Having sat daily for a year now, I find I can focus completely on the breath, without detours, for periods of between 10 seconds, and on a good day, a few minutes. A few persons who also meditate have told me not to worry about this lackluster progress, that the goal is just to keep returning to the focus, that I shouldn’t get hung up on success.
But the suttas I study seem to say that the jhanas are attainable and are a good if temporary object of constructing activities.
I’m not sure if we can post links but if you look up Beginner Dhamma Talk 2: How to Practise: Sitting Meditation on YouTube it goes into detail about it in simple language.
He talks about Vipassana meditation that starts with breathing-watching and paying attention to the movement and sensation of belly rising and contracting by using words to help with it. The second part is learning to drop the words and focus on thoughts. Identifying thoughts as thoughts but not holding them. The third is finding the attitude attached to the thoughts and last catching and noticing external distractions.
I’m not familiar with jhanas and can’t comment on them but in general I do ten mins three times a day (until I start working) and just focus on my breath and label my thoughts. People have meditated for years and are still improving.
Meditation is an important part of ascetic life. Buddha answered similar question well in " The Fruits of the Ascetic Life". He talks about why and how in details. And more importantly, he described the 12 levels you can reach through it. Those are amazing, god-like!
Meditation is about ‘letting go’, rather than ‘go getting’. We are so used to setting goals and achieving them that when we come across something that goes in completely the opposite direction we have trouble understanding how to approach it. If we adopt an attitude that lets go of everything else apart from the breath rather than focusing on the breath, then staying with the breath becomes easier. This way the road to success includes letting go of the desire to succeed.
I think that reflecting on things from a Buddhist perspective really makes a difference to adopting an attitude of letting go which can then permeate our meditation.
For example, forgiveness. We get some really extreme examples of forgiveness in the suttas, like the bandits holding someone down and sawing through their limbs. How could we ever forgive something like that? How could we let that go? If we see that people are conditioned by their past then it becomes much clearer. One of the things that people say is that people should “do their best”. But when we look at that through an EBT lens, we see that (when the doing was done) people are always “doing their best”, given the wherewithal that they have got from past kamma and circumstance.
How fortunate am I that I came across the teachings of the Buddha and now I’ve been conditioned over the years to not wish to damage any living being. But those who have not had my luck are the unfortunate bandits of this world and so we can forgive these extreme acts that people inflict on us without condoning them. Yes, given the right conditions in the future, even those bandits, just like Angulimala can act better, can become harmless, and so we can let go (let them off) and forgive them.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from Man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise Pascal
But why are we so overcome by greed, hate and delusion? Even when we know that these are to be given up?
When Mahanama asked this of the Buddha (MN14), the Buddha explained that we are constantly led astray because we have not yet understood the drawbacks of sensual pleasures (MN15). And we haven’t understood how to get off the treadmill of sensuality.
The escape begins with being able to replace lesser sensual pleasures with higher spiritual pleasures … that is the aim of Meditation.
When the mind becomes quiet, wisdom dawns. Sensuality is seen through and greed, hate and delusion can be abandoned.
One can then sit quietly in a room rather than run around thinking of invading other countries! (Yes, I am referring to both of you - Mr Putin and Mr Biden… in the unlikely event you chaps happen to be reading this!)
an active style, with effort, abandoning this, developing that. Keeping the mind all the time in a wholesome mindset. Abandoning what is cause of suffering. Using antidotes like metta when hate arose, or the idea of repulsiveness or danger in sensual pleasures when there were moments of intense craving. Looking at arising formations as not Me, not mine. This is, as it were, an active mediation style in which one really develops and makes uses of inner powers to abandon the unwholesome and develop the wholesome.
An active meditation style is needed just to overcome all our accumulated and ripening defilements and live a bit at ease. A suffering mind is not at ease, seeks, so we must actively abandon what darkens, defiles, tortures the mind, makes it stressful.
While we do we also discover and learn to use our inner potential of faith, energy, wisdom, etc.
a passive meditation, style, just observing the inner demons, like an adult seeing children playing. Knowing that all is mere play and illusion. Not anti-doting the inner demons. Not supressing them, not wanting to change them . Just observering them and in that way nullifying them, undo them from power and meaning. Arrows that become flowers.
I think that last was build upon the first.
I want to belief we evolve gradually to the second style. But i feel the first style must not be seen as less appropriate or skillfull.