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Concentration/Jhanas
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2/10/09 1:18 PM
Author: msj123
Forum: Practical Dharma

Hello everyone. I am looking for thoughts on the nature of jhanas on the path. Like many here, I practice primarily mindfulness based techniques. However, lately I have been thinking that I may have neglected concentration too much.
Now, first there seems to be widely differing opinions on how much concentration is necessary. There is a school of jhana light, which seem to set the bar for jhanic attainment low, and the deep jhanic schools that set the bar rather high. Leigh Brasington is a good example of the former and Ajahn Brahm of the later. Leigh seems to be of the opinion that one attains access concentration when the thoughts dim to the background, but are not necessarily completely eliminated. At this point, he suggests shifting to bliss/positive feelings to enter the first jhana that may last for a few minutes. Ajahn Brahm suggests a different approach. His pre-requisites involve sustained present moment awareness and a complete silence of verbal thought. He says that once you hit jhana, you will not be in sensory contact with the surrounding environment such that if someone shakes you, you won’t budge. It seems to me that they are on the same pole, but different ends. Ajahn Brahm emphasizes jhana as indispensible to practice. Others say only access concentration, then one can shift to vipassana.

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/10/09 1:19 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: msj123

(this is part two of my post-- posting limits!)
I can regularly maintain a fairly good level of concentration--- thoughts become light and non-distracting. When I do mindfulness, I can stay moving from target to target for most of the meditation period (30-45 minutes). My thoughts don’t overcome my focus, and often subside to a reverie of dreamlike images. I can also access this state in daily life if I remember to do it. The end result is a significant increase in equanimity.
According to the high jhana maps, I should work more on concentration and jhanic states. The lighter end would suggest that I keep on as I’m going. I’m not sure which was to go to--- I like the idea of only needing less concentration, but is this laziness? Do the folks who attain deep, hours long, sensory removal jhanic states find a deeper level of insight/ultimate enlightenment? Does concentration light lead only to enlightenment light?
Any thoughts would be appreciated.

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/11/09 3:21 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
My teacher focuses on jhana in the "light" sense, e.g., *not* following the "if you can hear sounds you are not in jhana" rule.

The practice is different from a lot of what I read here. To start, concentration works with the hindrances as hindrances much more in that, e.g., when I sit, usually I supress the hindrances until my basis of concentration is strong enough to open to investigation while maintaining concentration. "Dry" insight, in my understanding, would mean taking the hindrances as objects from the get-go.

Likewise, there's a lot of learning involved. It is a skill and involves balancing a lot of factors and knowing how to navigate, and a lot of sorting of gross and subtle, balancing the various factors like energy and tranquility, etc. I can see how some might be frustrated with the learning time.

There's another point about jhana practice: there's a certain level of "purification of mind" (this is what the old texts say) that concentration leads to that seems independent of insight. E.g., the last retreat I went to, I spent about two days struggling to stay awake, despite lots of vigorous walking and eating less, etc. This was just garbage and "old karma" being processed--i had been working long, long hours--and concentration brings it up to clear. That's not a scientific statement but hopefully you get my drift there.

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/11/09 3:41 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
I personally try to avoid "dreamlike" anything during sitting, because i have a puritanical streak and to me anything "dreamlike" means I'm experiencing delusion, but this also sounds like what Wallace says about samadhi involving things moving away from the center of attetion and into the periphery.

I also found that going on retreat with my own teacher helped clear up a lot of confusion I had about concentration and it's relationship to insight. Concentration is a basis, a place you can stand.

Now, I imagine someone is going to say something like "I thought I needed more concentration during the Dark Night" and that's a more difficult balance. It's easier on retreat, than in daily sitting, to navigate that balance, since there's a tension between the dark-night periphery-expanding and the fact that you'd have to get from normal consciousness to the third jhana before that resolved in daily life, where you'd have less background samadhi--at least this is what I find.

I wouldn't worry about "concentration light leading only to enlightenment light", especially since dry insight involves no jhana, so that clearly isn't a limiting factor at least on the first path. Any level of concentration is already pretty profound, especially when you consider that most people don't think it even exists.

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/11/09 4:57 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
this is a good question. i'll pitch in on this topic based on my conceptual understanding and limited experience.

the main method i follow is Vipassana as taught by Shinzen Young. in his method he doesn't even mention "jhanas", although it is implied in his teaching. so i would say that Shinzen is on the "light" jhana end of the spectrum. if my understanding on MCTB is correct i take it that Daniel Ingram also falls in "light" jhana spectrum.

my guess is that both "light" and "hard" jhana approach are valid when it comes to the goal of classical enlightenment. the important thing is to observe the Three Characteristics (impermanence, no-self, suffering), *whatever* jhana arises.

the difference will be depending on the person's temperament and intention. if the intention is mastering the jhanas, then the *hard* approach is appropriate. if the main intention is insight, then either way will work as long as the practitioner is focused on noticing the Three characteristics. this is the essence of insight meditation, the way i understand it.

personally, in general, i prefer the "light" jhana approach because there is less chance of getting sucked up in the Intermediate Realm.

my two cents.

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/11/09 6:26 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Interesting discussion.

@Nathan: Thanks for sharing your approach to practice, it is not that frequent and I definitely resonate with it. Which tradition/lineage do you follow?

I have seen an improvement on my insight practice if I start with a short shamatha practice (first chill out, focus and then go for the sensation/vibrations)

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/11/09 8:15 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
I follow mostly Thanissaro Bhikkhu's technique, based on (Thai Forest Monk) Ajaan Lee's method. It's also kind of encyclopedic in that we do the protective contemplations and the Four Elements though not to anywhere near the same extent.

RE: Concentration/Jhanas
Answer
2/12/09 2:03 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: msj123

I think this is a key phrase right now. Thanks!