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Samadhi And Jhanas – Concentration And Absorption
The following is an excerpt from my book Becoming Buddha – Becoming Awakened. Information on Becoming Buddha us here: Books By John Haspel.
Samadhi – Non-Distraction
Jhanas – Meditative Absorption
The Samadhi Sutta shows the proper use of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation practice within the broader framework of the Eightfold Path. The word meditation in modern Buddhist practice has many applications. “Meditation” is often used as contemplation or analysis. Topics popular for contemplation or analysis are suffering, emptiness, decomposition, conditionality, and many others. These over-emphasizes simple and direct teachings leading to distraction by analysis.
Often, too, meditation is used to describe a process of deity visualization and worship. Still other applications of meditation are used to develop a quality of mind of “nothingness” where an obscured but inherent “Buddha-Nature” is uncovered or “Buddha-Hood” realized.
Contemplation of Koans, or Hwadu practice, are not something taught by the Buddha and should not be considered meditation practice within the framework of the Eightfold Path.
The Buddha taught Shamatha-Vipassana meditation as one factor of the Eightfold Path for the purpose of developing the concentration necessary to support the refined mindfulness of the other seven factors of the path.
At its most profound and skillful usefulness, it is concentration developed within the framework of the Eightfold Path that directly brings cessation of all confusion, delusion, and unsatisfactory experiences.
The Samadhi Sutta
Anguttara Nikaya 4.41
The Buddha addresses those gathered: “Friends, there are four qualities that are developed from concentration. Concentration, when developed and practiced leads to:
1. Developing peace and calm here and now.
2. Developing useful knowledge and true vision.
3. Developing refined mindfulness and attentiveness.
4. Developing the cessation of craving, aversion, and delusion.
“How does the development of concentration lead to peace and calm here and now? When properly engaged in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, one is withdrawn from sensuality and unskillful mental qualities. They enter and remain in the first jhana, delight, and pleasure born of withdrawal and accompanied by focused thought and insight.
“As concentration deepens further they enter and remain in the second jhana. Focused thoughts and insight still. Delight and pleasure born of composure and inner poise arise.
“As concentration deepens further they enter and remain in the third jhana. Delight and pleasure and the perception of pleasure and pain disappear. Equanimity and refined mindfulness increases and a peaceful mind prevails.
“As concentration deepens further they enter and remain in the fourth jhana. Mindful equanimity prevails. Greed and aversion disappear. This is the development of concentration that brings peace and calm here and now.
“And how does the development of concentration lead to developing useful knowledge and true vision? As concentration deepens distractions subside. Even the passing from day to night and night to day is free of disturbance. The mind is bright and spacious. This is the development of concentration that brings useful knowledge and true vision.
“And how does the development of concentration lead to developing refined mindfulness and attentiveness? As concentration deepens the impermanence of feelings is understood. As concentration deepens the impermanence of perceptions is understood. As concentration deepens the impermanence of thoughts is understood. This is the development of concentration that brings refined mindfulness and attentiveness.
“And how does the development of concentration lead to developing the cessation of craving, aversion, and delusion? As concentration deepens one remains attentive to the arising and passing away of The Five Clinging Aggregates. One knows the impermanence of form, of feelings, of perceptions, of mental fabrications, and of consciousness. This is the development of concentration that brings the cessation of craving, aversion, and delusion.
“Friends, these are the four qualities that are developed from concentration.
“Those who understand The Three Marks of Existence,
For whom there are no disturbances,
Free of desire, at peace,
This one has abandoned confusion, delusion, and disappointment.”
End of Sutta
The Samadhi Sutta teaches the proper use of meditation and how the concentration developed through Shamatha-Vipassana meditation directly addresses developing understanding of Four Noble Truths, integration of the Eightfold Path, and cessation of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking.
The Samadhi Sutta shows that Right Meditation brings insight to the impermanence of Five Clinging Aggregates and insight to Three Marks of Existence.
The jhanas are not to be taken as mind states to achieve. The jhanas are simply an explanation of different levels of concentration. Much is made in the modern Buddhist commentaries regarding the importance of achieving these states and the intense effort needed to reach the more “advanced” levels. There is no relative importance to any of these states except to point to the experience of deepening concentration.
The Buddha explained these states to specifically downplay any sense of special achievements associated with the jhanas. They are simply states of mindfulness of deepening concentration that are common experiences to all who engage in whole-hearted development of the Eightfold Path.
All that is needed to experience these levels of concentration and absorption is Shamatha-Vipassana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path.
In the Sallekha Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 8, the Buddha points out to Maha-Cunda, one of the senior monks, that he may have been placing too much emphasis on the levels of meditative absorption.
In this sutta, Cunda asked the Buddha if acquiring the absorption of the jhanas would bring final release.
