Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Critique of Brahmavamso's "The Jhanas"

During the 60th anniversary conference of the WFB in Colombo, I happened to meet and spend part of a day with Venerable Brahmavamso, the British monk who has caused such a stir in Thailand and around the world with his Bhikkhuni ordination. This was the second time we met, and my thoughts remain unchanged; he seems like a nice guy, unassuming and polite, clearly knowledgeable and experienced enough to offer advice and direction.

The problem I've always had, as is often the case in such matters, is with his teachings. Now, clearly we have different ideas on how to practice meditation, I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is what seems clearly to be a distortion of the Buddha's teaching in order to support his own way of teaching.

Immediately upon meeting him this time, one of his disciples handed me a book of his, titled "The Jhanas". I sat down and began to skim through it, not expecting much that I could relate to, but interested nonetheless in learning more about his ideas.

The reason I didn't expect to find much I could relate to going into the small booklet is because I don't agree with this notion that the word "jhāna" implies some special, exclusive entity. To me, it clearly means, simply, "meditation". The Mahāsaccaka Sutta, the very sutta Brahmavamso cites as proof that "the only time in his life that [the Buddha] had experienced any Jhāna was as a young boy," (pg. 6) actually describes even some of the Bodhisatta's tortuous austerities as jhāna:

"tassa mayhaṃ, aggivessana, etadahosi -- ‘yaṃnūnāhaṃ appāṇakaṃyeva jhānaṃ jhāyeyya’nti. so kho ahaṃ, aggivessana, mukhato ca nāsato ca assāsapassāse uparundhiṃ. tassa mayhaṃ, aggivessana, mukhato ca nāsato ca assāsapassāsesu uparuddhesu kaṇṇasotehi vātānaṃ nikkhamantānaṃ adhimatto saddo hoti."

"Then, Aggivessana, I had this thought -- 'what if I were to meditate (jhāyeyya) on the non-breathing meditation (jhānaṃ)?' At that, Aggivessana, I held back the in-and-out breathing of the mouth and nose. Then, Aggivessana, holding back the in-and-out breathing of the mouth and nose, there was a great amount of noise of pressure going out from my ears."

Now, it might seem odd that the Buddha would state that "the only time" he had experienced jhāna before the night of his enlightenment was as a child and then go on to say that holding his breath was a practice of jhāna. Fortunately for us, the words "the only time" are not used by the Buddha, and were added by Brahmavamso himself. The passage in question goes:

"tassa mayhaṃ, aggivessana, etadahosi -- ‘abhijānāmi kho panāhaṃ pitu sakkassa kammante sītāya jambucchāyāya nisinno vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharitā. siyā nu kho eso maggo bodhāyā’ti?"

"Then, Aggivessana, I had this thought -- 'I can clearly recall how I, sitting in the shade of the rose-apple tree while my Sakyan father was working, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unwholesome dhammas, entered the first jhāna, accompanied by investigation and contemplation, born of seclusion, with rapture and happiness. What if that is the path to enlightenment?'"

There is no mention of it being the only time the Bodhisatta had entered this particular meditative state. Indeed, in the next paragraph, the Buddha seems to be quite familiar with it, stating as he does:

“tassa mayhaṃ, aggivessana, etadahosi -- ‘na kho taṃ sukaraṃ sukhaṃ adhigantuṃ evaṃ adhimattakasimānaṃ pattakāyena, yaṃnūnāhaṃ oḷārikaṃ āhāraṃ āhāreyyaṃ odanakummāsa’nti."

"Then, Aggivessana, I had this though -- 'That refined happiness is not easily reached by a body so extremely emaciated; what if I were to eat the gross food of rice and curries?"

Besides showing that Brahmavamso is incorrect in his statement about the Bodhisatta having had a single prior experience of jhāna, these passages offer clear insight into what sort of definition the Buddha himself gave to the word Jhana. Such was the understanding I went into this booklet with, but it was nonetheless quite disappointing to read such errors as I've pointed out above.

The error mentioned above is important. It shows that one cannot take the word jhāna as referring to an exclusive entity with a specific meaning. It means "meditation", or perhaps "trance" or "absorbtion". This becomes even more important when we look at the context of Brahmavamso's statement about the first jhāna experience. He is using the fact (now proven to be fiction) of the Bodhisatta's only jhāna experience having occurred in his youth as proof that the meditations taught by Alara and Udaka and perfected by the Bodhisatta "could not have been connected with jhāna" (p. 6). As I have shown, however, even holding one's breath can be a sort of jhāna; it is clearly plain-and-simple dogmatism to say that because they weren't Buddhist, Alara and Udaka weren't practicing Jhāna.

