Recognizing the first two jhanas

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Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Deeper into Jhana

I am poring over the info in MCTB and DhO, trying to get a good answer to the question: what does the first jhana actually *feel* like. It seems like for some it feels like nothing much at all, whereas for others there are terms like "rapture", "bliss", and "subtle exhilaration". Does it vary that much, and how does a starting practitioner then identify the first jhana over, say, access concentration? So much seems to depend on making this transition.

For me, I have been getting "big head" feelings, which I have been associating with access concentration. Later, I get tingling in my arms and, more rarely, a wave of tingling over my back and torso. But is that "rapture"? And I cannot seem to sustain it as it is more like a wave washes over me, but then...nothing more. Just continued concentration until my timer signals the end of the session.

And I just don't get the "nose pinching" at all, so I am a little frustrated. What should I use as my landmark from which to proceed higher?

Can some jhana masters give some more concrete descriptions of what they feel in the first (and second) jhanas?
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Hi Tomotvos,

I once asked a friend "how do you know you're in jhana?" He replied by asking me "how do you know when you're on acid?"

Leaving aside whether you or I or any of the fine people on this forum would know what it's like to be on acid, I think my friend's point was clear: 1st jhana isn't subtle. You'll know.

But don't feel bad about if you haven't seen it yet. I didn't experience true jhana until after 1st Path. That's because the dry vipassana technique I was using (Mahasi style, but very heavy on the investigation) didn't allow me to concentrate enough to enter any jhana, even though by definition I had accessed and penetrated all the strata of mind where the jhanas "live." There's a big difference between accessing a stratum of mind via the vipassana technique and really locking into it via the samatha technique.

If you are interested in true jhana (samatha jhana where you actually enter and lock into the state) there is no better practice than using a kasina object. The kind of deep, stable concentration that comes from staring at a disc for long periods of time is just what the doctor ordered for entering and abiding in hard jhana.

As for the virtual nose pinching, it probably won't make sense until after you have facility with at least 1st jhana. After that, I think you'll know what I mean by "pinching the tip of your nose with an imaginary thumb and forefinger" and you'll see how that's possible in 1st jhana but not in any other jhana. It has to do with the fact that the mental factors of aiming the mind precisely at an object and sustaining the mind on that object are present in the 1st jhana but must be left behind in order to enter the 2nd. Each subsequent jhana entails the sloughing off of mental factors that were present in the previous jhana.

Kenneth
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Thanks, Kenneth. A couple of comments.

First, I am certainly interested in true shamatha jhanas, and feel that until I really nail the first and possibly second, I would not really be achieving anything significant with respect to insight stuff. I have also tried kasinas a bunch of times (I have some posts on the kasina thread), but with very limited progress. A question for you is: what would you qualify as "long periods of time". I can seemingly get into access concentration, but have yet to hit the first jhana with a disk or candle flame.

I get your "acid" point, but I am a little bit further than that. I certainly feel physical effects, like a "big head", and tingling sensations. But I don't know if that is "it" or whether I should expect more. That is why I am casting around for real-life, "this is what I feel", war stories. I am also struggling a bit with what to "see" behind my eyelids, and trying to discern various senses of "space" as I get these feelings. Again, details from masters would, I think, help me.

Tom
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Hi Tom,

Leigh Brasington has written extensively about jhanas. Check out this link where he describes his experiences:

http://www.leighb.com/jhana_fr.htm

You wrote: " (I) feel that until I really nail the first and possibly second, I would not really be achieving anything significant with respect to insight stuff."

I'm curious as to why you believe this. In my experience, it is much easier to get jhana after 1st Path. Most people I know found it very difficult to attain pure jhana until after Path at which time it was relatively trivial. There is a direct connection between the jhanas, ├▒anas, and paths, but in terms of practicality I recommend not obsessing too much about jhanas until after Path.

I hear the frustration in your post, so I just want to validate and reassure you a little bit: jhana is not an easy gig. As a parallel, think of learning to play a musical instrument, let's say guitar. It takes years of dedicated, daily practice to reach high levels of proficiency. It's natural to feel frustrated at times as you see other people playing so effortlessly. You imagine that you must be doing it wrong and that there must be some trick to it. There is no trick; you just have to keep practicing, getting better all the time. There will be a time when it is effortless for you as well if you continue to work hard. And people have varying levels of natural ability, so what seems easy for others may be harder for you. It doesn't matter; you will develop your own potential in your own time. The only thing you have control over is how much time you spend practicing.

With regard to jhana, the instructions are much simpler than for playing guitar. Just stare at the disc for as long as you can. The more you do it, the stronger your concentration gets. Worrying about stages is actually just a distraction. Ditto for lights and images. Just stare at the disc.

Kenneth
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: 3_Trainings

I have to start by saying that I'm far from a master and have no attainments to speak of but on the off chance that something I mention may help you - I thought I'd comment. I don't know if you've read Richard Shankman's book titled Samadhi but in it he makes the distinction between sutta jhana and visuddhimagga jhana. It's the most thorough analysis of this practice that I've ever seen in English - highly recommend it. If you don't feel like wading through the book, the two talks on Buddhist Geeks with Shankman sum things up nicely.

I mention that book because I think it may be helpful to identify what standard you are shooting for, of the two, when it comes to jhana. Within the lineage that I practice, things are heavily based on the Visuddhimagga. In this system, the question of whether one is in jhana or not - is pretty easy to answer. The entry process is unmistakable. The Visuddhimagga mentions sinking into the nimitta but I experience it more like being sucked into a vacuum hose or like a genie being pulled into a lamp. I've read where some people describe the transition as being pulled by the lapels. There will be no question as to whether you entered absorption concentration. I'm only speaking from the "school" that I practice in. In other methods/lineages I understand that the litmus test and verification of such things may be different. And I'm OK with that emoticon [to be cont'd]
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: 3_Trainings

The instruction I've received from my teachers is to remain in this nimitta for 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours. I am certainly not there yet! LOL. Things are wobbly at first, you've got sea legs, it takes a while to develop the skill. In the nimitta there is awareness of your "self" and the nimitta and the fact that you are "inside" it. But conceptual proliferation, "trains of thought" have ceased. The body cannot be felt and and sounds cannot be heard. After you emerge ecstatic feelings and rapturous feelings may course through you but you won't feel those things while in the jhana.

It has constantly been mentioned to me by my teachers not to have any desire for certain things to happen with the meditation. I assume that most of us here at Dharma Overground are definitely into results oriented practice but I've been reminded often that the outright desire or even subtle whispering of expectation during meditation can push "the results" into an ever-receding event horizon. If I remember correctly Daniel mentions the same, saying that it's a tricky balance but it's essential to be mindful of.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Kenneth,

Thanks again for your thoughtful reply. To answer your embedded question, partly it is because I intuitively feel that getting decent concentration is a necessary precursor to seeing the subtle stuff that insight requires. But more to the point, in MCTB, there is the statement (p134) "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."

Now, I am stretching it a bit to include the second jhana, but I get the feeling that once I am in the first, the second it relatively straight-forward.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Funnily enough, I just happened to listen to those two talks the day before yesterday, and I did note the different jhana "flavours". I also noted him saying that, in effect, different people will feel the various jhanic factors differently. Some won't ever see the nimitta, for example, not because they are not concentrated but because their minds might just be wired a little differently. I look at that as encouraging.

I do get a "sucking" feeling lately, which I am attributing to access concentration simply because I am not feeling the rapture and bliss that are "classically" associated with the first jhana. This feeling is complemented by a feeling of my head expanding, a very distinct transition. But no rapture, no bliss.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: 3_Trainings

Individuality certainly plays a part in how these things manifest for each of us. Speaking of not "seeing" the nimitta Ajahn Sona has an article on just that topic http://www.arrowriver.ca/dhamma/nimitta.html

Also in keeping with the idea that everyone will experience these things in slightly different ways I would say don't get too caught up in there being no rapture or bliss present. I don't think the way these states present (verb) to us are going to line up 100% with the classical descriptions - at least not every time we sit. The first time I experienced the nimitta, directly preceding that, there wasn't any rapture or bliss or at least not in the way I was expecting things as grand as rapture and bliss to be. Things were much more subtle.

I had some feelings around the head preceding jhana, I think this is probably a common sign of access concentration. Good!! I remember Alan Wallace mentioning in Balancing the Mind something concerning a process occurring near the head during either access or 1st jhana - can't remember which.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
I had read Leigh's page a while back, but thank you for reacquainting me with it. A very direct answer to my original question. So then, Kenneth (and others), would you concur with these detailed descriptions (assuming that I continue to ever so slightly still worry about stages)?

I have the opportunity to dedicate a large number of hours to sitting in a few days, beyond my usual daily practice, and hope to make huge strides.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Alright: Mind and Body is the first jhana. No first vipassana jhana, no Mind and Body, so you can't go to the next things that build on that until you have Mind and Body. The distinction is complex here as are the similarities. There is a huge range of what is called "The First Jhana". By way of example:
1) An untrained person, witnessing a beautiful sunset, suddenly shifts into this wonderful mind state inspired by their concentration on the moment. It is pleasant, clear, steady, different from what came before, and is the first jhana.
2) A kasina practitioner, intent on a candle flame, gets some concentration and closes their eyes, and out of the visual purple afterimage arises a bright red round dot that is steady, but eventually moves off to the side. This is the first jhana.
3) A Mahasi noting technique practitioner is noting, and they suddenly feel thoughts split off and become observable objects rather than seeming to be them or at the center of things. This is the first jhana.
4) A stream enterer with strong concentration abilities turns their mind to the first jhana itself, and their attention narrows, like a cone, on the center of their attention field, and they shift into a steady, effortful, clear, quiet, powerful jhanic attainment based on the attention pattern of that jhana. This is the first jhana.
5) A tantric practitioner turns their mind to the tibetan letter "A" in gold that they have practiced before, and the letter appears to them, steady, bright, stable, clear, and this is the first jhana.

All that is required is to see Mind and Body, which you might not even notice. If you have gotten to the stage of subtle tingles spreading out, that is second vipassana jhana, so get over the first jhana thing, you are already above that at times. There are wide variations in the strength and presentation of these.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Daniel,

My first comment is "Wow!". I had not even thought I was on the Path at all, and that sure cut to the chase.

My second, though, is to seek a small (?) clarification. It sounds to me like you are speaking only of vipassana jhanas, yes? My question actually had to do with shamatha jhanas, and I was just following your MCTB convention of leaving out shamatha, it being the default qualifier unless "vipassana" was explicitly stated. So how does what you wrote apply there? Generally I am having a hard time parsing the relationships between s. jhanas and v. jhanas.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Ah, that is because, at the beginning, they look very much the same from a certain point of view, as I state. You are making this way, way, way too complex. Practice as directed, things progress. Think all the time about models, things stagnate. Notice the Three Characteristics, all is well, get lost in content, which includes speculation about where you are, and you will flounder. The utility of the maps is to help you avoid common pitfalls. Avoid doubt, it will not help much, except to manifest the Three Characteristics. Can you see all of your map speculation come and go, rapidly, moment to moment? You will get all this a lot better when your practice is stronger and has progressed more. The point is not to understand it all absolutely perfectly right now, the point is to get your practice so strong that it is just obvious when you look at it through the lens of theory.
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
I found this exchange >very< helpful. I had also been confused by the real meaning of "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." In fact, my first response to reading MCTB was to get a Jhana mediatation CD. But I didn't feel like I was making progress with Jhana and had kinda put the whole confusion in a parking lot for a while while returning to noting.

For what it's worth, this definition is clearest to me: "A Mahasi noting technique practitioner is noting, and they suddenly feel thoughts split off and become observable objects rather than seeming to be them or at the center of things. This is the first jhana." I had been watching body sensations and mental thoughts bubble up for years before reading MCTB, but I would never have thought to call that first jhana. I'm pretty sure if it was included in the book, I wouldn't have been confused. Maybe a good addition for DO 2.0 wiki.

Good stuff, thanks!
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
In trying to keep this thread practical and practice-oriented, let me relate my experiences during a long (for me) sit last night. It was nominally 2h. The goals were:

1. To make it through, so I have a sense for how long I can sit without a break;
2. Get a stronger (shamatha) J1.

I got to access easily enough, following my breath, within the first 30 minutes...probably at around 20. A short while later, maybe 10 or so minutes, I got a weak shiver. Throughout this time, I was being assaulted with monkey mind, but I did my best to not lose track. Anyhow, after the shiver, I felt decently concentrated and although my visual field did not really register anything particularly significant, stuff "felt" really close to my face.

After a while (roughly at the halfway point), I felt I should shift my position slightly as I was sliding down my cushion a bit and I wanted to make sure my session did not get cut short because of new pressure points. After the shift, which I tried to do "mindfully", I settled back down and found my concentration was not too badly affected by the interruption.

A while after that, I was a little bummed that the weak shiver was all I had thusfar, so I tried to get it back. I thought of it and, surprisingly, something started to happen. So I was presented with a second, slightly stronger shiver. Then stuff got weird.

Even though I figured I was well concentrated, I was having a hard time getting a lock on my breath. Up to this point I had been using my abdomen, so I switched to my nose, and I was able to really focus on that for a while. Again, my depth of field was really tight and up close. But then I started having a hard time focusing and for the first time I started to sense stuff behind my head. It took a moment to realize this, and when I did, I recalled MCTB J3 descriptions.

[cont'd...]
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
[cont'd...]

Now I am not claiming anything, but honestly it felt like my head was in the middle and stuff was happening to the side and behind me. But it was turbulent. And then in an instant it was calm. Really, really calm. Visually it was not tight, but I would not use expansive either. However I felt really tall, and the sense of what I could "see" was like a tall skinny pole. I don't want to say "needle" because of the obvious "one-pointed" allusion, but...

Anyhow it was the utter calmness that was most striking. First turbulence, then "bing"...calm. For probably 3-5 minutes, my breath was really light, my abdomen seemed to be barely moving. And I was not zoned out because I could clearly hear sounds in the house. And I had virtually no unasked-for thoughts.

And then I did. I started to get another shiver developing, then I started noticing my left knee throbbing, my right hip aching. Then my back muscles started complaining and tensing. I tried noting to see if that could get things under control and, while sometimes my attention to something did diminish it, it was not for long. I felt like a collapsing house of cards: one minute I have this deep calm and then it is "get me off this $#! cushion!". I really tried to stick with it, and I did for a couple of minutes, but my knee, in particular, was throbbing. Since I felt I had made decent progress, I bailed out.

And when I did, the pain stopped. With only 17 minutes left. $#!.

I am still processing this experience, but this was way more than I had ever felt on my shorter 40 min. sits.
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
I have had the house to myself for the last 3+ days, and made a concerted effort to nail this topic down. While my "householders retreat" had a lot of work and chores mixed in, I managed to get 4-5 sits in each day, from 1 to 2 hours each.

This is my personal take on the the first two jhanas based on what I observed during this time. Please feel free to comment/critique, as I am far from being an experienced explorer.

I start by following my breath at the abdomen: "rising", "falling". Even though I did a bunch of sits, I find that each one seems to start with a lot of thought interruption, so it takes a good 20 minutes or so to get into the groove. Sometimes, I jump-start the process a bit by using Holosync at the outset, which never lasts longer than 30 minutes after which I sit in silence.

First up is access concentration. For me, this means I feel this fairly sudden shift and my head feels "fat". I notice that after this point, I have fewer thoughts interrupting, or more precisely, I get caught up in fewer thoughts. The breath also is more focused and I start to get a narrower "field of view" (FOV) behind my eyelids.

In the past (prior to this "retreat"), I tended to get stuck here. But now, I am able to continue watching the breath, and notice (after some post-sit experiments), that my eyes are looking down and are usually crossed. This tends to put a lot of pressure in my forehead, but it also really brings the FOV in tight. This also tends to really lock me into the breath, which is pretty coarse. I also usually switch to follow the breath at my nose, rather than the abdomen.

[cont'd...]
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Very soon after, I mark the transition into the first jhana (J1) with tingling that starts in my hands and arms, and progresses to shivers/buzzing in my body. The latter either comes in waves or, when I get a good lock, a continuous buzz. For me, I equate this to the "rapture" factor, because it does feel like elation, excitement. Significantly, while I am well locked onto the breath, it continues to be coarse, and I need to make an effort to stay with it. This I take as the "applied and sustained attention" factor of J1.

If I stay with the breath through this, the rapture continues as does the coarseness of breath. When I start to think that this effort is really getting tiresome (usually after about 5 minutes now), it goes into this phase of being really coarse -- not quite hyperventilating, but pretty deep breathing -- and then suddenly it nearly vanishes. I become really, really still, and my breath is dramatically finer. And the buzzing that was present in J1, but overshadowed by the breathing effort, becomes, with the stillness, the two major sensations.

This I take as the transition to the second jhana (J2), because classically (as well as in MCTemoticon, it is the dropping of "applied and sustained attention" that seems to be the signpost. The first time this happened, I was really surprised that my breath just started to "amp up" on its own, and I was locked in just following it. Some kind of weird positive feedback loop or something.

Anyhow, in this new calm, I notice my eyes are now not looking down, nor are crossed. This removes the pressure from my forehead and, because I am now looking "forward" and the amount of light coming in is more, it seems "brighter" and the FOV somewhat larger. The breath is still there, but is very light and while I follow it, the rapturous buzzing gives a really pleasant feeling counterpoint to the utter stillness. [cont'd...]
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RE: Recognizing the first two jhanas

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
I have now begun experimenting with the next step, which is to try and release the rapture and move into J3. I have managed that twice, but very weird crap starts happening which I will leave for another thread.

As I said at the outset, I am not an experienced explorer in this realm, and would be interested in hearing what others have to say on my results.

Cheers,

-- tomo

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