Saturday, July 18, 2015

On the Four Stages of Meditation: or, On the Utter Futility of the Word "Jhāna"


     I’ve been intending to write this article for several years. I have continually put it off, though, as the task of writing it has always seemed rather daunting. Some articles are fun to write; some even overflow and practically write themselves; but this one has always loomed before me like a school term paper that has to be written. Still, though, the subject—the nature of jhāna—is a fundamentally important one in Buddhist philosophy and ethics, as well as a controversial and troublesome one. So I feel it is time to stop procrastinating and sit down and write the damn thing.
     The idea of jhāna is important because it holds such a central place in Buddhist practice, or at least did at one time, back in the old days. To give just one example of this, in the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (D22)—maybe a little ironically, as it is practically the Bible for Vipassana meditators who disregard jhāna—Right Concentration, sammāsamādhi, is defined as the four jhānas. The commentarial tradition has backed away from this idea, for reasons I may attempt to discuss, maybe, but the Sutta says it pretty clearly. So according to the Sutta, if we don’t have jhāna we don’t have Right Concentration, the eighth step of the Noble Eightfold Path. Some suttas seem to imply that the eighth step is even the most important step.
     The idea of jhāna is controversial because, although the word “jhāna” is tossed around quite a lot in some circles, people, even ostensible authorities on the subject, often disagree on what jhāna actually is. And the trouble comes from the combination of the first two: important + controversial trouble. So it’s good to do a little investigating.
     One bit of troublesomeness that steps in even before the controversy starts raging good and hard is the fact that, although jhāna is declared to be Right Concentration, also it is declared in the Pali texts to be uttarimanussadhamma—a “superhuman state.” So if the suttas are to be taken at face value (which the commentarial tradition pretends to do, but really doesn’t), then in order to have Right Concentration, a requisite for correct Dhamma practice, one must be essentially superhuman, at least with regard to one’s meditation.
     Another bit of trouble, which itself is a major cause for the controversy, is that jhāna is not clearly, precisely, unambiguously defined in the suttas. Literally, or so I’ve been told, the word means something like “blazing” or “illumination,” which is not very helpful, except perhaps to imply that it is a more intense state of mind than ordinary consciousness and not some kind of semiconscious trance. Practically every time jhāna is described in the suttas, the description takes the form of essentially the same stock formula, which is as follows (this quoted from the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta itself):

(katamo ca bhikkhave sammāsamādhi?)
idha bhikkhave bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati; 
vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ avitakkaṁ avicāraṁ samādhijaṁ pītisukhaṁ dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati, sato ca sampajāno, sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṁvedeti, yaṁ taṁ ariyā ācikkhanti “upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī”ti, tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṁ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṁ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṁ catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
(ayaṁ vuccati bhikkhave sammāsamādhi.)

(And what, monks, is Right Concentration?)
Herein, monks, quite secluded from sensual pleasures (or “objects of desire”), secluded from unskillful states, a monk, with discriminative thought and reason, with exhilaration and pleasure born of seclusion, having attained first jhāna, abides in it.
Having allayed discriminative thought and reason, with inward serenity and unification of mind, without discriminative thought or reason, with exhilaration and pleasure born of concentration, having attained second jhāna, he abides in it.
With the fading away of exhilaration he abides in equanimity, attentive and aware, and he experiences pleasure through his body, so that the Noble Ones say of him, “Equanimous and attentive, he is one who abides in pleasure”; having attained third jhāna, he abides in it.
Having abandoned pleasure, having abandoned pain, along with the former cessation of happiness and unhappiness, without pain, without pleasure, with the equanimity of purity of attentiveness, having attained fourth jhāna, he abides in it.
(This, monks, is called Right Concentration.)

