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The "Wets verses Drys" in Theravadan Buddhism

Why Does Jhana Represent Conflict?

July 24, 200

By the contemplative recluse monk Arahatta Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)

(copyright 2005 all rights reserved)

As one can see from the amount of conflict that arises due to my editorials on ecstatic meditation (Jhana/kundalini), there is certainly no agreement in the Buddhist community (sangha) on Ecstatic Meditation (Jhana/kundalini), and in fact there is quite some conflict.  That is why this conflict is called the "Wets verses Drys." 

The 'Dry' Insight (vipassana) teachers recommend that one ignore the observable sensations of ecstatic meditation (Jhana/kundalini).  While I believe it is perfectly acceptable to believe whatever they want to, I do not however believe this point of view is a successful understanding of the historic Buddha's instruction on the practice of meditation (sati) as represented in the Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22), where the Buddha clearly defined the eighth fold of the Noble Eightfold Path in terms of ecstatic meditation (jhana); nor how it is expressed in the rest of the Discourses of the Buddha (Sutta Pitaka).

Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22.21)

"And what is skilful meditation (sama-samadhi)? There is the case where an aspirant -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities -- enters & remains in the first absorption (jhana)"... (through fourth jhana).

In suttas, like the Potthapada Sutta (DN 9,11), it seems clear to me that the Buddha is recommending these phenomena (jhana) should become one's meditation object.  This at least is how I and the 'Wets' tend to interpret the Maha-satipatthana and other related Suttas.  It is also my conclusion, based on insight acquired from more than 3 decades of daily meditation practice.  I am quite certain that it is the "right way" to practice by observing these sensations, and that they should become the object of one's meditation, not the sensations of the physical senses, as it seems that the 'Dry' teachers assert.

Potthapada Sutta (DN 9,11)
"At that time there is present a true but subtle perception of delight and happiness, born of detachment, and (one) becomes one(,) who is conscious of this delight and happiness. In this way some perceptions arise through training, and some pass way. This is that training."

While I probably should not fault the community of fine and well established 'Dry' dhamma teachers and monastics who do not support the 'Wet' view that is pro-jhana, I also believe it would be unskillful not to acknowledge that I have as much (if not more) experience and years of intense practice as many of the 'Dry' teachers have.  While they have come to their conclusion that ignoring these sensations has brought them to whatever success they believe they have arrived at, I can only say that my practice and experience is different from theirs, and it has brought me to my own "success" in the practice.  However I do understand that my position is a minority position and therefore, who am I to propose that these highly respect teachers of the dhamma maybe incorrect in either their training or assumptions? 

In contrast to the classic 'Dry' belief that if one were to open oneself up to the ecstatic experience through jhana that one will become addicted to it and thus become misdirected. I can only say, to my good 'Dry' friends, that my practice has neither been stagnant, nor has it been a disappointment, nor has it caused me any suffering.  And, it was not the Buddha's position on ecstatic meditation (jhana) as one can see by reading the Gopaka Moggallana Sutta (MN 108).

Gopaka Moggallana Sutta (MN 108)
"And what sort of (meditation) did he (the Buddha) praise? There is the case where a monk -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities -- enters & remains in the first absorption (jhana)... fourth jhana... This is the sort of (meditation) that the Blessed One praised."

While I understand there is a custom for not talking about one's accomplishments in meditation, if we read the Culagosinga Sutta (MN 31) that does not appear to be the way the Buddha felt about it, I believe it is both important and expeditious to speak up about our meditation experiences at times.  And, this, I believe, maybe one of those times. 

Culagosinga Sutta (MN 31)

10-17.  "Good, good Anuruddha.  But while you abide thus diligent, ardent, and resolute, have you attained any superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones, a comfortable abiding."
"Why not, venerable sir?  Here, venerable sir, whenever we want, quite secluded from sense pleasure, secluded from unwholesome states, we enter upon and abide in the first absorption (jhana)"...(through 8th jhana)
(Majjhima Nikaya trans. Bhikkhus Nanamoli & Bodhi, Wisdom, 1995)

Please forgive me for providing my humble experiences and small attainments as evidence of my success in a practice that accepts ecstatic meditation (jhana).  Since the 'Drys' often say one cannot succeed with a practice that is sensitive to the ecstasies (jhanas), I believe I now must disprove their assumptions by providing my own personal record as evidence of that success through whatever small attainment I may have achieved. 

