Beginning Concentration Practice (Access Concentration/1st Jhana Territory)

Rashed Arafat, modified 11 Years ago at 7/15/11 2:25 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/15/11 2:25 PM

Beginning Concentration Practice (Access Concentration/1st Jhana Territory)

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
Hello Folks!

I have been sitting for 45 minutes with a self-chosen "kasina," once a day. I have been trying to follow the instructions on kasina practice to a T, as laid out in MCTB (e.g. staying with the chosen object for the entire duration, resting all of my attention on it and attempting to stabilize it, etc.).

I believe I have Access Concentration because I am able to stay with the kasina for 45 minutes (my attention would lapse maybe 5 - 6 times during the sit, but only for brief periods), and am largely unperturbed by phenomena that is occurring around it.

I am not sure if I have 1st jhana yet primarily because of the following reasons:

[indent][/indent]1) My attention does not exactly "narrow in" on the object. From reading the book (where the experience is described as looking at a very small part of the page the reader is on), I'm imagining that it's something akin to having literal tunnel-vision?
[indent][/indent]2) I hardly feel any bliss or rapture. There are times when there's a very, very pleasant mindfulness going on, but it does not have that "narrowly focused" quality to it. It's more like a pleasant state of energized abiding with the kasina -- with some energetic interplay between my mind/source of my attention and it. My attention is not entirely widened-out -- it is resting on the area around the kasina, but, like I said, it is certainly not narrowly focused. I generally do not have any complaints when I hit this spot and just try to stay there, hoping that staying there will eventually lead to the jhanas. In fact, any idea of trying to "push it" seems ridiculous and unnatural, as though I already have stabilized my attention and it's naturally in a restful (yet alert) state, but I'd rather try to forcibly disrupt it and narrow it down onto a very small area (and pull myself out of the meditative state).

The reasons due to which I think I might have 1st jhana are as follows:
[indent][/indent]1) I definitely feel that I'm putting in conscious effort -- "applied and sustained effort" -- to stay centered on/present with that area (around and including the kasina).
[indent][/indent]2) My attention is at least centered on an area that is not too wide a field (about 2 - 3 feet). If I weren't worried about my attention needing to be narrowly focused, then I'd be more or less content with that state where I can just gently stay with the kasina (and the area surrounding it).
[indent][/indent]3) The fact that the style of effort I need to put in to staying present is subtle, and gentle, I'm tempted to think that it's something more than Access Concentration (like I said, there's a weird sort of satisfaction to it that I wouldn't exactly call bliss or rapture, but is more like being "into" a state that is neither blissful, nor bland and uninteresting).

Sorry if I'm being far too anal about this, but it's important to me to know where I am, or if I'm on the right track.

Any thoughts?

Also, post-sit, I sometimes feel very alert, mindful, and energetically evened-out -- sometimes even blissful/"happy."

But there are also times when I feel as though I have "harnessed" a lot of energy, and if I don't consciously try to "reign it in," then I'll suffer/experience energetic discomfort. When it's bad, it feels as though there's this huge disconnect between my mind and body, and I have to do a lot of yoga-style movements to bring the two into alignment.

Also, another thing I feel I ought to mention is that sometimes I feel that I'm totally with the object, not too narrowly focused and not too widely, but what I experience is a sort of pain/suffering that is psychic/energetic (as opposed to bodily). It's as though I'm acutely aware of the fact of not being Awake/Liberated, and I'm just "feeling" the pain of that reality for myself. It's like a subtle and painful sort of vibration which appears as the "baseline" of my sense of existence, and I have no choice but to stay with it (if I wish to keep sitting).
Mike L, modified 11 Years ago at 7/26/11 5:06 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/26/11 5:04 AM

RE: Beginning Concentration Practice (Access Concentration/1st Jhana T

Posts: 75 Join Date: 5/13/09 Recent Posts
Sound like progress to me. What do you want to do with the increased concentration ability? Master the concentration jhanas? Make insight a more pleasant road? Bliss out? Investigate the present from a stable platform?

this might be of interest:
Rashed Arafat, modified 11 Years ago at 8/6/11 2:35 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 8/6/11 2:35 PM

RE: Beginning Concentration Practice (Access Concentration/1st Jhana T

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
I would like to master the concentration jhanas. Not all of them -- I just want to feel absolutely sure that I do have the ones I think I have. For that to happen, I have to get up to at least the 2nd or 3rd jhana. I'm guessing that once I have experienced several jhanas, I will be able to differentiate between them, and get a clearer picture of where I am.

It's important to me to be able to become fairly solidly grounded in the concentration jhanas, because I have a fair amount of anxiety -- a case of a restless mind -- and I think if I cultivate the ability to access deep states of samadhi at will, then I will generally feel more mentally stable, and worry less about the unimportant/trivial things in life.

