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Jhana Method

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Jhana Method
Answer
11/18/15 11:06 AM
I was hoping to get opinions of a method to attain Jhana that I read in Bodhipaska's 60 Days to Jhana weekly e-mail course.  

The instructions are essentially as follows:

Cultivate calmness of body and mind.

Allow pleasurable bodily sensations (piti) to arise and focus on these.

Allow this piti to give rise to joy.

These three factors will naturally lead to a flow state, Jhana.


I am presently working on maintaining these factors.  My mind likes to get excited and usually breaks the flow state before it gains real momentum.  This method seems to have potential though.  I was wondering if anyone does anything similar and how their results have been.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/18/15 12:23 PM as a reply to Vince.
As a basic instruction, it seems fine, if a little vague. It's very similar to what Leigh Brasington suggests, I think. It won't get you to Visuddhimaga states of full blown absorption, so just be careful to manage your expectations.

Here's an article from Leigh that I found very helpful early on.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/19/15 12:28 PM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small Steps:
As a basic instruction, it seems fine, if a little vague. It's very similar to what Leigh Brasington suggests, I think. It won't get you to Visuddhimaga states of full blown absorption, so just be careful to manage your expectations.

Here's an article from Leigh that I found very helpful early on.

Thanks for the response.  The instructions are more detailed than what I described, but that is the basic gist of it.  In what areas do you think these instructions are lacking?

The instructions in the article you shared are almost the same exact instructions given in the 60 days to Jhana guide.  Thanks for sharing that!    

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/19/15 11:35 AM as a reply to Vince.
Paweł K:
Calming down is not required to hit jhana. Hitting jhana is calming down.


From the article by Leigh Brasington that was shared by Small Steps in the link above:

And in order to get concentrated enough to have the jhanas manifest, you need a very calm mind.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/19/15 12:24 PM as a reply to Vince.
I agree, dozens of times I hitted "hard jhana" with a very uncalm, strained mind and body focusing laser style on the breath sensations at the nostrils forcefully blocking any distractions and rendering/refreshing the attention feeling on narrow spot on the breath sensation... Even to the point I controlled the breath too much and my mind became restleness because of that... Still by continue to do the practice my mind simply got absorbed into jhana uncontrollably... It takes a lot of mental.effort

In my opinion when doing amapanasati and calming the mind and body only brings the soft kind of jhanas people speak of here...

In this rregard Pawel K is spot on

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/19/15 12:31 PM as a reply to MangaDesuYo.
MangaDesuYo:
I agree, dozens of times I hitted "hard jhana" with a very uncalm, strained mind and body focusing laser style on the breath sensations at the nostrils forcefully blocking any distractions and rendering/refreshing the attention feeling on narrow spot on the breath sensation... Even to the point I controlled the breath too much and my mind became restleness because of that... Still by continue to do the practice my mind simply got absorbed into jhana uncontrollably... It takes a lot of mental.effort

In my opinion when doing amapanasati and calming the mind and body only brings the soft kind of jhanas people speak of here...

In this rregard Pawel K is spot on

This doesn't sound like a very wholesome method to me, but interesting nonetheless.  Thanks for sharing!  

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/22/15 2:39 PM as a reply to Vince.
Paweł K:
One can seem to have calmed down mind and be nowhere near Jhana. Why?


Because there are other factors which must be present for Jhana to arise.

One can seem to be concentrated and mind will be nowhere near Jhana. Why?


Because there are other factors which must be present for Jhana to arise.

How does mind enter jhana on itself? It does it by entering jhana on itself.


Well, that explains it all. Thanks! emoticon

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/22/15 8:49 PM as a reply to Vince.
Thanks for the input Pawel.

I personally find it rather easy to enter a calm and rather pleasurable mind state, and see no problem with doing so at all, as these are wholesome states resulting from wholesome intentions.  Calming the mind when it is in a state of agitation seems like a better option than trying to force concentration onto a stressed mind.  I believe the latter would be best left as a last resort.  

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 1:41 AM as a reply to Vince.
Vince:
Thanks for the input Pawel.