While traversing domains of existence may seem like a tremendous feat to some, I believe the most significant achievement I have attained in my practice is that I awake every morning with my attention upon my practice.  I joyfully rise at 4:30 AM and, after a brief ablution, happily engage in sitting practice for about an hour and a half.  I find that I rise from my rest more happy and content than I can ever recall being, and I rise from a night of happy, powerful and fulfilling lucid dreams.  After my morning sit I engage myself in Internet discussions with many, many people seeking advice, who do not find satisfaction from the teachers and teachings that are available to them. 

Midday I ride my bicycle to the University of Arizona, where I happily lead a sit for my small sangha.  I ride my bike back home, and spend the rest of the day in study, reflection and discussion on topics of meditation and philosophy (dhamma).  Upon self-reflection I find that, throughout the day, I am more happy and content than I can ever recall being.  At 9 PM the body tells me it will be soon time for its rest, so I sit for another hour and a half of formal sitting practice, then I lay this body down, thankfully, for its 6 hours of rest.  When I rest this body, I never loose awareness, due to ecstatic meditation (jhana) there is in fact never a moment during the day or night that I am not conscious, and aware, and mindful.

During my formal meditation sits I am filled with pleasant sensations in ever sense field.  My body is relaxed, and my mind is calm and empty, and at peace.  Throughout the day I am filled with residual manifestations of these same pleasant sensations (jhana-nimitta) that accompany my meditation practice.  All day my mind is calm.  I do not react to the coming and going of people and their endless rushing about.  My mind also does not real and whirl at the rising and falling of pleasant and unpleasant sensations.  Throughout the day my mind is at peace, and empty, and I am more happy and content than I can ever recall being.  And, it seems under most conditions I am thus comforted.  On those occasions that I briefly loose my composure I regain it quickly by bringing my mind back to the signs of absorption (jhana-nimitta) that accompany me all day.

During every meditation sit I experience the 4 material absorptions (rupa-jhanas), which are pleasant stages of meditative absorption where one does not lose awareness of the body and its senses.  During these meditation I also frequently experience what appears to be the 4 non-material absorption (arupa-jhanas). During these meditations energy rises up my spine (kundalini) and propels me in spheres of Infinite space and consciousness, as well as domains beyond perception and sensation, including domains where the cessation of every aspect of self is often annihilated.  So, tell me kind 'Dry' teachers, what is it that I have missed from my practice?  Can you claim the same success in your 'Dry' practice?  Can your teachers claim this small success?  I do not think so.

On the other hand, when I speak to these fine teachers for further guidance, with whom I reveal my experiences to, they do not often seem to be able to provide me with anything to contribute to my practice, other than to say I should ignore the sensations that are the source of great happiness and fulfillment for me.  They also do not seem to be experiencing the depth of happiness and fulfillment that I enjoy.  Nor do they seem to have any interest in validating my experiences.  They also do not seem to take an active interest in bringing forth a next generation of dhamma teachers, why is that?

It is often asked, "Why can't some people have jhanas and others not? If we can't treat one another with equanimity, what hope is there for anyone on the planet?"

I believe the question is a most excellent one. Why can't the "Wets" (those who support jhana in one's practice) be respected by the 'Drys?'  Why do the "Drys' accuse the 'Wets' of "wrong" practice, or even of demon worship?  I don't believe the 'Wets' care much for a conflict.  We would simply like to practice and teach without any accusations of impropriety.

On the other hand, I have no interest in setting myself above others either.  I simply have arrived at a place where I believe I can be of some small help to suffering beings, and as long as this body has breath I am more than happy to provide that help.  Are any of these 'Dry' dhamma teachers supporting me in my work to relieve suffering and bring happiness and contentment to people?  Apparently not.

I am also very happy to help as many others who wish to teach the way to freedom from suffering (dhamma). I believe the more the better.  But, it appears the 'Dry' teachers believe that there is some kind of competition for resources, and they have to horde their precious little domain of devotees to themselves. Why is that?

If you wish to know more about jhana, or you believe you may be having jhana manifestations on your practice, then please do log onto the Great Western Vehicle Archive on Ecstatic Meditation and Buddhism, where one will find many articles on the subject.

I can only hope that I have been of some small benefit to you and others.  I seek not to cause harm, and if I have inadvertently done so, then I only seek your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the others I may have harmed.

Blessings to all,

Arahatta Jhanananda  (Jeffrey S. Brooks)

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