≡ Menu

Jhana

Thinking a lot about jhana these days. It’s a big topic in the new meditation book I’m writing, so I’m thinking about it more than I ever have.

Jhanas are states of mind that begin when the body and mind are relaxed and the mind is highly focused on some object of meditation. Though Buddhism and other traditions teach that it is imperative to follow very specific rules to get into jhana and move between the jhanas, I’ve found this completely unnecessary. Instead, I used the very method the Buddha used to make the mind ready for jhanas to ‘visit’. The subject will be covered in-depth in the new book. I do hope, if you have an interest in the subject, you’ll have a look when it’s released. True to form, the book will be about $2.99, the same as the first book, “Meditation for Beginners – 22 Day Course.”

I see jhana as the fast-track to big changes. Once getting jhana pretty regularly, the revolution of the mind begins. As far as I can see, the changes, once made, are permanent.

I’ve struggled in the past to describe jhana with words. Every person that has experienced them comes to the same conclusion – it is not easily done. A comprehensive description is never possible, and reading the description does not give the reader the exact experience, nor could it approach it. Words are infinitely incapable of describing these states. It’s sort of like saying, describe the color orange – without using anything else that is orange to tell the person what it is like.

So, having exhausted myself trying to come up with words for the jhanas that could transmit the experience, today I had a thought…

What if I could draw jhana?

There is this driving force inside me that wants to share the experience with others, and yet, I haven’t found a way to do that yet. I’ve made some attempts at description using words here at this site, and at others. I have to say that I’ve never come up with a great description of any of the jhanas using words. They defy description. Then today I wondered if drawing an image of jhana could help people grasp it somehow.

Can jhana be described through a drawing? A photo? A scribble?

I’ve been trying to come up with something for a couple of hours, and so far it’s elusive. If you look at the header image for this website, I made the “8” in Jhana8 to appear as if it is leaning, or falling. This was my attempt at showing that jhana is similar to infinity, in that it is unknowable and completely indescribable.

Having exhausted myself thinking about a visual representation with an image or design I wondered, can it be described with music? Song? Dance? Sculpture? Numbers?

As far as I can see, a representation of jhana cannot be created using any of these.

How can jhana be a real experience and yet totally defy description of any sort? It is completely indescribable. I can only give hints at what it is… never anything resembling the big picture. I can explain tiny pieces of it, and not all that well, but at least it’s something.

It seems that most of the meditative experience is hard to describe with words. This is probably one factor that puts people off it. The milestones are ambiguous. The teachings – from Buddhists all over – often conflict. There is even disagreement over what jhana is and isn’t, the Buddhists are greatly concerned with the factors of jhana and whether they are all present or not, and which ones should be present. Then, there are experiences that occur within the individual that are phenomenological, they don’t occur with other people, they are unique to that person. I’ve had some of these strange experiences that nobody I know has ever had.

So, the goals of meditation are nebulous… the path, ambiguous. How is anyone to reach the higher states of jhana, and enlightenment if nothing is clear?

So, this is some of the problem of writing this next book. I am nearly finished, it will be another two weeks or so, but I think through the many edits I’ve done, this book will be my best effort for helping people to experience the jhanas and the changes that have happened to me with a simple meditation practice of focusing on the breath.

I think this book will be the easiest book to read on the subject, comprehensive, and yet easily understood by all. That is my goal anyway!

4 comments… add one
  • Christian

    Hi Vern,
    I’m really looking forward to your new book – I really liked the first one and also the videos you did where you talk about your experiences, especially since you take such a non-sectarian and practical approach to the whole subject.
    I think some of the descriptions you have formerlyused in your videos are pretty descriptive actually, for instance the way you described your face suddenly feeling like a cone with a sharp tip on the other end.
    My own experiences of these states are very limited, I have tried to reach them for 2 years now, but have nothing much to show for it except for some very short experiences of seemingly altered states. Therefore I would personally be most interested in as detailed explanations as possible of the pre-conditions to and the transition into jhana. For instance, I keep wondering if there is any value in trying to keep your eyes as still as possible while meditating, if one should use a really light touch of attention or bear down on the object of meditation(breath) etc.
    Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences, I think it’s all really useful and interesting for a lot of people.

