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Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition

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I have spent a lot of time wondering what happens at the end of a cycle of the progress of insight. The Burmese Theravadins seem to think it's nibbana or "the mind taking nibbana as an object". Bhante V appears not to think so (though I don't recall what he thinks it is). Here is something Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
The second state [that Ajaan Fuang would identify] was one I happened to hit one night when my concentration was extremely one-pointed, and so refined that it refused settle on or label even the most fleeting mental objects. I dropped into a state in which I lost all sense of the body, of any internal/external sounds, or of any thoughts or perceptions at all — although there was just enough tiny awareness to let me know, when I emerged, that I hadn't been asleep. I found that I could stay there for many hours, and yet time would pass very quickly. Two hours would seem like two minutes. I could also "program" myself to come out at a particular time.

After hitting this state several nights in a row, I told Ajaan Fuang about it, and his first question was, "Do you like it?" My answer was "No," because I felt a little groggy the first time I came out. "Good," he said. "As long as you don't like it, you're safe. Some people really like it and think it's nibbana or cessation. Actually, it's the state of non-perception (asaññi-bhava). It's not even right concentration, because there's no way you can investigate anything in there to gain any sort of discernment. But it does have other uses." He then told me of the time he had undergone kidney surgery and, not trusting the anesthesiologist, had put himself in that state for the duration of the operation.


Is this what the Burmese are referring to as nibbana / cessation? As NS? If not, what state it is? Any thoughts?

Also, any thoughts on what that little blip of no apparent experience might be in other traditions? Something? Nothing?

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
12/26/11 7:56 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
I have spent a lot of time wondering what happens at the end of a cycle of the progress of insight. The Burmese Theravadins seem to think it's nibbana or "the mind taking nibbana as an object". Bhante V appears not to think so (though I don't recall what he thinks it is). Here is something Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
The second state [that Ajaan Fuang would identify] was one I happened to hit one night when my concentration was extremely one-pointed, and so refined that it refused settle on or label even the most fleeting mental objects. I dropped into a state in which I lost all sense of the body, of any internal/external sounds, or of any thoughts or perceptions at all — although there was just enough tiny awareness to let me know, when I emerged, that I hadn't been asleep. I found that I could stay there for many hours, and yet time would pass very quickly. Two hours would seem like two minutes. I could also "program" myself to come out at a particular time.

After hitting this state several nights in a row, I told Ajaan Fuang about it, and his first question was, "Do you like it?" My answer was "No," because I felt a little groggy the first time I came out. "Good," he said. "As long as you don't like it, you're safe. Some people really like it and think it's nibbana or cessation. Actually, it's the state of non-perception (asaññi-bhava). It's not even right concentration, because there's no way you can investigate anything in there to gain any sort of discernment. But it does have other uses." He then told me of the time he had undergone kidney surgery and, not trusting the anesthesiologist, had put himself in that state for the duration of the operation.


Is this what the Burmese are referring to as [1]nibbana / cessation? [2]As NS? If not, [3]what state it is? Any thoughts?

[1]no; [2]no; [3]asanni-bhava, like ajaan fuang says. i can't cite any sources off-hand, but read more of (the translations of) the extra-canonical pali material and you're bound to come across further references to it (and to the 'realm of the unconscious gods' which was surely extrapolated therefrom).

as far as i was ever able to tell, it's no different from nevasannanasanna (neither-perception-nor-non-perception), and the distinction is semantic, perhaps only applicable to those engaged in building or studying a system of meditation-derived phenomenology or cosmology (such as the scholars/scholar-practitioners who tasked themselves with arranging and organising the consensual understanding of the buddha's teachings). i wouldn't be surprised if the use of the label 'asanni-bhava' had originated in either the context of a miscommunication among fellow practitioners or as a teaching device of some sort (such as in the above story that thanissaro tells).


End in Sight:

Also, any thoughts on what that little blip of no apparent experience might be in other traditions? Something? Nothing?

'bhavanga' is a common enough term to follow up on.

tarin

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
12/26/11 8:39 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:
i wouldn't be surprised if the use of the label 'asanni-bhava' had originated in either the context of a miscommunication among fellow practitioners or as a teaching device of some sort (such as in the above story that thanissaro tells).


I find this unlikely with respect to this particular case, as 1) Thanissaro is familiar with neither-perception-nor-nonperception, 2) Thanissaro has experienced a state which he says Ajaan Fuang called "asanni-bhava", 3) Thanissaro repeats without comment Ajaan Fuang's claim that it is not right concentration, 4) Thanissaro does not think neither-perception-nor-nonperception is not right concentration (as far as I know, as it is endorsed by the canon), 5) if 1,2,4 are true, 3 would be fairly disingenuous. Given that, I find it more likely that Thanissaro is familiar with two distinct states that may be similar in description: neither-perception-nor-nonperception, and what Ajaan Fuang called "asanni-bhava".

Do you have a reason for thinking otherwise, or am I misunderstanding your claim?

as far as i was ever able to tell, it's no different from nevasannanasanna (neither-perception-nor-non-perception), and the distinction is semantic,


Have you gone looking for a state that would be well-described as "asanni-bhava" and yet found no likely candidate besides neither-perception-nor-nonperception?

'bhavanga' is a common enough term to follow up on.


I should clarify that I am interested in what non-Buddhist traditions may or may not think of it.

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
12/27/11 8:03 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
tarin greco:
i wouldn't be surprised if the use of the label 'asanni-bhava' had originated in either the context of a miscommunication among fellow practitioners or as a teaching device of some sort (such as in the above story that thanissaro tells).


I find this unlikely with respect to this particular case, as 1) Thanissaro is familiar with neither-perception-nor-nonperception, 2) Thanissaro has experienced a state which he says Ajaan Fuang called "asanni-bhava", 3) Thanissaro repeats without comment Ajaan Fuang's claim that it is not right concentration, 4) Thanissaro does not think neither-perception-nor-nonperception is not right concentration (as far as I know, as it is endorsed by the canon), 5) if 1,2,4 are true, 3 would be fairly disingenuous. Given that, I find it more likely that Thanissaro is familiar with two distinct states that may be similar in description: neither-perception-nor-nonperception, and what Ajaan Fuang called "asanni-bhava".

Do you have a reason for thinking otherwise, or am I misunderstanding your claim?

you are understanding my claim correctly, as far as i can tell. regarding your enumerated points above, i can offer no further commentary besides the observations that ajahn fuang was almost certainly referring to what in colloquial thai is called 'phawang' (adapted from the pali 'bhavanga'), that the state of 'phawang' is commonly poorly-regarded in thai forest circles, that teachers in those circles have been known to teach more from personal experience and by natural language than from and by strict accordance with the canon (and known to see some humour in this), that ajahn fuang's reason for considering the state in question 'not right concentration' was stated to be because its achiever is unable to investigate or discern the state's qualities in real-time (cf. the account of nevasannanasanna in the anupada sutta, mn 111), and that the story relates a conversation which took place years ago in a language that only one of us speaks and neither of us were there.


End in Sight:

as far as i was ever able to tell, it's no different from nevasannanasanna (neither-perception-nor-non-perception), and the distinction is semantic,


Have you gone looking for a state that would be well-described as "asanni-bhava" and yet found no likely candidate besides neither-perception-nor-nonperception?

yes, up until a few years ago, some time after this discussion took place.

End in Sight:

'bhavanga' is a common enough term to follow up on.


I should clarify that I am interested in what non-Buddhist traditions may or may not think of it.

there is an common set of distinctions drawn in vedic- and brahminically-sourced traditions between the (ordinary) waking state, the dreaming state, the undreaming sleeping state, and a fourth state standing in ambiguous relationship to these others, and some context these distinctions are presented in may, i speculate, be relevant to your inquiry. good luck, construct well.

tarin

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
12/27/11 4:49 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
I think I've accessed what Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes here, in fact I'm pretty certain that this is the case, and it was done through working with yoga nidra.

there is an common set of distinctions drawn in vedic- and brahminically-sourced traditions between the (ordinary) waking state, the dreaming state, the undreaming sleeping state, and a fourth state standing in ambiguous relationship to these others, and some context these distinctions are presented in may, i speculate, be relevant to your inquiry.


The fourth state Tarin is talking about is called turiya (depending on which tradition you're talking about), which is something like a conscious but dreamless sleep. I've definitely experienced this on several occasions and always through one-pointed concentration (which may be why this is not right concentration?), you remain completely aware but there is absolutely no perception occurring. It doesn't seem to be the same as 8th jhana, although I couldn't say with any certainty. I was accessing this long before what I believed was stream entry so I could be miles away but the descriptions given seem very, very similar. I can't describe what happens during this but I'll have a play around and see if I can get there again to investigate it properly.

One big thing I've found, through being shoved, poked and prodded by my partner when I've gone into this 'state', for lack of a better word, is that the body appears as if in a deep sleep and can even begin to snore. Afterwards, I have absolutely no recollection of making any sound, or being touched and long periods of time could have elapsed which, subjectively, feel like minutes.

I could be very wrong but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Edit: I've been looking at some material on turiya and my understanding may be incorrect, it's possible that what I'm talking about is the stage before turiya. On the other hand, when I experienced this before I had no knowledge whatsoever of insight and had been doing intense concentration practice so it may be that I just didn't see it correctly. No idea. emoticon

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
12/28/11 8:50 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
I actually wrote about this community for a college paper, the author Frits Koster briefly explains away moments of cessation ("blacking out" that the DhO is so fond of) as not necessarily being nibbana. I don't have the book with me right now but I might post it later.

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
2/11/12 8:15 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:
regarding your enumerated points above, i can offer no further commentary besides the observations that ajahn fuang was almost certainly referring to what in colloquial thai is called 'phawang' (adapted from the pali 'bhavanga'), that the state of 'phawang' is commonly poorly-regarded in thai forest circles, that teachers in those circles have been known to teach more from personal experience and by natural language than from and by strict accordance with the canon (and known to see some humour in this), that ajahn fuang's reason for considering the state in question 'not right concentration' was stated to be because its achiever is unable to investigate or discern the state's qualities in real-time (cf. the account of nevasannanasanna in the anupada sutta, mn 111), and that the story relates a conversation which took place years ago in a language that only one of us speaks and neither of us were there.


Here is some further clarification I ran into:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wings to Awakening:
Another type of wrong concentration is one that a modern practice tradition, following DN 1, calls a state of non-perception (asaññi). In this state, which is essentially a concentration of subtle aversion — the result of a strongly focused determination not to stay with any one object — everything seems to cease: the mind blanks out, with no perception of sights or sounds, or of one's own body or thoughts. There is just barely enough mindfulness to know that one hasn't fainted or fallen asleep. One can stay there for long periods of time, and yet the experience will seem momentary. One can even determine beforehand when one will leave the state; but on emerging from it, one may feel somewhat dazed or drugged, a reaction caused by the intense aversive force of the concentration that induced the state to begin with. There are other forms of wrong concentration, but a general test is that right concentration is a mindful, fully alert state. Any state of stillness without clear mindfulness and alertness is wrong.

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
2/11/12 10:46 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
I have nothing to add except to agree with Tarin's points

Daniel

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
2/12/12 5:42 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel, you believe that

1) Fruition (at the apex of the progress of insight) is bhavanga, not nibbana, and
2) asanni-bhava (which Thanissaro further describes as concentration based on aversion) is jhana 8

?

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
2/13/12 12:34 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
Fruition is fruition
Nibbana has two meanings depending on context, one of which is equivalent to fruition
8th jhana is the 8th jhana and is its own thing
There are states of vague unconsciousness: differentiating those is rather pointless, and there is no good basis for compsrison, like comparing sleep to something like it, not very helpful
NS stands out among all these based on many specifics of its setup, attainment requirements, entrance, exit, and afterglow

Sorting these out is not easy for many

But be assured they each have distinct marks and with practice one can know these very well

RE: Nibbana in the Burmese Theravada tradition
Answer
2/13/12 6:16 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
So, which point or points of Tarin's are you agreeing with?