It seems, though I am not so bold as to make a statement either way, that the Bodhisatta, in considering his childhood experience of the first jhāna, was simply reflecting on the indulgence in meditative bliss at that time, and how that indulgence was not dangerous. This realization led him to decide that there was no need to avoid happiness by torturing himself.

This, at least, is more in line with the rest of the Buddha's teachings on the rūpa and arūpa jhānas, wherein it is quite clear that the states taught by Alara and Udaka come only after attainment of the rest of the jhānas. And, seriously, does anyone really believe that one could enter into "the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception" without some sort of seclusion from sensuality?

The point of the Buddha's words on not being afraid of the bliss that comes from jhāna, of course, is that he had missed something important. Previously, he had dismissed such meditative states as merely leading to transcendental attainments (i.e. arūpa jhānas). Now, he thought, what if I were to use them for the purpose of developing focused contemplation of reality and enlightenment? When we step back from our preconceived notions of what jhāna might be, I think we can clearly see that, rather than being some exclusively Buddhist attainment, jhāna simply refers to meditative focus or samādhi, and so it is unwarranted to claim that what Alara and Udaka taught "could not have been connected with Jhāna", not to mention going against the whole Theravadin commentatorial tradition and Abhidhamma.

This may seem like nit-picking to those who are not familiar with the disagreement in question here. Again, the disagreement is one thing, and no cause for writing such a post as this; distorting the facts to mislead people into thinking your argument superior, however, is another. You see, one of the arguments I would use against placing too much importance on "The Jhānas" is the fact that they are not particularly Buddhist. Which is simply to say that Hindu meditators have been realizing states like the young Bodhisatta, Alara, and Rāma (Udaka's teacher) for as long as anyone can remember, and are still to this day practicing them, ostensibly without any proper Buddhist attainment of enlightenment following therefrom. An explanation of why and how that is would do much to shed light on this subject.

According to Brahmavamso, the Buddha "rediscovered" jhāna, as the "culminating" point of the the eightfold noble path (p. 7). If this were so, then the Bodhisatta attained the culmination of the eightfold noble path at the age of five, which of course he didn't.

The next section was entitled "Can One be Attached to Jhāna?" This was interesting, as I vaguely recalled a sutta which stated precisely that the danger of jhāna was that one could become attached to it.

Brahmavamso starts by reminding us that we should not be afraid of jhāna. He quotes MN 66 - "it is not to be feared." But if you read on in this sutta, you will come to the following for each of the jhānas, including, incidentally, the ones taught by Alara and Udaka, which, incidentally, come after the other jhānas:

"idampi kho ahaṃ, udāyi, ‘anala’nti vadāmi, ‘pajahathā’ti vadāmi, ‘samatikkamathā’ti vadāmi."

"Even this, Udayi, is not enough, I say. Abandon it, I say. Go beyond it, I say."

Even the jhānas must be abandoned. In that case, how can they be the culmination of the eightfold noble path? There are answers to such questions, but I don't think you will find them in this booklet.

He then warns against any teacher who "in spite of this clear advice from the Buddha Himself, ... discourage[s] Jhāna on the grounds that one can become attached to Jhāna and so never become Enlightened" (p. 7). I can't personally imagine anyone arguing that the Buddhist jhānas are a hindrance to Enlightenment, but I can see how attachment to them might be, given the Buddha's "clear advice" that the jhānas should be abandoned. If it weren't possible to cling to them, why would the Buddha encourage us to abandon them? Brahmavamso says:

"Simply put, Jhāna states are stages of letting go. One cannot be attached to letting go. Just as one cannot be imprisoned by freedom" (p. 8).

That passage was the last I read, as it really seemed over the top. Nowhere that I know of does the Buddha say that jhāna states are stages of letting go. As far as I can see, they are a form of suppression (vikkhambhanappahāna, cp PsM, useful in focusing one's attention on a specific object that will either allow for deeper absorption and temporary suppression of defilements or for lasting insight and understanding, depending on whether the object of attention is conceptual or ultimately real. This distinction is made quite clear throughout the Buddha's teaching, as in the Sallekha Sutta, where the Buddha says:

"ṭhānaṃ kho panetaṃ, cunda, vijjati yaṃ idhekacco bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja vihareyya. tassa evamassa -- ‘sallekhena viharāmī’ti. na kho panete, cunda, ariyassa vinaye sallekhā vuccanti. diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārā ete ariyassa vinaye vuccanti."