The Buddha places the importance of the jhanas as a foundational aspect of Right Meditation and then describes the “Right Discipline” developed by the Eightfold Path as the way to develop complete release:
”In the Noble One’s discipline, it is not these [attainments] that are called ‘ending clinging.’ In the Noble One’s discipline, they are called ‘peaceful abidings.’
“But here, Cunda, is how ending clinging should be developed:
The following relates directly to being mindful of the Eightfold Path. It is not jhana development alone or any other singular mediation practice that leads to awakening. Here the Buddha clearly shows it is through whole-hearted development of the Eightfold Path that one Becomes Buddha.
• Remain Harmless.
• Abstain from killing living beings.
• Abstain from taking what is not given.
• Abstain from sexual misconduct.
•Abstain from false speech.
• Abstain from hurtful speech.
• Abstain from gossip.
• Abandon ill will.
• Abandon wrong view and develop Right View.
• Abandon wrong intention and develop Right Intention.
• Abandon wrong speech and develop Right Speech.
• Abandon wrong actions and develop Right Actions.
• Abandon wrong livelihood and develop Right Livelihood.
• Abandon wrong mindfulness and develop Right Mindfulness.
• Abandon wrong meditation and develop Right Meditation.
“In this way release from clinging can be accomplished.”
The actual path the Buddha taught is what many modern “Buddhist” schools would consider too mundane and archaic teachings that can be dismissed in favor of over-emphasized meditative achievement and “mystical” insight.
In the Pancalacanda Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya 2.7, the Buddha teaches that jhana, meditative absorption or deepening concentration, is initiated with mindfulness:
“Even in a confining place (an un-awakened mind) it is found, the Dhamma is for the attainment of unbinding. Those who have gained (proper, refined) mindfulness are rightly well-focused” to experience jhana.
One enters the first level of meditative absorption beginning with the foundations of mindfulness. Being mindful of the breath-in-the-body, being mindful of feelings and thoughts arising and passing away, and being mindful of the present quality of mind, the first jhana develops and passes away. As meditation continues and concentration increases the other “levels” of meditative absorption develop and pass away.
In the Atthakangara Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya 56.11, a householder, Atthakangara, went to Ananda, the Buddha’s chief attendant, and asked him if there is a single quality where one engaged in the Dhamma would find release.
Ananda replied: “When one has quieted the mind through mindfulness (of the breath) and has abandoned sensuality and unskillful qualities one enters and remains in the first jhana.
“Happiness born from abandonment accompanied by directed thought and reflection. They reflect with mindfulness and understand that this first Jhana is fabricated by intention. (The meditation method) being fabricated the first jhana is impermanent. Motivated by joy for the Dhamma and continuing shamatha-vipassana he goes beyond fabrications.”
“As one continues with mindfulness imbued with good-will they enter the second, the third, and then the fourth jhana.”
The second Jhana is simply a meditative state that is undirected or unfabricated. The meditation method has fallen away (temporarily) and one stays in peace and happiness for a period of time.
The Third Jhana is a (temporary) state of pervasive happiness and peace without the quality of acknowledgment of happiness and peace. It is a state of equanimity with awareness of an arisen state.
The fourth Jhana is a (temporary) state of unwavering equanimity and pure mindfulness.
These levels of concentration are developed as meditation practice deepens. These are not levels of meditation to achieve or to be held onto, they are fluid states. Each meditation session may include all three or even all four levels of jhana.
The jhanas are taught simply to be aware of different levels of mindfulness that occur as a result of a wholehearted practice of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path.
The Jhanas are ordinary states of meditative absorption that, through the integration of the Eightfold Path develop, profound concentration and extraordinary peace and refined mindfulness.
In another concise reference to the jhanas from the Anguttara Nikaya 4.124 the Buddha teaches that deepening mental absorption – concentration – is for recognizing and abandoning ignorance of Four Noble Truths and the ongoing personal experience of suffering – Five Clinging Aggregates:
“A Dhamma practitioner, when properly engaged in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, they are withdrawn from sensuality and unskillful mental qualities. They enter and remain in the first jhana, delight, and pleasure born of withdrawal and accompanied by focused thought and insight.
“They regard any phenomena connected with form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, or consciousness as impermanent, stressful, diseased, painful, empty of self.
“As they enter deeper levels of meditative absorption – the second, third, and fourth jhanas, they regard any phenomena connected with form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, or consciousness as impermanent, stressful, diseased, painful, empty of self.”
There is nothing in the Buddha’s Dhamma that promotes specialness in the development of jhanas, or meditative “Achievements.”
The Buddha teaches that deepening levels of meditative absorption are for the establishment of concentration.
The concentration developed from Right Meditation supports refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path provides the framework and guidance to recognize and abandon the craving and clinging rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
Profound understanding of Four Noble Truths unbinds one from the personal experience of Dukkha.
Profound understanding of Four Noble Truths unbinds one from 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.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.