Discussing jhana

It meaning discussions about different jhanas and limiting that to teacher student discussion, in this information age.

I wonder if we will be have a more productive outcome if we focus on what all the experts agree on what jhana contains than what they disagree on.

We could use this collection Jhana Interpretations

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I think you probably meant something other than what I think you meant, because surely there is an even ground that can be met between undue doubt and critical discernment. I could extend the same logic above to faith in Jesus Christ and expect Buddhists to adopt that and remove doubt in him in order to attain the heightened states pursued in Christian contemplation (they have their own parallel system, complete with their own notion of an illuminated heart). Surely discernment has some place, and sometimes discernment involves doubt in something too good to be true, such as promises of “personal” salvation, etc.


I don’t think that your analogy holds. If I doubt that I have experienced jhana, this doubt is one that should be overcome in a specific way–by practice, which if done right leads to an experience that I cannot doubt.

In this way it’s not like a doubt about the divinity of Jesus, which is a doubt about an assertion I can’t easily investigate. (If Christians are experiencing jhana from meditation… I guess I don’t see why that would be impossible.)

I haven’t had an experience that I’m incapable of doubting yet. But I’m not sure if it’s because I’m bad at meditation or just really good at doubt.

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The Vinaya’s account of the fourth pārājika has a scenario where a certain monk attains the first jhāna but doesn’t realise that this is what he has attained. On a later occasion, prompted by evil wishes, he goes about boasting that he’s attained the first jhāna even though he thinks that he hasn’t. The Vinaya’s ruling is that the monk is defeated, for even though his boast happens to be factual, he didn’t make it with the intention of speaking in accordance with fact but rather with the intention of deceiving.

So, if someone might attain the first jhāna without realising it at all, then presumably it would also be possible to attain it and later be in doubt as to whether one has done so. The necessary absence of the hindrance of doubt would apply only while one is actually in the jhāna.


… and probably also in the immediate run-up to the jhāna and the immediate aftermath of emerging from it.


Hi @Pondera

Thanks for these questions/criticisms here. From what you say it appears you haven’t practiced in this way? But maybe you should give it a go?! :grinning: It’s useful to have a litte experience about any subject before making judgements :wink:

“Concentration” does make it sound like a lot of hard work, or a forceful, pressured, intense effort, doesn’t it? For this reason many experienced meditation teachers avoid using the word “concentration” for samadhi, because it sends the wrong message, and they use words like “stillness” or “steadiness” instead. Makes a big difference doesn’t it? So perhaps there’s a problem of translation rather than technique?

“Concentration” as a tense, forced effort is the exact opposite of the tranquility that comes from samatha meditation like anapanasati or the breath nimitta. So jhana nimitta teachers like Ajahn Brahm (who uses the term"stillness") and others talk about relaxing the body, calming the mind, letting go, becoming peaceful, developing a natural mindfulness, which deepens all by it self and becomes very pleasurable due to the arising of piti and sukkha, becoming more stable and stable in stillness, along with the nimitta. And the same sequence of events described in the sutta you quote above all occur and keep occuring as samadhi deepens. Remember, too that there is a difference between ordinary samadhi, and samma sammadhi, (right samadhi, right stillness, right absorption, right immersion, right concentration even… ) which is jhana.

Again this is a translation issue, not a technique issue and does not reflect a particular approach at all . There are many words used for “piti”; such as, zest, enthusiasm, joy, rapture and thrill to mention a few translations. It doesn’t indicate much except the preference of the translator. The experience of piti can be very broad, from a minor tingling to deep throbbing suffusion. So maybe it’s difficult to pin down the breadth of this experience in just one term that covers it all. Often ‘joy’ is also used to translate as ‘pamujja/pamojja’ , but some translators do use ‘joy’ for piti, which is their choice… Some translate sukha as happiness. Others translate it as pleasure, some as bliss. So translation is not an exact science and we shouldn’t get too caught up on a single term but rather have a more flexible approach based on an experienced teachers instructions, along with our own experience and also be comfortable with more synonyms. You could even try doing some translation yourself too! :grinning::grinning::grinning:

Yes. Piti sukha is experienced with a nimitta. Ajahn Brahm calls the nimitta path bliss upon bliss upon bliss.

Teachers would say, it is not that the “self is lost” in the nimitta but more that the usual mind/body boundaries of self are starting to dissolve.

Hope that helps answers your question/criticisms. :blush:

If you want to know more about nimitta and piti, check out Piya Tan’s useful essay here:

> http://www.themindingcentre.org/dharmafarer/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/19.7-Nimitta-piya.pdf

Ohhhh and I’ve just discovered this thread here! Thanks @Gabriel. Excellent! :grinning:


I hadn’t seen this. I withdraw my suggestion, and I am happy to have been corrected!


My sense of jhana as the Suttas describe it, it that it is a true altered state of consciousness. A supramundane state that must be quite difficult to slip into. It may have been easier in the time of the Buddha to allow the mind to release into jhaha, as there was not the audio/visual and cognitive distortion and static (from traffic, music, TV, internet, etc.) in that time, and as India of that time had a history of jhana practice that predated the Buddha. In our times, it seems so much more difficult to free the mind to such a deep extent.

I also have the sense that one that has touched jhana would naturally have a measure of egolessness and kindness. When I read the harsh arguments between “jhana warriors” (those on other internet sites) my first reaction is that they were never close to true jhana. I have a sense that the access to the jhanas is through a platform of kindness, peace and a true letting go, such that the mind slips into its natural and perfected state in deeper samadhi. If one truly touches that altered state, it’d be difficult, I feel, to be the quarrelsome types that some of the keyboard “jhana warriors” can be at times.


I know I’m late to this discussion, but I have always been skeptical of the role assigned to an “experienced teacher” in ascertaining meditation attainments beyond the most simple one. A teacher can’t see into another’s mind. Some people are verbally skilled, and familiar with textual descriptions of the levels of samadhi, and so know how to repeat back to the teacher the right kinds of descriptions. Others are less skilled verbally, so might have great deal of trouble articulating the phenomenal character of their mental states.


What makes you so sure about that? :wink:


Yeah, can’t be sure. But I don’t want to go through that interminable discussion again. I’ll just repeat my previously articulated view that such beliefs in “supernormal powers” are most likely superstitious ones.

Experience counts a lot! … An “experienced teacher” is experienced not because of their age, number of retreats or qualifications, but because they know practice for themselves having made substantial progress or even perfection in it. They understand common problems, know the solutions and can guide others to perfect the practice too. It is also used in contradistinction to “inexperienced”, someone who does not have these qualities and does not speak from a place of experienced sureity itself and so cannot guide others safely…

One could safely say if there were more truly experienced teachers available to the people on this forum and others, then doubts, confusions and debates would be significantly reduced, if not eliminated!

Veryifing “attainments” is not really the most important part of a teachers job. The real role of an experienced teacher is get people into the right path of practice and keep them safely on it. This is why experience is important and necessary.


I sort of doubt that. People have been reading the texts of many esteemed teachers for centuries, and yet teachings on practice differ widely. They can’t even agree on the nature and importance of the kinds of pleasure people experience in samadhi.

I think we’re all on our own, in the end. All we can do, after we’ve learned the basics, is directly confront our own suffering in our own spheres of experience, and experiment with ways of releasing it.


Yes true, I know… :sob: It was a rare moment of optimism for the world!


Thank you for the response, Akaliko. It certainly puts things into perspective.

The only thing I would reiterate is that “rapture” is such a technical term. Music causes rapture. Awe inspiring deities cause rapture. As you say, “tingling” sensations or deep throbbing … I would say a kind of numbness of the flesh. A definite excitation of the nerves - but a retracted numbness in the flesh. Anyway.

I have issues with “piti” being translated as “joy”. But you’ve cleared that up with your post. Thank you.


The difficulty is that piti comes in different degrees, mild to intense, and there is no common standard for what “counts” as jhana. It’s the same for the other jhana factors. And then there is the challenge of objectively assessing which jhana one is actually experiencing…


Undoubtedly jhana has an effect, though I think it is something which needs to be experienced regularly to bring about a lasting transformation. That regularity might not be easy for lay-buddhists to achieve.


I think going back to my original intention of this thread:

  1. all experts agree there is such a thing called jhana.
  2. all experts agree it arises after a lot of practice or effort. That is we cannot call lower states of samadhi free from the hindrances, jhana.

I think it’s a general and mostly true conception, but not everyone agrees on this. And there is no essential reason why either. It’s about doing the right steps, and jhana comes as a result. Dipa Ma supposedly had very quick jhana. Maha Bua if I’m not mistaken as well - exceptions for sure, but still showing that it statistically might need a lot of time, but that is not in the nature of jhana, it’s because of us and our understanding and right practice.

It would surprise me actually if a good teacher dismissed a quick jhana experience if it came from a profound student. Also, in no way you can deduce from long practice that you’re getting closer and closer to jhana. It just means that someone has still not overcome the essential obstacles.

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According to Leigh Brasington most jhana teachers seem to agree a jhana retreat is required, at least of 10 day duration. Longer retreats are also mentioned. I agree about your comment on doing the right steps. EBT s recommend the following:

  1. seclusion and secluded from sensuality - cravings
  2. withdrawn from unskillful qualities.

I’m trying to find a definition of jhana which is correct but also ‘least restrictive’ to achieve so that many would benefit.