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Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
5/31/15 6:46 PM
Hi,

Attempting to diagnose where I'm at with concentration states in my tai chi / chi gung practice,
I've been making a resolve before each practice to reach the highest jhana state I can get to and solidify it

I quite soon reach a point where I seem to let go of 'applied and sustained effort'; awareness of breath, movement, energy etc to a certain degree 'just happens'. Visualisations/feeling of energy; it feels like the chi is really there and its doing its own thing...again, to a certain degree.

And there's a lot of what I guess is rapture  ...  it can be extremely pleasurable.  ... though i'm not totally sure how that's different from the 'bodily bliss' that's leftover in the 3rd jhana.  but that sounds to me like 2nd jhana.

When I was training last year every day at the temple I went through all kinds of different states including occasional experiences that are best described by 5th and 6th jhanas; physical body dissolves into awareness of boundless open space and sometimes awareness of all of space being one great conscious entity.  These were incredibly profound experiences, ie. not just some hunch that everything's conscious or suchlike; I was it!

So it seems nowadays I'm hanging around a lot in 2nd jhana, but I've probably been in 3rd often enough (in ideal practice conditions) 
- anyone have any good cues for reminding this tai chi body what types of things to look out for to get there and nail it?  (or indeed 4th,5th,6th for that matter!)  
btw, I've read and re-read Daniel's jhana stuff many times for this, so if anyone has any juice on how the 3+ jhanas feel specifically in relation to body practices/ moving energy around / tai chi / chi gung stuff ... that would be really great and appreciated.

thanks
cian

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
5/31/15 10:03 PM as a reply to cian.
Given what you've written, there's no way to guess what tai chi or chi gung you're doing. Your jhana descriptions are similarly vague. Maybe start with a description of a posture or sequence from either and write about how you are experiencing the jhanic factors arise, persist and abate as you move through the various jhanas.

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/1/15 9:47 AM as a reply to Small Steps.
hmmm ok, I'll give it a try...

let's take just the most basic exercise before anything else even begins..
Standing, feet parallel a bit wider than hip distance, hands close to belly but not touching, centre of palms of hands pointed directly at dan-tien as if they're beaming energy in there, inhale; whole body and universe expands outwards from centrepoint of dan-tien (knees straighten somewhat, body rises up and hands move a little away from the body), exhale; whole body and universe contracts inwards towards central point of dan-tien (knees bend, body sinks down, hands move in a little), all the while paying attention to dan-tien, crown of head, palms of each hand, being as relaxed in mind and body as possible, allowing breath to be free and natural, unifying mind, movement and breath, allowing the chi to flow unimpeded, allowing the body to be moved by the chi, keeping senses alive and open to the environment you are in...etc

Plus lots of other postural adjustments that I shan't bother going into here and so many other aspects to it that I don't feel I have the authority to even begin to try putting into words...and that's before any of the more complex movements even begin ... 
And even what I have written seems way too clunky and mechanical compared to what's actually going on, but hopefully it gives a general sense of it.

So first off its perhaps not such a typical samatha jhana exercise in that there's SO MUCH to be aware of at any one time 
(would i be right in saying that one would typically have a single point of focus to bring attention to? - for your standard samatha jhana practice)

Some actual experiences; 
if i'm really unfocussed, or back when I was learning first, it would be a challenge to synchronise the movements with the breath and visualising/feeling energy expansion and contraction.  In the beginning there was plenty of figuring out how to do it, which gives lots of avenues for the mind to go wandering off thinking about unrelated things.

Now this mostly all locks in together as soon as I begin. 
it feels as though
[ inhale = expansion, exhale = contraction ] = corresponding physical movements
all of this creates a sense of unity, that is grounding and secure.  At ease, enjoying it. The mind kind of settles in to it, like my mind is interested and engaged by enjoying all the sensations and directing the motion to be smoother and more effortless.  

This is a fairly standard base state that I'll be fairly solidly in after I've set my intention to practice, found a place to stand that feels good and level and feel at ease in the space I'm in, decide I'm ready to roll, and go in... and I can stay in that for a good hour or however long I decide to go for.

1st jhana ?

But within that as a base to work on, there's still lots of applied effort work going on...

A short slice of that might go something like this:
perhaps i'm noticing tensions in parts of the body and trying to relax that for a bit, then maybe I'm having difficulty sensing the crown of my head (it's a bit of a blind spot for me), after trying to do that for a while i may notice i'm holding myself UP in my legs and Aaahhhh, remember to allow the weight to sink down through the feet, then go more into that and notice how it makes my legs shake, Wonder and feel into whether I'm 'making that' happen through tension somewhere or is it just a natural result of releasing leg muscles perhaps to just the very edge of the tension level they can hold me up at, so they oscillate quickly on/off/on/off/on/off, notice how that extra movement brings pleasant sensations up to the belly and also brings greater awareness of dan-tien, into which I now visualise and try to feel energy expanding out from and contracting in to, do that for a bit while consciously relaxing the shoulders down, realise I've lost the crown of my head and feet again, try to unify them all together ...

In other words its a bit like spinning plates or trying to juggle 10 balls when I can only handle 3 or 4 at a time ... or herding cats!

But after a while of cycling through those, its like the 10 cats all get herded into one unified place and start all dancing choreographed together. How un-cat-like!
Now the mind can sort of sit back and conduct, and where I was trying to focus on 10 things at once, now they're all just 1 thing and its rather easy.
Even still there'll be a tendency to focus on one aspect of all those 10 things for a long stretch at a time:
such as, my personal favourite of late, feeling the dance and play of the fascial trains' connections throughout the body (this feels reeeally nice)
or visualising/feeling how the energy flows through the surrounding space, of which my body is just the centre (but somehow all the postural reference points in the body ...are... those energy movements  ....?? this is a vague feeling but it seems to work somehow) 
or really completely letting go and intending to fully allow the body to float on the waves 
{perhaps the next stage would be to focus on all above aspects at once}

If I get into a really solid groove of this kinda state then it feels  reallly      reeealllyy   fucking good


That seems about the height of where I'm getting to these days, unless I'm sometimes doing some hypnotised grooving away in 3rd&4th jhanas but too much of a pleasure junky (probably accurate given some of my comments above) so forget about it and knock down some gears to where I feel the juice is at!

At the temple when I was learning this stuff, there was so much intense energy flying around and reality-paradigm busting experiences happening all the time, that I'm not even going to try to describe the states I might've passed through, except for a few really stand out moments where all of physical 'reality' including my body completely dissolved and all that existed was this ...well, "boundless consciousness" describes it really well.  But perhaps I'd be better climbing up through the jhanas in order rather than trying to skip straight into 6th gear!

Ok, so I see now why I was reluctant to go into more detail; I've found this really challenging to honestly describe my experience here. but quite a rewarding and clarifying exercise.  Thanks Small Steps.  I hope its at least somewhat understandable and approaching what you were suggesting (?)




RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/1/15 9:56 AM as a reply to cian.
I realise another kind of implied question i have wriggling its way through all of this is:

If I want to really get into cultivating strong concentration states, would this tai chi practice be sufficient, or would you recommend a kasina-esque practice that isolates one single point of focus?

Thanks!

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/2/15 11:57 AM as a reply to cian.
Thanks for stepping up to the plate and writing with such gusto! I know from experience how hard it is to write about this stuff :-)

I come from a presumably similar background: martial arts practice, standing chi gung practice. No tai chi experience, however, though I've seen and felt enough of the true stuff to have some idea.

I've felt similar things as you're writing about. I think I wrote somewhere else about a walking meditation technique I use that also results in the "herding cats until they herd themselves" feeling. Also, something about doing standing and feeling opening and closing to super expansive and condensed states. I think it's in my practice journal (yikes, so lacking in update).

I don't know if it's very useful to try to make the experience fit into a jhana "level," or designation (I want to reach the highest jhana level I can today is a little unhelpful). Sufficient to just know when the four factors are present and when the states become more refined and the factors drop off. Your practice should just take you wherever it will in the moment. I think you know what I mean?

If you don't already have a sitting practice with a simple object (e.g. breath), you could try this for a while and see how it feels. Since you already have the strong chi gung and movement practice, I suspect this should yield some quick results. The main difference I feel in sitting is that there's a very strong tendency towards absorption, as the body is much more in a stable state (no worries about falling over, or moving anything). You could also play with things like trying to let a nimitta arise and seeing how stable you can make it, get absorbed into it, etc. Again, much harder to do when you're moving about.

In movement, my suspicion is that this stuff falls more under the rubric of khanika samadhi or the vipassana jhanas (search for Sayadaw U Pandita's book, InThis Very Life for a good writeup on this). The very act of standing without falling over requires so much, not to mention doing a tai chi move properly. It might be possible to take the feeling of absorption back out into the movement practice, though I find this is much much harder to do. 

Finally, if you do tui shou as part of your practice, really try to use that as a way to watch things. Very powerful way to move practice forward.

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/2/15 4:44 PM as a reply to Small Steps.
thanks for the feedback.
some interesting things in here. i looked up a little on khanika samadhi - interesting that maybe the same samatha jhana 'system' just maybe doesn't apply with movement!?  I may read some more on this...

