How should you practice to know the Four Noble Truths? Please listen to the following passage from the Samādhi Sutta of Sacca Saṁyutta:
“Bhikkhus, develop concentration. A bhikkhu who is concentrated understands dhammas as they really are.
“And what does he understand as it really is? He understands as it really is: ‘This is suffering (dukkha-sacca).’ He understands as it really is: ‘This is the origin of suffering (samudaya-sacca).’ He understands as it really is: ‘This is the cessation of suffering (nirodhasacca).’ He understands as it really is: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering (magga-sacca).’
“Bhikkhus, develop concentration. A bhikkhu who is concentrated understands dhammas as they really are.
“Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering (dukkha-sacca).’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the origin of suffering (samudaya-sacca).’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the cessation of suffering (nirodha-sacca).’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering (magga-sacca).’”
So to know the Four Noble Truths you should first develop concentration. There are forty samatha meditation subjects for concentration practice. You may choose any of them. Here I would like to first explain ānāpānasati meditation, mindfulness of breathing, and then explain how you should try to realize the Four Noble Truths.
I should like to explain how to practice according to the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta. In the Sutta, the Buddha says thus:
Mindfulness of Breathing
‘Bhikkhus, how does a bhikkhu abide contemplating the body in the body?’
Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu goes to the forest, or to the foot of a tree or to a secluded place. Then he sits down cross-legged, keeps his upper body erect and establishes his mindfulness to the object of his meditation. He breathes in mindfully; he breathes out mindfully.
When he breathes in long, he understands: “I breathe in long.” When he breathes out long, he understands: “I breathe out long.” When he breathes in short, he understands: “I breathe in short.” When he breathes out short, he understands: “I breathe out short.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in tranquilizing the whole breath formations.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe out tranquilizing the whole breath formations.”
Just like a skilled turner or his apprentice, while he makes a long turn he understands: “I make a long turn.” While he makes a short turn, he understands: “I make a short turn.” In the same way, when a bhikkhu breathes in long, he understands: “I breathe in long.” When he breathes out long, he understands: “I breathe out long.” When he breathes in short, he understands: “I breathe in short.” When he breathes out short, he understands: “I breathe out short.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.”
He trains thus: “I shall breathe in tranquilizing the whole breath formations.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe out tranquilizing the whole breath formations.”’
This is The Buddha’s instruction on mindfulness of breathing, specially for the attainment of jhāna. In the passage, the word ‘here’ means in this Dispensation of The Buddha. By the word ‘here,’ dispensations other than the Buddha’s are excluded as they do not teach mindfulness of breathing in the complete way as it is taught in The Buddha dhamma. Outside The Buddha’s dispensation there is no one who can teach ānāpānasati in the complete way. It is taught only in The Buddha’s dispensation. For it is said:
‘Here we find a true recluse (samaṇa); other schools are empty of recluses.’
Suitable Places for Meditation
The Buddha points out suitable places for meditators in the passage: ‘A bhikkhu goes to the forest, to the foot of a tree or to a secluded place.’ This makes clear what is an abode appropriate to the meditator for the cultivation of mindfulness.
The mind of the meditator has dwelt on visual objects and other sensual objects for a long time before he comes to meditate. He does not like to enter the road of meditation, because his mind is not tamed is not used to living without sensual pleasures. He is like a wild young bull who if he is harnessed to a cart always wants to run off the road. Before he comes to meditate, his mind constantly came into contact with various kinds of sensual objects, such as movies, pleasant music, delicious food, and enjoyable social life. And his mind took great delight therein. But now there are no movies, no music, etc. to please his eyes, ears, etc., and thus his mind is just like a fish taken out from water and put on the dry ground, jumping about in distress and longing for water. Now in-andout breath is just like the dry ground; it is too monotonous and unsatisfying to his mind which is ever longing for sensual pleasures. While sitting, instead of concentrating on the breath, he spends much of his time dwelling in past sensual pleasures that he enjoyed, or in future sensual pleasures that he expects to enjoy. But this is just a waste of time and is not helpful to mental cultivation.
Even if he practices in this way for his whole life there will be no improvement for him.
The Simile of A Wild Calf
Thus, in order to overcome his bad habit he should repeatedly bring his mind back to the breath, keeping his mind on it as long as possible. In this way he begins to develop a new habit of concentrating on the breath. It is just like a cowherd who wishes to tame a wild calf nourished entirely on the milk of a wild cow. He leads that calf away from the cow to a stout post firmly sunk in the ground and then ties it to it. When that calf jumps here and there it finds that it is impossible to run away. Eventually it tires of struggling and crouches down or lies down at that very post. In the same way, he who wants to tame the wild mind that has for a long time been nourished on visible and other sensual objects leads the mind away from them and ushers it into a forest, to the foot of a tree or to a secluded place. Then he ties that mind to the post of the object of foundation of mindfulness, such as the breath, with the rope of mindfulness. His mind will also jump here and there. When it cannot obtain the objects it had long grown used to and finds it impossible to break the rope of mindfulness and run away, it will finally sit or lie down at that very object by way of access and full absorption.
Therefore, the ancient commentators said:
As one who wants to break a wild young calf
Would tether it to a stout stake firmly, here,
In the same way the meditator should tie fast
His own mind to the meditation object.
In this way this abode becomes appropriate to the meditator. Therefore, it is said, ‘This makes clear what abode is appropriate to the meditator for the cultivation of mindfulness.’
Mindfulness of breathing is not easy to accomplish without leaving the neighbourhood of a village because sound is a thorn to absorption. In a place that is uninhabited it is easy for the meditator to take up this meditation subject. Therefore, The Blessed One pointed out the abode suitable for that with the words, ‘goes to the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to a secluded place.’
The Buddha is like a master of the science of building sites because he pointed out the suitable abode for meditators.
After a master in the science of selecting building sites has seen a stretch of ground good for building a town and has considered it well from all sides, he advises: ‘Build the town here.’ When the building of the town is completed he receives high honour from the royal family. In the same way, after The Buddha has well considered from all points the abode suitable for the meditator he advises: ‘This meditation subject should be chosen.’ When Arahantship has gradually been reached by the meditator, he expresses his gratitude and admiration with the words: ‘Certainly, The Blessed One is the Supremely Awakened One.’ The Buddha receives great honour.
The Simile of A Leopard
The bhikkhu is comparable to a leopard. Like the leopard he lives alone in the forest and accomplishes his aim by overcoming those contrary to him, namely, the passions.
A great king of leopards hidden in the forest in grass-bush, jungle-bush or hill-thicket, seizes wild buffalos, elks, pigs and other beasts. In the same way, the bhikkhu devoting himself to the meditation subject gains the Four Noble Paths and Fruitions one after another. Therefore the ancient commentators said:
As a leopard lies in ambush and captures beasts,
So does this son of the Awakened One,
The striving man, the man of keen vision,
Having gone into the forest seizes therein
Fruition that truly is supreme.
And so The Blessed One said ‘goes to the forest’ and so forth to point out the suitable place for fruitful exertion in meditation.
Although you are now neither in the forest nor at the foot of a tree, and the place here is crowded with many meditators, if you are able to ignore the presence of others, put aside all other things and just be aware of your meditation object, this place will be just like a secluded place to you. Furthermore, group meditation does help you arouse energy and progress faster in meditation.
To Breathe In and Out Mindfully
‘Keeps his body erect’ means to keep the vertebrae in such a position that every segment of the backbone is placed upright and end to end throughout. The body is held straight from the waist upwards.
The Buddha recommends this posture because it is the most stable and comfortable posture, and helps to keep your mind calm yet alert.
What does ‘establishes his mindfulness to the object of his meditation’ mean? It means to fix the mind by directing it towards the meditation object. For example, if you are practising ānāpānasati, you must establish mindfulness towards the breath. If you are practising four-elements meditation, you must establish mindfulness towards the four elements. You should direct your attention towards your meditation object, not towards your family.
‘He breathes in mindfully; he breathes out mindfully,’ means that he breathes in and out without abandoning mindfulness. Mindfulness is very important. Here mindfulness means remembrance. If you keep remembering the breath around your nostrils or upper lip, your mindfulness as well as concentration will become stronger and stronger. When concentration improves, you will see a nimitta. If you concentrate on the nimitta firmly, you will attain all the four jhānas.
The Long Breath and Short Breath
How should you breathe in mindfully? How should you breathe out mindfully? The Buddha instructed that:
‘When he breathes in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long.’ When he breathes out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’’
He breathes in a long breath during a long stretch of time, and he breathes out a long breath during a long stretch of time, and he breathes in and out long breaths during long stretches of time.
As he breathes in and out long breaths each during a long stretch of time, zeal (chanda), which is very important for meditation, arises in him. With zeal he breathes in a long breath finer than the last during a long stretch of time. With zeal he breathes out a long breath finer than the last during a long stretch of time. And with zeal he breathes in and out long breaths finer than the last, each during a long stretch of time.
As with zeal the bhikkhu breathes in and out long breaths finer than the last, joy (pīti) arises in him. With joy he breathes in a long breath finer than the last during a long stretch of time. With joy he breathes out a long breath finer than the last during a long stretch of time. And with joy he breathes in and out long breaths finer than the last, each during a long stretch of time.
To have joy (pīti) in meditation is very important for higher concentration . If you never have joy while meditating, your concentration cannot improve. When will joy appear? If you have removed agitation and wandering thoughts, and are able to concentrate on the whole long subtle breath completely, your concentration will improve. When your concentration deepens, joy will arise in your mind.
Then as the bhikkhu breathes in and out with joy long breaths each finer than the last, his mind turns away from the long in-and-out-breathings, but turns to the nimitta and with equanimity (upekkhā) stands firm.
The same meditation procedures hold for the passage for sometimes the breath will be short and sometimes long. This is natural.
‘When he breathes in short, he understands: “I breathe in short.” When he breathes out short, he understands: “I breathe out short.”’
The Whole Breath
As regards the passage:
‘He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.”’
He trains himself with the following idea: ‘I shall breathe in making known, making clear to myself the beginning, middle, and end of the whole body of in-breaths. I shall breathe out making known, making clear, to myself the beginning, middle, and end of the whole body of out-breaths. ‘And he breathes in and out with consciousness associated with the knowledge that makes known, makes the breaths clear to himself.
In this case you should not misunderstand that you have to note the breath as: ‘this is the beginning, this is the middle, and this is the end.’ Just knowing the whole breath continuously is enough.
To a bhikkhu in the tenuous, diffused body of in-breathing or body of out-breathing only the beginning is clear, not the middle or the end. He is able to take up only the beginning. In the middle and at the end he has trouble. To another only the middle is clear and not the beginning or the end.
To a third only the end is clear. The beginning and the middle are not clear and he is able to take up only the breath at the end. He has trouble at the beginning and at the middle. But to a fourth all the three stages are clear and he is able to take up all. He has trouble nowhere. To point out that this meditation subject should be developed following the example of the fourth one, The Buddha said: ‘He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole breath (body) clearly.’’
At the early stage of this meditation there is nothing else to be done but just breathing in and out, as it is said: When he breathes in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’ When he breathes out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’ When he breathes in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short.’ When he breathes out short, he understands: ‘I breathe out short.’ Thereafter he should endeavour to bring about knowledge and so forth, therefore it is said, ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole breath body.’ Knowing the breath clearly is the training of wisdom; concentrating on the breath is the training of concentration; restraining the mind from defilements is the training of morality.
He should endeavour to fulfill the three trainings while breathing.
The Subtle Breath
As regards the passage:
‘He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the whole breath formations.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquilizing the whole breath formations.’’
He thinks: I shall breathe in and out, quieting, making smooth, making tranquil and peaceful the activity of the in-and-out-breathing. In that way, he trains himself.
In this connection, coarseness, fineness, and calm should be understood thus: Without contemplative effort, the body and the mind of this bhikkhu are distressed and coarse. The in-and-outbreathings, too, are coarse and do not proceed calmly. The nasal aperture becomes insufficient and he has to breathe through the mouth. But when the body and the mind are under control then the body and the mind become placid and tranquil. When these are restful, the breathing proceeds so finely that the bhikkhu doubts whether or not the breathings are going on.
The breathing of a man who runs down from a hill, puts down a heavy burden from his head, and stands still is coarse. His nasal aperture becomes insufficient and he breathes through the mouth, too. But when he rids himself of his fatigue, takes a bath and a drink of water, and puts a wet cloth over his heart and is lying in the shade, his breathing becomes fine. And he is at a loss to know whether it exists or not. Comparable to that man is the bhikkhu whose breaths become so fine after the taking up of the practice of contemplation that he finds it difficult to say whether he is breathing or not. What is the reason for this? Without taking up the meditation he does not perceive, concentrate on, reflect on, or think over, the question of calming the gross breaths. But with the meditation he does. Therefore, the activity of the breath becomes finer in the time in which meditation is practised than in the time in which there is no practice. So the ancient commentators said: ‘In the agitated mind and body the breath is of the coarsest kind. In the unexcited body, it is subtle.’
How does he train himself with the thought: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the whole breath formations. I shall breathe out tranquilizing the whole breath formations.’? What are the whole breath formations (kāyasaṅkhāra)? Those things of the breaths, bound up with the breath, are the whole breath formations. He trains himself in causing the whole breath formations to become composed, to become smooth and calm. He trains himself thinking thus: Tranquilizing the whole breath formations by (quieting) the bodily activities of bending forwards, sideways, all over, and back wards, and calming the moving, quivering, vibrating, and quaking of the body, I shall breathe in and out. I shall breathe in and out, tranquilizing the whole breath formations by way of whatever peaceful and fine bodily activities of non-bending of the body forwards, sideways, all over and backwards, of non-moving, non-quivering, non-vibrating, and non-quaking .
So far I have shown you the four stages of developing concentration using mindfulness of breathing: to concentrate on
(1) the long breath,
(2) the short breath,
(3) the whole breath, and
(4) the subtle breath.
To Combine in One
In this case you should understand that it is possible for three stages, the long, whole and subtle breaths, to combine in one. That means while you are breathing a long subtle breath, you must try to know the whole long subtle breath. If the breath is not yet subtle, you should incline your mind to have subtle breath. If you try in this way, when your concentration improves, the whole breath will become subtle. You should then try to know with strong zeal the whole long subtle breath. If you practise so, you may succeed in attaining jhānas.
It is also possible for three stages, the short, whole and subtle breaths, to combine in one. So while breathing a long subtle breath you should know the three, the long breath, whole breath and subtle breath, together. And while breathing a short subtle breath, you should know the whole short subtle breath. If you practise in this way with enough zeal and joy, your concentration will improve.
When your concentration improves, the breath becomes finer and finer. At that time you should not become disappointed with the thought: ‘Oh, my breath is not clear.’ Because it will make you agitated.
Consequently your concentration will decrease. In fact, it is good to have the breath become subtle. Why? If a nimitta appears then, and your mind sticks to it, you will not be disturbed by the breath. If, however, your breath is gross, you may know the nimitta as well as the breath; your mind will have two objects. With two objects your mind is not collected, and your concentration will not improve. So you should be happy when the breath becomes finer and finer.
You must, however, not purposely make the breath long, short or subtle. If you do so your effort and the enlightenment factor of investigation of dhamma will be excessive. When these two are excessive, concentration will decrease. So you should just let your breathing continue in a natural way.
This is the best. Sometimes the breath is long, and sometimes it is short. No problem. Whether the breath is long or short you should try to know the whole breath (body) clearly. When your concentration improves further, you should try to know the whole subtle breath. When it is long you should try to know the whole long subtle breath. When it is short you should try to know the whole short subtle breath.
If you can concentrate on the whole subtle breath for more than one or two hours in every sitting your concentration will improve further. You should then take great care to practise continuously.
Please stop thinking. Please stop talking. In every posture, standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, you must concentrate on only the breath. You should not pay attention to any other objects.
The Nimitta and Light
If you can concentrate on the whole subtle breath, whether it is long or short, continuously for more than one hour in every sitting, successively for more than three days, usually the nimitta will appear. For some meditators, the nimitta appears first. For some other meditators, however, light appears first. You should differentiate the nimitta and light. They are two different things, just like the sun and sunlight.
Light is everywhere, in every direction surrounding your body. Except the rebirth-linking consciousness, every consciousness that arises dependent on the heart-base produces many kalāpas, small particles, called mind-produced kalāpas. If you analyse those kalāpas, you will see at least eight types of materiality, namely, the earth-element, water-element, fire-element, wind-element, colour, odour, flavour, and nutritive essence. If the consciousness is a concentrated and powerful one, the colour it produces is bright. Further, the fire-elements of those kalāpas produce many new kalāpas called temperature-produced kalāpas, which are spreading not only internally but also externally.
In each of them there is also bright colour, the light. When the concentrated mind is very strong and powerful, the light spreads very far. When it is less powerful, the light spreads only a few inches. The colours of mind-produced kalāpas are only internal, whereas the colours of temperature-produced kalāpas are both internal and external. The collection of bright colours is the brilliant light that appears around your body in every direction.
Anyway you should not concentrate on the light, but only the breath. At that time the breath is usually subtle. To know the subtle breath strong and powerful effort, mindfulness and investigation of dhamma are necessary. If you know the breath clearly with these qualities, your concentration will improve. When your concentration improves, usually the ānāpāna nimitta appears, and it appears only at your nostrils.
What is the Ānāpāna Nimitta
What is the ānāpāna nimitta? When your concentration improves, your breath appears as a nimitta. The breath is also produced by mind. If you discern the four elements of your breath, you will see many kalāpas. If you analyse them, you will see at least nine types of materiality, namely, the earth-element, water-element, fire-element, wind-element, colour, odour, flavour, nutritive essence and sound. The colour is bright. As I explained before, the fire-elements of those kalāpas also produce many new kalāpas with bright colour. It is the bright colours of those kalāpas which produce the nimitta.
When the nimitta first appears, it is usually not stable. At that time you should not concentrate on it, but only the breath. When your concentration on the breath becomes stable and deep enough, the nimitta will also become stable. In the beginning the nimitta is gray. When concentration improves the nimitta becomes white, and then transparent; the transparent nimitta is called a paṭibhāga nimitta. Depending on your perception, the nimitta may change in shape and colour. Sometimes it may be long. Sometimes it may be round. Sometimes it may be red. Sometimes it may be yellow.
But you should not pay attention to its colour or shape, otherwise it will keep on changing. If it is so, your concentration will decrease. You will not attain any jhāna. Thus you should concentrate on the breath until the nimitta unifies with the breath and your mind automatically sticks to the nimitta.
You should then concentrate on only the nimitta, not the breath. If you sometimes concentrate on the breath, and sometimes concentrate on the nimitta, your concentration will diminish gradually.
Again you should not pay attention to the specific characteristics of four elements of the breath as well as the nimitta, such as – hardness, roughness, heaviness and softness, smoothness, lightness, flowing and cohesion, heat and coldness, supporting and pushing. If you pay attention to them, you are practicing the four elements meditation, but not ānāpānasati meditation.
Again you should not pay attention to the breath or nimitta as anicca, dukkha or anattā. These are general characteristics. Why? The objects of vipassanā are saṅkhāras, formations. They are ultimate materiality and ultimate mentality and their causes. The breath and nimitta are not ultimate realities, but are compactness. So they are not the object of vipassanā. If you pay attention to them as anicca, dukkha, and anatta, you are neither practicing ānāpāna nor vipassana.
If your ānāpāna-nimitta is whitish colour and then if you concentrate on it well, it will become whiter and then as bright as the morning star. Your mind will then automatically sink into the nimitta. If your mind completely sinks into nimitta without moving for a long time, then that concentration is called absorption concentration. To beginners this is a very important stage. The same process applies to ānāpāna-nimitta of other colours.
Two Types of Absorption
There are two types of absorption; upacāra-jhāna and appana-jhāna. Appanā-jhāna is the complete uninterrupted absorbtion of the mind with the object such as ānāpāna-paṭibhāga nimitta. At this stage there is no arising of the bhavaṅga mind state between consciousness moments that know the object. The jhāna factors are strong enough to hold the mind on the object without any interruption.
In upacāra-jhāna or access jhāna, the mind begins to be absorbed into the object for increasing periods, but these periods are sometimes interrupted by the arising of bhavaṅga mind states. Here, because the five jhāna factors are not strong enough, the mind is not yet absorbed beyond any distraction.
The commentary explains this stage with the example of a baby universal monarch. The queen who bears a baby universal monarch sees her son in her womb with her physical eyes. At that time she carefully guards her son against misfortune. So too you should guard your nimitta with great care and respect. You must practise with ardour, comprehension and mindfulness, because a lazy, hazy and forgetful mind cannot attain any distinction in mental development. In every posture you must be mindful of and concentrate on the nimitta. For example, before you start to walk, you should stand at a corner of a walking path and concentrate on your breath. When the nimitta appears and is stable, you should concentrate on it. When your concentration becomes strong and powerful, you should walk slowly with your mind concentrating only on the nimitta.
To be able to concentrate on the nimitta in every posture is a kind of will power. You have this will power. So please practise hard. You can succeed. If you practise continuously very soon your mind will sink into the nimitta completely. This is absorption, also called jhāna. Although for the first few times the absorption does not last long, you should not give up. You should practise again and again. If you practise hard with strong and powerful comprehension and mindfulness you will succeed in maintaining your concentration on the nimitta for a long time. In the beginning stage, staying in absorption must be emphasised more. Reflecting on the jhāna factors, on the other hand, must be restrained. If you reflect on the jhāna factors frequently, your concentration will decrease.
So please try staying in absorption for increasing length of time.
Reflecting on the Jhāna Factors
Your absorption must be deep and stable. When it is deep and stable for more than one or two hours, it is a good achievement. I would advise you to practise until you are able to stay in the absorption for at least three hours. If you are able to absorb in the nimitta for more than one, two or three hours in every sitting for three consecutive days, you may then reflect on the jhāna factors. To do so you must first stay in deep absorption for more than one hour. Having emerged from it, you should discern the interior of your heart to discern bhavaṅga, life continuum, which arises dependent on your heart-base. In the beginning, usually many meditators are not able to differentiate between bhavaṅga and the nimitta. When they discern bhavaṅga, they see the same ānāpāna nimitta inside the heart. They think that is bhavaṅga. Actually that is not bhavaṅga. Bhavaṅga is like a mirror inside the heart.
‘Pabhāsara midaṁ bhikkhave cittaṁ’ –
‘bhikkhus bhavaṅga consciousness is brilliant.’
This is mentioned in the accharāsaṅghāṭa chapter of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Bhavaṅga is a kind of consciousness. It is not brightness, but it can produce brilliant light. It can produce many mindproduced kalāpas. And the fire-elements of those kalāpas further produce many temperatureproduced kalāpas. The colours of those two types of kalāpas are bright. The degree of brightness depends on the power of wisdom associated with bhavaṅga consciousness. The higher the power of wisdom the brighter the light is. So if the force of kamma that produces bhavaṅga is that of insight knowledge, the power of wisdom will be very high, and the light will be very bright and powerful.
Thus bhavaṅga is one thing, and light is another.
You should reflect on bhavaṅga for only a few seconds, because reflecting on bhavaṅga for a longer time, for example, two or three minutes, your heart may be painful and your concentration will decrease. So if you are able to discern bhavaṅga within a few seconds, it is fine. If not, you should again concentrate on the ānāpāna nimitta until your absorption is deep and the nimitta is brilliant.
You may then try to discern bhavaṅga again. If you practise in this way again and again, you may understand bhavaṅga. When you are able to discern bhavaṅga, you should again concentrate on the ānāpāna nimitta until your absorption is deep and the nimitta is brilliant. Then when you discern bhavaṅga, you will see that the nimitta appears inside bhavaṅga, just like when you look into a mirror you see your face inside the mirror. You may then discern the five jhāna factors, namely, applied thought (vitakka), sustained thought (vicāra), joy (pīti), bliss (sukha) and one-pointedness (ekaggata).
Applied thought is the application of the mind to the paṭibhāga nimitta. Sustained thought is maintaining the mind on the paṭibhāga nimitta. Joy is the liking towards the paṭibhāga nimitta. Bliss is happiness or pleasant feeling experiencing the paṭibhāga nimitta. One-pointedness is the unification of the mind with the paṭibhāga nimitta. When you discern the five jhāna factors, first you should discern them one by one. Having done this, you may discern the five jhāna factors simultaneously.
If you are able to do so, you should then develop the five masteries, as follows:
The Five Masteries
First, you should practise entering jhāna whenever you want to enter jhāna. Second, you should try to emerge from jhāna whenever you want to do so. Third, you should stay in jhāna for one, two or three hours according to your determination. The fourth and fifth are actually done in just one step, that is to say, to reflect on the jhāna factors when you want to reflect on them. Reflecting jhāna factors by mind-door adverting consciousness (manodvārāvajjana) is called mastery of āvajjana, and by impulsion consciousness within the same process of the āvajjana is called mastery of paccavekkhana.
This is the only difference. If you succeed in developing the five masteries, you can practise the second jhāna, the third jhāna and the fourth jhāna systematically. In the first jhāna the breath becomes very subtle; in the second it is subtler; in the third jhāna it is even subtler; and in the fourth jhāna it stops completely.
I have inquired of many meditators to find out which jhāna they consider the best. Many of them said the second jhāna is better than the first jhāna; the third jhāna is better than the second jhāna; and the fourth jhāna is the best of these four.
This achievement is due to will power. Everybody has the will power. You should practise diligently in The Buddha’s dispensation which is a rare opportunity. (viryayavato kimana kammam na sijjhati ! ) for the person who makes a strong effort , with enough determination and wisdom , there is nothing which is beyond his reach . If you practise hard everything is possible for you. You can succeed in attaining all the four jhānas.
After attaining the fourth jhāna if you want to practise other samatha meditation subjects, such as the ten kasiṇas, four sublime states (brahmavihāra), you can do so easily. If you want to practise vipassanā based on the fourth ānāpāna jhāna, you can do so. There are two types of persons who practise vipassanā based on the fourth ānāpāna jhāna: an assāsapassāsakammika person and a jhānakammika person. They translate the assāsapassāsakammika person as an ānāpāna meditator and the jhānakammika person as a jhāna meditator. This translation is inaccurate. So I will explain how these two types of person practise vipassanā based on the fourth ānāpāna jhāna.
In samatha meditation there are forty subjects, whereas in vipassanā meditation there are only two subjects, namely the discernment of materiality (rūpakammaṭṭhāna) and the discernment of mentality (nāmakammaṭṭhāna). Sometimes they are called rūpa pariggaha and arūpa pariggaha respectively.
If a meditator who has attained the fourth ānāpāna jhāna discerns materiality first, he is called an assāsapassāsakammika person. If he discerns mentality first he has to discern the five jhāna factors first, and he is called a jhānakammika person.
Lectured by Bhikkhu Dhamapala, Pa Auk forest monastery