Discussion Forum Discussion Forum

Concentration

A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread

Toggle
A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 12:49 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 12:30 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 6/10/12 10:39 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 12:59 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 1:09 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 1:14 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 1:33 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 1:51 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 2:17 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 2:29 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 2:48 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 1:41 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 3:17 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 3:22 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 3:30 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Nikolai . 10/26/10 8:51 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 11/11/10 11:02 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/26/10 3:55 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Eric B 11/1/10 10:46 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 11/2/10 1:40 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread boeuf f 11/11/10 9:42 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 11/11/10 11:26 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Bruno Loff 2/8/11 9:52 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Modus Ponens 10/19/13 2:38 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 10/20/13 1:25 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Modus Ponens 10/20/13 3:18 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread adam , 2/21/11 8:49 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Ian And 2/21/11 9:50 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread adam , 2/21/11 11:24 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Pål S. 9/30/12 4:18 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Piers M 10/15/13 7:29 AM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Pål S. 10/15/13 3:31 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Piers M 10/17/13 12:14 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Erasmas II 10/18/13 7:24 PM
RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread Brian Knoll 7/12/13 1:51 PM
A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 12:49 AM
This thread is being offered for reader's consideration regarding the practice of meditative absorption. With so much confusing and contradictory information buzzing around the web on the subject of jhana, and in an effort to set the record straight according to someone's actual experience of the practice, I am hopeful that this thread will assist others who are intrepid enough to "give it a go," and who, despite all the negative press out and about on "official" and "unofficial" Buddhist web forums, are willing to endeavor to understand and practice this often misunderstood aspect of Buddhist meditation training and accomplishment.

Let me start by dispelling the predominate myth about absorption that is being spread by websites like The Buddhist Community E-Sangha (now defunct). Often you will hear or read that mastery of absorption is rare and almost unknown in the present contemporary world; that "it is no longer possible for people of this age to achieve the mastery of meditative absorption." Nothing could be further from the truth! Despite what you may have read (or heard repeated elsewhere) on such websites, meditative absorption (otherwise known as jhana) is not all that difficult to achieve, given the right conditions and training opportunities. It just takes some practice and the correct instruction and encouragement.

And once a person begins to get an accurate idea of what jhana is, how it feels, and what to look for, it is almost impossible to stop them from achieving it. Correct knowledge is self empowering. Of course, it is often best learnt and practiced with someone face to face; that is, with a teacher or guide from whom one can receive personal guidance and instruction as well as to be able to discuss their progress. There is no substitute for hands on, in-person instruction when it comes to the slippery subject of endeavoring to communicate information about subtle mental states. Yet, even if one does not have a personal guide or teacher, it is still possible to learn about and practice absorption, as long as one has access to proper instruction and feedback. So, barring a lack of either of these two stipulations, there is no excuse for a person not to take up the study of meditative absorption and to eventually succeed at its practice, all the negative press about it notwithstanding.

There is a reason why jhana is talked about so much by the Buddha in the Pali suttas, and that is because it is a meditative state which assists the mind in deepening one's abilities of concentration and heightened present-moment awareness, otherwise known as sati or mindfulness. In many suttas, the Buddha can be found extolling the virtues of the jhanas and how he has used them to develop clarity to mind and insight, as in the practice of satipatthana. This is because just as a pond whose bottom has been stirred by a stick will cloud up with muddy debris, when that pond is allowed to become still, the debris will once again settle on the bottom of the pond. And the pond's bottom will become clear, transparent, and easily discernable. So too with the mind when it is allowed to become still, settled, and calmed.

This is perhaps why you always see the term calm (samatha) placed before the term insight (vipassana) in articles and essays. It is usually necessary first to calm the mind down before insight can reasonably be expected to arise. Insight into whatever subject is being examined is made possible with the achievement of a calm mind. And oftentimes, insight will just pop out at the observer unbidden, seemingly from nowhere. It is for this and many other reasons why in the discourses one finds time and time again the Buddha discussing entry into meditative absorption in order to accomplish this or that achievement in realization of the Dhamma.

For the sake of expediency and the avoidance of "attention deficit disorder" in readers, I will endeavor to make these posts relatively short (although not too short) so that people have an opportunity to drink in and absorb (contemplate) what is being explained. Interspersed between the tips and instruction, on occasion, will be mention of some of the controversial aspects that have been discussed in other web fora. This is in order to bring these controversial points out in the open and to address them straighforwardly. The individual reader and practitioner, however, is still responsible for discerning the truth and sanctioning whichever version of these explanations they ultimately accept and follow.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 12:30 AM as a reply to Ian And.
How I Came to Practice Jhana

I didn't begin to look into absorption practice as it is explained in Buddhist literature until I was twenty years into my meditative practice. At the time, being ignorant of it, I couldn't have told you what the difference was between samadhi and jhana. All I knew was that from the descriptions I had read about them, they both sounded very similar. What I eventually learned through the experience of a mature practice is that there is a subtle difference which characterizes each of these two seemingly mysterious and foreign words.

Though I came to the practice of meditative absorption not totally certain about what it was or whether I could ever achieve it, I did have a kind of explorer's curiosity and a "throw caution to the wind" attitude which helped to overcome any negative thoughts or doubts I might have somehow secretly harbored in the back of my mind. With nothing to lose but time, diving headlong into the practice seemed the only reasonable and practical thing to do if I wanted to learn anything about the practice of absorption. This is simply to say that if I can do it, then anyone can do it. I'm not all that much smarter than anyone else. The only skill anyone needs is to be able to recognize, differentiate, and identify subtle mental movement. To know it when you see it, and not to deny it or downplay it. It is that mental movement, sometimes subtle and sometimes gross, that needs to be seen and brought to our awareness.

When it came time to actually attempting the practice of the jhanas, rather than rely on the somewhat academically dry yet wonderfully detailed description provided by the celebrated Buddhist monk Henepola Gunaratana in his essay "The Jhanas" (which was an abridged version from his book The Path of Serenity and Insight: An Explanation of the Buddhist Jhanas), I went with a much briefer Internet version I had found which entailed a description written by Leigh Brasington ("The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation"), a noted lay practitioner and jhana teacher, whose description was more accessible to me and seemed to make more intuitive sense.

At this point it may be helpful to gain a better idea about the difference between what ordinary samadhi is as opposed to what jhana samadhi is as it is discussed within the context of Buddhist meditation. As I've come to experience and understand it, samadhi refers to — and has traditionally been defined as — "concentration." What this refers to in layman's terms is the mind's ability to concentrate on, for example, an object like the breath without becoming distracted (as by interposing thought). Being able to focus on that object in order to examine it for several minutes in succession without distraction or unnoticed distraction. When understood correctly within this context, then, samadhi takes on a more prosaic and mundane definition and connotation, thus separating it from other contexts in which it may have been viewed as a more glorified state of mind. Gotama the Buddha was nothing if not down-to-earth and practical when it came to describing the purpose of meditation and how he employed it in the process of realization of the Dhamma he taught.

Even during the time of the Buddha there were other ascetics and renouncer/wanderer types, so-called "holy men," who taught a meditative technique known as dhyana or jhana. This meditative discipline was taught to the Buddha-to-be, we are told, by two meditation teachers who had a significant affect on the training of Gotama. Alara Kalama taught Gotama how to practice the first seven levels of jhana (the four material jhanas and the first three immaterial jhanas) while Uddaka Ramaputta taught him about the eighth immaterial jhana. Both these meditation teachers, one at a time, attempted to recruit Gotama to help them teach others about the practice of the systems of meditation that they both taught. However, Gotama declined them both, saying that he had not yet found what he was seeking, and that he would carry on alone in search of his goal of the ultimate ending suffering.

In ordinary terms jhana can be described very simply as "absorbed concentration" or "absorption samadhi" (what many modern day meditation masters call appana samadhi or "fixed concentration"). Just how this kind of absorption samadhi differs from the normal everyday brand of samadhi becomes evident when one compares the level or depth of concentration that is ultimately achieved while one enters and remains in this state of "fixed concentration."

In normal samadhi, the mind becomes able to remain focused on an object without becoming absorbed in that object. In other words, there is a modicum of effort being made in order to remain in this state. Absorption occurs when the mind finds a particularly pleasant sensation on which to become focused and absorbed, thus allowing the mind to become automatically (and effortlessly) fixed on the object of observation. The difference lies, on the one hand, in the amount of effort needed (or not needed) to maintain the samadhi, and, on the other hand, in the perception of the mind's becoming pleasantly (at least during the first three jhanas) locked on the object of observation while having entered the state of absorption. Once the mind reaches the fourth jhana, what remains left of the mental constituents are the two factors of "inner tranquility" and "clear awareness" which was developed during the previous three levels, along with a strong enduring sense of "mindfulness and equanimity."

Because jhana is characterized by its effortlessness, attaining this state makes it the perfect foundation for taking up contemplation of any object or subject that the observer wishes to examine. The mind is still and at ease. It is also able to remain fixed and focused on its object without any trouble, and through a practice of bare attention (meaning not conditioned by personal prejudice or biased views), it is able to discern the true nature of the phenomenon under observation. This is why the Buddha was so insistent in exhorting the development of absorption among the members of his sangha. It provided a major tool for those to use who wished to put an end to ignorance and thus attain awakening in this very lifetime.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
6/10/12 10:39 PM as a reply to Ian And.
A Practical Look at Jhana Practice — Part One

As Leigh Brasington points out in his piece on "The Jhanas" in the post above, there is very little actual instruction on how to "do" jhana practice in the sutta discourses. Be that as it may, people have nevertheless been learning how to practice them for thousands of years. So, they must not be that difficult to learn how to do. Yet, because these are subtle mind states not easily described nor easily understood by those unfamiliar with observation of these subtle mental phenomena, they can be a bit slippery for a beginner to tackle.

In a practical sense, when just starting out, it is probably best not to think too much about the instruction itself or how to identify which level you are in, but rather to concentrate on inducing the pleasant sensations necessary to carry one into absorption. You can read through the instructions that Brasington gives in order to get an idea of how the mind processes these instructions, but your focus should be on the object of meditation (such as the breath) and endeavoring to experience the simple pleasantness (pleasant sensation) of the breath.

As far as verifying where you have been in relationship to the instructions, this can be done after meditation as you sit and review (contemplate) what just occurred. As your mindfulness becomes stronger over the weeks and months to follow, you will be able to do this review in real time as you are meditating. But in the beginning, it is probably best to keep things simple and to just focus on accomplishing those few tasks which will allow the mind to relax enough to drop down into absorption.

Many meditators have experienced feeling a sort of pressure in the center of the forehead between the eye brows. This sensation is evidence of the establishment of concentration. If you should be one of those who experiences this phenomenon, once it occurs, you should begin focusing on the pleasantness of the breath in order to relax and calm the mind even more. As Brasington points out, "by shifting your attention from the meditation subject to a pleasant sensation, particularly a pleasant physical sensation, and doing nothing more than not becoming distracted from the pleasant sensation, you will 'automatically' enter the first jhana."

At this point in the process, it is probably best not to overwhelm the mind with details about absorption. The simpler and less complicated the instruction, the easier it will be for the beginner to enter absorption. In this early stage of the practice, it is probably best just to obtain as much experience as one can with being able to enter jhana so as to grow confidence in one's ability to achieve this state. Once you know how to get there and are confident of your ability to identify absorption, you'll be able to accomplish it over and over again in subsequent sessions without much effort.

The brief three step formula at the end of Brasington's description of the first jhana which outlines how to achieve this level of jhana is probably the best description to pay attention to. I know it helped me to get a better idea of what jhana is and to gain confidence in being able to enter absorption. What we're going for here in this opening instruction is just to gain experience in entering absorption so that you can begin to see and feel what it is, so that you can identify it when it occurs. And whatever helps to get you there in the beginning, be it a little rough and ragged on the edges, can be refined later as you begin to tighten and sharpen up your practice.

The hint in the second step about the "positive reinforcement feedback loop" captured my imagination, and my mind picked it up and ran with it. This suggestion alone can throw you headlong into a prolonged absorption. But you have to make certain that it is stable and relatively effortless. You don't want to end up in an "unmistakeable altered state of consciousness" as is mentioned in the third step (meaning that I do not agree with everything that Brasington states in his piece). Clarity of awareness, imperturbability persisting beyond the sitting practice, and comprehension of the meditation subject is what you want to achieve. Altered states of consciousness equate to dullness and sluggishness of mind, not mental clarity or brightness. You do not want to end up in a trance state. Jhana the way the Buddha practiced and taught it has nothing to do with trance states.

One thing you will need to become wary of is becoming too concentrated on the pleasure element of inducing absorption. An over saturation of the pleasure factor can also cause a sluggishness of mental faculties, creating a dullness of mind. This is the opposite of what you want to ultimately achieve. It is also at this point where the application and establishment of sati (mindfulness) is cultivated to counteract any mental dullness. Actually, sati needs to be cultivated and sustained before attempting to practice absorption, at the very inception of the sitting.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 12:59 AM as a reply to Ian And.
A Practical Look at Jhana Practice — Part Two

My practice didn't really begin to take off until I was able to finally bring the mind to stillness and quietude. The importance of attaining to mental stillness was only tangentially mentioned when I first began a meditation practice. Most of the emphasis was on performing the meditation technique itself, which involved a mantra and therefore was not focused on obtaining mental quietude. Since the aspect of mental stillness was never really emphasized throughout the greater portion of the first twenty years of my practice, I never developed it, and therefore arrived late to the game. Once I realized how important this was (I was around 48) I immediately set out to correct this aspect of my practice.

What does this have to do with being able to attain to meditative absorption? Everything. The ability to reach one-pointedness of mind (cittassa-ekaggata) and to focus on a single object is dependent on mental stillness. Concentration is strengthened and increased only when the mind's movement is subdued and tranquility is present enabling sustained focus. The fourth level of jhana itself is dependent upon there being an all pervading deep peacefulness and quietude of the mind. It blocks out distracting thought, thus deepening concentration upon the object of meditation. So, mental serenity is crucial to the attainment of absorption.

There's a difference between a calm mind and a still mind. A calm mind may have a few thoughts still floating around yet be relatively calm, while a still mind is completely without thought! Although the word "calm" is often used to indicate tranquility or serenity when associated with samatha meditation, I am here using it specifically to demonstrate a nuanced difference between a relatively calm mind and a still mind. When you learn that you can still your mind at will, that can be quite a revelation indeed! It means that you can banish all verbal and non-verbal thought from the mind at a moment's notice, which if you've never done it before is quite a feat.

Being able to still the mind at will is very important as contemplation of the dhammas (meaning "phenomena" as well as those aspects of the Dhamma in the Satipatthana Suttas such as the Five Hindrances, the Five Aggregates, the Six Sense Spheres, the Four Noble Truths etc.) is more difficult to achieve without this ability. If the mind remains distracted by the "monkey mind" replaying its catalog of thought over and over, you'll spend all your contemplation time attempting to see though the fog being presented by the monkey mind in order to get through to the subjects of the Dhamma.

There are some methods one can use in order to bring the monkey mind into check. One of these is a method that I used before I was exposed to Buddhist meditation techniques. The only reason I mention it here is because it WORKED. It involves simply telling the mind to STOP whenever mental proliferation begins. However, just telling the mind to STOP will not be effective. You must do it with INTENTION! A serious and strong dose of INTENTION must be present. It's important to note that it is not necessary to repeat a verbal command in the mind, but to saturate each instance when a thought arises with a strong desire or intention to stop. Through the sheer repetition of this command, with intention, the mind will eventually become harnessed and obey. This method is a direct assault upon the monkey mind in order to subdue it.

When any other thought enters the mind one crushes it with the intentional command to STOP. The more determined the perseverance, the better the result. The restless mind begins to give up the struggle. As you substitute every approaching thought with the command to stop, the periods of absolute quiescence become longer. At first it is only for a few seconds, but with constant practice there come minutes of unruffled peace. This method of the direct approach to quieting the mind can be practiced at any time of the day: walking down the street, sitting in a bus, in fact all day long whenever the mind is not immediately engaged in some necessary mental activity.

You can even use it as you begin meditating, if need be. In this instance, once you have commanded the mind to stop, you simply return to your object of meditation and carry on from there. If another intruding thought comes along, you tell it to stop, and then immediately return to your meditation object, resuming your meditation. I know it sounds hokey, but it works.

If you'd rather not use this direct method to subdue the mind, you can follow the traditional Buddhist method of just bringing the mind back to the meditation object each time you notice that it has strayed. This works on the same principle as the method described above, namely with intent. It's just a slightly different way of approaching it. What these methods accomplish are two things at once: it exercises and strengthens the ability of mindfulness each time you notice the mind has strayed away from the meditation object, and it reinforces your will to maintain control over the direction of the mind. In time, you will discover that a simple application of willful intent will stop the wandering mind in its tracks so that you may resume your meditation.

As your mindfulness (sati) increases, you will notice that your ability to concentrate has simultaneously increased also. Mindfulness and concentration are close cousins of one another. The difference lies in the fact that concentration is generally focused upon a single object for observation, while mindfulness suggests an open and full-minded awareness of the entire atmosphere in general. Mindfulness is aware of changes in the physical and mental atmosphere, whereas concentration is generally focused on one or the other of these two atmospheres to the exclusion of the other.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 1:09 AM as a reply to Ian And.
A Practical Look at Jhana Practice — Part Three

Throughout the course of this exposition, I wish to share with the reader certain informational resources which I have personally found to be of benefit to my education and understanding of this practice. Hopefully, they will be of benefit to others here, too.

One of the monastics from whom I have been able to confirm much of what I know is the Western Theravadin monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Geoffrey DeGraff is his given name before he became a monk in the Thai Forest tradition in the mid-1970s. He is widely known and quite popular in some circles, notwithstanding some controversy that has grown around him in orthodox circles regarding the perceived stance he has taken in certain areas of the Dhamma.

All that aside, my reason for introducing him here is that he is a universally recognized master of meditation and has, over the years, written extensively and quite effectively on the subject of Buddhist meditation. Thanissaro was taught meditation by a little known but highly noted Thai teacher, Ajaan Jotiko Fuang, who in turn was a student of the nationally recognized Thai meditation master Ajaan Dhammadharo Lee. Thanissaro is therefore a highly qualified contemporary source for information about the practice of meditation. His essays and books are well worth reading and contemplating.

A few years ago, he wrote a short piece about jhana meditation entitled Jhana Not by the Numbers. In this piece, he shared some interesting facts about the process of learning meditation, and in particular some things of which to take heed regarding meditative absorption. Of particular note was the method his teacher used to teach him. Ajaan Fuang, although hands on in many respects, mainly taught meditation using a hands off approach. If you read the second, third, and fourth paragraphs of this essay you will see what I mean, summed up in the sentence: "So as a teacher, he tried to instill in his students these qualities of self-reliance, ingenuity, and a willingness to take risks and test things for themselves."

You will learn more — and will learn it more quickly — if someone takes this approach with you than you would if someone were to take you by the hand and lead you through the practice step by step. The former of these two approaches forces the student to actively take responsibility in his own meditative development. He has to learn quickly how to develop mindful awareness in order to keep up with all the observations of his practice that he's being asked to keep up with. This not only keeps him engaged with the practice, but keeps the practice from becoming boring or stagnant.

Another point brought up in this piece is the precariousness of practicing jhana. Because of the limited concentration ability of most people's minds in the beginning stages of establishing a practice, people can have a tendency to misapprehend where their practice is taking them. They can get caught up in a side road, leading them away from the ultimate goal. An example of this can be seen in the section which talks about moha-samadhi or delusion-concentration. "When you emerge, you find it hard to identify where exactly you were focused." This can come about "when the breath gets so comfortable that your focus drifts from the breath to the sense of comfort itself, mindfulness begins to blur and your sense of the body and your surroundings gets lost in a pleasant haze."

In this pleasant haze, the mind is exposed to a highly suggestive mind state wherein almost anything imagined can be taken literally for the truth. A person can delude himself into believing almost anything while in this mind state, which is akin to an hypnotic trance. It is a dull and not a bright and clear state of mind, and is therefore to be recognized when it occurs and dropped immediately. One way to drop this state is to increase your mindful alertness of the internal and external surroundings and to refocus your attention on your meditation object (such as the breath) in order to bring the mind out of this state.

What I call establishing mindfulness, Ajaan Fuang calls establishing "all-around awareness." The alert reader will recognize, regarding the two states of "wrong concentration" discussed toward the end of the essay, that it is this "all-around awareness of the breath energy throughout the body, playing with it to gain a sense of ease, and then calming it so that it [won't] interfere with a clear vision of the subtle movements of the mind" that plays a part in subduing these two states of wrong concentration.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 1:14 AM as a reply to Ian And.
A Practical Look at Jhana Practice — Part Four

What does absorption feel like? What does one experience? How do you know when you've achieved it? Is there anything that is universal about the experience that can be explained so that I can understand what it is?

For someone who has never experienced absorption before, these are all very good and important questions. Yet, it should be understood that attempting to write about and describe delicate mind states to the uninitiated reader with whom one has not personally met and spoken can be difficult if not somewhat problematic. It is difficult enough to explain these states in person to someone whose meditation experience is limited. So, in attempting to describe these states to someone who is coming to the practice for the first time, it should be understood by the reader that he should endeavor to get as clear a reference as is possible regarding the definitions of the words being used so that he will not misapprehend the concepts being described.

Someone who has had some experience with meditation — with observing the phenomena that occur during meditation — should in general have a slightly easier time understanding these concepts. Yet, even so, it is still quite easy to miscomprehend a term being used and thus to practice under a misapprehension. Becoming clear about the terminology and the experiences they refer to is something that becomes easier with time and regular practice. First hand observation of your actual meditation practice is your best teacher. If you keep these points in mind, they will serve you well as you endeavor to understand what you read here.

