The Waste-Water Pool – Jambali Sutta

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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

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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

 

The Jambali Sutta is similar to the Samadhanga Sutta in subject matter and the remarkable scope of underlying Dhamma referenced. [12]  Samadhanga Sutta – Five Factors Of Concentration

In the Jambali Sutta, the Buddha uses metaphor to describe four types of Dhamma practitioners and the single type who can be expected to continue the Eightfold Path to culmination – a profound understanding of Three Marled Of Existence and the cessation of all views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths

 

The Waste-water Pool
Jambālī Sutta

Anguttara Nikaya 4:178

The Buddha addresses those gathered:

“Friends, there are four types of Dhamma practitioners.

“There is the type of Dhamma practitioner that enters and remains in mental-absorption (Jhanas) and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release. They are mindful of the cessation of self-identification. But, even as they are mindful of the cessation of self-identification their mind is not enraptured with release, with cessation. They do not grow confident or steadfast or well-established in the cessation of self-identification. For them, the final cessation of self-identification cannot be expected.

“Just as if one were to grasp a branch with hands sticky with resin they would cling to the branch. In the same manner, one who remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release but continues to cling to wrong views is not enraptured with release, with cessation. They do not grow confident or steadfast or well-established in the cessation of self-identification. For them, the final cessation of self-identification cannot be expected.

“Then there is the type of Dhamma practitioner that enters and remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release. They are mindful of the cessation of self-identification. As they are mindful of the cessation of self-identification their mind is enraptured with release, with cessation. They do grow confident and steadfast and well-established in the cessation of self-identification. For them, the final cessation of self-identification is to be expected.

“Just as if one were to grasp a branch with clean hands they would not cling to the branch. In the same manner, one who engages fully with the Eightfold Path remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release they continue to diminish wrong views and their mind is enraptured with release, with cessation. They do grow confident and steadfast and well-established in the cessation of self-identification. For them, the final cessation of self-identification can be expected.

“Then there is the type of Dhamma practitioner that enters and remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release. They are mindful of breaching ignorance (of Four Noble Truths) but their minds are not enraptured with release, with cessation. They do not grow confident or steadfast or well-established in the cessation of self-identification. For them, the final cessation of self-identification cannot be expected.

“Just as if there were a long-standing waste-water pool and during the dry season a man blocks all inlets and opens all outlets. With inlets blocked and no rain falling, the breaching of the waste-water pool would not be expected. In the same manner, a Dhamma practitioner enters and remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release. They are attending to the breaching of ignorance but they do not grow confident or steadfast or well-established in the breaching of ignorance  For them the breaching of ignorance cannot be expected.

“Then there is the type of Dhamma practitioner that enters and remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release. They are mindful of breaching ignorance (of Four Noble Truths). Their minds are enraptured with release from ignorance. They do grow confident and steadfast and well-established in the breaching of ignorance. For them, the final cessation of self-identification can be expected

“Just as if there were a long-standing waste-water pool during the rainy season and a man opens all inlets and blocks all outlets. With inlets open, outlets closed, and rain falling, the breaching of the waste-water pool can be expected. In the same manner, a Dhamma practitioner enters and remains in mental-absorption and experiences a certain peaceful awareness-release. They are mindful of breaching ignorance (of Four Noble Truths). Their minds are enraptured with release from ignorance. They do grow confident and steadfast and well-established in the breaching ignorance. For them, the final cessation of self-identification can be expected.

“These are the four types of Dhamma practitioners in the world.”

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. Samadhanga Sutta – Five Factors Of Concentration

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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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