Is jhana possible?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby mydoghasfleas » Fri May 21, 2010 11:35 am

Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful responses. It seems the general consensus is that it IS possible for lay practitioners, but not without a significant investment of time on the cushion everyday -- which in itself would put it out of reach of most "householders." Also being a householder has obligations which make it even more difficult to put aside or eliminate the hindrances (restlessness and worry come to mind.)

A secondary question, then, is can jhana arise spontaneously when all the conditions are there, or is an active effort or intention to attain jhana necessary?

I ask these questions not through any disappointment in my own practice, but because the suttas seem to indicate that it is natural and normal to attain jhana.

Also, nathan mentioned the vipassana nanas. I have never heard the term "nanas." Could you please explain, or direct me to further study?

Thank you all so much.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Ben » Fri May 21, 2010 11:56 am

Hi bdah,
bdah wrote:A secondary question, then, is can jhana arise spontaneously when all the conditions are there, or is an active effort or intention to attain jhana necessary?

Both. One actively cultivates the conditions for jhana by engaging in samatha bhavana and maintaining the precepts. It requires both effort and intention.

bdah wrote:I ask these questions not through any disappointment in my own practice, but because the suttas seem to indicate that it is natural and normal to attain jhana.
Yes, but you need the right conditions. This includes an extended period of seclusion, maintaining the precepts and engaging in samatha bhavana. Attempting to achieve jhana in the busy day-to-day life of a householder is going to be difficult to say the least.

bdah wrote:Also, nathan mentioned the vipassana nanas. I have never heard the term "nanas." Could you please explain, or direct me to further study?
Nana (naana) is "knowledge". The vipassana nanas are also known as the stages of insight. They are the stepping stones of meditative attainment or knowledge on the path. They are described in the Visuddhimagga and in Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight.
http://www.vipassanadhura.com/sixteen.html
kind regards

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Kenshou » Fri May 21, 2010 6:35 pm

Perhaps it goes without saying, but something I did not see mentioned in this thread, which for the benefit of bdah I'll note, is that it's also dependent upon which model of jhana one is aiming for. http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm They're all described in terms of the same parts, the difference being the intensity of the factors and strength of one-pointedness, from Brasington's more accessible "jhana lite" to the traditional Theravada model, which pushes absorption to it's limits.

I believe that jhana mimicking that of the discourses, which is rather in-between those two extremes is accessible and useful, though not without a fairly long-term dedication, and I'd agree with Nathan's assessment in general. 2-3~ hours of sitting in a quiet place per day, bolstered by good conduct at other times, eventually bears fruit.

Also, nathan mentioned the vipassana nanas. I have never heard the term "nanas." Could you please explain, or direct me to further study?

"ñāna" = knowledge or insight, referring to the progress through various insights in some vipassana systems. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... gress.html
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Anicca » Fri May 21, 2010 7:13 pm

nathan wrote:... finding 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.

Howdy-
Not one hour three times a day but three hours or more per single session - right?

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Reductor » Fri May 21, 2010 9:57 pm

Anicca wrote:
nathan wrote:... finding 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.

Howdy-
Not one hour three times a day but three hours or more per single session - right?

Metta


I would say that three sittings a day each of an hours length would be sufficient, provided the time between was spent mindfully. Last fall I was spending about 2-3 hours a night in meditation 'mode' where I would sit several times, each of various lengths, depending on different factors (pain, drowsiness, success, etc). The time between was spent doing stuff around the house that didn't require any abstract thought (but it late, so not to hard).

I would suggest to people interested in jhana to develop sense restraint to the highest degree possible, as I think that is the most useful factor in this endeavor. Don't spend your day dwelling on things closely connected with the hindrances, and don't let the mind become any busier than is necessary to carry out your duties in life. Reduce your duties as much as is possible.

Oh, and in terms of what form of jhana I cultivate, I am interested in sutta style, which requires a good bit of work to attain and maintain. But as it becomes more familiar ground, it becomes easier to enter into. Still, sense restraint is important in maintaining this ability, as is a steady meditation practice.

The jhana style of the commentaries is, I have come to think, the sutta style taken to an extreme in terms of what perceptions are able/allowed to arise... and it has to be asked how narrowing perceptions to such a degree benefits the meditator, other than the pleasure factor.

