By being without worry or remorse over things done (having practiced blameless morality), one sits and focuses on a meditation subject. If the breath -- a popular choice because it is what the Buddha had taken up when he became enlightened -- is chosen, one focuses completely just under the nose. One is aware of the breath coming in and out. And one remains undistracted, unagitated, and wakeful. Eventually, one will see the breath.
With constant mindfulness applied just there, dropped only when sleeping but otherwise maintained most hours of the day, that "sign" (nimitta) will strengthen and brighten. Since the attention has not changed places and the focus has remained the breath, the sign (an internally created light that becomes visible even with eyes open) will become steady. The body and mind become suffused with temporary states of purity, collectedness, rapture, joy, and bliss. Yet attention remains at the same spot.
- How long will it take to get to jhana? For some it may seem instant. The reasons for this are easy to understand but terribly difficult to believe. For most people, it takes intensive and consistent effort of more than a month, which is why a retreat is so very helpful. Other vital ingredients are silence, withdrawal, undistractedness, good sleep, consistency, little food intake, and above all a balancing of effort and ease. The company of concentrated people is very helpful but, of course, difficult to find.
Then, when the light is steady, brilliant, and one is able to control it making it bigger or smaller by simply determining that it be so, one is ready to "absorb." One literally does so by forming the intention and making the determination to merge. One becomes one with the light. And in doing so, one has "entered" the first absorption. What is jhana?
- The five jhana factors are: (1) Initial application of the mind to the object (vitakka or applied attention), (2) sustained application (vicara), (3) joy (piti), (4) happiness (sukha), and (5) one-pointedness (ekaggata). The result in equanimity (upekkha or serene impartiality).
"It is just as if a skilled bath attendant or apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that this ball of bath powder — saturated, laden with moisture, permeated within and without — would become a ball of soap and not drip. Even so, the meditator permeates, suffuses, and fills every part of this body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing in this entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal...
Why would anyone want to do this? The Buddha's definition of Right Concentration in the Noble Eightfold Path is the first four jhanas. In order to successfully practice mindfulness for liberating insight (described in the commentaries as vipassana) as well as the Divine Abidings (Brahma Viharas), one needs a powerful concentration (calm, serenity, or collectedness known as samadhi). In this way, wisdom can be cultivated and developed that results in enlightenment.
"Mindfulness" (sati) without sufficient concentration (samadhi) is a hard and often futile effort. However, it is said that a very intensive "dry insight" practice gives rise to weak but sufficient form of "momentary" or "access" concentration. This is unstable concentration is a very frustrating, brittle, hit-and-miss substitute for Right Concentration. But on account of it, countless meditators have neglected jhana, which the Buddha praised in countless sutras.
Some even believe that Right Concentration is no longer possible in this dissolute and distracted age. It is more difficult to be sure, but we guarantee it is possible. Otherwise we would not speak of it. But meditators at Wisdom Quarterly and their teachers have verified the sutras and commentaries (such as the Path of Purification) and can say with perfect assurance that it is possible for one practicing in the correct way to experience what is recorded.