With this in mind, let's take a look at a few descriptions of the first four levels of jhana according to the way they are presented in the discourses, using some descriptions given by prominent meditation teachers as well as from our own experience of these factors. The first four levels of jhana practice are the most important with regard to the awakening process which takes place in Buddhist mental training. They, therefore, are fundamentally necessary if one is pursuing what is known as the "wet" approach to awakening, as opposed to the so-called "dry" approach. More on the differences between these two approaches later.

For now, just for a quick and immediate understanding of these terms, the "wet" approach refers to the use of absorption within the practice in order to strengthen the mind's ability to concentrate on the necessary subject matter needed for the awakening process to take place, whereas the "dry" approach refers to the lack of the use of absorption for this purpose. "Dry meditators" therefore do not take the time to develop the jhanas before taking up vipassana meditation subjects, whereas "wet meditators" do develop jhana before undertaking insight contemplations.

If one's level of concentration is already strong, he may not need to develop the jhanas in order to have success in contemplation of the insight subjects. The decision to develop meditative absorption is one taken on a case by case basis. In general, though, most of us are lacking in a really strong skill base to call upon our untrained proficiency at concentration, and therefore need some assistance with developing and strengthening this ability. This is where training and development in the practice of absorption can assist us in gaining the necessary skill level needed to be able to maintain our mental focus on an object or subject uninterrupted for an extended period of time.

In the next sections, we will take a slightly more in-depth look at the first four levels of jhana practice with an emphasis on endeavoring to understand the fluidity of how quickly the mind can move as well as the breadth that these descriptions cover so as not to be susceptible to a false understanding of them.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 1:33 AM as a reply to Ian And.
A Practical Look at Jhana Practice — Part Five

If you have read the two referenced essays on The Jhanas (linked to in an above post) you will notice certain factors being present in jhana on the first four levels of the attainment. If you have not read through those essays, please take some time here and now to do so, as it will be necessary to understand what is to follow.

In Buddhist meditation, the development of concentrative absorption in the case of the first jhana is described in terms of the following five factors:

* directed attention (vitakka)
* sustained attention or examination and evaluation (vicāra)
* joy/rapture/elation (pīti)
* happiness/pleasure/bliss (sukha)
* equanimity (upekkhā)

For simplicity's sake, we will be referring to the jhana factors as they have been outlined within the suttanta (the discourses of the Buddha) as opposed to other sources (principally the commentarial work the Visuddhimagga and the extra-canonical Abhidhamma material) within the orthodox Theravada school. To include definitions of these other sources would only be confusing to the beginning practitioner, as well as adding unnecessary complication to the practice. Those who are interested in exploring these other sources can take them up at another time.

You will have noticed that the first two factors present in the first level of jhana are vitakka and vicara. These two Pali terms have been variously translated as "applied thinking," "applied thought," "directed attention," and "directed thought" in reference to the first of these two terms (vitakka); and "sustained thought," "sustained attention," "discursive thought," "investigation," and "examination and evaluation," with reference to the second of these two terms (vicara). Yet, what are these two factors referring to?

The two terms, as Ven. Gunaratana has pointed out in his essay, signify two interconnected yet distinct aspects of the mental process involved in the pursuit of absorption. Vitakka refers to the mind directing its attention and awareness to the principal object of meditation. In anapanasati meditation (mindfulness of breathing), this object is the breath. Directing the mind toward the breath, then, in this case, is the first action necessary in order to begin the descent into meditative absorption. The mind must find a pleasant object upon which to focus in order for it to begin to become calm and tranquil.

Once the mind has found and become focused upon its object, it then proceeds to "investigate" and "examine" that object, to "sustain" its attention on the object. This "examination" and "evaluation" of the object is necessary in order to establish the pleasant sensation that will arise once the absorption process begins to become stronger and grows in strength. Vicara refers to the mind's examination and inspection of the meditation object for the purpose of extending the awareness of its pleasant components. Remember, absorption (jhana) is a pleasant experience, and not an unpleasant experience. By attending to the pleasantness of the breathing process, one can take the mind deeper and deeper into that pleasant experience.

Although this is a process of "letting go" in order to experience the pleasantness of the breathing process, one should not totally let everything go, as retaining mindfulness (sati) of this process then becomes equally important. The factor of sati prevents the mind from becoming dull and sluggish, from descending into an "altered state of consciousness" wherein one is only vaguely aware of his surroundings, both mental and physical. Sati keeps the mind bright and energetic in its awareness of the breath, which allows vitakka and vicara to do their work of latching onto the object of the breath and introducing the mind to its pleasant sensation in which the mind can become absorbed.

Vitakka and vicara are the subtle mental factors which assist the mind in contacting the first level of jhana. They are the first two aspects of absorption necessary for the mind to begin the process of becoming absorbed in an object. Once the mind becomes absorbed in its object (in this case, the breath), then vitakka and vicara can be let go of as they have already completed their work. This letting go of these two jhana factors allows the mind to enter the second jhana automatically.

Once the mind becomes absorbed in the meditation object, appana-samadhi or "fixed concentration" (a "unification of mind" on its object), takes over the responsibility of keeping the mind absorbed, without the mind having to make any effort to apply and sustain itself on the object. For simplicity of exposition's sake, in its infancy appana-samadhi is the "positive reinforcement feedback loop" that Leigh Brasington refers to in his piece. In its maturity, this samadhi will be experienced as a mental unification or concentration upon the object of meditation.

The first jhana can sometimes pass very quickly once the mind becomes absorbed in its object and descends even further by letting go of vitakka and vicara. The relinquishing of these two factors automatically takes the mind into the second second level of absorption. Once the mind becomes absorbed in an object, the three levels of jhana which come afterward can sometimes pass relatively quickly, and oftentimes unnoticed by the meditator.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 1:51 AM as a reply to Ian And.
A Practical Look at Jhana Practice — Part Six

Piti is the third factor present in the first level of jhana. It has been variously defined as "rapture," "joy," "gladness," or "elation." Although it can be a very subtle yet specific joy, piti is associated with a state of deep tranquility. When it combines with sukha (pleasure, bliss or happiness), the fourth jhana factor, these two factors help propel the mind into appana-samadhi, since sukha follows piti in arising.

The standard example of piti would be like the gladness or elation experienced by a man wandering in a desert, tired and thirsty, seeking shelter from the sun, when he suddenly comes upon an oasis with shade trees and a pond of clear water. Now, stop for a moment and imagine how you would feel being in such a circumstance! Imagine this circumstance as vividly as you are able to. At the first sight of the oasis, it is piti (joy or elation) that arises in the man as he feels contentment at the sight of this object of relief. Sukha, then, would equate to the actual experiencing of the pleasure of relief of the shade and thirst quenching water once he partakes of these.

In terms of temporal length, when it is acting as a transition between gladness and happiness during the absorption process, piti only lasts a relatively short time, long enough for sukha to arise where piti leaves off. In this vein, piti has been compared to varying degrees of interest in an object as desirable or as expecting to bring happiness, whereas sukha is the happiness itself once the benefit of the object has been enjoyed. As the meditator makes contact with the desired object, sukha then takes over and piti subsides. Ideally, this is how a healthy absorption occurs. It occurs as something quite natural in the mind; the mind does it of itself automatically.

On occasion, an unhealthy absorption occurs when piti explodes and is experienced as a strong burst. These bursts can last as long as ten seconds or more and are an example of gross piti, which should be avoided if possible. Leigh Brasington talks about his experience with this phenomenon when it happened to him while on retreat. The retreat master immediately told him that this was not helpful, and that he should not encourage its emergence.

While this is something to be aware of, it should not frighten away any potential practitioners of jhana as this type of occurrence is generally rare and usually based upon an exaggerated expectation of the practitioner. In nearly 30 years of practice I have never experienced anything close to this description of the arising of piti. If the vehicle one uses (such as anapanasati) to access jhana is practiced correctly and with mindfulness, absorption should arise quite easily and naturally without any wild after-effects.

Once piti has done its job of inducing absorption and has subsided, sukha takes over as the predominant factor enabling absorption to persist and to deepen. The practitioner does not need to think about sukha in order for it to do its work. The only thing the practitioner needs to focus on is the smoothing out of the meditation itself. The rest should take care of itself automatically. By "smoothing out" I refer to the process of experiencing inner tranquility combined with the unification of the mind on the pleasantness of the object of meditation. As these two factors are experienced, the mind will transition to the third level of jhana where sukha, clear awareness (sampajanna), equanimity (upekkha), and mindfulness (sati) are the factors after piti subsides.

Although pleasant, both piti and sukha are nevertheless agitating factors when it comes to the process of calming and tranquilizing the mind. The happiness, pleasure or joy of sukha becomes a palpable agitation in the mind when it is experienced in the mind's journey toward deeper tranquility. Once absorption is well established, however, this pleasant mental agitation must also fade away if the mind is to reach the natural tranquil state needed for it to increase its ability of concentration in the fourth level of jhana.

As sukha subsides, the mind transitions naturally into the fourth level of jhana where equanimity (upekkha) and mindfulness (sati) remain. This level of absorption is profoundly peaceful. The breath may be barely a whisper of which the mind is only fleetingly aware, and the mind is without agitation or ruffle of any kind, yet it is able to remain firmly fixed on the object of the breath. It is from the level of the fourth jhana that the immaterial jhanas can be accessed and explored, although for awakening's sake, this is unnecessary. The only skill the meditator needs for awakening to occur is the ability to reach the first four jhanas, or even only the first jhana. Anything else is icing on the cake.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 2:17 AM as a reply to Ian And.
How Others Have Experienced Absorption — Part One

What follows in this section are a few of the alternative descriptions of the process of absorption that I have personally found helpful. They are by no means the only descriptions available, just a few that I have come across in my own struggle to better understand these processes. They reflect common experiences and ways of understanding the process of absorption with which I am able to confirm from my own experience.

This first excerpt I found posted in a Buddhist forum. I've left in the poster's comments at the top and the middle of the post as they seem relevant and instructive to the tone of the post and the everyday language used by Ajahns Chah and Dhammadaro Lee. Both Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Lee were beloved Thai meditation masters and Dhamma teachers. Among other things, it seems to say: "If simple village women can attain jhana, then so can you." The person who posted this, a friend of mine, is a bhikkhu in the Thai Forest Tradition.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I also like the way some teachers explain meditation on an experiential level that even simple people can relate to. Some of the best meditators in Ajahn Chah's monastery who had jhana were simple village women (they could sit there for hours while the monks were in agony...). So Ajahn Chah used simple language to explain the basics of practice to them. This is a relevant passage:

The trick is to have sati (mindfulness) taking control and supervising the mind. Once the mind is unified with sati a new kind of awareness will emerge. The mind that has developed calm is held in check by that calm, just like a chicken held in a coop ... the chicken is unable to wander outside, but it can still move around within the coop. Its walking to and fro doesn’t get it into trouble because it is restrained by the coop. Likewise the awareness that takes place when the mind has sati and is calm does not cause trouble. None of the thinking or sensations that take place within the calm mind cause harm or disturbance.

Some people don’t want to experience any thoughts or feelings at all, but this is going too far. Feelings arise within the state of calm. The mind is both experiencing feelings and calm at the same time, without being disturbed. When there is calm like this there are no harmful consequences. Problems occur when the ‘chicken’ gets out of the ‘coop’. For instance, you may be watching the breath entering and leaving and then forget yourself, allowing the mind to wander away from the breath back home, off to the shops or to any number of different places. Maybe even half an hour may pass before you suddenly realize you’re supposed to be practicing meditation and reprimand yourself for your lack of sati. This is where you have to be really careful, because this is where the chicken gets out of the coop - the mind leaves its base of calm.

You must take care to maintain the awareness with sati and try to pull the mind back. Although I use the words ‘pull the mind back’, in fact the mind doesn’t really go anywhere, only the object of awareness has changed. You must make the mind stay right here and now. As long as there is sati there will be presence of mind. It seems like you are pulling the mind back but really it hasn’t gone anywhere; it has simply changed a little. It seems that the mind goes here and there, but in fact the change occurs right at the one spot. When sati is regained, in a flash you are back with the mind without it having to be brought from anywhere.


This is how he explained vitakka (directed thought) and vicara (evaluation), which are the basic 'tools' in meditation practice. Notice that he doesn't say we have to completely stop using the mind in this way, because actually these are also ways of developing pannya (wisdom) by contemplating the ways in which the mind reacts. He didn't make a sharp distinction between samatha and vipassana. For him it was just two aspects of the same practice. Here are some more details from Ajahn Chah:

There may be different phenomena contacting the senses, or thoughts arising. This is called initial thought (vitakka). It brings up some idea, be it about the nature of compounded phenomena (sankhara), about the world, or whatever. Once the mind has brought it up, the mind will want to get involved and merge with it. If it’s an object that is wholesome, then let the mind take it up. If it is something unwholesome, stop it immediately. If it is something wholesome, then let the mind contemplate on it, and gladness, satisfaction, and happiness will come about. The mind will be bright and clear as the breath goes in and out, these initial thoughts appear, and the mind takes them up. Then it becomes discursive thought (vicara). The mind develops familiarity with the object, exerting itself and merging with it. At this point, there is no sleepiness.

After an appropriate period of this, take your attention back to the breath. Then as you continue on, there will be the initial thought and discursive thought, initial thought and discursive thought. If you are contemplating skillfully on an object such as the nature of sankhara, then the mind will experience deeper tranquility, and rapture is born. There is the vitakka and vicara, and that leads to happiness of mind. At this time, there won’t be any dullness or drowsiness. The mind won’t be dark if we practice like this. It will be gladdened and enraptured.

This rapture will start to diminish and disappear after a while, so you can take up the initial thought again. The mind will become firm and certain with it, undistracted. Then you go on to discursive thought again, the mind becoming one with it. When you are practicing a meditation that suits your temperament and doing it well, then whenever you take up the object, rapture will come about, the hairs of the body standing on end, the mind enraptured and satiated.

When it’s like this, there can’t be any dullness or drowsiness. You won’t have any doubts. Back and forth between initial and discursive thought, initial and discursive thought, over and over again, and rapture comes. Then there is bliss (sukha). ...

Q: Are vitakka and vicara the same?

A.Chah: You’re sitting and suddenly the thought of someone pops into your head-that’s vitakka, the initial thought. Then you take that idea of the person and start thinking about them (in detail). Vitakka is picking it up, vicara is investigating it. For example, we pick up the idea of death, and then we start considering it: “I will die, others will die, every living being will die, when they die where will they go…? “ Then, stop! Stop and bring it up again. When it gets running like that, stop it again, then go back to mindfulness of the breath. Sometimes the discursive thought will wander off and not come back, so you have to stop it. Keep at it until the mind is bright and clear.

If you practice vicara with an object that you are suited to, you may experience the hairs of your body standing on end, tears pouring from your eyes, a state of extreme delight, many different things as rapture comes.

Q: Can this happen with any kind of thinking, or is it in a state of tranquility that it happens?

A.Chah: It’s when the mind is tranquil. It’s not ordinary mental proliferation. You sit with a calm mind and then the initial thought comes. For example, I think of my brother who just passed away. Or I might think of some other relatives. This is when the mind is tranquil - the tranquility isn’t something certain, but for the moment the mind is tranquil. After this initial thought comes, then I go into discursive thought. If it’s a line of thinking that’s skillful and wholesome, it leads to ease of mind and happiness, and then there is rapture, with its attendant experiences. This rapture came from the initial and discursive thinking that took place in a state of calmness. We don’t have to give it names such as first jhana, second jhana, and so forth. We just call it tranquility.

The next factor is bliss (sukha). Eventually, we drop the initial and discursive thinking as tranquility deepens. Why is that? The state of mind is becoming more refined and subtle. Vitakka and vicara are relatively coarse, and they will vanish. There will remain just the rapture, accompanied by bliss and one-pointedness of mind. And when it reaches full measure, there won’t be anything - (there is equanimity, and) the mind is empty. That’s absorption concentration (appana samadhi).

We don’t need to fixate or dwell on any of these experiences. They will naturally progress from one to the next. At first there are initial and discursive thought, rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness. Then initial and discursive thinking are thrown off, leaving rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness. Rapture is thrown off (note: scriptures usually say, “with the fading of rapture…”), then bliss, and finally only one-pointedness and equanimity remain. It means the mind is becoming more and more tranquil, and its objects are steadily decreasing, until there is nothing but one-pointedness and equanimity. (From 'Everything is Teaching Us')


It's true that in some Suttas the Buddha mentions an intermediate state called "avitakka vicaramatta" (without directed thought and a little bit of evaluation). I would see that as staying with the theme of meditation, not wandering elsewhere, but there still being the need to move the attention around the theme, back and forth ("becoming familiar with it"). It's a kind of rippling of the mind, it's not perfectly still. That comes only later, when the preliminary work has been done, and it's a natural result of that.

Ajahn Lee has a nice description of this process:

Directed thought (vitakka) - focusing on the breath without getting distracted - is like planting a tree. Evaluation (vicara) is like loosening the soil around the roots, giving it fertilizer, and watering it from the roots to the topmost branches. The body, which can be compared to the soil, will soften, allowing the fertilizer and water to penetrate down to the roots. Rapture is like the tree's being fresh and green and bursting into bloom. (There are five kinds of rapture: (1) an unusual sense of heaviness or lightness in the body; (2) a sense of the body floating; (3) a sense of coolness or heat; (4) a sense of thrill passing over the surface of the body; (5) the body beginning to sway.) Pleasure means stillness of body and mind, free from Hindrances. Singleness of preoccupation means being neutral toward other things, perfectly still in a single preoccupation. This is what the Buddha was referring to when he said that concentration matured with virtue is of great benefit, great rewards.

The factors of jhana -- directed thought, evaluation, rapture, and pleasure -- all have to be gathered at the breath if you want to reach singleness of preoccupation. Directed thought is like laying claim to a piece of land. Evaluation is like planting it with seed. When the seed bears fruit, that's rapture and pleasure.

Keeping awareness with the breath is directed thought. Knowing the characteristics of the breath is evaluation. Spreading the breath so that it permeates and fills the entire body is rapture. The sense of serenity and well-being in body and mind is pleasure. When the mind is freed from the Hindrances so that it's one with the breath, that's singleness of preoccupation. All of these factors of jhana turn mindfulness into a factor of Awakening.

Spreading the breath, letting all the breath sensations spread throughout all the elements and parts of the body -- the blood vessels, the tendons, etc. -- is like cutting a system of connecting roads through the wilderness. Any country with a good system of roads is bound to develop, because communication is easy.


Gavesako

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 2:29 AM as a reply to Ian And.
How Others Have Experienced Absorption — Part Two

If you go to some of the more reputable Buddhist forums (E-Sangha being one of them), you may come across exchanges between practitioners regarding a difference of opinion over the depth of concentration necessary for meditation to reach samadhi (and thus the first jhana), and whether or not certain phenomena are still present during that depth. This can be confusing if you are new to this practice, and can cause some doubt regarding what one can reasonably expect to find at the various levels of jhana while practicing absorption.

The reason for the difference of opinion arises from the fact that within the "modern" Theravada tradition there are basically two main positions regarding the practice of absorption. One, following the commentarial tradition (the Visuddhimagga, the Patisambhidamagga* etc.), asserts that jhana, once reached from the second level on, excludes physical sensations such a sounds from cognition. The second position, following from the suttanta (the traditional Buddhist canon of Pali discourses), does not make such statements of exclusion regarding the first three material (rupa) jhanas during samatha practice, except that such exclusion can be understood at the deeper levels of absorption — from the fourth rupa jhana in samatha practice on through the four immaterial (arupa) jhanas.

In my own practice of samatha jhana, I noticed that sound was cognizable through the first three levels of absorption, but that at times when the mind became absorbed in the fourth level that there was a subtle difference. That difference had to do with the inability of the mind to become distracted from concentration even though sound might be heard. The sound was external, but in no way disturbed the internal concentration. In these tranquil states of mind, sense contact may be quickly noted by the mind, but that notation is the extent of the disturbance as the mind immediately returns to the object of meditation. It's barely even a ripple on the mind's smooth and calm surface. Ajahn Chah has stated quite clearly that:

"In appana samadhi** the mind calms down and is stilled to a level where it is at its most subtle and skilful. Even if you experience sense impingement from the outside, such as sounds and physical sensations, it remains external and is unable to disturb the mind. You might hear a sound, but it won't distract your concentration."

Such an experience in no way excludes sound from the early stages of the classical absorption experience. In another account, Ajahn Chah recounts an experience he once had while staying in a forest monastery:

"I once stayed in a forest monastery that was half a mile from a village. One night the villagers were celebrating with a loud party as I was walking meditation. It must have been after 11:00 pm and I was feeling a bit peculiar. I'd been feeling strange like this since midday. My mind was quiet. There were hardly any thoughts. I felt very relaxed and at ease. I did walking meditation until I was tired and then went to sit in my grass-roofed hut. As I sat down I barely had time to cross my legs before, amazingly, my mind just wanted to delve into a profound state of peace. It happened all by itself. As soon as I sat down, the mind became truly peaceful. It was rock solid. It wasn't as if I couldn't hear the noise of the villagers singing and dancing ‑ I still could ‑ but I could also shut the sound out entirely."

The statement he makes at the end — that he could "also shut the sound out entirely" — says much about the capability of a tranquil mind. Later on he makes the following statement: "Then I understood: when the mind unifies in samādhi, if you direct your attention outward you can hear, but if you let it dwell in its emptiness then it's perfectly silent." These descriptions agree with my own experience of this phenomenon.

*Note: The Visuddhimagga and the Patisambhidamagga are ancient commentarial expositions written and published during the early first millennium.

**Note: Appana means the directing or fixing of the one-pointed consciousness on an object. Appana is a highly developed form of vitakka - initial application of the mind, one of the jhana factors. Thus "appana samadhi" means "fixed samadhi," or "full or complete concentration" which is the concentration level existing during absorption jhana.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 2:48 AM as a reply to Ian And.
How Others Have Experienced Absorption — Part Three

There are several reputable meditation teachers within the Theravada tradition to learn from who have written or spoken about the steps or stages necessary for the attainment of absorption. Among these are three prominent contemporary figures within the tradition: the Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah (b. 1918 - d. 1992), the American master Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff, b. 1949- ), and the English master Ajahn Brahmavamso (Peter Betts, b. 1951- ).

For those who are unfamiliar, Ajahn Brahmavamso, an Englishman who goes by the shortened name Ajahn Brahm, was a student of the Thai master Ajahn Chah for nine years before being asked to assist in establishing a forest monastery near Perth, Western Australia in 1983, where he is now the the spiritual director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, an American who travelled to Thailand in 1976 to study with Ajahn Fuang Jotiko until the latter's death in 1986, helped established the Metta Forest Monastery near Valley Center, California in 1990 where he is currently its abbot.

As one might imagine, each of these meditation masters, having come from different training backgrounds and perspectives, might have occasion to be varied in their explanations about the process of meditation. And since one, Ajahn Brahm, was a student of the other, Ajahn Chah, you might tend to think that both might describe absorption in a similar way. But this is not necessarily the case. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's descriptions comes closer to Ajahn Chah's descriptions of the practice of jhana than does his own student Ajahn Brahm. This does not mean that two of these masters are right and the third is wrong when looking at their descriptions. It just points out that different people perceive things in different ways. It is up to us, as individual practitioners, to decide which description best fits our own perception of the experience.

In the 2004 Fall issue of Buddhadharma magazine, Ajahn Brahmavamso published an excellent article which included descriptions of the practice of jhana absorption. Toward the end of that article there is the following paragraph:

"Another feature of jhana is that it occurs only after the nimitta is discerned as described above. Furthermore, you should know that while in any jhana it is impossible to experience the body (e.g., physical pain), hear a sound from outside or produce any thoughts, not even “good” thoughts. There is just a clear singleness of perception, an experience of nondualistic bliss that continues unchanging for a very long time. This is not a trance but a state of heightened awareness. This is said so that you may know for yourself whether what you take to be a jhana is real or imaginary."

What is of particular note in the above paragraph are the passages which are underscored. On reading this paragraph, one might come away with the impression that according to Ajahn Brahm, true absorption is a state which excludes certain perceptions of phenomena altogether, and that unless one's absorption is of this depth, that one is truly not experiencing absorption according to Ajahn Brahm's mind map. However, to accept this view without question or further examination may lead one into a possible confusion regarding what absorption is. To his credit he does qualify that this state is not a trance. Yet curiously, he contradicts himself by calling it a "state of heightened awareness" without identifying the nature of the subject of which one is aware. If one is not aware of the body, sounds or thoughts, of what, exactly, is one's awareness heightened? Curiously, he doesn't say.

On the one hand, Ajahn Brahm seems to be asserting that unless one's absorption reaches the level he describes (the total exclusion of all sense impingement from the outside or the inside), then it is not true absorption. And yet even his own teacher, Ajahn Chah states quite clearly that: "In appana samadhi the mind calms down and is stilled to a level where it is at its most subtle and skilful. Even if you experience sense impingement from the outside, such as sounds and physical sensations, it remains external and is unable to disturb the mind. You might hear a sound, but it won't distract your concentration." The appana samadhi, or fixed unification of mind, that he is speaking about is, generally speaking, equivalent to the first four levels of jhana.

In an interview which Thanissaro Bhikkhu did with Richard Shankman for his book The Experience of Samadhi: An In-Depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Thanissaro mentions: "There are also states of jhana where sensory input is not totally cut off, but it doesn't intrude on the mind. With these states there's more of an ability to observe what's going on in the jhana while you're still in it. It's a little like the first jhana piggybacking on the other jhanas, because you can evaluate what's going on and you can see where there's stress, what you're doing that's causing the stress, and you can see how you can drop that particular activity." Here, Ajahn Thanissaro states what Ajahn Brahm neglects to state: that what is heightened is one's awareness of what is going on in the jhana while you're still in it, meaning that insight is possible while one is in the kind of jhana experience described by Ajahn Thanissaro.

So, who is telling it like it is? In my experience, I have experience both scenarios, although not within the exact same context or circumstance. And it is a good thing that I have, since if I had blindly accepted Ajahn Brahm's definition of jhana, my mind might not have been open to the possibility of Ajahn Chah's (and Thanissaro's) definition as also being true. Can both these descriptions be true? Well, yes they can. And let me explain how. The difference comes about because of the different circumstances of being in absorption.

Under one scenario, in cultivating tranquility, when the goal of the meditation is calmness (samatha) in an effort to cultivate deeper and deeper levels of calmness, the mind is able to dive so deeply within itself that all exterior phenomena (sound, touch, and smell in particular) can be drown out from the mind's perception of them. Within the so-called ninth jhana, "the cessation of perception and feeling" (sannavedayita-nirodha, also known by the designation nirodha-samapatti), mind's ability to be conscious of anything has temporarily ceased and a profound peacefulness or lack of any movement (mental or physical) whatsoever is what is recalled once the meditator returns to normal consciousness from this state. In this circumstance, this is taking samatha practice to its ultimate limits, that is, there is nothing else to experience beyond "the cessation of perception and feeling."

Under the second scenario, in cultivating insight (vipassana), when the goal of the meditation is insight into one of the themes of the Dhamma, the mind in samadhi, in focusing upon the chosen Dhamma theme, is able to maintain its focus upon the subject despite any disturbance from an exterior phenomenon such as sound. When the mind in samadhi is focusing on an insight theme it can be aware of disturbances from the outside while remaining unified upon its subject. The awareness of the outside disturbance in no way interferes with the unification of the mind on its meditation subject. It is as though this awareness of the disturbance remains on the periphery of one's attention, just as when one is visually focused upon an object and yet sees on the periphery another object.

Now, to be perfectly fair, Ajahn Brahm would likely deny that the circumstance that he was speaking about involved "the cessation of perception and feeling" or the ninth jhana. As he clearly states in the above quotation he is referring to "any jhana" and not just one specific level of jhana. One possible answer to this seeming dilemma might be found in Thanissaro Bhikkhu's writings wherein he echos the sentiment found in the suttas that "some develop strong powers of concentration before developing strong discernment, whereas others gain a sound theoretical understanding of the Dhamma before developing strong concentration. In either case, both strong concentration and sound discernment are needed to bring about Awakening."

This explanation would seem to infer that perhaps Ajahn Brahm's interpretation of his discernment may not be as well developed as he thinks. Whether or not one accepts this explanation, it certainly serves as a valid way to explain the difference between the perception of the master (Ajahn Chah) on the one hand and the perception of his student (Ajahn Brahm) on the other.

As for myself, I have always been taught to observe my own experience of any phenomenon and to accept that and nothing else. My experience tells me that the possibility of sense impingement is present in any of the first four jhanas, unlike Ajahn Brahm's unyielding assertion above, and that the essence of Ajahns Chah and Thanissaro's statements are correct: that any sense disturbance from the outside remains external and is unable to distract the mind's concentration.

As Thanissaro Bhikkhu stated further on in the interview: "When you're fully into even this sort of jhana, particularly from the second one up, you're not going to be doing any thinking or evaluating at all, but you can pull back a little bit without destroying that state, because it's not totally dependent on blocking off all outside input." This also accords with my experience of jhana.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 1:41 PM as a reply to Ian And.
How Others Have Experienced Absorption — Part Four

Three or four years ago, when my practice was more intense and I was meditating a minimum of three times a day, I spent a great deal of time on the Internet discussing in forums various fine points of the practice with other accomplished practitioners. What I'd like to present in this segment is a collage of some of their personal perspectives which I think may be helpful to those who are looking at the practice of absorption for the first time and seeking some footholds to hang onto.

There's really nothing that competes with personal experience when it comes to being able to discern and discuss these subtle states of mind. In other words, reading the descriptions without having done the practice and being able to discern the phenomena being discussed will be next to useless for most readers. In order to understand these descriptions, you have to have had some experience with these states with which to compare to the experience of others.

This first perspective is one given by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in his book Wings to Awakening. It's being offered here first because it describes the first stages of the absorption experience. Absorption or samadhi or jhana are not such esoteric terms that they should frighten or scare people away on account of being too difficult to attain or to understand. Once you have an idea what it is about, then it becomes a more accessible state. If you've ever caught yourself in a reverie absorbed in a book or watching TV or playing a video game or just contemplating outdoor nature and suddenly been brought back to reality by a loud noise or some other disturbance, then you have an idea what absorption is all about. It's when the mind becomes absorbed in an object or an activity wherein the mind is pleasantly blinded to everything but the subject of its observation. In many instances, there is a pleasant sensation which accompanies absorption, which may be coarse or subtle depending on the individual.

One important point to take hold of here is that the jhana state can be induced to occur by the meditator. Consider the following passage from the Atthakanagara Sutta (MN 52):

"Venerable Ananda, has any one thing been proclaimed by the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened, wherein if a bhikkhu abides diligent, ardent, and resolute, his unliberated mind comes to be liberated, his undestroyed taints come to be destroyed, and he attains the supreme security from bondage that he had not attained before?"

"Yes, householder, one such thing has been proclaimed by the Blessed One."

"What is that one thing, venerable Ananda?"

"Here, householder, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. He considers this and understands it thus: 'This first jhana is conditioned and volitionally produced. . . .' "

What Ananda is saying here, in echo of the Buddha, is that through an intentional action (cetana or volition), absorption can be brought on at will! How this can be accomplished is described in the link below to the section from Thanissaro's book Mind Like Fire Unbound. This isn't the only way that absorption can be brought on; rather, the simile is used in order to suggest one way in particular. One can use just about any pleasant experience to help in bringing on this state.

Thanissaro: "The singleness of jhana means not only that awareness is focused on a single object, but also that the object is reduced to a single quality that fills the entirety of one's awareness, at the same time that one's awareness broadens to suffuse the entire object. This mutual pervasion of awareness and object in a state of expansion is what is meant by absorption. The similes used to illustrate the various levels of jhana repeatedly make mention of "expansion," "suffusing," "stretching," and "filling" [§150; also MN 121; MFU, pp. 82-85], culminating in the fourth jhana where one's body is filled with a bright sense of awareness. This sense of expansion and making-single is also indicated in passages that teach specific meditation techniques. The directions for keeping the breath in mind, for instance, state that one should be sensitive to the entire body while breathing in and out. This accounts for the term "mahaggata" — enlarged or expanded — used to describe the mind in the state of jhana. . . ."

"For the purpose of getting into jhana, though, the most interesting passages in the Canon about jhana are the analogies: the bath man, the lotuses in the lake, the man covered with white cloth."


