Nibbana Sutta – Unbinding From Ignorance

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Common Introduction For Jhana-Related Suttas

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,   Samādhaṅga Sutta and the Nibbana Sutta. They are all linked here: Jhana – Right Meditation

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

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.

  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. Mental And Bodily Fabrications

My comments within the sutta below are in italics

Nibbana Sutta – Unbinding From Ignorance

Anguttara Nikaya 9:34

On one occasion, the Venerable Sariputta was staying in Rajagaha in the Bamboo Forest at the Squirrels Sanctuary. He addressed those gathered to hear his words ‘Friends, the unbinding, the release (from views ignorant of Four Noble Truths) is only pleasant.’

Venerable Udayin then asked him, ‘What is pleasing when nothing is felt, when nothing arises?’

Sariputta replies, ‘This pure pleasure is found in increasing Jhana, increasing concentration. This pure pleasure abandons the distractions of (grasping-after and clinging to) feelings and thoughts. This pure pleasure rests only in a mind united with its body.

‘Friend Udayin, these five qualities of a distracted mind arise from (grasping-after and clinging to) sensual pleasures.

A wise Dhamma practitioner is sensitive to all feelings and thoughts arising and passing away while abandoning grasping after or clinging to any impermanent phenomena arising and passing away.

‘Be mindful of (abandoning) these five aspects of distraction, of grasping after and clinging to (sensual indulgence):

  • Seeing forms (all physical objects initiating with self and moving outwards) as enticing, satisfying, and endearing.
  • Herring sounds as enticing, satisfying, and endearing.
  • Smelling aromas as enticing, satisfying, and endearing.
  • Tasting favors as enticing, satisfying, and endearing.
  • Feeling physical sensations as enticing, satisfying, and endearing.

‘Whenever grasping-after or clinging to sensual pleasure arises in dependence on any or these senses, be mindful this is grasping-after or clinging to sensual pleasure, to sensuality.

‘Now, when the wise Dhamma practitioner, having established seclusion, enters and remains the First Jhana, this First Jhana is experienced as contentment born of this 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.

‘Here, the unskilled Dhamma practitioner may become distracted by the (grasping-after and clinging to) perception of sensuality. This is an affliction for this Dhamma practitioner, as any (self-created) painful thing would be.

‘Our Teacher, Siddartha Gotama, teaches that any affliction is stressful, any affliction is Dikkha. Knowing this, the wise Dhamma practitioner abandons the distraction of sensual indulgence and knows, through direct experience, the pure pleasure of unbinding. (From views ignorant of Four Noble Truths)

‘Continuing, the wise Dhamma practitioner enters and remains the Second Jhana, which is the stilling of directed thought and evaluation. This Second Jhana is experienced as contentment 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.

‘Here, the unskilled Dhamma practitioner may become distracted by (grasping-after or clinging to) directed thought and evaluation. This is an affliction for this Dhamma practitioner, as any (self-created) painful thing would be.

‘Continuing, the wise Dhamma practitioner enters and remains the Third Jhana, which is experienced as the fading of contentment and the pleasure of a mind united with its body, equanimous and supple, a pleasant abiding.

‘Here, the unskilled Dhamma practitioner may become distracted by (grasping-after or clinging to) contentment. This is an affliction for this Dhamma practitioner, as any (self-created) painful thing would be.

‘Continuing, the wise Dhamma practitioner enters and remains the Fourth Jhana. Just as other unskillful mental qualities arise and pass away, (grasping-after or clinging to) pleasure and pain fades away. Now, this Dhamma practitioner rests in pure equanimity and (refined) mindfulness.

‘Here, the unskilled Dhamma practitioner may become distracted by (grasping-after or clinging to) equanimity and refined mindfulness. This is an affliction for this Dhamma practitioner, as any (self-created) painful thing would be.

‘Continuing, the wise Dhamma practitioner abandons (grasping-after or clinging to) the perception of various forms. This wise Dhamma practitioner abandons (grasping-after or clinging to) name-and-form (compulsive self-reference) and (grasping-after and clinging to) all fabricated realms:

  • The perception of Infinite Space.
  • The perception of Infinite Consciousness.
  • The perception of Nothingness. (or emptiness, annihilation)
  • The perception of neither perception nor non-perception.

‘Here, the unskilled Dhamma practitioner may become distracted by (grasping-after or clinging to)

  • The perception of Infinite Space.
  • The perception of Infinite Consciousness.
  • The perception of Nothingness.
  • The perception of neither perception nor non-perception.

‘This is an affliction for this Dhamma practitioner, as any (self-created) painful thing would be.

‘Continuing, the wise Dhamma practitioner abandons all fabricated realms. Grasping-after and clinging to perceptions (self-referential thoughts) and feelings fades.

“So, it is by this reasoning that a pleasant unbinding is known to the Wise Dhamma practitioner.

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. Mental And Bodily Fabrications

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