Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

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Harry Fred Bradley, modified 8 Years ago.

Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/17/13 Recent Posts
Hi all,

I've just joined here. Have enjoyed looking over the site. emoticon

I'm starting practicing the Jhanas at home using the Leigh Brasington and Daniel Ingram online resources as guides (and thanks to both for their generosity!)

I live in Ireland where I have not yet been able to source a teacher of Jhana practices.

I've been sitting zazen for the guts of 8 years, both at home and on retreats.

I'd welcome any comments/advice/insights about practicing the Jhanas at home in daily practice. I generally sit for an hour per day as it stands.

All the best,

Harry.
B B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 69 Join Date: 9/14/12 Recent Posts
Hi Harry, I'm also from Ireland and have been seriously practicing for about a year. I first concentrated on jhana before regularly practicing vipassana so I'm going to have a go at giving you advice on entering them. It took me about 8 months of practicing formally at least an hour almost every day and at any other suitable occasion, like reading or attending lectures. Then over the course of 3 days I suddenly found I had access to all 8 and continue to have quite easily. I also spent 3 years before getting my act together struggling to get beyond the first jhana, so I'm also quite familiar I think with many of the ways to get it wrong.
  • First of all, I've found it helpful to set aside any ambitions of attaining hard jhana (i.e. Ajahn Brahm's definition of jhana). A lot of the careful preparation and slow build up with that can be done away with.
  • Mindfulness I've found is almost everything. Some of the fastest progress I've made when developing concentration has occurred when I haven't even narrowed my attention at all but just took the sensations that made up my body as object.
  • The other side of it is mental stillness (for me) - cultivating a "mind inclined to abandoning", learning to detect subtle mental movements. One of the few major turning points for me actually, apart from a greater emphasis on mindfulness, was when I learnt to release the reigns on my attention. This tends to create a sense of slipping and loss of control which my mind would instinctively interrupt, but after a few tries at this, I found I could learn to override this and let the mind continue to slide until it came to a halt. And if you can maintain this hands-off awareness, concentration should quickly develop. It's essentially all I do these days before entering jhana and it's become more of a sinking, just doing almost nothing, even daydreaming a little, and concentration develops on its own.
  • Find a width of attention that suits you best. I think this is often overlooked. For years I focused in an unnaturally narrow way (when I was probably DN-ing) on the sensations of breath under my nose and getting lost in thought or over-analysing it (definitely not the meaning of 'directed thought' if you ask me). So experiment with that. I used to find, once my mind was sufficiently steadied with mindfulness of my body, that focusing on the sensations that made up my head and especially those that implied concentration, was most suitable for me. Focusing on sensations in my head carrying the added benefit of allowing for a greater sensitivity to mental movement and creating what I've thought of as some sort of 'positive feedback reinforcement loop' where the more concentrated I became, the more there was to concentrate on and the more mental movement I could detect and let go of, leading to even greater concentration.
  • Some other tips: from MCTB: try to cultivate a sense of the breath as continuous and steady. This illusory sense of sollidity and permanence is very helpful and can help in seeing the 'beautiful breath', which is sometimes worth losing yourself to, though it still remains usually a part of an attempt at hard jhana for me. Be very careful when analysing or tweaking experience during meditation. It's been a key aspect of progress for me, but one can easily go overboard with this, so try to keep it to an intuitive, barely conscious level... in fact, in general, if you have a strong intuition, I'd brazenly assert that you have a huge advantage over those who don't with meditation. Also, I've found beating back the sensations that imply self for a few minutes before beginning samatha to be hugely beneficial. I've found it often leads to a sudden jump in concentration as the panicking, squirming self is probably the major hinderance to progress in samatha.


So once you've developed a strong base of concentration, which for me meant a very intense and complete sense of solidity in my head, you want to focus quite narrowly at your brow chakra and sustain this until there's a sense of a shift in consciousness. That's first jhana. Let go of the effort and let your attention widen (the major pressure points for me tend to be around my eyes) and you're in second jhana....

Oh yeah, what not to do: force your breathing, obsess over not thinking or stopping your mind from wandering, force yourself to sit in uncomfortable positions because you feel it's more hardcore and conducive to serious practice, practice less regularly than once a day (and I always practiced for an hour, so that's where I'm coming from), obsess about having perfect conditions for practice (not being hungry, perfect solitude and quietness, etc... all within reason though), give yourself deadlines for attainments, despair over lack of progress and give up

And another thing: I've found practicing sila (i.e. having a clear conscience) is surprisingly important to general meditation progress. Just knowing at the deepest level that you need and deserve this, that progress must occur, there is no other way... rebirth!!
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Harry F B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/17/13 Recent Posts
"Find a width of attention that suits you best. I think this is often overlooked. For years I focused in an unnaturally narrow way (when I was probably DN-ing) on the sensations of breath under my nose and getting lost in thought or over-analysing it (definitely not the meaning of 'directed thought' if you ask me)."


Hi, B B.

Many thanks for the detailed and interesting reply!

What you say here (above) chimes with my own experience. To avoid too much strained effort in watching the breath (which I find manifests as labored breathing if I start focusing when I first sit down) I start by 'just sitting' for the first ten minutes in the style that I'm used to, the objectless 'shikantaza' of zen practice: 'drop off body and mind' is a key teaching as to the nature of the practice there. I find that when I start focusing on the breath after this time my focus is more 'bright' and less grasping, and that the breath is nice and free and refreshing.

Not over-striving/ despairing at lack of progress is definitely good advice for me.

As a good wee Catholic boy sila is no problem for me however. emoticon

Thanks again for the nice reply.

H.
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Michael Cannon, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 28 Join Date: 5/16/12 Recent Posts
Harry F B:
I've been sitting zazen for the guts of 8 years, both at home and on retreats.


Hi Harry. Has not practicing zazen put you in jhana territory? My understanding of zazen is that a firm foundation of concentration is to be built before one does the "just sitting" practice. Tranquility is included in Silent Illumination. Were you experiencing samadhi at some level while sitting?

I only ask because I thought of myself as sitting zazen but once jhana factors started rising, I found Zen didn't have the language to help guide one through this. So while what I call my practice has changed, I'm still basically doing the same technique, i.e. concentration.

Welcome!
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Harry F B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/17/13 Recent Posts
Hi Michael,

Thanks for the welcome. I suspect that zazen has brought me into jhana territory, but, not having clarified the jhana states (and, yes, its language), I'm probably not in a very good position to say. I did some koan work (the MU koan) and I suspect that they too are spurs into jhana states.

Concentration and shikantaza 'just sitting' style zazen might have a strange relationship. I think concentration is certainly involved and does arise in shikantaza, but it happens as layers of effort, striving and other activities are let 'fall away' in just sitting. it strikes me as a different approach from seeking to arrive at a focused state through observing an object. At the same time, I think it's not quite right to call shikantaza 'objectless' meditation as it sometimes called: the sitting, the posture, the whole activity of body-mind itself is the 'object'. So I think that is different, but the same. That's my experience anyway.

My teacher did not require me to develop concentration before I started shikantaza-style zazen. It was pretty much 'just sit dropping off body and mind' from the start.

A teacher once said to me that this style of zazen is both samatha and vipassana in that the posture itself is its own calm abiding, while the real experiential content of sitting is vipassana. Now, that is questionable (isn't it all!), but I also think that there is truth in it: I find that I reach a point of concentration after some time whether I watch the breath or not, so my sitting&dropping off itself does that with no extra effort or focal point.

A problem I've noticed with zen is when people take things such as Master Dogen's ideas like 'zazen IS enlightenment' as a denial of realisation, or an excuse to be lazy i.e. why should I make effort, study koans and texts, or do anything other than 'just sit' as this is already it. That's not what he meant. He certainly didn't mean to install a curt ideology of sitting posture fetishism! emoticon

Regards,

Harry.
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Michael Cannon, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 28 Join Date: 5/16/12 Recent Posts
Cool.
Here's some stuff from my bag of tricks. I put the teacher's name of who I either got it from or endorses it. All of the tools can be used instead of, or in addition to a 1-10 breath count, or knowing-the-length-of-the-breath.

Conceptualizing/Visualizing the Breath
>(Shaila Catherine) Analogy of the Gatekeeper. A guard stands at a gate, the entrance to a city. He must make note of every person that enters through the gate and exits the gate. He's unconcerned with what they do once they enter the city and once they leave. He watches only at the gate: who's coming, who's going. Watch your breath in this manner. Set your attention at the anapana spot (a little spot just below your nostrils, just above your upper lip) and focus on the breath as it passes on the way up, on the way down. Don't be concerned with the breath as it enters the nostrils or as it passes the lips. Keep a tight focus.
>(Daniel Ingram) Picture the breath as a wave, flowing up past the anapana spot on the way up, way down.
>(Mine) Hour glass. For a really tight focus, I picture an hour glass. Around the nostrils is the top half; just above the lip - the bottom half and I picture the breath passing by it on it's way down as though it were sand passing right through the narrow spot in the center of the hourglass. I keep my focus tight, at that tiny, narrow spot.
>(General) Notice the bottom, the middle, the top of the inhalation. You're at the top, then back down: Top, middle, bottom of exhalation. (This is great. And you can widen your focus with this one too. You can use it to augment your 1-10 breath count or your labeling of the length of breath, or use it by itself. )

