Sudarsha wrote:I am, at this time much more inclined to think that we don't have to concern ourselves with "how do I go about practicing jhana" because if we follow the Buddha's instructions, if we practice in the manner he outlined, jhana will be the natural result....
Agreed. And, I speak from experience and insight into this matter. Insight that can only be gained through diligent practice and patience.
Just let go. Don't revere jhana as the highest achievement, but as a tool for more letting go.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, in the Wings to Awakening passage that was quoted, is quite correct when he asserted that: "If breath meditation were congenial only to Buddhas and their sons, there seems little reason for the Buddha to have taught it so frequently and to such a wide variety of people.
The suttas provide several clues as to what absorption is (see MN 36
and the story of the rose apple tree) and how the Buddha used it for gaining insight and calm, or calm and insight, or both in tandem. Some people tend to make too big a deal about what absorption is. It is not as difficult a state to attain as they would have others believe. Once you have an idea what he is talking about when he says: "...quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unwholesome mental qualities — I entered and remained in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation...," then you will know that absorption is a common (although perhaps infrequent, if not intentionally pursued) state that one can enter with the proper prerequisites in place.
It was while reading this brief experience of the rose apple tree that I had a sudden intuitive realization about what the Buddha was talking about. I recalled, when as a child myself, having had similar experiences with becoming mentally absorbed in various occurrences. It could happen as a result of the simplest of occurrences, like when I was just listening to someone speak, when the mind is at ease and in a restful but alert state, I could become absorbed in the sound of the words alone or even the meaning of the words if what was being said was that fascinating. The same thing could occur when reading a particularly interesting passage in a book, or observing a pleasant scene in nature. Just about any pleasant event or occurrence will do. It just has to be something that your mind relates to.
In the case of jhana absorption, one can bring it on by fabricating a pleasant event. One of the early ways I did this was by recalling the sensation created when I would swing in one of those long chain and leather seated swings. The up swing and the back swing were usually quite long, giving the impression (when I was young) of being able to fly. This created a pleasant sensation in my head. On the forward swing and the back swing I would feel a kind of pleasant pressure in the center of my forehead. Using the recollection of this sensation when meditating, I could bring myself into the first jhana quite easily by imaging the incoming breath as the back swing and the out going breath as the forward swinging motion. And from there I could set forth to deepen the absorption by creating a feedback loop of the pleasant sensation just by paying bare attention to the in and out breathing which took place effortlessly, which would take me directly into the second jhana. From there, to get to the third and fourth jhana, it was only a matter of calming the mind even more, so that the breath became even more slight and barely there at all.
I would just caution people, in the beginning at least, not to be too concerned with being able to identify the jhana factors right away: vitakka
(directed thought or attention) and vicara
(examination or evaluation), piti
(rapture or elation), sukha
(joy, pleasure, or happiness) and ekaggata
(unification of the mind on the object of meditation). Just focus on getting into
the absorption through the entry point of whatever pleasant sensation that you choose. The establishment of sampajjana
(clear comprehension or clear knowing) can come later, as the mind becomes more used to entering this state and clear seeing develops on its own. Otherwise, one could spoil the entry or the sustaining of the absorption by working too hard to identify the jhana factors. Just let it happen, and be glad that it is happening.
Later, as the mind becomes more used to being able to enter absorption, concentration becomes strengthened and clear seeing begins to occur on its own. When the mind becomes established, workable, and malleable, having gained imperturbability, it is then that one is able to direct the mind toward knowing and seeing.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV