Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Mike Ramos, modified 10 Years ago.

Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Hi, I'm new here and have been practicing for about a year and a half, mostly in the Theravada tradition. Bhante Gunarantana's Mindfulness in Plain English is my main source for meditation instruction, but I've integrated variations from others, and sometimes confused myself in the process! I've noticed jhana attainment is a common concern here, and I have questions about it too. The following is a description of my meditation experience, and what is puzzling me:

Using awareness of the breath at the nostrils, I regularly enter a state of deep mental calm and alertness, with reduced or nearly absent thought activity (except for mindfully directed thought and reflection). The feeling is usually neutral, but can be slightly pleasant. In my last sitting for example, I noticed a subtle joy as the transition to deeper calm occurred, this was brief and gave way to a mild pleasantness for a while; then a neutral feeling with notable equanimity (imperturbability) and slightly deeper concentration. There is no longer a need to attend to the breath so intently after reaching this state, but I remain mindful of it. The breath can become very soft, and the body is pervaded with a feeling of well being. I notice pressure in the forehead, between the eyes. I can stay in this condition as long as I like. The whole experience is notably different than my normal, waking consciousness.

My confusion is with many of the descriptions of jhana available that speak of the first jhana arising only after nimitta appears, and is accompanied by bliss and rapture. Also, some sources indicate loss of awareness of the body and surroundings. To me it all sounds pretty dramatic, but that's not what I'm experiencing. Part of my confusion is also because of an occurrence of a blissful mind state about a year ago, not while meditating, but while reading a spiritual book. This was an intense bliss or joy, along with deep calm, that was sustained for a couple of hours or more as I went about my activities. I could clearly notice everything arising and passing within. I laughed a lot! Afterward, I realized that I had never understood the meaning of the word “bliss”. I had never experienced anything even remotely close to this before. Since then I've experienced something similar but less intense while meditating, (just a few times) especially while doing a meditation on altruistic joy. I've assumed, (incorrectly?) that I'd know the first jhana after I saw nimitta arise, and felt that same kind of bliss.

After reading the sticky jhana thread and other materials, I'm starting to think I've already attained some of the jhanas and maybe I should back off on my mostly exclusive concentration practice and double down on insight work. I am on the lookout for a good meditation teacher (vipassana style) but any feedback that can help me sort this out would be appreciated. Thank-you.

Mike
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Hi Mike, and welcome.

It sounds like you may already have gone past 1st jhana and maybe even gotten to the fourth one. Compare:

Mike:

Using awareness of the breath at the nostrils, I regularly enter a state of deep mental calm and alertness, with reduced or nearly absent thought activity (except for mindfully directed thought and reflection). The feeling is usually neutral, but can be slightly pleasant. In my last sitting for example, I noticed a subtle joy as the transition to deeper calm occurred, this was brief and gave way to a mild pleasantness for a while; then a neutral feeling with notable equanimity (imperturbability) and slightly deeper concentration. There is no longer a need to attend to the breath so intently after reaching this state, but I remain mindful of it. The breath can become very soft, and the body is pervaded with a feeling of well being. I notice pressure in the forehead, between the eyes. I can stay in this condition as long as I like. The whole experience is notably different than my normal, waking consciousness.


with what Ian And said in this thread (emphasis mine):

Another interesting read might be Jhanas Solved. There are five parts to this series (look at the side navigation bar for July, August, and September) that may also help to explain and de-mythologize the practice for you. The longer I've practice the jhanas, the more I'm inclined to second this man's opinion. Jhana is not some kind of "altered state of consciousness" as many people seem to want to describe it. It is a very steady, solid, workable, imperturbable, established, fixed state of concentration. That's all. All the hoopla about the pleasantness and the sometimes overwhelming aspect that piti (rapture or elation) can have on the practice is somewhat overblown (although not to say that it cannot be experienced as such). The experience of piti and sukkha may only last a few seconds (if you know what you're doing) on the way to fourth jhana. I find them more of a hindrance (because of the sometimes intense pleasure of the experience) to have to put up with than anything else, and much prefer to reach, as quickly as possible, a deep level of concentration in equanimity and mindfulness wherein contemplation can take place.


If you want, maybe you can try staying with the pleasantness for a while and see if that isn't a state you can hang around in. The sentences I emphasize here makes me think you've reached a more stable jhana than just the 1st, or at least the 1st in any case:


Using awareness of the breath at the nostrils, I regularly enter a state of deep mental calm and alertness, with reduced or nearly absent thought activity (except for mindfully directed thought and reflection). The feeling is usually neutral, but can be slightly pleasant. In my last sitting for example, I noticed a subtle joy as the transition to deeper calm occurred, this was brief and gave way to a mild pleasantness for a while; then a neutral feeling with notable equanimity (imperturbability) and slightly deeper concentration. There is no longer a need to attend to the breath so intently after reaching this state, but I remain mindful of it. The breath can become very soft, and the body is pervaded with a feeling of well being. I notice pressure in the forehead, between the eyes. I can stay in this condition as long as I like. The whole experience is notably different than my normal, waking consciousness.


Not to encourage or discourage you, that is. The only way to be sure is for you to explore these states until you're satisfied. Maybe you can look at more descriptions and instructions on getting 1-4th jhana and see if your experience lines up with those.

To answer this question:


My confusion is with many of the descriptions of jhana available that speak of the first jhana arising only after nimitta appears, and is accompanied by bliss and rapture. Also, some sources indicate loss of awareness of the body and surroundings. To me it all sounds pretty dramatic, but that's not what I'm experiencing.


There are degrees you can get into the jhana. You may indeed lose awareness of your body and surroundings if you get really deep into jhanas, but you can also be in any of 1st-4th jhana and still be aware of those things.

The intense bliss you mention afterwards might be an A&P event.


Part of my confusion is also because of an occurrence of a blissful mind state about a year ago, not while meditating, but while reading a spiritual book. This was an intense bliss or joy, along with deep calm, that was sustained for a couple of hours or more as I went about my activities. I could clearly notice everything arising and passing within. I laughed a lot! Afterward, I realized that I had never understood the meaning of the word “bliss”. I had never experienced anything even remotely close to this before. Since then I've experienced something similar but less intense while meditating, (just a few times) especially while doing a meditation on altruistic joy. I've assumed, (incorrectly?) that I'd know the first jhana after I saw nimitta arise, and felt that same kind of bliss.


The A&P (The Arising & Passing Away) can indeed be quite mind-blowing.

Have you read Mastering the Core Teachings of Buddha? If you want to start (or i should say continue, as if that was an A&P then you're already on your way) your Insight journey that book has lots of good info.
Mike Ramos, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Beoman,

Thanks for your comments! You state it sounds like I've perhaps reached the fourth jhana, and this is my suspicion too. Which is surprising to me, 'cause I've been working so hard on concentration lately, trying to get an experience that corresponds to what I've read about! I'm wary of being obsessed with attainments, but felt it necessary to cultivate the jhanas for a stronger insight practice. I can stay on my breath, or any object, like a bulldog (without busting a gasket). If I'm already there....oh, the irony!

The implication from a lot of what I've read, is that nimitta is experienced as the first jhana arises. I experience nothing of the sort, although often there is a whitish brightness that sustains itself for a bit (but this doesn't necessarily arise at transitions), and in deeper concentration it can seem as though my mind is filled with light. But it's not dazzling, not usually pulsing, and definitely not merging with my breath at the tip of the nose like so many descriptions I've read. I should have been more clear on this, I apologize. Since I'm not experiencing nimitta, I assumed I was "only" attaining access concentration.

Yes, I am reading Daniel Ingram's book, it's what led me here. What a breath of fresh air! Thanks again, and if anyone else has anything pertinent, please weigh in.

Mike
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Mike Ramos:
Beoman,

Thanks for your comments! You state it sounds like I've perhaps reached the fourth jhana, and this is my suspicion too. Which is surprising to me, 'cause I've been working so hard on concentration lately, trying to get an experience that corresponds to what I've read about! I'm wary of being obsessed with attainments, but felt it necessary to cultivate the jhanas for a stronger insight practice. I can stay on my breath, or any object, like a bulldog (without busting a gasket). If I'm already there....oh, the irony!


Hehe, indeed. Maybe you can try working with a kasina, as it seems easier to recognize the jhanas with a kasina. (3rd jhana in particular is very obvious). Good thread about that here.


The implication from a lot of what I've read, is that nimitta is experienced as the first jhana arises. I experience nothing of the sort, although often there is a whitish brightness that sustains itself for a bit (but this doesn't necessarily arise at transitions), and in deeper concentration it can seem as though my mind is filled with light. But it's not dazzling, not usually pulsing, and definitely not merging with my breath at the tip of the nose like so many descriptions I've read. I should have been more clear on this, I apologize. Since I'm not experiencing nimitta, I assumed I was "only" attaining access concentration.


I'm not sure about nimitta. I haven't been looking for it, anyway, and dnno if i experience it though i'm sure i can get the jhanas. I think it is really obvious when using a candle flame as an object. You stare at it with open eyes, then at some point you close your eyes, and a red dot forms where the candle flame used to be, not just as a retina-burn, but as a separate object that you can then focus on. I think that's what is meant by nimitta, anyway, though I'm not sure.
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss? (Answer)

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Mike Ramos:

Using awareness of the breath at the nostrils, I regularly enter a state of deep mental calm and alertness, with reduced or nearly absent thought activity (except for mindfully directed thought and reflection). The feeling is usually neutral, but can be slightly pleasant. In my last sitting for example, I noticed a subtle joy as the transition to deeper calm occurred, this was brief and gave way to a mild pleasantness for a while; then a neutral feeling with notable equanimity (imperturbability) and slightly deeper concentration. There is no longer a need to attend to the breath so intently after reaching this state, but I remain mindful of it. The breath can become very soft, and the body is pervaded with a feeling of well being. I notice pressure in the forehead, between the eyes. I can stay in this condition as long as I like. The whole experience is notably different than my normal, waking consciousness.

Relax Mike. This whole paragraph description (not just the highlighted section), if it is accurate, is unmistakable jhana! You've described it to a tee.

Mike Ramos:

My confusion is with many of the descriptions of jhana available that speak of the first jhana arising only after nimitta appears, and is accompanied by bliss and rapture.

Nimitta come in various sizes and shapes. It doesn't have to be a visual nimitta. It can be a sensation nimitta, also, just as you have described. Whether or not things happen just as they have been described in your reading material is immaterial. It just depends on what instruction a person is following. The pressure in the forehead (which I also experience) is just as much a "sign" as any other phenomenon. In fact, it is universally experienced by many meditators the world wide. So, you are in good company. (Personally, I prefer the sensation kind of nimitta as it is a more solid and reliable sign for me. Never cared much for visions and such. Induces too much speculative thought, which is not good when all things are considered.)

Mike Ramos:

Also, some sources indicate loss of awareness of the body and surroundings. To me it all sounds pretty dramatic, but that's not what I'm experiencing.

Beoman's instincts here are spot on. Awareness of the body can drop out of sight at times (especially in fourth jhana) but this doesn't necessarily need to occur. Once again, it just depends on what instruction one is following. If you are calming the mind in samatha meditation, then it is more likely to occur under these circumstances than when practicing insight meditation.

Mike Ramos:

Part of my confusion is also because of an occurrence of a blissful mind state about a year ago, not while meditating, but while reading a spiritual book. This was an intense bliss or joy, along with deep calm, that was sustained for a couple of hours or more as I went about my activities. I could clearly notice everything arising and passing within. I laughed a lot! Afterward, I realized that I had never understood the meaning of the word “bliss”. I had never experienced anything even remotely close to this before. Since then I've experienced something similar but less intense while meditating, (just a few times) especially while doing a meditation on altruistic joy.

That blissful calm you experienced might have been the calm of passaddhi. That's a common experience when the mind, coming out of meditation, maintains a deep, profound calmness like what you have described. This is, of course, a good sign.

Mike Ramos:

After reading the sticky jhana thread and other materials, I'm starting to think I've already attained some of the jhanas and maybe I should back off on my mostly exclusive concentration practice and double down on insight work.

That's a good deduction, Mike. You are definitely ready to begin insight contemplation.
Mike Ramos, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Relax Mike. This whole paragraph description (not just the highlighted section), if it is accurate, is unmistakable jhana! You've described it to a tee.


Ha ha, good reminder - and yes, I payed special attention to what was happening, so it could be described as accurately as possible. Additionally, I'm going through a couple of transitions as while moving into this state. Had I been paying closer attention to the whole process I'd have seen that it was moving into access concentration and up through the jhanas.

Nimitta come in various sizes and shapes. It doesn't have to be a visual nimitta. It can be a sensation nimitta, also, just as you have described. Whether or not things happen just as they have been described in your reading material is immaterial. It just depends on what instruction a person is following. The pressure in the forehead (which I also experience) is just as much a "sign" as any other phenomenon. In fact, it is universally experienced by many meditators the world wide. So, you are in good company. (Personally, I prefer the sensation kind of nimitta as it is a more solid and reliable sign for me. Never cared much for visions and such. Induces too much speculative thought, which is not good when all things are considered.)


Another clue I missed. I was expecting light/s followed by strong bliss.


That blissful calm you experienced might have been the calm of passaddhi. That's a common experience when the mind, coming out of meditation, maintains a deep, profound calmness like what you have described. This is, of course, a good sign.


Post meditation calm and equanimity is happily a daily occurrence for me. No, this event happened early on in practice - during, or right after a period when I had stopped meditating for up to six months. I wasn't attaining the states I can now, and to repeat, I was not meditating when this happened. I realized that I needed to continue practice, and so started reading again to help deepen my understanding. This event was so extraordinary (for me) that I contemplated whether it was enlightenment - being ignorant at the time that awakening is not a state of mind. Regardless, I realized during the experience that "I" was not enlightened, and just continued to enjoy it! This experience gave me a lot of faith in the spiritual path, especially the dharma. Doubt in the Buddha (not my abilities) has been the least of the hindrances for me since then, for which I am grateful.

Thank you Ian, and Beoman, for your considerate responses. It's good to know where on the map we may be. I find it funny that I blew past the finish line (my goal of attaining jhana) and didn't even notice it. There are many great lessons here.emoticon
D K, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 9/15/10 Recent Posts
Hi Mike,

There appear to be at least two, fully coherent definitions of jhana. For an alternate view from someone deeply experienced in meditation and study, read these:

The Buddhist Tradition of Shamatha

Within You Without You

And finally, if you're really curious, check out Wallace's excellent book on achieving first jhana, Attention Revolution.

By these standards, you (and I) would probably be between the 3rd and 5th stage out of 9 stages of purification before reaching jhana. Who's right? I'm not sure, but there's definitely a substantial difference of opinion. Caveat Emptor.

Fare Well,
Brule
Mike Ramos, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

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Thanks for the links Brule!

Maybe jhanas are a continuum of experiences whose characteristics and intensity vary with the individual, the time, and the place. Maybe the important characteristics are the calm, clarity, and equanimity of the state. Not the fireworks, or “hardness” or “softness” of the experience. But this is speculation, and I suppose arguments for or against can fly like squirrels chasing each other around a tree, and get nowhere.

I accept that the newly hatched concept of “jhana” forming in my mind may change over time. Maybe later I'll have these “harder” experiences others speak of. For now, I think Ian is right. I'll be using the concentration I've developed, and get back to more insight work. At the level I have now, there is effortless peace, and I can see very subtle movements in the mind as it either clings to, or pushes away thoughts or sensations, etc., without attaching to them. Perhaps this should have been my clue to stop pushing the river down stream, and begin using what's there!

I think it's very helpful to have an idea of where we may be in our “pilgrims progress”, but not get too hung up on it. Reality seems to be more fluid, and surprising, than our pictures and maps of it.
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

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Mike Ramos:
I accept that the newly hatched concept of “jhana” forming in my mind may change over time. Maybe later I'll have these “harder” experiences others speak of.

Especially once you get stream entry, or perhaps right before, your jhana abilities will greatly increase. If you really want to deepen those jhanas, probably the more direct way would be getting stream entry first, hehe.

For now, I think Ian is right. I'll be using the concentration I've developed, and get back to more insight work. At the level I have now, there is effortless peace, and I can see very subtle movements in the mind as it either clings to, or pushes away thoughts or sensations, etc., without attaching to them. Perhaps this should have been my clue to stop pushing the river down stream, and begin using what's there!


Good luck! I believe getting to 4th jhana and doing insight from there is much calmer and less painful than doing it directly, especially during the Dark Night. Feel free to ask any questions that arise as you go through your insight practices.


I think it's very helpful to have an idea of where we may be in our “pilgrims progress”, but not get too hung up on it. Reality seems to be more fluid, and surprising, than our pictures and maps of it.


Hehe, keep that in mind! That's probably the sanest approach to all this.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Just to add a few things to the already nicely made points:

I often took just the quality and width or narrowness of jhana as object, and when attention locked onto the quality of itself, that in of itself could be the foundation of jhana, and when doing this there would be no visuals particularly, very little bliss if any, as it was not the focus of attention.

Thus, to answer your question, as has already been done above, yes, one may have jhana without a visual nimitta and without bliss, or with just nimitta and without bliss (as in when I did my pure-visual candle flame work and had no bodily sensations to speak of that could feel blissful and was just into the beautiful geometric patterns), or with just bliss and no obvious nimitta beyond that, as that can be a great object itself as a foundation for jhana, and a really fun one also.

Daniel
Dylan Dylan Dylan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/21/10 Recent Posts
Hey Mike,

I enjoyed your post, and since I too have been thinking about this topic, I decided to finally make a comment on the DhO (yup, this is my first!). I hope you don't mind if I offer an alternative way of thinking about Jhana practice.

If you haven't already, you may want to check out the Buddha's teachings on Jhana in the Pali Cannon. Here is one Sutta that I have found particularly helpful: Samannaphala Sutta.

For starters, I would suggest that the ability to feel bliss/rapture is a separate faculty distinct from concentration. Indeed, I think you can be highly developed in concentration, but have little skill in sensing bliss. Or you can be skilled in sensing bliss, but actually not very developed in concentration (though you certainly need some).

So, if you haven't experienced bliss, it may be that you simply haven't developed that faculty yet. ("Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water...")

I would even say that deep concentration is easier when one isn't experiencing much bliss/pleasure. For example, if you have a little pleasure, but not alot (or maybe just neutral sensations), the awareness stays balanced, and a wonderful peace settles in the mind. It is tempting to call that Jhana (e.g., "Look, I've skipped to the third Jhana!"), but I don't think that's what the Buddha had in mind.

Joy/Bliss/Pleasure/Rapture needs to be present because it is both a factor and an obstacle for concentration. On the one hand, bliss is helpful because it can keep you absorbed as the mind wants to stay with the experience. On the other hand, bliss is also an obstacle because it tends to invade awareness and dissipate one's calm (e.g., "Yay, this is great!"). When bliss/pleasure becomes predominant, it becomes much more challenging to maintain a balanced mind. In my view, this is where much of the "corruption of insight" comes from. But that's not a bad thing. Its an important place to be.

My "working hypothesis" is that training the mind to stay balanced in the presence of bliss/pleasure is absolutely essential. Without the presence of that bliss, concentration (or insight) doesn't really undo the deep conditioning of the mind, no matter how absorbed you are. If you're not experiencing much physical bliss, you're not really "stretching" your capacity to keep a calm awareness. You're just calm.

With metta,
Dylan
Mike Ramos, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
I hope you don't mind if I offer an alternative way of thinking about Jhana practice.


No, not at all! I appreciate everyone's constructive input.

For starters, I would suggest that the ability to feel bliss/rapture is a separate faculty distinct from concentration. Indeed, I think you can be highly developed in concentration, but have little skill in sensing bliss. Or you can be skilled in sensing bliss, but actually not very developed in concentration (though you certainly need some).

So, if you haven't experienced bliss, it may be that you simply haven't developed that faculty yet. ("Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water...")


Interesting, I've been thinking along vaguely similar lines, but more in terms of what I may or may not be allowing myself.

I would even say that deep concentration is easier when one isn't experiencing much bliss/pleasure. For example, if you have a little pleasure, but not alot (or maybe just neutral sensations), the awareness stays balanced, and a wonderful peace settles in the mind. It is tempting to call that Jhana (e.g., "Look, I've skipped to the third Jhana!"), but I don't think that's what the Buddha had in mind.


I have no idea! I don't know what's going on! (ha ha!) I can say that my experiences tend to be pleasant enough that I often don't want to come out of them when the bell rings. If the concentration is deep enough, the bell doesn't even phase me and I may sit for an extra fifteen minutes or even half an hour (I typically sit for an hour a day). This whole issue is leading me to re-assess my practice - finding a better balance between effort and ease, and deciding which methods to prioritize, given the time I can devote to "cushion time".

Joy/Bliss/Pleasure/Rapture needs to be present because it is both a factor and an obstacle for concentration. On the one hand, bliss is helpful because it can keep you absorbed as the mind wants to stay with the experience. On the other hand, bliss is also an obstacle because it tends to invade awareness and dissipate one's calm (e.g., "Yay, this is great!"). When bliss/pleasure becomes predominant, it becomes much more challenging to maintain a balanced mind. In my view, this is where much of the "corruption of insight" comes from. But that's not a bad thing. Its an important place to be.

My "working hypothesis" is that training the mind to stay balanced in the presence of bliss/pleasure is absolutely essential. Without the presence of that bliss, concentration (or insight) doesn't really undo the deep conditioning of the mind, no matter how absorbed you are. If you're not experiencing much physical bliss, you're not really "stretching" your capacity to keep a calm awareness. You're just calm.

With metta,
Dylan


Not sure exactly what you mean by "stretching" capacity...

As outlined in my previous posts, I have experienced bliss during meditation before. What I mean is a strong pervasive joy which fills the mind and body and is sustained for some time. But this never happened in the context of concentration practice. Once it occurred during vipassana practice - I became mindful of a dull ache in my arm. As I watched the pain break up into its constituent parts - burning, tingling, etc., I was overcome by bliss and deep calm which continued through the sitting. Another time was meditating on altruistic joy, as I saw envy arise it was overcome by the intention to be happy for the success of others. This also led to an extended experience of bliss and peace. It was quite powerful, and almost as strong as the experience I had while reading a book - where it was the realization of all I had to be thankful for, which triggered the bliss. In that case I was not meditating, and I stayed in that state even as I went about activities, (showering, talking to my wife, etc.)

I repeat all this so that it's perfectly clear that I was expecting to attain a similar feeling in jhana, and since I hadn't, I was/am confused as to the nature of the concentration I've attained. That's all. None of these experiences have any precedent in my life. One of the things I plan to do is try kasina practice as Beoman suggested, and work on relaxing more, to see if this heightens the experience in any way. But I don't want to get too sidetracked by all this. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, the whole issue of just what "jhana" is, has helped me see deeper into my practice, as well as being a reminder to pay attention!
Dylan Desu, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/21/10 Recent Posts
Mike Ramos:

Not sure exactly what you mean by "stretching" capacity...


Really, I just mean developing equanimity. I have come to regard the development of equanimity as a process of stretching. So, that's what I called it. Sorry, if its confusing, but I do find "stretching" to be a useful metaphor. In the case of jhana, I see it as a process that develops insight and equanimity through learning to cultivate bliss throughout the body, and then learning to become equanimous with it (and at that point, letting the bliss go, as Beoman emphasized).

Mike Ramos:

As outlined in my previous posts, I have experienced bliss during meditation before. What I mean is a strong pervasive joy which fills the mind and body and is sustained for some time.


Yes, this is the first jhana. As the Buddha put it: "Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal"

Mike Ramos:

But this never happened in the context of concentration practice. Once it occurred during vipassana practice - I became mindful of a dull ache in my arm. As I watched the pain break up into its constituent parts - burning, tingling, etc., I was overcome by bliss and deep calm which continued through the sitting.


This is why I personally don't like the rigid distinction between concentration and insight practice, as if they are somehow mutually exclusive. As far as I can tell, the Buddha didn't make such a firm distinction. The distinction only became fixed later with other commentators. Indeed, your description of what happened during "vipassana" sounds exactly like the Buddha's description of the first jhana (and possibly the second, depending on how quiet your mind was). I even would bet you were quite concentrated when it happened (though you may not have been concentrating on the breath)

Basically, you turned your awareness to the body (the "dull ache"), and it happened that your awareness was calm and friendly, and sharp enough to tune-in to the pleasant sensations that pervaded even the "pain." You essentially created a positive feed-back loop between the body and mind. Then, wherever in the body you brought your awareness, all you found was bliss. That's precisely what the Buddha says to do for the first jhana.


Mike Ramos:

Another time was meditating on altruistic joy, as I saw envy arise it was overcome by the intention to be happy for the success of others. This also led to an extended experience of bliss and peace. It was quite powerful, and almost as strong as the experience I had while reading a book - where it was the realization of all I had to be thankful for, which triggered the bliss. In that case I was not meditating, and I stayed in that state even as I went about activities, (showering, talking to my wife, etc.)


This seems quite natural. One "trick" I use to pervade bliss throughout my body is to briefly generate a kind/happy awareness (e.g., metta), and then bring that awareness to bodily sensations. This creates that positive feedback loop I was mentioning.

Anyway, since your prior experiences with the first jhana arose with awareness of the body (which is exactly what the Buddha taught) and with metta/mudita, you might consider continuing that approach. I'm not saying to drop the "awareness of the breath at the nostrils," but to also turn your awareness to other parts of the body (besides the nose) with the express purpose of tuning-in to the bliss and spreading it. I realize that this may be something you are already doing, and if so, I apologize. But I still thought I'd offer up that suggestion. emoticon


Best wishes...
Mike Ramos, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Hi Dylan,
Thanks for the clarifications....

Really, I just mean developing equanimity.


okay, I see what you mean.

This is why I personally don't like the rigid distinction between concentration and insight practice, as if they are somehow mutually exclusive. As far as I can tell, the Buddha didn't make such a firm distinction. The distinction only became fixed later with other commentators. Indeed, your description of what happened during "vipassana" sounds exactly like the Buddha's description of the first jhana (and possibly the second, depending on how quiet your mind was). I even would bet you were quite concentrated when it happened (though you may not have been concentrating on the breath)


Yeah, this conceptual wall has become porous for me too.

Basically, you turned your awareness to the body (the "dull ache"), and it happened that your awareness was calm and friendly, and sharp enough to tune-in to the pleasant sensations that pervaded even the "pain." You essentially created a positive feed-back loop between the body and mind. Then, wherever in the body you brought your awareness, all you found was bliss. That's precisely what the Buddha says to do for the first jhana.


