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Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 5:12 AM
So, after dabbling with meditation for about a year and one 10-day Goenka retreat, I decided to start seriously working on the jhanas. I have some experience with concentration meditation before, but I quit because of the negative effects, which I now understand are the result of incorrect practice which lacked awareness. Before I start, I have a few questions and points which I hope someone will be able to clarify 

1> How long did it take you to get to jhana? How much did you practice? How long would you expect that it would take the average person if he/she was really enthusiastic about it and dedicated 1 - 2 hours a day to practice? I understand that everyone is different and I'm not looking for the exact number of days, just a ballpark estimate, as in, few weeks, 1 month, 2-3 months, a year, 2 years, etc. Also, how long does it take to get to intermediate mastery (for instance perfect 1st or the 1st and 2nd jhanas and be able to get to the 4th jhana)?

2> Would you suggest that I break up the daily practice time in 2-3 sessions or put it together in one session? How much time per session is optimal? 

3> Effort vs consistency: I'm still struggling with this one. When I put in more effort, i.e. I force the concentration, I start feeling good sooner and the mind doesn't wander as much, but there isn't much stability in the sitting -- I have to continuously keep forcing the attention to stay on breath while it's jumping around. Then when I get up from the practice I feel like I could say or do anything but in a very cold, one-pointed, psychopath-like way. On the other hand, my with my second approach of just putting the attention on the breath and trying to keep it there as consistely as possible, the good feelings arise slower and to a lesser extent, and the mind wanders more, but the session doesn't feel as forced. Which approach do you think is better for getting to the first jhana? 

4> Weekend retreats: I heard some people suggesting to do weekend retreats to get to jhanas faster. But how would I meditate for extended periods (for instance 5 hrs) without getting restless or tiring the concentration? 

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 6:01 AM as a reply to John Doe.
I have been able to access first jhana and from there shifting to 2nd Jhana instantly from my very first time meditating on the breath sensation at the nostrils... taking around 20-30 minutes, successfuly getting to 2nd Jhana a couple of times a day, for a few months and oh man they were so strong, nowdays I hardly hit the 2nd Jhana but still almost always get to the 1st Jhana, even though it isn't always as strong as it used to be...

I have tried many different spots at the nostrils, and I came to a conclusion that it DOES matter where you rest your attention on regardless how strong your concentration is... some spots have a faster access and stronger access to Jhana than another.

To tell you the truth, I had times were I was distracted by thoughts so many times from my obeject but still always returned back to it and still could access Jhana, so I believe one can practice meditation for years and have no results... I believe it's all about practicing correctly and at a good spot (narrow = better) somewhere at the nostrils.

Many times when meditating I feel that I am controlling the breath and consciously inhale and exhaling when I feel like I need to... sometimes I feel that it induce hyperventilation, but even with all that I can/could access the Jhana, so I believe whenever you are on the object for some duration the shift will happen by itself and relaxtion or whatever will follow by itself when you are knocking near Jhana's door, your only job is to stay on the breath sensation, nothing more.

PS: no retreat no nothing, just meditating in my room

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 7:59 AM as a reply to MangaDesuYo.
I think it depends on your attitude. If you sit with strong desire for jhana it will take longer because you will have to understand this desire first.

Last Sunday i started my sitting at 5 in the morning. I sat with a goal to watch with curiosity every breath all day long. Between sittings I took brakes for walking meditation. At about 8 o'clock i started to sink in first Jhana. I spent about an hour in first Jhana. It was becoming more mature and stable. Then I dropped effort and entered second Jhana but I managed to stay in it only for a few moments.

I think making yourself curious about experience is very very helpful in every type of meditation. A state of curiosity is a perfectly balanced state between effort and acceptance. If you are curious, it means you make an effort to watch experience and in the same time, becouse you are curious, you don't want to change your experience, so you cultivate equanimity about your experience.

edit:
I have to point out that before sitting I was already in "access to concentration" state. It takes me about 1-3 days to reach access to concetration after long break from meditation. When I don't have acces to conentration I strongly accent effort over acceptance

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 7:53 AM as a reply to John Doe.
John Doe:

3> ... I have to continuously keep forcing the attention to stay on breath while it's jumping around. Then when I get up from the practice I feel like I could say or do anything but in a very cold, one-pointed, psychopath-like way. On the other hand, my with my second approach of just putting the attention on the breath and trying to keep it there as consistely as possible, the good feelings arise slower and to a lesser extent, and the mind wanders more, but the session doesn't feel as forced. Which approach do you think is better for getting to the first jhana?
Man, do I feel ya bro. Why does it have to be such a battle? :-) I don't want to hijack your post and dissuade you from your current path, but since your question seems to be coming from a place that is very similar to where I was at several months ago, I thought I'd put in a plug for tranquil wisdom insight meditation (aka TWIM). This is an alternative to straight-up, one-pointed concentration. You can use breathing or metta as an object of meditation (I started out with breathing, since that was what I was used to, but ended up switching to metta).

I had a really hard time accessing anything close to 1st jhana using standard one-pointed concentration meditation - and after several months of consistent effort 1-2x a day, at least 40 minutes per session, I don't think I was ever even able to get to the point of access concentration. It was really frustrating, and since I'm pretty focus-challenged, I often wondered if I was ever going to be able to get into the 1st jhana. The TWIM approach is way softer, and allowed me to access jhanas relatively easily.

The method itself is really easy to do, almost identical to what you see with other concentration methods except for adding a relaxation step that - in my case, at least - made all the difference.

Anyway, just a thought.

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 7:56 AM as a reply to Marek Mark.
Marek Mark:

I think making yourself curious about experience is very very helpful in every type of meditation. A state of curiosity is a perfectly balanced state between effort and acceptance. If you are curious, it means you make an effort to watch experience and in the same time, becouse you are curious, you don't want to change your experience, so you cultivate equanimity about your experience.

Thanks for pointing this out. Looking back I had much stronger concentration when I started practicing, and I think it was due to this curiosity, I'll try that again. BTW how long did you aim for jhana before you got it? And do you meditate with eyes open or eyes closed? 

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 8:04 AM as a reply to Jeff Wright.
Jeff Wright:
The method itself is really easy to do, almost identical to what you see with other concentration methods except for adding a relaxation step that - in my case, at least - made all the difference.

Anyway, just a thought.


Thanks, I'll try it. Basically just relax after being distracted and go back to the breath?

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 8:12 AM as a reply to John Doe.
Oh yeah, I should note that I forced myself on the breath sensation, really staying with it till it pressures my forehead... and still it's possible in this umcomfortable, not calm manner to enter Jhana...

I agree that if you relax your body piti might start flowing, however that still does not graduate that you will succeed entering Jhana, even if you put attention on that pleseant sensation... you first need to force your mind on the object (breath sensation at a tiny spot at the nostrils) when it's stable enough Jhana will hit you almost instantly, the pleasure will be so great that there is this uncontroable shift that occurs that will shift your attention from the nostrils to the body and from there it will grow so strong that it will take you almost instantly to 2nd Jhana.

In fact all of my strong Jhana absportions if you want to call it that way, was when I forced myself really hard on the object even though it wasn't comfortable or relaxing

Another thing that increases your chance to hit Jhana is feeling the sensations of the air at the middle of the nostrils but inside the nose more or less... and hold that spot mentally even when your breath is on pause and you don't feel it hitting there... I believe this mentally holding and the crossing of the eyes when focusing on that spot is what triggers Jhana hard and fast

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 3:43 PM as a reply to John Doe.
I have to point out that before sitting I was already in "access concentration" state. It takes me about 1-3 days to reach access to concentration after long break from meditation. When I don't have access concetration I strongly accent effort over acceptance otherwise I would keep losing my focus notoriously.

I meditate with closed eyes.

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 9:16 AM as a reply to Marek Mark.
How do you know when you have access concentration? And what do you do when you are aware of the breath but there are still thoughts in the background -- do you deal with them in any way or just increase the effort to be attentive of the breath? Or just ignore them?

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 9:44 AM as a reply to John Doe.
It's ok for thoughts to be in the background as long as you are continuing putting attention on the breath sensation... there are signs that you are in access concentration, but it doesn't matter if you know it or not, like I said you only have one job, keep attention on the breath and if the conditions are set right you will almost automatically enter 1st and from there shifting to 2nd Jhana

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 10:37 AM as a reply to John Doe.
In essence, yes. There's a little more to it than that, and it may make sense to listen to one of the intro talks in either the Metta section or the Anapanasati section. They have a helpful little mnemonic called the "6 Rs" that makes things pretty easy to do.