Thanissaro's translation of this section of the Canon (regarding the bath man, the lotuses in the lake etc.) is in his book Mind Like Fire Unbound. It begins at the section titled "Habits & practices." If you are having trouble finding the first jhana, the instruction found here can help to jumpstart the experience, provided that there is enough ability to manipulate your sense of conscious awareness so as to follow the instructions as they lead you into the correct amount of mental unification on the sensations involved with slipping into absorption. If you are finding it difficult to keep the instruction in mind as you go through this procedure, this usually indicates a lack of mindfulness, the necessary first ingredient for establishing any absorption. In such a case, it is probably best to just practice anapanasati for a while in order to build up enough mindfulness before attempting to practice absorption.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 3:17 AM as a reply to Ian And.
How Others Have Experienced Absorption — Part Five

One of the more experienced practitioners I have conversed with on the forums is a Canadian named Geoff Schatz. He is a very dedicated and highly accomplished meditator. What follows are some of his comments about jhana which should dovetail nicely with what Ajahn Thanissaro has written.

Geoff Schatz: "The mind reaches a level of stillness in the second jhana which it realizes is more satisfying than applied thought and discursive examination. This is a very refined state of mental unification already, and the mind is calm and serene like the still surface of a pond. Once in a while there may be a little ripple but the surface mind is calm and silent for the most part and any momentary ripples are easily released because the mind is unified with the support object (the entire internal felt sense of the body in my case: see "The Four Jhanas" section of MN 119: Kayagata-sati Sutta which gives vivid similes for full body awareness jhana, which can be incorporated with anapanasati).

"One could still think if one needed to, this is a state of full expansive awareness where the mind and the internal felt sense of the body are unified. The mind is settled and is not intentionally suppressed. The settled, silent mind just knows that this is a satisfying state. When I'm in retreat my mind remains at this stage of inner silence most of the time, and continues to remain largely silent for days or even weeks afterward. I've been told that eventually this inner silence becomes a permanent state — the frequency of attaining deep stages of jhana and also formless and cessation attainments are what aid the development of this inner silence (as well as essential ethical conduct and discernmentsila, samadhi, and panna all have to be integrated). . . .

"The jhanas are entered in the set sequence of first, second, third, and fourth jhana. You won't be able to skip over any stage in order to get to the next higher stage. Of course over time and especially when sitting a lot, one can enter into the deeper jhanas quickly. And I've also found (and this has been confirmed by others) that over the years the level of initial piti-sukha becomes more refined and subtle, and the body and mind are either already at a level of pliancy when one sits down, or else pliancy is easily attained upon sitting, which is essential for piti-sukha. Also, it's possible for experiences of bliss to occur even after the first jhana, but if one just disregards them they will eventually subside.

"The mind is a complex system—the most complex system in the universe—and it is variable, so there is no one precise way that it is going to settle down for every individual or even any particular individual each and every time.

"The four jhanas are basically four stages of an increasingly unified state of samadhi. (I like the image of a pebble descending through the depths of a pond.) The four levels of jhana are just signposts of mental factors present at each deepening stage. But the thing is that these are just general stages, and because each individual is unique there can be variations on this basic archetypal model of mental unification that we call "the four jhanas." I think it's more important to just continue to practice and not be too worried about exactly which stage we are at at any given point while practicing."


What is interesting about these quotations are the valuable hints that they provide to the alert reader. In the second paragraph, for example, the underscored section lets us know that frequent practice of absorption helps increase mental silence, which is something that I too have noticed. It also helps to increase levels of concentration and mindfulness. While this won't necessarily happen overnight, it is something to look forward to and something which should stir interest and diligence in us as practitioners of meditation.

The only statement (not made by Geoff, but one he reported on) that I have to disagree with is the statement regarding the "inner silence" becoming "a permanent state." I do agree that it can become more prevalent than not in one's experience. But "permanent," no. However, to be fair, this may only be a difference of individual perception and differing connotations of the word "permanent" as it's being used in this statement. What is it that people do not understand about the statement by the Buddha that "Sabbe sankharas anicca" or "All sankharas (conditioned formations) are impermanent." It should be clear from this that whatever thing there is that has been formed or compounded, all formations or compounded things are impermanent. This sentiment is clearly echoed again and again throughout the suttas as in the Atthakanagara Sutta (MN 52) where Ananda, quoting the Buddha, explicitly states that: "But whatever is conditioned and volitionally produced is impermanent, subject to cessation." Since mental silence is a conditional formation, it too is impermanent. Although it is not beyond one's ability to set up the right conditions for its arising or of being able to personally induce its arising once the mind becomes disturbed by discursive thought. In that sense, I might be able to agree that it can certainly seem to be permanent.

Not only is there support for this stance within the discourses, but there is support within one's own experience. Often are the times when I have lamented to myself about the impermanence of conditioned formations. I had once thought, based upon a few observations made of highly trained people, that there must be some metaphysical trick that one can learn which allows a person to maintain their mindfulness mostly uninterrupted, the continuity never seeming to be broken. But then I recalled having observed these same people at other times when their mindfulness was broken; as well I have observed instances within myself where when mindfulness is at a low ebb the mind can be led into heedlessness, unless I intentionally ramp up my sati. This is especially true the older I become.

If you wish to maintain your mindfulness, you have to work at it with diligence. The same is true of mental silence to a certain degree. Yet, that work is made infinitely easier once one figures out how to contact and practice absorption. Since the breath is always with us, and if we learn how to volitionally produce the first jhana, then our contact with the breath leaves us but a step away from inducing an intense level of concentration and mindfulness. By shifting our attention to the breath, one can induce the first jhana (as fixed concentration) in waking consciousness. And by maintaining a modicum of attention on the breath thereafter, this heightened sense of concentration and mindfulness stays with us for the duration of the time we are able to perform this function and maintain our awareness of it.

The third paragraph provides the hint that over time, the way one perceives the speed at which he is able to enter absorption changes as we become more familiar with the state. In my own practice I noticed at one point that I was able to enter jhana within five minutes of sitting down to meditate; and later on I learned that I could enter them within one to two minutes of sitting. The speed at which one can enter absorption has to do with the increased levels of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (cittassa ekaggata, or one-pointedness of mind) which develops over time as one regularly practices absorption. And if one is attentive to the pliancy of being able to enter the jhana state, one can at any time simply concentrate on the breath (or whatever meditation object one uses) in order to calm and tranquilize the mind at any time during one's daily routine. This, of course, also increases one's level of concentration and mindfulness in those moments when it is focused upon. It is an example of being able to bring on increased mindfulness at will.

Also in the third paragraph, we learn that the initial intensity of piti/sukha can become more refined and subtle as one's practice progresses. This, too, is something I have noticed in my practice. Piti and sukha have often given me pause for contemplation as they can sometimes be difficult to identify. Coming across this little hint about them helped to assure me that I was not losing my discernment of these factors. Instead, I'm learning how to discern their subtle arising. The use of the word "pliancy" in his comment refers to the easy access to the conditions necessary for these factors to arise. When you know how to bring on awareness of the pleasant sensation of the breath, for example, then you know how to set up the conditions for piti/sukha's arising.

The fifth paragraph lets us know that there are no hard and fast rules regarding the stages of jhana as it arises. That this experience can vary according to the perception of the practitioner. What is important for the meditator to realize is that whatever model he uses, the impression of tranquility, pleasantness of sensation, and mental unification upon an object or subject of meditation is a universal experience in absorption. And that however one internally is able to come to these realizations is what is important, not that they fit any particular mental model that we might have pre-conditioned ourselves to expect.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 3:22 AM as a reply to Ian And.
The Practical Use of Jhana Within One's Practice — Part One

The model used by the Buddha for the development of wisdom entailed the enactment of two simple rules: calm the mind and then develop clear seeing. The whole basis for the path that he promulgated entailed the development of these two simple qualities. In one sutta he referred metaphorically to these two qualities as a "swift pair of messengers" who would deliver their message of reality (nibbana) to the lord of the city (consciousness) and then leave by the route by which they had arrived (the Noble Eightfold Path). The "swift pair of messengers" was his designation for serenity (samatha) and insight (vipassana).

Many modern students of the Dhamma have been taught that there are two separate meditation systems which were taught by the Buddha as vehicles for awakening. One is samatha (calm or tranquility) meditation, we are told, and the other is vipassana (insight or clear seeing) meditation. The view that these are two separate systems of meditation, however, is only true of a certain modern approach to the training, which itself was developed by Buddhist meditation masters in southeast Asia, ostensibly on the premise of making the practice easier for their students to comprehend. This view has been spread to the West piggybacked on the shoulders of a group of influential Western meditation teachers who received their introduction and training in Buddhist practice in Asian countries like Burma, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Incredibly, the division of these two qualities of meditation into two entirely separate meditation systems does not receive any support from the Pali discourses themselves, which remain the most authoritative source for information on practice. The discourses implore the student to develop calm and clear seeing together as one process and not necessarily as separate practices.

As one classically trained Western monk has written in his essay One Tool Among Many: The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice, Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out that there are many passages in the discourses where these two qualities are yoked together and how they are seen to complement one another:

"Another passage (A.X.71) recommends that anyone who wishes to put an end to mental defilement should — in addition to perfecting the principles of moral behavior and cultivating seclusion — be committed to samatha and endowed with vipassana. This last statement is unremarkable in itself, but the same discourse also gives the same advice to anyone who wants to master the jhanas: be committed to samatha and endowed with vipassana. This suggests that, in the eyes of those who assembled the Pali discourses, samatha, jhana, and vipassana were all part of a single path. Samatha and vipassana were used together to master jhana and then — based on jhana — were developed even further to give rise to the end of mental defilement and to bring release from suffering. This is a reading that finds support in other discourses as well."

In Ven. Thanissaro's essay he mentions that samatha is said to be a method which fosters strong states of mental calm, called absorption or jhana. And that vipassana is said to use the development of calm as a basis for the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness on the impermanence of events as they are experienced in the present moment. Through this practice of mindfulness — epitomized by the practice of satipatthana, which literally means "the establishment of mindfulness" — a sense of dispassion toward all events is experienced in the mind, leading to a release from suffering. Indeed, this was all the Buddha ever claimed the intent of his system of training to accomplish, as he often stated that: "Formerly and also now, I make known only suffering and the cessation of suffering."

In the next section, we will examine briefly how samatha and vipassana — or calm and clear seeing — can be used to work together toward the ending of the mental effluents which cause suffering. While these two qualities of mind can be taught as separate systems of development, it really makes no sense to teach them that way as they are so closely related that the mind will naturally incline toward their combined use during the process of unbinding.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 3:30 AM as a reply to Ian And.
The Practical Use of Jhana Within One's Practice — Part Two

It may be fair to say that the majority of modern Buddhist practitioners, in the beginning at least, find the process of calming the mind to be the most difficult feat to accomplish. And therefore it seems logical to suppose that the Buddha taught this skill first before having his students undertake the more daunting task of gathering insight once the mind has thus settled into serenity. Yet, a close reading of the discourses reveal that this was not always the case. What the discourses reveal is a concerted effort on the Buddha's part to teach serenity and clear seeing together whenever possible, and to let the student's natural inclinations toward one or the other of these two qualities of mind guide the direction of their practice.

The flexibility of this method is revealed in a passage from the Yuganaddha Sutta describing three ways in which serenity and clear seeing are utilized in working together, leading to ending of the passion and ignorance that make up suffering. Either serenity practice precedes clear seeing, clear seeing precedes serenity, or they both develop back to back at the same time. This isn't as complicated as it at first might seem. The mind is an incredibly flexible and complex process which is able to adapt to a variety of situations with ease. It is this incredible fluidity of range that the mind possesses which allows it to be able to do this.

