Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi Everyone,

Introduction:

I've been lurking around DhO for about a week now and have found the discussion
here to be very motivating and useful. Just the idea that arahantship is
attainable, and that there are detailed maps charting a path toward it, is very
new and exciting to me. I've been on retreats before, but there was never any
talk of this sort. I found myself at odds with the teachers, full of doubt and
confusion about what I should be doing and whether their instructions were
actually leading anywhere. I was left to my own devices. Finding this forum and
Daniel's book has been very illuminating.

Just before discovering DhO, I took to Ajahn Brahm's teachings after
encountering two free booklets he authored: (1) The Basic Method of Meditation
and (2) Ananpanasati Sutta & Satipatthana Sutta (which is about the suttas, not
a translation), and now his commercial book, Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond. So I
am trying out his methods from the beginning stages.

I have a few comments to make, and also a few questions.

Comments:

(1) Ajahn Brahm is an interesting and entertaining guy, and he clearly ardently
believes that enlightenment really is possible. (He seems to write as if he's
reached it himself.) His book is oriented just torward that purpose: bringing
one from a beginning level, through numerous stages of meditation, all the way
to enlightenment. It's very detailed, and very inspiring, so I thought
mentioning it would be of general interest to people on DhO. It would be cool to
see a review of this book from someone who is at an advanced stage. (Or even
reviews of his free booklets. I picked mine up at Chuang Yen Monastery in
Carmel, NY).

[Continued in next post]
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
(2) Ajahn Brahm is also very into deep jhanas. He likes to talk about three
levels of mindfulness: ordinary mindfulness, "power mindfulness" and "super
power mindfulness". The latter, he says, is what's needed to form insight at the
level needed to reach the stages of enlightenment. Moreover, this "super power
mindfulness" comes from the jhanas. E.g., he says:

"The buddha says that this [mindfulness] reaches its peak in the fourth
jhana. ... That's as powerful as mindfulness can get. Once you have experienced
that level of mindfulness, you know for yourself how ridiculous it is to think
you can become enlightened without jhana."

(3) His definition of a jhana seems to be in accordance with what I've heard is
the Visuddhimagga definition (though I haven't studied that text myself). That
is, one first experiences a nimitta, and after one has entered the jhana, one
loses all sensory perception. From his Anapanasati Sutta & Satipatthana Sutta
booklet:

"... It is just freedom. *The mind is now free.* ... You're just experiencing
bliss. You're not at all sensitive to what's happening with the body. You're
unable to hear anything, unable to say anything. You're just 'blissed out',
fully mindful, still, stable as a rock."

[The stars indicate bold -- his emphasis.]

[Continued in next post]
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Questions:

(1) I'm still very far from reaching such stages of concentration, so I'd love
to hear what others' experiences are with the jhanas. Has anyone entered such a
deep jhana that there is no sensory perception? I've heard that even the
heartbeat and breathing can stop for hours at a time. What are your experiences?

(2) What are your thoughts on the relationship between jhana and insight? Has
jhana lead directly to any deep insight?

(3) Ajahn Brahm also emphasises that entering the jhanas requires so much
letting go and freeing the mind that attaining them is a very profound
experience in and of itself. Any experiences here? Here are some of his
quotes:

"You enter the jhana through freeing the mind."

"You've let go of the 'doer'. You've let go of the self. It's a difficult thing
for the self to let go of the self, but through these methodical stages you've
actually done it. And it's bliss."

"If you get a few of those jhanas, you usually want to become a monk or a
nun. ... Compared to jhanas, sex, music, drugs, TV, travel, all that sort of
stuff seems to be so unimportant, so stupid. They're so unattractive when
compared to the bliss of the mind when it is free."

(These are from his booklet again.)


(4) If you're familiar with Ajahn Brahm -- how true do you think his teachings
are? Is his a good method to follow? Again, I'm still in the beginning stages
and am working out how and where I should direct my efforts.


Many thanks for any responses in advance!
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Sup Chris, welcome to the site man.

(1). A really really deep jhana can be a wild experience the first few times they're attained, but it's hard to tell what he means by "no sensory perception." A person can only know of something through a sense. For example, "bliss" is a feeling. I've never stopped breathing or anything like that, but it's gotten extremely slow, especially when creeping up on Nirodha Samapatti.

(2). I think jhana can lead to "insight," but it doesn't lead directly to an Insight which would permanently shift perception. If you read the MCTB chapters on the Vipassana Jhanas, that gives a good overview of the way the two overlap. Personally, I feel attainment of the samatha jhanas is absolutely crucial to progressing with insight.

(3). Yeah they can be very cool. For example, I can easily remember the first times I attained 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, etc; those were "holy shit" moments even though they're temporary states. As for comparing the jhanas to those things...lets just say they're not really comparable and I am thankful for that.

What sort of practice are you up to? What kind of goals have you set for yourself?

Laters,
Trent
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Thanks Trent, that's really useful for me. Particularly:

"Personally, I feel attainment of the samatha jhanas is absolutely crucial to
progressing with insight."

Perhaps you could elaborate a bit?

As for my practice, I'm trying to do a few things:

(a) In sitting practice, I'm working with Ajahn Brahm's first few stages. These are (1) present-moment awareness, (2) silent present-moment awareness, (3) silent present-moment awareness of the breath, and (4) full sustained attention on the breath. I'm just trying to work with the mind, see what it's capable of, and find the states he's referring to (with all the characteristics he describes). I've had lots of interesting experiences here. So, my goal here is to master these stages, and also learn more about what leads to what in meditation. (If I try to do x, then y happens, etc.)

(b) Mindfulness outside of sitting meditation. This includes paying attention to sensations in as much detail as possible (mindfulness of the body, I guess), and sometimes paying very close attention to things in the mind (thought, feeling, intention, craving, etc., and looking for cause-and-effect). Basically, trying to see what the reality of experience really is, with as much detail and clarity as I can. I don't have any short-term goals here; I'm just trying to present the mind with a clearer picture of reality.

(c) In the past I've had very good results through analytic thinking. That is, studying philosophy, analyzing things on my own, etc. If one seeks only objective truth, this can really cut through delusions & craving and allow the mind to think logically, and with equanimity (I like to call it "logical equanimity" -- it's a very distinct frame of mind in my experience). I haven't been doing this much lately, but am planning to spend some time with it.

Cheers!
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Yo,

Here are a couple of the main reasons why I feel it's necessary:

Doing samatha jhana work teaches you how the mind can move in a way that lets you see it more clearly than if you're simultaneously working with insight. You can see how the mind expands and contracts, what sort of "involvement" is necessary for each jhana, what causes a jhana to naturally lead to another, and so forth. Secondly, in most cases it will power up your concentration faster than it will strengthen during raw insight, and that makes insight itself much easier because your mind is better able to perform as needed.

Good to hear about your practice. (C) is particularly interesting for me, as that sort of intellectual inquiry is how I did 80% of the path. I could rant and rave all day about why it works just as well (or better) than vipassana or rigid inquiry (who am i, koans, etc), but most people just aren't philosophically bent to be able to walk the path in such a way. With that approach in mind, samatha work IS absolutely necessary. If approached correctly, pairing samatha with hardcore analytic-philosophic bent inquiry will rocket you down the path faster than you can adapt to it. Wild ride.

Peace,
Trent
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 50 Join Date: 8/17/09 Recent Posts
Good questions you've put, and useful answers, Trent.

Analysing myself and why I do / don't do things (so more cravings than delusions) has simplified my mindset a lot. It's like the simpler you think, the less you suffer from it, no?

Can you (anybody) write some more on logical equanimity? and how to use it on delusions? I mean, you first have to know you're deluding yourself, no?
So is this the point where you read philosophical stuff to get some hints and afterwards go hunting down your own delusions?
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hey,

To really communicate this would take a lot of time and is very complex. Here's a quick attempt to show what a logic approach is like. (Also, philosophy in this context is almost strictly phenomenology.)

There are given things in "reality" that seem to be constant. Cause and effect and impermanence are two big ones. Knowing this, you meditate into a jhana and look at some part of your experience while applying these two constants to everything that seem to "go against" them. For instance, you would ask yourself "why do I perceive an insight and outside when I can see causally that these two things are not separate?" You may then listen to the clock tick and work with the causal relationship as it happens in your mind. Perhaps eventually, based on various conditions, your perception will flip and it'll be seen in the "enlightened" perspective, and you'll have made progress in some way.

It is sort of like making your own koans, but much more dynamic, flexible and tailored on the fly to your present experience. Hope that makes some sense; it's the best I can do with the time I have available.

Trent

[Edit] I think I might have misunderstood you, Julius. If so, I apologize. Just going to leave my message in case I did understand and/or if anyone is interested in an intro to how analytical inquiry is done in practice.
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hey Julius,

My experience with this frame of mind has generally come from studying analytic philosophy. Basically this means I would sit and work through some of Bertrand Russell's work, studying and thinking about it in a very detailed manner. If I found points of disagreement or other interesting topics came up, I would set about working on them myself. I wasn't doing it at all as a way to progress on the path -- I just like this style of philosophy, and want to see the world in the clearest way possible. But I've found that studying something like this which is very analytic, very logical, very clear, very honest, and engaging in similar work does have a lasting effect on one's mental state. One starts to think about everything in the world in much more clear terms. Emotions don't enter so much into one's reasoning. It's like I were Socrates himself :b

In such a frame of mind, I've found it interesting and quite enjoyable to sit down and think about all my experience in the world. I once asked myself, what does it mean to understand something? And the model I came up with was that, to understand some system, one generally wants to identify the principle entities that exist, their relations, and their dynamics. I've sat around for hours on end in the library working things out on paper, coming up with models, etc. Applying this to my mind has been really fruitful, both emotionally and intellectually.

[continued]
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
So to answer your question: I think you'd want to first build up your faculty of reason so that you can understand detailed philosophical arguments, and find this "logically equanimous" frame of mind. Then applications to your experience will be totally natural.
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 14 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
This is extremely interesting to me because I suspect I might have a similar orientation.

As far as your saying that it would be largely phenomenological, I can relate strongly to that as well. For myself, I find that it's a kind of intuitive-analytical process. Then again, for me, that's a large part of what phenomenology is.

One cultivates a kind of fidelity to the internal logic of a phenomenon. It's not a subjugation of phenomena to some pre-determined set of assumptions. Rather one brings the attention to some aspect of phenomenon/experience, and sincerely regards it.

cnqx mentioned Bertrand Russell. Another useful thinker for me was Gregory Bateson. No huge surprise, since Bateson was an enthusiastic fan of Russell.

Bateson wrote 'Steps to an Ecology of Mind', 'Mind and Nature: An epistemological unity', etc. I found his writings extremely useful. That was about 18 years ago, but still.

Anyway, at this point, the lion's portion of this process for me does not really occur through textual study. But through contemplative (but analytical) inquiry of sense experience. (I'm including so-called 'thought' here as part of sense experience. The fact is that 'thought' is basically neural activity.)

Hope this isn't too much of a digression from the original topic.
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Hello, Ajahn Brahm, and the jhanas

Posts: 14 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
in other words, thanks for the pointers.