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Anti-jhana Dogma

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Anti-jhana Dogma
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10/15/11 6:08 PM
I sat with a small Thai group this last week (2nd time). The leader of the workshop (her husband suggests she is very accomplished, but there was very little substance to the workshop) seems very devout (dress all in white - very traditional) and has spent a lot of time in Thai temples for the last decade or so. After we were done with a 45 minute sit, some (but not a few) of the participants complained of pain. I mentioned not moving during the sit and to focus on the pain in order to see that it is not solid - and that often it just will go away....

Later the leader of the workshop came over to me and asked me about my practice. I mentioned working on jhanas lately. To my surprise, said that this would not lead to Enlightenment, because (jhana) bliss is impermanent, and then she chided me for my statement about staying with pain until it disintegrates (which is insight practice, really!). The title for the workshop was ironic (``Breathing ("Calming") Meditation'') given her statements. Is there really opposition to jhana meditation? I was very surprised by her statements. Anyhow, I let her statements pass unopposed as I didn't want to get into an argument, and my impression was that they see her as an meditative authority given her husband's statements and some of her own. She followed up by telling me not to read books, but to meditate. She then boasted that she meditates and only much later discovers her experiences covered in books... Which does make some sense (I guess you're not as likely to script experiences?), but hell, if I hadn't read MCTB or DhO...

Yesterday I discovered Sujato's "A History of Mindfulness: How Insight Worsted Tranquility in the Satipatthana Sutta", which covers some of this territory. BUT THAT MEANS READING ;-)

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/15/11 6:20 PM as a reply to )( piscivorous.
[quote=)( piscivorous]I sat with a small Thai group this last week (2nd time). The leader of the workshop (her husband suggests she is very accomplished, but there was very little substance to the workshop) seems very devout (dress all in white - very traditional) and has spent a lot of time in Thai temples for the last decade or so. After we were done with a 45 minute sit, some (but not a few) of the participants complained of pain. I mentioned not moving during the sit and to focus on the pain in order to see that it is not solid - and that often it just will go away....

Later the leader of the workshop came over to me and asked me about my practice. I mentioned working on jhanas lately. To my surprise, said that this would not lead to Enlightenment, because (jhana) bliss is impermanent, and then she chided me for my statement about staying with pain until it disintegrates (which is insight practice, really!). The title for the workshop was ironic (``Breathing ("Calming") Meditation'') given her statements. Is there really opposition to jhana meditation? I was very surprised by her statements. Anyhow, I let her statements pass unopposed as I didn't want to get into an argument, and my impression was that they see her as an meditative authority given her husband's statements and some of her own. She followed up by telling me not to read books, but to meditate. She then boasted that she meditates and only much later discovers her experiences covered in books... Which does make some sense (I guess you're not as likely to script experiences?), but hell, if I hadn't read MCTB or DhO...

Yesterday I discovered Sujato's "A History of Mindfulness: How Insight Worsted Tranquility in the Satipatthana Sutta", which covers some of this territory. BUT THAT MEANS READING ;-)

There is a lot of (in my opinion) confusion about jhana. There is a form of concentration meditation that can be practiced in which one ultimately loses all sense of having a body and all sensory input, and becomes absorbed into a big emotional ball of bliss...this is what commonly passes for jhana, and it has proven (in the pragmatic dharma community) not to be especially useful for much...which is indicated by the fact that very few advanced practitioners practice it or recommend it.

As far as I can see, this is not what the suttas ever talk about, and so it does not surprise me that it appears not to be useful for much.

On Josh's practice thread, there are some resources about this style of meditation, which you may be interested in. But basically, if you make your main goal "spreading pleasure throughout your body" rather than "putting all your attention on a small point (such as the breath)", and if you focus on the pure feeling of pleasure on your skin / body and ignore everything else, you are likely to have a very different (and in my opinion, very helpful) experience.

I am writing a post on this, summarizing my viewpoint and explaining the difference in method, but it is unfortunately not yet complete.

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/15/11 7:49 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

On Josh's practice thread, there are some resources about this style of meditation, which you may be interested in. But basically, if you make your main goal "spreading pleasure throughout your body" rather than "putting all your attention on a small point (such as the breath)", and if you focus on the pure feeling of pleasure on your skin / body and ignore everything else, you are likely to have a very different (and in my opinion, very helpful) experience.

I am writing a post on this, summarizing my viewpoint and explaining the difference in method, but it is unfortunately not yet complete.


I'll check that out. Very much looking forward to your post; I think you've mentioned this elsewhere and so I've been looking forward to it. Thanks very much for the comment emoticon)

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/15/11 9:59 PM as a reply to )( piscivorous.
Jhana is the 8th part of the 8fold path so it's pretty important. Even if you say you had no Jhana after reaching enlightenment you do. Just didn't know it as such. You can look at 3 characteristics in Jhana. Especially how 3c's relate specificall to Jhana factors. The person did say that the bliss was impermanent so that's one characteristic right there. These people obviously don't know dharma from a hole in the ground. See the 3c's yourself while in samadhi. Practice well!
- Ross

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/16/11 12:17 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
There is a lot of (in my opinion) confusion about jhana. There is a form of concentration meditation that can be practiced in which one ultimately loses all sense of having a body and all sensory input, and becomes absorbed into a big emotional ball of bliss...this is what commonly passes for jhana, and it has proven (in the pragmatic dharma community) not to be especially useful for much...which is indicated by the fact that very few advanced practitioners practice it or recommend it.

As far as I can see, this is not what the suttas ever talk about, and so it does not surprise me that it appears not to be useful for much.


I agree with End. Jhana means different things to different people, and so there are a lot opinions out there about whether or not it's worth it to learn how to practice jhana.

When I think "Thai Buddhism", I think of the Forest tradition, which was/is very much jhana-friendly. Just read any of the works by the Ajahns (Mun, Lee, Fuang, Maha Boowa, etc.). All were pro-jhana, though their understanding of jhana was much more based on the Pali suttas than the commentaries. But, I know that the Forest tradition isn't the only Thai Buddhism out there, so I can see how it's possible for the teachers you work with to have a different opinion.

Personally, my practice has only benefited from learning and practicing jhana. I can't think of any better way of gaining an appropriate understanding of dependent co-arising, which is the real meat of the Buddha's teaching.

So, if jhana is working for you, keep it up. There's no need to worry about your insight getting derailed on account of learning this skill.

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/16/11 1:59 PM as a reply to Jackson Wilshire.
I think about half the monasteries in Thailand today teach in the Burmese style following Mahasi Sayadaw's lineage so the anti-jhana sentiment is understandable. I've benefited greatly from including concentration practice and jhana in my practice and I see little reason to exclude it. Although I should probably provide the disclaimer that being a pretty strong aversive type, I'm less attracted to pleasant states than some people might be...

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/21/11 5:18 PM as a reply to )( piscivorous.
There's no jhana
for one with no discernment,
no discernment
for one with no jhana.
But one with both jhana
& discernment:
he's on the verge
of Unbinding.
— Dhp 372

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/22/11 8:42 AM as a reply to )( piscivorous.
These jhana deates go on and on and on, century after ceuntury, as many here know.

The Mahasi tradition is not actually as anti-jhana as you might suspect, with most of the higher-level Mahasi practitioners I know who trained well in the traditional center knowing jhana, NS, some with powers, etc. They just emphasize straight insight initially, and by anagami level will often encourage jhanic exploration, as do I.

Among low-level practitioners who know neither insight nor smoother jhana well, nor the marked grey areas between them and the natural oscillations along the axis that has "pure, dry insight" at one end and "pure jhana" at the other that occur when one does even what might be termed straight insight or straight concentration practices, neither of which is ever entirely free of the aspects of the other, among these ignorant folk there is endless dogma, contraction, fear, myth and confusion.

RE: Anti-jhana Dogma
Answer
10/22/11 12:02 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks for the comment, Daniel. I understand how some might fear getting stuck in bliss states for years or even decades. Some seem to throw out the baby with the bathwater....

By the way, it was reading MCTB that re-emphasized the importance of concentration & absorption to me. I got my 1st taste of jhana with your description of the (illusionary) whole breath. Prior to this I had used Pa Auk's hardERcore ;-) method (focus only on the anapana region[0]) - sounds like Pa Auk's method is for retreat only! Anyone had much success with it?

Lots of gratitude for MCTB and the DhO, Daniel. It's tremendous that we have these resources and expertise.

[0] Of course there are all kinds of nuances over what whole breath/body might mean in these contexts!

EDIT: grammar, spelling