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Concentration

Guidance for entering first jhana

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Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/5/16 3:32 PM
Hi everybody! I am new to this forum and meditation and I was curious in wondering if anyone would be willing to offer me guidance to entering first jhana? I have read many instructions yet I still have many questions that I am curious about. I feel like I just need some guidance and alittle more proper instruction to get things kicked off. Is there anyone willing to help me out? If you are you can PM me or we can discuss it in this thread, Thanks!

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/6/16 3:47 AM as a reply to John Hector Yates.
RE: Guidance for entering first jhana

In direct answer to John Hector Yates initial request: DhO is probably as good a place as any to find someone (guide, teacher), or good pointers in that direction. (Wait a minute... Upasaka Culadasa's lay name is "John Yates"...?)

re: Krishna (3/5/16 6:30 PM as a reply to John Hector Yates)

That's a pretty good article (Culadasa "THE STAGES OF MEDITATION", file LightOnMeditationHandout.pdf). Is it complete? seems like an introduction, or first chapter of something larger.

It touches on concentration a lot, but, other than the mention of jhana-s (and Nibbana) on page 13, it’s not specifically focused on how to get to jhana? One could use various of those stages to do so, judging from my expereince, but that would require framing it all differently, and probably personal guidance by a knowledgeable teacher.

The outline of the 10 stages, roughly aligning with stanzas of the Anapanasati-Sutta, is well structured (the guy's academic background shows). Going through it, though, it would seem, as he later emphasizes, the whole thing requires a considerable degree of self-discipline, which can't always be assumed.

Then (p.15ff) he introduces a lot of potential complexity – finding oneself going back and forth among stages along the way, etc. I think this would also indicate the need of some skilled guidance to be able to properly discern where one's actually at, and what's going on when such fall-backs or jumps-ahead occur.

Especially from the bottom of page 18ff, he recognizes the range of personal variations which can (usually do) influence progress on such a path. Discerning and adapting to such differences is a strong reason to use a skilled teacher familiar with what works for different types of people. (The Buddha was said to be good at helping people in that way.)

There's a lovely metaphor (on p.17, red-emphasis added):
"All that is required is that we continue to repeat them, patiently and without expectation, creating the conditions that will ultimately bear the desired fruit. Like gardeners of the mind, meditators plant the seeds of attention and awareness, water them with diligence, remove the weeds of distraction and dullness whenever they sprout up, protecting them from the destructive pests of procrastination, doubt, desire, aversion, and agitation."

Further down, he mentions the downside of impatience and frustration that can "…interrupt the regularity of your practice, or [lead to] looking for a ‘better’ or ‘easier’ practice…". That's what I refer to above as the need for discipline, and the phenomena seen often in people s/t shying away from rigorous traditional systems and looking for an easier way – not to mention various teachers playing on that in offering supposedly "easier" ways, most of which, however, turn out not paths to the same goals.

btw, on page 19 I think there's a typo – "finess" should be "finesse".

Around this point the discourse starts to wander a bit, becoming repetitive.

On page 20 comes a worthwhile point: "There is a common tendency to separate meditation practice from the rest of one’s life." In a couple of "jhana" training retreats I attended with Ven. U Jagara teaching, he would start-off evoking a perspective (paraphrasing): "Here you are undertaking a retreat to develop one-pointedness, but where's the focus in your life outside? Is there clarity of aim, purpose, and one-pointedness in your life?" His point being that jhana is not an isolated little skill to develop as a meditative trophy; and it's difficult, if not impossible, if considered separate from one's life-style if that is rather helter-skelter, blown around by the winds of unconscious conditioning like so much of Western living. So the import of such a retreat should also be examining the relationship of concentration skills with daily living.

Culadasa makes that explicit too:"…Extended retreats are wonderful, and can greatly enhance one’s progress, but their greatest value can only be realized if the heart of the practice permeates every aspect of the meditator’s life."

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/6/16 9:49 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris, the document linked by Krishna is essentially a shortened version of Culadasa's book The Mind Illuminated, which is an attempt to build a syncretic map combining Asanga's Nine Stages with the Theravadin tradition's teachings on the jhanas.

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/6/16 1:57 PM as a reply to John Hector Yates.
A superb new book on exactly this topic is Leigh Brasington's Right Concentration. Other teachers who focus on jhana practice and have writtten books on the topic include Stephen Snyder/Tina Rasmussen, whose teaching is rooted in Burmese master Pa-Auk Sayadaw's Knowing & Seeing, and Richard Shankman

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/9/16 5:53 AM as a reply to Ted Weinstein.
re: Ted Weinstein (3/6/16 1:57 PM as a reply to John HectorYates)

Leigh Brasington's book might be a good practical place to start, though it presents a particular viewpoint ("sutta jhana") that is more hypothetical than proven, as hinted at by the degree of polemic he exhibits in Part Two "Demystified Jhanas". His claims are based on studying with Ayya Khema (whom he s/w misrepresents), and "research" in the 1980s by Rod Bucknell, Martin Stuart-Fox, and Paul Griffiths. Won't go in to this at length here.

