What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana.

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neem nyima, modified 11 Years ago.

What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana.

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/21/09 Recent Posts
I've been doing some research into how to develop concentration. I have gained a bit of background info into the Jhana's and Access Concentration. At the moment I'm interested in the difference between the two.
I have been working with the breath and the Tibetan letter A. I found the visual object easier to work with, and noticed some helpful commentaries in the Kasinas discussion.
When I meditated recently and had a particularly good session these affects occurred. The visual object grew small and clear at one point. At another it partially and completely dissolved and there where aura effects etc. around the object. At another point it grew only slightly larger while maintaining clarity. These affects should be associated with the first and second Jhanas, but. Though there was a quality of bliss and peace, and a happiness that comes with it, it didn't seem as spectacular as former experiences of joy, bliss and happiness that I have experienced formerly in particularly strong sessions of meditation. I have a feeling that the Piti and Sukha should be alot stronger and therefore it is access concentration I am experiencing. But some of the affects associated seem to describe the 1st and 2nd Jhanas.
I'm trying to work out the difference between the 1st Jhana and Access Concentration. So far the only difference that I can discern is in the quality of bliss and peace (Joy and Happiness or Bliss and Rapture or Piti and Sukha) that is associated with the 1st and 2nd Jhanas. Could someone please help clarify?
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Florian "Monkeymind" Weps, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
The way I understand these terms: access concentration is about the ability to sustain concentration at all. Jhanas are distinct states, or "places", which can be experienced in that sustained concentration.

Now, while the Jhanas are fairly distinctive, recognizable "stepping stones", and the question whether you are able to sustain concentration at all is also an easy "yes/no" distinction, beyond that there are lots of gradual things: how familiar you are with a particular jhanic state, how well you can recognize it as it presents in different objects, how "deep" you can make your concentration (once you can sustain it at all), and so on. It's a skill thing, with all the degrees of learning and mastery that comes with developing a skill.

Cheers,
Florian
GERALD X TRAN DANG, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 3 Join Date: 10/22/09 Recent Posts
Auk Pa Sayadaw said that in the access concentration , the jhana factors not as strong as in the 1st jhana.
In the 1st jhana, one can maintain full absorption for a long time (1, 2 or 3 hours) without interruption.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
See this link for my take on this, using the second jhana as an example:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/Jhana+Development+Axes?p_r_p_185834411_title=Jhana+Development+Axes
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 784 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Florian Weps:
The way I understand these terms: access concentration is about the ability to sustain concentration at all. Jhanas are distinct states, or "places", which can be experienced in that sustained concentration.


I'm chiming in only to corroborate and confirm Florian and Daniel's take on this, and to add a bit of my own understanding from scholarly research and personal experience.

My understanding of the history of this term "access concentration" is that it was a concept born from the commentarial literature of the Theravada school and not from the discourses of the Buddha. Specifically, the commentary book the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification; page 86 in the section titled: HOW MANY KINDS OF CONCENTRATION ARE THERE?) which was put together several hundred years after the Buddha was extant. In other words, it was never approved by the Buddha in the same way or manner that he approved and exhorted his followers to follow the discourses after his death. It has been carried forward by modern-day Theravada adherents, such as various Burmese meditation masters, and promoted in the West by students of these masters.

As far as I've been able to determine, certain of the Burmese meditation masters, in order to make the teachings more accessible to their homeland students, contrived to teach this "access concentration" step in the progressive instruction on concentration since they figured that anyone who was not a monastic (meaning those who were householders) would likely experience great difficulty in their attempt to reach absorption. The concept of "access concentration" gave them (householder students) a reachable goal to shoot for, which when reached, would help promote their faith in the Dhamma and enthusiasm for staying on the path.

My own take on this is that it is better to discard the concept altogether, as it can cause intelligent people confusion about what to look for on the way to absorption. Although if you want some guideline to go on, if you are able to maintain concentration on the meditation object for a minute or two without distraction or unnoticed distraction, then you have achieved "access concentration." And once you've achieved "access concentration," your next goal is to achieve absorption itself. Which then brings the problem full circle again to: "how do I know whether or not I have achieved absorption?" (For an idea about achieving absorption, see Daniel's link, in which he takes great pains to describe all the various aspects of experience that may occur.)

