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My first jhana

While I’ve not mastered the first jhana, I did experience it very briefly once (and only once, for reasons I’ll explain later): Ajahn Brahm calls it a “yoyo jhana” because the meditator goes briefly into the jhana, gets so excited, and the excitement then bounces the meditator straight out of the jhana.

I was meditating in an executive retreat (i.e. a retreat meant for working executives) held at the Le Meridien, Chiang Rai, Thailand in 2010, organized by the Singapore Buddhist Fellowship. It was the second time I had gone for a retreat: the very first retreat I ever attended was an S.N Goenka-tradition retreat at Dharamshala in 2005.

During this retreat, the instructor was Ajahn Brahmavamso (or Ajahn Brahm for short). In contrast to the instructions i encountered on my first retreat, Ajahn Brahm actually advised people to relax to the max, and to be comfortable first and foremost. It was important, he said, to make peace with whatever you feel, be kind, and be gentle. This is his rephrasing of the second factor of the Eightfold Path (nekkhamma, avayapada, avihimsa in Pali). I think this is key, because it allowed my mind to gradually settle over the course of the retreat. Instead of using willpower to hold the mind on the meditation object, my mind very quickly brightened up and held easily to the meditation object of the breath, because it was very delightful to do so.

Later on, the citta nimitta (sign of the mind) appeared as a bright light in my meditation. The more I did nothing, the brighter it became, until at one point it felt like I was staring into the noonday sun. I was also very naturally sleeping less: I needed only 4 hours of sleep a day.

Then one time, I was meditating in the meditation hall, doing the usual preliminaries (relaxing the body, letting the mind be in the present moment and switching to the breath when the mind was ready), and the nimitta popped up very quickly, and became brighter and brighter.

All of a sudden, the “light” of the nimitta dimmed down, as though someone had lowered the dimmer switch. This was accompanied by a sensation of falling, as though I was falling into an infinite pit within myself.

Then there was an absolute explosion of sheer bliss and ecstasy. It was as though someone had taken all the orgasms I had ever experienced in my life, condensed it into a moment, and multiplied it by a million.

I was so excited that the thought “What the…” formed and I came straight out of it, breathing excitedly in the dim meditation hall.

A few observations below.

If you experience the first jhana, it will be the greatest pleasure you’ve ever experienced in your life. There will be absolutely no doubt, because the ecstasy will be absolutely a thousand or million-fold more than all your life’s orgasms combined. There would be absolutely no doubt of what you experienced, because it’s a far higher pleasure than anything you’ve ever experienced in your life.

This is something of a double-edged sword, because while it will be the most earth-shaking pleasure you’ve ever experienced, it inevitably will be accompanied by the wanting and craving for a repeat experience. It is exactly this wanting that prevents one from regaining this, which is why I only experienced this once, and never experienced it again: the desire for it is too much.

(Side note: the pleasure is derived from the ceasing of the five senses. That is why there is a sutta that refers to the first jhana as “the end of the world as one knows it”, because you’re literally experiencing an unworldly pleasure (i.e. mindblowing pleasure without the five senses. It’s from this that one realizes that the five-senses are truly suffering…)

(Side-side note: the experience also made me realize why Buddhist monastics are celibate. They truly have a higher pleasure!)
The immediate sensation just before the jhana is one of falling. This is possibly because the mind was really letting go for the first time in one’s life. The cause of jhanas is letting go, which (according to the Satipatthana

sutta and its Chinese parallels from Ven Analayo’s translation) is fueled by seclusion, dispassion and cessation. As Ajahn Brahm’s teacher Ajahn Chah repeatedly said, “you meditate to let go, not to gain things”. It’s not from wanting, or striving or practice per se, and definitely not from willpower (i.e. even if you sit for an hour every day, that’s not going to help you get to jhanas if you’re not letting go but just using your willpower to force yourself to sit). So your question of “how did you do it (e.g. length of sessions)” is the wrong question, as it implies that you can “get” jhana by sitting for 10x10mins or whatever length of time.

Instead, it’s actually less about the amount of time you meditate, but the manner in which you meditate. Far too many meditators are using willpower, when meditation is about letting go/making peace, being kind, being gentle: it’s not about “gaining” jhana or making them happen. If you let go enough, jhanas will happen. But if you want them, then they won’t.
It’s also important to note that the rest of the Eightfold Path contribute to experiencing the jhanas: it’s practically impossible for one to experience the jhanas if your actions of body speech and mind are completely unrestrained. I had been keeping to the Eight Precepts prior to experiencing the jhanas, so I suspect that was a contributing factor too.
You can read detailed instructions in Ajahn Brahm’s book here if you’re interested to learn how to meditate as per the Buddha’s instructions. I personally think it’s THE best contemporary meditation book out there.

lobsterKundoShoshinmisecmisc1BuddhadragonHozan

Comments

  • Cool.

    Now what?
    A new hat perhaps?

    Wait ... that might be a cushion :)

    Dakini
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran
    edited December 3

    @hermitwin said:
    While I’ve not mastered the first jhana, I did experience it very briefly once (and only once, for reasons I’ll explain later): Ajahn Brahm calls it a “yoyo jhana” because the meditator goes briefly into the jhana, gets so excited, and the excitement then bounces the meditator straight out of the jhana.

    I was meditating in an executive retreat (i.e. a retreat meant for working executives) held at the Le Meridien, Chiang Rai, Thailand in 2010, organized by the Singapore Buddhist Fellowship. It was the second time I had gone for a retreat: the very first retreat I ever attended was an S.N Goenka-tradition retreat at Dharamshala in 2005.

    During this retreat, the instructor was Ajahn Brahmavamso (or Ajahn Brahm for short). In contrast to the instructions i encountered on my first retreat, Ajahn Brahm actually advised people to relax to the max, and to be comfortable first and foremost. It was important, he said, to make peace with whatever you feel, be kind, and be gentle. This is his rephrasing of the second factor of the Eightfold Path (nekkhamma, avayapada, avihimsa in Pali). I think this is key, because it allowed my mind to gradually settle over the course of the retreat. Instead of using willpower to hold the mind on the meditation object, my mind very quickly brightened up and held easily to the meditation object of the breath, because it was very delightful to do so.

    Later on, the citta nimitta (sign of the mind) appeared as a bright light in my meditation. The more I did nothing, the brighter it became, until at one point it felt like I was staring into the noonday sun. I was also very naturally sleeping less: I needed only 4 hours of sleep a day.

    Then one time, I was meditating in the meditation hall, doing the usual preliminaries (relaxing the body, letting the mind be in the present moment and switching to the breath when the mind was ready), and the nimitta popped up very quickly, and became brighter and brighter.

    All of a sudden, the “light” of the nimitta dimmed down, as though someone had lowered the dimmer switch. This was accompanied by a sensation of falling, as though I was falling into an infinite pit within myself.

    Then there was an absolute explosion of sheer bliss and ecstasy. It was as though someone had taken all the orgasms I had ever experienced in my life, condensed it into a moment, and multiplied it by a million.

    I was so excited that the thought “What the…” formed and I came straight out of it, breathing excitedly in the dim meditation hall.

    A few observations below.

    If you experience the first jhana, it will be the greatest pleasure you’ve ever experienced in your life. There will be absolutely no doubt, because the ecstasy will be absolutely a thousand or million-fold more than all your life’s orgasms combined. There would be absolutely no doubt of what you experienced, because it’s a far higher pleasure than anything you’ve ever experienced in your life.

    This is something of a double-edged sword, because while it will be the most earth-shaking pleasure you’ve ever experienced, it inevitably will be accompanied by the wanting and craving for a repeat experience. It is exactly this wanting that prevents one from regaining this, which is why I only experienced this once, and never experienced it again: the desire for it is too much.

