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Am I close to first Jhana?

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Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/17/15 8:02 PM
Hi All,

I've been meditating consistently on the breath for the past few months with the intention of ultimately attaining the first jhana. Prior to that, I was also following a breath focused practice, but my focus was more on the breath in the abdomen and not at the nostrils as many jhana teachers advise. Looking back on my first year of practice, I really didn't know what the hell I was doing!

Anyhow, for the past few months I've been getting more consistent with feeling a pressure or sensation between my eyes that I would say is more under my command now than it ever has been. In other words, I can pretty much jump on the cushion, start focusing on my breathing and the sensation will come on. If I lose it, I simply refocus on the breath and it's back. 

After reading Leigh Brasington's work this evening, I switched my attention to my hands as the sensation between my eyes was very pronounced. I felt a wave like resonation in my hands begin to reverberate and increase in intensity. I also felt quick moments of tingles around my body, but they rapidly subsided. Even now as I’m typing, the sensation between my eyes is throbbing in a very neutral way (not pain, not pleasure, but just noticeable sensation).
 
I would almost describe my sit tonight as that strange feeling you get before sexual climax, almost like you have an innate sense that “it” is about to happen before it does. That said, I don’t think I reached the point of first jhana, but something deep inside is telling me I’m close.
 
Anybody feeling connected to my experience in the sense that it could be agreed upon that I’m on the right track?

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/17/15 11:32 PM as a reply to Gordon.
Hello Gordon,

If you are sensing pressure in the forehead between the eye brows, you have definitely developed a form of concentration (samadhi). That pressure is a nimitta (mental or physical sign) of samadhi.

Watch to see if you can maintain focus on the breath without interruption or without unnoticed interruption for 3 to 5 minutes consecutively. If you can, then you have developed samadhi. The longer the better. But three to five minutes straight is enough time to confirm the development of samadhi.

Samadhi is used during vipassana meditation in order to hold the mind on the object or subject matter of contemplation long enough for insight to arise. Sometimes, interest in the subject matter that arises in the mind is so fascinating and compelling that there is little to no tendency of the mind to wander off the topic, and maintaining one's focus becomes effortless. If this is the case, then you are in an excellent position to begin using an insight meditation object in order to make breakthroughs in your path toward self realization.

The practice of dhyana, as I have experienced it, assisted me in being able to re-train the mind to be able to remain focused on an object for an extended length of time without mental wandering or unnoticed wandering and to go deeper into the silence of the fourth dhyana. In other words it helped me to be able to enter samadhi at will. It also helped in the development of extending mindfulness off the cushion, which gradually grew in length over several months of practice. Focusing on being able to silence the mind of all thought at will was the breakthrough I needed in order to begin making progress in insight practice.

If you are able to enter samadhi at will, and from your description it seems that you are, you are ready for the next step in your training, which might be becoming more proficient in silencing the mind in order to dive down into the fourth dhyana.

You may very well have experienced the first "jhana" as you have learned about it. What is important now is that you be able to experience a quieting of the mind at will by directing your intention to the fourth dhyana, which is profoundly still and silent, and yet leaves the mind in a pristine state of illumination with regard to anything that may arise. You can direct the mind to go there directly without having to pass through the so-called "second and third jhanas." This is a little advanced for most practitioners, but if you can resist thinking that you have to follow the traditional formula of first, second, third and fourth "jhanas," it can be accomplished from where you are at present. 

Spending time in the fourth dhyana (over, say, many months of practice) can help train the mind to be able to do this at will. How you get to the fourth dhyana can be accomplished by observing how the breath becomes lighter and lighter until it eventually seems to disappear altogether, as in some instruction given on Leigh Brasington's website. Check out his website and see what you think. As the breath diminishes in this scenario, the mind has a tendency to slow down in its movement until it become completely still and motionless. When you reach this point, you will know that you have reached the fourth dhyana. The stillness is so profound that on first experiencing this you may disturb it with a uprush of joy (piti) or pleasure (sukha) in recognition. That is okay. These can diminish once you become used to the simple beauty of the stillness by applying equanimity to the experience. Equanimity, evenness of mind, is your friend in meditation development. Learn to use it wisely.  

In peace,
Ian

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/18/15 9:57 AM as a reply to Gordon.
Amazing answer by Ian. Useful read also for those who can attain jhana already.

About your "sex-question". For some reason it is not discussed openly in some circles, but definitely yes, there are a lot of connections between sexuality and meditation. The most evident connections are kundalini/piti and sukha/blissful pleasure.

But it does not end there. The feeling of being close to "it" and the frustration of not getting there is definitely something I have experienced consistently before pivotal moments in my development (before a kundalini awakening / A&P and before "missed" paths and fruitions). And it is definitely comparable to getting close to an orgasm but not getting one. I would take it as an additional sign that you are close to jhana... and possibly as a hint to let go a bit and trust the process.

Bonus image: The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. Or second jhana as sculpted by a certain catholic artist. Looks like anything familiar?


RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/18/15 2:25 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks, Ian, for that very helpful description. Will definitely try to practice getting to fourth jhana as you describe
When practicing concentration meditation in the past weeks, I´ve tried to do nothing else but focus on the breath, as I wanted a very simple practice. Joy and pleasure come up quite frequently now when doing that, but I just ignore hem and return to the breath. At times, I get to a point where the breath indeed almost disappears. As my mind gets very still then, I already had the impression that it could be close to 4th jhana even without passing through the traditional stages. Seems very similar to what you describe and I will try to further deepen the stillness.

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/18/15 10:44 PM as a reply to neko.
Ian - Great to hear your thoughts about the pressure between the eyes. Given that I've been a hellacious battle with anxiety and depression, my confidence that I am capable in progressing has been very low. However, after months of noticing this pressure, and seeing how closely it was tied to focusing on my breathing, I started to have this sense that the sensation couldn't be coincidental. 

I'll try to incorporate your advice into my practice, but it does seem a little advanced for me at this point. 

Neko - Very comforting to see that someone else understands that familiar tension that is so often associated with sexuality. It definitely looks like St. Teresa is enjoying herself!


RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/19/15 11:07 AM as a reply to Gordon.
Gordon:
Ian - Great to hear your thoughts about the pressure between the eyes. Given that I've been a hellacious battle with anxiety and depression, my confidence that I am capable in progressing has been very low. However, after months of noticing this pressure, and seeing how closely it was tied to focusing on my breathing, I started to have this sense that the sensation couldn't be coincidental.

I'll try to incorporate your advice into my practice, but it does seem a little advanced for me at this point.

Well now, you've introduced more information about your condition into the mix. Which means my recommendations would change in order to address that additional information.

If you are having an issue with anxiety and depression, you need to address that first before you can begin to benefit from a serious practice in meditation/contemplation. Meditation can be used as a tool in that rehabilitation, but you need more than can be reasonably offered from an Internet forum.

Depending on the depth of your issues, you need direct and personal intervention with someone in your life who can help you get over your depression and anxiety, or at least dial it back to a level that you are able to endure and yet still maintain a reasonably healthy level of self-esteem.

If you are in your twenties, this is a fairly common mallady found in people your age in this modern world. I was once in the same place thirty-five years ago when in my late twenties, so I have some experience in this. Many people coming to this forum make the mistake of thinking that meditation alone can help them with acute issues of anxiety and depression, and it is simply not true. Such a person needs expert help from someone proficient enough in helping people deal with their psychological issues.

Unfortunately, from my experience and from what I'm observing in contemporary society, there are very few people who have the integrity for and are sincere in being able to assist other people in these matters. Too many psychiatric and psychological therapists are only in it for the buck! The longer they can stretch out your rehabilitation period, the more "money" they make. I was wary of this fact thirty-five years ago, and so I was very careful in who I chose to assist me.

In the end, if you do end up seeking help with these issues, I would recommend listening to and heeding your intuition with regard to who might be able to assist you. Don't get me wrong, there ARE qualified and sincere professionals out there willing to assist others in these matters, it is just that you may need to be very picky in hunting them down, until you find one you are comfortable with.

I was lucky. The fourth person I considered able to help me turned out to be the right person. You may think that you can do this on your own, but don't kid yourself. It generally (depending again upon the depth of the problem) takes a trained outside observer to spot the core issues that need to be dealt with so that you can begin the healing process.

Once you are back to ground zero, so to speak, where you are feeling good about yourself and your life in general, then you can begin diving deeper into learning about and practicing the Dhamma. Because what you will find, if you obtain the correct guidance in your practice, is that the correct practice of the Dhamma will end, once and for all, any issues of anxiety or depression you may possibly concieve of having to ever deal with again in your life.

As the British say, keep a stiff upper lip. Things are not as bad as you may be presently viewing them. Things can and will get better when you address the core mallady.

