders may be considered conspicuous by their absence, though of course one can claim that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

nathan wrote:I don't know why you would imply that Retro. We recently had a thread on lay disciples which cited an article by a learned bhikkhu which detailed an extensive list of sutta references to the hundreds of lay disciples who were capable of entering the jhanas and listed many others by name who had achieved various noble paths and fruitions. That is ample evidence when taken together with the contemporary reports which indicate that most of these accomplishments are still not uncommon today.

Sure, I'm not doubting (or attempting to cast doubt on) any of that. All I was saying that if you want to find a sutta where the Buddha gives teachings to householders on jhana, you may be looking a while.

Is that significant? That is for the individual to decide. I don't really have a strong opinion on the subject. Perhaps long retreats of the variety you mention above were not economically viable for many people in the Buddha's day?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby nathan » Thu May 20, 2010 11:49 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
PeterB wrote:I think that the Jhanas are possible for lay people bdah, but not easy for anyone monk or lay.
I think maintaining a steady practice is the thing. I suspect that some who think they have knowledge of the Jhanas may be mistaken.
Oh, gawd, yeah. All too easy to fool oneself.
It is not hard to tell the mistaken impressions from the real thing from the way that people describe their experience. For those who only meditate less than an hour per day it is unlikely they will make significant progress with either samatha or vipassana practice and so there is a predominance of wishful thinking characteristically predominant of both practices in that context. People would generally prefer not to face that but it is a realistic appraisal.

For those who are quick to assume their pleasant sensations and so on are indications of something more there are often many other things mistakenly taken for jhana until genuine jhana is encountered and repeatedly investigated and then what jhana is really like is unmistakable. It is a one to one match with the way it's qualities are explicitly presented in the discourses. As in a lot of other regards the much narrower views about Jhana in the Vis. and so on are more questionable. For the serious meditator who has spent hundreds of hours over many consecutive days working through the vipassana nanas it is more generally unlikely that they wouldn't have had at least a few occasions where they entered jhana without even attempting specifically to do so unless they were clearly resolved against doing so.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Tree » Fri May 21, 2010 3:31 am

Some folks are born with the ability to reach these states easily.

Life is messier than some of us want to admit.

Would be nice if there was a manual or rule book and all we had to do was follow the instructions in the correct order.

But it's never worked like that.

The Buddha himself spontaneously obtained a state of jhana when he was a kid.

To think he is the only gifted person, would be short sited.

The Buddha is not teaching to obtain these jhanas, but to cultivate them. :buddha1:

IMHO
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Wind » Fri May 21, 2010 6:04 am

Lazy_eye wrote:It strikes me that the core question is not whether one has to have ordained or not, but whether one has to have permanently eliminated the hindrances or not.

If so, that would effectively put the jhanas out of reach for most laypeople -- except those who are single and planning to stay that way, or others who are in a celibate union (hopefully with the partner's agreement!).

If not, then the possibilities are broader, obviously.

I've run into folks (currently in a discussion on another forum about this, actually) who say the hindrances must be completely eradicated before jhana can be attained, let alone insight into the Four Noble Truths.


I agree. The hindrances is the big factor why many esp lay followers are not able to enter jhana.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Ben » Fri May 21, 2010 6:12 am

Hi David, Lazy Eye, all

David N. Snyder wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:It strikes me that the core question is not whether one has to have ordained or not, but whether one has to have permanently eliminated the hindrances or not.


They do not need to be eliminated permanently. The hindrances to meditation just need to be eradicated for that meditation session. This is why the jhanas are attainable by lay people. I don't have the exact reference handy, but may find it later, but you do not need to permanently eradicate those hindrances.


Evidence for it in the suttas is found in the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (MN 26) "The Noble Search".
kind regards

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri May 21, 2010 8:14 am

yes.

but it isn't easy, unless of course you're doing jhana lite but I'm not even going to get into that discussion here. all i can say is living in a monastic environment with most of my time engaged in meditation it was hard to get into those deep jhanas you read about but do-able, maybe if i had become a monk i could have mastered the jhanas, who knows but what i do know is married and at home I'm good to just get some sort of peace of mind during the day through whatever sitting or mindfulness practice i engage in. when i finish my degree i plan to take a year off and ordain at the most back woods deep forest wat i can find in Thailand and hopefully then i can get back into that type of deep meditation but i highly doubt i'll ever come close to it any other way.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby PeterB » Fri May 21, 2010 8:20 am

Tree wrote:Some folks are born with the ability to reach these states easily.

Life is messier than some of us want to admit.

Would be nice if there was a manual or rule book and all we had to do was follow the instructions in the correct order.

But it's never worked like that.

The Buddha himself spontaneously obtained a state of jhana when he was a kid.

To think he is the only gifted person, would be short sited.

The Buddha is not teaching to obtain these jhanas, but to cultivate them. :buddha1:

IMHO

I have no personal knowledge of anyone who attained jhanas easily. Although I dont doubt the possibility.
As to " The Buddha is not teaching to obtain these jhanas, but to cultivate them " I simply dont understand what you are saying.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Ben » Fri May 21, 2010 10:58 am

Hi JC

jcsuperstar wrote:yes.

but it isn't easy, unless of course you're doing jhana lite but I'm not even going to get into that discussion here. all i can say is living in a monastic environment with most of my time engaged in meditation it was hard to get into those deep jhanas you read about but do-able, maybe if i had become a monk i could have mastered the jhanas, who knows but what i do know is married and at home I'm good to just get some sort of peace of mind during the day through whatever sitting or mindfulness practice i engage in. when i finish my degree i plan to take a year off and ordain at the most back woods deep forest wat i can find in Thailand and hopefully then i can get back into that type of deep meditation but i highly doubt i'll ever come close to it any other way.


I would like to suggest to you a long silent retreat if you don't get the opportunity to ordain, and with a young family, you might find it a bit more do-able. In the meantime, try and get away at least once a year for a residential retreat of a week or longer. And of course, keep up your daily practice!
metta

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