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  JHANA, RIGHT AND WRONG SAMADHI

 

“In order to put an end to the ephemeral re-births, we should, above all, develop our (spiritual) intelligence through association with the wise, enquiry into Atman Jnana books and deep Samadhi (or Meditation).”

Yoga Vashista[1]

 

In Yoga, the highest attainment in meditation is nirvikalpa samadhi; in Theravada Buddhism, in terms of calming of the mind, shamata, it’s nirodha samapatti but let’s now look at how they are similar, but also differ, and why the end outlook of enlightenment may differ, i.e., Self or Brahman vis-à-vis, ‘not self’.

In ancient times, some say that the first maharishis, the great seers, such as Vasitha in the Vedanta scriptures, all attained the knowledge of liberation and nirvana through the practice of samadhi meditation.

Samadhi is the attainment of direct knowledge, not just from divine revelation or hearing it from somebody else, but through direct experience of what is known as turiya or the ‘fourth state,’ which is beyond the states of waking, dreaming, and everyday reality.

In modern times, many traditions primarily rely on atma vichara (self inquiry), including some teachers in the tradition and lineage of Adi Shankara, who was one of the most revered Indian Vedanta philosophers and theologians who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. They depend on developing their (spiritual) intelligence through association with the wise, and their jnana, or spiritual knowledge, through reading books and listening to scripture.  Also by reflecting, examining and asking questions to the teacher about these scriptures and books. And finally, this knowledge must be assimilated and integrated over time and the kinks worked out.

Yet, one of the fundamental reasons that some householder Vedantins cannot attain samadhi is that for a non-celibate, samadhi is not so easy to obtain. The mind-stream of the non-celibate may be too rajasic or too tamasic [2].

In Shankara’s Fifteenfold Raja Yoga practice,[3] he disbands all of these practices and transforms them into another level of samadhi yoga where the mind is constantly absorbed in non-dual awareness, directly experiencing itself at all time as both subject and object, manifested as well as un-manifested reality, which is a natural kind of samadhi or sahaja samadhi, abiding in awareness at all time but with eyes open. If one is not born pure like Adi Shankara was, it can take years of practice, if not lifetimes, so it’s not for anyone who is used to instant gratification.

Another reason some only take the path of jnana yoga rather than that of samadhi, is that perhaps to some Brahmins samadhi is associated with the practice of Buddhism and Patanjali Yoga.

To the Vedantic priests of his day, the Buddha was considered the number one heretic. Some say Adi Shankara drove the Buddhists out of India to establish his own traditional system of teaching Jnana Yoga, based just on the Vedas.

JHANA, SAMADHI, AND THERAVADA BUDDHISM

In some of the Theravada Buddhist commentaries, anyone who attains the supreme knowledge without samadhi or some form of deep meditation is known as dry insight. This is why the Buddha always suggested that if one attained insight just through scripture, or intellectual book knowledge, or through mindfulness practice, then one should also attain samadhi as well. To balance it out liketwo wheels of a chariot.’ Buddhists speak of two ways the mind can gain liberation: “unshakable deliverance of mind liberation through understanding that comes after samadhi has been developed and perfected to its most powerful and refined level.

The practitioner first develops the ability to temporarily suppress the defilements completely through the power of samadhi, and then turns to the development of insight, vippassana to finally gain liberation.

There are some types of samadhi that would be considered ‘wrong samadhi,’ such as the use of drugs, sex, or other dangerous means. A near death experience for example may produce samadhi, but so would a coma, yet it would not produce knowledge.

The argument that is often used against the practice of samadhi by some contemporary traditional Vedantins is that it’s very difficult to attain, and that it can take years or even lifetimes, which is valid and true in many instances.

In certain levels of deep samadhi meditation, (immaterial jhanas) the mind is perfectly still, silent, and ceases altogether. It is deeply restful, not even concentration is needed, as it is beyond this effort or focus. There is no quality of activeness, which means that there is nothing going on, and no insights, either, while one is in this state. Many times, the awakening (insights) happen after the fact or with other types of meditations or with the right pointing by a knowledgeable teacher.

It is very difficult to communicate this to others because the later stages of jhana samadhi cannot be described - in the final stage there is a cessation of all mental activity, perception and feeling. The Buddha spoke of a nirodha samappatti, cessation of feeling and perception. In this state, the Theravada Buddhists say there isn’t even awareness of itself as awareness as in the previous states. It is like a total state of oblivion. So once you attain this, you can’t even identity with awareness or Brahman as a Self in cessation, since even the knowing aspect of awareness is no longer there.

WRONG SAMADHI

However there is another state that is even spoke about in yoga, (yogic swoon) a wrong type of nirvikalpa samadhi where one attains a cessation of perception, its like being in a very deep sleep. This happens when the mind stream simply isn't pure enough and is mistaken for nirodha samapatti.  This is a type of samadhi that yoga practitioners in India claim to bury themselves under the ground and reemerge a few days later.

" Worldly seekers as well as renunciate seekers enter this temple of yoga in order to reach the highest floor. But seekers with worldly desires cannot reach the sixth and the seventh floors because their desires do not permit them to progress. They may have to be satisfied with the experiences of the lower stages such as tandra (yogic drowsiness), nidra (yogic sleep), and murcha (yogic swoon). However, the sages lead them towards the fourth and fifth floors and encourage them to make all possible efforts to reach them."

Also see, Jhana not by the numbers Thanissaro Bhikkhu says,

"The second state was one I happened to hit one night when my concentration was extremely one-pointed, and so refined that it refused settle on or label even the most fleeting mental objects. I dropped into a state in which I lost all sense of the body, of any internal/external sounds, or of any thoughts or perceptions at all — although there was just enough tiny awareness to let me know, when I emerged, that I hadn't been asleep. I found that I could stay there for many hours, and yet time would pass very quickly. Two hours would seem like two minutes. I could also "program" myself to come out at a particular time.

After hitting this state several nights in a row, I told Ajaan Fuang about it, and his first question was, "Do you like it?" My answer was "No," because I felt a little groggy the first time I came out. "Good," he said. "As long as you don't like it, you're safe. Some people really like it and think it's nibbana or cessation. Actually, it's the state of non-perception (asaññi-bhava). It's not even right concentration, because there's no way you can investigate anything in there to gain any sort of discernment. But it does have other uses." He then told me of the time he had undergone kidney surgery and, not trusting the anesthesiologist, had put himself in that state for the duration of the operation. "

Its similar to being in a coma but its not such a great attainment since you can end up being reborn in a asaññasatta realms of unconscious beings, who do not get the chance to attain much else for a very long time. About 500 aeons.

But in any case, even attaining any of these higher jhanic states can leave you sort of stunned because when the mind begins to operate again, it’s like being suddenly reborn into a world of sense objects, with a gross material body filled with sensation, thoughts, and feelings at full maturity. But there is no one to stake a claim on this because it is absolutely empty of all conception, meaning, or objects. As the philosopher Descartes once said, “I think therefore I am.” If there is no consciousness then who are you?

To be continued.

 

SUGGESTED READING

 

THERAVADA BUDDHISM

Bodhi, Bhikkhu, The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering. Publisher: Pariyatti Publishing ,2006

www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/noble8path6.pdf

Bodhi, Bhikkhu, In the Buddha’s Words.  Publisher: Wisdom Publications, 2005

Gunaratana.  Henepola Ven. Mindfulness in Plain English: Wisdom Publications; 20th Anniversary Edition, 2011

www.vipassana.com/meditation/mindfulness_in_plain_english.php

TRADITIONAL VEDANTA

Maharaj, Swami Tapovan. Iswara Darshan: Central Chinmaya Mission trust. 1968

Saraswati, Swami Dayananda, Introduction to Vedanta: Orient Paperbacks 1998

Waite, Dennis, Enlightenment, Path Through the Jungle: Mantra Books, 2008

[2] Rajasic indicates too much passion, tamasic indicates too dull, heavy or dark mind.