If this is jhana, what next?

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boeuf f, modified 11 Years ago.

If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 60 Join Date: 2/4/10 Recent Posts
Any advice/perspective appreciated, but I'm pretty sure the word is "keep practicing"...

I've intensified my dharma efforts over the last four months. About a month ago, I found this site and Daniel's book and after many years of watery meditation some interesting developments have occurred. In the past, I never actually felt like "access concentration" was even achieved--although I wonder now if it actually was and I was having aversion and not happy with aversion. At any rate, now I'm having a different experience on the cushion. I recently posted about strong shudders/paroxysm, rapture type experiences. After a one day sitting, those have settled a bit. Now my notes are reading as some variation of this:

30 min sit:
Resolved: gave myself permission to enter jhana and practice whole-heartedly with one-pointed concentration.
Raptures build after several minutes, become strong. I return focus to breath, then turn to physical sensation of pleasure, concentrating on not "making" the raptures but just feeling the pleasure. Some shuddering. Enjoy/appreciate the intense waves (not always pleasant but pleasureable somehow). Then focus on the emotional joy/happiness. This becomes luminous, not in a visual way exactly (though somewhat) but in a very intense feeling way. I begin to smile involuntarily very broadly. Raptures calmer, joy stronger. I stay focused on the immediate quality of this emotion which is pretty amazing, but also strange to me because it has no object. Beaming, is the word for it. Powerful the first time it really happened.

The radiance of it lasts for a few hours and I can call it up during the day whenever I see something beautiful (a color, a flower, etc) by tuning into the emotional reaction I'm having. During the sit, I have a sense of time passing, but of not being impatient or wanting to go anywhere. Thoughts remain, build and I re-focus. It seems like this is the second jhana.

Today, I had "difficulty" getting into this state--which I understood to be what was interfering with getting there. In my second sitting this morning, I just tried to focus on what was there, my concentration intensified substantially and I felt content and settled and then a very deep expansive state--a strong feeling of lateral expansion, almost like being stretched. Had some mild rapture waves, but not the "beaming joy" state. Very peaceful and still. I focused on the stillness. Coolness. Thoughts remained and would carry me a little bit. I eventually focused on the breath to see how one-pointed I actually was. Not sure whether that's the thing to do or not.

So any ideas on where to direct my efforts from here? I'm sort of amazed to have these experiences after years of really not having them. A little later today I did ten minutes of noting everything which arose and the speed of that had really picked up. So do I alternate concentration with insight? Do I reach the 4th jhana first? Are the formless jhanas a reasonable goal, or better to switch to insight after J4?

Thanks,
Bruno
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Bruno,

Take it easy, there. Assuming that you actually achieved absorption, I know that first impressions of it can be quite emotional, but you also need to be able to step back and take a deep breath (metaphorically speaking, that is), and not become so overwhelmed by the experience. Once you have a better idea of what it is that you achieved, you should be able to reflect more even-mindedly on it. Equanimity and an appreciation for the discernment that develops out of it is the next step. And from there, eventually, satipatthana practice.

The mind, in absorption, works best when it becomes still. That's where all the "good stuff" happens. So, work on calming your mind even more. The second level of absorption occurs when the absorption takes over by itself, on its own accord, when you no longer have to concentrate on it for it to occur. If you are following along with it and the breath, you should be able to pick it up as a sensation in the middle (or center) of the head, kind of like a balloon expanding inside the skull and pressing against the forehead. Picking up both the breath and this sensation should not be a problem if your equanimity is in good stead.

Whatever it is that you are discerning as "rapture" (piti) needs to continue to calm down and smooth out and eventually disappear in order for you enter the third jhana. Once that occurs, you'll have to smooth out the "pleasure" (sukkha) in order to bring the mind even deeper into the calm. Once sukkha leaves the scene and the mind slips deeper into tranquility, you should be in a deep, almost trance-like state which is fourth jhana. What is most noticeable here is the lack of any enturbulating disturbances. This is what makes it seem so "blissful" (as some people describe it). Although, after you have had an opportunity to "get over" the bliss and can reestablish equanimity, you can then begin to work on the satipatthana part of the practice. You would probably be more familiar with this as a reference to vipassana. At this point, it is really best to be able to work with a meditation guide one-on-one, as this practice can get a bit tricky.

It sounds like you're doing well. You just need to begin to tone it all down several notches, in order to better develop sampajanna (clear seeing) along with sati (mindfulness). It's the combination of sati-sampajanna that eventually helps bring about awakening. As Ven. Analayo puts it in his book Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization: "Keep calmly knowing [being aware of] change." As a matter of fact, lacking a good meditation guide, you could do a lot worse than to refer to his book in order to fashion a practice. It's full of scintillating insights along with timely references to the discourses. A highly recommended source for practice suggestions, once you've arrived at this stage of the path.

boeuf f:
I eventually focused on the breath to see how one-pointed I actually was. Not sure whether that's the thing to do or not.

Returning to the breath is never the wrong way to go. You did just fine.
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boeuf f, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 60 Join Date: 2/4/10 Recent Posts
Ian,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Your perspective and suggestions are helpful and needed. In fact, the sensations/emotions are toning down. The notes I transcribed were of the more intense sitting I had. I haven't been sure how to take the calming (as a reflection that I'm losing absorption? settling down?). At first I was frustrated and then realized I just needed to be present to whatever was manifesting. I do get that pressure in the forehead thing. Now I seem to ride a few rapture waves and then focus on the sensation throughout the body in relation to the breath, in time--sometimes a full 20 mins--it settles into that very broad, laterally extended state I described. It's very settled and my concentration is very broad, wide--easier to focus on the whole field of mind-state-sense-impression (if that makes any sense) and then to work to stay tuned in to the very moment as it manifests. I have also been attending to what comprises the sensation of that calmness. There is still effort involved. I can't say that concentration has taken over on it's own, which is why I am asking if any of this is jhana. All the same, the concentration is much less effortful, deeper, wider and more steady and I don't drift very far when thought arises.

Is it necessary to "rise up" through the jhanas sequentially, each time in every sitting in order to get to equanimity? Or do you just cut to equanimity after awhile? I have been assuming I needed to cultivate each state in turn in each sitting, like going up a steps. But maybe I just focus on the "stillness/calmness" when that starts to manifest.

Yes, I need to find a teacher/guide. I am currently sitting at the local Zen temple and what is talked about at the DhO is so not what they do there. It's a quandry in a way, because I'm very drawn to the Theravada teachings and practices, but there is a vast amount that I am learning from Zen practice simply from being at the temple and learning how to move, bow, stand, sit, eat--it's really amazing. The compassionate community is pretty amazing too--though it has it's moments of psycho-processing that sometimes aren't totally my thing. Still, I learn from that too. Not quite sure how to connect with a Theravada teacher--I guess I just need to start visiting the sitting group that meets near here.

I saw the book you suggest, Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization, the other day--I have been trying to determine what to read next. I was thinking of diving into the Nikayas. I'm definitely an original source text kind of scholar, but the Nikayas seem so vast I have put off jumping in since it's hard to know where to start. So considering the overview book, In the Buddha's Words, trans and edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
boeuf f:

I haven't been sure how to take the calming (as a reflection that I'm losing absorption? settling down?). At first I was frustrated and then realized I just needed to be present to whatever was manifesting. I do get that pressure in the forehead thing. Now I seem to ride a few rapture waves and then focus on the sensation throughout the body in relation to the breath, in time--sometimes a full 20 mins--it settles into that very broad, laterally extended state I described. It's very settled and my concentration is very broad, wide--easier to focus on the whole field of mind-state-sense-impression (if that makes any sense) and then to work to stay tuned in to the very moment as it manifests.

When you are working at deepening samatha (calm or tranquility) in order to arrive at the fourth jhana, calming is measured by the degree to which the mind settles down, stilling movement. When rapture is present there is still movement. When sukkha is present there is still movement. That is why these two jhana factors need to subside, so that a sublime stillness remains as the mind settles into the mindfulness and equanimity of the fourth jhana.