    Best wishes,
    Christian

  • Hi Christian,

    Thanks for your comment, I enjoyed reading it. I wasn’t sure if the first book, “Meditation for Beginners – 22 Day Course” with it’s focus on meditation without religion, would be all that helpful for people, but the response I’ve been getting through email from readers has been overwhelming. I saw the need for this second book which will get down into the details quite a bit, as well as covering a bigger view of meditation.

    This next book will have detailed descriptions of pre-jhana states and what happens as the transition from one jhana to the next occurs. I do cover the importance of the eyes remaining still, and where the eyes should be looking as one meditates. The eyes are closed, and yet under the eyelids they are looking down and toward the tip of the nose. It is quite helpful to have them remain in one place, still or close to still, but this is sometimes just not going to happen until you calm down a lot – ten minutes after sitting down for your meditation session for instance. It may not happen for a couple dozen meditation sessions either, it does take time for the mind to adjust to the practice and calm a lot. Once it does, concentration becomes a lot easier!

    Re: light attention or strong attention on the breath…

    There is something to be said for both, and there is a time for both. When the mind is still restless, there is no point in trying to force it to focus on a very small sensation. Instead, take a little bigger area of focus, like the whole cycle of the breath, and pay attention to that for a while until the mind calms. Once the mind is more calm, it can then be made to look at a very small area of focus, like the breath at the tip of the nose as it enters and exits. When you have a calm mind and attention is easy to focus, it is best to look at this very small spot and not to waiver. See how many breaths you can get through, focusing on this tiny spot without any thought or other mind movement interrupting.

    Hope that helps!

    The book will give more of the “Big Picture”. If you have any questions once you read the book, do let me know.

    Metta,

    Vern

  • Christian

    Hi Vern,
    thanks for the quick reply to my comment – the timestamp of your answer says 4:18am, you don’t seem to get a lot of sleep if that really was your local time 😀

    I found your points quite interesting, especially the one about the eye positioning, which is something I have thought about a lot during the last 2-3 years. I posted a similar question on the forum at dharmaoverground a while ago, but the consent there was to just not care about eye positioning and let it work out by itself.

    However, some people seem to agree that the eyes appear to lock in to different positions during the jhanas (first down, then up, then extreme focus of the periphery of the “field” – something like that). As I said, I don’t have much jhana experience myself unfortunately, so I can only take what other people have to say as a basis for my own conclusions.

    You recommended a downward focus towards the tip of the nose, which I had never really tried actually. My attempts so far where more to just look straight forward (with closed eyes), and just try to not move the eyes so much (they seem to move a lot when thinking goes on).

    In fact, I have found a website describing the use of keeping the eyes still as a kind of feedback method to know when you stray away from your meditation: the-guided-meditation-site.com/what-is-straight-line-meditation.html

    I much prefer to meditate with my eyes closed, though.

    I am going to try your suggestion, and hope that at some point my brain will be able to just make the jump into a solid jhana and keep working from there. (By the way, I am a bit curious why you have toned down your own meditations so much, since you seem to have such an easy access to these states, and they are usually described as very joyful and feel-good).

    Bye, Christian

  • I get lots of sleep! We’re on Thailand time, so maybe it stamped it according to your timezone. I can assure you that come 4:00 a.m, I am fast asleep!

    Re: eye position. It is something that most people don’t even give a thought to. It’s something that will work itself out for most people.

    You said, “By the way, I am a bit curious why you have toned down your own meditations so much, since you seem to have such an easy access to these states, and they are usually described as very joyful and feel-good.”

    Good question. The want to do it, the desire to do it, has virtually disappeared. I just don’t have any thoughts to do it. Recently I’ve been meditating a bit as I write this next book, to re-familiarize myself with things so I can explain them in words as best I can.

    So, that’s been nice. Still, my mind is so empty all the time I’m quiet, I could look at a couple of questions that senior monks have told me to have a look at… there is just no real desire to do that either. Before this point I meditated to quiet the mind. Now that the mind has flatlined the last couple of years, I think the only thing left is to contemplate some things and see what results. I’m just not attached to the idea of reaching some conclusion with all this… I’m just in a great spot, and maybe will remain here for a long-long time! lol.

    Thanks for your comments. Metta, Vern

Leave a Comment