Jhāna Sutta – Meditative Absorption – Mind And Body United

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Introduction

This introduction provides the necessary context for understanding Jhana and is common to the following suttas:  Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta, Anupada Sutta, Rahogata Sutta, Jhana Sutta, Jambālī Sutta, and the  Samādhaṅga Sutta. They are all linked here: Jhana – Right Meditation

↓ Skip Common Introduction If Previously Read ↓

As with all of the Buddha’s teachings, Jhana Meditation must be seen within the over-arching context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths to be useful and practically applicable.

The Buddha “awakened” to the profound understanding that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that is the requisite condition for fabrications. Fabrications are the glue that binds confused thinking to ignorance, obscures reality, and establishes stress, disappointment, and suffering – Dukkha – as the common human experience. [1,2]  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta  | Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

Jhana means meditative absorption. The Buddha teaches, in a general way,  four levels of meditative absorption, or deepening concentration. As can be seen here, these four levels are not in a practical sense strictly defined. A mediator gently flows from the first to the fourth Jhana as a direct development of Jhana meditation as the Buddha teaches meditation. The four levels of meditative absorption can and should be mindfully observed as concentration increases.

The four levels of Jhana are impermanent and are taught by the Buddha to provide a skillful means to notice ever-increasing levels of meditative absorption.

Jhana practice is not to be seen as anything extraordinary or the levels of Jhana unattainable. Jhana meditation is extraordinary in developing concentration and entirely ordinary to those actually developing the Buddha’s Dhamma.

Jhana meditation is not another opportunity for fabricating experience through continued confusion or continued desire encouraged by misguided instruction. [3]  Jhana Meditation

Free of grasping after, these four levels of meditative absorption are clear direction to recognize that Jhana meditation is actually developing concentration while avoiding creating further distraction due to fabricated methods. This aspect of Right View then remains free of conceit – I-making –  that would otherwise create confusion, contradiction, frustration, and distraction within Jhana meditation practice.

The sequencing of the additional descriptions of non-physical meditative experience that follows the descriptions of four levels of Jhana should not be seen as “advanced” levels of meditation as is commonly presented, and certainly not as levels of meditative achievement. These fabricated non-physical meditation experiences often mischaracterized as advanced levels of meditation were part of the doctrines of Siddartha Gotama’s early teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. [4,5]  Mental And Bodily Fabrications | The Noble Search For The Noble Path

Having mastered these fabricated common meditation techniques, he immediately dismissed them as they “do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, or to unbinding. This (method) only seeks to establish a (fabricated) reappearance in the dimension of nothingness” (or in the dimensions of neither perception nor non-perception, or infinite space, or infinite consciousness, or any other fabricated non-physical self-reference.)

When seen in the proper context, any attempt to establish a “self” in speculative non-physical realms including imaginary realms of “emptiness” or “nothingness” or a “non-dual existence,” is abandoned as these methods are seen as misguided strategies to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths.  [6]  Right Mindfulness And Authentic Dhamma

Confusing a concentration practice with a practice that teaches meditative achievement as self-establishment in non-physical imaginary realms can only continue ignorance of Four Noble Truths and continued I-making. These modern “meditation” practices completely contradict the Buddha’s Dhamma and the stated purpose of his Dhamma.  [7]  Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views

The realization that it is a lack of concentration that results in grasping and clinging mind is insight Siddartha developed prior to his awakening. As such, he could have taught to simply avoid any fabricated non-physical self-reference. One of the break-throughs of understanding Siddartha had was skillful insight into the powerful but very subtle strategies that a mind rooted in ignorance will develop and cling to in order to continue ignorance. As common during the Buddha’s time as ours, “dharmas” that encourage meditation practices that teach subtle but convenient methods for ignoring ignorance are common, unskillful, and cruel. [8]  Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening

With profound wisdom, the Buddha realized the attraction of continuing self-establishment in fabricated non-physical realms. He understood that the most effective method of understanding the foolishness of these doctrines that encouraged continued I-making would be to explain these common experiences in the context of Jhana meditation. In this way, Jhana meditation de-mystifies these non-physical fabrications. When seen in the proper context as ordinary fabrications these wrong views are simply recognized and abandoned.

The Buddha typically told his followers to “Go find the root of a tree or an empty hut and do Jhana.” This is instruction on establishing seclusion as the proper environment for a meditation practice with the purpose of developing ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption.

Jhana meditation is the only meditation method the Buddha taught.  Jhana meditation is established in the Satipatthana Sutta, the primary sutta on Four Foundations Of Mindfulness, and the suttas here onJhana (and many others). [9]  Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness

It is the initial section of the Satipatthana Sutta that is instruction for increasing concentration and calming the mind by becoming mindful of the breath in the body. This is the First Foundation of Mindfulness that begins the process of Jhana – of developing concentration. The second and third foundations of mindfulness continue the establishment of concentration by ending distractions arising from reacting to, or clinging to feelings and thoughts as they arise and pass away, always returning mindfulness to the breath.

The instruction found in the Satipatthana Sutta relates directly to the four levels of Jhana. In this way, using meditation for continuing to grasp after any fabricated self-establishment is clearly recognized and gently abandoned. By avoiding the distraction that would arise by reacting to feelings and thoughts, or seeking imaginary self-establishment in non-physical realms, the joy of seclusion and deepening concentration is established and recognized.

As concentration increases, directed thought and evaluation is abandoned and a pleasant abiding is established. This relates to the fourth foundation of mindfulness – being at peace with the present quality of mind. This quality of mind is known as equanimity and gradually increases as Jhana meditation continues within the framework and guidance of the Eightfold Path. (See below for an explanation of Directed Thought and Evaluation)

The remaining sections of the Satipatthana Sutta then show how to apply ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption to other significant themes of the Dhamma. The entire Satipatthana Sutta is not meant as meditation instruction which becomes obvious when seen in the proper context of the Buddha’s Dhamma as detailed here.

The Buddha’s Dhamma reunites the mind and body and overcomes the self-identification seeking to establish a “self” in fabricated magical, mystical, and imaginary planes of physical non-existence.

(I use the term physical non-existence as it accurately depicts the grasping present in ascetic practices that hope to free the mind from the body using extreme self-denial. These were practices Siddartha Gotama mastered and abandoned as ‘painful distracting, ignoble, and not leading to knowledge, wisdom, or release.’) [5]  The Noble Search For The Noble Path

Often modern meditation practices such as generalized “insight” or “mindfulness” meditation are taught as merely noticing thoughts and feelings calling “noticing” in this manner “mindfulness.”  Intentionally “noticing” is holding in mind internal phenomena during meditation. This is a subtle but powerful reinforcement of distracting phenomena and the most common strategy used in modern meditation practices. These forms of “meditation” will distract a confused mind further and continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Impermanent and ever-changing phenomena now becomes the sole focus of “Insight” or “Mindfulness” while avoiding the singular purpose of meditation – to increase concentration.

When seen in the over-arching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma and in the context of engaging in Jhana meditation solely for deepening concentration, grasping after self-establishment in imaginary and fabricated mind-states is seen clearly as intentional distraction used to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

As concentration increases refined mindfulness is established supporting the integration of the Eightfold Path developing a profound understanding of Three Marks Of existence. [10,11]  Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta  | Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha

Rapture is a word often used in the Dhamma to describe a profoundly joyful engagement with the Dhamma.

Directed Thought is mindfully directing thoughts away from internal idle chatter and to the breath-in-the-body. This relates directly to the Buddha’s instruction for Right Meditation found in the beginning section of the Satipatthana Sutta [6]  Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Evaluation follows directed thought and provides the skillful method of noticing when distracted by thoughts and feelings and then intentionally directing mindfulness back to the breath-in-the-body. Evaluation is dispassionate and avoids criticism of self or method during Jhana practice.

Samsara is the continued state of ignorance prone to confused, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointment.

My comments within the sutta below are in italics.

 

Jhāna Sutta – Meditative Absorption – Mind And Body United

Anguttara Nikaya 9:36

On one occasion the Buddha addressed those gathered:

“I tell you, friends that the ending of the defilements of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking (rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths) depends on fully developing the four levels of Jhana and overcoming the desire for establishment in the dimension of the infinitude of space, the dimension of infinitude of consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, or the dimension of perception nor non-perception.

“Friends, the ending of the defilements depends on the First Jhana: Secluded from sensuality and other unskillful mental qualities one enters and remains in the First Jhana. This First Jhana is experienced as rapture born of that very seclusion. It is accompanied by directed thought and evaluation.

This first Jana is simply the initial pleasant calming that occurs from taking refuge in seclusion and becoming mindful of the breath in the body.

“Furthermore, the ending of the defilements depends on the Second Jhana which is the stilling of directed thought and evaluation.  This Second Jhana is experienced as rapture and pleasure born of concentration. Free of directed thought and evaluation, the joy of concentration permeates their entire mind and body.

This second Jhana is a deepening awareness of the mind calming in the body as a point of concentration. For some just beginning Jhana meditation this can be difficult. Many popular “meditation” methods have developed from the desire to avoid uniting one’s mind united in their body. Common “meditation” practices such as analytical contemplation, deity or other intricate  visualizations, over-emphasis on and manipulation of the breath, incorporating physical movements such as repetitive bowing or exaggerated postures, chanting, or substituting sensory stimuli such as using incense or music, and seeking to establish the self in imaginary non-physical realms are all common “meditation” strategies that can only continue distraction and continue ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

“Furthermore, the ending of the defilements depends on the Third Jhana which is the fading of rapture. They remain equanimous, mindful, alert, sensitive to pleasure. With the fading of rapture, this pleasant abiding permeates their entire mind and body.

