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The Language of Gnosis

October 15, 2004

By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)

(copyright 2004 all rights reserved)

I am often asked why I use ecstasy, bliss, charism, charismatic, and St. Vitus's Dance in my descriptions of the various manifestations that are commonly called now by Sanskrit terms, like Samadhi, Kundalini and Kriya, and the Pali term Jhana.  Some scholars have argued that the Asian languages, Pali and Sanskrit, are far more sophisticated with respect to the language of gnosis and cognition.  While I am sure those languages are very sophisticated, it seems our scholar are not, because if they were I am sure more mystics would find less to disagree with in the translations than we have available to us.

I use the term charismatic to represent any manifestation of absorption, this would include spontaneous movements (kriyas), ecstasies (kundalini), absorptions (jhana).  I understand that the term 'charismatic' has been used by apostolic Christians to define the manifestations that occur during their religious ceremonies.  And, I am also aware that many of the dictionary definitions for these words take a distinctly Christian overtone to them, however we must understand that people who write dictionaries are probably not mystics, so we cannot expect them to understand the issues that are pertinent to mystics.  Therefore it is up to us, the mystics, to redefine these terms in the broader context of the religious beliefs of the world.

In conclusion within the context of Eastern and Western Contemplative traditions, I use the term 'charismatic' in much the same way people today often use the Sanskrit term 'kundalini' to represent any of many manifestations that people experience who are going through the spiritual or kundalini awakening.

I believe setting the record straight in the Western contemplative world, and in our English translation of the Sanskrit and Pali canons, should not just be up to the scholars, who probably do not even practice meditation.  The contemplatives, who have given rise to the ecstasies of absorption through observing a rigorous regimen of meditation practice, should also make a contribution to the language of gnosis and the translation of the contemplative literature of the world.  Someone who practices a rigorous meditation regimen is not likely to become a scholar.  Don't you think?  Instead, they are likely to give rise to a pleasure that is not of the senses.  Why not call that ecstasy or bliss?

The term 'ecstasy' has been used as a word to describe the experience of enlightenment by English speaking contemplatives for quite some time. The 16th century Spanish mystics, Theresa of Avila and her student, John of the Cross, used Spanish terms that have been translated into the English language as 'ecstasy' to describe the experiences in their contemplative practice.  And, they described 7 levels of ecstasy (absorption states). 

The historic Buddha also described a series of absorption states that he called "a pleasure not of the senses," the 8 absorption states (jhanas).  As you will see from the quotes below, his description seems to represent levels of ecstasy that John of the Cross wrote about.  Therefore I believe it is reasonable to assume that the English term 'ecstasy' is a valid translation for the Pali term 'jhana'. 

From the Digha Nikaya Glossary

jhanas - Absorptions, DN 42, 1.3.21f., n.79, n.50, n.57, n.76f., 2.75ff., 4.33, n.168, 9.10ff., 16.6.8f., 17.2.3, n.583, n.611, 26.28, 29.24, 33.3.3(6), n.1118, n.1127, n.1143

Majjhima Nikaya 59

Bahuvedaniya Sutta

a translation from the Pali by

Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, Boston 1995

"The pleasure and joy that arise dependent on the five sense cords (senses)... are called sense pleasure....There is another kind of pleasure here, Ananda, (when one is) secluded from the sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained {concentration (vitakka and vicára)} with joy and pleasure born of seclusion.  This is that other kind of pleasure (bliss) loftier and more sublime than the previous pleasure."

Pasadika Sutta DN 29

The Delightful Discourse

a translation from the Pali by

Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications, Boston 1987, 1995

24.2 "There are, Cunda, these four kinds of life devoted to pleasure which are conducive to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to realization, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. What are they? First a monk detached from sense-desires, detached from unwholesome mental states, enters and remains in the first jhana..." through the fourth jhana.

Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118)

Awareness of In-&-Out Breathing

[6] "One trains oneself to breathe in sensitive to joy (sukha), and to breathe out sensitive to pleasure (piiti)."

Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22)
"And what is right {meditation (sama-samadhi)}? There is the case where an aspirant -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities -- enters & remains in the first jhana: joy & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by applied and sustained {concentration (vitakka and vicára)}. With the stilling of applied and sustained {concentration (vitakka and vicára)}, one enters & remains in the second jhana: joy & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed applied and sustained {concentration (vitakka and vicára)} -- internal assurance. With the fading of exuberance one remains in equanimity, mindful & alert, physically sensitive of ecstasy. One enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, one has a pleasurable abiding.' With the abandoning of (grasping and aversion for) pleasure & pain -- as with the earlier disappearance of pleasure & pain -- one enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & awareness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is called right absorption."

The Language of Ecstasy in English

Absorb tr.v.

