From stability on the object to the first jhana

Andrew Ewing Houston, modified 11 Years ago.

From stability on the object to the first jhana

Posts: 2 Join Date: 8/10/10 Recent Posts
Hi,

I'm new at this, and have been grappling with my mind for a little while now. Recently, I think I've finally reached access concentration, and can focus steadily on the breath. My question is, when entering the first jhana, does the object shift from being the breath(in my case) to being the jhana state itself?
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: From stability on the object to the first jhana

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Good question.

There are lots of ways to play this.

If you want to develop temporary blissful, concentrated states (samatha/jhana practice), then you would pick either and just stabilize on that as a seemingly continuous thing and develop the basic jhanic qualities, ignoring the complexity and true nature of all the sensations that make it up so as to avoid gaining wisdom from those experiences.

If you wanted to gain insight and wisdom, then you could also pick either the breath or the qualities of the jhana, but in this case you would notice all the little sensations that make up the objects and begin to notice their true nature, meaning in this case the Three Characteristics.

Helpful?

Daniel
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: From stability on the object to the first jhana

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Andrew Ewing Houston:

I'm new at this, and have been grappling with my mind for a little while now. Recently, I think I've finally reached access concentration, and can focus steadily on the breath. My question is, when entering the first jhana, does the object shift from being the breath(in my case) to being the jhana state itself?

Pardon me, Daniel, but I think Andrew is asking for a more simple and basic answer to his question than the rather complex and advanced one you provided. Remember, he is "new at this."

In answer to the question asked, the answer is no. The object does not shift from the breath. In fact, the attention becomes more focused on the breath as concentration deepens and develops, and the mind becomes more solidly unified on the pleasantness of the breath when entering the first absorption (jhana).

What you call "access concentration" is just called samadhi in the discourses of the Buddha. It can be helpful to understand just what samadhi is as opposed to other terms that are sometimes used in its place. "Access concentration" is a commentarial designation brought into use by Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa, a fifth century Indian brahmin who supposedly converted to Buddhism and compiled all the extant written commentary at the time into his own volume called the Visuddhimagga or The Path of Purification.

Samadhi is "concentration" itself (or in your case with the added, although unnecessary conceptual helpmeet description, "access" concentration) and jhana or absorption is the deepening of that concentration into a stronger unification of the mind on the object (such as the breath, in the case of anapanasati meditation). Some have described this absorption as appana samadhi, or "fixed" concentration, as "access" transitions to "fixed" concentration. Either way, it is a qualitatively different experience from ordinary samadhi. And it should be easily recognized as being such by any meditator who experiences it.

I'm not even sure why Buddhaghosa chose to use this designation of "access concentration" (upacara samadhi) because it is, in general, unnecessary. In my opinion, it just adds a bit more confusion to the instruction as people try to figure out what it is and how it is experienced and whether or not it is different from this or that. The word "access" simply refers to having just the correct intensity or amount of concentration worked up which enables the mind to become absorbed in the object. Once that absorption takes place, it is a qualitatively different experience than plain old samadhi (concentration).

That said, once the meditator becomes a little more used to being able to enter absorption (somewhat at will), the breath can be placed in the background as insight (or vipassana) meditation takes the foreground. In other words, since the breath is always there, it makes the perfect object for the attention to return to whenever it feels the need in order to maintain the absorption, being able to be aware of it kind of on the side or periphery while the greater attention of the mind explores other subjects (such as the three characteristics that Daniel talked about) in insight meditation. Once the mind becomes established (as in absorption) on an object or subject, it becomes malleable and workable, having gained imperturbability. One can then more easily direct it toward knowing and seeing "things as they really are" in vipassana meditation.
Andrew Ewing Houston, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: From stability on the object to the first jhana

Posts: 2 Join Date: 8/10/10 Recent Posts
Daniel and Ian,

Thanks so much for the excellent explanations. Exactly what I needed.

I'm very much looking forward to exploring the true nature of things in detail, but I get the feeling that building a more solid foundation in concentration ability first is perhaps a better way to go.

That said, at the moment it feels very pleasant to stand on the tip of my nose. For now I think I'll try to solidify my footing.

I feel extremely fortunate to have access to this community. So many amazing teachers, so much wonderful insight(maybe that's a loaded word around here, but you know what I mean). Anyway, again, thank you!! I hold nothing but the deepest respect for you.

-Andrew

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