Abhidhamma Lesson #7. See http://Subhuti.net.tf
So What Is Samādhi? Is now released as PDF,epub,and mobi (I did not test my links..too slow)
If you had been following my posts, you would know that I have written this a long time ago as lesson 5b. I was waiting for a teacher to read it and make sure there was nothing that was incorrect. It was backed up with the texts and commentary and it was approved. I did not ask for an endorsement. I just wanted approval so I could sleep well after I release it!
The textbook samādhi explains that sounds may not be heard, but there is an example of a famous monk who hears sounds during samādhi. The bhikkhu was accused of lying which is pretty strong when speaking of samādhi. The Buddha cleared him of any wrong doing. I explain how that happens while still retaining textbook integrity. This is useful on a practical level too, but it still encourages one to go further to the purest stage which was later achieved by that same bhikkhu. Lastly, it removes some myths that can disturb one's progress. For instance, "The person in samādhi will not hear a bell".
When he does hear the bell, it is true that he is no longer in samādhi, but that does not mean he was not in samadhi before that. It is similar to sleeping and hearing an alarm. If you hear your alarm, you are no longer in "sleep.". I compare these two types of consciousnesses to prove my point. I have never seen this point comparing bhavanga and jhāna explained in this way before. My teacher wanted to read my lesson for a second time after I explained some more details to him.
You will need to read lesson 2, 3, and 5 as as preparation. Give'em a skim even if you have read them before.
The concepts are listed below:
Lesson Two: consciousness does not mix and is digital
Lesson Three: What is Bhavanga
Lesson Five: Five door adverting consciousness and interrupting cycles. (This is an important but long chapter)
I have uploaded PDF, epub and mobi files to http://Subhuti.net.tf
The Full Text for Lesson 7 is below:
Abhidhamma Lesson #7
So what happens during Samādhi?
A One Track Mind
Samādhi is more or less an English term these days depicting some type of attainment in meditation. Some people wrongly associate it with Enlightenment. It is along the Path, but it is definitely not Enlightenment. In Buddhism there are categories of attainments of samādhi called jhāna. There are typically eight jhānas that one can attain. The discussion of the different types of jhānas and how to attain them are not up for a real in-depth discussion in this sub-chapter. However, you may be interested to know what happens when one develops deep samādhi and what one pointed meditation is all about, especially according to Abhidhamma doctrine.
Well of course you are. Abhidhamma describes meditation states in great detail and is therefore quite relevant to meditators. Abhidhamma is not just some theoretical framework. It all begins with attainments of distinction in samādhi which will henceforth be called jhāna.
Two Types of Extended Continuous Consciousnesses
In order to know about samādhi we need to know about what it is like to have a continuous, and extended consciousness moments of the same object and what that means. We want to know how the mind gets interrupted and what a repeated mind of a single object looks like. For the unenlightened, there are only two different types of consciousness that can happen many times to uncountable levels in succession. Which two are they? Bhavanga and jhāna consciousness. Bhavanga is the name for our Idle Consciousness. Do you remember the other English name? That's right, Life Continuum.
Bhavanga Consciousness (Idle)
Now that you are familiar with the term Idle, we will be using the term bhavanga sometimes in this paper. They mean the same. We will look at Idle Consciousness first because it is something that every regular person has and can imagine. This Idle process can happen many uncountable times in succession without being interrupted. That is how you sleep without interruption. We have already discussed that your mind does not shut down, and if it did, you would die. That is why it is called Life Continuum. Let us look at a chart of bhavanga.
Now, with this chart, there are no "footnotes" to these series of consciousness moments. There is only bhavanga or Idle happening. There are no cycles for each letter like in the previous chapter. It can continue for an uncountable amount of times. We cannot say it is infinite because it will stop when you wake up. Infinity never stops. It also happens in-between the data you take in when you are awake and looking at someone. We have been through all of that in Lesson Five and Lesson Three. Right? Of course you know that, because you didn't skip around, did you?
So this "stream of consciousness" is a real unbroken stream of consciousness. Consciousness always flows. However, "stream of consciousness" here refers to the same object and the same type of consciousness back to back in succession. Idle is different from other forms of consciousness because the longest a stream of consciousness can last is only seven mind moments. This stream happens during the javana or E.Motions Consciousness we learned in Lesson Five. javana or E.Motion is all part of a mental process cycle as we explained before. Worldly E.Motions never last more than seven counts and the whole cycle never lasts more than seventeen. I am hoping you remember that because this chapter assumes prior knowledge of the preceding chapters. Please remember the fact that the speed of the human mind is very fast. If we took a very slow 1GHz computer, it would be 17/1,000,000,000 or seventeen billionths of a second. That is a very short time and our fastest computers are much faster than that. Our mind is much faster than the world's fastest computer. So a single cycle is very quick.
This is the interesting part. In-between each cycle is the Idle Process. One gets "stuck" in Idle until the sense doors impinge on it. That is what causes the Idle to vibrate and then the Five Door Adverting Consciousness takes over to tune the mind onto a specific sense door for processing a cycle. Consciousness then changes location from the heart base to, let's say to the eyes, then back to the heart, and in the short form, the E.Motion happens for seven counts and then eventually falls back into Idle. I hope you remember that much from Lesson Five. It then Idles for an uncountable number of times and then processes that same information again in the mind to make it stronger. After a few cycles it might take in new information from any of the five senses like "hearing" for the person you were previously viewing speak or you might "look" at him an additional time as another process. So this is the typical way that your mind gets interrupted all within a split second. Normally we say it gets interrupted by the Five Door Adverting Consciousness although it gets disturbed a couple of ticks earlier from the sense doors impinging on the mind. First there is a knock on the door (Vibrating Bhavanga-Idle), and then the door opens (Five Door Adverting Consciousness). Five Door Averting Consciousness is what opens the door to let the mind out of the heart-base. If your consciousness does not leave the heart-base, you will not have any of the five senses giving new input. You will be blind, deaf and not feel anything at all.
Any sense door can claim attention away from Idle. Your Idle is always interrupted in order for your sense doors to get processed. Otherwise, you are unconscious. Idle lasts a long time compared to the E.Motion process. While seven E.Motions is a short period of time, idle can be millions or billions while you are awake and alert and reading this very lesson right now!
So Idle lasts a long time, but it is all very quick. When you are sleeping or in a coma or drugged up in a dreamless sleep, Idle may happen continuously for hours depending on how "knocked out" you are. Remember that this Idle Process is very subtle and in terms of cosmic kamma, it is passive and also a resultant consciousness. Like I said before, Idle Consciousness arises because of the same causes as your Birth-Moment Consciousness. This is all Abhidhamma that was explained earlier. If you have read the previous lessons, you should have been able to follow what I just said because Idle and cycles have been discussed before.
There is another mental process called jhāna and it is the only other mental process that lasts for uncountable mind moments for the unenlightened. It is also part of the E.Motion consciousness or javana. Before, I said that only worldly unenlightened E.Motions can last for seven ticks, but jhāna is not worldly for the average person.
There is also some setup to get jhana running, but we will just breeze over it. So don't scratch your head and just pay attention to the J's.
C=Change of linage
B=Bhavanga or Idle
So when someone enters Jhāna a chart may look like this:
There are no "footnotes" to any of these letters. Although Access Concentration ('A') usually has mental cycles associated with each letter, when one attains jhāna, one does so directly from the Access mind moments in the javana or E.Motion. There is no cycle per letter that happens in this chart. Each letter happens for one mind moment each. The jhāna Consciousness can be uncountable and that is why there are the three dots after it. The same "no footnotes rule" is true for Idle or bhavanga Consciousness which immediately follows. There is no registration that happens after one comes out of jhāna. One goes directly into Idle from jhāna.
Soooo. This does not say much about meditation at this point, does it? It is just a bunch of letters right now. This is where the interesting part comes. All moments of consciousness have an object. If you are looking at my face, my face is the object (color object). If you are hearing me speak, my voice is the object (sound object). If you are focused on the sign of concentration during meditation, that sign is your object. A sign of concentration is a mind-door-only object. It is free from the senses. Actually, all javana or E.Motion moments are mind door objects and free from the senses. That is why I said earlier that you are blind when you are processing "vision objects" and even deaf when you are processing "sound objects." However, a meditation sign is different. It is all made up. It is just a figment of your imagination.
What is a sign of meditation? If one meditates on the breath, the breath will become the object of the mind. When concentration gets stronger, this object gets converted into a mental image the mind creates in its place. This is the sign. This sign happens in several stages as concentration develops. It will get brighter and brighter until the last stage called patibhāga sign. This is more or less a bright light that is perceived to be the same thing as knowing the breath. Perception can be anything and when concentration is the highest, it is perceived clearly as a bright light. Some see it as a "clear light." At this stage, Access concentration is achieved. That was letter 'A' in the chart, by the way. It is my belief that Western culture knows all of this and that is why we have a "light bulb" in one's head to denote an "idea" born of concentration. A Bright Idea. That's Brilliant!
Attainment of Jhāna
Then there is conformity and change of linage consciousness, which we will nearly skip over (and it is only one mind moment each), and then jhāna occurs. The object of consciousness for jhāna is that bright perception of the breath called the patibhāga sign.
When Conformity and Change of Linage happens the mind becomes aligned with the preceding object and the object of jhāna. It also enters the sublime consciousness. To put it bluntly, it changes to a different state of mind even though the object (bright light) is the same during the whole process of entering jhāna. It is a pure concentration because the same object as well as the same consciousness type is repeated over and over again. A new stream of consciousness has now been achieved.
According to Abhidhamma theory, Jhāna is literally a "One Track Mind." It does not change its object. It does not stop and go to the sense doors. It stays on one track so to speak. We call it concentration, because the object in the flow of consciousness moments is pure and the same consciousness type is pure. Nothing gets mixed in. If we were to mix sounds, other thoughts and other cycles, it would be a mixed stream of many different "letters" with lots of "footnotes" to them. So "concentration" is a proper word for meditation and should be known in this way. A snapshot of jhāna will show its purity.
Ahh! Isn't that nice to look at? What more could be said about the experience. After all of these charts, it can be a relief to just see only one letter. The mind feels the same way. One object is what meditation is all about. That is why meditation tries to have you only do one thing. The classic is to repeat OM or some type of expensive word you pay for in Transcendental Meditation. In the anonymous Christian Mystic book, The Cloud Of Unknowing, it says one can pick any one syllable word or simply use the breath. Buddhism uses the breath and it is quite common. I am not sure about Mantra (word) based meditation, so I will not talk about it here.
So one focuses the mind on one single object. That object will be perceived with heightened states of perception and the breath will then be perceived as light. It is still known as the breath, but very subtle and continuous if we disregard the interruption of mind moments or mental process cycles that happen in Access Concentration but before jhāna. This subtle and continuous object is suitable for entering jhāna. Before jhāna and during Access concentration, mental process cycles interrupt your concentration. However, after Change of Linage Consciousness arises, nothing interrupts the jhāna. There are no more seventeen mind moment cycles. There is no more Five Door Adverting Consciousness arising to take your consciousness out of the heart-base. The mind will not go to the eyes, to the ears or to the body, etc. The jhāna can last for billions or uncountable numbers. It can last for hours if the meditator is skilled enough and is determined to do so.
How many processor ticks happen in your computer in just a single minute? If it were a slow 1 GHz computer, a minute would be sixty billion ticks. If it were one hour it would be 3.6 Trillion. Again, that is just a slow computer and our fastest super computer is much faster. Our minds are also much faster than the fastest super computer. Jhāna is a super human state of mind. The equivalent is a comparison of jumping up in the air. A normal person can jump up in the air for about second which we will relate to normal limit of seven E.Motion consciousness or javana mind moments. However, if there were such a thing as a Jhāna jump one would be able to stay suspended in the air for as long as one wishes. It is not normal and that is why jhāna is superhuman.
Purity of the Jhāna Stream
So, many mind moments can occur with jhāna. Jhāna is always pure and during a meditation session it is either jhāna or not jhāna because there is no mixing of consciousness. However, there is a case where Venerable Mahāmoggallāna, the ancient disciple, who was foremost in psychic power, said that he could hear the elephants bathing and trumpeting during his "Steadfast Samādhi." The Buddha confirmed that he did have samādhi, but it was "not wholly purified." The Commentary explains that this was actually a fourth jhāna and that his samādhi was not pure. It was also said that the Venerable was also a beginner in his first seven days of monastic life. While perfection is better, it was enough for him to attain full Enlightenment.
So how can samādhi not be pure? We will explain this in this section. Over time, during an extended practice session, subtle impurities might occur which can affect the overall continuous stream of jhāna moments. How continuous that jhāna stream is depends on the meditator, his cumulative qualities he has developed in the past or wishes to develop now or in the future (parāmi). Strictly speaking though, jhāna is uninterrupted.
Jhāna is very different from sleep or Idle Consciousness. However, since they are both continuous streams of consciousness, they can be compared quite nicely. Scholars will never compare jhāna with bhavanga because they are at the complete opposite ends of the consciousness spectrum. Therefore, please keep in mind that we are only comparing the similarities for the "interruption" of a stream of consciousness.
Just like sounds can interrupt sleep, they can also interrupt concentration. If you are not in a coma, sounds can take you out of Idle or bhavanga. If you hear a sound from your alarm clock that does not mean you were not sleeping before you heard your alarm. That is why we have alarm clocks. They take you out of your sleeping mode or simply wake you up. Therefore, as soon as you hear a sound from your alarm clock, you are no longer in bhavanga or no longer sleeping. You are awake. Consciousness does not mix.
The same thing happens with jhāna. If you hear sounds, you are no longer in jhāna, but that does not mean that you were not in jhāna before that moment of sound consciousness. I'll repeat that sentence because it is a double negative and often misunderstood.
If you hear sounds, you are no longer in jhāna, but that does not mean that you were not in jhāna before that moment sound consciousness.
Jhāna is one thing and hearing is another. They do not mix together at all. During one hour or any length of practice time, especially in the beginning stages, one may go in and out of jhāna concentration. There will be a period of unbroken and continuous jhāna mind moments and then a small amount of interruption cycles. Then one will go back into jhāna automatically as I explained before in the chart starting with Access Concentration.
If this happens, the meditator will be able to hear sounds. However, the majority of the time will be experienced with jhāna consciousness moments. We will refer to this jhāna stream with interruption-impurities as "Jhāna-Mode" rather than just jhāna. Sounds can be known in this mode but ignored. Through development, one may later hear sounds while in jhāna-mode but not know they heard them. This is good or at least better than knowing one heard sounds during an hour of jhāna-mode. While Buddhism is all about awareness and knowing, this is one situation where non-knowing, is better. I'll explain why.
It is known that we wake up many times during the night while we are in sleeping-mode, but we often do not remember it in the morning. If one wants to, one can notice these awakenings. If one pays attention to these awakenings, the awakenings will have more power and disturb his night's sleep. If one does not want to do this, one can just sleep in sleeping-mode. Depending on how deep one is in sleeping-mode, the less one will awaken. A coma or anesthesia are extreme examples where one never has an awakening while sleeping.
If one pays attention to sounds when they are in sleeping-mode, like the noise of a rain storm, one will have difficulty sleeping. At other times, one may think he heard it rain all night, but somehow woke up refreshed. He would awaken and hear a small amount of noise, become unconscious (and not know it) and then again awaken and hear some more noise. It would seem as though he was hearing the rain all night, but maybe it was a chain of several awakenings. He awakens refreshed because he did sleep for the majority of the night, but did not know it at the time. In all cases, it is best to not think about noise when you are in sleeping-mode and ignore it totally. This is the way to give less power to awakenings and more power to sleep. Some people can sleep all the way through a strong thunder storm and never know it happened. It depends on the abilities of the person, but both are "sleepers" in general terms.
The same thing can happen with jhāna. One can pay attention to the times one comes out of jhāna by listening for sounds. If they intend to do this, the sounds will have more power and disturb one's ability to go back into jhāna. On the other hand, one can just stay in jhāna-mode where one may or may not remember if they came out or not. If one determines to stay in jhāna-mode and to ignore sounds, the disturbing force will have less power and one can re-enter jhāna quickly, automatically and unknowingly just like the average person does when he momentarily awakes during his sleep. The person who believes he slept soundly and does not remember any of his awakenings will be similar to the one in jhāna-mode who does not remember any momentary breaks. It might also be possible that there are no breaks. When that happens, one can eventually have a continuous and pure jhāna stream. So do not pay attention to your breaks in concentration and only pay attention to your meditation object, forgetting about everything else. By doing this, the breaks will become weaker and have less power, giving a more pure concentration experience. Then more pure concentration can develop.
Jhāna happens in the javana or E.Motion type of consciousness. Unlike the bhavanga or Idle which is passive and a resultant consciousness and also has the same causes as one's birth, jhāna is an active type of consciousness. It has strong energy and its kamma effects are very powerful. There is not enough space in this chapter to explain the kamma effects of jhāna.
One Pointedness is often the description given to the quality concentration of jhāna. The original word in Pāli is ekaggatā. It literally means one (eka) point or object (Agga). It refers to one object in one consciousness moment. It is also a term spread out and expanded outside of a single moment to repeating consecutive consciousness moments to denote samādhi concentration. In this multi-repeated-consciousness of one object, the idiomatic phrase "One Track Mind" or "One Track Mindedness" would fit well. If there is only one track, which is often the case for trains, the train cannot go anywhere else. It is glued to the track as it moves. The train cannot turn left, right or turn around or hop on a road or go up a staircase. It is a one track vehicle. Jhāna is a "One Track Mind" and the mind does not get "side-tracked." This is the key definition for ekaggatā when we speak of samādhi. The quality of ekaggatā is present in all consciousness moments but it is strongest and most apparent in jhāna consciousness. Try to look at the picture of the train track and see it as a stream of jhāna consciousness moments. This is a "One Track Mind." We may discuss this further in Lesson Seven with "Mental Factor Realities."
So now you know that jhāna has the same repeated object and consciousness for an extended period of time. There are no interruptions. If there is an interruption, one is outside of jhāna. However, one can re-enter jhāna quickly, automatically, and unknowingly and that is why we call it "Jhāna-Mode" for someone like the first days of Venerable Mahāmoggallāna and just like one who is in "Sleeping-Mode" for the night.
One Last Thing:
Often, meditation teachers speak about people "falling into bhavanga" during meditation. This is common and it is much easier to attain bhavanga than to attain jhāna. We hear teachers speak about people mistaking bhavanga (or Idle) for samādhi and Nibbāna. It is often mistaken because a stream of bhavanga is continuous and also a one track mind similar to jhāna. Instead of:
one may have:
However, bhavanga is just a sleeping and passive resultant consciousness of an "Idle Mind" while jhāna is part of the E.Motional or javana process which is a kamma producing mind. One of the key indicators of bhavanga is "losing consciousness" or "blanking out." Another indicator is losing one's object of consciousness such as the patibhāga Sign of Concentration. Consciousness always has an object, even if it is Nibbāna. That is because Nibbāna is the object for Nibbāna Fruition Consciousness and one is aware of it too. In bhavanga, the consciousness is so subtle, that one believes there is no object or no consciousness of that matter. One meditation technique actually encourages entering Nibbāna by having its meditators stay up all night so they can "blank-out" and experience nothingness. Now what can that be? It can be confusing, so one must select a teacher carefully and listen to him as he teaches according to the Abhidhamma closely.
1. While I prefer not to bring Mantra meditation into this topic, it can be useful for a mental exercise. For this reason, I will make up a mantra as an example (no charge). Say the word "yo" and keep the vowel extended. Say it out aloud once for as long as you can. Then say it another time internally in your mind for as long as you can. You should be able to understand what a "one track mind" is all about in the context of external and internal sound. The mind of jhāna-mode is obviously different, but it gives you an idea, like all of the mental exercises. Pay attention to the non-changing of object and extended repetitions of moments. If you can hear the "yo" as smooth sound, then use your mind to know the moments of "yo" as individual moments.
2. Focus on your breath until a sign appears, continue to focus on that sign until you enter jhāna!
Please see the book Knowing and Seeing by The Most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw for further information on attaining jhāna.
References: (All are free books available on the Internet)
A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Bhikkhu Bodhi
Pages..167-169, (free pdf version from http://pariyatthi.org)
A Manual of Abhidhamma, Narada pages..65-68, 436-444
Four Elements and Mindfulness of Breathing, Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw.
pages 1-15, 88-90
Knowing and Seeing, Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw
The footnotes were not pasted inside. I have pasted them inline, but exist in the PDF.
Consciousness refers to the pāli word citta
Pārājika, commentaries pārājika, pārājikakandam, catutthapārājikam, vinītavatthu and commentaries.
A completely textbook and continuous jhāna takes a very long time to develop a continuous jhāna is not necessary to know Ultimate-Realities or reach Nibbāna. If one wishes to develop a continuous stream of jhāna moments for an entire practice session, they can do so. If they wish to move further, they can do so.” See Note 4 on Venerable Mahā Moggallāna Thera
Although I made this term up, it is just a label for this condition of practice similar to that of Mahā Moggallāna Thera during his first week of practice. He was noted for hearing sounds of elephants bathing and trumpeting while in the fourth jhāna. It was said that he did not have full five mastery and his jhāna (stream) was therefore not pure. However, it was enough for insight and he later attained Arahant. (Vinaya Pitaka under Pārājika 4 mula and commentaries Paragraph 232)