I for sure get your point about not specifically trying to get into a certain jhana
but then again I did find having that resolve, as well as the interest / curiosity of reaching a certain state (i normaly don't think of my tai chi practice in that way, but i like to explore and keep it fresh!) was helpful for being really really focussed and encouraged me along to that really blissful flow.  But yes in general your advice makes sense to me here and also sounds good to notice the presence of the four factors and when they refine and drop off.

I do plenty of sitting practice too but I mostly do a kind of a sitting version of the tai chi these days - 
surrender to doing nothing. completely relax everything.  then the body starts 'massaging itself' - this is what it feels like. spontaneous kriyas (or myofascial unwinding!) come and go loosening everything out.  Lots of freeflowing awareness throughout the body, but 'I' dont direct anything. Just sit and watch the cats play ;) Again, extremely blissful.  (i seem to be in high A&P territory)

So I guess this is why I'm quite curious about concentration practices.  Because I'm so used to this 'dont direct anything, just surrender, let it happen' wu-wei way, it feels really unnatural to me to focus on 1 thing only - kinda like bringing my kid to the playground but then saying "you can only play on the swing and nothing else!"  - then I feel kinda mean emoticon  .  you get what i mean  ;)   ?

I did do a 10day goenke course and remember being quite surprised by my clarity of concentration (i had just come back from 3months at the tai chi temple, so i was interested to see how it had developed my concentration for sitting (my meditation having been very unfocussed prior to that)) - 
those little sensations around the nose became the whole universe for those first 3 days.  But even then I found it really hard not to explore deeper into the fundamental nature of those sensations (I'm also quite practiced in self-enquiry so I was perhaps borrowing a lot from that) and had what seemed like little mini-fruitions here and there, haha, i am an explorer by nature I guess; maybe learning to keep the mind still on 1 single object in meditation might help me to keep still in 1 place in my life also emoticon
...not to mention my sentence-structuring    ;)

Ok!
I will try it!  Perhaps this nimitta thing, which you've also prompted me to read about.  I think I will have to make a very strong resolve and be very clear beforehand about what the object is to be... 

Thankyou for the info,advice&encouragement!
cian

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/2/15 5:45 PM as a reply to cian.
The descriptions of your experiences mirror many of my own. It would be uncanny, except that both of us have a background in a form of mindful movement, so I think that is a prime influence. Would love to hear from a yogic perspective, if any of our posts resonate with someone from that community.

Yes, lots of non-doing, aka open awareness style practice is also where I am mostly at these days when I practice vipassana. I'm still fairly conservative when I do the concentration work, however, which I think leads to a very fruitful middle path type of practice. For a long time, it was concentration on the anapana spot exclusively. Today, I'm much more inclined to go the metta (and compassion) route as samatha work.

When I do sitting practice, it often goes to the cats herding themselves place, which then leads to no cats, just herding, then no herding at all. It's all very... curious and interesting emoticon

To say a little about kriyas and bliss and spontaneous full body unwindings: I'm sure you have been experiencing these for some time. If it hasn't already happened, watch out for when it manifests "in real life," off the cushion. Can be inconvenient. Also, don't even think about doing any of this stuff while driving (I speak from personal experience). Safety first! ;-)

One thing I sometimes play with is inquiry into why the kriyas occur. The standard saw is, "It's an energy blockage working itself out." To which I say, "Bullshit. What's really going on?" I use that as my version of "Who am I?"

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/2/15 6:27 PM as a reply to Small Steps.
uuuhh! I'm totally loving all you've written here!

quick response:
yes! that's what I'm feeling, that a balanced middle way with doing 'conservative' concentration practice will be great.
and i'm a big fan of metta - sometimes I incorporate it into chi gung practice (i was having trouble with the verbal of metta, but found when doing heart-focussed chi gung standing that the feeling was very similar if not identical to a good metta session, so i rolled with it!) and have also been curious whether it 'counts' :-0 as samatha work
(...i'll do it in stillness though! in deference to all the foregone discussion - haha)

kriyas in 'real life' 
yeah they've been going on now for a little over 2 years.
There was a while when I was travelling that I spent lots of extra money getting a private room for myself because I thought I might terrify any dorm-sharers with my nightly uncontrollable seizures :-S
They're a LOT tamer now.

they started out really coarse, 1 big explosion...pause...another big explosion.
then they got more continuous but very jerky
now they're very smooth most of the time. quite fluid, especially when I relax really deeply and at a fine level.  "energy blockage working itself it" kinda works as an explanation, just like "it's a thing that grows up out of the ground" kinda works as an explanation for what a tree is, so I wouldn't say "bullshit" exactly, but there's certainly so much more juice in enquiring "What's REALLY going on?"

