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"The Jhanas in Theravadan Buddhist Meditation"


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#1 Guest_Scott Duncan_*

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 05:12 PM

Dear All,

This was forwarded to me by a well-meaning colleague. I'm excerpting a part of what is a longer essay by someone named Leigh Brasington:

QUOTE
"Entry into the first jhana proceeds something like the following (italics mine):

1. You quiet the mind with applied and sustained attention to the meditation object. As you go deeper into the tranquility of the breath the mind quiets down perceptibly and thoughts subside as brain activity slows down to a crawl.

2. By shifting the attention to a pleasant sensation, one sets up a positive reinforcement feedback loop within the quiet mind. For example, one of the most useful pleasant sensations to focus on is a smile. The act of smiling generates endorphins, which makes one feel good, which makes one smile more, which generates more endorphins, etcetera.

3. The final and relatively easy part of entering the first jhana is to not do anything at all except to observe the pleasure. There is no need to make any attempt to increase the pleasure as the intensity will increase all on its own as the mind remains focused on it. Any attempt to increase the pleasure interrupts the feedback loop and drops the meditator into a less quiet state of mind. By doing nothing but focusing intently on pleasure, one is propelled into an unmistakable state of tranquility of thought."


What do others think of this? Does this seem accurate to you? I'm thinking its off-base somehow but don't know enough.

Sincerely,

Scott.

#2 mike

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 06:25 PM

Hi Scott,

First,

"Leigh Brasington has been practicing since 1985 and is the senior American student of the late Ven. Ayya Khema, who confirmed Leigh's practice and requested that he begin teaching. Leigh began assisting Ven. Ayya Khema in 1994 and began teaching retreats on his own in 1997. He continues to teach in Europe and North America. His teaching emphasizes using concentration as a preliminary to insight practice. He lives in Alameda and works as a software engineer. [Source: »"Talks by Leigh Brasington " (Insight Meditation Center, May 2006).]"

http://www.suttaread...ex-readers.html

His name sounded familiar so I 'Googled' him. I think someone on dsg attended a retreat of his recently.

Since you asked for opinions,

1. You quiet the mind with applied and sustained attention to the meditation object. As you go deeper into the tranquility of the breath the mind quiets down perceptibly and thoughts subside as brain activity slows down to a crawl.

"Brain activity slows down to a crawl"? Scientific nonsense I'm pretty sure--and according to the texts the speed of the arising and subsiding of cittas is not affected by concentration (or tranquility), as I understand it.

2. By shifting the attention to a pleasant sensation, one sets up a positive reinforcement feedback loop within the quiet mind. For example, one of the most useful pleasant sensations to focus on is a smile. The act of smiling generates endorphins, which makes one feel good, which makes one smile more, which generates more endorphins, etcetera.

"...smiling generates endorphins..." etc? This may be true (though it sounds like more pseudo-science to me) but where in the texts is such a practice described? If jhaana bhaavanaa were really this easy and simple, might not the Buddha have taught it at some point?

3. The final and relatively easy part of entering the first jhana is to not do anything at all except to observe the pleasure. There is no need to make any attempt to increase the pleasure as the intensity will increase all on its own as the mind remains focused on it. Any attempt to increase the pleasure interrupts the feedback loop and drops the meditator into a less quiet state of mind. By doing nothing but focusing intently on pleasure, one is propelled into an unmistakable state of tranquility of thought."

"...feedback loop..." etc.? If the application of this sort of jargon to bhaavanaa paraphrases something the Buddha actually taught, I am unaware of that teaching. If it doesn't, it seems to me just to be more pseudo-jargon and adhamma.

Since the author's main credential seems to be his endorsement by Ayya Khema, I'll include this, from http://www.geocities...74/a_khema.htm:

"Between 1960 and 1964 she traveled with her husband and son throughout Asia, including the Himalayan countries, and it was at this time that she learned meditation. Ten years later she began to teach meditation herself throughout Europe, America, and Australia. Her experiences led her to become ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka in 1979, when she was given the name of "Khema", meaning safety and security (‘Ayya’ means ‘Sister’).

"She established Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition, near Sydney, Australia, in 1978. In Colombo she set up the International Buddhist Women’s Center as a training center for Sri Lankan nuns, and Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island for women who want to practice intensively and/or ordain as nuns. She was the spiritual director of Buddha-Haus in Germany, established in 1989 under her auspices.

"In 1987 she co-ordinated the first international conference of Buddhist nuns in the history of Buddhism, which resulted in the creation of Sakyadhita, a world-wide Buddhist women’s organization. H.H. the Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker at the conference. In May 1987, as an invited lecturer, she was the first Buddhist ever to have addressed the United Nations in New York."

Four years of learning meditation in the Himalayas, a necessarily extra-canonical ordination and Special Name, association with the Dalai Lama and having addressed the UN hardly lend her credibility as a Theravaada teacher, however fine a person she may have been.

If I may presume quote from Ven. Pesala's recent posting, "Heretical teachings are very dangerous. Teaching non-Dhamma as Dhamma is obstructive kamma. One should learn the basic teachings of the Tipitaka thoroughly before studying later teachings."

Of course I agree with this, so I must score LB's points zero for three.

Just my two cents' worth!

mike

#3 Guest_Scott Duncan_*

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 08:29 PM

Hi Mike,

Is that you?

Thanks for the scoop on L.B. I guess I could have thought of "googling," were I not such a neanderthal.

Yeah, I thought there was something fishy in the instructions. The whole essay has this sort of "hey-just-relax-and-get-into-jhana-you-meditator-you" sort of vibe.

For me it was also the apparent ease with which one is said to be able to just smile one's way into jhaanic bliss. And, as you also key on, the thrust of the instruction, although giving credence to some sort of natural process that doesn't take well to being forced or noticed, is too grounded in atta.

And yes, that excellent post by Ven. Pesala did come to mind.

Thank you very much, Mike.

Sincerely,

Scott.

#4 mike

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 08:52 PM

Hello All,

Wolfgang has kindly informed me that the link I posted to Ayya Khema's information is faulty. I seems I attached a colon to the end of the URL--sorry. The actual link should be:

http://www.geocities...774/a_khema.htm

mike

#5 Lawrence

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Posted 30 July 2006 - 06:31 PM

Friends,
I suppose that could be compared to one of the blind mens description of the elephant, so even if it were correct in its own small way it misses the mark. In fact she makes it sound like its own little pleasure game, an end in itself.

metta Lawrence