Sacred geometry

Developing Piti, Developing Focus, Developing Wellbeing

Date21st December 2019
Retreat/SeriesPractising the Jhānas


What I want to talk about now is pīti, and probably won't quite finish with it today, but I want to get quite a lot of material done. Broadly speaking, we could say there are two approaches or two avenues by which a practitioner works, plays, so that eventually pīti arises. But these two are not so black and white. The distinction between them is not so black and white. And neither are they mutually exclusive, like, "I'm only doing this or only doing that." But a person usually has predominantly one way or predominantly another.

(1) One is working with the energy body, and finding and encouraging any sense of well-being in the energy body space, and as I said, coaxing it, tending to it. The analogy I said -- if it's an ember, and I'm trying to get a campfire going, what do I need to do to get this ember? What do I need to put around it? Do I need to blow on it? Do I need to shelter it from the wind? Whatever it is. What do I need to do to get this ember to turn into a fire, a campfire? So in a way, what we're starting with is the energy body experience, and any which way I can get that experience and massage it, support it, shape it, encourage it, ignite it to move towards more and more pleasantness, until there's pīti, basically.

(2) The second way is to choose something, choose an object, and just concentrate repeatedly on that object. And if the concentration gets more steady, and the energy accumulates there, etc., then at some point, pīti evolves in the experience, in the energy body. So broadly speaking, there are two ways.

What is pīti? I think we already said something about that. I'll repeat anyway. Pīti is -- I define it as 'pleasant feeling that's felt physically, but whose origins are non-sensual.' That's just how I define it. And so, for a meditator, this can come up in all kinds of ways. There are all kinds of flavours and manifestations of pīti. So we talked about the whole body can feel like it's tingling, or parts of the body can feel like they're tingling. It can actually feel like an orgasm. Some people say, "Oh, it feels just like an orgasm." It can feel like an orgasm. It can feel like something much more subtle, like a kind of pleasant warmth, or a pleasant lightness, as if one's almost floating. It can feel like waves of sort of pleasant bliss or rapture or ecstasy going through the body. There are many, many manifestations it can have.

One of the interesting things about how pīti manifests is that it evolves over time, and evolves in a couple of ways. One way (I might have already mentioned this) is that as you get into, let's say, the third jhāna, then the repeated experience of the third jhāna affects the way pīti comes up for you from then on. The third jhāna is very peaceful, incredibly, beautifully serene and tranquil. And it's almost like that does something to the whole energy body, or it does something to the whole citta or something. And thereafter, usually, a person's pīti is much calmer than it might have been in the beginning. So there's a kind of retroactive effect that deeper jhānas can have on the experience of the first jhāna, which is characterized by pīti. So that's one way.

And it's very individual. What can also happen is, one's meditating. For instance, let's say one's doing this -- I'm going with the concentration thing, and I'm concentrating on the upper lip, tip of my nose. I'm concentrating, concentrating. And then, concentration seems to develop, and I notice at times these ... almost like a lightning bolt through the body, of extreme pleasure. But it's gone. It's gone in two seconds or a second or something. Or it might be like a wave of, like I said, bliss or ecstasy, or just a wave of pleasant feeling kind of washing over or through the body. But again, it's gone in a couple of seconds, two or three seconds. This is, in a way -- it's good. It's pīti. It's definitely pīti. It's great. Things are happening. Wonderful. When that happens, open to it, enjoy it. If you're still really working with the object, you're not ready to leave the main object then. So you still stay with -- again, if I follow my example, it's the breath. This is in my background awareness. I'm certainly opening to it and enjoying it, but I'm not kind of then going, "Ooh! Let's focus on that." It's not ready yet. It's not steady enough. It's just a passing thing. Yeah? What we want, and what might happen from the beginning, or might happen more with time, what we want is a more steady pīti -- something that's around for, let's say, at least two or three minutes without disappearing. Once it's got steady, and if you're sure, "This is definitely pleasant," okay, then you're ready to work with it. And I'll begin to talk, in this talk, [about] how to work with it a bit more, adding on from yesterday. So we need to wait till it's relatively steady, and temporally steady. We want it to be steady.

But actually, just to be really clear, we want pīti and sukha. I remember -- I don't know how many times, but certainly two or three or more, over the years, in interviews here, someone has come in and, in the course of whatever we were talking about over their retreat, reported that they were practising, usually in Asia somewhere or something, and had experienced pīti, and had experienced sukha (that's a word I'll introduce; it means 'happiness' from meditation; pīti and sukha, or pīti or sukha), and reported it in the interview, and were asked if it was pleasant and they enjoyed it, and they said yes, and then were actually shamed for having it. The teacher -- what they told me -- was actually quite severe; somehow they felt shamed. And they felt, years later, often, quite hurt and quite traumatized by that interaction. And something in their whole practice, and also their whole relationship with practice, had gotten quite twisted because of that. And there was often -- it might be quite surprising -- quite a lot of grief with that. Something that had touched the being quite deeply, that they were open about, a lovely thing, not just a difficult dukkha that one's sharing -- one's sharing a lovely thing, and it was dismissed, and they ended up feeling ashamed about it. So just to be really clear, we want pīti. We want sukha. It's a good thing.

How does it arise? How can we think of its arising? One way we can think of it is, if we take, say, the mode of (as I said) two broad approaches, if we're thinking about concentration -- I'm just keeping the mind steady on the upper lip, the lower nostrils, etc. -- as the mind just keeps staying there, what's not happening at that point is, the mind is not squandering and dissipating energy through thought, through distraction. The mind is collecting its energy. In electronics, there's something called a 'capacitor.' I don't know if you know what that is. It's an electronic thingy that basically does exactly that: it gathers electric charge. So one way you can think about what pīti is is, from the concentration point of view, you're just not squandering energy. You're not dissipating it, as I said. And it begins to gather.

[9:13] But as I said, it's not just nailing your mind to an object. You're also going to need the refinement, the subtlizing of the object, if you're using the concentration approach. So pīti won't arise just from kind of looking at something. It also needs the quality of attention, and also the subtlety of the object and the attention, in order for pīti to arise, if you're going by the concentration route.

Pīti can also arise just from gathering the energy, say, in practices like qigong. You're actually gathering energy, and the qi and the pīti are very close. They're very close. Are they separate? Are they different things? Are they not different things? I'd say it's on a spectrum. And as we gather the qi and begin to feel it more positively, we can call it pīti. Or it becomes pīti.

We also just said, with insight ways of looking, there's a letting go, there's a release of clinging, and in that, that fabricates less. There's less fabrication of the bodily perception. Samādhi -- I'll come back to this; it's such an important point. I'm going to come back to this as the retreat goes on. What samādhi really is -- or perhaps, again, the most fruitful, the most helpful way of conceiving of what samādhi is -- is as we deepen in samādhi, we're fabricating [less]. There is less fabrication of perception, less fabrication of self, certainly less fabrication of dukkha, definitely. There's less fabrication of self. There's less fabrication of bodily perception. And there's less fabrication of any perception at all. And the whole spectrum of the jhānas, you can understand it in one framework. And that's the most important way of understanding it. And that way of understanding it will unlock all kinds of other doors, in terms of the whole of the Dharma practice and liberation.
So how does pīti arise? It arises also -- one other way is through insight ways of looking. Let go of clinging, therefore fabricate less, therefore less fabrication of body. And pīti, perceiving the body as pīti, is a less fabricated perception of the body. Or we could say, another way is the energy body, working with the energy body to shape it, to fabricate it so that there's pleasure and pīti there. Or as I said before, there's just an openness of being, an openness of heart. And that allows pīti to flow. It's like pīti wants to be there, it wants to come, and it's just the openness. Once it's there, then we have work and play to do, which is, I need to consolidate this, stabilize it, and absorb into it, so that it can become the first jhāna, if pīti is what we're talking about, as opposed to happiness or something else that's central to other jhānas.

