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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2 0 1 5 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 33 people find pleasant sensations could include the third eye, the top of the head, or the shoulders. It does not matter where the pleasant sensation manifests; what matters is that there is a pleasant sensation and you’re able to put your attention on it and—now here comes the really hard part—do nothing else. It’s important to let go of the breath when you make the shift to the pleasant sensation. The breath (or other meditation object) is the key to get you in—”in” being synonymous with establishing strong enough access concentration. When you come home from work, you pull out your key, you open the door to your home, and you go in. You don’t then wander around with the key still in your hand—you put it back in your pocket or purse or on some table. You’re not cooking dinner or watch- ing TV with the key still in your hand. The key has done its job, and you let it go. It’s exactly the same with the breath or other meditation object. Totally let go of it, and focus entirely on the pleasant sen- sation. Of course, this is easier said than done— you’ve struggled for a long time to stay locked onto the breath, and now that you’ve finally managed to do so, the first thing you are told is to stop doing that. But that’s the way it is. If you want to experi- ence jhanas, it’s going to be necessary to give your- self to fully enjoying the pleasantness of the pleas- ant sensation. Once you’ve found the pleasant sensation, you fully shift your attention to it. If you can do that, the sensation will begin to grow in intensity; it will become stronger. This will not happen in a linear way. At first, nothing happens. Then it’ll grow a little bit and then hang out and grow a little bit more. And then eventually, it will suddenly take off and take you into what is obviously an altered state of consciousness. In this altered state of consciousness, you will be overcome with rapture, euphoria, ecstasy, delight. These are all English words that are used to trans- late the Pali word piti. Perhaps the best English word for piti is “glee.” Piti is a primarily physi- cal sensation that sweeps you powerfully into an altered state. But piti is not solely physical; as the suttas say, “On account of the presence of piti, there is mental exhilaration.” In addition to the physi- cal energy and mental exhilaration, the piti will be accompanied by an emotional sensation of joy and happiness. The Pali word for this joy/happiness is sukha, the opposite of dukkha (pain, suffering). And if you can remain undistractedly focused on this experience of piti and sukha, that is the first jhana. So to summarize the method for entering the first jhana: You sit in a comfortable upright position and generate access concentration by placing, and even- tually maintaining, your attention on a single medi- tation object. When access concentration is firmly established, then you shift your attention from the breath (or whatever your meditation object is) to a pleasant sensation, preferably a physical sensation. You put your attention on that sensation, maintain your attention on it, and do nothing else. The hard part is the “do nothing else” part. You put your attention on the pleasant sensation and nothing happens, so you might think to yourself, “He said something was supposed to happen.” No, I did not say to make comments about experienc- ing the pleasant sensation. Or you might put your attention on the pleasant sensation and it starts to increase, so you think, “Oh! Oh! Something’s hap- pening!” No, don’t do that—that will only make it go away. Or it comes up just a little bit, and then it stops, and you sort of try and help it. Nope, none of this works. Just simply observe the pleasant sensation. You must become totally immersed in the pleas- antness of the pleasant sensation. By this I mean the quality of the sensation that enables you to deter- mine that it is pleasant, rather than unpleasant or neither. It’s not about the location of the pleasant sensation nor its intensity or duration. It’s not about whether the pleasant sensation is increasing or decreasing or staying the same. Just focus entirely on the pleasant aspect of the pleasant sensation, and the jhana will arise on its own. Now, admittedly, the sensation will be located in a particular area, and your attention will be aimed at that area. That’s fine. Just don’t get caught up in the location; stay with just enjoying the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation.