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Techniques for Entering Jhana

Entering the Jhana levels of Buddhist meditation requires a sustained and dedicated practice and mastery of certain techniques aimed at cultivating deep states of concentration and absorption. Here are some of the most well known techniques used to enter Jhana.

6 Methods for Jhana Entry

Anapanasati (mindfulness of breath) – This is primarily the method Theravada Buddhist monks here in Thailand teach.

Anapanasati is a foundational meditation technique in Buddhism that involves focusing attention on the breath. Practitioners observe the natural rhythm of inhalation and exhalation, cultivating mindfulness and concentration. As concentration deepens, awareness becomes increasingly absorbed in the breath, leading to the potential for entering Jhana states.

Some monks teach a finite focus on a small portion of the breath, and others teach to be aware (mindful) of the entire cycle of breath until you become one with it. This is essentially Samadhi, just like focusing on the feeling of the breath at a small part of the nose, but with a bigger – more general – focus.

Kasina Meditation (mental objects) – In Kasina meditation, the meditator typically begins with the eyes open, focusing on a visual object or symbol. However, whether the eyes remain open or closed during the practice can vary depending on personal preference and the specific instructions provided by a teacher or tradition.

Kasina meditation involves focusing on a visual object, such as a colored disc, candle flame, or other visual stimuli. The practitioner concentrates on the visual object with unwavering attention, allowing the mind to become absorbed in the perception of the object. With sustained concentration, the perception of the object can become more vivid and immersive, leading to the potential for entering the First Jhana.

Options:

  1. Eyes Open – Some people prefer to keep their eyes open throughout Kasina meditation, especially when using an external visual object such as a colored disc, candle flame, or natural scenery. Keeping the eyes open can help maintain alertness and clarity of perception, as the visual object serves as a focal point for concentration.
  2. Eyes Closed – Some meditators close their eyes because they are using a mental image as the object of focus, not a visual one. Closing the eyes can minimize distractions and facilitate inward concentration, allowing full immersion into the mental image.
  3. Combination of Both – Of course, you can start with your eyes open focusing on something like the orange glow of an incense stick, and change to a mental image when you feel concentration getting refined.

Metta Bhavana (Loving-kindness Meditation) – Metta Bhavana is a meditation practice aimed at cultivating feelings of loving-kindness, compassion, and goodwill towards oneself and others. Practitioners systematically generate feelings of loving-kindness through the repetition of phrases or visualization of beneficent beings. As the heart opens and loving-kindness permeates the mind, it can lead to deep states of concentration and tranquility conducive to entering Jhana states.

Body Scan Meditation – Body scan meditation involves systematically directing attention through different parts of the body, observing sensations with mindfulness and equanimity. By cultivating heightened bodily awareness and deepening concentration, practitioners may enter Jhana states characterized by profound physical and mental relaxation.

5 Hindrances Contemplation – The Five Hindrances (desire, aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, doubt) are mental obstacles that hinder progress in meditation. Practitioners contemplate these hindrances with mindfulness, investigating their nature and observing their arising and passing away. By cultivating insight into the transient and conditioned nature of the hindrances, practitioners can overcome them and enter Jhana states characterized by purity of mind.

Author’s Note – Buddhists, and really everyone I’ve ever seen teach meditation to reach Jhana insist that elimination or very severe reduction in the 5 hindrances is necessary before you can enter into Jhana.

I disagree. I never made any effort to reduce the hindrances beyond what I did in a meditation session. Meaning, in my daily life I did nothing to cut down the hindrances or even pay them any attention. I had plenty of restlessness, worry, doubt, desire, and aversion. PLENTY.

I think it should be taught only that these hindrances need to be muted as you are meditating, or they can interfere with your session, and potentially you’re entering the Jhana states. With my practice, this happened naturally as a result of the benefits of meditation as my practice progressed.

So, just to be clear, without ANY attention to the hindrances at any time in my daily life, I reached the Jhanas in 6-7 months anyway. Insisting it’s necessary has quite a negative effect on people who want to reach the Jhanas. Many will give up, realizing that eliminating these 5 things from their daily living is near impossible and certainly not worth the mental gymnastics and continual failure and the feelings that accompany that.

Nimitta Meditation (mental sign) – A Nimitta is a mental image or sign that arises during meditation, often appearing as a visual or tactile sensation. It is created entirely by the mind. Your eyes are closed, it isn’t really ‘there’. Meditators can focus attention on the nimitta, allowing it to stabilize and become increasingly vivid and/or grow in size. With sustained concentration on the nimitta, your mind can be launched into the first Jhana with just a little smile or good feelings.

Author’s Note – This was the usual method I used to enter Jhana after reaching 100% focused concentration on the breath (Samadhi) during a very tight focus in Anapanasati. I switched my focus from the feeling of the breath at the nose to the nimitta and smiled a little bit to start the 1st Jhana.

Samatha-Vipassana Integration – Some people when they meditate will combine Samatha (concentration) and Vipassana (insight) meditation practices to cultivate both deep states of absorption and insight into the nature of reality. By alternating between focused concentration and mindful awareness of sensory experience, meditators can develop a balanced approach to meditation that may lead to the attainment of the Jhana states.

Takeaways

There appear to be numerous ways to enter the Jhanas. To be honest, I can’t imagine any technique easier than the one I used – Anapanasati with a very tight focus on the feeling on the breath on the nose, and then a nimitta that popped up in the mind or as a tingling in the body somewhere (for me – feet or hands usually).

Some teachers or traditions insist that their way is the right way, and there is no flexibility on this. I believe there may be other ways to enter Jhana that I haven’t experienced. I’ve only experienced one way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t 200 other ways to do it.

I don’t care how someone says they entered, I look more at what their experience of the jhanas was because it shouldn’t differ between people too much. Their interpretation of what was going on may differ slightly, but there must be parallels that can be drawn between all Jhana experiences. I’ve found that to be true repeatedly over time.

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