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 10:53 AM as a reply to John Doe.
Well, I should first point out that the DSMC definition of jhana is slightly different than what most absorption meditation advocates call jhana. Bhante Vimalaramsi makes the point that the Pali word "jhana" just means "level of understanding." According to him, it has nothing to do with "how deep you are in concentration," which seems to be the usual translation. He's a bit of a rebel in his interpretation of the canonical texts, but I find that refreshing. emoticon

The DSMC folks also stress that progress through the jhanas is quite fast for a lot of people if they use Metta as the object of meditation. The reason given is that their method yokes together both samatha and vipassana, and that this yoking is actually called out in the canonical texts (the original suttas). Other practices (Goenka, Mahasi, etc.) are based much more strongly on the commentaries, and they split samatha and vipassan practice into separate practices.

It was not revealed to me during the retreat, but after I was done, it was inferred that I was working in the 5th jhana (infinite space), and that if I continued I should advance thru 6-7-8 (infinite consciousness, nothingness, neither-perception-nor-nonperception) without too much difficulty. It's been about 3 weeks since the end of the retreat and with continued daily practice, I am finding it fairly routine to get into that same space that the retreat guide called the 5th jhana. I am not experienced enough in any of the popular absorption methods to be able to compare them with what I am experiencing these days, but I can tell you that it's a pretty incredible feeling to be radiating very strong metta in 6 directions, and to feel that radiation expand without bound.

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/13/15 3:44 PM as a reply to John Doe.
A state which I call "access concentration" is a state, in which I can stay with sensations of breath with no problem. Then this curiosity attitude seems very appropriate. There can be thoughts in the bacground, but they are not a problem. If sensations of breath are very foggy and obscured by thoughts, then I assume I don't have access concentration and I make stronger effort to stay with narrow object.

I usually use one of two methods if I don't have access concentration:
1 - I ignore distractions and force to stay with breath / object
2 - when I get distracted I observe this distraction until it vanishes (sometimes I note its name, and how long it existed) and then return to breath.

I have to admit that my main focus in practice is insight, but I try to do it with more harmonic way than it's done with pure Mahasi style. So I try to develop Samadhi, Vipassana and Sila in more balanced way.

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/15/15 7:18 AM as a reply to Jeff Wright.
Curious if anyone here who has experienced jhana , in some sense, can describe how they know when it starts? Or when it ends? What's it like just before and the change when "absorption" or whatever other distinctive quality begins, and when it ends?

I think many of us have experienced forms of jhana, but in different ways, from different teachers, inspiring texts, or other models. If we could explore ways of describing these differences, seeking to communicate, share those different experiences, we might be able to each expand our horizons as to what's possible, have more tools, skills to work with.

And perhaps explore naming, provisionally, these different types of experience, by the teacher / tradition, or by some distinctive aspect. So we could use terms like "abc" jhana, or "xyz" jhana, to give more concrete indication of a type of experience.

Jeff Wright
(10/13/15 10:53 AM as a reply to John Doe), for instance, used "the DSMC definition of jhana". This is useful in what one can go to those videos or text where Vimalaramsi lays out that kind experience.

I believe if anyone has had any sort of' jhana', it could be easier to pick up another sort, given some such clear example.

(I was trained in the Pa Auk Sayadaw lineage (call it Visudhimagga jhana), through Shaila Catherine and Ven. U. Jagara (there are others teachers in this lineage whose approach may differ). And I've read a lot by Leigh Brasington (and attended one retreat with him teaching what I provisionally call BBSFG jhana). And read / listened a lot to Thanissaro Bhikku on jhana also; read Ajahn Brahms on the topic, Mahasi Sayadaw on the canonical forms of samadhi, and Richard Shankman's book (and heard him talk), etc. Those sorts of jhana are different, but do relate to each other. How to nail that down more specifically and reliably?)

We have a s/w unique opportunity here-- many people with at least some, varying exposure, and in a context (DhO) without a clear partisan bias to one type of jhana or the other.

If we evolved some vocabulary for more specifically denoting the differences (and similarities) of experiencing various jhana-s, communication would be easier, and facilitate actual experimentation with each other's kinds of experience.

In words attributed to G. Buddha,"admirable friendship" (kalyana mittata – as teaching, sharing, learning) is more than a part of the practice: is the whole of the practice. (Where would we be without the long series of those who kept these ideas alive (in practice) and passed them on for some 2500 years?)

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/15/15 12:10 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris J Macie:

I think many of us have experienced forms of jhana, but in different ways, from different teachers, inspiring texts, or other models. If we could explore ways of describing these differences, seeking to communicate, share those different experiences, we might be able to each expand our horizons as to what's possible, have more tools, skills to work with.
.....
We have a s/w unique opportunity here-- many people with at least some, varying exposure, and in a context (DhO) without a clear partisan bias to one type of jhana or the other.

If we evolved some vocabulary for more specifically denoting the differences (and similarities) of experiencing various jhana-s, communication would be easier, and facilitate actual experimentation with each other's kinds of experience.


One approach that might work is to use the various definitions to build something like a plant key - or mushroom key as the case may be.

Example: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/major_groups.html.

Such a key starts out at a very general level and then asks yes or no questions to work through the various possibilities. For example, if you can carry on a phone conversation while in jhana by some definitions but not by others then that could be used as a decision point:

1. Can have a phone conversation during this jhana --- go to ...
1. Cannot have a phone conversation during this jhana --- go to ...

Similarly with awareness of the senses, thoughts, length of time, etc. By using the definitions presented by various proponents of this or that jhana – it avoids much potential conflict. Some terms would have to be further fleshed out: for example 'mindfulness' or 'one pointedness' require rephrasing as these terms are also overloaded (multiple definitions).

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/15/15 4:08 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
First Jhana is always very similar for me. Absorbtion can be sometimes deeper, and sometimes weaker. Process of entering to the first jhana usually starts with my hands becoming warm and light and flying upwards. Process of shifting to the I Jhana can sometimes last a couple of seconds. It's not as fast and sudden as shifting from First to Second Jhana. In I Jhana my body becomes warm, and pleasant but I loose a sense of boundaries of my body. I start to feel sensations flying somewhere in space. I feel like my body is melted in space. The attention is narrow and if I expand it I can shift to II Jhana.

I had two very different experiences of second Jhana during last week. What is interesting I entered them using two different methods. On Sunday, when I was in first Jhana I found that effort I put to observe sensations is irritating. Suddenly I started shifting out of the Jhana. So I dropped this effort by accepting reality as it is. I stopped to fear sliding from Jhana. Suddenly I entered some very exciting, blissful, rapturous and beautiful state. I felt like my body was exploding with rapture. However it was very unstable and lasted maybe for 10 seconds.

Yesterday I tried to enter II Jhana with MangaDesuYo's method. When I shifted to I Jhana I Immediately started to watch the whole feeling of absorbtion. And immidietly very distinct shift happened. The feel of absorbtion was similar to I jhana (slightly deeper) but the focus was wider and I felt like I was slightly around the point of my focus. I didn't put effort to stay in this state. It was much less exciting than previous experience from Sunday, but still exciting. There were waves of pleasure that kept hitting me with every breath (I felt them especially in my head). They were quite intense and after some time they even started being a bit annoying. Later when I was doing vipassana in afterglow of II Jhana, I found that tiny, but irritating feeling which was telling me. "Oh what a great experience. Try to not lose it!". Also I found that lights behind my eyelids was moving in accordance with my breath.

This description fits very well to my experience of II Jhana from yesterday:
http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/MCTB+The+Second+Jhana

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/16/15 5:28 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Amen, but we should keep in mind that just like Jesus, the theravadin meditative lineages have died and resurected. The dhamma wheel was reinvented in the 19th century, through experimentation and sutta reinterpretation.

https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/theravada-reinvents-meditation/

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/16/15 8:40 AM as a reply to MangaDesuYo.
Very interesting. Reminds me of my experience and my method, I don't see many people using a "forced-method" Iv always had a forceful method like that but it only ever got to work a few times, am i able to contact u some how and actually chat about this? I feel like sharing my experience and also i feel i need some help on a few things.

RE: Working on jhana
Answer
10/16/15 9:21 AM as a reply to Pål.
Pål:

Amen, but we should keep in mind that just like Jesus, the theravadin meditative lineages have died and resurected.
The dhamma wheel was reinvented in the 19th century, through experimentation and sutta reinterpretation.

https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/theravada-reinvents-meditation/
Don't count on it.

Chapman's analysis follows a fashionable line of thought rooted in Western coloniaist view of history, which many Westerns are prone to accept rather uncritically. You can believe it if you want, but be careful in taking such theories as conclusively proven.