I have outlined, in 15 steps, Ven. Matari Sri Namarama’s articulation of the process of Purification of Virtue and also of Mind, which are the first two of the seven stages of purification necessary for attaining Nibbana in Theravada Buddhism. This should only be a reference guide and his book is well worth reading.
1. Purity of Virtue and Purity of Mind are the cornerstones of meditation without which we cannot succeed in attaining Nibbana.
2. Purity of virtue involves observing the Buddhist precepts, guarding the six sense-doors to protect against the arising of the defilements, maintaining righteous livelihood and making use of one’s requisites with wise reflection.
3. Guarding the six sense-doors requires rigorous mindfulness of the pleasant, neutral and unpleasant.
4. In the case of purification of mind, it is helpful to get rid of anything that produces any sort of intense attachment or aversion (simplify your life as much as possible).
5. Use faith and wisdom to vigorously and energetically apply the mind to be mindful of all hindrances and defilements, anything that produces attachment or aversion or neutral preoccupation. Always be mindful of whatever you do even if it is totally mundane.
6. Eventually, Purity of Mind results when the degree of concentration is strong enough to suppress the Five Hindrances. This can happen through the emergence of the 8 jhanas (4 material and 4 immaterial).
7. After a while of meditating, the mind acquires sufficient unity of purpose and balance that “access concentration” is achieved, resulting in the emergence of the “counter-part” sign, which is a subtler replacement of the gross/coarse object which made up the original object of meditation. When this happens, the mind becomes intensely absorbed into and unified with its object of meditation.
8. One discovers the five distinguishing characteristics of the jhanas but should not dwell on them, instead resolving to remain immersed in the jhana for a set period of time, and then emerge from it, and then re-enter back into it, many times. Resolve to reman in it for 5 minutes and then leave and do it again, with each stay in the jhana longer than the prior one.
9. Exit and re-enter until one is able to clearly, mentally perceive the five characteristics of the first jhana, namely, the five mental factors of of applied thought (vitakka, application of the mind to an object), sustained thought (vicara, sustained working of the mind, joy (piti), bliss (sukha) and one-pointedness of mind (ekaggata) on that same object). Although this all sounds initially obscure, it will be obvious to the one who has entered this state of mind.
10. Review these characteristics of the first jhana in the ordinary order prescribed and in the reverse order.
11. Some of the factors will begin to appear as gross due tot heir tendency towards hindrances, at which point one should make the determination to free oneself from the two factors of applied thought and sustained thought, which consists of the other three factors of joy, bliss and one-pointedness.
12. After making this determination, focus on the counter-part sign, the meditator focuses again on the counter-part sign which eventually results in the second jhana, which has eliminated applied and sustained thought and has purified incarnations of joy, bliss and one-pointedness.
13. Repeat what was done in the first jhana, after seeing that joy (piti) is gross, makes the determination and transcends, reaching the third jhana.
14. Then he does this with bliss and enters the fourth jhana, resulting in equanimous feeling. Do the same as before, mastering, reviewing and transcending, and the meditator has then surpassed the four material jhanas and reaches the four immaterial jhanas.
15. These four jhanas are the jhanas of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception and they result through perfection of the power of concentration and its ability to apprehend increasingly subtler objects of attention, rather than through refinement of the mental factors.