Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

Paul, modified 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 1:02 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 1:02 AM

Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

Posts: 72 Join Date: 1/24/19 Recent Posts
Hi. Asking for a friend ;-)

I have been in semi-retreat working on Jhana practice for some weeks now and am running into an issue. I first tried Samatha via Anapanasati some years back pre-SE, and there was pīti and sukha and massively bright lights, etc. All very interesting and at times exciting.

Then SE and some years passed. Now I have settled down to see where Samatha practice will lead this time and it's completely different. After some weeks, there have been no lights, no clear nimitta, and very little clear pīti. This week I stumbled on some great Rob Burbea Dhamma Talks re Jhanas where he says the following, paraphrased: 

'People who have done a ton of insight practice (like me) often find their Samatha practice sitting in 4th jhana/ Equanimity, not going anywhere.'

So I went back to the cushion and found that I'd agree completely with this. There is only Equanimity and the close attention on the presence of the breath passing over the edge of the nostril (Ekaggata). With some basic resolutions as Rob suggests, it is possible to 'regress' to 3rd, 2nd, etc, where there is pīti and the rest. But by default, the practice goes straight to Equanimity and close concentration, and just sits there, for hours on end. 

Question is, what should I do with this if the goal is to explore Jhana absorptions? I cannot find specific advice anywhere online, but if you know of any, please do share. My understanding is that the absorption arises from the fascinated enjoyment of watching the nimitta or pīti/sukha type factors, and if there's only Equanimity, then it seems to me absorption will not occur. 

Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 4:13 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 4:13 AM

RE: Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
You don't have to start with the lower jhanas, so piti and sukha shouldn't be necessary. However, if you haven't done jhanas for a while, going straight into fourth jhana is probably not so easy. In fact, it may very well take a while for any of the conditions for jhana to develop. Give it some time and don't worry too much about what you haven't got. Jhana is a fresh produce. If you haven't practiced it for a few years, you will need to put in the work anew. 
Adi Vader, modified 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 5:14 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 5:14 AM

RE: Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

Posts: 318 Join Date: 6/29/20 Recent Posts
With the equanimity of 4th jhana as a base, move on to the arupa jhanas/ ayatanas/ formless realms.

This is one particular progression you can pursue.
Listen to talk #4 in this collection of 4 talks:

One more alternative is to pursue a practice called nirvikalpa samadhi leading to nirodha sampatti.
You can read about it here:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 6:03 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/30/23 6:03 AM

RE: Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Paul, can you clarify one thing for us? Do you or do you not have the equanimity of fourth jhana? I find it a bit confusing since you say there is no absorption. I personally find that the equanimity of fourth jhana is a very refined state that doesn't occur without full absorption, but I also know that people use the terms very differently. There can certainly be a 4th jhana-ish taste to daily experience as well. Can you be more specific about the phenomenology? 
T DC, modified 1 Year ago at 1/31/23 7:31 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/31/23 7:01 PM

RE: Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

Posts: 517 Join Date: 9/29/11 Recent Posts
Re: the Rob Burbea quote, the issue could hinge on different conceptions of jhana.  (Debates about Jhana varieties = a dead horse, I know, forgive me). Devil's advocate - just sitting pleasantly in equanimity for hours doesn't sound like Jhana ("hard" jhana anyways), which I associate with an intense and relatively short duration experience.

Personally speaking, post stream entry Jhana was still difficult to achieve, and easier, more on-command access only came post 3rd path.  And although with increased insight Jhana access became progressively easier, it always occured in a very similar (i.e textbook) way re the nimita / visual aspect, which is a key defining and differentiating characteristic of the Jhanas in my experience.  So I question whether someone is truly in Jhana if it is both extremely easy to achieve and lacks some of the key jhana factors - perhaps another idea to consider. 

Maybe start small with concentration / Jhana goals and try to work into clear initial Jhana experience?  Have you accessed Jhana in the past, how hard was it then to get into then, how clear an experience was it, what was the process like, etc?  After taking some time off, it will likely be harder to get back into deep concentration states, so as Linda suggested maybe start small and aim to ramp up.

All that said - if you're struggling to differentiate the first 4 jhanas (and are actually in them), why not just move onto jhanas 5 - 8?  Not only are they an increasingly refined (and thus pleasant) experience, but their objects / nimitas (for which they are named) should be so obvious as to clearly indicate whether you're on the right track. 

Best, Tim
Martin, modified 1 Year ago at 2/1/23 4:38 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/1/23 4:38 PM

RE: Jhana practice post-Stream Entry question

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I have a longstanding jhana practice. I notice that, at times, and without following any formula that I can understand, some jhanas are predominant. The mind wanting to go to fourth as soon as I sit down is quite common, but other times third just last and lasts, or I will be repeatedly pulled into first for no reason, or second is just insanely intense. 

When I want to have a full and balanced workout, so to speak, one trick I use is to run up and down the jhanas repeatedly. For example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2 ... This has an effect like bouncing on a trampoline or pumping my legs on a swing, so that there is increasingly greater piti in first, greater stillness in fourth, etc. The more repetitions of the up and down, the harder the jhanas get. At one point, I kept this up for a month or so. The results were quite dramatic.