"It may be found to occur, Cunda, that a certain bhikkhu in this religion, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unwholesome dhammas, should enter and settle in the first jhāna, accompanied by investigation and contemplation, born of seclusion, with rapture and happiness. Then, he might think thus -- 'I am dwelling in the cutting-off'. But in this discipline of the noble ones, Cunda, that is not called cutting-off. That is called 'dwelling in happiness in the present moment' in this discipline of the noble ones."

And nowhere does Brahmavamso give backing to his statement that jhānas are stages of letting go. This was the main impetus in deciding to critique his book, and so I made plan to research the sutta I remembered as explaining the danger of attaching to jhāna and write a response to this, the first part of Brahmavamso's work.

But I've been busy finding a place to live, so for the next three months, I kept the book with me, waiting for a suitable time. Finally, today I sat down and looked the sutta up in the DPR. I knew it had something to do with the relationship between jhāna and vedanā. A search for "vedana" and "jhāna" in the Majjhima Nikāya brought up the sutta I was thinking of, a famous one, the Mahādukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 13). It is not as explicit as I remember it, but here's how it goes. First, the Buddha asks "ko ca, bhikkhave, vedanānaṃ assādo?" "And what, o bhikkhus, is the enjoyment that comes from sensations?" Then he replies that it is the four rūpa-jhānas, since they lead to "abyābajjha" or "freedom from affliction", which he says is the highest sensation.

Then he immediately states:

“ko ca, bhikkhave, vedanānaṃ ādīnavo? yaṃ, bhikkhave, vedanā aniccā dukkhā vipariṇāmadhammā -- ayaṃ vedanānaṃ ādīnavo.

“kiñca, bhikkhave, vedanānaṃ nissaraṇaṃ? yo, bhikkhave, vedanāsu chandarāgavinayo, chandarāgappahānaṃ -- idaṃ vedanānaṃ nissaraṇaṃ.

"And what, o bhikkhus, is the danger of sensations? That sensations are, o bhikkhus, impermanent, suffering and of a nature to change -- this is the danger of sensations."

"And what, o bhikkhus, is the escape from feelings? The leaving behind of desire and passion, the abandoning of desire and passion -- this is the escape from feelings."

It doesn't really matter to me whether this says, as I think it does, that even the jhānas, associated as they are with sensations, can be a cause for desire and passion; Ven. Brahmavamso himself seems to be a good example, along with all of those meditating yogis in India, of someone who has let his attachment to jhāna color his perception. Again, I don't mind that he has a different method of practice for realizing enlightenment, I just can't let such distortions be printed unchallenged.

Edit: Ajaan Chah seems to agree with me on this one:

The peace afforded by samatha meditation alone is still based on attachment. ... Delighting in the peace of samatha still leads to further existence and rebirth. Once the mind’s restlessness and agitation calms down, one clings to the resultant peace.

(full quote and source)

I didn't read the rest of the book, it looks like it gets into practical details from there on in. He should have just started there, and maybe I would have read it, even though the next chapter is entitled "The Beautiful Breath".

On the last page (p. 65), he quotes the Buddha from Dhp. 372, as Jhana-thumping teachers are wont to do, translating all the words except jhāna, which he not only doesn't translate, but capitalizes as throughout the book:

natthi jhānaṃ apaññassa
There is no Jhāna without wisdom

paññā natthi ajhāyato
There is no wisdom without Jhāna

yamhi jhānañca paññā ca
But for one with both Jhāna and wisdom

sa ve nibbānasantike..
They are in the presence of Nibbāna.

He doesn't translate Nibbāna either, but I think that's to be excused, given the difficulty therein. No such difficulty exists, however, with the word jhāna. Indeed, this stanza shows the problem with his argument; jhāna, like paññā, should be taken as a quality, not an entity, and translated as such. "There is no absorption without wisdom" might be suited to the context, in a literal translation. The problem, of course, is this is a Dhammapada verse and, like all Dhammapada verses, it should not be taken as literal statement of doctrine like the suttas. The Dhammapada is poetry. The last two lines make it quite clear, as far as I can see, that all the Buddha is saying here is that if you meditate without wisdom, it is not true meditation, and if you have wisdom but don't meditate, it is not true wisdom. But if you meditate with wisdom, you are close to freedom (Nibbāna).

And in the words of Forrest Gump, "that's all I have to say about that."


  1. Modus.Ponens4:54 AM

    Hello Bhante

    Just wanted to leave two comments expressing the only points on which I might disagree with you:

    1- One of the factors listed by the Buddha as contributing to the decline of the dhamma is disregard for concentration. I'm not stating that you have this disregard, but I certainly see that on some of the dry insight supporters.

    2- Regarding letting go and jhana, as you know better than me, the first jhana formula involves "withrawn from sensual pleasures". I think that that is an instruction of letting go of sensual pleasures, which doesn't mean there cannot be attachment to non sensual pleaures.

  2. If that's all we disagree on, I think we're doing well :)

    Regarding the first point, if what you say is true, then there is no disagreement - disregard for concentration is a bad thing. I am suspicious that there might be some misunderstanding, though - most "dry-insight supporters" disregard only concentration based on a conceptual object, not that which takes the five aggregates as its object. Indeed, if they are supportive of "dry-insight", then I can't see how they could disregard focused concentration on that which brings insight. Unless you are referring to those people who disregard meditation in general in favour of book study, discussion, etc.

    Regarding the second point, I think we may disagree. I can't see withdrawl (vivicca = seclusion) as having anything to do with letting go, at least not intrinsically. There are many ways of sequestering oneself away from the objects of attachment without having to let go of them. I think the scandals involving the Catholic church are a good example of this. In the Buddhist texts, there is no better example than Devadatta himself, of whom it is said in the Culavagga, "devadatto pothujjanikaṃ iddhiṃ abhinipphādesi" - he gained mundane mental powers through his meditation (Cv 7 - chasakyapabbajjākathā) And I assume you are aware what he did with them...

    If the jhanas were stages of letting go, as Brahmavamso says, then what would be the need for developing wisdom? Considering that the Bodhisatta had gained jhana when he was a child, does that mean he attained some sort of letting go at that time? Letting go of what? Why did he have to go through so many more years of sensual indulgence followed by self-mortification if he had attained this "letting go" as a child?

  3. Dear Thomas,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply. Regarding my "disgust", I accept it was a bit hyperbolic; the point was, I had no interest reading further, since it seemed clearly misleading. I've edited the post, and tried to make the rest of it more "cordial" - it's easy to forget that on the Internet...

    As to your reference to the Kalama Sutta, I think that is really the point of my critique. If Brahmavamso had written his book with the Kalama Sutta in mind, one would think he would have omitted the first chapter, which is full of belief statements. I was not writing this critique to attack or engage in debate with the venerable author; my intention was to alert people to the fact that there may be a problem with some of his teachings, to help them avoid developing wrong view as a result.

    You ask about how my personal experience relates to Brahmavamso's teaching, but I see no point in bringing that into the discussion, since I could very well be on the wrong path myself. It is easy to use the Kalama sutta to refute any argument relying on the suttas; I really don't think that is helpful. Scientists rely on the findings of other scientists as backing; we rely, to some extent, on what the Buddha said, at least in order to maintain agreement in these sorts of debates. If I say that my practice tells me A is true, what does that mean in the context of such a debate? My practice tells me the Buddha's teaching on the jhanas was just one part of a much broader picture, the core of which is not jhana but the wisdom that comes from applying concentration on ultimate reality. But you should expect me to verify such a statement with the suttas to see whether I am on the right path. This is what I have done with Brahmavamso's work.

    As for finishing the book, I've left it behind now. I've better things, like meditation, to do :)

  4. sukha1:00 AM


    Many thanks for highlighting this. It is important to point out to us what appeared to you to be any misconception or misrepresentation of the teachings or meditation taught by the Buddha or any deviations therein. Browsed thru' the book "The Jhanas" by Ajahn Brahmavamso, and found this passage confusing and appeared more like a deep absorption rather than meditation. Very scary.

    "As I've indicated before, when one is in any Jhana, one cannot make a move. One cannot formulate any decision to proceed from this Jhana to that. One cannot even make a decision to come out. All such control has been abandoned within Jhana. Furthermore, the ultra, stillness of mindfulness in Jhana freezes the activity of mind called comprehension to the extent that, while in Jhana, one can hardly make sense of one's experience. The landmarks of Jhana are only recognized later, after emerging and reviewing. Thus, within any Jhana, not only one cannot move, but also one cannot know where one is nor where to move to! So how does movement from Jhana to Jhana occur? "

    " Such insight into the cause of the bliss of the First Jhana is fundamental to understanding the Buddha's Four Noble Truths about suffering."
    - is this correct?
    This one, doesn't sound like the Jhanas that Buddha taught according to the suttas.It's more in experiencing bliss (like taking ecstacy pill or drugged or in trance).

    "When the nimitta is radiant and stable, then its energy builds up moment by moment. It is like adding peace upon peace upon peace, until the peace becomes huge! As the peace becomes huge, the pitisukha becomes huge and the nimitta grows in luminosity. If one can maintain the one-pointedness here by keeping one's focus on the very center of the nimitta, the power will reach a critical level. One will feel as if the knower is being drawn into the nimitta, that one is falling into the most glorious bliss. Alternatively, one may feel that the nimitta approaches until it envelops the knower, swallowing one up in cosmic ecstasy. One is entering Jhana."

    I thought Buddha's meditation is to train us to see things as they really are and not to get bliss, to eradicate sufferings and defilements with the 3 characteristics of anicca dukkha anatta with mindfulness, as in the Mahasatipattana Sutta?
    Will Jhanas make us see the true nature of our sufferings? Please enlighten us.Sadhu to you.May you be peaceful.

  5. thomas1:13 AM

    Hi Venerable Noah,

    I thank you a lot for taking the time to reply. I have gained new perspectives from your reply.

    When I wrote my earlier reply, my main concern was that the blog entry might seems to be filled with "harsh speech" as I always believe that we can agree to disagree and live harmoniously with one another despite of differences, especially when we are fellow Buddhists practicing the Dharma. Of course, I might be too sensitive. But I just wanted to play safe and alert fellow Buddhists to these matters. I am very glad that you had edited your blog entry. I hope I might not sound offensive. If in any way I do sounds offensive, I offer my sincere apology. :)

    On the issue of Ajahn Brahmavamso's teaching in his mediation book (entitled*: "Mindfulness, bliss and beyond"), actually, he also mentioned that the purpose of jhanas is to allow one to develop wisdom and deep insight. He described jhana as a powerful flashlight that illuminates the map (which is the Dharma or the teachings of the Buddha). This is quite similar to what you mentioned:

    "My practice tells me the Buddha’s teaching on the jhanas was just one part of a much broader picture, the core of which is not jhana but the wisdom that comes from applying concentration on ultimate reality."

    In addition, I also don't think that Ajahn Brahmavamso placed great emphasis on "achieving jhana" though he did mentioned that you can't be attached to jhana.

    As a lay practitioner, I am not in a position to judge whether your views or Ajahn Brahmavamso's is correct. I also think that it is not very fruitful for me to use logical analysis to judge who is correct as logical analysis might be wrong or I might be biased too. What I think is wiser is for me to uphold my Buddhist precepts and to practice my mediation in accordance with the Suttas. This way, I will gain the first hand experience and improve my spiritual life, which is much better (to me) instead of deciding who is correct.

    With Metta,

    *PS: You mentioned that one of his disciples handed you a book of his, titled “The Jhanas”. I am not sure whether the contents in this book is the same as his published book in the bookstores: "Mindfulness, bliss and beyond", which is the book I am reading. Actually, this is the only official published mediation book of Ajahn Brahmavamso in the bookstores. Perhaps the book “The Jhanas” which you are reading might be an abridged version (complied by his students) and thus might not give you a complete picture of what he is trying to convey. And therefore the misunderstanding. You might want to check this matter out.

  6. stevesbaby1:26 AM

    In my meditation practice I don't know how to explain it, but the 'bliss' seems cumulative. It is really hard to start meditating at first, but after about a week of meditation I find myself starting to get into it, and I want to go to the meditation more. Then it just deepens and I find myself quite attached to this state. Even though I don't meditate when I am home, it is like the memory of this blissful feeling that makes me want to go to the temple to join the meditation. But it's really hard to have this blissful feeling unless I am really focused and I find it is really hard to be distracted by activities and really get into meditation.
    I wish I knew why that was.
    I think many western monks don't have your knowledge of the ancient language so they probably rely on poor translations to understand the dhamma.
    But I feel the dhamma isn't really more about words but what is in the heart. So i feel that trying to understand dhamma without meditating is not really possible.

  7. thomas2:40 AM

    Dear all,

    I would think that the truth is within, just like the name of this blog. While discussion and argument could help a bit, real understanding of the Dharma comes from actual practicing of the Noble Eight Fold Paths (which includes mediation and jhanas).

    In general, in any situations, it is too easy to say that the teachings of this monk is wrong or that monk is right (perhaps because he is my teacher or because he/she looks friendly/charismatic/trustworthy...etc to me). Because in doing so, we are using logical reasoning and argument, which are often based on our own discrimination and biases. To know the truth, we should practice the Dharma and experience it for ourselves. Never blindly believe in anyone, books or even the Buddha's words in the Sutta. Instead, trust only your personal experience. This was highly encouraged by the Buddha in the Kalama Sutta:

    I am not suggesting whether Ajahn Brahm or Venerable Noah of this blog is correct. What I am saying is that we should go and practice the Dharma, i.e., the Noble Eight Fold Path (including mediation) and experience for ourselves the real Dharma, which is within ourselves. That, I think is the most effective solution.

    With Metta,

  8. > So do you also believe samatha is a useful tool for vipassana ?

    Yes, of course, if it is used in that way.

    > It is undertandable why Ajahn Brahm states that they are stages of letting go. Various suttas indicate that the practice of jhanas contribute to the abandoning of worldly desires.

    That is not the same as equating the two, you should know that. Devadatta acquired jhana, and look what it did for him. The bodhisatta acquired jhana when he was a child and still went on to indulge in sensuality for many years (not to mention countless lifetimes before, according to the Jataka Commentaries).

    > If “being given to these” four meditation ( jhana) are “ entirely conducive to disenchantment , to dispassion, to cesssation….nibbana” , then can you really say that one becomes attached or bound as a result of practicing jhana ? Or is it the case that it is the other way around.

    Given the passage I quoted from the Mahadukkhakkhanda Sutta, there seems exery reason to accept the reality that one can become attached to jhana. There are many examples of this in real life; attachment to the vedana (tanha), attachment to the concept of attainment (mana), and attachment to view that jhana is equal to freedom (ditthi). During the jhana there may be no opportunity for these states to arise, but in one leaving the jhana they appear to be quite obviously present.

    > I believe when Ajahn Brahm said that “the only time” the Buddha had experienced jhāna before the night of his enlightenment was as a child, he was referring to First Jhana ( 1st Jhana) in particular and not various kinds of meditation (jhana) in general that are not considered to be Samma Samadhi. When it comes to various forms of meditation ( jhana ) that are not part of Samma Samadhi , such as holding the breath, torturous meditation, then it is obvious that the does practice these unbeneficial jhanas ( meditation).

    You may be right, but that doesn't excuse the claim that what Alara and Udaka taught was not related to jhana.

    > If he has been entering this state several days ago or months before on a regular basis to the point of mastering it , then there would be no need recall a single distant memory of First Jhana ( one of the four Jhanas) in childhood . This assumption doesn’t make sense.

    Not if you focus on the attainment of jhana; the Bodhisatta was recalling a type of happiness that could be used in such a way as to lead to enlightenment. So it was natural to recollect his childhood memory of simply dwelling in the rupa jhana; when working with Alara and Udaka, he would have passed right by it in his quest to attain arupa jhana. Now he realized that there might be a way to use the rupa jhana for another purpose, and so gave up torturing himself to allow him to enter the jhanas again.

    > He only mentioned entering the First Jhana ( one of the Four Jhanas ) as a child and no mention of First Jhana as an adult. Some might say that from the above statement we can assume that it implies he also practice the other ones under ones as an adult as well. What if these are not actually the states claimed by these teachers. Is possible for any of false claims from the teachers ( unknowingly or knowingly ) ?

    Some might say many things; I don't see the point in such speculation, especially since the Bodhisatta claims to have verified their attainments with his own. Neither you nor I have made the claim that the Buddha stated his only jhanic experience was as a child; Brahmavamso did. The Buddha never made such a statement.

    > Having jhana does not mean that one has the entire eightfold path. There is the need to develop Right View as well. Samadhi is one of the threefold division of the Eightfold Path, there is also Sila and Panna.

    I'm glad we agree on this. Brahmavamso's teaching is not so clear.

  9. sukha7:30 PM


    I hope it is the same book titled "the jhanas" available also online that you referred to. The one online is this here:

    My opinion is, the word "Jhana" is the same but the method by Ajahn Brahmavamsao could be different from the jhanas that Buddha taught. Ajahn Brahmavamaso stressed on "bliss",not sure what he meant by "bliss", however Buddha stressed on "pleasure" as in "abiding in here and now" or layman's term "present moment". The translation "pleasure" could be different from the "bliss" that Ajahn Brahmavamso coined it. It is just a jargon. Hope

    Bhante could give a clear explanation of the Buddha's 4 jhanas as clearly what Buddha taught. After reading the online book, I also find there is a difference between the jhanas taught by Buddha and the "jhanas" taught by Ajahn Brahmavamso or understood.Hope this dispute or disparity on jhanas could be ironed out, for our benefit on the purpose of jhanas - for enlightenment and Nibbana,and not any other purposes, and the notion that Buddha "rediscovered" jhanas, as I thought Buddha discovered jhanas, unlike the law of kamma. Peace to you.

  10. Dhamma9:29 PM

    Bhante wrote: "I’m sorry, but I get the impression that you haven’t even read the book, “The Jhanas”. How can you make assertions about what Ven. Brahmavamso did or did not say not even having read the book? "

    Bhante, perhaps you are not aware that the little booklet " The Jhanas" that you have is a condensed version of " Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond". I have read that whole book ( the complete version of " The Jhanas" from cover to cover multiple times. I can see why you are not clear that Ajahn Brahm emphasized about using jhana as a springboard for insight. That part is not included in the little booklet " The Jhanas". It just briefly introduces and focuses on the jhanas ( various stages of the jhanas that the Buddha taught in particular). You wrote that review when you only finished the introduction of the little booklet , which is an extract of a full book.

    The little extract is also available online to download or read online as well:

    Bhante : "that one cannot become attached to jhana"

    " that the jhanas are stages of letting go"

    " one cannot become attached to jhana " because they are stages of letting go "Jhanas are stages of letting go" . At the end of the little booklet , he summarized it briefly on this part. The comprehensive version has more detailed elaboration on this and "a". If you read his material more completely, you will see that he elaborated on this part, instead of reading the introduction of a little booklet that is introducing another book. Perhaps I will try to explain it in a different way than what I have posted in previous posts for you, when I have the time.

    With Metta,

  11. Dhamma11:06 AM

    Hi Bhante,

    Let me address the two points above again as briefly as possible to avoid confusion. And I will address the other one in a separate post to make it easier to see.

    A) About the fear of becoming attached to Jhana

    In MN 66 In referring to the various stages of Jhana the Buddha said :

    “ This is called renunciation-pleasure, seclusion-pleasure, calm-pleasure, self-awakening-pleasure. And of this pleasure I say that it is to be cultivated, to be developed, to be pursued, that it is not to be feared.”

    B) Jhanas as stages of Letting go

    As you move through the Jhanas, you have to let go more and more.

      1. To get into First Jhana , one needs to let go of sense desires , unwholesome mental states, and the 5 hindrances.
    2. One lets go of vitakkavicaranam to enter the Second Jhana
    3. One lets go of piti ( rapture) to enter the Third Jhana
    4. One abandons pleasure and pain to enter the Fourth Jhana.
    As you can see that one has to let go more and more as one move through the stages of Jhana. I believe this might be why the Jhanas are considered “stages of letting go”. Getting into these stages requires letting go.

    According to the Maha saccaka Sutta , at this point ( after the Fourth Jhana) the Buddha said:
    - “ When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives “ ,
    -directing the mind toward the knowledge of passing away & reappearance of Beings
    - directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the taints

    In some cases the Buddha guided his disciples into other states too, but he did not let them settle in any states. Rather , he took them beyond all the various states to what he called “ The Cessation of Perception and Feeling”.
    So you see, one of the route is to develop liberating insights after the rupa jhanas, the other route is to go beyond all the states into “ The Cessastion of Perception and Feeling”. When the Buddha tells a monk to let go to move to the next stage, that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean avoiding all these states of Jhana, but going through them. When it comes to how far, that depends on each person ( either rupa jhana & insight , or the Cessation of Perception & Feeling”).

    with Metta,

  12. Element5:18 PM


    You said: "Nowhere that I know of does the Buddha say that jhāna states are stages of letting go. As far as I can see, they are a form of suppression (vikkhambhanappahāna, cp PsM".

