Transcription of a Dhammatalk given on 14.7.1996.

by Ajahn Brahmmavamso

"Tam sukhan annatra kamehi annatra akusalehi dhammehi na bhayitabbam".
(M I 247 & II 454)

This is a small saying by the Buddha in which he said that that happiness which is other or apart from sensuality, that pleasure which is apart from unwholesome dhammas, is not be feared.

And indeed I want to use this opportunity this evening to, instead of giving a general talk, to give a specific talk on the process of meditation leading up to jhanas. I want to give this talk now, because it is the right time in the retreat. After just over a fortnight much of the external activity has disappeared and the mind and the body should be settling down. The mind should be inclining towards these quiet and peaceful states of mind. Now I want to give a talk on how one deals with this mind to lead it into these deep states of peace and bliss, these very useful states.

Many of you who have heard my talks on the subject before will hear much which is repeated, but then again because these talks are not planned there will be other pieces of information which you have not heard before which will help. And anything which helps will settle the mind to let go of the hindrances, to let go of the world of the five senses, and gain these 'uttarimanussadhamma', these superior human states which are worthy of the ariyas, any such information will be useful.

I was talking in my last discourse about the need for sense-restraint, and it goes without saying in this discourse that sense-restraint gives one the groundwork, the foundation, for taking this mind into a fuller restraint of the senses. A fuller letting go of many, many things where the mind use to dwell and a going to another place inside the mind. A place of great peace and bliss, and a very profound place as well which gives you great insights into the nature of the mind. What the mind is capable of and how it feels to be in these states. Why these states are such and how they come about. This gives one great insights into a world, a world which you cannot know unless you have been there, because these worlds, these samadhi states are so strange compared to the external world that they are very difficult to describe. Those who have not been there find it very difficult to understand that such states can exist.

Though, one has to start from the very beginning. Having practised some sense-restraint there comes a time when one sits down on one's cushion, still, and one starts training the mind. That initial training of the mind should begin with, what the Buddha called the iddhipadas. The iddhipadas are the four roads or bases of success or bases of power. These are what empowers you to actually succeed in this process of meditation. As you will all know these iddhipadas are the arousing of a desire for a goal and the maintaining of the desire for that goal: the chandasamadhi. This is a prerequisite of gaining any success in this meditation. If you do not set yourself a goal then you will not set up that desire, the movement of your mind to achieve that goal and there will be no results. You do not get to one-pointedness of mind by allowing the mind to wander along. It will never get close. It needs to be directed, to be pointed, and that direction, that pointedness of the mind, has to be done through a very clear resolution.

The most important thing about this iddhipada is that this resolution has to be maintained throughout the course of the meditation. If you make that resolution and you maintain it, then you have got a hope for success. If you make that resolution and after one or two minutes you forget what you are supposed to be doing, what you are aiming for, then it is very easy to turn a corner and go backwards or go sideways and waste a lot of time.

These are very profound states and they need that degree of effort. Not immense effort, but that constant effort. So you take your goal and keep it in mind. That is the chandasamadhi and that generates energy to achieve the goal, and it generates the application of the mind onto that goal and the investigation of dhammas which go along with the desire for success. This investigation of the Dhamma is the vimansasamadhi, which is like the investigating and maintaining that demonstrates that the path of samatha is not apart from the path of vipassana. But in order to gain success in meditation you have to use wisdom. You have to use the desire, the energy, the application of the mind and the wisdom faculty generated through vimansa. In order to gain success all of these need to be functioning and need to be maintained throughout the meditation. When I define the word 'samadhi' as the sustaining of these things, you can see that if you sustain these iddhipada, these roads to success, these functions of the mind, then your meditation will be successful. If you do not maintain these, that is why the meditation does not succeed - one forgets.

So it is very helpful that at the beginning of the meditation to set a goal clearly in mind. A goal which is achievable, but which is going to test you rather than "Just sit down and meditate and just see what happens." If you see what happens you will probably see a wandering mind, especially if you have not had success in deep tranquil states before.

So you set a goal and when you set the goal that becomes the means to generate these iddhipadas. Do not be afraid of desiring that goal, of craving for that goal. We just chanted the Dhammacakkapavattanasutta, the first sermon of the Buddha. In that sermon, the Buddha talked about the Noble Truths. The second Noble Truth he talked about is the cause of suffering, the Dukkhasamudaya. This cause is that craving which leads to rebirth, that craving which seeks delight here and there and which is associated with delight and lust, that craving which is called 'kamatanha': the craving for the delights in the world of the five senses, the craving for existence, the craving for the annihilation of your idea of self. These are the cravings which gives rise to rebirth. The craving for a jhana, the craving to let go of the world of the five senses is the complete opposite of kamatanha. It is as it were the craving to overcome craving, and as such it is specifically said in the suttas by Ven. Ananda to be the craving which leads to the end of craving (A II 144). As such it should not be feared but encouraged. Any craving which leads to the end of rebirth is part of the iddhipadas, part of the Eightfold Path, part of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, because it generates the Eightfold Path and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

When you have a chance to meditate make clear the goal which you want to have for this meditation and keep that goal in mind. The goal which I encourage for your meditation is to gain the first jhana, because it will equip each one of you with both an experiential knowledge of some uttarimanussadhamma, some other-worldly-states. It will also be training yourself to let go of those coarse defilements which we call the hindrances, the coarser defilements which keep you attached to the rupaloka, even though you are only abandoning them temporarily. In the way of the Dhamma you have to abandon things temporarily before you get used to being apart from them, then you can abandon them fully. It is just like a person who comes to a monastery temporarily, goes back into the world again, then comes a second time, and a third time, until he gets used to abandoning this world. Then he can abandon it fully and permanently. First of all it is important to abandon at least temporarily. To see what it is like. So this is the goal which I am encouraging for this rains retreat: to gain a jhana, just the first jhana. Having made that one's goal then one develops the desire, the energy, the application of the mind and the investigation towards that end.

The application of the mind is the citta-samadhi. The mind has many functions to it, one of these functions is sati - mindfulness. You have to maintain this mindfulness throughout the meditation period. As I have mentioned many times in our city-centre, that maintenance of mindfulness means that one maintains the full knowledge of what one is doing. Always as it were checking up on oneself, but not on a verbal level: just knowing what one is doing, fully experiencing the content of one's consciousness from moment to moment. And also remembering of what one is supposed to be doing. Remembering the goal which one has assigned for this meditation. Remembering to maintain the desire for that goal, the energy, the application of the mind and the investigation. Because if you do not keep the map with you on the journey you will get lost. You need to maintain that map in your mind and that is why it is helpful, in order to maintain the goal, in order to maintain the instructions, to very carefully state a resolution to yourself at the beginning of a meditation. It is well known, even to Western psychology, that if you carefully make a resolution to yourself, for example, and this is only an example, that by making that resolution three times with as much care and mindfulness as you can, then you find that you recall it and you remember it for a long time. The more effort you put into making that resolution the more impression it makes on your mind and the longer it stays in the mind. This one way of maintaining, whose function is to recall the instructions throughout the meditation, by making that firm resolution at the beginning, this shows that you are meticulous in the process of meditation and thereby you find that you will not waste so much time having the mind wander around.

So having made that resolution this is what you are aiming for. You have made that resolution to keep the iddhipadas going, to maintain the desire for this state, to maintain the energy......application of mind......investigation. At that point you can start looking at your meditation object. The meditation object with which you will find it easiest to gain jhana will be the breath. You can try other things, but I would encourage to keep the main object of meditation the experience of breathing because that was the meditation which the Buddha used and which the forest monks in Thailand use. It is the most popular meditation object and there is a reason for that. The reason is that is the most convenient way into these jhana states. Other ways may be used, but, as I was saying to a few people during the week, if you can not sustain your attention on the breathing it is very unlikely that you will be able to sustain your attention on other things. It is the ability of the mind to sustain attention which is the function of samadhi and which leads one into jhanas. Whatever the meditation object is, it is not so important as one's ability to hold it.

If one is going to use the breath, then there are a couple of tricks which are extremely useful. The first skilful means is to make sure that you are watching the feeling of the breath not the thought of the breath. There is a great difference between experience and what we call a commentary. If you get accustomed in your meditation to knowing and staying with the experience and discarding the commentary then you will find that your mediation becomes much easier. You can do this throughout the day by discarding commentary: by making a resolution that one will try to restrict the commentary one makes on life and to become more attentive to the bare experience of life. Making that resolution will arouse the mindfulness necessary to stop that inner conversation. You do not listen to it, you are not interested in it, you are more interested in the experience.

When you are watching the breath you have to fully experience the breath, not think about it, not note it, not say anything about it, but just know it. The more simple you can make that meditation object, the more powerful it will become. This is also one reason why I encourage that when you put your attention on the breath not to concern yourself about where the experience on feeling is located in your body. If you are concerned where it is located in the body that concern just brings up too much body-awareness and with that body-awareness will come the disturbances of the body such as painful and pleasant feelings, heat and cold, itches, aches, pains and other feelings. Whatever those feelings are, this body is just a mess of painful and pleasant feelings. It is just a cacophony of different sounds, as it were, going off at the same time and never giving one any respite or peace. So the quicker one can take one's attention from the physical body, the better it is for one's success in meditation. Just know the experience of breath and do not concern yourself where it might be in this physical body.

You are going to use the experience of breath to take you into a jhana state, and the way you use it is as follows: The first task is to be able to sustain your attention fully on the breath. This is getting the samadhi, the sustained attention, on this coarse object of breathing. This should not be difficult for everyone of you. If you cannot sustain your attention on the breath, which is a coarse object, then it is impossible to sustain the attention on anything more fine like the samadhinimitta, the sign of concentration, which arises later. It will be impossible for you to sustain your attention on any aspect of the mind, such as the khandhas, the aggregates associated with the mind, enough to gain true insight into their nature. These are very refined things, and to be able to fully know them you have to, as it were, hold them before the eyes of your mind, long enough to fully penetrate into their depths.

We have to start with developing just that ability of the mind to sustain its attention on the coarse breath. This is a process which requires a lot of endurance and persistence, but there are some helpful hints as well. I already mentioned one of them: remember what you are supposed to be doing to make sure that mindfulness is very clear. Very often in your meditation the mind wanders off, because it forgets what it is supposed to be doing. If there was someone, as it were, just behind you watching every moment and as soon as you wandered off he reminded you: "You have lost the breath". Then you find that you would not have wandered off so far: you would be training the mind to stay with the breath. No one else can do that other than mindfulness which you establish through a resolution.

However, there is another important trick, a skilful means, which can help you maintain the awareness of the breath and it comes through understanding why the mind wanders off in the first place. Knowing the ways of this thing we call the mind. The mind seeks for pleasure, for happiness, for contentment and if it will not find contentment with the breath, it will find it elsewhere, it will wander off. Sometimes, no matter how strong your mindfulness is, you find that just by trying to force the attention to remain with the breath it creates tension, because you are forcing the mind, as it were, against its will to stay in a place where it does not want to be - with the breath. The way to overcome that problem, to make it simple, to remain with the breath without needing enormous amounts of mindfulness and willpower constantly applied, is to make the breath a pleasant abiding so that the mind finds happiness and satisfaction remaining with the breath. The way we do that is by developing the perception of a happy breath, a peaceful, beautiful breath, and that is not too difficult to do with training. If you can remind yourself when meditating to develop the perception of joy and happiness with the breath you will find that the mind remains with the breath with very little difficulty. One way to do that is to develop loving-kindness towards the breath, because loving-kindness towards an object sees only the joyful, beautiful and positive aspects of that phenomena. If you can develop that positive way of looking at the breath when it goes in and comes out, then you will find that the mind naturally will just want to remain with the breath. It will not be so interested in those other sensory-phenomena which try to steal your attention away. Once one can develop a perception of the breath as a beautiful abiding one finds it easier to achieve the goal of full awareness of the breath. This goal is achieved when the mindfulness remains continuously with the breath from the very beginning of an in-breath right to its end, noticing any gaps between the in and out breaths. Seeing the out-breath from its beginning to its end, the next in-breath etc., breath after breath after breath.