Once you experience the unification of the mind in the second jhana, this is where inner tranquility begins (accompanied by both the affective factors of piti and sukkha). When piti subsides, leaving only sukkha, clear awareness, equanimity, and mindfulness, you have reached the third jhana. As Leigh Brasington has described it: "The first jhana is a very intense, agitated state, the second jhana is more soothing. The third jhana is more of a motionless, quiet contentment." You shift from the second to the third by letting go of the physical pleasure and changing the emotional pleasure from joy to contentment, almost like turning down the volume control on your emotional pleasure. The transition to the fourth jhana from the third takes a bit more effort and a bit more letting go than any of the previous transitions. The contentment of the third jhana is still a positive state of mind. This contentment is refined into a very equanimous, quiet, stillness. There is no positive or negative feeling in either mind or body. There is just an all pervading, deep peacefulness, with of course mindful awareness. The breath, by this time, has become very shallow, almost imperceptible. The fourth jhana is hard to miss; once you've experienced it, you know you've been there.

boeuf f:

I have also been attending to what comprises the sensation of that calmness. There is still effort involved. I can't say that concentration has taken over on it's own, which is why I am asking if any of this is jhana. All the same, the concentration is much less effortful, deeper, wider and more steady and I don't drift very far when thought arises.

Jhana just means that the mind has become absorbed in either an object (such as the breath) or a subject (such as a Dhamma theme) to the exclusion of all else. This doesn't mean that you can't be aware of phenomena on the periphery; you can. It just means that you are able to fix the mind on either the object or subject with little problem (quite steadily) while not becoming distracted. The practice of jhana is one method of assisting the mind to develop concentration. If you can look at it in this way, without becoming over interested in all the "bliss and joy and stuff," you will be able to bypass one of the major hindrances to the practice of absorption.

boeuf f:

Is it necessary to "rise up" through the jhanas sequentially, each time in every sitting in order to get to equanimity? Or do you just cut to equanimity after awhile? I have been assuming I needed to cultivate each state in turn in each sitting, like going up a steps. But maybe I just focus on the "stillness/calmness" when that starts to manifest.

No, it is not. But most people, when they are first learning this need some sign posts to lean on. So, in the beginning you may want to "cultivate each state in turn" in order to become more familiar with them. But, don't make too big a deal about this if it is still too difficult to discern these states. As concentration grows and becomes cultivated, discernment will also develop.

boeuf f:

Yes, I need to find a teacher/guide. I am currently sitting at the local Zen temple and what is talked about at the DhO is so not what they do there. It's a quandry in a way, because I'm very drawn to the Theravada teachings and practices,but there is a vast amount that I am learning from Zen practice simply from being at the temple and learning how to move, bow, stand, sit, eat--it's really amazing.

What you are learning from the Zen practice is mindfulness practice (the "how to move, bow, stand, sit, eat"). It's all good and useful. I'm familiar with Zen as I have read, studied, and practiced in a Zendo myself. But I found their understanding of meditation and ability to explain it to be lacking. At least in the contacts I had at the time. But there are some Zen roshis who have an understanding of samadhi and its uses in the practice. The translated Pali suttas are more precise about instruction. And, they make sense once you understand the phenomena they are addressing.

Having someone experienced, who you trust, that you can sit down to discuss your practice with is just an expedient way to cut through all the misunderstandings and inquiries that can arise and normally accompany something that is terribly subjective (like meditation practice) while being able to obtain clarification on subtle points of practice. Ideally, it would be nice. But there is still a lot you can pick up and learn asking questions in forums. Although there is still nothing better than having that one on one contact with someone who is living the life.

boeuf f:

I saw the book you suggest, Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization, the other day--I have been trying to determine what to read next. I was thinking of diving into the Nikayas. I'm definitely an original source text kind of scholar, but the Nikayas seem so vast I have put off jumping in since it's hard to know where to start. So considering the overview book, In the Buddha's Words, trans and edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

