First Jhana?

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Yuliya Yakhontova, modified 9 Years ago.

First Jhana?

Posts: 12 Join Date: 9/20/09 Recent Posts
Hi everyone,

For several years I had an 'on&off' meditation practice with the possible A&P experience slightly over a year ago.
So a couple of months ago I decided to really start digging this thing seriously again.
I now meditate for about 80 minutes on an average day, and I recently started noticing that my practice improved.
I think that I am now regularly hitting 'soft' first jhana and I would like to try to describe how it feels.

I meditate on the breath and energy feeling in the whole body.
I am very inspired by the lectures of Ajaan Jeff aka Thanissaro Bhikhu and he recommends to start with focusing on the breath and then to extend your awareness to the whole body. This seems to work very well for me.

So, when I manage to get concentrated without experiencing jhana, I simply feel the breath going in and and out and the whole body moving slightly with the breath and it feels normal.
When I experience what I think is a soft first jhana, there is a noticeable but subtle shift in the perception, as if someone turned a switch button.
I start feeling (or hearing?) a quiet buzzing (as if subtle vibration) in the whole body.
My mind is very clear and I am very aware of each breath and simultaneously of my whole body (or maybe my energy body), but yet I can think on some level. That's why I think that this jhana is 'soft'.
Now, if I get very excited, I can rather easily get carried away in my thinking and lose this state, but recently I was getting better and better in staying there for longer periods.

Now, my plan is to keep practicing and to make this 'soft' jhana more 'hard', and then at some point I will be able to stop the 'directed thought and evaluation' and to just be there, and that would be a second jhana.

After that I am not sure what I should be dropping, because I am really not experiencing any rapture (not yet anyway).
I am feeling very equanimous when I am in this state, actually.

But I recently heard in one of Thanissaro Bhikhu's lectures that when when you reach the 4th jhana, the breath stops, and this is one of the indicators of the 4th jhana.
So, what I am doing now is trying to recognize and drop any effort in manipulating my breath. As I am doing so, gradually my breath becomes more and more subtle, and I think it will stop eventually as I keep practicing.

So, when I get to the 4th jhana (I think I was there before a while back, so I am pretty confident that I'll get there again), then I am planning on shifting my perception from the vibrations to the empty space between vibrations (according to Thanissaro Bhikhu) and that should take me to the 5th jhana.

After that to get to the 6th jhana I should turn attention to the consciousness that was focusing on the empty space in the 5th jhana.

After that I am not sure what I should be doing to get into the 7th jhana, but I think I'll get more info on that by the time I'll get there.

The purpose of this post is to confirm that I am now experiencing a soft 1st jhana and that my understanding about how to proceed in my jhana practice is correct.

Thanks to everyone taking the time to read and answer this post.
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tarin greco, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: First Jhana? (Answer)

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
Yuliya Yakhontova:
Hi everyone,

For several years I had an 'on&off' meditation practice with the possible A&P experience slightly over a year ago.
So a couple of months ago I decided to really start digging this thing seriously again.
I now meditate for about 80 minutes on an average day, and I recently started noticing that my practice improved.
I think that I am now regularly hitting 'soft' first jhana and I would like to try to describe how it feels.

I meditate on the breath and energy feeling in the whole body.
I am very inspired by the lectures of Ajaan Jeff aka Thanissaro Bhikhu and he recommends to start with focusing on the breath and then to extend your awareness to the whole body. This seems to work very well for me.

So, when I manage to get concentrated without experiencing jhana, I simply feel the breath going in and and out and the whole body moving slightly with the breath and it feels normal.
When I experience what I think is a soft first jhana, there is a noticeable but subtle shift in the perception, as if someone turned a switch button.
I start feeling (or hearing?) a quiet buzzing (as if subtle vibration) in the whole body.
My mind is very clear and I am very aware of each breath and simultaneously of my whole body (or maybe my energy body), but yet I can think on some level. That's why I think that this jhana is 'soft'.
Now, if I get very excited, I can rather easily get carried away in my thinking and lose this state, but recently I was getting better and better in staying there for longer periods.

then you may be noticing by now that not getting very excited, far from causing you to lose interest in meditation, actually increases your capacity for paying attention continuously ... and keeps you from easily getting carried away in thinking.

which means you're on your way to second jhana.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

Now, my plan is to keep practicing and to make this 'soft' jhana more 'hard', and then at some point I will be able to stop the 'directed thought and evaluation' and to just be there, and that would be a second jhana.

to make the jhana 'harder', attend more closely to the undulating sensations of the breathing body, and to how simple and pleasant they are. 'directed thought and evaluation' (or your concern with them) will start cutting out on its own - no directed effort will be required.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

After that I am not sure what I should be dropping, because I am really not experiencing any rapture (not yet anyway).
I am feeling very equanimous when I am in this state, actually.

there is nothing you will need to drop from there - the insight that allows you to deepen from first to second jhana, given time to mature on its own, is what will carry you from second to third.

in my experience, what more reliably characterises the second jhana than rapture is the falling away of the concentrated effort of the first.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

But I recently heard in one of Thanissaro Bhikhu's lectures that when when you reach the 4th jhana, the breath stops, and this is one of the indicators of the 4th jhana.
So, what I am doing now is trying to recognize and drop any effort in manipulating my breath. As I am doing so, gradually my breath becomes more and more subtle, and I think it will stop eventually as I keep practicing.

or become so fine as to hardly be noticeable, particularly if your attention turns to other matters (such as an unconcern due to serenity of awareness).

physiologically speaking, i very much doubt that the breath actually stops entirely (even in the cessation of perception and feeling), though it can certainly seem that way once the jhana is hard enough.

by the way, just so you know how big the range of standards can be for what is considered 'jhana': i have encountered standards whereby awareness of the breath stopping for the first time constitutes first jhana.

so, being aware of the inconsistencies and disagreements that abound about what jhana is and isn't, my advice is to just use a measure that you like and that works for you (which is basically what you've done so far.. you like thanissaro's measure and it seems to be working for you), and just stick with that.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

So, when I get to the 4th jhana (I think I was there before a while back, so I am pretty confident that I'll get there again), then I am planning on shifting my perception from the vibrations to the empty space between vibrations (according to Thanissaro Bhikhu) and that should take me to the 5th jhana.

then what it sounds like is that you are looking to take your practice through the immaterial realms ... which is fun, and can be useful.

the best basic guide to this approach, in my opinion, is the anupada sutta (mn 111).

which leads me to the main reason for my reply:

notice therein how sariputta, at each and every level of contemplation up until he reaches 'the dimension of neither perception nor non perception', is noticing various qualities present at each of those levels.

for example, in the first jhana, he notices:
'directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention'

and in the second jhana, he notices:
'internal assurance, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention'

and in the third jhana, he notices:
'equanimity-pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention'

and in the fourth jhana, he notices:
'a feeling of equanimity, neither pleasure nor pain; an unconcern due to serenity of awareness; singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention'

and so on and so forth.

now, i am not pointing this out because i think you should go looking for these qualities; i am pointing this out because i want you to understand that noticing these qualities does not necessarily indicate that you are engaging in 'directed thought and evaluation' (and thus not getting past first jhana).

in fact, since it was in noticing these qualities that sariputta was able to notice how they come into being, and go out of being ... and since it was in noticing how these qualities come into being, and go out of being, that sariputta was unattracted to or unrepelled by them ... and since it was in being unattracted to or unrepelled by them that sariputta was able to move on from them (to discern a further escape) .... and since it was in moving on from them (discerning a further escape) that sariputta was able to reach cessation ... then what this indicates is that noticing the very qualities of your experience that are present in jhana, no matter what they are, is essential to using jhana to reach cessation.

in actual experience, there is more to being in jhana than simply what's on the basic list of 4 or 5 jhanic factors for each one.

comprehending this is what allows you to 'do insight practice' while in jhana.


*

Yuliya Yakhontova:

After that to get to the 6th jhana I should turn attention to the consciousness that was focusing on the empty space in the 5th jhana.

if you are not merely repeating words you've read somewhere, then this demonstrates that you have a good basic grasp of what to do already, and no further comment is required here.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

After that I am not sure what I should be doing to get into the 7th jhana, but I think I'll get more info on that by the time I'll get there.

i agree. if you keep practising well, the system will (continue to) figure itself out.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

The purpose of this post is to confirm that I am now experiencing a soft 1st jhana and that my understanding about how to proceed in my jhana practice is correct.

okay, then here is one confirmation.


Yuliya Yakhontova:

Thanks to everyone taking the time to read and answer this post.

you're welcome.

tarin
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Yuliya Yakhontova, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: First Jhana?

Posts: 12 Join Date: 9/20/09 Recent Posts
Thank you, Tarin, for your answer. I really appreciate it.

tarin greco:

then what it sounds like is that you are looking to take your practice through the immaterial realms ... which is fun, and can be useful.


I want to master my concentration abilities. In my previous experience lack of concentration was clearly a hindrance to my insight practice. But if at some point I will feel that insight seems like the right thing to do, then I will not hesitate to change my plans.

tarin greco:

i am pointing this out because i want you to understand that noticing these qualities does not necessarily indicate that you are engaging in 'directed thought and evaluation' (and thus not getting past first jhana).


Thank you for clarifying this.

tarin greco:

Yuliya Yakhontova:

After that to get to the 6th jhana I should turn attention to the consciousness that was focusing on the empty space in the 5th jhana.

if you are not merely repeating words you've read somewhere, then this demonstrates that you have a good basic grasp of what to do already, and no further comment is required here.


I am of course repeating what I read and heard from others, but I think I also understand very clearly how I would do it in practice.
A couple of times I tried to go after consciousness directly and it was a lot of fun.
But again I decided that I need to improve my basic concentration abilities before doing this again.
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tarin greco, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: First Jhana?

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
Yuliya Yakhontova:

tarin greco:

then what it sounds like is that you are looking to take your practice through the immaterial realms ... which is fun, and can be useful.


I want to master my concentration abilities. In my previous experience lack of concentration was clearly a hindrance to my insight practice. But if at some point I will feel that insight seems like the right thing to do, then I will not hesitate to change my plans.

as you have previously mentioned being inspired by thanissaro's lectures and meditation instructions, it may be worthwhile to point out that the tradition thanissaro trained in and teaches from (the thai forest tradition[1]) does not distinguish between concentration practice and insight practice (that is, between samatha and vipassana). as such, the instructions he gives are not aimed (only) at improving concentration, but are, rather, aimed directly at enabling their practitioner to experience the unconditioned (which, as far as the concentration/insight practice division is concerned, is squarely in the realm of insight. thus, if you practice as thanissaro recommends, you are already doing the equivalent of insight practice and there will be no need to change your plans to 'do insight' later.

if you've not already read this article of his, it might be worth having a look at. here's an excerpt:

Thanissaro:

Ultimately, when you reach a perception of the breath that allows the sensations of in-and-out breathing to grow still, you can start questioning more subtle perceptions of the body. It's like tuning into a radio station. If your receiver isn't precisely tuned to the frequency of the signal, the static interferes with the subtleties of whatever is being transmitted. But when you're precisely tuned, every nuance comes through. The same with your sensation of the body: when the movements of the breath grow still, the more subtle nuances of how perception interacts with physical sensation come to the fore. The body seems like a mist of atomic sensations, and you can begin to see how your perceptions interact with that mist. To what extent is the shape of the body inherent in the mist? To what extent is it intentional — something added? What happens when you drop the intention to create that shape? Can you focus on the space between the droplets in the mist? What happens then? Can you stay there? What happens when you drop the perception of space and focus on the knowing? Can you stay there? What happens when you drop the oneness of the knowing? Can you stay there? What happens when you try to stop labeling anything at all?


tarin

[1] thanissaro's teacher was ajahn fuang, whose teacher was ajahn lee, whose teacher was ajahn mun (to whom virtually the entire tradition's lineage can be traced). to the best of my knowledge, none of them taught concentration and insight separately.
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Yuliya Yakhontova, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: First Jhana?

Posts: 12 Join Date: 9/20/09 Recent Posts
Wow, really nice article.
No, I didn't read it before.

I knew that Thanissaro Bhikhu taught concentration and insight meditation as one process.
Actually I visited his monastery in California in February 2010.
What I found frustrating then is that when I talked to lay people staying there for a considerable period of time, they totally denied existence of any vibrations and 3C as applied to vibrations.
They seemed to believe that all the talk about 3C and insight had to do with psychological insight only.
When I was listening to Thanissaro's lectures - I often heard one thing based on what I learned in MCTB book, but when I tried talking about it to other practitioners I would find that they heard and understood something quite different.
When I tried to ask Ajaan Jeff direct questions about my meditation practice and feeling vibrations - he never gave any direct answers, particularly about where I was in my process (jhana or no jhana), basically telling me to keep meditating...

Then recently I heard in one of his talks him saying that he wasn't an arahant, and it made me wonder why not?
After all the years spent in Thailand studying under the master.

So, all this led me to feel that I can't rely on him completely and that I have to hold my head above the water and see if there are other more direct insight techniques that I might want to use at a certain point.
For instance being more direct and 'aggressive' in going after 3C applied to vibrations as described in MCTB book.

I had an A&P experience in November 2009 and it happened when I was very concentrated and started breaking down the vibrations going deeper and deeper and in the same time reflecting on the characteristic of impermanence.

Thank you,
Yuliya