That's partly what happened then, I suppose. I was deeply concentrated on the pain, penetrating its apparent solidity, then the realization arose that I'd been ignoring the pain (which is more or less a constant one, due to an injury). This realization triggered something, perhaps compassion, as I saw how I create suffering in my life. Then the bliss kicked in! The positive feedback loop is something I have been using lately, as per Leigh Brasington's jhana instructions. While this works, and pleasurable and deep concentration ensue, nothing close to "bliss" arises. So maybe that's something I can work on more.

Anyway, since your prior experiences with the first jhana arose with awareness of the body (which is exactly what the Buddha taught) and with metta/mudita, you might consider continuing that approach.


That's a useful suggestion, thanks!
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Dylan Desu:

Joy/Bliss/Pleasure/Rapture needs to be present because it is both a factor and an obstacle for concentration. On the one hand, bliss is helpful because it can keep you absorbed as the mind wants to stay with the experience. On the other hand, bliss is also an obstacle because it tends to invade awareness and dissipate one's calm (e.g., "Yay, this is great!"). When bliss/pleasure becomes predominant, it becomes much more challenging to maintain a balanced mind. In my view, this is where much of the "corruption of insight" comes from. But that's not a bad thing. Its an important place to be.


Hmm careful here... the goal is not to be observing constant bliss and not be distracted by it. Bliss does not need to be present in order to be concentrating properly. In fact, it disappears entirely on 4th jhana, to be replaced by calm and equanimity, and it seems very unlikely to attain the formless jhanas if you are experiencing bliss. (It's the sphere of infinite nothingness, not the sphere of infinite nothingness and bliss =P).

My "working hypothesis" is that training the mind to stay balanced in the presence of bliss/pleasure is absolutely essential.

That's true.. if you get side-tracked by the bliss of 1st or 2nd jhana, you will not progress to 4th jhana, but be stuck there instead.

I would even say that deep concentration is easier when one isn't experiencing much bliss/pleasure.

Indeed, that is why bliss/pleasure-filled jhanas are 1st to 3rd, and the bliss fades at 4th.

For example, if you have a little pleasure, but not alot (or maybe just neutral sensations), the awareness stays balanced, and a wonderful peace settles in the mind. It is tempting to call that Jhana (e.g., "Look, I've skipped to the third Jhana!"), but I don't think that's what the Buddha had in mind.


True, sitting down and saying "hey I've skipped to the third Jhana!" because you only feel a little pleasure is not the point. But after being suffused with pleasure, you must overcome that pleasure to continue. From the Sutta you linked to:

"Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation...

"Furthermore, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters and remains in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance...

"And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.' He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture...

"And furthermore, with the abandoning of pleasure and stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress — he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure nor stress...


So don't get too attached to the pleasure and bliss!
Dylan Desu, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Is it Jhana without Nimitta and Bliss?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/21/10 Recent Posts
Truly, Beoman, I agree with everything you said. emoticon One obviously shouldn't get attached to bliss (though some degree of attachment is necessary in the beginning to truly master the first jhana). I only emphasized it in my post because I actually think it is an aspect of meditation that is easily skipped.

For one thing, I think it is worth clarifying that bliss isn't just something that happens to a meditator (though sometimes, it can seem that way). The interaction between mind and body makes the bliss happen. Someone who masters the first jhana has really just mastered the ability to guide that interaction. You learn to tune-in to the pleasant sensations in the body, you learn to spread those sensations throughout the body, and you learn to modulate those sensations by bringing the right kind of awareness to them. As the Buddha put it:

"He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates... this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal"


With that in mind, I would clarify that the third jhana is not simply a pleasant state of sustained concentration in which no bliss is present. Rather, the third jhana is the culmination of mastering the ability to fabricate bliss throughout the body, and then purposefully allowing it to pass away because you have truly become equanimous with it.

Of course, we all have our own definitions of what Jhana means. I am influenced primarily by Thanissaro Bhikkhu and the Buddha's teachings in the Pali Cannon. I haven't read much of the Visuddhimagga, which I believe (?) much of the perspective on Jhana in this forum comes from.

With metta...

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