All the best to you.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/20/15 2:45 AM as a reply to Gordon.
hey, Gordon. now i'm questioning wether or not what i'm experiencing is jhana. correct me if i'm wrong but i've always been under the impression that first jhana was a fairly simple and easy to attain state and that if you are experiencing the states that the suttas describe which are applied/sustained thought, concentration, rapture, and happiness that you're there. first jhana! i've never really heard that in order to attain first jhana that you need intense, extended practice or any sort of psychological perfection. as a matter of fact mtctb points out that jhana will bubble up a lot of your "stuff" to the surface.

i've been practicing off and on but with some semblance of seriousness for about 5 years, never been on retreat, and my longest sit has only been about an hour. i'm what one might consider an armchair practitioner but i'm in the midst of a pretty solid stretch of my practice. when i sit and follow the breath pretty consistently, keeping focus on at least part of the breath with minimal distraction for maybe 10 minutes, keeping the 5 hindrances at bay, and enter into a semi-stable, concentrated state that feels good and requires minimal effort to sustain, i have been considering that to be first jhana in my humble practice thus far.

are you experiencing the five jhana factors discussed in the suttas and in mtctb? the pulsating in the area between the eyes sounds like rapture to me. if you're concentrated, happy, and are also applying your thought in a sustained manner, i'd sat that's first jhana.

Ian And, thanks a lot for the info you gave about going right to 4th jhana, that sounds extremely useful for giving ones practice a boost. not to hijack this thread with another question but what more is there to first jhana than the 5 factors explained in mtctb? i'm getting the sense from some of these threads that some consider jhana to be a more in depth endeavor than what i've come to understand.

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/20/15 12:03 PM as a reply to Robert S Johnson.
Robert S Johnson:
hey, Gordon. now i'm questioning wether or not what i'm experiencing is jhana. correct me if i'm wrong but i've always been under the impression that first jhana was a fairly simple and easy to attain state and that if you are experiencing the states that the suttas describe which are applied/sustained thought, concentration, rapture, and happiness that you're there. first jhana! i've never really heard that in order to attain first jhana that you need intense, extended practice or any sort of psychological perfection. as a matter of fact mtctb points out that jhana will bubble up a lot of your "stuff" to the surface.

i've been practicing off and on but with some semblance of seriousness for about 5 years, never been on retreat, and my longest sit has only been about an hour. i'm what one might consider an armchair practitioner but i'm in the midst of a pretty solid stretch of my practice. when i sit and follow the breath pretty consistently, keeping focus on at least part of the breath with minimal distraction for maybe 10 minutes, keeping the 5 hindrances at bay, and enter into a semi-stable, concentrated state that feels good and requires minimal effort to sustain, i have been considering that to be first jhana in my humble practice thus far.

are you experiencing the five jhana factors discussed in the suttas and in mtctb? the pulsating in the area between the eyes sounds like rapture to me. if you're concentrated, happy, and are also applying your thought in a sustained manner, i'd sat that's first jhana.

Ian And, thanks a lot for the info you gave about going right to 4th jhana, that sounds extremely useful for giving ones practice a boost. not to hijack this thread with another question but what more is there to first jhana than the 5 factors explained in mtctb? i'm getting the sense from some of these threads that some consider jhana to be a more in depth endeavor than what i've come to understand.

Hi Robert,

Very good questions. I'm also quite new as a practitioner (~2 years) so not sure I’ll be the best source of advice. I’ve immersed myself in Jhana study over the past few months buying and reading Shaila Catherine’s “Focused and Fearless” as well as Leigh Brasington’s “Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas”. Additionally, I’ve perused as much supplementary information as possible to galvanize my understanding of concentration practice which should lead one to Jhana.
 
Based on this, I’m quite certain that I’ve not reached the 1st Jhana. I see the sensation in the forehead as perhaps the early stages of piti developing however I don’t know for certain and I’m not too concerned on analyzing as I’m confident that the time will come when I know that I’m accessing the first Jhana.
 
As far as the four Jhana factors, I believe I’ve experienced vitakka and vicara for sure. It’s tricky for me to tell if or how much I’ve experienced piti, sukha since I’m currently practicing on the platform of what seems to be an active episode of anxiety/depression.
 
From what I’ve gathered, if one has experienced the first Jhana, one will know undoubtedly that they have. Put another way, a Jhana is not subtle at all so if you think that you may have entered it, you probably haven’t. 

Thanks,
Gordon

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/20/15 2:54 PM as a reply to Robert S Johnson.
Hello Robert,

First, let me clarify something before I get into the heart of your comments. People have a tendency, on forums like this and elsewhere, to be rather superficial in their approach and to believe that what they thought they read was its author's intent when oftentimes their interpretation (perception?) is far from being on the mark with regard to what the author intended them to understand from his communication. This phenomenon happens to me quite often. And it is particularly annoying and frustrating, because then I have to spend time going back and parcing through what I clearly wrote and explain it in a different way, which hopefully, transmits the intended message in no uncertain terms.

