Practical Guide to the Jhanas – part III – Ovecoming Obstacles

Step 1- Think of kittens and pretty women sitting in meditation. There is a mental moment of pleasantness that is in the mind! Can you feel that?

The hindrances are called hindrances because they hinder jhana, and other higher states of consciousness. One cannot enter jhana if there is aversion or ill will present in the mind. The common obstacles to entering jhana are craving and clinging (to the next moment or the pleasure itself), aversion and ill will (pain and uncomfortable sensations, unpleasant energetic manifestations), and doubt (self-critical voice getting in the way in the moment).

A prerequisite for entering jhana and developing mastery of jhana, at least at first, is learning how to sit properly with correct posture. The spine should be straight, and the hips should above the knees, and there should be no obviously strained joints or acute pain when you sit. Developing posture is a skill that is ongoing for everyone, but as long as you are comfortable and not tense or straining any joints.

My favorite posture is the Burmese posture. The key is to have a solid base and the ability to sit without folding up into a knot of tension. The muscles in our bodies tend to carry tension due to unconscious processes, and if there is too much tension and pain while sitting, doing some remedial work in bringing your body into harmony using standing meditation can be very helpful. Sitting comfortably with good posture is half of the battle when entering jhana.

In the beginning when developing rapture, we want to use any tools at our disposal to bring about rapture. For some people it can even be helpful to listen to appropriate music while meditating. This can put the mind into a more open state and one can use to learn how to observe the sensations of pleasure associated with the response to the music, and just having a sense of rhythm is helpful to establish the state of flow. If music helps to get the mind in a more open state, it is fine to listen to music while meditating, but use music that doesn’t have many words. For people who sometimes have trouble stabilizing their attention (which is 100% of people), listening to music can be helpful because it brings all the chaotic vibrations of energy in the mind and body into a temporary state of unification. For example, this track might be helpful for establishing a flow state:

Listening to music while meditating is technically “against the rules” if we are talking about Therevada Buddhist practice, as it would be a sensory pleasure. But listening to music can be a very direct way for western people to learn jhana – like states, because of our unique cultural heritage. We can learn to be familiar with the sense of pleasure in the mind that follows from the music. Focusing on the music and the vibrations of mind and body and sound can easily bring on rapture, and I highly encourage people to practice jhana with music to get familiar with it. It can be seen as “training wheels” for the mind.

Music is a pretty benign sensual pleasure, but the key is to experience pleasure in the mind, and then see that the pleasure in music is actually in the mind. It’s the same way with any sensory pleasure- the sensory impressions create positive vedana in the mind, and the mental experience of pleasure is the same whether it is caused by something through the sense doors or not. The difference in jhana is that we learn to require nothing from the sense doors to experience happiness. Then we can become familiar with rapture as a mental quality and how to cultivate it. Once we master this skill, we are able to enter pleasurable rapturous states without any sort of external stimulus. This is only an introductory practice to get a person familiar with the sense of flow and how to enjoy oneself while meditating. Most people can sit and listen to their favorite song and be in a state of pleasure while doing so. The same frame of mind that we relax and enjoy a song with is the “in the moment” frame of mind we want for jhana. If you play an instrument you probably at this point would have seen that the mindstate to groove a musical tune is similar to jhana – they are both states of “flow”.

The Buddha’s descriptions of the 1st jhana are excellent and actually quite precise – it is repeatedly mentions that the monk “secluded from sensuality and unskillful qualities of mind, he enters and abides in the first Jhana, with rapture and pleasure borne of withdrawal.”

“There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal…

The pleasure and happiness that arises in the mind comes about because it is free from the hindrances. There is a sense of refreshment and nourishment with the pleasure borne of withdrawal, like the mind has released a huge burden and this leads to a great feeling of pleasure. The “burden” you could think of is the thinking and planning and evaluating and suffering. We drop the worldly concerns for the moment, and doing that leads to a quality of mind we want to cultivate. It is a practicable skill that is not hard to learn. Basically, you just sit there and enjoy the fact of sitting there and just sit like you’re going to wait and just rest. That’s it. That frame of mind leads to rapture, a factor of awakening.

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