JB's Meditation Bio
I started my meditation practices when I was 19, I am now 37. I practiced Soto Zen Buddhist meditation with the monk who was also teaching me the martial arts. I cared nothing about meditation or contemplative practices, but the old monk would not train me in the martial arts unless I also practiced meditation with him. I knew nothing about meditation and didn't care to learn anything about meditation.
After just a few short months of practicing zazen I started to see numerous changes happening in me. I lost all of my jealousy and most of my fear. Many other subtle changes came about in my consciousness in this time frame.
Later, as I moved around the country with different jobs, I continued my Zen meditation sporadically when I could.
About 7 years ago I found a Sangha, and started my daily and group Zen meditations again. I also started practicing Hatha Yoga at around the same time and practiced this yoga about 3 times a week. I found both to be extremely calming, and quieted my mind.
About a year ago I added Surya yoga, or sungazing to my practices.
Right now my typical daily practice includes almost 1 1/2 hours of sungazing, 1 or 2 hours of Hatha yoga, 45 minutes of a visual object meditation, 1 hour of zazen, and 1 hour and up to 8 hours (through the night) of a lying down meditation.
I never really cared, or understood much about Jhana, but was curious about all the weird side effects that were manifesting with my practices. In my search for answers I was led to this group. I suppose you are probably right that it is good to know where someone is, in the level of Jhanas, but I have always had some problems with judging ones level of attainment.
I always figured that keeping track of such things would lead to anticipation, then attachment, then ego, and frustration etc.
The monk who introduced me to meditation always said "just sit, don't think too much about it, just sit". This advice has always served me well. I always tried to make the goal, the practice, and not attach to the results, but largely ignore them.
You are clearly very knowledgeable, as I am very ignorant in these matters, and I certainly can't argue with the advice of the Buddha.
I guess the first problem in figuring out where I stand in the Jhanas is to understand how to interpret them. Have you reached a certain Jhana when you have experienced that Jhana for just a moment a few times while in deep meditation, or when you spend the majority, or all, of your living experience in that Jhana.
The majority, or slightly more than half of the time, I feel extreme joy, love, bliss (?), permeating through, and radiating from my body. At first this was only in meditation, but grew and now is much of the time. I can initiate it any time, and can't stop it most of the time. It seems to be more overwhelming at certain times, like when in nature, listening to music, alone, or in any type of contemplation. I seem to be always on the verge of breaking into tears of joy.
Does this put me in the 2nd Jhana?
As for the 3rd Jhana when I read the description I thought right away about the times when I used to meditate with a timer. Sometimes when my timer went off I would notice the noise from the timer, but not attach any relevance to the noise. At some point I would "come out" of my meditative state, get up and notice the large amount of elapsed time. I would think back and realize that I did hear my timer go off, but didn't make the correlation to stop meditating with the noise. In fact, I guess I didn't correlate anything with anything apparently. Often I didn't even hear the timer going off at all.
Some time last year I lost all fear. Most other negative emotions like jealousy etc. were already gone. I do still feel anger rarely, and ego some, but most all negative emotions are gone. I no longer care about life, death, pain, suffering, etc. I have lost all attachment to them, and don't care really what happens. If I die tomorrow, that's fine I don't care. My mother, (a god fearing, devout Methodist), picked up on my freedom, and in frustration asked, "don't you even care if you go to hell?" I thought about it for a moment and realized that no, I didn't care. If I face pain, suffering, or even hell (if there is such a place) then my thoughts are, that there is where I will be, so be it. I attach no concern to it. I don't care.
I, at first, thought this freedom or lack of mental suffering must relate to the 4th Jhana, but upon further reading of your descriptions I realize that maybe the 4th Jhana is only of the physical dimension. For me this is more rare if I am correctly interpreting it. I still feel pain. If I am walking through the woods and step on a thorn it hurts. I do, however, while in meditation sometimes not feel the lack of comfort of outside stimuli. Like when I am meditating outside and feel the bug bite me but don't attach any pain to it. I meditate outside daily. I feel the bugs bite me, but it is later, after the meditation has ended, that it itches. I have had similar experiences with hot and cold while in meditation. I'm not sure if this is the 4th Jhana or not.
Beyond the 4th Jhana I don't really know.
The only other experiences that I have had that may relate to the higher Jhanas, are very rare for me, and have happened only while in deep meditation. They are what I call glimpses of enlightenment. I have read where others may call them unity experiences. On a few occasions while in deep meditation, I have had the feeling of my body/being exploding in a rapid expansion at an infinite speed. I expand until I not only fill the entire universe, but become the entire universe. I don't feel like I am one with the universe like some say, but that I am the universe in all of it's powerful loving beauty. Just the thought of the experience overwhelms me. It is way beyond anything I could have ever comprehended prior to that experience. It is truly beyond description. Does this relate to the 5th Jhana? This experience is very rare for me, so even though the experience is real and has happened just a few times I don't know if it would qualify as reaching the 5th Jhana.
It doesn't sound like, based on your descriptions, that I could have possibly reached anything past the 5th Jhana, and I may be still at the 2nd Jhana, or possibly even the 1st.
So Where am I in the Jhanas?
But more importantly what am I supposed to do with this information? While it may be interesting, what value does this knowledge really have? How do I use it? Why would I want to use it? To what end?
It seems like everyone's path is different, but there are many similarities and commonalities. It is nice to see that others also experience these strange beautiful states, and have the same side effects, or side shows that I do.
It has been said that finding enlightenment is like traversing the razors edge. I sense many plateaus, stumbling blocks, and traps. I suppose maybe the key is complete surrender and unattachment.
I would like to experience the 5th Jhana again, and beyond. At this point in my experience it is hard to imagine experiencing anything beyond my infinite expansion moments of unity that are apparently called the 5th Jhana.
As previously stated it was my many strange "side effects" that led me to this group. Many of these side effects are with me much of the time some come rarely, some only in meditation. These side effects are many and I will certainly forget some, but I will list the ones that come to mind right now:
-frequent OBE's (out of body experiences)
-visions or memories of fragments of past lives
-precognition (with mixed accuracy)
-conscious sleep (sporadic)
-highly variable sleep patterns
-strong sense of intuition
-energy sensitivity and sight
-apparent ability to heal, both local and distant
-ringing in my ears, especially during my practices, sometimes inaudible voices (the voices come only in my left ear)
-I seemed to lose my sexual desires entirely for a while, but now it cycles, and I can now control the desire/energy, but generally care very little about sex
-a feeling like I am electric, or electrified (especially while sungazing)
- an itching or sense of skin crawling, first in my legs then expanding through my body
-a comfortable intense heat during my practices (filling my body)
-a, usually comfortable, pressure in my skull
-a tightness with pain in my sternum, sometimes extending down my left trapezius
-mild vertigo, generally during my practices and especially during zazen
-periods of overwhelming joy/bliss/love which seem to cycle, but are gaining in frequency and duration overall
These side effects were rather strange to me for a while, and at times I wondered if I were losing my mind. My intuition told me they were just manifestations of my practices, but it wasn't until I found this group that I was really put at ease in reference to them.