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Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
shankman sutta jnana visuddhimagga
Answer
9/23/09 1:55 AM
I have been listening to Richard Shankman's lectures lately and he points out that this "Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana" thing is a matter of some controversy; so I'll post it here in the battleground just incase anyone wants to have go at what I am saying or what I am assuming. Actually, I'm attempting to ward off disaster by posting this, not trying to pick a fight or debate anything.

The question I have is this: can access concentration with a "broad focus" be sucessfully used as a basis for insight meditation, or does the focus which is the platform for access concentration have to be narrow?

..

Initially when I got to this forum and when I read Daniel's book I was really confused about my direct experience of "broad focus" Jnana not being exactly what was described in the Visuddhimagga, or in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, both of which appear to hallmark a more focused Jnana. Shankman provides a reasonable explanation in saying that there are both Jnana's of "broad focus" like those discribed in the water similes of the Suttas as well as Jnana's of "narrow focus" like those discribed in the Visuddhimagga. -Okay, I can live with that + even though my experience is exclusively with broad focus Jnanas I have no problem accepting that there are narrow focus Jnana's, and besides, Daniel takes the time to explain many times in his book that Jnana's aren't even necessary for insight meditation, so I understand it's not really even an issue.

But the thing is: as I progress with insight meditation I am intending to use a "broad focus" to explore things, because doing so comes natural to me. But before I go this route, I wanted to ask: has anyone else has had failures or success doing this? Also, is the system which is set up, the maps, etc, compatable with this more expanded awareness, or am I setting myself up to fail by attempting to use a broad awareness as a platform for access concentration in systems which were exclusively developed with a more precise focus in mind?

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/23/09 5:24 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
Dear Mike,

Thanks for your post. I'm not very good with theory but I do know quite specifically after crossing the A&P my consciousness spontaneously got broader. I realised pretty quickly that trying to maintain point focus was not going to hack it anymore so I just went with the broader sensation. And I must admit, it's been spectacularly successful for me. Don't know if this really answers your question, but hope it helps.
Paul

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/23/09 11:44 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
Hi Mike,

The question I have is this: can access concentration with a "broad focus" be sucessfully used as a basis for insight meditation, or does the focus which is the platform for access concentration have to be narrow?


Focus is typically a naturally shifting aspect of attention, based primarily upon the object(s) of attention and the exclusion of the other objects not being attended to. Generally, narrow focus will allow the mind to see the attended-to set of sensations with heightened clearly, but at the exclusion of the sensations that are necessarily being ignored to do so. As such, you really have to be "using" both for insight work, because at times you will need to see something with a lot of narrow clarity, and at other times, it's more important to capture the entire field of awareness in general, less focused sense. In my experience, this generally occurs naturally and as an implicit part of the insight process.

Note that being able to maneuver the mind in either direction is something that is learned, and both will need to be learned eventually. This learning is mostly implicit, not something you necessarily need to strive for.

Beginning insight territory is 1st Vipassana Jhana, and as such, learning narrow focus (similar to 1st samatha jhana) is par for the course. A wider more inclusive focus will be discovered around A&P territory (2nd VJ)[Paul's response speaks to this]. Next is falling into 3-dimensional complex focus in the Dark Night, and so on. The ease of the mind to employ any sort of focus also correlates with the attainment of the 4 paths themselves, thus revealing another link in how the propensities of one's focus is a common denominator between the numbering schema of the samatha jhanas, paths, vipassana jhanas, vipassana sub-jhanas, etc. Why do I even mention this? Mostly to demonstrate that it is extremely complex, convoluted and typically useless to attempt to apply in actual insight practice.

And so the point of my ranting is this: investigate the 3 Characteristics and let focus do whatever feels natural! If you feel that you need to look at something closely, zoom in on it. If you feel you need to observe the entire field of awareness, pan out. I'm going to guess that what feels natural is typically what needs to be done at whatever stage you're in, but that anecdote may be too vague to be practical.

Finally, this is of course a contested topic, and so the side I present is just one of those sides. Hopefully someone chimes in with another view so as to give you alternative perspectives.

Trent

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/23/09 2:34 PM as a reply to Trent ..
Well, thankfully this isn't much of a Dharma battleground + I appreciate your advice guys. I have posted in other "Buddhist" message boards in the past where you littlerally run the risk of getting banned if your post is remotely contrary to the practice or beliefs the people running the site aspire to. ...It is very refreshing to see that is not the case hereabouts.