It's interesting. Again, there are always going to be exceptions, but it tends to be the case that if I'm using the concentration method, when the pīti comes, it tends to erupt very suddenly and quite intensely: "Concentrating, concentrating. Okay, I can definitely feel like I'm in a deeper state of concentration." But when the pīti comes, it kind of bursts through into the body experience, into consciousness. Or one might even find oneself already in a jhāna. Everything's there, not just the pīti.

The other way, working (as I said) this ember that we try to get like a fire, working with the energy body, that tends to be -- not always, but tends to be that the pīti builds more gradually. So there's a more gradual movement into the full pīti experience.

How many people have heard the phrase, the term 'access concentration'? Yeah, okay, quite a lot of you. I don't use that. I mean, the Buddha never used it. It's not a phrase the Buddha ever used. It comes, I think, from the Visuddhimagga, which is a text we may or may not come back to, a commentarial text about 500 years after the Buddha.[1] I don't tend to use it. The Buddha never used it. What does it mean? Well, it's kind of like you can feel, sometimes, if you're concentrating, let's say, on the breath, at some point there's a kind of quantum shift where you just feel like, "Oh, now the mind is really settled and really getting to settle on its object." Usually the breath is subtler at that point, for example. Usually things feel more harmonized. So you're not in jhāna yet. There's probably no pīti, if you're in the concentration method. But it's just a kind of marking point of "Yeah, okay, we're settled a little bit." You can use it if you like; I don't tend to find it that helpful, really, but it's fine. Sometimes I think, well, actually I could really sense it's more the case that each jhāna has its own particular access concentration, once you do a lot of jhāna practice. But it really doesn't matter. If it's helpful for you in terms of getting a sense of where you're at, go for it. But I don't tend to use it. Doesn't matter; I'm happy about to talk about it with you.

With the breath at one point, if it's that method, yeah, there can be these kind of quantum shifts at different points. So for example (I think I mentioned it already; let's say it again, just follow my example), the breath at the nose or the upper lip -- at some point, as it starts to go well, that area starts to feel larger. It starts to feel like, "Actually, it's about the size of my whole head, or about the size of my whole body." So this is a good development. This is a good thing. And that movement there -- it's on its way. It's part of or an element of the whole movement towards whole-body pīti, or paralleling that, or something like that.

Another analogy you could use instead of the capacitor is like, you know, when you hold a magnifying glass, and you catch the sunrays, and you've got it on some dry leaves or something. It's going to make those leaves ignite. It's gathering the energy of the mind. So that's a way we can think of it. It's gathering the energy of the mind until it ignites in pīti. But as I said, it needs not just that. Part of the gathering, part of the energizing will be the quality of the attention, more important than the quantity. We've talked about this now three times: quality more important than quantity. Quantity is still important, but secondary. And quality, we've already said it includes lots of different factors.

Now, Andy asked a question yesterday. I want to see -- I think I lost the piece of paper, but see if I answer it now in the flow of what I'm saying, and if not, we can ...

So I talked about subtlizing, like the sort of encouraging of making things subtle, or allowing things to get subtle. When we're talking about concentration at one point, then the object -- in this case the breath sensations at that one point -- need to get, or will get, as part of the deepening concentration, more and more subtle. And the attention needs to become correspondingly subtle. So if I can even encourage all that to become more and more subtle, that's great. I certainly need to encourage the attention to get more and more subtle. The object itself becomes more subtle, and the attention becomes more subtle, and I encourage that.

[16:35] If I'm going via the other way, the sort of coaxing of the whole energy body experience gradually, then my experience of the different frequencies in the energy body will maybe include both subtle and gross frequencies. We want to be open to all of that. We want to be sensitive to both subtle and gross experiences. But the experience of the energy body as a whole, on its way to the first jhāna, unlike the experience of the breath at one point, which gets more and more subtle, the experience of the energy body doesn't get more subtle on its way to the first jhāna. You're actually building more, so it's less subtle. There might be lots of frequencies at first, but I'm actually building more, so it's getting less subtle. So don't confuse these. They're slightly different.

However, as you go through all the jhānas, there is, as I said, a spectrum of subtlety over eight jhānas. The third jhāna is way more subtle than the first. The second jhāna is actually more subtle than the first. The third jhāna is more subtle than the second. The fourth is more subtle, etc. It's a spectrum of increasing subtlety. As I said, the eighth jhāna is almost unspeakably subtle, unspeakably refined. So this word 'subtle' applies in different ways. Does that answer your question, Andy? Yeah? Good.

[18:30] So let's stay with this idea of 'subtle,' just for a moment. I remember very early in my practice, in a very different tradition, hearing about the 'subtle breath.' And I was, "Ooh, what's that? That sounds interesting." And so partly what it means is just this subtlized breath, this breath that has become subtle through the calming, or that one encourages to become subtle. So the Ānāpānasati Sutta, the Sutta on the Mindfulness of Breathing, the first instruction is: the practitioner breathes long and knows they're breathing long.[2] Just as a turner, whatever a turner is -- does anyone know what a turner is? It's probably some kind of woodwork or weaving, or something like that. Not weaving -- it's woodwork. So they're turning something, for some reason. [laughter] Probably because someone is paying them to do that. And they're knowing. So oftentimes, it's read passively, like "I know I'm doing a long one," as opposed to, "No, now I need to do a long one. Therefore I will do a long one, and I know I'm doing a long one." To me it's more active. "I will deliberately breathe long." And then the second instruction is: "I will deliberately breathe short." And the shorter breath is a calming. It's already a subtlizing with the shorter breath, generally speaking. So there's this natural movement towards the subtlizing of the breath, the calming of the breath, and the encouragement of that. However, there's another possible meaning of this phrase 'subtle breath.' And I don't know if you've ever noticed this: sometimes, the breath can feel quite gross, or it can feel stuck somewhere, and you're sort of yanking it or heaving it to kind of smooth through a constriction in the throat or something. So sometimes that's helpful. It's just, okay, find a way of breathing that's helpful and smooths it out, etc. Sometimes that's really helpful.

But sometimes, if I don't get too obsessed -- and I'm using that word 'obsessed' in a very subtle way, because we can get very subtly obsessed in meditation -- then here's this breath that's actually a bit stuck somewhere, a bit rough, a bit gross, a bit uneven. And actually, at the same time, somehow, it's almost like there's another breath, or another level of breath that's way more subtle and is already smooth -- very, very subtle. I need to be not so obsessed, and a bit more spacious, a bit more receptive, my antennae a bit more receptive, to even notice it. So I can sometimes find that breath, and I forget about the one that feels rough. It's almost like they're going on at the same time in some kind of weird way. As I concentrate on the subtler one, as I find it and attune to it, as we said yesterday, what happens when I attune to it? It amplifies it! It gets amplified. The other one just kind of fades. I'm not worried about it any more. It amplifies the subtle breath in my consciousness. And that becomes what I'm concentrating on. Again, sensitivity, receptivity, and kind of opportunistic attunement: "Oh, there's something here that I hadn't realized." And then, opportunistic -- the door opens. I kind of, "Let's just gently go with that. Find that. Go with that."

This is akin to, this is another level of something I've already mentioned, which is, in a way, even more subtle, that applies probably much more, usually, when you've already experienced quite a lot of jhānas. Again, sometimes the mind won't settle down. The energy body doesn't feel right. It's just not quite happening. But again, if I don't get too sucked into that problem, just spacious, kind of gentle attunement, there's a level of the mind, let's call it. There's a level -- a dimension of the being, better to say -- that's actually already peaceful, already imbued with a certain jhānic quality. It's probably much more obvious once you know, once you're very familiar with that jhānic quality. And I say, "It just won't settle down in this sitting, or today, or whatever it is." But just a little spacious, opportunistic, my antennae are up, and then: "Oh, there's something akin to the beginnings of the peace, of the kind of peace that's characteristic of the third jhāna. And I'm just going to dive there." And in diving there, I attune to it, and in attuning to it, it amplifies it, and the other stuff just kind of dissolves. That becomes, that takes over my experience. So this business of finding the second kind of subtle breath is akin to that; it's just the same thing at a different scale, perhaps.

[23:25] And then, just on subtlety, we also mentioned that if you're going to use the imaginal or poetic sense of the object, that's really quite a subtle thing. It's really just a couple of drops of this magic essential oil or whatever it is that you're dropping in -- really quite subtle.

Okay, so there are two emphases, like I said, broadly speaking, of concentration versus this kind of tending to, coaxing, sensitivity to the energy body, and developing that. At some point, whichever way you've gone into your jhāna or pīti or happiness or whatever it is, sometimes the emphasis is more needed: more concentration, more focus needed, more effort needed. And for some people, that's often the case: more effort, more concentration.

For other people, or at other times, or even once pīti has arisen (and I'll go into this today and tomorrow), it's like, what do I need to do now that pīti has arisen? It might be more focus, more concentration -- maybe on the original object, but then on the pīti itself -- and that's what I'm doing. Other times, it's actually as I said yesterday: don't underestimate the significance of this, or the importance, or how crucial it can be. Other times the emphasis and the intention needs to be more on more surrender, more opening, more abandoning. So you can move emphases, and you will. And I'll come back to this. It's not that you get locked into one emphasis. But what's needed right now? And then, generally, as I said, as a practitioner, as a human being over time, what do I need? And sometimes -- I said it yesterday -- a person, "Oh, I just need more focus, more focus," actually it's not what you need. It's not what you need. You need a bit more of the other, or maybe really to experience that, to gently develop in opening, surrendering, abandoning. And through that, there's the deepening, the progression, the consolidating, all that, through this balance, this play.

I don't know if you've noticed already on this retreat or other retreats, but if your intention is focus, concentration, if that's your emphasis, and if that's your conceptual framework of what you're doing, if that's your view of what we're doing here, focus and concentrating, then that very intention, emphasis of intention, focus and concentration -- it has obviously a lot of good results, but it also has some negative results, so that when there's noise -- something, birds, or whoever it is, someone in the meditation hall -- with that intention and that emphasis, it's much more likely that there's aversion to the noise. Has anyone noticed this? No one? [yogi inaudible in background] Okay.

The intention, intentions, set up the flavour of perceptions. If that wasn't my intention, the noise would not -- I would not have aversion at that point. The aversion scuppers the possibility of jhāna. It takes away the possibility of jhāna. It's not that one shouldn't practise that way; it's just something to note. If I'm practising this way -- or rather, more broadly speaking, more broadly, Dharmically, if I have this intention, it will have these consequences on my perception. It will likely have these consequences, whatever that intention is. We could speak lots on that. So it's not that one shouldn't, but one should realize, "Oh, that's going to be part of my territory if I'm going for the concentration thing."

I don't know. Is it a little less likely that there's aversion if one's going the other way, with the whole body and the coaxing of the well-being, if that's the conceptual framework, if that's the intention, if that's the emphasis? Because then, really, as we played earlier today, then actually, any approach is available. So here's aversion -- we can just put into the energy body some mettā. Whereas if I go to mettā, once I'm focusing on the breath, I'm actually doing a whole different practice. Or I can relax the aversion with an insight way of looking, different insight ways of looking. And the whole thing becomes much more workable. And with the subsidence of aversion, there is the arising of happiness. So it's not to say, "Choose this one or that one." But it's to be wise to causes and conditions, and intentions are causes and conditions, and they have effects -- all kinds of effects, effects that we don't often anticipate or realize.

Focus and concentration -- really important. Another way of considering those terms, or what's happening with samādhi, is words like 'collectedness' or 'integrity.' Remember that translation (I think I said it yesterday) -- the meaning of samādhi originally in Sanskrit (maybe it still had that meaning, I don't know, for hundreds of years later) was more like 'agreement' and 'harmony.' So samādhi as 'integrity,' meaning the elements of my being are in agreement, in harmony. There's an integrity to my being, and a collectedness of energy, mind, and desire -- a collectedness, an integrity of energy, mind, and desire.

Now, when I put it like that, that to me has a lot more implications for my life, and my work, and my personality, and how I am in relationship. Yes, ADHD is supposedly an epidemic in our culture, and mobile phones, and screen time, and too many WhatsApps and Facebooks and all that -- certainly. But I know countless people who are perfectly capable of concentrating very, very well on their work, in relationship with someone, in a creative project, etc., and they've never spent ten seconds on a meditation cushion. They don't know the first thing about it. But when we slightly conceive it differently -- collectedness, integrity of energy, mind, and desire -- and think of these more broadly as relevant to life, relevant to how I'm living my life, how I manifest my personhood.

So when there's that collectedness, integrity of mind, energy, desire, body, at that point there's power. I don't mean power over; I mean power. The being has power. The person has power. And you can sense it in a person. And you can see, over their life, is this person -- has their soul-power, the power that you sense in them, the power that they then also feel (or don't even recognize; they don't feel or whatever) -- is it growing? Is it lessening? So these things start to be much more relevant than "How can I keep my concentration on something?", which, for most, people is not really -- beyond a certain point, the basics of human ability to focus on something -- it's hardly relevant.

But collectedness, integrity, power, soul-power -- these are important things. Then you start to relate that, "Yeah, that little bit of alcohol? It affects that." It's not that it's, "Yes, for the time, it might affect my ability to concentrate." More significantly, it's affecting something about my personhood and my capacity to really cohere and show up with soul-power, with the power and the integrity of my being, body, mind, energy, desire, as a habit -- showing up, that it's cohered, that there's energy there that's collected, that has integrity. Or just, you know, people who listen to the radio -- it's just on. Or the TV's on, or a lot of TV, a lot of radio -- it's doing something to your soul. That's a lot more significant than how concentrated you can be. Think of it in broader ways.

Or again, I've talked about this wholeheartedness, and how significant that is, again, for my life, for my personhood, for my relationships, for my work, for the service that I want to do. When there's not this capacity and this practice at being really wholehearted, really gathered like that, then it's almost like dissipating energy, dissipating mind, dissipating -- I don't know, one's being, habitually, probably in very small ways. And over time, you can kind of get a sense: something in the being has gotten a bit flaccid. The very personality is different. Something's flabby and flaccid in the soul, in the being, and sometimes you can sense that in people. There's just not much sensitivity there. So from another perspective, focus, concentration -- we think about them a little bit differently, actually. These are very, very significant, if we think about them as collectedness, integrity, this sort of thing is very, very significant for the being.

Okay. Let's come back to the energy body way of working, that second way of working. What's quite common -- no, not quite common, extremely common; it will happen every day to some degree or other, many times a day -- is that something in the energy body does not feel comfortable. There's some constriction or block here or there, it feels like, somewhere in the energy body. This is a really, really normal part of normal experience, part of the human experience. It will do that. The energy body is not a static thing. Blocks, unblocks, constriction -- yes, we can have very habitual constrictions, but even if we don't, there's going to be a coming and going of constriction in the energy body in different places. So in meditation, what do we do with that? Because the constriction, the blockage, is not going to feel good. It's the opposite of pīti, if you like.

(1) One way, again, is don't forget: open up the awareness. Stretch it over that whole body space, a little bit bigger than the anatomical body. [34:58] What happens when there's constriction, or generally something we don't like, is the attention shrinks. Open it out again. And the very opening it out does something. There's a mutual dependence here: constriction somewhere actually then shrinks the awareness; opening up the awareness can sometimes open up the constriction -- first thing.

(2) Second thing to play with in meditation if you're working with the energy body is, if you're working with the energy body and the breath, just imagine the breath energy going right through, flowing smoothly right through that constriction. Just imagine that. [35:38]

(3) Or imagine a current of energy just flowing right through. So it could be with the breath; it could be not with the breath. Use your imagination. It might want to flow through that. Let's say the constriction is in my throat. It might want to flow through the throat and up out the top of my head, or right down through the bottom of my body. Does it want to flow up? Does it want to flow down? Feel what feels like it's helpful. Again, you're just using the imagination to shape, to fabricate, to open the energy body experience.

Let's, again, say I have a constriction in my throat. I can imagine the breath coming in and out, not from the mouth and the nose, but coming in and out directly from the throat, or the back of the throat, the back of the neck. I just imagine that. Or maybe it wants to go out the sides, this way. And that imagination can unlock something.

(4) If you're practising mettā, let's say, and I've got this constriction in the throat or wherever, or anywhere where there's a constriction, what if you play with imagining the very place where there's the constriction, imagine that as the centre of the radiation of the mettā? It's the last place you would think of, because it feels the worst and the tightest and the least like love, but just imagine it's coming from there, and see what that does.

(5) Another possibility -- I guess it's the fifth, if we're listing them. Let's say, for example, I feel a constriction in my mid-belly somewhere -- no, let's say, actually, I feel a constriction around my heart. But my lower belly feels actually quite nice, or some well-being there. Or the other way around; doesn't matter. There's a place where it feels good, relatively good, and there's a place where it doesn't feel good. One of the things you can do is just imagine those places as connected. There's some kind of energy tube or something that just connects the places. I'm not moving anything around; I'm not yanking. I'm just connecting them in my imagination -- the place that feels good and the place that doesn't feel so good. And just see what happens. I'm just connecting two places in my imagination, very lightly.

(6) There's also the possibility of: here's this constriction, here's this blockage, here's this discomfort, and bringing an insight way of looking that you're already familiar with, and looking at that very sense of constriction, that very sense of blockage with that insight way of looking. In the context of samādhi practice, jhāna practice, unless the insight way of looking is your primary way of working, maybe that would be a kind of last resort, maybe (I don't know if it's that important). But basically, again, those are extremely powerful practices, extremely powerful. And so, to look at this blockage that way, through that lens of that way of looking, will basically dissolve it, as long as you're not -- "Come on, dissolve, dissolve, dissolve!" -- pushing it too much.

(7) Another thing to say, again, which is really, really important in the context of jhāna and samādhi practice is: okay, here's this constriction. Here's this block. I don't always have to focus on it. I can keep my attention -- I will have to work to keep my attention where it's pleasant, where it feels pleasant, where there's pīti, perhaps, or where it even feels just okay. The tendency will be to either get dragged into where there's a difficult feeling, constriction, or blockage, or to get dragged completely outside and start daydreaming. But if I can keep my attention -- let's say, in that example, my belly feels good and my heart area doesn't, I keep it in the belly. Don't get sucked into it. Or my knees are aching. Don't get sucked into it. [40:03] Just stay with where it's pleasant, and focus there, and enjoy that.

Now, when I say 'where,' 'where' might be a bodily location. It might be that the body has a bit dissolved then, and it's just a kind of spatial location. It's kind of somewhere around there in space. I don't know if 'where' is obviously the right word, but it also might be a frequency. So this is similar to what I said before: here's this discomfort, here's this constriction, this blockage. In energetic terms, it's a certain kind of frequency. Can I find another frequency that's not so much a spatial location as a kind of mental location? And then get into that? Find it, dive underneath, get into that? Again, with more experience of different frequencies, and certainly with more jhāna experience, that becomes just a more and more common possibility. It's much more accessible, that kind of thing.

[41:03] Most insight meditators, most vipassanā meditators, are kind of trained, either deliberately or just by default, that when there's something difficult in the body, when there's dukkha, when there's constriction, when something doesn't feel good, when there's a contraction, that the attention goes there. And we're encouraged to do that, mostly, in the way we teach insight meditation. And it can become a kind of just, "Well, that's what we do." As soon as something's difficult, that's where the mind goes. It's not even a choice I make. One realizes, "Oh, it's just a habit. I pay attention to what's difficult, where there's constriction, where there's contraction, where there's dukkha."

It might also be the case that insight meditation attracts certain psychological types and inclinations. It might be, but it's also a kind of training that happens, both directly and indirectly. The willingness to do that, the willingness to go where it's difficult, and to feel it, and to open to it, and to work with it -- this is invaluable. It's such a precious thing. Willingness is not enough. The kind of mindfulness I bring matters, because I can bring an attention there, I can bring a kind of mindfulness there, and it just makes it worse. And I'm being a 'good meditator,' and I'm having the willingness, which is great, and a good intention. But my mindfulness has just a bit of aversion in it, and it's making it worse. Or I can be with it in a way that just doesn't do anything to it. Or I can be with it -- the attention and the mindfulness has skilful qualities in it. Mindfulness is never one thing. There's no such thing as 'pure mindfulness.' Mindfulness always has views, conceptions, some kind of relationship with the object -- a little bit of aversion, or a lot of aversion, a little bit of greed -- always has some, if we're talking really, really subtle. There's no such thing as pure mindfulness. And what makes or breaks what happens, what determines what happens, is what's with the mindfulness. It's great that we're willing to do that. As insight meditators, we're all practised in that, hopefully. Great that we're willing, but it also really matters -- can I have the skill to bring what's actually a helpful mindfulness there, a helpful attention?

So that's all great, but now we also want, as I said to you, what we want is range, as I said on the opening talk, range, range, range. Choice, freedom of choice -- sure, I can go where it's difficult. I'm willing to do that. I'm not afraid to do that. If it's a very little bit difficult, if it's difficult in this way or that way, if it's really, really difficult, I'm willing to go there. I'm able to work with it. As time goes on, and I get more practice, I'm able to work with it in all kinds of ways, lots of ways. But also, I'm willing and able not to go there. I'll put the mind here, where it's pleasant. I won't go there. I'm training the mind to stay with the pleasant. When we open up to jhāna practice, this actually becomes quite an important skill, and quite something that one's working against the grain, if one has done a lot of insight practice. So with training, we can have much more range and much more freedom of choice about what we do in regard to the difficulty.

I remember when I first taught this in here twelve, thirteen years ago, in a samatha retreat.[3] And there were people there that said, "But that's not proper meditation! Proper meditation, the best meditation, is to 'be with what is.' And so if it hurts, then I need to 'be with what is.' And even if it doesn't hurt here, somehow the hurt is more 'what is' than the place that [does] not hurt." But despite that, or as well as that, again, no. We have to ask about ontology, about reality here. Is it really 'what is'? What am I believing about 'what is'? Or is it a fabricated perception? ... The answer is 'yes.' [laughter] And I have to understand that. I have to actually get in there and work with things and play with things until I know in my heart, deep down, in my mind, in my life, I know: "This is a fabricated perception." And I know how to fabricate it differently. At least at times, I have that capacity.

We want to train to open up that range. And we want to understand there's something, there's so much about the nature of reality that's involved in all this. Jhāna work -- what does that have to do with insight? It has everything to do with insight. Is it really as real as you think it is? What is real? What is reality? These are fundamentally important questions. We get locked into certain views. Sometimes we get locked into certain views that come out of our very Dharma listening and training and thinking.

So, there can be, there will be, at times, discomfort and pain. As we said at the beginning of the retreat, you really want to not go there too much, and I'll talk more about this tomorrow, in fact. But it's also possible to perceive, deliberately perceive the unpleasant as pleasant. Here's this pain in my knee, sitting in meditation, and I can deliberately play with the perception. There's that key phrase: play with perception. I can play with perception and perceive the unpleasant as pleasant. So here's that pain in the knee. I decide to perceive it as pīti. With training, that's totally possible. I decide to perceive it as happiness. So the texture of my knee becomes happiness. My knee becomes happiness. I decide to see it, with training, as stillness, as a luminous stillness. The pain has gone, the knee has gone, and what is there is a luminous, beautiful stillness. Training. Training through playing with perception.

One way of doing that is you just spread the pīti, and the pīti spreads over the difficult area. That's one option. Another is this more direct way, where I'm actually looking at something, and because I have enough familiarity with pīti, and because I'm not locked into a view of, "The reality of this thing is it's painful knee" -- so there's familiarity with pīti, and there's the absence of a locked-in view about reality, and then one just sees it as pīti, and one therefore experiences it as pīti, or happiness, or stillness, or whatever. What did the Buddha say? "Perception attainments."[4] The jhānas are perception attainments. What's the best way of thinking about it? Playing with perception. We're playing with perception. This is, as I said already, way more significant than the whole question of "Is this a jhāna? Or is this not a jhāna? Did I achieve the third jhāna? So-and-so defines it as ..." -- that seems, like, so relevant and so important. What I'm just talking about now, this ability, and not just the ability, the possibility, the recognition, and the experience of the possibility of doing this with, for example, a pain in the knee -- that's way more significant than whether I have achieved correctly the first jhāna or the third jhāna. It's way more significant. 'Magic': we use that word, magic.

This whole business about the question of reality, about emptiness (which is to do with "What is the reality of things?"), about ways of looking, about fabrication, about perception (again, that's the key word), about playing with perception -- this is absolutely fundamental to liberating insight. It's fundamental to the whole Dharma. It's fundamental to liberating insight. And it's way more important, as I said, than "Third jhāna, fourth jhāna" -- you know, whatever it is -- "Did I get it? Did I not?"

So pīti arises, and the Buddha says, "Don't snatch at it, and don't snatch at the first jhāna."[5] What does that mean? I've already said it with the insight ways of looking. Here it's arising, however it's arising, and I'm just letting it arise. And if I've got another object, like the nose sensations I'm concentrating on, I'm just letting it arise kind of at the side of my -- I'm aware that it's arising, because I've got that whole-body background, right? I'm aware that it's arising, and part of me is enjoying it and opening to it, but I'm still focused on my one thing. And then, when it's ready -- really means, when it's strong enough that it's definitely pleasant; let's just say that -- but when it's sustained enough, then very gently, as I described with the insight ways of looking, very gently I can make that my primary object: the pīti. And then we go back to what I said yesterday: there are these modes of attention where I really nuzzle into it, really go penetrate into it, or I really, really open myself to it, for example.

[51:16] And I also said yesterday, another job that we have to do, another work or play mission that we have to do, is spreading the pīti. The Buddha said, in the first jhāna, it's spread: "No spot of the body untouched, completely suffused, saturated," etc.[6] So how do we get it to spread? I mean, sometimes it will be spread already, and that's great, and then you don't have to do anything. But let me run through a list of possibilities:

(1) One is, here's the pīti, and let's say it's only in my face, or that sort of region -- my head region. Sometimes what happens, because it's quite sort of captivating, the awareness actually shrinks a little bit. So one thing you can do to help it spread is, just open up the awareness again, open up to the whole energy body. And just the opening up of the attention to the whole energy body -- the pīti will naturally spread, like a gas will naturally spread to fill a space. You make the balloon bigger, the balloon of attention, the gas will fill the balloon. The air will fill the balloon. That's one possibility.

(2) Another possibility is, you can, so to speak, (a) 'mix' the breath with the pīti, and kind of imagine and begin to feel like you're breathing pīti*.* Or (b) the breath energy is kind of massaging and moving the pīti through the body. So you breathe in -- and we talked about these currents of breath energy. Maybe you breathe in through the heart centre, and these currents of energy go down your body. And in doing that, the breath can kind of massage the pīti through the rest of the body, if it's just, let's say, around your chest or whatever. But again, this is all very playful, very experimental: mixing the breath with the pīti, or just getting the breath energy to help to move the pīti in different places in the body.

(3) Thirdly, you can just imagine that it's spread. Again, it can be quite amazing, the power of the imagination. Just imagine that it's spread. It's filling the whole body. And then, lo and behold, you might find that, "Well, that's my experience now." Okay, so feel it. Enjoy it.

(4) You can imagine (this is something I may come back to briefly) the pīti mixed with white, golden light, as if the pīti is white, golden light. You can feel it, and you can also see it. And then you imagine that white, golden light filling the whole space, the whole energy body space. And as you imagine the white, golden light doing that, it brings the pīti with it.

(5) Fifthly -- actually, this is very similar to something we said before. Just imagine these two places: so here's the pīti, let's say, around my face, around my head and throat, which is a very common place for it to start. It's there, but I don't feel anything down in my belly. There's no pīti there. So just again, have an awareness at this point, and have an awareness of this place down in the belly -- so an awareness of where there's pīti, and an awareness of the place where there isn't pīti, and just connect them with a tube, an imaginary tube. Just connect them. See what happens. You're not forcing anything. You're not imagining anything moving. You're just putting two places of the energy body space in connection with each other, or the body space in connection with each other.

(6) I think I mentioned this yesterday -- this is number six -- it might be that moving lightly and playfully and relatively slowly between those two modes of attention: (a) the penetrating, kind of narrow focus and probing, and (b) the more receptive. It might be that that very movement works the pīti and allows it to spread through the body, through the body space.

Eventually, what happens is that every time you experience pīti, it's just always spread. It's just always completely filling the whole body. There's so much in jhāna practice about just, it's almost like the citta and the bodily experience, the energy experience, just getting used to something, and it becoming normal, it becoming completely normal, so that after a while, every time you have pīti, it's just automatic. It's never just in one place. It's just always spread. There are always exceptions, but that will eventually become pretty common.

(7) But last (this would be, now, number seven), okay, sometimes it won't spread. You've tried all this, and it won't spread. Don't worry about it! Just enjoy it where it is, and get into it where it is. Yeah, so okay, it's just around here, around my throat and head and whatever it is. I've tried all those other shenanigans. It doesn't spread. Just get into it and enjoy it. Don't bother about it. Enjoy it. And that's actually really, really important -- really important.

Also don't worry about, you know, the Buddha says, "Not one spot of the body."[7] It's not like you have to go through and say, "Well, how's my little toe on my left side?" You don't have to get so consumed with the kind of anatomical image or picture of the body. It's really more just this whole space. If you still do have a sense of separate toes and all that, that doesn't matter either, but you certainly don't have to. It's more like you just sense the whole space, sense the whole energy body space, and allow or gently encourage the pīti to fill that whole space in these different ways.

There is a movement in jhāna, anyway, for the kind of dissolving of the form of the body. Now, people are different. For some people, that happens -- I'm not sure, percentage-wise, but for me, certainly, it happens in the first jhāna. That's part of the characteristic of the first jhāna: the sense of the body just becomes a bit like what we said in those little games we played. It just becomes a sort of amorphous, white light filled with pīti. There's not such a sense of -- I could kind of find my toes and all the rest of it in there. People are different, though. Anyway, there's a movement towards the dissolving of the bodily form, which means we don't have to worry too much about "Is the pīti in my foot?" or whatever, like that. It's more just the sense of "Yeah, it's really filling this whole space, this whole experience, the experience of the body."

Again, back to this perception thing. Really, one way of conceiving what happens in a jhāna is, in the first jhāna, the bodily experience, the bodily perception becomes pīti. My experience of my body is a body of pīti, is a space of pīti. In the second jhāna, the body (rūpa; the first four jhānas are called rūpa-jhānas, which means 'body') becomes happiness. And if you're still working with the breath, which is, in a way, an element of the body, the breath becomes happiness. I'm breathing happiness into a body of happiness. In the third jhāna, it becomes this kind of peacefulness; in the fourth, this kind of luminous stillness, etc. [59:01] So the energetic space, the energy body space becomes that. The body becomes that. So there's, yes, a gradual dissolving of the detailed sense of the form of the body. The body dissolves, we could say.

Okay. Sometimes what happens for people -- and again, [it's] individual; there are a lot of different conditions and things over time -- but sometimes what happens is, there's too much. It feels like there's too much pīti. Or the pīti feels -- "This is too much to bear. It's so intense or so strong or so pleasant." There's one thing that's kind of more important than anything else there. It's that usually, when that's the case, what needs to happen is more opening. It's the opposite. If I feel, "This is too much to bear. It's too strong. I can't handle this," then actually, there's some contraction of the being, some aversion, some slight holding; I'm pushing away, like I'm trying to push back the waters a little bit. Could be very, very subtle. The primary thing we need to do when it feels, or when you think, "This is too strong," is open: open the space of the energy body. Open to the flow of the pīti. Oftentimes pīti has a flow to it; oftentimes it's an upward flow, up the body. More opening -- open even more. Put your opening dial on '11,' 150 per cent. More opening, more surrender, more abandoning. It's the opposite of what you feel like doing, when it feels like too much. You have to go to the counterintuitive energetic response.

Sometimes, talking to people in interviews, pīti can be a bit like -- an analogy can be like water flowing down a mountainside, like making a river down a mountainside. And where it starts, in the initial stages, sometimes it can be, like, really fast. And then it encounters rocks as it goes down. And where it encounters rocks, you get all this white water, right? Rapids and froth and stuff. Two things here.

(1) If I then put more rocks in the way because I don't like it, because I just don't want it to be quite so intense, what am I going to get? Unless I actually put a dam there. But let's say you just can't. What I am I going to get? I'm going to get more white water. I'm going to get more froth. I'm going to get more. I need to do the opposite: open, surrender, abandon, really, like, "Okay, how much can I really open my body?" It's almost like this: just opening up the chest, opening up. Just completely let it flow through. And oftentimes it wants to flow right through, right up out the top of the head. Just open, open, open. There's usually, at that point, a subtle -- or sometimes not-so-subtle -- there's some degree of aversion and contraction, and that's causing the problem. What it's also doing is slowing down the progress of this river, because this mountain river, as it goes down the mountain, as it winds its way, it's naturally going to find its way to calmer waters. As pīti evolves -- I've already said this, in a way, indirectly -- it naturally gets calmer.

So there are phases of practice when it just feels like, "This really is a bit much. It's too intense." It's on its way. It's just a phase. What we want is, "Okay, well, how can I just help that phase do its thing?" Aversion, contraction is not helping it do its thing. It's the opposite: I need to open, open, let it flow. You might have to put up with, yeah, it's super-intense. Again, someone else would give their right and left arms for this kind of level of pleasure. But we have to open, open, open, and then it will go through its thing, and it will calm down. Sometimes, even the very opening, in that moment, it actually feels better because the contraction is what's -- then it starts to get, "I'm not even sure this is pleasant any more." It's partly the aversion colouring the experience. So open, surrender, abandon. Really, what does it mean to do that? Find ways to do that.

(2) And then, once you do, find the pleasure in it, find the pleasure in it, find the pleasure in it. So two things: (1) open, abandon, surrender, and (2) find the pleasure. And that will usually take care of it. [1:03:42] But it should help in that moment, absolutely, and then it should also help the process just unfold more freely and without kind of getting stuck in this certain place for a while. And sometimes, a person -- either the pīti is so strong that it's like, "I'm not sure it's actually pleasant." Or it's not quite strong enough; they say, "I'm not sure it's pleasant." Again, playing with perception: you can actually decide to see it as pleasant. Just decide to see it as pleasant. Just play with that. Play with the perception. We're back to this idea of malleability again, of playing with perception. In samādhi, in jhāna, the whole system is so sensitive, so sensitive to these micro-shifts in ways of looking, in view, in effort levels, etc.

Now, sometimes, again, pīti is very strong, perhaps even over some days, or sukha, happiness, is strong, and there's a question here: "Should I move the body? There's so much energy. Should I move it somehow? Should I dance? I just feel like dancing." There's joy, and there's pīti, and a person wants to dance. And the question is, "Should I do that?" Or when there's a lot of sukha, they can be just laughing and laughing and laughing out loud. "Or should I not dance and not laugh so much, and actually let something gather?" Generally speaking, I would probably lean towards, "No, let it gather," because again, going back to what I said earlier several times, most of us, as human beings, actually haven't really allowed energy to gather, haven't really allowed happiness to gather. We don't know what it is to have the energy body filled this way with happiness, and allow that to gather and intensify and do its kind of alchemical work.

