Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Jhanas

The original meaning of the word jhana, Sanskrit dhyana, was ‘to ponder’ or ‘to ruminate’ although by the Buddha’s time it had come to mean any deep meditative attainment. The Buddha used the word jhana for the stages the mind passes through as it progresses from cluttered normality to pristine clarity. Although he identified four such stages, they should not be thought of as being distinct and separate. Rather, one stage flows towards and is transformed into another as the various mental concomitants develop or fade.
The first step in attaining the jhanas is prolonged and disciplined meditation to the stage where the five hindrances are weakened or temporarily suspended. This gives rise to a state where there is ‘a distance from sense desires and unskilled states of mind’ (vivicc’eva kamehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi), where thoughts continue (savitakkam savicaram) although they are much reduced and mainly neutral in content, and where there is a subtle but noticeable joy and happiness (piti sukha). The meditator then `suffuses, utterly suffuses, fills and permeates' (abhisandeti, parisandeti, paripureti, parippharati) his or her body with that joy and happiness. The Buddha called this the first jhana.
If this state continues to be cultivated, thoughts eventually stop completely (avitakkam avicaram), the mind becomes effortlessly focused (cetaso ekodhibhavam), and one experiences a deep inner tranquillity (ajjhattam sampasadanam) while continuing to suffuse the body with joy and happiness. This is called the second jhana. In time, joy fades away (pitia ca viraga), equanimity (upekha), crystal-clear mindfulness and awareness (sati sampajana) become pronounced and one experiences the happiness (sukha) that is usually only the privilege of enlightened ones. This is called the third jhana. In the fourth and highest jhana one becomes completely detached from all physical and psychological pleasure and pain (sukhassa ca pahana dukkhassa ca pahana pubb’eva somanassa domanassanam atthangama) and the mind is emptied of everything except utterly pure equanimity and mindfulness (upekhasati parisuddhim, D.I,73-75).
It will be noticed that the three main components of the jhanas are positive feeling, mindfulness and equanimity. The joy and happiness, which continues even after the meditator emerges from the jhanic state, helps to untie the emotional knots and psychological wounds of the past thus simplifying the mind and imparting a deep contentment. The mindfulness allows for a clear penetrating vision of things while the equanimity keeps it from getting entangled in anything. The meditator becomes a still watching centre which is gradually filled with wisdom.


Wilfried said...

I wonder if one can reach one of the Jhanas only through practice the Anapanasati Meditation?
Could you please find some words for a short answer?

David at BegintoSee said...

Hello Bhante

I have found a different approach to the Jhana's. A MahaThera American Monk by the name of Bhante Vimalaramsi suggests the Jhanas are not one-pointed absorption levels but that they are "states of practice".

In the original Suttas (The Nikayas) the Buddha used Jhana not to mean one-pointed concentrated absorption levels -which he had rejected through his prior practice with the Ascetics (Ramaputta etc)- but by finding an extra step, which Bhante Vimalaramsi talks about. He has changed their meaning to "meditation levels" and not absorptions.

The Tranquil Jhana is described as placing an Egg on your Hand and letting it rest there. On the other hand the absorption Jhana that you talk about is holding the egg in the hand with crushing force to make it stay put. BUt the problem here is that the Buddha says that by doing this you are bringing Craving to your object of meditation. You cannot release craving by bringing it into your meditation.

I am not great at describing this and will point you to Bhante's speech he just made at the World Buddhist Conference in Japan last week. Many Sayadaws and Acharns (Acharn Brahmavanso among them) were in attendance and were quite supprised to hear this completely different interpretation.

Bhante V also goes on to suggest that the Buddha taught the Brahma Viharas as the main way to Nibbana, Anapansati is only mentioned in the Majjhima Nikaya 8 times yet the BViharas are mentioned too numerously to count.

And you use Metta which LEADS to compassion which then LEADS to Joy and this ends at Equanimity which then leads to Nibbana. It is progressive and happens automatically when practiced like Bhante Vimalaramsi teaches it. (I know I have done it.)

So Bhante V found- by going off in a Jungle and trying this out- that this is an "aware" Jhana- a Jhana State that does not suppress but lets go of unwholesome states. This is done by using the "Relax" step (Tranquilizing the body as said in the Satipathana Sutta". This eliminates craving completely and is way faster to achieving a jhana state then you can even think.

I spent 20 years in Vipassana and now understand it is a one pointed technique and it is based on the commentaries (VM) and NOT the Suttas.

Here is my own blog where I posted his speech on this very vital topic: "What did the Buddha really teach?"


David at Begintosee

Sheridan said...


I have had a question about Mindfulness as it pertains to the Foundations of Mindfulness. The Buddha, when talking about the Foundations of Mindfulness, it their own Sutta or the Anapanasati Sutta, it seems as if the Buddha may be talking about one meditation.

Are these subjects that one should expand their Mindfulness to cover during all meditation/daily mindfulness? Or, are these topics that one should take one by one and develope.

Could you find some instances of more clear instruction of how these should be taken up in the Tipitaka? Thank you very much Bhante!

With Respect,