ashtanga wrote:Once I have established some sense of concentration - by following the breath - I feel like I have dropped away much of the distractions I feel at the onset of the session. I seem to be in a warm, comfortable, off-sensation type of calm <that was a cumbersome description!>. But then as comfortable as it feels I am urged to 'do something' with this calm mind. I feel like I need/should use a Koan, or meditate on Emptiness or something. I guess I am unsure how such a calm can do anything to get me closer to an understanding of Emptiness or the nature of my mind....its just, well, nice!
Any advice welcome as ever!
I would have suggested something along the lines of developing further the ability in the establishment of the first four levels of absorption to the point that one is comfortable entering the material absorptions and maneuvering between the four levels at will, followed by a development of the practice of satipatthana
. If deliverance is what you seek, then this would be the most direct path to that end.
However, as one respected member of the bhikkhu sangha, Bhante Gunaratana, has suggested in his e-book A Critical Analysis of the Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation
there are three different options (in Chapter Six, page 129) that one can follow, the first (to some extent) and the last of which would follow my basic recommendation above. From the opening paragraphs he states:
Gunaratana wrote:Following the attainment of the fourth jhana there are several options open to a meditator. These can be grouped together into three categories. One is the attainment of the four aruppas, immaterial jhanas involving further concentration and refinement of mental serenity. A second — which as we will see generally presupposes the immaterial jhanas as prerequisites — is the development of the abhinnas, higher faculties of knowledge, in some cases issuing in supernormal powers. A third alternative is the cultivation of wisdom through insight into the nature of phenomena, which brings the destruction of the defilements and results in emancipation from samsara. . . .
Throughout the following discussion it should be borne in mind that the attainment of the immaterial jhanas and the exercise of supernormal powers are not essential to achieving the ultimate Buddhist goal, the realization of nibbana. What is essential is the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, which does not necessarily include the aruppas and abhinnas. However, because these latter two sets of practices can contribute to the growth of calm and insight and embellish the spiritual perfection of a yogin, the Buddha included them in his discipline. There they have remained as options open for meditators inclined to develop them.
However, it is really up to the individual meditator as to what he wants to do.
In my own practice, I ended up developing the jhanas
through the nine levels of attainment, then rather than a strict contemplation in meditation on such subjects as paticca samuppada
or dependent co-arising, the five aggregates, the five hindrances, the six sense spheres, and the four noble truths as is suggested by satipatthana practice, I opted, in addition, to study these same five areas with the assistance of several helpful scholarly works (by both academics and scholar monks) which I spent many hours reading and contemplating both in and out of formal meditation until I knew
and could identify
what they were talking about from my own experience. While this is not what is normally recommended by others who practice these disciplines, it worked out well for me. What was of most importance to me was the practice of developing insight into the nature of phenomena, to see it directly and unequivocally, as suggested in the third option above by Bht. Gunaratana. This is what I mean by the practice of satipatthana
. Of course, along with that I was also reading and contemplating the suttas. As one might imagine, this all took a great deal of undistracted time and concentration in order to accomplish, which is why I opted also to live a secluded and solitary lifestyle. Not so sure how it might work out in the midst of a householder's lifestyle, where distraction can become a daily hindrance to one's practice.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV