Vast Silence and Illumination (Part Two)
Buddhist psychology offers a systematic training to open the mystical perspective by explaining how to develop states of concentration and how to use them. It also acknowledges that jhana concentration is only one of many ways to cultivate inner understanding. Not everyone can concentrate in this way. Some students do not find concentration states accessible to them. Others need to work through traumas and difficulties before they can concentrate.. But for those who can, exploring the realms of jhana opens new dimensions and capacities, from luminous rapture to the ability to sit motionless in jhana states for days.
While Buddhist teachings repeatedly write about the development of jhana, there are few detailed, personal accounts. These inner states are hard to put into words, and they can be easily misunderstood. In fact, for some Buddhist traditions, it is taboo to openly disclose your inner experiences. In Zen you speak to the master and no one else. Otherwise it can spark competition, jealously or disappointment.
In spite of the potential for misunderstanding, I want to describe a few of my own experiences to make it clear that this aspect of psychology is not just theoretical, but quite real. Keep in mind that my own practice is modest compared to my teachers’. Initially, my own concentration training was difficult. I have an active mind and I was often distracted and full of thoughts. In the monastery my teacher had me focus on the breath for months, over and over to stabilize the concentration. Then, after a year of dedicated meditation, I was trained to enter both insight jhanas and absorption jhanas. For absorption jhanas, I have used a variety of subjects such as the breath, body awareness and loving-kindness. I learned to quiet my mind and release almost all thoughts and intentionally enter states of silent absorption for sustained periods.
In the first levels of jhana, my body becomes joyful and my mind deliciously happy. Every part, every cell of my being becomes suffused with rapture and happiness. My body becomes transparent, then disappears into a field of bliss. My mind becomes silent, as if in interstellar space. These states bring a sense of refreshment and inner strength. When this absorption concentration is stabilized, I can rest in these first or second jhana states for an hour or two or longer. Then I can release the excitement of the rapture, and dwell in more refined states of transcendent happiness and equanimity of the third and fourth jhanas. Beyond these initial jhanas, I can then open to the fifth jhana of boundless space, where the field of meditation expands out to the farthest galaxies. With yet more refined awareness, I open to the sixth jhana of boundless consciousness, beyond space and time itself.
My favorite subject for absorption in jhana is loving-kindness. After strong love for oneself can be established loving-kindness practice is systematically extended to others by categories. First we visualize and offer love to our benefactors, then loved ones, friends, neutral people, and eventually difficult people, even our enemies. Next, we extend the well-wishing of loving-kindness further—to all humans, animals, and insects, to beings of the earth, water, and air, to beings large and small, young and old, visible and not visible—until beings in every direction are included. At each step of the process,we deliberately extend our field of loving consciousness. If we find difficulty opening to the next area of loving-kindness, we try to gradually let go and forgive, repeatedly offering loving intentions until the obstacles dissolve.
When you use loving-kindness to develop concentration, your body and mind can disappear into a love-filled radiant light for hours at a time. With no sense of body, you become like a combination of a laser, a fountain and a star. Sitting in meditation, you can direct the radiance of your heart like a beam in all directions. Continue including living beings in every form and direction in the vast universe until all are experienced as illuminated with light and love.
Adapted from the book, “The Wise Heart”