    You then cited the Sallekha Sutta, which actually offers no support for your arguement, given the Sallekha Sutta does not refer to "suppression". The Sallekha Sutta simply states the tendency to defilement is not yet eradicated.

    That jhanas are the fruition of letting go is supported by many passages. SN 48.9 describes concentration as having one sole object, namely, relinquishment (vossaga). Similarly, MN 118 states he develops samadhi-sambojjhanga that depends on viveka, on viraga, on nirodha, and leads to vossagga. MN 117 state the noble right concentration is supported by the seven factors of the eightfold path, which includes the right intention to let go of or abandon craving, per the instruction in the 2nd Noble Truth.

    However, that jhanas are the fruition of the path is naturally refuted by MN 117, which states the arahant path has ten factors, that is, ending with right insight knowledge & right liberation.

    With metta


  13. Just to point out that this refers to the sotapanna. Devadatta gained lokiya samatha jhana and was not a sotapanna.

  14. sarathw7:33 PM

    Are any of you attain any Jhana? I meet people every day who attain some form of Jhana. Great golfers,musicians,scincetist even clever thieves (who have atained Mitya Jhana), they all have develop some form of onepointedness. Last night I experinced rapture in my meditaion! It is not magic. It is a natural state of mind. What I still cannot understand is Nirvana! (but I undestand it in theory) I have written an article about it, if you wish to read it, please let me know.

  15. Maarten10:40 AM

    Doesn't the Buddha clearly define what he means with Jhana in the sutta's?

    "There is the case where an individual, withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
    Again, there is the case where an individual, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation.
    Again, there is the case where an individual, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.
    Again, there is the case where an individual, with the abandoning of pleasure & stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither-pleasure-nor-pain."

  16. Maarten10:52 AM

    Regarding jhana as stages of letting go:

    "And what is the faculty of concentration? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, making it his object to let go, attains concentration, attains singleness of mind. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.' With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is called the faculty of concentration."

    Indriya-vibhanga Sutta

  17. He clearly defines the four categories of jhana that he considers to be right concentration... jhana itself just means meditation, and these four are categories of meditation recommended by the Buddha. I think it is counterproductive to think of them as entities, since this sets one in the idea that they must be of a specific nature, whereas there are more than one kind of samadhi that can have the qualities of the four jhanas.

    I personally have no problem with the idea that these four types of meditation are the ones the Buddha recommended, I have a problem with people saying that the Buddha "rediscovered" the jhanas or that the jhanas are the "culmination" of the eightfold noble path, or that the teachings of Alara and Udaka had nothing to do with jhana. That's all I was trying to address.

  18. This is not correct; nibbana is what is meant by "letting go" in this sutta, not the jhanas (vossaggārammaṇaṃ katvāti nibbānārammaṇaṃ katvā). It is clear that what is being said in this sutta is that in order for it to be right concentration (i.e. samadhidriya), one must set nibbana as one's object. It actually proves the point that jhana alone is not enough, as it is only considered samadhindriya when one takes nibbana as the object.

  19. Maarten5:35 PM

    Thank you for your reply Ven. Yuttadhammo,

    I can understand your problem here. These are things Ajahn Brahm Believes to be true, or it is a theory for which he tries to present some evidence. It would have been better if he presented it as such in his book.

  20. Maarten2:44 PM

    Hello Ven. Yuttadhammo, and thank you for your reply.

    How can you make nibbaba the object if you have never seen nibbana and do not know what it is?

  21. I'm sorry, to be clear, right concentration in the noble eightfold path takes nibbana as an object at the attainment of sotapatti-magga, that is what is meant. All concentration up to that point is merely preparation.

    All I meant to say is that it certainly isn't equating the four lokiya samatha jhanas with letting go.

  22. re: A Critique of Brahmavamso’s “The Jhanas”

    “Simply put, Jhāna states are stages of letting go. One cannot be attached to letting go. Just as one cannot be imprisoned by freedom” (p. 8).

    I am not sure, Bhante, that I understand the distinction you are making with respect to Ajahn Bhramavamso's take on the jhānas: it does seem that the jhānas are stages of letting go. The remainder of the quote above is, obviously, a tad odd. I have a friend who seems utterly attached to letting go - she has nothing in her house that is not immediately necessary and practical! Just as obviously, so many are imprisoned by the freedom to be ignorant!

    Can we simply rely upon the jhānas arising naturally as we increasingly become settled in samatha?

  23. See here: