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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
65 winter 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly The Sixth Jhana: The Base of Infinite Awareness Awareness of infinite space requires infinite awareness. You turn your attention toward that immeasurable alertness. The thought of infinite space drops away and what is left is infinite awareness without an object. You dwell in boundless con- sciousness, pure awareness of awareness. The Seventh Jhana: The Base of No-Thing-Ness The infinite awareness of the previous jhana has no object. It is empty, vacant, and void. You turn your awareness toward this emptiness. The seventh jhana is pure focus upon no-thing- ness. Your awareness dwells on the absence of any object. The Eighth Jhana: The Base of Neither-Perception-nor-Nonperception Perception of no-thing-ness is still perception. Your mind gets bored even with that and swings away from any perception at all. Total absence of perception is sublime. You turn your attention away from perception of the void and toward the peacefulness of total nonperception. If there is the slightest hint of desire to attain this serenity or to avoid the awareness of void, the transition will not occur. There is no gross perception going on, yet there is still super-subtle awareness of the state itself. The Supramundane Jhanas The supramundane jhana states are an absolute prerequisite to liberation. They take place at the end of both the insight meditation path and the jhana path. The supramundane is where the two paths merge. In this series of states, the fetters, deep-rooted tendencies of the mind that bind you, are burned away without a trace. This is where the meditator does the final work of escaping from samsara. Access Concentration These states sound truly remarkable and appealing, do they not? But how do we get there? The transition point from non-jhana to jhana states is called access concentration. You won’t find the term “access concentration” in the early Pali texts. But there is a state just before full concentration, and we use the term “access concentration” to express that state. Access concentration is compared to the soft, weak muscles of a baby trying to learn to stand. The legs are not yet strong enough, so the baby falls back on the ground. You use the state of access concentration to battle and sub- due the hindrances. Applying mindfulness in the state of access concentration allows you to step aside from each hindrance to deep concentration and put it temporarily on hold. Do that often over enough time and the hindrances “go to sleep.” The hindrances are just mental habits and you can replace them with the habit of mindfulness. In access concentration, the hindrances are restrained, enabling generosity, loving- friendliness, compassion, joy, happiness, and concentration to arise. Most meditators practice in access concentration for a good while before attaining jhana. The Entry Point If you have ever tried even a single period of meditation, you already know the initial stage. It is our normal mind. Your focus wanders and wavers. If you are using your breath as your object of meditation, you’ll find that the breath is there for you occasionally, but you keep losing it and you go off into daydreams and memories and imaginary conversa- tions. You notice the wandering and you pull yourself back to the focus. You fluctuate, vacillate, and swing back and forth between who knows what—distracting thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Your first milestone comes when you detach from the world just a bit. The outer world with its sounds and sensations drifts into the background. They are still there, but they bother you less. Your thoughts are still there too, but they are quieter and they pull you away less often. You hear things, smell things, think things, but that does not disturb you so much. Some peace is present now and then. Your body becomes more and more still. You know you are headed in the right direction. Your mind begins to linger on the breath for short periods. You can feel yourself getting better at pulling back. This is the place where you usually start to have some real insights about your thought process. You come to see that these thoughts and sensations really are annoying. They really are disturbing. It’s not just a theory. The calm one-pointed As you enter the first jhana, there is a total break with normal thought and perception. The world goes away. Physical pain goes away. Wandering conscious thoughts stop.