Thank you and a reminder

Thanks to all who attended Satsang with me this Thursday. It was a wonderful evening and it was wonderful to be in Presence with you.

❤️🙏❤️

A reminder: when confused or unsure in your seeking, or when too caught up in the mind and uncertain of where to turn, simply be still. All will become clear. All will be revealed unto you.

Another reminder:
The entirely of Vedanta can be summed up in the two statements: ‘I am that I am’ and ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ – so says Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

❤️🙏❤️

 

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Jiddu Krishnamurti: ‘Complete Attention’

krishnamurti-profile

Jiddu Krishnamurti used words in a very specific and often unusual way. He, generally speaking, uses the word ‘attention’ to signify awareness without the presence of the ego or chooser, and therefore without resistance or direction. Below is an example, taken from The Book of Life, June 12th:


What do we mean by attention? Is there attention when I am forcing my mind to attend? When I say to myself, “I must pay attention, I must control my mind and push aside all other thoughts,” would you call that attention? Surely that is not attention.

What happens when the mind forces itself to pay attention? It creates a resistance to prevent other thoughts from seeping in; it is concerned with resistance, with pushing away; therefore it is incapable of attention. That is true, is it not?

To understand something totally you must give your complete attention to it. But you will soon find out how extraordinarily difficult that is, because your mind is used to being distracted, so you say, “By Jove, it is good to pay attention, but how am I to do it?” That is, you are back again with the desire to get something, so you will never pay complete attention. … When you see a tree or a bird, for example, to pay complete attention is not to say, ”That is an oak,” or, “That is a parrot,” and walk by.

In giving it a name you have already ceased to pay attention… Whereas, if you are wholly aware, totally attentive when you look at something, then you will find that a complete transformation takes place, and that total attention is the good.

There is no other, and you cannot get total attention by practice. With practice you get concentration, that is, you build up walls of resistance, and within those walls of resistance is the concentrator, but that is not attention, it is exclusion.


Also, see here: If you listen completely there is no listener

Ramana Maharshi: ‘The only worthy occupation’

ramana escape the tricks of maya

This post was originally posted here: https://www.facebook.com/tomdas.nd/posts/595152794243523

I have taken the following teaching statements of Sri Ramana Maharshi from the wonderful text Guru Vachaka Kovai. My advice is to stick to Sri Ramana’s teachings to keep your path straight:

🙏❤️🙏

175. The only worthy occupation is to thoroughly absorb the ego by turning Selfward and, without allowing it to rise, to thus abide quietly, like a waveless ocean, in Self-Knowledge, having annihilated the delusive mind-ghost, which had been wandering about unobstructed.

186. O miserable and extroverted people, failing to see the seer, you see only the seen! To dissolve duality by turning inwards instead of outwards is alone Blissful.

187. O mind, it is not wise for you to come out [in the form of thoughts]; it is best to go within. Hide yourself deep within the Heart and escape from the tricks of Maya, who tries to upset you by drawing you outwards.

189. Since it is only the notion of duality that spoils Bliss and causes misery, to avoid yielding to the attractions of that notion and to thus arrest all chitta vrittis is alone worthwhile.

190. O people, not knowing that Shiva is dwelling within you, you fly about like birds from one holy place to another [seeking His Darshan]. Consciousness, when abiding still in the Heart, is the Supreme Shiva.

191. The ship would be destroyed by the storm if its sails were spread outside, but it is safe when its anchor is sunk deep into the sea. Similarly, if the mind were sunk deep in the Heart instead of being spread outside, that would be Jnana.

192. To arrest the mind – which tries to rush outwards – securely within, is the truly heroic act of the ripe aspirant who wants to see the Supreme Lord in the Heart.

193. When the mind [i.e., the ego’s attention] which wanders outside, knowing only other objects [2nd and 3rd persons] – begins to attend to its own nature, all other objects will disappear, and then, by experiencing it’s own true nature [i.e. Self], the pseudo-‘I’ will also die.

204. A peaceful attitude, together with a ‘silent-flow’ of mind towards undeviating abidance in Self, Sat-Chit, is the best worship of Shiva.

205. Saint Markandeya survived death by conquering even Yama, and lived beyond his destined time. Know, therefore, that death can be overcome by worshipping Shiva, the death-killer.