I just think it's better to "go for the gusto" in the first place (meaning go for entering and maintaining absorption) than to make a goal of an intermediate step which the Buddha never taught in the discourses. It just makes things simpler (my opinion, that's all). Of course, if you want to notice that you were able to maintain a minimum amount of concentration ("access concentration") necessary to carry you into full absorption, then there's nothing wrong with that. I just think it is redundant when it comes to instruction on how to gain access to the jhanas (absorption) and is therefore an unnecessary concept to saddle a person with. As I say, this is just my personal opinion.
Adam West, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 24 Join Date: 9/9/09 Recent Posts
As has been said, within the Suttas, you will find first Jhana described as the joy and pleasure of meditation itself; and that is exactly how it feels. It is unmistakable and very obvious - and that is just the first Jhana. I agree, outside the context of the Visuddhimagga, the concept of access concentration has no relevance whatsoever. Right meditation will result in an unmistakable fruit of pleasure and joy which you can directly apprehend for yourself; so in this context, what a dusty old text or some other person says is neither here nor there. If we sit and practice, we will see these things for ourselves. That's the beauty of the Dharma, it actually works and you actually have to 'do it' to see it for yourself. No doing or practice amounts to an intellectual or devotional exorcise with no fruit - something westerners are very well trained to perpetuate ad nauseam.

In kind regards,

Adam. emoticon
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neem nyima, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/21/09 Recent Posts
Thank you all for your help and advice. I'm come to believe that while in a Jhana the Sub-Jhana's can manifest in all different ways, this depends on how much attention we give these experiences ( bliss, joy that clear mind/ no thought quality). And in the example from Ingram's,
"However, those who have stronger concentration may see higher aspects corresponding to the formless realms, and in that way, may get the first jhana so strong that the 5th jhana boundless space aspect can show itself, being now 1.5, with the body largely vanishing, and so forth, up to 1.8, which is the natural height of development of the first Jhana."
This is quiet a common experience amongst people who give mediation a bit of a go or do a Vipassana retreat. It seems that to experience Jhana is not so difficult, but to master them a whole different kettle of fish.
I hope my understandings are correct, and now i will try to understand more about perfecting the Jhana's.
Sincerely Neem
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neem nyima, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/21/09 Recent Posts
I'm trying to get more information on-line relating to the Jhana's so I can understand how better to practice. Gone through MCT info on Jhana and sifting through it again. Taking notes to glean all that I can. I'm looking for more detailed advice on how to better master the the 1st Jhana and get beyond a solf experience of the first jhana, and lots of access concentration or lots of access concentration
.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Just curious: why?

How about stream entry?

Then jhanas are easy for most, and you have so much more...

Further: the bliss thing is complex:

I remember going through this cycle with visualized objects where the vast majority of my attention was on them and they progressed through to the 4th jhana again and again, but as I had so little sense of my body, as my attention was on the visualization, there was basically no bliss or rapture or anything like that.

If you really want something blissful: really hit the A&P hard and focus on the bliss aspect: that will blow most people's attempts at straight jhana out of the water.

If you really, really want something good, become an anagami and hit the pure land jhanas hard.

If you really, really, really want something good, become and anagami and get Nirodha Samapatti.

If you really, really, really, really want something good, go ahead and get arahatship.

Just my thoughts this evening.

