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Reaching Jhana Meditation by Different Traditions

There is some disagreement about Jhana and how to reach it and how to practice it by different traditions. The Buddha had many statements about the Jhanas in the Suttas (Sutras) in the Pali Canon. To me, these seem to be the best source of information.

Disagreement About Jhanas

There is some disagreement among Buddhists and lay practitioners about what exactly constitutes Jhana. Some teachers insist there are some ‘surface Jhanas’ that are similar to, or a reflection of, the real Jhanas. There are several people teaching these and calling them real Jhana.

Some refer to these as ‘soft’ Jhanas.

There are even highly respected writers and intellectuals who 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 hard Jhana experience.

Before she died, Sister Khema taught Leigh Brasington these soft Jhanas and he has been teaching them for many years.

Recently I saw a Buddhist Monk in England teaching these ‘Jhanas’ – Bhante Vimalaramsi. He’s the only Western monk trained in Thailand that I ever heard of who is doing so.

The soft Jhanas don’t appear to require any real effort, someone just sort of talks you into them. The states the people are in when in these soft Jhanas appear nothing like explained by Buddha in the Suttas.

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 the video – see below:

What Is Jhana? Transcript of Henepola Gunaratana >

You’d probably be better off to start with him, he really nails it.

Ajahn Brahm (Peter Betts from the United Kingdom) talks about the Jhanas in this video.

Ajahn Brahm, a Theravada Buddhist monk from the United Kingdom speaking about the Jhanas in a YouTube video.
Ajahn Brahm speaking in the Jhana video above.

My Thoughts on Rob Burbea’s Idea of the Jhanas >

Personal Experience of Entering the Jhanas

My path was unconventional to say the least. In 1997 I had no teacher. I read some books by Aj. Chah of Wat Nong Pa Pong, Buddhadassa of Suan Mokkh, and SN Goenka on Vipassana. These books helped me follow a system that as far as I know, nobody had done before.

I threw out the Buddhism to start with. Just disregarded it. Some of the vocabulary was helpful so I could understand what Buddhists said about meditating, but I practiced nothing resembling Buddhism or Hinduism. I had nobody to guide me. I was on my own.

That said, I followed a fairly strict and very regular practice daily by sitting for 20-30 minutes and focusing on the breath. When the mind wandered, I refocused on the breath.

Once I attained Samadhi (full concentration on the breath for hundreds of breaths) I re-focused on the tingling in my hands. This was my ‘nimitta’ or mind sign and I went into it with a total focus there. Jhana 1 started.

I had no idea what Jhana 1 was, or any of them, but over the next couple of months I was up through all 8 Jhanas. The experiences were life-changing, and yet I didn’t know what had happened really. I yearned for answers and Thai monks at the temples near my home in Temple Terrace, Florida couldn’t explain the experiences.

It wasn’t until 7 years later in 2004 when I was able to connect with Thai monk Santikaro. He had studied for years under Buddhadassa at Suan Mokkh. I called him on the phone and we talked for an hour. He listened intently as I told him about my path and experiences. He told me about Jhana and suggested I may practice more in Thailand at Wat Pah Nanachat.

Anyway, that’s a very short description of my own experience with entering the Jhanas after less than a year of practice. It’s possible. I can probably help you do it as well. Let me know through the coaching link.

Introduction to Jhana (Index) >

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