Whether a layman can attain jhana has a lot to do with how many sense pleasure they are willing to abandon in their daily lives (I'm including here just about everything that isn't the bare minimum for the maintenance of life). I don't think a complete abandoning of laymen pleasures is necessary, but care must be taken in what kind and how much, with an eye on how those pleasures left are affecting your meditation. In short, a whole lot of circumspection in your activity both on and off the meditation cushion, but I think that's key to an effective practice anyway.

Well, those are my thoughts.
Michael

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

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Anicca » Fri May 21, 2010 10:54 pm

Howdy thereductor!
Thanks for the details - answered some lingering questions and raised others ...

thereductor wrote:Oh, and in terms of what form of jhana I cultivate, I am interested in sutta style, which requires a good bit of work to attain and maintain.


Is there a simple way to list the varieties and the differences?
Where do nimitta fit in to sutta style?

thereductor wrote:The jhana style of the commentaries is, I have come to think, the sutta style taken to an extreme in terms of what perceptions are able/allowed to arise... and it has to be asked how narrowing perceptions to such a degree benefits the meditator, other than the pleasure factor.


So the sutta style is more pleasurable because it allows more perceptions or the commentary style is more pleasurable because of fewer perceptions - or do i have that backwards? :rolleye:

Sorry i am really not clear on which style of jhana belongs to whom and how they differ...
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Anicca » Fri May 21, 2010 11:36 pm

Duh ~ reading the above - Kenshou's link ~ helped.

Sutta - less absorption - more accessible
Visuddhimagga / Abidhamma - more absorption - less accessible

i am nagged by a remembrance of a sutta that said "no jhana - no vipassana" - is this correct?

Nimitta are not as pampered, er ... ah - developed and prominent in the sutta style?

still feeling :rolleye:

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri May 21, 2010 11:41 pm

Hi Annica,

Yes, as you said, the link Kenshou gave has a reasonable summary and has several references/links.

The (usually visual) nimittas associated with increased absorption are not described in any sort of detail in the Suttas, but are described in great detail in the Visuddhimagga and by various modern teachers, including some, such as Ajahn Brahm, who generally focus more on Suttas than Commentary. One might conclude, therefore, that they are useful.

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Anicca » Fri May 21, 2010 11:52 pm

So Visuddhimagga style allows 1 out of a million entry? Is Jhana possible? - NOT LIKELY Visuddhimagga style!

Yet the sutta style - when the Buddha was describing the exceptionally pervasive pains of old age to Ananda - he said his only escape was through jhana - which must then provide 'enough' absorption - or was the Buddha referencing those states beyond the jhanas - but either way those are accessible through the sutta style jhana?

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Kenshou » Fri May 21, 2010 11:58 pm

Pain is definitely dulled and ignorable with strong absorption, I'd say. It's possible.

Also, looking at the interviews in this book might help shed some light on the distinctions: http://books.google.com/books?id=lQ_ZzF ... an&f=false

Mike is right that nimittas aren't really a sutta thing. It's more of a smooth flow into jhana, as I understand it. For example DN 2:

In the same way, when these five hindrances are not abandoned in himself, the monk regards it as a debt, a sickness, a prison, slavery, a road through desolate country. But when these five hindrances are abandoned in himself, he regards it as unindebtedness, good health, release from prison, freedom, a place of security. Seeing that they have been abandoned within him, he becomes glad. Glad, he becomes enraptured. Enraptured, his body grows tranquil. His body tranquil, he is sensitive to pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated.


You may recognize the last sentence of that paragraph to appear suspiciously similar to the descriptions of the first jhana. And then it goes on to describe the four jhanas as usual. I don't think this is a coincidence.

If you want to go deeper into this nimitta issue, check this out: http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebmed058.htm

I also think that the quality of absorption of more suttic approaches shouldn't be understated. The mind is certainly locked in, there's just not so much emphasis on blocking things out. At the very least, it's certain that the body is present in awareness and that the mind is functional, though unquestionably calm. I can provide references as necessary.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Anicca » Sat May 22, 2010 12:05 am

Thanks Kenshou (and Mike)!

Kenshou wrote: At the very least, it's certain that the body is present in awareness and that the mind is functional, though unquestionably calm. I can provide references as necessary.




I get real leery of the descriptions where the meditator is taken to the hospital and pronounced dead only to come out of jhana just as the autopsy begins :shrug: ...

