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Dhyana, Jhana, Zen, Chan: Dwelling in Emptiness

Discussion of Theravada Buddhism in the light of Zen.

Dhyana, Jhana, Zen, Chan: Dwelling in Emptiness

Postby christopher::: on Wed May 02, 2012 4:50 am

I was just organizing and found the following description (that i thought some here might appreciate) by one of Dhamma Wheel's contributors, nathan. If I recall correctly nathan practices in the Thai forest tradition, yet his description sounds similar to what I have heard from Chan and Zen practitioners, which would make sense since he was speaking of jhana, aka dhyana, chan, zen....


Here is my reflection on dwelling in emptiness and what it is like, in keeping with MN 121 &122.

Concentration is always, to one extent or another, a simplification of conscious attention that is developed and perfected by cultivating a conscious abandoning of attention to the complexity and diversity of perception in favor of simple and steady, singular and unified kinds of conscious attention. In the form Jhanas as typically described in the Sutta discourses the body as a whole is taken as the object of conscious perception. When the diversity of the thoughts and feelings ordinarily composed by reflexive combination of diverse forms of conscious attention and diverse sensations settles down to one form of simple consciousness that pervades the whole body then the diversity of sensations also settles down to a simple form of perception of the presence of consciousness throughout the whole body.

As the simple and steady concentrated attention to a body filled with consciousness is further developed it becomes easier to maintain this simple kind of attention without effort. When it is effortless to maintain the simple awareness that there is a body and that it is filled with consciousness then conscious attention has become well concentrated in and on the form of the whole body. Concentrated well, consciousness will then easily note that there is no diversity of sensations or of the diverse feelings and thoughts that changing forms of attention and the resulting diverse sensations produce.

When consciousness is noting the simple pleasant sensation that consciousness fills the body then it can further note that there is a corresponding simple pleasantness that fills consciousness. When this simple pleasantness that fills consciousness is noted to be more subtle and pleasant than the pleasant perception of the body as simply a body filled with consciousness then concentration will shift predominantly to the simple pleasure that consciousness has achieved by freeing itself from attending to the diversity of conscious perceptions. Consciousness can then note how very peaceful this simplicity of attention is.

This process of simplification of attention is how concentration in it's purest forms always proceeds. If attention to the body as a single form that is present and sensed by being filled with consciousness is intruded upon by various other changing forms of attention and diverse sensations, concentration can then again be interrupted by various feelings and thoughts as well. The concentration that develops by practicing consciousness of the whole body in one simple way begins by progressively steadying and simplifying the untrained or unskilled habits of a consciousness that moves attention from place to place in the body and from one quality to another of sensation or from one kind to another of compounded thoughts and feelings.

When concentrated conscious attention is cultivated by attention to the whole body filled simply with a conscious presence this will progressively tone down the diversity of perceptions. By practicing the sense of a the whole body as a form pervaded by conscious awareness, consciousness develops an appreciation for the relative pleasantness of simplicity and the degrees of concentration that results from developing this simple kind of attention.

When concentration of the simple presence of consciousness in the whole body has become entirely peaceful and it gives up the attention to the resulting pleasantness in the body and in consciousness then this is what fourth Jhana is like. It is a very simple and steady state of consciousness with a very simple awareness of it's presence in a body.

When the concentrated awareness of the presence of a body slips away and consciousness has attention to only the simple awareness that consciousness is present then consciousness is giving its full concentrated attention to the formless Jhanas or to only the qualities of concentrated consciousness apart from all attention to form.

The four formless jhanas are increasingly subtle concentrations of consciousness wherein concentration has reduced the diverse qualities typical of the varieties of ordinarily changing conscious attention to forms and sensations to only the four, three, two, or one simple qualities of the condition of consciousness.

Diverse thoughts, sensations, feelings, and the sense of changing forms that are typical of consciousness that is not concentrated are abandoned in the course of developing form based concentration. When concentration is developed enough to let go of it's simple and singular concentrated attention to form only concentrated consciousness remains. A concentrated consciousness no longer attending to form can examine its inherent qualities and as it lets go of each of these it becomes a still more concentrated and subtle consciousness condition.

If every quality of consciousness is entirely let go of consciousness will stop arising and there will be a complete cessation of consciousness.