291. If one wants to be saved, one is given the following true and essential advice: just as the tortoise draws all its five limbs within its shell, so one should draw the five senses within and turn one’s mind Selfward. This alone is happiness.

293. Having known for certain that everything which is seen, without the least exception, is merely a dream, and that it [the seen] does not exist without the seer, turn only towards Self – Sat-Chit-Ananda – without attending to the world of names and forms, which is only a mental conception.

294. Attention to one’s own Self, which is ever shining as ‘I’, the one undivided and pure Reality, is the only raft with which the jiva, who is deluded by thinking “I am the body”, can cross the ocean of unending births.

296. Having annihilated the delusive mind which always dwells upon worldly things, having killed the restless ego, and having completely erased the worldly vasanas, shine as Shiva, the pure Consciousness Itself.

297. Do not wander outside, eating the scorching sand of worldly pleasures, which are non-Self; come home to the Heart where Peace is shining as a vast, everlasting, cool shade, and enjoy the feast of the Bliss of Self.

319. One’s merging into the Heart – through the enquiry into the nature of the ego, which is a delusion in the form of mind – is the right worship of the Lotus-Feet of the supreme Mouna-Guru, who is beyond the mind.

❤️ Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om ❤️

🙏🙏🙏

Q. I genuinely understand the teachings but still egoic tendencies arise. What can I do?

I received this question following this post: https://tomdas.com/2018/09/06/shankara-vasanas-and-the-nature-of-liberation/

Hi Tom,

Thank you for your wonderful posts, and teachings. I came across your work several months ago via BATGAP, and I quite enjoy them. I’ve also watched your satsangs with Roger Castillo – I’ve found both of your teachings very helpful.

I find this post very poignant for a question I have…

I have a question on desirelessness (which is a term that has been repeated in your posts, but without definition or description):

In some traditions, there is an emphasis on not being attached to any desires. In my experience, when cravings arise – it is apparent that the craving itself is the suffering. Yet it is just what is arising in the moment.

Assuming that “Truth” has been realized, both experientially as Awareness, and ‘seeing’ through that there is no ‘doer’ nor ‘self’ of any action… yet cravings still arise, and the only thing that seems sensible is a constant letting go, without feeding the desire/craving. Is there anything else that I’m missing?

Also, more importantly, how do you differentiate between the desires between, for example, being a father or husband and providing for yourself and your family, and say, the desire for worldly possessions, having physical relationship with a partner, attending to desires of others, etc.

What makes one ‘desire’ more worthwhile, wholesome, or ethical or than another? This seems dependent on cultural and social contexts.

Thank you kindly,

John.

Hi John,

I’m glad you have found benefit in ‘my’ words. I have ended up writing a fairly long answer, so I have concentrated on the first part of your question. (I have partly discussed the second part of your question on desires here). In fact I have been meaning to write something on this topic for a couple of years now, but for some reason it has never happened, so thank you for your question.

In terms of the way I talk about this, you are asking about purification post-awakening, or post-awakening sadhana.

There are several ways by which one can resolve one’s apparent vasanas (apparent, because they are a part of what appears).

The exact method varies from person to person, and essentially involves letting go and knowing that they do not fundamentally affect you or affect Freedom.

Another method involves entering into a deep meditative state, known as samadhi, which is an especially good way of purification.

Other methods may involve therapies, such as psychological therapies, physical techniques such as yoga, etc.

The exact method varies from person to person, depending on how strong the vasanas are, and what the energy of the vasana is.

The three energies (gunas)

There is a school of ‘Hinduism’ called Sankya, which is a yogic school, and it classifies the energies into three basic types. These are known as the three gunas. This teaching was later incorporated into other schools such as vedanta and taught in scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita. Despite its apparent overly simple nature – there are only three energies – this classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!

This classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!

The three energies/gunas are:

1. Tamas (dull/negative)
2. Rajas (passionate/active)
3. Sattva (peaceful/intelligent)

1. If your energy is predominantly tamasic, you will, generally, feel negative, tired, and low. Your motivation and energy levels may be low, you may be lazy and lack direction. You may find it hard to understand things clearly, be confused, and lack clear On the positive side of tamasic energy, you may find it easier to rest, relax and sleep. Tamas is the lowest of the three energies.

2. If your energy is predominantly rajasic, then you will tend to be more active, eg. constantly doing things and achieving things, be much quicker at thinking, but you may perhaps have too many thoughts. (2a) On the positive side of rajasic energy you may achieve many things and do much good in your environment, whatever that may be. You may be dynamic, social, extroverted and a ‘mover and shaker’. (2b) On the negative side of rajasic energy, there can be much anxiety and stress, your mind may become exhausted from-over thinking, and your body may be exhausted too. You may find it difficult to find peace of mind, rest, calm and contentment. Rajas is the second lowest of the three energies.

3. If your energy is predominantly sattvic, then your mind is happy and calm, not low in energy, but not phrenetic like rajas. The mind is calm and clear, and gives rise to seeing things clearly, with less bias. Both tamasic and rajasic energies distort perceptions, which in turn leads to poor judgement and greater suffering, but sattva is pure, clear, harmonious and intelligent. Sattva is the highest of the three energies.

What does this have to do with spiritual practice, you may ask? Well, knowing what energy predominates can help you understand what spiritual practice you need and vastly speed up your spiritual journey. It can also help you understand why different people are attracted to different paths at different times, and accordingly help you be more open and compassionate towards others on their path, as well as be more open and understanding towards other spiritual paths in general.

A ‘sixth sense’

When you become experienced with these energies, you start to develop a ‘sixth sense’ about people and start to be able to sense where people are spiritually and start to become more intuitive about people’s spiritual needs.

…you start to develop a ‘sixth sense’ about people and start to be able to sense where people are spiritually

For me personally, I usually can very quickly get an energetic sense where a seeker is and what they need. This allows me to guide them in a way that can bypass years of worthless seeking – that’s the hope at least. Sometimes I don’t always get it completely right, but then an open dialogue with the seekers allows this to be quickly corrected.

This same intuitive sense deepens further with a fuller realisation and allows one to sense energetically where another teaching is coming from. Sometimes teachers have all the right words and say all the correct ‘nondual concepts’, but energetically they are overly tamasic or rajasic and are suffering accordingly. Similarly, one can also come across someone who outwardly does not seem to have any understanding of non-duality, at least verbally or conceptually that is, but you can sense that ‘sweet aroma of Freedom’ and Sattva (which are not the same thing) in which they are bathing.

Of course, all this is within the dream/illusory appearance.

The basic path of purification

Whilst most people will have some of all three energies present, one tends to predominate. See if you can honestly figure out which one is you.

The path goes like this:

From tamas, to rajas, then to sattva.

What this means is that if you are tamasic, you, generally speaking, have to make yourself rajasic first, before you can become sattvic. However, if you are predominantly rajasic, you can in general go straight to sattva. This has huge implications in terms of your spiritual practice, and understanding this can dramatically speed up your journey towards peace, joy and love. Allow me to explain.

From Tamas to Rajas

If you are predominantly tamasic, then you need to generally perform practices that make you feel good. In essence, you currently feel negative/bad/sad, so the practices that tend to be right for you are the ones that will make you feel positive/good/happy. Not only this, but these will tend to be the activities that you will be naturally drawn towards anyway, unless you are very tamasic in which case you may not be drawn to anything at all. In these situations it may be good to speak to an expert or specialist who can guide you further in these matters.

If you are tamasic and you try to do peaceful/sattvic practices such as meditation, mindfulness and resting as consciousness/’just being’, then what tends to happen is that you are left alone with your negative tamasic energy and this just drags you down. You end up not feeling too good and perhaps become one of those people that ‘meditation doesn’t work for’. You may also start to blame yourself or not understand why your meditation practice is not progressing for you, when it may seem to be for others. It is because you are tamasic and you need to convert tamas to rajas first before you can drop back down into sattva.

So the key aspect of spiritual practice for those who are tamasic is to do something that makes you feel happy and well. This often means doing something energising. This part of the spiritual journey can be characterised by the slogan ‘follow your bliss’, and as long as you are acting ethically and compassionately towards others and the world, you can take this up as your maxim during this stage in the journey.

This part of the spiritual journey can be characterised by the slogan ‘follow your bliss’

This part of the journey, ie. from tamas to rajas, is also the part of the path that contains the largest variety of activities/practices. It can range from evangelical Christianity to extreme mountain biking, from dynamic dance to primal scream therapy (not that I am advocating any of these!). Often people are at some point drawn to groups in order to gain acceptance and love from others. This is to heal tamasic energy and a negative self-concept/low self-esteem. I have personally found positive affirmations such as ‘I am worthy, I love myself, I am wonderful’ etc, to be especially useful to combat a negative self-concept that is often present in tamas.

