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!

8 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

  4. Hi Vern! You shared this link at:
    http://www.personalpowermeditation.com/how-i-discovered-access-concentration-and-jhana/#comment-96708

    What exactly do you mean by “surface jhana” ? Is it a “light/soft” jhana where you don’t lose awareness of your surroundings ? That is the kind of jhana Ayya Khema abd Leigh Brasington teach.
    Are you aware of the debate regarding soft vs hard jhanas ?
    I had asked you about total absorption jhanas(Hard Jhanas) because many people who practice strenous concentration claim that by “gentler” approaches they only reach soft jhana aka awareness of their surroundings exists at some level. On the other hand a few people like Ajahn Brahm(and now you) say that you reach a hard jhana by a gentler method.

    I personally have reached a hard jhana only recently. I practice a kind of “do nothing” meditation, where I literally do nothing. My mind tends to settle down on either the breath or my “sense of I-ness” deepening into bliss. I have now added a feeling of surrender to this acceptance/let go , as it really deepens the Acceptance by melting the “hard/intellectual” ego that is really very crystallized in me. I go back to this surrender throughout the day, falling back into my “natural self”. Goal orientation makes me neurotic. This has given me many benefits including better and deeper listening skills, contentment, better relationships, energy, enthusiasm at the right time etc. Though hard jhana is not as yet a controllable phenomenon, I tend to sit with the attitude that I will have the experience that Universe/God has willed for me at this moment. However moments of bliss are increasing in frequency.

  5. Hi Arpan, thanks much for your comment… yes, I’m sort of aware of the hard vs. soft jhana camps. I don’t really argue about it. I have never had a soft jhana… so not sure what it even is… just know that it is not what I experienced.

    I’m not sure what you mean by gentler approach to jhana… I only did what I outline in both of my books – Meditation for Beginners – a 22 day course, and “secrets for success” – both at amazon – just search my name: vern lovic. I think my style is gentle… but not sure how you’re defining it.

    Yes, the idea to “let go” – was something I did extensively while meditating. I think it’s one of the main keys. It’s detailed in the books – the secrets book really goes into more detail.

    I like your do-nothing meditation idea. I sort of do that… for the past i don’t know – 6-8 yrs. I dont do traditional meditation any longer… I should do a video about that I think.

    Have you added any mindfulness of the present moment to your practice? I think it helps. It might help tremendously, I can only say I’ve done it and think it helped me. Might help you.

    OK, cheers then, thanks for taking the time to send me this msg… loved reading it.

    Oh, and the hard jhana being a controllable phenomenon – is likely impossible. You get there by letting go – no control at all…

    Cheers!

  6. @ Vern:
    By “gentler” approaches I meant like yours: acknowledging thoughts and returning to the object. The kind of approaches that are not “stern” and “strenous”. It is these approaches that Illuminatus was criticizing in his article on personalpowermeditation.com which you addressed.

    “Soft jhana” is one in which khana factors like Ekaggata (one pointedness), piti (physical rapture) and sukha (emotional bliss) are present (talking about 1st jhana here) but sensory perception of outer environmental sounds etc has not completely ceased, nor has nimitta (a bright light which is the sign of concentration just before entering a hard jhana) appears.

    By “controlling” hard jhana, I meant the ability to repeat it in meditation at Will. I understand that WHILE on cushion one needs to let go.

    I used to practice all day mindfulness which you mentioned. However now I am trying to make my practice as “uncontrived” as possible. In my experience what’s important is the inner-attitude and not the outer form you give to your practice/concentration. An example: If you meditate on metta or Divine love, you need not repeat same sentences/images everyday. It’s best to just invoke that attitude and let your mind-body create whatever feelings/words/images that it is inclined to on that particular day. Essential thing is focus on metta/divine-love, not the particular external forms. Thus, now I just “surrender”/ do-nothing whenever I find myself “intentionally” doing something at any level of mind or emotion(except for what actual task I am performing). This creates a state of receptivity, acceptance and beautitude, in which sometimes the mind settles on the breath in an uncontrived manner for the entire day Or on a mystical idea I am inclined to: Seeing the One in All things, All things in One, All things as One (this becomes natural when the mind is very non reactive and equal-sighted in all phenomenon and everything seems to have a fresh, glassy look). The outer form that concentration takes depends on your natural proclivity basically.

    Even during formal sitting Do Nothing meditation: some people who have done breath meditation for years, awareness naturally rests on breath. For some who used to practice witnessing-thoughts method (like me) awareness naturally rests on sense of self, “I”, which is akin to self enquiry. Some I know get beautific vision of their favourite deity. Thus, Do Nothing seems to be a mother-practice that can take any outer form.

    For hyper-technical process oriented minds who are habituated to an “anchor”, Do Nothing can be very confusing to practice.
    For each audience (I was in that camp) I find this video as the best starting point:
    https://youtu.be/cZ6cdIaUZCA

    This is I guess one reason why related practices of the “Path of Surrender” like devotion to God etc easily skyrockets illiterate people into deep ecstasy while it does not find favour with the more modern-educated.

    Thanks!

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