Mindfulness of Breathing,
the Meditation Absorptions (Jhanas)
The Buddha’s Discourse and the Practice
The first of the meditative absorptions (jhanas) consists of five factors, namely one pointedness, joy, happiness, applied reflection and reflection. The jhana reveals a genuine depth of experience, steadiness and continuous.
In the first jhana all five factors are present
In the second jhana there are three factors: joy, happiness and one pointedness
In the third jhana there are two factors: happiness and one pointedness
In the fourth jhana there are two factors: one pointedness and equanimity.
Every absorption seems rather gross as the meditator makes the transition from one absorption to the next. It is not easy initially to know how deep the absorption is. The ongoing experience of the meditator provide gradually the insight and clarity about the depth. A teacher of the jhanas can wisely advise, as well. Views of jhana teachers vary. There are some teachers who regard a rather shallow and brief experience of one pointedness on mindfulness of breathing and feeling happy as a jhana. At the other extreme, some teachers think that a jhana experience is very, very rare, only accessible to a long term meditator in the very best of environments. At times, the meditator must rely upon himself or herself to determine a jhana and its depth.
The presence of the unification of body/mind and one pointedness are common to any jhana. This makes clear the differences between each of the four absorptions.
The fourth jhana of equanimity and one pointedness indicates a steady presence and a deep sense of inner peace within the mind which is poised and balanced. The meditator experiences a refinement through each of the four jhanas with a genuine sense of going more and deeper. S/he senses a certain unshakability of presence in the jhana.
Mastery of access to the jhana comes through practice. There is a growing capacity to:
Advert the mind to a jhana.
Enter the jhana.
Maintain the jhana.
Emerging from the jhana without clinging to it.
Review (recollect) the jhana for clarity and insight.
The review may take the form of seven questions:
What kinds of environments are suitable to develop mastery over jhanas?
What methods gave access to the jhana?
What contributes to staying in the jhana?
What can make the process more fluid for easier access?
What contributes to the emergence from the jhana?
What shows mindfulness and clear comprehension of the emergence?
What are the benefits of emergence from a jhana?
It is rather like learning to ride a bicycle. We get on the bike. We wobble. We fall off. We get back on the bike. Through commitment to practice, we find we can cycle, remain balanced, steady and focused. The meditator began with a tremendous amount of effort until knowing how to balance in cycling without the need for effort.
It is rather similar to developing the skill to enter a jhana. The factors of one pointedness, presence, interest and energy contribute to staying in such meditative absorptions for varying lengths of time. In the mastery of the first jhana, it goes a long way towards mastery of the next three jhanas. It is a course of training which the meditator learns to be proficient through practice without trying to use his or her will to put pressure to achieve the goal of jhana.
The application of the meditative practice brings more mindfulness to the simple skills necessary for these absorption. The meditator needs the application of the basic practices, along with frequent reflection, to ensure the capacity to master access to an absorption. The Buddha pointed out there are four kinds of meditators. A meditator can know all four kinds of meditators according to causes and conditions in different periods.
Slowly and painfully
Slowly and happily
Quickly and painfully
Quickly and happily
Inner development enables the meditator to experience meditation with speed and happiness. It is not so different with skilled workers who have the speed and dexterity, based on knowledge and past experience, to experience effortlessly the right approach to engage in tasks.
With the calming of the body and its functions, the four stages of the second tetrad can flow from one to the other.
Stage V and Stage VI
“Experiencing joy I shall breathe out,” thus s/he trains himself or herself.
“Experiencing joy, I shall breathe in,” thus s/he trains himself or herself.
Piti, the Pali word for joy, includes delight, bliss, elation, an intense happiness felt in the cells.
The meditator can experience piti through seeing development of the practice.
S/he feels this happiness knowing that there is an abiding in an undistracted state of being.
S/he feels this happiness through the interest and commitment to deep meditation.
S/he feels this happiness through the sense of aliveness or recollection of what is precious
S/he feels this joy through knowing mindfulness is well-established and fully present to the object.
S/he knows there is a real joy in experience inner peace, love and realisations through the practice.
In the first jhana, important insights can arise out of the application and sustained recollection of an aspect of the Dharma and practice. In the next three jhanas, insights and realisation may well arise naturally because of the happiness, calm and equanimity established within. It is a little bit like looking into a clear pond which provides the opportunity to see the varieties of fish and the stone and pebbles on the bed of the pond which the meditator did not see before.
Mindfulness in the second tetrad features and concentrates on the joy of meditation with the recognition of the characteristic of the feeling of joy. The mindfulness reveals "this is joy" while breathing in and out.
Mindfulness abides experiencing the joy, seeing of joy, and the sense of well-being that it brings to body and mind.
Accompanied with one pointedness and samadhi, mindfulness enables the meditator to stay connected with the feelings of joy without grasping. Any form of grasping onto joy will be likely to change the joy into a pleasurable desire with some kind of object, past, present or future. The meditator then forgets the joy functions as the primary object, not as a cause for desire.
One frequent signal of grasping the feeling of joy is the desire to keep it or deepen it. This pressure will start to defuse the joy. Uncontaminated with grasping, a genuine joy abides free from ‘I’ ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ The self alone grasps. The meditator experiences the enjoyment of the feelings without wanting to take them further. This allows the feelings with the mindfulness and samadhi to naturally and organically settle down and go deeper.
Just as the meditator experiences the whole body in the first tetrad, he or she experiences the whole mind in the second tetrad. This means there is a genuine sense the meditation includes the whole mind in mindfulness of breathing. The meditator experiences a sense of wholeness, of unity, of the absence of fragmentation and struggle in mental life.
In this stage, s/he acknowledges an inclusive sense of the whole experience. Thoughts arise, the mind might wander or s/he experiences some tiredness or agitation. These experiences do not feel opposed to the practice of one pointedness and samadhi. They seem to be grist for the mill. There are no longer the demands that the mind should be like this in one way and not like that.
The seventh stage indicates the wisdom accommodates the healthy expression of the heart-mind. Even if unpleasant feelings and sensations arise, they cease to harass the meditator. This stage is quite different from the beginning of the practice when the meditator probably struggled with distractions, tiredness and the desire to concentrate. The meditator has been training himself or herself in each one of these stages to reach the point of experiencing and accommodating the whole mind in a clear way.
The meditator knows the mind is not a threat to meditation. There is the capacity to make allowances for different kinds of movements and activities within the mind, often quite subtle and inconsequential. The meditator now feels ready to experience calming of the mind. Mindfulness of breathing still runs as the central thread throughout this tetrad.
The practice through each stage of the tetrad indicates a genuine development (bhavana) taking place within. Bhavana shows itself as the sense of coordination of being, harmony and progress along the path. One of the signs of bhavana expresses as the wish to practice further to know depth of meditation and more clarity of heart and mind with transformative insights.
The knowing through direct experience of a genuine harmony through calmness of body and mind gives support to trust and confidence in the Dharma. Gratitude and appreciation arise for this well-trodden path that many other dedicated meditators have walked since the Buddha gave this discourse.
The meditator begins to know intimately the numerous benefits of mindfulness of breathing. These benefits (attha) start to emerge and reveal themselves in the third tetrad.
Five benefits are:
fading of negative states
genuine purity of heart and mind
love of the teachings and practices
purity of intention
In these periods, the meditator knows the absence of the unhealthy and unwholesome states of mind. With inner development taking place through mindfulness of breathing, much else in the Buddha’s teachings stands out more clearly. This includes the seven limbs of awakening, namely mindfulness, inquiry, joy, calmness, energy, concentration (samadhi) and equanimity.
The meditator sees the benefits of samadhi outside of meditation and retreats. Samadhi has a real application to daily life. The meditator applies mindfulness and samadhi to wholesome and healthy matters he or she needs to concentrate upon. Mindfulness, samadhi and clear comprehension enable tasks, big and small, to be addressed without generating stress, resistance and thoughts of wanting to be doing something else. The meditator sees directly that mindfulness and samadhi contributes directly to the contact with the whole body of Dharma.
As with calming the physical formations, the calming of the mind becomes the primary object as the breath flows in and out. The experience of the mind recognises the mind as an object. The mind refers to thought, the heart, states of mind, lucidity, consciousness including its content, as well as any application of reason and the intellect. The suffusion of calmness support all the inner life and all parts of the body.
The Buddha’s discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness (body, feelings, states of mind and the Dharma) recommends seeing the current state of mind such as:
greedy or not greedy
negative or not negative
deluded or not deluded
contracted or distracted
exalted or not exalted
of samadhi or without samadhi
free or unfree
The process of mindfulness of breathing develops the capacity to examine state of mind without clinging to the positive states of mind or forming reactive views against the negative mind states. The meditator knows states of mind as states of mind, free from infecting the state of mind with ' I,' 'me' or 'mine.'
THE THIRD TETRAD
'I breathe in experiencing the mind.' - I breathe out experiencing the mind.'
'I will breathe in gladdening the mind.' - 'I breathe out gladdening the mind.'
'I breathe in concentrating the mind.' - 'I breathe out concentrating the mind.'
'I breathe in freeing the mind.' - 'I breathe out freeing the mind.’
Gladness means to feel glad over the current experience, to enjoy, to rejoice and take delight in the experience. Gladness is a precious feeling in the process of mindfulness of breathing. It is a natural outcome of love of the practice and its benefits. Gladness indicates that the heart remains connected with the process. It ensures that there is nothing dry, robotic or numbing about the practice. There are various ways to experience gladness.
There is gladness in the:
experience of mindfulness of breathing
calming of the physical and mental formations
opportunity to see clearly the varying states of mind
various events in one’s life, past and present
the Dharma teachings and practices
This stage confirms real enjoyment, a genuine delight in the engagement in the practice.
This stage includes the mind as in the third section of the Four Application of Mindfulness discourse.
“Concentrating the mind I shall breathe out,” thus s/he trained himself.
“Concentrating the mind I shall breathe in,” thus s/he trained himself.
Concentration here confirms that the practice is now very well-established, stable, mostly undisturbed and steady in an ongoing basis. The power of this concentration enables easy access to jhana, receptivity to insight and a wise approach to objects of interest that arise. This concentration is the final preparation for the last tetrad. Samadhi includes a method, form or technique such as explained and explored in the previous 10 stages.
The meditator now knows samadhi with form, method and technique. S/he also knows samadhi through a formless approach with a radiant mindfulness without a specific object. The meditator knows s/he is not spaced out. The receptivity to insight and understanding, personal and impersonal, remains the same whether employing a form/method/technique or a formless approach.
Whether the meditator experiences a jhana or not, the concentration remains well anchored.
“Liberating the mind, I shall breathe out,” thus s/he trains himself.
“Liberating the mind I shall breathe in,” that s/he trains himself.
The meaning of liberating the mind refers to unsatisfactory things which arise but now no longer arise owing to the development of mindfulness of breathing.
Liberating the mind includes the freedom from ignorance and clinging influencing unhealthy tendencies impacting on the present moment.
The meditator knows the experience of expansive sense of freeing up of the whole being, a vast receptivity and openness to what unfolds.
Liberating the mind also includes the identification as the meditator. There is knowing and seeing free from anyone who knows and sees. There is the collapse of the separate self and also the collapse of the connected self.
There is freedom from the notion of being or being-ness or true self. There is freedom from the notion of an expansive or unified self. The human being confirms a self-hood and obscures liberation.
Those who are familiar with teachers and teachings will realise that some spiritual teachers and practices have come to rest on a certain stage in one of the 16 stages of Mindfulness of Breathing without going further. For example: A teacher may say:
Experiencing and calming the whole body is the essence of the practice.
Full presence in the Now is the goal.
Changes in consciousness with joy and happiness show a transcendent state.
Pure Being, Just Being or Beingness is the ultimate reality.
Oneness of body/mind and the world around is supreme.
There is no self, no seeker, no I, me or mine, no meditator, no doer. This teacher claims this is the highest realisation.
Such teachers appear to cling to their views and build up a following on their intention to promote a personal view highlighting one or two significant insights above all else.
The liberation of the mind and the level of insight include the enquiry into unresolved issues, grasping onto any standpoints and working with various forms of reactivity. Liberating the mind freezes the mind up from the perception of permanence or continuity, of confusing the unsatisfactory as being satisfactory and seeing non-self as self.
Liberating the mind is a first-hand, direct experience with a genuine sense of release from the unwholesome and the unhealthy and all of its consequences. The practice still allows the determination to find the wisdom, to dispel the ignorance, in any problematic areas. This may require the application of the opponent force, for example, generosity to dissolve greed, kindness to dissolve blame, clarity to dissolve confusion.
Liberating the mind includes freedom from uncertainty, doubt, holding to specifics standpoints and belief in the self, the meditator, the daily identity.
Through each of the first 12 stages, there is a movement from gross expressions of calm and insight to the most subtle. The different dharmas gather together (samodhana).
THE FOURTH TETRAD
'I breathe in seeing impermanence.’ - 'I breathe out seeing impermanence.’
'I breathe in seeing fading away.' - 'I breathe out seeing fading away.'
‘I breathe in seeing cessation.' - 'I breathe out seeing cessation.'
'I breathe in seeing letting go.' - 'I breathe out seeing letting go.'
These final four stages constitute the direct relationship between mindfulness of breathing, insight and liberating realisations. The fourth tetrad runs parallel to the fourth application of mindfulness, namely seeing the Dharma as Dharma.
It is worthwhile noting here that the Buddha has deliberately left out suffering (dukkha), gross or subtle, in the final tetrad. Mindfulness of breathing develops through happiness, calmness and samadhi.
The emphasis on impermanence here points to mindfulness of change through the understanding of causes and conditions.
There is seeing and knowing that all conditioned phenomena undergo change through various environmental, social, and personal impacts. There is nothing possessing a self-existence and therefore independent of the influence of events. This means there is nothing in the world of mentality or materiality to rely upon.
This stage encourages the training (meditator?) to be deeply mindful of the changes taking place:
There is contact outwardly through the senses and contact inwardly. Change, gross and subtle, takes place in every kind of contact.
There are changes taking place through the means to make contact with the inner and outer.
There is mindfulness of the means including consciousness, mindfulness, samadhi, interest and all mind-body process.
There are different formations, combinations, patterns and directions influencing the means and the contact.
There is mindfulness of these influences affecting the means and the contact.
This stage encourages mindfulness of the above primary contributions to change. The Buddha used the term sankhara for all of this activity of conditioned phenomena. Mindfulness of change, of the non-continuous, of the non-permanent, becomes most clear through seeing what arises, stays and passes in contact, the means to contact and the varying combinations influencing the means and the contact.
Arising, staying and passing in turn gives rise to further arising staying and passing with each new arising, staying and passing, showing some difference from the previous one. The differences may be perceived as dramatic or very subtle. Mindfulness of impermanence includes seeing changes such as the movement of life from birth to death and the subtle changes between one breath and the next and the changes within a breath.
One sees that everything comes into being dependent on various primary causes and multiple conditions. It is not enough to be mindful of impermanence alone but also know well impermanence of causes and conditions. For example, food, environment, the elements and states of mind contribute to the condition of the body, for better or worse. There is the recognition that there is nothing substantial in the body of change, sometimes occurring slowly, day by day or a sudden change, such as an accident or illness. There is no semblance of self-existence in the interaction of mind and matter, psychology and physicality, mentality and materiality.
The wisdom of such seeing brings about a natural fading away of projections and demands with the pervasive reduction of the greed, aversion and fear. Through development of the three previous tetrads, realisations show nothing and no one is worth clinging to. Mindfulness of impermanence confirms the emptiness of any inherent existence rather than make impermanence into an absolute truth. It becomes completely clear of the absurdity of inherent existence in anything in the sentient or non-sentient world. To use the Buddha’s language, there is seeing and knowing of This/That of Conditionality (Idappaccayata). He said the truth of this stays steady regardless whether a Buddha appears in the world to confirm it (Idappaccayata).
Sankhara refers to the conditions, the constructed, the concocted and the movements that form or ‘’experiences’’ or ’things’ together. The conditions, primary or secondary, impact upon other conditions and so it goes on. Having seen this clearly, there is a fading away of any interest in inflaming anything to grasp onto or hold onto. It is rather like a forest fire. There is no interest to perpetuate it by inflaming it. There is the wish only to put it out. Our inflammation of experiences and things generates the stress, the suffering, and distorted perceptions.
This stage points to the fading away of projections, distortions, unrealistic expectations and prejudiced views that inhibit the wisdom of knowing Idappaccayata).
There is the fading away of clinging, grasping, attachment and problematic ways of looking. The Pali word for seeing is viraganupassi – vi (the first syllable) means not or not having. Raga impregnates a situation. Ink spills onto a white pure cotton tablecloth. There is a change of colour. The fading away of the stain means the washing away of the ink spots. As a subtle level, there is the knowing that the ink spot has no inherent existence in the first place since its presence depends on primary causes and conditions.
This stage refers to the cessation of the distortions and corruptions that inhibit the freedom to see the endless process of dependent arising. This stage refers to:
cessation of anguish and suffering
cessation of egotism, of the doer, of karma
cessation of inflaming situations
cessation of stress
cessation of the notion of a separate self, an independent self, witnessing self or transcendent self
seeing and knowing of cessation of greed, aggression and fear
There is the knowing of the emptiness of self, of anything belonging to a self or the self being anything or anything having a self.
All of this confirms the cessation of the old ways of thinking, perceiving and believing. There is the cessation of supernatural beliefs, unprovable metaphysical ideas and speculative views.
There is a knowing and seeing the dropping away of the burdens of life. This reveals the end of living in unhealthy concoctions of the mind or of feeling weighed down with circumstances beyond one’s control.
The Buddha used regularly the terms lokiya - which means living beneath the world or caught up in the worldly life. The second Pali concept is lokuttara which means living out of reach of a mundane world. It is rather similar to the English concept to understand. To understand means that an issue stands under us. It is not on top of us. To understand is an expression of lokuttara.
The final stage refers to letting go. In the Pali, it has a profound meaning. We constantly hear the language of letting go even in the most preliminary of Dharma teachings for the complete beginner. The Pali word for seeing of letting go is patinissagganupassi. The word patiinissagga means literally to give back. We may have spent much of our life, so to speak, involved in taking. We take up the notion of ‘I,’ ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ and fixed to it all manner of identity.
We take up notions of being born, subject to ageing, and death. We take up the notion of having possessions, knowledge, experiences, insights and understanding. We convince ourselves we have attained certain levels. We have accomplished certain achievements. We have worked through certain situations. We have formed our identity through memory, education, roles, functions, successes and failures.
In the final stage, all falls away, becomes discarded, once and for all. This happens in natural way. There is a seeing and knowing liberation through patinissagganupassi. Life no longer has the capacity to harass or oppress. This is liberation with its natural expression of wisdom and kindness
May all beings develop in meditation
May all beings explore the deep
May all beings realise liberation