Friday, March 25, 2022

AN 9.36, MN 64, MN 111: How does Ajahn Brahm and Sujato's "Jhāna" work here?

What these 3 suttas have in common, AN 9.36, MN 64, MN 111,

is the very interesting feature of explicitly describing doing vipassana, while one is in the jhāna and the first 3 formless attainments.

LBT (late buddhist text) apologists, as well as Sujato, Brahm, claim that the suttas describe a jhāna where one enters a disembodied, frozen state, where vipassana is impossible until one emerges from that 'jhāna'. 

Since Sujato translated all the suttas, let's take a look at what he translated, and how it supports his interpretation of 'jhāna'. 

AN 9.36: Jhānasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (

‘The first absorption is a basis for ending the defilements.’‘Paṭhamampāhaṁ, bhikkhave, jhānaṁ nissāya āsavānaṁ khayaṁ vadāmī’ti, iti kho panetaṁ vuttaṁ.That’s what I said, but why did I say it?Kiñcetaṁ paṭicca vuttaṁ?Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption.Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi …pe… paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self.So yadeva tattha hoti rūpagataṁ vedanāgataṁ saññāgataṁ saṅkhāragataṁ viññāṇagataṁ, te dhamme aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato samanupassati.They turn their mind away from those things,So tehi dhammehi cittaṁ paṭivāpeti. Variant: paṭivāpeti → patiṭṭhāpeti (sya-all); paṭipādeti (mr)and apply it to the deathless:So tehi dhammehi cittaṁ paṭivāpetvā amatāya dhātuyā cittaṁ upasaṁharati: Variant: paṭivāpetvā → patiṭṭhāpetvā (sya-all); paṭipādetvā (mr)‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’‘etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbū­pa­dhi­­paṭinissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan’ti.Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements.So tattha ṭhito āsavānaṁ khayaṁ pāpuṇāti.If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion and love for that meditation. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.No ce āsavānaṁ khayaṁ pāpuṇāti, teneva dhammarāgena tāya dhammanandiyā pañcannaṁ orambhāgiyānaṁ saṁyojanānaṁ parikkhayā opapātiko hoti tattha parinibbāyī anāvattidhammo tasmā lokā.

Frankk comment:

For some reason, Sujato abbreviated the first jhāna formula above, leaving out vitakka and vicāra (what he translates as 'placing the mind and keeping it connected', without adding any ellipses or any indication there is elided text. This may be an innocent error, perhaps for stylistic reasons.

The other word I highlighted, "form", how does Sujato's first jhāna contemplate the aggregate of rūpa (form), if the mind is supposedly in a disembodied jhāna where it can't perceive the body or form? 

Now the rest of AN 9.36 heavily elides the same pattern from first jhāna (doing vipassana attaining arahantship while in jhāna): 

‘The second absorption is also a basis for ending the defilements.’ …Dutiyampāhaṁ, bhikkhave, jhānaṁ nissāya …pe…

‘The third absorption is also a basis for ending the defilements.’ …tatiyampāhaṁ, bhikkhave, jhānaṁ nissāya …pe…

‘The fourth absorption is also a basis for ending the defilements.’ …‘catutthampāhaṁ, bhikkhave, jhānaṁ nissāya āsavānaṁ khayaṁ

Ok, note above that Sujato uses ellipses (the 3 dots) to indicate abbreviated text, yet the first jhāna formula above, he did not, so it's not stylistic objections to having  dot dot dot (....) in his translation. He intentionally translated an abbreviated first jhāna omitting vitakka and vicāra, which conveniently avoids showing the text where one supposedly has their mind "placed and connected" [to a jhāna kasina or nimitta] yet is somehow able to do vipassana in first jhāna according to the sutta. 

Since the remaining jhāna are heavily abbreviated, I'm going to show a full version of AN 9.36's second jhāna, using my translation from pāli, and reinserting Sujato's second jhāna formula. Why? Because doing vipassana while in second jhāna is even more incoherent than in first jhāna, when you're supposedly in a disembodied frozen state where you haven't placed the mind and "kept it connected" [to a kasina ]. 

2nd Jhāna
dutiyampāhaṃ, bhikkhave, jhānaṃ
second, *********, jhāna
nissāya āsavānaṃ khayaṃ vadāmi;
(is) necessary (for the) asinine-influences (to be) destroyed. (This) I say.
iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ.
thus indeed this was-said.
kiñcetaṃ paṭicca vuttaṃ?
what caused (this to be) said?
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu
here, monks, a monk (is) (doing second jhāna) like this:
STED Jhāna
Vitakka-vicārānaṃ vūpasamā
As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, 
ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ
they enter and remain in the second absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of immersion, with internal clarity and confidence,
cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ
 and unified mind, 
a-vitakkaṃ a-vicāraṃ
without placing the mind and keeping it connected.
samādhi-jaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ

dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

(doing vipassana while in jhana, can realize Nirvana)

So yadeva tattha hoti
What ever [dharma] there are
connected to – form
connected to – feelings
connected to – perception
connected to – co-activities
connected to – consciousness,
te dhamme
those dharmas (are)
a-niccato dukkhato
(1) im-permanent, (2) pain-&-suffering,
rogato gaṇḍato
(3) diseased, (4) an abscess,
sallato aghato
(5) a dart, (6) misery,
ābādhato parato
(7) an affliction, (8) alien,
palokato suññato
(9) falling apart, (10) empty,
(11) not-self,
{He} continuously-sees [dharma in those 11 ways].
So tehi dhammehi cittaṃ paṭivāpeti.
he, (in regard to) those dharmas, (his) mind turns-away.
So tehi dhammehi cittaṃ paṭivāpetvā
he, (in regard to) those dharmas, (his) mind having-turned-away,
A-matāya dhātuyā cittaṃ upasaṃharati:
(to the) death-less element (his) mind inclines:
‘etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ
This (is) peace, this (is) exquisite —
that is,

(and with that they either become Arahant or Nonreturner)

So how does Sujato do vipassana from his second jhāna?

So how does Sujato do vipassana from his second jhāna if his mind is in a disembodied, frozen state, and not only is linguistic thought not possible, but his mind is supposedly in a "unified state... without placing the mind and keeping it connected", and yet the sutta shows the meditator then contemplate the five aggregates and eleven characteristics. Don't you need to "move your mind" and "re-place the mind" to contemplate aggregates?

How do you do that? How is one disembodied with mind frozen, but according to AN 9.36, MN 64, one can contemplate the emptiness of the 5 aggregates WHILE in jhāna, and realize nonreturn or arahantship? 

In Sujato's translation where he translates along with the elided pāli, the impossibility of the situation in second jhāna isn't obvious until you fill in the details and actually read it out loud. 

Why do Ajahn Brahm and Sujato remain silent on this? 

Why do their devotees continue to believe their interpretation of jhāna, which clearly contradict AN 9.36, MN 111, and MN 64?  

Wouldn't a sensible devotee ask their teacher to explain the incoherence of their jhāna and settle their doubts, with a public and detailed answer?  

(In response, sound of crickets chirping, also known as dead silence)

Still waiting for someone to explain that contradiction from Ajahn Brahm, Sujato, and Visuddhimagga, 
Going on about 1500 years now.

Forum Discussion

Having relied on Bhante Gunaratana's explanation of Jhana, I had not been very concerned about Ajahn Brahm and Bhante Sujato. So to understand frankk's criticism, just reviewed a talk by Bhanta Sujato where he quotes Aj Brahm. starting around 38.25 He said,

"Developing balance of vipassana and samatha will make the jhana more robust when it arises ... I understand ekaggata one pointedness to mean (1) there is only mano-viññāna, the five external viññānas have ceased. (2) object stays the same, not shifting from one object to another. (3) there is not a sense of separation between the observing consciousness and the actual object itself. In first Jhana, there is a subtle movement of the mind, what Aj Brahm calls wobbling of the mind. That's what is called vittakka-vicāra. Mind has come together with the object, but because it is still close to ordinary consciousness, close to the world of the five senses, it's still not completely confident in that. Mind is still pushing on to the object a little bit. Doesn't want to let go of it. There is a residual force there. When the mind pushes, then the object recedes a little bit. Then the mind comes in and pushes on to it again and the mind recedes a little bit. It doesn't break the one pointedness, it's like massaging the object. Aj Brahm describes it as like a tennis ball, perfectly round and smooth but a bit fuzzy around the edges and compresses if you press it. Second jhana characterized by complete one pointedness, internal confidence and clarity. Ajahn Brahm describes it as being like a bowling ball, completely round and defined and there's no ambiguity at all. Rapture and bliss are two different terms for the emotional tone of the experience. Compared to drinking a glass of champagne, the fizziness is the rapture (pīti). The richness or sweetness of it is the bliss (sukha). When the pīti is experienced as too much agitation it fades away, leaving tranquility and bliss. The emotional response changes, no more fizz. etc. etc."

I heard that there is disagreement about the cessation of the five external viññānas. But that does not have to signify a "frozen disembodied state" where vipassana cannot occur. One would still experience the factors of mentality. What Bhante Sujato describes is quite a riff ... but does not sound at all frozen!

When the translator puts ellipses where the pali text has peyyala, that would not be mis-representing the Dhamma. It's just a style choice. The reader should fill in the missing phrases according to standard formulas. In Sri Lankan style of recitation, they like to fill in all the peyyala while the Thai monks read it just as written. I noticed this difference at the International Tipitaka Recitation events that have been organized over the past few years. Filling in the peyyalas does make the sutta recitations have more impact.

I am not trying to pick a quarrel here, but rather to fairly understand what Brahm-Sujato are claiming, to advance the conversation. Next I'll review frankk's critique, which seem to be found in several posts with the phrase "LBT redefinition of jhāna".

Frank responds:

Thanks for finding and transcribing that! Notice Sujato is quoting Ajahn Brahm, who came 2500 years after the Buddha. He doesn't actually quote the Buddha in the suttas to support that interpretation of 'jhāna'. The devotee of Sujato should be asking, why is that? Why is it someone who claims to be EBT, translated all the suttas into English, can't seem to find EBT quotes to support his interpretation?

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