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Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassana?

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If/since equanimity is greater in higher Jhana states, and since equanimity is our tool for seeing reality as it is, why is there not a greater emphasis on attaining Jhanas in vipassana meditation in general? If 4th Jhana has great equanimity, shouldn't rule number 1 be get to 4th Jhana? Wouldn't that make things much easier, and result in faster progress?

I think there are traditions that does that. But I'm curious about the counter argument of the traditions/individuals that don't.

This might be interesting √Ďanas and Jhanas Mind Map Explanation

If you're interested in a jhana heavy approach I'd recommend Shaila Catherine's books Focused and Fearless and Wisdom Wide and Deep. That's how I got into meditation actually, and it wasn't a bad starting point. She is basically presenting the Pa Auk tradition, which is extremely jhana heavy. I can't speak to the insight practices in this tradition, because I've haven't used them, but I can say that they have really clear instructions for getting into deep jhanic states. The only note of caution is that they have such high standards for what counts as jhana that you might take a long time to get to 1st jhana according to those criteria even though you may have already reached higher jhanas by looser criteria like the one's outlined in MCTB. For example, I can do 1st through 8th jhanas on multiple objects by Daniel's criteria, but I'm just barely starting to hit a solid 1st jhana on my breath by Catherine's criteria.

I think the reason jhanas aren't emphasized as much as they could be is because they are so intense that they tend to have a greater chance of #*@$ing people up in their ordinary life reality. Willoughby Britton's research on challenging outcomes of meditation practice seems to bear this out. With heavy concentration, you cannot avoid seeing stuff. It's like being forced to undergo intensive therapy 24/7. Great if you're truly ready to under take massive personal growth and healing, but not so good if you want to keep it all contained and just focus narrowly on insight practices. Another major issue that came up for me was inadvertent attachment to the jhanas and formless realms. This basically means that your mind automatically tries to go into jhana-like states whenever it can, and kicks up a lot of resistance to when you try to make it withdraw from single-pointed concentration to say, clean your apartment or go to work. It can make it hard to function. Think of all those stories of Hindu saints who lie around for months in near catatonic states being kept alive by monks coming to feed them, that may be an extreme form of jhanic attachment. Again, there's an antidote to this, which is careful investigation of the jhanic factors, but if you get deep into jhana before your insight is strong enough to see the impermanence of these subtle states clearly, you might be stuck for a long time. On the other hand, using jhanic states to fuel insight practice allows you to power-up your mindfulness and thereby see subtleties that your ordinary mind would be incapable of grasping, so the argument can really go both ways.

Hope that helps.

Avi Craimer

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/16/14 7:26 PM as a reply to Avi Craimer.
Thanks for the reply. I think I know what you mean. I can go to 3rd Jhana (possibly by not too strict definitions). I do see in myself a fascination with and an attachment to it. The calmness is tempting. And I do see my mind wanting to get there. It's actually pretty easy for me to get there, almost like the mind falls into it. The first time I had a strong experience it did change my reality a little bit. Although it wouldn't be completely wrong to say in good ways. The question there is, is it bad in itself to change your reality. (here is my post about it link)

I do have personal issues that I'm making progress on but I don't think I'm ready to go in that hard. Although I'm closer than before. Maybe I'll ease the concentration a little bit? At the same time, I feel that the calmness and peace I get is healing to some extent. Or is it like a drug that's making me addicted to it? What do you think?

Also any tips you would have about using concentration practices for personal healing would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/17/14 12:59 AM as a reply to FM Cetin.
Trial And Error:
Thanks for the reply. I think I know what you mean. I can go to 3rd Jhana (possibly by not too strict definitions). I do see in myself a fascination with and an attachment to it. The calmness is tempting. And I do see my mind wanting to get there. It's actually pretty easy for me to get there, almost like the mind falls into it.


I didn't mean to scare you off doing concentration practice. Do the jhana for however long you decide in advance and then when the time is up resolve to leave it. If you find your mind resisting leaving, start investigating the resistance. Notice the "self" that wants to stay in jhana, notice the seductive quality of it, see the 3 characteristics in all these. Go through the jhanic factors one by one and investigate each of them. Investigating all this stuff sort of de-claws the jhana's power to seduce you. It doesn't mean that the jhana won't still be pleasant and have a positive causal effect on your mind and body, it will, but this pleasure and good feeling won't feel as sticky. In my experience the investigation also helps make jhana stronger as you gain more mastery of the elements that make it up. Becoming less attracted to the jhanic factors helps you focus more single pointedly on the object in access concentration which in turn helps make the jhanas based on the object deeper. So it's all a virtuous cycle.

Trial And Error:
I do have personal issues that I'm making progress on but I don't think I'm ready to go in that hard. Although I'm closer than before. Maybe I'll ease the concentration a little bit? At the same time, I feel that the calmness and peace I get is healing to some extent. Or is it like a drug that's making me addicted to it? What do you think?


