Absorption States (Jhanas) Within A Theistic Context
April 17, 2004
By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
(copyright 2004 all rights reserved)
A description of the 8 absorptions (jhanas) Within A Theistic and an A-theistic Context and using the language of Christianity, the yogas, Advaita and Buddhism
It seems adherent of all religions and cultures are frequently seeking ways to prove their culture or religion is superior to another's. But, I am certain that when we examine any culture without bias we will find evidence for equal insight and attainment.
It is not that insight and absorption are different practice paths, but they are simply the natural consequence of the successful execution of any contemplative tradition, not just Buddhism. For instance in Christianity their is a record of their mystics experiencing various absorption states, which are often referred to as 'ecstasies.' Theresa of Avila and her student John of the Cross actually articulated 7 levels of absorption, which as you may notice just in numbers alone parallels the Buddha's concept of the 8 jhanas.
In Christianity there is also a long tradition around the concept of revelation, in which the gospels are revealed and made alive to the mystic. In the way revelation is articulated in the Gospels it seems clear it is simply the Christian equivalent of insight. Therefore this should serve as evidence to prove that insight and absorption are just two of the many manifestations of the religious experience.
Just because Buddhism rejects a discussion of a personified Godhead, does not mean there are not many parallels that can be drawn to mystics in the various theistic religions. Since theists tend to describe their God in terms of an infinite dimension, then I believe it is reasonable to acknowledge that the nonmaterial absorptions (arupa-jhanas) are fundamentally the experience of the union (yoga) with the infinite God (Jehovah/Brahma).
Each mystic tradition has its own names and ways of describing these absorption states. In Christianity it is often referred to as a marriage with the Holy Spirit or Christ. In Kabballa it is called devukutt with the Shakina. In Sufism it is called fana or annihilation, and in Hinduism it is called union (yoga) or absorption (samadhi).
In the Contemplative Christian and Charismatic Christian movements there are generally various concepts such as the Christian Bridal Mystic path which looks at the various charismatic phenomena as a kind of wedding with the Christ. The Charismatic Christian movement speaks of a charismatic experience that is described as "baptism in the Spirit." It is these various charismatic experiences of the "baptism in the Spirit" that are characteristic of the absorption states (jhana) of Buddhism. And, it is the intention of the Christian mystic to engage those charismatic phenomena, as frequently as possible and to submit to them at greater and deeper levels.
In Buddhism, the contemplatives who seek the absorption states (jhanas) endeavor to do the same thing as the contemplative and charismatic Christians do, to engages those absorption states as frequently as one can, and to take the deepest refuge within them all of the way to cessation (nibbana).
I believe we can draw parallels between the various absorption states across cultural boundaries. I am certain if enlightenment is a valid pursuit, then it must be something that transcends the cultural context.
If a theistic mystic experiences union (yoga) with a God of infinite dimension, then that would be the same as the 5th absorption (jhana) in Buddhism. If a theistic mystic experiences union (yoga) with a God of infinite time, then I believe it is reasonable to say that mystic experienced the 6th absorption (jhana). If a theistic mystic experiences union (yoga) with a God of infinite being or consciousness, then that would be the same as the 7th absorption (jhana).
When a mystic within the context of theism is so united (yoga) with God that he or she cannot distinguish between either this nor that, then that would be the same as the 8th absorption (jhana). If a theistic mystic experiences union (yoga) with a God in which there is no sensible dimension (blackness), then that would be the same as the 9th absorption (jhana), which is otherwise known as the full "Monty" enlightenment (nibbana).
In conclusion I believe it is reasonable to equate the absorptions (jhanas/dhyanas) of Buddhism with the Christian Bridal Mystic path and the Charismatic Christian movement, or samadhi in the yogas and fana in Islam, as well as other concepts within the various theistic traditions.
The Eight Meditative Absorption States (Jhanas)
The Four Material Ecstasies, meditative absorption states (rupa jhanas) "samprajana-samadhi" where there is awareness of the material senses:
1- The first jhana (Bliss) contains 5 jhana factors and 1 factor of enlightenment, the 6th factor (Piti) is acquired:
|applied or initiating attention|
2- Second jhana (Tranquility) with no attention or Vitakka & Vicára needed, contains 4 jhana factors and 2 factors of enlightenment, the 3rd factor (Passaddhi) is acquired:
|avitakka ca aicara||no applied or sustained attention|
3- Third jhana (Equanimity) contains 5 jhana factors and 3 factors of enlightenment, the 5th factor of enlightenment (Upekkha) is acquired:
4- Fourth jhana [freedom from joy and suffering (asukha and adukkha)] contains 4 jhana factors and 3 factors of enlightenment:
|Asukha ca Adukkha||no pleasure & no pain|
Transitional phase absorption (nerupajhana-nearupajhana) between material (rupa) an immaterial (arupa) absorption (jhana), where OOBs and luminous orbs appear, as well as the recollection of former lives takes place.. No sensory stimuli "contact" contains 7 jhana factors:
|Asukha ca Adukkha||no pleasure & no pain|
No sensory stimuli
|viriya, vîrya, kundalini||Energy, lit. 'virility', vigor|
The Four Immaterial Attainments trances or raptures (nonmaterial absorptions) (arupa-jhanas) (Jhanas 5-8) "asamprajnata" or "nirvikalpa-samadhi." where there is no awareness of the material senses:
|5th jhana||Sphere of Infinite Space||Akasanancayatana||Absorption or union (yoga) with infinite space, or a God of infinite dimension|
|6th jhana||Sphere of Infinite Consciousness||Vinnananaacayatana||Absorption or union (yoga) with the infinite consciousness of God, or absorption into infinite being, Indra's net of jewels (Mahayana Buddhism), Vishnu's Ocean of Milk (Hinduism), Devekut with the Shekhinah (Kabbalah).|
|7th jhana||The Sphere of No-Thingness||Akincannayatana||Absorption or union (yoga) with the Infinite such that he or she cannot distinguish between either this nor that, neither self nor other, neither self nor god. "I am That" Tat Twam Assi.|
||The Sphere of Neither-Perception-nor-non-perception||Nevasannanasannnayatana||Cessation (nibbana/nirvana) union (yoga) with the Infinite in which there is no sensible dimension, blackness, the full enlightenment or annihilation (fana).|
Other absorption states not apparently described in the Buddha's Discourses
|1||absorption or union (yoga) with infinite time, or a God of infinite time,|
I hope this helps the mystics of all religions understand the commonality of the religious experience.
May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,
Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)
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