The Usefulness of Jhana

Photo by Rudolf Helmis

Photo by Rudolf Helmis

After meditation today, I found myself continuing to contemplate the usefulness of Jhana. As I have described many times before, the journey to Jhana is one of skillful use of the dynamics of concentration to solidify a state of peaceful abiding. What makes this process difficult is that it is twofold. On the one hand there is the task of release of all things sensual. This release is active and requires serious discipline in the process of identifying more and more subtle aspects of the activities of the mind, and then easing into a gradual release of these phenomenon. On the other hand, One is actively using the qualities of Concentration, Mindfulness and Ardency to literally become present within the breath. Neither one of these activities, which are done simultaneously, is passive. They demand a lot from the practitioner.

The Beauty of this process is also twofold. Firstly, any success that one makes toward either of the two aforementioned processes is presently rewarded by the arising of the individual qualities of what will eventually become in their totality, Jahna. The individual qualities that arise one after another are Rapture, Pleasure, Tranquility, and Equanimity. The practitioner can use the immediate feedback to gauge his or her mastery of the qualities needed to attain Jhana. As these “fruits” of meditation arise they also give the mind greater and greater incentive to release from grasping at the world of the senses, from which the whole of our experience of suffering arises. In other words, the experiential rewards of any success are also the incentives for greater success.

Secondly, once the practitioner’s blended qualities of Concentration, Mindfulness, Ardency, Tranquility, and Equanimity mature by use of breath as an object of concentration, there arises this natural quality of solidified union within the breath. This union is recognized by an immediate awareness of decreased need for the heightened amount of one’s Ardency in the form that got you to this point. One feels “stuck” or “fastened” in the experience of undivided awareness. This state of Jhana is described as release from Sensual Pleasure, Bliss that is free from Suffering.

From this state of Unified awareness, one can finally begin the process of viewing the arising and ceasing of every phenomenon that presents itself as an opportunity for the mind to Cling to. By viewing these phenomenon without clinging, the practitioner becomes fully aware of the foundational qualities of all phenomenon; Impermanence, Unsatisfactory, and Not-Self. Things that one would normally become enraptured in the drama and pleasure of, become clearly seen for BOTH the fleeting pleasurable form and the unattractive stress-full form.

This clear vision would frighten one into delusion if it was not fostered by the environment of Jhana. the Buddha knew this, and so he prescribed Jhana at every opportunity.

Jhana is not the destination of the Path, it IS all but the last stage of the Path. Eventually one will find even the Bliss of Jhana to be undesirable, and will find his or her way into final Release. I do not pretend to have entered that Final Release as of yet, but all other aspects of Jhana and the EightFold Path I practice, experience, and cultivate every day.

May your every endeavor bear much fruit.

Peace

Loren

Seeing the Aggregates

The Aggregates

A few nights ago, I was practicing Samatha meditation with my eyes open. I decided that I would use directed attention at first toward the function of sight, I went through the usual relaxing process from toe to head. As my mind began to settle, I noticed that the actual configuration of the angles of my eyes would naturally change along with the level of calm and stillness. As the angle changed the external information being received began to fall out of focus and my true focal point grew closer and closer.  Soon my mind had calmed and entered into Jhana, and then the next Jhana ( the relevant material is found under the heading “The Four Jhanas”), as my directed thoughts turned to a more unified awareness. The “focal point” continued to reach inward but at a much slower rate. In actuality, it had become pointed toward the Third eye area within the location of the head.

In this process there is always the subtle tensions of minutely small static that can be perceived by the muscular control of the eyes as I continue to let go of more and more form on the subtlest of levels. And then stabilization brings that unifying imperturbable calm. At this point consciousness seems to be releasing control of the physical optical processes altogether in order to maintain this state of calm.

I found that every discrepancy in release would be accompanied by a physical movement of the eye as if to draw attention to some aspect of the 5 Aggregates; Form, Feeling, Perception, Fabrication, and Consciousness. I found that I could not cling to any phenomenon without subtle control of the optic process, nor could any movement of the same process occur without signifying a brief or almost undetectable form of attachment to a phenomenon.

This process brought about great clarity of what is meant and useful about the teachings on the 5 aggregates. This experience allowed access to the depth of what is meant by Form, and the levels of relevance and irrelevance of this Aggregate. I could see how Form is used by the mind as a marker that the mind can fill with potentials that justify the rise and fall of both skillful and unskillful states. It becomes easy to see how Form is abused by the mind when put into the perspective of how it even comes into being. Essentially it ends up being the scapegoat for every experience the mind has conjured up through craving, with or without an object to crave.

These insights have been invaluable in allowing access to the reality of how the mind constructs “reality”. Without knowing how the mind is using these aggregates, we have no real understanding of depth of our “self” induced sufferings. The challenge continues to grow, but so does the view of the Path that leads to the end of suffering. This particular insight has changed the way in which I interact with Form altogether, adding a new layer of understanding to its emptiness.

My mind will no longer be able to manipulate me into maintaining the many strongholds of delusion, that place accountability for my experience anywhere but within.

In sorting out this experience, I have found a small book by Thanissarro Bhikkhu, called “A Burden Off the Mind: A Study Guide on the Five Aggregates” to be a tremendous help. It takes the teachings on the aggregates and places them into the greater context of the Path to the ending of suffering. The link provided offers a free collection of some of the best teachings on meditation and Buddhism that one can find.  Without having a physical teacher, Thanissarro Bhikkhu’s writings have been the next best thing.

May your journey continue to bear lots of fruit!

Peace

Loren

Becoming the Earth

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The Buddha once taught his son about the consistency of mind that brought about permanent peace and True happiness. He said that one should make their mind just like the earth. That no matter what was spilled on it the earth did not mind, nor move because of the disturbance.

“Rahula, develop the meditation in tune with earth. For when you are developing the meditation in tune with earth, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind. Just as when people throw what is clean or unclean on the earth — feces, urine, saliva, pus, or blood — the earth is not horrified, humiliated, or disgusted by it; in the same way, when you are developing the meditation in tune with earth, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind.” -MN62

This is such a profound teaching, as we live our busy disturbed lives reacting to every input as if there were no possibility or value to stability. As we spend our lives grasping for “things” both material and emotional, it is as if we have bought the delusion that our strength lies within our constant instability.

Through meditation, I have become acutely aware that all personal suffering has come through the instability of my mind’s response to any and all phenomenon that present themselves to my senses. This Instability has tailored the way in which I guard myself emotionally and experientially from the world. In the past I have incorrectly labeled this way of negotiating the dynamics of life, as “my personality”. Make no mistake it is nothing more than a highly developed and self-deceptive way of maintaining a feel of stability without actually having stability.

Meditation has pushed me into the territory of calm and peace that cannot be accessed without right effort and right intention toward this experience. There is the journey of mastery of the mind that is necessary for one to reach any plain of this land. Once you have stepped foot into this territory though, all other forms of accepted experience are starkly disappointing.

The challenge of the last year or so has been to slowly and methodically bring the experience of peace and stability to the onslaught of my senses that plays out in everyday experiences. In the practice of doing so, the prejudice of this “personality of sensitivity” to certain experiences has been revealed in every challenge and failure along the way.

In seeking to help my wife with her burdens of compassion that come so naturally to her, I have had a chance to explore the depths of the practice of compassion through both Metta meditation and Tonglen meditation as well. both of these practices have begun to erode the “self” made lines of delineation between “self/others”, and the “inner/outer” world experiences.

What I have learned is that what we conceptualize as vulnerability is really an opening to the resources that provide vitality to the whole of existence. When my mind becomes stable, I can interact with “horrible things” without suffering harm at all. This is contrary to the hardwired framework of my “self”. The “self” has sought to avoid all phenomenon that it labels as negative by any means necessary, which ironically has limited my access to the connection with all things.

Tonglen has served as a direct existential exercise of taking in the “bad” while not only being unharmed, but giving peace and healing toward these things with the act of breathing. In essence, it is becoming the earth that is not harmed by what is spilled on it.

This particular aspect of the Journey has broadened the possibilities of WHAT I experience, as well as HOW I experience things. This is the true meaning of redeeming Karma.

 

Peace to You,

Loren

The Experience of Contraction

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As of late, my household has gone through a period of  what I would call material contraction. This contraction plays out externally as the end of things that were a part of life for a long time. We have had to put down our ailing 15 year old dog. Our car became unreliable for weeks, as the mechanic kept “fixing” things with nothing changing. These repairs consumed a large portion of our monthly income, putting the squeeze on all other avenues of daily life.

Internally, this shift in momentum from the norms of progress produced much stress. There was much arisen anxiety over the lack of control in these situations, that would easily color our entire emotional and psychological experience. These circumstances could easily multiply the latent and previously manageable stress of doing everything possible to teach and raise our 8 year old daughter with Autism.

Training in the inherent obligations of the Four Noble Truths compelled me to quickly observe “This is Stress and Suffering”, and to focus heavily on the Mindfulness that holds together Right View, Right Action, and Right Speech as it relates to this overarching experience.

“The well-instructed noble disciple… discerns what ideas are fit for attention, and what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas unfit for attention, and attends [instead] to ideas fit for attention… And what are the ideas fit for attention that he attends to? Whatever ideas such that, when he attends to them, the unarisen effluent of sensuality does not arise, and the arisen effluent of sensuality is abandoned; the unarisen effluent of becoming… the unarisen effluent of ignorance does not arise, and the arisen effluent of ignorance is abandoned… He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at habits & practices. These are called the effluents that are to be abandoned by seeing.”  -MN 2 -

The fact that this Contraction was all encompassing of our daily lives, allowed me to make distinctions between what was in my control and what was not. With this encompassment came a consistent and abiding opportunity to see the path come to life. When I was not consistent in concentration I would literally feel the rushing in of the anxieties attached to this external situation. When concentration was strong and consistent I could abide in peace, and have access to creativity toward addressing any of the subtle causes of this outward drama.

This struggle became an opportunity for growth in compassion towards “myself” and my family. I am tied to their welfare and peace, and every thought, word, and action has influence into the growth or diminishing of their personal suffering as well. It has led to many conversations where Wisdom and Compassion were medicine for my wife’s experience as well.

As we continue to train our minds, the concept of right attention demands the center stage. We are undoubtedly meditating on something all day, it is much better to meditate on those things that give rise to peace than to cultivate a mind of defilement. It is those moment by moment choices that produce a consistent success or a miserable failure. Stay Mindful.

Peace and True Happiness to you

Loren

The Four Frames of Reference: A Reductionist Method

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As I have written in previous posts, one of the main benefits of meditation is the ability to observe the processes of the mind free from the bewildering experience of complex interactions with the “outer-world”. When we take the opportunity to isolate the senses, we can observe clearly how the mind associates with the conditions of reality in ways that cause suffering. We can clearly make out the factors of ignorance-fabrications-consciousness-form-the senses-contact-feeling-craving-clinging and becoming that play out over and over again throughout our waking hours.

It is incredible to see for the first time the intricate way in which our mind latches onto an object and what is produced by the bond. It takes some growing maturity and insight to see the depths of the harm this process is causing both ourselves and the world. It is because of direct knowledge of these processes that the Buddha taught that the “Path of Practice” must use these same processes of the mind to ferret out the unskillful qualities that  continue to color our experience and reproduce this suffering. The particular methods incorporated are designed to bring balance to  our heavily skewed perceptions that have ultimately solidified into erroneous views of identity.

The  practice of penetrating reality beyond the gross levels of hideously inaccurate symbology that we  access our world through, allows us to deal with the minutia that make up the human experience. By gaining a perceptual foundation in these Frames of Reference we do not allow the  bewilderment of complexity to overcome our awareness. In essence we begin to see things through a microscope of controlled perception that focuses only on the root or innermost layer of our existential journey.

The Buddha describes it like this, “This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of Unbinding—in other words, the four frames of reference. Which four?

There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself— ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings… mind… mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.” -Samyutta Nikaya 47:40

In other words, instead of our focus being trained on our “external” circumstances through the environment of our mental processes, we can practice focusing on the mental processes themselves actively registering all phenomena as they appear and disappear. We should focus on the Body, the Feelings, the Mind, and the Mental Qualities that arise and fall away within every moment. When this form of training and strengthening the qualities of the mind is done within the scope of the Four Noble Truths it is perfectly effective in cultivating every condition necessary for the Unbinding of the mind that eradicates suffering and the conditions that produce it.

For more detailed instruction on the practice of the Four Frames of Reference, you can visit Access to Insight’s presentation here:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings/part2.html#part2-b

This detailing is in the book “The “Wings to Awakening”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

May these words bless your house as they have mine.

Peace

Loren

Mental Fabrications and the “Self”

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The understanding of mental formations is fundamental to unlocking the way out of the cycle of sufferings we call Samsara. These mental formations essentially relay all the detail of the world that our mind wants us to experience.  It is through this acknowledgment that the need for Right View becomes paramount to the unraveling of the confusion and addiction that dominantly expresses itself throughout humanity.

It is becoming very commonplace within our culture to hear people advise others that if any part of life is unsatisfactory that they should just change their perspective or way of seeing things.  While this has an element of truth to it, this kind of advice usually gives no real direction as to what works, or how to get there.

One thing all meditators have in common is a growing awareness of how pervasive the influence of mental formations are on our existence.  As children we begin this process of learning about the world around us through very crude means of processing.  We begin making rough, scarcely-detailed imprints of symbology and language to classify the experiences and objects that we encounter, effectively creating a world absent of bare reality but full of our personal impressions. We see the world through “likes” and “dislikes”, along with many other complex emotional layers that add limitations to what we want to experience as well as what we are experiencing in the present moment. All of this overlaid content comes together to form the most cohesive mental formation of them all; the Identity View, called “Self”.

This strongly ingrained, almost untouchable aspect of our reality has convinced us that there is a permanent “Me” with a bunch of permanent inner qualities that we actively express at all times.  It is these wrong assumptions about reality that lead us to limit reality and our experience of it as we relate to this image of a permanent “self” in relation to some “outward “ contexts or surroundings.

For instance, I have always battled with feeling very small and insignificant when being told about the accomplishments of others. But what is going on to serve me up such an experience? The conveying of another person’s accomplishments transmits the impression that the particular field in which the achievements were reached is of great importance.  Mentally, I focus on those areas, blocking out the reality of this expansive existence. I see my lack of accomplishment in those areas, and the lack of attention toward my accomplishments in general and I begin to sling negative feelings and conversations around in my head. These mental formations expand as I cling to them, and then my whole world has become negative for the time that I stay focused there.

All of these troubles begin with the relationship between a tangible world and this fabricated sense of “Self”. In truth, all of the defilements of mind that foul up our experience by creating personal and communal suffering can be traced right back to this faulty view of a permanent “Self”.

Not only do the core teachings of the Buddha expose this issue and how it is even possible, but the teachings methodically layout the path of practice that can eliminate the problems inherent in our confusion of how the mind works and what it is.

I hope to get into greater detail about how specific meditation practices enable us to observe these processes and find liberation from their strangle hold on reality in future posts, but I will go for now.

Peace,

Loren

The Relationship between the Intellectual and the Experiential


Black Buddha

I have taken some time off from writing to dig deeper into the practice of meditation. I have found it better at times to absorb and reflect than to play the role of the disseminator of truth. I am glad to be back at the keyboard though, as I was overflowing with inspiration this morning.

My practice as of late has  taken steps toward an effective blend of both Samatha (concentration) and Vipassana (insight) meditation techniques as described by the Buddha himself. In doing so, there have been some major realizations about the differences between a solely intellectual knowledge and a truly experiential knowledge, referred to as Direct Knowing.

In our culture we place high value on “education”, where the system pumps a massive amount of information into us throughout twelve years of primary school and beyond. Unfortunately if we investigate the actual expression and practice of this form of education, we find that most students have little to no relationship to the information, and relate more to the “proof of learning” that comes from a written test by incorporating many unskillful practices.

If only LIFE were able to be navigated by taking written tests and passing.

In actuality this method of “learning” has reinforced the delusion that memorization of facts and mere comprehension of higher knowledge is identical to  actual attainment.

Let’s take an example of a characteristic of reality to draw out the differences between these forms of understanding. One cannot do much studying of the Buddha’s teaching of the path before you find him expounding the point that all phenomenon that can be experienced are “not-self”. “”Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’

“Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self…

“Bhikkhus, perception is not-self…

“Bhikkhus, determinations are not-self…

“Bhikkhus, consciousness is not self.”

This is a portion of the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta, which can be found here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.nymo.html

The standard Western model of knowledge goes like this:

One may read this, become interested, and research all that is written on the subject. Intellectually this is not hard to understand,and at this point can even be expounded to others to make one sound like they have “arrived”. One can even try to work this intellectual understanding into their own world-view after grasping the concept. At this point one would become delusionally confident that they have attained the true essence of the teaching, and move on to the next thing to learn; consuming each concept as mental food.

In reality, this teaching of “not-self” is to be used as a tool to classify one’s experiences while establishing a path in meditation and daily life that leads to Unbinding. Vipassana practice will bring all the forces of reality to your experience (pleasure, bliss, tranquility, as well as pain, disgust, and fear). It is here that one will utilize what has been taught when a concentrated reality challenges every aspect of your mind and body. Once you have overcome, or rather absorbed and learned the lesson of these realities in their concentrated forms, the path literally breaks off the lifelong confusion of what is “self”. You will then Directly Know this reality in its’ fullness.

Consequently, the Noble Eight-fold Path is the recognition that while either meditating or just living, Life will provide the circumstances for you to address the realities of the teaching. Meditation serves to not only prepare one for the lesson, but bring the full power of the lesson directly to you.

May You be Successful in Directly Knowing Reality and Relieving the Suffering of Those Around You.

Peace
Loren