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BUDDHIST MEDITATION:
Stages of Mindfulness and Aborsption


PATH OF CONCENTRATION LEADING TO ABSORPTION

Begin with bottom of list "A," and work up:

E. NIRODHA (cessation, extinction)

Complete cessation of all psychomental activity; complete suppression of all samsaric conditionality; complete tranquillity "on the edge of the world" without, however, "going over" to nirvana. Can last several days. Nirodha is attained after passing through the four formless absorptions, but only an arahant (one who has achieved nirvana) can achieve nirodha.

D. JHANA OR DHYANA WITHOUT FORM (arupa jhana): absorption without form, leading to increasing rarefaction or incorporeality (similar to Patanjali's asamprajnata samadhi):

Eighth jhana: jhana beyond perception and nonperception (nevasannanasanna).
Seventh jhana: jhana of pure emptiness (akinci, lit. "nothingness").
Sixth jhana: jhana of pure expansive consciousness (vinnana).
Fifth jhana: jhana of boundless space (anantakasa).

C. JHANA OR DHYANA WITH FORM (rupa): absorption in supporting content (similar to Patanjali's samprajnata samadhi):

Fourth jhana: delete sense of well-being, leaving absorbed equanimity.
Third jhana: delete joy, leaving equanimity and sense of well-being.
Second jhana: delete mental activity, leaving joy and sense of well-being.
First jhana: mental activity, joy, and sense of well-being.


B. ACCESS CONCENTRATION (upacara samadhi): powerful, unwavering attention on the focal object.

A. TRANQUILLITY (samatha or shamatha): the practice of one-pointed mental attention.

NOTE: It is said that the path of tranquillity-concentration-absorption can lead to supernormal powers (e.g., extrasensory perception, knowledge of previous lives). All of the attainments of this path, however, are considered samsaric. Buddhism holds that absorption by itself cannot lead to nirvana. It is, rather, the path of Mindfulness-Insight that is said to lead to nirvana. The mastery of "access concentration," however, is said to be an effective means to more stable mindfulness, and the mastery of the higher absorptive states is said to be an effective means to deeper insight.

NOTE: In Buddhism, the meditative stages of samatha (or shamatha: tranquillity), Samadhi (specifically, access concentration: upacara samadhi), and jhana [Pali] or dhyana [Sanskrit] (absorption) correspond roughly to Patanjali's dharana, dhyana, Samadhi, respectively.

NOTE: In Buddhism, it is usually 'jhana' or 'dhyana', but sometimes also 'samadhi', that is used for absorption. Samadhi, understood as means of access to absorption, is usually considered a precondition of absorption (jhana/dhyana).(BACK)


A problem with the word NIRODHA(BACK)

The word nirodha has been translated as "cessation" for so long that it has become standard practice, and any deviation from it leads to queries. For the most part this standard translation is for the sake of convenience as well as to avoid confusing it for other Pali terms (apart from lack of a better word). In fact, however, this rendering of the word "nirodha" as "ceased" can in many instances be a mis-rendering of the text.

Generally speaking, the word "cease" means to do away with something which has already arisen, or the stopping of something which has already begun. However, nirodha in the teaching of Dependent Origination (as also in dukkhanirodha, the third of the Four Noble Truths) means the non-arising, or non-existence, of something because the cause of its arising is done away with. For example, the phrase "when avijja is nirodha, sankhara are also nirodha," which is usually taken to mean "with the cessation of ignorance, volitional impulses cease," in fact means "when there is no ignorance, or no arising of ignorance, or when there is no longer any problem with ignorance, there are no volitional impulses, volitional impulses do not arise, or there is no longer any problem with volitional impulses." It does not mean that ignorance already arisen must be done away with before the volitional impulses which have already arisen will also be done away with.

Where nirodha should be rendered as cessation is when it is used in reference to the natural way of things, or the nature of compounded things. In this sense it is a synonym for the words bhanga, breaking up, anicca, transient, khaya, cessation or vaya, decay. For example, in the Pali it is given: imam kho bhikkhave tisso vedana anicca sankhata paticcasamuppanna khayadhamma vayadhamma viragadhamma nirodhadhamma: "Monks, these three kinds of feeling are naturally impermanent, compounded, dependently arisen, transient, subject to decay, dissolution, fading and cessation."[S.IV.214] (All of the factors occurring in the Dependent Origination cycle have the same nature.) In this instance, the meaning is "all conditioned things (sankhara), having arisen, must inevitably decay and fade according to supporting factors." There is no need to try to stop them, they cease of themselves. Here the intention is to describe a natural condition which, in terms of practice, simply means "that which arises can be done away with."

As for nirodha in the third Noble Truth (or the Dependent Origination cycle in cessation mode), although it also describes a natural process, its emphasis is on practical considerations. It is translated in two ways in the Visuddhimagga. One way traces the etymology to "ni" (without) + "rodha" (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment), thus rendering the meaning as "without impediment," "free of confinement." This is explained as "free of impediments, that is, the confinement of samsara." Another definition traces the origin to anuppada, meaning "not arising", and goes on to say "nirodha here does not mean bhanga, breaking up and dissolution."

Therefore, translating nirodha as "cessation", although not entirely wrong, is nevertheless not entirely accurate. On the other hand, there is no other word which comes so close to the essential meaning as "cessation." However, we should understand what is meant by the term. In this context, the Dependent Origination cycle in its cessation mode might be better rendered as "being free of ignorance, there is freedom from volitional impulses ..." or "when ignorance is gone, volitional impulses are gone ..." or "when ignorance ceases to give fruit, volitional impulses cease to give fruit ..." or "when ignorance is no longer a problem, volitional impulses are no longer a problem."

The following was written by Zen-Bodhisattva, the editor of Cyber Tree Zen:

There is a sanskrit word NIRODHA discribed usually as cessation that carries with it a more indepth meaning. In the index of the Visuddi Magga, for example, there are over twenty-five references that need to be read in context inorder to cull out a fuller more concise meaning. Briefly, a high degree mediatative state, there is no time squence as the immediate moment preceding it and immediately following seem as though in rapid succession. During, heartbeat and metabolism practically cease, continuing below the threshold of preception at a risidual level. The Visuddhi Magga cites several instances where villagers came across a bhikkhu in such a state and built a funeral pyre for him, even to the point of lighting it. During low-level residual states the body temperature drops well below the 98.6 degree point. If suddenly jarred to consciousness body metabolism is slower to regain it's normal temperature, and inturn, that is recorded by the quicker to return cognative senses as "being cold."



SEE ALSO:
CH'AN: The Essence of All Buddhas

DOGEN'S REFLECTING POOL

RETURN TO SHIKANTAZA






NIRODHA description above through the graceful services of
P.A. Payutto