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1st Jhana
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2/4/12 7:43 AM
I'm new but have made enough noise in the last few weeks for several of you to know I'm a skeptical contrarian. But if Ingram's book is right, then yesterday morning, evening, and again this morning I experienced 1st (samantha) Jhana, no question about it. I described it in detail here and here.
I'm still quite early on in my reading of MCTB, but someone suggested some stuff further in may be relevant, so I peeked ahead and Ingram's description of 1st Jhana describes what I'm experiencing exactly. Italicized quotes are Ingram in MCTB:

"As concentration improves, it is as though the mind “sees” the first jhana and grabs on to it."

Yep. I likened it to getting up onto the surface of the water while skiing. It's not something you're forced to do, you just get offered the chance to do it and then you grab that chance.

"It has the five primary factors of applied and sustained effort or attention, rapture, happiness and concentration. Thus, it is great fun, feels good, ..."
Yep. It was tight focus, fast and exhilarating, again like water-skiing, and I actually had to stop myself from grinning several times (I'm in a quiet zendo -- I don't want to scare the folks).

"...but takes consistent effort to sustain."

Well yes, but it wasn't *hard* work. More like the effort one needs to keep one of those gyrotwister balls moving once you get it up and spinning. More a timing thing than hard graft.

The attention is focused narrowly, as though one were looking at a small area of this page.

Yep. Right in front of my eyes. On the first day I felt a pressure in my forehead, but it turns out it was because for some reason I was going cross-eyed while my eyes were closed. This morning (third time), I checked to make sure that the whole thing wasn't simply a weird side effect of doing exactly that. So I made sure my eyes were relaxed and not crossed, and the effect persisted.

This state can be quite a relief from the pain and discomfort of sitting meditation and can temporarily quiet the mind somewhat.

Absolutely. Of all aspects of the effect -- focus, pleasure, a feeling like I was steering a bobsled along a ridge that I knew I could stay on but needed to pay attention to do it -- this aspect, the *difference* between my usual experience of sitting and the new effect, is the most pronounced. This wasn't a mild thing, or something I was wondering "Hmm. *Am* I experiencing something here? *Was* that different?" It was more of a "Holy crap, where the hell is this coming from, and where's it going to go next!?" It was a night and day difference compared with my "normal" sitting, each of the three times. Quite astounding really.

OK, but now I have to point out that I started sitting only three weeks ago, and my inner skeptismo is getting restless.

How long would it normally take, from a standing start, to experience 1st Jhana? Is three weeks reasonable?
Or, what else could be masquerading as 1st Jhana?

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/4/12 11:30 AM as a reply to Johnny Froth.
This sounds exactly like first jhana.

In the terminology used here, there aren't really any "near enemies" of jhana. If you have each of the factors that define a jhana, then you have that jhana. In your case, you had applied + sustained attention, concentration, excitement/rapture/joy, and pleasure. Thus, you had the first jhana.

Don't ask, "If this thing has four wheels, a driver's seat, and an engine that moves it by burning gasoline, is it really a vehicle? Or is it something else masquerading as a vehicle?" No, it's just a vehicle. There's no trick. I promise.

Now, there are some teachers who teach a distinction between "right jhana" and "wrong jhana." Some say if you do insight practice during or after your jhana practice, you're doing "right jhana." If you're simply enjoying your meditation without getting insight, it's "wrong jhana."

Though here on the DhO, most of us don't consider non-insightful jhana to be "wrong." It strengthens and calms the mind. It sure won't get you enlightened, but it's good practice and preparation for when you do vipassana.

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/4/12 8:49 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:
This sounds exactly like first jhana.

Thanks. This morning during zazen, it didn't happen. Normal?
Should I be trying to have it happen, and maybe extending the time it goes on for?
Or what?

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/5/12 8:50 AM as a reply to Johnny Froth.
This morning during zazen, it didn't happen. Normal?

Might be related to the practice itself, if you're not concentrating on an object, or taking the whole sense field as object, then it might take longer to get the level of focus required to enter jhana. Try just starting with the breath for a while before going all-out zazen as you might not be concentrated or focused enough to allow jhana to arise.

Should I be trying to have it happen, and maybe extending the time it goes on for?

Maybe resolve before you sit, something along the lines of "I will experience 1st jhana during this sitting" then getting back to practice. With a resolution, don't sit and consciously wait for it to happen just because you'd like it to, once you've resolved for it to happen forget about it and practice as normal. Don't try to get into a jhana until you're more familiar with it, it will arise if the conditions are there for it to arise so look at what it is about your practice that's not allowing this to happen.

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/7/12 4:39 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:
In the terminology used here, there aren't really any "near enemies" of jhana. ...

I've finally reached Part III in MCTB and I recalled your comment when reading this:

The near enemy of the first samatha jhana is access concentration, and when the applied and sustained effort or attention flag somewhat, access concentration sets in.

I know you qualified your statement with reference to terminology, but can you explain the apparent discrepancy between what you said and what Ingram is saying?

For example, exactly what is "access concentration"? In what way is it a "near enemy"; does it feel the same as 1st Jhana? How would I know if I'm experiencing one or the other? Does it matter?

thx.

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/8/12 3:28 PM as a reply to Johnny Froth.
I wrote a blog post here about access concentration a while back, I don't know if it'll be of any use to you but see if there's anything useful there.

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/9/12 11:31 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Tommy M:
I wrote a blog post here about access concentration a while back, I don't know if it'll be of any use to you but see if there's anything useful there.

Thanks, that's really useful.
Why the sparseness of blogging -- are you planning to write more?

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/9/12 2:35 PM as a reply to Johnny Froth.
To be honest, there's about twenty pieces I've written so far on everything from the three characteristics to mapping jhanas to the kabbalistic tree but I've never been happy enough with them to post them. I keep on going back to them and changing stuff 'cause I'm not hugely confident in my writing skills, but I'm glad you found that one useful.

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
2/10/12 12:41 PM as a reply to Johnny Froth.
Johnny Froth:
Tommy M:
I wrote a blog post here about access concentration a while back, I don't know if it'll be of any use to you but see if there's anything useful there.

Thanks, that's really useful.

Tommy's description in his link is spot on.

And his admonition about not "over-thinking" any of this is something that I have been writing about and attempting to get across to people for quite some time now.

So-called "access concentration," — a state that is not mentioned in the discourses but was invented in the modern era by Burmese meditation masters for the benefit of their own meditation students — is nothing more complicated than the essential conception in Tommy's description below:

"If you can follow three sets of ten whole breath cycles, chances are you’ll be in access concentration. It’s that simple, if you can maintain the attention on one thing for more than a few seconds then you’re more skilled in concentration than the average person, and concentration is one of the most important aspects of the developmental process."

Better yet would be to abandon the concept of "access concentration" altogether and just focus on attaining samadhi, which arguably could be equated with the attainment of jhana, the description of jhana as given in the discourses being but one subset (or variation) of samadhi. But that's a case of argument, in the event of differing opinions, best set for another thread.

RE: 1st Jhana
Answer
8/2/12 9:54 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Hey Tommy,

Thanks for the piece on access concentration. That helps a lot, I'm going to try this tonight in my practice. How long do you usually set your practice for. At the moment, I usually get 20 minutes in before bed and then sporadically throughout the day while I'm "active" (or working).

How long do you feel it usually takes to attain this. I'm trying to reach a stable access concentration and 1st jhana (and i'm guessing with one comes the other shortly after.)