June 05, 2005
(copyright 2005 all rights reserved)
Frequently those who have arrived at the ecstasies (jhanas) are accused of avoiding dealing with their psyches by "escaping into bliss states." And, I have been asked by many people if it is possible to become addicted to the ecstasies (jhanas). I have been saying "no" all along, because the ecstasies (jhanas) requires dispassion and equanimity for them to emerge and deepen, and addictions are obsessive-compulsive personality disorders that are a consequence of an anxiety disorder. One who has established the conditions of absorption (jhana) is going to be at least relatively free in the moment of anxiety thus it seems unlikely that one who has given rise to the absorption states is either addicted or has escaped the consequences of their unresolved anxieties.
It is also worth pointing out the act of meditation itself is self reflexive, so it seems unreasonable to accuse someone who is a contemplative who has arrived at skilful meditation, which is defined by the ecstasies (jhanas), of not engaging in self-observation, and self-reflection. While it is most certainly possible that someone could conceivably use any religious activity, such as meditation, as a means of escape, one who has arrived a the absorption states has by definition succeeded in negotiating the layers of the psyche to arrive at what the Buddha called "skilful or correct meditation.
"And what is skilful meditation (sama-samadhi)? There is the case where an aspirant -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities -- enters & remains in the first absorption (jhana)"... (through fourth jhana).
Some people have actually come out and stated that jhana yogis are addicted to jhana. Well, in the Buddha's own words in the Pasadika Sutta (DN 29), yes, jhana yogis are addicted to jhana, worse, pleasure seeking. But, since it is a pleasure "not of the senses" it is a pleasure worthy of seeking for one who seeks Buddhahood, Arahantship, full enlightenment.
The Delightful Discourse24.2 "There are, Cunda, these four kinds of life devoted to pleasure, which are conducive to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquility, 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...the fourth jhana, which is beyond pleasure and pain, and purified by equanimity and mindfulness."
Now we have a further question. Is this "addiction" to the ecstasies (jhanas) a distraction on the path to enlightenment? Are they an "escape?" Are they an "avoidance of necessary psychological work?" Do they keep the contemplative a "prisoner" of his or her own psyche?
Pasadika Sutta (DN 29)"These are the four kinds of life devoted to pleasure, which are entirely conducive to disenchantment, to cessation, to tranquility, to realization, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. So, if wanderers from other sects should say that the followers of the Sakyan are addicted to these four forms of pleasure seeking, they should be told: "Yes," for they would be speaking correctly about you, they would not be slandering you with false or untrue statements."
Thus we can hardly assume one who has arrived at "disenchantment, to cessation, to tranquility, to realization, to enlightenment, to Nibbana" is one who is avoidance of necessary "psychological work" or a "prisoner" of his or her own psyche.
In the same sutta the Buddha states that one who arrives at the ecstasies (jhanas) will become free of the fetters (samyojana). If we look at the fetter (please see below) we will see that for one who is sufficiently skilful in meditation to have arrived at the ecstasies (jhanas), then one will be free of Narcissism, doubt, Clinging to rules, rights and rituals, Sensuous craving, Ill-will or aversion, Craving for material existence or Lust for form, Craving for immaterial or formless existence, Conceit, Restlessness and Ignorance. One who is free of the above "fetters" should hardly be considered one who has an obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.
Pasadika Sutta (DN 29)25. Then such wanderers might ask: "Well then, those who are given to these four forms of pleasure-seeking - how many fruits, how many benefits can they expect?" And, you should reply: "They can expect four fruits, four benefits. What are they? The first is when a monk by destruction of three fetters has become a Stream-Winner, no more subject to rebirth in lower worlds, firmly established, destined for full enlightenment; the second is when a monk by the complete destruction of three fetters and the reduction of greed, hatred and delusion, has become a Once-Returner, and having returned once more to this world, will put an end to suffering; the third is when a monk, by the destruction of the corruptions in this very life has, by his own knowledge and realization, attained Arahantship, to the deliverance of heart and through wisdom. Such are the four fruits and the four benefits that one given to these four forms of pleasure-seeking can expect."a translation from the Pali byMaurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications, Boston 1987, 1995
Further the Buddha said there was actually a path or way by which one could become free of the "fetters." And he said in the Mahamalunkya Sutta (MN 64) that Jhana was that very path.
Mahamalunkya Sutta (MN 64)
The Greater Discourse to Malunkyaputta7. The Blessed One said, "There is a path, Ananda, a way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters; that someone, by relying upon that path, on that way, shall know and see and abandon the five lower fetters-this is possible..."9. "And, what, Ananda, is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters? Here, with seclusion from acquisitions, with the abandoning of unwholesome states, with the complete tranquilization of the bodily inertia, quite secluded from sensual pleasure, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana...(through 8th jhana).(Majjhima Nikaya trans. Bhikkhus Nanamoli & Bodhi, Wisdom, 1995)
In fact in the Jhanasamyutta (SN 9.53) the Buddha said it was Jhana that was the path to understanding and the destruction of the fetters.
Jhanasamyutta (SN 9.53)"Bhikkhus, there are these five higher fetters. What five? Lust for form, lust for the formless, conceit, restlessness, ignorance. These are the five higher fetters. The four absorptions (jhanas) are to be developed for direct knowledge of these five higher fetters, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning."(Samyutta Nikaya trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)
In conclusion we can say while the Buddha was not aware of 20th century psychological concepts and terminology, his concept of the "fetters" is consistent with the range of psychological terminology that is associate with obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. And, he had come up with a way of dissolving those aspects of the psyche that are commonly associated with personality disorders. And, his way of dealing with those personality disorders was in the cultivation of the absorption states (jhanas).
Finally we can also conclude one who has arrived at the meditative absorption states (jhanas) must have "dealt" with his or her "necessary psychological work" and is thus free of being a "prisoner" to his or her own psyche, because the ecstasies (jhanas) require dispassion and equanimity for them to emerge and deepen, and addictions are obsessive-compulsive personality disorders that are a consequence of an anxiety disorder. One who has established the conditions of absorption (jhana) is going to be at least relatively free in the moment of anxiety thus it seems unlikely that one who has given rise to the absorption states is either addicted or has escaped the consequences of his or her unresolved anxieties.
10 Fetters (samyojana) tying beings to the wheel of existence:
5 Lower Fetters (orambhagiya-samyojana) tying beings to the wheel of existence:
|3||silabbata-paramasa||Clinging to rules, rights and rituals|
|4||kama-raga||Desire for sensuality|
|5||vyapada||Ill-will or aversion|
5 Higher Fetters (uddhambhagiya-samyojana)
|rupa-raga||Craving for material existence|
|arupa-raga||Craving for immaterial existence|
Pasadika Sutta (DN 29)
The Delightful Discourse
a translation from the Pali by
Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications, Boston 1987, 1995
Mahamalunkya Sutta (MN 64)
The Greater Discourse to Malunkyaputta
(Majjhima Nikaya trans. Bhikkhus Nanamoli & Bodhi, Wisdom, 1995)
Jhanasamyutta (SN 9.53)
(Samyutta Nikaya trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)
The Metta Net translation of the Tipitaka, in English Translation, as well as the original Pali and Sinhala, the Tipitaka, online
I can only hope that I have been of some small benefit to you and others. I seek not to cause harm, but only to benefit all beings with every thought word and action. And, if I have inadvertently caused harm, then I only seek your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the others I may have harmed.
If one diligently engages in the contemplative life one will become enlightened in this very life-time,
Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)
This article may be retrieved at this URL: