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Venturing into the Formless Jhanas

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Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/14/11 3:16 PM
My focus recently has been deepening the jhanas and as I feel more and more at home in the 4 rupa jhanas I'm also trying to get more familiar with the formless jhanas. Until recently I've only had limited experience with the formless jhanas, mostly on retreat after a few days of intense practice. In the last few weeks, however, I've been experiencing them more and more in my dailt practice. I'm still not quite certain what it is that I'm experiencing at each stage, so I'd love some feedback.

5th jhana - sensations of the body rarely arise, when they do there's very little context to them. Sometimes feeling like the body has become airy, sometimes just space. Often this resolves into feeling like what used to be the body has merged with space. Before (on retreat) there were occasions where I've felt like I/The body am now stretched out in all directions, going on without end. This last sensation has not been showing up in my recent practice.

6th jhana - This one has always been difficult for me, I'm not quite sure I get the descriptions. What has been happening recently is the feeling like the mind is looping back on itself. There's a sense that I'm watching my own mind through the back of the head. The back of the head is definitely "active" in this state, there's tension and focus there. This looping sometimes results in experiencing sensations in a more remote, less engaged, way. I was using Metta as a focus today and managed to bring Metta-infused attention all the way up to 5th but at this point the Metta fell away (it had already changed and almost dropped away at 4th but then I was able to bring it back), and the whole feeling tone changed to more somber.

7th jhana - I think this one has been solidifying over the last few days. What I've noticed today was the loop that was created in 6th, seems to be tightening and thereby shutting away more of the outside world (there still is street noise and some thoughts coming in through all this). Looking at the loop it seems like there's nothing watching nothing, tuning into either of those seems to tighten the loop and go deeper into oily blackness.

8th jhana - Not sure I ever did experience this one. There was a shift today when not even the blackness made sense any more. The only thing I can describe is that thoughts and sensations would arise but get cut off mid-way. This is how I've experienced this jhana before but I was never sure this was actually it. At some point this experience just shifted into something pleasant, simple, lightly blissful which I took to mean whatever state that was is over now.

Thanks for reading!
Eran.

RE: Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/14/11 4:18 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Hi Eran,

Your descriptions of jhana 5-7 matches what I've experienced reasonably well. And I think I recognize what you're talking about for jhana 8...there is a state like that which arises for me when I've tried to get from 7 to 8 but my concentration wasn't good enough. In my opinion that isn't jhana 8 and not really related to it, but I don't know what it is. I agree with MCTB that jhana 8 is sort of all-or-nothing; it's either a really hard absorption which is too different to describe (but extremely peaceful), or it's not jhana 8.

So, you might get jhana 8 if you increase your concentration a lot.

The pleasant, simple, lightly blissful thing afterwards could be PL 1 if you're 3rd path. If you don't have the concentration for jhana 8 then the shift to PL 1 would also be at a somewhat low level of concentration and you might not find it to be too distinctive. The description "pleasant, simple, lightly blissful" is how I'd describe low concentration PL 1.

If you care to investigate this possibility, the distinctive feature to look for is that PL 1 is *not* a variation of jhana 4, whereas 5-8 are. So 5-8 are "wider" and more panoramic than PL 1. PL 1 is closer to jhana 3 in width. The shift from arupa territory to something with the width of jhana 3 is pretty salient in my opinion. If you notice that, that's some evidence for it being PL 1. On the other hand, if what you notice is that you're in 7, then this weird state you described, then somewhere else but still with the width of the arupa jhanas, that's evidence against.

RE: Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/14/11 6:34 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Thanks for the feedback! I really don't think I'm 3rd path (suspecting 1st but not 100% on that either) so pure land jhanas are unlikely to arise. What you're saying about concentration not being strong enough sounds reasonable. It's what I'm feeling around 7th already, there's the sense of what I described but the absorption is not quite there at least not all of the time. There are moments of stronger absorption followed by less. OTOH it seems to be improving almost every sit so that's good. Good to have some more clarity around the 8th as well, been waffling on that for a while.

RE: Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/14/11 9:41 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
thoughts and sensations would arise but get cut off mid-way


Wow. I've been getting this too for a while and thinking that it was 8th. For me, it's like perception would cut on and off and on and off. Interesting to see someone else describing this happening after 7th. Looking forward to seeing the real 8th.

Thanks for the information.

RE: Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/14/11 11:32 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Just a thought. The thing that helped me get better concentration was forgetting all the excitement of trying to master some new jhanas. Once you've been to 5-7 time after time after time, you can stop caring about which one you're in and whether you'll transition to the next higher one and all that.

So, you could try a two step process:

First, hang out a lot in 5-7, be satisfied that you know what they're like and can go back anytime, and totally forget about the idea of 8.

Second, use 1-3 to build up a lot of concentration and relaxation, and when you get to 4, use the equanimity to let everything go as much as you can. 4 is old news. 5-7 will be old news. There won't be anything to do besides relax and be at peace; no worrying about what's next. Don't try to diagnose which jhana you're in past 4, just be absorbed. My experience is that it stops mattering which jhana above 4 it is because the most interesting quality of them all is the peacefulness / equanimity and not the perceptual stuff. The major difference apart from perceptual stuff is that the peacefulness goes up as as you rise through them.

If you get strong absorption going, that will be good, and the side benefit is you'll probably wander from 4 up to 8 without expecting it.

