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The Eight Jhanas (Jhanas 1-4 and 4 Arupa Jhanas)

Jhana Levels

There are 8 different levels of Jhana – they differ in what makes up the experience. I wouldn’t say each one as they progress is better or worse but there is a decrease of factors comprising them as one goes further into them. They become less tangible. Less objective. There is less to experience.

The early Jhanas involve some feel-good feelings which dissipate by the fourth Jhana. There is no emotion, wanting, thinking, or doing in the fourth Jhana through the eighth.

The fifth through the eighth Jhanas are often not numbered but are described by the experience instead.

Jhana doesn’t accidentally come to people during sleep or hypnosis (that I am aware of). Jhana doesn’t happen unless the mind is ready for it to happen. Usually, this involves the application of one’s self to meditation on some sense object, as mentioned.

Some people can experience Jhana in months… and for most people, it takes years of meditative practice. There are very few people with experience of Jhana – and yet I think anyone on the planet could experience it if they applied themselves.

According to the Pali Canon, there are eight stages of Jhana called the First Jhana through the Fourth Jhana and then 4 Arupa or Immaterial Jhanas.

The first four Jhanas (Rupa Jhanas) are characterized by some conscious mind activity. The senses are shut off, but the mind is capable of producing two types of joy or happiness. The next four Jhanas are the “Arupa Jhanas,” “Immaterial,” or, “formless Jhanas”.

In order to get into the Jhanas, among other things, the mind should be free of the Five Hindrances. These are sensual attachment, anger, slothfulness, anxiety, and skepticism.

First Jhana

In the 1st Jhana, the meditator can experience a very strong, even overwhelming bliss. Many will claim to have reached Nibbana at this stage. The level of joy and bliss rises exponentially, adding more and more when you think no more could be possible.

This is a truly ecstatic experience that can be reached by focusing on the breath without lapse, and then refocusing that concentration on the mind to a visual nimitta, or a feeling in the body as your nimitta.

During the 1st Jhana there is no awareness of input by the bodily senses like sight, sound, etc.

Factors Present: 1. Applied thought. 2. Sustained thought. 3. Piti (rapture) 4. Sukha (happiness) 5. Unification of mind (one-pointedness).

Note – First jhana experiences are notoriously flitty. It’s rare for a person to first enter Jhana and have a rock solid Jhana without being able to sense anything with the ears, and sense of touch. There were many times when I entered into the first Jhana and popped right back out because of anxiety, fear, grasping, excitement, anticipation, etc.

With time in the 1st Jhana, it fades… it calms down. It isn’t so emotional, exciting.

It must be let go of to continue into the 2nd Jhana.

Second Jhana

A refinement of the 1st Jhana, the 2nd Jhana has joy and happiness, and peacefulness. There is no input from the senses. There is a quality of ease or tranquility that can be felt. The mind is very peaceful with elements of refined piti and sukha.

Factors Present: 1. Piti (rapture) 2. Sukha (happiness) 3. Unification of mind (one-pointedness).

Anything present must be let go of to continue into the 3rd Jhana.

Third Jhana

The joy and bliss and happiness of the 1st and 2nd Jhanas slips away and is replaced by a refinement of the mind which feels more like peace, contentment, equanimity, and balance. There is something of a more tangible quality here that can be focused on. Unlike the next Jhana.

There is neutrality.

Factors Present: 1. Sukha (happiness) 2. Unification of mind (one-pointedness). 3. Equanimity 4. Mindfulness 5. Discernment.

It must be let go of to continue into the 4th Jhana.

Fourth Jhana

With abandoning pleasure and pain, the meditator enters into the fourth Jhana. A neutral feeling moves in to take the place of happiness.

The 4th Jhana is a remarkable state of peace, balance, and quiet mind. The mind is stable and not flitty. It is solid and unmoving. The state of the 4th Jhana can also lead some meditators to believe they have experienced Nibbana.

There are no feelings, wants, desires, or dichotomy of any kind available to look at with the mind. The mind is content as it is and seeks nothing more. As with all the other Jhanas, the key to passing through this Jhana is to sit with it, without attachment to any experience. Let go of this Jhana to progress further.

Some meditation teachers teach that the 4th Jhana is the last Jhana. However, there is a further refinement of this Jhana into 4 more levels – 5th Jhana, 6th Jhana, 7th Jhana, and 8th Jhana. It’s easier just to call them their own Jhana. These are the “Arupa Jhanas.”

Factors Present: 1. Neutral feeling. 2. One-pointedness of mind.

Everything must be let go of to continue into the 5th Jhana.

These are the arupa or immaterial Jhanas. They don’t go by a number in Buddhist texts, but by their description. Most teachers use a number as well to help identify the Jhana.

Fifth Jhana – The Base of Boundless Space (Realm of Infinite Space)

As the fifth Jhana is uncovered, the feeling of the mind, of perception, growing outward to fill all space is present. It is not a feeling of ‘looking down’ as I have heard some describe it. At least I’ve never felt it that way. The feeling comes from the mind only and the mind is expanding outward from a point of reference.

That point of reference is quickly not felt and instead, the meditator’s mind and consciousness seem to fill all space outwardly, quickly expanding. I have experienced this at a fast pace and at a slower pace.

When fast, the mind is literally ‘blown’ as one lets go of a traditional ‘me’ frame of reference, of the ego basically, and expands to fill all space.

Factors Present: 1. Equanimity/Neutral feeling. One-pointedness.

It must be let go of to continue into the 6th Jhana.

Sixth Jhana – The Base of Boundless Consciousness (Realm of Infinite Consciousness)

When the vastness that the mind is filling up is let go of, the meditator ego seems to take all that surrounds, all that is, and assimilate it into itself. It’s that classic – body and mind and everything are one feeling that some say they feel to some degree in various states of intoxication, meditation, or lucidity.

The 6th Jhana is also often taken for Nibbana because this is some people’s idea about the state. This isn’t nibbana in the Buddhist sense, but it is a feeling in the mind that is incredible and unforgettable.

Factors Present: 1. Equanimity/Neutral feeling. One-pointedness.

It must be let go of to continue into the 7th Jhana.

Seventh Jhana – The Base of Nothingness (Realm of Infinite Nothingness)

As one spends time in the 7th Jhana the feeling of interconnectedness from the 6th Jhana fades slowly, and sometimes VERY slowly to a point of nothing seen and nothing imagined. It’s no longer a feeling of oneness but a feeling of no body, no mind, no thoughts, no self, no objects, no time, just emptiness.

This emptiness is total and goes on and on. It’s a feeling of not really being ‘there’. Not really existing. Non-existence. There is no feeling of fear because in the higher Jhanas, when solid, there are no feelings like that.

It’s just an acceptance of nothing there, nothing coming, nothing ever having been passed through.

Realization dawns that this infinite consciousness contains nothing permanent – the universe is always in flux.

Factors Present: 1. Equanimity/Neutral feeling. One-pointedness.

It must be let go of to continue into the 8th Jhana.

Eighth Jhana – The Base of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception (Realm of)

As the 7th Jhana is experienced for a while, sometimes for hours, a profound state of stillness exists in the body and mind. It’s as if you never existed at all. You are only vaguely aware of any perception of anything at all. None of your senses have worked since the early Jhanas. You’re just in a sort of void.

Then you can barely perceive something that is there. It’s an odd sort of state that seems to be showing us what our lives, the world, the cosmos, the ultimate reality is based on.

There arises this sense of a dichotomy. Only that. The dichotomy is not clear of what 2 things, what 2 ideas… there is only this vague feeling that a dichotomy exists.

The experience of the eighth Jhana is quite a bizarre situation to find yourself in. It is like being in a limbo of being alive or dead. It’s not literal, of course – you’re sitting there on the floor very much alive and you’re not going to pass away during Jhana. But, the feeling is that the situation is like that limbo state between existence and no existence.

There is a realization of states of is vs. isn’t. Or here vs. not here. Alive vs. dead? Light vs. darkness. None of these words will come to you in this Jhana, the mind is VERY quiet and is capable of very little during this Jhana.

It is more of a spectator position where the mind can only observe this dichotomy vaguely and very subtly.

After a while one becomes aware of the possibility of a choice. Or, a movement at least, toward one of these factors. There may not be a real choice to move TOWARD one because the mind is incapable of that in the 8th Jhana.

As one lets go of this dichotomy there comes to be felt a final feeling to it all. Is it death? Is it the death of the mind? There is nothing known in the state, but upon coming out of the 8th Jhana you can hypothesize that there is a choice here to choose to let go of the dichotomy altogether, or stay with it and observe it some more.

Factors Present: 1. Equanimity/Neutral feeling. One-pointedness.

Letting go seems possible and yet if your mind is not completely ready to let go even of this, then you will simply observe the dichotomy and that will be that. 🙂

Ninth Jhana?

Some people call the cessation of the ego the 9th Jhana. This is when the 8th Jhana has been let go and Nibbana is reached. I have not let go of the 8th Jhana so I don’t know whether this is attainable. The meditator realizes that the unlimited space he/she “occupies” includes his/her own consciousness. There is a sense of unification with nature and concentration becomes further pinpointed.

Some other people call the 9th Jhana losing consciousness and appearing like you have died. The Buddhist term is “Nirodha Samapatti” or cessation. You breathe very shallowly and appear to be dead. This state can last for hours.

Introduction to Jhana (Index) >

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