I'd like to compliment everyone here who has contributed to this thread thus far as there has been quite a bit of good description coming from people who are attempting to descibe the indescribable and yet who are succeeding in their descriptions. Of course, Geoff, who started the thread with an excellent set of well organized posts and has added to it since, providing insightful answers to questions; Kenshou, who has an extremely good grasp of the practice and who, though he says he's not a teacher, might very well be one with his uncannily accurate descriptions; and thereductor who has an equally strong grasp of the practice and is able to provide very helpful practical advice based on his method of practice and understanding as it relates to a householder's practice.
There are plenty of viewpoints being offered which can help or assist a wide variety of types of people in how to approach the practice of samadhi
and absorption in order to integrate it with the study and practical application of the Dhamma.
Vepacitta wrote:Personally, I'd like to get into 'how does it work - that you can be concentrated - and yet still think - even though non-discoursive? Is it during the jhana - right after emergence - a bit of both?
What exactly is meant by bodily pleasure - is it the oddball buzzing you get in the head chakras sometimes? Is it truly a lack of pain?
What about what is known as access concentration - how does that relate?
I mean - there's a thousand and one picky (and maybe silly but they need to be cleared up) questions . . .
Vepacitta's questions above get to the heart of the matter of: "How do I figure out what all this means, and how will this help me to implement this instruction in a practical way within my own practice?" These are questions we have all had at one time or another.
Ñāna wrote:I think it's possible that some people don't spend more time on the fifth step because they may not think that they've "attained jhāna" or can "experience rapture." But we don't necessarily have to have "attained" anything in order to experience pīti. In this case, the translation of pīti as rapture probably doesn't help. What the heck is rapture?...
But pīti doesn't just mean rapture. It's the mental joy which is present whenever we experience any skillful feeling of pleasure or well-being. And so we don't have to be drenched in bliss in order to practice the fifth step of mindful breathing.
I'd like to expand a bit on what Geoff has described here with regard to piti
. What he's talking about is somewhat advanced, as a meditator's ability becomes more honed and refined at being able to discern and implement the practice of these phenomena. Yet, it can be practiced from the very start of one's practice if one understands how to go about it in the first place.
For me starting out, the first thing I wanted to understand was: What is being referred to by all these foreign Pali words? How do I know what to look for if I can't understand what people are talking about?
And two of those words that I wanted a clearer idea about were the words piti
. What, in my practical experience, can I relate these two words to such that I am able to discern them when they arise? Hopefully, the description that follows will assist some others in being able to clarify this question.
One of the first descriptions I came on that spoke to me was a description written by Leigh Brasington. Perhaps others who are seeking something more practical to go by will be able to relate to this also.
Leigh Brasington wrote:This third factor is called Piti and is variously translated as delight, euphoria, rapture and ecstasy. By shifting your attention from the meditation subject to a pleasant sensation, particularly a pleasant physical sensation, and doing nothing more than not becoming distracted from the pleasant sensation, you will "automatically" enter the First Jhana. The experience is that the pleasant sensation grows in intensity until it explodes into an unmistakable state of ecstasy. This is Piti, which is primarily a physical experience. Physical pleasure this intense is accompanied by emotional pleasure, and this emotional pleasure is Sukha (joy) which is the fourth factor of the First Jhana.
As I learned more about this process and gained in experience, I was able, with the help of others, to refine this understanding and definition into something that had practical significance. While there's nothing wrong with Leigh's description above, it became obvious to me that one of the points of practicing absorption was to still the movement of the mind such that it ceased to become a distraction in contemplation. Ecstasy or rapture can become an intoxicating drug if it is left to run wild.
If one follows Leigh's description above, one may find themselves becoming trapped in and swallowed up by the "bliss" factor of absorption, which was something that I wanted to avoid at all cost. The thought of such an intense experience of "ecstasy" seemed counter to my being able to still the mind enough in order to be able to enter the fourth level of absorption, which was described as being profoundly calm and still.
So, I began to search for other descriptions of piti
which might help me to understand and relate to this phenomenon a little better. One description I came across (and later put into my own words after I had experienced it) was the following. Using one of Leigh's definitions of piti
as "delight" I arrived at the following:
This delight is like the delight or elation that arises in a man who is walking in the desert and is thirsty. He is walking and walking looking for water. Suddenly he comes upon another man who tells him that there is an oasis just up ahead. This initial emotional delight or elation that arises at the thought of his desire being satisfied is called piti. Later on, once he arrives at the oasis and begins to drink the water, the sensation that arises at that point is joy or happiness as his body is satisfied by drinking the water. This joy or happiness or pleasure is called sukha, which is the fourth factor of the first jhana.
What I did was to imagine myself in the situation described above, and to undergo what that experience might be like upon being told that there was water up ahead. The initial spark of elation I experienced (on being assured of an oasis in the distance) gave me a better idea about what piti
is and how it transitions into sukha
can be a bit erratic if you let it get away from you, and I did not want that to occur within my experience. So, I used it as a key to get to sukha
as quickly as possible (since sukha
is more soothing and less edgy than piti
) in order to begin calming these affective movements of the mind down. It can become an experience or sensation of piti-sukha
on each in-breath and out-breath, of one factor quickly following the other, until finally piti
is dropped altogether and sukha
predominates in the third jhana. Understood in this way, one might experience piti
transitioning rather quickly into sukha
, which helps in being able to quickly attain the second level of absorption where directed and sustained attention are dropped and piti-sukha
along with inner tranquility and the unification of mind on the meditation object take up the cause of absorption on their own.
Once one understands how to induce these jhana factors into existence, entering absorption becomes quite a bit smoother and more effortless than one might have formerly imagined.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV