Among the various Buddhist meditation practices, that of the jhanas certainly remains the most misunderstood. Although it occupies an extremely important place in the texts – and it is even the one that the Buddha practiced just before attaining enlightenment -, its teaching has not been disseminated as much in the West as that of meditation. said of Vipassana. Some even say that jhanas are not necessary for liberation, but achieving jhanas nevertheless has many advantages and, for the past ten years, it even seems to be on the way to being “rehabilitated”!
Two books, recently available in French translation, attempt to make this practice better known: The Theravada Buddhist Meditation Handbook by Ajahn Brahm, published by Almora editions in April 2011, and Introduction to deep mindfulness meditation by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.
As with his best-selling book devoted to Vipassana meditation (Meditate on a daily basis), Bhante Gunaratana presents, with remarkable clarity, a completely classic presentation of this practice, inspired by the reference work on the subject, the Visuddhimagga (path of purification) from Buddhaghosa. In a limpid and accessible style, Bhante Gunaratana addresses Westerners by knowing how to make understandable an often technical vocabulary and very unusual experiences...
We invite you to discover some excerpts from its introductory chapter 2 in the translation by Gilbert Gauché, published by Marabout on May 9, 2012.
Concentration and Jhanas
“Concentration is a gathering of all the positive forces of the mind into one intense ray. Mastering concentration means learning to direct this ray and keep it where we want it. This form of concentration is strong and energetic, yet gentle, and it does not waver. Developing concentration first requires eliminating certain mental factors that prevent it from growing. Then we learn to direct its beam to the right things which, in the mind, are truly beneficial. When we carefully study the negative factors, they cease to bind us and we become free from them. Associated with attention, concentration allows the mind to look at itself, to examine its own mechanisms, to find and dissolve the elements that prevent its natural course.
How to achieve it?
We progress slowly towards concentration, mainly by weakening certain disturbing factors, then putting them “in abeyance”. In reality, the elements that must be weakened are only small things: fear, anxiety, anger, greed, shame, for example. They are simple mental habits, but they are so deeply imprinted in us that we believe that they are natural, that they are part of our mind and, in a way, that they are right reactions to the world, correct and appropriate. What's more, we think they are us; we believe that they are somehow inscribed in our fundamental nature and we identify with them. These things are the basis of our way of life, the only way of perceiving the world that we know. And we believe that we absolutely need it to survive, that anyone who does not want to act like this would be stupid, that anyone who is not moved by his emotions would be, at best a soulless robot, at worst already dead. Yet all these obstacles and impediments are just habits. We can get to know them and use certain techniques that put them to sleep for a while. Then, while the obstacles slumber, we can directly experience the joyful, luminous, radiant nature of the underlying ground spirit.
True jhana is a balanced state of mind in which many healthy mental factors work together harmoniously. In unison, they make the mind calm, relaxed, serene, peaceful, peaceful, soft, malleable, lively and equanimous.
When we have experienced the mind as it really is, under all the mental defilements, we can begin to bring this luminous calm into our daily lives. These special moments help us erode the habits we want to eliminate and achieve a deeper focus that will allow greater bliss to seep into our lives. This, in turn, leads to a deeper understanding of negative habits, which further weakens them. And so on. It is an upward spiral in peace, joy and wisdom. But we have to start here, exactly where we are now.
What are jhanas?
This book is a guide to jhanas. Jhanas are states of mental function that can be achieved through deep concentration. They are beyond the workings of the ordinary, conceptual mind – the one with which you are reading this book right now. For most of us, this conceptual functioning is all we have ever known and the only one we can conceive of. At this time, it is unlikely that we can even imagine what it would be like beyond thought, beyond sensory perceptions, beyond our bondage to emotions. The reason is that the mental level that tries to imagine is only made up of sensitivity, intellection and emotivity. That's all we have the ability to know. But the jhanas lie beyond these phenomena. It is a challenge to describe them, because the only words we know are related to the concepts, sensory impressions and emotions that hypnotize us.
The word jhana is derived from jha (which comes from the Sanskrit dyai), which means to burn, suppress or absorb. What he means, as an experience, is difficult to express. It is usually translated as "a deeply focused meditative state" or as "concentration of absorption" or even simply as "absorption". However, translating jhana as "absorption" can be misleading. You can be absorbed in anything – paying your taxes, reading a novel, plotting revenge, to name a few simple examples. But, it is not about jhana. The word "absorption" can also suggest that the mind becomes like a stone or a vegetable, without any feeling, perception or awareness. When you are totally absorbed in the subject of your meditation, when you unite with it, become one with it, you are completely absent. But it's still not jhana, at least not what Buddhists consider 'true jhana'. In true jhana, you may be oblivious to the outside world, but you are completely present with what is going on internally.
True jhana is a balanced state of mind in which many healthy mental factors work together harmoniously. In unison, they make the mind calm, relaxed, serene, peaceful, peaceful, soft, malleable, lively and equanimous. In this state of mind, mindfulness, effort, concentration, and understanding are consolidated. All of these factors work together as a team. And, as there is no concentration without wisdom, nor wisdom without concentration, jhanas play a very important role in the practice of meditation (…)
Article published by the Institute of Buddhist Studies (https://bouddhismes.net/)