You might be able to notice certain stages in this full awareness of the breath. The first stage is when you are actually holding it with a little bit of force. At this particular time, the reason why you have to hold it with some sort of force is because the mind is yet to be settled on the breath. The sign of this is that you are aware of other things in the background. This is the sign that shows you have awareness of other objects, sounds, feelings, thoughts, apart from the experience of the breath. It means that the mind is yet to be fully involved in the breath, and is still keeping these other things in the backburner, so to speak, 'just in case'. It has not yet fully abandoned interest in these extraneous objects. One way of overcoming this problem is to maintain the attention of the breath, as it were putting the breath in the centre of your field of vision, your mind's field of vision. I am using this metaphor of a 'field of vision', the mind does not see, the mind experiences, but for many we use a metaphor from the world of sight to talk about the mind. So the central object in your mind should always be the breath and if there are any disturbances, disturbances means anything other than the experience of breath, including thoughts and orders from yourself, keep them on the edge of your awareness. Keep your mind fully focussed on the full experience of the breath, developing joy in this breath. This will keep it centred.

You find that when the mind wanders, it wanders from what was once your centre on to one of these peripheral objects. Those peripheral objects, as it were, take over your mind, become the object of your attention and the breath just disappears off the edge of the screen like something falling off the edge of the table into the great void - you have lost the breath. However, if you keep the experience of the breath in the centre of your screen and maintain your attention there, then it is only a matter of time before all those peripheral objects themselves will fall off the screen and disappear. This is because the nature of focussing your attention on one thing is for the mind to narrow down, for the field to get smaller and smaller, until it just sees what is in the centre. What was on the edge becomes completely out of vision and you are left with the experience of the breath. This is the way one drops such a thing as the body, one drops such a thing as attention to sounds, and such things as thoughts which can roam around in the mind.

If one focuses just on the breath, the experience of the breath, and maintains that long enough so that everything else disappears except the experience of the breath - and if everything else has disappeared, and all what you have is the full experience of the breath from moment to moment maintained for a long time, then you know that you have the first level of what really can be called samadhi. You have got an object and you have maintained your attention on it. When you have attained to this stage your attention should be relatively effortless, because you have already abandoned the disturbances: they have, as it were, fallen off the screen. You have got full attention on a coarse object, the breath. You all know that in the anapanasati-sutta that stage is called 'sabbakayapatisanvedi'': 'Experiencing the whole body of the breath. The whole body, just the breath, fully on the breath'. 'Fully' means that there is no room for anything else. All other disturbances have not got a door into the mind at this stage.

At this stage it is not all that necessary to develop a perception of a beautiful breath, because it is so peaceful just watching the breath from its beginning to its end, because the thoughts have been given up, because the sounds have disappeared, because the body is no longer disturbing you. Just this much is a great release for the mind. The mind has let go of a lot at this stage, in fact it has let go of many of the hindrances, it has just got a little bit of restlessness left to truly overcome.

What we need to do next, once we have got to this stage and we know it and we can maintain it, is that we start to practise the fourth practice in the anapanasati-sutta: the 'Passambhayan kayasankharan', 'The settling down, the tranquillising of the object of meditation'. Once we have the samadhi on the object, and not before, at that point we tranquillise the object. If you find that you are unable to maintain your attention on a fine object then make the object a bit coarser. I remember Ajahn Chah once teaching that if you lose attention on the breath, and you cannot find the breath, then just stop breathing for a few moments. The next breath will be a very coarse breath and you will find it easy to watch. You have been breathing, but the breath has been refined, too refined for you to notice. So you have to go to a coarser object and keep on that coarser object of the breath until you can really maintain full attention on it. Sometimes this is a bit restraining and restricting, because very often at this stage you are getting very close to very beautiful states of mind. Sometimes you may want to rush forward into a samadhinimitta or rush into a jhana, but you find that if you do not make this stage of full awareness of the breath solid, a samadhinimitta, once it arises, will very quickly disappear again. If you go into a jhana then you will go in and bounce straight back again. It is because the faculty of the mind to sustain and hold an object for a long period of time, enough for the jhana to fully develop and to maintain itself, has not been developed. You have to train the mind at this stage on a full awareness of the breath. Constantly, until you have that ability very underhand and you can do it. If you can maintain full awareness of the breath, and all other objects disappear, then you can start to quieten that breath down: as it were to allow it to settle until the physical feeling of the breath starts to give way to its mental object.

With experience there seems to be a physical part of experience and a mental part of experience. When that physical part disappears it reveals the mental part. You begin to experience how the mind sees the breath, not how the body feels the breath. The bodily function of body-consciousness disappears: the last of the five senses in its very refined form. The eye, the ear, smell, taste and bodily feeling have shut down: all except just the feeling of the breath. The five senses have, as it were, only one thread left. This experience of the breath, and now you are also shutting that one down as you quieten the breath down.

This is the stage where the samadhinimitta starts to arise, and only if you have been able to maintain full attention on the breath for long periods of time you will be able to handle the samadhinimitta. To be able to maintain attention on the breath for long periods of time takes this passive aspect of the mind. I was talking a few days ago in a couple of interviews that one can say that the mind has got two functions. It has got the passive function to receive information from the senses, what we call ‘the function to know’, and also the mind has the active function of interacting, what you might call: ‘the function to do’. In this meditation when one gets to these refined stages of mind, the main function of the mind has to be just to know. The doing-function has to be almost dead: just the last little piece left which is just finally going to guide the mind into a jhana where the function of doing is completely suppressed and abandoned, because in a jhana one just knows, one can not do. That function of the mind which is active has passed away and the function which is receiving is the only thing left. So remember that the mind has to be passive in these states - to be like a passenger, not a driver. Once one can do this with a coarse breath one can manage to do this with a samadhinimitta when it arises, whatever it manifests as, whether as a light or as a physical feeling.

I should mention once again that the so-called samadhinimitta is not a light, is not a physical feeling, but that is the closest description the mind can give to this thing. It is an object of mind-consciousness, not an object of body-consciousness or eye-consciousness. However, because of its intensity it very often appears as a light, or if the mind just perceives its effective quality, just as a feeling, but something very pleasant and appealing.

