http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 4, 2003


In This Issue: Special Issue - The Jhanas

1. What is the Purpose of Jhana Meditation?
2. BUDDHIST MEDITATION: Stages of Mindfulness and Aborsption
3. The Five Hindrances (Nivarana)
...Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: The Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre
5. Book/CD/Movie Review: Analysis of the Jhãnas in Theravãda Buddhist Meditation
- Ven. H. Gunaratana


1. What is the Purpose of Jhana Meditation? A reflection on the need to develop calm and concentration. -- by Catherine Jetsun Yeshe


There are two distinct types of meditation: one leads to insight and the other to the development of jhana or concentration through tranquillity. If you develop insight deeply enough, you will eventually come to tranquillity. And if you develop tranquillity deeply enough, you will eventually come to insight. The end is the same, but the way of getting there is different.

Both types of meditation have their advocates; some of those advocates, historically, have cast aspersions on the other type of practice. This is shortsighted and prejudicial. It does not take into account the importance of applying the correct technique for unfoldment to the individual psyche.

Many of the early practices popularized in the West have been insight practices (e.g. certain breath practices and the Zen system). These are techniques designed to wake you up, sometimes rather the way a cold bath in the morning can stimulate you into new modalities of awareness and understanding. They sometimes deal in a kind of shock technique, startling you out of complacency and opening mental doors. There is no doubt that this is an important aspect of Path study, at times, for we can get very comfortable and set in our mental and physical patternings. They are good for developing self-discipline, as they are frequently rigid in form but often come with a demanding autocratic master.

Most of my early life as a meditator, I was trained in such ways, for my teacher's reasoning was that I was a parent and struggling with kids and the wandering life and therefore, it was useless to try to gain tranquillity. However, I was a bundle of nerves. As soon as my life settled into a daily pattern I took up tranquillity meditations for the next six years in order to calm the formations so that the lifestream could become more integrated.

In the years since then, as I developed as a teacher, I began to switch my initial teaching from insight practices to tranquillity ones. I have come to honour this road of tranquillity meditations leading, later, to insight practices, as a road perhaps better suited to our culture. I have met a considerable number of people who have been fried by vigorous insight practices applied rigorously without modification to all students, without regard for individual needs or capacities. Some beings are too fragile for these techniques and some have experienced even severe mental disturbance in these meditation pressure-cooker courses.

It is a testament to how brave (or perhaps foolhardy) we are as a culture that we think we can forge into these ancient systems without reflection on the present conditions and needs. Indeed, we are forgetting the original purpose of Buddhist practice when we do this, which is to bring people out of suffering, not put them in deeper.

As a culture, we are very adept at critical sight, picking up on flaws and faults with ease (usually other people's). This turn of mind naturally tends us towards the pathways of insight, with its capacity to explode stuck mental formations and its ability to see deeply into the laws of nature and the patternings of oppression. However, this journey can and frequently does make us more edgy, more critical and often more arrogant: the razor-sharp mind can cut both ways. Eventually, we see into the nature of the self, how illusory and non-solid it is, and our arrogance and critical stance begins to fall away.

Unfortunately, this process can take a very long time. Because we are forced to work with the operative ego in the world, illusion or no, that cloak of arrogant self-assurance can become a permanent part of our persona. This unfortunate presentation of self can, in some individuals, manifest even as we pay lip-service the illusion of self and speak of the law of interdependent arising and the importance of the compassionate response. Compassion indeed!

It seems to me that we are encouraging the maelstrom of frenzied human endeavour to continue, defining ourselves as being right or "visionary" while refraining from engaging in a correction of what is really wrong in our culture. The predominant error that I see is still the lack of love between one human and another, between one country and another, between humankind and the planet we inhabit. We are still engaged in dominance and submission issues when clearly the deep seeing of the absolute interdependence of nature should be cause of opening our hearts deeper and deeper into the mystery of life and death in all its pain and solace.

Tranquillity meditations address this requirement. Through the development of calm and deep concentration the student comes to what T. S. Eliot in The Four Quartets called the "still point of the turning world". We learn to return to this place of connection when the world is frazzled. We learn to hold our hearts open in the most distressing of moments. We learn through deepening concentration not to be distracted from our place of focus and thus become more efficient and effective at what we choose to do.

As we clearly develop a knowledge of the various states of concentration, called jhanas, we can train ourselves to expand this field of concentration until eventually we are able to do many wonderful things with our minds. The capacity to alter formation leads us to learn how to heal. The ability to expand mind over great distances develops from this study. And the ability to understand other realms begins here, too.

But setting aside these extraordinary abilities, developing the meditations of tranquillity bring substantial benefits in the ordinary world. Without calm and concentration, how can we be at the bedside of a sick or dying friend? How can we help a crying and distraught child? How can we move through the corporate world with resilience and wellbeing? How can we attend an audition or a job interview without losing our focus? And, at the end of our days, how can we learn to be content in the "Land of Be" when we can no longer "Do"?

Perhaps a final benefit that comes with the clear development of the jhanas is their ability to give us rest: to bring us into such a state of quietude that our body rhythms are re-nourished and refreshed. When I returned here 21 years ago, I thought the pace of life in Canada was unreasonably hectic. Today it is exponentially worse. Where will this end but in illness and death? - unless we teach ourselves to rest, to reflect and to respond with a new voice.

One of the ways to develop these states of calm concentration is a teaching called "The Divine Abidings". Through the development of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy we form a platform of calm and concentration which, when deepened, will give rise to equanimity.

Eventually, this equanimity can become so profound that, though we may be rocked by life, we will never stray off course for too long. We will have developed the capacity to return again and again to our deepest core where the compassionate and aware human dwells: heart open, hands ready to help all those in need.


2. BUDDHIST MEDITATION: Stages of Mindfulness and Aborsption ...PRESENTED BY ...the Wanderling



Begin with BOTTOM of list "A," and work up:

E. NIRODHA (cessation, extinction)

Complete cessation of all psychomental activity; complete suppression of all samsaric conditionality; complete tranquillity "on the edge of the world" without, however, "going over" to Nirvana. Can last several days. Nirodha is attained after passing through the four formless absorptions, but only an Arahant can achieve Nirodha.

D. JHANA OR DHYANA WITHOUT FORM (arupa jhana): absorption without form, leading to increasing rarefaction or incorporeality (similar to Patanjali's asamprajnata samadhi. Asamprajnata-samadhi is sometimes known in Vedanta circles as nirvikalpa-samadhi). Asamprajnata-samadhi is generally considered to incorporate the following four Jhanas within its scope:

8) Eighth Jhana: jhana beyond perception and nonperception (nevasannanasanna) Saijojo.

7) Seventh Jhana: jhana of pure emptiness (akinci, lit. "nothingness") ken-shu-chi.

6) Sixth Jhana: jhana of pure expansive consciousness (vinnana).

5) Fifth Jhana: jhana of boundless space (anantakasa).

C. JHANA OR DHYANA WITH FORM (rupa): absorption in supporting content (similar to Patanjali's samprajnata samadhi). Samprajnata-samadhi is generally considered to incorporate the following four Jhanas within its scope:

4) Fourth Jhana: delete sense of well-being, leaving absorbed equanimity.

3) Third Jhana: delete joy, leaving equanimity and sense of well-being.

2) Second Jhana: delete mental activity, leaving joy and sense of well-being.

1) First Jhana: mental activity, joy, and sense of well-being.

B. ACCESS CONCENTRATION (upacara samadhi): powerful, unwavering attention on the focal object.

Traditionally, when the Five Hindrances are overcome it is called Upacara Samadhi, known also as "neighborhood concentration." That is, Neighbourhood Samadhi, where you are right NEXT to Jhanas but not fully in them. It's like being in the entrance to a hall...you have to pass over the entrance, the neighborhood, to come into the room. And also you have to pass over it as you go out. These are Upacaras, neighborhoods.

A. TRANQUILLITY (samatha or shamatha): the practice of one-pointed mental attention.

NOTE: It is said that the path of tranquillity-concentration-absorption can lead to supernormal powers (e.g., extrasensory perception, knowledge of previous lives). All of the attainments of this path, however, are considered samsaric. Buddhism holds that absorption by itself cannot lead to Nirvana. It is, rather, the path of Mindfulness-Insight that is said to lead to Nirvana. The mastery of "access concentration," however, is said to be an effective means to more stable mindfulness, and the mastery of the higher absorptive states is said to be an effective means to deeper insight. In a similar vein, please comepare the above with: Joriki, as well as Siddhi.

NOTE: In Buddhism, the meditative stages of samatha (or shamatha: tranquillity), Samadhi (specifically, access concentration: upacara samadhi), and jhana [Pali] or dhyana [Sanskrit] (absorption) correspond roughly to Patanjali's dharana, dhyana, Samadhi, respectively.

NOTE: In Buddhism, it is usually 'jhana' or 'dhyana', but sometimes also 'samadhi', that is used for absorption. Samadhi, understood as means of access to absorption, is usually considered a precondition of absorption (jhana/dhyana).


Just prior to the threshold of Tranquility, and sometimes in an overlap of early stages and sometimes indistinguishable is a preliminary or early stage called 'Laya'. Laya is a mental state of quietude easily slipped into that occurs usually in the course of spiritual practice. The experience is temporary as the arrest of thoughts return the moment the pressure is released. The stillness comes and goes. The experience is pleasant and can be sought about by `deep concentration' and/or breath regulation. It happens, therefore, with one's own volition. It can be repeated by the practitioner and it can also equally be dropped if it is considerd unnecessary or obstructive to further progress. 'Entering into Laya' can be a clear sign of one's progress --- the danger lies in mistaking it for the final goal of spiritual practice and being thus deceived.


Ni (without) + rodha (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment): without impediment, free of confinement

The word Nirodha has been translated as "cessation" for so long that it has become standard practice, and any deviation from it leads to queries. For the most part this standard translation is for the sake of convenience as well as to avoid confusing it for other Pali terms (apart from lack of a better word). In fact, however, this rendering of the word "Nirodha" as "ceased" can in many instances be a mis-rendering of the text.

Generally speaking, the word "cease" means to do away with something which has already arisen, or the stopping of something which has already begun. However, Nirodha in the teaching of Dependent Origination (as also in dukkhanirodha, the third of the Four Noble Truths) means the non-arising, or non-existence, of something because the cause of its arising is done away with. For example, the phrase "when avijja is Nirodha, sankhara are also Nirodha," which is usually taken to mean "with the cessation of ignorance, volitional impulses cease," in fact means "when there is no ignorance, or no arising of ignorance, or when there is no longer any problem with ignorance, there are no volitional impulses, volitional impulses do not arise, or there is no longer any problem with volitional impulses." It does not mean that ignorance already arisen must be done away with before the volitional impulses which have already arisen will also be done away with.

Where Nirodha should be rendered as cessation is when it is used in reference to the natural way of things, or the nature of compounded things. In this sense it is a synonym for the words bhanga, breaking up, anicca, transient, khaya, cessation or vaya, decay. For example, in the Pali it is given: imam kho bhikkhave tisso vedana anicca sankhata paticcasamuppanna khayadhamma vayadhamma viragadhamma nirodhadhamma: "Monks, these three kinds of feeling are naturally impermanent, compounded, dependently arisen, transient, subject to decay, dissolution, fading and cessation."[S.IV.214] (All of the factors occurring in the Dependent Origination cycle have the same nature.) In this instance, the meaning is "all conditioned things (sankhara), having arisen, must inevitably decay and fade according to supporting factors." There is no need to try to stop them, they cease of themselves. Here the intention is to describe a natural condition which, in terms of practice, simply means "that which arises can be done away with."

As for Nirodha in the third Noble Truth (or the Dependent Origination cycle in cessation mode), although it also describes a natural process, its emphasis is on practical considerations. It is translated in two ways in the Visuddi Magga. One way traces the etymology to "ni" (without) + "rodha" (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment), thus rendering the meaning as "without impediment," "free of confinement." This is explained as "free of impediments, that is, the confinement of Samsara." Another definition traces the origin to anuppada, meaning "not arising", and goes on to say "Nirodha here does not mean bhanga, breaking up and dissolution."

Therefore, translating Nirodha as "cessation", although not entirely wrong, is nevertheless not entirely accurate. On the other hand, there is no other word which comes so close to the essential meaning as "cessation." However, we should understand what is meant by the term. In this context, the Dependent Origination cycle in its cessation mode might be better rendered as "being free of ignorance, there is freedom from volitional impulses ..." or "when ignorance is gone, volitional impulses are gone ..." or "when ignorance ceases to give fruit, volitional impulses cease to give fruit ..." or "when ignorance is no longer a problem, volitional impulses are no longer a problem."

The following was written by Zen-Bodhisattva, past editor of Cyber Tree Zen:

There is a sanskrit word NIRODHA discribed usually as cessation that carries with it a more indepth meaning. In the index of the Visuddi Magga, for example, there are over twenty-five references that need to be read in context inorder to cull out a fuller more concise meaning. Briefly, like Deep Samadhi, it is a very, very high degree non-meditative meditative state. During Nirodha there is no time squence whether a couple hours pass or seven days, as the immediate moment preceding and immediately following seem as though in rapid succession, start and finish compressed wafer thin. During, heartbeat and metabolism continue to slow and practically cease, sometimes continuing below the threshold of preception at a risidual level. Previosly stored body energy that would typically be consumed in a couple of hours if not replenished can last days with very little need for renewal. The Visuddhi Magga cites several instances where villagers came across a bhikkhu in such a state and built a funeral pyre for him, even to the point of lighting it. During low-level residual states the body temperature drops well below the 98.6 degree point. If suddenly jarred to consciousness body metabolism is slower to regain it's normal temperature, and inturn, that is recorded by the quicker to return cognative senses as "being cold."

3. The Five Hindrances (Nivarana) ...Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso


    The major obstacles to successful meditation and liberating insight take the form of one or more of the Five Hindrances. The whole practice leading to Enlightenment can be well expressed as the effort to overcome the Five Hindrances, at first suppressing them temporarily in order to experience Jhana and Insight, and then overcoming them permanently through the full development of the Noble Eightfold Path.

So, what are these Five Hindrances? They are:

KAMACCHANDA: Sensory Desire
THINA-MIDDHA: Sloth and Torpor
UDDHACCA-KUKKUCCA: Restlessness and Remorse

1. Sensory desire refers to that particular type of wanting that seeks for happiness through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling. It specifically excludes any aspiration for happiness through the sixth sense of mind alone.

    In its extreme form, sensory desire is an obsession to find pleasure in such things as sexual intimacy, good food or fine music. But it also includes the desire to replace irritating or even painful five-sense experiences with pleasant ones, i.e. the desire for sensory comfort.

    The Lord Buddha compared sensory desire to taking out a loan. Any pleasure one experiences through these five senses must be repaid through the unpleasantness of separation, loss or hungry emptiness which follow relentlessly when the pleasure is used up. As with any loan, there is also the matter of interest and thus, as the Lord Buddha said, the pleasure is small compared to the suffering repaid.

    In meditation, one transcends sensory desire for the period by letting go of concern for this body and its five sense activity. Some imagine that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body, but the truth is that the body is there to serve the five senses as they play in the world ever seeking delight. Indeed, the Lord Buddha once said, "The five senses ARE the world" and to leave the world, to enjoy the other worldly bliss of Jhana, one must give up for a time ALL concern for the body and its five senses.

    When sensory desire is transcended, the mind of the meditator has no interest in the promise of pleasure or even comfort with this body. The body disappears and the five senses all switch off. The mind becomes calm and free to look within. The difference between the five sense activity and its transcendence is like the difference between looking out of a window and looking in a mirror. The mind that is free from five sense activity can truly look within and see itsreal nature. Only from that can wisdom arise as to what we are, from where and why?!

2. Ill will refers to the desire to punish, hurt or destroy. It includes sheer hatred of a person, or even a situation, and it can generate so much energy that it is both seductive and addictive. At the time, it always appears justified for such is its power that it easily corrupts our ability to judge fairly. It also includes ill will towards oneself, otherwise known as guilt, which denies oneself any possibility of happiness. In meditation, ill will can appear as dislike towards the meditation object itself, rejecting it so that one's attention is forced to wander elsewhere.

    The Lord Buddha likened ill will to being sick. Just as sickness denies one the freedom and happiness of health, so ill will denies one the freedom and happiness of peace. Ill will is overcome by applying Metta, loving kindness. When it is ill will towards a person, Metta teaches one to see more in that person than all that which hurts you, to understand why that person hurt you (often because they were hurting intensely themselves), and encourages one to put aside one's own pain to look with compassion on the other. But if this is more than one can do, Metta to oneself leads one to refuse to dwell in ill will to that person, so as to stop them from hurting you further with the memory of those deeds. Similarly, if it is ill will towards oneself, Metta sees more than one's own faults, can understand one's own faults, and finds the courage to forgive them, learn from their lesson and let them go. Then, if it is ill will towards the mediation object (often the reason why a meditator cannot find peace) Metta embraces the meditation object with care and delight. For example, just as a mother has a natural Metta towards her child, so a meditator can look on their breath, say, with the very same quality of caring attention. Then it will be just as unlikely to lose the breath through forgetfulness as it is unlikely for a mother to forget her baby in the shopping mall, and it would be just as improbable to drop the breath for some distracting thought as it is for a distracted mother to drop her baby! When ill will is overcome, it allows lasting relationships with other people, with oneself and, in meditation, a lasting, enjoyable relationship with the meditation object, one that can mature into the full embrace of absorption.

3. Sloth and torpor refers to that heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. The Lord Buddha compared it to being imprisoned in a cramped, dark cell, unable to move freely in the bright sunshine outside. In meditation, it causes weak and intermittent mindfulness which can even lead to falling asleep in meditation without even realizing it!

    Sloth and torpor is overcome by rousing energy. Energy is always available but few know how to turn on the switch, as it were. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. A young child has a natural interest, and consequent energy, because its world is so new. Thus, if one can learn to look at one's life, or one's meditation, with a 'beginner's mind' one can see ever new angles and fresh possibilities which keep one distant from sloth and torpor, alive and energetic. Similarly, one can develop delight in whatever one is doing by training one's perception to see the beautiful in the ordinary, thereby generating the interest which avoids the half-death that is sloth and torpor.

    The mind has two main functions, 'doing' and 'knowing'. The way of meditation is to calm the 'doing' to complete tranquillity while maintaining the 'knowing'. Sloth and torpor occur when one carelessly calms both the 'doing' and the 'knowing', unable to distinguish between them.

    Sloth and torpor is a common problem which can creep up and smother one slowly. A skilful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it's too late. Like coming to a fork in a road, one can take that mental path leading away from sloth and torpor. Sloth and torpor is an unpleasant state of body and mind, too stiff to leap into the bliss of Jhana and too blinded to spot any insights. In short, it is a complete waste of precious time.

4. Restlessness refers to a mind which is like a monkey, always swinging on to the next branch, never able to stay long with anything. It is caused by the fault-finding state of mind which cannot be satisfied with things as they are, and so has to move on to the promise of something better, forever just beyond.

    The Lord Buddha compared restlessness to being a slave, continually having to jump to the orders of a tyrannical boss who always demands perfection and so never lets one stop. Restlessness is overcome by developing contentment, which is the opposite of fault-finding. One learns the simple joy of being satisfied with little, rather than always wanting more. One is grateful for this moment, rather than picking out its deficiencies. For instance, in meditation restlessness is often the impatience to move quickly on to the next stage. The fastest progress, though is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage. So be careful of 'wanting to get on with it' and instead learn how to rest in appreciative contentment. That way, the 'doing' disappears and the meditation blossoms.

    Remorse refers to a specific type of restlessness which is the kammic effect of one's misdeeds. The only way to overcome remorse, the restlessness of a bad conscience, is to purify one's virtue and become kind, wise and gentle. It is virtually impossible for the immoral or the self indulgent to make deep progress in meditation.

5. Doubt refers to the disturbing inner questions at a time when one should be silently moving deeper. Doubt can question one's own ability "Can I do This?", or question the method "Is this the right way?", or even question the meaning "What is this?". It should be remembered that such questions are obstacles to meditation because they are asked at the wrong time and thus become an intrusion, obscuring one's clarity.

    The Lord Buddha likened doubt to being lost in a desert, not recognizing any landmarks. Such doubt is overcome by gathering clear instructions, having a good map, so that one can recognize the subtle landmarks in the unfamiliar territory of deep meditation and so know which way to go. Doubt in one's ability is overcome by nurturing self confidence with a good teacher. A meditation teacher is like a coach who convinces the sports team that they can succeed. The Lord Buddha stated that one can, one will, reach Jhana and Enlightenment if one carefully and patiently follows the instructions. The only uncertainty is 'when'! Experience also overcomes doubt about one's ability and also doubt whether this is the right path. As one realized for oneself the beautiful stages of the path, one discovers that one is indeed capable of the very highest, and that this is the path that leads one there.

    The doubt that takes the form of constant assessing "Is this Jhana?" "How am I going?", is overcome by realizing that such questions are best left to the end, to the final couple of minutes of the meditation. A jury only makes its judgment at the end of the trial, when all the evidence has been presented. Similarly, a skilful meditator pursues a silent gathering of evidence, reviewing it only at the end to uncover its meaning.

    The end of doubt, in meditation, is described by a mind which has full trust in the silence, and so doesn't interfere with any inner speech. Like having a good chauffeur, one sits silently on the journey out of trust in the driver.

    Any problem which arises in meditation will be one of these Five Hindrances, or a combination. So, if one experiences any difficulty, use the scheme of the Five Hindrances as a 'check list' to identify the main problem. Then you will know the appropriate remedy, apply it carefully, and go beyond the obstacle into deeper meditation.

    When the Five Hindrances are fully overcome, there is no barrier between the meditator and the bliss of Jhana. Therefore, the certain test that these Five Hindrances are really overcome is the ability to access Jhana.

4. The Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre


We are located in the foothills of the Southern Alps overlooking the Wangapeka River, about an hour and a half drive SW of Nelson, New Zealand.

Wangapeka is a place to study and deepen the process of Buddha Dharma, the teaching of Compassion and Awareness.

Our Centre is available for individual healing and meditation retreats.  Group activities cover topics such as Meditation, Healing, Therapy, Art and Craft work and various types of Body work.  Courses range from weekends to courses three months in length.

Many visitors comment on the peaceful and healing atmosphere at the Centre.  This is undoubtedly due to the natural beauty of the place and the great amount of meditation that has been done over the years.  Possibly even more important than this though, is the fact that so many people have given freely from the heart to build a place that would be of benefit to all beings.

5. Analysis of the Jhãnas in Theravãda Buddhist Meditation - Ven. H. Gunaratana  (1.3 MB) Download this free eBook in PDF at: http://www.urbandharma.org/pdf/scrnguna.pdf

For anyone interested in the Jhanas, this is a must have!!! (and it's free)

This work, by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, provides an analytical study of the Jhãnas, as they are an important set of meditative attainments in the contemplative discipline of Theravãda Buddhism. Despite their frequent appearance in the texts, the exact role of the Jhãnas in the Buddhist path has not been settled with unanimity by Theravãda scholars, who are still divided over the question as to whether they are necessary for attaining Nibbana. The primary purpose of this dissertation is to determine the precise role of the Jhãnas in the Theravãda Buddhist presentation of the way to liberation.

For source material the work relies upon the three principal classes of authoritative Theravãda texts: the Pali Tipitaka, its commentaries, and its sub-commentaries. To traditional canonical investigations modern methods of philosophical and psychological analysis are applied in order to clarify the meanings implicit in the original sources. The examination covers two major areas: first the dynamics of Jhãna attainment, and second, the function of the Jhãnas in realizing the ultimate goal of Buddhism, Nibbana or final liberation from suffering.


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