Jhāna Sutta – Meditative Absorption – Mind And Body United

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Introduction

This introduction is common to the following suttas on Jhana:  Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta, Anupada Sutta, Rahogata Sutta, Jhana Sutta, Jambālī Sutta, and the  Samādhaṅga Sutta. They are all linked here: Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhana

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. The development of concentration can and should be mindfully observed as concentration increases.

The four levels of Jhana are impermanent and are developed from engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation as taught by the Buddha and so should not be viewed as meditative achievement. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is not another opportunity for fabricating experience through continued confusion or continued desire encouraged by misguided instruction. [1]

Free of grasping after, these levels of meditative absorption are simply the recognition that Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is actually developing concentration while avoiding creating further distraction. This aspect of Right View then remains free of conceit – I-making –  that would otherwise create frustration and distraction within Shamatha-Vipassana 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 were part of the doctrines of Siddartha Gotama’s early teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. [2,3]

Having mastered them, 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 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.)

This is a realization Siddartha developed prior to his awakening. As such, it could have been taught to simply avoid any fabricated non-physical self-reference. One of the break-throughs of understanding Siddartha had was insight into the powerful but very subtle strategies that a mind rooted in ignorance will develop and cling to in order to continue ignorance. [4]

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 Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. In this way, these non-physical fabrications, when seen in the proper context, are simply ordinary fabrications to be 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 Shamatha-Vipassana meditation leading to the development of ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption. The singular meditation method the Buddha taught for deepening concentration is through Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. The Shamatha-Vipassana meditation method is established in the Satipatthana Sutta, the primary sutta on Four Foundations Of Mindfulness. [5]

It is the initial section of the Satipatthana Sutta that is instruction for 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. This instruction relates directly to the levels of Jhana. Avoiding the distraction that would arise by reacting to feelings and thoughts, the joy of seclusion and deepening concentration is recognized.

As concentration increases, directed thought and evaluation is abandoned and a pleasant abiding is established which relates to the fourth foundation of mindfulness – being at peace with the present quality of mind.

(The remaining sections of the Satipatthana Sutta then shows 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)

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.’) [3]

As with all of the Buddha’s teachings, this sutta 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 ignorance of Four Noble Truths is the initiating condition that results in fabricating views of ordinary experience resulting in all manner of distraction, confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences. [6,7]

When seen in the over-arching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma and in the context of engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana 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. [8,9]

This sutta is similar to the Samadhanga Sutta in subject matter and the remarkable scope of underlying Dhamma referenced. [10]

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

Directed Thought has Right Intention as its motivating factor – to recognize and abandon craving and clinging.

Evaluation here refers to the value placed on an experience as being either pleasurable or painful.

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 claiming in the body as a point of concentration. For some just beginning Shamatha-Vipassana 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. [11,9]

“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 RightEffort 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. [11]

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. [12]

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

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

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