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Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?

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Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/18/15 7:54 PM
I had a definite breakthrough in my meditation tonight and I'm not sure if what I experienced was Access Concentration or the 1st Jhana. I think it was probably the former but I'd appreciate any opinions from more experienced people here.

When I first started meditating, as I expect it is with most people, I was terrible! Mind wandering, images coming into my head, shifting about etc. But with practice I've managed to pretty much get rid of all thoughts and follow the breath without interuption. But tonight something happened that was out of the ordinary.  

I was doing anapanasati (just following the breath, not noting, as per my earlier question in this section) and gradually I became aware that I had total clarity, with no thoughts at all intruding. My mind was a total blank, so to speak, or rather completely clear and one pointed. My breathing had virtually stopped and I was just breathing in slighty for about a second and then breathing out again for a second and then it would be quite some time before I needed to breath again. When I eventually opened my eyes I was still very much in this state of complete clarity and remained like this for quite a while afterwards. It was very nice! If I closed my eyes and tried to meditate again, even for a few seconds, I could pretty much immediately go into this state again. Top and tail of it, I felt that I had definitely gone into a state of altered consciousness. 

From what I've read, this does sound like Access Concentration. But I've also read here that Access Concentration doesn't always mainfest as the 'wow, what's going on here!' experience I had tonight. I thought I alrady had Access Concentration before tonight, as I was able to get into quite deep states of concentration, without most thoughts intruding. (Someone in another post mentioned having a sort of dull ache just above the eyes, which I have experienced as well.)

But I believe that the 1st  Jhana brings on feelings of bliss or ectasy? I wouldn't exactly say I had this as such, but it was a definite shift in consciousness from anything I've experienced previously.

Any thoughts on this would be much appreicated.

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 1:25 AM as a reply to Lee.
Lee:
I had a definite breakthrough in my meditation tonight and I'm not sure if what I experienced was Access Concentration or the 1st Jhana. I think it was probably the former...

It was neither. You went straight into samadhi. If anything, it was similar to fourth dhyana. It is possible to seemingly by pass what are described as the first three dhyanas and go directly to samadhi. I do it all the time.

Lee:
I was doing anapanasati (just following the breath, not noting, as per my earlier question in this section) and gradually I became aware that I had total clarity, with no thoughts at all intruding. My mind was a total blank, so to speak, or rather completely clear and one pointed. My breathing had virtually stopped and I was just breathing in slighty for about a second and then breathing out again for a second and then it would be quite some time before I needed to breath again.

Yes. That is a perfect description of appanā-samādhi. Been there, done that many times. It is a sublime state to attain.

Lee:

When I eventually opened my eyes I was still very much in this state of complete clarity and remained like this for quite a while afterwards. It was very nice! If I closed my eyes and tried to meditate again, even for a few seconds, I could pretty much immediately go into this state again.

What you were experiencing afterwards is a perfect description of passaddhi or tranquility, and what is described as the fifth factor of the seven factors of enlightenment. My own preferred description of passaddhi is better described as being "a profound inner peace." Tranquility, yes, but an inner peace with an astounding clarity of mind. The word tranquility doesn't quite capture the profundity of the experience when one is first experiencing this state of mental clarity. This experience of passaddhi is to be cultivated after sitting meditation, the length of time it lasts after formal meditation expanded until one recognizes that one is in a state of being mindful at all moments.

Lee:

Top and tail of it, I felt that I had definitely gone into a state of altered consciousness.

No. You were not in what is popularly described as an altered state of consciousness. It's true that it was altered from what you are normally used to. But it was not what one might loosely call an altered state of consciousness. My definition of altered state of consciousness includes what is most commonly described as being in a trance-like state, where the mind is overly relaxed and maleable to suggestion, altered from being able to "see things as they are." And you definitely do not want to go there! You want the mind to remain clear, calm, focused, and concentrated without a loss of mindfulness. Altered states of consciousness (according to the definition I just gave) do not include mindfulness. Maintaining mindfulness is the key to eventually attaining enlightenment.