If you are tamasic and if you are interested in spirituality, you will likely be drawn to something energising and uplifting (ie. rajasic). Try to find something that your heart wants to do, rather than what your head says you should do. Try also to find the activity that is most wholesome – ie. that is most good for you, your body and for others, with least risks to your body and to others.

Rajasic practices may often be characterised by activity, energy, sound, colour, imagery, positivity, friendliness, focus on groups and building positive relationships, a focus on love, building self-esteem and building positive self-concept. Notions of a personal God and interactions with that God such as worship, prayer and devotion also have more importance in theistic rajasic practices. There may also be a role for ritual, pomp and ceremony.

You can probably think of some spiritual groups that belong to this category. This is in contrast to groups and practices that are more sattvic, which I will discuss in the next section. Here outward appearances, activity, colour and ritual, are less important and may even get in the way. Similarly there may be little focus on positivity, love, social groups and building  a positive self-concept. Notions of a personal God may give rise to a non-personal God, or no concept of God at all.

From Rajas to Sattva

Once you are predominantly rajasic, or if you are already predominantly rajasic, then you will tend to naturally be drawn to either more rajasic pursuits, which means that there is still underlying tamas that needs to be ‘burnt away’ with the ‘flame of rajas’, or you will start to tire of rajas, with the anxiety, exhaustion and ultimately emptiness and dissatisfaction, and you will naturally start to seek calmer or more sattvic pursuits.

You may start to prefer country walks, meditation and mindfulness in place of late night drugs and dancing (just an example!). You may feel like you now prefer a slower hatha yoga practice rather than your usual power-yoga routine. Your inclinations towards devotional practice may start to drop off as you descend towards worship through being still.

Whereas before you were trying to become happier and improve your self-concept, now you are more inclined to letting go of self-identity/self-concept and rather than looking for pleasure, you are more inclined towards peace, balance and harmony (ie. sattva).

The Sattvic mind

Here we are approaching the goal of spiritual practice – for the mind to become still, or sattvic. It is in a sattvic mind that the non-dual teachings are most able to hit home and deliver the realisation of freedom, which is the end of the ego-belief, together with its ego tendencies (vasanas).

Why do some people get it whilst others do not? Well, it is the grace of God, but also sattva. It is said that Sattva allows the grace of God to manifest, it is the quiet sattvic mind that is most receptive to Grace, no longer being (seemingly) covered by the dull veiling energy of tamas or being (seemingly) distorted by the passionate projecting energy of rajas.

The same goes for after awakening. It is the sattvic mind in which the egoic tendencies become fewer and fewer and suffering accordingly lessens and happiness accordingly arises within the phenomenal appearance.

The culmination of the sattvic mind is samadhi, where the mind becomes very calm and notions of self and other disappear, usually temporarily. Samashi can be meditative and episodic (eg. nirvikalpa samadhi) or it can be permanent and natural during the waking state (sahaja samadhi). Sahaja samadhi is equivalent to total liberation in which the egoic vasanas have dissolved into the Self.

Why some people may be offended by non-duality

People who are tamasic or those who are rajasic but still have outstanding tamas that needs to be burnt off  – these people are often deeply affronted and perhaps even deeply offended by non-dual teachings which under-cut the importance and notions of self and free-will.

Some people are metaphorically hanging by a thread onto this life, struggling to gain some kind of control and positivity, and these teachings are just too much as they seem to be taking away their perceived method to drag themselves out of tamas toward their idealistic utopian goal of ‘rajas forever’ (everlasting socialising, excitement, pleasure, fun, worldy pursuits, the rajasic ‘Holywood’ dream).

In extreme cases, a very tamasic person or organisation may react violently to non-dual teachings for this very reason.

Their strategies to gain control, power and happiness are dependent on notions of separate-self. As non-dual teachings take away their only perceived method of escape, it is unsurprising that they find such notions offensive as it is a direct threat to their often subconscious hopes of happiness and liberation. In extreme cases, a very tamasic person or organisation may react violently to non-dual teachings for this very reason.

Pulling the rug out from under the ego

In my article Roadmap to enlightenment: a (fairly) comprehensive guide to spiritual practices I discuss the inter-relationship between insight and purification and liberation, so I won’t go into that here – please see that article for more information on this, but I would like to comment on one thing I often see in people who attend my meetings or who contact me for 1 to 1 meetings. It’s when the ego has the rug pulled out from underneath it but it still trying to regain its balance, tottering from left to right, sometimes disorientated, sometimes overwhelmed, lacking stability – in short – suffering.

This occurs when the mind is exposed to non-dual insight/knowledge teachings, ie. the radical teachings on no-self/no-person/no-free will, before the mind has achieved a degree of sattva and stability. When this happens, freedom is seen but the mind’s tendencies are now unleashed as if the ‘foot has been taken off the brake’. All the pre-existing egoic tendencies, previously held in check somewhat by notions of the ego, are now left to roam free, sometimes with riotous consequences.

Now, in a fundamental sense there is no problem in this, but from the point of view of the ego, which is still actually functioning out of habit (ie. the vasanas are still at play), this is quite troubling and can be very tumultous. It can lead to much suffering – both for the seeker and for those around them.

If the ego-mind is stable and sattvic with a health positive self-concept prior to being exposed to the radical non-dual teachings, when the teachings are seen, the sattvic qualities are naturally allowed to express themselves, namely love, peace, happiness, compassion, intelligence, clear thinking, clear seeing.

This was in essence what happened to me. I was lucky in that I had unwittingly spent many years purifying my mind through a combination of spiritual practices from a young age, readings spiritual books, being in a loving relationship and various forms of self-help to name a few factors. Awakening for me was not a difficult or tumultuous process. In retrospect I can see this was the case as my mind was already for the most part sattvic. The awakening was peaceful and gradual, permeated by love and light, so gradual I did not even realise it was happening. It was only when I started sharing this teaching with others that I realised how difficult the awakening process can sometimes be, when I saw how it affected others. Because I had read and studied traditional texts that spoke about about the energies whilst I was seeking, I was able to utilise these teachings for the benefit of those who came to me and my meetings.

If the mind is riddled with tamasic and rajasic energy, addictive vasanas and a negative self-concept, these aspects of the mind can flourish. Depending on the vasanas present, this can sometime cause much suffering. It can result in family/relationship problems, divorce, panic attacks and career and financial issues. Unconscious psychological insecurities that were not previously known can all surface at once leading to a crisis of confidence, disorientation and feeling overwhelmed. Tamasic impulses can increase, rajasic tendencies can increase, addictive tendencies can increase.

The general advice here is to not worry, remain calm and at peace, something that is easier to do if a degree of sattva has already been cultivated and most of the rajasic and tamasic energies have already been somewhat subdued. In time, these vasanas (tendencies) will naturally express themselves. If they are allowed to rise up, be experienced and felt (ie. not suppressed) without acting them out, then they will naturally purify themselves in time and the balance of sattva will naturally arise. However, if the vasanas are indulged in, then they may continue indefinitely, and the freedom-realisation may even be lost (apparently). Just knowing this information can make a huge difference (apparently).

It is for this very reason that most traditional approaches stress a period of purification prior to being introduced to the ‘higher’ non-dual teachings. Shankara often advised that seekers purify themselves with devotion to God and developing certain qualities prior to reading/listening to the higher teachings of Vedanta.

But what seeking ego wants to wait? And why should it, right! Most teachings are no longer guarded behind the secret screens of a religious patriarchy and are freely available on YouTube and Facebook, something which is largely good as far as I can see, but it is useful to be aware of the downsides and potential negative consequences.

Abuse, Crazy Wisdom and Asshole teachers

Teachings/teachers which do not stress purification prior to or after awakening tend to be the ones in which you get the abuse scandals and the crazy-wisdom teachings in the worst cases. In better cases the teacher may just be a bit of an asshole at times, which is not the worst thing in the world, and to be honest, who isn’t an asshole at times? We are all human, after all (apparently), but it is a matter of degrees. With sattva, the chances of being rude, ignorant, abrasive and uncompassionate vastly decreases, but of course can occur from time to time, usually without the teacher intending to be offensive. When tamas and rajas predominate in a teacher, the distortion will be apparent in the teaching and its energy, and the teacher will likely act out their egoic vasanas from time to time and cause suffering to themselves and others accordingly.