     First of all I would observe that the very fact that jhāna is almost always described with a stock formula is peculiar. The Buddha himself, presumably an enlightened being, probably would not have used the same exact formula every time he described such an important part of his system. It would appear that the stock formula, easily plugged in to passages in suttas, was the result of dogmatization, possibly in the hands of people who never knew the Buddha, or deep meditative states.
     With regard to the translation above, I would point out that “pleasure” and “pain” (sukha and dukkha) are apparently referring to physical sensations or feelings, the more mentally-oriented positive and negative being “happiness” and “unhappiness” (somanassa and domanassa). So in first jhāna there is still thinking as well as physical and emotional pleasure and pain, or at least pleasure; in second jhāna no more thinking, but still the possibility of both kinds of pleasure/pain; in third jhāna no thinking, no happiness or unhappiness, but still physical feelings; and finally in fourth jhāna not even that, but only affectively neutral mindfulness (or “attentiveness”) and equanimity.
     Also I would point out that cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ, often rendered as “one-pointedness of mind,” is not necessarily the bringing of the conscious mind to a point, which would imply the narrowing of consciousness to such an extent that one could be oblivious to everything except only what is concentrated upon, as in a deep hypnotic trance. It can also mean that the mind is single or unified, whatever that means. I’ll eventually get back to that point.
     And thirdly I would point out that the above description of jhāna, which is essentially the description of jhāna in the Pali texts, can be, and certainly is, interpreted in different ways by different people, including different meditation instructors and other people who consider themselves to have attained jhāna.
     My father, among many other things, was an amateur hypnotist, and so I am familiar with the basic principles and characteristics of hypnosis; and it seems to me that most of what passes for jhāna, at least in Burma, is really hypnotic trance. For example, not far from my monastery in northwestern Burma there is a meditation center which, I’ve been told, guarantees meditators that by the end of one retreat, even if they are beginners, they will be able to sit for several hours at a stretch without moving, and furthermore they will be able to ascend into the heaven realms and descend into the hell realms in some kind of psychic body, and meet the denizens of these places. And it is to be expected that the denizens will look and act in accordance with how traditional Burmese Buddhists believe they would. That sounds like hypnosis to me. But the results are so dramatic that people are reluctant to consider that it’s not the real deal—whether or not they are sophisticated enough to have heard of hypnosis.
     But this confusion evidently does not occur only in little-known, out of the way meditation centers. Probably the best-known meditation center in Burma which advocates and teaches some semblance of jhāna is Pah Auk Tawya in southern Burma; and some of what I have seen and heard of the place indicates that hypnotic trance is confounded with Right Concentration even there (assuming of course that hypnosis and jhāna are not really and originally the same thing, which is itself a debatable subject). 
     For example, I remember reading in a book written by ven. Pah Auk Sayadaw (I don’t remember the title; it had a blue cover) a “success story” of a woman practicing samatha meditation under Sayadaw’s guidance who remembered a past life as a royal white elephant who attained human birth in its subsequent life through the merit acquired by offering a flower to a pagoda. This sort of story is easily acceptable to Burmese Buddhists, falling in line with their cultural conditioning, yet it may appear rather suspicious, to say the least, to a critical Westerner.
     Another example was told to me by a young Western meditator at Pah Auk many years ago. He had been assigned the practice of seeing, with the “samādhi eye,” the internal organs of himself and others. (This is not supposed to be just an exercise of the imagination, but an actual seeing, through finely honed concentration, of those organs.) He told me that once he was in the meditation hall “seeing” the bones of the person sitting in front of him. He was doing this with his eyes closed, since the physical eye is not what is supposed to do the seeing. So after looking at the other person’s bones to his own satisfaction, he finally opened his eyes to discover that, without his knowledge, the other person whose bones he had been observing had gotten up and walked away—so he was “seeing” bones that weren’t there. When he reported this to his meditation instructor, he was informed that it didn’t matter.
     These two cases (and I could give more) are not so much cases of doubtful jhāna as cases of doubtful psychic powers derived from a jhāna-oriented technique, and they illustrate the possibility that what is called jhāna and psychic powers may really be, in such cases, hypnosis and the power of suggestion influencing one’s imagination. Hypnosis is not bad or wrong, and may really be useful in some situations, yet if that’s what it is, then the person experiencing it should probably be aware of the fact, and not call it something that it is not. It would be interesting if some scientists from a hypnosis lab like the one at Stanford University were to bring a PET scanner or some such to a place like Pah Auk and test whether the practitioners of jhāna were hypnotized or not. The results might result in some heated indignation from the teachers and devout practitioners of the method, however, and a denunciation of the tests. Human nature being what it is, that could be expected with a fair amount of confidence, assuming that the tests came out positive.  
     This is not to say that all jhāna at a place like Pah Auk Tawya is hypnotic, but I would guess that most of it is. I’ve been told that even ven. Pah Auk Sayadaw has acknowledged that much of what people have experienced along the lines of past life regressions and so on have just been vivid figments of imagination. Yet hypnosis appears to be inherent in the system.
     It would seem that this confusion of jhāna with hypnotic trance (again, assuming that they haven't been identical from the beginning) did not originate in Burma, but began even in ancient times. The traditional meditation technique of kasiṇa, for instance, described in detail in the great hypnosis—I mean, eh, meditation manual Visuddhimagga, is very similar to techniques employed to induce hypnotic trance. The aforementioned hypnosis lab at Stanford uses, or has used, a method involving the subject gazing at a small circle on the wall before him or her, which, aside from the smaller size of the circle, is pretty much the same as a kasiṇa disc. I do not remember if it is mentioned in the suttas themselves, but tradition has it that while one is sitting in fourth jhāna one’s breath and heartbeat slow to virtual nonexistence, and one becomes oblivious to one’s environment, including even physical injury…which is also symptomatic of deep hypnotic trance. Yet I fail to see how going into a state of suspended animation like that of a hibernating squirrel could be called higher consciousness or “purity of mindfulness.”
     Bearing this in mind, I consider it possible that the alleged confusion could have occurred relatively early, even before Theravadin orthodoxy set in, during the first century or two while the system was undergoing its phase of explosive systematization. I know enough about early Christian history, and have seen enough of modern Asian Theravadin ecclesiasticism, to know that orthodox doctrine is usually decided by members of the system more interested in scholarship and Church politics than in actual practice of Dharma; and even with the best intentions the truth can become very distorted by fellows who are working not from personal experience, but from intellectual theory. And thus, somehow, what may have originally been a convenient, rather loose description of the progression of stages in Buddhist meditation ossified into a stock, formulaic description of superhuman mental states, in the same category as psychic powers and the four stages of sainthood or Ariya-hood, accessed only by a relatively tiny minority of monks. At this point I suppose I should explain my theoretical version of jhāna.  
     The very same formula found in the texts can, as has already been mentioned, be interpreted in different ways. One way is to see it as a progression in the development of meditation in general, not only the most advanced, “superhuman” stages. Thus first jhāna could be elementary meditation in which the meditator has a perceptual “primary object” of meditation, and in which he or she has not yet entered any particularly deep or refined mental states. It could still be a relatively “normal” state of mind, although clarified and pacified by the meditative practice. In Roman Catholic monastic traditions this level of meditative practice is simply called “meditation.” 
     But with second jhāna one enters the realm of what the Christian mystics call “contemplation.” At this stage one is not only no longer indulging in discursive thought; one is no longer focusing the attention on any perceptual primary object at all. The mind becomes clear, luminous, and relatively silent. Thoughts may begin to arise, yet they simply pass away under the dissolving light of mindfulness and do not reach the stage of linking together into a “train of thought.” At this second stage of meditative practice one’s more basic mental processes of feeling are still in the dualistic realm of positive pleasure and negative pain, however. One may still experience physical pleasure and pain, and one may still feel the exhilaration and joy from conscious expansion; and, although the stock formula doesn’t explicitly assert it, one may still experience various feelings of happiness or unhappiness. Feelings of grief or anguish could theoretically arise at this level, although they would not lead to any elaborated dramatic story being cooked up, since one is not focusing on them specifically, and the linking together of perceptions into narratives or themes has already been abandoned along with first jhāna.