Lee:
I thought I already had Access Concentration before tonight, as I was able to get into quite deep states of concentration, without most thoughts intruding. (Someone in another post mentioned having a sort of dull ache just above the eyes, which I have experienced as well.)

Yes. That dull headache above the eye-brows in the center of the forehead can be seen as being a nimitta, a sign. It lets one know that the mind has just become very concentrated, and can be held upon any object that it wants to focus upon. Primarily, in order to perform insight contemplation.

Lee:
But I believe that the 1st Jhana brings on feelings of bliss or ectasy? I wouldn't exactly say I had this as such, but it was a definite shift in consciousness from anything I've experienced previously.

Yes, the first dhyana can bring on sensations of what is called rapture (piti) and pleasure (sukha). Sometimes these factors arise for the practitioner, and sometimes they do not (or are so subtle as to not be noticeable). Don't worry if you do not notice them at first. As the mind becomes more accustomed to entering these states, its perception can widen enough so that one begins to notice such nuances more clearly.

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 10:29 AM as a reply to Ian And.
 Thanks for your detailed reply, Ian. It was most helpful.

IAN:

It was neither. You went straight into samadhi. If anything, it was similar to fourth dhyana. It is possible to seemingly by pass what are described as the first three dhyanas and go directly to samadhi. I do it all the time.

Well that was unexpected! I've just read your sticky post about the Jhanas in this section and it does seem that what I experienced was the 4th Jhana. I haven't (knowingly, anyway) been aware of attaining any of the previous 3 Jhanas, so is it common to sort of jump immediately to appana-samahi without experiencing any of the others?

I'm only at section 2 of Daniel's book so I know roughly what Jhanas are from other sources but I haven't read about the details of what they entail and what to expect. Is is possible that I perhaps did indeed experience some of the other stages in my previous mediations but as I wasn't looking out for them, didn't register what they were?

I did have a rather strange experience last week whilst mediating. I sit in a chair and had my hands on my thighs and at one point, it was as if my arms had disappeared. It wasn't that they had just gone numb, but that had just sort of gone. I also got the feeling that I was becoming somewhat disembodied, that I was all in the mind. I wonder if this was a precursor?

IAN:
 
Yes. That is a perfect description of appanā-samādhi. Been there, done that many times. It is a sublime state to attain.


It was interesting reading your comments in the sticky post about being in appana-samadhi and hearing noises etc. I remember thinking afterward that even if I had wanted to have a thought, it would have been impossible to have one.

IAN:

What you were experiencing afterwards is a perfect description of passaddhi or tranquility, and what is described as the fifth factor of the seven factors of enlightenment. My own preferred description of passaddhi is better described as being "a profound inner peace." Tranquility, yes, but an inner peace with an astounding clarity of mind. The word tranquility doesn't quite capture the profundity of the experience when one is first experiencing this state of mental clarity. This experience of passaddhi is to be cultivated after sitting meditation, the length of time it lasts after formal meditation expanded until one recognizes that one is in a state of being mindful at all moments.


Well, I been to sleep since my last post and my sense of mindfulness and, as you say, inner peace, is still very palpable, completely different from normal. My internal mental chatter is pretty much non-existant and I still have a very strong sense of concnetration and calmness. I haven't mediated properly yet so it will be interesting to see what happens when I do later on this evening.

IAN:
 
Yes, the first dhyana can bring on sensations of what is called rapture (piti) and pleasure (sukha). Sometimes these factors arise for the practitioner, and sometimes they do not (or are so subtle as to not be noticeable). Don't worry if you do not notice them at first. As the mind becomes more accustomed to entering these states, its perception can widen enough so that one begins to notice such nuances more clearly.


Ah, I see. I suppose this goes back to seeming to 'jump' straight to the 4th Jhana. Perhaps I was accessing them but they weren't as obvious as the extremely blatant 4th one!
 

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 12:46 PM as a reply to Lee.
Someone needs to sticky this thread somewhere here in the Concentration catagory so that others can learn from it. Because I do not have time to keep answering individual questions which refer to the same material over and over again (whether the poster realizes they are asking a similar question or not). For anyone in the future who asks similar questions, I will just refer them back to this thread. They will have to figure things out for themselves based upon the experiences they are describing which match up closely or exactly with the ones described here.

Lee:
 Thanks for your detailed reply, Ian. It was most helpful.

You are welcome.

Lee:
I haven't (knowingly, anyway) been aware of attaining any of the previous 3 Jhanas, so is it common to sort of jump immediately to appana-samahi without experiencing any of the others?

The answer to this can vary and depends upon the practitioner. For some people, yes, it may be common. Because they realize what they can do and accomplish using meditation. For others, because they don't know or don't have contact with a meditation guide or instructor to help them make determinations about the experiences they are having or how the dhyana experience is induced or fabricated, such experiences can become confusing to a degree because they don't match up with descriptions they have read about as being expected to occur. When their expectations aren't met, they think they have done something wrong, or that they are not doing it right. This is because people are not taught the truth about the practice of meditation, which is that you can go anywhere you want to during meditation if you KNOW and understand how to get there! It doesn't always have to happen as it is so often described. Descriptions are only useful as a guidepost regarding an ideal method for reaching a goal. Doesn't mean that the "rules" can't be broken, and that one can't achieve it using a difference approach.

A lot of this has to do with the amount of insight (about meditation) that a person has gathered from their meditative experience in general. The more experienced and mature the practice, the more the person is aware of what can be accomplished, and how to accomplish their goals.

Lee:
Is is possible that I perhaps did indeed experience some of the other stages in my previous mediations but as I wasn't looking out for them, didn't register what they were? ... Ah, I see. I suppose this goes back to seeming to 'jump' straight to the 4th Jhana. Perhaps I was accessing them but they weren't as obvious as the extremely blatant 4th one!

Yes. Anything is possible. And as I said: as the mind becomes more accustomed to entering these states, its perception can widen enough so that one begins to notice such nuances more clearly.

Lee:
I sit in a chair and had my hands on my thighs and at one point, it was as if my arms had disappeared.... I also got the feeling that I was becoming somewhat disembodied, that I was all in the mind. I wonder if this was a precursor?

A precursor to what? [Rhetorical question.] Experiences like these are just more arising and passing phases of the practice. They can be interesting and fascinating in themselves, and perhaps even add to one's insight about the process as a whole, yet one should not overly focus on them for direction. Accept them for what they are and let go. More important than these fleeting experiences is concentrating (and contemplating) the important aspects of the Dhamma in order to achieve awakening. For example, are you able to see the aspects of your personality as they are displayed by the five aggregates? Do you see that the aggregates, both individually in themselves and together in aggregate, do not constitute a substantial being? These essential aspects of the Dhamma are more important to focus upon than any fleeting meditative experience. See?

Lee:
It was interesting reading your comments in the sticky post about being in appana-samadhi and hearing noises etc. I remember thinking afterward that even if I had wanted to have a thought, it would have been impossible to have one.

Yes. There are different levels of depth that can be attained in appanā-samādhi. When one is not aiming at achieving a deep samatha state (calm and tranquility) then the other senses can come into play, like hearing, tactile touch, smell, and mental activity. It all depends upon the level of calm that one is aiming at achieving. I've experienced the same thing as you, where it seems improbable to have a thought and one just basks in the calm and tranquility of the moment. So, it all depends upon one's intent and where they wish to go with the meditation. I use it primarily now for gathering insight, which means that I have to allow the mind to engage in thought! I could just as easily turn that intention around to pursue tranquility.

Lee:
Well, I been to sleep since my last post and my sense of mindfulness and, as you say, inner peace, is still very palpable, completely different from normal. My internal mental chatter is pretty much non-existant and I still have a very strong sense of concentration and calmness.

