The Preparation for Jhana
The jhanas do not arise out of a void but in dependence on the right conditions. They come to growth only when provided with the nutriments conductive to their development. Therefore, prior to beginning meditation, the aspirant to the jhanas must prepare a groundwork for his practice by fulfilling certain preliminary requirements. He first must endeavor to purify his moral virtue, sever the outer impediments to practice, and place himself under a qualified teacher who will assign him a suitable meditation subject and explain to him the methods of developing it. After learning these the disciple must then seek out a congenial dwelling and diligently strive for success. In this chapter we will examine in order each of the preparatory steps that have to be fulfilled before commencing to develop jhana.
The Moral Foundation for Jhana
A disciple aspiring to the jhanas first has to lay a solid foundation of moral discipline. Moral purity is indispensable to meditative progress for several deeply psychological reasons. It is needed first, in order to safeguard against the danger of remorse, the nagging sense of guilt that arises when the basic principles of morality are ignored or deliberately violated. Scrupulous conformity to virtuous rules of conduct protects the meditator from this danger disruptive to inner calm, and brings joy and happiness when the meditator reflects upon the purity of his conduct (see A.v,1-7).
A second reason a moral foundation is needed for meditation follows from an understanding of the purpose of concentration. Concentration, in the Buddhist discipline, aims at providing a base for wisdom by cleansing the mind of the dispersive influence of the defilements. But in order for the concentration exercises to effectively combat the defilements, the coarser expressions of the latter through bodily and verbal action first have to be checked. Moral transgressions being invariably motivated by defilements — by greed, hatred and delusion — when a person acts in violation of the precepts of morality he excites and reinforces the very same mental factors his practice of meditation is intended to eliminate. This involves him in a crossfire of incompatible aims which renders his attempts at mental purification ineffective. The only way he can avoid frustration in his endeavor to purify the mind of its subtler defilements is to prevent the unwholesome inner impulses from breathing out in the coarser form of unwholesome bodily and verbal deeds. Only when he establishes control over the outer expression of the defilements can he turn to deal with them inwardly as mental obsessions that appear in the process of meditation.
The practice of moral discipline consists negatively in abstinence from immoral actions of body and speech and positively in the observance of ethical principles promoting peace within oneself and harmony in one’s relations with others. The basic code of moral discipline taught by the Buddha for the guidance of his lay followers is the five precepts: abstinence from taking life, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from false speech, and from intoxicating drugs and drinks. These principles are bindings as minimal ethical obligations for all practitioners of the Buddhist path, and within their bounds considerable progress in meditation can be made. However, those aspiring to reach the higher levels of jhanas and to pursue the path further to the stages of liberation, are encouraged to take up the more complete moral discipline pertaining to the life of renunciation. Early Buddhism is unambiguous in its emphasis on the limitations of household life for following the path in its fullness and perfection. Time and again the texts say that the household life is confining, a “path for the dust of passion,” while the life of homelessness is like open space. Thus a disciple who is fully intent upon making rapid progress towards Nibbana will when outer conditions allow for it, “shave off his hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and go forth from the home life into homelessness” (M.i,179).
The moral training for the bhikkhus or monks has been arranged into a system called the fourfold purification of morality (catuparisuddhisila). The first component of this scheme, its backbone, consists in the morality of restraint according to the Patimokkha, the code of 227 training precepts promulgated by the Buddha to regulate the conduct of the Sangha or monastic order. Each of these rules is in some way intended to facilitate control over the defilements and to induce a mode of living marked by harmlessness, contentment and simplicity. The second aspect of the monk’s moral discipline is restraint of the senses, by which the monk maintains close watchfulness over his mind as he engages in sense contacts so that he does not give rise to desire for pleasurable objects and aversion towards repulsive ones. Third, the monk is to live by a purified livelihood, obtaining his basic requisites such as robes, food, lodgings and medicines in ways consistent with his vocation. The fourth factor of the moral training is proper use of the requisites, which means that the monk should reflect upon the purposes for which he makes use of his requisites and should employ them only for maintaining his health and comfort, not for luxury and enjoyment.
After establishing a foundation of purified morality, the aspirant to meditation is advised to cut off any outer impediments (palibodha) that may hinder his efforts to lead a contemplative life. These impediments are numbered as ten: a dwelling, which becomes an impediment for those who allow their minds to become preoccupied with its upkeep or with its appurtenances; a family of relatives or supporters with whom the aspirant may become emotionally involved in ways that hinder his progress; gains, which may bind the monk by obligation to those who offer them; a class of students who must be instructed; building work, which demands time and attention; travel; kin, meaning parents, teachers, pupils or close friends; illness; the study of scriptures; and supernormal powers, which are an impediment to insight (Vism.90-97; PP.91-98).
The Good Friend and the Subject of Meditation
The path of practice leading to the jhanas is an arduous course involving precise techniques and skillfulness is needed in dealing with the pitfalls that lie along the way. The knowledge of how to attain the jhanas has been transmitted through a lineage of teachers going back to the time of the Buddha himself. A prospective meditator is advised to avail himself of the living heritage of accumulated knowledge and experience by placing himself under the care of a qualified teacher, described as a “good friend” (kalyanamitta), one who gives guidance and wise advice rooted in his own practice and experience. On the basis of either of the power of penetrating others minds, or by personal observation, or by questioning, the teacher will size up the temperament of his new pupil and then select a meditation subject for him appropriate to his temperament.
The various meditation subjects that the Buddha prescribed for the development of serenity have been collected in the commentaries into a set called the forty kammatthana. This word means literally a place of work, and is applied to the subject of meditation as the place where the meditator undertakes the work of meditation. The forty meditation subjects are distributed into seven categories, enumerated in the Visuddhimagga as follows: ten kasinas, ten kinds of foulness, ten recollections, four divine abidings, four immaterial states, one perception, and one defining.
A kasina is a device representing a particular quality used as a support for concentration. The ten kasinas are those of earth, water, fire and air; four color kasinas — blue, yellow, red and white; the light kasina and the limited space kasina. The kasina can be either a naturally occurring form of the element or color chosen, or an artificially produced device such as a disk that the meditator can use at his convenience in his meditation quarters.
The ten kinds of foulness are ten stages in the decomposition of a corpse: the bloated, the livid, the festering, the cut-up, the gnawed, the scattered, the hacked and scattered, the bleeding, the worm-infested and a skeleton. The primary purpose of these meditations is to reduce sensual lust by gaining a clear perception of the repulsiveness of the body.
The ten recollections are the recollections of the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, morality, generosity and the deities, mindfulness of death, mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of breathing, and the recollection of peace. The first three are devotional contemplations on the sublime qualities of the “Three Jewels,” the primary objects of Buddhist virtues and on the deities inhabiting the heavenly worlds, intended principally for those still intent on a higher rebirth. Mindfulness of death is reflection on the inevitability of death, a constant spur to spiritual exertion. Mindfulness of the body involves the mental dissection of the body into thirty-two parts, undertaken with a view to perceiving its unattractiveness. Mindfulness of breathing is awareness of the in-and-out movement of the breath, perhaps the most fundamental of all Buddhist meditation subjects. And the recollection of peace is reflection on the qualities of Nibbana.
The four divine abidings (brahmavihara) are the development of boundless loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. These meditations are also called the “immeasurables” (appamañña) because they are to be developed towards all sentient beings without qualification or exclusiveness.
The four immaterial states are the base of boundless space, the base of boundless consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. These are the objects leading to the corresponding meditative attainments, the immaterial jhanas.
The one perception is the perception of the repulsiveness of food. The one defining is the defining of the four elements, that is, the analysis of the physical body into the elemental modes of solidity, fluidity, heat and oscillation.
The forty meditation subjects are treated in the commentarial texts from two important angles — one their ability to induce different levels of concentration, the other their suitability for differing temperaments. Not all meditation subjects are equally effective in inducing the deeper levels of concentration. They are first distinguished on the basis of their capacity for inducing only access concentration or for inducing full absorption; those capable of inducing absorption are then distinguished further according to their ability to induce the different levels of jhana.
Of the forty subjects, ten are capable of leading only to access concentration: eight recollections — i.e., all except mindfulness of the body and mindfulness of breathing — plus the perception of repulsiveness in nutriment and the defining of the four elements. These, because they are occupied with a diversity of qualities and involve and active application of discursive thought, cannot lead beyond access. The other thirty subjects can all lead to absorption.
The ten kasinas and mindfulness of breathing, owing to their simplicity and freedom from thought construction, can lead to all four jhanas. The ten kinds of foulness and mindfulness of the body lead only to the first jhana, being limited because the mind can only hold onto them with the aid of applied thought (vitakka) which is absent in the second and higher jhanas. The first three divine abidings can induce the lower three jhanas but not the fourth, since they arise in association with pleasant feeling, while the divine abiding of equanimity occurs only at the level of the fourth jhana, where neutral feeling gains ascendency. The four immaterial states conduce to the respective immaterial jhanas corresponding to their names.
The forty subjects are also differentiated according to their appropriateness for different character types. Six main character types are recognized — the greedy, the hating, the deluded, the faithful, the intelligent and the speculative — this oversimplified typology being taken only as a pragmatic guideline which in practice admits various shades and combinations. The ten kind of foulness and mindfulness of the body, clearly intended to attenuate sensual desire, are suitable for those of greedy temperament. Eight subjects — the four divine abidings and four color kasinas — are appropriate for the hating temperament. Mindfulness of breathing is suitable for those of the deluded and the speculative temperament. The first six recollections are appropriate for the faithful temperament. Four subjects — mindfulness of death, the recollection of peace, the defining of the four elements, and the perception of the repulsiveness in nutriment — are especially effective for those of intelligent temperament. The remaining six kasinas and the immaterial states are suitable for all kinds of temperaments. But the kasinas should be limited in size for one of speculative temperament and large in size for one of deluded temperament.
Immediately after giving this breakdown Buddhaghosa adds a proviso to prevent misunderstanding. He states that this division by way of temperament is made on the basis of direct opposition and complete suitability, but actually there is no wholesome form of meditation that does not suppress the defilements and strengthen the virtuous mental factors. Thus an individual meditator may be advised to meditate on foulness to abandon lust, on loving-kindness to abandon hatred, on breathing to cut off discursive thought, and on impermanence to eliminate the conceit “I am” (A.iv,358).
Choosing a Suitable Dwelling
The teacher assigns a meditation subject to his pupil appropriate to his character and explains the methods of developing it. He can teach it gradually to a pupil who is going to remain in close proximity to him, or in detail to one who will go to practice it elsewhere. If the disciple is not going to stay with his teacher he must be careful to select a suitable place for meditation. The texts mention eighteen kinds of monasteries unfavorable to the development of jhana: a large monastery, a new one, a dilapidated one, one near a road, one with a pond, leaves, flowers or fruits, one sought after by many people, one in cities, among timber of fields, where people quarrel, in a port, in border lands, on a frontier, a haunted place, and one without access to a spiritual teacher (Vism. 118-121; PP122-125).
The factors which make a dwelling favorable to meditation are mentioned by the Buddha himself. If should not be too far from or too near a village that can be relied on as an alms resort, and should have a clear path: it should be quiet and secluded; it should be free from rough weather and from harmful insects and animals; one should be able to obtain one’s physical requisites while dwelling there; and the dwelling should provide ready access to learned elders and spiritual friends who can be consulted when problems arise in meditation (A.v,15). The types of dwelling places commended by the Buddha most frequently in the suttas as conductive to the jhanas are a secluded dwelling in the forest, at the foot of a tree, on a mountain, in a cleft, in a cave, in a cemetery, on a wooded flatland, in the open air, or on a heap of straw (M.i,181). Having found a suitable dwelling and settled there, the disciple should maintain scrupulous observance of the rules of discipline, He should be content with his simple requisites, exercise control over his sense faculties, be mindful and discerning in all activities, and practice meditation diligently as he was instructed. It is at this point that he meets the first great challenge of his contemplative life, the battle with the five hindrances.
The First Jhana and its Factors
The attainment of any jhana comes about through a twofold process of development. On one side the states obstructive to it, called its factors of abandonment, have to be eliminated, on the other the states composing it, called its factors of possession, have to be acquired. In the case of the first jhana the factors of abandonment are the five hindrances and the factors of possession the five basic jhana factors. Both are alluded to in the standard formula for the first jhana, the opening phrase referring to the abandonment of the hindrances and the subsequent portion enumerating the jhana factors:
Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, he enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied thought and sustained thought with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. (M.i,1818; Vbh.245)
In this chapter we will first discuss the five hindrances and their abandonment, then we will investigate the jhana factors both individually and by way of their combined contribution to the attainment of the first jhana. We will close the chapter with some remarks on the ways of perfecting the first jhana, a necessary preparation for the further development of concentration.
