Are “Bliss Bunnies” Jhana Addicts?

As my friend and meditation guide Jeffrey Brooks (Jhanananda) explains, the ecstatic states of meditation are to be pursued and embraced, not avoided as a source of “addiction” or “diversion.”

The Buddha, in fact, taught that self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy are marks of “right” or “correct” meditation, symbols of the Middle Way between sensual pleasure and self-mortification.

Here is Jeffrey’s take on the subject of canonical support for the ecstasies:

Often it is heard that one should avoid the ecstasies of the absorption states, because one might become “addicted” or “side tracked.” And those who do not revere noble ones even say they are “bliss bunnies” for seeking the ecstasies. However, I do not seem to have become “addicted” to bliss and ecstasy. Every day I am just more happy, more content and fulfilled than I can ever recall being. If that is an addiction to being a “bliss bunny,” I’ll take it over an anxiety disorder, depression or dependence on stimulants and depressants.

The historic Buddha said, bliss and ecstasy “should be pursued … it should be developed … should be cultivated, and … should not be feared.”

Aranavibhanga Sutta, MN 139
3. “One should not pursue sensual pleasure…and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial. The Middle Way discovered by the Tathagata avoids both extremes; giving vision, giving knowledge, it leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana…

9. …”One should know how to define pleasure, and knowing that, one should pursue pleasure within oneself”…”Here bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enter upon and resides in the first (absorption) jhana”… (through 4th jhana). “This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, and that it should not be feared.”

“So it was in reference to this that I said, ‘One should know how to define pleasure, and knowing that, one should pursue pleasure within oneself.”

13. Here, bhikkhus, the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment, is a state without suffering (dukkha)… and it is the right way. Therefore this is a state without conflict.”
(Majjhima Nikaya trans. Bhikkhus Nanamoli & Bodhi, Wisdom, 1995)

Jhanasamyutta, SN 34
“Therein, bhikkhus, the meditator who is skilled both in meditation regarding absorption (jhana) and in attainment regarding absorption (jhana) is the chief, the best the foremost, the highest, the most excellent of these four kinds of meditators.”
(Samyutta Nikaya tans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)

Jhanasamyutta, SN 9.53
“Bhikkhus, just as the River Ganges slants, slopes and inclines toward the East, so too a bhikkhu who develops and cultivates the four absorptions (jhanas) slants, slopes, and inclines toward nibbana.”
(Samyutta Nikaya tans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)

In conclusion it appears that the historic Buddha taught an 8 fold practice path, that included right or noble mindfulness (samma-sati). Based upon the Satipatthana Sutta, MN 10, we can conclude he called the cultivation of mindfulness (sati) “satipatthana” (DN 22), not “vipassana.” And, the conclusion, or successful execution, of satipatthana was specifically for giving rise to right or correct meditation (samma-samadhi) (DN 22.21); which he defined in terms of the four material, or rupa jhanas, (DN 22.21); which he called “Di.t.thadhammasukhavihaaraa;” which is often translated as a “pleasant abiding in the here and now” (MN 8); which he considered to be supramundane (Lokuttara) (NM 31.10-18).

May you become enlightened in this very lifetime.

If anyone tells you to avoid (as if!) the manifestations of ecstasy that naturally arise in your meditation practice, know that the Buddha went out of his way to teach an ecstatic form of practice. The above instances barely form the tip of the iceberg, in that we find many, many examples of jhana (meditative absorption) being taught in his Suttas.

Follow the ecstasies, and see where they lead.

This is the pleasurable path to perspectives from which we, in our mundane consciousness, are blinded.

Without these perspectives, says the Buddha himself, the Goal remains a vague conceptual dream.

Why not wake up from the dream?

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16 responses to “Are “Bliss Bunnies” Jhana Addicts?

  1. Thank-you for posting such an interesting and timely essay. You know when a religion is corrupt, when it marginalizes its mystics. Calling a mystic a “bliss bunny” is marginalizing a mystic.

  2. You should really what happens later on in #9 of MN 139 (emphasis mine):

    “With the stilling of initial and sustained application, I entered upon and abode in the second jhāna, which has self-confidence and singleness of mind, without initial application and without sustained application, with happiness and pleasure born of concentration.

    With the fading as well of happiness I abode in equanimity, mindful and fully aware, still feeling pleasure with the body, I entered upon and abode in the third jhāna, on which account Noble Ones announce, “He has pleasure abiding who has equanimity and is mindful.

    With the abandoning of (bodily) pleasure and pain and with the previous disappearance of (mental) joy and grief I entered upon and abode in the fourth jhāna, which has neither pain nor pleasure and has purity of mindfulness due to equanimity.

    This is called the pleasure of renunciation, which is pleasure of seclusion, pleasure of peace, pleasure of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be cultivated, that it should be developed, that it should be repeatedly practised and that it should not be feared.

    So it was with reference to this that it was said, “He should know how to define pleasure, and knowing that, he should pursue his own pleasure.””

    The Buddha definitely advised jhana. and the pleasure and bliss should definitely not be avoided – but rather, embraced, and then dropped, as one goes deeper into jhana. the point isn’t to pursue the pleasure gotten from jhana – Buddha says it right there in the very sutta you quoted. you seek the pleasure from peace and seclusion, not from piti and sukha, which disappear upon entering 3rd and 4th jhana, respectively.

  3. Thanks for writing in, Beoman.

    We are aware that there is a progression through the jhanas, as is stated in your reference.

    This progression is natural, without having to “drop” anything — the dropping happens on its own as one remains absorbed. This is the wonderful thing about embracing bliss, joy and ecstasy — no seeking required, just patience and letting go as absorption goes deeper and deeper.

    Blessings,
    Michael

  4. It certainly is natural! No doubt about that. However, you say to embrace bliss, joy, and ecstasy, whereas the sutta you (and then I) quoted says that upon entering the third jhana, happiness fades, and upon entering the fourth jhana, bodily pleasure (along with pain) fades… so how can you be embracing bliss, joy, and ecstasy, when those very things fade away as one goes deeper into the jhanas?

  5. Actually, beoman, I was using your terminology regarding embracing:

    “The Buddha definitely advised jhana. and the pleasure and bliss should definitely not be avoided – but rather, embraced, and then dropped, as one goes deeper into jhana.”

    Embracing and letting go happen when one sits — the presence of bliss, joy and ecstasy does, as you (and the Buddha) say, fall away in order for the next stages of jhana to manifest. The Buddha was simply describing what happens when one surrenders to the unfoldment. My point is that the whole thing happens according to some universal intelligence — it’s the same for anyone who has give rise to the ecstasies, which is the genius of what the Buddha put together in these Suttas — a true roadmap of meditative absorption.

    Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your practice continues to bear fruit.

    Blessings,
    Michael

  6. Ah, I see what you meant, Michael. I think it was just a misunderstanding – I just wanted to indicate that, for example, the 4th jhana certainly is peaceful and enjoyable, but does not have piti and sukha like the 1st and 2nd jhanas do, and does not have sukha like the 3rd jhana does. So one should not cling to piti or sukha, since, as you say, they fall away quite naturally without our intervention.

    Metta

  7. I agree, Beoman — I, too, had the sense that we were pretty much saying the same thing.

    Peace and ease,
    Michael

  8. To claim that anyone who has genuinely attained jhana is “clinging” suggests the individual making the accusation has never experienced jhana, because to attain jhana one must, by definition, have relinquished their attachments. Thus, the argument based upon the premise of attachment to jhana is therefore meaningless and based solely upon ignorance of what precisely is jhana.

