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Thread: Jhanas

  1. #1

    Jhanas

    Hi everyone,
    In traditional buddhist meditation, there is a lot of focus on the jhanas and going to higher states of meditation - higher jhanas.

    Zen is, as far as I understand, the japanese word for jhana (Chan in Chinese) but I believe there is not the same understanding of what it means?

    I apologise if the question is very simple, this is pretty new to me, but I'd be grateful if someone could explain or point me in the right direction regarding things to read...

    Thanks
    Walker

  2. #2

    Re: Jhanas

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Walker
    Hi everyone,
    In traditional buddhist meditation, there is a lot of focus on the jhanas and going to higher states of meditation - higher jhanas.

    Zen is, as far as I understand, the japanese word for jhana (Chan in Chinese) but I believe there is not the same understanding of what it means?

    I apologise if the question is very simple, this is pretty new to me, but I'd be grateful if someone could explain or point me in the right direction regarding things to read...

    Thanks
    Walker
    Hi Walker,

    It is a very good question, always worth discussing.

    Many forms of meditation, including Buddhist meditation, do emphasize obtaining unusual mental experiences or "special states" of consciousness. But, in the form of "just sitting" (Shikantaza) Zazen as practiced in the Soto tradition and advocated by Dogen, we do not seek any special experience or state. We do not seek anything.

    We "just sit", our eyes about 1/3 open (not fully closed), focused on nothing particular in the room and open to everything, not labeling any object and (most importantly) not judging anything as "good" or "bad". We do sitting with absolutely --no goal-- whatsoever, no expectations, no judgments whatsoever (for example, "this is a good sitting/this is a bad sitting"). Thus, we seek no special mental states or experiences. It may sound counterproductive, but let me ask you this: how many things in your life do you do completely without a goal, judgment or thought of gaining?

    The 'non seeking a special state" state IS a very special state.

    We do not resist thoughts, nor invite them, allowing the mind to naturally quiet during Zazen like turbulent water in a glass ... gradually settling. I sometimes compare it to a blue sky with clouds (thoughts). Clouds drift in and out, that is natural. However, we bring our attention again and again to the open, blue sky between, allowing the clouds to drift away. More clouds will come, same again. Repeat process endlessly.

    One important point is this: Although we seek to appreciate the blue, empty sky between the clouds, some days will be very cloudy, some days very blue ... BOTH are fine. We never say "cloudy day is bad because there is no blue sky today". When the sky is blue and empty, let it be so. When the sky is cloudy, let it be so. In fact, both the blue sky and the clouds are the sky ... do not seek to break up the sky by rejecting any part of it.

    Now, during Zazen, many exotic or unusual states of mind or experiences may come now and then. We do not chase after those, taking them (at best) as an interesting perspective. Instead, we return again and again to an ordinary state of balance in this ordinary world where we live. This ordinary state of balance, as experienced in Zazen, is our meaning of "Jhana/Dhyana/Ch'ana"

    Does that help explain it? Our "Just Sitting" Practice is about living in this ordinary world as human beings, not about somehow escaping from this world into special states. Some schools of thought will assert that this world we live in is a dream, an illusion or a "lie". We too think that this world is something of a misperception, an illusion, but it is real too. Since we were born as human beings in this world, we should live as human beings in this world (even as we realize that there are other ways to perceive what it means to be a human being and the nature of this world).

    Oh, and if you want something good to read as a start, I suggest this ...

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/s/ref=nb_ss_gw/ ... .y=0&Go=Go

    As a matter of fact, tomorrow's talk on "Sit-a-Long with Jundo" will be precisely on this topic of what we are working so diligently at seeking "not" to attain.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3
    Hi Jundo,
    Many thanks. I have ordered the book - they do pile up now, the stuff I want to read.
    Does it help, your answer? Yes and no, I sort of recognise what you wrote meaning, I've seen it before. Thing is, I'm interested in the differences between traditional buddhist meditation and zazen, and why there are differences. I'm not sure it's actually fair of me to ask you though...

    Gassho
    W

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Walker
    Thing is, I'm interested in the differences between traditional buddhist meditation and zazen, and why there are differences. I'm not sure it's actually fair of me to ask you though...

    Gassho
    W
    Well, I will try an answer anyway (whether it is fair or not, I do not know).

    To put it in geographical terms, let us suppose you want to get to New York. There are many roads from Florida to New York City. One can fly or take the train or drive, approach from the south or north from the polar route, the east or west. In other words, many paths and vehicles to the same destination for folks heading to a given place.

    Also, some people don't want to go to New York at all, and prefer New Orleans or Paris. So, there are different "destinations" and different ways to get there.

    Some Eastern philosophies hold this world in some contempt, as an illusion to be dropped, or an impurity to be purified. They seek states of mind that leave this world behind, often by merger into some "True and Pure" state, such as Brahma, or some otherworldly "Nirvana". They may consider the human body and the senses as corrupt, to be suppressed or cleansed or dropped. Some schools of Buddhism are like that.

    Our Soto Zen Practice also proposes that we need to see beyond this world we live in (this world where we feel driven to satisfy the needs of a separate "self", where we feel driven to achieve goals, where we are constantly judging "likes" and "dislikes", where this world regularly disappoints our dreams and desires). We experience a reality where the sense of separate "self" softens or fully disappears, where we drop all goals to attain, where we drop all "likes" and "dislikes", where we drop all separation from the world and embrace it "just as it is". HOWEVER, at the same time, hand in hand, like two sides of a single coin ... we do not reject our self, we savor that in ordinary life we have things to do and goals, both likes and dislikes, and we accept the fact that sometimes we will be disappointed or hurt or in pain. That too is just "what is", and we do not reject it. There is nothing "wrong" with the world, when we appreciate it on its own terms beyond "wrong" or "right".

    Another difference among Buddhist sects is a matter of method. Some do not meditate at all, focusing on chanting to some "Buddha in the Sky" for deliverance. Among the meditating sects, there are many variations, e.g., some focus on the mental or visual image of some Buddha. Within Zen, there are two main schools (Rinzai and Soto). Rinzai in Japan tends to use meditation focused on a Koan in order to obtain a special state, for example, a certain "dropping away" of the world. Soto tend to "just sit" in the non-obtaining way I described.

    Getting back to geographical terms: In Soto Zen, we start in Florida, then go to a perspective in which the whole world drops away, then come back to Florida again. (We allow the world to drop away by simply dropping all desire to go any place, dropping all judgments and labels, and even the idea of a separate world apart from our selves). Then we perceive that there is nothing "wrong" with Florida, that it just is what it is, despite the alligators and mosquitoes, hurricanes and sometimes too hot sun.

    Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5
    Thanks again Jundo,
    Well, when I came to Japan a few years ago I started to ask Japanese friends about Buddhism - little did I understand that they're all from one or another of the Pure Land schools... Answers were initially a bit confusing Meditation? Not one of them does that.

    Regarding fairness, I was more concerned with whether it was OK for me to ask or not... But then again if one doesn't ask, one doesn't get answers...

    Gassho
    W

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Walker

    Regarding fairness, I was more concerned with whether it was OK for me to ask or not... But then again if one doesn't ask, one doesn't get answers...

    Gassho
    W
    Around here, you can ask anything. You will often get an answer too.

    By the way, I am in Florida now (with the alligators), but usually live in Tsukuba, Ibaraki-ken (about 45 minutes from Tokyo on the train).


    Gassho, Jundo

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