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Immaterial attainments without actively practicing vipassana

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  • Immaterial attainments without actively practicing vipassana

    Greetings Venerable,

    "Within the perception of neither perception nor nonperception lies the end of all perception, the cessation of all that is felt or perceived, nibbana. If the mind attends to this, the mind stops. When the mind starts again, one gains the attainment of arahant or anagami. These are the only possibilities." - Ajahn Brahm, "Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond."

    Can a meditator, then, working with samatha only and not consciously practicing the Four Foundations, become enlightened?

    Also, Ajahn Brahm indicates that one gains the attainment of arahant or anagami after one comes out of nirodha samapatti, where others say that the attainment of arahant or anagami is necessary before experiencing nirodha samapatti. Could you comment on this as well?

    Thank you for taking the time to address these questions.
    Last edited by Ed Rock; 31st-January-2020, 11:08 PM.

  • #2
    Let me get back to you...there are many counter arguments!


    • #3
      Thank you Venerable,

      Arguably, it is an important discussion that might determine ones mode of practice, for a long time, decades, which will determine ones destiny. It seems important to get it right.

      A determination of how one practices probably requires a mix of dependable suttas, along with intuition. My experience, which in my case is not exactly trustworthy haha, is that deep calm states morph into increasingly deeper calm states if I just leave the mind alone, and not feel guilty because it is so easy! Insights seem to come naturally deepening the samatha, but without any kind of vipassana practice per se, which, for my mind, infuses thoughts and emotions that subtly interrupt states of calm.

      The satipathana sutta begins with the anapanasati sutta, which is jhana, and perhaps why contemporary vipassana teachers such a Pa Auk now recommend attaining 4th jhana before actively pursuing vipassan practice.

      If, as Ajahn Brahm indicates, deepening states of jhana lead eventually to nirodha samapatta, which guarantees either non returning or arahant, then I would feel confident in what my intuition is telling me - to trust that jhana practice alone, as the Buddha recommended to his monks (eat, then sit under a tree all day in jhana) is the best way to reduce the doing. Ajahn Chah said,
      “Let it all just be, step over here where it is cool, out of the battle.” Jhanas certainly adhere to that advice. It seems to me that the immaterial jhanas naturally flow out of the 4th material jhana without any kind of doer involved - without any kind of determination or choice being made.

      Looking forward to your reply.

      Metta, ed


      • #4
        Dear Ed,

        Thank you for the question and I have much mudita for how you describe your practice.

        To be honest, I feel that I am not qualified to be advising you (or anyone) about the later stages of practice. Particularly about stages on the path to arahantship such as anagami. I can only share with you my understanding based on my own experience. I think that it would be a good idea for you to ask these questions directly from senior monastics such as Ajahn Brahm/Ajahn Brahmali or maybe someone over there in the USA.

        Based on my experience there is no such thing as Samathawithout Vipassana or Vipassana without Samatha. They grow together. If someone has a mind that is peaceful and can enter Jhana quite naturally it must mean that they are virtuous and wise. If we cannot still our mind, then we may need to do some “Vipassana” practices to help straighten out our thinking (and speech/behaviour). When we start to be more purehearted and clear-sighted then our “Samatha” will deepen. As our “Samatha” deepens this will help us see more clearly and help us to be even more pure-hearted. The process goes on, with Samatha and Vipassana feeding back into each other and growing together. I would imagine that this process, which I have seen at the start of the path, will continue right up until the end. One day we will have a “Samatha” experience that is deep enough to finally straighten out our view permanently – we will truly see the three characteristics for our self.

        I have heard Ajahn Brahm say that the “investigation” or in your words “Vipassana” that is needed to truly “see things as they are” will happen naturally after deep Samathaexperiences. So that would match what you say about “insights coming naturally.” I would say follow your intuition.

        One way to know if you are on the right path is to see what direction your practice is taking you. Is it causing you to live more simply? Are you humbler? Are you easier to live with? Are you kinder and more forgiving? Are you less selfish? Are you happier? If the answer is yes to these questions, then I think it would be safe to say that what you are doing is working. Of course it is better to ask your friends and family rather than rely on your own judgement. We often don’t see ourselves very clearly.

        It might also be a good idea to check-in from time to time with a senior monastic teacher or community. Someone you trust and respect. It is very hard to really see someone and advise them properly over the internet. Ajahn Brahm says that on retreats when people come and tell him that they may have had deep meditative experiences, he doesn’t just listen to what they say, he observes how they are. If they come and say they have 2nd Jhana and they say it in a dead pan way with a straight face, then he thinks “probably not,” even if they describe it perfectly. Whereas if someone seems super happy, they are shaking with joy and have tears in their eyes – then maybe yes.

        Finally, I leave you with the Buddha’s advice to Upali(because you can’t get better advice than from the Buddha himself):

        Anguttara Nikaya 7:83 The Teaching

        Then the Venerable Upāli approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said: "Bhante, it would be good if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief, so that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, withdrawn, heedful, ardent, and resolute."

        Upāli, those things which you might know thus: ‘These things do not lead exclusively to disenchantment (nibbida), to dispassion (viraga), to cessation (nirodha), to peace(upasama), to direct knowledge (abhinnya), to enlightenment (sambodhi), to nibbāna,’ you should definitely recognize: ‘This is not the Dhamma; this is not the discipline; this is not the teaching of the Teacher.’ But those things which you might know thus: ‘These things lead exclusively to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nibbāna,’ you should definitely recognize: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the discipline; this is the teaching of the Teacher.’


        • #5
          The experience of this particular mind is a little off the beaten path! I entered a Zen monastery forty-two years ago with no background in Buddhism and little interest in learning about Buddhism. I just needed an untraceable place to disappear where my creditors could not find me. So I had lousy kamma, as well as a very crude mind.

          The monks taught me to meditate by watching thoughts come and go without getting involved or pushing away, and concentrating on the solar plexus. That was it; no further instruction. There was no talking allowed. We were instructed to keep the mind in meditation 24/7.

          I could have left at any time, but sometimes the stubbornness of a very crude mind pays off (haha), so I obeyed their rules religiously because this monastery was a great hideout, and I did not want to get kicked out!

          After sitting hours on end, month after month, with no talking and keeping the mind in meditation all day, all night, the mind began to experience things with which it had no familiarity. I can only describe these as radical shifts somewhere deep in the mind that changed the mind forever, perhaps similar to traumatic events where all the content of the minds consciousness gets cleared off the table for an instant where the mind has no security on which to fall back.

          The first of these unfamiliar experiences was when I was walking innocently through the pine forest of the monastery and noticing the morning sun glinting off a pine cone and suddenly 'knowing' that I would leave the beauty of this earth never to return. Then I began crying uncontrollably (joy? sadness? I could not tell) until a Roshi found me and said, Yes, you will leave this beautiful earth, and it will be okay.

          I became convinced, after many such experiences, that stillness of mind, if maintained for long, uninterrupted periods of time, created permanent shifts in consciousness, at least for this mind. No study or investigation whatsoever was involved, just the mind being constantly conscious of itself in silence, and naturally noticing.

          I cannot imagine how this change would have happened if the mind had not forced itself to hide out in this Zen monastery. The mind surely would have continued stumbling blindly down a road of complete irresponsibility steeped in kamma for the rest of its life.

          Thank you for your kind advice, and for taking time out of your schedule to write such a detailed post. I hope my reply was not too long.

          Metta, ed
          Last edited by Ed Rock; 7th-February-2020, 09:47 PM.


          • #6
            Hello Venerable and Ed,

            This is has been a great and insightful discussion. Ed, I wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences in the book "Stumbling Across Buddha: Our Amazing Journey". I got a copy on my Kindle and read it slowly and carefully. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot from your and Janet's experiences which can help me as well as other people along the Path. So thanks a lot for sharing Ed (and Janet)!

            And Venerable, thank you for your kind and insightful feedback as always

            Warmest regards.
            Last edited by Haca Ce; 7th-February-2020, 10:56 PM.


            • #7
              Thank you so much,

              Its interesting that only after practicing for many years and in many situations, did we find our teacher, Ajahn Brahm. We trained with him for a short period of time in 1981 at Wat Pah Nanachat, and now almost forty years later, I don't think he is even aware that we consider him our teacher, haha. He is very busy. He became, in my heart, my teacher after I discussed, with him (long distance by mail between Thailand and Australia in 1997), some experiences I was having regarding jhanas, and with Janet it was when she read his book, The Basic Method of Meditation. Our experiences in meditation synced with what he was teaching.

              Metta, ed


              • #8
                Originally posted by Ed Rock View Post

                He became, in my heart, my teacher after I discussed, with him (long distance by mail between Thailand and Australia in 1997), some experiences I was having regarding jhanas, and with Janet it was when she read his book, The Basic Method of Meditation. Our experiences in meditation synced with what he was teaching.
                I can completely relate to that. After having paltry success, satisfaction, and fulfillment from my meditation practice using other methods and approaches for many years, it is when I stumbled across Ajahn Brahm's teachings and books that my meditation practice really took off and I actually started enjoying it. Before that, I thought meditation was an exercise in concentration, since that word is often used to describe what meditation is, plus kind of dry-insight, no need for blissful jhanas, and sitting with pain kind of exercise. I felt there was a disconnect between concentrating, using will-power, and the aforementioned things and experiencing the ease, relaxation, and bliss that Dhamma teachers talked about. It wasn't until I came across Ajahn Brahm, his books, and his teachings that I realized meditation and the Buddhist path are all about happiness, stillness, letting go, jhanas and bliss. I also consider Ajahn Brahm my foremost teacher in my heart, although I've never met him in person. His books and teachings opened up a new world for me in my Dhamma practice.

                Warmest regards Ed.


                • #9
                  Dear Ed,

                  No worries. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

                  Yes, Ajahn Brahm is an awesome teacher and we are indeed lucky to have him around.

                  I guess it is really difficult to talk about these deep experiences using words...

                  With Metta and Good Wishes on the path,
                  Ven. Upekkha



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