That is a good sign! If you can bring that into your daily experience more and more, and you understand and can identify the main teachings of the Dhamma which help the practioner to let go of their attachment to their conditioned thinking and perception patterns or faculties, you will be able to begin seeing directly those elements that cause dukkha and thus be able to avoid those behaviors in order to eliminate their expression on the mental plane.

In order to assist you in achieving this endeavor, I would recommend obtaining the Wisdom Publication edition of the Samyutta Nikaya (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha) and slowly, day by day, reading one or two (if they are short) suttas a day while executing your meditation practice, and using the insights brought up in those suttas as jumping off points for obtaining insight. Be sure to read the footnotes, also, and to use them to increase your understanding of the intent of the sutta. In other words, use the suttas as points for contemplation during your sit. Of course, not every sutta is going to present some interesting insight that can be used for insight practice, so a bit of discernment and discretion is involved in making that determination. But you get the general gist of the suggestion. If you do this, you will be amazed at how much insight into the Dhamma that you pick up during those sessions, and your appreciation for the discourses should increase.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 1:14 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Many, many thanks again Ian for taking the time to make such detailed and informative replies and indeed extremely useful suggestions. I've only been meditating for 5 months so so wasn't really expecting all this so I'll put your advice to good use in my further practice.

You're a star!

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 5:49 PM as a reply to Lee.
Lee,

If you're looking for some focused study/reading material that will help you to make quicker progress in your understanding and practice of the Dhamma, I posted a thread in the Theoreticians and Traditionalists (T&T) discussion forum on the Essential Books from Theravadin Resources.

Don't be overwhelmed by this list. Take it slowly and at your own pace and according to your own interests. For an explanation of the Dhamma and concentrated instruction on what questions to ask yourself as you are attempting to learn the concepts that Gotama taught, the older volumes of discourses are the best to tackle first. That means the Samyutta Nikaya and the Anguttara Nikaya. For information about meditation and its practice, the Majjhima Nikaya contains the most suttas on this subject, however others can be found in both the Anguttara and Samyutta Nikayas. For Gotama's take on ontological issues and to find out more about him and his integrity as a man and a teacher (in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta – DN 16), the Digha Nikaya contains several good and important discourses.

Both Nyanaponika Thera's The Heart of Buddhist Meditation and Venerable Analayo's Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization are excellent examples of how to get the most from your time in meditation. I would recommend reading Nyanaponka's book first as it contains a lot of good practical advice about meditation and the practice of satipatthana, while Analayo's book covers a wider view of additional insights about the practice of satipatthana.

As your practice begins to mature and deepen and you are looking for more advanced insights into the workings of the mind, nothing can be more valuable than the insights contained in Bhikkhu Nanananda's two books Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought and The Magic of the Mind, An Exposition of the Kalakarama Sutta. Of the two, read Concept and Reality first as it will open your mind up to aspects of it that you were never before aware. But wait until you are more mature in your practice as you need to be able to relate experientially to the material he discusses in these books.

Then again, if all you do is focus on learning the five main teachings listed at the beginning of the thread (ie. the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Aggregates, the Three Characteristics of Existence, and Dependent Co-Arising) while learning how to apply them to a practice in satipatthana, then you cannot go wrong.

Take it steadily and easily and don't become discouraged. You don't have to learn everything at once. Things will gradually become clearer the farther you go. Follow your own personal interests in pursuing these discoveries; everyone is different and needs different questions answered at different points in their practice. All the information and insight is there contained in the discourses just waiting for others to discover it. Just be consistent in your pursuit and you will eventually get there.

All the best,

Ian

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 8:17 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Cheers for that. It's hard to know where to start with the Pali Canon so that and the main book post were most instructive. I've decided to go with the Connected Discourses first, along with 'The Heart of Buddhist Meditation' and then take it from there. After finishing Daniel's book, of course!

Just a quick update: I meditated as usual this evening and after abouk 5 minutes went into the same samadhi state again. I'm a bit unsure as to how to continue. As wonderful as this state is (I can see how people become 'Jhana Junkies'...) I'd like to use to as a springboard for more Insight work. So I'll crack on with Daniel's book for now for some pointers. 

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/19/15 10:48 PM as a reply to Lee.
Lee:
Just a quick update: I meditated as usual this evening and after abouk 5 minutes went into the same samadhi state again. I'm a bit unsure as to how to continue. As wonderful as this state is (I can see how people become 'Jhana Junkies'...) I'd like to use to as a springboard for more Insight work. So I'll crack on with Daniel's book for now for some pointers. 
A quick thought: I hope it's worth your while: whatever your experience, always notice when it's something that you're taking to heart to the degree that it's something that you're living *in*.  Taking that observational stance can convert something unseen into sensations to observe and relate to truth of the 3 characteristics of reality.  This step is a next layer of insight.

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/24/15 6:06 PM as a reply to Matt.
matthew sexton:


A quick thought: I hope it's worth your while: whatever your experience, always notice when it's something that you're taking to heart to the degree that it's something that you're living *in*.  Taking that observational stance can convert something unseen into sensations to observe and relate to truth of the 3 characteristics of reality.  This step is a next layer of insight.

Thanks for the advice, Matthew. I've now turned my practice into Insight meditation and I feel that I'm making progress.

Another question though, if I may:

When I reach the 4h Jhanana and begin Insight meditation, should I continue to do noting practice, as in mentally noting 'rise/fall', 'aching', 'thinking' etc. or is it advisable to drop this noting and simply observe the phenomena from the point of view of the 3 characteristics?

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
7/24/15 7:09 PM as a reply to Lee.
Lee:


Thanks for the advice, Matthew. I've now turned my practice into Insight meditation and I feel that I'm making progress.

Another question though, if I may:

When I reach the 4h Jhanana and begin Insight meditation, should I continue to do noting practice, as in mentally noting 'rise/fall', 'aching', 'thinking' etc. or is it advisable to drop this noting and simply observe the phenomena from the point of view of the 3 characteristics?
Actually, after reading through other posts in the forum and following a few links, I think the above question is not quite right so I'll rephrase it.

At present, I start doing noting of the breath, 'rise/fall' and then note any other sensations that occur. I then go into appana-samadhi after about 5 minutes and continue noting the breath until anything other sensation gets my attention then note that. When that has passed, I go back to noting the breath.

When reaching samadhi, should I still use the breath as a sort of anchor or should I just note whatever comes into my main attention? If it happens to be the breath, so be it, but not use the breath as the main thing that you always return to?

RE: Access Concentration of 1st Jhana?
Answer
10/1/19 1:41 AM as a reply to Lee.
I'm surprised that this experience would be misinterpreted as fourth jhana. It is a classic example of access concentration - a calmed mind free of distracting thoughts, shallow breath, and self-reflective but undisturbed thinking.

By fourth jhana, self-reflective thoughts like those mentioned by the OP have long stopped. One hallmark of moving from first to second jhana is that evaluative thinking stops, having calmed into pure awareness. There is no more reflecting on the experience, there is just the experience. It is a much more "quiet," submerged state.

There is an arc to the jhanas. It starts with a bang in first jhana with powerful physical ecstasy, which fades in later jhanas. Meanwhile discursive thought in the first jhana calms into pure awareness in later jhanas. In reading the sutras, there is no basis for thinking one can go directly from just sitting (not even access concentration) all the way to fourth jhana with no experience whatsoever with the stages in between. You have to ask yourself if perhaps you've misinterpreted something, which is easy to do. It is important to not read more into an experience than what is there, it leads to  confusion for the practitioner and others reading these threads. Sorry, not trying to be a party pooper, just don't want to see misinterpretations spread, and this very clearly seems to be access concentration.