Revised May 30, 2018
1. As we discuss in the following posts, meditation is of two types: one is done at all times, being “morally mindful”, and then the other type is the formal meditation where one contemplates on a given “procedure” while sitting down or walking.
- In Buddhist meditation, the first is more important than the second.
2. Then there are three possible outcomes of meditation: samādhi, jhāna, and magga phala.
3. One gets to samādhi by focusing the mind on one thing. Normally a mind jumps incessantly from one thing to another: a sound pulls the mind one way, a sight another way, smell, etc., and the mind itself likes to jump around. Regardless of the cause, this makes the mind tired, but unless one has experienced samādhi, or especially jhāna, one may not even realize that one’s mind is constantly under stress; of course we do realize it when a deadline approaches and the mind goes to overdrive. One can truly appreciate this only after experiencing the tranquility of a focused mind. The mind gets “sensitized” as one gets to samādhi.
- Most people do not realize how “inherently stressed” our minds are. We get used to things, and do not feel even hardships. Only when we get to a “better state” we feel the difference, and then it is hard to go back to the “lower state”. For example, one who has lived a life of poverty has gotten used to it. Even though once in a while one thinks about the “better life” enjoyed by some others, one does not think about that all the time. However, if one is able to upgrade the lifestyle to a higher level, then one can FEEL the difference and now it will be very difficult to go back. One becomes “sensitized”. We will encounter this word “sensitized” in many cases when we discuss the Satipatthāna sutta.
- Most people meditate to get some “peace of mind”, to get some relief from the pressures of hectic life. That is a form of samādhi. When one focuses on a neutral object, like breath, one gets to such a “neutral kind of samādhi”.
- There are three kinds of samādhi when categorized according to morality, i.e., what the focus is on: miccā samādhi and two types of samma samādhi, one mundane (for living a better life) and one supermundane (focusing on Nibbāna).
- There is a post on different types of samādhi: “What is Samādhi? – Three Kinds of Mindfulness“.
4. Jhāna is a deeper level of samādhi, where the mind really gets absorbed in the object (arammana). Then the tranquility is optimized, and there are eight levels of jhānās: the first four are the ones experienced by beings in the 16 realms of the rupa loka, and the last four in the 4 realms of the arupa loka.
- Jhanas CANNOT be attained via miccā samādhi.
- The jhānās attained via samma samādhi are two types, corresponding to Ariya jhānās and anāriya jhānās; see, “Power of the Human Mind – Anariya or Mundane Jhanas” and “Power of the Human Mind- Ariya Jhanas“.
- Even though one can get to anāriya jhānās by just focusing on the breath, it does require one to live a moral life. One who is not at least following the conventional five precepts will not be able to cultivate them.
- Of course the uniqueness of Buddhist meditation is the supermundane samma samādhi, leading to Ariya jhānās, and the four stages of Nibbāna.
5. Thus the highest levels of “peace of mind” are at the four stages of Nibbāna or magga phala: Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, and Arahant. However, it is not necessary to PRACTICE Ariya jhānās in order to attain magga phala.
- For example, one could attain the Sōtapanna stage without practicing jhānās. What is needed to attain the Sōtapanna stage is upacāra/anulōma samādhi; see, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs“.
- Furthermore, unless one has practiced it before, a Sōtapanna cannot automatically get into a jhāna. However, it will be easy for a Sōtapanna to attain jhānās with practice.
- We need to remember that jhānās are mental states of higher lying brahma realms. They still belong to the 31 realms of “this world”. One needs to lose cravings for jhanic pleasures in order to attain the Arahanthood.
6. To get to Ariya jhānās, one focuses on Nibbāna (or more precisely recall one’s own “cooling down”): see, “Power of the Human Mind- Ariya Jhanas“. But before one can use this technique to attain Ariya jhānās, one needs to attain the Sōtapanna stage; see #7 below. This is a point that I have clarified only recently.
- Basically, one sits down in a quiet place, and first contemplates on anicca, dukkha,anatta, for a little while, and then keep repeating the following (or the English translation; what matters is one has to have the understanding): “Ethan santhan ethan paneethan, yadidan sabba sankhāra samathō, Sabbhupathi patinissaggō, tanhkkhayō, virāgō, nirodhō, Nibbānan ti”, which means, “It is the only peace, the only happiness: prevent sankhara from arising (via) eliminating tanha and excess greed, and thus stopping the arising of defilements, which is Nibbāna“.
- The reciting of a certain phrase (meaningfully, with understanding) is called a “kammatthāna“. A given meditation technique is also called a kammatthāna.
- Two important points to keep in mind: (1). One can either say it out quietly, or say it in one’s mind, (2) This is not chanting; just saying the words will be just a waste of time. One needs to comprehend, to some extent, what is meant by anicca, dukkha, anatta, i.e., some idea of what Nibbāna (or “cooling down” is).
- If one has experienced any kind of “cooling down” it is best to recall that while saying the above phrase. For example, if one does not flare up like one used to, or if one has less attachment to things, that is the best to recall.
7. Since one cannot focus the mind on Nibbāna without first experiencing it at least at the Sōtapanna phala moment, one cannot get to Ariya jhānās without first reaching the Sōtapanna stage.
- Even though the Sōtapanna phala moment comes and goes without one really noticing it like getting a message of the sort, “OK. You have reached the Sōtapanna stage”, one starts feeling the “cooling down” afterwards. This is a hard thing to explain and actually it takes a while before one truly realizes that one has attained it.
- The bottom line is that one needs to reach the Sōtapanna stage before getting to Ariya jhānās. If one suspects that one has reached the Sōtapanna stage, one can use the procedure in #6 above to cultivate the first jhāna.
- Unlike the Sōtapanna stage, it is relatively easy to confirm the attainment of the jhāna, because one’s Ariya jhāna cannot be disturbed by even forcefully thinking immoral thoughts. So, if one can confirm that one has reached even the first Ariya jhāna, that means one is also a Sōtapanna.
8. Thus reaching magga phala and Ariya jhānās REQUIRE the understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta, the Three Characteristics of existence. Without the “correct vision” or samma ditthi at some level, the mind does not see the unfruitful nature of sense pleasures or the “superiority” of nirāmisa sukha.
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