Concentration, the ability to detach oneself from the environment and the attainment of insight and later on Nirvana are the reasons why students enrol themselves in meditation classes. Because of these, any one teaching meditation should pay special attention in helping and guiding the student in attaining these goals. In this end, the jnana can be used by the teacher to enhance the student’s practice of meditation and lead the path to enlightenment and gaining inner peace.
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The Jnana: What is it all about?
Jnana is a term that is used for most meditation practices, and can be found in other writings with varying spellings depending on the language being used. The term jnana that will be used in this module is from the Pali language. Other spellings of the word are gnana or gnaan in the Sanskrit language, or dhyana also in Sanskrit. Regardless of its spelling and language using it, the term is used to denote the presence of knowledge of an individual. This meaning is one of the most widely used in meditation centers based on various religious beliefs.
The meaning of the word, which is knowledge, can vary depending on what context it is being used. Jnana and its context of knowledge revolves around an occurrence in the cognitive aspect of the individual where something is not just learned, but experienced by the individual. Because of this close association, the knowledge that the individual can gain from an event cannot be separated from his or her actual experience of it and it attached to the reality in which the meditator has experienced the learning. In some cases, it is also connected to a supreme being that is present in the material world (or the Mahesha-dhama) like Siva-Sakti.
In Buddhist practices of meditation such as the Tibetan Buddhists, jnana is used to denote a state of awareness that is pure and free from conceptual disruptions and other forms of distractions. This is also used as a contradictory concept to vijnana, which is known as divided knowing. It is believed that when a meditator decides to practice and start practicing jnana and go through the Jnana or Bhimis, then that meditator may experience the presence of complete state of enlightenment and achievement of Nirvana.
According to the venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, who is an authority in the Vipassana meditation in Buddhism, there are several nanas or knowledge as the person meditates. What the teacher must stress to his or her students is that these knowledge are to be experienced in stages chronologically. Also, it should be made clear that progression from one stage to another does not have a specific time frame since it can vary from being experienced for only a short period of time up to several years. The intensity in which these knowledge are experienced as also vary as well.
The Jnana and Samadhi
Aside from being used to gain knowledge related to the experience of things, the jnanas can also be used to refer to several states of Samadhi. This occurs when the meditator has learned to detach himself or herself from attributes of his or her mind in the quest to meditate better. When this detachment is attained, the mind of the meditator would become more stable and firm in the blocking of distractive thoughts and his or her ability to concentrate on the focus of the mediation will be improved greatly. Samadhi is the result of this increased concentration of the mind of the meditator practicing the jnana.
As mentioned in the previous section, there are several levels of the jnana, and these levels can be applied in the practice of Samadhi as well. The term appana Samadhi is applied when the first to the fourth jnana are grouped together. This is especially true when the term is used by the disciples of the Buddha.
The Use of the Jnana in Buddhist Traditions
Jnana has been present in Buddhist literatures for a long time and it is mostly associated with any form of meditation. The first to the fourth stage of jnana are considered in the early Buddhist traditions as the right meditation. Because of this context in which it was used jnana has been associated mostly with the meaning it was given by the followers of the Buddha.
In early Buddhist texts, it has also been found that the Buddha himself has engaged in the practice of the jnana as he was on his quest to find enlightenment. The practice of the jnana was used by the Buddha to this end because he learned that the meditation practices that he used were not particularly leading him to achieve the state of Nirvana. Prior to using the jnana, the Buddha has used other forms of meditation, but because these did not lead him to Nirvana, he became disillusioned. This has led him to recall a state of meditation he did when he was a child and followed it. In the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, it was mentioned that the Buddha has entered the first jnana and he called this the path to Awakening.
If the Buddha himself did the jnana and used them in his quest for Nirvana, then the teacher must stress to students of meditation that indentifying and overcoming the obstacles to concentration is necessary before they are able to enter the stages of jnana. In the Upakkilesa Sutta, the Buddha was written to be saying that during the practice of meditation and the meditator starts doubting his or her capacity to carry on the meditation, the concentration would fall and the focus would be diverted. This is important to be avoided by the meditator through remaining diligent in keeping the focus of the meditation on the forefront of his or her mind and ensuring that attention is kept and not just the concentration.
Because the Buddha has mentioned that the jnana is the path to achieve liberation and awakening, meditators should be encouragedto develop this as well if they are in the path to liberation and awakening as well.
The Stages of the Jnana
Pali has described all eight stages of the jnana in a progressive manner. Four of these eight stages are called rupa jnana or meditations or form, while the other four are called arupa jnana or the formless meditations.
Rupa jnana is loosely translated to mean fine material jnana. The rupa jnanas are the stages of meditation in which the meditator experiences a deeper level of collectedness of thought and concentrarion. Moreover, each level of the rupa jnana have their intrinsic qualities which are derived from each other and can disappear. The first to fourth jnana are:
- The First Jnana. In this level of the jnana, the meditator experiences the presence of rapture, directed thoughts, pleasure, evaluation of thoughts, unification of the mind, mindfulness, presence of contact, feelings and perception, intention, consciousness, persistence, desire and attention.
- The Second Jnana. The second jnana is manifested by the presence of pleasure and rapture, unification of the mind, contact, perception and feeling, intention, desire and consciousness, persistence, decision and attention, equanimity and mindfulness. Also, in this level, there is the presence of internal assurance.
- The Third Jnana. This stage includes the feeling of equanimity-pleasure, contact, perception, feeling, intention, desire, consciousness, persistence, decision, mindfulness, attention and equanimity.
- The Fourth Jnana. The fourth level stage of the jnana is represented by the presence of an unconcern based on the presence of serenity of awareness; a feeling of equanimity, presence of unification of the mind and the other things that are experienced in the earlier stages of the jnana.
Apart from the things occurring in each of the first to the fourth jnanas, there are qualities that remain specific to each stage. In the first jnana, there is the presence of subtlest forms of mental movement and the complete disappearance of the five hindrances. Moreover, intense and unified form of bliss remains and the person’s capacity to have unwholesome intentions stops. The second jnana is related to the cessation of all mental movements and the experience of bliss. In the third jnana, joy that is considered to be one half of the feeling of bliss disappears from the perception of the individual. And finally in the fourth jnana, happiness which is the other half of the feeling of bliss disappears and leading to the neutral feeling of neither pain nor pleasure. Also, it is said that this state renders the breathing of the person to temporarily cease.
The arupa jnanas, of the formless meditation contains the other four stages of jnana. These states of the jnanas are written in literatures as formless or immaterial. This led this to be called as the Formless Dimensions in some translation and has helped in distinguishing it apart from the first four jnanas. Contrary to the other stages, these four are used to expand the presence of the concentration that is attained from the first to the fourth jnanas. Also, when the eight jnana has been attained, the meditator can experience enlightenment and complete dwelling in emptiness. The four jnanas in the arupa jnanas are:
- The Dimension of Infinite Space. In this dimension of the jnanas, the following qualities are removed from consciousness such as the singleness of the mind, perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space, attention, equanimity, decision, persistence, mindfulness, feeling, perception, contact, intention, desire, and consciousness.
- The Dimension of Infinite Consciousness. In this stage of the jnana, the following qualities of the mind of the meditator are eliminated like the perception of the dimension if the infinitude of consciousness, contact, feeling, unification of the mind, consciousness, intention, desire, perception, persistence, decision, attention, equanimity and mindfulness.
- The Dimension of Nothingness. In this dimension of the jnana, the perception of the dimension of nothingness, contact, the singleness of mind, perception, feelings, intention, desire, consciousness, decision, mindfulness, persistence, attention and equanimity are ferreted out from the mind of the meditator.
- The Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception. In this final stage and dimension of the jnanas, no qualities or characteristics of the mind of the meditator are to be ferreted out, instead, the individual experiences awakening.
NOTE: The teacher would have to stress out to the student that although the two stages, the Dimension of Nothingness and the Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception are considered to be part of the jnanas that are described by the Buddha as part of the path to enlightenment, they are not part of the Noble Eightfold Path. This is because according to the Eightfold Path, the last is the Samma Samadhi or the Right Concentration. This is only part of the first to the fourth jnanas, and therefore considered to be just the start of attaining concentration. The teacher must therefore take his or her student through all the stages of the jnanas with the focus on the stage of having his or her perceptions and feelings cease to exist.
In his path to attaining Nirvana the Buddha has made a discovery higher than the eight stage of the jnanas, or the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. This is called the nirodha-samapatti, or the cessation of feelings and perceptions, and is sometimes considered to be the ninth jnana.
The Jnanas and the Attainment of Insight
Buddhist texts present the thought that if a meditator was able to progress into the ninth stage of the jnana or the stage of the nirodha-samapatti after going through all the eight stages of the jnana, liberation is attained.
The meditator uses the jnana in an effort to rest the mind and to sharpen and strengthen it in the process. When this happens, he or she will be able to focus the attention into finding out the true nature of the dhamma and go on the quest to higher forms of knowledge. In this way, it can be said that the more time the meditator stays in the state of jnana, his or her mind becomes more powerful and sharper as a result.
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Moreover, because the presence of the five hindrances are controlled or suppressed for an extended period of time after the meditator enters the jnana, he or she will be able to feel clearer, will be full of compassion, mindful, and experience the feeling light and peaceful after meditating. Despite this positive results that the jnana brings to meditators, teachers should warn their students that they should not mistake this or assume for this to be the stage of enlightenment.
What the teacher has to the student is that the practice of jnana alone cannot lead him or her to enlightenment, but it can help him or her suppress the presence of defilements that disrupt meditation. The meditators should use the jnana as a tool to develop deeper sense of knowledge and as a means to cultivate their insight on things which can help them to attain Nirvana.
In the Theravada Buddhist tradition commentary made in the Visuddhimagga, the meditato is usually found in the state of post-jnana access concentration after he or she comes out of the jnana. When in this state, the meditator would be able to carry out the analysis and investigation of the true nature of phenomena and how they begin, develop insight into the characteristic impermanence of things and of suffering and the non-self. These things can only be experienced by the meditator if he or she practices the core concepts of the Buddha’s teachings.
If the Visuddhimagga has included that the practice of vipassana is done after the person emerges from the jnana, it is contradicted by what is written on the suttas. In these works, it is said that the meditator can practice vipassana and gain insight while in the jnana. In fact, it encourages the meditator to stay in the fourth jnana after entering it so that the presence of mental defilements are removed and uprooted before working to attain insight can be started.
Mastery of the Jnanas
A successful entry and attainment of the jnana cannot be achieved if the person would just progress from one state after the other only. This means that for the meditator to fully realize the jnanas, he or she would have to attain a mastery the present state he or her is doing first before wanting to go on to higher stages. This mastery will help the meditator to easily enter and leave the jnanas at will and experience them when he or she requires it. Another benefit of this is that it will avoid the confusion that can occur later on when the manifestations of a lower level of jnana shows itself in the higher states.
The following aspects of jnana mastery should be included by the teacher in instructing and guiding as student meditator in to higher jnanas in the quest to attain insight, liberation and enlightenment.
- Mastery in adverting. In this aspect of mastery, the student meditator should be taught on how to advert certain factors of thejnanas especially when the meditator has just emerged from it. This, he or she should be able to do at will.
- Mastery in attaining. This aspect allows the meditator to quickly enter the jnana quickly.
- Mastery in resolving. This happens when the meditator is able to remain in the jnana for a certain period of time.
- Mastery in emerging. The mastery of emerging allows the meditator to emerge from a stage of jnana quickly and without any perceived difficulty.
- Mastery in reviewing. This occurs when there is an ability on the part of the meditator to review the jnana and other factors related to it while gaining knowledge in the process.
Richard Shankman,The Experience of Samadhi – an in depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Shambala publications 2008
Venerable Sujivo,Access and Fixed Concentration. Vipassana Tribune, Vol 4 No 2, July 1996, Buddhist Wisdom Centre, Malaysia.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
Henepola Gunaratana,The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation.
“Jhanas Advice”: Information about the Jhanas from Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder, authors ofPracticing The Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation As Presented By The Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw by Snyder, Stephen; Rasmussen, Tina. Shambhala: 2009.ISBN 978-1-59030-733-5
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