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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 09 66 focus is so much nicer. Eventually even nicer thoughts are a bother compared with calm. You start to see the hindrances too. Whether you call them that or not, you notice that certain thoughts and sensations are more jarring than others, and you start learning to let them go, to let the hindrances pass without grabbing on to them. Concentration Strengthens After a period of effort comes a noticeable strengthening of concentration. The mental attributes that will eventually mature into jhana—things like one-pointedness and bliss— become quite noticeable. This is your first major attainment. It is a state on the brink of genuine jhana. It is called “access” concentration because it is the doorway to the real thing. Concentration is still unsteady but your mind keeps try- ing and it is getting easier. You fluctuate between your calm focus and your inner dialogue. You are still open to your senses. You hear and feel in the normal way, but it is off in the background. The breath is a dominant thought—an object, a thing—but it is not your sole focus. Strong feelings of zest or delight set in. Although weak, feelings of happiness, satisfac- tion, and a special state of nonpreference called equanimity begin to arise. They will mature. Your attention touches the breath repeatedly, strikes at it, flicks away and then begins to dwell upon it. You may feel lightness or floating. In the mind’s eye you may see shimmer- ing forms or flickers of light. These are not visual phenomena in the eyes. These phenomena are totally in the mind. This is the realm of visions. If a deity or an entity is ever going to speak to you, this is where it will happen. Your nor- mal thought patterns are being disrupted and deep imagery can come forth. Your visions may be beautiful or terrifying or just strange kaleidoscopic sequences without meaning. Whatever they are, you just let them be there and bring the mind back to the breath. They are nothing special, just more discursive thought in disguise. Approaching First Jhana As you approach the first jhana, there is a stage when your attention “sinks into” the meditation subject. Some teachers place a lot of emphasis on the importance of using the sensation of delight as a tool to enter jhana. They recommend that if you feel this delight only in one location, you should enlarge it. The whole body should be bathed and saturated with the feeling of bliss. This is a physical sensation, though not the kind that you are familiar with in ordinary life. It is similar to an extremely pleasurable sensory phenomenon, though it is far more subtle and gratifying. You can take control of this feeling and, to some extent, direct it. Once you have learned to concentrate, you can get to the delightful sensation anytime you wish and stay in it as long as we wish. For instance, when doing metta meditation, feelings in the center of the chest may occur. This is usually a very enjoyable feeling of bodily warmth. As soon as it comes, you should let go of the metta practice, place your entire con- centration on the sensation and expand it to suffuse the entire body. This physical feeling is similar to the more subtle feel- ings of joy and bliss in jhana. This feeling can be used as a bridge to allow you to slide naturally into jhana. When you have taken care of all the hindrances, the breath becomes very subtle. You may not even feel it. You may think it has stopped. But there is nothing to worry about. You are still breathing. When breath becomes subtle enough that it is unnoticeable, your mind focuses on the memory of this subtle breath as your object for gaining concentration. Watch for the sensation to change into a kind of vivid after- image. Stay with that. Keep at it. Be persistent. This memory may then be replaced with a little spark of light. If so, that becomes your focus of attention. This is a very important moment, the moment just before true concentration. This spark is your signal. You are about to enter jhana. At the beginning there may be just a fleeting experience that can be very hard to identify. The first time there may be just a 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.