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What is Jhana Meditation?

Jhana is a range of experiences that occurs when the mind is well-concentrated on some small object of meditation (for me, the breath at the nostrils). The body is totally at peace without tension, pain, or even feeling the body at all in the later jhanas. The mind is quiet, there is no extraneous thought going on. With the exception of the first couple Jhanas, there is no feeling of the body, no emotion. The mind remains focused on the object of meditation very tightly until the focus is changed to the Jhana experience.

Jhana comes when you are not expecting it… wanting it, attached to the idea that it will, should, must, or better come. Jhana comes only when the mind has let go of all attachments for it, or for anything else. The mind must be so calm and focused that nothing is produced by thought. If fear, hope, anxiety, or any other emotion about Jhana coming – is evident… Jhana remains elusive.

When Jhana does come, it is felt (by me) as a transformation of consciousness. It is as if the mind is washed over by this new experience, unlike anything I have ever known as a conscious non-Jhannic human being going through life. When Jhana comes or starts – the senses of the body are no longer operating. Touch, sight, smell, hearing, tasting – they are paused, or on hold. They do not interfere with, taking away from – or adding to the Jhana state. They are absent or just unaccounted for… sensory stimulation through our normal channels doesn’t lead to the mind recognizing them.

Does Memory Function in Jhana?

Memory does work during Jhana – and after it leaves, you can sit down at the computer and write about your experiences if you so choose. Often times I couldn’t conjure up any ‘want’ ‘need’ or other motivation to do so for hours or days after the fact. Jhana seems to reprogram the mind for a while.

Jhana Effects

The effects of the Jhana state – especially a strong one that lasts for some minutes or hours, can last a long time. When you open your eyes after the focused Jhana has stopped – you can remain in an odd state where you are not entirely your old self. You are you, sure.

You are maybe missing some of the wants, drives, ambition, needs, and motivations that you are usually infused with. These things seem to be gone, suppressed, or just not available to the mind – not fueling the mind at all. The mind can remain quite concentrated and ‘free’ for a number of minutes, and even hours after experiencing Jhana.

Jhana Levels

There are 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 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 – the knowing, is that the situation is like that limbo state.

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 are able to 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.

So, that is a short description of Jhana just to give you an idea. if you would like to hear more about it from a Buddhist perspective there are a number of great teachers on the subject. I’ll add some links to the bottom of this page as I find them to share with you.

Before I do so I have to say, there is some disagreement among Buddhists and lay practitioners about what exactly constitutes Jhana. Apparently, there are some ‘surface Jhanas’ that are similar to, or a reflection of, the real Jhanas. There are a number of people teaching these and calling them real Jhana.

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 Jhana experience.

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

Note – please keep in mind, the following is an attempt at transcribing his exact words. It was difficult, and he doesn’t’ so much explain what Jhana is here, but he covers the preliminaries of having Jhana develop.

Jhana Is a concentration.

One pointedness of wholesome mind or wholesome one-pointedness is Jhana.

Jhana has its own factors. In order to attain Jhana one has to overcome hindrances like greed, anger, sleepiness, and drowsiness, restlessness and worry and doubt. These are called five hindrances.

They are called hindrances because they hinder, obstruct gaining of concentration. Therefore one has to overcome them in order to attain Jhana. When these hindrances are overcome, they are actually held at bay, not totally completely destroyed. However, in their absence, Jhanic factors arise.

The factors are Initial thought application of thought joy happiness and concentration. When these factors work together in unison as a team, in that instant that moment, the mind gains very good high-quality concentration. And, that high-quality concentration (concentrated state of mind) each is called Jhana. That attainment is Jhanic attainment. That state itself is called Jhana.

Anybody can attain Jhana. Providing the person has time and is dedicated to practicing day to day and does it regularly consistently and in sitting posture.

You cannot attain Jhana while walking, talking, running playing games, swimming and so forth. You are physically and mentally very busy.

You have to have a quiet place. A secluded place, and you have to have a very relaxed peaceful state and place where there is no noise. Of course, we cannot find a noiseless place but noise should be minimum, and the minimum noise environment is more conducive to gaining a concentration.

That is why solitude is absolutely necessary for gaining concentration. You have to find a quiet place, an empty house or even in your own room. You go to turn off your cell phone, regular phones, computers and TVs and so forth.

If you have a house pet like dogs that make noise, we might make them sit quietly calmly some dogs are very cooperative they are obedient. You have to make them sit quietly so you have to create a meditative atmosphere a quiet peaceful atmosphere.

Then, sit in a comfortable posture. Among comfortable posture, the best, of course, is the lotus posture which is called diamond posture. Once you have been in that posture you have to close your eyes and focus.

You have to make a sort of a survey of your body to see, to become aware of, where the head is, where the shoulders are, how straight the body is. Once you made this survey, close your eyes and start the practice.

If due to hindrances you fall asleep or are drowsy then you probably might be leaning forward-backward or sideward especially when everything is comfortable, cushions are comfortable, the room is air-conditioned, there is no noise, and your posture is adjusted, and even you have very sort of dehumidifier or if it is a humid day, if you have dry days, you have dehumidifier on a day with a lot of humidity, you may have this and so forth.

