What is Jhana During Meditation?

In my own words, jhana is a range of experiences which occurs when the mind is well-concentrated on some small object of meditation (for me, the breath at the nostrils). The body is totally at peace without tension, pain, or even feeling the body at all in the later jhanas. The mind is quiet, there is no extraneous thought going on. With the exception of the first couple jhanas there is no feeling of the body, no emotion. The mind remains focused on the object of meditation very tightly until the focus is changed to the jhana experience.

Jhana comes when you are not expecting it… wanting it, attached to the idea that it will, should, must, or better come. Jhana comes only when the mind has let go of all attachments for it, or for anything else. The mind must be so calm and focused that nothing is produced by thought. If fear, hope, anxiety, or any other emotion about jhana coming – is evident… jhana remains elusive.

When jhana does come, it is felt (by me) as a transformation of consciousness. It is as if the mind is washed over by this new experience unlike anything I have ever known as a conscious non-jhannic human being going through life. When jhana comes or starts – the senses of the body are no longer operating. Touch, sight, smell, hearing, tasting – they are paused, or on hold. They do not interfere with, taking away from – or adding to the jhana state. They are absent or just unaccounted for… sensory stimulation through our normal channels doesn’t lead to the mind recognizing them.

Memory does work during jhana – and after it leaves, you can sit down at the computer and write about your experiences if you so choose. Often times I couldn’t conjure up any ‘want’ ‘need’ or other motivation to do so for hours or days after the fact. Jhana seems to reprogram the mind for a while. The effects of the jhana state – especially a strong one that lasts for some minutes or hours, can last a long time. When you open your eyes after the focused jhana has stopped – you can remain in an odd state where you are not entirely your old self. You are you, sure. You are maybe missing some of the wants, drives, ambition, needs, and motivations that you are usually infused with. These things seem to be gone, suppressed, or just not available to the mind – not fueling the mind at all. The mind can remain quite concentrated and ‘free’ for a number of minutes, and even hours after experiencing jhana.

There are different jhanas – they differ in what makes up the experience. I wouldn’t say each one as they progress is better or worse, but, there is a decrease of factors comprising them as one goes further into them. The eighth jhana, as it is sometimes called – is quite a bizarre situation to find yourself in. It is like being in limbo of being alive or dead. It’s not literal, of course – you’re sitting there on the floor very much alive and you’re not going to pass away during jhana. But, the feeling – the knowing, is that the situation is like that limbo state.

Jhana doesn’t accidentally come to people during sleep or hypnosis (that I am aware of). Jhana doesn’t happen unless the mind is ready for it to happen. Usually this involves application of one’s self to meditation on some sense object, as mentioned. Some people are able to experience jhana in months… and for many it takes years. There are very few people with experience of jhana – and yet I think anyone on the planet, could experience it, if they applied themselves.

So, that is my short idea about what jhana is… if you would like to hear more about it from a Buddhist perspective – There are a number of great teachers on the subject. I’ll add some links to the bottom of this page as I find them to share with you.

Before I do so I have to say, there is some disagreement among Buddhists and lay practitioners about what exactly constitutes jhana. Apparently there are some ‘surface jhanas’ that are similar to, or a reflection of, the real jhanas. There are a number of people teaching these and calling them real jhana. There are even highly respected writers and intellectuals which have come to believe these teachers are teaching the real jhana. They study them as subjects in experiments of the mind, and so on. It’s a rather sad state of things because what they are teaching differs qualitatively and substantially from a true jhana experience.

The following teachers are very familiar with true jhana, and I don’t recommend you follow anyone else about the subject unless they agree with what has been written by these teachers.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk. He has two amazing publications for free download in PDF format (click one below to download):

If you’d like to see his quick 17 minute overview of jhana in video – see below:

I was going to add links to some other monks and nuns that understand jhana, but really – Bhante Gunaratana is the master and his writings are easily understood. Probably best to start with him!

5 thoughts on “What is Jhana During Meditation?”

  1. Dear Vern,
    Me again :-). I just commented on your blog post, and then i read this piece about jhana.

    I have a question … is jhana considered a ‘good’ thing? A desireable state to reach? Is it something that people look forward to attaining, as with the idea of enlightenment? If so, ehy? I dont get it. I understand the concept of enlightenment; how finally breaking free of ego and illusion is a very desireable place to be. But, this jhana feels confusing to me … it almost soundz like something to avoid. Especially considering how it seems to strip away all feeling, including joy and wonder. Call me crazy, but i’m quite a fan of joy and wonder … it’s the one thing that keeps me going these days. Being awestruck by the wonders of this world around me. what is the benefit of jhana if it numbs a person out to the extent you describe? Thanks for putting up with me! I really am genuinely curious about this jhana; i am nog asking this rhetorically. Im just so confused aboug it!

  2. P.s. sorry for all tbose typos and poorly worded phrases! I’m tying with one finger on my kindle, and i made the mistake of not proofreading before hitting submit :-o.

  3. Hi Maureen,

    Jhana is something that most Buddhists see as the holy grail, I mean, if they are serious about getting somewhere. Some teachers don’t even bother teaching about it, and that’s a shame, but the Buddha said Jhana isn’t necessary… but it is good to have it. Don’t quote me… lol.

    Jhana are a series of experiences. Most break them out into levels. They are levels of letting go of ‘you’. They are mysterious, fun, amazing, phenomenal, and yet, they are all just part of a natural process that begins to occur when the mind has slowed down enough to focus on just one sensation / object. They aren’t religious (to me), they aren’t magical, they are nothing outside of the ordinary… it’s just that to get them to start, you have to do something that allows them to start. You have to loosen the grip on yourself and focus the mind at a very small point (many use the breath where it comes into and exits the nostrils).

    So, that’s about it. Once you start getting jhana pretty good, the potential to start a process rolling which pulls you toward what the Buddhists call nibbana – is there. It seems to have been progressing right along in my head, whether I continue meditating or not, and this has been over the last 12+ years…

    It’s a case of, “Be careful what you ask for.” Now my mind is empty, and yet I cannot create like I used to. My mind was an idea factory before meditating. I could churn out great ideas in a very short time. Today I’m stymied. I come up with small things, and the big ideas elude me. The silence in my mind is not frightening, and doesn’t cause sadness… but, I wish the mind would go one way or the other… nibbana or let me go back to being a great idea guy. I have books to write, mouths to feed. If I could turn the clock back, I’m not sure I’d have meditated at all. In spite of the amazing experiences and peace of mind I have… I don’t know that it’s better at all to what I had before. Well, impossible to compare. Better in many ways. Not so good for creativity at the moment. Lol.

    Ok then, thanks for your comments. 🙂 Vern

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