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First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/6/10 2:30 AM
Hello, i'm new here!

I've been meditating and studying buddhism for more than five years. I've read MCTB and it was great, a little too advanced for me in some parts so i can't really comment on that yet.

My question basically was regarding if i entered the first jhana or not. I mostly do concentration/samatha meditation, actually this time i was doing anapanasati. As i began to develop a very strong concentration with the breath to the point it almost dissapeared (well not really, but the effort of concentration sort of ceased completely and it was only mind) i've moved into a pleasant body sensation as it's usually suggested. In this session, my hands had a good feeling so i went with that. After some time the sensation started to grow steadily. Eventually i've started to get a feeling of bliss and joy that grew intensively very quickly, until it sort of exploded and took over, like i was witnessing and experiencing something that was out of control.

This experience itself was like true happiness, i related it to something i may have experienced as a child, pure joy and bliss, total freedom. I have to admit that it even got me a little aroused, not with sexual thoughts of course, but it felt like a whole body orgasm (just trying to put the experience into words). I finished my session but the feeling and mindset stayed with me for some hours (even a day or two i would say) with less intensity though.

I've tried to recreate this a couple of times (perhaps that was the problem). However, i've only got to the point of reaching the pleasant sensation focusing part, but it never grew into this full blown experience again.

Anyway, if anybody had a similar experience or any other advanced meditators can help identify this stage, that would be great, thanks!

ps : sorry for my english!

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/6/10 12:44 PM as a reply to M S.
M S:

My question basically was regarding if i entered the first jhana or not. I mostly do concentration/samatha meditation, actually this time i was doing anapanasati.

As i began to develop a very strong concentration with the breath to the point it almost disappeared (well not really, but the effort of concentration sort of ceased completely and it was only mind) i've moved into a pleasant body sensation as it's usually suggested.
In this session, my hands had a good feeling so i went with that. After some time the sensation started to grow steadily. Eventually i've started to get a feeling of bliss and joy that grew intensively very quickly, until it sort of exploded and took over, like i was witnessing and experiencing something that was out of control.

This experience itself was like true happiness, i related it to something i may have experienced as a child, pure joy and bliss, total freedom. I have to admit that it even got me a little aroused, not with sexual thoughts of course, but it felt like a whole body orgasm (just trying to put the experience into words). I finished my session but the feeling and mindset stayed with me for some hours (even a day or two i would say) with less intensity though.

I've tried to recreate this a couple of times (perhaps that was the problem). However, i've only got to the point of reaching the pleasant sensation focusing part, but it never grew into this full blown experience again.

Without having personal contact with you in order to gain more clarification, the description given is certainly one that could be taken to be absorption. It may be that you progressed to the fourth jhana, where the breath seems to disappear and the mind becomes extremely still. If so, what you will need to learn to do is to not become overwhelmed by these experiences and to apply equanimity toward them so as not to become too attached to them. Such experiences are useful, though not in their own right, but rather in the light that they create the ground necessary (a stability of mental focus and attention) useful for the mind to make further realizations through the arising of insight.

More important than this first experience with absorption should be the realization that this was likely a one-time event in terms of some of the phenomena that you experienced. In other words, you may not experience it in quite the same way the next time around. You'll still probably be able to experience the pleasant bodily sensations, although they likely won't be as explosive as they were this first time. Begin to focus on your ability to bring the mind to concentration (samadhi) at will, as this will assist you in further progress.

As your practice is able to become more mature, the stillness and unification of the mind itself should become more meaningful as you make progress toward realizing the truth of the Dhamma. Meaning that all the bells and whistles that went off this first time, while fleetingly interesting, are not the point that you are ultimately in search of. The ending of the ignorance of the mind — the cessation of greed, hatred, and delusion — is more important than any bells and whistles that may go off. The cessation of the identification with dukkha (the ability to actually do this) is equivalent to the attainment of nibbana.

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/6/10 4:14 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Thank you very much for your clear answer.

I've never went into trying to label experiences until i've read that many of the jhanas and absortion details were actually very similar to what i have been experiencing. So i got curious and actually surprised that there is a map for these experiences. Most teachings kinda leave you in the dark, plus i don't have access to a proper real teacher...

Now, i think i was not very clear on this, but i can get to the point of "no toughts" and only mind very quick if i want to, i only have to follow my breath for some minutes, sometimes even less and i'm there, like the mind just understands what needs to be done already. But after that i either lost concentration and eventually go back to the breath, or i shift the focus into the pleasant sensation. The problem is that perhaps my concentration is not as strong, so i can't stay much with this pleasant sensation. That time i guess i could, and so i managed to enter some sort of absortion/jhana like you said. I understand what you said about the experience wouldn't be the same though, i was not actually trying to recreated it, i expressed myself the wrong way, i was just following the same path to keep advancing.

So my new doubt is what now, and if i should keep practising this until i get better at my samatha practise, or perhaps just moving into insight practice while on this "no thought" stage. But if i can't concentrate enough on the pleasant sensation, i doutbt i will have enough for insight practices...

Thanks for your advice, they are very valuable!

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/6/10 10:16 PM as a reply to M S.
M S:
Thank you very much for your clear answer.

You're welcome.

M S:

Now, i think i was not very clear on this, but i can get to the point of "no thoughts" and only mind very quick if i want to, i only have to follow my breath for some minutes, sometimes even less and i'm there, like the mind just understands what needs to be done already. But after that i either lost concentration and eventually go back to the breath, or i shift the focus into the pleasant sensation.

The problem is that perhaps my concentration is not as strong, so i can't stay much with this pleasant sensation. That time i guess i could, and so i managed to enter some sort of absorption/jhana like you said. I understand what you said about the experience wouldn't be the same though, i was not actually trying to recreated it, i expressed myself the wrong way, i was just following the same path to keep advancing.

You see, this is the point at which having someone experienced there to help guide you comes in very handy. And, yes, I understand that you do not have access to anyone at the moment. This is why a lot of the literature out there about this tends to take it slow when making recommendations about what to do next.

If you are able to reach the point of "no thoughts" rather quickly, then you may want to learn (become more adept at) how to maintain and sharpen your concentration (samadhi) through the practice of absorption (jhana). Learning this skill will be beneficial when you eventually incline the mind toward insight practice. In other words, it will help you to be able to maintain your focus and attention on the subject at hand (for example, like the three characteristics of the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness of phenomena) so that insight is able to arise during your practice.

The way the Buddha taught it in the suttas, calm (samatha) and insight (vipassana) go hand in hand together. That is, they can be used together, one after the other, in learning about how to bring the mind to liberation. There is a very good essay about this that I would recommend your reading titled One Tool Among Many, The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice, and in it Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes the following point: "Samatha and vipassana were used together to master jhana and then — based on jhana — were developed even further to give rise to the end of mental defilement and to bring release from suffering. This is a reading that finds support in other discourses as well." Reading and understanding these concepts will help to provide you with a conceptual foundation on which to build your practice.

This can all become somewhat confusing regarding what to do next, if you don't have and maintain a good foundation based upon the path itself: that is, the noble eightfold path. Read this book and understand it (if you haven't already) in order to get a clearer picture of what you are attempting to accomplish. Treading this path is your map to the ending of sorrow, unhappiness, and suffering.

As far as your meditation practice is concerned, become more familiar with the phenomena that arise by just watching what comes up in the mind. Watch how the mind moves from one phenomenon to another. If something is going on in your life, and you are being challenged by greed, aversion (hatred), jealousy or whatever else may arise, use your meditation session to just stand back and watch what the mind is doing and how ideas/thoughts arise and pass away. Becoming familiar with this mental process is what begins to lessen and then subsequently to do away with altogether the ignorance that is at root the cause of dissatisfaction (dukkha). If you take things one step at a time and learn how to master each one as best as you are able, you will be able to gradually root out the mental defilements and delusions that cause dissatisfaction.

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/6/10 11:00 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Yes, thanks again for the help. I'm very familiar with buddhism and dharma, although not an expert, but i've read plenty of sutras and i've been reading a lot in general for more than five years. I mostly focused on Theravada and Zen, at least that's what i tend to read more.

I forgot to mention, but i try to contemplate the 3 marks of existence daily, but so far mostly in mundane tasks and daily life as you said. But as i focus mostly on samatha and concentration while i meditate, i haven't done many insight practices or took that into my meditation sessions.

I also understand that Buddha taught about how samatha and vipassana complement each other, it makes total sense, i don't think i have a problem of understanding the core concept. The problem i'm facing is that i'm not too sure when or how should i apply each. I guess it comes natural.

But my samatha meditation kinda hit a wall as i explained, so....if i understood you correctly, it may be time for me to slowly switch gears and start to practice insight, right?

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/6/10 11:14 PM as a reply to M S.
M S:

But my samatha meditation kinda hit a wall as i explained, so....if i understood you correctly, it may be time for me to slowly switch gears and start to practice insight, right?

That's pretty much what the last paragraph in my response was all about.

Use samatha to calm and quiet the mind, then use that quietness to begin watching the mind. In the process of watching the mind, insight will eventually arise, or you'll see something that you may want to explore in more detail and then insight will arise as you are contemplating whatever subject you're looking at.

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/7/10 4:18 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Perfectly understood then, thanks again!

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/7/10 7:24 PM as a reply to M S.
M S:
But as i focus mostly on samatha and concentration while i meditate, i haven't done many insight practices or took that into my meditation sessions. . . . The problem i'm facing is that i'm not too sure when or how should i apply each. I guess it comes natural.

Yes. This can be a problem when you don't have any personal guidance from someone who knows you, and who can help to clarify how to go about training. There are so many variations that can be suggested that it really depends upon the practitioner's individual progress as to what one might suggest.

For people like yourself, who are practicing on their own, I have found two books that may help with advancing skill-sets that are basic requirements for development. The first has to do with being able to pay "bare attention" to phenomena. This skill-set is very valuable and is talked about quite extensively in Nyanaponika Thera's classic book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. This book may help provide you with some direction concerning the course and content of your meditation sessions in addition to helping you to achieve this skill-set.

Once you are able to become proficient with this skill, then the other book will provide you with some suggestions for integrating your practice with the main course of satipatthana practice, which is pure insight practice. Satipatthana is the practice which the Buddha recommended to his advanced students who were ready to make a direct assault on awakening. If you've read up on satipatthana, then you know that it deals with observing the body, feelings, mind states, and dhammas. In his book Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization, Ven. Analayo directs the reader through various discourses suggesting modes of practice that will help the practitioner begin practicing satipatthana. His explanations about this practice are spot on, and help the reader to better understand what it is that they can do.

I used these two books (along with quite a few others, which were more academic in their focus rather than practice oriented) in my own practice to help me make progress. I had the advantage of already having had a personal teacher (although he wasn't available when I was undergoing this portion of my training), as well as having had twenty years of practice under my belt, so I was able to understand from previous experience how to work the suggestions in these two books into my practice. I think they might be able to help provide you with some direction for your practice. The second book takes up where the first book leaves off, by delving into all the other methods used in satipatthana practice. I would recommend reading and understanding them in the order given above.

I've transcribed some passages from the first book in another forum where you are free to read them if you wish. You will have to follow the instruction I give here in order to enter the forum as it is still a private forum, closed to the general public. But there is login information (that I will give shortly) which will allow you to enter the forum to access the thread that the transcriptions are in. The thread is called The Importance of Using Satipatthana in Training. But don't click that link just yet. You'll have to go to the forum first, enter using the login information given below, then copy the link above into your clip board and paste it into the browser destination bar once you are in the forum and click on it, and it will take you directly to the thread. The forum that the thread is in is the "Theravada Talk" forum, and the thread is at the top of the forum as a sticky. Use the following information to enter the forum:

Third Jewel Forum:
http://thirdjewel.myfreeforum.org
Login name: thirdwheel
Password: thirdwheel

They ask that you not post anything while using this log-in to check things out. If you would like to join, there is a "Join (free!)" link at the top of the forum index page in the forum link above.

RE: First Samatha Jhana?
Answer
9/8/10 2:04 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Awesome! Thanks a lot for this, i'll definitely read all i can. And yes you are right that it's hard to practise on your own sometimes, the problem is that in my country buddhism is almost non-existent, and the traditions (tibetan mostly) not really interest me (i'm not saying they are invalid of course!). Plus, i'm not quite sure about committing to a tradition, i'm very inclined to Theravada (mostly) and Zen as i said, but i find both of these traditions also suffer from plenty of dogmas and rituals that i don't think they were intended by Buddha himself.

Anyway, i still need to develop my concentration a little more (i've been practising on and off for almost 5 years i think), but this thread and your answers definitely opened a door for me that maybe it's already time to introduce insight practice into my meditation. I'm always trying to stay mindful of the teachings during the day, but of course it's not the same.