I personally find it rather easy to enter a calm and rather pleasurable mind state, and see no problem with doing so at all, as these are wholesome states resulting from wholesome intentions.  Calming the mind when it is in a state of agitation seems like a better option than trying to force concentration onto a stressed mind.  I believe the latter would be best left as a last resort.  


It doesn't really matter how much strain and force you put into concentration in other to reach jhana, as oncs you are in jhana all that dissapeares anyway and your mind gets calmed down instsntly,

Meditation is just a tool to get to jhana, you don't do jhana, jhana does you
When you reach 2nd jhana you abadoned the breath anyway for the bliss factors in order to go forward

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 7:37 AM as a reply to MangaDesuYo.
I believe the process is an important aspect of reaching any goal.  If it is possible to ease agitation and stress during the process, I would think it'd be best to do so, but I suppose I could be wrong.  I would certainly rather be in a peaceful state than in a stressful one, and I'd imagine this would be more conductive to the practice as well.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 10:26 AM as a reply to Vince.
re: Vince (11/22/15 2:39 PM as a reply to Paweł K.)

Paweł K:
How does mind enter jhana on itself? It does it by entering jhana on itself.


Vince:

Well, that explains it all. Thanks!…I personally find it rather easy to enter a calm and rather pleasurable mind state, and see no problem with doing so at all, as these are wholesome states resulting from wholesome intentions.  Calming the mind when it is in a state of agitation seems like a better option than trying to force concentration onto a stressed mind.  I believe the latter would be best left as a last resort
.

Bodhipaska's method is clearly a s/w simplified form of Leigh Brasington's method ("sutta-jhana"), which is a 'soft' form of jhana (not involving strong absorption, at least in the early stages). Bodhipaska, for instance, uses the idea of 'jhanic factors' (4 of them rather than the traditional 5), which is a concept used in the commentaries, not the sutta-s, and Leigh's method does not use the commentarial framework.

Pawel K.'s comment (mind enters jhana on itself) would apply more explicitly to the more 'hard' kind of jhana (Visudhimagga type), in that the mind generates a "counterpart" image (nimitta) of the object it has been concentrating on, and them absorbs into that image. However, it's not clear exactly what kind of jhana Pawel K refers to.

The stressful sounding mental effort that MangaDesuYo describes might be refering to the fact that 'hard' jhana takes more training that is often is accompanied with a lot of frustrating effort when not well-instructed or the trainee has hindering psychological blocks.

'Soft' jhana – the type in Leigh's basic training – is specifically designed to be much easier to reach, as he explicitly states, and as can be discerned in the research background that is used to justify this method. This kind of jhana is a good place to start with, and instruction in it is more widely available; it's become more or less accepted by the VM/IM establishment (e.g. quotations from both Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein on the back-cover of Leigh's new book), which has been skeptical of the more traditional, 'hard' sort of jhana.

Once one has gained some mastery with this form, experimenting with the harder forms becomes more accessible, if one is so inclined. It would still require, for most people, access to skilled instruction. Fortunately, good instruction for the many kinds of jhana has become much more available in recent years.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 11:32 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Thanks for the response Chris!  

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 4:39 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris,

Regarding your quote below:

"Once one has gained some mastery with this form, experimenting with the harder forms becomes more accessible, if one is so inclined. It would still require, for most people, access to skilled instruction. Fortunately, good instruction for the many kinds of jhana has become much more available in recent years."

Why would most people need access to skilled instruction to hit hard Jhana?  I sorta assumed if one could hit soft Jhana and just kept on plugging away at it, one would eventually get to the harder stuff.

What are some of the ways in which a skilled instructor would guide a person to get hard Jhanas?

  thanks,  

   mike

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 4:48 PM as a reply to Vince.
Vince:
I believe the process is an important aspect of reaching any goal.  If it is possible to ease agitation and stress during the process, I would think it'd be best to do so, but I suppose I could be wrong.  I would certainly rather be in a peaceful state than in a stressful one, and I'd imagine this would be more conductive to the practice as well

I participated in the recent email course of Bodhipaksa concerning the Jhanas (http://www.wildmind.org/goingdeeper2015/jhana). A couple of weeks after that I went on a 10-day retreat with Leigh Brasington. Before that I had read everything about the jhanas I was able to get my hands on (including in this forum the excellent sticky thread from Ian And, as well as the contributions of the many experienced yogis here.)

In his emails, Bodhipaksa talks about 3 factors to describe 1st Jhana: thinking (grouping together vitakka and vicara as applied and sustained thought), pleasure (piti) and joy (sukha). With regards to thinking, "it’s the kind ... we do when the mind is calm, and isn’t jumping randomly from topic to topic. So really, the first factor is mental calmness." For the other factors, the more calm your mind is, the more pleasurable the experience of bodily piti and emotional sukha actually is. In access concentration, the factors "are beginning to arise, but they're not strong enough to provide a stable experience".

The way Leigh tackles the factors (or "qualities", as he prefers to call them) is basically the same: He translates vitakka and vicara as "thinking and more thinking", piti as pleasure and sukha as happiness. Calming the mind is very important, as this provides the necessary access concentration which he defines pragmatically as just being concentrated "enough".

At least in the said email course, Bodhipaksa has the breath as meditation object, down to 4th jhana. Leigh on the other hand starts with access concentration on the breath, calming down body and mind until some delightful feeling (pamoja) somewhere in the body surfaces. Then switch the attention to this pleasurable feeling, hold the attention as relaxed as possible until it blossoms (or lurches) into a mix of piti and sukha. This becomes the new meditation object which then accelerates you into the 1st jhana.

Piti comes to me quite naturally, by means of full-body breathing. During the first days of the retreat, I used this piti as a springboard into 1st jhana. I had to excert massive willpower to kick myself into 1st jhana, though. As a result, I increasingly tensed up, the sukha felt like bleeding out of the mix, leaving uncomfortably hard piti. It worked, gave me a handle on making the transition into 1st jhana, but I felt exhausted, and not in a good way. Headaches ensued.

In an interview, Leigh put a stop on this. He encouraged me to stop pushing, to focus on calming down, tranquilize the mind by breathing deeply, "take the day off." As a result, I was able to release the tensions and it became very natural and pleasurable to invite 1st jhana onto the driver's seat. It worked very well, the calmness rekindled the sukha and I was able to make good progress towards 3rd jhana (which he defines as deep contentment), possibly touching 4th but wobbling out of it. I don't care that much, as my retreat was really meant to open me towards 1st jhana - - everything else was icing on the cake.

Concerning the 1st jhana, what I find interesting is the scarcity of information about how to actually make the 1st jhana take over and gravitate into effortlessness. Neither Bodhipaksa nor Leigh give tangible advice to navigate in the immediate vicinity of letting the transition happen. For me, a helpful takeaway from Bodhipaksa's teaching (and also from Culadasa's) was the notion of jhana as a "flow experience". This itself clearly happens on a spectrum, so you invariably end up having entry points of varying depth, for different people. Maybe how I feel my way into 1st jhana is just my way, and telling about it is no help for others if they want the jhana to show up. But feeling my way towards 1st jhana felt like making it a deja vue from past flow experiences, and then it just effortlessly slid onto the driver's seat, with a distinct feeling of something pulling itself forward in a stable feedback loop (which I read first about in Ian And's thread).

In any case, I firmly believe that the jhanas are supposed to be pleasurable experiences. To get back to my retreat experience with Leigh: On the one hand, he practices the jhanas on a continuum of increasing depth, as an act of "sharpening Manjushri's sword", i.e. making the mind concentrated and pliable to engage in insight practices. On the other hand, for the dark nights those insight practices might have in store for the yogi, the soothing qualities of the jhanas can be used to soften the impact of the realizations investigating anicca, dukkha and anatta. Leigh asked us to see both aspects as blossoming from a "relaxed diligence". I find his approach true to the teachings of the Buddha and in line with the gist of what e.g. Thanissaro Bhikkhu tells us about the quality and purposes of jhana.

As a closing remark, those teachers and authors writing about the jhanas ... although they know that it needs a conducive environment to make the jhanas happen and that just reading words is not enough, they still help us. That's something I am really grateful for. After the retreat with Leigh I re-read his book as well as Bodhipaksa's emails - - and of course I was able to find new aspects in their teachings, and that's cool.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 6:31 PM as a reply to fschuhi.
While I wait for my public library to get a copy of Leigh's book, I did find a copy at a local book store and leafed through it. Without reading too closely, or carefully, it appears to be representative of the work that he's been teaching over the last few years. If true, you can also get a sense of what he teaches by searching for his dharma talks on jhana via dharmaseed and audiodharma. I found them to be quite instructive and informative and helpful with regard to experiencing what he calls, 'sutta jhana.' He's also quite an engaging speaker so the talks are entertaining to boot.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 7:00 PM as a reply to Vince.
Vince:
My mind likes to get excited and usually breaks the flow state before it gains real momentum.  This method seems to have potential though.  I was wondering if anyone does anything similar and how their results have been.
Leigh's method as described in your OP worked for me just fine. He describes it in detail in a book he published a couple of weeks ago, but much of it is readily available from his website. Bodhipaksa's email from this year seem to tell a somewhat different story than the course you refer to. Regardless of who says what, continue with what you do. It worked for me very well.

I actually knew the method before going on a retreat. In hindsight, I now know that I had actually hit 1st jhana at least 2 times before, but in retreat-like settings (at home, alone, nothing on my mind), strong and prolonged concentration work, and with great effort. I probably missed it because it was not so super "wow!" like I had expected it. On the retreat I asked Leigh about how wow it should be, his answer: Half of his students have a "wow!", the other half a "really nice."

I can certainly relate to what you say about getting excited, still happens to me. It might be a byproduct of the method: In personal communication, Leigh told me his heartbeat goes from 60 to 90 on 1st jhana. His advice for students being thrown off by their excitement: go there again and again. Eventually the excitement will wear off a little bit and help you stabilize yourself.

In any case you should hold you focus on the pleasantness of the pleasant feeling, as it is the meditation object of 1st jhana for this particular method (Leigh calls it "piti-sukha", resulting from a starting point of pamoja = delight). It did not serve me well to ramp up piti. Practice only progressed after I was able to inject enough sukha into the mix. As a side-effect, sukha gladdens the mind, so you grow less and later excited.

Use metta if sukha doesn't come on its own. Or think about something you are grateful for. I successfully used the feeling of happiness and joyful anticipation resulting from knowing this method and the fact that I have the time, ability and commitment to practice it. It may sound somewhat contrieved, but you might still want to give it a try.

You might have read that piti-sukha eventually takes off and propels you automatically into 1st jhana. If it does, great. It didn't for me, though. I felt a takeoff but that still lacked effortlessness. I felt great, but I knew that can't be jhana. In hindsight "letting go" is the necessary ingredient at this junction point, but how?

An idea: Try to think that you fall, or even better imagine with your body how weightlessness feels like. When I do that my knees gets wobbly (like looking down from a great height) and I start to drift. The 1st jhana felt like it's near the face and it started to excert a gravitational pull on my weightless body. Let the pull guide you, in the background, all the while you hold your attention on the piti-sukha.

Floating like this feels very pleasurable, which makes sukha flourish. Because to float means to relax into weightlessness, the rough piti gets a little bit softer around the edges, subduing excitement, helping to stabilize.

What I found tricky was that I still was not able to really actively find the point where the momentum picks up without myself adding anything to it. It felt like the line to cross was somewhere out there, but if I looked for it the attention on piti-sukha wavered. I somehow lacked the "body know-how" to navigate this with my background awareness.

Eventually, I crossed the line, somehow, got out of the way, and something took over.

After the fact, I thought that the moment of effortlessly latching on piti-sukha had kind of the same feeling I had the first time when looking at a stereogram and really "getting it". Check out http://www.easystereogrambuilder.com/Browser.aspx?currentimageid=5667 (also attached), there is a Buddha in there. Looking at the image cross-eyed feels like straining too much, but then there is something happening, first outlines bubbling up from the noise, and then you see it, some last straining - - and suddenly your eyes relax, locked-in, as if it is a really natural way to seeing.

I wouldn't have managed 1st jhana without being on a retreat, though. You might consider at least a self-retreat during the weekend. Even if you don't get it you will progress, and eventually - that's what I told myself I don't know how often - you will get there. Knowing that with this light-weight method there is a very high rate of success, you can stop wanting and just enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: I'm new to this jhana business, feels not much different from where you are.

