The Jhanas

Jhana

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

This excerpt from the Jhana sutta perfectly sums up the purpose and strategy of the practice to be outlined here, and deserves a thorough explanation.  The Buddha was very precise in his descriptions here, and the description above is literal and perfect. 

There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

Here we see that the first jhana arises under two simple conditions- secluded from sensual objects, and secluded from unskillful qualities (of mind, i.e. the hindrances). The first jhana arises under these conditions. According to this instruction, removing the mind from sensuality and the hindrances brings about first jhana. The essence of first jhana is rapture and pleasure. Thus, when the mind is secluded from sensuality (not engaged in secual delight) and free from the hindrances (a state which can be cultivated reproducibly and made to arise on command), first jhana happens of its own accord – naturally. This is correct, and if you’re really paying attention to the mind when the first jhana arises, it can be seen as a very precise description. Technique wise, this is the essence of this practice method- mastering the attainment of first jhana. There is directed thought and evaluation going on in the first jhana, along with the directed thought and evaluation. This means the mind is having thoughts related to the factor of the jhana. There is a mental knowing of “this is first jhana, wow this feels really good” 1st jhana. 

It is not surprising that modern folks don’t get very far with this instruction alone. There seems to be a disconnect in how we as westerners try to do jhana. But the key is to just relax and enjoy yourself.   Pleasure and rapture arise of their own accord because the mind is secluded.  The mind actually is inherently blissful due to the seclusion from hindrances and sensuality.  Seclusion from the hindrances is what brings about concentration and rapture.  

Seclusion from sensuality implies sensual restraint. The practitioner is specifically turning away from objects of the world. This means they are turning away from attachment to sex, chocolate and rock and roll. The mind is instead focused internally and derives pleasure not from the world, but from it’s own innate blissful inherent qualities. This inherent purity is more and more obvious the more secluded the mind gets.