Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation
Furthermore, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters and remains in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance.
And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhanaKevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta” (DN 11), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.than.html .
And furthermore, with the abandoning of pleasure and stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress — he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure nor stress. He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness.
Just as if a man were sitting covered from head to foot with a white cloth so that there would be no part of his body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the monk sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness.
Fourth Jhana is the most refined state of meditative concentration. The stillness of the mind that cease all differentiation. If you read the above description of Jhana, you will likely get an idea of how the stilling of mental process leads to a state of blissfulness, confidence and contentment. But remember; this state is still not enlightenment yet. Many meditation masters before Buddha, had mistaken these Jhana(s) as enlightenment.
We will continue exploring what comes after Jhana in the next post. Just keep in mind, Jhana is an important mental strength. If we compare enlightenment to climbing mountains, then Jhana is like building up our muscles for the climb.
From this sutta, we will realize that early Buddhist scriptures are actually very instructional. Especially scriptures that deal with meditation. For chanters, you might have heard about samadhi (三昧) in Mahayana scriptures. Therefore, Nenbutsu Samadhi (念佛三昧) refers to stilling the mind by using the method of chanting Buddha’s name. Thus, the various types of Samadhi such as Surangama Samadhi, Vajra Samadhi are just referring to different methods of stilling our mind. (this is accordance to Master ShengYen 聖嚴法師.)
The different degree of stillness is known as Jhana. In that sense, Jhana is like a measurement unit for stillness of the mind. We will know our stages of Jhana because we are dealing with our mind. Just like us knowing when we are happy or sad.
More importantly, we should realize that our daily practice is not just an activity to spend time. It’s more than just setting aside 15 minutes or 1 hour everyday. There are actual targets to achieve if one is aiming for enlightenment. Therefore, practice can be very challenging and not boring at all.
But of course not everyone is game for enlightenment. Some may be practicing for secular results, such as better concentration at work or chanting / praying for a wish to come true. (we’ll discuss secular goals in another post)
So let’s recap on what to do again. Jhana can be mind boggling. For a beginner, learning about jhana is like us hearing the adults discussing adult matters when we were a kid? Don’t be discouraged, we will grow up one day (as long as we practice)
From the earlier part of the sutta practice, we learned the importance of abandoning 5 mental hinderances. (Covetousness . ill-will , sloth & drowsiness , mental restlessness  and doubt ) For most beginners, the idea of achieving Samadhi seems very foreign. We read about it in the Sutra but rarely have any clear instruction about how to do it. Consequently, most Mahayana students simply recite the Sutra but place Samadhi at the back of our mind.
For those of us who are serious about catching a glimpse of the enlightened world, Samadhi is a must. REALLY.
BUT it can be daunting. For most of us, we can be chanting and sitting for years and still cannot even reach 1st Jhana. This is because our minds refuse to still. Our minds like to go into the past or fantasize the future. Therefore, effort needs to be made, to stay in the present. Therefore, live at the present moment and still the mind during practice.
One of the major hurdle is doubt. We sit or chant with great deal of effort, but nothing happens. Our mind still darts everywhere. Then we begin to doubt if 1st Jhana is really possible? It is possible. We just need to keep doing it. To enter Jhana is also a bit like learning how to ride a bicycle because we need to balance. In this case, we need a balanced mind. We cannot be covetous (not even for Jhana) nor can we have resentment ( Eg. feeling discouraged?) . We cannot be overly excited and we cannot be lethargic. (So, it is really all about developing an optimal state of mind)
Then there is also another trap for those who managed to experience 1st Jhana. Some people, achieved 1st jhana and experienced that rapture / bliss; and then no matter how hard we try, we cannot get it again? This is probably because, our mind “try too hard” during the next sitting session. Instead of focusing on stilling, the mind start to recollect that previous experience of rapture? (That’s living in the past) You see, recollecting about stillness and actually stilling it is completely different.
In practice, we also need a balance in our approach. Some people, exert their mind with ferocity to still their thoughts. This may inevitably lead to tension building up in the body or head. Thus one experience body ache and headache. (That is bad) The determination to still the thought and that effort is important. It is like grapping the bull by the horn (A masculine energy) but we also need to balance that energy with gentle perseverance. Like threading a needle? (A feminine energy to carefully guide and tread) All of us have that masculine and feminine energy in us.
So here’s a tip in Summary. “Let go of all concerns during practice. Live the moment and walk the MIDDLE PATH” Don’t cling to this tip during practice, it’s just a directional signage.
May all be well and happy.