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Can Jhana Meditation Practice Be Dangerous?

This was a question I received the other day during a coaching call, and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to say. A meditation practice of focusing on the breath can be harmful in rare instances where someone has trauma they’ve not dealt with and it brings up murderous or suicidal intentions.

But can Jhana meditation practice be harmful? With practicing Jhana, the person has already practiced meditation to refine their focus and concentration over hundreds of hours. There was plenty of time for bad feelings and ideas to bubble to the surface during that time.

I told my student I would get back to her. Now I’ve done some research on the topic and will present it here.

Can Practicing Jhana Levels Be Harmful?

Jhana meditation is a deeply focused and absorptive form of practice that offers profound benefits such as heightened concentration, tranquility, and insight. But like any powerful tool, there may be risks to some meditators.

Psychological Challenges

Intense Emotions and Mental States

Practicing Jhana can bring up intense emotions and mental states, including euphoria, deep calm, anxiety, fear, and dread. For some people, these experiences can be so strong that they overwhelming, especially if they arise unexpectedly and the person is not ready to or able to deal with them. The profound stillness and altered states of consciousness can sometimes lead to confusion or fear about losing touch with reality.

This occurs more often when you don’t have a teacher to consult with about your experiences. Some of the experiences are bewildering and it’s good to have someone you can talk to who can assure you that you’re on the right track and that the mind states are harmless, and really rather beneficial.

Authors’s Personal Experience – When I began reaching Jhana consistently during meditation sessions, I didn’t even know what they were. I was in master’s program in psychology and we didn’t have any instructors who taught about the potential of meditation, and in most cases, my professors hadn’t the slightest clue about meditation.

I stopped meditation after one year. I just wasn’t sure I was on a healthy path. All my meditation experiences seemed amazing, but I thought there was some distinct chance that I was going to end up in a psych ward. You can read more about my path and experiences at the About page and the links on that page, including video.

Advice – Approach meditation and Jhana practice gradually and with a stable mind. Regular grounding practices, such as mindfulness of the body and breath, can help maintain balance. if strong negative emotions arise inside or outside your meditation sessions share them with an experienced teacher. Don’t keep it to yourself. It’s always fine to share anything that happens in your practice with an experienced meditation teacher.

Risk of Issues with Dissociation

In deep states of absorption, your sense of self and knowledge of the external world can diminish significantly, even completely.

While this is a natural part of Jhana practice, this dissociation – feeling disconnected from your body and surroundings – can it be problematic for some people. Especailly those who have had a history of trauma-induced dissociative psychological disorders.

Dissociation can also happen after your Jhana session is finished. In my own case, it lasted hours and sometimes even days after I finished my session.

Advice – Having someone close by that can help you stay safe and aware of what’s going on is important after especially strong (solid) Jhana experiences during sessions.

A number of times, hours after my Jhana experience, I found myself sitting silently with my eyes open in a sort of Jhana 4 peace of mind and stillness. I would go in and out of this odd state and sometimes forget what I was doing seconds before. I have a couple of videos that show me in this state where things are not making sense because my normally very active mind is so dulled by the Jhana.

If you have a history of mental health issues or suspect one, consult a mental health professional or an experienced meditation teacher before re-engaging in deep Jhana practice.

Physical Challenges

Neglecting Physical Needs

During deep meditation like Jhana, your awareness of bodily sensations (even pain) can diminish remarkably, leading to the neglect of physical needs such as hydration, nutrition, and comfort. Extended periods of sitting can also cause physical strain or injury. Sitting without moving for a couple of hours a day can form blood clots just like flying in a plane for hours and not moving.

Advice: Meditate for short sessions of an hour if you’re going to be entering Jhana. Sitting for many hours at a time in perfect stillness is not good for the body, especially the legs if you’re sitting on a hard surface cross-legged.

Listen to your body and take walking breaks if you’re involved in multiple meditation sessions in a day. Using a comfortable meditation posture and periodically checking in with your physical state can prevent harm. Incorporating movement practices, like yoga or walking meditation, can also help maintain physical well-being.

Spiritual and Ethical Challenges

Spiritual Bypassing

Jhana meditation can sometimes be used as a form of spiritual bypassing, where individuals use spiritual practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional or psychological issues. This can lead to an imbalance where deep meditative states are pursued at the expense of personal growth and psychological health.

Some people join Buddhist temples primarily to get away from people and to have even more time to theirselves. Some social

Advice: Combine Jhana practice with other forms of meditation, such as mindfulness and loving-kindness, which foster a more integrated approach to spiritual development. Regular self-reflection and, if possible, guidance from a teacher can ensure a balanced practice.

Attachment to States

The bliss and tranquility experienced in Jhana can become addictive, leading practitioners to develop an attachment to these states. People like this are sometimes jokingly referred to as “Jhana Junkies.”

This attachment can hinder further progress on the path and create a dependency on specific experiences rather than cultivating overall mental clarity and liberation.

There are worse things to be addicted to, but your progress will slow down if you’re meditating just to reach Jhana and experience these amazing states almost like the rush of a drug.

Advice: Practice non-attachment by reminding yourself that Jhana states are transient and not the ultimate goal of meditation. Focus on the broader benefits of meditation, such as increased awareness and compassion in daily life.

That said, spending a lot of time in Jhana with or without insight later will change your life for the better. Don’t stress about it too much, but don’t think of Jhana as the ultimate goal.

Practical Challenges

Lack of Proper Guidance

Jhana meditation is a complex practice that requires careful guidance. Without proper instruction, practitioners may misunderstand the stages of Jhana, misinterpret their experiences, or push themselves too hard, leading to frustration or disillusionment.

Advice: Seek guidance from experienced teachers who are knowledgeable about Jhana meditation to ensure you’re on a productive path. The process to reach the initial crucial step of Samadhi (total concentration on the breath) has been called boring by most of my coaching students. A coach can help motivate you to keep practicing and keep you on track.

Takeaways

Jhana meditation offers profound benefits but initially it can be bewildering to anyone who doesn’t have the support of a very knowledgeable teacher. I strongly recommend that if you don’t know someone you can contact, you find someone.

The change to your mind inside Jhana is hard to grasp. Many people are not ready. Fear pops up often as the unknown is approached over and over as you move between the Jhanas. Some people (like I did) can even wonder if the entire process is just a dead end that will result in mental health problems. My problem was I couldn’t find a teacher or coach. Today, the internet makes it much easier.

Fear can crop up anytime during meditation as there are some very odd experiences that can manifest. I collected a bunch of them and put them into a book, “101 Curious and Bizarre Experiences in Meditation.” Have a look.

Read more about Jhana at our Index Page

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