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Concentration

Approaching the first Jhana

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Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/12/17 4:48 PM
Hi Everyone, 

This is my first post on this forum. I've been working on my concentration game lately and I'm interested in developing access to the Jhanas for fun and to develop a good base of samatha to fall back on when I start doing more insight-oriented practice. I'm going off the instructions by Leigh Brasington and by the pleasure Jhanas described in TMI, not the deeper jhanas. My main method is "The Mind Illuminated", so its sort of a fusion of concentration and insight practice. I have a teacher who is familiar with the method but he's not really that into the Jhanas. I am mostly just wanting to develop Jhana to enhance my overall concentration, as I find insight practice more interesting anyway. 

 

My main topic here is access concentration and what to do once I reach access. I am fairly confident I'm getting consistent access concentration. The definition I'm using here is more or less exclusive attention on the breath with at most fleeting infrequent thoughts and very little distraction if any. Just a general "very present with the breath" definition, not a more rigorous definition. With this level of concentration easily obtainable for me (at the moment), I can readily discern pleasant physical sensations in my peripheral awareness that tend to be in phase with the breath cycle. I direct my attention to a pleasant sensation and rest my attention there, and here's where I'm getting stuck. The pleasant sensation seems to just hang out and not increase in intensity most of the time. I stay with it for probably 10 minutes at the most before an intruding thought like "what am I doing wrong" erodes the pleasure and I go back to the breath. Each time I notice it increase in intensity theres a mental evaluation of the intensity of the sensation, which I'm working on. I know the idea is to just let it be and not do anything but observe the pleasantness, but theres a very subtle amount of attention that goes to the thought of "how pleasant" vs just experiencing it. A few times I've managed to get further and I've felt a rising sensation, trembling, increase in heartrate, increase in piti/sukka, and so far these have derailed the Jhana. I only think I've actually broken in to first Jhana a few times by accident when I wasn't really even intending to do so, so I kind of know the feeling but I'm not getting there at my present level. 

If anyone has any thoughts or advice on what to do or how to approach the practice I am all ears. 


PS. My morality is in check and I've put/ continue to put conscious effort into following the precepts to the best of my ability. 

metta 

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/12/17 5:36 PM as a reply to Sam Bartko.
Hey Sam, welcome emoticon

If I understand correctly, you seem to be worried that you mostly only get to grade II / III piti, and assume that it does not count as "real" jhana unless you make it to grade V, is this correct? I believe it counts as jhana even if the piti is not fully developed, and the practice is comparably useful and certainly pleasurable even then. So for example even with piti III you can still proceed to 3rd jhana by letting go of whatever piti you are experiencing at the moment.

Regarding self-talk, in my experience it is normal to have a little bit of it during the pleasure jhanas. If I remember correctly, Culadasa says the same in TMI. I would not obsess too much over it.

Could you perhaps be putting too much effort and/or craving into getting piti? I kind of get that vibe from your post. The first few times, it is important to balance effort and spontaneity of the process. Then, if you keep practicing, you should be able to evoke piti itself to jump at will into a (possibly relatively soft) jhana. Once you get into this kind of habituation, distraction from self-talk only removes you from jhana very briefly, and you can dive right back into it without needing to "pass" through the breath again.

Also, remember that the TMI standards for the jhanas are a little bit more stringent than the MCTB ones. You could re-read Daniel's instructions on how to navigate the jhanas, and see if they are useful for you. There are slight discrepancies in the definitions of what happens to attention in 2nd and 3rd jhana between TMI and MCTB, by the way. Have a look at what seems to work best for you.

Not sure if I have answered your questions emoticon

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/12/17 5:42 PM as a reply to neko.
Addendum / clarification: IMHO, feel free to play with the higher jhanas even if you feel you don't have full mastery of the lower ones. Go by the MCTB explanations of what to do with stabilising to get into 2nd, dropping piti to get into 3rd, and dropping sukha to get into 4th. There are some nice lessons to be learnt even with very soft jhanas --- for example on what exactly is piti and what is sukha (it may not be evident in the first two jhanas!), and why 4th jhana is so cool even though piti and sukha are gone. Great lesson on the value of equanimity.

Then you can go back and deepen your practice re-starting from the 1st jhana, or even by hanging out in Access Concentration for longer periods of time before attempting jhana.

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/12/17 9:23 PM as a reply to neko.
neko:
Hey Sam, welcome emoticon

If I understand correctly, you seem to be worried that you mostly only get to grade II / III piti, and assume that it does not count as "real" jhana unless you make it to grade V, is this correct? I believe it counts as jhana even if the piti is not fully developed, and the practice is comparably useful and certainly pleasurable even then. So for example even with piti III you can still proceed to 3rd jhana by letting go of whatever piti you are experiencing at the moment.



Yes, this is sort of what I'm getting at. I mainly aim to use the Jhana practice to enhance my concentration, as TMI sort of suggests doing Jhanas are very good for improving your concentration. The states I'm accessing now are quite enjoyable as well but I also get the sense that there is much more to develop. I'm not really too attached to how intense the piti is as long as I'm sure I'm doing skillful practice, i.e. something that will be useful for insight practice upon emerging from it. I would like to develop the concentration and mindfullness necessary for the higher level insight practices at the later stages of TMI. I will try letting go of the piti and see what happens. 

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/13/17 12:06 PM as a reply to Sam Bartko.
Sam Bartko:
Hi Everyone, 

<snip>
 My main topic here is access concentration and what to do once I reach access. I am fairly confident I'm getting consistent access concentration. The definition I'm using here is more or less exclusive attention on the breath with at most fleeting infrequent thoughts and very little distraction if any. Just a general "very present with the breath" definition, not a more rigorous definition. With this level of concentration easily obtainable for me (at the moment), I can readily discern pleasant physical sensations in my peripheral awareness that tend to be in phase with the breath cycle.

I fairly recently learned how to get into first jhana (finally!) through Brasington's method. I think I can see  what your problem here is (having only overcome it recently myself),  and it shouldn't be too hard for you to get that bit further. emoticon

Yep, that sounds like access concentration to me.
I direct my attention to a pleasant sensation and rest my attention there, and here's where I'm getting stuck. The pleasant sensation seems to just hang out and not increase in intensity most of the time. I stay with it for probably 10 minutes at the most before an intruding thought like "what am I doing wrong" erodes the pleasure and I go back to the breath. Each time I notice it increase in intensity theres a mental evaluation of the intensity of the sensation, which I'm working on. I know the idea is to just let it be and not do anything but observe the pleasantness, but theres a very subtle amount of attention that goes to the thought of "how pleasant" vs just experiencing it. A few times I've managed to get further and I've felt a rising sensation, trembling, increase in heartrate, increase in piti/sukka, and so far these have derailed the Jhana. <snip>
A couple thoughts here.

Firstly, *wanting* the piti to increase and get to jhana. It's natural to cling to the pleasantness and try to make it increase, but of course that undermines the concentration which is causing the pleasantness in the first place. I've found it helpful to try to shift my mindset from 'I want rapture/jhana because it's awesome!' to 'I want samadhi because it's part of the path, and if rapture/jhana arises this will be a symptom of good samadhi'. This makes it more process-based, keeping it about what needs to be done in the moment, leaving less room for doubt or assessing the pleasantness. Instead of trying to increase the pleasantness (which you can't actively do), you try to increase your calm focus on the pleasantness, your samadhi (which you totally can).

Secondly, getting too excited if rapture starts to pick up. This goes away as you get increasingly used to this weird thing going on in your body/mind.

If the pleasant sensation doesn't seem to be increasing, probably much of the problem is you tring to *make* it increase. Yep, it's a bugger. emoticon Though it may also be helpful if you hang out in access concentration more. Keep watching your breath and soaking deeper into that until the pleasant sensation is stronger and your concentration a bit deeper, before you switch attention from the breath to the pleasantness.

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/15/17 10:40 AM as a reply to neko.
Hi Sam,

This is at least in part a "what they said" kind of reply, because you've gotten some high quality replies here.  I just want to highlight a couple of common points:

"resting", "soaking" have been used, I tend to favor "resting in" or "taking refuge in" the jhana. It's a subtle transition from laser-like access concentration to a looser kind of total attention. there is some verb that will make sense to you and give you the appropriate feeling of absorption/surrender in the jhana. Think of this analogy; if you maintain a laser-like focus on going down a staircase one step at a time, there's only so fast you can go. To go down steps quickly, your focus goes from a very tight mechanical focus to a more fluid dynamic one.
 
when I use 'resting in' a jhana it really is like relaxing, cuddling up and inhabiting a jhana (stop laughing). when I use "taking refuge" it's like the jhana has rescued me from whatever the distraction was.