The mind just has to be able to hold its attention on it without moving. To do that it has to be very passive, because any action of the mind to interfere, to control, to do , to order, to make, will disturb that tranquillity of the mind. The samadhinimitta will disappear and you will be back on the breath or you will go way back to the beginning of your meditation. So you have to remember at this point ( and this is one of the reasons why I give a talk like this to put that instruction in your mind and so hopefully at the right time the instruction will appear and you will remember and act accordingly) that instead of trying to interfere with the samadhinimitta you will leave it alone and hold it in your mind. You will then find that you will have the ability to hold it, it does not disappear and it does not start to change. It is just there from moment to moment to moment. At this point you do not need to put that effort into trying to hold it; the effort will come from the mind itself. The samadhinimitta will always be attractive to the mind, because this is a peaceful experience, a joyful experience, and sometimes very blissful, but a sort of bliss which is not going to disturb the mind. If you have had samadhinimittas and they are disturbing, it means that the mind does not know how to hold these things when they are very strong, it cannot leave them alone. It is not that the samadhinimitta or the pitisukha disturbs you, it is you disturbing the pitisukha. Just like Ajahn Chah's simile: ‘ Noise does not disturb you, you disturb the noise’. The pitisukha is never disturbing, you disturb the pitisukha. If you leave it alone then it remains because the mind is doing this.

Those of you who have a great lot of vimansa, who have a very well developed faculty of wisdom, you will notice at this point that there is a difference between the citta and this delusion of self. All of the work which disturbs is coming from your delusion of self - that which thinks and controls and manages. However, the citta by itself, and this is a natural phenomena, its nature will be to go towards the samadhinimitta, hold on to it, and enter into a jhana. It is you, in the sense of the mirage, which causes the problems. This is one of the reasons, the more one has let go of the sense of self, the easier it is to gain jhanas. For someone who is an ariyan: a sotapanna, or a sakadagami, or an anagami or an arahant, the higher one's attainments, the easier jhanas become. For this very reason one can let go of this control, this control which comes from avijja, especially from the avijja which is the delusion of a self which always wants to control, speak, act, do and is afraid to let go of that much, simply because it is letting go of itself. So at this point, if you have a very strong wisdom faculty, investigate this point. Not by asking about it, but just by observing, asking yourself: "Why is it that, as it were, the samadhinimitta is not stable?" And if you can let go of the sense of self, just completely abandon all effort to control, to comment, and be completely passive, then the citta will do the work. The mind will go on to that nimitta which may appear as a light or a pleasant feeling.

The nature of that samadhinimitta is that it is like a gateway into the mind. Because you have just come from the realm of the five senses, the kamaloka, you interpret that samadhinimitta with that language, that is why it looks to be a light or physical feeling. As you maintain your attention on the samadhinimitta, if you, as it were, go further from the world of the five senses, the perception of the samadhinimitta changes. The perception of light or the physical feeling disappears and you go to the heart which is just a very pleasant experience which we call 'pitisukha'. You do not need to think 'what does pitisukha mean?' 'What is piti, what is sukha?' Because you will not be able to know the answer to those questions, not by looking at the suttas. The only way to what this one thing called pitisukha means as it appears in the first jhana is to gain that first jhana, and know that it is the object of the mind at this stage. It is the object of mind-consciousness, the one dhamma the mind is aware of . Because it is pitisukha, because it is extremely pleasant, peaceful and satisfying, the mind finds it very easy to find contentment in that one mental image, and so the mind does the work at this stage.

You have let go, not only of the kamaloka, the world of the five senses: you have also let go of that function of self which tries to control, because you can not do any controlling in these jhana states. It is a wonderful experience to behold that experience which is beyond the control of Mara; this Mara which manifests as the delusion of self. Mara is blindfolded in these states. The illusion of self which wants to struggle to be and by being it does, acts, orders, controls, manipulates and manages what it thinks is its home, existence, that is abandoned. That is why by gaining a first jhana you have let go of an enormous amount of the world of suffering, of existence. For at this stage you will still be fully aware because the mind is still there, the mind is still knowing and because the knowing is a very profound knowing at this stage.

A very powerful experience are these jhanas: they will certainly impress themselves on the mind, enough to very clearly remember what those experiences were when you emerge from a jhana after some length of time. The mind stays there because it finds full contentment at this stage: it is satisfied with the piti and the sukha, with the joy of this state. However, as I mentioned before, there is a defect in that first jhana and this you will notice after you emerge from the first jhana. You will not notice in that jhana what the defect is - in actuality the mind is not fully still. The mind is moving towards and away from, towards and away from. It is, as it were, oscillating around that pitisukha, because the mind has not fully entered into that state. It is still on the journey into samadhi. It is still wobbling, as it were, echoing and vibrating from what was happening before in the realm of the five senses, as the mind has not fully settled down. That wobbling of the mind is what we call 'vitakka - vicara '. It is the mind, it is not coming from you. It is not an order, it does not manifest as what we call thinking. As the mind does this, as the mind moves towards that piti-sukha, that is called 'vitakka'. The mind's holding on to that pitisukha, that is what we call 'vicara '. After a while the mind has moved away and so the mind has to move on to it again. It is a very gentle and hardly perceptible movement to and from this object, but it can not go very far away, the pitisukha remains fully in the mind's eye. So never does it go that far that the samadhi state is broken, that one feels the body.

Actually the suttas say that the thorn of the first jhana is sound, and so it will be sound as the first of the five external senses which can break the first jhana. But if a sound is heard it means that the samadhi of that jhana is already very weak and one is about to exit because of that sound within that jhana. Within that state you will be unable to hear what people are saying next to you, because the mind is fully involved in this pitisukha object. When I say fully involved I stress the word 'fully'. There is no space for the mind to receive any other input: it is fully taken up with the joy and happiness of the pitisukha obviously. It does not even let it go for a moment, not enough to notice anything else.

These are strange states to experience, because it is a mind very different than the mind which has so many things to deal with in the external world. A mind which has one thing come up to its attention and disappear and something else and something else. A mind which has such a stream, such a heavy load, such a burden of information to deal with, and here the mind has just one pleasant object: it is the pleasantness of that object which keeps the mind attached to the pitisukha. Do not be afraid of that attachment: it is the attachment which led the Buddha to enlightenment, led many arahats to full enlightenment. Anyhow at this stage you can not do anything about it anyway. This becomes the experience of the first jhana.

Later on that vitakka-vicara, that last wobbling of the mind is abandoned. Remember that the first jhana is just less than the second jhana, just less than full samadhi, the full one-pointedness of mind on the object.

Remember that Ven. Sariputta describes a jhana just in-between the first and second jhana where the movement of the mind onto the object has been abandoned. In that jhana there is no vitakka: all that is left there is vicara. (See A IV 300 & 440 f, S IV 360-363, D III 219, M III 162 - transcriber): That state is when the mind has the pitisukha fully and does not move away from it, but, as it were, grasps that pitisukha. It holds on to it, not realising that it does not need to grasp and put forth any effort to hold. The mind is doing this, not the illusion of self. At this stage it is very common that the mind will let go of the holding and it stays there by itself according to natural causes and results. The cause is the inner contentment of the mind being with this beautiful pitisukha, the beautiful happiness and one-pointedness of mind. The mind remains there as a solid object, the mind comes to one-ness, comes to a point as it were. And again, these are not things that one knows in this state, it is when one emerges afterwards and because the experience has impressed itself on your mind you can recall it very vividly. It is just as if you would remember a very vivid dream. Even more vivid are the experiences of jhana and you can remember them very clearly after you emerge. It is on emergence that you realise that it is the mind which is weird in the sense of being fully one. It could not move, it was like at a point of a rock, strong, powerful, blissful, completely immobile. The immovable, immobile mind of the second jhana. You can know these states and you can know these states afterwards as the mind remains immobile, just as one thing, just as one object which remains for moment after moment after moment. The continuance, the continuity of the mental object which does not change, just remains, just one thing, moment after moment after moment, neither expanding nor contracting, neither changing in quality, just remaining that sameness. This I call the one-pointedness in time of the nimitta, of the sign, of the mental consciousness.

Again you just see what is possible with consciousness, with mind. The only way you know mind is by knowing its objects: its objects are what define the mind. Once you know the different objects of the mind, including the samadhi objects, then you get some enormous insights and understandings into what this mind truly is, what it is capable of, and what happiness and suffering are. Once you start getting into these states then you know what the Buddha meant by a pleasant abiding. He sometimes called these states 'Nibbana here and now'. Even though it is not true Nibbana, it is close. Why is it close? Because a lot of cessation has happened. Very often the Buddha would equate Nibbana and nirodha, cessation, and here in these states a lot has ceased, by ceasing it has ended, disappeared, finished. A lot has ceased and that is why it is very close to Nibbana.

As one develops these states not only it does give you a pleasant feeling, but it also makes your life as a monk secure. Only when you have the knowledge and experience of niramisa-sukha, the happiness which is apart from the world of things, can you fully have contentment in monastic life. If you have not had the experience of the niramisa-sukha, the happiness of renunciation, your renunciation will always be a struggle. You may be able to renounce on the surface and on the outside appear to be an excellent monk towards others, but inside the mind still yearns for happiness and satisfaction. You will not stop that mind from searching that happiness and satisfaction in the world when it has not got any other resource inside. In one of the suttas, (M.14), Mahanama, one of Buddha's cousins, came up to the Buddha and said that even though he was a sakadagami, a once-returner, still passion invaded his mind from time to time and he never felt like fully renouncing. The Buddha said that it was because he was still attached to something: he had not given up something. What he was attached to was the kamaloka, and that illusory self which seeks for pleasure and control in this world.

So this is what one has to do and every one of you here can do it. Don't rush, be patient, be persistent and these things will happen. You have all got sufficient sila, morality. You have all got sufficient indriya-sanvara, sense-restraint. You can increase each one of these, but they are sufficient. What one truly needs is this meticulous application of the mind and doing things properly rather than rushing and doing things sloppily. There is a right way to sew a robe, there is a right way to wash your bowl, and there is a right way to meditate. If you are sloppy then you find that you can waste many years. If you are meticulous, then you find that progress happens. These things occur through natural causes. You are not a factor, you are just an obstacle to the attainments. So get yourself out of the way and allow these things to happen. Then you will also enjoy the bliss of jhanas, and your monastic life will be assured and your power towards insights will be strengthened enormously. In fact, with all your knowledge of the Dhamma, of the teachings of the Tipitaka, it will be very unlikely you won't get attainments. As the Buddha said in the Pasadika-sutta (D 29), four things can be expected, patikankha ,four benefits, anisamsa, there are practising the jhanas: the four stages of enlightenment. So may each one of you gain these jhanas and as the result, gain the benefits, the anisamsa. Just as the people who are staying the rains retreat automatically get the anisamsa, the rainy season benefits. So much the same way, I maintain that if you practice the jhanas having got enough knowledge of the Dhamma, you will certainly get the anisamsa, the four stages of enlightenment.

So this is what I offer you today and what I can do for you. Now I will leave it for yourself.

Question inaudible. ... You are mentioning that sometimes, late at night especially, one may experience tiredness and as such that one may use such things as thinking or verbalising to energise the mind. This is true, however, I would say that for you the achievements of the jhanas will come at unexpected times. The best times are obviously those you might call the quality times in the day: the times you do feel fit, energetic and clear. It is at those moments you should really push to gain the four jhanas. At the times the body feels comfortable and the mind feels peaceful and you get the feeling inside you that the mind is set up, it is possible from this stage that you get much deeper in your meditation. Those times will not come continuously throughout your day or week. But when those occasions do arise and you find that body and mind are like winged to go deeper, then do not waste those opportunities. However, at night-time or whenever you are feeling tired the chances are that you will not be able to get much depth in your meditation. But nevertheless it is a good time to train the mind, to go against that sleepiness, to arouse energy by whatever means. You may not get into jhana from that state, but you are creating noble causes so that another time the mind will easily get deeper into meditation. What you are overcoming here by saying 'no' to sleepiness is the mind's fixation with the comforts and needs of the body, because the feeling of sleep is an invitation of the mind to go into a comfortable physical abiding. You are saying: 'No, I am not interested in the comfort of the external world', so you are resisting, practising renunciation, and for that reason alone it is a worthwhile thing to do. However, the first experience of jhana will not come if you are having such coarse obstacles in your meditation. Later on, when one becomes skilled in jhana then, whenever the mind is tired, you may have the ability to enter jhana. It is not the ability of will power: it is the ability of experience born of wisdom to be able to bypass that tiredness, to go into a deep jhana, and thereby to be able to revive the mind and body.

Some of the great meditation teachers and monks I knew in Thailand used to be able to do that. They would have been walking all day and would be feeling very tired, but they would be able to grab hold of their minds with wisdom, just the right amount of wisdom, and thereby revive their body as well as their mind. You need to be very skilled to do that.

Question inaudible...You are asking whether reading will be an obstruction. This depends on two things. One is the material which you read and two is the way you read.

If you read and you practise sustaining attention on what you are reading, putting your mindfulness on what you are doing, applying yourself to reading and not finishing until the sutta is read. Not putting it down even though sometimes you feel tired or may want to go to the toilet or go outside for something. You can use reading as a way of sustaining your attention or something coarse, but you will still be developing that ability to commit yourself to a task and to maintain that commitment throughout.

Secondly, the material which you read is important because if it is material which turns the mind inwards, which is talk on things like renunciation, simplicity, contentment, which is all you ever find in the suttas, then you will find that, that will be inspiring the mind and turning the mind in that direction. You will find that that can be very helpful

When I go on retreats I love to read the suttas and I do not find them a hindrance at all to samadhi practice, but a great support. If the mind is going to play in the external world it loves to play in the discourses of the Buddha. One gets joy and happiness there, but again it is a niramisa-sukha: a happiness not of the world, but of a happiness of renunciation.

When you read some of the Buddha's words they just resound with renunciation. It is like someone is talking about one of your favourite places and when he talks about it, the mind just leaps and remembers. So suttas are fine. But use them for inspiration, not for philosophising or for speculating. Because you can philosophise and speculate, and that just creates more work for the mind, more thinking, more conceptualising, and more proliferating. Such sort of thing you would which are like to stop and restrain so that you can get these quiet states of mind far beyond thought. Quite frankly, you know, thinking is mostly a waste of time, because the experience of jhanas is very different than you would ever think.

(The following is a written reply to a question, dated 24.8.1996.)

Question: Is it necessary to first gain jhana in order to attain the path and fruit?

Answer: As for the controversy of whether it is necessary for some, or all, or none of the lokuttara-dhamma. Before addressing this question squarely, though, I would point out that many pose this academic question to conceal the practical question they are really asking: "I do not have to develop jhanas do I ?". The question is put and debated in order to find an excuse for not putting forth the effort and commitment and renunciation required for jhana. All Buddhists agree that the way to achieve the complete ending of dukkha is to develop the Ariyan Eightfold Path -- not the 7-fold path, 6-fold path....1-fold path, but the 8-fold path. You know, the final factor of these eight is 'samma-samadhi', which is always explained by the Buddha to mean the 4 rupa-jhana. Thus, in order to follow this path to Nibbana as described by the Buddha, one must develop jhana.

" Idan vuccati nekkhammasukhan pavivekasukhan sambodhisukhan: asevitabban bhavetabban bahulikatabban, na bhayitabban etassa sukhassa'ti vadami". (Latukikopama-sutta, M.66, = M I 454)

(Referring to the 4 rupa-jhana): "This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared." (MLDB p.557)

Now for the academic question of what comes first -- what comes later in the path. I tend to agree with Ven. Nv. that it is a virtual necessity to have had recent experience of at least the first jhana for the mind to be bold and penetrating enough to fully see the Dhamma and realise Sotapattiphala. Only one who has direct experience of jhanas would know their profundity and power and understand how invaluable they are to see the Truth. I said 'virtual necessity' above because the suttas seem to indicate that

some people who gained this and further attainments did so without jhana (e.g. Bahiya, Yasa, Mahanama), but this, I propose, was in the extraordinary circumstance of possessing punna from the past and being instructed by a Buddha!

In this monastery I use the simile of a person needing to travel from one side of the desert to the other side. Theoretically it is just about possible to make the journey by walking the inhospitable width of the continent. In the same way, it is possible to reach the ultimate goal without jhana, as Bahiya appeared to have done, but for bhikkhus as ourselves, this is now virtually impossible. Any person in this country in their right mind, and many aren't I would add, would use a vehicle to make the journey and would thereby increase their chance of completing the journey greatly. In the same way, a sensible bhikkhu would use the vehicle of jhana (plus the other 7 factors of the Path) to cross safely to the 'other shore'. Indeed, the 4 rupa-jhana are the surest vehicle to complete this crossing:

"Ime kho avuso cattaro sukhallikanuyoge anuyuttanan viharatan catttari phalani cattaro anisansa patikankha. Katame cattaro? ...sotapanno hoti...sakadagami hoti...

anagami...arahant hoti."

(Referring to the 4 rupa-jhanas): "For those who live addicted and devoted to these four modes of pleasure, friend, four fruits, four benefits can be expected. What four? ......he becomes a stream-enterer,...a once-returner,...a non-returner,...an arahant,...".

(Reply to a letter of another bhikkhu, 7.1.94)


You first ask about the meaning of piti in the first jhana. In first and second jhana I prefer not to isolate the word piti, but to talk about pitisukha . In the Pali these two terms are joined in a compound and this reflects how they are joined in the experience of the first two jhana. It is impossible to separate this pair in the first two jhana, they are too close. So rather than the pointless (in my view) task of discussing which one is which, I find it more useful to explain that the pitisukha of 1st jhana is the blissful experience which arises because one is free from the incessant demands and disturbances from the five senses. The struggle to gratify the five senses is temporarily given up, the 5 nivarana are abandoned for now. This gives rise to deep experience of bliss and it is that bliss which holds the mind still, which captivates the attention for a period. In 2nd jhana one has the pitisukha arising from samadhi, the mind being fixed, solid, stable and without any wobbling in the slightest. This pitisukha is quite different from the pitisukha of the 1st jhana, it is more refined, subtle, but far more pleasant. Only in 3rd jhana, when piti has vanished , does one know as an experience what pure sukha is and then, the experience is so refined that it defies description. It is a sukha 'not of this world', so how can one hope to convey its meaning in words?

The intensity of the pitisukha is another question altogether. Whether or not one has experience of a jhana, in particular 1st jhana, does not depend so much on the intensity of the pitisukha as on the stability of it. For example, a meditator can experience an intense wave of bliss which is gone almost as soon as it comes and that is not jhana. Whereas another meditator can experience a soft but sustained experience of bliss which is part of 1st jhana (cf. the description of 1st jhana in the Potthapada- sutta, Digha Nikaya sutta No. 9: "Vivekaja-pitisukha-sukhuma-sacca-sanna tasmin samaye hoti." -- "At that time there is a true but subtle perception of delight and happiness born of detachment.", 'Thus have I heard' by M. Walshe p. 161.) as long as the pitisukha is clearly present and sufficient to hold the mind still, then it qualifies as the first jhana-anga. Of course the question behind your questions on jhananga is: "How does one know that one has achieved first jhana or not?". pitisukha can be present in other, non- jhanic, states of consciousness and so the presence of pitisukha in the mind is not always a good measuring stick for jhana. I prefer to look at ekaggata-- gone to unity. A good description of first jhana is the experience of sustained , almost effortless, attention on the mental object generated in the 'mind's eye' by the sensation of breath, accompanied by a feeling of release, as if one had broken through a barrier, and a sustained feeling of pitisukha. I say 'almost effortless', because although the grosser type of effort, which seeks out the mental object and gently holds it, is no longer there, a subtle almost automatic effort of 'nudging and balancing' (which is the vitakka-vicara- jhananga) is present. The mind is unified, but still a bit fuzzy around the edges. The mental object which occupies one's whole attention wobbles a bit but vitakka-vicara keeps it stable. The jhana can be interrupted by mental verbalisations (thoughts), but these thoughts are not part of the jhana. In jhana one is completely taken up with the object in the mind. In first jhana, though, a stray thought, usually about the task in hand , disappears rapidly and one easily returns to the jhananga. But it is the experience of almost effortless stability on one mental object, like having climbed a hillside and reached a plateau where one neither slides down nor struggles to go up, which is the hall mark of 1st jhana. I hope that I have explained this clearly enough. The first jhana is one of the hardest to describe.

The 2nd jhana is much easier to describe and unmistakable in experience, So much so that one can recognise the 1st jhana as that plateau just below the 2nd jhana. In 2nd jhana all verbalisations, all nudging and balancing, are impossible. The mind is solid with no fuzzy edges or cracks. The awareness is of one thing and it does not move. The mind is fixed as if the attention is held with superglue. Volition cannot enter now. The mind is engrossed on the object and will not be disturbed. One stays like that for a long time, mindful, in bliss born of samadhi, true unification, absolutely effortless. You can't mistake 2nd jhana when it arrives, you can only be sure of the experience of 1st jhana once you know 2nd jhana.

Again, with vitakka-vicara , I agree with those who describe this as 'applied and sustained attention' in the context of 1st jhana. It is a movement of the mind at a pre-verbal level. outside of 1st jhana., this movement of mind would usually generate inner speech, but this does not happen in 1st jhana. If one is in 1st jhana this movement of mind does spill over into inner speech then one has lost 1st jhana. For textual support of this point Sanyutta XXXVI (Vedana Sanyutta) No 11 states: "Pathaman jhanan samapannassa vaca niruddha hoti."--"For one attained to 1st jhana speech(vaca) ceases". However such inner speech can easily be discarded, one's attention placed on the mental object again and the 1st jhana regained. It is as if the inner speech has taken you out of the room(jhana) but only into the doorway. One is not in the room, nor is one outside. This one can easily step back in. In 2nd jhana and above, there is no movement of mind at all. Again, from Sanyutta XXXVI no 11: "Dutiyan jhanan samapannassa vitakkavicara niruddha hoti."--"For one attained to 2nd jhana, vitakka-vicara ceases". Then, if one is in 2nd jhana and a pre-verbal movement of mind arises, eg. a volition, then one has left 2nd jhana, but if one acts quickly one can easily abandon that pre-verbal movement of mind, attend once more in full samadhi, and regain 2nd jhana.

In any jhana, Insight cannot arise. The mind is too still. But having just come out from jhana, the mind is very very clear and powerful. The higher the jhana, the more profound is the clarity and the more awesome the power. So it is no wonder that Insight is far more likely to arise, and therefore more commonly arises, having emerged from jhana.


In experience, from the 1st jhana onward one does not see, hear, smell, taste or experience touch. The mind is completely taken up with an object in the mind. At Anguttara Nikaya X's (Tens) Sutta No 72, saddo, or noise, is a disturbance (kantako, literally a thorn) to first jhana. Indeed, one can be disturbed by sound in 1st jhana, or more accurately, a disturbing sound can pull one out of 1st jhana, However, if the sound does not last long one can easily re-enter 1st jhana once the sound has faded. In 2nd jhana, sound cannot even penetrate the samadhi. It is as if one is locked in a sound-proof room. Physical sensations, the sense of touch, also disappears in 1st jhana. In my experience, the body has "disappeared" before one enters 1st jhana and one is only aware of the mental object. Bodily aches and pains simply can't intrude. For example, mosquitoes can bite and suck and slurp and one does not feel a thing in the 1st jhana and beyond. However, in one sense there is a remnant of the sense of touch still present even in 3rd jhana, but not in 4th, and that is the touch of the breath which generates the mental object on which the mind is focussed in the first 3 jhana. But one does not experience the touch of the breath as a gross physical sensation in jhana - one experiences it as a mental object with qualities called jhananga. One of the beautiful things about jhana is that one leave behind the 5 senses, especially the burdensome aching or itching or too hot or too cold etc. body.

Now when it says in the Suttas, eg. the Samannaphala-sutta of the Digha Nikaya, that the meditator "suffuses drenches, fills and irradiates his body (kaya) with the pitisukha (of 1st and 2nd jhana) / sukha (of 3rd jhana) so that no spot remains untouched by this pitisukha/sukha" , (Thus Have I Heard, pp. 102--103), this cannot mean the physical body. Experience rejects this possibility and reason states that in awareness of the physical body is just too coarse and gross to be part of say 3rd jhana. This must mean the "body of the breath", the common meaning of kayasankhara in the context of samatha, eg. Sanyutta XLI (Citta-sanyutta) No.6. As mentioned in the paragraph above, the body of breath (above I wrote "the touch of the breath") is connected to the mental object which forms the focus of the first three jhanas. This is what is suffused and drenched with pitisukha or sukha. It is ridiculous to think that someone in 3rd jhana could be suffusing his physical body, his toes say, with pure sukha. One is simply not aware of toes, legs and the rest of it all in jhana.

You write: "Probably one cannot walk around and do things in jhanas 1, 2, 3 and 4". I would say: "No way in the world can one walk around and do things, even in 1st jhana, let alone higher jhanas. " Also, I cannot see how a meditator can experience jhana walking cankamma, unless he stopped and stood with eyes closed for the period.


As you know, I do not locate the sensation of the breath anywhere in my body. I just observe that sensation which tells me where the breath is in its in and out cycle, I do not pay any attention to where that sensation is located. I find this useful because it takes my attention away from my body and its aches and itches at an early stage in my meditation. The sensation of in and out breathing soon generates the mental image of the breath and this is what carries one into jhana. One could watch the breath at the nose-tip, up the nose, on the lips, at the abdomen or wherever-as long as this preliminary exercise is sufficient to quieten the mind enough for the mental image to appear. The mental image, of course, isn't located anywhere, or one could say it is located in the mind which has no location in the body. So, in my view, it doesn't really matter where you watch the breath as long as it generates the mental image.

However, I would say that the rise and fall of the abdomen is a little too coarse to generate the mental image, but I could be wrong here. Certainly, watching the breath at the nose-tip, or thereabouts, is an excellent way of raising the mental image, indeed the Buddha taught attention on the breath as the only "bodily function" which when observed thus would take one into jhana.

It is highly recommended to develop jhana, especially as a monk. So continue watching the breath, calming the mind as you go along, until the mental image of the breath becomes clear. Keep the mindfulness clear and sharp, continually aspire for calm and the fine mental image will gradually consume all you attention to the point that the jhana-factors arise.

You write:" Ven. A. holds the interesting view that by paying attention the mental feeling one gets jhana, by paying attention to the physical feeling one gets insight.". I would say that he is only half right here. Indeed, by paying attention to the mental image one is cultivation the path into jhana. However, by paying attention to the physical feeling, without the strength mind gained from jhana , it is unlikely that one will get real Insight. One will gain some mundane insights, but it is unlikely that one will realise the great Insights of Magga-phala. It is a shame that Ven.A. is not interested in jhana , it is the Path to powerful Insight. Monks would do well to remember that the Path to insight and thence Liberation is called the 8-Fold Path, Factor 7 being samma samadhi which the Buddha always explained as the four jhanas. Or as it says in Dhammapada Verse 372:

"Natthi jhanan apannassa"
There is no concentration in one who lacks wisdom,
panna natthi ajjhayato
nor is there wisdom in him who lacks concentration,
yamhi jhanan ca panna ca
In whom are both concentration and wisdom,
sa ve nibbana santike."
He indeed is in the presence of Nibbana."

(Ven. Narada's translation).

(Letter of 3.6.97.)

Question: Should one who practices anapanasati maintain awareness on the breath also during daily activities?

Answer: No. When you are engaged in other activities, eg. bathing, studying, washing your robe, etc. maintain your attention on what you are doing. You are, thereby, training to develop that vital tool of meditation, the ability to sustain attention on the chosen task. Once that ability is fully developed then you are able to apply it to the sensation of breath, to metta, to the object of asubha or to whatever you want. It is the ability to sustain attention, silent and unwavering, which is the crucial thing to develop first, not just on the breath but on other things, even the ordinary things, too.

Question: Can it be that visions of light appear which are not the anapanasati-samadhi-nimitta proper, or is it possible to make use of the nimitta in a counterproductive or misleading way?

Answer: Please bear in mind that nimittas, in the context of meditation, are objects of mano-vinnana, of the citta. The only reason that meditators experience them as 'visions' (but not all meditators experience them this way) is that they have difficulty understanding the language of the citta and so borrow the language of the external five-sense world. Nimittas are certainly not objects of the cakkhu-vinnana, but perception demands a language for them and compares the experience of the nimitta with other powerful experiences it has had. The best what perception (sanna) can do is to compare the nimitta to the experience of a light seen by the cakkhu-vinnana, and so the nimitta appears as a "light", but not the same as a real (visual) light.

Because of this work of sanna, meditators perceive nimittas as all sorts of things. As a teacher, however, I can advise meditators on what to look out in order to recognise the nimittas which should be discarded through disinterest, and the nimittas which should be developed, which lead to jhana. Basically, if the nimitta is complicated, with many shapes or colours etc, or if it is not still but rapidly changing , or if it is unattractive, then these kind of mental images are of no use to the meditator aiming at jhana. If these types of nimitta appear, take no notice of them further but go back to awareness of your breath. However, if the nimitta is simple, say one colour or no colour, a simple shape like a circular blob or even no shape at all, if it is stable and unmoving, and most importantly if it is so brilliant and beautiful, i.e. attractive, then that is the type of nimitta which is the doorway to jhana. It is the simplicity, stability and powerful attraction which are the important qualities that you should remember to look out for. When this appears to you, do not be frightened, do not be scared by the power of this state. Give the mind up to nature and be a passenger on the dive into beautiful jhana and enjoy the happiness that the Lord Buddha not only permitted, but encouraged, for the bhikkhus. As it says in the Pasadika Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, for the bhikkhu who indulges and is attached (anuyutta) to the four jhanas, four things are to be expected: Sotapatti, Sakadagami, Anagami or Arahatta !

(The transcribers and editor apologise for any mistakes made by them in these slightly revised texts. The ven. author will no longer answer any letters with questions about meditation due to lack of time.)