(Revised and updated 2022-3-22)
If I knew this 30 years ago, I would have accomplished meditation in less than 3 years what took me 30. Not the mental development side of things, but in terms of protecting the physical jhāna infrastructure, maximizing the power and size of the jhāna battery and the PIE energy accumulated. PIE is the precious internal energy, the spiritual capital, the raw tools that enable greater samādhi and pañña. Just as you can't even think straight if you don't get enough sleep and eat enough. If you are skilled in jhāna technique but you have a weak jhāna battery, it's going to be tough or impossible to develop spiritual insights. There are physical limitations for our spiritual development, even for the Buddha and chief disciples.
This article describes the essential tools that are rarely talked about, or if they are taught, are more subtle and difficult to incorporate into your daily life and practice than you'd think.
If I only had 5 minutes to pass on the most important precious secrets of everything I learned in this life to my younger self 30 years ago, this would be it.
If you master these tools, it will ensure a long term happy, healthy and steady journey towards the goal of the spiritual life.
1. The four Jhānas and satipaṭṭhāna overlap, and they're to be done all the time, all postures.
If you're doing Sati ("mindfulness) without 4 jhāna level of samādhi quality, it means either
a) you're a beginner or
b) you're following a version of Buddhism that doesn't accord with the early suttas.
Don't cheat yourself out of your birthright. The Buddha expected all of his monastic disciples to be able to do at least a competent first jhāna, some occasional experience with mediocre second jhāna as the bare minimum,
and the 'average' or expected level for serious disciples, their 'normal level' of samādhi is third jhāna.
That is, in all four postures, the norm is to be able to have an active partial third or fourth jhāna. That's the definition of 'pleasant abiding (sukha) here and now' that frequents the suttas.
When a child grows up with good, virtuous parents, who teach them well and have expectations that the kids also behave in a virtuous way, the child is much more likely to do so, because they have that idea in their mind that That's their birthright, that's what's expected of them, that's what they're supposed to do: be good virtuous humans.
Similarly, if you follow the early suttas, and you're a serious follower, keeping 5 and 8 precepts, know that the expectation is that the Buddha's expectation for you is to do Sati ("mindfulness) all the time with (at least partial) jhāna level of samādhi quality in all postures, at all times. A low quality first or second jhāna is not hard to do. Don't cheat yourself out of your birthright, and don't blindly believe every Buddhist tradition must have a legitimate interpretation of 'jhāna' and 'sati'.
1b. The Dhamma is an oral tradition, you need to memorize by heart key passages
If you don't have key ideas memorized, you are going to have trouble connecting the dots with the suttas, because they were designed and composed with this assumption in mind.
For example, the sammā sati satipaṭṭhāna formula, has the most active and important elements of the four noble truths and noble eightfold path recursively embedded within there. Key words gloss pañña-indriya, right view, right effort, right samādhi, seven awakening factors. You will have a hard time connecting the dots from the various suttas that explain this, unless you memorize key ideas and formulas.
Second example, most Buddhists read the suttas and don't pick up the idea that sati and the 4 jhānas completely overlap, are totally entwined. If they had the jhāna and sati formulas memorized by heart, the first thing that would occur to them, "hey wait a minute, third jhāna has sati embedded with it, and the sati formula looks like it has the 5 hindrances abandoned, which would imply first jhāna or better."
1c. Always question authority, and develop critical thinking skills
You weren't there to meet the Buddha and his chief disciples, and everything you learn now that supposedly came from him is just hearsay. Don't trust anyone, not even yourself. This isn't to say you should be in a constant state of worry and doubt. Rather, proceed with Dhamma as a provisional truth that you need to validate for yourself continuously, but that you haven't earned the right yet to declare it as truth or not. Be open to the idea you might be mistaken.
Trust people provisionally, but consider your options and protect your downside. Pay more attention to what they do, and what they don't do, rather than what they say. It takes a really long time to learn someone's true character.
2. Shake & Bake
2. Especially if you're vegetarian or vegan, and your body temperature runs cold, do at least 30 min. of day of Shake & Bake🏃👨🍳🥧.
And out of that allotment, be sure to have several short 5min. or so sessions spread throughout the day. Just as you wouldn't drink your entire quota of water in one session for the day.
The reason is if you don't do the work to get your body warm and soft (as it's normal condition preferably), even if your meditation technique is perfect, your jhāna force and battery won't reach anywhere near its full potential.
Even if say a monk does several times a week of vigorous brisk paced walking on rough and elevated terrain for say 2 hours a week total, that's not going to get you the main benefits of doing 30 minutes a day of shake and bake.
3. Understand the important underlying principles of basic taiji and yoga/stretching
And especially make sure you target this area:
4. Jazzy hands, jazzy feet
Advanced, powerful yet easy way to amplify Jhānic force [long term]: 👐JASI ("Jazzy") hands (and feet)
May need to read these articles for understanding of JASI, jhāna force, PIE energy, jhāna battery:
Meditator or not, everyone who sleeps has to pass ...
Best way to fix a Jhāna flat tire, and the J.A.S.I...
5. Be one legged person for qigong and walking exercises, kicks for hips
The item(s) under number #1 are the most important.
They're necessary for truly understanding the early suttas. Sadly they are not commonly understood (as of this writing). Perhaps that will change in my lifetime.
The remaining points are not found in the suttas, but are immeasurably useful. The only thing the suttas really say that parallel that, is that walking meditation is good for your health and samādhi, and that one should alternate between sitting and walking meditation throughout the day and night. Think of these tips as an augmented walking meditation that will make your jhāna battery much bigger and stronger than the exercise regiment followed by most modern Buddhist monks, and help you preempt or greatly reduce most physical health problems that monks and ordinary people suffer.