     With third jhāna, in accordance with the hypothesis, not only thinking but also a dualistic experience of emotional states would be transcended. Physical pleasure and pain would still be discerned, however subtly, as dualistic “realities,” though.
     Finally, with fourth jhāna, the entire dualistic complex of perceptions and feelings, from top to bottom, would be transcended—not necessarily suppressed or eradicated, but no longer a focus of consciousness, no longer a variegated, dualistic “reality.” The mind would be like a mirror, reflecting whatever naturally comes to mind (which would be relatively little, quantitatively), without discriminating it, without focusing on it, without attributing significance to it. The mind would, temporarily, be free from the self-generated limitations of the mundane mind. But even fourth jhāna, supreme meditative state that it is (setting aside further and presumably later elaborations of the system, like formless jhānas and the state of “the attainment of cessation”) is conditioned, with a beginning and an end, and is not true enlightenment.
     The evolution of jhāna into trance states, even superhuman ones, going with the hypothesis, has resulted in traditional Theravada splitting into "two sāsanas," two teachings. Sometimes in Burma one may be asked, "Which Sāsana do you belong to, the Vipassana Sāsana, or the Samatha Sāsana?" But I really don't think the Buddha originally taught two rival approaches to Nirvana. My experience as a long-term meditator, as well as a person who arguably thinks too much, leads me to feel that mindfulness is really the key to Dharma practice—not so much the eradication of unskillful mental states as the neutralization of them through the detachment and non-identification of mindful awareness. The thing is, though, that we cannot detach from what we are oblivious to. Deeper jhānas, which are "purifications of mindfulness," allow the meditator to be mindful of subtle states that the ordinary person walking around and making noise does not even suspect the existence of. 
     The more awake and attentive one is, the more subtle the phenomena one is able to observe, thereby "transmuting" it into awareness. The four jhānas are, according to this interpretation, the progression of meditation from the most obvious, crudest phenomena, which is all most people tend to be aware of, to the most refined, until the whole field of consciousness is no longer subconscious, or semiconscious, but conscious.
     Even in fourth jhāna a meditator would be conscious; in fact he or she would be more conscious than an ordinary person in an ordinary waking state. One would not be oblivious to anything; it would simply become irrelevant, and remain undiscriminated. In this sense advanced jhāna may be said to be a kind of temporary, artificial enlightenment; in the texts jhāna is called “temporary liberation” (samaya vimokkha). Thus it would mean more than just temporary liberation from mental defilements by lapsing into a tranced pinpoint or laser beam of attentiveness.
     But trance states have always been in vogue in India, as have their dramatic psychic effects, and scholar monks, church politicians, and even conscientious Dharma practitioners who were not strong in meditation, or maybe just not strong in discernment, could be misled into thinking that popularly revered trance states, and the seeming powers that they can evoke, were the real thing. And thus the four stages in which Buddhist meditation progresses, including the most elementary level, mutated into superhuman mental states, and became almost unapproachable to the majority, almost mythical. 
     It seems to me that, practically by definition, anything a human being attains would by that very fact not be “superhuman.” If a human attains it, then it is human. So in this sense even enlightenment itself would not be a superhuman state. But if consciousness expands beyond what is characteristically human, transcending humanity somehow, for example by transcending form, then I suppose it could be called a superhuman state, although a person technically would not attain it; it would be attained by somehow leaving the person behind. In this case, transcendental states, say, from second jhāna on up, could reasonably be called superhuman; but elementary first jhāna, still bound to human thought, could hardly be above the human level. 
     So anyway, I consider the word “jhāna” to be futile, a useless word now, because the meaning of the word is so controversial, with different people meaning different things when they use it, that it simply results in more confusion than information. Better to describe a meditative state in one’s own words, or just to remain silent, than to use a word as vague and non-descriptive as “jhāna.”
     I suspect that the state of being a “stream enterer,” a sotāpanna, was not originally a superhuman or transcendental state either…but we needn’t get into that here. That’s a whole different kettle of wax.

