Jhana as a basis for insight

Nathan I S, modified 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 2:28 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 2:28 AM

Jhana as a basis for insight

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Forum: Practical Dharma

Does anyone have any thoughts on using jhana as a basis for investigation? In my own experience, the pitfalls of jhana can be avoided if one is mindful of the seductive nature of the states, or looks at the basic sensations that make up the state, like, e.g., each tingling sensation of rapture or those that make up, e.g., happiness.

Likewise there's some ability to investigate mind noise that arises, though it tends to be rare. I also tend to think that there's an ability to maintain the jhana while investigating the state, though I worry if that is gumming up my investigation.
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Florian, modified 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 6:09 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 6:09 AM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Well, this is way beyond current meditation skill to discuss.

But I have a question nevertheless: I have read a lot of descriptions how to "get from" a concentration meditation "to" an insight meditation, but they have all been a bit along the lines of "like allowing the tips of a tweezer to separate the mind from its objects" or "at that point, you drop it" or "move out of the breath".

Maybe these will become obvious once my skill has improved. But maybe there are clearer explanations. I'm really curious!

Cheers,
Florian
Tobias Lundin, modified 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 1:04 PM
Created 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 1:04 PM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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One thing that has worked for me is to do pure jhana for 5 or 10 minutes and then start focusing on vipassana by just starting to sweep with attention all over the place. Often the jhana state stays somewhat stable even though it might fade to the background somewhat. At that point mind noise is free to flow forth since one is not trying to play "a person sitting on the floor trying to uphold the right amount of jhana" in as obvious a way and one can just open to raw experience instead.

Monkeymind: What they might mean by "drop it" could be that the jhana is so stable that not much effort is needed to uphold it and can be put to use for insight instead.
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Wet Paint, modified 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 7:13 PM
Created 14 Years ago at 2/5/08 7:13 PM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Author: Simon-in-Syd

I don't know if this is clearer but a teacher explained the Mahasi Sayadaw vipassana approach as focussing on the primary object of meditation (breath, your jnana) and, as other stuff arises, treat that in turn as a "secondary" object of meditation, inquiring into its nature, composition. If your jnana is your primary object then like tlundin says, allow your coincentration to move perhaps to its nature and composition or to that of sense impresions...

Simon
Nathan I S, modified 14 Years ago at 2/8/08 8:35 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 2/8/08 8:35 AM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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"I have read a lot of descriptions how to "get from" a concentration meditation "to" an insight meditation, but they have all been a bit along the lines of 'like allowing the tips of a tweezer to separate the mind from its objects' or 'at that point, you drop it' or 'move out of the breath'."

I am not really clear on that tweezer metaphor. I tend to think it involves loosening the attention to allow things to come in the sense-doors. At the same time the phenomena in the jhana offer things--e.g., the individual sensations making up rapture, the bodily sensations and their mental feeling-tone. I also find that with some jhana or jhana factors it's easier to perceive subtler objects readily.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 14 Years ago at 2/8/08 4:36 PM
Created 14 Years ago at 2/8/08 4:36 PM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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This is a very old debate, obviously. Benefits of starting with jhana or using it as a basis are that it is more fun, allows more early feelings of success or that something is happening in some people who are inclined to it, develops concentration more easily as it is more interesting and compelling than the Three Characteristics for most people, and yet it clearly can gum things up, and it is very hard for people to investigate jhanas honestly, as they tend to cling to and stabilize some pleasant factors as a background even if they are trying their best to simply see the Three Characteristics of the sensations that make up those jhanas. Thus, if one already has jhana, getting completely out of it into pure insight practice can be difficult. If one doesn't yet have jhana, then one must weight the pros and cons before beginning. If one is a stream enterer or above, the danger is much less, as there is the ability of naturally see the Three Characteristics and the cycles of insight will keep one moving along, so while jhanic focus can slow things down a little, it can't lead to what I have sometimes seen happen with jhana practice in people who are below stream entry, namely that they get stuck for years to decades and don't progress. Also, some people will get good enough at jhana that they mistake it for an ultimate attainment or a mark of realization, which is relatively common and a tragic error. More to the point, if you have jhana and want to use it as a basis of insight, simply begin to notice each little flickering sensation that makes up the whole experience come and go, with particular attention to deconstructing the key pleasant factors, as they are pernicious tricksters, and it is harder to perceive suffering against a background of peace or bliss. Thus, I say, get stream entry at all costs, and then play with jhana as much as you wish, and it is easier after stream entry, as one can go the other way and convert vipassana jhana to samatha.
Mike Leffler, modified 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 12:02 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 12:02 AM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Daniel M. Ingram:
Thus, I say, get stream entry at all costs, and then play with jhana as much as you wish, and it is easier after stream entry, as one can go the other way and convert vipassana jhana to samatha.


I thought I understood Daniel's statement above until I read a passage from MCTB:

"I spent the first five years of my practice giving only a moderate amount of attention to the samatha jhanas and I now realize that this was probably in error."

The chapter in MCTB, "Concentration v. Insight", seems to be more supportive of the usefulness of the jhanas for attaining enlightenment than the post above does.

Clarification?

I practiced "dry insight" for several years (about 8) with very limited results. I'm now working to develop the jhanas (in conjunction with insight) for the purpose of developing insight. Any further thoughts on the merits of this approach?
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 4:50 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 4:50 PM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Remember, I got stream entry after less than 1.5 years of those 5 years, and had a hard time in the Dark Night in daily life, which jhana probably would have helped with, had I had much of an ability to attain it.

I also was an anagami for the second half of that period, and I think that concentration helps anagamis.

I still say: get stream entry. That is key.

Helpful?

Daniel
Mike Leffler, modified 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 9:40 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 9:40 PM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Thank you, Daniel!

Yes, that is helpful in that I feel clear about your position as stated in this thread. However, I still can't jibe this idea of not doing jhana before stream-entry with this statement in MCTB: "In short, you must master the first jhana as a minimum basis for beginning the progress of insight, but this is all that is required for enlightenment." Isn't the path up to stream-entry a beginning of the progress of insight? Maybe I'm stuck from defining things incorrectly?

Anyway, I've been following teacher Richard Shankman recently. His approach is to combine contentration and insight together into one path, one meditation technique. For what it's worth, he thinks that the Pali suttas support this approach. I think he makes a good case.

I don't think I'm a stream-enterer, but at this point, I feel like I've given dry insight a good chance. I'm left feeling pretty frustrated, and I hope that this new approach for me will be onward leading.

Really appreciate your comments.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 1:38 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 1:38 AM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Yeah, I get a lot of commentary on that one line. Maybe I should change or qualify it.

If you got Mind and Body, you got the first jhana: see the chapter on the Progress of Insight and the Vipassana jhanas.
If you got to the A&P, you got to the second vipassana jhana, a whole step beyond the first.

When you say you gave dry insight a chance, to you mean like a month-long Mahasi course with strict noting every second from the moment you arose to the moment you went to sleep with attempt to note many sensations per second and carefully following the instructions of the teacher and not indulging in your stuff or taking any breaks except for about 4-6 hours sleep/night, that sort of chance? That's the sort of chance I would give it, given a chance. Some can do it on less, but that will get you all sorts of insight, generally.

Thus, get stream entry. It helps,

Daniel
Mike Leffler, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 6:50 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 6:50 PM

RE: Jhana as a basis for insight

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Thanks again, Daniel. OK, it sounds like you mean one needs the 1st "Vipassana" Jhana to start the Progress of Insight, not jahna in the samatha sense (although it appears that they're the same in many ways--except that you use an investigative view with the vipassana jhana).

No, I haven't given dry insight a chance to the extent that you're describing. I've done lots of shorter retreats, and I've done one 3 week retreat in Burma (Mahasi-style). There were a couple of extraordinary sits for me, but there were long periods of just feeling broken down and without any heart left for doing the practice. Although I felt pretty diligent, I did not want to sleep only 4-6 hrs. some of the time, and I didn't maintain a constant practice at other times. I got very sick for about 3 days around the end. However, I do feel that I am generally good about not getting caught up in psychological stuff.

I get the feeling that ramped up concentration would help me through trying times. Maybe when I start on a downward spiral, I should limit myself to the breath and stabilize before digging in again. I'm starting to see how I could try merging or going back and forth between vipassana and concentration practice.

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