RE: Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/15/11 1:34 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Just a thought. The thing that helped me get better concentration was forgetting all the excitement of trying to master some new jhanas. Once you've been to 5-7 time after time after time, you can stop caring about which one you're in and whether you'll transition to the next higher one and all that.

So, you could try a two step process:

First, hang out a lot in 5-7, be satisfied that you know what they're like and can go back anytime, and totally forget about the idea of 8.


That's more or less what I've done with jhanas 1-4 so far, hang out, let them develop and solidify without too much rushing for what's next. I'm trying to do that with the formless jhanas as well but they seem more slippery. While trying to solidify my experience of what I thought was 6 I suddenly found myself in what I think is 7 and while trying to get this state more solid and become more absorbed I found myself in what I described as 8 (which is not 8). I still think this will become easier and more solid with practice so I'm not too worried about all the slipping.

End in Sight:

Second, use 1-3 to build up a lot of concentration and relaxation, and when you get to 4, use the equanimity to let everything go as much as you can. 4 is old news. 5-7 will be old news. There won't be anything to do besides relax and be at peace; no worrying about what's next. Don't try to diagnose which jhana you're in past 4, just be absorbed. My experience is that it stops mattering which jhana above 4 it is because the most interesting quality of them all is the peacefulness / equanimity and not the perceptual stuff. The major difference apart from perceptual stuff is that the peacefulness goes up as as you rise through them.

If you get strong absorption going, that will be good, and the side benefit is you'll probably wander from 4 up to 8 without expecting it.


This brings up a question about building concentration in the jhanas. I've never really seen any description on how to solidify a jhana, just how to move from one to the next. My technique at the moment is to pay relaxed attention to what I consider the focus of that jhana. So in 1st, pay attention to the object, in 2nd attention is still around the object but more open to the body as whole, 3rd attention is on the periphery, 4th attention moves back forward but is more open. I think that by staying with what is the natural focus of the jhana it becomes stronger and more solid but my experience with this is not 100% consistent. There's still some small shifts inside jhanas and sometimes between them even when I don't intend for that to happen. Any advice on solidifying and making jhanas stick for longer and deeper would be great.

RE: Venturing into the Formless Jhanas
Answer
7/16/11 9:16 AM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:

End in Sight:

Second, use 1-3 to build up a lot of concentration and relaxation, and when you get to 4, use the equanimity to let everything go as much as you can. 4 is old news. 5-7 will be old news. There won't be anything to do besides relax and be at peace; no worrying about what's next. Don't try to diagnose which jhana you're in past 4, just be absorbed. My experience is that it stops mattering which jhana above 4 it is because the most interesting quality of them all is the peacefulness / equanimity and not the perceptual stuff. The major difference apart from perceptual stuff is that the peacefulness goes up as as you rise through them.

If you get strong absorption going, that will be good, and the side benefit is you'll probably wander from 4 up to 8 without expecting it.


This brings up a question about building concentration in the jhanas. I've never really seen any description on how to solidify a jhana, just how to move from one to the next. My technique at the moment is to pay relaxed attention to what I consider the focus of that jhana. So in 1st, pay attention to the object, in 2nd attention is still around the object but more open to the body as whole, 3rd attention is on the periphery, 4th attention moves back forward but is more open. I think that by staying with what is the natural focus of the jhana it becomes stronger and more solid but my experience with this is not 100% consistent. There's still some small shifts inside jhanas and sometimes between them even when I don't intend for that to happen. Any advice on solidifying and making jhanas stick for longer and deeper would be great.


This stuff is pretty individual, but my experience was that past 1st path, all the jhanas became a bit slippery (as if my mind would just switch to the one higher after awhile for no reason), and after I got enough experience with them (and especially during later paths) they became hard to remain in via intention only. If I sit right now and try to experience any of them, and my concentration isn't high, I flip to another one every few minutes, nothing I can do about it.

So, the only way that *I've* found it possible to solidify jhanas is to get some kind of harder absorption going. The harder the absorption, the more the mind stays with whichever jhana it is.

How to get absorbed is also individual, but keep in mind that every jhana beyond 1 doesn't have directed thought as a factor. Directed thought is the thing the mind does when you try to pay attention to anything. So that means, if you're trying to control the focus or return attention to the focus, you're probably doing something that ultimately stands in the way of absorption.

I find that in jhana 3, and especially 4, there's some kind of extra tranquility or equanimity or unconcern or lack of caring that occurs, so what I do is, up to jhana 2 I build concentration by following any object in whatever way works, in 3 I try to include the equanimity as part of the object, and when 4 arrives and the moment is right (= enough concentration, enough tranquility) I let go, stop caring, stop trying, etc. without ceasing to notice what my experience is. This is generally enough, and there's a moment in which it's clear that directed thought has left, and I count this as the border between "looking at" a jhana and "being in" a jhana. It's not necessarily a superhard absorption (depends on concentration), but when directed thought ends, attention functions very differently, so the whole thing is quite different.

This doesn't solidify any particular jhana, it solidifies all of them equally.

If I want a harder version of 1-3, I do this, then come back down to the earlier jhanas.

Recently I was playing around with jhana 8, and the transition between "looking at" it and actually being in it is striking because the absorption (even if it's only for a few moments) does seem automatically to be pretty damn thorough. With eyes open, it's even more striking...one moment there are some funky sensations, the next there's a kind of absolute lack of thinking and a failure to process vision normally...then back to funky sensations.

Anyway, hope that helps, and good luck!