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How do I avoid 5th jhana?

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How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/16/12 4:31 AM
When I have a lot of momentum in my practice, I go from jhana to jhana while doing vipassana. It happens quite naturally. I can feel the jhana coming, and then I just let it unfold, stabilize it, and then continue the noting. The problem is that it takes me a lot of mindfulness to do vipassana in the higher jhanas, since the bodily sensations become vague.

So, basically, I would prefer to stay in 4th jhana and not enter the 5th. I can usually do this when doing pure concentration practice, but when integrating insight and jhana I can't tell if what's coming is 5th jhana or dissolution (when in strong AP). If it turned out to be 5th jhana, then the same dilemma is repeated when the next entrance comes (to 6th jhana or dissolution). Any suggestions?

RE: How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/16/12 7:18 AM as a reply to mind less.
What you're saying sounds to me to be analogous to "when I'm angry and annoyed, there are big, coarse vibrations to note, whereas when I'm peaceful, it's harder to find sensations that are clear enough to me; so I should try to be angry and annoyed when I meditate". I.e., not something that sounds to me like a good practice idea.

Apart from that, I don't know how you would accomplish what you want to accomplish, as moving between states and stages has various causes, one of the main ones being analysis / insight (probably why this is less of a problem for you when your aim is concentration only).

RE: How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/16/12 8:53 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
It's a good point - generally speaking - that you shouldn't seek coarse sensations just because they are easier to note. It's better to do it the other way around - to focus on the subtlest sensations, to sharpen your mind. The problem is that the highest jhanas might be too subtle to do vipassana in at your current level of insight. For example, the only thing I can find in 8th jhana to use as an object for insight is outer sounds. But maybe that's not a problem? It should be possible to use any sense door (including mind) to do vipassana.

Traditionally, to master the jhanas includes the ability to stay in a specific jhana for any (reasonable) duration you like. To let you 'slip' from jhana to jhana (because it might be an insight/nana and not a jhana that's coming...see me previous post) when doing insight practice, is not what I consider to 'master' the jhanas. Maybe I'm too hard on myself? Is it even possible to tell if it's an insight stage or a jhana that's coming? And what is tradition worth anyway...

RE: How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/16/12 12:21 PM as a reply to mind less.
Morgan Gunnarsson:
It's a good point - generally speaking - that you shouldn't seek coarse sensations just because they are easier to note. It's better to do it the other way around - to focus on the subtlest sensations, to sharpen your mind. The problem is that the highest jhanas might be too subtle to do vipassana in at your current level of insight. For example, the only thing I can find in 8th jhana to use as an object for insight is outer sounds. But maybe that's not a problem? It should be possible to use any sense door (including mind) to do vipassana.


Let me say something general about developing insight, and you can tell me if it's relevant to your situation or not.

Vipassana meditation develops insight, and it's easy to come to think of the insight-developing part of it as being the act of observing. So, for example, if you're meditating and experiencing big, coarse vibrations due to feelings of anger, you can note them, and you might call that act of noting "doing vipassana". But, if the feelings of anger went away and everything else remained the same, you might be confused: if you find no similarly coarse vibrations to note, are you doing vipassana anymore? Are you concentrating instead of doing vipassana? Even if you find some vibrations but they're quite subtle, you might think that your meditation has become worse in some way, because with coarse vibrations, you can be clear that you're noting them accurately, whereas with subtle vibrations, it's not so clear that you're noting them accurately; and if the accurateness of noting has gone down, perhaps things have gotten worse.

One place that this viewpoint can come from is the place of thinking that it's the agent who notes who's the one to develop insight (or who is responsible for the development of insight), rather than the mind (which creates the impression of an agent, among other things) that develops insight and is responsible for that development . If the agent has to be the one to develop insight or be responsible for developing insight, it can seem natural that the quality of the agent's noting (accurateness, speed, etc.) is a reflection of their insight or determines how much insight they (or their mind) develop or something like that. But if the mind develops insight, the only experiential measure of it is "how things in general are presenting", and the only experiential measure of how much insight is being gained is "how is the presentation of things in general changing over time?"

If you have the view "mind develops insight", you might measure that insight in terms of gradually being able to see more subtle objects in experience with more and more clarity, among other things. "Are there clear vibrations or no clear vibrations?" would not be a natural way to measure it in general, though in some cases it would be useful.

Similarly, if you have the view "mind develops insight", you might find that simply sitting in a state in which vibrations are unclear without overtly doing anything, is extremely productive, because eventually, the mind gains insight into that state and some of its subtle factors appear more overtly (which can then be noted, if that's your practice). While this approach would make no sense if you think that the act of observing is what's important, as the agent is not doing anything significant, it seems quite reasonable otherwise, as the mind can e.g. stop selectively zoning-out and thus failing to see the subtler components of the state once it gets sufficiently comfortable with the state, sufficiently disinterested in the state, or whatever, which is a reasonable explanation for how the insight would come about.

Similarly, if there are two states that are identical except that one has coarse vibrations related to anger and one doesn't, if you have the view "mind develops insight", the state without anger would be looked upon as at least as useful as the state with it, whereas if you think that the act of observing is what's important, there are cases when the state without it would be looked upon as worse (e.g. if there are no clear vibrations besides anger to note).

If you have the view "mind develops insight", noting is merely a useful mechanism to encourage insight to develop, but isn't necessarily the immediate cause of the development of insight, nor the only possible cause.

Helpful?

On a different but related subject on a different thread, you wrote:

Even though jhana and bhanga perhaps for the beginner can feel like a different world, it is after all quite ‘flat’ experiences with an apparent duality. What I experienced was something very different, where the whole reality seemed altered.


What does "flat" mean? What apparent duality are you talking about? Are these not suitable objects for noting in whatever state you're in?

Traditionally, to master the jhanas includes the ability to stay in a specific jhana for any (reasonable) duration you like. To let you 'slip' from jhana to jhana (because it might be an insight/nana and not a jhana that's coming...see me previous post) when doing insight practice, is not what I consider to 'master' the jhanas. Maybe I'm too hard on myself? Is it even possible to tell if it's an insight stage or a jhana that's coming? And what is tradition worth anyway...


The skill of staying in a particular jhana for an arbitrary length of time is typically discussed in terms of a practice aimed at what the Visuddhimagga calls "jhana". The level of concentration in those states is extraordinarily high compared to the states that you're describing (which may have a perception of the body, which may have a perception of external sounds, etc.). What may be possible for a person experiencing the Visuddhimagga's "jhana" is unlikely to be possible for a person experiencing your "jhana". To expect yourself to be able to control your mind so precisely, without the benefit of an extraordinarily level of concentration, would seem like being too hard on yourself.

RE: How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/17/12 3:58 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Thanks for your insightful comments, I think it will be very helpful.

Are you suggesting that I should stop care about which jhana is the current one and whether the state transitions are jhanic or 'nanic'? Simply note-and-conquer, and forget the agent?

Your model says that sometimes nothing is going on, and then you should just wait until there is something going on, and then note it. Can that model be simplified without loosing the key point, by zenifying it?: "There is never nothing going on", since no-thing is something. Note the nothingness if there are no sensations to note. Note the abscence of sensations. That model says that there is always something to note. Is that model a trap? Is it just a workaround that will fail to recognize the mind vs. agent perspective, or is it at least as effective as the first model, but simpler?

I prefer a model that is as simple as possible. A model that doesn't require psychological state changes: "Now, 'I' am in the note state, and now in the wait state". That was the main reason for me to leave the Goenka sweeping vipassana about a year ago. My practise improved dramatically in a couple of months after switching to Mahasi style vipassana.

End in Sight:
What does "flat" mean? What apparent duality are you talking about? Are these not suitable objects for noting in whatever state you're in?


Yes, you are right. Would it be enough to note the idea/thought 'flatness' and 'duality', or should I aim for noting them as physical sensations?

End in Sight:
The skill of staying in a particular jhana for an arbitrary length of time is typically discussed in terms of a practice aimed at what the Visuddhimagga calls "jhana". The level of concentration in those states is extraordinarily high compared to the states that you're describing (which may have a perception of the body, which may have a perception of external sounds, etc.).


Staying in a particular jhana for an arbitrary length of time is definitely doable if you do concentration only, but doing vipassana simultaneously makes that much harder beacuse you don't know if it is a jhana or nana that is coming, and you want to let the nana in, of course.

As I define it, the level of concentration IS the level of jhana, as opposed to the everyday definition of 'concentration' (which is more or less the same as 'mindfulness'). The stronger the mindfulness, the 'harder' (in MCTB terms?) the jhana. Visuddhimagga says that you don't feel pain in 1st jhana. Maybe Buddhaghosa didn't feel pain in 1st jhana beacuse of very strong mindfulness + insight, or maybe it simply isn't true. I have only once experienced sudden cessation of severe pain (in EQ + 4th jhana) and only once experienced cessation of external sounds (in dissolution + 6th jhana). The former is probably not uncommon, the latter probably is. The strength of concentration you are referring to is what I would call strong mindfulness coupled with strong insight.

RE: How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/18/12 8:24 AM as a reply to mind less.
Here are some Jhana notes from to significant books on the topic. I'm still developing these notes into direct quotations:This is were the notes are getting developed

Notes from, 'The Attention Revolution' by B. Allan Wallace, on The 10 stages of Jhana in the Tibetan Shamata Yanika Tradition.

"the sequence of shamatha training begins with relaxation, then stabilising attention., and finally maintaining relaxation and stability while gradually increasing vividness… If you want to develop exceptional vividness, first develop relaxation, second develop stability, and finally increase vividness." pg.68.

1st stage: "directed attention... is simply being able to place your mind on your chosen object of meditation fro even a second or two. If you are directing your attention to a... complex visualization, this may take days or weeks...But if your chosen object is your breathing, you may achieve this stage on your first attempt.", pg.13.

2nd stage: "In the 2nd...stage, continuous attention, you experience occasional periods of continuity, but most of the time your mind is still caught up in wondering thoughts and sensory distractions." pg.30. "For most people.., the problem is...excitation." there are, "...three levels of excitation. The 1st is called coarse excitation, which we typically encounter during the initial stages of attention training. The 2nd two levels of excitation, medium excitation and subtle excitation, become apparent only during more advances stages of attention training." pg.29.
"...on the second stage, although you experience periods when your attention was continually engaged with the object for as long as a minute, most of the time you were still caught up in distractions." pg.43.

3rd stage: "When you reach.., resurgent attention, during each practice session your attetnion is fixed most of the time upon your meditative object. By now, you will have increase the duration of each session beyond the initial 24mins to perhaps twice that." "When you reach teh 3rd stage, your attentional stability has increase so that most of the time you remain engaged with the object. Occasionally there are still lapses where you when you completely forget the object,.. The third stage is achieved only when your mind remains focuses on the object most of the time in virtually all your sessions. " pg.43. "...coarse excitation is the predominant problem during the third stage of attentional development." pg.47. "The further you progress in this practice, the subtler the breath becomes. At times it may become so subtle that you can't detect it at all. This challenges you to enhance the vividness of attention." pg.48.

4th stage: "called close attention… due to the power of enhanced mindfulness, you no longer completely forget your chosen object,.. your sessions may now last an hour or longer, your attention can not be involuntarily drawn entirely away from the object. You are now free of coarse excitation." pg.59. "While your attention is no longer prone to coarse excitation, it is still flawed by a medium degree of excitation and coarse laxity. When medium excitation occurs, you don't completely lose track of your object of attention, but involuntary thoughts occupy the centre of your attention and the meditative object is displaced to the periphery." pg.62.

"Bhante Gunaratana"'s, "description of the Vipassana view of mindfulness in his book, 'Mindfulness in Plain English'." is a "bare attention,.. is present-time awareness…if you are remembering,.. that is memory. When you become aware that you are remembering… that is mindfulness."33" this "description is representive of the current Vipassana tradition as a whole, it is oddly at variance with the Buddha's own description of mindfulness, or sati: "And what monks, is the faculty of sati? Here, monks, the noble disciple has sati, he is endowed with the perfect sati and intellect, he is one who remembers, who recollects what was done and said long before."…it is weel known that the Pali term sati has its primary meaning in 'recollection', or 'memory,'… in addition to its connotations of 'retrospective memory,' sati also refers to 'prospective memory,'" pg.60-1.

"Buddhaghosa…wrote: "Sati's: characteristic is not floating; its property is not losing; its manifestation is guarding or the state of being face to face with an object; its basis is strong noting or the application of mindfulness of the body and so on. It should be seen as like a post due to its state of being set in the object, and as like a gatekeeper because it guards the gate of the eye and so on. "quote 36 " pg.61.

5th "stage… called tamed attention…you find you can take satisfaction in your practice, even though there is still some resistance to it… Free of coarse excitation, you must now confront another problem that was lurking in the shadows of your mind all along: coarse laxity… the symptom of this attentional disorder is that your attention succumbs to dullness, which causes it to largely disengage from its meditative object… attention fades,.. that leads down to sluggishness, lethargy, and finally sleep. This is a peaceful state of mind, so the ignorant may mistake it for the attainment of shamatha," pg.77.
"In addition to the… problem of medium excitation-…-you now have the task of recognising and counteracting a medium degree of laxity,.. having achieved the third and fourth stages with the power of mindfulness, the fifth stage is achieved by the power of introspection, is… monitoring the quality of your attention,.. so that you can detect more and more subtle degrees of laxity and excitation." pg.78.
"Buddhaghosa drew this distinction between mindfulness and introspection: "Mindfulness has the characteristic of remembering. Its function is not to forget. It is manifested as guarding. Introspection has the characteristic of non-confusion. Its function is to investigate. It is manifest as scrutiny."quote 45 " pg.79.

6th There is some satisfaction here without resistance: excitation is subtle, but it you don't use introspection (of laxity & excitation) it may quickly become coarse dragging u back to 4th or 5th lvl. Laxity becomes moderate, meaning the object just isn't clear if it isn't clear you try to hard or you concentration fades for lack of an object and you fall back into with and there is resistance i.e. some difficulty maintaining this pleasant ease.

I should note here that concentration is considered to be built upon relaxation; the foundations, stability;the wall & vividness the roof.

7th Excitation has gone but may return at a subtle lvl. Laxity is now subtle things start to get really good around here you can sit for 2 and half hours or more.

This is where you are in comparative terminology in my opinion after the fast flowing vibration push upwards lifting the body in the insight janas.

8th There is no excitation and laxity, maybe a bit at the start of the sit. any effort but the slightest here may ruin the relaxation, lose the stability and evaporate the vividness.

9th is access concentration and one can sit for at least 4hrs with pliancy & ease.

10th is Jhana

I state these last 3 levels are hard to acquire and very subtle and directly applicable to letting go into high equanimity.

These notes about Jhana from Ajahn Brahms book are basically how the Theravada Samatha Yanika tradition views Jhana: The 7 stages of Jhana In the Thai Shamata Yanika Tradition. When I get another copy of the book will try to quote directly from it.

Stage1:
Present Moment Awareness: Be here now, listen, look, feel body awareness.

Stage2:
Silent Present Moment Awareness: Bring the mind to the now, free from the past, future & elsewhere. Sense the space & silence of mind.

Stage3:
Silent Present Moment Awareness of the Breath: Spacious silent Awareness, in the now relaxing the body, starting to follow the breath. Breathing in the now calmly…Breathing out the now calmly, allow the natural breathing.

Stage4:
Full Sustained Attention on the Breath: Attentive moment to moment awareness of the in & out breath.
This is reached by letting go, relaxing into the attentive moment, not through forceful attentiveness
You do not do reach this stage the mind does. this is where the doer, the major part of one's ego, starts to disappear & unity and peace start to become present.

Stage5:
Full Sustained Attention on the Beautiful Breath: The beautiful breath is when we maintain the unity of consciousness by not interfering the breath which will begin to become subtler, smooth and peaceful. Take time to saviour the sweetness of the beautiful breath (as Piti needs to be developed). You do not do anything, if you try to do something at this stage, you will disturb the whole process, from now on the doer has to disappear. In the later stages the breath will become very subtle and eventually disappears, all that's left is the beautiful, the mind is now taking the mind as its own object.

Stage6:
The Beautiful Nimitta: When one lets go of the body, thoughts and the five senses (including awareness of the breath) so completely that only a beautiful mental sign remains. Also the Breath and Space can be a Nimitta though this is not described much in this book. Some see a white light, some a gold star, some a blue pearl, for others perception chooses to describe this in terms of a physical sensation such as intense tranquillity or ecstasy; these are not physical perceptions associated with the body or the eyes.

Qualities of the Nimitta:
1) It appears only after the meditator has been with the beautiful breath for along time.
2) It appears when the breath disappears. (Some argue this is merely the perception of the breath which has become extremely subtle others that it has stopped all together)
3) The external 5 senses are completely absent.
4) It only manifests in a silent mind.
5) Strange but powerfully attractive.
6) It is a beautiful simple object.

If the nimitta is dull or unstable, flashing and disappearing in both cases one should go back to the previous stage.
The weak nimitta is caused by not enough depth of contentment and wanting, let go of the doer and enjoy, let the mind incline where it wants, which is usually the centre of the nimitta. If no nimitta arises after the breath disappear and instead peace, space, nothingness or emptiness is left, (this is not jhana) this could be because there isn't enough piti or sukha. Within the calm-space, cultivate the contentment into delight, delight is generated by letting the energy flow into the knower, strengthening present moment awareness, which will increase bliss and then the nimitta will appear. It is possible the nimitta is a feeling nimitta, of strong bliss, but this nimitta is more difficult to gain access to jhana with (in this situation space may be associate).

Stage7:
Jhana: Attention gets drawn into the centre of the nimitta or the the light expands to envelope you, let the mind merge into bliss, then let the jhana occur. The obstacles of exhilaration and fears need to be subdued in favour of complete passivity to attain.

The qualities of Jhana:
1) It usually persists for many hours. (Scriptures state proper Jhana or full accomplished Jhana is 24 hrs, I think 10-12 may be enough for the first time.)
2) Once inside there is no choice, emergence occurs naturally when the accumulated fuel of relinquishment is used up.
3) It is impossible to perceive the body, sound, think or perceive time.
4) It is not a trance but a heightened state of awareness of bliss that doesn't move.

RE: How do I avoid 5th jhana?
Answer
10/20/12 8:10 AM as a reply to mind less.
Morgan Gunnarsson:
Thanks for your insightful comments, I think it will be very helpful.

Are you suggesting that I should stop care about which jhana is the current one and whether the state transitions are jhanic or 'nanic'? Simply note-and-conquer, and forget the agent?


I think this is a separate issue (and I'm not sure I'm following you completely here). There is some value in being able to diagnose & analyze various states, and it especially helps with the first two MCTB paths if you have that inclination in your personality (because you can use it to give yourself feedback on the effectiveness of your meditation). But, in terms of the mechanics of practice it doesn't fundamentally matter what state you're in and how it fits into some model as long as you're practicing well, and it is possible, and often very good, to forget everything and just practice.

Your model says that sometimes nothing is going on, and then you should just wait until there is something going on, and then note it. Can that model be simplified without loosing the key point, by zenifying it?: "There is never nothing going on", since no-thing is something. Note the nothingness if there are no sensations to note. Note the abscence of sensations. That model says that there is always something to note. Is that model a trap? Is it just a workaround that will fail to recognize the mind vs. agent perspective, or is it at least as effective as the first model, but simpler?


If you find a sensation that you regard as "nothing", then note it. If you find no sensation but note that as "nothing", to me what you're describing sounds as if you're looking for something, not finding anything, and noting not-finding-anything as "nothing", which problematic in two ways (you're generating something extra for no good purpose, and noting it in a way that's likely to mislead you, as it's a mental state, so surely not nothing). However, it's possible that it could still help you, unlike the case of trying to shepherd the state you're in towards something grosser, and this is where experimentation comes in.

I prefer a model that is as simple as possible. A model that doesn't require psychological state changes: "Now, 'I' am in the note state, and now in the wait state". That was the main reason for me to leave the Goenka sweeping vipassana about a year ago. My practise improved dramatically in a couple of months after switching to Mahasi style vipassana.


Traditional Mahasi noting would have you note the movement of your abdomen as a default (an "anchor") at all times. If you can't perceive your body for whatever reason, it would seem fair to note your breathing in a nonphysical way (note that you know you're breathing in, out, etc.), and I would give that a shot, as it requires no change in method as you meditate.

I suspect one advantage to this is that "nothing" is rather conceptual compared to your breathing.

End in Sight:
What does "flat" mean? What apparent duality are you talking about? Are these not suitable objects for noting in whatever state you're in?


Yes, you are right. Would it be enough to note the idea/thought 'flatness' and 'duality', or should I aim for noting them as physical sensations?


Mahasi-style: however you experience them.

You can try to force your mind to resolve them as physical sensations if you like, but if you're in a state and finding nothing to note while you're experiencing these things, keeping it simple and not trying to do this can be good too.

End in Sight:
The skill of staying in a particular jhana for an arbitrary length of time is typically discussed in terms of a practice aimed at what the Visuddhimagga calls "jhana". The level of concentration in those states is extraordinarily high compared to the states that you're describing (which may have a perception of the body, which may have a perception of external sounds, etc.).


Staying in a particular jhana for an arbitrary length of time is definitely doable if you do concentration only, but doing vipassana simultaneously makes that much harder beacuse you don't know if it is a jhana or nana that is coming, and you want to let the nana in, of course.


In my estimation, the main reason that one might not stay in any particular state for a long period of time is that one might think of something else, be enticed by some stray thought, get tired, lose interest, etc., and those things would perturb the state in some way, whereas with extraordinary concentration, there are no stray thoughts, no tiredness, no interest or lack of it, etc. (and no nanas).

Just as a practical limit...without extraordinary concentration, how long can you sit in one place?

As I define it, the level of concentration IS the level of jhana, as opposed to the everyday definition of 'concentration' (which is more or less the same as 'mindfulness'). The stronger the mindfulness, the 'harder' (in MCTB terms?) the jhana. Visuddhimagga says that you don't feel pain in 1st jhana. Maybe Buddhaghosa didn't feel pain in 1st jhana beacuse of very strong mindfulness + insight, or maybe it simply isn't true. I have only once experienced sudden cessation of severe pain (in EQ + 4th jhana) and only once experienced cessation of external sounds (in dissolution + 6th jhana). The former is probably not uncommon, the latter probably is.


You might be interested in reading Ajahn Brahm concerning [his take on] the jhanas.

The strength of concentration you are referring to is what I would call strong mindfulness coupled with strong insight.


Yes, apparently we have somewhat different terminology here.