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Friend Visakha, concentration is the unification of the mind; the four foundations of mindfulness are the signs of concentration; the four right efforts are the requisites for concentration. The frequent practice and cultivation of these very states is the development of concentration here.

MN44

Understanding Jhana






Read the following sutta to understand how Jhana is the natural result when one practices the Tathagata's gradual training:


The Experience of Real Jhana

Anyone with practical experience knows that when you sit in a meditation room after communicating with someone, chatting, dialogues, discussions, and disputes with this person will continue to appear in your mind, which is difficult to calm down for a long time, making you very tired and difficult to enter meditation , I often think, this annoying words are always lingering, what is the reason?

Once I found out that it was because I kept thinking of a certain person in my mind. When a certain person's image appeared, I had a conversation with him. If I didn't think of a certain person in my mind, there would be no conversation with him. At this time, I was already in the quiet room, and no one would talk to me. Why should I keep thinking about someone, letting go of these endless conversations would only increase my fatigue? Therefore, when anyone’s image appear in my mind, I let it go, because when I let go of thinking about people, the dialogue with people in my mind disappears, and my heart is purified.

After so much practice, I found that even if no anyone else’s image appear in my mind, there will still be words in my mind, which is not pure enough. What is the reason? I realized that although no specific person image appears, there are still talking in the mind. Because of the habitual thinking of others and me, when there is a known phenomenon, I habitually translate it into language, but now I don’t need to describe what I know to anyone, why don't I give up all words and just live in solitary knowing? As if there is no one in the world but me, all the words in my mind will stop at this moment, and my heart will be silent.

After so much practice, I found that when the words are silent, knowledge begins to appear in the form of vision, for example, when I hear a bird singing, I see the bird image, but I have not actually seen the bird. How did such a image arise? I realized that “there are birds” is just a perception, no matter whether there are birds singing or not, this perciption is definitely not real, such an unreal perrception, why should I care about it? When I found out that everything I know is like this, I no longer pay attention to all perceptions, and just live in the truthful kowing without perceptions.

After being stabilized in this way, I found that when I hear the sound, the only real knowledge is the hearing consciousness. Once there is such hearing counsciousness, there are following sound perception and ear perception. When there is no such hearing counsciousness, there is no arise of consequent thinking about the sound you heard. If there is a sound. Thinking, ear thinking, it thinking, I thinking, thinking here, thinking there, thinking inside, thinking outside, if there is no such hearing consciousness, these thoughts will not arise. Consciousness is the origin of all these . It is further discovered that all external knowledge is like this. When a corresponding consciousness arises, there will be a corresponding thought.

However, before the consciousness arises, there is no place to come from, and after it disappears, there is no other place to exist. It arises and perishes due to conditions. , Self-generated and self-destroyed, has nothing to do with me, and the corresponding thoughts after the consciousness arises are born because of the consciousness, and have nothing to do with me, why should I care about them? When I am determined in this way, I will no longer pay attention to all external knowledge, nor will I have any external thoughts. When I don’t think about external things or think externally, external consciousness will no longer arise.

In this way, I discovered that when I know that there is a sound, it has leaks and actions. When I know that there are ears, this also has leaks and actions. There will be no birth, the heart will be still, without leaks, and will not act. This is like a lighted candle in a room. When there is an air leak, the flame will move, and when there is no air leak, the flame will remain still. It is also like a person standing in a bush of thorns. When he moves, he will feel pain. Because of the pain, he will know that there is a thorn. If he does not move, he will not feel pain, and he will not know that there is a thorn.

After practicing so much, I found that in such a state, there are still perceptions and volitional formations. To have thoughts is to do something and to be reborn. If life ends at this time, nothing will disappear. It’s just that these thoughts don’t arise, and there’s nothing to be afraid of; if life continues, there is nothing continuing, just the rebirth of these thoughts, there is rebirth, there is feeling, and there is suffering, when I see the harmlessness of thoughts that are not born and the danger of rebirth. At this time, the mind tends to do nothing and abandons all thinking and volitional formations.

The above experiences arose naturally in the process of my continuous meditation practice. This process spanned about two years. There are so many experiences that it is difficult to summarize systematically, so I only list some that I think have played an important role.






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Here a disciple, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, enters and dwells in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with joy and pleasure born of seclusion.

He reflects thus: This first jhāna is fabricated and volitionally formed. But whatever is fabricated and volitionally formed is impermanent and subject to cessation.

Remaining thus, he attains the destruction of the taints.

MN52


Asked by a householder to teach a path to freedom, Venerable Ānanda explains no less than eleven states of abiding that may serve as doors to the deathless:


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Moggallāna, Moggallāna, do not be negligent regarding noble silence. Steady your mind in noble silence, unify your mind in noble silence, concentrate your mind in noble silence.

So, friends, later on, with the subsiding of thought and examination, I entered and dwelt in the second jhāna, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration.

SN21.1


Moggallāna reflects that second absorption is the true noble silence, and the Tathagata encourages him to develop it:



The Balanced Way

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

In practicing the Dhamma, if you don’t foster a balance between concentration and discernment, you’ll end up going wild in your thinking. If there’s too much work at discernment, you’ll go wild in your thinking. If there’s too much concentration, it just stays still and undisturbed without coming to any knowledge either. So you have to keep them in balance. Stillness has to be paired with discernment. Don’t let there be too much of one or the other. Try to get them just right. That’s when you’ll be able to see things clearly all the way through. Otherwise, you’ll stay as deluded as ever. You may want to gain discernment into too many things—and as a result, your thinking goes wild. The mind goes out of control. Some people keep wondering why discernment never arises in their practice, but when it does arise they really go off on a tangent. Their thinking goes wild, all out of bounds.

So when you practice, you have to observe in your meditation how you can make the mind still. Once it does grow still, it tends to get stuck there. Or it may grow empty, without any knowledge of anything: quiet, disengaged, at ease for a while, but without any discernment to accompany it. But if you can get discernment to accompany your concentration, that’s when you’ll really benefit. You’ll see things all the way through and be able to let them go. If you’re too heavy on the side of either discernment or stillness, you can’t let go. The mind may come to know this or that, but it latches onto its knowledge. Then it knows still other things and latches onto them, too. Or else it simply stays perfectly quiet and latches onto that.

It’s not easy to keep your practice on the Middle Way. If you don’t use your powers of observation, it’s especially hard. The mind will keep falling for things, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, because it doesn’t observe what’s going on. This isn’t the path to letting go. It’s a path that’s stuck, caught up on things. If you don’t know what it’s stuck and caught up on, you’ll remain foolish and deluded. So you have to make an effort at focused contemplation until you see clearly into inconstancy, stress, and not-self. This without a doubt is what will stop every moment of suffering and stress.…







A Glob of Tar

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

An important but subtle point is that even though we practice, we continue to fall for pleasant feelings, because feelings are illusory on many levels. We don’t realize that they’re changeable and unreliable. Instead of offering pleasure, they offer us nothing but stress—yet we’re still addicted to them.

This business of feeling is thus a very subtle matter. Please try to contemplate it carefully—this business of latching onto feelings of pleasure, pain, or equanimity. You have to contemplate so as to see it clearly. And you have to experiment more than you may want to with pain. When there are feelings of physical pain or mental distress, the mind will struggle because it doesn’t like pain. But when pain turns to pleasure, the mind likes it and is content with it, so it keeps on playing with feeling, even though as we’ve already said, feeling is inconstant, stressful, and not really ours. But the mind doesn’t see this. All it sees are feelings of pleasure, and it wants them.

Try looking into how feeling gives rise to craving. It’s because we want pleasant feeling that craving whispers—whispers right there at the feeling. If you observe carefully, you’ll see that this is very important, for this is where the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna are attained, right here at feeling and craving. If we can extinguish the craving in feeling, that’s nibbāna.…

In the Soḷasa Pañhā (Sutta Nipāta 5), the Buddha said that defilement is like a wide and deep flood, but he then went on to summarize the practice to cross it simply as abandoning craving in every action. Now, right here at feeling is where we can practice to abandon craving, for the way we relish the flavor of feeling has many ramifications. This is where many of us get deceived, because we don’t see feeling as inconstant. We want it to be constant. We want pleasant feelings to be constant. As for pain, we don’t want it to be constant, but no matter how much we try to push it away, we still latch onto it.

This is why we have to pay attention to feeling, so that we can abandon craving right there in the feeling. If you don’t pay attention here, the other paths you may follow will simply proliferate. So bring the practice close to home. When the mind changes, or when it gains a sense of stillness or calm that would rank as a feeling of pleasure or equanimity: Try to see in what ways the pleasure or equanimity is inconstant, that it’s not you or yours. When you can do this, you’ll stop relishing that particular feeling. You can stop right there, right where the mind relishes the flavor of feeling and gives rise to craving. This is why the mind has to be fully aware of itself—all around, at all times—in its single-minded contemplation to see feeling as empty of self.…

This business of liking and disliking feelings is a disease hard to detect, because our intoxication with feelings is so very strong. Even with the sensations of peace and emptiness in the mind, we’re still infatuated with feeling. Feelings on the crude level—the violent and stressful ones that come with defilement—are easy to detect. But when the mind grows still—steady, cool, bright, and so on—we’re still addicted to feeling. We want these feelings of pleasure or equanimity. We enjoy them. Even on the level of firm concentration or meditative absorption, there’s attachment to the feeling.…

This is the subtle magnetic pull of craving, which paints and plasters things over. This painting and plastering is hard to detect, because craving is always whispering inside us, “I want nothing but pleasant feelings.” This is very important, for this virus of craving is what makes us continue to be reborn.…

So explore to see how craving paints and plasters things, how it causes desires to form—the desires to get this or take that—and what sort of flavor it has that makes you so addicted to it, that makes it hard for you to pull away. You have to contemplate to see how craving fastens the mind so firmly to feelings that you never weary of sensuality or of pleasant feelings no matter what the level. If you don’t contemplate so as to see clearly that the mind is stuck right here at feeling and craving, it will keep you from gaining release.…

We’re stuck on feeling like a monkey stuck in a tar trap. They take a glob of tar and put it where a monkey will get its hand stuck in it and, in trying to pull free, the monkey gets its other hand, both feet, and finally its mouth stuck, too. Consider this: Whatever we do, we end up stuck right here at feeling and craving. We can’t separate them out. We can’t wash them off. If we don’t grow weary of craving, we’re like the monkey stuck in the glob of tar, getting ourselves more and more trapped all the time. So if we’re intent on freeing ourselves in the footsteps of the arahants, we have to pay attention specifically on feeling until we can succeed at freeing ourselves from it. Even with painful feelings, we have to practice—for if we’re afraid of pain and always try to change it to pleasure, we’ll end up even more ignorant than before.

This is why we have to be brave in experimenting with pain—both physical pain and mental distress. When it arises in full measure, like a house afire, can we let go of it? We have to know both sides of feeling. When it’s hot and burning, how can we deal with it? When it’s cool and refreshing, how can we see through it? We have to make an effort to pay attention to both sides, contemplating until we know how to let go. Otherwise we won’t know anything, for all we want is the cool side, the cooler the better…and when this is the case, how can we expect to gain release from the cycle of rebirth?

Nibbāna is the extinguishing of craving, and yet we like to stay with craving—so how can we expect to get anywhere at all? We’ll stay right here in the world, right here with stress and suffering, for craving is a sticky sap. If there’s no craving, there’s nothing: no stress, no rebirth. But we have to watch out for it. It’s a sticky sap, a glob of tar, a dye that’s hard to wash out.

So don’t let yourself get carried away with feeling. The crucial part of the practice lies here.…


Discussion on Concentration

In the Middle Length Discourses (Majjhima Nikaya), the Buddha recounted his experiences from the time he renounced the householder's life. He described how he achieved the seventh and eighth levels of concentration known as the "Jhana of Nothingness" and the "Jhana of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception," respectively, under two well known teachers of the time.


In a less confrontational meeting, the Tathagata and Saccaka discuss the difference between physical and mental development. The Tathagata gives a long account of the various practices he did before awakening, detailing the astonishing lengths he took to mortify the body:


In the Middle Length Discourses (Majjhima Nikaya 36), the Buddha also described his experience of practicing meditation under the shade of the cool, sal tree while his father was involved in Sakyan affairs. During this meditation, the Buddha achieved the first jhana, which involved experiencing "piti" (rapture) and "sukha" (pleasure) and seclusion from sensory desires.


This is one of the most important biographical discourses, telling the Tathagata’s experiences from leaving home to realizing awakening. Throughout, he was driven by the imperative to fully escape from rebirth and suffering:


In the same Middle Length Discourses (Majjhima Nikaya 26), the Buddha mentioned that he had no teacher in this world, implying that he realized the truth by himself. This indicates that the meditation he practiced before and after attaining enlightenment was different because if it were the same, he would have merely surpassed his teachers and would not have claimed that he had no teacher. This suggests that there are two types of meditation, one is an external meditation, and the other is the meditation that the Buddha realized himself.

In the Theravada tradition, two major forms of meditation are recognized: Samatha (calming) meditation and Vipassana (insight) meditation. Both of these have different meditation objects and techniques. Samatha meditation focuses on calming the mind by concentrating on a single object, while Vipassana meditation involves contemplating the impermanence and insubstantiality of phenomena. These two forms of meditation share common factors in the early stages, but they diverge in their emphasis and purpose.

The difference between these two types of meditation is that Samatha meditation uses a fixed object as its focus, leading to tranquility, while Vipassana meditation employs the ever-changing sensory experiences as its object to reach momentary concentration. Many believe that Vipassana meditation is the meditation that the Buddha himself realized.

However, early texts in the Pali Canon and the early Buddhist Abhidhamma tradition describe a different type of meditation. This meditation involves renouncing sensual desires, unwholesome mental qualities, and cultivating right mindfulness and right understanding. This form of meditation is often referred to as authentic meditation.

In this authentic meditation, the practitioner does not rely on any specific object. Instead, the focus is on renunciation, right mindfulness, and right understanding. This is the only meditation that the Buddha explicitly taught.

To practice this authentic meditation, one doesn't rely on a specific target; it's all about renouncing and dwelling in renunciation. In sharp contrast to Samatha and Vipassana meditation, this authentic meditation doesn't require concentration on an external object.

It's essential to remember that this practice is not dependent on any object. It leads towards renunciation and staying in renunciation. This is the unique meditation taught by the Buddha in the early texts.

In conclusion, it appears that the Buddha indeed realized a new form of meditation, which allowed him to attain enlightenment. He continued to teach this meditation throughout his life. However, soon after the Buddha's parinirvana, the true meaning of this meditation began to be confused with external meditation practices, misinterpreted, and altered. The presence of these alterations is evident in the earliest versions of the scriptures, indicating that the period of the true Dharma's preservation was indeed quite brief.

This is a brief discussion on these theoretical aspects of meditation. For those interested in a more detailed understanding, you may refer to my 14th and 15th essays on my meditation experiences, which could provide further insight into this authentic meditation.


There are four developments of concentration. There is concentration that, when developed and cultivated, leads to living happily in the present life, concentration that leads to the attainment of knowing and vision, concentration that leads to mindfulness and full awareness, and concentration that leads to the destruction of the taints:


The Uses of Equanimity

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

The sensations of the mind are subtle and very volatile. Sometimes passion or irritation can arise completely independent of sensory contact, simply in line with the force of one’s character. For instance, there are times when the mind is perfectly normal, and all of a sudden there’s irritation—or the desire to form thoughts and get engrossed in feelings of pain, pleasure, or equanimity. We have to contemplate these three kinds of feeling to see that they’re inconstant and always changing, and to see that they are all stressful, so that the mind won’t go and get engrossed in them. This business of getting engrossed is very subtle and hard to detect. It keeps us from knowing what’s what because it’s delusion pure and simple. Being engrossed in feelings of pleasure is something relatively easy to detect, but being engrossed in feelings of equanimity: That’s hard to notice, because the mind is at equanimity in an oblivious way. This oblivious equanimity keeps us from seeing anything clearly.

So you have to focus on seeing feelings simply as feelings and pull the mind out of its state of being engrossed with equanimity. When there’s a feeling of equanimity as the mind gathers and settles down, when it’s not scattered around, use that feeling of equanimity in concentration as the basis for probing in to see inconstancy, stress, and not-self—for this equanimity in concentration at the fourth level of absorption (jhāna) is the basis for liberating insight. Simply make sure that you don’t get attached to the absorption.

If you get the mind to grow still in equanimity without focusing on gaining insight, it’s simply a temporary state of concentration. So you have to focus on gaining clear insight either into inconstancy, into stress, or into not-selfness. That’s when you’ll be able to uproot your attachments. If the mind gets into a state of oblivious equanimity, it’s still carrying fuel inside it. Then as soon as there’s sensory contact, it flares up into attachment. So we have to follow the principles the Buddha laid down: Focus the mind into a state of absorption and then focus on gaining clear insight into the three characteristics. The proper way to practice is not to let yourself get stuck on this level or that—and no matter what insights you may gain, don’t go thinking that you’ve gained Awakening. Keep looking. Keep focusing in to see if there are any further changes in the mind and, when there are, see the stress in those changes, the not-selfness of those changes. If you can know in this way, the mind will rise above feeling, no longer entangled in this level or that level—all of which are simply matters of speculation.

The important thing is that you try to see clearly. Even when the mind is concocting all sorts of objects in a real turmoil, focus on seeing all of its objects as illusory. Then stay still to watch their disbanding. Get so that it’s clear to you that there’s really nothing to them. They all disband. All that remains is the empty mind—the mind maintaining its balance in stability—and then focus in on examining that.

There are many levels to this process of examining the diseases in the mind, not just one. Even though you may come up with genuine insights every now and then, don’t just stop there—and don’t get excited about the fact that you’ve come to see things you never saw before. Just keep contemplating the theme of inconstancy in everything, without latching on, and then you’ll come to even more penetrating insights.…

So focus on in until the mind stops, until it reaches the stage of absorption called purity of mindfulness and equanimity. See what pure mindfulness is like. As for the feeling of equanimity, that’s an affair of concentration. It’s what the mindfulness depends on so that it too can reach equanimity. This is the stage where we gather the strength of our awareness in order to come in and know the mind. Get the mind centered, at equanimity, and then probe in to contemplate. That’s when you’ll be able to see.…

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First I say that depending on the first jhāna, the destruction of the taints occurs, thus it has been said. Why was this said?

Here a disciple, having secluded himself from sensual pleasures... enters and dwells in the first jhāna.

Whatever there is in that state of form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness, he sees those phenomena as impermanent, suffering, a disease, a boil, a dart, a calamity, an affliction, alien, disintegrating, empty, not-self.

He turns his mind away from those phenomena.

Having turned his mind away from those phenomena, he directs his mind towards the deathless element: This is peaceful, this is sublime, that is, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna.

Standing upon that, he attains the destruction of the taints.

AN9.36

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How many conditions, friend, are there for the attainment of the liberation of mind that is free from pleasure and pain? There are four conditions, friend, for the attainment of the liberation of mind that is free from pleasure and pain.

Here, friend, a disciple, having abandoned pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, enters and remains in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. These are the four conditions for the attainment of the liberation of mind that is free from pleasure and pain.

How many conditions, friend, are there for the attainment of the signless liberation of mind? There are two conditions, friend, for the attainment of the signless liberation of mind: non-attention to all signs and attention to the signless element. These are the two conditions for the attainment of the signless liberation of mind.

How many conditions, friend, are there for the maintenance of the signless liberation of mind? There are three conditions, friend, for the maintenance of the signless liberation of mind: non-attention to all signs, attention to the signless element, and prior determination. These are the three conditions for the maintenance of the signless liberation of mind.

