Discussing jhana


It seems like my brevity got me in trouble again! :frowning:

Please allow me to switch to a more suitable analogy which came to mind after posting the original one about time. I could go into the reason why clocks don’t measure time, and how this relates to jhāna, but I’d rather not!

Near-death experiences.

I think we’ll agree that no objective standards for what happens during NDEs exist. Nevertheless, despite the lack of objective standards, NDEs are real. Most people experience a lot of real peace and real love during their NDE. Their NDEs are largely unambiguous, despite the ambiguity in definitions and conceptions.

What I’d conclude is that something which is quite unambiguous can have differing, contradicting and ambiguous definitions and descriptions.


And they’ve only had 2600 years to work it out!!



I haven’t talked to a lot of teachers about their definitions of jhana states, and those I have talked to seem to be more or less in agreement (while also being rather vague so it is not so hard to be in agreement) so I don’t have the background to understand your statement. Mostly, the definitions I have heard consist of lists of jhana factors, which can be taken directly from the suttas. Can you be more specific - are there some extremely different definitions of jhana states that you can describe for us?


The jhana is a measure of samadhi, IMO


As for me, I’d like to see the stigma of talking about jhana or attainments removed from lay people.

“Jhana experience is simply not something you talk about, and if anyone says to have had jhana it’s just a clear sign they didn’t have it” - this kind of attitude is silly and making a mystery out of a natural reaction of the mind when the right conditions have been met.

If someone wants to stay quiet about their experience for other reasons it’s of course fine. And yes, the whole field is horribly vague but we can try and communicate, and along the way several kinds of groups will become more transparent. We just have to qualify our experiences: “I felt great joy for an hour, that’s why I think it was jhana” for example. So, not just say “jhana-experience” without showing what we mean with it.


Add to that the “experts” who say jhāna is impossible and we should give up on it!


Who says this? I’m just so mystified by this thread - I must be leading a sheltered life.


Sure, but how do measure samadhi in any objective sense?



There many problems in people claiming attainments without being entirely sure they have attained them!!

And just because lay people are not bound by monastics rules on this issue, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similar reasons for being circumspect and discrete. For monastics, though, falsely claiming a jhana or other supramundane state is cause for disrobal. Why? Because it was considered such an impressive attainment that if people deceptively claimed it, they could unscrupulously benefit by becoming popular, receiving many offerings etc, and also mislead the community with this lie and instead of having Right View as a basis, they would actually be teaching from a point of wrong view. This is bad! The fact that it is a disrobing offence also shows us that these states were held in very high regard, and were not easy to attain. We should bear this in mind when people talk of enjoying a bit of bliss for an hour and thinking that it is jhana. We should be cautious that people don’t deceive themselves, or deceive others …

It’s important to have a teacher to discuss these things with… A real teacher. Not the internet.

@greenTara, you asked about definitions.
Here is Ajahn Brahm’s description of jhana. He is regarded as having a very high standard.

From Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond by Ajahn Brahm
Page 192
The Landmarks of All Jhānas

“From the moment of entering a jhāna, one will have
no control. One will be unable to give orders as one
normally does. When the will that is controlling vanishes, then the “I will” that fashions one’s concept of future also disappears. Since the concept of time ceases in jhāna, the very question “What should I do next?” cannot arise. One cannot even decide when to come out. It is this absolute absence of will, and of its offspring, time, that gives the
jhānas their timeless stability and allows them to last sometimes for many blissful hours.
Because of the perfect one-pointedness and fixed
attention, one loses the faculty of perspective within jhāna. Comprehension relies on comparison—relating this to that, here to there, now with then. In jhāna, all that is perceived is an unmoving, enveloping, nondual bliss that allows no space for the arising of perspective. It is like that puzzle where one is shown a photograph of a well-known object from an unusual angle, and one has to guess what it is. It is very difficult to identify some objects without looking at them from different angles. When perspective is removed, so is comprehension. Thus in jhāna not only is there no sense of time but also there is no comprehension of what is going on. At the time, one will not even know which jhāna one is in. All one knows is great bliss, unmoving, unchanging, for unknown lengths of time.
Even though there is no comprehension within any jhāna, one is certainly not in a trance. One’s mindfulness is greatly increased to a level of sharpness that is truly incredible. One is immensely aware. Only mindfulness doesn’t move. It is frozen. And the stillness of the superpower mindfulness, the perfect one-pointedness of awareness, makes the
jhāna experience completely different from anything one has known before. This is not unconsciousness. It is nondual consciousness. All it can know is one thing, and that is timeless bliss that doesn’t move.
Afterward, when one has emerged from the jhāna, such
consummate one-pointedness of consciousness falls apart. With the weakening of one-pointedness, perspective reemerges, and the mind has the ability to move again. The mind has regained the space needed to compare and comprehend. Ordinary consciousness has returned.
Having just emerged from a jhāna, it is the usual practice to look back at what has happened and review the jhāna experience. The jhānas are such powerful events that they leave an indelible record in one’s memory store. In fact, one will never forget them as long as one lives. They are easy to recall with perfect retention. One comprehends the details of what happened in the jhāna, and one knows which of the jhānas it was. Moreover, data obtained from reviewing a jhāna form the basis of the insight that leads to Another strange quality that distinguishes jhāna from all other experience is that within jhāna, all the five senses are totally shut down. One cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or feel touch. One cannot hear a crow cawing or a person coughing. Even if there were a thunderclap nearby, it wouldn’t be heard in a jhāna. If someone tapped you on the shoulder, or picked you up and let you down, in jhāna you cannot know this. The mind in jhāna is so completely cut off from these five senses that they cannot break in…”

There are other teachers who have less strict definitions of jhana. One guiding question I ask is, who is it that benefits from a more lax definition of jhana?


GreenTara, I’m going to commit the academic sin of providing a Wikipedia quote which isn’t substantiated by a reference on Wikipedia! Please take it with a grain of salt.

In the contemporary Theravada-based Vipassana movement, [jhāna] is regarded as unnecessary and even non-beneficial for awakening, which has to be reached by mindfulness of the body and vipassana (insight into impermanence).


That Wikipedia quote doesn’t get into a definition of jhana state nor is it saying jhanas are impossible - it’s saying that they are unnecessary or even non-beneficial. That’s a separate topic - let’s not go off on that tangent.


That’s correct. But IMO—and you may very well disagree—saying that jhānas are impossible is merely a “variation on a theme”; the “theme” is regarding jhānas as dispensable.


Thanks for that quote.

I just googled for “jhana impossible” and I found this blog page:

which provides an interesting summary. He groups them according to “depth”. I like the observation (although I cannot confirm the accuracy)

‘Interestingly, most teachers of Jhana tend to regard all Jhana methods with concentration levels weaker than their own as “not authentic, not real Jhanas”, and they tend to regard all methods with concentration levels stronger than their own as “indulging, not useful.”’


OK, I just think that value judgements like dispensibility are a separate question from definition and would be better addressed in a separate thread.


Oh, absolutely, and I’m sure there’s already a D&D thread on this topic somewhere . . .

I have no interest in discussing value judgments w.r.t. jhānas. My point was simply to illustrate the heterogenity of attitudes toward jhāna “out there”, which IMO includes both definitions and value judgments like dispensability. :slightly_smiling_face:


This story told by Brassington about his time at the Pa Auk monastery in Myanmar is (to me) a pretty funny (and also instructive) account of what happens when two jhana definitions clash in real life.
In it, he acknowledges that he glimpsed the 1st jhana in the pa auk method for less than an hour (many would not regard this as good enough to call it a steady jhana) but couldn’t get back there, so he contented himself with practicing his version of 2nd, 3rd, 4th jhana… :thinking:
So you can see the problem of reaching agreement between schools of thought. Especially tricky if the person regards themself as a teacher of jhana to acknowledge that they might not have jhana in other schools…awkward. So then that leads to some interesting justifications. I think Leigh Brassington tries to keep an open mind, and does his research…but he kind of benefits from keeping the definition of jhana at an easier level (that he can practice) because he’s already known as a jhana teacher! :persevere:

Bingo, I was gone. There was ONLY the nimitta. No body. No sounds. No thoughts. No passage of time. Nuthin’ but the nimitta. I came out of it about 45 minutes later (guessing from the clock and when I had started). The state was nothing like any jhana I’d ever experienced! The was no materiality. No vedana. No perception. No sankhara other than the nimitta. Only consciousness of the nimitta. If that sounds like “the cessation of feeling and perception” to you, it does to me as well. In fact I would say that the 1st Visuddhimagga jhana IS "the cessation of feeling and perception…
But I was never able to get back there! I could get that solid nimitta and hold it for up to 2 hours. But I could see that I was too curious to see “what happens next” and that was preventing me from getting back to full absorption. Sometimes hanging out with the nimitta, I would drift off into 2nd jhana (the one that I teach), sometime into 4th, occasionally into 3rd…


Agreed. BTW, I looked back to the OP and it also isn’t really about the definition of jhana either. It’s about limiting discussion of one’s jhana attainment to teacher-student situations.

I think some clarity regarding the various definitions of jhana is helpful, as one can perform some self-evaluation (e.g. perhaps one might think to have attained first jhana in the sense of Bhante G but not in the sense of Pa Auk). One has to recognized that it is only a self-evaluation and so is unreliable. Access to teachers is so limited by distance, funds, and just the lack of enough (qualified) teachers to go around.


You’re right!! I didn’t even realize this topic is about value judgments about jhāna; that is, about how to discuss jhāna. I must be lacking mindfulness . . . Thanks for that. :blush:

IMHO the dangers Venerable Akaliko has articulated earlier in this topic are significant enough to warrant skepticism toward projects (such as Leigh Brasington’s) which aim for a “literature review” of jhāna definitions (with the intent of clarifying jhāna). But YMMV (your mileage may vary)!


I think if people just more fully described their experiences, then I don’t see the issue. For example, what if someone says “I was meditating and my mind suddenly shifted into another gear where any inner dialogue or even inclination to inner speech completely switched off for a period and bliss levels greatly increased as if the weight of this normal inner chatter was completely lifted off my shoulders. However, I didn’t notice any disappearance of sensory input going along with that.”

From some perspectives that’s plausibly some lower level of jhana and in others it might only be something like access concentration (or maybe not even that). Experience is experience though. Some of these things aren’t totally subjective and can be described. Others can then make of them what they want.

I suppose that matters if there isn’t consensus on some aspects of jhana. Sutta descriptions are fairly vague IMO in some respects (not a lot of clarity or precision on several points). Should one be “doing vipassana” in jhana? How secluded should one be in jhana from sensory input? Completely? Or just from sound? Or not necessarily at all, with “sound being a thorn to first jhana” being more a byproduct of the shutting down of the speech faculty? What’s vitakka-vicara exactly? Is there ekaggata in first jhana? I think one can marshal a pretty good argument on any or all combinations of various stances on the above questions from the texts and find traditions and established teachers that take those particular viewpoints. Though there are issues, weaknesses or uncertainties with practically any stance one could take.

Does any of that matter? On the “doing vipassana” in or after jhana, if one wants to visit a friend living on the opposite side of the nearby city in the suburbs, does it matter if one takes a route through the city centre or one skirts the centre and takes a ring road around the edge of city? One still ends up in the same place?

I suppose notions of sensory seclusion do matter in terms of the object of focus. From one viewpoint, one can’t be focusing on something like the physical breath and therefore needs something like a nimitta. Though, often sensory seclusion is taken as a gauge of depth. There’s more agreement further on (the least for first jhana).

Saying “I think I was in first jhana” probably isn’t very helpful at all (probably the person would need to add extra details about sensory/sound seclusion, thoughts/inner dialogue or lack thereof, as well as perceived levels of piti etc.).

I think if there was actually some poor social scientist mad enough to study jhana experiences “in the field”, they’d probably be forced to come up with some broad classification scheme. OK, what this guy describes sounds rather like jhana-type II version 2b! :wink:


Personally, as a layperson, I dislike talking about any personal meditation experiences with people who are not my teacher. That’s partly because obfuscation, misinterpretation, spiritual materialism and overestimation are so common IMO; I simply don’t want to take part in this. :zipper_mouth_face: