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Instability of Jhanas

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Instability of Jhanas
Answer
2/24/08 8:30 PM
Author: woman_alone
Forum: Practical Dharma

Here's a question that's been plaguing me in my meditation practice: what can I do to increase the stability of each new meditative state?

For whatever reason I can get centred and stay in the first Jhana for a good ten minutes. At that point, fully half the time, the state becomes unstable and I lose it.

I've been trying to figure out what I'm doing differently (when it does or doesn't happen), but I can't see any difference.

Any thoughts on why we lose it? Or (even better!) how not to?

Tips and advice always welcome. After all, perfect practice makes perfect.

RE: Instability of Jhanas
Answer
2/25/08 8:52 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
What object are you using? Are you using the breath or the jhana or some other thing as object?
When you say you lose it, what follows it?
Have you tried "hard" jhana objects such as candle flames, colored disks (kasinas) or the like?
The curious thing is that sometimes jhanas lead to the next jhana, but there will be a shift, and the next thing/jhana is not like the first, so one who doesn't know what to look for will just space out or get lost, so consider looking around in what follows the first jhana for the hints of the next jhana, as it may be there but just be not well developed and thus initially subtle until attended to.
The second jhana happens on its own more than the first, so strong effort won't work well, and you have to look for attention happening on its own and something blissful in a way that is more than the first jhana.
Also, if you have insight practice creep in, the later part of the first vipassana jhana, which the first samatha jhana can easily turn into, is Cause and Effect and the Three Characteristics, neither of which are pleasant and don't look like standard samatha jhana at all. Thus, you may be progressing in insight territory and just not realizing it (and in fact this is common). Have you read my descriptions of the ñanas in my book? You may find them interesting.
Thoughts?

RE: Instability of Jhanas
Answer
2/26/08 5:07 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: woman_alone

Thanks Daniel,

I've been using the breath, as opposed to a "hard" object. Often, once the state forms, I abandon the breath and watch the body generally, or the mind (more likely). I tend to lose the state when watching the mind. It's like losing the awareness perspective for a moment, and then being thrown back into the "work" of concentrating. That also tends to be when I experience a "twisting" sensation, as though my body is being wound or bent in different directions (like I'm made of light rubber). The feeling can be so strong that on occasion I have actually sort of tipped over.

I have read your book, and the descriptions of the nanas. I found it helpful (I certainly appreciated that there was a map at all!). But due to lack of comprehension and experience combined, I still seem to have some difficulty placing myself.

My interest is more in insight practice than concentration. I'm assuming that regardless of the state collapsing (or changing so dramatically?) that the practice of noting remains the same. Any further thoughts are always appreciated.

And I'll look into working with a "hard" object. Whether it helps with this issue or not, it's another useful skill to learn.

Thanks for your comments!

RE: Instability of Jhanas
Answer
2/27/08 4:48 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Whenever I think of twisting, spontaneous movements, "swaying" as the Burmese call it, or other things like that, such as feet jerking while walking, arms flapping, neck, head and jaw movements, the sense that our bodies are imbalanced from one side to the other, and the like, that is all 2nd and 3rd ñana territory, aka the middle of the first vipassana jhana.

As to things about being a nun and all that, the "nunness" is not the key, but the practice conditions are, meaning that those who go on longer, more intense retreats, are trained well, practice according to instructions, and have the supports of those who know the territory will, on average, do better than those who don't. Thus, it is not about a robe and shaved head, it is about doing the work and having better conditions and supports in which to do it. These days there are plenty of meditation centers and monasteries where this can happen and one needn't be a nun, just a dedicated practitioner.

RE: Instability of Jhanas
Answer
2/27/08 5:04 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: woman_alone

So I have a quick question about practicing at home. I've heard contrasting arguments on when/how to meditate. Is it more conducive to progress to sit for shorter durations several times a day, or do it once in a much longer session? (This assuming that the objective is insight, not just concentration).

Thanks for the continued advice.

RE: Instability of Jhanas
Answer
3/31/08 2:08 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Few simple, straightforward points. (1) Quality should always come first. Therefore, two shorter sessions (30 min) are better than one long (over 60 min). Also, each interupts certain habits of unawareness, so interupting those habits more frequently makes sense. (2) Having many additional one-minute procedures spread over the day may also dramatically improve one's time on the cushion. (3) Finally, practicing first thing in the morning, and last thing before sleeping - if doable - but then such and further details will depend on individual preference and the realities of one's life conditions and schedule. Sound useful?