mydoghasfleas wrote:Hello friends,
Perhaps this question has been asked before. If so, please direct me to that thread. But I was wondering if jhana is possible for lay practitioners. ... Especially for lay practitioners who don't have access to a real live teacher and who has to depend on meditation books, online dhamma talks and the suttas for their instruction.
I have been meditating for 5 years in the above manner and I have yet to attain any sort of deep concentration that would even come close to being jhana. Of course, being a "householder" I only have time to sit for about 45 minutes (max) a day.
Not having attained jhana has not dampened my enthusiasm for meditation, though. I was just wondering if these mental states are mainly for monks and nuns.
Here is an answer from Bodhipaska from his 60 Days to Jhana series. http://www.wildmind.org/going-deeper/60-days-to-jhana
As the hindrances start to settle down, we feel happier, the mind becomes calmer, and the body begins to settle, relax, and to feel more alive and energized. When these elements come together, leading to a stable experience of joy, calmness, and energized relaxation, we call the resultant state "jhana".... A state of "flow" where we're happy, effortlessly and unselfconsciously absorbed in a particular task, in this case the "task" is simply being mindful of what we're doing and experiencing in the meditation practice. We're happy because we're focused, and we're focused because we're happy. It's this feedback loop that leads to it being a relatively stable state of mind.
Later commentators added the factor of "one-pointedness" (ekaggata) to the description of first jhana... It seems that in this case they wanted to be able to match up the five hinderances with the jhana factors, each factor having a particular hinderance that was its opposite. This addition creates problems, however. The term "one-pointedness" isn't found in the sutta version of the jhana factors at all... and that high level of focused attention, where we are literally aware only of one thing, is only found in the fourth jhana... The commentators were effectively "upgrading" it (the first jhana) to be equivalent to the Buddha's account of the fourth jhana... making it appear much more remote and hard to attain than it actually is.
In fact Buddhaghosa, the most famous of the commentators, who lived a millennium after the Buddha, believed that first jhana was attainable by only one person in a million. This makes no sense, given that many thousands of the Buddha's contemporary followers attained the jhanas, and the Buddha certainly did not have billions of followers.
Recently someone wrote to me saying that if you can hear external sounds, you're not in first jhana. This is the result of the same "upgrading" that Buddhaghosa applied.... The Buddha described noise as being "the thorn" in first jhana, so clearly he regarded jhana as being a state in which we can hear sounds, to the point where they can become problematic.
The commentators also changed the understanding of what two of the jhana factors are, so that vitakka and vicara, which in the suttas are explicitly explained as the mental precursors of speech(i.e. inner speech. or thought), are said to be forms of attention. But this interpretation leads to internal incoherence because we're told that in second jhana, vitakka and vicara disappear. How could second jhana involve the loss of attention? These conflicting accounts lead me to be very skeptical about the commentarial explanations of jhana.
We need to lose the naive assumption that the commentaries were written by meditators practicing in a thriving contemplative tradition. There's a good chance that Buddhaghosa never meditated. In fact around 100 BC, the Great Monastery where he wrote his treatises had decided that studying the texts was more important than the practice of meditation. This was understandable, since this was a very turbulent period in history, with religious persecutions, famines, civil wars, and invasions all taking place. That there may have been next to no meditation going on for 500 years before Buddhaghosa wrote suggests that we should be cautious about the reliability of his writings.
Just to summarize a few practical points from this: In first jhana we still have thinking going on and we can still hear sounds. Our experience in first jhana isn't at all one-pointed and it's not at all inaccessible. Many people with a few months experience of regular meditation, especially if they've gone on a meditation retreat, have experienced first jhana. Jhana is doable!