    The Noble Search
    Ariyapariyesana Sutta (MN 26.28)
    Translated from the Pali by Jhananda 11-02-06
    (1st Jhana)
    “Suppose that a wild deer is living in a wilderness glen. Carefree it walks, carefree it stands, carefree it sits, carefree it lies down. Why is that? Because it has gone beyond the hunter’s range. In the same way, a seeker of Buddhahood (bhikkhave bhikkhu) renounces (vivicceva) sensuality (kàmehi), renounces unwholesome mental states and beliefs (akusalehi dhammehi) with applied and sustained attention (savitakkaü savicàraü) and bliss and joy (pãtisukhaü) one resides (viharati) in the clarity (upasampajja) of the first ecstasy (pañhamaü jhànaü). This seeker of Buddhahood is said to have blinded (‘andhamakàsi) Mara. Trackless (apadaü), he has destroyed Mara’s vision (màracakkhuü) and has become invisible (adassanaü) to the Evil One (pàpimato).
    http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/pali/tipitaka/sutta/majjhima/mn026-tb0.html

  9. Don’t forget the other three developments of samadhi. The first, via jhana, leads to “the joyful home of the way”, or “pleasant abiding in the here & now” (Thanissaro’s wording). Don’t forget to also develop samadhi that leads to vipassana, sati, and most importantly, the ending of the agitation. Note that the sutta (approved by Jhananda, as he has translated it himself and it is on his website) does not mention the development of samadhi to attain jhana as leading to the ending of agitation (Enlightenment) – it says the development of samadhi “where a monk remains focused on arising and falling away with reference to the five clinging-aggregates (of cognition)” leads to the ending of agitation.

    If from the previous paragraph one gathers that I am rejecting jhana, then one hasn’t been reading it clearly. One develops samadhi in all four ways, not focusing solely on jhana.

  10. @jhananda: i didn’t say one who has attained jhana is clinging. i said to attain the third and fourth jhana, one must not cling. thus i am agreeing with you.

  11. @jhananda: further following the quote, Buddha describes the 2nd-4th jhanas, and the immaterial attainments, similarly. However, only upon entering and exiting cessation (saññā-vedayita-nirodha, or nirodha-samapatti) with discernment, does Buddha say: “Having crossed over, he is unattached in the world. Carefree he walks, carefree he stands, carefree he sits, carefree he lies down. Why is that? Because he has gone beyond the Evil One’s range.” It was not enough to abide in the 1st jhana to become unattached in the world or to go beyond the Evil One’s range. In the jhanas, you become invisible to the Evil One, but you are still in his range – while in the jhana, the Evil One does not affect you, but still being in his range, when you exit the jhanas, you become visible again. To exit the Evil One’s range fully one has to do more than abide in jhana. Or, alternatively, one can spend as much time in the jhanas as one can to be invisible for as long as possible – but that is not the same as exiting the range.

  12. @jhananda: one last comment, also about the sutta you quoted. surely Alara Kalama, the man who taught Buddha how to attain to the Dimension of Nothingness, had access to the jhanas, considering to get to the Dimension of Nothingness, one must go through the Dimension of Boundless Consciousness, the Dimension of Boundless Space, the 4th jhana, the 3rd jhana, the 2nd jhana, and the 1st jhana, in reverse order. If attaining jhanas is Enlightenment, surely Alara Kalama was Enlightened. thus, why did Buddha become dissatisfied with his teachings? Why did Buddha, upon his Awakening, seek to teach Alara Kalama the Dhamma, to Enlighten him, if all Enlightenment is is attaining the 4th jhana regularly, which Alara Kalama surely did?

    If you believe Alara Kalama did not attain the jhanas, then let me know how he could have taught the Buddha how to attain to the Dimension of Nothingness without being able to attain the jhanas.

    If you believe he did, then let me know why you think the Buddha thought that was insufficient.

  13. From spending a fair amount of time in dialog on the DhO forum it became evident to myself and others there that, while we are using similar terms, such as: sati, piiti, sukha, jhana, samadhi, vipassana, nonetheless we have such different ways of understanding those terms that there was really no communication going on there. Thus, I lost interest in the forum.

  14. @jhananda: Indeed! If anyone wants to view the conversation or join in/make any comments to it, here is the link.

  15. Pingback: Bliss bunny « The House of Vines

  16. Pingback: Neither Be Ye Doubtful of Mind | Enlightenment or Salvation?

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