!! 

*metta*
 emoticon

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/3/15 8:40 AM as a reply to cian.
re: cian (6/1/15 9:47 AM as a reply to Small Steps.)

That which you described at length sounds like a conventional TCM qigong – stance often used to end various kinds (forms) of practice, or used by itself.

(Pardon if I use the PinYin terms for 'moving meditations' qigong (for chi gung) and taijiquan (for tai ch'i chaun), as that's what I'm used to.)

When learning any moving meditation, there's lots to keep aware of, esp with taijiquan – precise balanced slow movements – as you've expressed very well.
with practice – mastery, much becomes automatic, one can focus on each of the classical 3 levels – jing bodily movement, qi breath, shen mental awareness –this can result in khanika samadhi – momentary concentration (as Small Steps mentions).

"At ease, enjoying it. The mind kind of settles in to it, like my mind is interested and engaged by enjoying all the sensations and directing the motion to be smoother and more effortless."

"So first off its perhaps not such a typical samatha jhana exercise in that there's SO MUCH to be aware of at any one time (would i be right in saying that one would typically have a single point of focus to bring attention to? - for your standard samatha jhana practice)"


Need to clarify what kind of jhana you are referring to, what kind you've learned about. The single-pointedness focus mentioned above goes with traditional Visudhimaggajhana system, which is not possible simultaneously with bodily motion.

"Even still there'll be a tendency to focus on one aspect of all those 10 things for a long stretch at a time…"

khanika
samadhi, when strongly focused on on aspect, or even several in an all-together sense.

"Practice at the temple"
was that qigong, or taijiquan. If qigong, did you do just that stance you describe (working the qi at the dantien), or also moving forms?

"… I'm sometimes doing some hypnotised grooving away in 3rd&4th jhanas…"

and earlier
"…occasional experiences that are best described by 5th and 6th jhanas…"
"So it seems nowadays I'm hanging around a lot in 2nd jhana, but I've probably been in 3rd often enough (in ideal practice conditions)"


Talking about jhana-s in these ways would not fit with the Visudhimagga (Vism) jhana-s, but perhaps more the Brasington-Bucknell-MartinFox (BBMF) jhana system. This appears used by many people in DhO, and, as far as I cantell, is also the basis for the "pure-land" version.

The BBMF system postulates a series of 8 jhanas (spelled out by Rod Bucknell), relatively easy to find with some instruction and imagination, and can be done together with movement, even speech, but lacking the distinctive 'absorption' that's characteristic of the Visudhimagga jhana-s. According to Bucknell (who was following one Martin Stuart-Fox, and whom Brasington follows) the 8th BBMF jhana can be seen as roughly equivalent to the 1st Vism jhana. (Some argue the Vism jhana-s are next to impossible for any one other than a dedicated monk, but many authorities (from Thai, Burmese traditions, and people like Ayya Khema, Ajahn Sujato, etc.) maintain that anybody can do them, with proper training and sustained practice.)

"If I want to really get into cultivating strong concentration states, would this tai chi practice be sufficient, or would you recommend a kasina-esque practice that isolates one single point of focus?"

Moving meditation (taijiquan orqigong) can perhaps be used with the BBMF jhana system, but not get you into absorptive jhana. On the other hand, kasina practice is exactly where the Vism system starts its discussion of absorptive jhana, involving seclusion from all sensory input other then the object of focus (e.g. the kasina image), and with bodily motionlessness (not meaning rigidity, but rather equipoise), except for breath, heart-beat, blood-qi circulation, etc.

Actually in two of the most memorable Daoist qigong (aka 'daoyin') systems I have studied, trained in*, there were two phases: 1) 'forms' of programed movement, not unlike taijiquan forms, and followed by sitting, stationary meditation. In fact, in the 'Circling hands' method, the teacher emphasized that the sitting meditation was more important than the moving form, and his description of it was virtually identical to Theravadan anapanasati samadhi practice.

So you might investigate the differences, strengths / weakness of each of these jhana systems, and decide which conforms to your inclination and goals. Both have pragmatic value, but in different ways. If you want to go for really strong concentration, use kasina (e.g. steady flame as object – well documented here in DhO threads) or breath object,  both as in the Vism. system. Moving meditation can still be used, perhaps as an initial phase, warm-up to calm and synchronize the jing-qi-shen (and using momentary concentration) before switching to sitting concentration practice.

There are a couple of quite good youtube talks by Ajahn Sujato on the (classical) jhana-s, and a good, relatively brief book by his teacher, Ajahn Brahm, on-line.

* 'Circling hands' form taught by Share K Lew (of San Diego, now deceased), and 'Wu Xin Lian Dan Fa' ("Five Hearts Smelt the Elixer Method") form, taught by Wu BaoLin (still teaching, in Santa Monica, CA)

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/3/15 10:45 AM as a reply to CJMacie.

"Need to clarify what kind of jhana you are referring to, what kind you've learned about. The single-pointedness focus mentioned above goes with traditional Visudhimaggajhana system, which is not possible simultaneously with bodily motion."

I'm only going by the samatha jhanas in MCTB. And I've found a copy of Vimuttimagga which i'm hoping to crack into. I presume both work from the same Vishudhimaggajhana system  ?

Very interesting that bodily movement necessitates a different system.  
Tai Chi / Chi Gung (... really I was doing a mixture of both.  I'm quite happy to say I know next to nothing about tai chi / etc. The classes were mostly silent in fact. I didn't care at all to not know what I was doing. It was all damn good stuff whatever it was.  To be quite technical it could probably be called 'Temple Style Taoist Alchemy'. And yeah, we did moving forms) tends to cultivate what seem to me to be siddhis/psychic powers - throwing large people across a room with a light touch for instance.  Going by MCTB, I assumed that might come from 4th+ samatha jhana states...
but perhaps this khanika samadhi business has other tricks up its sleeve, or these tai chi powers are coming from somewhere else...

hmm, I also find this confusing; are khanika samadhi and vipassana jhanas the same thing? which would make any movement practice automatically an insight practice??
http://sharanam.tumblr.com/post/15565543812/vipassana-concentration-is-called-khanika-samadhi
"In movement, my suspicion is that this stuff falls more under the rubric of khanika samadhi or the vipassana jhanas" - small steps

doesn't seem to make sense to me, I'm just getting boggled by names...sorry for all the silly questions, feel free to just refer me again to the literature :-S

and thanks emoticon lots of good stuff here.  i'll keep you updated about my sitting concentration playtimes

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/7/15 8:51 AM as a reply to cian.
re: cian (6/3/15 10:45 AM as a reply to Chris JMacie.)

"I'm only going by the samatha jhanas in MCTB. And I've found a copy of Vimuttimagga which i'm hoping to crack into. I presume both work from the same Vishudhimaggajhana system  ?”


The Visudhiimagga (ca.5th-century CE) is an elaboration of the Vimuttimagga (ca. 1st-century CE, and the original is lost, what we have is a Chinese translation), and MCTB, as far as I can tell, is largely based on 20th-century interpretation of the former.

Reading those texts can be very interesting, but it's hard to find many people to talk about it with. There's a lot of prejudice in modernist Buddhism against Abhidhamma and commentarial traditions. Burmese masters generally are into this, but Thai traditions maybe not. I once asked Thanissaro Bhikkhu about reading the Visudhimagga, which I was doing at the time; he said "forget it, just read the sutta-s".

"hmm, I also find this confusing; are khanika samadhi and vipassana jhanas the same thing? which would make any movement practice automatically an insight practice??"

I think you're on to something there. Knowing what the basic classical jhana-s are about, I'm still a bit fuzzy about what the 'vipassana jhana-s'
mean. A working hypethesis is that they are a re-working of the basic jhana-s from the vantage-point of more advanced insight stages. Going in and out of the jhana absorptions to analyze more exactly what those states are all about. (Perhaps like what Sariputta was doing in MN 111.) Jhana absorption is in some sense a foretaste of contact with Nibbana, being infused with sukha and having some degree of mental cessation; but jhana states are also transitory and have disadvantages. But apparently can be used as a stepping-stone.

RE: Jhanas in Tai Chi / Chi Gung
Answer
6/7/15 10:45 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
 I'm still a bit fuzzy about what the 'vipassana jhana-s' mean.
I think Bill Hamilton made the term up(?)  From what I understand, its just a convenient way to indicate how one can group the numerous nanas together to show how they roughly correlate with the 4 rupa jhanas.  So, it wouldn't refer to taking a "vipassana" lense on a jhanic state (sort of 'mixing them'), but rather noticing how one can easily slip into a hard 2nd jhana while in the midst of the 4th nana (from one, independently, into another).  This is how I've used it with Ron, who hasn't corrected me, as well as how I've read it used on KFD.

Edit: so 1st jhana would correspond roughly to the first 3 Nanas grouped together and the 3rd Nana most specifically... 3rd V. jhana would for the entire DN but most accurately for the 5th Nana.  Sorry if I overexplained here, you may have already heard all this.