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 [Dhamma Talk]


SN 4.41.6

Citta asks the Venerable Kamabhu various questions about attaining the ending of perception and sense-experience.

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Index of Available translations: SN 4.41.6



A footnote in Woodward's translation states: "In the first jhāna speech ceases." He gives no citation for this statement, and in fact he may have been thinking of overt speech, but we can understand the meaning in a deeper way and see the absolute correctness of this statement by analyzing the situation. Since vitakka and vicara are classified as speech (thinking through the construction of a statement precedes voicing it) and exist in the first jhāna, and these are eliminated prior to entering the second jhāna, that statement is to be understood to mean that at some point in the first jhāna speech is brought to an end with the result that one enters the second jhāna. Bhikkhu Bodhi, in his note here states that speech ceases in the second jhāna, but this is contrary to every description of the second jhāna found in the suttas.

Vitakka vicārānaṃ vūpasamā||
ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ||
cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ||
avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ||
dutiyajjhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
|| ||

Thinking and pondering having calmed down,
attaining tranquillity,
becoming single-minded,
without thinking and pondering,
with the pleasurable enthusiasm born of Serenity
he enters into
and makes a habitat
of the Second Knowing.

After thinking has been pacified, or by the pacification of thinking, he then enters the second jhāna.

We are then able to apply this sequence to the manner in which the other factors are dropped in attaining the subsequent jhānas. The pleasure of enthusiasm is dropped in the second jhāna to attain the third jhāna, enthusiasm is dropped in the third jhāna to attain the fourth jhāna, and breathing is stopped in the fourth jhāna.

The importance of all this is to note that when the breathing is said in translation to have ceased 'at' or 'upon attaining' the fourth jhāna, what is to be understood is not that at the very first point of attaining the fourth jhāna the breathing immediately stops, (that is that there is no respiration in the fourth jhāna) but that it is there in that jhāna that the breathing is brought to an end. There is still breathing going on in at least the early stages of the fourth jhāna.

This analysis also makes clear the fact that the jhānas are not static states or trances, 'other', undescribed states suddenly discovered upon fulfilling the instructions for the attaining of the jhāna and which have a fixed set of attributes, but are processes which undergo internal development or have evolving characteristics and whose characteristics are found in the descriptions we have of the attaining of the jhānas. In a way the standard descriptions are being wrongly divided. The description of the essential aspect of what is going on in the first jhāna for example, is found as the process of attaining the second jhāna, and so forth.



SN 4.43.3

In [SN 4.43.3] The Buddha teaches the bhikkhus that destruction of lust, anger and blindness is the not own-made (sankhata) and the way to the not-ownmade is a progressive serenity: first with thinking and contemplation; then without thinking and with a measure of contemplation; then with neither thinking nor contimplation.

Note this way of describing samādhi. Vitakka and vicāra are sorts of thinking.

According to a note in Bhk. Bodhi's translation, the commentaries go into contortions trying to fit this scheme into the more standard version of the four jhānas and ends up contradicting the suttas when it suggests that vicāra is abandoned in the second jhāna. (See just above SN 4.41.6, where both vitakka and vicāra are let go in/at the end of the first jhana bringing on the second jhana)

I suggest also that this supports my description of the jhānas as a process without real boarders. Names can be applied where useful, but tend, as we can see, to become rigid and demanding.

The first is highly verbal (re-talking); the second is dwelling on an idea which may be done visually without any verbalization. The idea of 'directed thought and sustained thought' comes from early attempts to understand the terms as described by the commentaries, taking the description of what it feels like and turning that into technical terms and using those as the translation.

The idea is compared with initial effort of a bird to fly compared with its having attained flight. This implies a progression from 'initial thought' to 'sustained thought'. My perception is that verbal thought follows visual thought. Vitakka follows Vicara. Vitakka is the putting into coherent thoughts names arising off sequences of images.

This is my perception, but the logic also dictates that this must be the case. How could one have sustained thoughts without first having directed thoughts (or initial thought) (as in the second form of this type of jhāna) if it is a progression?

First we have a picture of something and we think it would be something worth expressing in words, then we formulate the words.

There is a point in the thinking process where there is 'a train of thought' which sustains itself (so there is 'sustained thought', but that is not a translation) and one is more or less just an observer, but is this arriving at, or arriving back at ... that is, the result of letting go of the obstruction of 'sustained thought' by that which is vitakka?

The second level is described by Woodward as 'without directed but just with sustained thought'
Bhk. Bodhi has '... with examination only.'
'Avitakka-vicāra-matto' 'matta' = measure. A bit of, not "just with" (if the 'pi' is 'just' then the 'matta is untranslated) nor "only."

Bhk. Bodhi supplies references (also found in Ms. Horner's translation of MN 128 to other suttas using this three-dimensional description of samādhi, e.g., DN 33.03, MN 128 (Where this three-fold samādhi is said by the Buddha to have been his method for attaining Arahantship) and AN IV 300.

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