Again, my purpose for posting this is just to get a handle on whether what comes natural to me will be applicable to Insight Meditation practice's such as noting, and investigating the 3P's. Like, when I go into a video store to rent a movie I don't just walk up to the first movie I see on the shelf, grab it, and say "I've accomplished my goal of renting a movie" -Rather I take a look around the store and see what is compatible with my nature. It only takes 2 hours to watch a movie, and if I'm considing investing thousands of hours in a meditation practice it makes sense that I would want to be assured that I have the right title chosen before I start watching it.

Anyhoo, all-and-all it strikes me that I shouldn't be so worried about broad focus vs narrow focus thing. As Trenton points out: narrow focus comes naturally when it's called for. And luckily for me, (like most of us 40-somethings), I spent a few thousand hours playing Space Invaders on my Atari back in the 80's... Hehe, and my dad said it was a waste of time!

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/24/09 12:18 AM as a reply to Mike John D.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/24/09 2:54 PM as a reply to Mike L.
Dang Mike L, that was a whale of a thread + thanks so much for the link. I would very much like to take part in that particular discussion; however it's not really polite to bump a thread which has run it's course just so I can voice my own opinion.

With kind regards to those who have already discussed this topic, I'll say a few words of my own about it here though.

As strange as it sounds, I had the good fortune of encountering Jnana in a serious way "apart from spitiruality". At the time I had been practicing very hard, but only instinctually, I had never heard of the Suttas or the Visuddhimagga or encountered any discriptions of Jnana. As a matter of fact, I was only vaguely aware of the Buddha and considered him a historical figure rather than a teacher or spiritual master. Thus I had no expectations when I started; I just kind of had a funny feeling that I followed and kept following. It was only years later that I came across works such as the Sutta's, and the Visuddhimagga when I was back-tracking and trying to figure out what the hell could account for this immense change that I'd undergone as a result of my completely instinctual practice.

The good news is that because I had no reference points I could trust my experience 110% and when I started to read about Jnana's those amazing "water similes" in the Suttas, they stoped me dead in my tracks and perfectly corresponded with my experience. Whereas when I later read Daniel's book and the Visuddhimagga I was compeletely at a loss and it left me questioning whether I'd ever had any experience with Jnana even though I knew I had.

So, on one hand I am an untrained and unrealized practioner but I have access to this state of stillness & no thought where it's possible to witness all things manifesting, arising, and passing, without being a witness. That's both a very valuable attainment, and a very tempting trap.

And on the other hand there are fully realized and trained practioners who are saying that Jnana is something else entirely.

Because they have attained a much deeper wisdom, I trust the people who are saying what they are saying, and yet I also most definitely trust my own attainement because it's so verifiable and obvious. The two seem to be very much at odds, but only if they are made into concepts and then placed at odds.

..

Anyhoo, I appreciate Richard Shankman's efforts to address this subject, and Daniel Ingram's post in the linked thread about "eating broccoli" was awesome too. -It's great to see that the people who have been down this road are not treating us like mushrooms or hanging us out to dry.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/24/09 10:37 PM as a reply to Mike John D.
Mike John Drake:
it's not really polite to bump a thread which has run it's course just so I can voice my own opinion


I guess I should have added: "one of my favorite threads ever on DhO; please add to the discussion either here or there or both!" I don't see any problem with reviving old threads. ymmv.

And just to keep this on topic: where did mctb leave you wondering about samatha jhanas? One-pointedness?

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/25/09 2:47 AM as a reply to Mike L.
Mike L:

And just to keep this on topic: where did mctb leave you wondering about samatha jhanas? One-pointedness?


Perhaps I am reading too much into it (or not reading enough into it) but beside the one pointedness you mentioned, the Jnana discriptions in both the MCTB and Visuddhimagga seemed devoid of the intimate connection to the Sambhogakaya which strikes me full force as an integral aspect of Jnana. On the other hand, that particular connection seems to be an obvious and recurrent theme in the water similes of the suttas.

Just to go out on a limb: it almost seems like the suttas are talking about experiencing Jnana in it's raw form whereas the Visuddhimagga et al is talking about the process of applying Jnana in a useful form. I have heard the simile of the sun, and using a magnifying glass to harness the sun to start a fire; perhaps that simile can be applied to this particular circumstance also?

