The Dhyanas: the path of skilfulness
Mar09

The Dhyanas: the path of skilfulness

The dhyanas are higher states of consciousness that can be experienced in meditation. Below is a video of a talk I gave on them at the Manchester Buddhist Centre on 9 March 2015. (57 mins)...

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Ethics and ‘non-self’
Mar09

Ethics and ‘non-self’

Article published in April 2015 issue of Shabda, the internal journal of the Triratna Buddhist Order.   I just gave a talk at the Manchester Centre entitled “The Dhyanas: the path of skilfulness” (the video should be available soon on the MBC website and on Video Sangha.) It was quite interesting giving that talk as it pushed my thinking along in relation to how insight (and therefore any realization of ‘non-self’) is inextricably woven together with ethics. I have come to realize that insight in Buddhism is always insight only in the context of an ethical view. The Buddha urged his monks to practise dhyana, and in his early lectures Bhante Sangharakshita talks a lot about dhyana. He focuses particularly on how to get into the dhyanas: he says one has to become integrated, both horizontally – by integrating ones emotion and reason on the conscious level – and vertically – by integrating ones conscious with ones unconscious. He says that when one does that ones’ energies flow together in the same direction and you feel quite naturally happy. He goes on to say that gradually as one ascends the dhyanas a higher element comes in. In the second dhyana ‘the purified, integrated conscious mind is itself integrated with the superconscious. And the energies of the superconscious – energies, that is to say, which are purely spiritual – begin to be tapped.’ And that this higher element gradually dominates ones experience the higher in the dhyanas one goes. We don’t really talk about dhyana very much these days. Perhaps this is because people think of them negatively, in terms of spiritual materialism, or maybe they are just confused as to what they are exactly. So in this thread I want to try to clarify what they are, and how they connect with insight. The Buddhist texts describe Gautama as firstly remembering the rose-apple experience and then as ascending through the dhyanas. There is no account of the practices he must have used to get there. There is nothing, to my knowledge, in the scriptures along the lines of: ‘I practiced loving kindness and so attained the first dhyana.’ So I want to piece together an account of the process Gautama must have gone through to get into the dhyanas. The first dhyana arises ‘in seclusion from sensuality and unskilful mental states.’ In other words it is a skilful mental state. And as the ‘superconscious element’ that Sangharakshita mentions become stronger the higher in the dhyanas one ascends, we can see each dhyana as an intensification of the skilfulness of the one before. There is however a certain danger in...

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