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Practices Inspired by Actualism

Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana

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Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/20/11 12:00 PM
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Paradox of Becoming:
Second, mastery of jhana
provides long periods of mental stillness that enableone to observe how passion
and delight can form a location of becoming around
the focal point at the heart of jhana itself. To observe this focal point—rather
than simply being absorbed in it—one must step back a bit from one’s full
absorption without yet destroying the jhana. The ability to do this relies on two
things: the fact that consciousness can serve as food for consciousness, and that
jhana provides an expanded, whole-body awareness. One observes a state of
jhana consciousness as one’s food, while inhabiting another locus of
consciousness within the expanded field of awareness provided by that jhana
consciousness. This, however, is a special skill, developed above and beyond the
four jhanas themselves.

The Blessed One said: “Now what, monks, is five-factored noble right
concentration? There is the case where a monk … enters and remains in
the first jhana … the second jhana … the third jhana … the fourth jhana
….

“And furthermore, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand,
well attended to, well-considered, well-tuned/well-penetrated by means
of discernment.
“Just as if one person were to reflect on another, or a standing person
were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person were to reflect on a
person lying down; even so, monks, the monk has his theme of reflection
well in hand, well attended to, well-pondered, well-tuned/well-penetrated
by means of discernment. This is the fifth development of the five-
factored noble right concentration.” — AN 5:28

In this fifth factor, one can observe each jhana while still in the expanded
range it provides. One can watch not only the focal point of awareness, but also
all the other mental factors that go into making the jhana.


My understanding of how one would approach this, in brief:

1) Concentrate (pay attention to the breath) until there is an experience of intense stillness. (The particular jhana doesn't matter, but I have found that 2 and 4 work best for me.) This stillness is independent of the attention wave, vibrations, etc. It should be experienced as if the mind is paralyzed in some way, or as if you are having the paradoxical experience of a PCE or PCE-like experience with the attention wave superimposed on it.

2) You can "be" the stillness. To do this, you have to approach it in the opposite way that MCTB suggests approaching Equanimity in order to attain MCTB 1st path. Let the "stillness / PCE-like experience" be in the background. Don't include it in awareness. Don't look at it. Keep your back to it. This allows you to inhabit / feed on an affective or shadow copy of the stillness you generated.

3) From this vantage point of "stillness", observe all the other stuff at once (vibratory and sensory) with absolute disinterest, and with the understanding that it can pass away. ("What is, what has come to be, that I abandon.")

Doing this makes pieces of the "symbolic overlay" (non-actual experience) fall away spontaneously. The magnitude of this seems to depend on how concentrated you are. In context of extreme concentration, it's like witnessing the Second Coming of Christ. In context of moderate concentration, it's like witnessing a minor miracle, such as water being transmuted into wine. In context of weak concentration, the effect can be discerned, but is quite minor.

What defines the strength of your concentration is 1) how PCE-like you can make your jhanic experience in terms of generating "stillness", and 2) your ability to sustain that over long periods of time. Nothing else. Not the conventional MCTB criteria.

If your concentration was incredibly high, and you could sustain it as long as you wanted to, perhaps you would get fully enlightened in a week, like the suttas say. That is how profound the perceptual shift is that this practice engenders. Perhaps that is why the suttas emphasize jhana so much.

Don't expect any warning that the symbolic overlay will fall away, it seems to be quite spontaneous.

When the symbolic overlay falls away, it seems to disrupt concentration (at least for me), so be prepared for that, and just re-create the stillness, and repeat.

Now, what I explained is not what Thanissaro Bhikkhu has described, as it appears that he has described the opposite (inhabit something that isn't the stillness, watch the affective / shadow stillness pass away). So, master the practice I described, and then reverse the background / foreground: an alternative application of the "fifth factor". However, this is probably only suitable as an advanced practice, so consider sticking with the "normal' background / foreground as long as it seems helpful to. (I haven't tried it.)

How to concentrate in the appropriate way? Relax, attend to the breath without "trying", don't aggravate the attention wave. If you approach this like MCTB jhana you probably won't get it. But, no explanation beyond this will be as helpful as experimenting for yourself.

Note that, unfortunately, the appropriate level of concentration is easier to attain on retreat, or at least when it's one's sole formal practice (and one has many hours per day to dedicate to it).

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/20/11 2:07 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Some quick experiments seem to confirm this for me, but i need to practice it more in order to know. The release so far is a lightness, coolness, a weight fallen away.

A little background
I have gotten some practice at doing PCE-like jhanas where i focus on and enhance a pleasure that is completely still (usually felt easiest just outside the body). This pleasure can be very difficult to detect behind affective stuff, but when concentration on it is strong over a specific part of the body, part of fabrication associated with that part of the body seems to cease (thoughts and the witness on spots in the head, a certain restlessness in the abdomen, sense of time in the lower spine)
What-i-call-rigpa often involves a change in focus where the inner life is mostly ignored and the outer world, including this kind of pleasure, becomes prominent.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/20/11 3:49 PM as a reply to Villum (redacted).
[quote=Villum (redacted)]This pleasure can be very difficult to detect behind affective stuff, but when concentration on it is strong over a specific part of the body, part of fabrication associated with that part of the body seems to cease (thoughts and the witness on spots in the head, a certain restlessness in the abdomen, sense of time in the lower spine)

Yes, something like this. I'm glad to hear that this is working for you.

I found in the past that, when concentration was strong, the experience of profound stillness correlates with some fabricated / affective thing missing in the head region. As if my head suddenly fell off. (The non-affective stuff that remained was much less prominent, hence the strange impression of not having a head.)

EDIT:

The release so far is a lightness, coolness, a weight fallen away.


Exactly. A lack of "heavy", "blurry" affective stuff. Loosening the yoke.

EDIT 2:

Some quick experiments seem to confirm this for me, but i need to practice it more in order to know.


Given your description of the "release", the only thing you need to do is practice concentration. MOAR!

Effective practice can be really simple in that way. emoticon

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/20/11 10:29 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
I don't know if we are talking about the same but I did something similar a week or so ago.

Asking HAIETMOBA, I was like peeling the layers of this onion 'I'

- My mind was scattered and in plain papancha, so in order to put away that feeling version of 'me' I meditated focused particularly on the sounds around me, until I gained some concentration on that object.

- I stopped the meditation and, some minutes later, the version of me then mutated to a dispersed version of me but with the sounds around me permanently present, like an anchor of attention. My next objective was to amplify my attention, and so I went outside my apartment, focusing on all the senses with a lot of effort {like seeing with the last layer of the eye, hearing with the last layer of my ears, etc}

- This led me to a clearer and more concentrated awareness of all senses, except that a sense of 'I' was still present contaminating the perception in the form of an overwhelming effort and a super empowered attention wave. In my body this felt like a tension in the center of my head.

- So the final step was drop all the effort and any aim {getting into PCE}, and just enjoy awareness in the present moment. A few minutes later, I was having almost no version of this 'I', and had a PCE or PCE-like experience that lasted for about 2 hours.

So, it was like I was traveling to outer space. The effort and intentional concentration on the senses were the rockets that propelled me out of the atmosphere, and then, in order to navigate freely and gloriously, I had to release the extra charge of those rockets and just float in space.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/21/11 9:03 AM as a reply to Felipe C..
Felipe Cavazos:
I don't know if we are talking about the same but I did something similar a week or so ago. (...)


I think there are some similarities and some differences.

It seems that you found a way to have a PCE or something close to it, aided by concentration.

The PCE-like experienced produced by concentration that I am describing is very different in terms of how it functions, in this way: if you open your eyes and stand up, it disappears. It is not self-stable, which has good and bad qualities. The bad is that it requires maintenance. The good is that, if the practice to generate it is mastered, it can be produced whenever one meditates. (Self-stable PCEs are apparently hard to come by.)

However, there is another difference: the point of the practice I described is not just to have this PCE-like experience, but to use it in a unique way to remove some defilements in a way that seems permanent. Doing this requires that concentration not be maximal / the experience be merely PCE-like rather than some kind of PCE-jhana. (As Thanissaro Bhikkhu said, one must step back a bit, in order to apply the method.)

In any case, I would be interested to know if you are able to use the method you described (PCE via concentration) whenever you like. In that case, I would take back some of what I said, and also ask you to share any useful details you have so that others could benefit.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/21/11 5:44 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Dude!

That's all I have to say at present... emoticon

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu and jhana
Answer
11/22/11 12:16 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
i've been experimenting with this the past couple days with one little twist.

right when i sit down and close my eyes, i ask "How Am I Experiencing This Moment Of Being Alive?" (HAIETMOBA)

this generates a really brief moment of pce, then start paying attention to the breath from there. it seems to get me to a stiller mind much quicker.