The 4 Jhana

A Howto:

Go to a secluded place

Close eyes take up a meditation topic and concentrate, for example on breathing in and out.

Repeat ONE thought bringing back the mind and trying to “establish” it on this one topic implied by the thought, i.e.”in” – “out” – “in” – “out”….. mind will start “dwelling”, “resting”, “abiding” on the breathing if it does not wander off anymore. The same with “buddho” or “light” or “water” or “loving kindness” – “loving kindness” – “loving kindness”….

Once the mind starts to “abide”, “dwell” and seems to effortlessly glide, see the descriptions below to see whether you are in a “jhana” (absorption).

Cmp. Simile of the six animals
Cmp. Simile of the eagle flapping its wings
Cmp. The water similes (see also below next to charts)

Footnote: Do not mistake “contemplations” (chatting and wandering of the mind with concentration and single-pointedness. The happiness resulting from the former is more a kusala-vipaka, no meditative absorption)

What will your jhanas consist of? The five factors:

Vitakka –
Thought of Meditation topic, the “one” thought you concentrate on, i.e. “in”-“out” (Anapanasati) or “buddho” in Buddhanussati or “light” in Kasina Meditation

Vicara –
The sustained dwelling on the thought, used to prolong the concentration and used to “jump-start” the minds ability to entirely self-rest on the meditation topic, to abide effortless in an ongoing state of resting. Cmp the simile of the eagle flapping (vitakka) its wings interspersed with him soaring for a while (vicara).

Piiti-
a joyful rapture, exciting joy, moving happiness

Sukha – a bliss, blissful happiness, gladness, deep happiness, calm and relaxing happiness, bubbling happiness from within usually encompassing the parts of the (upper) body; cmp Buddhas similes of a lake with fountains from within

Ekaggata –
one-pointedness, upekkha, concentration, deep equanimity, serenity, full unwaving concentration, effortless abiding, mental unity, sharp attention (no dizziness, or tiredness) but razor-like alert tranquility, usually with a feeling of the body being a block, or united as a whole, cmp Buddha’s simile with the cloth, covering the whole

The Eagle soars:
The simile of the eagle flapping (vitakka) its wings interspersed with him soaring for a while (vicara), repeating this process until he finds a stream of warm air carrying him up (piiti) from where he can blissfully (sukha) glide (ekaggata, upekkha) until just this steady calm gliding is archieved, the feeling of being on top of the highest coolest mountain looking down with cool unwavering equanimity….

What is the biggest challenge in jhana/serenity meditation for a beginner?

To keep the mind on one thought and one thought only. To consistently come back to the meditation topic as soon as it starts to wander.

What is the biggest challenge for the intermediate meditator with 6 month to 1 year of practise?

Not to stumble over the jhanas but to recognize them as to what they are – then to master them. However, if they and especially the factors which make them up (=> which are like signposts on the gradual transformation of the mind from a restless towards an effortless sustained dwelling in a state of high concentration) are not “tagged” by the mind and clearly recognised it will be hard
to get back into the jhana on a consistent basis. Once you know what they are and “how they feel like” your mind can go back into them pretty easy. The training in mastery will include entering, abiding, leaving, jumping with “determinations”. Training by clock will be appreciated.

What is the biggest challenge for the person who can recognize the jhanas?

To master their attainment, entering, abiding, leaving, jumping into and between them by will and for any time determined at

How does the process of the mind moving between the jhanas look like?

Have a look at the charts:

1.Jhana
“Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

2.Jhana
“Furthermore, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters and remains in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. Just like a lake with spring-water welling up from within, having no inflow from the east, west, north, or south, and with the skies supplying abundant showers time and again, so that the cool fount of water welling up from within the lake would permeate and pervade, suffuse and fill it with cool waters, there being no part of the lake unpervaded by the cool waters; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure.

3.Jhana
“And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains in equanimity, is mindful & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding.’ He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. Just as in a lotus pond, some of the lotuses, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture.

4.Jhana

“And furthermore, with the abandoning of pleasure and stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress — he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure nor stress. He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. Just as if a man were sitting covered from head to foot with a white cloth so that there would be no part of his body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the monk sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness.

This should be all you need to know. The rest is practice!

Further links:

Another very good description of “walking through the 4 jhanas”
Many descriptions of one and the same thing, if experienced 🙂
Use the 4th jhana to modify the equanimity/one-pointedness and go through the 4 arrupas

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