Samādhi springs up

rethinking the satipaṭṭāna series

Samādhi or jhāna is the meditative state, an attribute of mind (samāhita citta), recommended in the early texts. It arises with the delight in engagement in a task requiring utmost skill, as the mind centers itself fully around the competence and attentiveness required for that skill, and yet slips into an almost trance-like state of stillness and composure. Just when one would expect every cognitive capacity to be fully engaged, there is in samādhi a withdrawal from thinking and deliberation, even a withdrawal from personal engagement as the performance of the task seems to continue of its own accord.

buddhaSamādhi is an anomaly for most of us in the way a human mind is supposed to work, and yet there it is. Accounting for it has caused endless confusion among modern scholars and teachers, many simply attributing mysterious or mystical powers to it, others viewing it as superfluous in Buddhist practice. Yet the weight given to this quite state in the early texts cannot be overlooked. It holds the prominent place as the ultimate factor of the noble eightfold path, it is declared to consolidate all previous factors on the path and to be indispensable in the early texts for the highest attainments: knowledge and vision, and liberation.

When right samādhi does not exist, for one failing right samādhi, the proximate cause is destroyed for knowledge and vision of things as they really are. (AN 10.3)

There is no jhāna for one with no wisdom, no wisdom for one without jhāna. But one with both jhāna and wisdom, he’s on the verge of nibbāna. (Dhp 372)

What is often overlooked is the spontaneity and pervasiveness with which samādhi arises in the early texts. Often regarded as an isolated and refined practice, we actually find that it arises of itself in practice contexts of every sort: when reciting ancient texts, when engaged in virtuous activities, when reflecting on the triple gem, and with the contemplation of the Dharma, as in satipaṭṭhāna.

In this paper we want to look at the conditions under which samādhi arises, to try to understand what is going on psychologically in samādhi, and to try to get an idea of how it is able to fulfill the almost miraculous functions attributed to it in the early texts. We also hope to account for its relationship to other aspects of Buddhist practice, in particular satipaṭṭhāna. I hope we will thereby contribute to a full understanding of this remarkable multifaceted culminating factor of the noble eightfold path.

MORE …. (pdf)

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