Live Classes have resumed.
Live Classes have resumed.
In this lesson we will cover how to cultivate your skill in meditative jhana (absorption) from the foundation of access concentration. Jhana is a natural state of absorption that occurs when the mind flows in harmony with a wholesome experience, completely withdrawn from sensory stimulation, hindrances.
Meditation Type: Samatha (calm, tranquility)
Join the MIDL Meditation Community
Jhana is a natural state of absorption that occurs when the mind flows in harmony with a wholesome experience, completely withdrawn from sensory stimulation, and the five hindrances.
Since MIDL is focused on fulfilling the Noble Eightfold Path in daily life, you will be using sukha-vedana to access jhana.
I will refer to this as sukha-vedana jhana (lit: pleasant feeling jhana) from this point, since its access is through the production of piti-sukha, rather than a mind generated light nimitta. This softer jhana is more suitable to the development of vipassana insight because of its ability to transfer equanimity in the attention structure of khanika samadhi.
The beautiful thing about sukha-vedana jhana is its ease of access in daily life. Through increasing the length of your meditations to one hour, and practicing two to three times a day, it is possible to access these jhana in a few months.
Once the five hindrances are suppressed, and seclusion from the senses complete, initial piti will be experienced as subtle pleasant bodily sensation. This may arise around your face, chest or hands. It will be accompanied by sukha, as a joyful, happy, peaceful state of mind.
Though both are present, during access concentration, piti sensation is dominant to sukha feeling. The piti may be a light tingling feeling pleasant feeling, or a flow of pleasure in your body.
Take your time allowing attention to stabilise, and the pleasant sensation of piti to establish. When you begin learning to do this, it may take up to 15 minutes before the piti feeling stabilises, or maybe the next 15 meditation sessions.
Regardless, time is not really the issue, enjoy your seclusion from the stimulation of the senses, your vacation from the drama of having to act, to do.
It can be helpful to subtly relax your forehead and eyelids and make genuine smile with your eyes at this stage. The type that you would offer to someone you really care about, smiling with your heart, into the pleasant feeling.
As the pleasant feeling grows, relax, and become sensitive to any desire to do, to achieve, to be or experience anything.
At this stage be careful that the last two of the meditative hindrances:
Not that you are doing these hindrances, you aren't, they are simply reflex reactions that arise within the mind in relationship to pleasure, and control. These reactions of the mind, will 'bounce' your attention out of access concentration, bringing you back to square one again.
If this happens it is important to remember that it is ok, it is part of the path of learning to let go of control. You simply need to be exposed to these to experiences again and again, before you lose interest in them.
"Experienced this before, no big deal, not interested."
This is just the same as your first intimate date as a teenager, where you may have been over-excited about what is about to come, but now that you are older, and have been exposed to intimacy many times, the excitement has waned.
In the same way through repeated exposure to the experience of piti-sukha, and to not being in control, you will see its grossness, and your interest will fade.
“Completely withdrawn from unwholesome qualities, withdrawn from desire for sensoury experience, the meditator enters and dwells within the first jhana, with piti and sukha born of seclusion, accompanied with vitakka and vicara” The Buddha MN119
As with the development of access concentration, the development of jhana is a process of shedding/dropping away, through abandoning interest in participation with different aspects of experience.
MEDITATIVE PATH TO ACCESS CONCENTRATION
The meditative path is created by observing, calming and abandoning:
ACCESS CONCENTRATION TO FIRST JHANA
Access concentration is also developed by observing, calming and abandoning:
FIRST SUKHA-VEDANA JHANA
Once the pleasant feeling has become stable, as mentioned before this may arise around your face, chest or hands, gently bring your attention to the clearest point of piti sensation and rest it on it.
Focus on its pleasantness, rather than the sensate quality itself, and allow your attention to become stable and firm. Allow your awareness to become immersed in the pleasantness of the experience, for it to fill your awareness.
Then: DON'T DO ANYTHING AT ALL.
I am sorry to shout, but this is the important part - no doing. At first nothing may happen to the pleasant feeling, maybe nothing will happen during the rest of your meditation session. And this doesn't matter.
Any anticipation at this stage will cause the whole thing to collapse. Remember, anticipation of what may happen is one of five hindrances arising.
Access concentration is unified, stable attention, free from the five hindrances, so if anticipation in regard to what may or may not happen arises, then it is already too late, access concentration has collapsed.
As a tip, I find it useful to relax my eyelids, allowing them to droop like I am falling asleep.
You can try this now, the very act of relaxing your eyelids calms all mind activity, calms the desire to do, achieve, have.
It is the pleasantness of the sensation that the mind absorbs into. The mind has been wired through survival to have empathy, and it is this empathy that allows it to incline towards and absorb into pleasant feeling.
You can see this happening when you observe a beautiful view, or the happiness that you feel observing a child enjoying them self.
So, at this stage you just allow your mind to rest in and absorb the pleasantness of the sensations.
At some stage, when the conditions are right, the pleasantness starts to enter the mind through this empathy. Taking in the pleasantness like you would take in a beautiful view. Simply let the pleasant feeling fill your mind.
Your mind will take in pleasantness by itself, filling all parts of it. And since the mind also creates pleasant feeling when it is happy, it will start to produce more pleasant feeling in your body, to reflect its own happiness. This will start to create a feedback loop of pleasant feeling, between your body and mind.
Because your body mirrors your state of mind, and your mind reacts to your body, the feeling of pleasantness feeding each, will start to grow in strength and clarity.
For some meditators, this may become very intense and uncomfortable, as the increase of the flow of piti (as energy) through the body and mind, becomes too strong. With intense energy flows through the spine, body and mind, it can be uncomfortable.
I have always had a highly energic mind, while I get physically tired, my mind is usually energic and interested in things. When I first experienced this piti back-feeding loop, it was very intense like someone turning a garden hose on full, making my mind and body shake.
If piti is too strong, it can sometimes even bounce you out of access concentration, due to the intensity and excitement. The main cause of this is that the Enlightenment Factors of Meditative Joy and Tranquility were not stable enough for jhana.
Meditative Joy & Tranquility
It is important to note that jhana can be accessed through efforting the stability of attention on your meditation object thereby temporarily blocking out both sensoury input and the meditative hindrances. This will produce unification and strong piti-sukha because of seclusion. However, it is not samma-samadhi (right unification) because samadhi was not accessed by and does not contain the Enlightenment Factors of Meditative Joy & Tranquility.
If you find piti is too strong
If you find that when your mind turns towards First Jhana that piti is too strong, there are a couple of techniques that are helpful for calming it.
1) Learn how to develop access concentration through letting go rather than by 'doing the meditation during mindfulness of breathing. Follow instructions in TIER 2 to develop skill in cultivating both meditative joy & tranquility.
2) Once you have reached access concentration it can also be helpful when piti-sukha first arises, to bring sukha - the mental joy and happiness, to the foreground of your awareness, and allow piti to stay in background peripheral awareness. This is done in the same way that you may allow the sound of loud music, fade into the background of your attention so it doesn't disturb you.
This attention shift will withdraw some of the energetic quality from the piti. With regular exposure to piti the excitement that arises will gradually subside, in conjunction with you losing interest in it, and the flowing body sensations will settle down into a pleasurable experience.
At some stage, when conditions are right, the piti will gradually grow, and seem to flow through your mind and body. Then your mind will absorb into it, and the first sukha-vedana jhana will arise.
This may be experienced as attention sinking into the flow of pleasant feeling, or as the pleasant feeling expanding and encompassing awareness.
How this is experienced is dependent on individual perception, though it will be clear that a very definite shift in consciousness has taken place. Once attention has absorbed into the pleasant feeling, it will become your dominant experience, with sukha (joy, happiness) in the background.
The first jhana has a subtle restlessness to it, because vitakka (applying of attention), though autonomous is still active. This can create a subtle energetic shaking in attention, as the mind habitually grasps onto and releases the pleasure of the pleasant feeling.
As the first jhana deepens, vitakka will gradually calm, and this subtle restlessness will settle down.
The pleasantness that fills your mind and body will become stable, steady and unmoving, closer to the second jhana.
A GRADUAL DROPPING AWAY OF ALL DOING
Whereas first jhana is defined by a gradual dropping away of all activity, second jhana is defined by a gradual dropping away of all doing.
FROM FIRST TO SECOND JHANA
SECOND SUKHA-VEDANA JHANA
As interest in piti fades, vitakka calms, and so does the dominance of the piti.
The key to move from first to second jhana, is to shift your interest from pleasurable sensation to the feeling of joy and happiness in your mind (sukha).
You do this, by noticing the feeling of sukha present, and shifting the feeling of piti into your peripheral awareness, and the feeling of sukha to the foreground of your attention.
This is the same method you used when you were developing access concentration, by keeping breath sensation at one point in the foreground of your attention, and the movement of your body as it responded to breathing, in your peripheral awareness.
A foreground/background shift in attention.
Once sukha is the foreground experience in your awareness, allow it to rest there. Gradually the piti feeling with fade into the background due to inattention, and sukha (joy, happiness) will become the dominant experience due to attention.
Piti will now be experienced as subtle pleasant sensations in the background, while there will be an increasing stability in the experience of joy and happiness, in the forefront of you mind.
To aid in this shift, calm vitakka by intentionally abandoning all effort. You will know you have entered the second sukha-vedana jhana, when the restlessness due to vitakka is absent, and attention is firm, steady, unmoving on sukha, free from any possibility of thought or doing.
It is helpful to learn to move between the first and second jhana. To move back to first jhana, shift your attention back to the background piti and rest attention on it, until the piti grows, and takes the whole of your attention.
You can then practice moving to the second jhana, in the same way as earlier, by shifting attention to the background experience of sukha.
You will notice a very distinct difference between these jhana by practicing these transitions, in particular the obvious grossness of the first to the second, in terms of energy and seclusion.
Like moving from the sounds of nature to a rock concert, and back again, the first jhana will appear energetic, compared to the subtlety of the second. Start to experiment with this shift between foreground and background, until you can make the piti less intense, simply by calming the doing of vitakka.
In this way you will learn to differentiate the two jhana and sustain attention within the second jhana for longer periods. Once you can sustain attention in the second jhana, learn to spread that feeling of joy and happiness, until it fills your whole body, like draped in a clean light or cloth.
AN ABSENCE OF ALL MOVEMENT
Whereas second jhana is defined by a gradual dropping away of all doing, third jhana is defined by an absence of movement.
FROM SECOND TO THIRD JHANA
THIRD SUKHA-VEDANA JHANA
As you start to become familiar with the second jhana, you will become aware of the grossness of the piti sensations still present, and gradually become disenchanted with them. In the same way that you may have moved from a party to a quiet room in your house to rest.
Once you have settled down, the distant sounds of the party become clear to you again. Your desire for peace and quiet increases, and you move into the cellar, noticing the sounds of the party fade. Once secluded, you are filled with a feeling of peace and rest.
It is this same way when moving from the second to third jhana.
As piti fades in the second jhana, you will be able to see that sukha is made up of two aspects: joy and happiness. Once this becomes clear, separate the two, seeing the grossness in joy, and the pleasure of contentment in happiness.
As you make this foreground/background shift between joy and happiness, the background piti will completely fade away, and the pleasure of contentment will become your dominant, foreground experience.
As attention absorbs into this pleasure, awareness of joy will also fade. With the fading of the restlessness of joy, comes the ceasing of vicara, and you will experience true unification. An unmoving quality of attention.
Still, serene, tranquil, you have entered third jhana.
The energetic nature of joy can be understood by observing the excitement of a child at Christmas, there is both happiness and the restless excitement, happening at the same time.
Joy, though much more subtle then piti, still contains some restlessness that needs to be moved beyond to experience seclusion.
So, by shifting your focus to the feeling of contentment, that is present with happiness, you will experience the pleasure of contentment grow and fill all parts of your body and mind.
When this pleasure of contentment is experienced, your mind will become unmoving, still and tranquil. Equanimity towards sukha-vedana and dukkha-vedana will start to arise within your mind.
COMPLETE UNCHANGING SECLUSION
Whereas third jhana is defined by an absence of movement, fourth jhana is defined by unchanging seclusion.
FROM THIRD TO FOURTH JHANA
FOURTH SUKHA-VEDANA JHANA
As you become fluent in the third sukha-vedana jhana, and enter it regularly, it will mature in steadiness, and the strength of equanimity will gradually increase.
With the arising of equanimity towards the experience of sukha, your mind will start to become disenchanted with experiencing the pleasure of contentment, and gradually releases it.
With the releasing of the pleasure of contentment, equanimity will then mature and fill your awareness.
There will be no more disturbance with your mind, with equanimity, unmoving steadiness, and purity of mind being your dominant experience. You have now entered the fourth jhana.
To develop the fourth jhana, it is helpful to start to incline your mind away from piti and sukha at earlier stages (including in your daily life). As piti arises within your daily life, you should say: "not interested - soften."
Train your mind in this way to turn away from experienced things, encourage disenchantment with them by gently softening the underlying effort to attract, averse, ignore.
From Jhana to Insight
Once you have mastered skill in the fourth jhana, you can now use the equanimity that is still present on emerging, to develop insight.
After emerging from the fourth jhana, to deliberately develop insight by inclining your mind towards specific investigations into the four satipatthana's.
This is done after emerging from fourth jhana, by observing the rearising of the interaction of the mind with the six sense fields.
Once the mind has re-engaged, you then apply the tranquility present to a specific investigation, from one of the above Meditation Skills.
This may at first require a 'loosening up' of attention to release the structure persisting after jhana. Investigations should also include developing perception towards the characteristics of anicca and anatta (impermanence, not-self) in bodily sensations, feeling tone, mind and conditioned processes.
STEP 1: COMPLETED: You have completed Softening
STEP 2: COMPLETED: You have completed TIER 1
STEP 3: COMPLETED: You have completed TIER 2
STEP 4: COMPLETED: You have completed TIER 3
STEP 5: COMPLETED: You have completed Jhana
YOUR NEXT STEP
STEP 6: Develop Insight Into Reality: Anatta
Copyright © 2023 Meditation in The Shire - Stephen Procter - All rights reserved.
Using Material? Please link back to this website and give credit to author Stephen Procter.