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Kenshou » Sat May 22, 2010 12:11 am

Well hey, those amazing degrees of absorption are possible if someone wants to put in the enormous investment of time to obtain them, but it'd be better to let people around you know that you're going to go off into a meditative state for awhile, so that that doesn't happen. :tongue:
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Reductor » Sat May 22, 2010 1:00 am

bdah wrote: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.



Has anyone answered this?

You can advance into jhana by reading and practicing, but it tends to be a bit bumpy. Still, that's how I've gone about it, as have some/many others on this forum.

If you are going to use materials in place of flesh-and-blood instruction then you have to choose one main writer, preferably one that has produced a good deal of written material on meditation. This is because teachers tend to have their own lexicon of terms and unique perspective on the topic, and mixing the methods of different teachers is likely to lead to your confusion. The more they've written the more you opportunities you have to clarify any uncertainties you might have about their method.

When you do consider the writing of others you should only focus on parts that are clearly in line with your main source, as the topics they introduce that relate directly to that common point can shed additional light on your meditation.

Only when you've used a particular method for an extended period can you have any certainty that you've come to understand it.

I'm a huge fan of Ajaan Lee and his breath meditationbook. Try method 2.
Michael

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

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby FrankT » Sat May 22, 2010 3:48 am

Friend Anicca,

It really wasn't necessary for the Blessed One, to enter Jhana to find a personal escape for the pain in his back.

Anicca wrote:Yet the sutta style - when the Buddha was describing the exceptionally pervasive pains of old age to Ananda - he said his only escape was through jhana - which must then provide 'enough' absorption - or was the Buddha referencing those states beyond the jhanas - but either way those are accessible through the sutta style jhana?


Remember the Blessed One, was perfectly enlightened -- all the taints and fetters were put out, such that there was no personality (I, Me, or Mine) to experience pain. All that experienced pain was the 5 aggregates. The Blessed One rested his aching back for practical reasons; for instance, without resting his back his body may have had problems walking, or shut down altogether.

However, it can be said that due to the equanimity inherent in meditation, it also brought relief to the 5 aggregates when he did enter Jhana.

In fact, the Blessed One practiced the Brahma Viharas, especially compassion, the domain of the meditation of the Base of Infinite Space -- in order to bring relief from suffering to all living beings.

With Metta.
FrankT :yingyang:
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Brizzy » Sat May 22, 2010 5:20 am

bdah wrote: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.


Hi

Not for just monks and nuns - laypeople can achieve them without a long intensive retreat ( although this would be best).

30 to 45 minutes twice a day (at least) with good (not perfect) sila and a quiet lifestyle (even working at a job) COULD see results.

A good teacher would be best, though in this day of internet and cd's etc. you could just about get by without one - although every time you hit a problem you could get a bit lost.

Jhana can arise without meditative effort - the numerous suttas which detail a disciples(lay) breakthrough, often mention the joy/rapture that arises prior to this breakthrough.

If jhana lite means the jhana where you are still aware of the body then this is the one to aim for. If you lose contact with the body you lose reference to the foundation of mindfulness.

:smile:

:smile:
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Anicca » Sat May 22, 2010 5:22 am

FrankT wrote:Friend Anicca,
It really wasn't necessary for the Blessed One, to enter Jhana to find a personal escape for the pain in his back.


Howdy FrankT!

Thank you for the correction. It does make a difference, a big difference. I now understand that it was to ease his body - not "his" aches! Re-reading the sutta with that in mind gives a completely different understanding. I can't thank you enough - but i'll try -

Thank you Thank you Thank you!

:anjali:

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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby mydoghasfleas » Sun May 23, 2010 5:05 pm

Now I understand more directly why the Buddha said it's important to have noble friends. All your contributions to this dialogue have been most helpful. When you speak from your personal experience of the dhamma it often makes the things I've read "click" and have more meaning.

I am grateful to those who provide links for further study. The link about the different types of jhana from the leighb site was especially interesting. And thereductor provided a valuable piece of advice to stick with one main author. In my enthusiasm for the dhamma, I find myself wanting to read as much as I can get my hands on ... and it certainly has lead to confusion at times. (I have had the sense, at least, to stick to Theravadin authors, because I am aware that I would be totally confused if I tried to introduce methods from other traditions to my practice.)

It also occurred to me this morning that if it were relatively easy for a lay practitioner to attain higher states of meditation, there would be no reason for anyone to chose to be ordained, I suppose. That reinforces to me the importance of overcoming the hindrances (for the purpose of attaining jhana), and how difficult that is to do as a lay person.

Thanks to all....
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Alex123 » Sun May 23, 2010 6:03 pm

Anicca wrote:So Visuddhimagga style allows 1 out of a million entry? Is Jhana possible? - NOT LIKELY Visuddhimagga style!

Yet the sutta style - when the Buddha was describing the exceptionally pervasive pains of old age to Ananda - he said his only escape was through jhana - which must then provide 'enough' absorption - or was the Buddha referencing those states beyond the jhanas - but either way those are accessible through the sutta style jhana?

Metta


Anicca, Buddha HAS NOT SAID THAT.

Buddha couldn't suppress his pain though Jhana. He had to go to the signless concentration.

"Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year, and my life is spent. Even as an old cart, Ananda, is held together with much difficulty, so the body of the Tathagata is kept going only with supports. It is, Ananda, only when the Tathagata, disregarding external objects, with the cessation of certain feelings, attains to and abides in the signless concentration of mind, [19] that his body is more comfortable.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .html#t-19




Animitta cetosamadhi. Comy. explains this term here as referring to the fruition-attainment of arahatship (phalasamapatti), in which the Buddha becomes absorbed in the direct experience of Nibbana and no longer attends to external objects or feels mundane feelings.


In Moggalana samyutta it appears to suggest that signless concentration happens after sphere of neither perception nor non perception (SN 40.9).
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Kenshou » Sun May 23, 2010 7:38 pm

In Moggalana samyutta it appears to suggest that signless concentration happens after sphere of neither perception nor non perception (SN 40.9).


I wonder if that's the case. For example, in the cula-suññata sutta, under the heading Theme-Less Concentration:

"He discerns that 'Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of the dimension of nothingness are not present. Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, are not present. And there is only this modicum of disturbance: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' He discerns that 'This mode of perception is empty of the perception of the dimension of nothingness. This mode of perception is empty of the perception of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. There is only this non-emptiness: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: 'There is this.' And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, & pure.

Now first off, this does depend on weather or not themeless concentration and signless concentration are referring to the same animitto cetosamadhi. As far as I know, they are, but I'm open to correction.

This sutta passage seems to suggest to me that it isn't that the themeless concentration occurs strictly after neither perception nor non perception, but that simply that it, along with anything else, isn't payed any attention to (or that concentration would no longer be themeless). The fact that the presence of the body and senses is noted in this case further makes me think that this isn't something restricted to post-8th jhana. If it were, it would mean that the fruition of arahantship were restricted to those with access to arupa jhanas, and I think we know that isn't the case.

I would posit that the signless concentration, or as that sutta also puts it, "entry into emptiness" is a natural result of the attitude of dispassion and it's culmination in non-fashioning, regardless of the state of concentration the individual is at the time of it's attainment, such as in AN 9.36 where jhanas 1-7 are all shown as a possible basis for awakening.
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Re: Is jhana possible?

Postby Alex123 » Sun May 23, 2010 8:56 pm

I wonder if that's the case. For example, in the cula-suññata sutta, under the heading Theme-Less Concentration:

"He discerns that 'Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of the dimension of nothingness are not present. Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, are not present. And there is only this modicum of disturbance: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' He discerns that 'This mode of perception is empty of the perception of the dimension of nothingness. This mode of perception is empty of the perception of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. There is only this non-emptiness: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: 'There is this.' And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, & pure.[/size]


Cessation of perception & feeling is described somewhat similarly

But in the case of a monk who has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, his bodily fabrications have ceased & subsided, his verbal fabrications ... his mental fabrications have ceased & subsided, his vitality is not exhausted, his heat has not subsided, & his faculties are exceptionally clear. This is the difference between one who is dead, who has completed his time, and a monk who has attained the cessation of perception & feeling."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


"When a monk has emerged from the cessation of perception & feeling, friend Visakha, three contacts make contact: contact with emptiness, contact with the signless, & contact with the undirected."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


So animitta may come AFTER (or as a result of) Cessation of Perception & Feeling.


In Moggallana samyutta it lists attainment going from 1st Jhana to 8th and then to Animitta (sutta #9). Sounds like it is also meant to follow the order.
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