|The Buddha (FFlittleD/flickr.com)|
The Buddha and jhana
Seth Auberon, Dhr. Seven, Amber Dorrian, Wisdom Quarterly
|Deep meditation (mysecretpsychiclife.com)|
That problem is understanding why Siddhartha's experience under the Bodhi tree makes it sound as if jhana were a new concept when he must have experienced the jhanas to some degree -- however lightly -- to have become disappointed with the teachings of his former teachers.
After all, those teachers called their highest jhanic attainments "enlightenment" and "nirvana" (moksha or "final liberation").
The worlds those rarefied jhanas lead one to be reborn in have staggeringly long average lifespans of as many as 80,000 aeons, or relative "eternities," which is nevertheless nowhere near one actual eternity.
Under the Bodhi tree the Bodhisat is said to have remembered a childhood absorption experience. And this led him to wonder why he had been meditating fearing pleasure divorced from sensuality? Problem: Buddhist history is told as if the ascetic Siddhartha had been immersed in the jhanas for years.
After all, had he not already used the first jhana, recalled from childhood, within those other dharmas (the Doctrines and Disciplines of Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta) to get to the equanimous immaterial (fifth through eighth) jhanas?
Technically yes, but not if he just zipped through the material (first through fourth) without mastering them or permitting himself to bask in the bliss they offer.
But the Bodhisat understood -- due to a great deal of past life experience with the absorptions -- that no jhana is bodhi (enlightenment), nirvana (the end of all suffering), or the final solution to the problem of rebirth (samsara). Jhanas are temporary liberations, not final liberation (moksha).
All of the jhanas are heavy good-karma and therefore lead to rebirth within samsara, to destinations corresponding to superhuman worlds beyond the Sensual Sphere.
Each jhana has three rebirth-levels corresponding to the level of mastery attained. Full mastery of the first jhana, for example, leads to a "heaven" or space plane called Great Divinity (the plane of Maha Brahma), whereas merely touching that jhana leads only to rebirth (if held at the dying moment) to rebirth in "7th Heaven" called Brahma's Retinue, a world of shining ones in space (parisajja brahma akasha deva loka, Large Chart: 31 Planes of Existence, p. 80).
The fear is that meditators will become attached to the joy and cling detrimentally to the conditioned phenomena of meditative experience.
There is no mindfulness without concentration, no concentration without mindfulness. And without mindfulness there can be no insight. Mindfulness helps everything, but it is concentration, whether as access or absorption, that purifies and intensifies heart/mind to breakthrough.
What is more important, the top half of the pyramid or the bottom half?
The top half, obviously! Is it "obvious"? No, the top half! What top without a bottom, what height without a foundation, what upstairs access without a firm downstairs? There is no elevated part without a supporting foundation part, except in the abstract. In practice, no one gets to liberating-insight without a necessary and sufficient amount of concentration. The weaker the mind/heart's ability to focus and stay on the object of insight, the less likely any breakthrough is to be expected.
Without mastery up to the fourth absorption, the sustained practice of Dependent Origination (going backward from current circumstances to their origin rooted in karma and past lives) or seeing existential phenomena such as particles and mind-moments (kalapas and cittas) is very difficult and unsustainable.
Although access is technically enough, it does not mean most meditators will succeed; it only means that at least one person has succeeded.
Fear of what jhana might be or lead to with no actual experience of it is like a sinister plot to make sure no one succeeds in reaching stream entry. In a popular misconception of Mahayana, this might seem a welcome thing. Gawd forbid anyone actually enter upon becoming enlightened before having "saved" everyone else.
Since the jhanas lead to rebirth beyond the Sense Sphere, in the Fine Material and Immaterial Spheres, Mara does not want anyone attaining jhana. Strangely, Mahayana speaks only of six planes of existence when the historical Buddha spoke of 31 such planes, most of them deva worlds of light.
The six planes Mahayana teaches are merely those within the Sense Sphere. Why is that?
And within Theravada meditation circles, why are various monastic communities and communities of practitioners still opposing the Buddha's teachings and his urgings that we establish ourselves in at least the first four absorptions? It is one of the bases of success.
In the "Parable of the Raft," the Buddha says that if one wants to cross over from this shore fraught with dangers over to a further shore beyond danger, one should gather just enough wood and material for a raft and strive diligently with just the strength of one's paddling limbs to get across. That might be enough. That would be viriya, a "virile" effort and exertion. Such outbursts are rarely fruitful. Instead, persistent balanced-effort is the gradual path the Buddha taught. Or one might die trying by such an outburst. One might find that poorly fabricated raft is not nearly enough to cross over the great flood (ogha, samsara). Yes, "enough" concentration is enough, but more is safer and gives one greater certainty that the goal will be reached.