Jhāna (Buddhist meditation) practice Q & A
After many of my friends and fellow disciples of the Buddha have tasted what Jhāna practice is like, they felt it was of great benefit to their body and mind. It would be helpful to let more people know about Jhāna and receive joy from the practice. Out of their altruistic motivation, I was invited to assemble my on-line Q & A about Jhāna into a book. So I have retouched the long post and follow-up responses on douban.com (an on-line forum in Chinese language) from 2013-2017, and made a few additions that I deemed necessary for clarification. I hope this book can inspire a wide audience among Jhāna practitioners and Dharma followers.
As an “empiricist” in the Buddhist community, I myself started from being cautiously optimistic and curious, and I self-studied the Buddhist sutras and guided my own the Jhāna practice with the Sutras. Later I met my master and he verified and confirmed the previous progress I had made, but I have not studied the “theoretical side” of Buddhism in a systematical way. So the answers to those questions on-line and in this book are all based on my own Jhāna practice and my own understanding of the Dharma. It is inevitable there could be omissions or mistakes. Please take the book only as a reference.
January 20, 2020
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I have reached all four Jhānas, the four formless Jhānas and the Nirodha-Samapatti, feel free to ask me questions.
From: Enlighten Wulun 2013-09-24 21:59:13
After practicing for more than 1 year, I have reached all 8 Jhānas (including the 4 formless Jhānas), and the 9th stage, Nirodha-Samapatti, the cessation of feeling and perception.
(The following answers are just a personal understanding and summary of experience. For reference only. Practitioners should take the precepts as the foundation, take Samatha and Vipassana as the means, take the Sutras as the guide, take the final liberation as the objective, and use the practice for verification)
When I made this post, it was because I saw someone in this forum group posted “I’m enlightened, and everyone feel free to ask me questions”. I felt that post was a bit self-flattery, but to my surprise, there were a few believers of that post. So I made this post mimicking the style with a satire title. I was a little concerned that it could lead to skepticism, but my purpose was to help cultivate the atmosphere of emphasizing the actual Jhāna practice, and reduce the tendency of wasting time and energy only to keep the Dharma at the philosophical discussion level in on-line forums. Over the past few years, there have been genuine practitioners that came to ask valuable questions and provide feedback, despite some others tried to make fun, throw doubt or argue. Thanks to those fellow disciples who keeps the positive interactions in this forum, I feel the post made contributions to the Buddhist community, even just a little bit.
In the recent years, most of the people who posted follow-up questions weren’t Jhāna practitioners. It caused boredom to me that most of the recent questions were about general belief, and it made me sigh that many people entertain Dharma as if it were to show off their knowledge or intelligence but not many people put effort into the practice. Now that this post is frozen by the forum administrator, it looks like it’s time for the interaction under this post to meet its own fate. Certainly it’s fine, since most of my personal practice techniques and experiences were shared and kept in this post’s current status. I believe that friends new to Dharma can still gain values from it.
As impermanence is the law of nature, the post ends here. “The day has passed, our lives thus shortened, like fish running short of water, for what do we rejoice? Strive on diligently and vigilantly, as if putting out fire on the head. Be mindful of impermanence, and be cautious of laxity.” That’s the motto we Buddhists should live by.
Finally, wish all the Dharma practitioners can soon gain the Wisdom and taste the great joy from Dharma.
Namo Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva!
Om mani padme hum!
- Self-guided practice history
Q: Did you have a teacher or master?
A: Now I do have a master. But when I reached these Jhāna levels, I was practicing self-guided.
Q: Isn’t that one must follow a teacher or master before practicing Jhāna? Otherwise it’s likely to have problems. Did you have trouble getting into Jhāna state?
A: As long as you practice out of Nekkhamma-citta, i.e. renunciation, not looking for supernatural abilities, you won’t get into problems. I used about 1 week to get into the Jhāna state in which the breath stopped. Since then things went smoothly, and there wasn’t much problems.
Q: Did you really get into Jhāna state? I thought it’s important.
A: Of course.
Q: Hi OP, did your breath and pulse stop?
A: The breath stops at 4th Jhāna. The pulse stops only if the heart stops, and that happens in 9th stage, which is Nirodha-Samapatti. I reached both.
Q: I mean did the breath and pulse COMPLETELY stop?
A: Yes, for Nirodha-Samapatti, but you wouldn’t know when you are in Nirodha-Samapatti state. You only realize what happened after you are no longer in Nirodha-Samapatti.
Q: OP, if what you said is true that you have reached all 8 Jhānas stages, you should be able to stay in the Jhāna for like a week and don’t need food or drink; if you can’t, you are probably on a wrong path. Moreover, before you can get into Jhāna, you intestines and stomach must be empty, in other words, you must be fasting; otherwise you might be fooling yourself.
A: I don’t know where your conclusions comes from. The Buddha still had to eat, as in the beginning of the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedika-prajna-paramita Sutra). What do you think about that?
How does fasting has anything to do with Jhāna? Sure, I did have experience of long period fasting, but it doesn’t have direct relation with Jhāna practicing.
When we study the Dharma, we must follow the Sutras and, more importantly, we must verify it with practice. Don’t believe in rumors easily. Otherwise, rather than making any merit (Puñña), bad karma are created. Isn’t that sad?
Q: Think about the consequences, if your stomach is full of food, and you enter Jhāna. In addition, you said you reached all 8 Jhāna, but you can’t stay there for 1 week, that’s ridiculous. A fellow practitioner of mine, who can meditate for 2 days without getting up, said what he could achieve was some initiate stage of Jhāna. Moreover, 8 Jhāna is simply a matter of practice, non-Buddhists (titthiya) practitioners also know how to achieve Jhāna. Don’t regard yourself as a Buddhist practitioner just because you reached the 8 Jhānas.
A: Getting into Jhāna states has nothing to do with how long you stay there. Even if you get into Samadhi state for 1 second, it’s still counted as Samadhi. Able to meditate for a long period of time doesn’t necessarily mean high level of concentration. Just by looking from outside, all 8 Jhānas is meditation by sitting calmly, but 1 second in the 4th Jhāna is way better than 1 day in the 1st Jhāna. Some of the non-Buddhists (titthiya) knows how to get into the 8 Jhāna, the Buddhists should also know it. In the three-hold training “Precepts, Concentration, Wisdom”, Concentration is the foundation of Precepts and Wisdom. If you don’t practice Jhāna, but say you are a Buddhist practitioner, most likely you are on the path of “arrogant Zen” (so arrogant that you mistake yourself as a Zen master). This is could be a huge factor that lead to a wrong way to study the Dharma, we should be careful not to make the mistake.
Q: Buddha stayed in Samadhi for 3 years, Bodhidharma stayed in Samadhi for 9 years, and so did the “Chan Master Daoji”. Admittedly, the length of time isn’t the criteria for Samadhi, but if you can’t even meditate for 1 week and claim you have reached all 8 Jhāna, who would believe it? I’m not saying that practicing meditation is wrong, but I’m suspecting that you haven’t really reached the 8 Jhāna and you just fooled yourself.
A: People who would suspect are going to suspect. (Similar to the English saying “the haters are going to hate”) People who know stuff just know by themselves. If you really have doubts, remove it by practicing.
Q: How to break the law of cause and effect?
A: The law of cause and effect cannot be broken. The law governs all the phenomena, and is strong as iron. The law is the way it is, just like Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Q: Sadhu! Hi OP, I’m a beginner and I have a question. For that year, what was your daily practicing schedule like? As a layperson with a family, practicing is so difficult, there are so many family duty, chores and blockers.
A: I was unemployed at the time. All my time was spent in meditation and checking for information online (for answers to my questions about the practice). My schedule was 3 meditation sections per day: 1 section in the morning, 1 section at noon and the last section before going to bed, each sections was 1-2 hours. To avoid retrogression in practice, the most important thing is to uphold the precept about sexual conduct, guarding both the mind and the body. To guard the mind from sexual conduct is to avoid the thoughts about sexual behavior (to the extend that you no longer distinguish prettiness/ugliness or male/female). To guard the body from sexual conduct is to avoid having sex. As you make progress in practice and gaining the Wisdom, you have to guard the mind in every step you make, keep strengthening the guard, such that even in the dreams you can still avoid thoughts about sexual conduct. If you do this, your practice is going to make progress pretty fast; if you allow your mind to be dissolute, your practice will retrograde.
Q: I have been a period of time that I thought myself was in certain level, but I don’t know whether I was misunderstanding it or fell down from that state when I got busy. Anyway, it’s impossible to know what state I was now. But I think if one can’t keep the spiritual state in this complicated world, it doesn’t count as enlightenment. Now I’m trying my best to keep in Samadhi in Walking, Standing, Sitting and Lying Down, and no longer pay much attention of what level I’m in. Occasionally I get certain epiphany, and I’m happy and grateful about that.
A: Buddhism practice has its own order and methodology. Rome is not built in one day. There are too many factors in life that leads to affliction; if there are too much affliction, it’s quite impossible to practice Vipassana to get the Wisdom. So you have to uphold the precepts and protect your mind, practice Samadhi meditation and develop your mind, such that you can subdue the affliction, and practice Vipassana for the Wisdom. Once you have the Wisdom, you can finally cease the afflictions. The cessation of afflictions/suffering is caused by the Wisdom. The practice before the Wisdom, can only be counted as the suppression of suffering, it’s coming from temporarily staying away from the causes that leads to afflictions. The watershed between ordinary people and saints is the Wisdom. It’s a delusion if ordinary people want to practice in daily life: with ordinary people’s mind status, attempting to practice the courses of the great Bodhisattva (Trying transcend the world without making up one’s mind of first abandoning the mundane world. It’s completely impossible, it at most can result into good karma). So the cause and effect cannot be mistaken for the other.