The Buddha on Jhanas

Jhana, the Meditative State

by Jayaram V

Jhana refers to meditative states. It is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit Dhyana. The purpose of Buddhist meditative practices is cleansing the mind and body and establishing unified awareness, peace and equanimity, in short, Nirvana or freedom from suffering. It involves concentration, meditation and mindfulness in conjunction with other practices on the Eightfold Path. The Buddha exhorted his followers to practice meditation to overcome the hindrances of the mind and experience unified awareness or Jhana. He also explained the distinguishing features of the Jhanas which arise from such a practice. The Anguttara Nikaya describes the four states of Jhana and their distinguishing features in Buddha’s own words. It is reproduced below. You will also find a brief summary of the same in the subsequent section.

Jhana in Buddha’s Words

The Blessed One said: "Now what, monks, is five-factored noble right concentration?”

“There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation.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. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by 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, suffuses and fills 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. This is the first development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

"Furthermore, with the stilling of directed thought and evaluation, 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. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure.

"Just like a lake with spring-water welling up from within, having no inflow from east, west, north, or south, and with the skies periodically supplying abundant showers, 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 and pervades, suffuses and fills 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. This is the second development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

"And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains in equanimity, mindful and alert, and physically sensitive to pleasure. He enters and remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous and mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding.' He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture, so that there is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture.

"Just as in a blue-, white-, or red-lotus pond, there may be some of the blue, white, or red lotuses which, 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 blue, white, or red lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture. This is the third development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

"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-pain. He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness, so that there is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness.

"Just as if a man were sitting wrapped 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 his body with a pure, bright awareness. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness. This is the fourth development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

"And furthermore, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-considered, well-tuned by means of discernment.

"Just as if one person were to reflect on another, or a standing person were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person were to reflect on a person lying down; even so, monks, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-pondered, well-tuned by means of discernment. This is the fifth development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

"When a monk has developed and pursued the five-factored noble right concentration in this way, then whichever of the six higher knowledges he turns his mind to know and realize, he can witness them for himself whenever there is an opening.

Summary

The following is a summary of the above stated discourse, showing the factors that are to be abandoned and the factors that manifest in each Jhana..

First Jhana

Renounced factors: Withdrawal from sensuality, withdrawal from unskillful qualities

Acquired or retained factors: Directed thought, evaluative thought, one pointedness, rapture, pleasure

Second Jhana

Renounced factors: Directed Thought and Evaluative thought

Acquired or retained factors: Unified awareness, rapture and pleasure

Third Jhana

Renounced factors: Rapture

Acquired or retained factors: Unified awareness and pleasure with equanimity, mindfulness and physical sensitivity

Fourth Jhana

Renounced Factors: Pleasure

Acquired or retained factors: Pure and bright and unified awareness with equanimity, mindfulness and sameness towards pleasure and pain. With that he also possesses discernment

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