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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
34 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 All you can do is set up the conditions for the jhana to arise by cultivating a calm and quiet mind focused on pleasantness. And then just let go—be that calm, quiet mind focused on pleasantness and enjoy it—and the jhana will appear. Any attempt to do anything more does not work. You actually have to become a human being, as opposed to a human doing. You have to become a being that is simply focused on a pleasant sensation, and then the jhana comes all on its own. Imagine that your mind is like a still pool—still because of the access concentration. Now drop in a pebble of pleasure. The ripples go out to the sides of your skull, bounce off, and come back together. When they come together they reinforce each other, generating taller waves. But because this is not a real, physical system, if you don’t disturb the sys- tem, the ripples stay taller and don’t die out; they keep bouncing off the sides and reinforcing each other more and more. This is what we are after. But it requires that you not stir the water in the pool; doing so would spoil the bouncing and reinforcing effect, and the system would not keep generating higher waves. THE SUTTAS DESCRIBE the first jhana as being “accompanied by thinking and examining” and “filled with the rapture and happiness born of seclu- sion.” These four qualities are often identified as factors of the first jhana: thinking and examining, rapture and happiness. The thinking and examin- ing are translations of the Pali words vitakka and vicara. The commentaries interpret these words to mean initial and sustained attention on the meditation object. Now, it’s true that in order to do any sort of concentrated meditation, you need initial and sustained attention on the meditation object. However, this doesn’t appear to be what the Buddha is talking about: in the suttas, vitakka and vicara always and only refer to thinking. When you generate access concentration and sustain it, there may still be a bit of thinking in the background, which can basically be ignored. This background thinking persists in the first jhana and is what is being referred to by the words vitakka and vicara. As stated earlier, when you move from access concentration to the first jhana, you’re shifting your attention to a pleasant sensation and staying with that as your object of attention, ignoring any back- ground thinking. If you can stay with your undis- tracted attention on the pleasant sensation, then piti will arise. The piti, being the physical release of pleasant, exhilarating energy, could be anywhere from mild to quite intense. It can be finger-in-the- electrical-socket intense; it can be so intense that it’s not even pleasurable. And hopefully the piti is accompanied by sukha, which is an emotional state of joy and happiness. Both piti and sukha are required in order for the experience to be classified as the first jhana. And most likely, the experience brings a big grin to your face. The first jhana is enough of an altered state that if you think some experience might be the first jhana, it probably isn’t; there’s an unmistakable quality to the arising of piti and sukha that lets you know for certain that some- thing quite different is happening. At first, it’s really not easy to tell the piti and sukha apart. This experience, this energy, this state comes over you and grabs your full attention. It is not readily apparent that there is an emotional component apart from the physical one, nor is the distinction necessary yet. The experience may be much more one of pervasive piti-sukha than one composed of intermingled distinct piti and distinct sukha. As mentioned above, you may also find that there is a bit of thinking going (Opposite) Circles of Memory II, 2006 ➤ continued page 78 The jhana states are not an end in and of themselves. 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.