Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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Seladhamma
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Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Seladhamma » Thu Jun 23, 2016 8:10 pm

Hello, all. This is a question that arose last time I was in retreat with Bhante Yogavacara Rahula. He told me that reaching the first jhana requires a certain level of abandonment of sense pleasures, so that the mind, having no other refuge, stops trying to escape meditation practice and produces the immersion experienced in the jhanas.

Has anyone ever experienced the jhanas and, if so, under what circumstances and conditions? Do you think it's possible to attain jhana without being in a retreat?

:anjali:
"Ko nu hāso kimānando,
niccaṃ pajjalite sati;
Andhakārena onaddhā,
padīpaṃ na gavesatha"


"How is there joy, how is there laughter
When the world is constantly aflame?
Surrounded by darkness,
Won't you look for the light?"
-- Dhp. 146

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katavedi
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby katavedi » Thu Jun 23, 2016 10:31 pm

Hello Seladhamma,

Seladhamma wrote:Has anyone ever experienced the jhanas and, if so, under what circumstances and conditions? Do you think it's possible to attain jhana without being in a retreat?


Yes, it is possible and is not uncommon for people to experience jhanas outside of retreat. Many Dhamma practitioners who learn the jhanas remember that they accidentally fell into one or more of these states as children. Some of them report that they could regularly access a particular jhana as a child, but lost the ability as they grew older. Also, adult meditators who do not know the jhanas sometimes accidentally stumble into one of them while meditating, either on or off retreat.

I accidentally stumbled into the first jhana several years ago while meditating at home, about two months after coming home from a retreat. I wrote down the experience in detail afterward, and the next time I was on retreat (with Bhante Yogavacara Rahula, by coincidence), I read it to him during an interview. All he told me was that it was "some sort of jhanic experience". At the time, I was strictly following the Mahasi method, so I didn't pursue the experience any further.

About five years ago, I decided to alter the course of my practice and try to develop the jhanas. It took a 10-day and a 14-day retreat to be able to access the four jhanas with some regularity while on retreat, but the ability to access them at home after retreat faded after a few months (although the ability came back within a couple of days on subsequent retreats). After two more retreats of practicing entering, moving between, deepening, and sustaining the jhanas, as well as learning the four formless attainments, I was able to maintain them at home for a year, until I went on the next 14-day retreat.

I've found that it takes two hours of sitting meditation a day to maintain them outside of retreat. Occasionally, if I feel them weakening or if I'm unable to access them for a couple of sits, I'll add a third hour for a few days and they regain their strength.

Of course, there's more to the picture than just learning them and maintaining them. I've kept the precepts very carefully for many years, practice contentment with little, guard the senses, drop the thinking process when it's not necessary, and replace unwholesome mind states with the wholesome. And study a lot. And have a pretty simple life that's conducive to practice. And several other things...

Hope this helps, Seladhamma.

Kind wishes,
katavedi
“But, Gotamī, when you know of certain things: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to attachment; to diminution, not to accumulation; to having few wishes, not to having many wishes; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to socializing; to the arousing of energy, not to indolence; to simple living, not to luxurious living’ – of such things you can be certain: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the Discipline; this is the Master’s Teaching.’”

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby SarathW » Thu Jun 23, 2016 11:41 pm

Do you think it's possible to attain jhana without being in a retreat?


I would say yes.
However virtues are the precursor for the Jhana.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby paul » Fri Jun 24, 2016 1:39 pm

katavedi wrote:Yes, it is possible and is not uncommon for people to experience jhanas outside of retreat.[...]
:goodpost:

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Jun 24, 2016 2:36 pm

Seladhamma wrote:Hello, all. This is a question that arose last time I was in retreat with Bhante Yogavacara Rahula. He told me that reaching the first jhana requires a certain level of abandonment of sense pleasures, so that the mind, having no other refuge, stops trying to escape meditation practice and produces the immersion experienced in the jhanas.


I've mostly experienced jhana while on retreat, I think less to do with the environment and more to do with a significant increase in time on the cushion.
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream."
Dairy Lama

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Seladhamma
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Seladhamma » Sat Jun 25, 2016 4:49 am

Thank you all for your insights and experiences, this is very enriching.

katavedi wrote:I accidentally stumbled into the first jhana several years ago while meditating at home, about two months after coming home from a retreat. I wrote down the experience in detail afterward, and the next time I was on retreat (with Bhante Yogavacara Rahula, by coincidence), I read it to him during an interview. All he told me was that it was "some sort of jhanic experience". At the time, I was strictly following the Mahasi method, so I didn't pursue the experience any further.


What happened to me was very similar. I had what I thought was a jhanic experience, and I told Bhante Rahula about it, but he told me that it probably wasn't jhana, since the senses should be well-guarded and I'd likely have to put a few more daily hours of practice so it would actually happen. He also told me that there's this monastery in Sri Lanka where people practice according to the Visuddhimagga method, and the abbot there told him that 4 out of 10 monks could actually reach all the four jhanas and four immaterial attainments. This might be so due to the very specific and profound nature of the jhanas described in the Visuddhimagga as opposed to how they're described in the Suttas, but I think I lack the experience or the knowledge to ascertain that.
What I also noticed is that Bhante Rahula favors (and he openly told me so) a Vipassana approach. He seems to think that the kind of dedication necessary to reach the jhanas isn't so easily achieved whilst leading a lay life. He also told me that a regular Vipassana practice, if well done, would also lead to a certain level of concentration similar to jhana.

Another teacher present at the retreat, Ajahn Mudito, was of a different opinion. He told me that his teacher, a Thai monk, would joke about this kind of Vipassana practice by calling it "Vipassanúk" ("núk" is meant to represent the Thai word for "thought", as I'm told). He said that if you haven't got Samma Samadhi, all you're doing is thinking about thinking. I don't know which explanation makes more sense in an objective way, since at best, I've just had a glimpse of jhana. But I intuitively trust the latter a bit more.

katavedi wrote:I've found that it takes two hours of sitting meditation a day to maintain them outside of retreat. Occasionally, if I feel them weakening or if I'm unable to access them for a couple of sits, I'll add a third hour for a few days and they regain their strength.


Bhante Rahula told me exactly the same thing. He said that most people had a consensus that it took some two daily hours to keep advancing in meditation practice. Also, what you said about maintaining a clear mind, following the precepts, seems to me as one of the fundamental things that people (including me) usually underestimate or neglect.

Well, this is turning out to be very interesting and helpful. Again, thanks to everyone who's contributing to this thread.
:anjali:
"Ko nu hāso kimānando,
niccaṃ pajjalite sati;
Andhakārena onaddhā,
padīpaṃ na gavesatha"


"How is there joy, how is there laughter
When the world is constantly aflame?
Surrounded by darkness,
Won't you look for the light?"
-- Dhp. 146

Caodemarte
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Caodemarte » Sat Jun 25, 2016 5:33 pm

Just to clarify: 2 hours more or less together (either continuous or with a short walk between) or separated, say an hour in morning and one in the evening? I assume that mediation means sitting mediation here.

I realize that their is no magic scheme here; I just want to clarify the meaning of what was said.

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby FluffyChicken » Sat Jun 25, 2016 6:47 pm

Bhante Rahula told me exactly the same thing. He said that most people had a consensus that it took some two daily hours to keep advancing in meditation practice.
Definitely agree. Personally speaking, it usually takes me 1/2hour max to settle in(less if I've been diligent on my practice), if I have one hour for sitting, I get anxious about being able to go fully in and pull out in such a short time frame(though it is unfounded), so a 2 hour block helps in deepening relaxation/stilling my mind.

I'm one of those persons who didn't know about the Jhanas till well after being established in my practice at home(using inner sound as an object), I just called it "meditating," thought everyone did meditated like that. Not till I joined a local meditation group, and asked the teacher about particular side-effects did I learn about what it was called, the negative rumors/information spread on such practices, etc., most meditation teachers I've met since then are unfamiliar with this type of meditation.

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katavedi
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby katavedi » Sat Jun 25, 2016 7:34 pm

Hello Seladhamma,

Seladhamma wrote:What happened to me was very similar. I had what I thought was a jhanic experience, and I told Bhante Rahula about it, but he told me that it probably wasn't jhana, since the senses should be well-guarded and I'd likely have to put a few more daily hours of practice so it would actually happen.

Yes, unfortunately, it's hard to know whether you've experienced a jhana until you know the jhanas! Also the majority of teachers these days don't practice the jhanas, and so they don't know how to recognize a jhana or how to guide the student further. As a result, the experience is usually dismissed.

Seladhamma wrote:He also told me that there's this monastery in Sri Lanka where people practice according to the Visuddhimagga method, and the abbot there told him that 4 out of 10 monks could actually reach all the four jhanas and four immaterial attainments. This might be so due to the very specific and profound nature of the jhanas described in the Visuddhimagga as opposed to how they're described in the Suttas, but I think I lack the experience or the knowledge to ascertain that.

If you're interested in learning more about the difference between the Visuddhimagga approach and the sutta approach, Leigh Brasington's book Right Concentration might be useful. Alternatively, you can visit this page, with a lot of short articles about the jhanas, and in particular this page about the different interpretations of the jhanas.

Seladhamma wrote:What I also noticed is that Bhante Rahula favors (and he openly told me so) a Vipassana approach.

Yes, he was trained primarily in the Mahasi tradition, and has stayed with that approach. Have you ever read his autobiography, One Night's Shelter? Very interesting read, and describes his first experiences with meditation.

Seladhamma wrote:He seems to think that the kind of dedication necessary to reach the jhanas isn't so easily achieved whilst leading a lay life.

Yes, this is a typical argument against jhana from the Mahasi tradition, but it's based on the definition of a jhana being the Visuddhimagga's extraordinarily-difficult-to-attain definition of jhana (which is the standard orthodox Theravadan definition), rather than what is described in the suttas. And if you use the Visuddhimagga jhanas as the standard, then Bhante Rahula is quite correct.

Seladhamma wrote:He also told me that a regular Vipassana practice, if well done, would also lead to a certain level of concentration similar to jhana.

Having spent the first several years of my practice in the Mahasi tradition, and also having experienced what seems to match the sutta jhanas, I would agree with him on this. Here is the difference, though, as I see it:

With the Mahasi method, one notes sense contacts as continuously as possible, in order to build up a momentum of khanika samadhi (momentary concentration). When it's done well and continuously, discursive thought stops and the mind locks into the continuous knowing of the changing phenomena making up one's experience. It becomes undistracted in the field of the sense contacts. However, it takes some time and some false starts to get to where the khanika samadhi has got enough momentum to go on "cruise control", so to speak. It can also be difficult to get to this state off-retreat, in daily life, since the level of samadhi is not as absorbed or secluded from the world as post-jhana samadhi is.

The advantage of the jhanas is that, once they've been learned well, you can deliberately sit down, access the jhanas, sustain them for a little while, then emerge and find yourself in a similar state to "cruise control khanika samadhi", but perhaps more stable and longer-lasting. To me, they have been a more dependable way to reach that state suitable for deep investigation and insight. Another benefit is that they are pleasurable, yet not connected with sensual desire (a "blameless pleasure"). They can help to loosen one's craving for sensual pleasures.

Seladhamma wrote:Another teacher present at the retreat, Ajahn Mudito, was of a different opinion. He told me that his teacher, a Thai monk, would joke about this kind of Vipassana practice by calling it "Vipassanúk" ("núk" is meant to represent the Thai word for "thought", as I'm told). He said that if you haven't got Samma Samadhi, all you're doing is thinking about thinking. I don't know which explanation makes more sense in an objective way, since at best, I've just had a glimpse of jhana. But I intuitively trust the latter a bit more.

I can't say that Ajahn Mudito's opinion that you described matches my experience, or the experience of many others I know who have practiced the Mahasi tradition. Sometimes people object to the "labelling" used initially in the Mahasi method, saying that it is just thinking and conceptualizing. It's somewhat true, but it's not discursive thinking; it's just used to generally corral the mind in the present moment. It's using concepts skillfully, as a temporary measure. Besides, those who have practiced in this tradition know that, once the mind is mostly staying in the present, the labels are dropped and one continues knowing the sense contacts wordlessly, without any concepts.

Kind wishes,
katavedi
“But, Gotamī, when you know of certain things: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to attachment; to diminution, not to accumulation; to having few wishes, not to having many wishes; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to socializing; to the arousing of energy, not to indolence; to simple living, not to luxurious living’ – of such things you can be certain: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the Discipline; this is the Master’s Teaching.’”

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby katavedi » Sat Jun 25, 2016 7:47 pm

Hello Caodemarte,

Caodemarte wrote:Just to clarify: 2 hours more or less together (either continuous or with a short walk between) or separated, say an hour in morning and one in the evening? I assume that mediation means sitting mediation here.

I realize that their is no magic scheme here; I just want to clarify the meaning of what was said.


Most teachers that I've heard answer this question agree that two hours in one stretch (without even a short walk between) is best, but breaking it into two hour-long sessions is okay too.

I have found it easier to break it up into two sessions, considering my household's schedule. I also like to bookend my day with meditation -- one sit shortly after waking up and one right before going to bed.

Yes, sitting meditation is meant, as this is the easiest posture in which to practice the jhanas. I have done them lying down before, but if there's any sleepiness at all, it can be difficult to overcome it. I don't think I could do them standing or walking, or if I could, they would likely be too shallow to have any benefit.

Kind wishes,
katavedi
“But, Gotamī, when you know of certain things: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to attachment; to diminution, not to accumulation; to having few wishes, not to having many wishes; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to socializing; to the arousing of energy, not to indolence; to simple living, not to luxurious living’ – of such things you can be certain: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the Discipline; this is the Master’s Teaching.’”

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 10:13 pm

Thanks, katavedi, for the useful comparison of approaches. That's a very helpful analysis.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby SarathW » Sat Jun 25, 2016 11:02 pm

Concentration (Jhana) is a universal mental faculty.
Even a cat has a certain amount of concentration.
So it is important to understand what we meant by Jhana.
There are mainly two types of Jhana.
Samatha and Vipassana
Then more divisions.
House hold, Kamavacara, Rupavacara and Arupavacara etc.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Spiny Norman » Sun Jun 26, 2016 5:25 am

katavedi wrote:The advantage of the jhanas is that, once they've been learned well, you can deliberately sit down, access the jhanas, sustain them for a little while, then emerge and find yourself in a similar state to "cruise control khanika samadhi", but perhaps more stable and longer-lasting. To me, they have been a more dependable way to reach that state suitable for deep investigation and insight. Another benefit is that they are pleasurable, yet not connected with sensual desire (a "blameless pleasure"). They can help to loosen one's craving for sensual pleasures.


Interesting observations. I was reading the Asubha Sutta recently and was struck by the distinction between painful and pleasant modes of practice, "painful" being insight-based and "pleasant" being jhana-based.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream."
Dairy Lama

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby SarathW » Sun Jun 26, 2016 6:10 am

"painful" being insight-based and "pleasant" being jhana-based.


Yes it is an interesting observation. I have read this sutta few time I missed that point.
The question is why some one chose painful practice when he can chose pleasant practice?
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Spiny Norman » Sun Jun 26, 2016 8:02 am

SarathW wrote:
"painful" being insight-based and "pleasant" being jhana-based.


Yes it is an interesting observation. I have read this sutta few time I missed that point.
The question is why some one chose painful practice when he can chose pleasant practice?


For me it's a pragmatic decision. Generally I don't manage to do enough sitting meditation at home to access jhana.
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream."
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby dhammarelax » Sun Jun 26, 2016 5:22 pm

Seladhamma wrote:Hello, all. This is a question that arose last time I was in retreat with Bhante Yogavacara Rahula. He told me that reaching the first jhana requires a certain level of abandonment of sense pleasures, so that the mind, having no other refuge, stops trying to escape meditation practice and produces the immersion experienced in the jhanas.

Has anyone ever experienced the jhanas and, if so, under what circumstances and conditions? Do you think it's possible to attain jhana without being in a retreat?

:anjali:


Yes is very much possible to attain the Jhanas outside a retreat, Bhante Vimalaramsi explains how to do it fairly fast.

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Dhammarelax
Even if the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, I will use all my human firmness, human persistence and human striving. There will be no relaxing my persistence until I am the first of my generation to attain full awakening in this lifetime. ed. AN 2.5

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Seladhamma
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Seladhamma » Sun Jun 26, 2016 8:17 pm

katavedi wrote:[...] Have you ever read his autobiography, One Night's Shelter? Very interesting read, and describes his first experiences with meditation.


I've actually been reading it these last few days. Very good read indeed.

katavedi wrote:I can't say that Ajahn Mudito's opinion that you described matches my experience, or the experience of many others I know who have practiced the Mahasi tradition. Sometimes people object to the "labelling" used initially in the Mahasi method, saying that it is just thinking and conceptualizing. It's somewhat true, but it's not discursive thinking; it's just used to generally corral the mind in the present moment. It's using concepts skillfully, as a temporary measure. Besides, those who have practiced in this tradition know that, once the mind is mostly staying in the present, the labels are dropped and one continues knowing the sense contacts wordlessly, without any concepts.


I don't think Ajahn Mudito's and Ajahn's teacher's commentary was meant to criticize the labelling technique, nor the practice of vipassana by laypeople. Ajahn Mudito belongs to the Thai forest lineage, so he's inherited Ajahn Mun's and Ajahn Chah's criticism of jhana fixation by experienced meditators and monks. What I think he meant by the idea of "vipassanúk" is that vipassana itself isn't so effective, or at least stays very shallow for a great period of time if one hasn't a certain capacity for absorption concentration, which allows the focused mind to truly investigate reality by means of vipassana.

I was actually reading a lot of Leigh Barsington's work before I went on retreat, and I can say that I've experience brief moments where discursive thought seemed to stop altogether, like it stopped making sense or it just seemed pointless, a waste of energy, and the breath itself became the object of meditation, without labelling or anything, but it never lasted for long. Even the conscious perception that this was happening broke the fluidity of that state entirely. The same goes for Leigh Barsington's technique of noticing the arising of a pleasurable, unexplained experience somewhere in the body as being a sign of entering jhana. As soon as I noticed that happening, my mind would be like, "hey, this is cool", and it was over. Since then, haven't had many meditative experiences that resemble jhana.

Kind regards,
Seladhamma :anjali:
"Ko nu hāso kimānando,
niccaṃ pajjalite sati;
Andhakārena onaddhā,
padīpaṃ na gavesatha"


"How is there joy, how is there laughter
When the world is constantly aflame?
Surrounded by darkness,
Won't you look for the light?"
-- Dhp. 146

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Seladhamma
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Seladhamma » Sun Jun 26, 2016 8:19 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
katavedi wrote:The advantage of the jhanas is that, once they've been learned well, you can deliberately sit down, access the jhanas, sustain them for a little while, then emerge and find yourself in a similar state to "cruise control khanika samadhi", but perhaps more stable and longer-lasting. To me, they have been a more dependable way to reach that state suitable for deep investigation and insight. Another benefit is that they are pleasurable, yet not connected with sensual desire (a "blameless pleasure"). They can help to loosen one's craving for sensual pleasures.


Interesting observations. I was reading the Asubha Sutta recently and was struck by the distinction between painful and pleasant modes of practice, "painful" being insight-based and "pleasant" being jhana-based.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;


This is a distinction of which I wasn't aware. Will read! Thanks for pointing that out, Spiny Norman.

:anjali:
"Ko nu hāso kimānando,
niccaṃ pajjalite sati;
Andhakārena onaddhā,
padīpaṃ na gavesatha"


"How is there joy, how is there laughter
When the world is constantly aflame?
Surrounded by darkness,
Won't you look for the light?"
-- Dhp. 146

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katavedi
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby katavedi » Sun Jun 26, 2016 9:35 pm

Hello Seladhamma,

Seladhamma wrote:I was actually reading a lot of Leigh Barsington's work before I went on retreat, and I can say that I've experience brief moments where discursive thought seemed to stop altogether, like it stopped making sense or it just seemed pointless, a waste of energy, and the breath itself became the object of meditation, without labelling or anything, but it never lasted for long. Even the conscious perception that this was happening broke the fluidity of that state entirely. The same goes for Leigh Barsington's technique of noticing the arising of a pleasurable, unexplained experience somewhere in the body as being a sign of entering jhana. As soon as I noticed that happening, my mind would be like, "hey, this is cool", and it was over. Since then, haven't had many meditative experiences that resemble jhana.


I hope you don't mind if I clarify a couple of things regarding this quote. If discursive thought has stopped, or is faintly in the background and not pulling attention off the breath, and if attention on the breath is steady and "locked in", and if this has lasted for at least 5 minutes, that would be considered access concentration by Leigh Brasington. Brief moments of it wouldn't qualify -- the samadhi wouldn't be stable enough to move into the first jhana. It has to be sustained. And the longer it's sustained, the deeper and more stable the ensuing jhanas would be.

Also, the pleasant sensation is not a sign of jhana, but is something that accompanies access concentration. Once one has been in access concentration for a while, if the pleasant sensation is taken as the object of attention (and not messed around with!), it can develop into the piti and sukha of the first jhana. I think of the pleasant sensation as the dawning of piti. It's like when you see the sky begin to lighten over a mountain ridge in the early morning. That's the pleasant sensation. When the sun emerges from behind the ridge, full and bright, that's the piti of the first jhana. And as with access concentration, it wouldn't be considered the first jhana unless attention on the piti/sukha can be sustained for at least a few minutes.

Kind wishes,
katavedi
“But, Gotamī, when you know of certain things: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to attachment; to diminution, not to accumulation; to having few wishes, not to having many wishes; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to socializing; to the arousing of energy, not to indolence; to simple living, not to luxurious living’ – of such things you can be certain: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the Discipline; this is the Master’s Teaching.’”

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Seladhamma
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Re: Is it possible to attain the first jhana outside of a retreat?

Postby Seladhamma » Mon Jun 27, 2016 2:30 am

Thank you for clarifying, katavedi. I'm a relative newcomer to the idea of actually practicing jhana, and have much to learn. Any info is useful.

Kind regards,
Seladhamma :anjali:
"Ko nu hāso kimānando,
niccaṃ pajjalite sati;
Andhakārena onaddhā,
padīpaṃ na gavesatha"


"How is there joy, how is there laughter
When the world is constantly aflame?
Surrounded by darkness,
Won't you look for the light?"
-- Dhp. 146


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