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RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/23/15 7:33 PM as a reply to fschuhi.
fschuhi

Your posts were extremely helpful, many thanks.  emoticon

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/24/15 2:12 AM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small Steps:
While I wait for my public library to get a copy of Leigh's book, I did find a copy at a local book store and leafed through it. Without reading too closely, or carefully, it appears to be representative of the work that he's been teaching over the last few years. 

You are right, from what I took away from meeting Leigh in person. He called the book "a brain dump", kind of polishing the many articles on the website, binding them coherently together and adding many pragmatic tricks of the jhana trade. As a result, the book is meant to capture his current state of his teaching wrt the jhanas. Both in the book and in his live instructions and dharma talks he continues to point to his website for additional material (e.g. more appendices which didn't make it into the book).

Furthermore, he said he felt it was the time to root his method (which derived from the much revered Ayya Khema) firmly into what the Buddha says in the suttas, so in the book you also get some critique of commentarial views. Not needed for doing the jhanas, in his opinion, more for the scholars than for the practitioners.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/24/15 6:33 AM as a reply to mla7.
re: mla7 (11/23/15 4:39 PM as a reply to Chris J Macie)

"Why would most people need access to skilled
instruction to hit hard Jhana?  I sorta assumed if one could hit soft Jhana and just kept on plugging away at it, one would eventually get to the harder stuff."

As you suggest (in the quotation below), "guidance" might be a better word than "instruction", in the sense of having some depth of wisdom from experience, not just rote information how to instruct a technique. Exploring for oneself, going on from soft-jhana, one surely could go deeper successfully. One could also encounter troubles (c.f. svmonk's book), or waste a lot of time re-inventing the wheel, so to speak; or, to borrow a metaphor from Allen Kay, even worse, "re-inventing the flat-tire".emoticon

"What are some of the waysin which a skilled instructor would guidea person to get hard Jhanas?"

Specifics ("some of the ways") matter less than the overall advantage that one who has spent many years mastering a skill has in knowing what works more efficiently, and being able to recognize and help steer someone with less experience, from training in how to teach the skills.

An apt passage from an essay by Thanissaro Bhikku, who has a pretty good grasp of dharma skills and a reputation as a motivating teacher:
(http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/power_of_judgment.html)

"
When the Buddha told Ananda that the entirety of the practice lies in having an admirable friend, he wasn't saying something warm and reassuring about the compassion of others. He was pointing out three uncomfortable truths — about delusion and trust — that call for clear powers of judgment.

"The first truth is that you can't really trust yourself to see through your delusion on your own. When you're deluded, you don't know you're
deluded. You need some trustworthy outside help to point it out to you. This is why, when the Buddha advised the Kalamas to know for themselves, one of the things he told them to know for themselves was how wise people would judge their behavior.…

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/30/15 6:28 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
re: Paweł K (11/28/15 11:28 AM as a reply to Chris J Macie.)

"Previously I pointed more to using jhana from within being very near cessation of mind, flickering in and out of existence all the time. This is
what I think AN 11.10 is about"

AN 11.10 – the "Peacock Sancturary" Sutta? (p. 1563 in B.Bodhi's translation) Could you explain that more? I don't see the connection in that sutta with what you're saying before or after mentioning it.

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
11/30/15 3:06 PM as a reply to fschuhi.
That stereogram is an absolutely genius example! Thanks for posting.

I've also had that "being pulled through a doorway" sort of feeling, which frittered away as I started thinking "How cool! I'm being pulled through a doorway."

It also made me realize that I hadn't "built" enough joy or pleasure to power the doorway, I found there was a quality of concentrating on breath and joy that built upon itself in a feedback loop, if you can stay out of the way and just be present with it.

So, I'm working at that level at the moment. 

RE: Jhana Method
Answer
5/25/17 9:48 AM as a reply to MangaDesuYo.
I agree it is possible,

may I ask... in what way this experience have been helpful once absorption has been reached and sustainded. What is the effect when going out of absorption, how long the wholesome factors have remained, and what the mind has done once the factors are out and restlessnes show's up again?

In case jhana is not entered, is not restlessness even more unmanageable?

Would like to know about your experience! Thanks for sharing!

GS