Concentrated Mind to Investigate True Nature
Morro Bay, CA

Clean up your act
Learn to concentrate
Use concentrated mind to see the true nature of things

Jhāna refers to the states of meditative absorption attained through highly focused concentration. The jhānas and arupajhānas represent 8 of the many states of Samadi - concentrated calm and tranquility. I spent 3 days in Morro Bay with Leigh Brasington and a small group of people to meditate and learn about the practice of jhāna.

Jhāna is controversial within Buddhism. Ajahn Jumnian stated several times that he no longer teaches jhāna -- explaining that it took too much time and was difficult to maintain. Jhāna practice was also one of the issues that lead to the separation of Zen from the earlier forms of Theravada Buddhism. Thus, in zazen (Zen meditation) one meditates facing a wall with eyes softly open -- to prevent inadvertent entry into jhāna. However, the Buddha taught jhāna as an accelerated path to enlightenment.

There's a lot of mystery and magic associated with jhāna. This is where out-of-body types of phenomena are experienced. They can be used to enter supernatural realms such as the heavenly realms and the Brahma realms.

Having been one, you become many; having been many, you become one; you appear and vanish; you go unhindered through a wall, through a rampart, through a mountain as though through space; you dive in and out of the earth as though it were water; you walk on water without sinking as though it were earth; seated cross-legged, you travel in space like a bird; with your hand you touch and stroke the moon and sun so powerful and mighty; you exercise mastery with the body as far as the brahma world. -Samyutta Nikaya 12.70

Once you have been in these states, it is said that it is easier to manage hindrances such as sensual desire, ill will, aversion, and skeptical doubt.

Secluded from sensual desires
Secluded from unwholesome acts.

There are over 40 known methods to attain "Access Concentration". To enter jhana, one must reach that state of quiet that one reaches at day 3 of a silent retreat. Three of the more common are:
1) mindfulness of breathing
2) Metta practice
3) Body Scan

There are four embodied or "material" states of jhana:
1) Vitaka - thinking
2) Vichara - pondering
3) Piti - rapture, release of pleasant energy
4) Sika - Happiness, sustained Piti - similar to Kundalini

There are also 4 "non-material" states known as the arupajhānas:
5) The sphere of infinite space
6) Infinite consciousness
7) Sphere of nothingness
8) Sphere of neither perception or non-perception

Finally, there is a 9th state of deep concentration:
9) Cessation of feeling and perception.

Mindfulness of Breathing:

  • sit cross-legged (if possible). The body needs to be stable - best if upright.

  • setup mindfulness before putting attention of the breath

  • count breath in and out, putting # at the gap between out and in. This is a crutch that will eventually not be needed.

  • label distractions to gain insight into where your mind tends to go

  • Signs of concentrated states:

  • may seem that it's getting bright

  • visuals will usually be a distraction - leave them as interesting phenomena"

  • breath becomes very shallow - will have urges to take a deep breath, but that will disrupt concentration - may shift concentration to something else (such as smile or warmth in hands) at that point

  • do nothing else - just stay with pleasant sensation

  • Therefore, use the breath as access, then switch to pleasant physical sensation such as smile, hands, heat and stay focused on that pleasant sensation. Create a positive feedback loop of pleasure sensation. Maintaining attention in this way will lead to entering the first jhāna - the others should follow in sequence. Do not "reach for jhāna" as craving will create a hindrance.

    Leigh recommended doing half of sitting practice in jhāna and the other half as insight meditation.

    Leigh has further information on his website:

    "Rage, Lust & Foggy Mind"

    Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
    Carmel Valley, CA

    Delusion transformed is wisdom
    Greed transformed is generosity
    Anger transformed is compassion

    Tassajara is a beautiful, serene Zen retreat center located in the Ventana Wilderness, 14 miles down a poorly-maintained dirt road from where the pavement ends at the top of Carmel Valley. I spent 4 days there with Darlene Cohen, a Zen Priestess from the Russian River and a small group of women (yes, I was the only man) to investigate "Rage, Lust, and Foggy Mind". The remote center is built around a beautiful hand-crafted Zendo for sesshin (group meditation), a dining hall, and several cabins in all styles, including a few beautiful stone rooms along the creek with fireplaces and kerosene lamps where I was fortunate enough to stay. One of the jewels of the remote center is a natural hot springs spa built along the creek that flows through the property.