The Abandoning of the Hindrances
The five hindrances (pañcanivarana) are sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt. This group, the principal classification the Buddha uses for the obstacles to meditation, receives its name because its five members hinder and envelop the mind, preventing meditative development in the two spheres of serenity and insight. Hence the Buddha calls them “obstructions, hindrances, corruptions of the mind which weaken wisdom”(S.v,94).
The hindrance of sensual desire (kamachanda) is explained as desire for the “five strands of sense pleasure,” that is, for pleasant forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tangibles. It ranges from subtle liking to powerful lust. The hindrance of ill will (byapada) signifies aversion directed towards disagreeable persons or things. It can vary in range from mild annoyance to overpowering hatred. Thus the first two hindrances correspond to the first two root defilements, greed and hate. The third root defilement, delusion, is not enumerated separately among the hindrances but can be found underlying the remaining three.
Sloth and torpor is a compound hindrance made up of two components: sloth (thina), which is dullness, inertia or mental stiffness; and torpor (middha), which is indolence or drowsiness. Restlessness and worry is another double hindrance, restlessness (uddhacca) being explained as excitement, agitation or disquietude, worry (kukkucca) as the sense of guilt aroused by moral transgressions. Finally, the hindrance of doubt (vicikiccha) is explained as uncertainty with regard to the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha and the training.
The Buddha offers two sets of similes to illustrate the detrimental effect of the hindrances. The first compares the five hindrances to five types of calamity: sensual desire is like a debt, ill will like a disease, sloth and torpor like imprisonment, restless and worry like slavery, and doubt like being lost on a desert road. Release from the hindrances is to be seen as freedom from debt, good health, release from prison, emancipation from slavery, and arriving at a place of safety (D.i,71-73). The second set of similes compares the hindrances to five kinds of impurities affecting a bowl of water, preventing a keen-sighted man from seeing his own reflection as it really is. Sensual desire is like a bowl of water mixed with brightly colored paints, ill will like a bowl of boiling water, sloth and torpor like water covered by mossy plants, restlessness and worry like water blown into ripples by the wind, and doubt like muddy water. Just as the keen-eyed man would not be able to see his reflection in these five kinds of water, so one whose mind is obsessed by the five hindrances does not know and see as it is his own good, the good of others or the good of both (S.v,121-24). Although there are numerous defilements opposed to the first jhana the five hindrances alone are called its factors of abandoning. One reason according to the Visuddhimagga, is that the hindrances are specifically obstructive to jhana, each hindrance impeding in its own way the mind’s capacity for concentration.
The mind affected through lust by greed for varied objective fields does not become concentrated on an object consisting in unity, or being overwhelmed by lust, it does not enter on the way to abandoning the sense-desire element. When pestered by ill will towards an object, it does not occur uninterruptedly. When overcome by stiffness and torpor, it is unwieldy. When seized by agitation and worry, it is unquiet and buzzes about. When stricken by uncertainty, it fails to mount the way to accomplish the attainment of jhana. So it is these only that are called factors of abandonment because they are specifically obstructive to jhana.(Vism.146: PP.152)
A second reason for confining the first jhana’s factors of abandoning to the five hindrances is to permit a direct alignment to be made between the hindrances and the jhanic factors. Buddhaghosa states that the abandonment of the five hindrances alone is mentioned in connection with jhana because the hindrances are the direct enemies of the five jhana factors, which the latter must eliminate and abolish. To support his point the commentator cites a passage demonstrating a one-to-one correspondence between the jhana factors and the hindrances: one-pointedness is opposed to sensual desire, rapture to ill will, applied thought to sloth and torpor, happiness to restlessness and worry, and sustained thought to doubt (Vism. 141; PP.147). Thus each jhana factor is seen as having the specific task of eliminating a particular obstruction to the jhana and to correlate these obstructions with the five jhana factors they are collected into a scheme of five hindrances.
The standard passage describing the attainment of the first jhana says that the jhana is entered upon by one who is “secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind.” The Visuddhimagga explains that there are three kinds of seclusion relevant to the present context — namely, bodily seclusion (kayaviveka), mental seclusion (cittaviveka), and seclusion by suppression (vikkhambhanaviveka) (Vism. 140; PP.145). These three terms allude to two distinct sets of exegetical categories. The first two belong to a threefold arrangement made up of bodily seclusion, mental seclusion, and “seclusion from the substance” (upadhiviveka). The first means physical withdrawal from active social engagement into a condition of solitude for the purpose of devoting time and energy to spiritual development. The second, which generally presupposes the first, means the seclusion of the mind from its entanglement in defilements; it is in effect equivalent to concentration of at least the access level. The third, “seclusion from the substance,” is Nibbana, liberation from the elements of phenomenal existence. The achievement of the first jhana does not depend on the third, which is its outcome rather than prerequisite, but it does require physical solitude and the separation of the mind from defilements, hence bodily and mental seclusion. The third type of seclusion pertinent to the context, seclusion by suppression, belongs to a different scheme generally discussed under the heading of “abandonment” (pahana) rather than “seclusion.” The type of abandonment required for the attainment of jhana is abandonment by suppression, which means the removal of the hindrances by force of concentration similar to the pressing down of weeds in a pond by means of a porous pot.
The work of overcoming the five hindrances is accomplished through the gradual training (anupubbasikkha) which the Buddha has laid down so often in the suttas, such as the Samaññaphala Sutta and the Culahatthipadopama Sutta. The gradual training is a step-by-step process designed to lead the practitioner gradually to liberation. The training begins with moral discipline, the undertaking and observance of specific rules of conduct which enable the disciple to control the coarser modes of bodily and verbal misconduct through which the hindrances find an outlet. With moral discipline as a basis, the disciple practices the restraint of the senses. He does not seize upon the general appearances of the beguiling features of things, but guards and masters his sense faculties so that sensual attractive and repugnant objects no longer become grounds for desire and aversion. Then, endowed with the self-restraint, he develops mindfulness and discernment (sati-sampajañña) in all his activities and postures, examining everything he does with clear awareness as to its purpose and suitability. He also cultivates contentment with a minimum of robes, food, shelter and other requisites.
Once he has fulfilled these preliminaries the disciple is prepared to go into solitude to develop the jhanas, and it is here that he directly confronts the five hindrances. The elimination of the hindrances requires that the meditator honestly appraises his own mind. When sensuality, ill will and the other hindrances are present, he must recognize that they are present and he must investigate the conditions that lead to their arising: the latter he must scrupulously avoid. The meditator must also understand the appropriate antidotes for each of the five hindrances. The Buddha says that all the hindrances arise through unwise consideration (ayoniso manasikara) and that they can be eliminated by wise consideration (yoniso manasikara). Each hindrance, however, has its own specific antidote. Thus wise consideration of the repulsive feature of things is the antidote to sensual desire; wise consideration of loving-kindness counteracts ill will; wise consideration of the elements of effort, exertion and striving opposes sloth and torpor; wise consideration of tranquillity of mind removes restlessness and worry; and wise consideration of the real qualities of things eliminates doubt (S.v,105-106).
Having given up covetousness [i.e., sensual desire] with regard to the world, he dwells with a heart free of covetousness; he cleanses his mind from covetousness. Having given up the blemish of ill will, he dwells without ill will; friendly and compassionate towards all living beings, he cleanses his mind from the blemishes of ill will. Having given up sloth and torpor, he dwells free from sloth and torpor, in the perception of light; mindful and clearly comprehending, he cleanses his mind from sloth and torpor. Having given up restlessness and worry, he dwells without restlessness; his mind being calmed within, he cleanses it from restlessness and worry. Having given up doubt, he dwells as one who has passed beyond doubt; being free from uncertainty about wholesome things, he cleanses his mind from doubt…
And when he sees himself free of these five hindrances, joy arises; in him who is joyful, rapture arises; in him whose mind is enraptured, the body is stilled; the body being stilled, he feels happiness; and a happy mind finds concentration. Then, quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, he enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied thought and sustained thought, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. (D.i,73-74)