And yes -- after I have attained and stabilized myself in the 2nd or 3rd jhana, I would like to begin Insight Practice. I don't think I am in a position to be able to handle Insight Practice just yet, psychologically (i.e. I do not want to risk a "psychotic break").

I think I have the 1st jhana, but I'm not absolutely sure. I've been using a flame (that's housed within an oil-lamp) as my kasina. I start out with focusing on the flame, and then at some point my attention spontaneously shifts to taking in the perimeter of the oil-lamp, and begins to "rest" there. Sometimes it feels like my attention is glued to the object (sort of like a "hard jhana"). I quite enjoy that state.

Qualitatively, and from what I've read, this feels more like the 2nd jhana, since I'm not applying too much effort to reside in this state (and my attention has widened out somewhat from the flame itself to a slightly larger space). However, it is still a rather narrow field of attention (the oil-lamp is a rather small thing) -- my assumption is that when I'm in the 2nd jhana, I will not really be paying attention to a specific object but rather my immediate environment/the state itself. Basically, something a bit more "amorphous" than tight fixation on a kasina.

I guess I had assumed that the 1st jhana would be a total absorption in the flame (probably because I had spent so much time focusing specifically on it, trying to stabilize my attention on it). But when I "let up" somewhat, it felt as though my mind "recognized" the kasina as being the oil-lamp as opposed to the flame, and spontaneously began to rest there (I didn't want to f**k with it because it felt good -- better than continuously trying to not stray from the flame).

Anyway -- this is probably going into too much detail...I have not been practicing for long enough (about a month) to really form an objective opinion of what may be going on.

I have been meditating for about roughly 5 years -- but approaching it from the "Concentration vs. Insight" angle is very new to me. It feels very proactive.
Tommy M, modified 11 Years ago at 8/6/11 3:37 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 8/6/11 3:37 PM

RE: Beginning Concentration Practice (Access Concentration/1st Jhana T (Answer)

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
You've given some really great descriptions so far, Rashed. I think it's fair to say that you have access to at least 1st jhana, and fairly solidly as far as I can gather from your notes, so if you don't already have access to the jhanas above that then they'll certainly appear with this level of practice.

In my opinion, I wouldn't worry about "mastering" the jhanas; having access to them as solidly as you have already should be enough to allow you to start doing insight practice while providing the 'lubrication' to ease the ride a bit. To be honest, Dark Night doesn't need to be as much of a nightmare as it's made out to be, sometimes it's gone in a matter of hours, or days, but always remember that it's just another part of the process and that it's temporary. In the end, do what's right for you.

Here are some links which might be useful to you:

Kenneth Folk on jhana and ├▒ana.
Kenneth Folk again - Deeper into Jhana
A few really good links related to jhanas from Leigh Brasington
A good article on Dhammaspread.

Hope that's of some use to you.
Rashed Arafat, modified 11 Years ago at 8/6/11 10:41 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 8/6/11 10:41 PM

RE: Beginning Concentration Practice (Access Concentration/1st Jhana T

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
Hey Tommy,

To be honest, my current plan is something as follows:

Training in Morality + Training in Concentration = A well-adjusted man in the conventional sense, without any psychologically debilitating hang-ups.

I am working through some personal issues these days that I think have solutions on the mundane level. With a fairly settled mind, and a clear conscience, I hope to create a solid bedrock for beginning Training in Wisdom. Given where I find myself these days, I just don't think I'm at the right place whence I could begin Insight Practice. I'm too "fragile," and not in the good sense (I believe vulnerability is a pro on the spiritual path, but excessive emotional reactivity -- taking things too personally/seriously -- and an obsessive nature, together, is a con).

Intellectually I understand that Enlightenment would solve these problems for me (I know there's the argument that "Enlightenment does not get rid of your personality" etc., but I'm not really talking about that). It would be a great relief to no longer believe myself to be the mind and body -- the things that need "fixing." I am obsessed with fixing.

But, I am also pretty convinced that I'm not going to "wake up" tomorrow, or the next year. I don't exactly see Enlightenment as being something that you can acquire. The best you can do is create conditions that increase your chances for It happening.

So, if I just do a lot of Insight Practice, and Enlightenment does not occur, then I will remain the same neurotic person that I am today. But, if I work on morality and concentration courageously, then I will at least be addressing, and hopefully dealing with, my neurosis -- my "stuff." I will at least be able to live out my days as a stout-hearted man who does not run away from challenges, etc. -- who continues to "grow" throughout his lifetime in the conventional sense.

Of course, I have no desire to endlessly stay on the "morality + concentration" trip -- I just feel like I'm on shaky ground now in the mundane sense, and that it's best to "get my sh*t together" first (and I think the first two trainings can go a long way in helping me accomplish that).

As soon as I feel reasonably confident that the samatha jhanas have "got my back" so to speak as I take the plunge into insight territory, I will definitely begin Training in Wisdom.

Thanks for your thoughtful response, by the way!