How to get into jhāna (or dhyāna, if you prefer Sanskrit)

Circle of sky seen through a round skylight. The skylight is surrounded by radiating wooden beams.

I’d like to offer you a simple, four-step approach to cultivating jhāna. With a little practice and refinement, this approach makes it much easier to access first jhāna. And since the way to the remaining three jhānas is through the first one, it’ll help you access jhāna more generally, although I have to say that most people need to have a fair amount of one level of absorption because they can go any deeper.

But hang on! I haven’t explained what jhāna is!

What Is Jhāna? (Or What Is Dhyāna, If You Prefer Sanskrit)

Sometimes in meditation we find ourselves effortlessly absorbed in our direct experience — that is, not in thinking (which is always thinking about experience), but in the reality of observing our sensory experience itself. There’s a definite shift into a stable and more enjoyable state of being.

When this state of absorption arises, our distracted thoughts are nowhere to be seen. The mind is calm. We feel alive and vital. We’re deeply happy. And this is a stable experience, not a momentary one. We stay like that, effortlessly, for quite some time. It might be that we feel that the meditation session isn’t long enough. We want to continue!

This experience is jhāna (Sanskrit: dhyāna). It’s a word that just means “meditation” or “absorption,” and it arises when the five hindrances of ill will, sense desire, restlessness and anxiety, sloth and torpor, and doubt have been dispelled. The turbulent emotions and random thoughts that normally fill our consciousness are gone, and we find that the mind is naturally joyful and focused.

There are four levels of jhāna, each one deeper, quieter, and more fulfilling than the one preceding it. Collectively they constitute sammā samādhi, or right concentration in the eightfold path.

Some Buddhist schools place little emphasis on the jhānas. Some teachers dismiss them altogether as non-Buddhist. Some teachers have even said that they’re dangerous distractions from the spiritual path, because we’ll supposedly get “attached” to the pleasure they bring. But any objective look at the earliest Buddhist teachings shows that in the early Buddhist tradition they were regarded as tremendously important, and as indispensable for enlightenment. The Buddha’s enlightenment happened immediately after he realized that jhāna was the path to liberation, and that he shouldn’t be afraid of the joy and pleasure it brought.

If we’re serious about freeing ourselves and others from suffering, we should become serious about deepening our experience of jhāna.

Distraction is common, real absorption is rare

A lot of the time in meditation we set off to follow the sensations of the breathing, but after some time we come to realize that we haven’t been paying attention to the breath at all. We realize that we’ve been caught up in some inner drama, or that we’ve been turning over thoughts in the mind. What were we thinking about, exactly? Often it’s hard to say. Our distractions are not only relentless, but they’re dream-like, and as we “awaken” into a more mindful state they often slip away from us, as our do dreams when we wake in the morning. We commit ourselves once more to mindfully observing our experience, but we get distracted again. The cycle continues.

But once in a while there comes, as I’ve described, that definite shift in the quality of our experience. There’s a change of gear.  Like a blessing, a natural joy and ease arrive.  A lot of people only ever experience this on a meditation retreat, doing a lot of practice. Even then, it can seem like a random visitation. For some it’ll happen off of retreat as well, but again it seems to strike randomly.

There are some people who have an aptitude for jhāna. They find that it arises easily. But often they can’t explain how it happens, or their explanations might not be helpful. Sometimes the best person to explain something to you is someone who has struggled to learn it, rather than someone who never had any difficulties and who therefore doesn’t know how to address them.

Jhāna Can Be Cultivated Systematically

I suggest that the main reason jhāna is so rare and seems to strike at random is that very few people are taught anything specific about how to set up the conditions for absorption to arise. Most people are not taught that jhāna arises from a set of skills and attitudes. And they’re not taught in a systematic way what those skills and attitudes are. All they’re taught is to meditate, and to a lot of it.

So (with some honorable exceptions) teachings around jhāna are often not very practical. They don’t give you a step-by-step guide. Most times when you encounter teachings on jhāna, they basically just repeat information from a sixth century practice manual by a monk called Buddhaghosa, who was a scholar and who probably never actually meditated himself. They often simply enumerate the “jhāna factors.” I call this form of teaching “warmed-over Buddhaghosa.” (It doesn’t help that Buddhaghosa doesn’t even get the jhāna factors right.)

So how can we be systematic about cultivating these deeper, stable states of meditative absorption? How can we move beyond having jhāna as an experience we sometimes stumble into accidentally, and make it more of a regular occurrence in our meditation?

Four Progressive Stages

Getting into jhāna is easier than you might think. I’m going to outline an approach that I’ve found to be useful in cultivating jhāna. I’m going to explain it in four progressive stages, and tell you about the skills involved in each of the stages.

The four progressive stages are:

  1. Calming the mind (cultivating calmness)
  2. Opening to the body’s aliveness (cultivating pīti)
  3. Enjoying present-moment awareness (cultivating joy)
  4. Bringing it all together (allowing calmness, aliveness, and joy to form a self-sustaining feedback loop)

Before we begin, I’m assuming that outside of your meditation practice you have trained yourself to be reasonably ethical. After all, you meditate with the same mind that you carry around in the rest of your life. If you’re running around all day being critical and angry, for example, then you’re unlikely to experience much joy in your meditation. So sort that out first.

My approach is based on an adaptation of the traditional list of jhāna factors that’s found in the suttas (early Buddhist scriptures). This is different from the list that Buddhaghosa describes.

Buddhaghosa described five jhana factors, but in the suttas (the Buddha’s discourses) we find that there are just four.

The Four Jhāna Factors

Quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful (mental) states, one enters and remains in the first jhāna, with 1) aliveness (pīti) and 2) happiness (sukha) born of seclusion, accompanied by 3) initial and 4) sustained thinking. This is the first jhāna.

Again, in the discourses there are four factors enumerated for first jhāna. A thousand years later, Buddhaghosa lists five, the extra one being one-pointedness. That’s not in the original teachings, and it turns out that Buddhaghosa’s view is unhelpful.

Here’s an explanation of the four factors.

First, there’s pīti, which is often translated as “rapture,” but which is better thought of as physical pleasure and energy. Pīti can manifest as a feeling of ease, warmth, and relaxation, as localized tingling, or as currents of energy flowing in the body. In everyday life, pīti is experienced when we’re startled, or when we listen to arousing music, or when we’re relaxing (e.g. when we’re having a massage). I call this aliveness.

The second factor is sukha. This is joy. While pīti is physical, sukha is emotional. It’s the emotion that arises when we’re free from the distractions and turbulence of the hindrances, and when the mind is undisturbed by the world around us. Joy is something we’ve all experienced outside of meditation, and probably in it as well..

The third and fourth jhāna factors are vitakka and vicāra, which are both forms of thought. In the first of the four jhānas, there is still some thinking going on. This is not “monkey-mind,” with our attention leaping from one thought to another on a whim, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch. You can’t experience both forms of thinking at the same time, so really there’s just one factor: thinking. But it’s not just any old thinking that goes on in jhāna. It’s different from the normal inner talk that we do so much of the time.

Thinking That Helps; Thinking That Doesn’t

Most of our thinking, including in meditation, is monkey-mind thinking. Monkey-mind thinking takes us away from our direct experience of the body, feelings, and mind. It inhibits us from becoming absorbed.

But we can also have thoughts in meditation that are helpful. At the very least they don’t take us away from our direct experience, but often they help us stay with our experience, and can even enhance our connection with our direct experience.

Vitakka is “initial thought,” and it’s when a thought simply pops — or is dropped — into the mind but doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t start off a train of random thoughts. Initial thoughts may pop into the mind, as when we think “Gosh, this meditation is going well” and we simply leave the thought there without pursuing it. Or we may introduce an initial thought into meditation, as when we drop in the words “May all beings be well” and simply notice what happens.

Vicāra is “sustained thought.” It is a mindful, connected train of thoughts. If we count our breaths in the mindfulness of breathing practice, this is a form of sustained thought — a series of connected thoughts.

One important thing to note about initial and sustained thought is first, that they’re the kind of thinking we can only do when the mind is calm. Otherwise monkey mind steps in.

Another important thing is that they are often forms of thinking that direct our attention toward our experience. To give you an example, let’s say you connect with your breathing, and with the out-breathing in particular. And then on every out-breath, or every other out-breath, you drop in the words, “Releasing, resting, revealing” — one word on an out-breath. And you keep on doing this for a while.

If you do this attentively, then the word “releasing” directs your attention toward the sensations of relaxation and letting go that take place as you exhale. “Resting” directs your attention toward the fact that the body is coming to rest as you breathe out, and that the mind too is calming and coming to rest. And “revealing” helps you appreciate whatever is arising, including pleasant sensations of energy and aliveness that arise as the body relaxes and the mind calms.

Do you see how this kind of self-talk can help you connect more deeply with your experience, as opposed to the normal monkey-mind drivel that hijacks our attention? This is thought, consciously applied as a tool to direct your attention toward your experience, and to help it stay there.

Anyway, those are the four jhāna factors that the Buddha taught. They’re the factors of first jhāna, which is the start of deeper absorption. Let’s just take first jhāna as our goal.

My method involves taking the four traditional jhāna factors not just as signs that we’ve arrived, but as things to be cultivated. There’s just one slight twist, which involves the thinking factors — vitakka and vicāra. First, we lump them together. Second, we’re not so much cultivating thinking (although we can certain do that by employing useful, helpful thinking). It’s more that we cultivate calmness. The two jhāna factors that are forms of thought only happen when the mind is calm.

So here’s the practical stuff.

1. First, Calm the Mind

In my approach to cultivating jhāna, I start with developing the calmness that supports initial and sustained thought. So the first thing we have to do is to calm the mind.

“Wait,” you might be thinking. “Calming the mind is hard!”

Actually, it’s not as hard as you might think.

There are many ways to radically calm the mind. Two key principles are “soft eyes” and “using thought to quiet thought.”

Soft Eyes

The most important thing to begin with is to let the eyes be soft, which means relaxing the muscles around the eyes, and letting the focus within the eyes be soft, so that the eyes are slightly unfocused. With the eyes slightly unfocused, you’ll notice that you can be aware of your entire visual field, effortlessly. You no longer focus narrowly. Your attention is more relaxed, open, and receptive.

Having soft eyes helps us with two things. First, it instantly calms the mind, so that the amount of thinking we do is drastically reduced. Second, it triggers a more open mode of inner attention. Often in meditation, people use their inner attention like a flashlight, narrowly focusing their attention. on just a few sensations With the eyes soft, our attention becomes more like a candle or an oil lamp. It’s less directional. It’s more open. You find you can effortlessly observe sensations arising all over the body, so that you are aware of the breathing in the entire body.

This is nothing like the idea of “one-pointedness” that we pick up from Buddhaghosa. Remember, he says that that’s a jhāna factor, although it isn’t.

Being aware of the whole body is very different from what most people do in their meditation. Typically, with their flashlight of inner attention, most meditators focus on one small part of the breathing, where there are just a few sensations. The mind gets bored with this very quickly, because it seems that not much is going on. Actually, a lot is going on, but you’re excluding it.

It’s much more effective instead to observe the breathing in the entire body. When we’re aware of the whole body breathing, there’s a lot for us to pay attention to. Our experience is rich, and this allows the mind to be fascinated. And that fascination and the mind being full of an awareness sensations leads to yet more calmness to arise.

You can read more about the practice of soft eyes in the flashlight and the candle.

Using Thought to Quiet Thought

We can even use initial and sustained thought (vittaka and vicāra) to help calm the mind. We introduce thinking that quiets thinking. I gave an example above when I talked about, “Releasing, resting, revealing.” We can also say (on different breaths), “Soft eyes, kind eyes, open field of attention, meeting everything with kindness.” In each case the words direct us toward our immediate experience, guiding us toward calmness, to the point where we can drop the words.

As the mind quiets, our thoughts can even act as mindfulness bells, calling us back to a more open and calm state of awareness.

2. Second, Connect With the Aliveness of the Body

As the mind calms, so do our emotions. Because we’re thinking less, we are stirring up less anxiety, aversion, self-doubt, and so on. Since those emotions cause physical tension, their disappearance leads to a sense of relaxation. In this way, as we become calmer and more at peace with ourselves the body begins to relax more deeply.

Moreover, we are observing the breathing in the entire body. We’re observing not just “the breath,” but “the breathing. The breath is the sensation of contact that air makes with the body as it flows through our airways. The breathing is much more than this. It is any and all sensation connected, however indirectly, with the process that causes air to flow in and out of the body. The breathing includes the breath, but it also includes sensations in the arms and hands, the legs and feet, in our hips and buttocks, in the shoulders, on the skin, amongst other things. The breathing involves the whole body.

Moreover, as we observe the breathing in the whole body we see that it takes the form of soft waves of movement and sensation sweeping through every joint, muscle, tissue, and organ in the body. We can sense a soft wave of letting go on the out-breathing. We can sense a soft wave of energizing on the in-breathing. We can sense the soft wave of the in-breathing turning into the soft wave of the out-breathing, and vice verse, in a constant process of change, moment by moment.

The aliveness of the body really begins to reveal itself if we’re observing not with a cold, clinical gaze, but with a warm, appreciative one. I call this combination of kindness and mindfulness, “kindfulness.” I often think of a technique that psychologists use to induce stress, which involves participants talking to an interview panel who show no approval or recognition, but who maintain strictly neutral facial expressions. This neutrality is perceived as hostile. I believe our bodies react in the same way. If we regard them neutrally, they are slow to relax. If we regard them with kindness, they respond positively. Love yourself, and your self will love you back. Observe the soft waves of the breathing with a kindly gaze, and you’ll start to feel all kinds of pleasurable tingling and energy.

This tingling energy may be located in certain sensitive parts of the body, like the hands, or it may flow with the breathing, or it may pervade the entire body. This “aliveness” is pīti, which some translators render as “rapture” or “joy.” I think “aliveness” is a much more down-to-earth and accurate term.

The fact that the body is giving rise to these fascinating and enjoyable sensations means that our attention is more likely to remain rooted in our present-moment experience. After all, it’s so rich, fascinating, and pleasant, why would be want to think about anything else? Well, we might at first get very excited by what’s going on, and start wondering if enlightenment is about to happen, and so on. But you get over that. On the whole, your mind is much more interested in the body than in thinking, and so the calmness you developed is consolidated further,

3.  Third, Develop Joy (Sukha) By Enjoying Your Experience

A certain kind of joy, pāmojja, often arises as the hindrances die away and the mind settles. Pāmojja is delight; joy; happiness. The way I understand pāmojja is that it’s the pleasurable relief we experience when something unpleasant ends. Think of when you get home from work, get into comfy clothes, and look forward to a restful evening. Ah! So nice!

Realizing that the hindrances have gone is a pleasant relief. We feel happy. Also nice! But this kind of joy is very conditional. It depends on something unpleasant having ended. That experience naturally fades away, and you can’t just repeat it over and over again. So we need to give rise to a different kind of joy: sukha.

  • Enjoy the aliveness of the body. Sukha (stable joy) can be encouraged simply by paying attention to the pleasurable aliveness of in the body, and by enjoying it. To en-joy means to give rise to joy. And we give rise to joy by recognizing what’s wholesome and by appreciating it.
  • Smile. We can also encourage the arising of joy by something as simple as smiling. Your mind takes smiling as a sign that all is well. Smiling creates joy. Smiling offers reassurance to your being, allowing it to relax.
  • Have kind eyes. Joy also arises from  lovingkindness. I talked earlier about having a kindly gaze. That attitude of self-kindness not only helps the body relax, but it helps gladden the mind.
  • Appreciate impermanence. Appreciating the present moment as something miraculous and unrepeatable is another factor that gives rise to joy. (There’s nothing like taking our experience for granted for killing joy). Appreciate that this moment you’re having will never return. You only have one shot at appreciating it, and then it’s gone. Adopt that attitude, and each moment becomes something precious and wonderful. And knowing that makes us happy.

The more we have the habits in our everyday lives of being kind and of being appreciative, the easier it is to bring those qualities in to our meditation.

In summary, to be joyful: appreciate aliveness and anything else that’s wholesome; smile; be kind; be appreciative; and recognize that your experience is a miracle.

One more thing that gives rise to joy: don’t try to give rise to joy. This sounds paradoxical, and in a way it is. If you try to be joyful, grasping often arises. So just focus on appreciating the present moment lovingly, and let joy take care of itself.

With a calm mind, pleasure and energy in the body, and a mind imbued with joy, jhāna begins to flow naturally. At this point we’re not simply observing the sensations of the breath, but noticing the breath accompanied by the experience of aliveness and joy.

Our awareness senses the whole body breathing. And our awareness if permeated by aliveness and joy, and so aliveness and joy permeate the entire body.

4. Fourth, Bringing It All Together

I call calmness, aliveness, and joy the “jhāna foundations” to distinguish them from the scriptural “jhāna factors.”

We’re in jhāna when calmness, aliveness, and joy are well-established. That is, the mind is stable enough that we’re able to stay with our meditation practice quite effortlessly, our experience of the body is pleasurable, and we’re happy. But this is only jhāna when it’s a stable experience.

Sometimes it’s not. It’s possible to have very brief experiences of the three foundations coming together. We might think jhāna has arrived, but a minute later it’s “de-cohered.” One of two of the jhāna foundations are still present, but the three aren’t all working together in a sustained way.

At any point in your meditation you can assess the balance of calmness, aliveness, and joy. (You can even give each factor a score out of ten.) If one or more of these factors is less developed than the others, you have a clear sense of what you need to be working on in order to bring jhāna about. Just look at the steps I recommend above under the headings for developing calmness, aliveness, and joy. Those are what you need to focus on in order to balance up the three jhāna foundations.

But what can really  help the three foundations of calmness, aliveness, and joy settle into a stable experience is finding a lightly held focal point that ties everything together. What I usually go for is the sensation at the rims of the nostrils.

Note that this isn’t one-pointed awareness. You’re not trying to focus exclusively on the nostrils. Instead, it’s a lightly held focal point in the midst of a wider context of a whole-body awareness of the breathing, including calm, aliveness, and joy.

Imagine you’re looking at the sun setting over the ocean. The sun is your lightly held focal point. But the lovely thing about the experience is how the light of the setting sun affects the sky, the ocean, and the other elements of the wider landscape. You’re not trying to focus exclusively on the sun. The sun ties everything together.

Similarly, the lightly held focal point of the rims of the nostrils — clear and vivid — ties together the experience of calm, aliveness, and joy as you observe the whole body breathing.

At this point, jhāna is more likely to become stable. The three foundations feed into and support each other. Calmness helps you to access the body. Your awareness of the body’s aliveness helps you to stay calm, because it absorbs the mind. Calmness is enjoyable — it releases joy. Joy helps the mind to stay calm, because the mind is happy and doesn’t have any need to go elsewhere. The body’s aliveness is enjoyable — it releases joy. Joy helps the body to relax, and so the body remains fully alive.

We have a series of interacting positive feedback loops, which is why this experience of calmness, aliveness, and joy becomes stable enough to last for twenty, forty minutes, or more. This is jhāna.

With this systematic approach, jhāna ceases to be an accident and becomes the natural consequence of your practice.

One More Thing

We’re back to paradox here.

At all times, let go of the idea of “attaining” jhāna. The idea of attaining it easily becomes grasping, and grasping destabilizes the mind and kills jhāna.

So we simply notice and enjoy each moment, and let it take us where it will. Do notice whether or not you seem to be moving in the direction of greater calmness, aliveness, and joy, but without having an “are we there yet attitude.” Yes, you are “there.” You’re in the only there that matters: the present moment as it unfolds beautifully to reveal what it contains. Just be present with the unfolding.

Take care of the present moment, and the present moment will take care of you.

The most direct route to jhāna is not to try to get into jhāna.

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50 Comments. Leave new

  • Just discovered your site the other day. I have found the posts and techniques so helpful. Thanks for your generosity in sharing this information with the world.

    Reply
  • Hi
    Thanks for the article on Jhana. I found it quite helpful. Look forward for more such articles.
    metta
    Aniruddha

    Reply
  • Kenyon AncientMan McDonald
    October 21, 2011 6:02 am

    Blessings Bodhipaksa,

    The Bahamas, where I live, is a small chain of islands off the coast of Florida, far from any retreat. As a result I have had to get most of my teachings from books and online. Thanks for your guidance. I am like the student you have not met yet.
    My concern is about a flash of light that I have been experiencing for more than ten years now. I am unable to control(call) it, however If I am thinking of something, and I pose a mental question sometimes I would experience a flash of light ranging in brightness from that of a candle flame (or the floating puff of cloud-like smoke that I experience when meditating), to that of a lightening flash in the sky. If it flashes in my right eye, I have come to learn/accept it as positive and if it flashes in my left eye I have come to learn it as negative. An example would be, If I am preparing for an event and I think to myself “I need to hurry”. All of a sudden, a(the) light would just flash in one of my eyes. If it flashed in my left eye I would say 80%(however it seems like 100%) of time my hurrying would have been a waste, due to either the event starting late or it being cancelled. If it flashed in my right eye, and I hurried, 80% of the time my arriving would be just in time for something important, which had I not hurried, I would have unfortunately miss.
    My issue here is that this strange light flashing started about the same time I started to learn meditation. During one of my sitting I experienced something similar to a jhana. The feeling was so enjoyable that I recall smiling to myself, then the feeling went. I had never experience that before and sadly I have not experience it since. Just Once.
    Is it possible to experience a jhana at the very beginning of learning to meditate and find out that after months or years of effort one is unable to re-experience it. And secondly, does anyone know of anyone else with an unexplained ” light flashing issue”?

    Reply
  • Hi, Kenyon.

    That’s all very interesting. To deal with your questions in reverse order, it’s probably not uncommon to experience jhana at the beginning of our practice and then find that thereafter we don’t experience it again for a long time. In fact this happened to me. Not long after I learned to meditate I had some experiences that I didn’t understand, and which I took to be distractions. Actually, they turned out to be signs that my meditation was on the verge of moving deeper. And then one time I had an experience that was what I didn’t learn until much later was fourth jhana. I knew it was a more refined experience than I’d had before, and when I talked to the person who was teaching me he said it was a greater state of concentration than he’s ever experienced, but evidently he didn’t know what was going on either.

    Suzuki Roshi calls this ‘beginners’ mind.” There’s a really interesting discussion related to this on a Radio Lab podcast on The Placebo Effect (you’ll find it on Google). A young doctor who had learned hypnosis decided to hypnotize away a bad (really bad) case of warts. He was very successful. It turned out, though, that the case wasn’t warts at all, but a completely incurable condition. He reckoned that he had the brash confidence of a young man; not understanding that this was an incurable case, he had no expectation of failure to hold him back. And so somehow he pulled it off.

    Anyway, this happens in meditation as well. It sometimes seems as if the mind resists meditative states, and early on it hasn’t yet learned how to stop you from getting into jhana. It quickly learns, though, and then there’s a long slow climb back to where you were.

    On to the flashing. It’s not entirely familiar to me. In fact I’ve never come across that exactly phenomenon. But it sounds like a visual form of intuition. I find that intuitions are simply communications from one part of the brain to others. Much of our knowledge and information processing goes on outside of conscious awareness, and the results of some of this information processing appears in the mind as “remembering” to do something, or as gut feelings. So you’re in the supermarket, for example, and you’re on the way to the checkout, but have a feeling there’s something you’ve forgotten. You can’t remember consciously what the feeling was, but parts of your brain not accessible to consciousness have stored the memory of that extra item you needed, and have also been monitoring what you’ve already put in the basket. And that part of the mind generates a feeling in order to slow you down. If you pause, you’ll “just remember.” An image of the product, or the sound of the name, will just pop into your mind.

    So I think that’s how intuition works. And I think that’s what’s going on with you, except that your internal communication is taking place via an inner experience of light.

    Meditation changes us — including the brain — in various ways. It helps us be more aware of the body, and of feelings. In other words it helps facilitate communication within the brain and body, and thereby makes us more intuitive. Meditators are better than average at spotting liars, for example.

    How you know to hurry or not to hurry is a mystery. But often we’re picking up on subtle cues that we can’t even identify consciously. I’d imagine that’s what’s going on in your case.

    Reply
  • Hi there, Lovely clear exposition here. Thankyou. I like that you use inclusive language to describe these experiences and not words that create distance and exclusivity.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Prajanatha. I’ve been continuing my explorations and should post an updated version. With the help of a slightly refined version of this, many of my students are getting into jhana without much difficulty.

      Reply
  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Informative article!

    I think you are on right the track with your explanation of jhana and its purpose in the Buddha-Dhamma practice. What you describe is obviously based on personal experience. Do you know of the Anapanasati Sutta? This is the Buddha’s instructions on how to practice mindfulness of in and out breathing which cultivates jhana. I have tried to talk about jhana/anapanasati with Thervadan monastics but the majoirty are unwilling to talk about it or teach it which I find baffling as it at the core of the Buddhas teaching on meditation.

    As far as your method is concerned I think it is close in some respects to the 16-step method set out the in Anapanasati Sutta. There are some missing/incomplete steps though from your description and I thought you might like to take a look at the Sutta in question to see how it tallies with your method.

    Best regards,
    Appamada

    Reply
  • Yes, I’m familiar with the Anapanasati Sutta although I’ve never used it as a basis for practice. I have noticed the similarities, and it’s heartening to see how the internal dynamics of one’s practice lead to convergence with the tradition. It would be a fun project for me to lay my own approach out alongside the sutta in order to see the similarities and differences.

    Reply
  • I forgot to mention the reluctance of your monks to comment on jhana. This could be due to a number of reasons. Sometimes people just don’t have experience of the jhanas and so they can’t comment or, in some cases, may be reluctant to admit to their lack of experience.

    Sometimes people don’t want to encourage an attitude of grasping for meditative experience.

    And certain people (usually from an insight meditation background) are anti-jhana.

    Reply
  • Dear Bodhipaksa,

    Thanks for your reply. I would encourage you to do that exploration as I think you may find it to be of ‘great fruit and great benefit’:) I think the key is to not have preconceptions about what the instructions are saying, which is easier said than done.
    I think the other difficulty that those monks have is that they are burdened with continuing a tradition which is founded on the commentaries (primarily the Visuddhimagga) which is markedly different form what is found in the suttas especially as regards the function and place of jhana.

    Kind regards,
    Appamada

    I think the diffilculty that

    Reply
  • david stringer
    January 14, 2013 6:50 am

    It is so good to read of other Buddhist practitioners experiencing Jhana. I practised Zen (Shikantaza) for 12 years before realising it just wasn’t “doing it” for me, even after 6 week-long retreats or “sesshin” under a wonderful sensei. I thus began studying the Buddha’s own teachings in the sutras and after reading the descriptions of Jhana I very soon found my sits increasing naturally from the usual Zen 35 minutes to an hour and longer. Piti and sukha and a sometimes blinding white “nimitta” became regular friends and now, two years later, I practise 2 hours daily, in addition to trying to stay “mindful” also throughout the day. I am astounded and disappointed that so many “Buddhist” teachers disrespect Jhana (I have personally encountered this) and am sure it is simply because they have not been able to experience it. Once you do, you would never diss it. I have now completely left behind the Mahayana teachings with their heavy North Asian cultural influences, and am completely happy with the the Dharma in the Buddha’s own words. I wish you every success in your goal of disseminating the true Dharma.

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  • A few people (including David Chapman and Bhikkhu Sujato) have written about how jhana came to be dissed in the Buddhist world. The modern insight meditation tradition, which really dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, regarded jhana as being mystical and unBuddhist, and was looking for something that was purely rational. So out went jhana.

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  • Interesting, I’ve also encountered a surprising amount of this dissing among Buddhists, and I put it down to things like confusion in one’s thinking, jealousy, or anger at being shown one’s own inability.

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    • There’s definitely a strain of “can’t be done, not even going to try, in fact it’s wrong to try” that goes around.

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  • Yes Bodhipaksa, I do believe you have hit the nail on the head: I have noticed that much of the dissing of Jhana originates from meditators connected to Insight traditions, particularly Goenka. This is a shame, as no wise Jhana meditator would ever diss insight practise? It almost the beginnings of a “schism” within Western Buddhist thought, and some of the dissing of Jhana, particularly from Western Zen people can get quite nasty (see commentary on, I think, Jhanananda’s web site, Great Western Vehicle).
    Concomittently with this dissing of Jhana, I have had modern Western “Buddhist” teachers tell me that so long as one is practising “Mindfulness” throughout the day, then one is enlightened!! I believe this attitude originates from Dogen’s teaching of “Practise is Enlightenment”. These people conveniently pick and choose just which of the Buddha’s sutras they believe, and it doesn’t suit them to believe in the teachings on Jhana because they doubt their ability to do it, hence they pretend that “mindfulness” itself is enlightenment. Thannisaro Bhikkhu has written a remarkable critique of this bereft kind of Buddhist teaching in two wonderful essays: “Mindfulness Defined” and “Samvega and Pasada”. In the first one above, he points out that Mindfulness cannot be enlightenment because it is conditioned and Nirvana is not. I have even had a well established and well credentialled American Buddhist teacher tell me that the Kalama Sutra implies that we shouldn’t believe all of the sutras, but choose only those which “make sense” to us. So much for faith in the first two of the Three Jewels! (In fact the Sutra tells us to base our beliefs on our experience of a teaching, whether it is good, praiseworthy and leading to happiness — surely all applicable to Jhana?).
    So, do continue your good work of spreading the true Dharma; people who diss Jhana are actually teaching a “7-Fold Path” rather than an “8-Fold Path”, this in turn negates the 4th Noble Truth and thus the whole of the Buddha’s Dharma. Metta, David.

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  • The very same thought has occurred to me on several occasions when talking to Theravadan monastic and lay teachers: “they are practicing a seven fold path!”.

    Over the years I have personally tried a variety of different approaches and to be honest I don’t think I’ve found the ‘right method’ completely as there is always room for refinement. One thing which I am confident about though is that the Buddha was Awakened and that he did teach a Noble Eightfold Path. If you reject this as a working basis then you are essentially practicing “something else”.

    In the suttas there were monks who didn’t fully understand the teachings or misinterpreted them. In the intervening centuries the BuddhaDhamma has fallen into neglect and was forgotten and revived on several occasions so it should not come as a surprise that there are multifarious practices and interpretations. The Theravadan Thai forest tradition which was re-established (Ajaan Mun et al) the prominence of meditation as a part of the practice (as opposed to just book learning and precepts) is a relatively recent occurrence in the history of Buddha sasana. It is ironic though that that very same tradition has given rise to present day Ajaans from the same tradition who teach in contradictory ways concerning the relevance of jhana. Another major factor for discrepancies concerning the place and function of jhana is the effect of cultural tradition. This is particularly seen in the Burmese and also to some extent Thai Buddhist traditions which base themselves on the commentarial interpretations as found in the Visuddhimagga.

    Personally I think it takes a degree of courage to try on work with the teachings on there own terms. By teachings I mean the Suttas because of course there are many legitimate and worthy/worthwhile teachings which are not from the suttas. The problem with that approach though is that there are not that many teachers around who are actually teaching jhana as found in the suttas. This is a major problem for a training which traditionally relied (as in the Buddha’s time) on a apprentice/master kind of relationship when undertaking the training. If you are striking out on your own with only the Suttas for guidance is doubtful process in many ways (like going into the jungle with a map and no experienced guide).

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  • I think it’s very wise to base our understanding mainly on the suttas. The commentarial tradition has to be read very carefully. It’s a synthesis of, at best, meditation manuals from genuine meditative traditions, along with material from a scholastic tradition in which meditation had long been abandoned. And because it’s the scholars who preserved the commentarial tradition, their voice is dominant. There are distortions that creep in, particularly to do with the jhanas. The “standard” list of jhana factors I was taught turns out to differ from what the suttas say. The “formless jhanas” are nowhere called jhanas in the suttas, and can be accessed without going the jhanas. There are no “samatha practices” and “vipassana practices” in the suttas. In the sutta tradition jhana and vipassana are not opposing, but combined. Jhana is attained and then used as the basis of insight. Insight aids the attainment of jhana.

    I do consult the commentaries (Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga) to find what’s of use there, but I give precedence to the suttas (although they have to be read carefully too — they too were curated by the scholars), and read both in the light of actual meditation experience. The interplay of experience, sutta, and commentary can be very creative and productive.

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    • Dear Bodhipaksa,

      Thank you for the clear explanation of the jhana states. I’ve practised Mahasi’s Vipassana meditation since 2004, in a Burmese-run centre in Singapore, noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. So far I have nothing to show for my practice except that I am able to keep myself awake for a full hour of sitting, and I am able to complete a full hour of walking meditation.

      I’ve also been reading regularly the Suttas where Lord Buddha is mentioned as attaining the jhana states. There is no mention of vipassana practice in the sutta from my reading. (I don’t read the commentaries and as Buddha’s discourses are all in plain language I don’t see the need for scholars’ interpretations.)

      Can you write more on the techniques and tips of attaining jhana and maintaining it? Thank you again.

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      • Hi, Francis.

        I don’t know that much about Mahasi’s method, but your practice sounds good as far as it goes. It just sounds unbalanced.

        Traditionally there’s a strong emphasis on developing the brahmaviharas, and this is an essential part of Buddhist practice. You might want to consider practicing metta bhavana to start with, and then karuna bhavana. This is an important complement to any form of mindfulness-based practice, and it also makes jhana easier, because the brahmaviharas promote joy, which is one of the jhana factors.

        Vipassana — in the sense of an awareness of impermanence and non-self — arises quite naturally from jhana as well. Experiencing the body as piti means sensing it not as solid, but in terms of tingling, ever-changing flows of energy. And joy (sukha) has a similar quality. Our being is revealed as less substantial, and so we can realize that there is no place for a permanent and unchanging self to hide. There’s just change. (People often talk about the relationship between jhana and insight in terms of the former giving us the concentration that leads to the latter, which is true, but I’ve found it’s not the main factor.)

        Anyway, I have written (and talked) a lot more about setting up the conditions for jhana to arise (notice the language — it’s not really about attaining, but about allowing). I have an online course that runs each year, and from time to time I run workshops and retreats. It wouldn’t really be possible for me to summarize all that here, though!

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  • david stringer
    January 16, 2013 3:34 am

    Appamada I hear you, but I think perhaps it would take more “courage”, of a sort, to face life without Buddha’s teachings! Myself, I have never feared going in any direction in my mind, and still do in my exploration of jhana. I tend to follow the Buddha’s direction not to rush things(like a foolish cow) and let higher states come when and as they may. Most of the time I am sure I am only experiencing a very strong “Access” state, but that can last over an hour and then the pitisukha can last several hours more after that, so I’m content with where I’m at for now. There is at least one very very good teacher of Jhana (sutta-style) here in Australia, he is Ajahn Brahm a student of Ajahn Chah. You may access his writing on Google and he has lectures you can listen to on AccesstoInsight.com.
    As Bodhipaksa says, the way to go is to moderate your reading by your own experiences. I feel it’s a given that if you are experiencing pitisukha, and you are “secluded” from sensory perception and thoughts, (ie your awareness has settled one-pointedly upon the breath-nimitta), then you are now in a state of consciousness totally “alien” to normal human consciousness, and so you explore that, you see what results you get from that. If as the Buddha suggests, it is praiseworthy, blameless and conducive to good, then you do it as much as you can!! It can be “read between the lines” in the sutras that the Sangha then spent pretty well all day doing it, after alms-round early in the morning. There is a sutra where Sariputta settles down to do jhana after his alms round, and then it continues, “after his day’s abiding”… and he runs into Ananda who comments upon how bright and fresh Sariputta looks. So I say, do not have any fear. Your mind will naturally seek the jhana state, and so long as your sila is of a fairly high(lay) standard, you will not come to any harm.
    The sutras and commentaries seem to disagree on exactly “when” one should attempt to use Insight, the Buddha’certainly seems to imply that one can look with insight into the Three Marks of Existence, especially anatta, while within the jhana state. Even Ajahn Brahm seems to differ from this in that he feels the re is no movement of awareness within a genuine jhanic state, which would appear correct, however I’m of the opinion that the Buddha is actually referring here to creating a virtual “super-jhanic state” where there is just enough observing going on to ‘see’ the anatta involved in the jhana factors. He refers to ‘as a man standing might look upon a man sitting down’, which implies an objective, over-looking view, but within the jhana state. My interpretation is that the Buddha definitely intended jhana and insight to work hand in hand.

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  • jhanaeducation.com
    February 9, 2013 5:30 am

    These are very profound states and they need that degree of effort. Not immense effort, but that constant effort. So you take your goal and keep it in mind. That is the chandasamadhi and that generates energy to achieve the goal, and it generates the application of the mind onto that goal and the investigation of dhammas which go along with the desire for success. This investigation of the Dhamma is the vimansasamadhi, which is like the investigating and maintaining that demonstrates that the path of samatha is not apart from the path of vipassana. But in order to gain success in meditation you have to use wisdom. You have to use the desire, the energy, the application of the mind and the wisdom faculty generated through vimansa. In order to gain success all of these need to be functioning and need to be maintained throughout the meditation. When I define the word ‘samadhi’ as the sustaining of these things, you can see that if you sustain these iddhipada, these roads to success, these functions of the mind, then your meditation will be successful. If you do not maintain these, that is why the meditation does not succeed – one forgets.

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  • I found this page through a link on Dhamma Wheel. A very nice article and good discussions that follow. It’s great to see Sutta Jhana discussed in clear, correct and friendly terms, so that this (IMO important) practice can develop into the mainstream of practice for folks that really want to practice what the Buddha actually taught. Jhana seems to me more challenging than what might be generally understood, but this article is illuminating. Sadhu!

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  • Very refreshing to find this site where I can find good discussion and answers in plain english, thanks

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  • So, I’ve been reading these posts and I have some questions. First, I can completely relate with you about how beginner’s mind makes it easier to slip into blissful states. When I first started meditating, I vividly remember how quickly I started having this – quite frankly – scary feeling of absolute pleasure. It was scary because I’d never experienced that before…so, when it started happening, I instinctively drew back from fear of the unknown. Over the past five years, I have learned much more about meditation and I do it more regularly…as often as possible. But I hadn’t had that bliss feeling again – and I think it was because I had “learned” about meditation and had forgotten how to just experience it without any of the expectations I had from what I had learned.
    All that changed this morning. I sat down to meditate, using a technique that I had learned the night before. At some point, after focusing on my breath, I realized that I had achieved access concentration. There was the beginning of a very pleasant, tingly feeling in my hands. The technique suggested that once the meditator noticed the place in the body that was manifesting a sensation of pleasantness, the focus should be subtly shifted to the sensation of pleasantness. Not the part of the body that it was located in, but just the sensation. To be mindful and accepting of it. The technique stated that the feeling of pleasure would begin to grow in intensity. Not all at once, but most likely in fits and spurts at first…and then it would REALLY take off.
    That is EXACTLY what happened today. I went in with no expectations of jhana. I just wanted to simply be and see what happened. Sure enough, my hands started to pleasantly tingle…so, I shifted my attention. I could definitely feel it grow and ebb…at times, I had to go back to the breath to reestablsh the foundations of the pleasant feelings. After some time, I suddenly felt a HUGE sensation of absolute bliss. It felt as though I was spiraling away from the external world and all I knew was physical bliss. All my aches and pains vanished…even the anxiety from my bipolar disorder was completely gone. Then, without even consciously meaning to, a very joyous smile appeared on my face. I couldn’t help it…I HAD to smile. Then, I realized that it wasn’t just physical bliss I was experiencing…my emotions were completely joyous. I was SO happy.
    I don’t know how long it lasted. I didn’t set a timer. (A first.) Of course, it didn’t feel like it lasted nearly long enough, but it lasted until I was ready to stop. So, with a very deep breath of relaxation and happiness, I just opened my eyes. I’m pretty sure about two hours had passed – give or take.
    So, question: What the heck was that?
    Secondly, I’ve noticed today that I am very aware of my aches and pains and to some extent my anxiety seem to be more apparent to me. It’s as if I have a heightened awareness of them that I didn’t have before.
    So, second question: What’s THAT about?

    Reply
    • Hi, Jeff.

      Just catching up on the backlog of unmoderated comments that built up while I was on vacation. That certainly sounds like jhana. My recollection was that jhana was more intense in the early days because it was new and unexpected. Over the years it becomes a bit more sedate!

      Your heightened awareness might just be heightened awareness :)

      But it might also be that there’s a degree of “coming down” after the jhana experience. It’s quite common for people to have this kind of peak experience and then in the very next meditation to have a painful time because they desperately want to recreate the pleasure and bliss of the previous sit. That grasping creates dissatisfaction, and prevents jhana from arising. So it may be something like that that’s going on.

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  • Astonishing. Stumbling as I have into your writings on the Jana state made me feel as those that came upon the Rosetta Stone … from that point on Egyptian Hieroglyphics became relatively easy. I have practiced Mahayana Buddhism (Tibetan) for twenty years. Though I had apparently experienced the first Jana (almost precisely as you have so amazingly described it), not one of my teachers or other advanced mediators have made any attempt to help me understand the state I had (Jana) and continued to experience for some time. I am sincerely at a loss to see how not explaining this to their students could in any way be helpful: for me it has been anything but helpful.
    I have understood more of my meditation experiences from this single page of your exposition of a true and full Jana state than from anything I have read in twenty years. What is the problem ? Is there held some strange idea that we shouldn’t be too encouraged … or that we should not advance too quickly? In my favor, I knew something was missing and continued to troll through Buddhist literature in the hope of finding some guideposts.
    I have made this longer than it might otherwise have been but attempted to describe my experience in the hope that others that are still in the position I was, will give as much credence to your very generous insights and expositions.
    I cannot thank you enough. AJAY

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    • Hi, Ajay.

      I’m glad this was helpful to you. I’m also puzzled by the reluctance to explain to people what they’re experiencing. I suspect part of it is that many teachers haven’t themselves made the connection between what they experience and what the teachings describe. And there’s a tendency to assume that the teachings point to an almost superhuman degree of concentration and focus; for example, some teachers insist that in first jhana you should be completely unable to sense the outside world at all, which I think makes it seem well-nigh unattainable. Those teachers (and their students) are probably reaching first jhana and not even recognizing it.

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  • David Stringer
    April 12, 2015 6:14 am

    Hi Ajay, May I suggest that you check out video recordings of talks by Ajahn Brahm on Youtube. He is one of the leading teachers in the West on Jhana states and meditation. Metta, David.

    Reply
  • I’ve just started (serious) meditation and really don’t like spending time doing something that is wrong. So I’ve been looking at a lot of methods to gain an overall understanding. This article, your aticle, is excellent for just that.
    Thank you!
    p.s. when I get the hang of this maybe I’ll drop by to visit you in NH. I’m in CT several times a year visiting family.

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  • What happens after Jhana?

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    • Good question, Matthew.

      Jhana is part of the path of “unselfing,” as I call it. It helps us to have less ego-centric clinging (you have to let go of grasping to experience jhana). It helps us to see the unsatisfactoriness of our ordinary, conditioned states of mind. It helps reduce our sense of having a solid and fixed self, and helps us experience ourselves more in terms of ever-changing patters of energy. This makes it a perfect accompaniment to vipassana meditation, where we’re investigating the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-self of our experience.

      It’s not a question of after jhana, though. Jhana supports vipassana, and vipassana supports jhana. So we can do both at the same time, although traditionally, for very good practical reasons, jhana is meant to be practiced first. In fact there is no after jhana. My understanding is that once full awakening has arisen, there are no longer any hindrances present to the continuous experience of jhana. A permanent state of jhana is how a Buddha experiences him or herself.

      Reply
  • Dear Bodhipaksa, I am so pleased to see that you are still engaged in teaching the dharma of jhana meditation. My own practice is still going well and I do get all of the comments on this thread. May the Force be with you!!

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  • Thank you for explaining about jhana in detail… Now I have an idea… I have been practicing insight practices for years but haven’t tried jhana meditations much…Just with insight practices, my progress over the last 13 years has been very good. I am curious to find out what jhana is all about and how it is going to help me to progress further..

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  • What do you make of the “soft”/”hard” jhana dispute? Some teachers like Ajahn Brahm claim that there cannot be thought or any sense perception even in first jhana. That is a “hard” jhana whereas this page is describing a “soft” first jhana because thought is still present. How deep would you say the meditation needs to be to count as jhana?

    This is sometimes called sutta/commentarial jhana but Brahm claims that the correct interpretation of the suttas is no thought or external perception. Vitakka and vicara are to him instability in the awareness of piti-sukha but not thought.

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    • Obviously I take the “soft” jhana interpretation. It’s how I was taught, and I don’t see anything in he suttas to justify Ajahn Brahm’s interpretation of vitakka/vicara. The Vitakka-Santhana Sutta is about dealing with unskillful thoughts. The Dvedhavitakka Sutta is on the topic of skillful and unskillful thinking. And I can’t remember where it is, but someone (I think Dhammadinna?) describes vitakka as the precursor of speech.

      Also, my experience of the jhanas exactly matches the pattern of “with thinking,” “without thinking, but with more priti,” “joy with no priti,” and then “pure peace.” It would be weird to have a set of experiences match so closely with a description and yet the two things are somehow not not the same.

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    • To answer your question of “how deep.” Basically, all the jhana factors present in a stable way: so the mind is relatively calm with nothing but floaty thoughts that don’t interrupt your mindfulness. The body is at easy and tingly with aliveness. And you’re very content or joyful. And that’s not a fleeting experience that comes for a few breaths and then collapses (which can happen) but stay with you for a good while.

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  • Barbara Lenschmidt
    January 16, 2020 10:40 am

    I stumbled into full blast Kensho years ago, but just now have found the time, silence, and motivation to work through the Jhanas.
    I have Lee Brassingtion’s book, but it seems unnecessarily complex, and with just tidbits I seem to be finding much of what you say through solo long sits.
    As far as I can tell the practice is “Great concentration and don’t get attached”. Learn what you can, let go, and move on if there is a “there” there.

    Grace to all of you. It’s not as hard as you think. Once you get in there the hard part is standing up and going back to daily life.

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  • It was great reading the article…. Actually very much what I needed…. I am also trying to access the jhanas and some continous meditation.. I feel I am able to access the first jhana in almost every sitting. .. And I can end the session with awsome feeling joy….. But when try to pursue beyond that.. My body suddenly starts to get tense my mind racing and body temperature also rises and it becomes uncomfortable…. So I stop the session…. My question is… Is this nature like do I have to go through the discomfort to reach the 2 nd phase… Or am I doing something wrong…. How to go forward with this…. Please guide…. Namaste..??

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    • Sounds like you’re making great progress! But your system needs to get used to being in first jhana before you can go any deeper. The Buddha compared meditators who try to move through the jhanas too fast to a foolish, inexperienced cow who decides to go exploring in the mountains, even though she doesn’t have the skills to do so. She’s just going to get lost. For the cow to explore successfully, she would need to expand her range slowly, gradually getting used to one kind of terrain before moving on a little further.

      What seems to happen is that in first jhana you’ll have moments of second jhana arising and passing away. You need to get used to that so that you don’t go “pursuing” (which is the word you used) that experience and perhaps plunge yourself back into the hindrances. Just get thoroughly used to first jhana, with these little eruptions of second jhana, and then when the time is right second jhana will become established.

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  • Dear Bodhipaksa, thank you for this website, and thank you to Leigh Brasington and those others who teach about the jhanas. Something that I missed in the way Buddhist meditation is taught in most other places

    I started meditating after the Anapanasati Sutta about 20 years ago. Without a teacher.
    I just went through the briefing in the sutta … He breathes in, watching the whole body, he breathes out …; He breathes in, watching the breathing body … etc.

    Later comes this instruction:
    ‘I shall breathe in experiencing joy’ …; He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing joy …’
    ‘I shall breathe in experiencing bliss’; He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing bliss
    I had an old translation where instead of joy an old-fashioned expression was used which I did not understand exactly.
    I had the idea that something totally heavenly would happen. But nothing happened. Until one day I found that I felt blissfully happy after watching the breathing body. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it was what the Sutta meant. I continued meditating.
    At that time, maybe a little earlier, I had found the triad in the Book of Three from the Pali canon: space is infinite, consciousness is infinite, space is empty.

    That immediately made sense to me and I was able to feel the 3 things clearly in this order. In addition, at some point easrlier when I felt the breathing body (which I had no idea what that was), I suddenly noticed that I was growing over my head as I exhaled. In the following meditations I noticed how the respiratory body became bigger and finally unlimited. Then came the perception of infinite consciousness and empty space. I then continued to meditate and not paying attention to those experiences I did not have the impression that I was getting on.

    One day I, not long ago, read Leigh Brasington’s book and found that he described my experiences exactly, albeit in a different order. since then i meditate the jhanas every day.
    One more note: I had not meditated: I breathe joyfully, I exhale …. Because I did not understand this word in the translation of the sutta. I just proceeded ito bliss.
    Later during  a vipassana retreat my whole body started twitching shortly after I started meditation. The Ajan didn’t seem to know how to interpret it. After a few days, that subsided.
    After reading Leigh’s book, I found that when I meditated joy in the 1st Jhana this tremor came back. But this time it was clear to me what it was. It continued in movements like wanting to jump and dance, an expression of joy.
    It subsides when entering bliss.

    Without the book, I still wouldn’t know what happened to me during meditation.

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  • Thank you for your sharing your insight and wisdom on this. It’s nice to learn what to be aware of.

    Reply
  • Bryan Malakou
    June 29, 2020 4:57 am

    Thank you for this guys–very helpful. Ajahn Sona of the Theravadan Forest monastry in BC Canada is giving a seminar every Sunday on jhana meditation on You tube live and recorded. Love the way he teaches. He says you need to almost auto-suggest or induce the feelings of piti and and sukha. Its just practice and training. Date started = 28 June 2020

    Reply
    • Hi, Bryan.

      I was talking about that topic over the last two days, when I was teaching a weekend dhyana workshop at my local Dharma center (by Zoom, of course). I was talking about how we can use “initial thought” as a trigger for certain experiences. For example as I’m setting up for meditation I might say “soft eyes,” which instantly triggers relaxation in the eyes and a state of relaxation and calm. And then I’ll say either “senses wide open” or “open field of attention” and those phrases will direct my attention in an open and receptive way into the body, and to an awareness of the breathing as a whole-body experience. Saying “strength … dignity … softness” (with long pauses to allow for experiential changes) evokes those qualities in a very tangible way.

      It is, I’d agree, almost a form of auto-suggestion.

      Thanks for the info on Ajahn Sona.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • I experienced a long period a year and a half with not many experiences except on 3 or 4 occasions I couldn’t work out if I was sitting or lying and I saw white light and felt no emotions. Then after a very long break I’ve come back to meditation and after a few months encountered the first Jhana which I experienced everyday for 3 months. Now after 10 months doing 3 meditations a day I reach the 3rd Jhana but I only experience this every 4 days the other days I experience nothing but thoughts I have experienced the third Jhana for 4 months. I practice anapanasati but often feel other sensations as well. What meditation would you suggest?

    Reply
    • Hi, Mark.

      It sounds like you’re doing fine. There’s no hurry, and no prizes for “best meditator.” You ask for suggestions about what meditation practices you could do, and I’d very much suggest lovingkindness and compassion meditation as a regular part of your practice.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • just discover this site which is having very useful material for Jhana meditation as taught by Boudhha. the article shed some light on Jhana meditation but it does shows how one can know he or she reached First Jhana or not. i hope great teacher may through some light on this aspect.

    Reply
    • Hi, Ashok.

      You’ll know you’ve reached first jhana when you have a stable experience of being happy, of experiencing the body as energized and pleasurable, and when the mind is relatively calm, with any remaining thoughts no longer taking you away from your direct experience. I stress that this is a stable experience, effortlessly lasting probably for the remainder of the meditation session. It’s as if a change of gear has taken place. There is a definite shift from your normal experience of yourself.

      Reply

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