How many conditions, friend, are there for the emergence from the signless liberation of mind? There are two conditions, friend, for the emergence from the signless liberation of mind: attention to all signs and non-attention to the signless element. These are the two conditions for the emergence from the signless liberation of mind.

Are these liberations of mind: boundless liberation of mind, liberation of mind through nothingness, liberation of mind through voidness, and signless liberation of mind: different in both meaning and terminology, or are they the same in meaning and only different in terminology?

There is a way, friend, in which these liberations of mind are different in both meaning and terminology, and there is a way in which they are the same in meaning and only different in terminology. What is the way in which they are different in both meaning and terminology?

Here, friend, a disciple abides pervading one direction with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will. This is called the boundless liberation of mind.

And what is the liberation of mind through nothingness? Here, friend, a disciple, by completely surmounting the base of infinite consciousness, aware that there is nothing, abides in the base of nothingness. This is called the liberation of mind through nothingness. And what is the liberation of mind through voidness? Here, friend, a disciple, by abiding in voidness...

Whether he is in the forest, at the foot of a tree, or in an empty hut, he reflects: This is empty of a self or what belongs to a self. This, friends, is called emptiness liberation of mind. And what, friends, is the signless liberation of mind? Here, friends, a disciple, not paying attention to any signs, dwells in the concentration of mind that is signless.

This, friends, is called the signless liberation of mind. This, friends, is the method by which, following it, these phenomena become different in meaning and different in name. And what, friends, is the method by which, following it, these phenomena become the same in meaning and only different in name? Greed, friends, is a maker of measurement, hatred is a maker of measurement, delusion is a maker of measurement.

For a disciple whose defilements are destroyed, these are abandoned, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated, so that they are no more subject to future arising. As far as the immeasurable liberations of mind, the unshakable liberation of mind is declared the best among them. That unshakable liberation of mind is empty of greed, empty of hatred, empty of delusion. Greed, friends, is something, hatred is something, delusion is something.

For a disciple whose defilements are destroyed, these are abandoned, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated, so that they are no more subject to future arising. As far as the liberations of mind that are signless, the unshakable liberation of mind is declared the best among them.

That unshakable liberation of mind is empty of greed, empty of hatred, empty of delusion. This, friends, is the method by which, following it, these phenomena become the same in meaning and only different in name.

MN43


The ending of defilements happens due to the practice of concentration:



The Tathagata describes the process of insight as practiced by Venerable Sāriputta, detailing in great detail the different phenomena as they arise and pass away:



The Tathagata resolves a disagreement on the number of kinds of feelings that he taught, pointing out that different ways of teaching are appropriate in different contexts, and should not be a cause of disputes. He goes on to show the importance of pleasure in developing higher levels of abiding:



At Udāyī’s request, Ānanda explains an obscure verse spoken (in SN 2.7) by a deity. The nine progressive meditations are the escape from confinement:



The Tathagata teaches the development of the noble five-factored right concentration:



The Tathagata compares the factors of the practice to a well-fortified fortress that can’t be brought down by external foes or untrustworthy allies:



The 10 Thorns that prevent a disciple from a peaceful abiding:



There are four developments of concentration. There is concentration that, when developed and cultivated, leads to living happily in the present life, concentration that leads to the attainment of knowing and vision, concentration that leads to mindfulness and full awareness, and concentration that leads to the destruction of the taints:



Asked by a householder to teach a path to freedom, Venerable Ānanda explains no less than eleven states of abiding that may serve as doors to the deathless:



A little baby has no wrong views or intentions, but the underlying tendency for these things is still there. Without practicing, they will inevitably recur:



The Tathagata gives a detailed explanation of each of the five faculties:



The Tathagata explains how to develop Right Intention by dividing thoughts into two kinds, wholesome and unwholesome, and how single-minded intention leads to Jhana, Right Concentration and then ultimately to letting go of all intention:



The Tathagata gives a brief and enigmatic statement on the ways consciousness may become attached. Venerable Mahākaccāna is invited by the deciples to draw out the implications: