Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

Steve Lauer, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 3:32 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 3:32 PM

Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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Hi all,

In his Path to Nibbana David Johnson claims that the shamatha jhanas suppress the hindrances. He also appears to have a distaste for Mahasi style noting and seems to suggestthat it has a similar effect on the hindrances. I'm not convinced of either of these claims and would like your opinions on this.

Thanks

Steve
Martin, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 4:52 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 4:52 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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Could you include a quote?

​​​​​​​At a glance, that sounds backward. The standard formula is that the absence of the hindrances is the necessary condition for the arising of the jhanas, not the other way around.

Also, could you flesh out "it has a similar effect on the hindrances"? Are you saying that Johnson says noting suppresses the hindrances?
Steve Lauer, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 5:50 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 5:50 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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On page 39, Johnson delinates the difffernece between what he calls "concentration-absorption" jhanas (i.e., shamatha jhanas) and "tranquil wisdom" jhanas (those used in TWIM). He states, "It is helpful to understand that the jhāna factors — these are the wholesome states that arise when one is in jhāna — in a tranquil aware jhāna or in an absorption concentration jhāna are very similar in nature. The difference is that in a tranquil aware
jhāna the hindrances are gently released, and in the concentration state the hindrances are suppressed and pushed aside."

On page 62, he states, "The “Dry Insight” practice or the Mahāsi Vipassanā method seems to me to be another form of concentration, a one-pointed
and focused meditation practice. What is attained is accomplished by pushing away the hindrances and grasping hard onto the meditation object instead of simply “knowing” the object as the suttas say to do."

My understanding and experience of the shamatha jhanas (especially when shifting between that and vipassan practices) is that there is the arising of hindrances, but also the passing away of them rather than a suppression as claimed by Johnson.

I'm interested in others' perspectives and experiences with this.
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Bahiya Baby, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:03 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:01 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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He also claims that Arahats physically can't f*ck their spouses... so...

There is an interesting conversation to be had here about the Jhanas vs what we would call the Vipassana Jhanas. My understanding is that he is basically claiming that the Jhanas one needs to experience to do insight practice are not hard concentration jhanas but more Vipassana Jhanas / Nanas in the POI. A similar point is made in MCTB though the language is very different.

The TWIM argument is that the Buddha learned the Shamatha Jhanas before his awakening and dismissed them as not sufficient to end suffering. They're claiming that the word Jhana in the suttas may be referring to different things. 

I have a handful of issues with the TWIM people and their worldview but on a personal experiential level I tend to agree with this take. I personally never made much progress working with pure shamatha jhanas. There were times throughout some paths where I'd work with a harder jhana and vipassinize in and out of it but mostly I worked with whatever Nana / Vipassana Jhana was presenting itself in my experience at the time.

In the TWIM context one works with the hindrances. Letting all the restless activity be seen, relaxed and released. This is, I often say, pretty good practice and resembles a lot of what I've done in my own practice or how I apply the investigation of the three characteristics. 

They're quite good at quoting suttas so if someone cares they can go pull quotes out of Johnson's book. 

Also their dismissal of Mahasi style practice communicated to me more of a misunderstanding on their part and even a failure to integrate the practice properly (poor understanding of three characteristics?)... Which I have been told is common enough but I don't have the empirical data. I hear all kinds of things about meditators, retreats and monasteries yet empirically speaking, most people I know, do an hour or so of practice a day with some core buddhist teachings and gain wonderful insight.

Dharma book writers love to take shots. It plays on peoples doubts. That being said... I love a good "but what if we're misinterpreting the ancient text". If you are practicing buddhism in a way that doesn't lead to the end of suffering then perhaps you are --- or, maybe there's room for many interpretations, many styles, many approaches, many understandings. 

Generally the more a teacher goes "It's definitely exactly like this" then the less insightful I presume them to be. 

Only sith deal in absolutes and I see some hard absolutes crop up in the TWIM literature. 
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Sha-Man! Geoffrey, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:44 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:37 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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I've always heard the guy was like a mahasi monk for 20 years and was mahasi attention or some such but here
On page 62, he states, "The “Dry Insight” practice or the Mahāsi Vipassanā method seems to me to be another form of concentration, a one-pointed
and focused meditation practice. What is attained is accomplished by pushing away the hindrances and grasping hard onto the meditation object instead of simply “knowing” the object as the suttas say to do."

