EP 003 Tina Rasmussen Prelude pali & Meditation Terms
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
I actually did not want to do this episode I figured you know what if you're interested if you care enough you'll pause the interview and go look up the Pali terms the meditation terminology and concepts in the upcoming episode that you're unfamiliar with. It took me literally thousands of hours to learn some of this to get it when it came to meditation practice it took me a long time to learn to let go. You can't make it happen. It can't be forced. I remember being in Thailand in 2012 on that 90 day meditation retreat I was so determined to enter jhana which are these deep refined states of stillness and meditation.
At the end of that training I was just more frustrated than ever. During the first two weeks there was a meditation where immense piti the pali word for joy. It's a factor that arises in meditation and bliss arose. It was all downhill from there because every session afterwards I was just beating myself up for not being able to have it arise again. these sublime states of meditation that we discuss in this episode are the result of a mind that has let go. A mind that has abandoned attachment and a mind that is powerfully unified with the object of meditation. They don't come through force or demand.
These states, the jhanas are mentioned countless times throughout the Buddhist teachings. He taught them extensively as pleasant abidings as a meditative attainments and as integral to enlightenment, the end of suffering. Tina discusses some pretty important lessons that have to do with letting go, the thinning of the ego, with non-duality and awakening. We define most of that in there, but certain terms are common knowledge within these meditation circles and communities. So I'm going to have to explain them here so let's start with the pali and meditation terms used in the interview.
You might be wondering what is jhana? Jhana is the pali word which is the dead ancient Indian language that the Buddhist Suttas, the Theravadin Buddhist teachings are written in. Jhana is the word for meditative absorption. In Buddhism we have three major sects: Theravada Mahayana and Vajrayana. Theravada is the oldest school and the teachings of this tradition are found in the Pali Canon, a collection of Buddhist texts dating back to the first century BCE. The Theravada tradition currently exists primarily in Southeast Asia; Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar.
They adhere to the earliest Buddhist scriptures as authoritative and are generally dismissive of the Sanskrit texts and teachings of the later Mahayana and Vajrayana sects. Jhana is meditative absorption. What does that mean? A meditator's awareness becomes absorbed into the meditation object. Samatha is the practice in Buddhism of concentration and serenity, meaning that by meditating on an object the mind becomes unified and serene. This unification of mind gives rise to certain refined states of stillness. These states are incredibly peaceful blissful and extraordinary. They're referred to as samadhi, the samatha jhanas, or jhana and in Sanskrit they're called dhyana.
In Buddhism, in accordance with the pali texts, there are eight levels of samadhi. In the commentaries and the Mahayana teaching, such as the Yogacarabhumi Sastra, there are nine samadhis These are the form jhanas, jhanas one through four, the formless realms which are also known as the formless jhanas, arupa-jhana, which are the realm of infinite space, the realm of infinite consciousness, the realm of nothingness on the realm of neither perception nor non-perception and finally the cessation of perception and feeling, Nirodha-samapatti. To the Theravadins, this is Nibbana where nothing exists not even consciousness.
Tina discusses it in the interview. In the Yogacarabhumi Sastra and generally in the Mahayana teachings they refer to this cessation as the Arhats Nirvana and as the ninth samadhi. The jhanas are refined meditation states that progressively become more subtle. In meditation one is meditating on an object usually in a retreat setting and when sufficient unification of mind arises a light appears. That light is called a nimitta. It's the sign of concentration.
When this arises it eventually comes to meet the meditation object could be the breath or whatever it is. In the interview we talk mostly about breath. The nimitta arises meets the location where mindfulness is placed and eventually awareness is drawn into this light and one enters the first jhana. Essentially you vanish into the nimitta and with it sense perceptions and thought vanishes. There's no perception of the physical body. No thought whatsoever in jhana as it's taught and explained here.
The first jhana has five factors which are applied attention, sustained attention, joy, happiness, and one pointedness. As the meditator enters further concentration and purification these factors begin to fall away. They enter the second third and fourth jhanas. In the fourth jhana, the only factors remaining are one-pointedness and equanimity. The fourth jhana is referred to as the perfection of mindfulness.
The formless realms known as the arupa-jhanas are the meditative absorption states that do not have form and are not attained by using form objects such as the breath. When a person enters them the awareness of the meditator enters a dimension primarily defined by a specific characteristic, for example in the realm of infinite space, in that attainment the experience is of being infinite space. These attainments are conditioned, meaning they still exist within samsara the wheel of existence and rebirth. They're not the aim of the Buddhist path although they lead to aim, which is Nirvana.
Another term discussed in this episode is vipassana. Vipassana is insight meditation of which there are many traditions but the major ones are the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage out of Myanmar and the Goenka tradition which is known for their free 10 day silent meditation retreats. While samatha is the practice of unification of mind and entering samadhi, vipassana is about the investigation of phenomena, such as the five aggregates, which are form sensation, perception, volitional, formations and consciousness.
This investigation this directing of mindfulness at the constituents of experience leads one through what the commentaries is called the stages of insight, which culminate in the realization of enlightenment. We also discuss Dzogchen, which is a teaching specific to the Tibetan school of Buddhism Vajrayana. Tina did a year long solo retreat in a condo where she mostly did open-eyed Dzogchen practice and the Brahma Viharas, which are the heart practices of Buddhism. I'll explain those as well.
Dzogchen is the practice and set of teachings within the Nyigma school of the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism originating from a great teacher considered to be a living Buddha at the time, Garab Dorje. Dzogchen also has a lineage outside of Buddhism in the Bon tradition, a shamanistic tradition in Tibet that predated the Buddhist Dharma. A notable Dzogchen teacher I learned from was Namkhai Norbu. These teachings have to do with presence that is non-dual. By that I mean lacking notions of self and other, boundless. In Dzogchen, a teacher gives pointing-out instructions, meaning the teacher introduces a student to realize his or her own fundamental awareness. This awareness is taken as the path. This awareness is referred to as Rigpa. Rigpa is the essence of path in Dzogchen.
The Brahma Viharas are the heart practices of Buddhism. Vihara means abode and abiding. Brahma is referring to a class of supernatural beings who live extraordinary these long and exalted lives in higher realms above the human and angelic worlds. There are four objects for the Brahma Viharas. They are loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. These are taken as meditation objects and lead to the arising of the form jhanas.
Finally the word Nibbana for pali, Nirvana for sanskrit. This refers to the end goal of Buddhism. It's also referred to in the interview as cessation, the fruit of the path in the Theravada tradition. This is generally accepted as being the cessation of mind and all phenomenon where the five aggregates and elements do not have any footing. They don't exist there.
There's contention around this particular subject. Bhikku Bodhi the paIi translator states that nibbana refers to a few things. The ceasing of the defilements: greed anger and delusion, but that it also refers to an element nibhaana-dhatu. Dhatu means seed element. Nibbana can also refer to a sphere or a dimension, as in the term ayatana-nibbana.
In the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings nibbana as cessation is considered the ninth samadhi and not the final goal of enlightenment. Who's right on the final goal of Buddhism? I have no idea. This show is an exploration of that. So I hope this episode helps you understand the Tina interview and also the Dawn Dhammadhida interview which contains similar terminology