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Deep Jhanas vs. Light Jhanas

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  • Deep Jhanas vs. Light Jhanas

    Dear Venerable,

    It’s been some time since we touched based. I hope you’re keeping well! I have a question about the debate regarding deep jhanas vs. light jhanas.

    As you may know, in some meditation circles nowadays, the idea of jhanas as lightly blissful states where one can still move, hear, and is still in the world of the senses is promoted as opposed to the deep jhanas (aka “Visuddhimagga style” jhanas), as understood by highly regarded scholar-practitioners such as Ajahn Brahm, Brahmali, and Sujato (and I think also Bhikkhu Analayo; correct me if I’m mistaken).

    As you may know, the current debate revolves around whether the jhanas are states of deep absorption or light absorption. It’s purported by supporters of light jhanas that the idea of deep jhanas actually came from the commentarial tradition, especially from the Visuddhimagga, while light jhanas are more in line with the Suttas (hence dubbing them “Sutta-style” jhanas), a claim which I’m hesitant to believe.

    Just the fact that accomplished Pali scholars and practitioners such as Ajahn Brahm, Brahmali, and Sujato understand the jhanas as very deep states of absorption where the senses have turned off carries sheer weight of proof for me.

    Also, for me it’s common sense and reasonable to assume that the lifestyle depicted in the Suttas of forest-dwelling bhikkhus dedicated to meditation practice day and night for years would have more to show for it than mere light states of absorption. That is not really a high achievement worthy of the Ariyas.

    So, kindly let me know what is the proof from the Suttas that jhanas are indeed very deep and profound states of meditation where the five senses have turned off as understood by Ajahn Brahm and other respected teachers mentioned above?

    Sutta references, particularly, as well as any other references (e.g. reference to the Pali language, terms, and their meanings) you deem useful would be appreciated. Kindly shed more light on this matter Venerable.

    Warmest regards.

  • #2
    Dear Haca Ce,
    Just got back from a retreat with Ven Dhammajiva, another well-practiced monk.

    Shall put my thinking cap on again and will get back to you...

    With metta and happy new year!
    Ven Upekkha


    • #3
      Dear Haca Ce,
      Hmm…now, you know I am a disciple of Ajahn Brahm and can’t help having been brain-washed by him all these years.

      The main bone of contention is the interpretation of the term “vivicceva kamehi” - seclusion from sensual pleasures – in the first jhana formula.

      I am not very experienced in these matters, so I am not really qualified to answer. However, there is a huge amount of discussion about this in Sutta Central. If you look at the threads and you will get your fill of references, interpretations, arguments and counter-arguments.

      The point is whether the experience is conducive to the cutting off of the defilements. The longer and more profoundly the hindrances are in abeyance, the more of a chance you have.

      However, Ven Dhammajiva made the helpful comment that the term ‘Vipassana Jhanas’ or Access-concentration was introduced by Sayadaw U Pandita because jhanas were considered unachievable by lay practioners. Access-Concentration, at least gave people hope, and a taste of peace. So in the same way, ‘jhana-lite’ at least gives people hope!

      Hope the Sutta Central threads are what you were after.

      With metta,
      Ven Upekkha


      • #4
        Hello Venerable,

        Thank you for your insights as always! The threads you provided are useful. I see your point of 'jhana-lite' giving people hope. Personally I find the idea of deep jhanas very inspiring because it shows me that the path of Dhamma has so much to offer!

        Plus, I've also been happily brain-washed by Ajahn Brahm as well!

        With metta.