This third Jhana is characterized by the stilling of directed thought and evaluation and now able to experience the subtle pleasure of a mind calmly united with the body. This is a pleasant abiding free of comparison to what is no longer present.

“Furthermore, the ending of the defilements depends on the Fourth Jhana which is the abandoning of evaluation. They enter and remain in the Fourth Jhana which is pure equanimity and mindful. Being pure, neither pleasure nor pain is seen. They sit permeated in mind and body with pure, bright awareness. The Fourth Jhana which is a pleasant abiding.

This fourth Jhana is simply a deepening level of concentration and resulting pleasant abiding that remains at peace no matter what arises. This pleasant abiding is the defining characteristic of a well-concentrated mind having integrated the Eightfold Path.

“This follower of the Noble Eightfold Path understands that any phenomena connected to Five Clinging-Aggregates – form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, consciousness – is impermanent, stressful, a disease, painful, an affliction, and, as such, anatta – not-self. [12,10]

“This follower of the Noble Eightfold Path disregards those phenomena and inclines their mind to the cessation of ignorance – nothing remains to provoke the birth of suffering.

A well-concentrated mind no longer has (self-referential) thoughts and views objectified and focused on outside the body on people, events, or fabricated ideas. [2]

“This follower of the Noble Eightfold Path, from fully developing the four levels of Jhana, knows an exquisite peace. Fabrications ended, grasping too. Dispassion and unbinding established.

“It is as if an archer or their apprentice were to practice on a particular target. With continued practice they would be able to shoot quickly for long distances, piercing many targets.

“In the same manner, they reach the cessation of the defilements. If not then, through continued joyful Right Effort and cessation of the five lower fetters of:

  • Self-identification
  • Grasping at rituals and practices
  • Doubt and uncertainty
  • Sensual craving
  • Deluded thinking

“They are released, unbound. (Unbound from wrong views ignorant of Four Noble Truths)

“I tell you, friends that the ending of the defilements of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking depends on fully developing the four levels of Jhana and overcoming the desire for establishment in the dimension of the infinitude of space, the dimension of infinitude of consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, or the dimension of perception nor non-perception.

“This follower of the Noble Eightfold Path having abandoned self-identification with form, having abandoned aversion, having abandoned self-reference now here and now there, they enter and remain in the perception of the infinitude of space.  Even here they understand that any phenomena connected to Five Clinging-Aggregates – form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, consciousness – is impermanent, stressful, a disease, painful, an affliction, and, as such, anatta – not-self. They disregard these phenomena and incline their mind to the cessation of ignorance – nothing remains to provoke the birth of suffering.

The Buddha here is reminding those in the original sangha, and now modern Dhamma practitioners, to avoid the pain of continued ignorance and cease attempting to establish a self in imaginary non-physical realms and return mindfulness to the breath united with the body. If looked at closely and with Right View, aspiring to non-physical realms is clearly an attempt at compulsively maintaining that which the Buddha teaches is prone to greed, aversion, and ongoing delusion: the Five Clinging-Aggregates. [12]

The magical, mystical, and imaginary non-physical realms mentioned here refer to the unskillful attempt to establish a permanent “self” in any realm whether past, present or future. These were common themes during the Buddha’s time and continue today in much of modern Buddhism. This also includes the common focus of modern meditation to uncover or realize a hidden or suppressed “inner Buddha-nature.”

The purpose of concentration is to unite the mind and the body moment-by-moment free of any self-referential views. 

“This follower of the Noble Eightfold Path, from fully developing the four levels of Jhana, knows an exquisite peace. Fabrications ended, grasping too. Dispassion and unbinding established.

“Friends, the cessation of the defilements depends on recognizing and abandoning the Five Clinging-Aggregates, the Five Fetters, overcoming the desire for establishment in the dimension of the infinitude of space, the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, or the dimension of perception nor non-perception.

“Thus, this is a profound understanding – unsurpassed and overcoming the Five Clinging-Aggregates.

“Those followers of the Noble Eightfold Path who have attained this understanding and emerged from dependence on ignorance, skillful meditators all, will rightly explain this to others.”

End of Sutta

 

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Jhana Meditation
  4. Mental And Bodily Fabrications
  5. The Noble Search For The Noble Path
  6. Right Mindfulness And Authentic Dhamma
  7. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  8. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
  9. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  10. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  11. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  12. Five Clinging-Aggregates

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

 

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