     Well, that wasn’t so hard to write.
     
     





34 comments:

  1. Regarding meditation and superhuman states: I began meditating around the age of 24. Observation meditation initially. Being aware of my hand through my minds eye (eyes closed) trying to still my thoughts. Eventually I got good at it through constant practice throughout the day for many months. I suspect that by eventually not trying to "stop" my thoughts (through attrition and mental fatigue) that the practice started to take hold.

    I was in a sexually addictive relationship at some point but after tiring of my jealousy with this woman my meditation overcame my hormones and I was one day fully released from her. I was seeing 'light' and feeling a higher joy by then. I don't know if this was super human, perhaps not although if one defines super human as something not usually experienced by humans … then maybe?

    Around 5 years ago (age 49) I was in another emotionally difficult relationship (the circle/cycles of life, you know?) and was in extreme emotion pain daily. One night after a difficult bout I felt such rage and helplessness that I decided to break my hand against the wall. I sailed my fist at the wall fully expecting to harm myself but found that as my fist touched the wall time slowed down and like in slow motion I could feel the wall gently making contact then suddenly the wall gave out and my hand was on the other side. I felt no pain and my knuckles only had a slight redness on them. It was a strange sensation to say the least. I actually started laughing a bit and felt 'awakened' from my prior stupor, so to speak. It was like a proverbial martial arts experience. Something that I had always marveled at when I heard about it or witnessed it. I would call it a super human experience.
    I think that super human physical feats are often done or caused by some traumatic or chemical experience that disconnects us from the limitations of our perceived beliefs of our minds. Perhaps meditation if practice diligently enough can create this experience as well.

    B in B'ham

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    1. Yeah! Anything is possible, so long as self-imposed limiting beliefs don't get in the way. The fact that your fist and the wall existed at all are themselves "miracles." Anyway, mindfulness meditation can help us to see and remove unnecessary limitations. So all "psychic powers" are definitely not hypnosis-generated imaginations.

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  2. Thank you - I am rapidly coming to the same conclusion.

    If solid proof of me hitting the fourth jhana would be lifting off the cushion in levitation, or walking through a wall, or splitting myself into a thousand humans, and becoming one again then I am still waiting for these to happen.

    If fourth jhana is being in excruciating pain all over the body, even sometimes shaking and sweating from it, but feeling like it is happening in another body, and thus just wanting to sit for longer and longer, strangely being unable to shift positions - until there comes a point when I can take it no more, and just as I am resolving to get up a wave of bliss washes over me, and suddenly all pain vanishes, and I feel utmost kindness, joy and compassion - then I've done that and enjoyed it every time, including the pain. Strangely even if I do abandon the meditation because of the pain before the bliss hit, the ordinary reality I descend to without any pain feels so dull and boring. The bliss moment is preceded by a squirting from the spinal column in the nape of the neck, and instantly it's bliss. I've read about millions of canabanoid receptors in the brain, so perhaps this is what gets squirted out.

    I may have tasted some psychic powers of mind control - but it's really unverifiable. I can't ever be certain that someone did something that I wanted them to do, however odd it may have been. It's very subtle, since such siddhis can't get one to do things they would be opposed to on any account.

    Some dogs quit barking outside my window quite suddenly when I was in meditation at 4am like they had been gagged in mid bark, another time a man, likely a wife beater was scolding his wife in the doctor's office - he had opened his mouth and half a yell was out already when he just shut up and became very silent, and it looked like he had his palms raised and was praying. Another time someone I knew who was very angry with her husband was very happy with him the next day. Each of these times I had wished for exactly this to happen. I've had several events like this happen, but in each case, it could have happened on its own. There's nothing to prove to me that I did it. So I don't call these psychic powers, just strong - "wouldn't that be cool if it was true" moments.

    In any case, I think the mind control powers that was accompanied by a throbbing heart chakra have passed. Maybe I could get it back if I tried hard, or perhaps that is exactly the wrong way to go about it, and I should not even try.

    Anyway, the only special powers I reliably have are the ability to not be troubled by my memories, to view both good and bad things in my life with roughly the same equanimity and to be free of depression and stress. That's good enough for me.


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  3. I am glad that Bhante has published this article. I will go thru it a few more times when I am more relax later. I would just like to point out on page 1283 of the SN. It states that there are three types of rapture, three types of happiness and three types of equanimity. Does this give evidence that there are three types of Jhanas?

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    1. It all depends on how you look at it. People can divide things up in all sorts of ways.

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  4. Dear Bhante, I hope you will soon write an article on the topic of the Buddhist MARA. Whether it is just defilments or is it a being in a certain realm.

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    1. I've written a little about Mara in the article "On the 31 Planes of Existence," on the nippapanca.org website. But I doubt that I could easily come up with an entire article's worth of words on the subject. Whether or not there is a Mara, or his three daughters, our own kamma is what gets us into trouble, or sometimes gets us out of it. We wouldn't be tempted by Mara if it weren't our kamma to be tempted.

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  5. That is fine, Bhante. I think I remember reading it before. Thanks for all the sharings.

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  6. Ohh yes I get the doctrinal backing for my combined practice from the Parayanavagga (Udaya,Upositha,Posala)..I learnt about them from the book "The Origin of Buddhist Meditation" by Alexander Wynee..It germinated out of his doctoral thesis under Gombrich at Oxford..You should please take a look at it, if you have not till now...

    He delves into various Brahmanic traditions as well..His work is much like Johannes Bronkhorst...

    http://www.e-reading.club/bookreader.php/134839/The_Origin_of_Buddhist_Meditation.pdf

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    1. Well, I downloaded the book and have taken a brief look at it, although I probably won't actually read the whole thing till I'm in Asia again. Maybe not even then. But what I've seen thus far inspires me to caution one and all: Don't take secular academics' interpretations of Dharma and meditation too seriously! For example, the author claims that third and fourth jhana aren't even meditative states, to the extent that one has them while walking around doing things. Western academic egghead types can come up with brilliant intellectual ideas, but neither they nor anyone else can really understand deep Dharma intellectually. One has to live the life. If one wants to know what vanilla tastes like, one simply has to taste vanilla; and all the brilliant scholarship in the world isn't going to change that. So you've got these guys who don't live the life thinking that they can figure it out intellectually, usually using their culturally conditioned default worldly "common sense" to do it. A tree can teach you more about real Dharma than can a professor at Oxbridge.

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  7. Shri Bhikkhu Pannobhaso Ji,


    Wow this has given me a lot more confidence in my practice... I have tried to derive my practice from combining your ND 101 guidance along with mindfulness and occasional conscious self-investigation into my mental processes....


    But as I intimated to you earlier, I have left sitting meditation for the exact same reasons you stated in this article--the likelihood of opening oneself up to self hypnosis when one's mental energy is too low to wrest oneself back to constant mindfulness..


    I am trying to cultivate a sense of awareness that can be achieved through the components of ND101,mindfulness and occasional self-investigation and trying to see to the possibility whether one can operate from that level in day to day life ..


    Ohh as long as I am in that level any sense of "individuated" self either vanishes or more accurately become very low..and along with this sexual desire within that time period disappears as well even if one were to put titillating pictures in front of me then

    I can confidently say right now that the meditative practice can be cultivated without resorting to the closed-eyes sitting pose....Or I am overreaching too much?

    Anyways excellent article which helps me figure out that my practice is grounded..thank you very much once again

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    1. You're not the first person I've met who doesn't want to lapse into a trance while meditating. I once knew a person who worried that she might go into a deep trance and be vulnerable and helpless if burglars broke into her house. Also in my post on the Tant Kyi Taung method I mentioned that I was worried that if I followed the method "correctly" I might go into a trance and wind up barking like a dog in front of a video camera. That definitely interfered with my meditation.

      But even if you do go into a hypnotic trance it's hardly likely to do you any harm, especially if you have some idea that that's what it was, and not something profoundly transcendental. And some of us, like me for example, are almost immune to hypnosis anyway. Thus far, since adulthood, I've made a pretty lousy hypnotic subject.

      Sitting meditation, regardless of whether one's eyes are open or closed, is definitely encouraged in the Buddhist texts, and really deep mindfulness, the "purity of mindfulness" which jhana is said to be, is very difficult if one is walking around making noise.

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  8. In a hypnosis trance, is one still mindful and in control? That could be a difference between right and wrong concentration. Vissudamaga has documented certain details of going in and out of jhanas and skipping and descending of jhanic states. Although such details cannot be found in the suttas.

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    1. "Mindful" and "in control" are relative. For example, the only way there could be no mindfulness at all would be if there were no mind. So I'm not sure how to answer the question.

      The commentarial tradition, of which the Visuddhimagga is the keystone, has all sorts of terms and doctrines that are foreign to the Suttas. For example, upacara samadhi or "access concentration" which according to the commentaries ("Buddhaghosism") comes immediately before the attainment of jhana, isn't discussed in the Suttas.

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  9. Mindful as in the mindfulness factor in the 8foldpath. One can be in a hypnotic trance (perhaps this is jhana, just one of the 8 factors) but without sufficient strength in the mindfulness factor.
    To me the descriptions in the nikaya seems to suggest that once the single pointedness is attained, desire (non sensual) and volition exertion need to be present to driven skilfully (this is what I meant as in control), supported with the intense energy to break through successively into the supramandane path. The process probably involved mindfulness to detect the appearance of defilements early and skilfully cut them off very quickly to have insights till one became so advance that he can tackle the latent tendencies that are deeply embeded.

    Momentary and access concentration as far as I remember do not appear in the nikaya as well. So where do such detailed information on meditation came from?

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    1. Sounds WAY too effort- (and kamma-) oriented for my blood. Nibbana is not the result of a cause, or of effort; and enlightenment is ultimately effortless. All this stuff about strength, volition, exerting, driving, intense energy, breaking through, cutting off, tackling, etc., seems much more likely to produce something mundane than something supramundane, possibly even resulting in a fair amount of frustration, hysteria, and misery. But don't necessarily take my word for it---pound and grind away at it yourself for ten or twenty or thirty years and see how it goes.

      Noncanonical detailed information on meditation and many other subjects arose from the Theravadin tradition continuing to develop after the Tipitaka had been completed. It appears to be common to all systems, pretty much necessary, even.

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  10. The human mind sure likes getting caught up in semantics. I have found experience in meditative states to be fairly similar to descriptions in the suttas. Doesn't matter to me what we call them as long as they are conducive to the path. The pleasure I have experienced in jhana allows for me to refrain from and replace pleasures from the senses (sometimes); forging the right renunciation aspect of the path and I can see jhanic states diminishing defilements. But again, words themselves can become futile as you say. And you're right: the discrimination between "jhana/concentration" and "vipassana/mindfulness" is silly stupidity. They function harmoniously and congruently in practice and I have never understood the dichotomy.

    Looking forward to hanging this weekend and talking more.

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  11. Interesting Bhante. Are you a fan of awakening in a flash like those of chan tradition? :)

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  12. Going Taoist for a moment …

    "In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the pursuit of 'The Way (wisdom?), everyday something is dropped."

    ~ Lao Tzu

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    1. Wow, how's this for synchronicity: Just a few hours ago I almost included that same verse from the Tao Te Ching in a reply to a comment.

      He who follows learnedness increases day by day;
      He who follows the Way decreases day by day.
      He becomes less and less until he arrives at non-action;
      With non-action, there is nothing he cannot achieve.

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    2. Some opinions suggest Taoistshould not be confused with Buddhism. They state Non action is not the same as nivarna. Taoist believe in a permanent soul, whereas Buddhism has its unique concept of no permanent soul.

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  13. What are suitable objects of meditation? Can a book on mathematics be an object of meditation? Can an academic subject be an object of meditation?

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    1. Anything you are mindful of is meditation. A book on mathematics could be a very worldly meditation if you are concentrating on math problems, or it could be a deeper meditation if you are simply mindful of seeing while seeing it, or mindful of thinking while thinking about it.

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  14. Tao de jing is a description of very high attainment by a style view by a sage by a culture quite different from Ancient Indian culture. In the sutta, things are repetitive, relatively more "detailed", training are divided into levels. Tao te jing style is more of a description of the view of a sage.
    At times this question often pop out, is Lao tze a lone Buddha?

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    1. I actually read in a Penguin edition of the Tao Te Ching that Lao Tzu probably never really existed! He is a mythical figure who was considered to be the author of the "Lao Tzu," (the older, traditional title of the Tao Te Ching), whereas the book itself may be a kind of anthology of ancient Taoist sayings, or written by an anonymous author anyhow. But whether the author or authors were pacceka-buddhas or not, he/they was/were very wise. "Pacceka-buddha" itself may be a kind of mythological term.

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    2. Dear Bhante, Chuan Zi is also comparable in this regards. His teaching stressed a lot on freedom. The null values of things in human perceived existence.

      That were some rumors that Lao Tze travelled west and became one of the Buddha's teacher. But there was also stories of Jesus learning yoga and dharma in India during his lost years.

      So Bhante has some doubts on Buddhism cosmology, as in there will only be a Buddha at any one period to teach the real dharma?

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    3. If a Buddha is one who by definition starts the wheel of Dharma rolling, then I suppose there could be only one at a time, at least in one area. But "Buddha" literally means "awake," and it may be that with regard to his enlightenment he was essentially no different from any of his enlightened disciples. Glorification of the founder is common to most religious systems.

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    4. Same as in they are all free from ignorance n defilements and rebirth. Different in the knowledge scope and depth. Buddhism cosmology seems more like a fixed system expressed in the nonstandard as this is and this is not. This is possible and that is impossible.

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  15. Shri Pannobhaso Bhikkhu ji,
    Thank you for your response..Pardon me if my questions are getting sillier..Is time travel (into the past as a silent spectator) possible through meditation? I read in one biography of Ajahn Mun that he supposedly went to the time of the Buddha to see for himself how the Vinaya was being followed..

    and secondly how historical do you think is Buddha's claim of past Buddhas? What is striking to me is that the past Buddhas lived in cities of Indo-Gangetic plain with huge number of disciples..

    But as far as I my understanding goes, cities started spring up in Indo-Gangetic Plain only around 100-150 yrs before Buddha's birth..there were cities in Indus Valley, but they collapsed around 1900BC

    Were these later accretions? (to compete with Jains who has at least one historically attestable predeccesor)

    Or Buddha was off on this regard?

    Or am I reading it wrong?

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    1. First of all you should bear in mind that time and space are not necessarily the way scientific materialism asserts them to be. If one has a radically different understanding of reality, reality itself may appear radically different. I personally am not sure that there is a necessary connection between one moment and the next, other than mere similarity. There may be an infinite number of futures, pasts, and presents, so seeing one particular past or future (or present) may not necessarily be all that significant anyway. But I do think it's possible.

      The humungous population numbers, and the astronomically huge time spans regarding the people of India, are mainly, I assume, an artifact of Indian mythology. For example, in the commentaries it is claimed that the city of Savatthi had, in the Buddha's time, a population of 70 million people, which would make it more populous than modern New York, Tokyo, and Mexico City combined, with no modern logistics for bringing in food, hauling out waste, etc. (By the way, 50 million of them were claimed to be Buddhist ariyas, despite the fact that, historically, Savatthi was a stronghold of the Ajivikas.) Anyway, there's no telling what the Buddha really said. Even if you see into the past, there may be different pasts with different details.

      But I see no difficulty with the idea that there have been enlightened beings in this world for a very long time. Assuming that "enlightened being" means anything, and that time is not a complete illusion.

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    2. The only time that may be possible when one is not restricted by time and space when one attained Nirvana without residue. And this is only a possibility.

      Theories that all exist together came from a sect in buddhism. Or in theories of parallel universes.

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  16. Have you guys ever seen monks or nuns with eyes that looked like they are still in (or just out of) a hypnotic state while they r giving a talk or when you met them? I have seen at least two cases. One in a Utube video. Is that typical for those that meditate a lot?

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    1. I'm not sure what someone would look like if they were just out of a hypnotic state. Kind of dazed and disoriented, maybe? I'm not sure on that one. But some people who meditate a lot do look like they meditate a lot, for example by looking serene and being very still, not fidgeting nervously, and if they move it is deliberate and mindful. Blank stares are more likely to come from recluses living in dark rooms who aren't used to the light.

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    2. The eyes. This nun meditates a lot. https://youtu.be/0qfS9vK35UA.

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