It's both. It's a drug that is also profoundly healing. Imagine if recreational drugs had positive physical and psychological side effects rather than negative ones. We might find them a lot less problematic, like people who are addicted to the endorphin rush of long distance running. Also, the addictive effects can be countered by doing vipassina on the jhanic factors. Finally, if you are early on in the path, it might not be such a bad thing to become a little bit attached to jhanic factors as this could help break some attachments to less subtle states like physical sensations and so on. You've got to trust your own experience. If going into jhana seems healing for you, then I'd say go with it. If it starts to become a problem and you find yourself beginning to cling tensely to concentration states, then start more determined investigation of those states.


Trial And Error:
Also any tips you would have about using concentration practices for personal healing would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


In my experience, Jhana's on the Brahma Viharas are most valuable for personal healing. One tip from Shaila Catherine is that it's easier to get into jhana if you use shorter phrases. So for, example, for metta, I use, "may all beings be happy and fulfilled," rather than the traditional three separate phrases. After coming out of a B.V. Jhana you can immediately use the energy of that jhana to do personal healing work. I have a long post on strategies for this sort of work here.

Avi Craimer

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/17/14 3:17 AM as a reply to Avi Craimer.
All very informative and helpful comments. Thanks. Your other post definitely looks interesting. I'll look into those techniques. There is also something I do for healing. I'm posting it under your thread.

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/17/14 11:25 AM as a reply to Avi Craimer.
Realize that my "criteria" actually are a wide range and require a less black and white view of jhana, so perhaps qualify what you mean by jhana more clearly, as I, for one, have no idea what you mean by my criteria.

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/17/14 12:26 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
Realize that my "criteria" actually are a wide range and require a less black and white view of jhana, so perhaps qualify what you mean by jhana more clearly, as I, for one, have no idea what you mean by my criteria.


I may have overstated it in calling them "criteria". What I meant was that there is a different overall picture of what jhana states are like. The picture of jhana presented in MCTB is wide and inclusive of both hard and soft states. In contrast, Catherine's criteria are very strict. For example 1st jhana on the breath is defined as total absorption in a bright, strong, stable nimmita (mental sign) with no or minimal sensation of the body or the environment. There is not supposed to be any focus paid to the jhanic factors and the state is so deep that you must decide in advance before entering it how long to spend in it since once in it there is no or minimal capacity for decision making. That all sounds quite different from the way jhanas are described in MCTB, at least on my reading of it. Just as one example, as far as I can recall, MCTB doesn't really talk about the nimmitta as the object of absorption for jhana (although perhaps it's meant to be implicit).

When I started meditating using Catherine's book as a guide, I spent many hours doing pure breath concentration and I could never get to a 1st jhana that met her standards. It was quite a relief to realize after reading your book, and working with my teacher Vincent, that I was actually able to achieve states that were clearly jhana under the broader definition. So I certainly wasn't saying that Catherine's standards are better for all purposes, but they do set a very high aspirational bar for those who would like to master concentration at the highest level.

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/17/14 6:18 PM as a reply to Avi Craimer.
Read the section on candle flame meditation: talks about the colors, etc.

Might check out here: Advanced Jhana Classification

It is a bit of a hyper-technical read, but if you don't want to think that hard about it, go down towards the bottom: it talks about lights, ultra-hard jhana, etc.

I have done ultra-hard nimmita-based jhana using kasinas on retreat and really enjoyed them. Lots of power-related experiences get very close to the surface when you do that, as you mention, or psychosis, if you prefer... ;)

RE: Why is there not a greater emphasis on getting higher Jhanas in Vipassa
Answer
3/17/14 11:45 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hey,

That article was awesome, not too technical (I've got an analytic philosophy background). It really makes sense of a lot of things. Since I've started seriously doing vipassana investigation of the samatha jhanas, I've started also noticing those sub-samatha jhanic elements during the nyanas. I just didn't quite have the terminology to express it. It feels as if understanding these aspects of the mind really starts to unravel a lot of the shadow puppetry that goes on in ordinary perception, perhaps more so than anything else I've experienced so far. It's like peeling back the layers on what makes up attention, point-of-view, and space all at once.

I also found this article on the different schools of thought about jhana: http://leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

Daniel M. Ingram:
I have done ultra-hard nimmita-based jhana using kasinas on retreat and really enjoyed them. Lots of power-related experiences get very close to the surface when you do that, as you mention, or psychosis, if you prefer... ;)


Nice. I'm working up to it. I sometimes get nimmitas arising (they look like little floating jewels) but they aren't extremely bright and stable. I can absorb into them momentarily, but it never lasts more than a few moments, then the nimmita starts moving around, becoming more mandala like, and finally collapses entirely. I've also had some interesting powers realms experiences with nimmita-like jewel objects acting as spirit guides and so on. I went through a period of building sculptures of them and that led to quite a lot of important psychological integration although it may not have helped my meditation skills much. One of my nimmita sculptures.

The nimmita is such a delightfully odd aspect of the human psyche. I wonder if it explains why people like geometry and diamonds so much!