Hearing background noise in the jhanas?

For many, this is a big issue. Some take the position to say, that it cannot be a jhana if the meditator experiences “any” (other) sense impression, than the meditation topic.

Others say, wait a moment, i can clearly experience the 4 jhanas and even distinguish the individual factors which make up each jhana. But i do hear sounds and experience thoughts, albeit in a “background” not bothering my concentration at all.

Between those two “views” sometimes debates take place, where for the most part, group number one cites the Visuddhimagga whereas group number two has such prominent teachers like Ayya Khema and many many students as witnesses of their experience.

Now lets try to solve this mystery :-)

Kindly have a look at the following chart. You will need some time to study and understand it. For those of you with some vipassana experience it will make more sense than to others. Okay, here we go:

States of Mind

 

In its daily operation the mind is torn between a barrage / an onslaught of six different sense impressions (pictures, sounds, odors, tastes, feelings and – according to the Buddhist teaching – thoughts).

Usually they come and go very quickly, objects of interest alternating swiftly, weaving and echoing a 3D life – like net of experiences through their fast succession, so that you, reading this text, indeed feel that you sit in a room, look at a screen and think some more or less important things. But, if you were to watch yourself in slow motion, this experience-movie would break down into frames of sense impressions piling up on each other, creating the impression of continuity.

Now, what does this have to do with samatha or serenity meditation and the jhanas? Well, how does the mind operate when it is highly concentrated on just ONE of those sense impressions? Or at least trying to do so.

Because, you can say, that concentration meditation or samatha is a meditator’s effort to bind the mind to just one of those six sense impressions. And here, we don’t mean binding it to one sense faculty, which would be staring at a sunset and taking in numerous changing sights, but really to try to hook the mind on one single object – suppressing the stream and barrage of sense chatter and experiencing joy and bliss by the resulting peacefulness. Let’s have a quick look at this wonderful simile of the Buddha:

“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, and tying a knot in the middle, he would set chase to them.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would submit, they would surrender, they would come under the sway of whichever among them was the strongest.

“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, he would tether them to a strong post or stake.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. … The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would stand, sit, or lie down right there next to the post or stake.{SN 35, 206}

Now of course, contrary to a phala samapatti, this bliss is bought by suppression…but it is a peaceful abiding nevertheless and one which the Buddha encouraged everyone to enjoy and not to fear. In a way, this is the worldly preview of Nibbana which would be an absorption not with suppression but an abiding in utter letting-go(don’t even try to imagine this, because you will probably end up in just racing through tons of different thought-moments while doing so. A better approach is to sit down and do some vipassana-meditation noting each sense impression.)

So, did we answer the questions whether one can hear background noise in the jhanas? Studying the chart we might be able to recognise that both parties are, in fact, right. However the experience on shutting out more or less of the other sense impressions is something individual / concentration and meditation session dependent. As the mind is no robot and knows lots of shades in the strength of its experience the deepness of the jhana depends on the stability of the concentration on the meditation subject (which is one sense impression).

It seems then, that after the mind crosses a certain “threshold” in focusing on one topic only that the jhana factors of piti and sukha, of bliss and happiness start to manifest itself and signs of the first jhana manifest themselves. Knowing how to interpret this with regard to how the mind is torn in all directions by the other sense impressions makes clear, that a deep concentration will be based on ones strength of exclusion.

The experience of sense impressions to be in the background for someone experiencing the jhanas thus is easily explained. The other sense impressions seem to have moved into a background, because his mind is preoccupied for “long” spans of time with just one other impression – his/her meditation topic – which now fills such a dominant position for the meditator’s awareness/attention.

(Visited 176 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply