Hello, again, thereductor
My tuppence, for what it might be worth, isn't generally along the lines of thought expressed by others here. Yes, if the first time you tried to meditate you fell into jhana, I suppose it would be quite surprising. But let us not neglect to remember that this is exactly what the Buddha himself described/remembered had happened to him as a child.
Two things seem to come into play: first, most of us are lay persons, householders, regular folks. We have rent and mortgages to pay, cars to maintain, children to feed, spouses to enjoy, jobs to do ... in short, we have many hindrances to our practice. Second, however, is the life of the monastic, very, very little to worry about, a great deal of unhindered time for practise.
However, with persistent practise, we learn to let go of the everyday distractions, hindrances and our meditation deepens. This is hardly something new to anyone, I suppose. I have been told point-blank by two revered monastics in the Theravada tradition that jhana is simply not possible. Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to inquire if they thought the Buddha only taught the Seven-Fold Path. Nor the presence of mind to ask why the Buddha would teach samma samadhi if it was not possible!
We so often cannot see the great hindrance of doubt. We are so often only willing to follow our faith in the Buddha just so far
However, one of my teachers, Ajahn Punna Dhammo (http://www.arrowriver.ca
) often teaches from the Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.121.than.html
). Here is, I think, one of the "keys" to the how to
of jhana: let go
And this is exactly what the Buddha did at that festival, as a child. He just let go. Remembering this as an adult, determined to find the solution to the conundrum of suffering, he sat and let go.
As my own practice continues to mature and as I am somewhat less burdened by ordinary hindrances owing to having retired, I find that it is easier to let go, to "sink" (not necessarily a very good word) deeper and deeper into focus/concentration. When we look at the Buddha's description and analysis of samma samadhi, we see that he is describing a process of recognition and letting go.
Simple as that?
Hardly. But I think doable. For the majority of practitioners, both insight/wisdom/understanding/recognition and clarity of practise develop hand in hand, the one encouraging and enabling the other. Thus, and not meant as criticism, I suspect that catmoon's description of sticking a finger into a light socket, as far as meditation experiences go, is somewhat rare. However, if we are able to participate in an extended retreat where, day-by-day we pick up nearer to where we left off the previous day (unlikely in our normal householder lives), then we are much more likely to experience deep conditions of clarity of awareness with little or nearly no hindrances to jhana.
Some interesting reading and listening you may find of value: Ayya Khema's Who is my Self
; Bhante Gunaratana has, on his web site, an MP3 of a jhana retreat which can be helpful; Bhante Vimalaramsi has an excellent text on meditation available to download from his web site as well as many recorded talks; a teacher I have recently encountered, Bhante Sujato (http://santipada.googlepages.com/
), has some very insightful and I found very helpful writings and recordings. I especially liked A Swift Pair of Messengers
But doing a "home" retreat is extremely difficult, requiring much discipline and, very sadly, retreats lead by accomplished teachers do not come cheap. This is simply an unhappy fact of our way of life. I think one can only practise and study, get to know one's abilities and strengths while being aware of weaknesses and things that have to have attention.
Then, I think, growth and even jhana, come by themselves.