However, sometimes it is really helpful for someone, and for a number of reasons, to dance or to move, whatever, because sometimes, that person, if you look at their life, and their person, and their character, sometimes there's actually a habit there of holding the body. And the body's a little bit rigid, or there's a certain inhibition in terms of movement. Or with regard to laughing, there's a person who actually doesn't laugh -- you know, you're never going to find them giggling. They don't laugh. They might -- you know, something's funny or whatever -- a little bit, but they don't give themselves to laughter a lot. Why is that? Maybe, sometimes, there's just a slight emotional holding. It's a personality thing. There's a slight rigidity or non-fluidity. So sometimes, actually, for a person -- it's not the greatest weather, but it doesn't mean you can't go out there in the fields and dance in the rain. And if it needs to move, do that, or whatever it is. The danger, though, is that we squander the energy that's building, we squander the pīti, and we squander the happiness that's building, and then it can never really mature into jhāna. So it can be a tricky question, but you can experiment. Experiment with both, if you feel this is relevant. For a lot of people it won't be relevant. In the analogy before, the capacitor doesn't gather enough energy. It never really allows you to get into jhāna. But we want, as I said, to learn to allow and to tolerate these things to expand, to flow, to fill the being, and do their work inside.

Again, just with theme of sometimes really strong pīti, what can happen sometimes, for some people -- a minority of people -- is that the pīti is very strong, or the energy gets very strong, and the physical body starts shaking: kind of tremoring, or shaking, or jerking, or this kind of thing. This is quite an important thing here. Now, some people have the view, "Oh, that's a catharsis. You're releasing something," etc. Speaking as someone who got trapped in all that for quite some years, I feel this is really important. It's important to have the right view here and the right approach. [1:08:31] What can happen with those kinds of movements is that they very easily can become habitual. And the body just habitually starts to shake in meditation, or jerk, or whatever it is. In my case, it would even do it when I listened to music. It started to do it all the time. Some habitual loop had become set up.

Okay, so this is different now than the kind of body movement of, for example, some of you know, when the pīti comes, the head tilts back because of that upward flow. Some of you will know that. Actually, even doing the movement brings the pīti. But I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about sort of, as I said, shaking or jerking kind of thing. The head-tilt-back thing is not anywhere near a problem. If you can not do it -- I have a bad habit; I do it, so do what I say, not what I do! But that's less of a problem.

But this moving thing is actually -- and shaking -- is quite important. Again, maybe you can use your imagination a little bit. First thing is, see if you can keep the physical body still during meditation. For a lot of people, nothing like this is going to arise; it's not an issue. But I'm saying it because it is for some people. Can I keep the physical body still? And maybe you just set a gentle but firm intention that that's the case at the beginning of a meditation. But generally, I'm trying to keep the physical body still, and what I'm allowing, instead of the energy moving the physical body, is I'm allowing the energy to move inside the energy body space, and even move out. So again, maybe, it's as if, metaphorically -- or an analogy would be like there's -- again, it's a bad analogy, but let's say there's too much water and water pressure in the inner energy pipes, and they start bursting the pipes and rattling the whole structure. What we need to do is open the pipes, make bigger pipes. Let it flow more. So again, imagine your body opening, opening to this energy flow, opening the channels, the currents, so it can flow, allowing the (so to speak) inner movement of energy rather than the physical body moving. And usually, you'll find that that takes care of things.

Sometimes, again, it wants to go out, so it might want to fly out the top of your crown chakra and come out like that, and come down as a fountain, whatever it is. So use your imagination. It might want to just move inside. It might want to move out. How does it want to move? What feels good? What feels like there's some ease and release to this 'too much,' that means, then, the physical body does not need to move, because the energy is being allowed to move? When the energy is being allowed to move properly, without encountering blocks or constrictions, then the physical body does not need to move so much, or at all. So again, it might want to go in any [direction]: it might want to fly out this way, or this way, or up, or whatever. Just find -- what does it want to do? And let it do; imagine it doing what it wants to do. And it will do what it wants to do, and then the physical body doesn't need to.

Often, this kind of thing happens when there's even just a slight over-efforting. It certainly is more likely to happen if there's over-effort. Or let's say, certain energy body types -- it's really quite likely to happen if there's too much effort. Other people have different energy body types, and they can do a lot of effort, and it's not going to happen. They will never have anything like that. But with certain types, it can be, as I said, slight over-efforting can have massive impacts. Slight over-efforting can have subtle impacts in meditation, all kinds of subtle effects, but it can also have quite dramatic effects. So sometimes this whole thing with the moving is not catharsis or anything; it's just the effort is a little too much. Nothing's being purified; it's just the effort is too much, and it's putting too much energy-pressure on the whole system. It's having an effect.

What does that mean? What does that imply? Again, maybe I need to play with the intensity. What does it mean to just back off on the intensity pedal? What does it mean to just be a little less tight in the way I'm approaching, or my energy body is in the meditation, to have a slightly more spacious attention, to go into the more receptive mode and less of the probing mode? So all these things will affect, are part of the effort and the subtly backing off the effort, and they will have an effect on all that shaking business.

[1:13:43] Sometimes, someone who's done a lot of insight meditation may have experienced other states -- of deep equanimity, or vastness of awareness, or these kinds of things -- and then comes to jhāna practice and hears about pīti and first jhāna, and second jhāna with all its bubbly happiness, or whatever it is, and kind of thinks, "Well, why should I bother with pīti if equanimity is possible? Because I know equanimity. Why should I bother with pīti?" And they might think, "Well, equanimity is the point of practice, right? Why would I bother with pīti? We're trying to get to equanimity. So why would I bother with pīti and with sukha, the first or second jhāna, or whatever? Because equanimity is where we're going."

Equanimity is not the goal. It is absolutely not the goal, and nor should equanimity be mistaken for awakening. It's really, really important. Equanimity is not 'the goal.' It's an important part of the mix, of the range of what's available to a being, but it's not 'the goal,' and certainly not equivalent to awakening. Awakening does not equate to equanimity. Awakening is, if we want to sum it up, realizing emptiness -- realizing the emptiness of everything. And the implication from that, that then we can look at things in very different ways. Why? Because a thing is empty of existing independently of the way the mind looks at it. Therefore, one realizes that, and it liberates the possibility of a whole flexibility of ways of looking, which one can also train in, and develop that playing, can play all these different ways, play all these perceptions -- that's what awakening is. Awakening is not equanimity. [1:15:30] So that therefore, again, practising the malleability of the mind, the malleability of mind states, the malleability of perception, playing with perception -- when we're doing that, we're actually practising a path that resembles the goal, that resembles what awakening is, because an awakened person knows the emptiness of absolutely everything, and all they're left with, and they know, all there is is the possibility and the flexibility of different ways of looking. So by practising that, you're actually practising a way of conceiving of the path and practising the path that looks like what awakening looks like, as opposed to just trying to practise equanimity, and "I'm trying to be equanimous in relation to everything all the time." That's not what awakening is. And that's not even a healthy psychology, I would say.

Also sometimes, a person will say, "Why should I bother with pīti? Why should I bother with sukha?" Sometimes there are psychological tendencies, patterns, habits. Pīti and sukha, in a way, they're agitating. In a way, they're disturbing. They're not that peaceful. They open up things. They're exciting. They move around, and they do stuff. And sometimes it's not even a particular Dharma thought, or one uses a Dharma thought, but the intent, the reason one's using it is just because one's psychology doesn't want to be disturbed: "I just want everything to be calm, want the emotions to be controlled and within a certain limit. I want to either present or feel only a certain range." And that can become, or it can be, a habit or pattern. That's all that my being knows. It's all my being allows, is that range. And therefore all this kind of welling up of stuff -- "Hmm, don't like it." What's actually going on there?

I'm coming back to something I've already said, but it's important. It's really, really important. We can conceive pīti as energy, so that when the energy body is unblocked -- either through just the openness of heart, the openness of being, or when the energy body is unblocked because the insight way of looking is releasing clinging (clinging causes contraction, so with the release of clinging, there's a release of contraction, so the energy body is naturally unblocked) -- when the energy body is unblocked, then naturally, a human energy body system will naturally experience a pleasant flow of energy. It will naturally experience pīti. So we can conceive of pīti as energy. Let's say we can also conceive of pīti as energy in the sense of, in a concentration mode, I'm not dissipating energy through distraction, the mind going here and there, thinking about this or that, getting caught up in this and that, this sound, that sound, whatever it is. And therefore the energy naturally gathers, like the electronic capacitor.

So we can conceive of the pīti as energy, but as I've said several times now, a better, more fruitful, truer, much more helpful way, and a way that's much more integrated with the rest of the Dharma, or a way of understanding the rest of the Dharma, is to conceive of pīti as a way of perceiving the body. It's not 'energy,' really. It's not to do with 'unblocking your chakras' or 'energy channels.' It's not to do with 'gathering energy.' Pīti is a way of perceiving the body. It's a perception of body. [1:21:41] It's a perceptual skill. It's a perception attainment, as the Buddha might say.[8] It's a magician's art. Pīti is a way of perceiving the body. Again, you may or may not quite realize just how significant this is, but I want to at least plant the seeds.

Last thing, last couple of things: pīti is central to the first jhāna. It's the most important factor in the first jhāna. The first jhāna has five factors -- we're going to talk about it tomorrow*. Pīti* is central. The first jhāna has five factors: (1--2) vitakka-vicāra*,* which I'm going to talk about; when I read through the Buddha's list, I translated it as 'thinking.' We'll come back to that. It's slightly -- what's the word -- controversial, the translation of that. But anyway, it has five factors: vitakka-vicāra, or sometimes, you've probably heard 'initial and sustained application' -- doesn't matter. We'll just say vitakka-vicāra. (3) Ekaggatā (I'll explain all this tomorrow), a kind of 'one-pointedness,' let's say -- also a misleading translation; doesn't matter. And the two other factors, (4) pīti and (5) sukha*. Pīti* we've talked about, and sukha means 'happiness.' Those are the five factors of the first jhāna.

Usually, these are conceived, either kind of consciously or unconsciously, with a causal direction through them. In other words, you work at your vitakka and vicāra, you work at your initial and sustained application to the meditation object. Over time, you kind of get one-pointed or absorbed or whatever, ekaggatā. And pīti and sukha arise as a result. So there's a movement from concentration, the concentration factors, to the arising of pīti and sukha. That's great.

But sometimes we can work backwards: here are these five factors. What's available right now? And sometimes people say, "Oh, I just -- every time I think of this person, or every time I think of this, happiness arises." It's one of the factors of the first jhāna. It's not even the primary factor. Pīti is the primary factor. "But every time I think of this person, happiness arises." If you're skilful, that happiness -- I just linger with the happiness, and lo and behold, pīti is right there with it, and then I don't snatch at that, and the pīti builds. There are five factors. What's available? I can go in starting on any one, really, in a way. I'm working backwards. This principle of working backwards, of "Where am I trying to get to?", rather than deciding in advance what needs to be emphasized and therefore what's relevant. So which factor, and therefore which do I emphasize right now as a way in, if we're talking about the first jhāna? And so, both: I conceive forwardly in terms of causal connections there, or I can conceive backwards. I've got five factors. Let's see which of those I can kind of access, ignite a little bit, stimulate, and from that, the rest of the five factors, the other four factors ignite.

If we go back to the two broad methods, concentration or working with the energy body -- in a way, working with the whole body and the energy body from the beginning is an example of working backwards, a little bit, to a certain extent, because all four of the first four jhānas -- what are called the rūpa-jhānas; rūpa means 'body' or 'form' -- all four of them involve, as we said with the Buddha's examples, "leaving no spot of the body untouched with/by happiness or delight or pleasure," "suffusing, saturating, drenching, steeping the whole body."[9] All four of the first four jhānas involve the whole body, energy body awareness. And they each just have a different flavour, a different predominant flavour to that energy body awareness. So when we start with the energy body awareness, we're a little bit also taking this principle of "Let's start backwards." Rather than start at a point, let's start with the whole thing, because it's going to go to the whole thing anyway.

So back to these things (last point and then we're done), these two (I said it right at the beginning of the talk) -- broadly speaking, two approaches. Either you (1) choose a point, a thing, and you just concentrate it, concentrate it with the intensity, and delicacy, and the directionality, and all the rest of it. So you're basically practising concentration on something, steady focus on something. Let me just interject something. That's one method, or (2) there's this other method of starting with the whole energy body and gathering the niceness there.

But at any time, even in -- let's say you're new to the second jhāna. Happiness is actually quite a subtle object. So it can be very, very bubbly and intense, but as things calm down, it's actually quite a subtle, refined object. And even if your main mode of working has been energy body, and you haven't really thought about it as concentration, you're still, at some times, going to need to practise concentration. Sometimes you say, "Okay, I need to learn how to stay steady and focused on this subtle object of happiness." So at times, even, there are going to be times when your intention and your emphasis is on concentration. And there may be other times where your intention is more on spreading and enjoying and other things, or perception -- playing, like we said. So at any time, in the practice of jhānas, your emphasis can shift, and that's completely appropriate. Sometimes it's not really going, and you say, "Okay, I'm just practising concentration now." But it's not all you're doing. You're seeing that as one possible emphasis in a whole maṇḍala of possible emphases.

So, going back to what I said at the beginning, these two broad approaches -- concentration versus coaxing well-being through playing with perception and all that stuff -- yeah, they're kind of separate, but they're not really. And we're going to move between them, and there are grey areas. But we should move between them and think about that at any point in jhāna practice, any point. It's going to be relevant. They're not mutually exclusive. [1:28:00]

Okay? I think we should probably stop there rather than do some questions today. Yeah, let's stop there. Let's have a bit of quiet together.


Okay, thank you, everyone. So, time for tea. Enjoy tea. And there are some interviews tonight, so if you happen to check the board today, please check, because there are some tonight. Is there anything else? No? Okay, so enjoy tea.

  1. E.g. in Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa, The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga, tr. Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli (Onalaska, WA: Pariyatti, 1999), 86. ↩︎

  2. MN 118. ↩︎

  3. Rob Burbea, Samatha Meditation [retreat talks] (30 Mar. 2007--2 Apr. 2007),, accessed 14 Feb. 2020; also see Rob Burbea, The Art Of Concentration (Samatha Meditation) [retreat talks] (8 Aug. 2008--12 Aug. 2008),, accessed 14 Feb. 2020. ↩︎

  4. AN 9:36. ↩︎

  5. Source unknown. Cf. the similes of the water snake and the raft at MN 22, as well as the simile of grasping at branches AN 4:178. ↩︎

  6. E.g. AN 5:28. ↩︎

  7. E.g. AN 5:28. ↩︎

  8. AN 9:36. ↩︎

  9. E.g. AN 5:28. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry