Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Vepacitta » Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:50 am

Hey all - I'm looking at this thread with a shit-eating grin on my face ... :smile:

Kenshou - read some of the articles that Nana posted. I've only read two so far - one by Leigh What'shisname and one by Aj. Thanissaro which get into nuts and bolts of 'how to' and 'what to expect' and 'how to discern'. And perhaps, the meditation I've done isn't total 'crap concentration' as I've thought (and which is why I never stuck with it over the years - on again - off again - on again off again).

Nana - your posts, your recommended reading has inspired me to keep on keepin' on - Sadhu! :namaste:

Really good stuff - as I've never had a meditation teacher - I've got a great sutta teacher - but no meditation teacher.

For moi (and sorry I don't get as technical as you boys) I focus on the breath at the tip of the nose - sometimes I count, sometimes I say Buddho - but usually I can let that go pretty quickly and watch the breath - and usually (not always) the breath gets very very subtle - almost not there - sometimes there is the 'sound of silence' (and it's actually pretty damn loud), and yes, the forehead tingling - or the crown tingling - or both - and the breath brings up waves of this - and yes - it feels physically very nice. I can't maintain that for very long though - and funnily enough - I think I get more concentrated at the beginning - then lose it ... and recently, I'd tried to suppress that but now I'm thinking ... look into that ... (inspired by Aj. Thanissaro's article about his training in that area). Aj. Thanissaro usually has a way of making a person take another viewpoint on things - which opens up one's thinking and realisation -

And the thoughts - well - yes - they're there but only sorta-kinda there sometimes - but really quieted down - and last night - I decided to just sort of look at them - and what Nana said just in the above post - about our minds going willy-nilly (even if it's a slowed down willy-nilly) seems spot on- there's this 'junk' from the wellsprings of ... nothing - where the HELL does this come from? But it wasn't upsetting - I could look at it.

I think I'm beginning to see how the mind grasps onto stuff - even grasping on to the breath's rhythm - it's really a graspy, thing that Klings-on (kaplah!) but not in a good way ... and it happens all the time - and we don't see it - really insidious ...

(I'd always thought that neighbourhood concentration or the 1st jhana was blissful - as in "now the sun rises upon the deer park, the bodhissatvas start dancing, the ghandarabas start playing court ragas on sitars and scent of jasmines wafts through the silky soft air ..." :thinking:

But - perhaps it's a tad more prosaic than that - it's just 'what it is' - the 'is-ness of the breathing, the waft-y, transparent thought thingies ('cause they get really light'), the wondering - what's this - noting this or that sensation - and then sometimes, you just stew in the shit - y'know? You get caught on a thought - and it's stew-time ..

Ok, this is really difficult for me to articulate and probably sounds gittish so I'll stop the stream of consciousness post (no Faulkner or Joyce, I).

From stormy Mt. Meru,

V.
Last edited by Vepacitta on Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by retrofuturist » Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:52 am

Greetings Vepacitta,
Vepacitta wrote:And perhaps, the meditation I've done isn't total 'crap concentration' as I've thought (and which is why I never stuck with it over the years - on again - off again - on again off again).
Yes, I understand exactly what you mean, and agree that such perceptions of futility are actually a deterrent to mental cultivation.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Kenshou » Fri Oct 01, 2010 12:54 am

Vepacitta wrote:Kenshou - read some of the articles that Nana posted...
Hm? Why? What'd I say?

I've read every single one of those at some point, but I don't know what you're getting at here.

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Vepacitta » Fri Oct 01, 2010 1:00 am

O, I just thought you'd enjoy them and find them helpful - that's all. Glad you've already read them.

V.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Kenshou » Fri Oct 01, 2010 1:03 am

Oh, okie dokie. I thought you were implying that I said something wrong and so I should go read up and educate myself, or something!

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Vepacitta » Fri Oct 01, 2010 1:18 am

Kenshou, you seem very well educatied on the subject - so no worries there. I always learn quite a bit from your posts - very articulate!

And also, even if I thought that you were 'wrong' and required 'education' (which I most emphatically don't think that about you) I don't post that way - which I hope is evident - but I apologise - I can see how the post wasn't clear - and given how some people like to challenge others and debate here - I think I understand that my post could be taken as a challenge - but it wasn't (not my thing, if you've noticed) ...I was just happy and excited about this thread and the information on it - so I was 'gushing' on a bit 'omg you gotta read this!!!!!!!!!!!!! type of thing.

Your friend on Mt. Meru,

V.
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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Kenshou » Fri Oct 01, 2010 2:22 am

No harm done.
:focus:

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Reductor » Fri Oct 01, 2010 3:35 am

bodom wrote:
To be honest, Im not all that concerned with gaining this level of concentration, that level of concentration, this jhana, that jhana. I just sit until my mind is free from wandering.
Which requires a good deal of practice and skill, yeah? A mind that's stopped wandering is 2/3 of the way to jhana.

What I meant by 'Outside of personally sitting in the first jhana? Not a whole lot.' is that all the descriptions of jhana in the suttas are nothing but words on paper, and at present are not a concern to me and my practice.
That's kind of like saying "maps are nothing but lines on paper."

In the end, a sutta is just words and a map is just lines. Unless they are referred back to what we're now doing, where we find ourselves just now, they are of very little use. But if you have a landmark in your meditation that is also found in the sutta then you are fit to navigate.

The only reason I posted was because I was asked by a member to participate in the thread, and I found your post to retro a good jumping in point. From experience, the best way I have found for me is as Buddhadasa recommended, I practice until my mind is calm and then turn to insight. Do I label this calm jhana? No. No need as I see it.

:anjali:
No, I suppose not.

My response to Retro doesn't stem from a burning desire for him, or anyone else, to enter into a jhanic state. It stemmed from the "cutting out" of many of the anapanasati steps and the seeming devaluation of the additional samatha that they might yield. But again, Retro can do as he pleases.

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by retrofuturist » Fri Oct 01, 2010 3:58 am

Greetings thereductor,
thereductor wrote:My response to Retro doesn't stem from a burning desire for him, or anyone else, to enter into a jhanic state. It stemmed from the "cutting out" of many of the anapanasati steps and the seeming devaluation of the additional samatha that they might yield. But again, Retro can do as he pleases.
No dramas - I appreciate any input people put forward.

As alluded to above, the longest consecutive period I tend to find on a regular basis to commit to sitting meditation is in roughly 45 minute blocks (lunch break!)

To that end, I have to think about how to get the most out of those 45 minutes. If I attempted to do each step, one at a time, I would never get to step 13, and therefore not have the opportunity to switch my focus from cultivating samatha to cultivating vipassana, during that sitting session.

As for jhanas (i.e. classifiable levels of samatha), whether I attain them is in my mind a secondary concern that is really beyond my control, given those time constraints.

No devaluation or anything intended - merely a practical concern of how to get the most mental cultivation out of the 45 minutes available.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Reductor » Fri Oct 01, 2010 4:34 am

Ñāṇa wrote: What the heck is rapture?...
...Geoff
As you mentioned, 'rapture' is an odd word. To me it conjures up thought of god's judgment.

The most common understanding of this word seems to be 'bliss', very much like vepacitta commented on above. In fact, this was how I thought it was supposed to be. However, for me the feeling varies from a definite satisfaction, all the way to 'surging emotion'. Usually its somewhere in between.

What I've found is that the first four steps of anapanasati don't necessarily unfold linearly. Sometimes its way easier to be aware of the posture of the body than it is the breath, or to start off with very calm breathing rather than the heavier breathing to which we may be accustomed.

Even as concentration begins to increase, I have found it to be the case that I might work through the first four steps only to find that either my mind or my body is not quite as calm as I thought, or that my attention is not as attentive as it needs to be. The solution I've found best is to take note of this fact and focus more closely on the length of the breath, being ever so watchful of how my mind seems to react to this re-focused attention.

Anyway, after I've settled into a steady perception of the body (3rd), and I've let the breath grow calm(4th), it just so happens that it feels quite pleasant. If the body is clear and the breath calm, and my mind is comfortably contemplating this situation, I then recognize that the hindrances I had experienced at the beginning of my session have all been ironed out, leaving me alert, focused and energetic. At that point I feel quite pleased with the change, and so I continue with the observation of my breath/body while allowing this sense of gladness to continue. If I've worked the first four steps well and taken my time, the sense of gladness becomes more distinct, and my sense of body appears to become more intense (yet I don't think the actual bodily feelings have changed - it seems that the addition of 'gladness' or 'happiness' augments the bodily feeling in some manor).

While it is a very good experience, it isn't 'magic' nor is there a particular part to it that is out of the ordinary during waking life. Rather these mundane things occur at the same time and it is that fact which lends them an affect outstripping that which they have individually.

Take for instance the sense of body. The difference in jhana is not that we sense the body, but that we sense the body in preference to the environment outside the body. Normally we are more attuned to what is outside ourselves, and refer to our sense of body only in relation to what we perceive as 'out there' (ie, we don't notice our own 'bulk' unless we are around a person we find attractive - in which case we become preoccupied by it) In a jhanic state there is a distilling of thoughts about the external, and perceptions about the external, in favor of the internal.

Anyhoo, I sure hope this is clear.

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Reductor » Fri Oct 01, 2010 4:41 am

retrofuturist wrote: No dramas - I appreciate any input people put forward.

As alluded to above, the longest consecutive period I tend to find on a regular basis to commit to sitting meditation is in roughly 45 minute blocks (lunch break!)

To that end, I have to think about how to get the most out of those 45 minutes. If I attempted to do each step, one at a time, I would never get to step 13, and therefore not have the opportunity to switch my focus from cultivating samatha to cultivating vipassana, during that sitting session.
I do appreciate the difficulty Retro, really. Usually the kids are a pain in the butt from 8 am to 10 pm (and beyond, actually). From 10 pm or so I have an opportunity to meditate, but the wife is up and she is often peppering me with questions, or puttering around the house doing stuff. All pretty distracting.

But as I said above, the practice is accumulative. If you cannot get through all 13 on one break, that is understandable. It is, however, by practicing again and again that you become skilled in those steps, and so with this increased skill you can get more done in less time.

:namaste:

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Nyana » Fri Oct 01, 2010 7:07 am

retrofuturist wrote:I have to think about how to get the most out of those 45 minutes. If I attempted to do each step, one at a time, I would never get to step 13, and therefore not have the opportunity to switch my focus from cultivating samatha to cultivating vipassana, during that sitting session.
Hi Retro & all,

Yeah, I sometimes forget that many people have busy lives with work and family and various activities that need to be attended to. Being a good spouse, a good parent, a good employee, a good supervisor, a good citizen and so on, all obviously require attention, and dhamma has to be integrated into all of those aspects of our lives for it to have any meaningful effect.

But is it possible to practice, say, steps 1 to 4, then 5, and 13? I think that's possible.

Or alternatively, as I've reflected upon the Paṭisambhidāmagga Ānāpānassatikathā, I've come to see that although the steps are set out sequentially in the sutta, it's also possible to practice two or more steps concurrently at the same time. For example, once step three (whole body) is established, that whole body awareness can serve as the basis and support for the remaining steps to be experienced along with that whole body awareness.

And so when step four is being practiced, is it possible to begin just noticing if there is any concomitant gladness arising? Is the mind happy? Is there enthusiasm in my practice right now? These are all either similar to pīti or synonyms for pīti. There is a progression of the practice here, but it's not like we're leaving step three or four behind us when we practice step five or six or thirteen.

Again, we all have to work with the practice gently, and from time to time make small, skillful adjustments to find out if these steps can open up further appreciation and understanding of our inner mental terrain. But not by overexerting. It's a question of appropriate balance which is unique to each of us. Striving too forcefully isn't going to create the optimal causes and conditions for the path to develop, nor is blankly spacing out. We each have to find that balance of calm and insight that works for us and allows the practice to open up and unfold.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Sobeh » Fri Oct 01, 2010 7:13 am

Calling them "steps" is a very odd dhamma...

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by Nyana » Fri Oct 01, 2010 7:31 am

Sobeh wrote:Calling them "steps" is a very odd dhamma...
Hi Sobeh,

It's nothing to get hung up on.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Jhāna According to the Pāḷi Nikāyas

Post by IanAnd » Fri Oct 01, 2010 9:03 am

I'd like to compliment everyone here who has contributed to this thread thus far as there has been quite a bit of good description coming from people who are attempting to descibe the indescribable and yet who are succeeding in their descriptions. Of course, Geoff, who started the thread with an excellent set of well organized posts and has added to it since, providing insightful answers to questions; Kenshou, who has an extremely good grasp of the practice and who, though he says he's not a teacher, might very well be one with his uncannily accurate descriptions; and thereductor who has an equally strong grasp of the practice and is able to provide very helpful practical advice based on his method of practice and understanding as it relates to a householder's practice.

There are plenty of viewpoints being offered which can help or assist a wide variety of types of people in how to approach the practice of samadhi and absorption in order to integrate it with the study and practical application of the Dhamma.
Vepacitta wrote: Personally, I'd like to get into 'how does it work - that you can be concentrated - and yet still think - even though non-discoursive? Is it during the jhana - right after emergence - a bit of both?

What exactly is meant by bodily pleasure - is it the oddball buzzing you get in the head chakras sometimes? Is it truly a lack of pain?

What about what is known as access concentration - how does that relate?

I mean - there's a thousand and one picky (and maybe silly but they need to be cleared up) questions . . .
Vepacitta's questions above get to the heart of the matter of: "How do I figure out what all this means, and how will this help me to implement this instruction in a practical way within my own practice?" These are questions we have all had at one time or another.
Ñāna wrote:I think it's possible that some people don't spend more time on the fifth step because they may not think that they've "attained jhāna" or can "experience rapture." But we don't necessarily have to have "attained" anything in order to experience pīti. In this case, the translation of pīti as rapture probably doesn't help. What the heck is rapture?...

But pīti doesn't just mean rapture. It's the mental joy which is present whenever we experience any skillful feeling of pleasure or well-being. And so we don't have to be drenched in bliss in order to practice the fifth step of mindful breathing.
I'd like to expand a bit on what Geoff has described here with regard to piti. What he's talking about is somewhat advanced, as a meditator's ability becomes more honed and refined at being able to discern and implement the practice of these phenomena. Yet, it can be practiced from the very start of one's practice if one understands how to go about it in the first place.

For me starting out, the first thing I wanted to understand was: What is being referred to by all these foreign Pali words? How do I know what to look for if I can't understand what people are talking about?

And two of those words that I wanted a clearer idea about were the words piti and sukha. What, in my practical experience, can I relate these two words to such that I am able to discern them when they arise? Hopefully, the description that follows will assist some others in being able to clarify this question.

One of the first descriptions I came on that spoke to me was a description written by Leigh Brasington. Perhaps others who are seeking something more practical to go by will be able to relate to this also.
Leigh Brasington wrote:This third factor is called Piti and is variously translated as delight, euphoria, rapture and ecstasy. By shifting your attention from the meditation subject to a pleasant sensation, particularly a pleasant physical sensation, and doing nothing more than not becoming distracted from the pleasant sensation, you will "automatically" enter the First Jhana. The experience is that the pleasant sensation grows in intensity until it explodes into an unmistakable state of ecstasy. This is Piti, which is primarily a physical experience. Physical pleasure this intense is accompanied by emotional pleasure, and this emotional pleasure is Sukha (joy) which is the fourth factor of the First Jhana.
As I learned more about this process and gained in experience, I was able, with the help of others, to refine this understanding and definition into something that had practical significance. While there's nothing wrong with Leigh's description above, it became obvious to me that one of the points of practicing absorption was to still the movement of the mind such that it ceased to become a distraction in contemplation. Ecstasy or rapture can become an intoxicating drug if it is left to run wild.

If one follows Leigh's description above, one may find themselves becoming trapped in and swallowed up by the "bliss" factor of absorption, which was something that I wanted to avoid at all cost. The thought of such an intense experience of "ecstasy" seemed counter to my being able to still the mind enough in order to be able to enter the fourth level of absorption, which was described as being profoundly calm and still.

So, I began to search for other descriptions of piti which might help me to understand and relate to this phenomenon a little better. One description I came across (and later put into my own words after I had experienced it) was the following. Using one of Leigh's definitions of piti as "delight" I arrived at the following:
This delight is like the delight or elation that arises in a man who is walking in the desert and is thirsty. He is walking and walking looking for water. Suddenly he comes upon another man who tells him that there is an oasis just up ahead. This initial emotional delight or elation that arises at the thought of his desire being satisfied is called piti. Later on, once he arrives at the oasis and begins to drink the water, the sensation that arises at that point is joy or happiness as his body is satisfied by drinking the water. This joy or happiness or pleasure is called sukha, which is the fourth factor of the first jhana.

What I did was to imagine myself in the situation described above, and to undergo what that experience might be like upon being told that there was water up ahead. The initial spark of elation I experienced (on being assured of an oasis in the distance) gave me a better idea about what piti is and how it transitions into sukha.

Piti can be a bit erratic if you let it get away from you, and I did not want that to occur within my experience. So, I used it as a key to get to sukha as quickly as possible (since sukha is more soothing and less edgy than piti) in order to begin calming these affective movements of the mind down. It can become an experience or sensation of piti-sukha, piti-sukha on each in-breath and out-breath, of one factor quickly following the other, until finally piti is dropped altogether and sukha predominates in the third jhana. Understood in this way, one might experience piti transitioning rather quickly into sukha, which helps in being able to quickly attain the second level of absorption where directed and sustained attention are dropped and piti-sukha along with inner tranquility and the unification of mind on the meditation object take up the cause of absorption on their own.

Once one understands how to induce these jhana factors into existence, entering absorption becomes quite a bit smoother and more effortless than one might have formerly imagined.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV

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