General Approach
>(Thanissaro Bhikkhu)Be ALERT, MINDFUL, ARDENT. ALERT: means you know exactly what's going on right now. Are your thoughts sticky? Are you nailing your 1-10 breath count but you still have too much extra attention getting used up on wondering thoughts? Are you tired, sluggish, restless? Know this. MINDFUL: Means you recognize that a tool must be employed in response to what's going on. If your mind keeps drifting, tighten your focus. Maybe go with Bottom, Middle, Top. Or if you have a relentless hyper narrow assault and its just giving you cranial pain, maybe you need to back up, widen your focus, maybe include a secondary object like the rise and fall of the abdomen, in addition to the anapana spot. Maybe you need to Let Go. ARDENT: Employ your strategy. Reemploy it. Enjoy the outcomes or move on to a new strategy.
>Each sit entails constant adjustment. Tuning up, tuning down, etch.
>(Ayyk Khema) Use Noting for wondering thoughts. It helps get the mind back on the object. I use simple notes (labels). If what I'm thinking about is in the past, I note PAST. Then back to breath. Present, I note PRESENT. Future, note FUTURE.

Jhana Factors
Directed Attention: Bringing attention back to the breath, again and again. You are responsible for this.
Sustained Attention: A steady focus develops. You don't lose many or any breaths. Thoughts are still there but your attention knew the bottom of that last breath, the middle and the top, and it's been known pretty much all the breaths like that for awhile now. You are responsible for this.
Piti: This is a reward.
Sukha: So is this.
And they both feel nice. You are not responsible for this. This happens to you. At some point, though, you become responsible for this too as both are easy to slip out of. But as things get more refined, you get practiced at staying with them, letting piti roll into a nice smooth sukha. Then a nice Holy-Christ-This-Is-Jhana is just around the corner.
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Harry F B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/17/13 Recent Posts
Nice. emoticon
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Harry F B, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Newb-ist Starting Home Jhana Practice.

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/17/13 Recent Posts
Pasting this in from the 'Dharma Diagnosis' page just in case it's being missed over thar...

Q. Does this below sound like Jhana territory?

Hi All,

I'm a newbie to Jhana practice but have been practicing zazen for 8-ish years or so. I've been sitting for about an hour per day for the last 5 years, and less before that.

I'm following Leigh Brasington's core instructions for entering Jhana (because I'm stupid and they're simple!) This is what happened in this morning's 40 min sit:

1. I reached a stable focus on the breath very quickly (attention was light and stable, thoughts where 'wispy' and unobtrusive etc), so I decided to turn my attention to a pleasant feeling. I placed my attention in the warm, heavy, tingly weight of my hands (I sit cross legged on a zafu with the standard hand mudra).

2. The nice feeling spread up my arms and throughout my body. It was just nice, not overwhelming or wildly ecstatic like some accounts I've read.

3. After a time of this I decided to try and focus on the emotional joy/happiness accompanying the physical sensations as per LB's instructions whereupon...

4. Suddenly, and quite surprisingly, I was pulled into a different awareness more in the region of the eye/head than the body. There were 'clouds' of phosphorescent light blooming and fading in front of my eyes. I decided to follow Ajahn Brahm et al's advice and give myself over to it. This made it seem like I was traveling through the light clouds until there was a 'white out' of the shimmery light and it filled my vision. Things then became very quiet and still for the rest of the sitting in this light.

During this time I felt very focused with a few thoughts popping in and just falling away by themselves. I was always aware of some bodily sensations, particularly the nice sensation of the hands, and I could hear sounds in my environment throughout most or all of this.

Actually, the above happened after an initial experience where the light appeared but was a bit threatening and caused some fear (it appeared to be moving somewhat like the mouth of an animal). I put this down to some agitation I was experiencing this morning before the sit and quickly went back down through the stages, and then back up again, and then the above happened.

Thanks for any input.

Regards,

Harry.

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