OP: I am wondering if I should pursue a tradition that doesn't dismiss the dhyanas the way that Goenka Vipassana does?
Buddhist training has 3 elements:
- mastery over the mind
Right Concentration aspect of the path involves Jhana.
"And what is right concentration? There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.' With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is called right concentration."
— SN 45.8
Also, to realise the path you need at least the 1st Jhana momentarily.
In Goenka's retreats, you spend 1/3 of the time developing Samadhi. Not everyone gets into Jhana but this is the time you can spend trying to deepen your concentration.
OP: Still, even as I experience awareness of subtle sensations and a free flow, my mind is not clear of thought.
Know where your attention is and what object your attention is at. If it is not the chosen object gently know the sensation the distraction created and try to see its impermanence and bring back the mind to the object of focus.
If the thoughts are overwhelming Vitakka-Santhana Sutta gives strategies to overcome them.
OP: am I supposed to observe thoughts as they arise, or keep my focus on my breathe (if pracaticing anapana) or sensations when doing Vipassana
Observe where your attention is. Incase of thoughts your attention is at the mind sense door. If the thoughts were pleasant, unpleasant or neutral have stirred up any sensations which are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral observe them knowing they are impermanent and not worth clinking to. Then move back to the breath.
OP: is bhanganana a type of dhyana?
This is an insight-knowledge.
Bhanga ñana - Knowledge of the dissolution of formations, only the "vanishing," or "passing away" is discernible.
OP: but the definitions of each that I have read seem to correspond.
Bhangra is when you see the arising and passing away of materiality in your body in each part of your body. Passing away becomes prominent.
This does share rapture, happiness, tranquillity with that if Jhana but Jhana is not needed for this to arise this is a very preliminary insight-knowledge.
Jhana is born by developing the Jhana factors:
- Initial application (vitakka)
- Sustained application (vicara)
- Joy (píti)
- Happiness (sukha)
- One-pointedness (ekaggata)
One has to develop the Jhana's as follows:
- To enter the 1st Jhana practice initial application and sustained application (Vitarka-vicara). [Paṭhama Jhāna Pañha Sutta]
- To enter the 2nd Jhana when one is established in the 1st Jhana drop initial application and sustained application (Vitarka-vicara). [Dutiya Jhāna Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the 3rd Jhana drop zest (Pīti) by being steadying the mind. [Tatiya Jhāna Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the 4th Jhana by dropping happiness (Sukha) with only equanimity (Ekaggata) remaining. [Catuttha Jhāna Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the 5th Jhana one transcends the perceptions of form, with the disappearance the perceptions of sense-reaction, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, aware that “Space is infinite,”. [Ākāsânañc’āyatana Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the 6th Jhana one transcends the sphere of infinite space, aware that “Consciousness is infinite,”. [Viññāṇañc’āyatana Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the 7th Jhana one transcends the sphere of infinite consciousness, aware that ‘There is nothing,’. [Ākiñcaññ’āyatana Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the 8th Jhana one transcends the sphere of nothingness, one enters and dwells in the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. [N’eva,saññā,nâsaññ’āyatana Pañha Sutta]
- To enter into the cessation one does not attend to any signs of residual perception in the 8th Jhana. [Animitta Ceto,samādhi Pañha Sutta]
OP: How does one skip the dhyanas but then achieve bhanga?
Jhana is not needed to achieve Bhanga. But Jhana is needed to achieve Sotāpanna, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, and Arahant as the path-consciousness occurs with Jhana. Bhanga is insight-knowledge occurring before becoming Sotāpanna so Jhana is not needed to for Bhanga.
- The First Jhàna Sotàpatti Path-consciousness
together with initial application, sustained application,
joy, happiness, and one-pointedness,
- The second Jhàna Sotàpatti Path-consciousness
together with sustained application, joy, happiness, and
- The Third Jhàna Sotàpatti Path-consciousness
together with joy, happiness, and one-pointedness,
- The Fourth Jhàna Sotàpatti Path-consciousness
together with happiness and one-pointedness,
- The Fifth Jhàna Sotàpatti Path—consciousness
together with equanimity and one-pointedness.
These are the five types of Sotàpatti Path-consciousness.
So are the Sakadàgàmi Path-consciousness, Anàgàmi Path-consciousness, and Arahatta Path-consciousness, making
exactly twenty classes of consciousness. Similarly, there are
twenty classes of Fruit-consciousness. Thus there are forty
types of supramundane consciousness.
A Manual of Abhidhamma By Nàrada Mahà Thera