1. To take (something) in through or as through pores or interstices.

2. To occupy the full attention, interest, or time of; engross. See Synonyms at monopolize.

3. Physics. To retain (radiation or sound, for example) wholly, without reflection or transmission.

4. To take in; assimilate: immigrants who were absorbed into the social mainstream.

5. To receive (an impulse) without echo or recoil: a fabric that absorbs sound; a bumper that absorbs impact.

6. To take over (a cost or costs).

7. To endure; accommodate: couldn't absorb the additional hardships. [Middle English, to swallow up, from Old French absorber, from Latin absorbre

Absorption n.

1. The act or process of absorbing or the condition of being absorbed.

2. A state of mental concentration.

Bliss n.

1. Extreme happiness; ecstasy.

2. The ecstasy of salvation; spiritual joy.

Charism (karizúm) n. Theology.


Charisma (kú-rizmú) n., pl. charisma.

1.a. A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm. b. Personal magnetism or charm: a television news program famed for the charisma of its anchors.

2. Theology. An extraordinary power, such as the ability to perform miracles, granted to a Christian by the Holy Spirit. [Greek kharisma, divine favor, from kharizesthai, to favor, from kharis, favor. from Greek khairein, to rejoice, delight in. [Pokorny 1. [her- 440.]

Charismatic (kariz-matik) adj.

1. Of, relating to, or characterized by charisma: “the warmth of a naturally charismatic leader” (Joyce Carol Oates).

2. Theology. Of, relating to, or being a type of Christianity that emphasizes personal religious experience and divinely inspired powers, as of healing, prophecy, and the gift of tongues.

—charismatic n.

 Theology.A member of a Christian charismatic group or movement.

cognition  n.

1. The mental process or faculty of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.

2. That which comes to be known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition; knowledge. [Middle English cognicioun, from Latin cognitia, cognitian-, from cognitus, past participle of cognoscere, to learn : co-, intensive pref.; see CO- + gnoscere, to know—cognitional adj.

Ecstasy  n., pl. ecstasies.

1. Intense joy or delight.

2. A state of emotion so intense that one is carried beyond rational thought and self-control.

3. The trance, frenzy, or rapture associated with mystic or prophetic exaltation. [Middle English extasie, from Old French, from Late Latin extasis

effusive  adj.

1. Unrestrained or excessive in emotional expression; gushy: an effusive manner.

2. Profuse; overflowing: effusive praise.

euphoria  n.

A feeling of great happiness or well-being. [New Latin, from Greek, from euphoros, healthy : eu-, eu- + pherein, to bear; see bher-1 below.]

exhilaration  n.

1. The act of exalting or the condition of being exalted.

2. A state or feeling of intense, often excessive exhilaration or well-being. See Synonyms at ecstasy.

3. A flight of larks. See Synonyms at flock1.

exuberant adj.

1. Full of unrestrained enthusiasm or joy.

2. Lavish; extravagant.

3. Extreme in degree, size, or extent.

4. Growing, producing, or produced abundantly; plentiful:

Note: because exhilaration exuberant have the quality of effusiveness, then I relegate them to the first jhana, which seems to be typified by a youthful and gushy kind of joy.

gnosis n.

Intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths, an esoteric form of knowledge sought by the Gnostics. [Greek gnosis, knowledge, from gignoskein, to know.

Rapture  n.

1. The state of being transported by a lofty emotion; ecstasy.

2. Often raptures. An expression of ecstatic feeling. See Synonyms at ecstasy.

3. The transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven.

Note: Because 'rapture' has the quality of being transported then I take this to be the Contemplative Christian term for an out-of-body experience.  And, since the out-of-body experience typically leaves the subject in a cataleptic trance, then I am going to associate it with the supramundane absorption states

Saint Vitus' dance also Saint Vitus's dance n.

 See  Sydenham's chorea. [After Saint Vitus, third-century A.D. Christian martyr.]

Sydenham's chorea (shdn-úmz) n.

A nervous disorder occurring chiefly in childhood or during pregnancy, closely associated with rheumatic fever, and characterized by rapid, jerky, involuntary movements of the body. Also called Saint Vitus' dance. [After Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689), English physician.]

Note: since Saint Vitus' dance was used as a term to describe a neurological disorder that was characterized by rapid, jerky, involuntary movements of the body, then we can assume Saint Vitus may have had kriyas.

trance (trans) n.

1. A hypnotic, cataleptic, or ecstatic state.

2. Detachment from one's physical surroundings, as in contemplation or daydreaming.

3. A semiconscious state, as between sleeping and waking; a daze.

Note: because the word 'trance' has the quality of "Detachment from one's physical surroundings in a cataleptic-like state, then I believe we should use this term for the nonmaterial absorption states (arupa jhanas).

May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,

Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)

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