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[ Sitting Practice ]

This Dhamma is for the Precise

What is the Purpose of Meditation?

V: "I have recently read that one of the purposes of "jhana" is to temporarily obstruct the arising of the 5 hindrances. And I know first hand that meditation has other practical health related benefits. But I've always wondered what are the other purposes of meditation and why meditation is such an integral and important part of the path towards enlightenment?"

 


 

I wonder where you got that first idea? As I learned it, the hindrances must be temporarily obstructed in order to attain the jhanas[1].

V: "My bad. I think I am confusing the 'factors of jhana' with 'jhana'."

First we need to restrict the discussion to meditation as practiced by the students of the Buddha (meditation is much older than Buddhism, and was, and still is, as you indicated, used for many purposes, including good health).

Next you need to see the ultimate goal: Pointlessness, Signlessness, and Emptiness[2] — meaning, precisely what these words imply: having no point to it, leaving no indication that it was for any purpose whatsoever (a sign), and empty of all states of wanting — for pleasure, living, or more-living or unliving (escape). Attained this way by the Arahant, it is said to be practiced for the sake of pleasant living in the here and now.

For the student the purpose is more complex. What you are in essence doing, when you are practicing the jhanas is letting go of the world in a very powerful way. You do it symbolically by sitting down to "not do" (you let go of your ordinary involvement with the world).

Then, in order to develop each level of jhana, you must let go of ever more refined states;
you begin by letting go of the bindups (the Nivaranas, what you called the hindrances) to enter the first burning (jhāna);
to enter the second burning you let go of verbal and pictorial active thinking and pondering[3];
to enter the third burning you let go of enthusiasm;[4]
to enter the fourth burning you let go of any remnant of ease or pain[5].

Done properly you have attained a state of very pure detachment[6].

In the state of detachment, it is possible to see things as they really are. So for the Buddhist, one uses the Burnings to see the truth of the Four Truths or of Downbound Confounded Rebounding Conjuration. This is what is meant when it is said that "In Freedom, Seeing Freedom, he Knows he is Free." (Something like: "This is clearly a better state than that!")

Once the purpose has been attained, it is the same with the burnings as with everything else: one needs be careful not to become attached.

Down one level further (We're do'n fine down here, boss!) we laymen practice meditation partly to develop in ourselves the same skills as those at higher levels experience, but also, as Sariputta put it: because when we sit down to meditate it is very hard for the consequences of either good or bad kamma to reach us during that time. We get a bit of a break. In this, our level of detachment, hopefully we will begin to see the value of further study and practice.

 


 

V: "When you say 'meaning, precisely what these words imply: having no point to it,' does 'it' imply 'The All'?"

No. That means that the meditation is to have no point to it. That Samadhi or the Jhana is to have no Point, to be Signless, to be Empty of Views.[7] Usually stated as empty of lust, anger and blindness.

 


 

V: "When you say 'leaving no indication that it was for any purpose whatsoever (a sign),' once again, 'it' meaning 'The All'?

No again, meaning 'the Jhāna'. Since Jhana can be used for purposes, the proper use must be spelled out as here: having no purpose and therefore leaving no sign. Again, remember, this is the practice of Jhana by the Arahant. The student puts it to use to end putting to use so to speak.

 


 

V: "My understanding of "seeing things as they really are" is that this is done through the phenomena of everyday life by seeing things as just dukkha, impermanent and not self. If this is so, then why is it necessary to meditate when one can see these things while not meditating? I ask because I am trying to understand the difference between seeing these things in everyday life and seeing these things while meditating."

First understand that my answer is not to be understood to say that one is not to make the effort to see things as they really are by way of every day phenomena.

That said, it is no easy job, and meditation, especially to the degree of attaining the fourth burning, or "Upekkha" or Objective Detachment, makes it much easier.

In meditation it is possible to come to a place where numerous former habitations can be seen. Seeing, for example, that one has occupied a body and life identical to this one for the last several thousand existances and that it has always had the same outcome and the same pleasures and pains, one experiences a sense of disgust similar to that of, say, coming across an "I Love Lucy" television re-run, and can consequently cut through a lot of the detail and arrive at the big picture.

It doesn't have to be as successful as attaining the Fourth Burning, or as dramatic as seeing past existances to be useful: in meditation the mind is given time to get organized, and in organizing, it classifies, and in classifying one is able to then grasp ever larger categories with fewer and fewer concepts. This saves a lot of time.

 


 

V: "But neither is it an easy job attaining these burnings. In fact, I'd have to say that I find it easier to see impermanence and dukkha in everyday life than in meditation. The only thing I do find easier to see is perhaps not-self while meditating only because arising and falling of thoughts and feelings is very pronounced when the mind is stilled. But this level of meditation I don't think is anywhere near the fourth jhana. I don't even think it's anywhere near first jhana! I think it's just a mild degree of concentration, that's all. So I still am unclear as to why one must attain (and presumably develop to the point of summoning at will), the jhanas.
I don't see why one has to have "visions" of past lives to know that this "All" is dukkha. Isn't one enough?"

Of course this depends on how well it is done. In the suttas we see that there are Arahants who do not have the "Devine Eye" or ability to see past lives. The issue to my mind is: "how suseptable are you to self deception?" If you are able to extrapolate from this life to unimagined possibilities of other lives then more power to you. My experience with myself is that taking a sudden turn, and finding myself facing huge temptation or emense pleasure throws me off. The broader the base on which my perception of the truth of Dukkha is grounded, the less I am thrown off by the unexpected.

 


 

V: "You say this saves a lot of time. I don't see how. It seems to me that developing the mind through burnings takes many many lifetimes of effort, so how could this save time? There must be some other reason (that keeps eluding me) as to why one must meditate, attain jhana, etc. to achieve ultimate freedom from dukkha."

I don't know where you got the idea that developing the mind through burnings takes many many lifetimes of effort.[8] I don't think you will find that on this site. But think of it like this: suppose you were in a race, one was to go across the country by foot, and the other was to build an automobile and use that. Let's say that all the parts for the automobile are present in the here and now and that there is an accurate instruction manual . . . a hum. So we can imagine that for a few days the one on foot will be way ahead, but once the car is built the one with the car will win.

That is with regard to the issue of speed.

Now you say: "must . . .meditate . . . to achieve ultimate freedom from dukkha." Again, this is not something that I have said here, and it is something that I have taken strong issue with elsewhere. The easiest example I have used to refute this argument is that in the suttas are hundreds upon hundreds of examples of people attaining Arahantship while listening to a sutta. Because their mind would have been engaged at the level of verbal thought, it is not possible that they would have been in a jhana higher than the first jhana. There is, also, at least one sutta where a number of Bhikkhus who are Arahant state explicitly that they are unable to attain the Jhanas and do not possess magic powers or the ability to see past lives.

 


 

V: "Could you please explain what you mean when you ask: 'how suseptable are you to self-deception?' Do you mean "How easy can i talk myself into doing something that I shouldn't do, even though I know I shouldn't do it?" (for example)."

By "self deception" here I mean that the mind tends to focus down on things and one may, because one is focused on a certain area, and one has managed to see it clearly as dukkha, falsely believe that one now sees everything as it really is.

Then, if sucha one were to become unfocused on that sphere for a second, that belief structure could get lost. If an individual has a large base of places where he has seen the true nature of things, then there is less danger that the individual is trapped by self deception.

 


 

V: "Could you please explain what you mean when you say: 'If you are able to extrapolate from this life to unimagined possibilities of other lives then more power to you.' All I know is that I see how the things in everyday life are dukkha and impermanent. I was just trying to ascertain what is the significance of knowing past lives. If it is to broaden your base so as to strengthen your resolve, then this makes sense."

This is not just a matter of resolve, so I immediately suspect that you are a victim of self deception when you say: "I see how the things in everyday life are dukkha and impermanent."

This is a matter of really seeing things the way they really are.

A person here might resolve to work at it, but in the end resolve will not prevent a person from giving up the effort and indulging in pleasures of the senses if they do not actually see and know the end result.

How would you act if things were not "every day"?

Suppose at death you were presented with some mental state that corresponded to no idea you had of heaven (say one of the arupajhanas, the Sphere of No Thing There) and The Gatekeeper were to tell you: "Ho! Good Sir!" (You will have become a male for this transition.) Welcome to Nibbana! It's been a long trip, but you finally made it! How would you know that this was not Nibbana if you had no memory of this place or way to extrapolate it's potential from other experiences?

This is one of the huge benefits of actually practicing Uposatha.
This is not an every day experience.
It teaches you the power of things like the desire to sleep come 2:30 in the morning.
This is one of many reasons that the Bhikkhu is a "Beggar" and not a "Monk". There are things that happen to those "of the lowest calling" that cause reactions that could not be anticipated by one of reasonable means.
How far will you go in your groveling behavior for a meal when you are starving?
How far will you go for Gains, Favors and Fame?
It's hard to know without actually being faced with the potential.

In meditation it might be possible to see some insight that you could clearly see would really bring you Gains, Favors and Fame, and you could then work through your reactions to a "real" possibility without the danger of making a big mistake.

So this is the power of meditation: you can do, in your mind, a million million times more than you could manage to do with the "every day" body.

So when I say: "The broader the base on which my perception of the truth of Dukkha is grounded..." it is a matter of having true perceptions here, another true perception there and so on over a wide spectrum of experiences. And when I speak of the mind organizing itself in meditation, I am also speaking about broadening the base of true perceptions.

I have several times before here given the example of "sweet versus sugar":
Of two individuals needing something sweet, the one who's mind is organized at the level "sweet" will have a better chance of satisfying his need than will the one organized at the level of candy, sugar, cookie, soft drink...let alone the one organized at the level hard candy, chocolate candy, toffee, etc.

I might be organized at this level and I have a bad experience of chocolate candy and say to myself: "I see DUKKHA as it really is!"
And then some Mara comes along and says: "Well my good fellow, I see you are wise and have vision and that you see sweets as they really are!"
And I say: "And what are sweets?"
And Mara says, "Well now, let me see, there is Chocolate Candy. That is sweet."
And I say, "Then it is true sir! I do understand Dukkha as it really is."
And so Mara then offers me a piece of hard candy and I take it without a second thought.

 


 

V: "Ah Ha! I knew it was too good to be true! So, the phrase "seeing things as they really are" is not only seeing dukkha, impermanence and not-self in day to day phenomena, but also (and this is a big one, imho) knowing the different realms ("he recognizes the realm of no things there as the realm of no things there"[9]) which (of course) can only be done in meditation (from the fourth jhana?)"

Now here you go too far in the other direction.

You skip over:

"...if they do not actually see and know the end result" and "or [the] way to extrapolate it's potential from other experiences"

Seeing things as they really are is seeing dukkha, impermanance and not-self [better to say it impermanance, not-self, and dukkha because that is the order in which the perceptions will occur] in all phenomena, whether day-to-day or other worldly. It is the ability to know for yourself, about anything whatsoever: 'this place/thing/being has thingness even if it is formless, has been conceived, constructed and involves Time. That which has thingness, is conceived, constructed and involves Time comes to an end. Nibbana, so I hear, does not involve thingness, is not conceived, not constructed, and does not involved Time. Of this I can say: 'Yes, we have no Nibbana.'

You will often see in the suttas, subsequent to the Buddha's having cast a spell and the listener having become a Sotapatti, the expression: "and the Eye of Wisdom[10] arose in him such that he saw: whatever has come to be, all that is destined to pass away."

This is often being said of a person who has never entered jhana or experienced knowledge of another realm. What has happened is that his vision of things in the here and now is so thorough and fundamental that it is clearly all-encompassing.

I can tell you the mechanics, but I cannot give you the experience. The mechanics are that one sees that a thing that has "existence" or "is" or has "become" has entered the realm of Time (cap "T").
That which has entered the realm of Time has what you might call movement or animation, that is, in terms of Time: it has a beginning a middle and an end.
It can be seen in this here and now that this is the nature of whatever has come to be whether experienced or not yet experienced.

It's a question of the thoroughness of the comprehension, such as in the example of Mara and the concept sweet I gave before.

Some people here, by their own nature or by the skills of their teacher can be brought or bring themselves to such a thoroughness of comprehension in the here and now; others who are more thickheaded such as myself must see the way it plays out over and over in a large variety of circumstances.

Some can gain enough of these experiences in the here and now without meditation, others need to experience the shake up of an experience that cannot be explained by the logic of "this world."

Now this all is speaking about the condition of Streamwinner, and the condition of Streamwinner is not the final goal.

Subsequent to gaining the eye of wisdom, there follows the need to make it real.

Thereafter the task is letting go.

For the job of letting go meditation is an excellent tool because it is a "not-doing" activity, in other words, the essence of letting go.

Subsequent to the experience of gaining the eye of wisdom, one allows one's kamma to dictate what one might experience and one lets go of whatever may lead to further existence and one lives on on just sufficient to keep going along this way a little further. This may involve seeing other worlds, seeing past lives, attaining magic powers, or none of this.

 


 

This Dhamma is for the precise -- for one who delights in exactness[11]

Is mental development the goal of meditation in the Pali? This is the question.

To this question the answer is "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is development of generosity the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is development of high ethical standards the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is development of self control the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of High View the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of High Principles the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of High Speech the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of High Works the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of High Lifestyle the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, the attainment of High Self-control not being the goal of meditation in the Pali, and mental development not being the goal of meditation in the Pali, is attainment of the jhanas the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of the arupa-jhanas the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of magical powers the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of knowledge and vision the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of the cessation of perception and sensation the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

The answer to this question being "No," someone might ask: "Well then, is attainment of Nibbana the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

And the answer to this, too, would be "No."

At this point this person might well be stumped and find himself forced to ask: "Well then, I have asked as far as my understanding goes concerning the goal of meditation in the Pali, and to each question the response has been that the goal I suggested was not the goal; what then is the goal of meditation in the Pali?"

In answering properly, the answer to this question would be: "Un-grasped-after, utterly detached, Un-bound Timeless Freedom is the result of meditation properly practiced in accordance with the Pali."

But what, then, should be the next question asked by the well tamed, well-trained, well-educated student of the Aristocrat of Men?

The question that should be asked next by the well tamed, well-trained, well-educated student of the Aristocrat of Men is: "What, then, is that meditation practice that properly practiced in accordance with the Pali results in Un-grasped-after, utterly detached, un-bound Timeless Freedom?"

And answering properly, what would be the answer to this question?

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of generosity; which results in attaining the development of generosity; which results in becoming generous; which results in that which is grasping after 'being generous' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High Ethical Standards; which results in attaining the development of High Ethical Standards; which results in becoming one of High Ethical Standards; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one of High Ethical Standards' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High View; which results in attaining the development of High View; which results in becoming one who is of High View; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is of High View' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High Principles; which results in attaining the development of High Principles; which results in becoming one who is of High Principles; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is of High Principles' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High Talk; which results in attaining the development of High Talk; which results in becoming one who is of High Talk; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is of High Talk' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High Works; which results in attaining the development of High Works; which results in becoming one who is of High Works; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is of High Works' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High Lifestyle; which results in attaining the development of High Lifestyle; which results in becoming one who is of High Lifestyle; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is of High Lifestyle' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of Self Control; which results in attaining the development of Self Control; which results in becoming one who is Self Controlled; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is Self Controlled' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of High Mental Development; which results in attaining the development of High Mental Development; which results in becoming one who is of High Mental Development; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who is of High Mental Development' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of The Four Jhanas; which results in attaining the development of The Four Jhanas; which results in becoming one who easily attains The Four Jhanas; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who easily attains The Four Jhanas' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of The Four Arupa-Jhanas; which results in attaining the development of The Four Arupa-Jhanas; which results in becoming one who attains The Four Arupa-Jhanas; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who attains The Four Arupa-Jhanas' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of The Four Paths to Magic Power; which results in attaining the development of The Four Paths to Magic Power; which results in becoming one who attains The Four Paths to Magic Power; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who attains The Four Paths to Magic Power' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of Knowing and Seeing; which results in attaining the development of Knowing and Seeing; which results in becoming one who Knows and Sees; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who Knows and Sees' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of the ending of perception and sensation; which results in attaining the development of the ending of perception and sensation; which results in becoming one who attains the ending of perception and sensation; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who attains the ending of perception and sensation' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

That meditation practice which has as it's goal the development of the way to the attainment of Nibbana; which results in attaining Nibbana; which results in becoming one who has attained Nibbana; which results in that which is grasping after 'being one who has attained Nibbana' is let go, should be the answer to that question.

And what is that practice? It is the putting into practice in the here and now, the making a big thing of, the making a mode-of-living of Generosity and that Aristocratic Multidimensional Way which is:

High View:

High view is a "Working Hypothesis." By adopting High View, one drops attachment to all other Views (especially those of self and soul -- thus breaking the Sakkayaditthi; View Attachment) then the High View itself is easy to drop. This is High View:

It's All Painful, Ugly, Ukky, K-Kha
The Origin of this Du-k-kha Is Hunger/Thirst
To get up out of the K-Kha, you gotta dig out the Root: Tanha: The Hunger/Thirst
This is The Way: High View, High Principles, High Talk, High Works, High Lifestyle, High Self Control, High Mental Development, and High Getting High

High Principles

One is said to have one's intentions straight when one's Principles are in alignment with one's Views. These are High Principles based on High View:

Dump K-kha, Giving Up, Letting Go
No Tears, no mental cruelty
Be Harmless, No Intentional Harm

High Talk

No intentional Untrue Talk, Cruel Talk, Slander, Harsh Talk, Useless Talk

High Works

In your deeds, works of magic, or work:
Do no Intentional:
Harm to living beings
Taking of other peoples ungiven things
Low deeds for pleasure's sake.

High Lifestyle

When one Dumps what one clearly sees is a Low element of one's Lifestyle, what remains is High Lifestyle. High Lifestyle is the "style" or "process."

High Self Control

Strive, Make an Effort, Exert Energy and Endeavor to
Restrain low ways
That are in the here and now
Refrain from low ways
Not yet in the here and now
Retain High Ways
That are in the here and now
Obtain High Ways
Not yet in the here and now

High Mental Development

The preparation of the Mind for living Satisfied with Higher Things

Live in a Body
In Sensations
In Emotions
And in the Word
Seeing Bodies
Sensations
Emotions
And The Word
As they Really Are
Seeing how they come to be
Seeing how they burn out
Living Above It All
Watchful and Diligent (APPAMADA)
satisfied
Reviewing and Calming Down
Overcoming any Tanha that may appear
Downbound to Nothing At All in the World

High Getting High

Get High on the Appreciation of the Peace and Calm of Solitude
Get High on Getting High
Get High with Ease, on the sweet sensations of Ease
Get High off the All Roun
Clean Clear Through
Bright Shiny
Radiance
Of Detachment

Work hard at it, there is nothing else in your life that is more important, it can be done!

 


[1]See The Bindups and look around there for the whole topic of the Burnings

[2]PED: Three kinds of s. are distinguished, suññata or empty, appaṇihita or aimless, and animitta or signless A I.299; S IV.360; cp. IV.296; Vin III.93; Miln 337; cp. 333 sq.; DhsA 179 sq., 222 sq., 290 sq.; see Yogavācāra's Manual p. xxvii; samādhi (tayo samādhī) is savitakka savicāra, avitakka vicāramatta or avitakka avicāra D III.219; Kvu 570; cp. 413; Miln 337; DhsA 179 sq.;

[3]Vitakka and Vicara. Thinking and conjuring up ideas in the imagination, reminiscence, the inner dialogue. See: DhammaTalk: Re-Thinking Vitakka; Glossology: Vitakka, and Vicara

[4]Pīti

[5]Sukha and Dukkha -- physical pain and pleasure -- and somanassa and domanassa -- mental ease and discomfort

[6]Upekkha

[7]One might ask: "But isn't one intending to attain Nibbana here? And isn't that a Point?" Yes and yes. But it is like driving a car backwards: the meditation process is a process of letting go of what is; one does not get to the goal by trying to get to the goal, one gets to the goal by letting go of that which is obstructing it. The burnings are this process of letting go of what is and not doing anything new, so they are said to have no point.

[8]Actually, I do know: the commentaries and the Abhidhamma make such discouraging statements, and these are picked up and passed around on the message boards by people who 'rely on authority.' If you are going to rely on authority as a matter of having to begin somewhere, rely on the original sources! Nowhere in the suttas will you find such discouraging statements, and contrary to such, you will continuously hear that even laymen are to develop their minds to the degree where the jhanas are to be obtained with ease, at will, and in no long time.

[9]Echo from the The Root of All Evil (MN #1: Mulapariyaya).

[10]DhammaCakkhu: The Eye of Dhamma; see: PTS: Rhys Davids: Dialogues of the Buddha Part I The Fruits of the Life of a Recluse Sāmañña-phala Sutta, note 68 The Buddha's First Sutta

[11]See AN 8.30.


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