You can try out Bhk. Bodhi's In the Buddha's Words if you like. The best part of that book are the chapter introductions. It is worth having for that alone. Bodhi is very well versed in his understanding of the Dhamma as it is presented in the discourses. And he has a knack for being able to explain things well. You really can't go wrong reading his material. I was a little disappointed in the translations of the suttas in that book and much prefer his edited version of Bhk. Nanamoli's translation of the Majjhima Nikaya and his own translation of the Samyutta Nikaya with their footnotes. The footnotes are where you find much of the subtleties of the Dhamma explained.

When you are ready to tackle the Nikayas, I would suggest obtaining the Wisdom Publications edition of Bhk. Nanamoli's translation (edited by Bhk. Bodhi) of the The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, The Majjhima Nikaya as this volume of discourses is relatively easy and insightful reading. This volume also gets into much instruction about meditation, offering clarifications that are difficult to find elsewhere, which is one of the reasons I'm recommending it first. After that, Nyanaponika Thera's translation of The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya, can be an excellent second volume to read. It's only about one tenth of the whole Anguttara (which Bodhi is apparently still working on his translation of for Wisdom Publications) so it is relatively short (330 pages) in comparison to the Majjhima, while still possessing great and insightful footnotes. Bodhi edited this book also, so he has maintained the thread of explication of the Dhamma which was started with the Majjhima. These two volumes contain a great deal of important and valuable discourses while still being relatively accessible to most readers.

Then, if you are really interested to read as much as possible of the discourses, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, The Samyutta Nikaya and The Long Discourses of the Buddha, The Digha Nikaya have both also been translated and published through Wisdom Publications, the former translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi and the latter translated by Maurice Walshe, a noted lay practitioner. Of the two, the footnotes and explanations are better in the former, although the latter has some important doctrinal clarifications that I personally found very helpful in my own practice. Walsh knows his stuff; I just prefer Bodhi's more thorough knowledge and explication of the Dhamma.
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boeuf f, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 60 Join Date: 2/4/10 Recent Posts
Ian,

Thank you for this very thoughtful and detailed reply.

bf
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boeuf f, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 60 Join Date: 2/4/10 Recent Posts
I sat for two 45 min. periods today. For the first, straight-up concentration practice, but for the second I noted/labeled--a practice I haven't tried in a few years and which has always felt very awkward. I was surprised that it wasn't that different from concentration practice! I was noting and soon in something that felt very much like J1 and J2--it eventually turned into something a lot like J3--or what I've decided is J3. I suppose this is a reflection of my efforts at improving my concentration. I even used a candle-flame for part of the period and found that the counter-sign was more brilliant than when I tried it with concentration alone. I'm guessing this is what MCTB refers to as the Vipassana jhanas--though that topic is a little confusing since there seem to be a lot of ways to slice it.

My near-term goal is still to attain J4. I don't think that has happened yet--based on all I've read, it's substantially different--"notable".

My only question is about noting/labeling--which I've always found awkward. Beyond the basics of "thinking" "touching" etc., searching for the word/label is a distracting sort of "thinking" and slows me down, and I need to label that too. I'm more of a visual than verbal thinker so the fact of the word feels a little weird. I'm assuming this gets better and and that over time, the vocabulary is sort of set and there's less searching. I see that in some cases people just use "dat" but when I "dat" it has a tendency to become automatic and lead to less mindfulness and even wandering. However, at one point however, during the more intense jhanic sensations, the speed of the vibration demanded "dat" in order to keep up. The labeling forces me to be attentive, but often it's like waltzing with tall, lace-up, heavy combat boots with extra thick soles.
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: If this is jhana, what next?

