It is exciting that we have now reached the portion on Jhana, a deep concentrated state of focus meditation. Focus meditation is important for our mind because it empowers the mind to “let-go” of sensory distractions, (sight, audio, smell, taste, touch and thoughts). The mind doesn’t wander from thoughts to thoughts and sounds or smell do not cause the mind to launch an avalanche of thoughts.
To do focus meditation, we simply need to focus our mind on ONE subject. It can be our breathe or a mantra. Mantra can be the name of Buddha, sacred syllabus such as Om ManiPadme Hum or simply the word Buddha. We focus our mind until it remains completely concentrated on the subject, thus dropping its interaction with our sensory inputs.
The 1st time for reaching Jhana is a very dramatic positive experience for many people. Let’s see what the sutta says.
The First Jhāna
“Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, he enters and dwells in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought and filled with the rapture and happiness born of seclusion. He drenches, steeps, saturates, and suffuses his body with this rapture and happiness born of seclusion, so that there is no part of his entire body which is not suffused by this rapture and happiness.
Some people describe the effort as withdrawing engagement with the senses. Some describe it as letting go of the sensor inputs. In this verse, secluded from sensual pleasures means not to engage with our sensory perceptions. Therefore, we cannot be listening to music while meditating, nor holding a sweet in our mouth. “Secluded from unwholesome states” means departure from the 5 hinderance state of mind. (covetousness, ill-will / anger, drowsiness, excitedness, and doubt) The 1st 2 hinderances is easy to understand. We cannot meditate properly if we are “wanting”. For example thinking, “what’s gonna be served for lunch?” For me, that was the thought that disturbed me most in the morning when I was in retreat. Because we abstain from food after lunch, so the stomach is hungry (engaging with sense of touch) So I have to learn to let go of my concern with food (taste).
And we cannot meditate if we feel anger. For example, feeling uncomfortable with sitting posture. We feel like the leg is extremely painful? Then we decided to shift our body a bit. Then every few minutes, the mind would suggest shifting the body a bit. We end up fidgeting throughout the practice? This example shows that a little unsatisfactoriness or grouse we have is aversion and good enough to prevent us going into Jhana. As you can see here, just a little teeny weeny bits of craving /aversion will prevent the mind from full concentration. That is why, Buddhist mind training extend beyond formal sitting. We continue to condition our mind to be less bothered by little things in life.
Drowsiness prevents us from proper concentration. We will be dozing off instead. When that becomes too powerful, it would be better for us to take a walk or do prostrations instead of sitting. Once the mind becomes energized, we can continue with sitting. The opposite is excitedness. The mind dart from one thoughts to another. Lastly, if there is doubt about ourselves or the practice, we won’t give it full effort. A half-hearted mind cannot get it.
“Applied and sustained thought” refers to our single-pointed focus on our meditation subject.
When we enter Jhana, we experience rapture, an intense happiness and satisfaction.
That rapture is born from seclusion. Seclusion here refers to being away from sensory distraction. We drop off our sensory distractions. The state of mind experience a lightness because it is not bogged down by our senses. In a way, we let go of our state of ordinariness (which is scattered distractions).
He drenches, steeps, saturates, and suffuses his body with this rapture and happiness born of seclusion, so that there is no part of his entire body which is not suffused by this rapture and happiness.
The state of rapture permeates from head to toe. Yet that experience is not scary but beautiful.
It is important to note that this experience of Jhana is not unique to Buddhism. Praying to God can also induce such experience if that “praying” goes along the meditative state of concentration.
In Buddhism, we understand these rapture as a state of mind development. We need these states to penetrate the Truth. Therefore, if we use a mantra like Buddha’s name or the word “Buddho”, it is important to have correct understanding or view. Otherwise, we will be practicing like other religion with a god-like figure.
Until here, we are only talking about the 1st Jhana. This is just the entry state.
Next Buddha tries to explain Jhana to Kevatta by using a simile that is relatable to the householder.
“Kevaddha, suppose a skilled bath attendant or his apprentice were to pour soap-powder into a metal basin, sprinkle it with water, and knead it into a ball, so that the ball of soap-powder be pervaded by moisture, encompassed by moisture, suffused with moisture inside and out, yet would not trickle. In the same way, Kevaddha, the bhikkhu drenches, steeps, saturates, and suffuses his body with the rapture and happiness born of seclusion, so that there is no part of his entire body which is not suffused by this rapture and happiness. This, Kevaddha, is what is called the miracle of instruction.
From the above simile, we get the picture of how the experience of rapture permeates our entire body when we reach the 1st Jhana. That is how we get a rough idea and we will therefore know whether we reach 1st jhana during our practice.
May all be well and happy.