I haven’t read many accounts of jhana and how the Buddhists view jhana. What I’ve read up until today seemed to be telling me that jhana was necessary in order to reach enlightenment. While glancing through Buddhadassa Bhikku’s book, “Handbook for Mankind” I learned otherwise. It says explicitly that insight is necessary in order to reach liberation… Insight can be had two ways:
1.) Meditation and jhana states. or,
2.) The natural method of introspection which is what most people use since jhanas seem rather elusive to most people.
For me – jhana came rather easily… not without effort, but within a couple months I was experiencing jhana 1-4 rather often. A couple months after that I had spent time in all the jhanas. I knew little of Buddhism and didn’t care to know much about it. I was experimenting with my meditation. I wanted to take the bare minimum physical activities: mindfulness and meditation on the breath and see where it led. Where it led was in a track that mirrors the levels of jhana that I read today in Bhante Vimalaramsi’s Dhamma talk in 2006 in Joshua Tree, California.
To say I’m surprised is an understatement. My meditation was an experiment really. I wanted to take as little of the religion of Buddhism into my meditation and mindfulness experiment. I wanted to do what the Buddha was said to have done. I wanted to see if religionless meditation and enlightenment was possible. I was pretty clueless when jhana started coming. I hadn’t read of anyone’s jhana experiences and so I had nothing to compare to. I had asked Theravadin monks in Florida where I lived what they could tell me about these experiences – were they normal or was I losing it? I didn’t get an answer. They were completely unfamiliar with the states of jhana. Living in Thailand for 3 years now and seeing very few monks practicing meditation at the maybe hundreds of temples I’ve visited, I understand that Thai monks don’t really use meditation much as a tool.
So – as I sat and focused on the breath I started reaching these jhana states… I’ll provide video or audio here shortly – describing the states as best I can. They defy words really, but I’ll give it my best. You won’t have a 5% understanding of what the state was really like, but at least you’ll see 5%! They are so hard to put into words – impossible really.
In 2004 I went to see the Australian abbot at Wat Pah Nanachat in Warin Chamrap, in the northeast (Isaan or e-sarn) region of Thailand to see what he thought. As I talked to him and he asked me many qualifying questions… he said that it sounded like I was experiencing what all the monks at Wat Pah were trying to reach… levels of jhana…
He gave me a couple pamphlets and invited me to stay at the wat for as long as i wished – but the desire wasn’t there and I left the next morning. As I read the pamphlets, wow, yes, it seemed that I’d had all of the jhana states as Buddhists believe them to exist.
Today as I read through the vivid description of jhanas by Bhante Vimalaramsi I couldn’t believe that FINALLY I was reading a very similar account of my own jhana experiences. It was really cool to see it after so many years – and knowing, “wow, someone else believes this is how it happens”. Not only did the levels correspond very well to what happened to me, but some other things he said were RIGHT ON and what I believed from the start about meditation.
One of the things he said was that in order to progress in meditation and in jhana is to just note every experience and let it go. Everything must be let go. There’s nothing else to do during the states except watch, note, and let them go like every other piece of mind-candy that appears. Other Buddhists seem to teach that certain ideas need to be focused on while in jhana. I don’t think so – because I didn’t, and it appears that I’ve seen all of the 8 jhanas… It was just nice to see someone else collaborate my belief. Better still that he’s a well-respected Buddhist monk.
Well, I could write about this all night. I’m sure I’ll get some audio up here and comment directly on the statements he made and make my own comments sometime.