    As we sat in a circle for our first meeting in the yurt that served as our meeting place, Darlene asked if I was comfortable being the only male in the group. I assured her that I had no problem with it, but noted that I was surprised -- I had been conditioned to think of rage and lust as issues associated with masculine attitudes. This was received with a smattering of giggles from the women seated in the circle.

    Several of the women were part of a "women's" sangha that Darlene leads. I asked why they chose a women-only approach to Dharma. No one had an answer. Even in a Buddhist community, it seems that gender bias is gender-biased. But, despite my chagrin, we all got along very well and I enjoyed my role as the token male.

    Anger, Hatred and Ill Will

    The 9th Buddhist Precept is "Harbor no ill will." Everyone has offenses done to them. How you handle them defines who you are. Living with hatred is living in a hell realm. It destroys the virtues in you. Anger is the hardest to practice with - it separates us from everything. Yet, taking a virtuous stance is no better as it will separate you, also.

    In zen this precept isn’t a prohibition against the mental state of anger, it refers to holding onto anger, indulging in it, letting it fester, or bearing a grudge. Anger often serves the purpose of helping us uphold our position by justifying it, by formulating how something is unfair or undeserved. This justification solidifies not only our point of view but our sense of separate self. Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Treat your anger with the utmost respect and tenderness, for it is no other than yourself. Do not suppress it–simply be aware of it....When you are aware that you are angry, your anger is transformed. If you destroy anger, you destroy the Buddha, for Buddha and Mara are of the same essence." The Bodhidharma One-Mind precept is "Self Nature is subtle and profound. In the midst of the selfless Dharma, not contriving reality for the self is called the precept of not harboring ill will."
    -- (ref: Josho Pat Phelan)

    Note: The 10 Essential Precepts in Zen are different from the more archaic 10 Precepts in Theraveda Buddhism.

    Your enemies can be seen as spiritual friends. They will challenge you to confront yourself and expand yourself. Challenge the notion that you are small and need to be protected. Big people (minds) can absorb assaults better than small people (minds). Find a reference point wider than what you have currently. Take full responsibility for your actions. Question what you may have done to contribute to any situation. Take responsibility at all times.


    Our demons are usually more apparent to others than to ourselves because of our denial. There are 4 categories:

    1) Outer Demons: Tangible demons perceived through the senses such as illness, relationship, addiction

    2) Inner Demons: Intangible demons of the mind, self-generated, such as chronic depression, anxiety, obsessiveness, anger held.

    3) Demons of Elation: Inflated joy - over-reactions to "good" things such as sudden riches or fame that can lead to abuse of power.

    4) Demons of Egocentricity: Aversion to things that threaten the ego.

    Greed, hate and delusion act as Dharma gates. Be OK with making wrong decisions -- just be mindful of everything you do. You learn from all of it. The precepts are simply guidelines -- not commandments.


    Lust is the epitome of craving. There is nothing wrong with sex in the Buddhist view as long as it does not harm another (3rd Buddhist Precept). The problem is that it tends to create attachment.

    Kill Your Enemy - Courting Rage, Hate and Revenge

    Understand which realm you are playing in and play by the rules for that realm. There is no good or evil, right or wrong -- just suffering or happiness and joy. Christ operated in the highest realm - "Father, forgive those for they know not what they do." But, he was not understood in the earthly realm and was martryed.

    I told the group about advice that Donald Trump offered at a recent seminar in San Francisco, which was something to the effect of: "If someone screws you, you've got to hit them back. Hit them so hard and fast that they don't even know why you hit them. Make an example of them so that others won't ever try to mess with you." I expected a pious response. But, Darlene considered this for a moment and answered softly, "That's probably good advice to someone who has chosen to be a real estate developer on Manhattan."

    Another time, I told the group of people with whom I was very angry. Darlene answered, "You should kill them. I'm sure that you are very capable of doing this." Hmmm ... she couldn't be serious. Zen masters are famous for koans, so there's probably a deeper understanding that she expected me to uncover. Still, she affirmed her counsel during our private interview, "I'm surprised you haven't done it, yet. What are you waiting for? I'm beginning to think that you can't do it."

    Everyone is wronged and everyone perpetrates wrong upon another at many times during their lives. The natural flow compensates for this. Consider if you are above the delusions of revenge held by others.

    We discussed a well-known story of a monk who was accused by a young woman of fathering her illegitimate child. When confronted by the elders of the village, the monk responded, "Is this so?" and offered to care for the child. Later, the mother of the child recanted her story, admitted that the father was her young boyfriend and demanded that she have her child returned to her. The monk replied, "Is this so?" and brought out a young boy to return to his mother.

    What are the conditions necessary for anger to arise? Something we think is right is violated. But, remember, there is no right or wrong -- these are just concepts, societal, legal and religious constructs. Still, be mindful of the rules of the realm and aware of the value system that others may hold.

    If you ignore the anger, it will come back to bite you. Don't try to suppress it. Most depression is repressed anger. Holding anger is like holding a hot stone. It harms you rather than your enemy. Judge the situation on a case-by-case basis -- be flexible, not rigid. Don't hold on to your anger, unleash it wisely. Be happy!

    Those conditions referred to in Buddhism as defilements cause contraction of the mind and soul around them. In what Ajahn Jumnian called the "cycle of dependent origination", we collapse around these illusions and, in doing so, allow them to recycle, proliferate and take on greater significance than they warrant. Whether the seed of the defilement is real or imagined, the contraction around it is always more damaging than the assault . Adi Da used the metaphor of a closed fist that holds nothing inside. Releasing the grip allows the mind and soul to be free again.

    The intention is to take anger on -- acknowledge it and learn from it. Then, figure out how to express it and deal with it -- this is the skillful part. The insight is to not be blindsided by it again. Anger can be the agent of your complete transformation -- it is that powerful!


    Revenge is often justified, but rarely warranted. It's better to move forward than contract around the past. Often the example of Aikido works best -- wisely working an opponent's own misdirected energy -- giving none of your own to push against. Your enemy will often defeat him/herself through ignorance or karma. Still, there are exceptions. It is important to maintain your power - not in the egoic context, but by way of self determination. One doesn't need to emulate Ghandi, or Christ, or the monks and lamas of Tibet. Unless you can operate at that level, such virtue is often misguided and even proliferates repressed anger and ill will.

    One also needs to consider the further harm to yourself or others that may be perpetrated if you take no action. Doing nothing is often cowardliness cloaked in virtue - or worse, apathy. The earthly realm is influenced by "common truth" (see "two truths doctrine"). This is the egoic earthly realm - where your enemy is seen separate from yourself - the realm most of us live in.

    The Plan: Managing Anger, Hate, & Betrayal

    First, understand your rage. Did you bring this on yourself? Is it worth your time and energy? Are you better off focusing on something else? Can you truly leave it?


  • Choose an appropriate response
  • Consider all the consequences
  • Consider all the benefits
  • Plan the attach
  • Choose a date and time
  • Pull the trigger
  • Enjoy your life!!

  • Zen

    The literal translation of "Zen" from Sanskrit is meditation. Zen differs from Theraveda Buddhism in mostly subtle, though substantial ways. Zen began as a rebellion against the Abhidharma and Theraveda practices. It tends to be more formal with lots of ceremony, bowing and prostrating. Sitting meditation (zazen) is done while seated and facing a wall -- with eyes softly open to prevent entry into Jhana. Thus, zazen is deliberately contemplative -- often focusing on a subtle question or koan. The "Middle Way" is emphasized.

    The Buddha taught that ignorance created by greed, hatred and delusion keeps us from realizing that we are already enlightened. The Zen Buddhist lineage teaches that meditation unfolds the realization of our enlightenment -- our true Buddha Nature. Zen favors direct, experiential realization through meditation and dharma practice over theoretical knowledge.

    The Zen strategy is to develop non-preference. Nothing to like or dislike - nothing special -- no reincarnation -- no Jhana (it's just a state of mind) -- just THIS. Emptiness -- with no discrimination -- everything is already perfect.