Turbo-Charging Our Spiritual Unfoldment

Bliss Buddha

Dhammapada Verse 372:

There is no meditative absorption for one who lacks insight,
There is no insight for one who is not meditating.
In whom there is meditative absorption and insight,
Truly, he is in Nibbana’s presence.

Carter, John Ross and Palihawadana, Mahinda

or, more crystallized:

There is no ecstasy without wisdom,
There is no wisdom without ecstasy.
Whoever is close to enlightenment
truly has both wisdom and ecstasy.

Brooks, Jeffrey S. (Jhanananda)

Whenever an Ecstatic Buddhist pulls out the above quote (and there are 23 other translations at the link) — or when we assert the Buddha’s sentiment in our own words — we are met with either a thundering silence, disdainful refutation, outright anger… or, once in a while, a measure of openness and curiosity that leads to mutual understanding.

I’m hoping for the fourth option here.

* * *

If one reads the Suttas with regularity — especially the Phala Nikaya — one begins to understand that the verse above is the presupposition for the Buddha’s entire teaching on the path to awakening.

One comes to see that the final step in the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma-Samadhi (where have we seen this phrase before?), is the essential ingredient for anyone looking to drive their meditative vehicles straight off the Wheel of Rebirth:

8. Right absorption (samma-samadhi)

“And what, monks, is right absorption? (i) There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental states — enters and remains in the first absorption (jhana): bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal, and applied and sustained attentions (vitakka and vicára). (ii) With the stilling of applied and sustained attentions (vitakka and vicára), he enters and remains in the second absorption (jhana): bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born of absorption, unification of awareness applied and sustained attentions (vitakka and vicára) — internal assurance. (iii) With the fading of pleasure (piiti), he remains in equanimity, mindful and alert, and sensitive to bliss (piiti). He enters and remains in the third absorption (jhana), of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ (iv) With the abandoning of pleasure and pain (sukha and dukkha)– as with the earlier disappearance of elation and anxiety — he enters and remains in the fourth absorption (jhana): purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain(sukha and dukkha). This, monks, is called right absorption.”

The bottom line, then, is that the Buddha taught an eightfold method for attaining liberation in this very lifetime; the first seven lead to the all-important eighth; the eighth increases our skillfulness in practicing the first seven; as we become more skillful in the first seven, we are increasingly empowered to deepen our practice of the eighth; and only when we become saturated in the jhana states do we gain the wisdom and insight that allows us to once-and-for-all transcend this world of suffering, dissatisfaction, confusion and emotional turmoil.

That’s what the Buddha says, that’s what he taught, that’s what he insisted upon for his followers.

And now, 2500 years later, we are blessed by access to these teachings — despite Buddhist traditions that have not only suppressed the necessity of meditative absorption (ecstasy, jhana, samadhi) but have actively demonized it.

It is only a matter of putting these teachings into daily practice, contextualized within a lifetime commitment to follow this most explicit and blessed Path all the way Home.

* * *

Again, the first seven steps of the Eightfold Path lay out the conditions for the final step. Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness… we arrange our lives according to this scenario, with total commitment, patience and perseverance… and the eight fold, Right Absorption, WILL HAPPEN.

Once it happens, we continue to practice, practice, practice, both on the cushion on in every moment of our lives, day and night.

After a while, our entire being becomes so invested in the maintenance of Right Absorption that we literally cannot fall off from our practice — at least not for long.

We are impelled to meditate, to study, to employ mindfulness in myriad ways.

Ecstasy becomes the air we breathe, the water we drink, the roof over our heads.

Buddha Serpent

All we need to do is continually hit the off-switch, access the bliss/joy/ecstasy… and BE.

The rest takes care of itself.

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5 responses to “Turbo-Charging Our Spiritual Unfoldment

  1. Thank you so much for the post.

    Maybe another way to look at it as well would be not as steps but as a symbiotic whole whereby all things become developed as we apply attentive mindfulness and awareness to ourselves.

    When we are absorbed in this thing called life and our own influence within it then there is little opportunity for the chattering mind to separate itself from existence.

    We are absorbed in the moment and in doing so all that is buddhaful about us and of life becomes apparent.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and leave feedback, Ian — much appreciated.

    Your comment has prompted me to give second thought to the word “step,” and I agree with you that it is inadequate. Although a practitioner of Buddhism may begin to experience the Eightfold Path in terms of separate “stations” or positions along the way, at a certain point the whole thing weaves together in ever-shifting relationships, and linearity is abandoned.

    Not to invalidate what you’re saying, Ian — I know that you are simply offering another perspective for us to consider, and I appreciate that — but I would maintain that what is being referred to here is definitely meditative absorption — i.e., samadhi/jhana. The reason I say this is, wherever the Buddha talks about the experience of the eighth fold, he does so in terms of ecstasy (i.e., meditative absorption, or jhana/samadhi), as in the above reference to the “Analysis of the Path” Sutta. This is very specific and explicit… and this is what I was trying to convey in this post. Ecstatic Buddhists take the Buddha at his word: one must give rise to meditative absorption in order to follow the Path all the way home.

    The question then becomes, what qualifies as meditative absorption?

    Don’t get me started! 😉

    Warmly,
    Michael

  3. Hello Michael, and thank-you for posting yet another excellent essay. It is interesting to note in the comparison of the two quotes from the Dhammapada Verse 372 that Carter, John Ross and Mahinda Palihawadana, render insight as a term in the stanza in question; however, the original Pali in that stanza is ‘panna,’ which means wisdom, not ‘vipassana’ for insight.

    Your essay reminds me of an exchange I have been having with an irate PureLand devotee who resents me calling his priests ‘ignorant’ because they translate ‘samadhi’ as nothing more than ‘concentration.’ As this man has expressed his anger and resentment toward me I also found that he is only a faith follower. This means he and his priests have turned the Noble Eightfold Path into a one-fold path and he resents me for defining the 8th fold in ecstatic terms. While I have no problem with people who only want to observe one or two folds of the Nobel Eightfold Path, it is most certainly the height of arrogance to presume that those who wish to observe all eight folds are wrong.

    May you be enlightened in this very lifetime, Jhananda

  4. Crush ecstasy! Abandon wisdom! Enlightenment is a commodity, spend it freely! Wash the 8 folds and hang them out to dry!

  5. Who would’ve thought that the cessation of suffering would feel good? Am I right?

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