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[ Sitting Practice ]

Jhana Practice without A Teacher

M: "What are the pit-falls of trying to develop Jhana from the books (i.e. without supervision of a competent teacher)?"

Here let me say that as long as I have been doing this (coming up on 40 years today Tuesday, March 09, 2004 4:58 AM) I would in no way say I was any kind of an expert at the Jhanas. As it happens, I encountered Pali Buddhism at the exact same time as I began to use marijuana and LSD (early 60s) (and let me say that the LSD I used was not, apparently, the same thing that is being called LSD today -- I was using the LSD prepared by Sandoz labs under the supervision of the discoverer of the substance, Dr. Hoffman). Part of the appeal of Pali for me at that time was it's description of the Jhanas and how to handle them. It was clear to me that both LSD and marijuana, if used as aids to meditation brought one to the jhanas. As I have mentioned, it also became clear to me later that this was dangerous on several levels: using drugs to attain the jhanas does not teach one how to attain the jhanas; entering the jhanas without sufficient training in ethical culture or having a "bank" of good kamma will put one up against the weakest aspects of one's character while in one's most powerful mental state and some huge and dangerous bad kamma can be the result. Nevertheless, the long periods of time I spent using these drugs and the fact that I spent equally long times abstaining from them (back and forth over a long period) gave me the information which I could use to piece together many valuable techniques for use in attaining, remaining in, and emerging from the jhanas when drug free. Please, therefore, accept the following comments in this context!

The biggest problem, of course, is knowing when you are or are not in the Burning (jhana). I recommend approaching this problem by a very careful study of the exact Pali wording. Determine for yourself the essential elements needed for entering, remaining, and exiting -- do not let the commentaries or what you have heard interfere with what your understand from the Pali (and you can be sure of the Pali because the exact wording for the formulas for the Burnings is repeated endlessly throughout the suttas). I am sure all these people teaching meditation and even claiming to be teaching the jhanas have good intentions, but they have put such an aura of mystery and unattainability around the Burnings (to me it seems because they themselves have not been able to attain them) that it is very difficult to overcome doubt.

This is what I have determined: In nearly Every case with magic powers and the Burnings, there is a door right near at hand. This means, for example, that while the First Burning may, in fact, be Very Very Deep, it begins from the simple enjoyment of being alone.

The essential ingredient for virtually every attainment in the Pali has one thing at it's heart: Letting Go: something anyone can do.

The other major problem is fear and trembling. This is resolved by two means: train yourself in the basics (Giving, Ethical Culture, Self Control and Mental Development); and study the Dhamma.

The Buddha has made a challenge to the world: Nobody can beat this system. That means that your fear is really only arrogance and self indulgence[1]. You think that there is something in you that cannot be handled by this system. There is no "telling" anyone that this system will triumph; but if you are a man of courage you will put yourself at risk for your beliefs in order to find out for yourself. Otherwise you dance like a puppet on the end of somebody else's string (sutta).

M: "What are the skills that have to be mastered within a particular level of Jhana that have been spoken of in the sutta below? What are the theme/themes to be developed and pursued that have been mentioned?"

The three skills that are mentioned as necessary are:
Skill at entering the Burning
Skill at remaining in the Burning, and
Noticing the attributes of the Burning[2] such that it will be easily recognized in the future.

In addition to these three, another is also mentioned in other places: emerging from the Burning.

The "themes" being mentioned are the Burnings themselves: in other words "Now I will make it a theme to be working on the first Burning."

How is the length of time that one remains in the Jhana (at any level) decided?  How does one improve on it?

I translate the term Jhana as "Burnings" not only because the word is etymologically related, but because the primary value to a Buddhist of the Jhanas is the stage in them which "burns off" old kamma. So the time spent in the burning relates to one's ability to tolerate "letting go" of the world. In the burning this is not a conscious process, but kamma intervenes at a certain point and brings one "down" at the point one is about to burn off something one is not ready to let go of. Stated another way, the time in the burning relates to one's degree of attachment.

To improve on the length of time one is able to remain in jhana, my suggestion is to go back to the beginning of practice: Giving, Ethical Culture, Self Control, Mental Development, and confront those places where attachment remains. Rinse and repeat.

Later, after attaining a degree of mastery, one is able to stay in the jhana in accordance with what is called a "resolve" or a deliberately formed intent that the Burning go on for such and such a length of time[3] or until such and such an event occurs.

Also remember in the context of this: For the Arahant the purpose of the Burnings is for living comfortably in the here and now. This is not a practice which should be made a source of anxiety or ambition: the nature of the Burnings is abandoning, letting go; to become too attached to the Burnings is self-defeating.[4]

M: "In the book of ones, remaining in Jhana is spoken of for so short a time as it takes to snap the fingers.  Is it common for Jhana to last so short a time?"[5]

The intention in the Book of the Ones is not to suggest remaining in the Burnings for only so short a time as it takes to snap the fingers; what is being said is that even if one is able only to remain in the Burnings for such a short time one is doing a great thing.
On the other hand, it is quite possible when one is unskillful in the higher Burnings to attain them more or less accidentally and because they are unfamiliar, to lose them again in an instant. In such a case it is very valuable to review after the sitting practice to note, as mentioned above, the characteristics of the Burning so that it is recognized at a later time, and, if possible, to recapture in mind the events that lead to the momentary attaining.

M: "As a consequence of the following sutta [an09.35] (taken from The Wings to Awakening)[6], I find myself faltering as the mind begins to settle.  I will appreciate if you could please explain:"

Ī 162. Skill in concentration. Suppose there was a mountain cow -- foolish, inexperienced, unfamiliar with her pasture, unskilled in roaming on rugged mountains -- and she were to think, 'What if I were to go in a direction I have never gone before, to eat grass I have never eaten before, to drink water I have never drunk before!' She would lift her hind hoof without having placed her front hoof firmly and [as a result] would not get to go in a direction she had never gone before, to eat grass she had never eaten before, or to drink water she had never drunk before. And as for the place where she was standing when the thought occurred to her, 'What if I were to go where I have never been before...to drink water I have never drunk before,' she would not return there safely. Why is that? Because she is a foolish, inexperienced mountain cow, unfamiliar with her pasture, unskilled in roaming on rugged mountains.

In the same way, there are cases where a monk -- foolish, inexperienced, unfamiliar with his pasture, unskilled in...entering & remaining in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation -- doesn't stick with that theme, doesn't develop it, pursue it, or establish himself firmly in it. The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the stilling of directed thought & evaluation, were to enter & remain in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation -- internal assurance.' He is not able...to enter & remain in the second jhana...The thought occurs to him, 'What if I...were to enter & remain in the first jhana...He is not able...to enter & remain in the first jhana. This is called a monk who has slipped & fallen from both sides, like the mountain cow, foolish, inexperienced, unfamiliar with her pasture, unskilled in roaming on rugged mountains.

But suppose there was a mountain cow -- wise, experienced, familiar with her pasture, skilled in roaming on rugged mountains -- and she were to think, 'What if I were to go in a direction I have never gone before, to eat grass I have never eaten before, to drink water I have never drunk before!' She would lift her hind hoof only after having placed her front hoof firmly and [as a result] would get to go in a direction she had never gone before...to drink water she had never drunk before. And as for the place where she was standing when the thought occurred to her, 'What if I were to go in a direction I have never gone before...to drink water I have never drunk before,' she would return there safely. Why is that? Because she is a wise, experienced mountain cow, familiar with her pasture, skilled in roaming on rugged mountains.

In the same way, there are some cases where a monk -- wise, experienced, familiar with his pasture, skilled in...entering & remaining in the first jhana...sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it. The thought occurs to him, 'What if I...were to enter & remain in the second jhana...' Without jumping at the second jhana, he -- with the stilling of directed thought & evaluation -- enters & remains in the second jhana. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it. The thought occurs to him, 'What if I...were to enter & remain in the third jhana'...Without jumping at the third jhana, he...enters & remains in the third jhana. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it. The thought occurs to him, 'What if I...were to enter & remain in the fourth jhana'...Without jumping at the fourth jhana, he...enters & remains in the fourth jhana. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it.

The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, thinking, "Infinite space," were to enter & remain in the sphere of the infinitude of space.' Without jumping at the sphere of the infinitude of space, he...enters & remains in sphere of the infinitude of space. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it.

The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the complete transcending of the sphere of the infinitude of space, thinking, "Infinite consciousness," were to enter & remain in the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness.' Without jumping at the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness, he...enters & remains in sphere of the infinitude of consciousness. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it.

The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the complete transcending of the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness, thinking, "There is nothing," were to enter & remain in the sphere of nothingness.' Without jumping at the sphere of nothingness, he...enters & remains in sphere of nothingness. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues, it & establishes himself firmly in it.

The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the complete transcending of the sphere of nothingness, were to enter & remain in the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception.' Without jumping at the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, he...enters & remains in the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception. He sticks with that theme, develops it, pursues it, & establishes himself firmly in it.

The thought occurs to him, 'What if I, with the complete transcending of the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, were to enter & remain in the cessation of perception & feeling.' Without jumping at the cessation of perception & feeling, he...enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling.

When a monk enters & emerges from that very attainment, his mind is pliant & malleable. With his pliant, malleable mind, limitless concentration is well developed. With his well developed, limitless concentration, then whichever of the six higher knowledges he turns his mind to know & realize, he can witness them for himself whenever there is an opening.

The idea of mastering step one before going on to step two is just good common sense. It is also very easy to understand the eagerness of meditators to be able to experience the higher jhanas. We hear stories about the life of the Bhikkhus which tell us that many of the same issues found in ordinary life are carried over into the life of the Bhikkhu, except that there the objects of greed and ambition are the bowl and robes, the hut, food and marks of status such as attaining the burnings, being asked to teach Dhamma, and so forth.

If these ambitions were not to be guarded against in the case of the jhanas, not only would they result in the non-attainment of the jhanas by the practitioner (again and again: the jhanas are the result of letting go of what is obstructing them, their very nature is to be unattainable by way of wanting to get), but as discussed elsewhere, should a higher state of consciousness be reached by one untrained in the basics (ethics and self control as well as the ability to handle the jhana state itself) the net result is the individual finding himself in his most powerful mental state in his untrained persona. It would be like giving a child a loaded gun -- some bad medicine would be the likely consequence.

So one should take this advise as friendly advise in two ways: it is the way to get to the jhanas, and it is the way, once one has attained the jhanas to keep from messing up in a big way.

 


 

From DN #33: The Compilation: The Four Burnings

This is my latest effort at a very careful and precise translation of the Pali description of the way one enters the jhanas. There is one footnote, to the Glossology page for jhana (see References), which has a rich assortment of research materials on this subject.

The Four Burnings: Here friends a bhikkhu,
separating himself from sense pleasures, separating himself from unskillful things, still thinking and reacting with the pleasurable enthusiasm born of detachment enters into and makes a habitat of the First Burning,
then, with thinking and reacting having calmed down, attaining tranquillity, becoming single-minded, without thinking and reacting, with the pleasurable enthusiasm born of highgetting he enters into and makes a habitat of the Second Burning,
then, dispassionate and detached from enthusiasm, living conscious and aware of bodily sense-reactions suchas those described by the aristocrats when they say 'Detached, with satisfied mind, he lives pleasantly,' he enters into and makes a habitat of the Third Burning
then, letting go of his former experiences of pleasure and pain, allowing his experience of mental ease and discomfort to subside on their own, without pleasure or pain, with utterly pure detachment of mind, he enters into and makes a habitat of the Fourth Burning.

 


 

From Digha Nikaya III.33: The Compilation: The Nine Habitats

9.5[7] Here friends a bhikkhu, separating himself from sense pleasures, separating himself from unskillful things, still thinking and reacting with the pleasurable enthusiasm born of detachment enters into and makes a habitat of the First Burning.
Then, with thinking and reacting having calmed down, attaining tranquillity, becoming single-minded, without thinking and reacting, with the pleasurable enthusiasm born of Highgetting he enters into and makes a habitat of the Second Burning.
Then, dispassionate and detached from enthusiasm, living conscious and aware of bodily sense-reactions suchas those described by the aristocrats when they say 'Detached, with satisfied mind, he lives pleasantly,' he enters into and makes a habitat of the Third Burning.
Then, letting go of his former experiences of pleasure and pain, allowing his experience of mental ease and discomfort to subside on their own, without pleasure or pain, with utterly pure detachment of mind, he enters into and makes a habitat of the Fourth Burning.
Then, elevating himself above all perceptions of materiality, allowing perceptions of resistance to subside, and not scrutinizing perceptions of diversity, thinking: 'Un-ending is space.' enters into and makes a habitat of the Space-dimension.[8]
Then, elevating himself completely above the Space-dimension, thinking: 'Un-ending is consciousness.' he enters into and makes a habitat of the Consciousness-dimension.
Then, elevating himself completely above the Consciousness-dimension, thinking: 'There is nothing.' he enters into and makes a habitat of the No-thing-there[9] dimension.
Then, elevating himself completely above the No-thing-there-dimension he enters into and makes a habitat of the Dimension of Neither-perception-nor-non-perception.[10]
Then, elevating himself completely above the Dimension of Neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he enters into and makes a habitat of the ending of perception and sense experience.

 


 

From Digha Nikaya III.33: The Compilation: Nine Endings One after the Other

9.6The First Burning being attained, perception of sensuality comes to an end.
The Second Burning being attained, thinking and reacting come to an end.
The Third Burning being attained, enthusiasm comes to an end.
The Fourth Burning being attained, in-and-out breathing comes to an end.
The Realm of Space being attained, perception of materiality comes to an end.
The Realm of Consciousness being attained, perception of the Realm of Space comes to an end.
The Realm of No Thing There being attained, perception of the Realm of Consciousness comes to an end.
The Realm of Neither Perception Nor Non Perception being attained, perception of the Realm of No Thing There comes to an end.
The Realm of the Ending of Perception and Sense Experience being attained, the Realm of Neither Perception Nor Non Perception comes to an end.

 


 

From Digha Nikaya III.33: The Compilation: Eight Releases[11]

8.11Seeing the materiality of material. This is the first release.
Perceiving the personally immaterial one sees external materiality. This is the second release.
Thinking "How pure!" he intends to get that. This is the third release.
Elevating himself above all perceptions of materiality, allowing perceptions of resistance to subside, not scrutinizing perceptions of diversity, thinking: 'Un-ending is space.' he enters into and makes a habitat of the Space-dimension. This is the fourth release.
Elevating himself completely above the Space-dimension, thinking: 'Un-ending is consciousness.' he enters into and makes a habitat of the Consciousness-dimension. This is the fifth release.
Elevating himself completely above the Consciousness-dimension, thinking: 'There is nothing.' he enters into and makes a habitat of the No-thing-there dimension. This is the sixth release.
Elevating himself completely above the No-thing-there-dimension he enters into and makes a habitat of the Dimension of Neither-perception-nor-non-perception. This is the seventh release.
Elevating himself completely above the Dimension of Neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he enters into and makes a habitat of the ending of perception and sense experience. This is the eighth release.

 


[1]"By whatsoever fears beset, beggars, all such arise in the fool not the wise." --Anguttara I, Tika Nipata, #1, mo, trans

[2]nimittan: sign. Hare has this as the mental reflex image of the device used for attaining concentration. This is my comment to his footnote from the 60s: "No. It means he learns to recognize the attributes of the burning so he can get back." I still agree with this. The first interpretation is from the commentaries. The reflex image is not jhana-specific (meaning it is the same in the first and second jhanas, etc.); the idea here is to understand the "signs" of each jhana. Additional note added Tuesday, March 09, 2004 5:36 AM: Examining the suttas one does not find mention of the "reflex image" and further, on the one hand samadhi is characterized by absense of goals, absense of signs, and emptiness, and on the other hand lust, anger and blindness are said to be characterized by goals, signs and a lack of emptiness. I think this whole business of the nimmita as a 'reflex image' in jhana is a big mistake. There is something like that that happens, for sure, but I think it is something that is best handled in the same way as every other phenomena encountered on the way: let it go.

[3]Time, as determined by a watch, is meaningless at this level; one needs to determine time with ideas such as "so and so many sunsets", "when the sun has reached the highest point", "for the length of time it takes this incense stick to burn down", or when some event or another occurs, such as the Master calling.

[4]The suggestion here is that if one needs to be attached to something, make it Dhamma study. The Dhamma has the quality of continuously pointing out the ways to let go of attachments and will eventually result in detachment from the Dhamma itself. Attachment to Jhana practice offers no guaranteed method of detachment. While the Jhanas are, by nature, made more refined and more powerful through detachment, each new level offers powers and opportunities for attachment on emergence. The Jhanas themselves must be let go of for final success in this system.

[5]The Book of the Ones: On Burning

[6][an09.35] Bhk. Thanissaro's translation of Anguttara Nikaya, The Book of the Nines, IV (35).

[7]Number links to the Pali.

[8]See:../../dhamma-vinaya/bd/dn/dn.33.04.olds.bd.htm#n4.7

[9]See:../../dhamma-vinaya/bd/dn/dn.33.04.olds.bd.htm#n4.7.2

[10]See:../../dhammatalk/bd_dhammatalk/give_ear/nevasannanasanna.htm

[11]Vimokkha PED: [fr. mokkha1 cp. vi+muc] deliverance, release, emancipation, dissociation from the things of the world, Arahantship D II.70, 111; III.34, 35, 230, 288; M I.196 (samaya- and asamaya-); S I.159. The three vimokkhas are: suññato v., animitto v., appaṇihito v. Ps II.35; Vism 658. The eight vimokkhas or stages of emancipation, are: the condition of rūpī, arūpa-saññī, recognition of subha, realization of ākāsa-nañc'āyatana, of viññāṇ'a-nañc'āyatana, ākiñcaññ'āyatana, n'eva-saññā-n'a-saññ'āyatana, saññāvedayita-nirodha D III.262 (cp. Dial. III.242), A I.40; IV.306.
Mokkha1 PED: [late Vedic and Epic Sk. moks.a, fr. muc, see muñcati.] 1. (lit.) release, freedom from, in bandhanā m. D I.73=M I.276. - 2. (fig.) release, deliverance, salvation (jarā-maraṇa- from old age and death); (-magga+sagga-magga, the way to heaven and salvation), 89, 90 (-dhamma=salvation). - 3. (lit.) (act.) letting loose, emission, uttering (of speech).

 


 

References:

PTS: The Book of the Gradual Sayings, IV: The Book of the Nines, IV (#35) The Cow, E.M. Hare, trans. pp. 281

ATI: The Wings to Awakening, Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Translations and discussions. A very thorough-going exposition of the Dhamma.

See Glossology: jhana for the Pali, PED definition, and comparisons of various translators.

Buddha Dust: High Get'n High
The Ninth Lesson


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