Sie sind auf Seite 1von 103

Rethinking the Nature of Dhyāna/Jhāna

©WILLIAM CHU
Jhana as an extension of the “re
nunciant mindset”
2
Thesis
3

My thesis for this section: jhana is more about “stead


ying the pleasure of the renunciant mindset” rather t
han “concentrating on a stationary object”
First, some background
Unshackling the suffocating “household lifestyle”
4

In many ways, the descriptions for jhana are very simi
lar to the descriptions of the renunciant’s life
First, you’ll need to understand: In the context of anci
ent India, going forth into homelessness (the samana/
renunciant life) means removing restrictions and oppr
ession, rather than going to do some altruistic mission
MN36, SN16.11: “Household life is confining, a dusty
path. Life gone forth is the open air.” Sn3.1: “Househo
ld life is crowded, a realm of dust, while going forth is
the open air.”
Unshackling the suffocating “household lifestyle”
5

Following this same theme, AN9.42 specifically said


that “the five strings of sensuality” is a “confining pla
ce. “Agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fosteri
ng desire, enticing. These five strings of sensuality ar
e described by the Blessed One as a confining place.”
First jhana “is described by the Blessed One as the at
taining of an opening in a confining place.” Subseque
ntly, second jhana, “an opening in a confining place,”
now that first jhana is the confining place, and so on
so forth.
Unshackling the suffocating “household lifestyle”
6

In other words, these suttas show that sensuality=ho


usehold life & jhana=renunciant life
Jhana was not described primarily in terms of attenti
onal focus, but whether or not 1. mental states associ
ated with household life is renounced and shielded fr
om the mind (seclusion)…
2. mental states associated with renunciant life is fos
tered and steadied
Unshackling the suffocating “household lifestyle”
7

Dhammapada 271-272: “I touch the renunciate ease t


hat run-of-the-mill people don’t know.”
Unshackling the suffocating “household lifestyle”
8

Dhammapada 205: “Drinking the nourishment,


 the flavor, of seclusion & calm,
one is freed from evil, devoid of distress,
refreshed with the nourishment of rapture in the Dh
amma.”
Liberation as “renunciation”
9

The culmination of “renunciation,” on the Buddhist


path, is actually liberation: SN4.15: “With regard to t
hings that are dear which are seen, heard, sensed, &
cognized which are above, below, across, in between;
dispel any passion and desire. See renunciation as re
st. Let there be nothing grasped or rejected by you. B
urn up what’s before (past), and have nothing for aft
er (the future). If you don’t grasp at what’s in betwee
n (the present), you will go about, calm.”
Liberation as “renunciation”
10

Right resolve stems from Right View, and is about, at


the level of thought and intention (sense of direction)
, moving in the direction of renunciation + non-harm
/non-ill-will
Liberation as “renunciation”
11

Liberation is ultimately the renunciation of “all sank


haras,” “any form of passion-delight,” “fabrications a
nd acquisitions”…
The early Buddhist path is marked by “arriving at gre
ater peace and gratification as this renunciation is de
epened and directed at more subtle activities”
That’s precisely how jhanas unfold…
The Path and the jhanas as a process of “renunciation”
12

In other words, with “renunciation undertaken at var


ying levels, there are varying levels of peace and grati
fication”
Jhana is precisely about experiencing “varying levels
of peace and gratification” as a result of renunciation
(successively, renunciation of sensuality, of vitakka/v
icara/verbal fabrications, of preoccupation with happ
iness, of preoccupation with pleasure, of preoccupati
on with equanimity, and, of feeding/fabricating” (co
ntinued)
The Path and the jhanas as a process of “renunciation”
13

Looking at the suttas’ account of jhanas, you’ll see th


at jhanas entail a varying array of tasks that aim at: 1.
Contemplating on the drawbacks of the state that on
e is developing renunciation at
2. Developing and growing steady at the pleasure an
d gratification of renunciation and the resultant level
of freedom (e.g. first-fourth jhanas)
The Path and the jhanas as a process of “renunciation”
14

MN137: “Here, by depending & relying on…renunciation joy, aband


on & transcend…household joy…[&] household distress. Such is the
ir abandoning, such is their transcending. By depending & relying o
n… renunciation distress, abandon & transcend…household distres
s. Such is their abandoning, such is their transcending.”
“By depending & relying on…renunciation equanimity, abandon & t
ranscend the six kinds of household equanimity (being “blind to da
ngers”). Such is their abandoning, such their transcending.”
“By depending & relying on the six kinds of renunciation equanimit
y, abandon & transcend the six kinds of renunciation joy. Such is th
eir abandoning, such their transcending”…
“By depending & relying on non-fashioning, abandon & transcend
…equanimity...Such is its abandoning, such its transcending.”
The Path and the jhanas as a process of “renunciation”
15

What the suttas is saying: household joy is succeeded by renu


nciation joy (akin to first jhana), which is in turn succeeded b
y equanimity joy (akin to fourth jhana), which is in turn succ
eeded by nonfashioning joy (nibbana)
Once again, jhanas entail a varying array of tasks that aim at:
1. Contemplating on the drawbacks of the state that one is de
veloping renunciation at
2. Developing and growing steady at the pleasure and gratific
ation of renunciation and the resultant level of freedom (e.g.
first-fourth jhanas)
Insight-calm qualities are not separable, but intertwined to a
rrive at higher pleasures
The Path and the jhanas as a process of “renunciation”
16

