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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
32 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 preferably a physical one. There is not much point in trying to notice the breath that has gotten extremely subtle or has disappeared completely— there’s nothing left to notice. The first question that may arise when I say, “Shift your attention to a pleasant sensation” may be “What pleasant sensation?” Well, it turns out that when you get to access concentration, the odds are quite strong that, someplace in your physical being, there will be a pleasant sensation. Look at most any statue of the Buddha—he has a faint smile on his face. That is not just for artistic purposes; it is there for teaching purposes. Smile when you meditate, because once you reach access concentra- tion, you only have to shift your attention one inch to find a pleasant sensation. Pleasant sensations can occur pretty much any- where. The most common place that people find pleasant sensations when they’ve established access concentration is in the hands. When you medi- tate, you want to put your hands in a comfortable position in which you can just leave them. The traditional posture is one hand holding the other, with the thumbs lightly touching. But you can also put your hands in all sorts of other positions—just place them however it appeals to you. After you’ve been in access concentration “long enough,” if you notice that there’s a pleasant feeling in the hands, drop the attention on the breath and focus entirely on the pleasantness of that sensation. Another common place where people find a pleasant sensation is in the heart center, particularly if they’re using metta, or loving-kindness, medita- tion as the access method. Just shift your attention to the pleasantness of that sensation. Other places LEIgh BraSIngTOn studied with the late ayya khema, who autho rized him to teach retreats on the jhanas. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas (Shambhala, October 2015). to begin his spiritual quest. They are simply a way of preparing your mind so you can more effectively examine reality and discover the deeper truths that lead to liberation. The path to entering the jhanas begins with what is called access concentration: being fully with the object of meditation and not becoming distracted even if there are wispy background thoughts. If your practice is anapanasati—mindfulness of breathing—you may recognize access concentration when the breath becomes very subtle; instead of a normal breath, you notice your breath has become very shallow. It may even seem that you’ve stopped breathing altogether. These are signs that you’ve likely arrived at access concentration. If the breath gets very shallow, and particularly if it feels like you’ve stopped breathing, the natural thing to do is to take a nice deep breath and get it going again. Wrong! This will tend to weaken your concentra- tion. By taking that nice deep breath, you decrease the strength of your concentration. Just stay with that shallow breathing. It’s okay. You don’t need a lot of oxygen when you are very quiet both physi- cally and mentally. If the breath gets very, very subtle, instead of tak- ing a deep breath, shift your attention away from the breath to a pleasant sensation. This is key. You notice the breath until you arrive at and sustain access concentration, then you let go of the breath and shift your attention to a pleasant sensation, The Buddha makes it clear that the examination of reality should be done with a concentrated mind. The jhanas are the method he taught, over and over again. elizabethvigeon