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How to attain "hard" Jhana?

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How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/19/12 8:43 PM
So I've just attained 1st Path, or at least believe I did. My concentration has shot way up, so naturally I am taking this time to master the Jhanas. Except, I've been able to get into soft Jhanas for awhile without problems. The issue is I don't know how to get to a hard Jhana where there is no more thought, no more will, and resolutions must be made before entering absorption to direct what happens during absorption.

I've tried using nimittas with instructions from "The Jhanas" by Achan Brahmavanso. The criteria for what defines Jhana is definitely the hard and not soft Jhanas. Still I see no nimittas, and I naturally just get sucked into a soft Jhana, though slightly "harder" than in the past. Moreover, during soft Jhanas, I can still concentrate my mind much deeper than the Jhana can naturally provide, which defeats the purpose.

So how do you attain, or work towards attaining, the traditional hard Jhanas where there are "No thoughts", "No decision-making", and "No perception of time"?

My suspicion is this can't be worked on within soft Jhana, converting it to a hard Jhana. It must be done from the outset.

Any ideas?

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/19/12 9:20 PM as a reply to Charles B.
I usually am able to get to a no-thought, no decision, no time concentrated state maybe 1 out of every 3 45 min sits. There are basically two ways to get there for me, either repeatedly relaxing the thoughts, 'resting' in a state of not thinking. Seeing each thought sentence that pops up as stressful and relaxing them, this only works when i am already somewhat concentrated and in a conducive mood. The other method I tend to use is to just bear down on my object of concentration, 'renewing' the intention to pay close attention once or twice a second. I am not totally sure how to explain the second method, it's mostly just a matter of intention.

If you can't really figure out exactly what I am talking about above, I'd say just do breath counting or mantra, trying to 'jam the circuits' so to speak, which will then give some insight into how thoughts form, because when there are fewer thoughts you can discern the individual ones and their causes more clearly.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 9:05 AM as a reply to Charles B.
Keep you attention on the sensation of the breath in the area right underneath the nose, somtimes called the anapana spot. When piti arises, do not shift your attention to the piti, keep it on the sensation of the breath at the anapana spot. You can try these instruction in conjunction with what Ajahn Br. says in his book. If memory serves, he is not too particular about where one puts one's attention.


Eventually some light will begin to emerge, and there may even be the perception of steady consistant light, and eventually after that the countepart sign, which is the nimitta you want to take as an object.


How long can this take? A long time under ideal conditions. Can it be done outside a retreat environment? I don't know. Does having path facilitate what you are trying to do? I don't know.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 9:06 AM as a reply to Charles B.
Charles B:
I've been able to get into soft Jhanas for awhile without problems. The issue is I don't know how to get to a hard Jhana where there is no more thought, no more will, and resolutions must be made before entering absorption to direct what happens during absorption.


A hard jhana is jhana with a lot of mindfulness, nothing else. It's a continuum, not two discrete versions. The hard/soft distinction is either an MCTB invention or scriptural. My experience is that jhana with no thoughts (= no images or self talk) does not exist, but the frequency of 'distracting' thoughts can be reduced. You can have shorter or longer periods of 'no thoughts' while in jhana, and you could of course define that as 'hard' if you like. The purpose with jhana is to experience sensations (feel/touch, image, talk, etc) with less effort, so you can investigate their true nature (3Cs). To be fully absorbed in jhana, as you describe, has no purpose and is not "right concentration", even if it was possible.

Charles B:
I've tried using nimittas with instructions from "The Jhanas" by Achan Brahmavanso. The criteria for what defines Jhana is definitely the hard and not soft Jhanas. Still I see no nimittas, and I naturally just get sucked into a soft Jhana, though slightly "harder" than in the past.


Make sure you meditate in a well lit room, and your chances of seeing the visual nimittas will increase dramatically. You can also use sensations in the arms, chest, neck and head as signs of concentration, which is also a 'nimitta' (nimitta means 'sign'). Try it.

Charles B:
My suspicion is this can't be worked on within soft Jhana, converting it to a hard Jhana. It must be done from the outset.


No, it doesn't have to be done from the outset. Go to what you define as 'soft' jhana and work on your mindfulness.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 9:30 AM as a reply to Eric B.
Eric Bause:
Keep you attention on the sensation of the breath in the area right underneath the nose, somtimes called the anapana spot. When piti arises, do not shift your attention to the piti, keep it on the sensation of the breath at the anapana spot. You can try these instruction in conjunction with what Ajahn Br. says in his book. If memory serves, he is not too particular about where one puts one's attention.

Eventually some light will begin to emerge, and there may even be the perception of steady consistant light, and eventually after that the countepart sign, which is the nimitta you want to take as an object.


Very important: After you have focused on the anapana spot for some time, it will eventually get a more spatial flavor. In other words, there will be a sense of the touch sensations of the breath to be at a depth. Keep that spatial spot close to your face, about 20 cm, but further away the worse your mindfulness is, else you won't be able to mobilize enough effort.

Eric Bause:
How long can this take? A long time under ideal conditions. Can it be done outside a retreat environment? I don't know.


What do you mean, to get a nimitta, or to get jhana with perfect mindfulness (= 'hard' jhana)?

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 9:46 AM as a reply to Charles B.
Eric Bause:
Keep you attention on the sensation of the breath in the area right underneath the nose, somtimes called the anapana spot. When piti arises, do not shift your attention to the piti, keep it on the sensation of the breath at the anapana spot. You can try these instruction in conjunction with what Ajahn Br. says in his book. If memory serves, he is not too particular about where one puts one's attention.


Eventually some light will begin to emerge, and there may even be the perception of steady consistant light, and eventually after that the countepart sign, which is the nimitta you want to take as an object.


How long can this take? A long time under ideal conditions. Can it be done outside a retreat environment? I don't know. Does having path facilitate what you are trying to do? I don't know.


Eric, my understanding, or lack thereof, is that for the 'right' nimitta to arise, one that would take me to hard Jhana, I need to have have two factors, right concentration on object (stillness, minimal thought, etc), and enough built-up piti. In order to get both, I have to concentrate both on a single object like the breath, and build up happy/joy/pleasure sensation. For me, it doesn't come by itself and effort must be made to induce and accumulate piti. Are you saying all I need is concentration on single object as the breath? I will give this a try and just focus on the anapana spot.



Morgan Gunnarsson:
A hard jhana is jhana with a lot of mindfulness, nothing else. It's a continuum, not two discrete versions. The hard/soft distinction is either an MCTB invention or scriptural. My experience is that jhana with no thoughts (= no images or self talk) does not exist, but the frequency of 'distracting' thoughts can be reduced. You can have shorter or longer periods of 'no thoughts' while in jhana, and you could of course define that as 'hard' if you like. The purpose with jhana is to experience sensations (feel/touch, image, talk, etc) with less effort, so you can investigate their true nature (3Cs). To be fully absorbed in jhana, as you describe, has no purpose and is not "right concentration", even if it was possible.


Morgan, are you sure that a hard Jhana is not fundamentally different than a soft jhana? I understand that one can be extremely aware of the soft Jhana and replicate the experience of hard jhana.

However, my understanding is that in a hard jhana, the concentration is incredibly strong without the effort to maintain it. The awareness becomes automatically nearly absolute. The chance of getting lost in thought even slightly pulled is zero. There is no choice but to be concentrated. In my soft jhanas I had to make the effort and maintain the effort, even at 4th jhana. I can do this without being in jhana, and indeed, when I make the effort to be super concentrated on my object, its like I'm not even in jhana.

My aim is to develop as full concentration as possible before 2nd Path begins and, if possible, I want to do it effortlessly inside the Jhanas. It's like "free" concentration development. Just get in for a few hours and get out. The Jhanas take care of it for you. I could be wrong, but I think this is possible. The Pa Auk school is based on this method.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 10:44 AM as a reply to Charles B.
I took a 2-week with Leigh Brasington last summer, and his take on this (after having had a 4-month retreat with Pa Auk at Forest Refuge the summer before) is that it can't be done outside of a retreat environment. I'm not so sure about that, personally. I have never done "hard" jhana, but Brasington believes what we call hard jhana (the Pa Auk variety) is a product of the Commentaries, whereas what he teaches (the more accessible version) is what the suttas are talking about. He further thinks that the hard variety are wonderful, but it's all a question of where you want to put your energy.

I've gone back and forth on this myself. It's not necessary for path, but the work you do toward increasing your concentration can be highly worthwhile. If you want to go for it, it will take a lot of time, motivation, and persistent effort. You should spend a long time in access concentration, for example; Brasington described 3-hour sits devoted to breath counting. I'm not sure that's altogether necessary, but as I said, it takes a lot of work. Good luck.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 11:33 AM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Nice, Jane. Thanks for the clarification. So it can be done but the effort and commitment is an enormous amount. One can't just "dabble" with hard jhanas.

I was hoping that after attaining 1st Path, and the subsequent boost to concentration 2-3 fold could fill this gap. But I guess I grossly underestimated what's required to attain them. Still, I have a few days left on my current retreat and don't have anything better to do. (I have to wait for the nanas to stop cycling before beginning 2nd Path).

I find the soft Jhanas somewhat useless now since I can concentrate much more than the Jhanas can provide. I guess I can still go in them and go deeper from there like Morgan mentions. But I will definitely keep giving the hard jhanas a try. Maybe those 3-hours can be cut to 2.

Jane, besides the sitting time, did Leigh happen to mention if there was a difference in technique or technical emphasis between arriving at the hard vs soft Jhanas?

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 11:38 AM as a reply to Charles B.
Charles B:
Eric, my understanding, or lack thereof, is that for the 'right' nimitta to arise, one that would take me to hard Jhana, I need to have have two factors, right concentration on object (stillness, minimal thought, etc), and enough built-up piti. In order to get both, I have to concentrate both on a single object like the breath, and build up happy/joy/pleasure sensation. For me, it doesn't come by itself and effort must be made to induce and accumulate piti. Are you saying all I need is concentration on single object as the breath? I will give this a try and just focus on the anapana spot.


Make sure you can feel touch sensations on the entire body surface. Individual sensations or small groups of sensations, not the entire body as a whole. To develop the jhana factors “joy” and “happiness” you should not do Metta, as this will likely only make you visualize and daydream. Joy and happiness simply means you should have interest in and be content with the meditation object. An alternative interpretation of joy and happiness is the touch sensations, as they are usually positive and also manifest when you have joy and happiness in the conventional sense. Tune in to touch sensations throughout the entire body. Keep that focus in the background all the time when in the material jhanas, except for when trying to get to 5th jhana.

Charles B:
Morgan, are you sure that a hard Jhana is not fundamentally different than a soft jhana? I understand that one can be extremely aware of the soft Jhana and replicate the experience of hard jhana.


How can you be sure of anything through induction? I only know from my own (extensive) jhana practice that the hard/soft is on a continuum, and I've never seen the hard/soft distinction anywhere else than in MCTB. Don't mix up the map with the territory. Maybe some people are confusing the entrance into jhana with the quality of the jhana, since the entrance can sometimes be quite sudden and sometimes like climbing a steep hill. Not even 8th jhana is completely free from thinking in my experience.

Charles B:
The Pa Auk school is based on this method.


The Pa Auk school is very orthodox. One of the teachers there pointed out that the commentaries say that you can't feel pain in 1st jhana. I said that in that case the commentaries are wrong. He just laughed at me..."Commentaries wrong, hahaha". It's of course a matter of definition, but to have such a criteria for 1st jhana is simply not meaningful in practice.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 11:46 AM as a reply to mind less.
He just laughed at me..."Commentaries wrong, hahaha"


That made me laugh out loud.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 1:32 PM as a reply to Charles B.
The one thing Leigh said to do is spend much more time in access concentration for the hard jhanas than for the soft jhanas. The point is to wait for a really solid nimitta before proceeding to first. Leigh himself, after four months of a dedicated retreat, got the nimitta, and began to move into the jhanas themselves. I'm not sure how long it took, or how far he got, but it sounds like he was at it for a long time.

As for technique: Leigh told us at our "soft-jhana" retreat to work with breath counting, and then when we got settled, switch to focus on the breath without the counting. In the case of the hard jhanas, he jokingly referred to hours and hours of counting (in other words, not moving to the more open focus). For counting, he had us do a full breath (in-pause-out-pause) and then count. We counted 1 to 8, not 1 to 10, because it takes more concentration to remember to begin again after 8 than after 10.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 2:04 PM as a reply to Charles B.
Morgan Gunnarsson:
Make sure you can feel touch sensations on the entire body surface. Individual sensations or small groups of sensations, not the entire body as a whole. To develop the jhana factors “joy” and “happiness” you should not do Metta, as this will likely only make you visualize and daydream. Joy and happiness simply means you should have interest in and be content with the meditation object. An alternative interpretation of joy and happiness is the touch sensations, as they are usually positive and also manifest when you have joy and happiness in the conventional sense. Tune in to touch sensations throughout the entire body. Keep that focus in the background all the time when in the material jhanas, except for when trying to get to 5th jhana.

Yeah, this is what I did to try to get the hard Jhana, but just got a slightly harder soft Jhana. Although I didn't see nimitta, I would just get sucked into 1st every time. Originally, I can just will myself into 1st Jhana given a little bit of access concentration.


Jane Laurel Carrington:
The one thing Leigh said to do is spend much more time in access concentration for the hard jhanas than for the soft jhanas. The point is to wait for a really solid nimitta before proceeding to first. Leigh himself, after four months of a dedicated retreat, got the nimitta, and began to move into the jhanas themselves. I'm not sure how long it took, or how far he got, but it sounds like he was at it for a long time.

As for technique: Leigh told us at our "soft-jhana" retreat to work with breath counting, and then when we got settled, switch to focus on the breath without the counting. In the case of the hard jhanas, he jokingly referred to hours and hours of counting (in other words, not moving to the more open focus). For counting, he had us do a full breath (in-pause-out-pause) and then count. We counted 1 to 8, not 1 to 10, because it takes more concentration to remember to begin again after 8 than after 10.

So it seems the trick is to build your foundation "horizontally" and broadly first while very slowly climb vertically towards Jhana. Now, I wonder what it is that Leigh is building up during the counting versus not counting. Maybe this is to get the entire spectrum of the mind still, and aligned before going on to the no-counting phase, which maybe is to facilitate the pita condition.

If this is the case, maybe soft Jhanas are soft because only a portion of the mind has been "aligned" and conditioned for Jhana, while the background, harder to reach areas of the mind, the parts we don't see, are still free-floating. Like maybe there is good acute concentration, but not enough broad concentration that covers the entire volume of the mind.

Very interesting, I'll give this a try in my few sittings to see how it turns out.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 2:32 PM as a reply to mind less.
Morgan Gunnarsson:

Eric Bause:
How long can this take? A long time under ideal conditions. Can it be done outside a retreat environment? I don't know.


What do you mean, to get a nimitta, or to get jhana with perfect mindfulness (= 'hard' jhana)?


When I wrote that I meant the whole process, but ir could apply solely to the nimitta. Sorry for my lack of precision.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 2:50 PM as a reply to Charles B.
Charles B:
Eric, my understanding, or lack thereof, is that for the 'right' nimitta to arise, one that would take me to hard Jhana, I need to have have two factors, right concentration on object (stillness, minimal thought, etc), and enough built-up piti. In order to get both, I have to concentrate both on a single object like the breath, and build up happy/joy/pleasure sensation. For me, it doesn't come by itself and effort must be made to induce and accumulate piti. Are you saying all I need is concentration on single object as the breath? I will give this a try and just focus on the anapana spot.


Yes. The sensation of the breath at the anapana spot is the object. The five jhana factors arise in conjuction with the attention at the anapana spot.

It is my understanding that hard jhana cannot be attained using a jhana factor as the object, and piti is jhana factor. I never experienced any pit until my sits got near the hour mark. Longer sits were key for me. The more you cultivate the piti, the sooner it will arise. Eventually you build to a point where it arises by itself.

Perhaps you could get some piti going just as you are doing now, and once you've got that going include the sensation of the breath at the anapana spot and see how that works, and experiment from there.

Also, there is a lot of great technical & practical stuff in this thread; thanks everyone!

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 4:10 PM as a reply to Eric B.
Eric Bause:
Morgan Gunnarsson:

Eric Bause:
How long can this take? A long time under ideal conditions. Can it be done outside a retreat environment? I don't know.


What do you mean, to get a nimitta, or to get jhana with perfect mindfulness (= 'hard' jhana)?


When I wrote that I meant the whole process, but ir could apply solely to the nimitta. Sorry for my lack of precision.


With a lot of practice you can get a visual nimitta (preliminary sign / parikamma-nimitta) in seconds off retreat in a noisy environment, and then it takes a few minutes to stengthen it (counterpart sign / patibhaga-nimitta). If you are new to anapanasati or don't know how the nimitta looks like, you might not spot it at all. Practice is key of course. It can be hard to spot the preliminary sign if you don't know what to look for, since it is a very subtle visual fenomena. Even the counterpart sign can be hard to see if you are not used to it.

A very good exercise is to just explore the changes in the visual field for maybe 30 minutes, without concentrating on anything in particular, i.e. explore the dots, fields, lines, light shift, etc. This will condition your mind to spot the subtle nimittas. Then shift to anapanasati.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 5:07 PM as a reply to Charles B.
Charles B:
So it seems the trick is to build your foundation "horizontally" and broadly first while very slowly climb vertically towards Jhana. Now, I wonder what it is that Leigh is building up during the counting versus not counting. Maybe this is to get the entire spectrum of the mind still, and aligned before going on to the no-counting phase, which maybe is to facilitate the pita condition.

If this is the case, maybe soft Jhanas are soft because only a portion of the mind has been "aligned" and conditioned for Jhana, while the background, harder to reach areas of the mind, the parts we don't see, are still free-floating. Like maybe there is good acute concentration, but not enough broad concentration that covers the entire volume of the mind.


You know, he didn't tell us any of that in so many words, but what you're saying makes sense. I think when one stops counting, the focus might be likely to grow "softer." I'm not imagining that he would count until the nimitta arose, however, but just count for a long, long time to get, as you say, really aligned before shifting out of it, at which point there would be a greater likelihood of getting it to arise.

This discussion is inspiring me--I may just do some of this practice myself! Thanks, Laurel

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 6:25 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Jane Laurel Carrington:
This discussion is inspiring me--I may just do some of this practice myself! Thanks, Laurel

Nice!

Man this is tough. I have good concentration as in penetrating concentration, but no mindfulness to start with. My anapanna takes an hour just to begin getting piti and momentum. This is what happens when you have a laptop and a tablet hooked up to your phone's mobileAP while on retreat. You trade in mindfulness for the internet access.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/20/12 8:45 PM as a reply to mind less.
Morgan Gunnarsson:

With a lot of practice you can get a visual nimitta (preliminary sign / parikamma-nimitta) in seconds off retreat in a noisy environment, and then it takes a few minutes to stengthen it (counterpart sign / patibhaga-nimitta).


That's interesting. If you don't mind my asking, how far did you manage to get in the Pa Auk system? Were you able to do the 4 element meditation and see the kalapas or for that matter, get a path? Do you know anyone who has and who is accessible over the internet or by phone, other than Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder? Once I'm done with the noting practice I'm doing now (within a very narrow definition of "being done"), I would dearly love to get instruction in the Pa Auk system.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/21/12 5:13 AM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
Jigme Sengye:
Morgan Gunnarsson:

With a lot of practice you can get a visual nimitta (preliminary sign / parikamma-nimitta) in seconds off retreat in a noisy environment, and then it takes a few minutes to stengthen it (counterpart sign / patibhaga-nimitta).


That's interesting. If you don't mind my asking, how far did you manage to get in the Pa Auk system? Were you able to do the 4 element meditation and see the kalapas or for that matter, get a path? Do you know anyone who has and who is accessible over the internet or by phone, other than Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder? Once I'm done with the noting practice I'm doing now (within a very narrow definition of "being done"), I would dearly love to get instruction in the Pa Auk system.


In the Pa Auk system you have to master all the 8 jhanas and do the "protective meditations" before you can start with four elements, and THEN you can start with vipassana... I was there for only 3 weeks due to visa problems and used my time to fine tune my technique to get to access and 1st jhana, which was a very good investment. I learnt the jhanas mainly from my own experimentation and from books. No, I'm pre-path as far as I know. I've discussed meditation stuff with Robert Cusick (you can find him on facebook) who have been in Pa Auk for a couple of years in total I believe.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/21/12 6:25 AM as a reply to Charles B.
Hey... this guy here talks about hard jhanas and nimittas quite in detail, after the third minute of the video... I found it very interesting.

RE: How to attain "hard" Jhana?
Answer
11/21/12 9:08 AM as a reply to M N.
Mario Nistri:
Hey... this guy here talks about hard jhanas and nimittas quite in detail, after the third minute of the video... I found it very interesting.

Nice video, watching it now. He goes into detail of everything that is involved in cultivating and developing anapanasati so as enter the Jhanas.

Here is another link I find from Leigh experience in going into the elusive hard jhanas. That also gives some context to what's required.

http://www.leighb.com/jhana_fr.htm

I am trying develop a good foundational anapana-sati which I don't have much experience with. The problem I'm having is if I go in soft, let it build up, relax, let go... I fall asleep or can't maintain concentration. If I go in strong with a mildly forceful concentration, I fall into a soft jhana prematurely.

How do you build up strong concentration with some light force but keep from falling into Jhana?