This process is repeated, and spans from “mundane”


to “supramundane,” as jhanas in the suttas are not st
rictly “mundane”
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
17

Similarities between jhanas and the renunciant lifest


yle:
The word renunciation (nekkhama) is used both for
entering into monastic life and for going into seclusio
n from sensuality (jhana)
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
18

Similarities between jhanas and the renunciant lifestyle:


Basic training for monastics; SN16.11: “Kassapa, you should tra
in yourself thus: ‘I will never relinquish mindfulness directed to
the body associated with joy.’ Thus should you train yourself.”
“mindfulness directed to the body associated with joy” is jhanic
Other kinds of basic monastic training, such as moderation in f
ood, sensory restraint, having few duties (e.g. AN5.96), are also
the very requisites for jhana, showing that jhana is a natural ext
ension of the monastic lifestyle (a deadpan focus is NOT a natu
ral extension of that lifestyle; that lifestyle doesn’t naturally len
ds itself to or culminate in attentional fixity)
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
19

Similarities between jhanas and the renunciant lifest


yle:
Snp2.03: “Drinking the nourishment, the flavor, of s
eclusion & calm, one is freed from evil, devoid of dist
ress, refreshed with the nourishment of rapture in th
e Dhamma.”
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
20

Similarities between jhanas and the renunciant lifest


yle:
Jhana is frequently just a synonym with “meditation
” or “mental development” in general
Snp1.9: “The Buddha never neglects jhāna.”
MN8: “Do jhana. Do not delay. Lest you later regret.”
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
21

Similarities between jhanas and the renunciant lifestyle:


Homelessness/monastic-hood is defined as renunciation
of sensuality:
Sn3.1: “From that lineage I have gone forth, but not in sea
rch of sensual pleasures. Seeing the danger in sensual ple
asures— and renunciation as rest —I go to strive. That’s w
here my heart delights.”
Jhana is also about “delighting in the rest that is ‘renuncia
tion of sensual desires’”
C.f. SN35.63, physical and mental seclusion of a monastic
; same language for jhanas
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
22

Similarities between jhanas and the renunciant lifest


yle:
MN19, the criteria for a renunciant to discern what is
skillful/unskillful: conducing to nibbana, not impairi
ng discernment, doesn’t harm others, and those that
have the opposite effects
Notice that jhanas are also described in those terms:
conducing to nibbana (SN53.1-12), removing the hin
drances which impair discernment (AN5.51); jhanic
happiness is one that does no harm (MN36)
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
23

The types of sentiments/attitudes that move one up


along the jhanic ladder are precisely the ones that m
ove one up along the supramundane path: seclusion,
dispassion, cessation
The way to propel one to higher jhanas is the same w
ay to propel one to higher supramundane paths: cont
emplating on inconstancy, dukkha, not-self; applying
the Four Noble Truths; looking at activities in terms
of “allure, drawbacks, escape”…
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
24

Both supramundane attainments and jhanas are described as “a


wareness-release”
This shows that they’re both more about freeing oneself from m
odes of suffering rather than about how focused you are
Jhanas and the formless attainments always described in terms
of the suffering you’ve removed rather than the intensity of atte
ntion
For examples, AN5.200, MN66, & MN111, discerning whether th
ere’s “further escape” “and pursuing it there really was for him”
—that is the way to move up the jhanic as well as the supramund
ane ladder; AN5.96: “He reflects on the mind as it is released [s
uccessively from hindrances, sensuality…to all fermentations].”
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
25

The key mechanisms for escaping from different levels of suf


fering: letting go of different levels of suffering and steadyin
g the mind within that state; the dialectic of these processes
SN 48.10: “And what is the faculty of concentration? Here m
onks, a noble disciple, making letting go his object, gains sa
madhi, gains unification of mind.” (in other words, the act of
secluding or letting go is the key mechanism in samadhi)
This is done until even the very effort to let go and to steady
the mind is seen as a fabrication and let go of (e.g. MN101); t
his is done until the very need to lean on and identify with a
state is seen as a fabrication and let go of (e.g. MN102)
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
26

The rewards on the supramundane path are the sam


e as those on the jhanic path:
Seclusion pleasure, renunciation pleasure, peace ple
asure, self awakening pleasure, equanimity pleasure
…MN66 use these words to describe jhanas: “This is
called renunciation-pleasure, seclusion-pleasure, cal
m-pleasure, self-awakening-pleasure. And of this ple
asure I say that it is to be cultivated, to be developed,
to be pursued, that it is not to be feared.”
Jhanas and the “renunciant” lifestyle
27

Look at the kinds of pleasure offered by jhana and th


ere’s little doubt that they’re not about narrow focus:
First jhana is called “joy & pleasure born of seclusion
”; second is called “joy & pleasure born of composure
, unification of awareness free from directed thought
& evaluation”; third jhana, “pleasure that comes fro
m pacifying joy”; fourth jhana, “equanimity pleasure

28
Jhāna & the Factors of Awakening
29

Jhānas are developed according to the scheme of the Seven Facto


rs of Awakening (c.f. R. M. L. Gethin, The Buddhist Path to Awa
kening – A Study of the Bodhi-Pakkhiyaa Dhammaa , E. J. Brill,
1992, p. 170):
Mindfulness, investigation of states / analysis of qualities, energy
, rapture, ease, concentration, and equanimity

Most commentarial tradition identifies the sixth Factor of Awake


ning, concentration, to be the stage of jhāna practice

But actually, all seven are!


Jhāna & the Factors of Awakening
30

Notice how the first Awakening Factors (mindfulness + inve


stigation of states + energy) coincide with the factors of the
Satipaṭṭhāna (mindfulness + clear comprehension + ardenc
y)

In many suttas, investigation of states=clear comprehension,


and energy=ardency
Jhāna & the Factors of Awakening
31

In other words, the Awakening Factors (the full liberation


path) spell out how to start out one’s practice with Satipaṭṭ
hāna, which would lead to rapture, ease, concentration, an
d equanimity

This is exactly how jhāna progresses: it starts out as the S


atipaṭṭhāna practice, and one would experience rapture an
d bliss/ease in the successive jhānic states, culminating in
equanimity (the primary factor in the fourth jhāna)
Jhāna & the Factors of Awakening
32

the Seven Factors of Awakening are said to lead to full liberation. And
because the unfolding of jhāna is exactly the same as that of the Awak
ening Factors, jhānas, according to the suttas, directly lead to liberatio
n (contrary to popular claims that jhānas are only tools for still higher
practices)

The same mental qualities that are said to “aid” the bringing about of
Awakening are the same that are involved in jhanic progression

AN4.41 tells us that jhānas themselves lead to the “ending of effluents


” (full liberation); they are not merely “concentration” or “calm” type
of practice
Jhāna & the Factors of Awakening
33

The popular claims that “jhānas are only tools for still hig
her practices” and “are not uniquely Buddhist” are based
on the commentarial notion that jhāna is fixed absorption
If we understand jhānas as heightened Satipaṭṭhāna, then j
hānas would be a unique invention of the Buddha (eviden
ce for which is supported by comparative-religious textual
studies); then jhānas are not merely preliminary tools for s
till higher practices (which the suttas tell us)
Jhāna & the Factors of Awakening
34

“SN 54:2 lists the sixteen steps in conjunction with the seven factor
s for awakening; SN 54:8 states that they lead to all nine of the con
centration attainments. SN 54:10 begins with the sixteen steps and r
elates them to the four establishings of mindfulness; four discourses
—SN54:13–16—relate the sixteen steps, through the four establishi
ngs, to the seven factors for awakening, and through them to clear k
nowing and release. This last depiction shows that breath meditatio
n [which is intended to be practiced in the contexts of Satipaṭṭhāna
and jhānas] is not just a preliminary practice. It can lead all the way
to the goal of the path.”—Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Right Mindfulness
Jhāna & the Eightfold Path
35

MN117: “Now what, monks, is noble right concentration with its su


pports & requisite conditions? Any unification of mind equipped wi
th these seven factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, righ
t action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness — is call
ed noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions
.” (c.f. DN18)

If Right Concentration is fixed absorption, how can it be “equipped


with” the factors of Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right
Mindfulness…(which are all defined in the same sutta in such a wa
y that preclude fixed absorption)?
Jhāna & the Eightfold Path
36

SN45.1: “Bhikkhus, true knowledge is the forerunner in


the entry upon wholesome states, with a sense of sham
e and fear of wrongdoing following along. For a wise pe
rson who has arrived at true knowledge, right view spri
ngs up. For one of right view, right intention springs up
…For one of right mindfulness, right concentration spri
ngs up.”
Notice: 1. Right Mindfulness is the forerunner of Right
Concentration;
2. “True knowledge” (vijja) and the Eightfold Noble Pat
h is the forerunners of Right Concentration
Jhāna & the Eightfold Path
37

MN117: “Right view is the forerunner. And how is rig


ht view the forerunner? One discerns wrong resolve a
s wrong resolve, and right resolve as right resolve: Th
is is one’s right view.… One makes an effort for the a
bandoning of wrong resolve & for entering into right
resolve: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to a
bandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right re
solve: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these thr
ee qualities—right view, right effort, & right mindful
ness—run & circle around right resolve.”
Jhāna & the Eightfold Path
38

Looking at that sutta passage…


Right resolve is defined as “renunciation of sensualit
y, ill-will, and harm.”
So jhana is basically “undistractedly carrying out the
functions of the seven of the Eightfold Noble Path, cu
lminating in the eighth, Right Samadhi”
In this sense, Samadhi is precisely what the term ety
mologically implies: simultaneously holding together
[relevant and skillful qualities]
The internal coherence of the Dhamma
39

The internal coherence of a system (things falling into place; all pie
ces of the puzzle fit) is an important standard in testing the viability
and trustworthiness of that system

In this model we just presented, all of the important Dhammic sche


mes cohere and overlap neatly rather than requiring separate treatm
ents (they fall together): satipaṭṭhāna, jhāna, the Four Noble Truths,
the Seven Factors of Awakening, the Eightfold Noble Path…etc.

This goes to show the internal coherence of the Dhamma, and the i
mportance of correctly reading the system
Jhāna, in the form of Right Concentration, is the Goal
40

An implication of the aforementioned scheme on “jhana and the Ei


ghtfold Path” is: Right Concentration is the culmination of the Eigh
tfold Path
This means that Right Concentration is the Goal of the practice!
You’re going to say, “But how can this be? How can concentration i
tself be the highest goal? Doesn’t that go against the Buddhist priori
ty on insight?”
Jhāna, in the form of Right Concentration, is the Goal
41

Your objection is probably based on a two-fold assumption:


1. Jhana is “mundane,” and shared with other religions; “insight” i
s what distinguishes Buddhism from the other paths that practic
e “concentration” to varying degrees
2. There’s no insight in jhana; jhana is only a “calm” practice

Let’s look at these assumptions


42
Jhāna is “mundane”?
43

Can jhana, in the form of Right Concentration (i.e. practiced as a form of


satipatthana), self-sufficiently give rise to supramundane liberation?

The suttas say “yes”


Jhāna is “mundane”?
44

MN139: “giving vision, giving knowledge, [jhana] lea


ds to peace, to direct knowledge, to awakening, to Ni
bbana.”
SN53.1-12, a whole 13 suttas: “Just as the River Gang
es slants, slopes, and inclines toward the ocean, even
so, jhanas slants, slopes, and inclines toward nibban
a”
Jhāna is “mundane”?
45

Notice that these suttas make no qualifications about


these claims. There is no qualification about how jha
nas are merely tools, or that a person has to first exit
them and then do something else to attain nibbana
Notice that similar statements are said about satipatt
hana (SN47.51-62) and the awakening factors (SN46.
7); i.e. satipatthana and the awakening factors self-su
fficiently lead to nibbana
Jhāna is “mundane”?
46

SN43.3: Jhanas “is the path leading to the unconditi


oned.”
DN29 & DĀ17: Jhānas “lead to disenchantment, disp
assion, cessation, peace, superlative realizations, Rig
ht Awakening, and Unbinding”; They represent a “pl
easant path” that culminates in the four spiritual frui
tions
Jhāna is “mundane”?
47

The hindrances (i.e. hindrances to jhanas) are not ju


st impediments to attentional focus, but are describe
d as “causes of blindness, causes of ignorance, destru
ctive to wisdom, not conducive to Nibbana.” (SN 46:
40)
Jhāna is “mundane”?
48

SN53.45-54, a full ten suttas: the four jhanas eradica


te the 5 upper fetters (i.e. bringing about arahathoo
d); the four jhanas bring about their full comprehens
ion, complete extinction and utter relinquishment
Keep in mind that such categorical assertions about t
he supramundane, liberative powers of a practice is o
nly otherwise reserved for satipatthana
Yet, nowadays, satipatthana is deemed “supramunda
ne” and jhanas “mundane”
Jhāna is “mundane”?
49

AN5.26: “This is the…basis of liberation, by means of


which, if a bhikkhu dwells heedful, ardent, and resol
ute, his unliberated mind is liberated, his undestroye
d taints are utterly destroyed, and he reaches the as-
yet-unreached unsurpassed security from bondage.”
Jhāna is “mundane”?
50

AN4.41: “And what is the development of concentrati


on that... leads to the ending of the effluents?...These
are the four developments of concentration.”
Jhāna is “mundane”?
51

Maybe not exactly identical in the technical sense, bu


t in a practical sense, in the early Buddhist suttas, sat
ipatthana, samadhi, ekaggata, ekodi, sato and sampa
jano all converge and interconnect.
A meditator is exhorted to do Right Mindfulness, sati
patthana, mindful comprehension (sati-sampajanna)
, Right concentration/jhana, all of which are virtually
interchangeable and equally conducing to full liberati
on
Jhāna is “mundane”?
52

If you understand jhana as a frozen trance, induced by


counterpart image, then of course jhana is “mundane,”
and supramundane attainments can only happen when
one undertakes insight as an after thought. Hence the p
revalent commentarial assertion that jhana is “shared
with other paths”/“gong waidao”
But if you understand jhana as reified satipatthana, as t
he suttas present it, then it makes sense to think of it as
the culmination of the Eightfold Path, as directly leadin
g to nibbana, and is therefore “supramundane,” and un
ique from the concentration practices of other religions
53
No insight in jhāna?
54

I was saying earlier that Right Concentration is the culmin


ation of the Eightfold Path
You might be objecting because of also this assumption:
“There’s no insight in jhana; jhana is only a “calm” practi
ce”
No insight in jhāna?
55

Once again: Because the Visuddhimagga understands jhān


as to be fixed absorption, its inspired traditions insist that
no insight can happen in jhānas. One has to retreat to eithe
r “momentary concentration” or “access concentration” to
carry out insight practice
Many contemporary teachers continue to insist
56

Brahmavamso: “Because of the perfect one-pointedness and fixed a


ttention, one loses the faculty of perspective within jhāna. Compreh
ension relies on comparison—relating this to that, here to there, no
w with then. In jhāna, all that is perceived is an unmoving, envelopi
ng, nondual bliss that allows no space for the arising of perspective
…When perspective is removed, so is comprehension. Thus in jhān
a not only is there no sense of time but also there is no comprehensi
on of what is going on. At the time, one will not even know which j
hāna one is in.” (2006, p. 153)
Many contemporary teachers continue to insist
57

Bhikkhu Anālayo, “On the Supposedly Liberating Function of the


First Absorption”: “[The idea that] the first absorption in itself is ‘th
e actualization and embodiment of insight’ should be dismissed as
misconceived.”
What the suttas say
58

Notice what a far cry this is from what the suttas state.
MN111: “And the states in the first jhāna: directed thought, evaluati
ve thought, rapture, bliss, and the unification of mind; the sense con
tact, the feeling, the perception, the volition, the mind, the intention
, the determination, the energy, the mindfulness, the equanimity, an
d the attention—each of these states were continuously determined
by him; those states were known to him as they arose, as they were
present, and as they disappeared.”
(continued)
What the suttas say
59

“He understood: ‘Truly, these states, not having existed, c


ome into existence; having existed, they disappear.’ Regar
ding those states, he remained unattached, unrepelled, free
, detached…in the second jhāna…in the third…and the sta
tes in the fourth…each of these states were continuously d
etermined by him; those states were known to him as they
arose, as they were present, and as they disappeared. He u
nderstands, ‘There is a further escape,’ and pursuing it, he
confirms that ‘There is.’” (continued)
What the suttas say
60

The same sutta repeats this formula with all the jhānas and the “for
mless bases,” except the very last formless base (not a jhāna):
“Furthermore…he enters & remains in the dimension of neither per
ception nor non-perception. He emerges mindful from that attainme
nt. On emerging...he regards the past qualities that have ceased & c
hanged: ‘So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into
play. Having been, they vanish.’ He remains unattracted & unrepell
ed with regard to those qualities, independent, detached, released, d
issociated, with an awareness rid of barriers. He understands, ‘Ther
e is a further escape,’ and pursuing it, he confirms that ‘There is.’”
What the suttas say
61

For all the [eight] states of concentration (4 states of jhāna + 4 state


s of the formless bases), all but the last one requires that the meditat
or perform insight and “analysis of qualities” while in that state of c
oncentration (“known to him as they arose, as they were present, an
d as they disappeared”)
What the suttas say
62

Apologists for the Visuddhimagga model (e.g. Bhikkhu Sujato, in H


istory of Mindfulness) sometime argue that MN111 is a late, Abhidh
ammic period sutta (composed at the end of the so-called canonical
era).
This is 1. based on very circumstantial evidence, and 2. non-conseq
uential because other suttas consistently confirm the position that th
ere’s insight in jhana, regardless what MN111 says
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
63

This is confirmed in various other suttas:

AN4.41: “And what is the development of concentration that... lead


s to mindfulness & alertness? There is the case where feelings…per
ceptions…thoughts are known to him as they arise, known as they
persist, known as they subside…”

Please note that in the original, present tense is used


No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
64

This is confirmed in various other suttas:

Iti2.18: “Those with calm minds — masterful, mindful,


absorbed in jhana — clearly see things rightly, not inte
nt on sensual pleasures. Delighting in heedfulness, cal
m, seeing danger in heedlessness, they — incapable of f
alling away — are right on the verge of Unbinding.”
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
65

Udana 1.2: “As phenomena grow clear to the Brahman—ardent, in j


hana—his doubts all vanish when he penetrates the ending of requis
ite conditions.”
This takes place in the context of a meditator who’s actually examin
ing the dependent origination
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
66

Dhammapada110-115: “And better than a hundred years lived undis


cerning, uncentered, is one day lived by a discerning person
absorbed in jhana.”

The implication is that a person in jhana is both “centered” and “dis


cerning”
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
67

AN1.406: “If he develops the mental faculty of wisdom


, for the fraction of a second, it is said he abides i
n jhana, has done his duties by the Teacher, and eats
the country's alms food without a debt. If he makes mu
ch of that, it would be more gainful.”
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
68

AN4.196: “…the noble disciple becomes rightfully conc


entrated…this is right concentration. He sees with righ
t insight as it really is, that all form … feelings … perce
ptions … formations … consciousness in the past, futur
e or present, internal or external, rough or fine, unexal
ted or exalted, far or near is not mine, am not in it, it’s
not my self.”
Note that this is the compact version of AN9.36, touted
as one of the most detailed accounts of supposed “insig
ht” practice. Except that this is all done while in jhana!
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
69

AN4.41: “And what is the development of concentration that... lead


s to the ending of the effluents? There is the case where a monk rem
ains focused on arising & falling away with reference to the five cli
nging-aggregates: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its passi
ng away. Such is feeling... Such is perception... Such are fabrication
s... Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearan
ce.’ This is the development of concentration that, when developed
& pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.”
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
70

AN5.28: “And furthermore, the monk has his theme of


reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-consider
ed, well-tuned by means of discernment. Just as if one
person were to reflect on another, or a standing person
were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person w
ere to reflect on a person lying down; even so, monks, t
he monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well
attended to, well-pondered, well-tuned by means of dis
cernment. This is the fifth development of the five-fact
ored noble right concentration.”
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
71

AN9.36: “[One] enters and dwells in the first jhāna…whatever state


s are included there comprised by form, feeling, perception, volitio
nal formations, or consciousness: he views those states as imperma
nent, as unsatisfactory…as empty, as not self.”

No mention of the need to retreat to “access concentration”; if there


was such a need…a serious oversight and neglect to not have menti
oned it in any of the suttas
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
72

AN 5:28 describes the skill to perform insight/analysis while one is


still in the state with the following analogy:
“And further, the monk [having mastered the four jhānas] has his th
eme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-considered, w
ell-tuned [well-penetrated] by means of discernment.
Just as if one person were to reflect on another, or a standing person
were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person were to reflect
on a person lying down; even so, monks, the monk has his theme of
reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-pondered, well-tuned
[well-penetrated] by means of discernment. This is the fifth develop
ment of the five-factored noble right concentration.”
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
73

AN5.26: “In whatever way the bhikkhu teaches…recites…ponders,


examines, mentally inspects the Dhamma in detail…he experiences
inspiration in the meaning and inspiration in the Dhamma. As he d
oes so, joy arises in him. When he is joyful, rapture arises. For one
with a rapturous mind, the body becomes tranquil. One tranquil in
body feels pleasure. For one feeling pleasure, the mind becomes co
ncentrated. This is the…basis of liberation, by means of which, if a
bhikkhu dwells heedful, ardent, and resolute, his unliberated mind
is liberated, his undestroyed taints are utterly destroyed, and he re
aches the as-yet-unreached unsurpassed security from bondage.”
Notice how “concentration” can be attained through the pondering of Dha
mma meaning (a rather discursive activity), showing that it can be the eff
ect of hosting insight that brings about samadhi
No insight in jhāna? What the suttas say
74
some of the suttas/anthologies in the khuddaka-nikaya ranked among the earliest of suttas, and thes
e are relatively more overlooked than the ones in the four main nikayas. These early-strata suttas def
initely portray the jhanas as infused with insight and virtually non-distinguishable from the satipatth
anas.

Udana 1.2 & 1.3: "As phenomena grow clear to the Brahman--ardent, in jhana--his doubts all vanish
when he penetrates the ending of requisite conditions."

Itivuttaka 3.32: "Both when receiving offerings & not: his concentration won't waver, he remains hee
dful: he — continually staying in jhana, subtle in view & clear-seeing, enjoying the ending of clinging
— is called a man of integrity."

Notice that in the latter example, it is basically saying that the practitioner stays in jhana even as he
goes on alms. This is definitely doable if we understand jhana as satipatthanas practiced without the
hindrances and with varying levels of pleasure (seclusion pleasure, concentration pleasure, bliss plea
sure, and equanimity pleasure).
The Chinese Agamas agree
75

EA12.1 (T125.12.1): “Furthermore, discarding mental states of pai


n and pleasure, being without dejection and elation, and without pai
n and pleasure, with purity of equanimity and mindfulness, a bhiksh
u enjoys the fourth jhana. In this way, a bhikshu contemplates the c
haracteristics of dharmas as he undertakes the dharma-based satipaṭ
ṭhāna.”
“He dwells observing their nature of arising, he dwells observing th
eir nature of ceasing, and he dwells observing their nature of arising
and ceasing simultaneously, experiencing joy in himself [by removi
ng evil thoughts and being free from worry and sorrow]. He attains
the dharma-based satipaṭṭhāna and keeps [the practice] present in hi
mself.”
No insight in jhāna? What other commentaries say
76

Many commentaries actually differ from the Visuddhimagga on this


issue. For examples:

The Mahāvibhāṣā (circa 150 C.E.; Apidamo dapiposha lun):


“In the four dhyānas, śamatha and vipaśyanā are equal in strength, a
nd thus they are named a pleasant dwelling.”
(more on next slide)
No insight in jhāna? What other commentaries say
77

The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (circa 4th century; Apidamo jushe lun):


“Samādhi is in fact excellent: it is a dhyāna filled with ‘parts,’ whic
h goes by the means of the yoke of śamatha and vipaśyanā [that is t
o say, in which śamatha and vipaśyanā are in equilibrium], that is te
rmed in the Sūtra ‘happiness in this world’ and ‘the easy path,’ the p
ath by which one knows better and easily.”

The majority of the “earliest” commentaries agree on this issue


A gradual deviation from the suttas: some ear
ly commentaries
78

But this changes over time


The Yogācārabhūmiśāstra (circa 4th century; chronologically later than the last t
wo commentaries): “Furthermore, only by depending on the dhyānas and the acc
ess concentration preceding the first dhyāna, the incompletely attained concentrat
ion, can one make the [initial] breakthrough to the noble truths. The formless atta
inments are inadequate. What is the reason? In the state of the formless attainmen
ts, the path of śamatha is superior, whereas the path of vipaśyanā is inferior. The i
nferior path of vipaśyanā is incapable of attaining the [initial] breakthrough to th
e noble truths.” (instructor note: “path” here should read “quality”)
A gradual deviation from the suttas: some ear
ly commentaries
79

The Yogācārabhūmiśāstra’s position: insight in all four states of jhāna, but not in
the four states of “formless” bases
The Tattvasiddhiśāstra (Chengshih lun), the Prakaraṇāryavācaśāstra (Xianyang
shengjiao lun), and the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa (Dazhi du lun) make similar
statements
Still more different from the suttas’ position is the Visuddhimagga’s position: no i
nsight in any of the four states of jhāna and the four states of “formless” bases. Y
et, this becomes the most influential and authoritative claim in Theravada
Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration
80

Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration. Wh


y?
Ābhidhammika’s introduction of separate spheres (avacara)
of phenomena corresponding to each of the three planes (bh
ūmi/dhātu)—the sensual realm/sphere, the form/material rea
lm/sphere, the formless/immaterial realm/sphere—correlatin
g meditative states with planes of existence
Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration
81

Other Abhidhammic assumptions that are relevant to our dis


cussion:
a metaphysics of “momentariness,” and the idea that conscio
usness is momentary and, in each instance, there can only be
one momentary consciousness with its corresponding object
Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration
82

 Other Abhidhammic assumptions that are relevant to our discussi


on:
 “Momentariness” and “impermanence” are ontologically absolut
e reals (contrary to the suttas’ treatment of these as mere “percept
ions”); therefore, when the mind still operates in the sensory real
m, everything is momentary and does not lead to a truly stationar
y absorption (appanā samādhi). This is why, when attending to se
nsory phenomena, the mind can only attain “momentary concentr
ation” (khanika samādhi—here, “momentary” doesn’t mean that
one’s concentration is weak and short-lived; it means the very obj
ect that one attends to is momentary in nature).
Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration
83

Such a cosmology and metaphysics lead to the belief that w


hen, at a given moment, the mind is in the form sphere jhāna
(rūpāvacarajjhāna), it cannot be simultaneously perceptive
of the sensory/sensual phenomena. This means that the mind
in jhāna cannot even experience bodily sensations
In such a moment, it is said, awareness is withdrawn from th
e sensory/sensual realm, and therefore incapable of detectin
g visual forms, sounds, smells, taste, and touch
Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration
84

This leads to the belief that an experience in the “form realm


” is devoid of any of the [five] sensory consciousnesses, and
the belief that the mind is therefore fixed
Hence, the popular claim that jhāna is a “frozen ball,” and h
ence Brahmavamso’s critics charge him of teaching “ambula
nce jhāna”
Classical exegetes’ fascination with fixed concentration
85

Supporters of this Visuddhimagga model (of fixed concentra


tion and no sensory awareness) often cites the suttas in sayin
g that, in order to enter jhāna, one has to first become seclud
ed from “sensuality”

But let’s look and see if indeed “sensuality” in the suttas is


what it’s made it out to be…
What is “sensuality”
86

AN6.63: “There are these five strands of sensual pleasure (kā


magunā). Forms cognizable by the eye: desirable, lovely, agre
eable, endearing, sensually enticing, tantalizing. Sounds cogni
zable by the ear... odors cognizable by the nose... flavors cogni
zable by the tongue... tactual objects cognizable by the body: d
esirable, lovely, agreeable, endearing, sensually enticing, tanta
lizing.” (continued)
What is “sensuality”
87

(continued) And here comes the important part:


“But monks, these are not sensual pleasures (kāmā). They are
called strands of sensual pleasure (kāmagunā) in the discipline
of the noble ones. The resolve of passion is a man’s sensual pl
easure. The world’s beautiful things are not sensual pleasures.
The resolve of passion is a man’s sensual pleasure. The beauti
es remain as they are in the world, While the wise remove desi
re for them.”
What is “sensuality”
88

Here, sensual pleasures (kāmā) is defined as the “resolve of pa


ssion” (saṅkapparāga), and is differentiated from the [potentia
lly] attractive external sensory objects of that passion, for whic
h the wise would remove desire.

In other words, “sensuality”—that which is cast aside when en


tering into jhāna—is NOT sensory data per se, but the desires
for them!
What is “sensuality”
89

 MN78: “And what are unskillful resolves? Being resolved on sen


suality, on ill will, on harmfulness. These are called unskillful res
olves.” And what is this “sensuality”?
 T 112 at T II 505: “What is the second [path factor] of right intent
ion? It is the intention to renounce desire and renounce the house
hold, [the intention of] being without ill-will, and [the intention o
f] being without mutual injuring; this is right intention.”
What is “sensuality”
90

 AN5.139: “And how is a monk resilient to sights? There is the ca


se where a monk, on seeing a sight with the eye, feels no passion
for a sight that incites passion and can center his mind. This is ho
w a monk is resilient to sights.”
 “…to sounds…to aromas…to flavors…to tactile sensations…The
re is the case where a monk, on touching a tactile sensation with t
he body, feels no passion for a tactile sensation that incites passio
n and can center his mind. This is how a monk is resilient to tactil
e sensations.”
What is “sensuality”
91

“There are a couple of points worth mentioning here. Firstly, these five str
ands of sensual pleasure are all external sensory objects. As such, they cor
respond to objects within the five external sensory spheres (bāhirāyatanā).
Thus, these five sensory objects do not include in-and-out breathing, whic
h is considered internal, nor the internal felt-sense of the body. Secondly
…it isn’t all sensory objects whatsoever that the meditator need to withdra
w from.”
“The meditator needs to withdraw from those external sensory objects wh
ich are sensually enticing and tantalizing, as stated here. This withdrawal i
s facilitated by removing oneself from inappropriate environments for me
ditation and by abandoning the hindrance of desire for sensual pleasure (k
āmacchanda)…Continuing with A 6.63, we can see that a clear distinction
is made between sensual pleasures (kāmā) and the five strands of sensual
pleasure (kāmagunā).”—Geoff Shatz
What is “sensuality”
92

Perhaps it’s not even a matter of external vs internal sensory experiences

Theragata 1.113: “With clear waters & massive boulders, frequ


ented by monkeys & deer, covered with moss & water weeds, t
hose rocky crags refresh me.”
Thag 1.13: “The color of blue-dark clouds, glistening, cooled w
ith the waters of clear-flowing streams covered with ladybugs:
those rocky crags refresh me.”
AN6.63: “The world’s beautiful things are not sensual pleasure
s. The resolve of passion is a man’s sensual pleasure.”
What is “sensuality”
93

MN13 tells us the same:


“And what, monks, is the escape from sensuality? The sub
duing of desire-passion for sensuality, the abandoning of
desire-passion for sensuality: That is the escape from sens
uality.”
What is “sensuality”
94

More evidence
MN152 (c.f. SĀ282), the Buddha criticizing the non-Buddhist practice of shu
tting off the senses:
[Uttara says:] “There is the case where one does not see forms with the eye, o
r hear sounds with the ear [in a trance of non-perception]. That’s how the bra
hman Parasiri teaches his followers the development of the faculties.”
[The Buddha retorted:] “That being the case, Uttara, then a blind person will
have developed faculties, and a deaf person will have developed faculties, ac
cording to the words of the brahman Parasiri. For a blind person does not see
forms with the eye, and a deaf person does not hear sounds with the ear.”
The Buddha then proceeded to teach Uttara about equanimity and developing
seclusion towards desires for sensuality
What is “sensuality”
95

In the same sutta (MN152):


“If he wants, he remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presenc
e of what is not loathsome. If he wants, he remains percipient of unl
oathsomeness in the presence of what is loathsome. If he wants, he
remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not l
oathsome & what is. If he wants, he remains percipient of unloathso
meness in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not. If he wa
nts — in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not — cutting
himself off from both, he remains equanimous, alert, & mindful.”
Clearly, the meditator is “percipient” or aware of sensory data, rath
er than becoming incapable of seeing, hearing…as the Visuddhimag
ga traditions attest
What is “sensuality”
96

More evidence
MN43 & AN9.37: only in the fully purified formless attainments (j
hāna is a “form” attainment and not “formless”) that the mind is wit
hdrawn from sensory awareness

MN39: “…he feels pleasure with his whole body…” (there’s tactile
sensations, in other words)
What is “sensuality”
97

The Chinese side of things also confirms this theory:


DA: “Again, having entered the fourth absorption their mind is imp
erturbable, without increase or decrease. They dwell without cravin
g or aversion in the stage of imperturbability. It is just like a private
room that has been plastered inside and outside, and whose door ha
s been firmly shut and locked,35 with no wind or dust [entering]. In
side a lamp has been lit, which nobody touches or agitates. The fla
me of that lamp rises quietly and without perturbation.”
Notice that the “imperturbable” (4th jhana+formless experience) inv
olves shutting off awareness of external sensory stimuli. This is poi
nted out here because, previously (4th jhana and everything lower) s
till involves sensory functions
What is “sensuality”
98

More evidence
AN5.113 stipulates that a meditator has to learn to not blindly react
to sensory phenomena (learn to tolerate them rather than become ag
itated by them) in order to attain concentration—and it goes withou
t saying that such a meditator has to be percipient of sensory pheno
mena to tolerate them:
“A monk endowed with these five qualities is capable of entering a
nd remaining in right concentration. Which five? He can tolerate vi
sible forms, he can tolerate sounds... odors... flavors... tactual object
s. A monk endowed with these five qualities is capable of entering a
nd remaining in right concentration.”
What is “sensuality”
99

AN5.200: Escaping from sensuality means you’re able


to clearly see the dangers of sensuality and the desirabi
lity of the escape, that your mind doesn’t “leap up at se
nsual pleasures, doesn’t grow confident, steadfast, or r
eleased in sensual pleasures,” and that your mind does
indeed “leaps up at renunciation, grows confident, stea
dfast, & released in renunciation.”
An important part of the pleasure of that escape and re
nunciation comes from “…then whatever fermentation
s, torments, & fevers there are that arise in dependenc
e on sensuality, he is released from them.”
What is “sensuality”
100

Seclusion as a function of “pulling back” from habitu


al tendencies, as opposed to “being drown in and dri
ven by,” it grants a vantage point to examine
Seclusion as an assessment (the etymology of viveka
includes notions of discernment): distance to food (h
ave to travel far for sensual food), pursuit method (co
stly and stressful to hunt down sensual food), and gr
atification (sensual food is fleeting and reinforces refl
exive habits)
Contemporary criticisms of the Visuddhimagga over “fixed concentration”
101

“Many people teach that we must come out of jhana to pra


ctice vipasana. Is that true? The real question is, ‘Can you
r jhanic concentration penetrate things as they really are?’
If the answer is ‘No,’ then…it may well be wrong jhana. I
f the answer is ‘Yes,’ then your concentration is not absor
ption. It is right jhana.”—Henepola Gunaratana (2009), B
eyond Mindfulness in Plain English, p. 156
Contemporary criticisms of the Visuddhimagga over “fixed concentration”
102

“No matter where scholars stand in regard to the above controversy,


they still rely on the prevalent assumption that the jhānas are not re
ally liberative, but only a concentration exercise, a mental absorptio
n in a specific object, a meditation practice which is completely opp
osite to the practice of vipassanā — the unique teaching of the Bud
dha… I will further add, that I believe the reference to samatha and
vipassana as ‘meditation practice’ or ‘technique’ is misconceived.”
—Keren Arbel, 2008. Paper presented in “Buddhism in Asia”: A Day Seminar with Prof.
Jan Nattier and Prof. John McRae, Tel Aviv University. “Buddhist or Not? Thinking Anew
the Role of the Jhanas in the Path of Awakening,” p. 2
Contemporary criticisms of the Visuddhimagga over “fixed concentration”
103

“There has been a similar problematic present in Theravāda studies on medi


tative soteriology, in which an ultimate form or model of the path has been i
dentified and then anachronistically read back on the early tradition. To be
specific, the model, formulated by Buddhaghosa in the VsM, of a singular m
editative path that successively combines and integrates the two major Budd
hist forms of contemplative cultivation – samatha-bhāvanā (tranquility med
itation) and vipassanā-bhāvanā (insight meditation) – has frequently been u
ncritically employed as the lens through which early Buddhist meditation sh
ould be understood. Indeed, this singular vision has been the one that most
Theravāda Buddhists since Buddhaghosa have adopted in seeing their tradit
ion as an unchanging one, that those who have engaged themselves in medit
ation have put into practice, and that those who study and interpret the trad
ition today have read back on to even its earliest developments in meditative
theory and practice.” -- Clough, “Early Indian and Theravāda Buddhism. So
teriological Controversy and Diversity” p.xxii