Daniel
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neem nyima, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/21/09 Recent Posts
I often go to a festival where people teach a lot of variety of mediation class, most of the people i know are very interested in Tantra and Blissful God-self interactions, I don't always relate & fit in to the pro-noid view. I guess I believe, I need to work with my environment, get along with it better & find more of a bases for common ground with this extended community. They are very interested in Samadhi; though I am going slow, I'm trying to understand where and how, Jhana's & Samadhi work in the interest of my relation-ship. Also I'm looking for something to counteract my depression so I can become more motivated in my practice, which is some what random. I come from a Dzogchen, Tibetan Buddhist background, and Vipassana. I feel I've had strong experiences of deep presence or Buddha mind. And doing certain kinds of practices removes mental obstacles and readies me for awareness.
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Clayton James Lightfoot, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jhana

Posts: 41 Join Date: 1/21/10 Recent Posts
I am working on jhanas currently myself as part of what I believe to be a review phase. They are nice. However as Daniel has suggested they don't blow me away like my Arising and Passing Event. I can't wait for NS... hehe I know I still have a lot of work to get their but it sounds like fun... My advice would be to take vipassana and get stream entry, then jhanas will come easier ... you will run into them during vipassana anyway... plus you will have a shift in your waking consciousness after completing a progress of insight. That probably won't happen just cultivating concentration as the afterglow is relatively short... Consistency was soo important to my practice...

Much love--practice well,

Clayton
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Jackson "awouldbehipster" Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
I'm actually kind of surprised at some of the answers provided in response to your question. I've been really working on refining my jhana skills lately, and so I thought I'd provide some perspective on the issue.

In my experience, just being able to sustain attention at all is not the same things access concentration. Though, that's how one gets there. First, one must apply attention to the object ("applied thought" being one of the five jhana factors). Then, one must continue to apply attention until "sustained thought" (the second jhana factor) arises. This occurs when one's attention is firmly placed on the object, almost as if the object has a certain gravitational or magnetic force.

If one stays with the object in this way for quite some time, there will come a time when the other three jhana factors arise, which are rapture, happiness, and one-pointedness of mind. When all five factors have arisen, but one is not yet fully absorbed in the state (i.e. the state is still somewhat unstable), THAT is access concentration.

From here, one may either turn toward the transitory nature of phenomena and practice vipassana, or they may stay with the object until they are further pulled into the unique space of mind that is first jhana. It is as though you really merge with the object, and the jhana factors become even more prominent.

Some say that there can be no thought in jhana, but I disagree. It's possible to become so absorbed in jhana that no thoughts arise, but that's not really the point. The point is to enter the space of mind and notice the factors. As you continue to practice, the lower factors begin to drop off, revealing the next jhana.

To say that access concentration is arbitrary because it's not in the suttas, or that it was made up by Burmese masters in the early 20th century to cater to the needs of Westerners, is complete bollocks. It's not just a Theravada thing, either. The Tibetan guys and gals teach access concentration as well, which they consider to be a preliminary prior to practicing serious Vajrayana visualization practices. Most importantly for me, it's something I've gotten to know quite well in my experience, so I know if can happen for others as well.

If you're interested, Henepola Gunaratana has written an excellent primer on jhanas called The Jhanas: In Theravada Buddhist Meditation, which is available in full online at Access To Insight (here).

I hope this is helpful. Best of luck, man.
~Jackson
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Those who say there is no thought in jhana are either:

1) using a very limited definition of thought
2) not paying attention to all the mental processes that make up jhana

One can get the mind really quiet, but that is not the same thing as there being no thought.

Just by the way the mind and attention work many times per second, there is sense contact, there is mental impression, there are the subtle intentions that stabilize attention, there are the mental echoes of those things and all the sensations of attention, there are again the sensations of the object, there are all sorts of other subtle commentaries, recognitions, etc, even in really, really hard jhana. No one gets around this. Those with strong insight see this regardless of whether or not they even want to. Those who haven't seen it yet have more to go. Really hard jhana is seductive, but even then it has these aspects.

Thought can stop in Fruition and NS, that's it. Even the 8th jhana as subtle thought stuff even hit really hard.

Anyway, the fine points of exactly how people define access concentration and exactly what factors are present are not that important for most practical things. Stay with objects, develop jhana or ñanas, move through the stages. Access concentration is just a territory before jhana or ñanas start. If you are poking around forums like this one, you have probably developed substantially beyond it at points in your practice and may not have even known it. Let's not be too dogmatic about this if possible.
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Jackson "awouldbehipster" Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
I'm wondering if the "dogmatic" comment was aimed at me. Perhaps I'm just paranoid. Regardless, proposing clear standards for specific (and rather basic) attainments based on time-tested techniques that produce repeatable results is not the same as ascribing to dogmatic belief. The question asked in this thread is pretty straight forward: what's the difference between access concentration and the 1st jhana? One could also ask: what's the difference between the non-meditative state of mind and access concentration? I think defining access concentration as "just a territory before jhana or ñanas start" is a bit simplistic, and perhaps even misleading.

