First jhana question

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

First jhana question

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Jun 23, 2012 11:39 pm

I'm a bit mixed up about the jhanas and anapanasati meditation.

I've managed a few times to develop what I think is access concentration. Thoughts become wispy and insubstantial, so they only get my attention for a second or so and don't captivate me. I've read two seemingly conflicting things on this stage. First, that a "sign of concentration" will appear, such as some visual phenomenon of a sun or cloud, but conversely I've read that the sign is actually a physical sensation of pleasure.

This sense of physical pleasure often occurs for me in my hands, like my hands have dissolved into a wonderfully warm soft cloud. But there's nothing other than tactile about it (no visual sign for example), and it often begins happening shortly after I sit down, not after I've calmed my mind. So I'm not sure that's really the gateway into the first jhana. Maybe my hands just feel nice.

I've shifted my concentration to the sensation before, but merely observing it seems to make it go wildly in and out of focus, suddenly very faint, suddenly very intense. So far, I've just decided to ignore it and keep focusing on the sensation of the breath.

Basically, I'm not sure how to tell when you've developed access concentration. And then when to pick a pleasant physical sensation to concentrate on, or if that's wrong altogether and I should wait for some clear "sign" to appear that I'll know when I see.

Thank you for your insight and experience in this.
Namu Amida Butsu
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Re: First jhana question

Postby Jnana » Sat Jun 23, 2012 11:58 pm

duckfiasco wrote:I've read two seemingly conflicting things on this stage. First, that a "sign of concentration" will appear, such as some visual phenomenon of a sun or cloud, but conversely I've read that the sign is actually a physical sensation of pleasure.

There are various potential signs including both of the above. No classical instruction text (e.g. Śrāvakabhūmi, Visuddhimagga, etc.) limits the sign of mental calm (śamatha) to any single phenomenon, but all do emphasize and single out bodily and mental pliancy, as well as joy and pleasure as necessary requisites.

duckfiasco wrote:Basically, I'm not sure how to tell when you've developed access concentration. And then when to pick a pleasant physical sensation to concentrate on, or if that's wrong altogether and I should wait for some clear "sign" to appear that I'll know when I see.

It's usually best to follow the instructions of one teacher or one practice system/tradition and stick with that. In this respect, face to face communication with an experienced teacher is quite helpful for addressing your specific questions and making appropriate adjustments when necessary. If this isn't possible at present, then IMO it's prudent to just stick with the main object-support, such as the breath, and not worry too much about signs of progress. Eventually these will become obvious.
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Re: First jhana question

Postby Jesse » Sun Jun 24, 2012 6:52 am

My advice would be to forget jhanas, and just meditate.

If pleasurable sensations happen, just keep on your breathing.. in general I don't think they 'mean' anything.. sensations come and go in meditation.. some are amazing, some not so much.

There are other meditations where you specifically mindfully observe sensations etc.

I'm still a novice meditator, so take my advice lightly but I would say you should remain focused on your breathing no matter what sensations come up, and at the point nothing is left but your breathing. :twothumbsup:
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: First jhana question

Postby duckfiasco » Sun Jun 24, 2012 8:22 am

Well, I mainly ask because the jhanas are part of Right Concentration :) The things I've read make it seem like once you become aware of the sign of concentration, then there is a conscious shift in concentration, versus intending to stay with the breath the entire time.

My main information comes from "Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness" by Gunaratana, since I don't have many Theravadan books. I've also been repeatedly recommended "Focused and Fearless" by Shaila Catherine.

I will take that advice for the moment, though. If there is a sign, it's not obvious enough for me to notice. It sounds like I'll know it when I see it.

:namaste: :cheers:
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Re: First jhana question

Postby catmoon » Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:44 am

If your object is something visual, like a kasina, the sign wil be visual. Breath meditation is much more a tactile thing and the signs accompanying it are tactile. So, I would suggest that you take the pleasant hand sensation as the early sign, and when it occurs shift attention to that. This is the path that leads to the first jhana. You may find a pleasing sensation similar to a gentle breeze on the face occurs. This is also a suitable object of focus and also leads to the first jhana. One focusses on the pleasantness of the sensation rather than the sensation itself.

A note of caution though. Some teachers have said that if one attains the first jhana and does not follow through, if one becomes lax in meditation and loses the attainment, it is difficult to recover. So you want to be very regular, very diligent in your practice until the jhana stabilizes and becomes easily attained.

The first thing that will happen is that excitement will knock you out of the jhana. As you become used to it it will no longer be exciting and things will start to stabilize.

Bear in mind that jhana is not the goal, it is a means towards a goal. In itself, jhana is worthless. As means to creating a stable, insightful mind, it is priceless.
Sergeant Schultz knew everything there was to know.
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Re: First jhana question

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Jun 27, 2012 4:22 pm

:good:
Jhana arise as a consequence of meditation but they are not the goal of meditation. If you make the bliss of jhana your goal then you will become stuck and incapable of progressing. Just practice and the rest will take care of itself.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: First jhana question

Postby dharmagoat » Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:26 pm

If we can recognise the subtle levels of meditation, then we are able to adjust the focus of the meditation to suit.
May all beings be happy
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