In Brasington's book, he describes techniques that I sometimes call jhana calisthenics. And this is not meant to demean them, I treasure the benefits that practicing those techniques brings. For example; in first jhana, he talks about 'can you lead the sensation around, if your focus goes to your right thumb does the sensation go there?" I use this sometimes to replicate a body-scan from yoga nidra with the light and energy of first jhana.  Also, going from first jhana to second (at whatever level you can feel it) and back again intensifies and clarifies the properties of both jhanas and with time and repetition leads to the kinds of intensity that you think you're missing now.

I also think that if you can stay in first jhana for 10 minutes, try just dropping it and see if you go into second. If you don't, then just take refuge in first again.

For my own practice I find a lot of common ground between Brasington and MCTB with respect to "things to do while in this jhana or that", even if there are differences in the descriptions of the jhanas themselves.

For whatever it's worth (meaning, if it rings a bell with you, cool, if it doesn't just trash it) here are some of the characteristics/feelings I associate with the jhanas as I practice:

First jhana: sort of electric, bright, skeletal, mobile (used to feel jittery, but it doesn't anymore)
drop into
Second jhana, more expansive, heart-centered and tidal (it doesn't travel like first, it tends to flow)
drop into
Third jhana, sort of grey (not in a bad way), full body consciousness/feel, "ready" state. my base level of equanimity
drop into
Fourth jhana, opens up beyond the physical boundaries of the body, brighter, clearer, better 'ready' state.

keep practicing!

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/15/17 3:40 PM as a reply to Scott Kinney.
Scott Kinney:
Hi Sam,

This is at least in part a "what they said" kind of reply, because you've gotten some high quality replies here.  I just want to highlight a couple of common points:

"resting", "soaking" have been used, I tend to favor "resting in" or "taking refuge in" the jhana. It's a subtle transition from laser-like access concentration to a looser kind of total attention. there is some verb that will make sense to you and give you the appropriate feeling of absorption/surrender in the jhana. Think of this analogy; if you maintain a laser-like focus on going down a staircase one step at a time, there's only so fast you can go. To go down steps quickly, your focus goes from a very tight mechanical focus to a more fluid dynamic one.
 
when I use 'resting in' a jhana it really is like relaxing, cuddling up and inhabiting a jhana (stop laughing). when I use "taking refuge" it's like the jhana has rescued me from whatever the distraction was.


keep practicing!
Wow! Thanks for the advice. My first time trying with your suggestion I undoubtedly reached 1st Jhana. I took refuge in the pleasant sensation and had a little patience, and soon enough there was gross involuntary muscle trembling everywhere, kind of like being zapped but pleasant. It made it sort of hard to breathe, but it calmed down some and I was left with bubbly intense piti and giddy joy.  Overall an exhilirating roller coaster like experience. I probably stayed here for like 3 min or so before my utter excitement broke my focus. 

Does the muscle trembling calm down a bit once you get used to it? It made my breathing very choppy at the beginning, and the utter energy of the experience was very nice, but kinda makes it seem hard to maintain for any length of time.  

RE: Approaching the first Jhana
Answer
3/15/17 3:58 PM as a reply to Sam Bartko.
I expect it will through a couple of dynamics. It won't be as new/novel to you, and once your refuge in the jhana gets deeper, then it will be more calming and your breathing will even out.  I find that the electric 'zappy' nature varies a bit from session to session. Also, if you start doing some of the things that are suggested by Brasington and Daniel (like; just staying with the sensation, noting where it seems to be, where it goes, how the sensation changes, or 'leading' the sensation to specific areas in the body and watching it travel) it seem less alarming. Personally, when I'm getting an accupunture treatment, I will run my relaxation script, go into 1st jhana and run the energy back and forth through the areas with the needles. then I drop down to 3rd and 4th for a while.

Hope this helps.