Can one make progress on the path without having first accurately identified access concentration and its characteristics? Of course they can! I know I did. But I do think that this basic state of near one-pointedness deserves a credible explanation - at least more than calling it just some pre-jhana/pre-ñana territory.
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neem nyima, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: What's the difference between Access Concentration and the 1st Jha

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/21/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for your advice Clayton, I appreciate your message and take it to heart, as I have just starting working with arising and passing away. Ingram mentions, "If you are poking around forums like this one, you have probably developed substantially beyond it at points in your practice and may not have even known it." which i think most likely happens to be the case.
I have found it very beneficial noticing the blur between the jhana and the Vipassana stages as the nature of these different stage is very similar and it is quiet hard to push the aspect of insight out of the practice. My understanding of them has become clearer, which has give me an increased focus, and I think, made the access of arising and passing away a lot easier to reach maintain and get into most of the time (Though I have had experiences of the 2nd stage before).
Lately I have been playing with the shift between the 2nd jhana and Arising and Passing Away, I never intended to get stuck with the jhanas, I'm a Mahayana Buddhist.

I really liked your succinct descriptions of the Jhanas, Jackson, I am wondering about how to make the jhanic factors stronger, and have started getting access to the third Jhana, but not very consistently, cause I some times re-centre back into the second, keeping that doughnut feel that Ingram mentioned in MCTB is difficult. That I really helped me understand the 3rd and gave a description which helped me identify something I had experienced before.
You suggest, holding with the factors, to enter a hard Jhana, which seems to be a good general rule in my experience too. Though sometimes i can push those factors; when it's not happening and loose them, that's when I return to a simple object without an objective ( the breath), and allow them to arise from the state of the first jhana.

"When all five factors have arisen, but one is not yet fully absorbed in the state (i.e. the state is still somewhat unstable), THAT is access concentration." When you said this Jackson, though I can appreciate where your coming from, which seems to be accessing a very hard experience of the Jhana as Ingram says in MCTB. And when you follow up with your description, "It is as though you really merge with the object, and the jhana factors become even more prominent." and then suggest some definitions of a hard (as opposed to a soft) experience of a Jhana.
In my modest study the consistent feature of the 1st jhana was the five factors, so it seems to me that defining access concentration with the 5 factors of the 1st jhana makes it the same thing? I would think it more likely, access concentration is associated with the 1st two factors, applied thought and sustained thought, which just means seeing the object and keeping it in mind.

As to thoughts in Jhanas, Jackson mentioned, "It's possible to become so absorbed in jhana that no thoughts arise, but that's not really the point. The point is to enter the space of mind and notice the factors."
I'm with Ingram, I haven't reached so much bliss of mind and body (piti;rapture joy and bliss & sukha; pleasure happiness and bliss) that I can't take it anymore, in a jhana, besides a maybe a few times. But Ingrams, description of thought in jhana, mirrors all my own experiences and is very succinct, I'd take another look at the quality of thoughtlessness that your experiencing. I also find it funny that you can be holding the state of a Jhana and on some occasions and have quite a bit of mental activity / or not and it's still the same state!
Ingram's comments above, seem really relevant, "One can get the mind really quiet, but that is not the same thing as there being no thought. There is sense contact, there is mental impression, there are the subtle intentions that stabilize attention, there are the mental echoes of those things and all the sensations of attention, there are again the sensations of the object, there are all sorts of other subtle commentaries, recognitions, etc, even in really, really hard jhana."

Additionally, thanks, I've found the stuff on thoughts in, jhanas to be very insightful, and though there are a lot of references to thoughtlessness in jhana, I'm with the crew here. Sincerely Neem

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