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
boeuf f:
I sat for two 45 min. periods today. For the first, straight-up concentration practice, but for the second I noted/labeled--a practice I haven't tried in a few years and which has always felt very awkward. I was surprised that it wasn't that different from concentration practice! I was noting and soon in something that felt very much like J1 and J2--it eventually turned into something a lot like J3--or what I've decided is J3. I suppose this is a reflection of my efforts at improving my concentration. I even used a candle-flame for part of the period and found that the counter-sign was more brilliant than when I tried it with concentration alone. I'm guessing this is what MCTB refers to as the Vipassana jhanas--though that topic is a little confusing since there seem to be a lot of ways to slice it.

Yes. That's a very good insight you came up with there (referencing the first highlighted sentence).

And yes, very likely the case (in reference to the second highlighted sentence). You can also use sensation (the pressure in the center of the forehead just above the brows) to help you discern when the mind is concentrating with particular vigor. I have always found that sensation is a more practical and reliable guide for me, as even before I learn about this, I was using this phenomenon as a harbinger of concentration ability. Meaning that it was just something I noticed was present whenever I was able to concentrate well.

boeuf f:

My near-term goal is still to attain J4. I don't think that has happened yet--based on all I've read, it's substantially different--"notable".

My only question is about noting/labeling--which I've always found awkward. Beyond the basics of "thinking" "touching" etc., searching for the word/label is a distracting sort of "thinking" and slows me down, and I need to label that too. I'm more of a visual than verbal thinker so the fact of the word feels a little weird. I'm assuming this gets better and and that over time, the vocabulary is sort of set and there's less searching. I see that in some cases people just use "dat" but when I "dat" it has a tendency to become automatic and lead to less mindfulness and even wandering. However, at one point however, during the more intense jhanic sensations, the speed of the vibration demanded "dat" in order to keep up. The labeling forces me to be attentive, but often it's like waltzing with tall, lace-up, heavy combat boots with extra thick soles.

You ask a very good and relevant question. I never used labeling for very long in my practice, pretty much for the same reasons you outline as being awkward. If it feels awkward, then don't do it. But you don't need to mentally "verbalize" each label. Just being able to mentally acknowledge that you noticed the phenomenon is enough. I know that they say to mentally tell yourself "thinking" when noting thinking or "walking" when noting walking etcetera, but these are really not all that necessary once you get beyond a certain point and are easily able to recognize these changes in the mental atmosphere. It's really all about being able to recognize these changes as they are occurring. When you can do that, then you know you are on the right track, which it sounds as though you are. These exercises are meant to help develop sati and sampajanna in the practitioner: mindfulness and clear comprehension (or presence of mind and clear discernment of phenomena).

The original usage of labeling was meant as an assistance to help strengthen discernment and concentration abilities in the practitioner. So, it is just a tool to be used or discarded as needed. If you are able to recognize changes in phenomena as they occur without unnoticed breaks in awareness, then you are doing just fine. The practice of noting, as promoted by the Mahasi method of vipassana, was used to help his students become more proficient in their concentration and discernment abilities. Some students needed an extra tool to help them begin to gain more control over the wandering aspect of their mind, and so Mahasi came up with the noting exercise. But just like any other tool, once it has out-used its usefulness, it can be discarded.

With regard to the highlighted sentence in the above quote, if what you are aiming at in the near term is 4th jhana, then practice accordingly. Focus your energies at samatha practice DIRECTLY, to the exclusion of other practices that you could be doing (namely this noting practice). Just watch the mind as is becomes more and more tranquil, and practice at allowing it to become more tranquil, and sooner or later you will just bump into the fourth jhana. You can do this by directing your attention to the pleasant aspects of the breath as you allow the mind to sink deeper and deeper into the calming atmosphere of that pleasantness. (I'm attempting to provide you with some intuitive instruction that you can follow during your meditative sessions.)

I found in my own practice that aiming directly at the accomplishment I was wanting to accomplish worked better than aiming at it indirectly. Since the fourth jhana is indicative of more and more mental calm, then practice to achieve more and more mental calm (because silent verbal noting practice is more a hindrance and distraction to mental calm than it is a promoter of such). So, aim directly at mentally calming the mind, and you will eventually achieve that!

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