...However, I could just be grasping at straws; I honestly have no experience of this single-pointed Jnana to act as a frame of reference.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/25/09 9:46 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
If I may, I think the takeaway from this may be that the jhanas in their various manifestations are wide, complex, varying from person to person in multiple ways, including the variations due to insight stages, based also on one's concentration strength (which can itself be all over the place due to various conditions). Furthermore, the standards vary from person to person, as do the emphasis each of us place on their various phenomenal qualities, our interpretation of the theoretical points, and so forth. Finally, the samatha jhanas are themselves temporary, ultimately unsatisfactory, perhaps worthy of investigation (but not necessarily), and occur quite naturally in both samatha meditation and in insight work. As a result of all those factors, hopefully we are able to be open to experience, the experience of others, and hopefully have peace of mind (in the figurative sense) to continue on with gaining peace of mind (in the literal sense).

Best,
Trent

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
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9/25/09 7:16 PM as a reply to Trent ..

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 5:48 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hey guys,

Shankman seemed to be suggesting the sutta jhanas appear to be the same thing as the vipassana jhanas. Thus, in this sense, to practice the sutta jhanas naturally leads to insight and liberation. This is my personal experience; that is, insight, not yet liberation. emoticon So my suggestion is go this road if it comes naturally to you. It does to me, and thus do I follow this road also. emoticon

The Visuddhimagga is the only text amongst the worlds traditions that argues the need for a very special kind of insight 'practice' that is separate from samadhi in order to realize the true nature of reality. It is thus, a minority point of view; one that I find no support for. We find throughout the multiplicity of spiritual traditions that samadhi in one form or another will result in liberation. Samadhi leads to insight and insight to realization. And so it is. Of course it is not the only tradition to suggest their way is the only way; in that sense, it is highly consitent with the worlds many traditions emoticon

In kind regards,

Adam.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/26/09 4:07 PM as a reply to Adam West.
Samadhi leads to insight and insight to realization


I really like the spirit of your post Adam, but in keeping with the spirit of the Dharma battleground I'd have to say that I'm not in total agreement with the statement that "Samadhi leads to insight"

As you say, many traditions promote that idea, but it hasn't been my experience, and thus I am prone to disagree. If my experience changes (as it regularly does) then my opinion will change also. But for now I don't necessarily agree.

Until recently I have really been of the belief that if I just stick with the Samadhi route that eventually it will culminate in a direct perception of emptiness which will reveal the true nature of things, accomidate my deep desire to know that truth, solve all my problems, and answer all my questions. In such a case it's my belief that's the problem, not the shortfalls of Samadhi.

It's this belief which is at odds with experience. The truth of the matter is the only time that real insight has presented itself is when I have examined my direct experience. And it only happened after years of consistantly entering deep Samadhi and then afterward wondering "where's the wisdom?"

I would never say that Samadhi has no value. The first time it happened something very fundimental "shifted" and I have never been able to look at things the same way again. Samadhi showed me experiencially that I was not what I thought I was, but it did so by way of a fundimental shift in perception rather than via insight.

That having been said, the words of the Sixth Ancestor of Zen kind of drive me batty: "Good friends, how are meditation and wisdom alike? They are like the lamp and the light it gives forth. If there is a lamp there is light; if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of the light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus although they have two names, in substance they are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this"

...But still, I am prone to go with my experience over even these words.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 5:56 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
Hey Mike!

Lovin your reply. Definitely, I respect and value personal experience. So how are you defining Samadhi and insight? You were entering deep samadhi for years without insight. Then you practiced insight, and made some progress. How exactly did you practice insight? Do you mean the exclusive samadhi of the Visuddhimagga, or the still mind inclusive samadhi of the suttas? I am talking about the later, which results in a deep stillness of mind resulting in a hyper awareness of direct experience of reality and thus insight into that reality. Additionally, I am referring to the direct path which suggests with a deep stillness of mind - or without it - one may set up the conditions to notice directly for oneself the true nature of mind, which indeed is the true nature of reality - and insight proper. emoticon It is implicitly implied here that insight is not a practice done by the illusory self, but a realization of the nature of mind itself.

My thesis is this: practice deep undistracted stillness of mind and you may at any instant or over time, come to see through into the true nature of reality/mind and thus realize the insight of enlightenment. You seem to believe this and quote the Zen path, which I too, find great affinity with. Please tell me more of your personal experience that we may see if it supports this thesis.

