Thoughts on Jhana

I would like to present a case for a more ‘general’, less stereotyped,
idea of jhāna. Perhaps the division between the different stages is
less sharp, and more gradual than we tend to think. Perhaps it is a
gradient rather than a ‘click’ stepping from one to the next, rather
like gradual ascent of a mountain rather than pressing ‘ENTER’ to go
into stage one, ‘EXIT’ to come out, and then ‘ENTER’ again to go into
stage two. One might take the image of a thermometer scale. If
finally getting going in mediation with the arising of strong pīti
and the elation of pāmojja is taken as ‘1’ on the scale, then 1 to
25 would be stage 1, 26 - 50 stage 2, 51 - 75 stage 3, and 76 - 100
stage 4. (All very roughly, of course) In other words a gradual
deepening of peace and serenity, from the more ‘bubbling’ joy and
even a sort of excitement and elation (pāmojja) at the breakthrough
to a deep, satisfying peace, to finally complete equanimity, beyond
even a conscious enjoyment.

There are, after all, different descriptions of the process in the suttas
as well as the stereotyped 4 stages, - Vivicceva kāmehi . . etc.
For example -
Yonisomanasikaroto pāmojjaṁ jāyati, pamuditassa pīti jāyati, pītimanassa
kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukhaṁ vedeti, sukhino cittaṁ
samādhiyati, samāhite citte yathābhūtaṁ jānāti passati,
yathābhūtaṁ jānaṁ passaṁ nibbindati, nibbindaṁ virajjati,
virāgā vimuccati. - DIII.288 (PTS)

seems to be a description of the same essential process, but presented as a
more gradual development, rather than sharp switches.

It is moreover very common for the Buddha to express less sharp-cut
differences in a clear, precise sharpness for clarity of presentation.

  • Cattārome puggalā santo saṃvijjamānā lokasmiṃ. AII.93
    (PTS) does not mean there are just 4 clear-cut men, but that there
    are, for convenient presentation, four KINDS of men. In the case of
    the jhāna descriptions, it might be more appropriate, and more in
    accordance with the reality, to think not so much of ‘Four JHĀNAS’,
    sharply distinguished, as of four basic, gradual LEVELS of meditation

Hi synesius!

For those of us who aren’t fluent in Pali, it would be nice if you could also add an English translation or even better a SuttaCentral id to the quote so we could look it up. SInce I have all the Nikayas from Wisdom Publications in book form and they also have the PTS numbering on their pages, I’ve managed to narrow your quote to DN 34 but I still have no idea what paragraph you are referring to.

Also, notice that when I type DN 34, an automatic link to the sutta on SC is created (a paragraph may be added to the link as well). This also works the other way around - when people are reading a certain sutta on SC, they see links to discusions about it on Discourse.

With metta.


Yes, my apologies. It was thoughtless of me. I will try to be more considerate in future! Having been used to the long-established tradition of giving references according to the Pali Text Society page numbering, I find the SuttaCentral reference system very confusing.

The passage in question reads in the English translation in SuttaCentral -

The nine states of mind and body which are rooted in orderly thinking
:—To one so thinking, gladness arises, in him gladdened, rapture arises,
his mind enraptured the body is satisfied, one whose body is thus
appeased is at ease, he being happily at ease, the mind is stayed, with
mind thus stayed, concentrated, he knows he sees [things] as they really
are, and he thus knowing thus seeing turns in repulsion, repelled he
becomes passionless; hence he is set free.

No problem.

And as a further hint, when you select a passage in a sutta (available) on SC and do a right-click on it, a link to the passage shows up in the top left corner. You can then click it to copy it and paste it into your Discourse post. This makes it nice and easy for people to read the passage and the whole sutta, in English or Pali or some other available language:

EDIT: According to Revised "link to selected text" feature this might only work in Chrome.

of course everyone is entitled to viewing anything as they see fit and convenient, but in my view clear (and i assume comprehensive) enumeration of each jhana qualities in traditional stock formulas actually gives guidelines to precise recognition of a jhana and its level, until these qualities are present an experience can’t be called a jhana

the notion of grades might be fitting to the intensity of manifestation of those qualities

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Don’t get me wrong. I have no quarrel with the classic descriptions of jhana. I think they are superb. I just think it is better to see them as stages in a continuous process, not THE JHANAS.

I suppose this mean the four Jhanas as taught by the Buddha followed by the four so-called arupas-Jhanas that was rejected by the Buddha, followed by the stage of cessation of feelings and thinking that was not taught by the Buddha.

also works in Opera :slight_smile:

I think you touch a general problem with the processes that are described by stages. We also have meditation teachers beyond doubt that say the jhanas are not actually experienced, and also in this forum there have been attempts to deconstruct the notion of the jhanas. But I’m afraid the texts are just too clear, and if we take them as they are they unambiguously say that the quality of the experience changes between the jhanas. When it says that vitakka-vicara stop then it’s not a vague idea about some background process that we might notice or not - it’s a fundamental piece of experience.

Take also AN 9.35: Like a wise cow that wants to go to unknown terrain and knows how to walk, a skilled monk goes from jhana to jhana. A foolish cow might have the wish but doesn’t know how to properly walk. The implication of the image is clear I think.

But if I may extend your question to all sorts of dhamma-progress:

  • do we have to complete sati in order to proceed to dhamma-investigation?
  • do we have to complete pamujja in order to move on to piti?
  • is even the gradual path to be taken literally in its stages?
  • or finally, do we have to complete right view in order to at some point come to right speech?

And to add another layer of possiblities: Maybe we don’t have to ‘do’ anything. And if we just know and understand the dhamma well in its literal sense, our inner dhamma-guide will take care of the actual process, and we just have to practice diligently and the right moment to ‘switch’ will take care of itself?

Personally, I see my job in knowing the dhamma to my abilities and then trust the process with experimenting a little bit. If I try to out-think the concepts I just get confused. I wonder about your guys’ experiences.

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this to me is beyond doubt, as practice of right speech is necessarily informed by the dhammic worldview encapsulated in the factor of the right view, without which there aren’t many incentives in practising it in the first place

but it doesn’t happen discretely like first you establish the right view, rest content and do the right speech next, because in my opinion until some degree of awakening is experienced (like in the case of sotapanna who abandons the fetter of doubt in the Dhamma) right view cannot be established firmly enough and in 100% and so as one cultivates the Path there’s a constant feedback from the right view to other path factors, which right speech is one of, as the right view keeps evolving the stronger it is the greater effort is invested into other factors

after all it’s been said

Bhikkhus, just as the dawn is the forerunner and precursor of the sunrise, so right view is the forerunner and precursor of wholesome qualities.

AN 10.121