    (Side note: the pleasure is derived from the ceasing of the five senses. That is why there is a sutta that refers to the first jhana as “the end of the world as one knows it”, because you’re literally experiencing an unworldly pleasure (i.e. mindblowing pleasure without the five senses. It’s from this that one realizes that the five-senses are truly suffering…)

    (Side-side note: the experience also made me realize why Buddhist monastics are celibate. They truly have a higher pleasure!)
    The immediate sensation just before the jhana is one of falling. This is possibly because the mind was really letting go for the first time in one’s life. The cause of jhanas is letting go, which (according to the Satipatthana

    sutta and its Chinese parallels from Ven Analayo’s translation) is fueled by seclusion, dispassion and cessation. As Ajahn Brahm’s teacher Ajahn Chah repeatedly said, “you meditate to let go, not to gain things”. It’s not from wanting, or striving or practice per se, and definitely not from willpower (i.e. even if you sit for an hour every day, that’s not going to help you get to jhanas if you’re not letting go but just using your willpower to force yourself to sit). So your question of “how did you do it (e.g. length of sessions)” is the wrong question, as it implies that you can “get” jhana by sitting for 10x10mins or whatever length of time.

    Instead, it’s actually less about the amount of time you meditate, but the manner in which you meditate. Far too many meditators are using willpower, when meditation is about letting go/making peace, being kind, being gentle: it’s not about “gaining” jhana or making them happen. If you let go enough, jhanas will happen. But if you want them, then they won’t.
    It’s also important to note that the rest of the Eightfold Path contribute to experiencing the jhanas: it’s practically impossible for one to experience the jhanas if your actions of body speech and mind are completely unrestrained. I had been keeping to the Eight Precepts prior to experiencing the jhanas, so I suspect that was a contributing factor too.
    You can read detailed instructions in Ajahn Brahm’s book here if you’re interested to learn how to meditate as per the Buddha’s instructions. I personally think it’s THE best contemporary meditation book out there.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. 🤗🤗🙏🙏

  • Thanks for sharing this with us. 🤗🤗🙏🙏

    Exactly so.

    Genuine unfoldings, jhana states, a touch of the dzogchen and a quick tap dance on the far shore is very important to confirm the genuine experiences people of a Buddhist inclination/practice have.

    A genuine experience is a type of flag waving metaphor. Quite rightly the emphasis is on relaxed attention ... and bits ... falling away ...

    BuddhadragonHozan
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @lobster said:
    Genuine unfoldings, jhana states, a touch of the dzogchen and a quick tap dance on the far shore is very important to confirm the genuine experiences people of a Buddhist inclination/practice have.

    I read somewhere that the first jhana -application of thought, sustained application of thought, joy, sukkha and one-pointedness- is a rather common occurrence among meditators, as they deepen their meditation practice.
    It helps the practitioner to want to proceed further in his practice and remain "stimulated" to stay in the path.

    Naturally, the practitioner will not experience the real benefit of meditation, which is applied in order to help us attain wisdom and samadhi, if used for mere concentration purposes.
    Cessation of dukkha does not come from mere concentration without wisdom or ethical development, as @hermitwin rightfully explained above.

    lobster
  • HozanHozan Veteran

    Thank you so much for sharing @hermitwin . Which of Ajahn Brahm's books do you refer to in the last paragraph of your post?

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    I can still recall, my first jhāna,
    I still see it all,
    Joy and bliss remain, thoughts within the brain,
    Our first jhāna,
    Memories that remain.

    lobster
  • Hozan
    Mindfulness bliss and beyond.
    By ajahn Brahm

    Hozan
  • Hozan
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I have to say, it has received very mixed reviews, and I'm finding the different opinions quite informative. I very much think this is a book worth reading fully, but it also bears comparison with other similarly worthy tomes...

    @hermitwin I take absolutely nothing away from your most marvellous experience; reading your post was a delight and pleasure. It's an extremely laudable thing to have a member share such an experience, because it provides invaluable information and insight into an aspect of meditation that may well be attainable by others.

    As to the book though, it may be as well to not put all one's eggs in one basket...

    Thank you for your input. :)

  • Mindfulness bliss and beyond.
    By ajahn Brahm

    First four chapters here
    http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books11/Ajahn_Brahm-Mindfulness_Bliss_and_Beyond-Chapters1-4.pdf

    more texts:
    http://www.dhammatalks.net

  • DakiniDakini Veteran

    Congratulations, OP! You must have been doing something right! :p

  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited December 5

    @lobster said:
    Cool.

    Now what?
    A new hat perhaps?

    @hermitwin said:
    While I’ve not mastered the first jhana, I did experience it very briefly once (and only once, for reasons I’ll explain later): Ajahn Brahm calls it a “yoyo jhana” because the meditator goes briefly into the jhana, gets so excited, and the excitement then bounces the meditator straight out of the jhana.

    "For a joyful person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May rapture arise in me.' It is in the nature of things that rapture arises in a joyful person.

    "For a rapturous person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May my body be serene.' It is in the nature of things that a rapturous person grows serene in body.

    "For a person serene in body, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I experience pleasure.' It is in the nature of things that a person serene in body experiences pleasure.

    "For a person experiencing pleasure, there is no need for an act of will, 'May my mind grow concentrated.' It is in the nature of things that the mind of a person experiencing pleasure grows concentrated.

    "For a person whose mind is concentrated, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I know & see things as they actually are.' It is in the nature of things that a person whose mind is concentrated knows & sees things as they actually are.

    "For a person who knows & sees things as they actually are, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I feel disenchantment.' It is in the nature of things that a person who knows & sees things as they actually are feels disenchantment.

    "For a person who feels disenchantment, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I grow dispassionate.' It is in the nature of things that a person who feels disenchantment grows dispassionate.

    "For a dispassionate person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I realize the knowledge & vision of release.' It is in the nature of things that a dispassionate person realizes the knowledge & vision of release.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an11/an11.002.than.html

    You'll notice as you contemplate in this way, silently holding your attention without moving, that all the old labels disappear. All the old ideas which you had about that thing in front of you, are the "outer petals". They start to disappear when you get to the petals underneath. You start to see things you've never seen before, experiences for which you don't have labels and which are beyond your learned perceptions. Most of our perceptions are just repeating what we already know from when we were told it at school. "Cow", "Dog", "Policeman", "Money", "Car"; all these are just labels which we are taught to attach to the objects in the world. Also, there are labels which we are taught to attach to the objects of the mind: "thought", "feeling", "consciousness" and "self". All these are just that much - learned perceptions.

    As we sustain our attention on the mind, we see that all those labels are the outer petals of the lotus. When they open, we know that there is more to this, that there's a deeper reality which is certainly beyond words. If we can keep on sustaining our attention on this thing which we call "the mind", "experience", "the moment", or whatever we wish to call it, without moving, the innermost petals start to manifest and then finally the last, the thousandth petal, the innermost-of-the-innermost, opens up and reveals what is called "the jewel in the heart of the lotus" The beautiful jewel of Dhamma which is emptiness - nothing there! This will not be what you expect in the heart of a lotus, but that's what's there - the emptiness of all phenomena. Once you see that, it gives you a great shock that wakes you from the deep slumber of illusion.

    https://www.dhammatalks.net/Books3/Ajahn_Brahm_The_Ending_of_Things.htm

    With Metta

    lobsterBuddhadragon
  • Thanks @pegembara <3

    Relaxed mindfulness, regular attentive attention in our favoured posture eases into ... feeling 'extreme' well being. What did we think Buddhism is about?
    ... a good start/by product/temp inspiration ...

    HozanBuddhadragon
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