What are Dhyana and Samadhi (Zen/Chan Master Hui Neng, Platform Sutra) | Ramana Maharshi

The following is excerpted from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 5 entitled ‘On Dhyana’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

Learned Audience, what are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed.

Tom: we can see Hui Neng has succinctly defined both Dhyana and Samadhi. In the next line he is essentially saying that these two are one and the same, in that when there is no attachment (ie. Dhyana), there will also be peace (ie. Samadhi):

When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace.

Tom: See if you can see the parallel with Sri Ramana Maharshi stating in ‘Who Am I?’:

‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’

Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in.

He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi.

Tom: Sri Ramana Maharshi states in ‘Who Am I?’: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’

In the above two lines Hui Neng hints that your True Nature, or what Hui Neng refers to as Essence of Mind, is already ‘unperturbed’, and essentially is always undisturbed and ‘pure’. Realisation of this naturally leads to Freedom:

To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.” Learned Audience, let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.

Realisation of Essence of Mind through ‘thoughtlessness'(Zen (Chan) Master Hui Neng) | Ramana Maharshi

The following is taken from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 2 entitled ‘On Prajna’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The wisdom of Buddhas, past, present and future, as well as the teachings of the twelve sections of the canon are immanent in the mind, but in case we fail to enlighten ourselves, we have to seek the guidance of the pious and learned.

Tom: the essential teaching is within ourselves or ‘immanent in the mind’. Only if we do not enlighten ourselves with our own inner wisdom do we need the external teacher (‘the pious and the learned’)

On the other hand those who enlighten themselves need no extraneous help. It is wrong to insist upon the idea that we cannot obtain liberation without the assistance of the pious and learned. It is by our innate wisdom that we enlighten ourselves, and even the extraneous help and instruction of a pious and learned friend would be of no use so long as one is deluded by false doctrines and erroneous views.

Tom: ie. it is possible for illumination to occur without an outer teacher as the true wisdom of enlightenment is our very nature. How can this be done? All we have to do is realise our true nature, what Hui Neng here calls ‘Essence of Mind’, and we will certainly and immediately be Buddhas, let us see:

As we introspect our minds with Prajñā, all erroneous views will disappear of themselves, and just as soon as we realise Essence of Mind we will immediately arrive at the Buddha stage.

Tom: Hui Neng states that if we look within at our true nature or ‘minds’ with Prajna, all erroneous views or ignorance will disappear spontaneously, and this is realisation of Essence of Mind or True Nature, and this is also the same a Buddhahood or enlightenment. So, how ‘introspect with prajna’? Hui Neng will explain. Prajna means wisdom or insight:

When we use Prajñā for introspection we are illuminated within and without and are in position to know our own nature. To realise our own nature is to obtain fundamental liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain the Samadhi of Prajñā, which is ‘thoughtlessness’.

Tom: Hui Neng explains that realising our true nature is liberation. This is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. What is this ‘thoughtlessness’? Let us see:

What is ‘thoughtlessness? ‘Thoughtlessness’ is to see and to realise all dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. In action Prajñā is everywhere present yet it “sticks” nowhere. What we have to do is to so purify the mind that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mentation) in passing through their six sense-gates will neither be defiled by nor attached to their six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance and is at liberty “to come” or “to go, “then we have attained the intuitive insight of Prajñā, which is emancipation. To enable one to attain such a mental state of freedom is the function of intuitive insight.

Tom: In summary Hui Neng is stating that when the mind functions free from attachment to both gross and subtle objects, that is liberation. This non-attachment is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. We can see this is in keeping with the Buddha’s more classical teachings which essentially state the same. We can also see this is in keeping with the Vedanta teachings in which lack of identification with and attachment to the body, mind and world is the same as Self-Realisation.

Sri Ramana Maharshi states the following in Maharshi’s Gospel, Chapter 3 entitled ‘Mind Control‘:

Questioner: Does Bhagavan condemn dvaita Philosophy?

Sri Ramana Maharshi :Dvaita can subsist only when you identify the Self with the not-Self. Advaita is non-identification.

Now Hui Neng will tell us what not to do:

To refrain from thinking of anything, in the sense that all mental activity is suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden; this is an extremely erroneous view. (Discriminative thought which leads to desire and attachment, or to aversion and defilement, is to be controlled in the interests of intuitive thought which leads to self-realisation and freedom.)

Those who understand the way of ‘thoughtlessness’ will know everything; they will have the experience that all the Buddhas have had, and they will attain Buddhahood.


Tom: later on in the same chapter Hui Neng quotes a long verse that he composed himself for the benefit of those listening to him – here are a couple of excerpts I have chosen to quote here:

To illumine our gloomy tabernacle, which is stained by defilement,

We should constantly set up the Light of Wisdom.


Erroneous views keep us in defilement

While right views remove us from it,

But when we are in a position to discard both of them

We are then absolutely pure.

… and….

Right views are called ‘transcendental’;

Erroneous views are called ‘worldly’.

When all views, right or erroneous, are discarded

Then the essence of Bodhi appears.

This stanza is for the ‘Sudden’ School.

Ramana Maharshi, Vedanta and Zen: Q: ‘What method must we practice in order to attain liberation?’ (Chan Master Hui Hai)

dazhu_huihai

Let us compare some Zen teachings with that of Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Hui Hai was one of the great Ch’an (Zen) masters from the 8th Century CE. This excerpt is taken from Hui Hai’s Text on the Importance of Sudden Enlightenment, Dialogue 2.

I have interspersed quotes from Ramana Maharshi and Shankara in red type to compare and contrast the teachings:

Question: what method must we practice in order to attain liberation?

Answer: It can be attained only through the gate of sudden illumination (or sudden enlightenment).

Q: What is a sudden illumination?

A: ‘Sudden’ means instantaneously ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts’. ‘Illumination’ or ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation that illumination is not something to be attained.

[Tom – This can also be translated as ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation there is no ‘Enlightenment’ to attain, there is nothing to attain’. Compare this with : ‘The benefit of this Light of Supreme Truth is the understanding that there is not the least thing such as ‘attainment’, since the Supreme Self is the Ever-Attained One Whole.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 8]

Q: From where do we start this practice?

A: You must start from the the beginning, the fundamental root.

Q: And what is that?

A: Mind is the fundamental root.

Q: How can this be known?

A: The Lankavatara Sutra says:

‘When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all phenomena (dharmas) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.’

[Tom – compare: ‘If the ego rises, all else will also rise; if it subsides all else will also subside.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?]

The Vimalakirti Sutra says:

‘Those desiring to attain the Pure Land’ must first purify their own minds, for the purification of mind is the purity of the Buddha Land.’

The Sutra of the Doctrine Bequeathed by the Buddha says:

‘Just by mind control, all things become possible.’

[Tom – compare: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?‘]

In another sutra it says:

‘Sages seek from [their own] mind, not from the Buddhas; fools seek from the Buddhas instead of seeking from [their own] mind.’

and

‘The Wise regulate their minds rather than their body; fools regulate their body rather than their minds.’

The Sutra of the Names of the Buddha states:

‘Evil/sin springs forth from the mind, and by the mind is evil/sin overcome.’

[Tom – compare ‘…man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 172]

Thus, we may know that all good and evil proceed from our minds and that mind is therefore the fundamental root. If you desire liberation, you must first know all about the root, mind. Unless you can penetrate to this truth, all your efforts will be vain; for, while you are still seeking something from forms external to yourselves, you will never attain.

The Dhyana Paramita Sutra says:

‘For as long as you direct your search to the forms around you, you will not attain your goal even after aeon upon aeon; whereas, by contemplating your inner awareness, you can achieve Buddhahood in a single flash of thought.’

[Tom – compare: ‘Let people quote the Scriptures and sacrifice to the gods, let them perform rituals and worship the deities, but there is no Liberation without the realisation of one’s identity with the Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas put together.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 6]

Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?

A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by Dhyana (Ch’an) and Samadhi (Ting). The Dhyana-Paramita Sutra says:

‘Dhyana and Samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the deluded thoughts remain in confusion and tumult, and the roots of goodness suffer damage.’

Q: Please describe Dhyana and Samadhi.

A: When wrong thinking does not arise, that is Dhyana.

When you sit and see your original nature, that is Samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal unborn mind. In Samadhi, there is the natural situational response of no-mind, and the ‘eight winds’ do not function.

The ‘eight winds’ are gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By practising in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says:

‘All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.’

There are those who in this way have crossed over to the other shore and attained liberation, transcending the six rafts (the six Paramitas), and freeing themselves from the three worlds (greed, anger and delusion). The great power of the ‘Enlightened Ones’ is the infinite power of the Honoured, the Courageous, the ‘Conqueror’!

Spiritual, Emotional & Non-Dual Guidance & Counselling

Tom is the only one [teacher] I’ve seen who doesn’t come from his point of view, he always comes directly from the silence and meets the seeker exactly where they’re at. If they need a practice, he has it, if they already have one but are stuck he knows how to move them, if they’re just beginning he knows how to guide them…it’s wonderful to see.
Danny, UK

To arrange a 1 to 1 session with me please contact me via the contact page.

I offer 1 to 1 sessions either in person or via zoom. These sessions can be a wonderful way of clearing apparent blocks and confusion and can provide a much needed short-cut on your spiritual journey.

My Approach

I meet you wherever you are in your journey and guide you from there – whether you’re completely new to this or are a seasoned seeker, whether you want to focus purely on non-duality or instead want to heal emotional issues, deal with practical aspects of life or explore relationship issues.

Even if you don’t have a specific question or issue in mind, I often find I can intuitively feel where you are and advise you accordingly.

Guidance

Here are just some of the many things I have helped guide those who have approached me:

  • Total Freedom – right here, right now!
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  • Awakening & enlightenment experiences: making sense of what may have happened to you and where to go from this
  • Going ‘in and out’ of enlightenment – why this is happening for you and what to do about it
  • Reconciling various traditional approaches such as Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Zen, Advaita, Vedanta as well as non-traditional approaches such as law of attraction, new-age teachings, direct teachings, neo-advaita, etc.
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  • Relationship issues eg. with partners, family and children
  • Not really feeling happy, peaceful, whole & complete despite intellectually understanding the teachings
  • Healing emotional trauma and distress
  • Resolving addictive or habitual egoic tendencies (vasanas)
  • Addressing various issues related to being a ‘spiritual seeker’, eg:
    • a sense of isolation or loneliness
    • loss of interest or passion for various pursuits
    • other more specific issues such as psychic and energetic experiences.

Cost

Cost for an online 1 to 1 session: £75 for 1 hour; £50 for 30 minutes
Cost for in-person 1 to 1 meeting (in the London area, UK): £100 for 1 hour

To arrange a 1 to 1 session with me please contact me via the contact page

Disclaimer

Meetings and sessions are not intended as a substitute for professional therapy, medical care, or legal advice. Please consult a licensed professional in these matters.

Testimonials

Tom is the easiest person to talk to and he gave me the support I needed.
Outi, Finland

Tom’s teaching is unique. His guidance is a non-dual lighthouse emitting a bright light-beam across life’s turbulent expanse to steer the seeker from crashing on the rocks of ignorance, misunderstanding and delusion, to reach the shore of Timeless Being.
His gift is discerning where the individual seeker is at and what is required specifically for that ‘individual’ to support them in their thirst for freedom from suffering. His maturity, as a guide, is evident in how he can appreciate the wisdom teachings, the ‘treasure in the field’,  in traditions not generally associated with non-duality.
This breadth of understanding sets him apart from the smorgasbord of spiritual snake-oil merchants, pedlars, ‘evangelical’ non-dual purists and genuine teachers which, in practical terms, allows a welcoming and genuine spirit of inclusivity for anyone attending his satsangs.
Gerry, UK

I find Tom’s teachings clearer, simpler, and less encumbered by BS than just about anyone out there whom I have encountered. I’ve had teachers from Alan Watts to Adi Da, to Andrew Cohen, and others. Tom has the least ‘baggage’ I think…
Your words always affect me like a clear, clean breath of fresh air in the midst of what is often a lot of misconception and gobbledygook about what there is to ‘attain’ and all the rest of it.
Carl, USA

I chanced upon Tom’s website at a very interesting time in my journey. I had studied traditional Vedanta for many years. I had some good understanding about the concepts and was doing some serious self inquiry or Atma Vichara. That’s when I started tying myself into all sorts of knots. I wasted a lot of time confused by concepts and was in a very frustrated place until I spoke to Tom.
I believe things happen for a reason and you meet the right people at the right time in the journey. Within a couple of sessions, Tom was able to help me unravel some of these knots. As the layers started peeling off and more layers and depth opened up the journey started taking a different shape. Throughout this, Tom was able to ask just the right question and clarified many concepts that would have otherwise taken a life of their own.
I found his teaching style refreshingly down to earth and humble and since he was able to speak from his direct experience, it made everything so real and relatable.
Arvind, India

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Essential teachings for liberation: we need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from ‘double ignorance’| The ‘two wings’ of the teaching | Buddhism | Vedanta

eagle bird flying soaring
The two wings of the teaching allow one to soar like an eagle, transcending mountains

A ‘Double Ignorance’

We need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from a ‘double ignorance’. We could say the teaching has two wings to it, one for each aspect of ignorance. Let me explain: you could say ignorance has 2 steps:

Ignorance step (1) – Structural Ignorance: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva. This is also known as a limiting belief or identifying as being a limited entity. The most common form this identification takes is the thought-concept ‘I am the body-mind’. ie. we take the body-mind to be our primary identity. This limited identity is the ego or jiva.

Ignorance step (2) – Functional Ignorance: that ego/jiva, sensing it is limited, vulnerable and incomplete, then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects. This seeking tendency eventually becomes ingrained and habitual and these habitual egoic tendencies are known as vasanas in Sanskrit.

In Step (1) we create the structure or form of the ego, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Step (2) represents the movement or function of the ego in which the body-mind entity then goes on to seek security, pleasure, as so on, and is also afraid of death, misfortune, ill health, etc, and so suffers.

So we have described the ego’s form (1) and function (2), or its structure (1) and movement (2).

A ‘Double Teaching’

Each of these aspects of ignorance usually have to be tackled and resolved, so there are two aspects or ‘wings’ of the teaching. Most teachings that one comes across usually focuses only on one of these two wings. This is because on a practical level it is more difficult to teach both together, and many are unaware of how these two aspects of the teaching fit together. But when we do bring both together, the teachings tends to be much more potent in actually pointing the way directly to Moksha/liberation.

So, what are the two aspects of the teaching? Structural ignorance (1) is rectified by insight or knowledge teachings, and functional ignorance (2) is resolved by purification teachings.

Insight teachings basically point out the belief ‘I am a body-mind’ is a false limiting belief. When seen, the illusion of separation and doership naturally fall away. Insight is also known as knowledge, gnosis or realisation

So why do we need the purification teachings then? Well, for most, due to the strong habitual tendencies to identify as a body-mind, the ‘I am the body-mind’ concept keeps on arising and egotism is continued. Without a spiritual practice to remove this habitual ignorance the egotism usually quickly returns and with it suffering also returns.

Insight Teachings

Examples of Insight Teachings

Insight teachings include negating teachings such as ‘You are not the body-mind’ and ‘You are not the doer’. Sometimes they take on affirming forms such as ‘You are That’ or ‘You are Brahman’ or ‘You are Pure Consciousness’, etc.

In order for insight teachings to work, usually the mind needs to be relatively calm so that there is enough mental space for the insight to arise through an in-seeing into the nature of every-day experience. Therefore it can be useful to practice calming or purification practices prior to insight.

Limitations of Insight Teachings

Insight teachings by themselves, which tend to be spoken or written teachings or ‘pointers’, can be very freeing but usually do not lead to full realisation/liberation unless the egoic vasanas/tendencies are already very much diminished. Usually, whilst insight is present all is apparently well, but then though daily life the egoic vasanas rear their head and wreak havoc. This leads to flip-flopping in which one alternately seems to ‘get it’ then ‘lose it’. For most, without purification, the insight remains fairly superficial on the level of the mind. I regularly come across many seekers in this predicament, where suffering continues and the approach is predominantly intellectual. What is required is purification, usually devotion, surrender, mantra and prayer – all the things that the stereotypical ‘western rational mind’ is often repelled by.

Purification Teachings

Examples of Purification Teachings

I have spoken and written about this more extensively elsewhere (eg. here and here) but these are essentially practices that calm the mind and reduce seeking, agitation, addiction and other egoic tendencies. From a more traditional perspective the cardinal purification teachings are devotion, prayer, gratitude, mantra recitation, meditation, hatha yoga and other things such as mindfulness practice and adopting a health diet and lifestyle. Simpler forms of purification are simply to relax, be still, accept whatever happens, surrender practices, etc, etc.

Now one could argue that these are essentially dualistic practices (which they are) and they rely on a sense of doership (which they do, at least initially). These are both worthy points and I address them here: Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings

Purification teachings enhance the ability of insight and also allow insight to deepen and be more stable. Therefore traditionally devotion, mantra recitation, yoga and meditation are all considered to be essential foundational practices to purify the mind and enhance the ability of Self-Realisation to occur. Similarly, purification is usually limited without insight. ie. unless the belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is removed, purification will not be as effective. This is because it is this limiting ‘I and the body-mind’ belief that gives rise to the sense of incompleteness and vulnerability that fuels these egoic tendencies.

Limitations of Purification

Like insight-only teachings, purification-only teachings, which tend to be practices, can be very freeing of themselves. Unless the sense of being a limited entity (ie. structural ignorance) is already very weak, purification alone tends not to lead to  liberation. This is because the limiting notion ‘I am the body’ goes unchecked and perpetuates itself.

Traditional Teachings

In Buddhism

I have written an article on how these teachings function in several Buddhist schools here: Buddhism: How enlightenment happens

In Hinduism (Vedanta)

In Vedanta, these two aspects of ignorance are known as the two Shaktis (energies or powers) of Maya:

1. Avarana Shakti – also known as Avriti Shakti, this is the veiling energy of Maya which prevents us from knowing ourselves as limitless Brahman. We therefore adopt a limited notion, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Avarana Shakti keeps us from discovering our true nature and shedding this wrong knowledge or ignorance. It is related to Tamoguna. You can see that this is another way of talking about what I call Structural Ignorance above, but in a slightly different way.

2. Vikshepa Shakti – this is the projecting power of Maya. Once Avarana Shakti has veiled our true identity as Limitless Brahman and we (seemingly) take on the limited identity of the body-mind, the Vikshepa Shakti projects forth a body, mind and world in which the limited body-mind (ie. ego or jiva) can roam, seek, fear and suffer. It is related to Rajoguna. I hope you can see how this notion is related to what I call Functional Ignorance above.

In Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see here for a summary by Ramana Maharshi), a full teaching is given that explains the above shakti’s: in the first portion of the text the knowledge teachings are explained and in the latter portion the focus is on meditation or nididhyasana. I also talk about this more here: False Enlightenment.

Is there really a double ignorance?

If you look closely, these two aspects of ignorance are deeply related and are not separate at all. Most seekers will tend towards either knowledge or purification in the first instance, and only when some headway is gained on that particular aspect of the teaching will they intuitively be drawn to the other less-explored aspect of the teaching

So, in practical terms what should I do?

Essentially, follow your heart – it will guide you. You will know, if you listen to that ‘voiceless voice’ within what teaching is right for you right now. Perhaps you need to listen to a teacher or read more. Perhaps you need to practice devotion or surrender. Perhaps both. If you remain truly open in both heart and mind and do not overly cling to fixed conceptual views, your Heart will lead you home and attract/bring into your experience exactly what you need.

That said, as a general rule, I encourage regular attendance to Satsang or a similar meeting in which these teachings are repeatedly given. The mind is resistant and egotism/ignorance is deeply ingrained in most, and so regular contact with a teacher you resonate with is usually very important. This alone can save many months or years of erroneously seeking in the wrong direction. In just a few conversations with seekers I have often been able to quickly point them in the right direction in a matter of minutes after having had a real-time interaction with them, although obviously this is not always the case. Please see my meetings page if you are interested in attended an Online Meeting or In-Person meeting with myself.

Devotional practices and mantra recitation can both be extremely powerful. I often call them spiritual bulldozers as they are able to plough their way through years and years of egoic vasanas with relative ease compared to insight style teachings in many cases. My experience is that many with a Western scientific mindset (which in many ways is my own background) do not readily resonate with these practices, especially if they have had negative experiences of organised religion. However, there are ways these practices can be explained to allow even fairly atheist seekers benefit from these teachings.

Lastly meditation and stillness are also usually essential for the teachings to penetrate the deeper layers of the body-mind and root out egotism/ignorance at a deep energetic non-verbal level.

Summary and Ego Tricks

One trick I have noticed the ego-mind does is that is tries to avoid the above by use of clever reasoning. Whilst sometimes this logic is reasonable and sound, in most cases it is the ego trying to perpetuate itself and claim knowledge and experience for itself.

Sometimes the mind will say ‘I do not need to attend Satsang as I know everything that will be said’. I met someone for a 1 to 1 just recently who had heard and read all the teachings multiple times and was growing weary of it all. They felt there was no point to asking further questions, but on some level knew that there was something missing. Through a direct interaction we were quickly able to see where the sticking points were. This was only possible as the seeker in question was open to this possibility and maintained contact and dialogue with me even though their mind was saying ‘I know all this already’. The seeker was also open to their heart which guided them, in their case, to arrange a 1 to 1 with me.

In summary, listen to your heart with an open mind. The True Guru is Within. For most, having a teacher is essential. Consider listening to knowledge teachings (eg. attending satsang), and undertaking devotional practices, mantra recitation and silence/ meditation.

Best wishes!

Q. Are we not simultaneously a person AND everything?

Q. The thing here is… we (Brahma) incarnated on this planet as 7.4 billion people and countless animals and plants and the planet itself. Brahma chose to be us, in different bodies and different personalities and different life stories and ultimately, these bodies and personal identities will end, but while we are incarnated in our current forms, are we not looking for the “middle path” as we make our way through the world? We are individually and collectively Brahma and Atman simultaneously.

I understand and fully comprehend everything that Sri Ramana Maharishi is saying [in these quotes] . But I get the sense that you are inviting people to abandon their egoic sense of self (Atman) in favor of identifying as Brahma. The middle path IMHO is when one can hold both illusions (or ultimate truths depending upon your perspective) in mind simultaneously. When you are at work and a patient or coworker says “Dr. Tom Das” you don’t ignore them or say something confusing like “I am not this body, I am not this name, I am pure conscious awareness disguised in human form” you go ahead and answer to your name. You and other people who have experienced awakening and not ended up in a no-self dissociative state continue to have an ego. It’s how you and everyone else navigates this world. I don’t find it particularly useful to deny the continued existence of this ego.

You ARE Tom Das and simultaneously, you ARE everyone and everything and everywhere and everywhen. I don’t see the Atman / Brahman as an either/or decision. It’s NOT a case of mutually exclusive choices. We can and ideally are a mixture of both. Deny the existence of Tom Das all you want but you will still answer to your name and show up and fulfill your roles in life and at work. Repeated denials that you are Tom Das seem even sillier than an actor on the stage repeatedly telling the audience “I am not really Hamlet.”

Tom: I agree it is not about abandoning one view for another – that is more duality, more ego, more ‘me’. What you have written is also not the middle way, which is about not being attached to any conceptions of self, at least according to Nagarjuna.

The teachings, as I have explained before, are pointers that tend to aim at removing ignorance, not truths.

The view you are advocating is called Vashisthadvaita in the Vedic texts in which multiplicity is acknowledged to co-exist with Brahman, whereas the views coming from myself and Ramana in the above quotes are advaita (no multiplicity) at times and ajata (no creation) at other times.  Traditionally the non-dual teachings proceed from dvaita (duality) to vashisthadvaita, to advaita to ajata, so you will find all 4 types of expressions in the scriptures and from the sages.

Traditionally the non-dual teachings proceed from dvaita (duality) to vashisthadvaita, to advaita to ajata, so you will find all 4 types of expressions in the scriptures and from the sages.

The first 2 of the views (Dvaita and Vashisthadvaita) can be understood by the mind and seem to make sense within the subject-object reality that is imagined to be real by the ‘me’ or ‘ego’. The fact that they are understandable and they do somewhat relieve suffering makes them valuable teachings to the seeker (ego), whereas Advaita and Ajata cannot be comprehended by the mind and makes no sense to the mind which only  can think in terms of subject-object.

If everyone thinks an actor is only Hamlet, and they don’t realise he is an actor playing the role, the teaching ‘I am not Hamlet’ becomes more important, which is why these teachings tend to be emphasised. You could say I appear to be Tom Das, and there is no need to deny this, but in reality there is only the Inexpressible This.

The root cause of suffering – a radical teaching

So the volunteer who usually edits and puts together my videos is no longer able to do so. This has resulted in me surfing the internet and learning how to edit videos myself! Below is my first video, edited and put together by…well…me! It was recorded live during Thursday’s online meeting, so the picture quality is not as good as it could be. Subscribe to the YouTube channel if you want to receive more of these videos, tell me what you think and enjoy 🙂

ps. if you know anyone who would be willing to help edit videos for me please let me know, with thanks 🙏

 

 

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. (See here for Ramana’s view of the Buddha). 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.”