In kind regards,

Adam. emoticon Edited for punctuation.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 1:10 AM as a reply to Adam West.
Adam West:
So how are you defining Samadhi and insight?


Hey Adam; thanks for the rockin reply!

Well, it's a pretty sure bet that if we are talking about Samadhi that I'm not going to be able to define it, but I kinda like your definition, so since I can't beat it I'm going to steal it! -Hehe, I was indeed talking about "deep stillness of mind resulting in a hyper awareness" well put. -However, I am really starting to get the impression that what I become hyperaware of in the state of Samadhi isn't any more "reality" than the reality which exists in everywhere, always. Of course in Samadhi there is no "I" to be aware of anything, but you know what I'm saying. So, that's how I'd loosely define Samadhi.

But really and truly, dispite some epic exploration into Samadhi & stillness, the one only time in my practice that I had the impression I was getting a clear look at "reality" is when I inadvertently stumbled into a realiztion of impermanance. In that instance, I came to see directly that the constituent thoughts, feelings, and sensations which make up the "I" are all completely transient. So, that's how I would define insight.

To put the definitions into zen language, which we both seem fluent in: -The absolute is experiencially wonderful, whereas the relitive is experiencially ordinary. In the absolute there is no "I", whereas in relitive the manifest "I" can be seen for what it actually is.

Adam West:
practice deep undistracted stillness of mind and you may at any instant or over time, come to see through into the true nature reality/mind and thus realize the insight of enlightenment.


For years that has been my sole intent, and like yourself I can point to many sourses (both new and old) that state that such a thing is indeed possible. However, even though I can formulte a firm belief that it is possible, I can't really be sure. Due to a stoke of luck and having an insight into impermanance, what I can be sure of is: that there is a very real and tangible payoff available from looking closely at things as they are, here and now.

At this point in my practice I am willing to trade something wonderful for something that works.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 1:44 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
Ok, so now we're cookin with gas! emoticon Thanks for clarifying and further sharing. I wonder if you would say more about how you stumbled into this noticing of impermanence? It sounds like you weren't trying to notice it, as in actively looking at your experience with some close intentional examination; or were you? Perhaps it was more of a case of sitting in stillness and as a result of your hyper awareness, you naturally, without effort of intention, 'spontaneously' came upon insight through the noticing or realization of that which is - the impermanent nature of phenomena? My experience is of the later - an ongoing realization or apprehension of the dependent nature and 'process' of cause and effect i.e. impermanence etc. No active effort or intention, just spontaneously noticing what is. This follows, I would suggest, due to the still empty nature of mind that merely apprehends the play of phenomena. However, I acknowledge this penetration into the state of things may be realized by a more formal active methodology as found in the Visuddhimagga also; it just depends on what we are drawn to and our personal proclivities. Which brings us full circle to your original suggestion of the importance of what works you, rather than dogma of some other persons beliefs, including our own. So I don't want to set up a false dichotomy, where it must be one or the other. On the contrary. It is the position that there is only one way that I personally find so offensive, unsophisticated and indefensible! emoticon

If you know how you got there, however, you can then work on its further development and go deeper into that and other realizations.

In kind regards,

Adam.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 2:57 PM as a reply to Adam West.
Adam West:
I wonder if you would say more about how you stumbled into this noticing of impermanence? It sounds like you weren't trying to notice it as in actively looking at your experience with some close intentional examination; or were you? Perhaps it was more of a case of sitting in stillness and as a result of your hyper awareness, you naturally, without effort of intention, 'spontaneously' came upon insight through the noticing or realization of that which is - the impermanent nature of phenomena?


Thanks for taking an interest, I actually related it in a different thread, so rather than repeating myself I just link it here. I realize now that in Vipassana terms what I was describing in the thread is not exactly an "Arising and Passing" event, but A&P is still a good discription of the realization in terms of sensations.

..

You are correct, I defitnely wasn't looking for it, and the realization was most defitnely spontainous, but the way I arrived at it was a result of direct investigation rather than having it arise from stillness. At the time this happened direct investigation was something completely new in my practice; it just unfolded naturally and surprisingly. Before that I had spent several years in a full blown shikantaza sort of practice.

I think I mentioned previously that I have had some rather extrordinary shifts in my perceptual threshold arise from stillness, but I have never had an insight such as this particular view of impermanance arise without prompting from stillness.

EDIT: of course the nature of the realization is that everything arises without prompting from stillness; I'm just saying that the path from which the realization arrived struck a distinct note of doing, rather than difused note of being.

Adam West:
My experience is of the later - an ongoing realization or apprehension of the dependent nature and 'process' of cause and effect i.e. impermanence etc. No active effort or intention, just spontaneously noticing what is.


Hum, it seems that the realization can be arrived at in more than one way; as you say though, it's mostly a matter of the individual figuring out what works and applying it in a way that cultivates further realizations.

Personally, I'm feeling like it's high time to enter into a relationship with direct experience rather than continuing to hope that a direct perception of emptiness will miraculously arise from Samadhi. I understand that the history books and many praiseworthy Mahayana Sutras are full of reliable accounts of people becoming enlightened via Samadhi, but as naturalist James Audubon famously said: “when the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird” ;)

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 3:17 AM as a reply to Mike John D.
Sounds great Mike! Let us know how you go!! emoticon

In kind regards,

Adam.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 11:55 AM as a reply to Adam West.
Adam West:
practice deep undistracted stillness of mind and you may at any instant or over time, come to see through into the true nature of reality/mind and thus realize the insight of enlightenment.


This is an interesting thread as it touches on a number of topics. I relate with Adam's statement in that in my experience, realisation came as a result of the mind inclining toward or dropping into stillness where at some point 'Chuck' just disappeared and reality stepped in for a spell – revealing it's nature in a most profound and unforgettable way. As far as I can tell, the noting practice techniques do not tend to bring up this kind of path experience. On a site like this, we need to be aware of these different types of path experiences. My sense is that the tendency from a noting practice perspective is to see these kinds of path experiences as 'A and P' (which they are not) simply because the descriptions are very different from the 'cessations/fruitions' which seem to be encountered via the noting practice.

While the noting practices focus on a sense of 'doing' right up to stream entry, the stillness practices incline the mind toward stillness and then just release into that (tricky because 'release' implies doing). Two very different approaches which I think are also seen in the differences between Sutta Jhanas and Visudhimagga Jhana/Vippassana practices. The Sutta Jhanas incline the mind toward stillness – an open spacious alert stillness where the mind finds a potential medium for release. This is not only seen in the Suttas but also from contemporary teachers using these techniques. There is insight here as well as concentration but they arise as qualities or characteristics of these practices as opposed to something that is actively pursued.

I think both approaches work fine – so a matter of personal inclination I suppose.

RE: Sutta Jnana Vs Visuddhimagga Jnana.
Answer
9/27/09 4:00 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Chuck Kasmire:

I think both approaches work fine – so a matter of personal inclination I suppose.


Beyond the suttas themselves and the Visuddhimagga I'm not familliar enough with the Taravada works to really form an balanced opinion. But I get the impression from the voluminous cases which are recorded in Mahayana literature that you are absolutely correct.

I've never really looked at it in these term before, but I'd bet that the majority of enlightenment cases recorded works such as "The Transmission of the Lamp" would have something to do with a long term practitioner's entering into a profound relationship with sense expeieince, rather than having this transformation take place via profound relationship with stillness... It could be argued that ultimately these cases are one-and-the-same, but since I've experienced neither I am in no position to argue, and anyone who has experienced either is likely in no mood to argue. Hehe.

Just for the purposes of discussion however, you could probably include a third major category of cases of the enlightenment of long term practitioners. These are cases where enlightenment dawns outside of either active investigation or Samadhi. For example when Kyogen unexpectedly became enlightened as he heard the sound of a peddle hitting his bamboo rake as he tended the grounds... ...I could probably name a dozen similar cases just from memory; so there are certainly lots of those unexpected whammies in historical records as well.

I guess when a piece of fruit is finally ripe, an unexpected gust of wind can pick it just as expertly as the hand of a skilled worker.

..

Looking back at the original intent of this thread, I recall that it was initially to see if I could combine the "deep stillness of mind resulting in a hyper awareness" which comes naturally to me, with the active investigation which has proven to be so rewarding for me.

Interestingly this intent has been investigated even though the discussion has entered into some other areas; I think that in itself is the teaching. I can plan all I want, but things have a way of unfolding in their own natural way. If I had tried to make this thread exclusively about what I wanted it to be about, the results would never have been so fruitful.

Thanks very much for all your kind input. It's greatly rewarding to speak with you guys.

Mike.