[Page updated 2 December 2019]
Jhana is a controversial subject among people discussing it, for some obvious reasons you’ll appreciate as we get into the topic here.
Theravada Buddhists have their interpretation of the Jhanas, based on what Buddha said about them.
There are some self-professed Buddhists who claim that ‘shallow Jhanas’ are really what is important, and they make a show of walking a person through the levels of Jhana in YouTube videos just by guiding them verbally through them.
Of course, to Buddhists who practice meditation their entire lives to reach Jhana, this appears to be a mockery of what they believe in.
Both sides have reasons for their beliefs. Personally, I side with the Buddhist monks and others across the world who believe the ‘hard Jhanas’ are the important ones. Whether or not the ‘soft’ or ‘shallow’ Jhanas exist at all, doesn’t concern me too much because my meditation practice resulted in the hard Jhanas without any knowledge of what they even were, or how I might reach them.
WHAT IS JHANA (Dyanna)?
Jhana (Dyanna in Thai Theravada Buddhist language) are experiences in the mind usually brought on by meditation of some kind. Jhana are stages of relaxation in the mind that transition from one to the next by letting go of things present in the mind. Once let go, a new stage with different features is revealed. Sort of like layers of an onion. Each subsequent (higher) Jhana is contained within the previous Jhana, and all Jhanas are contained entirely within the mind.
The 4 (or 8) JHANAS
Some say there are four Jhana levels, others say there are eight levels. I’ve been privileged to see eight, so we’ll name them and describe them briefly here.
The Jhanas have some common features, described perfectly by Ajahn Brahm here:
1. There is no possibility of thought;
2. No decision-making process is available;
3. There is no perception of time;
4. Consciousness is non-dual, making comprehension inaccessible;
5. Yet one is very, very aware, but only of bliss that doesn’t move; and
6. The five senses are fully shut off, and only the sixth sense, mind, is in operation.
The 4 Material Jhanas
Feeling: happy; joy; bliss; love; building joy
Intensity: feeling builds to overwhelming bliss
The 4 Immaterial Jhanas
WHY ATTAIN JHANA?
Why should someone go through the effort to reach Jhana? The Buddhist perspective is that Buddha attained enlightenment (freedom from suffering, nibbana) after going through all the Jhana levels. Living in the world is to be suffering, and Jhana practice is one path leading to freedom from all suffering.
Having gone through the Jhanas without becoming enlightened (that I know of), I can say that time in the Jhanas gives us a knowledge of our own mind and how it works. It gives us tools we can use to control our emotions before they cause harm to ourselves or others. It gives us tools we can use to get a bigger perspective of life here on this planet as human beings surrounded by others, and how important social harmony is.
Another reason you might pursue the Jhanas is that the experiences awaiting you inside your own mind are nothing short of miraculous, for lack of a better term. As I meditated daily and watched small changes occur in my life, I hadn’t the slightest idea Jhanas were around the corner. I hadn’t the slightest idea even what they were as I went through them one-by-one. Each level is something to behold, something to cause you endless wonder about later when you come out of your meditation session. It’s certainly worth experiencing Jhana whether or not you have any of the reasons in the two previous paragraphs driving you. Do it because you can, and because it’s there for you… a gift perhaps, from whatever began this dance.
HOW TO REACH JHANA?
Buddhists will insist that there is a very strict path that must be followed in order to enter into Jhana. This path is based on what Buddha said 2,500 years ago. This path is, in their minds, according to their religion, the only way that Jhana can be experienced.
This author disagrees, but that’s a topic for another page here at Jhana8.com. We’ll talk about how I came to Jhana without (much) Buddhism at all. Let me clarify that the physical process and mental process of my meditation could loosely be considered “Buddhist,” but I didn’t follow rules of Buddhism like the Eight-fold Path or other rules. It’s entirely unnecessary to take the 100% Theravada Buddhist approach to finding Jhana. Other paths exist. I only know of one. Because I found one that works, there may be others.
FURTHER READING ABOUT JHANA
If you’re looking for a bible on the subject of Jhana – something where you can really dive deep into the subject and know all that you can possibly know intellectually about it before you experience it, the following will show you how.
There are two incredibly detailed Buddhist texts on Jhana that I have found to match 100% my own experiences in which Jhana was experienced but without following Buddhist rules.
- The Jhanas, by Ajahn Brahmavamso (link to website)
- A Critical Analysis of the Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation, by Henepola Gunaratana (download 252-page PDF)