1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

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Robbie Downs-Levene, modified 5 Years ago.

1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

Posts: 36 Join Date: 10/31/15 Recent Posts
Hi,
I have had a look through the threads but couldn't find questions or responses regarding this area in particular.

I am able to get to access concentration pretty quickly and can remain here for a good while, I then tune into the pleasentness of the sensations and the sort of whoosing blissful sensations pulsate through my body, I can see that there is definitely a clinging to these sensations and obviously they stop, I also find it kind of ties my breathing up and I have to release my breathing a number of times. This kinda kills my groove!

Is it just a case of avoiding clinging to the sensations/experinces of the jhana? It would make sense to just relax away from it but find the joy is so rich and then it becomes a game of pre-empting the next bigger fuller whoosh... Hope this makes sense.

any ideas or similar experiences?
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fschuhi, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: 1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

Posts: 22 Join Date: 2/25/15 Recent Posts
Robbie Downs-Levene:
It would make sense to just relax away from it but find the joy is so rich and then it becomes a game of pre-empting the next bigger fuller whoosh... Hope this makes sense.

I am not an experienced jhana yogi, only recently got a taste of jhanas 1-3, during a retreat.

Still, while reading your post I had a feeling that I can relate quite a bit, so I'd like to offer some ideas:

You might want to combine the release of the breath with a perception of the out-breath letting out the energy through the pores of your skin, not just carried away by the physical breath. This helped me stay with the energy in a more unexcited way. In general, I think experimenting with the breath is always a good idea. As soon as 1st jhana stabilizes, you want to suffuse it thoroughly throughout the body anyways, and for me this meant using a combination of perceiving the breath filling my body.

You might also want to check out the publications and dharma talks of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. He explains the power of perceptions very well and gives wonderful advice to do "Jhana not by the numbers". He is an awesome and inspiring teacher.

One of my takeaways from Ajahn Than's teachings: The Buddha says that the jhanas are wholesome, including (but not limited to) the pleasurable feelings which come with them. Where I am at this point of my practice (which is probably not that far away from where you are), there is definitely no danger of becoming too attached to the sensations. The different layers of pleasure will peel away soon (going towards 4th and onwards), so why not indulge if the Buddha actually gives me permission to do so? emoticon

For the first times when I entered 1st jhana, though, I found the bodily energy of piti quite stressful in their loud positiveness. I actually wanted to go to 2nd jhana as fast as possible - - it's not a one-way street and I knew that I can always come back to 1st. From Leigh Brasington I learned that 1st jhana can be morphed into 2nd jhana by taking a good, deep, sweet in-breath while letting the focus hold itself lightly on piti-sukha. The breath refreshes, makes me more tranquil, piti drops into the background, the less agitated sukha comes to the foreground - - 2nd jhana (in his system, yours might be different, difficult to tell from your post).

Coming back to your above quote, I find the phrase of "a Game of Preemption" really interesting. It feels a fitting description of aspects of my probing around the entry of 1st jhana, before I got there. Should I "push higher" (i.e. not preempt at all)? Where, when and towards what point should I "let go" (i.e. preempt)? From a recently published book:

Richard Shankman: The Art and Skill of Buddhist Meditation:
For anyone in jhana the mind is utterly undistracted and incapable of wandering even for a moment, it is extraordinarily lucid and clear, and the meditation proceeds antirely on its own, with no sense that you are doing anything to sustain it.

So if 1st jhana is totally effortless, there has to be a moment where I must relax into the moment of having the attention latch on the piti-sukha. Like first going up with the rollercoaster, feeling the joy of anticipation but being pushed into the seat by gravity, and then the feeling of weightlessness on the top - - and down we go. emoticon

(BTW: Shankman's definition looks rather strict, but remember it's totally possible - at least with the softer, sutta-styled jhanas - to wobble in and out of the jhanas. If I felt I somehow strayed away from the effortless balance, somehow being back in the driver's seat, I willingly stepped aside. Reimaging the moment of entry often seems to be enough to rekindle the specific jhana.)

How does this relate to the Game of Preemption? Well, for me it turned out to be possible to enter 1st jhana at a more moderate stage of piti-sukha (so preempt first), then let it ride on its own, by finding the "area" where I can touch with my feeling of the whole body onto the piti-sukha (so no need to preempt anymore). Feels effortless, lacking weight; it continuously invites the touch back, thus kind of feeds on itself.

There is some agitation, though, boiling in the background. So I try to stay out of the way, in particular with regards to my face where somehow 1st jhana seems to be located, let it drop more towards the heart, towards where the 2nd jhana finds me.

In the end, by opting to take a somewhat less pleasurable starting point, stronger and more easily bearable positive feelings bubbled up, more enjoyable than those I had been willingly able to generate before.

Hope it makes some sense. Good luck for your practice!
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Chris J Macie, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: 1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

Posts: 863 Join Date: 8/17/14 Recent Posts
re: fschuhi (11/24/15 7:23 AM as a reply to Robbie Downs-Levene.)

" So if 1st jhana is totally effortless, there has to be a moment where I must relax into the moment of having the attention latch on the piti-sukha…."

The (Vism-type) 1st jhana does seem to require a sort of continuing effort, as it's still vulnerable to hindrances. Holding to the vittaka (as directing to the object) with the vicara – like the "kneading soap" metaphor in the sutta-description. Not stressed-striving, teeth-clenching type effort, but rather that kind of effort as in holding to sati (mindfulness), remembering to keep the mind alert and on the task at hand. For "sutta" type 1st jhana it might be different in flavor,b ut again piti can often be generated, enhanced by a kind of, almost physical, pressure. Similar to Taoist sending / allowing yang energy to well-up from the bottom of the spine up and through to blossom into the head (related to kundalini-type experiences).

"… it's totally possible - at least with the softer, sutta-styled jhanas - to wobble in and out of the jhanas…"


Also in Vism 1st jhana, especially at first. Later (more practice, solid ability) one can use that, to sort of gently exit absorption, but stay close for easy re-entry. For example, when shifting posture, as from sitting to standing. U. Jagara confirmed this, and mentioned that getting better at this develops a sense of that aura (my term for it) of absorption, such that in fact when subsequently first setting out to enter jhana, one can recall that aura, that sort of muscle-memory of it, and that can help actually going right in, short-cutting the half-hour or so build-up time that was earlier necessary to get solid access concentration and wait there for absorption to take-over. Practicing playing with this sense of aura, of the memory of what it feels like, approaches a point where I can (in the absence of external pressures) evoke that feeling (it's indistinguishably mental-physical), and then almost instantly absorb. I suspect this skill is related to Mahasi's vipassana khanika samadhi, which he says is functionally equivalent to anapana-samadhi (absortive), and used to direct intense concentration on momentarily changing phenomena.

Actually practicing, playing around with such things, it's encouraging how little hints, tricks, skills get stronger as if all by themselves – much like the experience in practicing a musical instrument. With intent practice, the little technicalities that take so much attention and effort at first become sort of built-in, automatic, and new vistas open up.

Maybe this what I call muscle-memory aura relates to the idea of "pre-emption" you and Robbie Downs-Levene mention.
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tom moylan, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: 1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
howdy,
its a tightrope walk.  the wonderful feelings in jhana are necessary yet clinging to them is not a good long term plan.  in my case, and as described in lots of places, the rising piti gets one interested and you ride that bliss wave until it naturally becomes less attractive and falls away on its own.  at this point there is a more subtle sensation of sukkha or happiness, which is less bodily and more mental.

at these stages it is a good thing to have these pleasant feelings arise and fall away to allow one to open up to the even more subtle states.  so you aren't at the point where clinging is an issue IMO.  that point comes when you are really good at this stuff and make decisions to just bliss out (because you can) instead of doing the sometimes unsettling work of investigation.

btw, i am not a fan of mr. shankman's take and advice on jhana.  i think he is too doctrinaire and his translations of the basic steps in jhana don't follow my experience.

have fun
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Chris J Macie, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: 1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

Posts: 863 Join Date: 8/17/14 Recent Posts
re: tom moylan (11/24/15 8:57 AM as a reply to RobbieDowns-Levene)

"…the wonderful feelings in jhana are necessary yet clinging to them is not a good long term plan."

Thanks for that, Tom. It occurs to me that this may help explain why this clinging, getting stuck in jhana delight has always seemed a sort of red-herring argument to me. That is, because I've known 1st jhana via the Vism.system, which does not key on piti for entry (but rather keys on vittaka & vicara as developmental one-pointedness on the object, and hence with a working sense – kneading the soap -- of that ekaggata which characterizes absorption); this kind of 1st jhana has none of that sense of addictiveness. But I can imagine Leigh's "sutta"-type, piti centered jhana, which seems more familiar to people here in DhO, could lean more in that direction.

This is in no way a value judement about either style. I'm coming to understand that the difference in preference has a lot to do with personal temperment, with natural differences between people (as well as often background and the kind of training one encounters). Both systems go in the same direction with persistant cultivation (the "long term plan"). If one keeps intent on the exploration and increasing rewards, the vipassana-discernment that naturally accompanies samadhi* will readily cut-through any wallowing in this or that stage.

* That is to say the Buddhist version of samadhi, as always infused with mindfulness (sati). Some scholars have pointed out that Vedic / Brahmanic samadhi didn't appear to have that degree of intent mindfulness which the Buddha added, and could well have gotten lost in "blissing-out".
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Robbie Downs-Levene, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: 1st Jhana but unable to steady and tight breaths.

Posts: 36 Join Date: 10/31/15 Recent Posts
Cheers for the replies, some great feedback.

I see what you mean about the 'aura', before this current phase of practice I was't doing any form of directed practice (if this is the right word), no specific samatha or vipassana mediation. A sense of buzzing energy would always be resting almost as if to the side of my experience and could be turned towards where it would radiate over the mind and body.

It wasn't until the connection between this and the jhanas was made that I realized my concentration had naturally deepened without any memory of doing something active, it now seems like this kind of 'aura' is consistently in my experience although I definetely don't have much mastery over it, currently doing only bare witnessing of sensation fairly intensively, so although not solidyfying the object which previously produced a jhanic experience the opposite is providing a similar foundation. 

On this note do you have any thoughts regarding working on the jhanas in samattha alongside a specific vipassana practice?

My experience and from what I read in MCTB seemed to suggest that doing samatha practices whilst observing the individual sensations that make it up tend to turn away from the area of jhanic absorbtion, so think it might be better to stick with purely noting until the current cycle is completed?

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