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The myth of ringing a bell to interupt "jhana"

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  • Franz Li
    started a topic The myth of ringing a bell to interupt "jhana"

    The myth of ringing a bell to interupt "jhana"

    Dear Bhikkhu, hope you can help shed some light on this: a few days ago a friend repeated this assertion: "When a yogi (meditator) entered jhana (deep meditation), the safe way to "bring them out" of the unresponsive meditation state is to ring a bell, do not touch, tap or shake them."

    Many Buddhists probably heard of this before. But as I thought about it, there are several questionable aspects to this legend.

    (1) Has anyone actually witnessed such an incident? Ever? Ringing a bell? My guess it that nobody ever did. The story just get repeated.

    (2) my understanding from listening to Ajahn Brahm's talks is that by the time a yogi entered jhana, the 5-senses have shut down. They are no longer conscious or responsive to sight, sound, odor, taste, touch. Then why would ringing a bell do anything?

    (3) Depending on the depth of the jhana, it can last for different duration. What is the shortest jhana experience? Minutes? Seconds? A flash? How long must it be to "qualify" as jhana?

    (4) Supposedly some yogi can stay in jhana for hours or days. The yogi will emerge out of the jhana state on their own terms. An experienced yogi per-determine how long they will stay in jhana. For inexperienced yogi, supposedly they emerge when the force of stillness (samadhi) can no longer be maintained. Can somebody else actually "reach" them during jhana? Does external interference has any effect? (It brings to mind the story in the sutta about Ven. Moggallana - some monks were skeptical that he could hear their conversations in jhana. As I recall, the reason was that he emerged and re-entered jhana rapidly. He only listened to the conversation in between.)

    (5) From some of the talks on web site I can recall these cases.
    (a) the householder meditating at home in Perth, entered jhana, and his wife had no idea what is going on. She called the ambulance to take him to a local hospital. (He was given defibrillator shocks which had no effect on him. True?) I remember the story is that he emerged from jhana on his own accord eventually. I wonder if there is a published medical case report in medical journals. If not, hope the attending physician can write one. Not sure if it is possible so many years later.

    (b) at a Sydney meditation retreat a (Vietnamese?) meditation teacher entered "jhana" for the duration of the retreat. True? (I wonder why!? He was supposed to be guiding the retreat students.)

    (c) a forest monk in Northern Thailand entered jhana. When the villagers found him they thought he was dead. They put him on a funeral pyre, lit the fire, then went home. They received quite a shock when the monk showed up for alms some time later. True story?

    (d) an Indonesian yogi entered jhana. During his jhana there was a strong rain storm and flooding. Supposedly when he emerged from jhana he noticed the flood mark on the tree behind him, way over his head. He had been submerged in water the whole time. Reliable story?

    Anyway, I find it amusing that most people never question the "ring the bell" assertion.

    In the Buddha's dispensation, deep meditation (jhana) by itself is incomplete. The real benefit is to make use of the jhana experience afterward, a duration when the 5-hindrances have not re-emerge yet, to reflect on the properties of the 5 aggregates, that they are impermanent, dukkha, and non-self.

    Metta, Franz

  • Bhikkhu Sunyo
    I think a bell wouldn't really get you out of jhana proper. You need a bit more than that. Something like a fire siren

    But how to test it? People will usually enter jhana when they are by themselves. Also, how are you going to know whether they were in jhana or not?

    About those personal stories: I wasn't there so I can't say what is true and what is not.

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