Like what the fuck is he talking about? Like in OG mahasi you start with breath, but then you just move onto noting, and then noticing whatever object comes up as they come up and your attention shifts around. Calling it one-pointed, grasping, or pushing seems beyond me
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Chris M, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:41 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:39 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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There are absolutes in most dharma writing by literally every dharma writer. We all tend to think the way we did this practicing thing is THE way to do it. The lesson in that is to follow a path that suits you and be prepared to adjust your practice as you go along. And to keep in mind the massive amount of variation among practices and the humans who do them.
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Sha-Man! Geoffrey, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:39 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:39 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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But you can trust us here Steve, we know *exactly* what the old texts mean! ;)
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Sha-Man! Geoffrey, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:46 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:43 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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The TWIM argument is that the Buddha learned the Shamatha Jhanas before his awakening and dismissed them as not sufficient to end suffering. They're claiming that the word Jhana in the suttas may be referring to different things. 

There is actually a backwardness to this logic though. Daniel talks a bit about it

Then we have the people who just seem to have jumped there instantly. We also have the people who trained very hard in some tradition (e.g. Adyashanti), realized whatever (or not, e.g. Andrew Cohen?: just not sure what to make of that guy...), but then advocated that their followers not train the way they did, but just realize they were already enlightened or that there is nothing to do, or whatever (this later group tends to annoy me the most...).

Like sure you can say those kinds of jhanas weren't enough, by themselves, but maybe they were an essential part of the Buddha's path. The didn't exactly do a control group.
Martin, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:44 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 6:44 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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I think what he is saying is that, once you have established jhana, the experience of that jhana is the same, but there is a difference in how you enter the jhana, with concentration style using the power of deliberate focus to leave the hindrances no room to operate (pushed aside or suppressed) and, in that state, with the hindrances temporarily out of the picture, the jhana factors can arise, while the TWIM release style is to let go of the hindrances and thereby arrive at that same temporary hindrance-free state. It's a broadly legitimate argument although, in my experience, the jhana experience is not, in fact, the same, with TWIM producing a softer, less clearly defined state. Also, the differences between jhanas (jhana numbers) are also less clear with TWIM. 

I guess I can sort of see what he is getting at about Mahashi-style noting, but I think he may be missing the point or coming at it at cross purposes. 

TWIM works well for a lot of people, and seems particularly helpful for people who have trouble with Leigh Basington-type instructions (let alone Ajahn Brahm-type instructions). When I mention it to people, I always suggest that they start at Chapter 5 because I just do not find the theoretical underpinning put forth in the book helpful. 
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Bahiya Baby, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 7:27 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 7:13 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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TWIM does seem to work well for people and I think their core practice creates a very healthy foundation for further exploration of meditation and deepening insight. 

Like sure you can say those kinds of jhanas weren't enough, by themselves, but maybe they were an essential part of the Buddha's path. The didn't exactly do a control group.

Most wise. great point.

My understanding and experience of the shamatha jhanas (especially when shifting between that and vipassan practices) is that there is the arising of hindrances, but also the passing away of them rather than a suppression as claimed by Johnson.

They teach a vipassana-shamatha approach like you're pointint to here. Johnson is arguing against hard concentration Jhana practice as a means toward liberation. Johnson is making the claim that there are people doing shamatha jhana practice with no vipassana and thus cultivating no insight due to merely supressing the hindrances. Once again I don't actually have the data on this. My general experience is that most meditation-curious people are pretty confused about the whole vipassana-shamatha thing. It's something that makes huge amounts of sense to me intuitively but rarely seems to make sense when I read the theory. 
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Jim Smith, modified 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 8:51 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/18/24 8:14 PM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_hindrances
  1. Sensory desire (kāmacchanda): seeking for pleasure through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling.
  2. Ill-will (vyāpāda; also spelled byāpāda): feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness.
  3. Sloth-and-torpor (thīna-middha): half-hearted action with little or no effort or concentration.
  4. Restlessness-and-worry (uddhacca-kukkucca): the inability to calm the mind and focus one's energy.
  5. Doubt (vicikiccha): lack of conviction or trust in one's abilities.

Mindfulness (when your mind is focused in the present moment for example during noting) and happiness (such as when you are experiencing jhanas) will both suppress the hindrances.

When you are in the present moment you observing, only aware of your experience, you are not thinking thoughts that might involve hindrances.

It's the same when you are happy. When you are happy, you are not unhappy/suffering - experiencing craving, ill-will, worry, doubt. When you are experiencing piti (rapture) you are not experiencing sloth and torpor.

Suppressing the hindrances will help you enter the samatha soft jhanas, but someone who is experienced can sometimes just enter the jhanas in a moment without a lot of meditation and that would suppress the hindrances. 

The jhanas attract a lot of attention because they sound exotic and mystical, but ordinary mindfulness is extremely beneficial and is more accessible.
The Buddha taught that if you can maintain mindfulness continuously for a week you would be an arhat or a non-returner.
T DC, modified 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 12:19 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 12:19 AM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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Interesting discussion on several levels..  My initial reaction to the thread title was "yep, sounds about right".  The jhanas in my experience do suppress discursive mental factors, thereby creating a uniquely calm, quiet, and powerful mental atmosphere.  So I would argue that a suppression of hindrances is basically the point of jhana.

It sounds like David Johnson disagrees as he would rather we work with meditative hindrances rather than suppressing them.  Which is a fair point, hence the idea of "jhana junkies" whose primary goal in meditation is hanging out in pleasurable states vs moving along the path.  But jhana used in conjunction with more insight oriented meditation avoids that trap - and vipassana meditation can be in fact strengthened by practicing in conjunction with jhana.  When we turn to vipassana from the mental calm and power cultivated in jhana, our practice is essentially turbo-charged.

The "what actually constitutes jhana" debate is seemingly endless and this adds somewhat of a new flavor to it in characterizing absorption as harmful to our ability to deal with hindrances.  IMO I see the author as ironically correct in his characterization of the effects of jhanic absorption but basically backwards in his reasoning as to how that is harmful.

Similarly, re his characterization of Vipassana - vipassana can be a very mentally tight practice that creates some degree of background mental suppression.  I find this particularly with the intensive sensate based vipassana found in MCTB which IME naturally pushes into the background some of the discursive mental chatter and emotional arisings that are foregrounded in more relaxed and content based styles of meditation such as shamatha-vipassana.  This tighter approach can be a benefit as it prevents distraction and improves our power of mindfulness.  But it can also be a loosened for a more open and mentally accepting approach as we might desire or find useful.  Neither technique is "right", just right for different situations in practice - different tools in the box.
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Pepe ·, modified 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 6:49 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 6:47 AM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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Similarly, re his characterization of Vipassana - vipassana can be a very mentally tight practice that creates some degree of background mental suppression.  I find this particularly with the intensive sensate based vipassana found in MCTB which IME naturally pushes into the background some of the discursive mental chatter and emotional arisings that are foregrounded in more relaxed and content based styles of meditation such as shamatha-vipassana.  This tighter approach can be a benefit as it prevents distraction and improves our power of mindfulness.  But it can also be a loosened for a more open and mentally accepting approach as we might desire or find useful.  Neither technique is "right", just right for different situations in practice - different tools in the box.

Techniques are ñana dependent. MCTB just doesn't prescribe Shootin' Aliens all the way towards SE. Check Shargrol's Every yogi should have multiple techniques in their toolbox if they wish to attain Stream Entry. I don't believe he is stating something contrary to Daniel's MCTB, just better worded, up to the point, less convoluted phrasing. 
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Chris M, modified 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 8:22 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 8:15 AM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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So I would argue that a suppression of hindrances is basically the point of jhana.
​​​​​​​

Each jhana has a unique signature and set of attributes that represent the nature of the mind (my old teacher Kenneth Folk used to call these the "strata" of the mind.). Exploring the jhanas is about learning what the mind is capable of using these focused absorptions. Yes, the jhanas are quiet states of mind and that's really nice and very useful, but there is much more to them.

​​​​​​​So, at least in my experience, the deeper point of the jhanas is to help us explore the nature of mind. 
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 9:57 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 1/19/24 9:57 AM

RE: Jhanas suppress the hindrances?

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Experience is experience is experience. 

Any experience has its slider. Can be low, moderate or high in intensity/loudness. So to speak. 

Expetiencess are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. 

My God is better than your God or my meditation is better than your meditation ARE arise-passed experiences.

Experiences have sliders ... 
Experiences are impermanent, unsatisfactory and ... 

​​​​​​​Uncertain! 

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