Perhaps part of this phenomenon is my fault and is tied up in my, perhaps unwarranted, expectation that readers are like myself when they read someone's comments, that they are paying close attention to every word and idea that is being expressed along with the grammatical structure in order to competently comprehend the intended communication. Sometimes when I'm particularly perplexed by a passage I'll go back and re-read it two or three times or more before I'm satisfied that I've correctly understood its author's intent. Yet, even then, I know that I still may have it wrong, and that perhaps had they spent a little more time in composition that the ambiguity of the way it was initially stated might have been eliminated, therefore rendering the passage perfectly clear. There are many factors that can come into play which can have unintended consequences on how a person perceives a particular comment or passage within that comment, or where the terminology used is not clearly stated such that readers understand what is meant when these terms are used.

Then again there are times when readers assume (read into) something that is not expressly stated in the communication and take the presumption that it is what was meant, when in fact nothing of the sort was meant had they taken the time to properly read the passage. In a way, all that I have just stated is intimately tied into the practice and the study of the Dhamma, which is primarily focused on the activity of refining the mind of the practitioner, of hopefully helping him to begin seeing things in their naked "suchness" (to use a term), meaning just for what they are without reading anything more into the process. In other words, when you see a duck it is a duck; it is not a chicken, a turkey, or an eagle, it is a duck. So don't let the mind begin to make unnecessary associations when none are being suggested. Which is another way of stating "don't jump too hastily to conclusions." Take your time and read what is there. 

Robert S Johnson:

correct me if i'm wrong but i've always been under the impression that first jhana was a fairly simple and easy to attain state. . .

That is a good impression for a beginning meditator to have. I cannot fault that impression or assumption. Because if you think it is an easy state to attain, then it will be easy for you to attain.

But not necessarily for someone who thinks the opposite, that it is a very difficult state to attain, and that it takes a long and hard practice to ever get there if you get there at all (which can be how some dogmatic "Buddhist" groups portray it; but that is not how Gotama portrays it in the discourses; hint! hint!).

Robert S Johnson:

. . . and that if you are experiencing the states that the suttas describe which are applied/sustained thought, concentration, rapture, and happiness that you're there. first jhana!

A small point needs to be made, but perhaps a meaningful one. Here I have to question your understanding and reading of the suttas. I'm not sure where you are getting the idea that there are five factors involved in dhyana as espoused in the discourses (even if the fifth factor mentioned seems to make sense). But the fact remains that there are only four factors stated in the suttas.

Leigh Brasington has printed a chart on his website showing the three versions of dhyana factors that are being taught and the sources of those versions, so that others can corroborate his findings. You can find that chart here.

As you will see, ekaggata (or what you might be referring to as concentration, which is a perfectly fine translation of the term as long as one understands that the Pali term refers to a variant aspect of the word concentration known as "one-pointed concentration") is specifically missing from the sutta designation of dhyana, but that it is contained in both the Visuddhimagga and the Abhidhamma versions. In fact, ekagatta is not even mentioned in any of the sutta versions of the first four levels of dhyana meditation as we have come to know it.

Why do I mention this small but distinctive point? Because for some people it can add complication to what is a very simple state to achieve where no complication is necessary. Because once the state is reached, you no longer need to be concerned about any of the factors needed to get there; you already know how to get there! And yet, if the practitioner goes back to review his experience, he may think that he had not attained what he undoubtedly did attain, and thus become caught in a circle of self-doubt. Self-doubt can be a hindrance to progress in the practice.

From this one might surmise that I do not recommend following the Visuddhimagga or the Abhidhamma material when seeking information about meditation practice, but rather advocate sticking with the suttas. And they would be correct. I have both of those other books, but I put them down and stopped reading them altogether once I realized this small but important difference (which is just one of many), and have not looked at them since. Both of those books complicate what is not a complicated procedure; therefore, I do not recommend using them. This is where my practice took a turn for the better, and I have never looked back.

Robert S Johnson:

i've never really heard that in order to attain first jhana that you need intense, extended practice or any sort of psychological perfection. as a matter of fact mtctb points out that jhana will bubble up a lot of your "stuff" to the surface.

Just to clarify my comment about dealing with one's anxiety and depression first, it was meant for a specific individual who had mentioned as much in terms of what he was having to deal with, and not for mass consumption.

However, on the other hand, it is not bad advice for someone to take even if their anxiety and depressive state is not that deep as these factors can create a hindrance in one's practice. A hindrance which might even lead to misinterpretation of certain parts of the practice which could then compromise a person's efforts.

I should have clarified in my first post that going directly from first dhyana to fourth is not something that a beginning practitioner just learning the skill should endeavor to accomplish. At least not at first. When first learning, it is probably best to approach it from the four level approach in the beginning so that the meditator can become used to discerning and identifying these factors within their own experience as they arise and assist in the deepening of the meditation.

Once a person becomes adept at entering dhyana, then, in order to save time and effort, going from first to fourth may hold some advantage in their practice. Once you become familiar with the skill of traversing subtle ground, then certain short cuts or deviations can be implemented, if desired. All depends upon the practitioner.

Robert S Johnson:

. . . but what more is there to first jhana than the 5 factors explained in mtctb? i'm getting the sense from some of these threads that some consider jhana to be a more in depth endeavor than what i've come to understand.

There's nothing wrong with your impression of dhyana meditation as you have come to understand it. What you may learn, however, is that there are schools of teachers (Ajahn Brahmavamso, to name one) who subscribe to a deeper experience of the absorption state where awareness of the five senses is said to cease. Yet what needs to be kept in mind is that the level of concentration needed for liberating insight meditation to take place does not entertain these deeper levels that are sometimes talked about by other teachers. If one goes too deep, they may not be able to perform vipassana meditation simply because they have gone beyond the level where conscious thought is still effective. If the mind is so relaxed that it is unable to entertain (hold) conscious thought, then it won't be able to redirect its awareness to the subject matter that needs to be examined and pondered. If that happens, then realization moments (fruitions) will be unlikely to occur.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/20/15 6:46 PM as a reply to Gordon.
I'd rather post in this thread than to create my own.  I've devised a method
to speed-read books that I'm already familiar with, and naturally it's being
tested with MCTB.  I'm on my fourth read through the book, with two of those
being this week.  I'm going to continue this reading tonight and see if I can
get that down to the whole thing in a single day, which is definitely
possible.  What I'm saying here, is that I've got a computer screen showing
this book with the text in red (very easily visible from a distance), with a
blue cursor highlighting the first and last letter of each word and advancing
at a pace that differs depending on the length of each word.  So from
about 9:30am to 2:20pm today, I was really powering through the end of the
book and the start once more.  The content was besides the point; I wanted to
test out my ability to concentrate on the moving cursor and continuously
increase the pace at which the book advanced to just beyond the point where
sub-vocalisation occurs, but not too fast that I can't keep up with every
single word (within reason).  This has the effect of giving the mind something
to think about other than spinning it's own thoughts, which still happen, but
with decreased frequency, as they have to happen in-between reading. Trying to
watch the breath while doing this requires going back and forth quickly.
Wearing earplugs is used as an aid to hear the breath, then it becomes easier
to connect that with the sensation of touch on the nose.  While doing this, I
was maintaining the same position comfortably on the couch, until my knees
would start hurting.  I'm not yet able to comfortably maintain anything but a
chair sitting position for more than a half an hour, so that's part of the
practice as well.  Most of my "formal" meditation occurs while reclining,
which is not a problem for me in the slightest.  After alternating between
eating a small meal, drinking coffee and going to the bathroom, and really
reading this to the exclusion of all other things, I finally took and
increased the rate past the 2x mark that I had been using yesterday.  The rate
had slowly been building all day.  

I wasn't expecting it, but I soon started feeling fatigued.  Although it was
simple to keep up, it became difficult to focus on the words clearly.  This
was a good time to lie down and try to take a nap, which was my intention.  I
wrapped up in a blanket but kept my head exposed and faced a window so that I
could at least perceive the light coming in through a large window.  I
alternately point a light bulb in the direction of my eyes while doing this if
it is late at night and there is no natural light available.  I was keeping
with the breath, but not steadily, as that wasn't my intention.  There were
some strange experiences nevertheless.  I counted two instances of a squarish
mostly-white light moving in front of my eyes.  Noted it off, not important.
I did not fall asleep, but I was very relaxed and mostly doing this to rest my
eyes.  I started watching the breath a bit more and got the sensation of
something happening, as in sliding into something.  The blanket was keeping my
extremities isolated from one another, keeping them floating.  My eyelids
began to flicker involuntarily while closed for at least ten seconds.  This
was very unexpected.  During this, purple visuals were present.  I had the
sense that the breath was going off to the side, which prompted a reaction
like "hey what are you doing over there" from me.  I had been closely watching
for changes in brightness, but not so close to the breath as to say anything
like I was watching it consistently, so it would be more accurate to say I was
concentrating on the light with the breath as a fallback.  It was at this time
that I realised that the concentration from reading had one of its intended
effects; it had successfully transitioned into concentration elsewhere, and it
become apparent that there were no distracting thoughts up until now since
lying down.  It had a special feeling sense, something that I either don't get
often or have not experienced before.  It didn't last long.  I got up and
checked the time, about forty minutes.  At the time, I was convinced that this
was access concentration.

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/21/15 8:42 AM as a reply to Ian And.
re: Ian And (12/20/15 2:54 PM as a reply to Robert S Johnson)

"What you may learn, however, is that there are schools of teachers (Ajahn Brahmavamso, to name one) who subscribe to a deeper experience of the absorption state where awareness of the five senses is said to cease. Yet what needs to be kept in mind is that the level of concentration needed for liberating insight meditation to take place does not entertain these deeper levels that are sometimes talked about by other teachers."

Stating this seems to mix different practice systems here. Other teachers may well consider deeper levels of concentration necessary to sharpen the mind to reach deeperi nsight, notice finer levels of dukkha to be revolved. So the part "liberating insight meditation to take place does not entertain these deeper levels" appears to imply a different system of practice – perhaps depending on what's meant by "entertain".

"If one goes too deep, they may not be able to perform vipassana meditation simply because they have gone beyond the level where conscious thought is still effective."

Implying the vipassana is to be performed while in jhanic concentration? The overall topic relates to jhana, but here you are using a different sense of concentration? Also depends on how "conscious thought is still effective" is to be interpreted. On the one hand, some teach using jhanic concentration to ever deeper levels, which states are then examined with insight upon exit to more deeply understand and be able to train the mind. On the other hand, Mahasi Sayadaw teaches vipassana khanika samadhi to very deep levels of concentration that are comparable with jhanic levels (though, for him, not the same as jhana), shaping a context for librating insight. Is it something like this you refer to here?

"If the mind is so relaxed that it is unable to entertain (hold) conscious thought, then it won't be able to redirect its awareness to the subject matter that needs to be examined and pondered."

"Relaxed" meaning deeper levels of jhanic concentration? In my experience, relaxing pertains more to processes approaching jhanic absorption; once entered, the solidity of the stillness, the intensity of the sati that has to be maintained, has a different sense than relaxation; it is very vivid and sharp, rathert han the more relaxed sort of floating in the prior access concentration. After absorption, that is on exit, the mind naturally redirects its deepened sharpness to use vipassana, to either reflect on the jhanic experience, or to investigate other experience.

"If that happens, then realization moments (fruitions) will be unlikely to occur."


This statement seems on a completely different level of practice. If "relaxed" was refering to deeper levels of concentration, then the notion that such levels inhibits "realization moments" implies some practice method quite distinct from what many in the Thai or Burmese traditions understand. What system, or what method are you refering to here? That is, how does deeper jhanic concentration hinder subsequent vipassana?

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/21/15 9:20 AM as a reply to Robert S Johnson.
"Was that real jhana?" is a question that has been, and will be, asked a thousand times and more, because:
1) the suttas are not systematic enough to actually clarify what qualifies as vitakka, vicara, piti and sukha;
2) the commentaries are very specific and clear, but they set standards that are extremely strict - many will agree that they are probably stricter than the suttas.

In MCTB parlance it makes sense to distinguish between soft and hard jhana, with hard jhana only qualifying as "true" jhana according to the Visuddhimagga, but probably soft jhana being true jhana too, according to most interpretations of the suttas.

I would suggest to just use the soft/hard distinction and work with that, setting clear goals for yourself. Do you want harder jhanas? Do you want to work on Nth jhana specifically? Do you want to work on "jhanas in daily life", cultivating extremely soft jhanas while shopping or commuting? Do you want to explore the samatha / vipassana (non-)divide, learning to see dissolution in third jhana and third jhana in dissolution? These are useful endeavours and things to discuss.

"Was that really real true jhana?" is useful as long as one does not get bogged down in semantics. My two eurocents worth at least!

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/21/15 9:03 PM as a reply to Gordon.
Interesting progress tonight.  I was able to stay on the breath for a solid hour without missing any of it.  This was very surprising to me.  The flip I did was to notice the noticing of the breath.  The supposition was that if the breath isn't me, then the noticing isn't me and will be able to continue unassisted.  The noticing of the noticing, however, is not the same as the noticing, so I could hold onto that instead.  That way, if there were any gaps in the attention of the noticing of the noticing of the breath, it wouldn't affect the pattern of noticing the breath.  So when the breath stopped, or the noticing of the breath stopped, it wasn't an opportunity to lose focus, but to notice the sensation of its absence.  This lead to a pretty intense feeling on the left side of my head, like if I was getting somewhere with it.  When the breaths were longer, I would use that as an opportunity to notice other sensations.  When they were slow or absent, I would explore to see if there were any subtle, quiet sensations I could now notice.  Thoughts were more like "wow, it's really on the breath now!"  or "It hasn't gone unobserved yet!" or something else entirely for at most a half of the breath (i.e., distracted on the rising, but noticing the falling, but still feeling it the whole way).  Didn't need to subvocalise a word to follow it; the actual noticing of the breath became the sound of the air and the touch of the air, something I have been trying to follow on my own but found difficult.

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/22/15 1:15 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Hey, Ian. Thanks so much for your reply and comments it is indeed why I'm in this community in the first place, so I appreciate your willingness to call attention to some of my understanding of things.

One point in particular that you made that was helpful:
             
 
"A small point needs to be made, but perhaps a meaningful one. Here I have to question your understanding and reading of the suttas. I'm not sure where you are getting the idea that there are five factors involved in dhyana as espoused in the discourses (even if the fifth factor mentioned seems to make sense). But the fact remains that there are only four factors stated in the suttas. 
Leigh Brasington has printed a chart on his website showing the three versions of dhyanafactors that are being taught and the sources of those versions, so that others can corroborate his findings. You can find that chart here. As you will see, ekaggata (or what you might be referring to as concentration, which is a perfectly fine translation of the term as long as one understands that the Pali term refers to a variant aspect of the word concentration known as "one-pointed concentration") "

I think I was counting applied/sustained thought as two factors, that's how I considered it to be five factors, haha!

Most of my understanding of the Jhanas came from mctb, various Dharma talks, and this little essay:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/gunaratana/wheel351.html


Gordon, I highly recommend that essay to you as well, it was very helpful to my practice.

The section of that essay titled "the first jhana and it's factors" translates the fifth factor as "one pointedness of mind" just as you did. I suppose "concentration" does fine as a translation but really how I have understood it in practice was it's characteristic of keeping the mind glued to it's object  (the breath, a kasina, whatever)

As far as attaining a sort of "psychological perfection" what I've always experienced is that concentration states could be attained even while I was in periods of my life that were clouded by anxiety and depression, so long as I attained the momentary quietness of mind that can be achieved by strong focus on the breath. Of course this is made more challenging if one is in the midst of an active episode of depression or anxiety because these conditions naturally correlate with the hindrances of sloth/torpor, restlessness/worry, and to a lesser extent hatred/ill will, but in my experience, deep absorption can still be achieved with a little extra effort. 

In the suttas, particularly MN:39
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.039.than.html )
it talks more about the teachings of virtue as a practice to undertake prior to attaining Jhana, I suppose in a modern context it is to be understood as basically having your affairs in order so as to have the right conditions for emotional and psychological health (not to reduce or ignore the fact that many people have their lives in order but still suffer from anxiety and depression)

Anywho, thanks, Ian, for your thoughts on this stuff. And thank you, Gordon, for posting this question because it motivated me to revisit this area of my practice. I hope some of these responses were beneficial to you.

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RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/22/15 1:56 AM as a reply to Chris.
Hey, Chris.

I find your posts very interesting and relevant to a point that I've been struggling with. If you read my earlier posts on this thread you'll notice that I'm inclined to beleive that Jhanas, particularly the first Jhana, are fairly easy to attain and don't necessarily require intense, prolongued practice. I've always thought 1st Jhana is just simply applied/sustained thought, rapture, happiness, and concentration (or single-pointedness of mind). Based on your descriptions it sounds like you're doing some pretty intense concentration practices! To add to that, you're saying that after doing stuff like speed-reading MCTB so as to get REALLY concentrated and you consider yourself to have only reached access concentration.

The reason I find this interesting is because I'm over here only practicing for about an hour a day tops, my sits are only about 10-40 minutes long, and I'm like "yup, I'm reaching Jhana like a pro!". 

Just to be clear, my version of "reaching first Jhana" includes sitting and gaining a fair ammount of concentration and focus on the breath, deliberately allowing myself to succumb to the illusion of solidity in the breath, clearing *most* of the distracting thoughts that can arise, anchoring my focus solidly on the sensation at the tip of the nostril, keeping the hindrances at bay, focus more, start noticing the Jhana factors: happiness, check. Applied/sustained thought, check. Rapture, check. Single-pointedness of mind, check. That's Jhana to me. Even in that state, sometimes mundane thoughts will still arise about experiences from the day, planning for tomorrow, etc. but these thoughts are *much* more subdued than they are in the usual waking state.

Do you consider Jhana to be a deeper state than what I've described above? Do you ever find yourself in a state that has all of the Jhana factors described above but you do not consider that to be Jhana?

Thanks! 
Robert

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/22/15 2:05 AM as a reply to neko.
Hey, thanks, neko. That is an extremely reasonable and realistic way of looking at it. What I'm using Jhana for is to attain a base level of concentration so as to gain an entry point to insight practice. Just as outlined in MCTB, after attaining 1st Jhana, start seeing the three characteristics of the state to gain penetrating insights into the nature of experience. Looking at it from your point of view the notion of "is it Jhana/ is it not Jhana" no longer really becomes relevant so long as one is practicing in a way that is beneficial.

Thanks! 
Robert

RE: Am I close to first Jhana?
Answer
12/22/15 1:04 PM as a reply to Robert S Johnson.
Robert S Johnson:
I find your posts very interesting and relevant to a
point that I've been struggling with. If you read my earlier posts on this
thread you'll notice that I'm inclined to believe that jhanas, particularly the
first Jhana, are fairly easy to attain and don't necessarily require intense,
prolonged practice. I've always thought 1st Jhana is just simply
applied/sustained thought, rapture, happiness, and concentration (or
single-pointedness of mind). Based on your descriptions it sounds like you're
doing some pretty intense concentration practices!


I hadn't really thought about it like that. I really don't have a reason for
it beyond using as a tool to develop insight, which is my aim.

Robert S Johnson:
To add to that, you're saying that after doing stuff
like speed-reading MCTB so as to get REALLY concentrated and you consider
yourself to have only reached access concentration.


This was merely a thought at the time, i.e., feeling a pull towards a distinct
state change of some kind; unsteady, interspersed with thoughts like that "this
must be access concentration." I make no claims here, but I can of course
report that I experienced that thought. The context seemed appropriate.

Robert S Johnson:
The reason I find this interesting is because I'm over
here only practicing for about an hour a day tops, my sits are only about 10-40
minutes long, and I'm like "yup, I'm reaching Jhana like a pro!". 


I have the advantage of having abundant free time due to presently being
unemployed. I'm making as good of use of it as I can - waking up, meditating,
reading, working on website programming. The complete lack of a need for
discursive thought due to having no one around to talk to (and no inclination
to find someone) is not a problem for me. Amusingly, when spontaneous
discursive thinking does occur, a lot of it is hip-hop lyrics, of which I've
picked carefully to generate positive thoughts I can hook into.

Just take a look at these lyrics and imagine having these as thoughts nearly
automatically whenever you hear a word or partial phrase that occurs therein:

manifest-lyrics check-the-technique

These are at once both helpful, and obviously not thoughts that originated from
myself, nor are they property of self. Knowing this, I can stop them
immediately if I want, and I'm still happier for having experienced the thought
and rhythm. (I feel like I have to mention that advertising in general is
designed to exploit this, and I avoid it *entirely* for that reason.)  It makes
me wonder how much of the poetic language was simply borrowed from religious
sources without knowing what it was about, but that really doesn't matter in
the end ("Measures of metaphor, definitions of more than one / Take it both
ways, I'll be here when you're done"). What matters is how it's put together
in my own mind, and it's doing that. At other times, the discursive thinking
is missed because I think I need it, so I start writing. I'm very content to
have entirely dropped needless worry and anxiety over the past few years. It's
clear that something is changing with the basic thought patterns I'm
experiencing.  Example, I came back to read this post again, saw the word
"succumb", then I hear "Makin you succumb to the drums..."

Robert S Johnson:
Just to be clear, my version of "reaching first Jhana"
includes sitting and gaining a fair amount of concentration and focus on the
breath, deliberately allowing myself to succumb to the illusion of solidity in
the breath, clearing *most* of the distracting thoughts that can arise,
anchoring my focus solidly on the sensation at the tip of the nostril, keeping
the hindrances at bay, focus more, start noticing the Jhana factors: happiness,
check. Applied/sustained thought, check. Rapture, check. Single-pointedness of
mind, check. That's Jhana to me. Even in that state, sometimes mundane thoughts
will still arise about experiences from the day, planning for tomorrow, etc.
but these thoughts are *much* more subdued than they are in the usual waking
state.


Sun comes up, sun goes down. You don't have to plan every day. I woke up
whenever (which happened to be around 5:30am this time) moved from the bed to
the couch and stayed awake unmoving for two hours, then made tea and coffee, as
usual. If the experiences were nearly the exact same as the previous day,
there's no reason to review or recite most of them. This should not be taken
as a goal or ideal; I've somehow become immune to boredom at home. I probably
meditated at least four hours in the past 24.

Robert S Johnson:
Do you consider Jhana to be a deeper state than what
I've described above? Do you ever find yourself in a state that has all of the
Jhana factors described above but you do not consider that to be Jhana?


If jhana is the presence of those factors, then I've probably experienced it.
I've yet to automatically label an experience as such. Surely I've come across
the state before, but the most solid thing I can compare it to would be a lucid
dream, and I haven't had any of those in at least a decade. Those are
*extremely* state-like upon entry.

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