In order for the mind to know when serenity is present, it must be able to discern or recognize when such is the case. On the other hand, in order for it to be able to see clearly, it must be relatively calm and at ease. All it takes is a few crucial mind-moments in either of these states for it to be able to come to either of these two determinations. In other words, even in a fluctuating situation (between calm and chaotic circumstances) when the mind is not totally calm in all moments, in those moments when it is calm, it is able to see clearly. And in those fleeting moments when it is able to see clearly, it is able to identify those factors which assist it in becoming calm. This is how it learns how to identify such abstract experience/conceptions such as jhana (or absorption) or how the five aggregates work together to produce the illusion of a personality.

Integral with the effort to teach serenity is the encouragement of the practice of sila (virtue or morality). The importance of sila cannot be stressed enough. Its practice is the foundation for a practice in serenity (samatha). Without a clear conscience, mental calm in contemplation and meditation will be difficult to come by. A guilty conscience can be a hotbed of mental agitation. If a person is lying, cheating, stealing or whatever, these actions can weigh on the mind, distracting it from being able to calm down while in sitting meditation. If an individual is having a difficult time being able to calm the mind during meditation, this is one of the first places they should look in self examination in order to determine the source of the disturbance.

So, while a practitioner may start with a practice in samatha in order to help calm the mind so that it will be able to develop clear seeing (vipassana) and not become distracted by thoughts unrelated to the meditation subject, the quality of seeing clearly is also at work, assisting the mind to recognize how it is able to achieve tranquility. This process can also be reversed, with the practitioner beginning with a practice of clear seeing in order to figure out how to calm the mind through correcting ignorance. In either case, once the mind knows how to achieve the goal it is aiming at — for example, serenity — it can more quickly reach that goal in order to proceed with the development of the second quality of clear seeing, whose task is removing mental defilements and correcting ignorance. In this way, serenity and clear seeing are always working together in anyone's practice.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
11/11/10 11:02 AM as a reply to Ian And.
The Practical Use of Jhana in One's Practice — Part Three

The ingenuity of the Buddha's method is that it works simultaneously with the cultivation of each of the two main ingredients of the path of development that he recommended. Concentration (unification of the mind, or samadhi) is achieved in serenity (samatha) training. This is the quality of mind that allows it to focus one-pointedly on an object. Right Concentration (samma samadhi; the eighth step of the Noble Eightfold Path) is achieved with proper discernment or clear seeing into the true nature of phenomena and events in accordance with the other seven path factors of the Noble Eightfold Path; in other words, with proper mindfulness and wise or appropriate attention (yoniso manasikara) contextualized within the noble eightfold path scheme. Mindfulness (sati) is achieved with the ability to maintain awareness of the present moment, which is enhanced by strong concentration and the practice of satipatthana. Right Mindfulness (samma sati; the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path) is achieved through the practice and maintenance of "the four establishments of mindfulness" (cattaro satipatthana) on form, feeling, mind states, and mind objects (phenomena). A mind that is mindful of these four areas of observation is able to correct any misapprehension that might occur due to conditioning as long as Right View is present.

Integral to the establishment of both concentration and mindfulness is samadhi (and/or jhana). The deep levels of calm and concentration experienced in samadhi (and absorption samadhi) are transferred as though by osmosis from meditative contemplation to ordinary states of conscious awareness once formal meditation ends. This allows the mind to remain in a profound inner peaceful state of serenity called passaddhi, or inner tranquility. This state of passaddhi, when combined with Right View and Right Thought, is what allows the mind to "see things as they really are." Although this state is only temporary due to the impermanancy of its nature, its duration can be extended or can be re-established once it has subsided as long as sati remains active. Sati, that is, in the sense of mindful awarenesss or recollection of the object of awareness — such object which for purposes of this example is the breath.

The breath is a perfect object for maintaining tranquility induced by sati because one can be passively mindful of the breath even while other events are actively capturing the mind's attention. Although the mind may not be fully focused on the breath in the foreground (as it generally is during a formal meditation session), the fact that it remains mindful of the breath in the background allows the continuity of calm or inner tranquility (passaddhi) to continue unimpeded during ordinary consciousness. The ability to perform this feat is aided and strengthened by the practice of deep levels of absorption (jhana) during formal meditation, which in turn helps to develop stronger levels of concentrative ability outside of formal meditation. In other words, the mind is not straining to maintain mindfulness of the breath during these moments; rather, it is able with ease to remain undistracted by the actions of outer events or inner thoughts in the foreground while maintaining its background focus upon the breath.

The practice which makes all this possible is the practice of absorption. Jhana is thus used as a booster for the mind in the cultivation of the qualities of concentration and mindfulness. Without a practice in absorption, the mind, in many instances, would be hard pressed to be able to maintain mindfulness or concentration in the wake of the many distractions and stimulations that impede upon it on a continuous momentary basis. A mind that is "concentrated, purified and cleansed, unblemished, free from impurities, malleable, workable, established, and having gained imperturbability" is able, at will, to overcome any of the five hindrances (in particular, sloth and torpor and restlessness and worry in addition to sensuous lust, ill will, and skeptical doubt). It is therefore less likely to become distracted from its subject of appropriate attention.

As Thanissaro Bhikkhu has written: "Mindfulness is what keeps the perspective of appropriate attention in mind. Modern psychological research has shown that attention comes in discrete moments. You can be attentive to something for only a very short period of time and then you have to remind yourself, moment after moment, to return to it if you want to keep on being attentive. In other words, continuous attention—the type that can observe things over time—has to be stitched together from short intervals. This is what mindfulness is for. It keeps the object of your attention and the purpose of your attention in mind."

Mundane concentration and mindfulness are qualities of mind that are absolutely necessary in assisting the mind to be able to respond appropriately when having to make determinations. In a practical sense, by establishing and nurturing concentration and mindfulness you stay with unpleasant things not only to accept them, but to watch and to understand them. Once you've clearly seen that a particular quality (like aversion or lust) is harmful for the mind, you are able to see that it must be abandoned if you wish to promote skillful qualities. You are presented with an opportunity to make whatever effort is needed to get rid of this or that quality and to nourish skillful qualities in its place by bringing in other factors of the path: like Right Intention and Right Action.

In being able to recognize that tranquility and clear seeing are used together to master jhana, which itself is used to strengthen tranquility and clear seeing, we are able to confirm for ourselves from personal experience how samatha and vipassana are utilized together rather than as separate practices. It becomes obvious to us, then, that the practice of the one enhances the practice of the other. It's all about getting the mind to settle down so that it may be used to get to the bottom of things — to see them as they truly are and not as we may have been conditioned to see them.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 3:55 AM as a reply to Ian And.
The Practical Use of Jhana in One's Practice — Part Four

Inevitably, the question arises: "How does one switch from samatha to vipassana in the midst of meditation?" It's really quite easy; it can literally happen in the blink of an eye! That's how quickly the alert mind can move. As long as sati is established, it just takes changing one's focus from the breath to a subject of insight. One directs the mind to, for instance, the theme of one's feeling or to observing the state of mind (whether it is with or without anger, lust or whatever) or to whatever other subject matter one wishes to observe to gain more insight. It's just a matter of making the determination and doing it. All this happens (or can happen) within a state of absorption.

Many are taught that absorption, real absorption, is supposed to be an all-consuming activity. That in order to practice vipassana one must first surmount (or come out of) the practice of absorption in order to make the switch from calm to insight practice. If you've been following along with this series of brief essays, then you know that nothing could be further from the truth. Insight can take place within absorption. The breath can remain in the background while the subject of insight is focused upon and examined in the foreground. All it takes is but a slight adjustment of the mind, and wah-lah, the switch is made.

The only thing that changes is that the mind switches from a focus on deepening levels of tranquility over to directing thought and investigation toward a different theme (insight into the Four Noble Truths, for example, or into the nature of the five aggregates). For people to say that this is not possible within the jhanic state is just not supported by personal experience or by the discourses. True, one may have to emerge slightly from the fourth jhana and reestablish directed thought and examination from the first jhana. But this movement occurs naturally and automatically within the mind without any fuss or strenuous effort, and more importantly, is not inconsistent with what is described in the discourses.

In order to make this switch in focus happen, a significant level of mindfulness must have been reached and be present in the mind. Without sati and without perhaps having beforehand established an insight subject for observation, the mind can find it difficult to change from the pleasant object sensation of a peaceful contemplation of the breath to another subject. Observing the peacefulness of the breath can be such a calm and relaxing experience that one can become inescapably caught up in it. It may serve as a refreshing respite from whatever chaos we've had to endure during our normal everyday life, and we find ourselves reluctant to leave it. This is why it is often wise to determine an insight (vipassana) subject before we undertake the meditation session. This helps, in the midst of the pleasantness of having established calm, to remind ourself (recollection being a key feature of the "presence of mind" aspect of sati) about the insight subject we wish to contemplate in more depth.

It is also important to point out that insight is not limited to taking place during formalized meditation. Contemplation on matters of insight can take place either during meditation (as it often does) or during moments of waking consciousness when we have decided to contemplate on a certain subject, such as when one is reading and contemplating the subject matter of a book. The important factors that are always present, no matter which method is utilized, are the tranquil and concentrated nature of the mind. A calm and concentrated mind is necessary in order for clear seeing to arise.

The Pali discourses of the Buddha and the exegetical material (the commentaries on the Pali texts) give two different pictures of the role that the establishments of mindfulness (satipatthana) play in the practice. Some state that developing the establishments of mindfulness is a prerequisite for jhana, which then forms a basis for transcendent discernment (liberation or awakening). Others make no mention of absorption, stating that one goes directly from the establishments of mindfulness to the transcendent. On the surface this would seem to indicate that there are two alternative paths: one with jhana and one without. This reading, however, contradicts many passages which maintain that jhana is necessary for the development of transcendent discernment. Some of these passages simply say "concentration" instead of jhana. Within the community of "dry" insight practitioners (that method of vipassana which is supposedly without jhana) they see no need for defining "concentration" — as it is referenced within the discourses — according to the way it has come to be defined within those very same discourses, which is as "right concentration," which in turn refers to nothing other than jhana.

As the Buddha once stated (AN 6.64): "Knowledge of the ending of the effluents, as it has come to be, occurs to one who is concentrated, I tell you, and not to one who is not concentrated. So concentration is the path, monks. Non-concentration is no path at all."

We also find suggestions in other passages indicating that the development of the establishments of mindfulness (satipatthana) implicitly entails the full development of the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhangas), which include mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. Because these factors are not only closely associated but also in some cases coincide with jhana, this would indicate that the proper development of satipatthana incorporates the practice of absorption, in and of itself.