You can often sense the energy of a particular teaching from energy the group of long-term seekers who are keyed into that particular teaching. Some teachers attract tamasic seekers, others attract rajasic ones, and others sattvic ones. Of course it doesn’t always work exactly like this – these are just general rules.

Take in these teachings, and see if they are true for you.

These teachings are not meant to be judgemental

Please note that these teachings are not meant to be judgemental in any way. Things are the way they are, everything has its place (apparently) and appearances not-withstanding, things generally work out in the end.

The teachings are meant to give one a framework within which one can orientate oneself towards becoming happier and more at peace. We all (the body-mind, that is) have different characteristics: some are tall, others short, some are more physically-abled, others less so, some have had opportunity and wealth, others grew up in poverty amidst domination and authoritarianism. Each of these brings certain strengths and weaknesses to our character and skill set.

The same with our gunas. We are all dealt a unique ‘hand of cards’. Clearly seeing what we have been dealt with in life, acknowledging it, and then learning how we can make the most of where we are is what this teaching is all about. It is about providing tools for the ego to enable it to wade through illusion in a way that reduces unnecessary suffering and most effectively leads to realisation of what already is.

As I said, these teachings are just a guide. There are likely to be exceptions that do no follow the rules. Please let me know if they have been useful for you, or if there is anything I have glossed over or got wrong. I hope they are of benefit.

Wishing you peace, clear-seeing and love

Namaste

Tom

‘Letting Go of Liberation’ – One day talk on Non-duality by Tom Das

tom-das1Dear All

I’ll be speaking this Saturday 19th January 2019 at the Horse and Coaches Pub near Waterloo Station, London UK.

If you are interested in attending, details are on this link.

To be notified of any future events, please sign up to my meetup page which is where I list all my events.

In addition to this, I will be holding my usual online meeting this Thursday 17th January at 8pm UK time.

Best wishes

Tom

Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

Buddha Ramana Krishna.png

In this article we will look at a Buddhist text that deals with the last step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Samadhi (Right concentration). When we look at the method the Buddha actually prescribed, as written in the Pali texts, we cannot help but notice the similarity to the Yogic and Vedic teachings on meditation and to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry. As always, if one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

If one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

The earliest written Buddhist teachings come to us in the form of the Pali Suttas, or the Buddhist texts written in the Pali language, and when we read them, one of the most important and most often repeated teachings we come across is the teaching on Samma Samadhi or Right concentration, the final step of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Again and again we find the Buddha exhorting his followers to practice Samma Samadhi.

In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8), the Buddha gives an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path and defines in brief what each of the eight steps entails. Here is how he defines Samma Samadhi, or Right Concentration:

And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?

There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — 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 concentration, 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, monks, is called right concentration.

Here the Buddha has introduced us to the Pali word Jhana, which is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Interestingly (for me, at least), it is from the word Dhyana that the Chinese word Ch’an comes, which in Japan became known as Zen, and as Son in Korea. All these words mean essentially mean meditation.

In Yoga and Vedanta traditions, the word Dhyana refers usually to concentrative meditation in which one’s attention is made to focus on some kind of object, gross (eg. a physical object) or subtle (eg. the breath or a sound/mantra), in order to eventually turn the attention away from body mind and world. This in turn allows a different aspect of one’s consciousness to come naturally into focus, namely pure consciousness which is devoid of objects/phenomena. This is called Samadhi in yoga and vedanta. This Samadhi ‘experience’ is not a usual experience, as it is devoid of objects that can be experienced, and cannot be understood without entering into it and ‘experiencing’ it first hand. This process of turning away from body/mind/world and experiencing pure consciousness is the hallmark of the Vedic method of meditation, as described in the Vedas (Gayatri mantra), the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, The Bhagavad Gita (See chapter 6 for the main exposition), the agamas and various subsequent Advaita Vedanta texts (ie. the Prakarana Granthas – see Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani). Here is a brief quotation from the authoritative Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10:

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahman].

Similarly we see the same teachings from Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, see here for an example.

Now the Buddha uses the same equivalent word as Dhyana, but in Pali: Jhana. The Jhanas are often taught as being states of concentration and absorption, and as I stated above, the Buddha repeatedly encouraged his followers to take up this practice. There are typically said to be 8 or 9 Jnanas, depending on how you want to divide them up, and when combined with the teachings on wisdom (Panna in Pali, Prajna in Sanskrit), they are said to lead to nirvana, or total and complete liberation from suffering.

Now let us look at one of the main Buddhist texts that deals with the Jhanas and how to access them, the Jhana Sutta. The Buddha states that the ending of the mental defilements (Pali: Asava) depends on the Jhanas. It should be noted that the ending of the Asava, or mental defilements, is tantamount to total liberation (nirvana), the ending of suffering (Dukkha) or what in early Buddhism is known as becoming an Arahant.

My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The Jhāna Sutta  (AN 9:36)

First the Buddha makes it clear that liberation, or ending of the Asava, depends on attaining the Jhanas, or absorptive meditative states:

“I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

The Buddha then tells us how to enter the first Jhana. We should turn away from sense pleasures, from negative qualities, our thought should be one-pointed and we should remain mindful:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

The Buddha proceeds, in what could be thought to be a very Vedic way of phrasing things. Of course, it is actually also a very Buddhist way of phrasing things too, the two paths being so similar in many ways: first he identifies all phenomena that appear in our experience/awareness – these are the five Buddhist skandas (ie. form, sensation, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness), which are loosely similar to the five koshas of vedanta.

Secondly he applies the Buddhist teaching of the 3 marks of existence to them (ie. (1) they are temporary, (2) attachment to them causes suffering, and (3) they are not-self).

And thirdly, lastly, and most crucially, he advises one turns the mind away from these phenomena and ‘incline his mind to the property of deathlessness’, what in Vedic teachings would likely be termed the Self (Atman) or the Absolute (Brahman).

“He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness [ie. the five skandas], as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [i.e the three marks of existence]. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'”

In the last sentence of the above paragraph, the Buddha uncharacteristically uses some positive terminology, ie. describing the absolute/ultimate in positive terms of what it is: he uses the words ‘This is peace, this is exquisite’, expressing the wonder and positivity of this state. Then he, more characteristically, adopts the usual negative terminology which describes the absolute in terms of what it is not: the lack of mental activity, the lack of acquisitiveness, the end of craving, lack of passion, lack of bondage or suffering. It is clear he is referring to nothing else but total and complete liberation, or nirvana.

The buddha continues, this time stating the same teaching again, but preceding it with the metaphor of an archery student. The idea is that through practice, one gets better at entering the Jhanas, just as the achery student improves through practice. The implication is that what at first seems difficult, perhaps impossible at first, such as highly developed archery skills, becomes possible and second-nature with repeated practice. Everyone can do this.

We also have to think why the Buddha chose an archer specifically to demonstrate this idea of the importance of practice. The other aspect of the archery metaphor is that the archer is one-pointed in intent, having picked a single target and focussing in on that, and over time and after correctly applying themselves, eventually is able to hit the bulls eye – they reach the goal of nirvana through having a clear aim, focus, practice and concentration:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Now we see another important phrase: ‘Staying right here’. The Buddha points out, just as in the vedic scriptures, that this state is to be abided in. Abiding in this state leads to the end of the mental defilements. In Vedic or Vedanta terms we could say that Abiding as the Self leads to the destruction of the vasanas (habitual mental tendencies):

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana] . Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”

(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)

So basically the Buddha is saying that either all of the mental defilements will be destroyed through this practice of the first four Jhanas, and thus lead directly to liberation, or some of the mental defilements will be destroyed, leading to becoming a one-returner, ie. someone who is to born once more in a heavenly realm where they will then attain nirvana without being reborn a second time.

The teaching then repeats for the the remainder of the Jhanas. The next three Jhanas (Jhanas 2-4) are covered using the same wording as above. The last five Jhanas, also called the formless Jhanas, have a subtly different wording, as follows:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

We can see that the basic teaching is the same. The emphasis now is not on form (which is not mentioned – only the latter four of the five skandhas are now mentioned), but on ‘complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form’ and disappearance of resistance, and ignoring any thoughts or notions of multiplicity. This about a deep letting go in which effort and duality are both let go of.

The teachings continues is the same way as with the first four Jhanas above:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space [the fifth Jhana]. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana]. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.

(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness [the sixth Jhana] and the dimension of nothingness [the seventh Jhana].)

For the last two of the nine Jhanas, the Buddha recommends you receive direct teachings yourself from someone who has mastered these already:

“Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception [the eighth Jhana] & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception [the ninth Jhana, sometimes said to be Nirvana itself] — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them.”