Infinite space and all that....

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Infinite space and all that....

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Jun 11, 2010 10:12 am

Has anyone had any practical experience of the bases of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and perception-nor-non-perception? Is it about taking these as meditation objects, and if so what is involved?
Thanks.

P
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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:06 pm

porpoise wrote:Has anyone had any practical experience of the bases of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and perception-nor-non-perception? Is it about taking these as meditation objects, and if so what is involved?
Thanks.

P


You might be better off asking this on a Mahayana forum.
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
"Remember you dont meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you wont find it." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby SDC » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:14 pm

To anyone on this planet, let alone on this forum, who has attained these levels... :bow: :bow: :bow:
Through many of samsara’s births I hasten seeking, finding not the builder of this house - pain is birth again, again. O builder of this house you’re seen, you shall not build a house again, all your beams have given away, rafters of the ridge decayed, mind to the unconditioned gone, exhaustion of craving has it reached.(Dhp - 153, 154)
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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:45 pm

porpoise wrote:Has anyone had any practical experience of the bases of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and perception-nor-non-perception? Is it about taking these as meditation objects, and if so what is involved?

According to the Suttas and the Visuddhimagga, one needs to develop the regular jhanas first. Then, as you say, one takes the infinity of space as the object.

Here is a Sutta explanation (but in the context that rather than developing those immaterial attainments, one could become liberated. The Buddha is talking to a monk who presumably already has the four jhanas...
"One discerns that 'If I were to direct equanimity as pure & bright as this towards the dimension of the infinitude of space and to develop the mind along those lines, that would be fabricated. One discerns that 'If I were to direct equanimity as pure and bright as this towards the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness... the dimension of nothingness... the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and to develop the mind along those lines, that would be fabricated.' One neither fabricates nor mentally fashions for the sake of becoming or un-becoming. This being the case, one is not sustained by anything in the world (does not cling to anything in the world). Unsustained, one is not agitated. Unagitated, one is totally unbound right within. One discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'


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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby upekkha » Sat Jun 12, 2010 12:59 am

Yes it's better to wait until after stream-entry to play with the jhanas (material and immaterial), the access is simply much easier afterwards, it's as if the mind is naturally drawn towards jhanas, and they come one after another naturally.

Goofaholix: Why do you think the immaterial jhanas are a mahayana subject?
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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby fig tree » Sat Jun 12, 2010 6:54 am

porpoise wrote:Has anyone had any practical experience of the bases of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and perception-nor-non-perception?

Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen have written a book, Practicing Jhānas, in which they describe practicing them following the training of the Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. They seem to find them worthwhile.

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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby Kenshou » Sat Jun 12, 2010 7:03 am

upekkha wrote: Goofaholix: Why do you think the immaterial jhanas are a mahayana subject?

Not to speak for him, but, truth is that discussion on jhana, let alone arupa jhana, can sometimes trail off into debate and discouragement with not so much real advice. A Mahayana forum might be a little more lax about it.
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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby nathan » Sat Jun 12, 2010 7:55 am

porpoise wrote:Has anyone had any practical experience of the bases of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and perception-nor-non-perception? Is it about taking these as meditation objects, and if so what is involved?
Thanks.

P
Yes. The base for the four formless jhanas is a fully concentrated conscious attention directed upon the condition of or nature of consciousness itself.

The result of fully concentrated conscious attention to consciousness is the observability of the four qualities exhibited by consciousness; the capacity to arise in any available space, the capacity to contact any of the available qualities of form in the available space, that the condition of consciousness has no objective form or quality apart from objective contact with other conditional forms, and that aside from the capacity for spacial and qualitative fluidity in regards to making objective contact consciousness cannot further objectify itself aside from recognizing that it is present and that it arises and passes. The effort to descriptively objectify consciousness inevitably results in the various subjective labels for what is characteristically apparent in each of the successively more simplified formless concentrations; infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, and neither perception nor non-perception.
Last edited by nathan on Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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: Infinite space and all that....

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:15 am

The practitioner needs to attain the form jhanas first to get to the formless (at least initially). Through 1 to 4 form jhanas there is an increase in one-pointedness of the mind which needs to be developed. However in the formless jhanas the one-pointedness level is as the same as in the fourth form jhana (there is no gradual increase). So unless a person can tap into this level of unification of mind it is unlikely they are going into formless jhana. So IMO practice of form jhanas (which is difficult enough) must be performed before formless jhanas are attempted. It makes sense to get to the fourth jhana and then try for the 5th (ie -formless) jhana.

There is a main experiential difference between the form and formless jhanas. The one-pointedness of mind in the form jhanas are inward directed. In the formless jhanas it is out ward directed (Hence descriptions such as infinite space, consciousness etc). While these can be used as objects (using the 4th jhana as a base) it maybe easier to intentionally focus on the breath (which you can do) and this will take you to the 5th jhana, and so on for the higher jhana.

I find that one of the main advantages of formless jhana is understanding that increasingly higher levels of peacefulness is what we are searching for in the path. At the 8th jhana there is still some arising and passing away- hence there is unsatisfactoriness even in that. By seeing arising and passing away constantly (hours,days- when doing vipassana) we become able to let go of even that little bit of phenomena- hence reaching a perfect peace of nibbaana. It is said in the suttas that even the first jhana is enough to become an arahanth. There is probably no extra advantage in going beyond the fourth jhana in terms of it helping the mind through samadhi/suppression of hindrances.

Another thing that comes to mind is that mastery of the rupa jhanas has been praised by the Buddha.

with metta

RYB
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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby nathan » Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:24 am

rowyourboat wrote:There is a main experiential difference between the form and formless jhanas. The one-pointedness of mind in the form jhanas are inward directed. In the formless jhanas it is out ward directed (Hence descriptions such as infinite space, consciousness etc).
I assume by inward directed you intend the form of the body. I do not understand what you intend by outward directed. This appears needlessly confusing and potentially misleading, could you clarify your meaning?
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: Infinite space and all that....

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Jun 12, 2010 10:34 am

Thanks for your replies so far. My experience of the "basic" jhanas is still very limited but I was curious about the formless ones, having seen references to them in the suttas, where it does appear to be a progressive thing. I have a sense of the basic jhanas being about single-pointedness whereas the formless states are about expansiveness...sort of. :smile:

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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby rowyourboat » Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:31 am

Hi Nathan,
With the development of samadhi the mind progressively retreats from the senses (sense sphere) and becomes inwardly focused- as you say turned inwards towards the body. This is continued in the rupa jhana. However with the arising of arupa jhana the concentration turns outwards and is expanded outwards. The object is vast so the samadhi or mind is like the beam of a flashlight (spreading outwards) rather than like light coming through a magnifying glass (which is focused inwards to one point).

The inward turning nature of rupa samadhi is noticed (perhaps for the first time) when the nature of the arupa samadhi is noticed (the nature or character is different even though the strength of samadhi is the same). This noticing may not happen until one decided to actually focus on this aspect of the experience. Otherwise the experience is just of the arupa jhana.

The outward focused nature of the mind in arupa jhana is not intentional. It simply switches to that at a point on the 'jhana ladder'.

with metta

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Re: Infinite space and all that....

Postby nathan » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:00 pm

rowyourboat wrote:Hi Nathan,
With the development of samadhi the mind progressively retreats from the senses (sense sphere) and becomes inwardly focused- as you say turned inwards towards the body. This is continued in the rupa jhana. However with the arising of arupa jhana the concentration turns outwards and is expanded outwards. The object is vast so the samadhi or mind is like the beam of a flashlight (spreading outwards) rather than like light coming through a magnifying glass (which is focused inwards to one point).

The inward turning nature of rupa samadhi is noticed (perhaps for the first time) when the nature of the arupa samadhi is noticed (the nature or character is different even though the strength of samadhi is the same). This noticing may not happen until one decided to actually focus on this aspect of the experience. Otherwise the experience is just of the arupa jhana.

The outward focused nature of the mind in arupa jhana is not intentional. It simply switches to that at a point on the 'jhana ladder'.

with metta

RYB
Thank you for clarifying your meaning RYB. I have reflected on the arupa jhanas many times and examined them carefully during absorption. While the first formless jhana might be characterized as expansive or outward focused by some this is not how I would characterize this spacial quality. When all form is abandoned the resulting spacial quality of consciousness appears seemingly relatively infinite or, in terms which I find preferable, "unbounded". I understand this appearance to be due to the complete absence of form and qualities pertaining to form. As there is no sense of form, there is no corresponding sense of inside or outside, inwards or outwards. In comparison to the sense of consciousness bounded by contact with form, formless concentration understandably appears relatively expansive and vast. However after long examination and consideration it is my understanding that it is a concentration which is not reasonably characterized in any of the kinds of relative terms that can be applied to attention to form; terms such as inward or outward and so on.

In any event, it is not my intention to argue with you or anyone else about this. If it is yours and/or others sense that the arupa jhanas arise in spacial terms that are relatively expansive or somehow vast in comparison to the limited space occupied by the body then there is no merit in arguing otherwise and as I already mentioned I can well understand why some may feel this is so. I can only say that as far as my experience has been concerned there is no need to orient the mind directionally in any sense in order to move from fourth to fifth jhana and that all I have ever found necessary was to abandon the attention to form by shifting attention fully and exclusively to the concentrated qualities of consciousness previously bound up with the concentration on a form.

Given that you describe your experience of rupa jhana as concentration upon a single point, the relative sense of outward expansion you experience in transition to arupa jhana is all the more understandable. The way I typically prefer to abide in and/or progress through the rupa jhanas is via awareness of the whole body as opposed to a single point within it. I find the body as a whole to be a more pleasant and stable form than a single point in the body or a mental visualization of form. As I observe the transition from fourth to fifth jhana in that context the relative shift of attention from bounded concentration to unbounded concentration is still very apparent but there is much less of the sense of a shift from attention applied inward onto a single point and outward onto a surrounding conscious attention such as you describe. It is, as you may be implying, a sort of reversal of the 'direction of attention' from attention to form to attention to conscious.

My concern however is that by using directional terms the nature of the consciousness condition and the nature of progressive change from rupa to arupa concentration is potentially misleading for those who have yet to encounter these concentrations and some may attempt to imagine anticipated changes in various kinds of abstracted directional terms which may be helpful for some but a hindrance for others. As the consciousness condition is present from the first jhana to the last it is my sense that it is more clear and accurate to describe the overall progression simply as an abandoning of attention to the grosser qualities and a resulting increasing transparency of the qualities that remain in each successive jhana. In the simple terms of abandoning grosser qualities, regardless of the qualities of the form initially taken for concentration, the progression proceeds in the same manner quite apart from the specific spacial qualities particular to any given form object and any related sense of expansiveness encountered when the form is abandoned.
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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