This reading is confirmed by the Satipatthana-vibhanga Sutta (SN 47.40) which states that the way to develop satipatthana is through the noble eightfold path, which includes jhana. It is also confirmed by the Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118), which describes how the establishments of mindfulness relate to the sixteen steps of breath meditation. These sixteen steps are also a description of how jhana is developed and then used as a vehicle for fostering discernment and the ending of defilements of the mind. From this it becomes obvious that the outline for the establishments of mindfulness practice is a description of the stages in the mindful mastery of jhana and its application for ending mental effluents.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/26/10 8:51 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Wow, Ian! That's a lot of great info on jhana.
Kenneth Folk and myself did a guided tour of the jhanas on youtube. It doesn't really give instructions to a yogi to get into each jhana but the descriptions may help.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=GUIDED+TOUR+JHANAS&aq=f

Edited to include: The way myself and others have cultivated the jhanas is by riding up the jhanic arc via observing the Witness. The Witness being that sense of observer at the back of the head (the sensations that give that impression). You can locate the Witness by asking "Who am I?" and you may get that specific localized area coming up as the answer to that question. Or it's easy to tell where the Witness sits when you get to the 6th jhana as the Witness is that infinite consciousness looping back on itself continuously within the head. You can become aware of it's constant presence in all the jhanas. You look at it as if you would a kasina. Sooner or later the other jhanas start arising one after the other naturally as you do this and you rise up the arc to your cutting edge, which is the highest jhana you have access to. Each time you go up the arc, your cutting edge will continue to progress on upwards. So it is taking a non-manitpulative approach to the cultivation and mastery of jhana access..to a degree.

So that may be one way of cultivating the jhanas. A yogi at 1st or 2nd path would probably be ideal for this type of practice though as getting to the 6th jhana takes some practice. I never did much jhana practice pre-path except to stare at a kasina. I think I may have gotten to 2nd or 3rd jhana doing this. But after 1st path, jhana access became much much easier. Maybe this approach could help someone pre or post path.

Some links of jhanic interest:

http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/Jhana+and+%C3%91ana

http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/Deeper+Into+Jhana

http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/20+Major+Strata+of+Mind

The Vimuttimagga and the infinite conciousness as a kasina:See page 130 :

http://www.scribd.com/doc/32131566/The-Path-of-Freedom-Vimuttimagga


Nick

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
11/1/10 10:46 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian,

Thanks for assembling and distilling this very useful information in one place. It's a valuable reference.

Eric

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
11/2/10 1:40 AM as a reply to Eric B.
Eric Bause:
Ian,

Thanks for assembling and distilling this very useful information in one place. It's a valuable reference.

Eric

Actually, it was at the request of Tarin Greco that this thread came about here at the DhO. He had seen where I had posted it in another forum and asked if it could be placed here also. So, you have Tarin to thank for that.

I'm glad that you find it useful. I wish I had had something like this when I was undergoing the process of learning about jhana practice. It would have made things a bit easier (although in the actual practice, there was still a great deal of individual work to be done; it took a while before I was able to see it as clearly as I have outlined here, and to feel confident about my descriptions). I endeavored to cover all the pitfalls I came across in my own practice in order to serve as examples and warnings for those who choose to practice absorption.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
11/11/10 9:42 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks Ian for this! It is dense and takes time to consider, etc., but very helpful. So much confusing info out there on this subject.

Consolidates a lot of info about jhana and refreshes and reminds my practice.

Regards,
Bruno

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
11/11/10 11:26 AM as a reply to boeuf f.
boeuf f:
Thanks Ian for this! It is dense and takes time to consider, etc., but very helpful.

It's not necessarily meant to be read and digested all in one reading (although it probably does warrant reading through once just to become familiar with what is being discussed). But rather used as a guideline that one can return to time and time again when they are endeavoring to "get" something about a particular aspect of the practice. One's practice is a gradual process. Use it in that way, and you should be fine. It should help speed the process up.

boeuf f:
So much confusing info out there on this subject. Consolidates a lot of info about jhana and refreshes and reminds my practice.

Yes. That is exactly what I meant to do, which is to consolidate the information so that others could return and pick up where they left off. I also wanted to address and dispel some of the "mythology" and mystery about jhana that is found on some Buddhist sites with regard to this practice. A lot of that mystery and "confusing information" can side track a person's practice such that it takes them longer to figure out what is important about the practice so that they can get on with it. Once you have a fairly accurate idea about what it is that you are supposed to be concentrating on accomplishing (without all the mumbo jumbo being thrashed about), you can disregard the mumbo jumbo and get down to business.

I'm glad this has been helpful for you.

All the best,
Ian

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
2/8/11 9:52 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian can I post your two sticky threads, about jhana and mindfulness practice, in the wiki (I'll make authorship clear, and point to this thread)?

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
2/21/11 8:49 AM as a reply to Ian And.
I'm still stuck on one thing, I've heard from different sources about whether to focus on the breath on one spot, like nostrils/upper lip or to try to feel it throughout the body. Also some people say to continue focusing on the breath and some say to focus on piti feelings.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
2/21/11 9:50 AM as a reply to adam ,.
adam gregory greene:
I'm still stuck on one thing, I've heard from different sources about whether to focus on the breath on one spot, like nostrils/upper lip or to try to feel it throughout the body.

Hello Adam,

It really doesn't matter which area one focuses on as long as one chooses one area and remains attentive of that. The purpose is to allow the mind to calm down and to experience the pleasure of the breath (be it at the tip of the nostrils, or throughout the body) as these experiences are for the most part brought on by a fabrication of mind. That is to say, they are brought on deliberately and consciously by the meditator. Once you understand how this mechanism works through having experienced it, it will become more clear to you.

It should be understood that it is also quite possible to enter jhana attainment through a natural process in which the mind just goes to or experiences these pleasures of mind all on its own, without the help of the meditator making a conscious effort to do so. This is how I first experienced these states. Yet sometimes, to experience this state in a natural way can take a bit longer to enter than when making a direct effort to enter jhana deliberately and consciously, which is why Gotama gave instruction about a conscious, deliberate method for entry.

adam gregory greene:

Also some people say to continue focusing on the breath and some say to focus on piti feelings.

In jhana meditation on entering the first and second levels of jhana, piti arises quite on its own and does not need any extra attention. Piti is actually a movement of mind that is anathema to the attainment of the fourth jhana, which is why it subsides as one goes from the second jhana to the third. Sukha (pleasure, joy or happiness) is also a movement (disturbance) of the mind (present in the first three levels of jhana) which needs to be attenuated so that mind can rest quiescent in the fourth jhana. The reason for the quiescence is so that mind is able to "see things (phenomena) as they are," and to thereby gather insight into whatever object is being examined. If the mind is excited or agitated in any way, this can act as a deterrent (a distraction) to the attainment of insight. Piti and sukha are agitations of mind that assist the mind to enter jhanic levels of concentration, but once that level is attained, they can become a hindrance to further progress in insight.

If this doesn't quite yet make sense to you, it will once you are able to experience these states in their full glory, and when you understand unequivocally how you attained to them.

In peace,
Ian

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
2/21/11 11:24 AM as a reply to Ian And.
thanks that was helpful, I'm just going to meditate till I see it for myself

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
9/30/12 4:18 PM as a reply to adam ,.
Converted this to .mobi format so I could read it on my kindle.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
7/12/13 1:51 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian,

I found your explanations, descriptions, and commentary very useful in clarifying a number of concepts regarding the jhanas, their elicitation, and how they fit into an overall practice. I became aware of jhanas while researching advanced meditation after which I began reading Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English.

Because of the personal value I found in your material, I took the liberty of organizing and reformatting it into a PDF. I wanted to make the material available in a print format for others who might find it as useful as I have.

Thank you.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/15/13 7:29 AM as a reply to Pål S..
Pål S.:
Converted this to .mobi format so I could read it on my kindle.


Hi Pal S, I too would rather like to put Ian's "A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread" onto my kindle. However, I'm not that technologically minded, so unsure how to go about doing it? After your post, there is no attachment for a .mobi format link. Are you able to put that on here?

[I was going to PM you about this but for some reason the PM is not working at the mo]

Thanks if you can help,
Piers

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/15/13 3:31 PM as a reply to Piers M.
Weird, seems attachments are gone...

I uploaded it here: http://ge.tt/6jPm0Ev/v/0

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/17/13 12:14 PM as a reply to Pål S..
That's great. Thanks.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/18/13 7:24 PM as a reply to Pål S..
Pål S.:
Weird, seems attachments are gone...


I'd expect nothing less from a dharma forum... emoticon

I'll show myself out.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/19/13 2:38 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
Eric Bause:
Ian,

Thanks for assembling and distilling this very useful information in one place. It's a valuable reference.

Eric

Actually, it was at the request of Tarin Greco that this thread came about here at the DhO. He had seen where I had posted it in another forum and asked if it could be placed here also. So, you have Tarin to thank for that.

I'm glad that you find it useful. I wish I had had something like this when I was undergoing the process of learning about jhana practice. It would have made things a bit easier (although in the actual practice, there was still a great deal of individual work to be done; it took a while before I was able to see it as clearly as I have outlined here, and to feel confident about my descriptions). I endeavored to cover all the pitfalls I came across in my own practice in order to serve as examples and warnings for those who choose to practice absorption.


I have to leave imediatly from home. But I ask you, please, to write something about this.

Metta emoticon

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/20/13 1:25 AM as a reply to Modus Ponens.
Modus Ponens:
Ian And:
I endeavored to cover all the pitfalls I came across in my own practice in order to serve as examples and warnings for those who choose to practice absorption.


I have to leave immediately from home. But I ask you, please, to write something about this.

Metta emoticon

It is all covered within the main thread. What else do you want me to say?

If you're looking for me to identify the pitfalls that you come across, I am not able to do that. That is for you (and each individual who endeavors to practice dhyana) to discover for yourself. What were pitfalls for me may not be pitfalls for you!

In general, though, I can say that the pitfalls I was referring to were mostly caused by either an incorrect understanding of the practice, or falsely perceived preconceived notions about the practice that were being repeated and misleading people about what to expect. The only way one can discover this for certain is through taking up the practice with an open mind, to discover what is true and untrue about what has been written or said about the practice and to come to one's own conclusions.

RE: A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread
Answer
10/20/13 3:18 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
Modus Ponens:
Ian And:
I endeavored to cover all the pitfalls I came across in my own practice in order to serve as examples and warnings for those who choose to practice absorption.


I have to leave immediately from home. But I ask you, please, to write something about this.

Metta emoticon

It is all covered within the main thread. What else do you want me to say?

If you're looking for me to identify the pitfalls that you come across, I am not able to do that. That is for you (and each individual who endeavors to practice dhyana) to discover for yourself. What were pitfalls for me may not be pitfalls for you!

In general, though, I can say that the pitfalls I was referring to were mostly caused by either an incorrect understanding of the practice, or falsely perceived preconceived notions about the practice that were being repeated and misleading people about what to expect. The only way one can discover this for certain is through taking up the practice with an open mind, to discover what is true and untrue about what has been written or said about the practice and to come to one's own conclusions.


Hello.

Ok. My fault. I started reading this text a long time ago and not only I didn't finish it but I also didn't remember reading about the pitfals. Also, in the titles of the various posts, it didn't seem to me that you had covered this. Anyway, thank you for making this resource.

Añjali.