After consciousness has observed the four formless jhana qualities and/or cessation it can then continue applying attention to maintaining the purity of the simplified qualities of concentrated consciousness as attention proceeds back towards complexity from the most refined types of formless concentration of conscious attention to simple concentrated conscious awareness of the body form to the diversity of conscious awareness of the body and sensations.

When consciousness is formlessly concentrated it is has a sense of the boundless infinitude of space, of the boundless infinitude of consciousness, of the no thing-ness of consciousness and of the nature of consciousness to be inclined to be present and thereby to have the volition to know.

When the pure and simple qualities characteristic of formless concentrated consciousness are present and steady together with the ordinary diversity of perceptions of forms and sensations then this kind of mindfulness is called dwelling in emptiness by the Buddha and Ananda in the Cula-suññata Sutta. One can develop the four qualities of concentrated consciousness either in the presence of form and formless concentration or not.

However, to discern the qualities of concentrated consciousness specifically for what each is like, in isolation from other kinds of attention, the most direct way is to do so by means of cultivating and experiencing the formless concentrations of consciousness the and/or the cessation of consciousness.

When the qualities of consciousness in the formless concentrations and the absence of all conditions and qualities thereof in cessation have been developed, known and understood, it is then much easier to give conscious attention to maintaining and or discerning the presence of these concentrated qualities of consciousness even together with the perception of diverse and changing forms and sensations.

But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening.

Post by nathan in "Is jhana possible?"» Mon May 24, 2010 2:24 am

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Re: Dhyana, Jhana, Zen, Chan: Dwelling in Emptiness

Postby Omoi Otoshi on Wed May 02, 2012 7:26 pm

Nonin said in another thread that Jhanas are not part of Zen buddhist practice. That may be so. Still, in my experience the states described as Jhanas do happen sometimes, regardless of what we choose to call them. No need for desire. No need for aversion. I've had some serious problems with desire in my own practice, longing for samadhi. Sometimes this desire is very conscious, sometimes much more subtle.

It's interesting to read some passages by Dogen on the subject of Shikantaza. Some people choose to ignore passages like the one below, holding rigidly on to a view of Shikantaza as sitting without thinking, without an active mind. Personally I don't see it that way. When body-mind drops away, there can be an active investigation of what is going on. No monkey mind, no attachment to form, no desire, no aversion, just concentrated, one-pointed brain activity, mind investigating itself.

Dogen wrote:Know that the world of sitting practice is far different from other worlds.  Clarify this for yourself, then activate the way-seeking mind, practice, enlightenment, and nirvana of the buddha ancestors.  Study the world at the very moment of sitting.  Is it vertical or horizontal?  At the very moment of sitting, what is sitting?  Is it an acrobat’s graceful somersault or the rapid darting of a fish?  Is it thinking or not thinking?  Is it doing or not doing?  Is it sitting within sitting?  Is it sitting within body-mind?  Is it sitting letting go of sitting within sitting, or letting go of sitting within body-mind?  Investigate this in every possible way. Sit in the body’s meditation posture.  Sit in the mind’s meditation posture.  Sit in the meditation posture of letting go of body-mind.

Rujing, my late master, Old Buddha, said, “Practicing Zen is letting go of body and mind.  It can only be done by wholeheartedly sitting; incense offering, bowing, chanting Buddha’s name, repentance, and sutra reading are not pivotal.”

My late master is the only one in four or five hundred years who has plucked out the eye of the buddha ancestors, and sat down inside that eye.  There are few in China who can stand shoulder to shoulder with him. Perhaps, there are some who have understood that sitting is buddha-dharma and buddha-dharma is sitting.  But there is no one else who has personally experienced that sitting is sitting, and so there is no one else who upholds buddha-dharma as buddha-dharma.

Thus, there is sitting with the mind, which is not the same as sitting with the body.  There is sitting with the body, which is not the same as sitting with the mind. There is sitting letting go of body-mind, which is not the same as sitting letting go of body-mind. To get to this place is to be immersed in the practice and understanding of the buddha ancestors.  Maintain this insight.  Investigate this awareness.

To me, it seems like Dogen advocated a certain kind of investigation while sitting, and in my interpretation that investigation would include states that could be described as Jhanas. I don't see why anything should be excluded. I also don't see any real contradiction between not trying to use Zazen, not trying to achieve or to gain, which only fuels desire, and the natural and effortless investigation of what is, what we are, what sitting is, what the whole body is, what consciousness is, what awareness is.

In a spring outside time, flowers bloom on a withered tree;
you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day.
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