The practical viewpoint-difference in Brasington's approach is the emphasis on rapture / piti as the gateway to jhana. This works for some people, not for others. The issue is whether excessive piti or balanced piti and sukha (calm bliss) are needed to access jhana.

(The sutta-text states 1st jhana comes with "vivekajam pitisukham" piti-sukha born of seclusion/detachment. The English words used to translate piti and sukha breed confusion. Words like "joy", "pleasure" have been used for either. Words like "rapture", "zest" used more distinctly for piti. Some use "bliss" or "happiness" for sukha. A more basic distinction may be seen in that piti is considered a sankhara, a mental fabrication that can combine many aspects like imagination and emotion, carried away to any degree. Sukha, on the other hand, is a fundamental feeling-tone, i.e. pleasant as distinct from unpleasant; this can have a range of intensity, but remains a relatively simple and clear mental quality.)

Another viewpoint, with more the balanced approach, more traditional and as exemplified in the Visudhimagga, is found the Pa Auk teaching method, among others. Snyder & Rasmussen's book presents this, though in s/w condensed form. Shaila Catherine's book Focused and Fearless goes into more detail and practical exercises, and is also derived from Pa Auk Sayadaw teachings. This approach, though, is considered more difficult, so teachers on the other side justify their's as "easier" for Westerners – Brasington, Vimalaramsi, Bodhipaska, and others.

Brasington cites Than-Geoff (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) as supporting the piti-approach, though in fact, Than-Geoff uses more piti-sukha balance, and the more traditional approach is clearly used by his lineage (a.g. Ajahn Lee). It seems the Thai Wilderness monks tend to de-emphasize the commentarial tradition (e.g. Visudhimagga) and Abhidhamma, which are more in favor in Burmese traditions. (Maybe because the monks out in the wilderness don't tend to have elaborate libraries at their disposal.)

Richard Shankman's book isn't that much into how-to-do jhana, but a sort of survey, and can be seen as an apologetic for the Insight/Vipassana Movement approach (or non-approach) to jhana concentration. (He title's the book The Experience of Samadhi, in imitation of Joseph Goldstein's "authoritative" The Experience of Insight.) The best part of the book, IMO, is Part Two – "Interviews with Contemporary Meditation Teachers", where the range of viewpoints is better represented – from Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, to Than-Geoff, Leigh Brasington, and even Pa Auk Sayadaw.

In the end, though, Brasington's booki s a good, available, practical place to start, as long as one doesn't too naively buy into his background theories. With a toe-hold in practice, one can look further and better appreciate other, perhaps more challenging (and rewarding) methods (and experiences).

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/9/16 6:27 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris,

I've been finding Mr. Brasington's book to be a workable solid guide. I agree, he clearly has a point of view. I can still work with his basic outline without having to buy into the broader viewpoint.  From many years in the martial arts world, I've found that teachers can provide solid valuable lessons even if you don't buy into their entire framework. 

And work, or at least effort is really what is required. As someone still trying to get from 4th to 5th jhana, I don't have a lot of authority. If I could offer some of my own experience working through Brasington's book, though.

First jhana, Brasington does portray this as a blend of piti and sukha. At first, you can't tell the difference. By making that feeling the object of concentration, one will eventually start to be able to tell them apart, and shift focus between them. It's like focusing on the breath; initially it's just the breath, then you start to become aware of all of the different sensations that make up the breath and how they come and go. And Brasington's sort of "jhana calisthenics" (and I mean that as a compliment for an effective training device) encourage the meditator to play with their ability to separate the different sensations, focus on them, stay with them as an object of meditation, and then refine them to move on to the next jhana.

OK, just my experience, your mileage may vary.

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/26/16 12:34 PM as a reply to John Hector Yates.
I am just a beginner myself, but I believe I have achived 1st Jhana a few times, I have been meditating for 15 months. Jhana isn't discussed often at my local Buddhist Centre, which is a shame. Perhaps as a beginner I can tell you what helped me the most.

The two readings where:

http://www.leighb.com/jhana3.htm - Leigh Brasington's short instructions;
and of course Daniel's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.

To summarise, my experience it goes like this:
  • Mindfulness of breathing in good conditions, a bit of incense and quiet.
  • Doing more than usual, before I reached it the first time I did a two day retreat and did 3 hours a day, which is a lot for me.
  • My body tingles and the breath become fainter, causing me to have to concentrate harder to sense it.
  • Pleasant sensations are arising in my body as I am nice and calm and relaxed.
  • I shift the focus to the pleasant sensation and do nothing else.
  • Most times this doesn't work, so I just return to the breath and finish the meditiation as normal.
  • Once in a while it feeds back on itself and grows and grows and effort falls away, very nice, enjoy.
  • Watch out for a kind of fuzzy pleasure, I don't think that is what you want, your mind should feel clear and focussed, if this starts return to the breath. The pleasure was similar, but the mindfulness was going, which feels wrong, like a dead end.

Was this the kind of thing you wanted? Happy for you to contact me, although there are much, much more experienced people than me here.

Gary.

RE: Guidance for entering first jhana
Answer
3/26/16 5:28 PM as a reply to John Hector Yates.
@OP:

The answer is right under your nose-

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/1191517