It can be narrowed down to an attentional state. The capacity to find interest in or to attend to any sensorial experience, so long, it involves a degree or another of stimulation. This is the definition of well-being in mundane terms; the mundane samādhi if you will. It takes only the absence of excessive degrees of socioeconomic stressors to thereby find wellness in ones being. This is the condition of the primitive and ancient human I believe; and was precisely the condition out of which their incomparable sharp intuition and wisdom regarding further, transcendental questions, were based. It seems that it is through their general mundane well-being that they finally stepped further, beyond, into the spiritual and transcendental, and finally realised a further mode of transcendental wellbeing: contact and connection with the beyond. That transcendental well-being can be narrowed down to attentional states too, and also those of finding interest and being able to maintain attention, yet, with experiences that are not only unstimulating, but further, ones which gradually wean the consciousness of its innermost, ingrained, primordial and hopeless desire for self-stimulation, precisely, bhavanirodha.
Mahaviveka (2019). “Motivation & Effort in Buddhist Soteriology” is out!
Na hi bhavena bhavāni samūhanati
Nibbidena ca virāgena ca nirujjhati
“Contact” (phassa) represents the very gate through which all that can be experienced is experienced. Thus it is the gate through which both pleasure and pain enter through the body (six senses) into one’s mental world. If there was no contact, there would be no conditioned existence and no suffering (SN 12.24). The goal is ultimately to prevent further birth, so that there would be no further contact. But since we are already born, contact cannot be undone; but not only that, liberation from further birth can only happen through interacting with what we experience rather than rejecting it. Thus, just as suffering happens through contact, liberation from suffering also happens only through contact. This makes contact so important as to require a Buddhist practitioner to develop a fuller understanding of and response to it. It is of great importance to learn what types of contact there are and when is the best time to engage with or withdraw from them. This is the same balance needed for knowing when, what kind, and how much, of pleasure and pain we need to expose the mind to, or withdraw from, in order to maintain psychological health and fitness as we persevere in practice. Practice holistically allows the citta to develop this wisdom, but since the experience of contact is overwhelming due to its intensity and continuity, and due also to the kamma which spurs the mind to respond to it emotionally; a meditative attitude is essential in order to allow the citta to maintain a stable and steady relationship with the experience of contact at all times due to its continued presence.
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Samadhi is the absence of spontaneous reactionariness. So it is not the happening or advent of a new experience, but rather the cessation of one that is naturally and continually happening; which is spontaneous reactionariness, on both the bodily and mental levels, sensorially, emotionally, and conceptually.
That is why it has been difficult to describe Samadhi in positive terms (i.e. concentration, one-pointedness, stillness, serenity, etc.). Linguistically though the word refers to “settling” or “bringing to a repose”.
Samadhi is not an all or nothing experience; it is also a quantitative phenomenon, and its presence is equally proportional to the absence of spontaneous reactionariness: the more such absence, the more the Samadhi.
It is important to note that such absence of spontaneous reactionariness is generally a temporary mental condition; though it might last by various degrees nearly continually, a total and final absence of it may be incompatible with the bodily-mental condition of a sentient being (namarupa), possibly even in one who has attained the final goal (arahantship). Thus, when it is not being intentionally maintained through meditative exercise, Samadhi is a sporadic, inconstant, and temporary experience.
This being the case particularly in “Jhana”; Jhana is a partially transcendental Samadhi. It is the temporary cessation of certain very fundamental bodily and mental reactionary functions. So the release associated with this Jhana is also partially transcendental (unworldly). Jhana, being only a form of Samadhi, is also quantitative: as more layers of fundamental bodily and mental functions cease, as the practitioner progresses in experiencing further stages of that very cessation. Once the practice is stopped, the mental faculties (and particularly “attention”) gradually returns to a normal conditioned state.
What makes Jhana a “partially” transcendental experience is not only that it is a temporary experience, but rather that, while it leads to the transcendence of conditioned reactionariness, it does not lead to the transcendence of conditioned existence or being, in both the mental/psychological sense, and in the cosmological sense as well; only Nibbana does that.
This is why Samadhi, though essential for deliverance, is by itself and alone, an insufficient means (provided that we have developed the faith that what constitutes “deliverance” is no less than the transcendence of “all forms” of conditioned existence). What else is needed for such deliverance? It is Pañña. In another post I will endeavour to give an experiential definition of it too; but for now, let me say that, where Samadhi is the inactive and suspensive dimension of practice; Pañña is the active and mobile one: It is the activity of the “intuition” which, being directly supported by Samadhi (cessation of spontaneous emotional reactionariness), allows for a nimble and agile attention and awareness to assess and interpret reality (both self-view and world-view) independently from desire (tanha) and later also from the imagination (avijja). Here too, this process is not all or nothing but rather develops gradually and by degrees, and it is clearly facilitated, even conditioned, by a concomitant progress in the development of Samadhi; to the extent that it may be said that the more developed is Samadhi, the more naturally follows the emergence of Pañña. The Suttas show that deliverance through the development of Samadhi may have been viewed as superior to that through the development of Pañña.