These are working very smoothly to make everything quiet, calm and peaceful. The posture is quiet and that is the atmosphere where you can practice Jhana.

As I said, when you keep the body straight you have to have an object to gain Jhana. There are objects. The easiest one we recommend is your own breath. You close your eyes, focus your mind on the breath and take a few deep few breaths. To notice the sensation of breath you may feel the sensation of the breath somewhere in your nasal area.

You don’t have to force to look for the place where breath touches in order to gain concentration however you have to find one single spot where your breath touches in and out to focus your mind on once you found the place. Use the rims of the nostril, or tip of the nose, or the upper lip or inside the nostril or between eyes.

There you focus your mind exclusively without thinking of anything outside and without taking details of the breath into account.

Simply become aware of the place you feel the touch sensation of the breath and keep focusing your mind. As the mind unites with the breath then your hindrances sometimes become active – especially sleepiness and drowsiness.

Once you have overcome that then its opposite might become like restlessness and worry. When you overcome that then sometimes greed or desire. Clinging can arise in your mind. If you manage to overcome that, anger or resentment can arise in your mind. When you have overcome all of them you may still have certain doubt you overcome them.

Overcoming these hindrances becomes easier when you assume a comfortable posture and then an initial thought arises, which is the thought of friendliness compassion and letting go. That is what we call generosity, that means you don’t try to hold on to anything. Whatever arises, you can see it passing away. So you let it pass away. Don’t try to hang on to it.

These three types of wholesome thoughts begin to arise in a very systematic way. It means without any hindrances. For instance – generosity is against the greed that is one hindrance you have and then compassion is against cruelty.

Let go so far that also part of the hindrance of hatred and the non-cruelty or compassion arise against cruelty. So these are the beautiful thoughts which begin to activate at that time you feel letting go of everything. You have compassionate feelings toward all living beings. You will have a friendly feeling for all living beings.

That’s a wonderful experience. In order to gain concentration then it remains in the mind.

That sustains thought then because of their presence in the mind for a certain period of time you experienced joy. When joy increases by degrees you gain happiness and when happiness increase by degrees and becomes very strong.

Happiness is a contented settled mind quietening settling your satisfaction is expressed in happiness. Then you gain concentration so onto gain concentration you go to follow these steps.

Once you gain this kind of concentration, that attainment is called Jhana, or Jhanic concentration. It is necessary and means high quality of concentration. This concentration you gain also when you have overcome hindrances.

With the hindrances, you cannot attain liberation or enlightenment, or even the stream entry and even attaining stream-entry, you have to have a high-quality concentration that maybe Jhana may not be Jhana. For instance, when you listen to a dhamma talk your mind is fully preoccupied with the message of dhamma and you become so relaxed and delightful again become very happy right while listening to the dhamma talk and you gain concentration and that puts you on the track of attaining stream-entry but with the Jhana attainment of stream-entry and so forth it is easier without Jhana you have to have previous meditative experience if you have not done any meditation to cleanse your mind, to purify your mind, to understand the dhamma as it is taught you cannot gain concentration or stream entry therefore either you have to have tremendous amount of accumulated experiences from past practices or you have to gain Jhanas in order to attain stream-entry. So, the Jhanic attainment itself is not necessary for the attainment of the stream entry but the concentration has to be of high quality almost like jhanic concentration.

Yes, actually the right concentration is explained in terms of four Jhanas. Right concentrations o there is a truth in it. Now as I said, at least you have to have Jhanic concentration to attain stream-entry, that jhanic concentration is samma samadhilast step of the noble eightfold path (Samma Samadhi) samma samadhi in the perfect sense, the fullest sense, of course, is the attainment of the four jhanas even to gain this high-quality concentration without Jhana you have to follow the noble eightfold path in order to gain right concentration. So after following noble eightfold path, you are ready for attaining stream-entry at the time when the mind is very highly concentrated so we have many examples in practical Buddhist life. Lay people’s lives or monk’s lives who have listened to the dhamma and attained the enlightenment, like (Bahiya Daru Chiriya) UpaliAnna Kondannaso forth while the Buddha was giving a sermon. By the end of the sermon they all attained stream-entry or even some attain arahant but they develop their mind they have practiced noble eightfold path so many times for so long and their mind is so clean pure, strong and powerful they have this quality of right concentration at least the jhanic concentration.

There is one discourse called “Atthaka Nagara Sutta” in Majjhima Nikayain. In that sutta, Venerable Anandahas pointed out or given instruction to nagarahis name to attain stream-entry from the first Jhana so some commentators like Buddhaghosa say you need access concentration to be very highly developed close to attainment of the first Jhana that level is also very pure, strong powerful level that is not as powerful as concentration itself and yet it is powerful enough to penetrate the truth to attain stream-entry.

I was going to add links to some other monks and nuns that understand Jhana, but really – Bhante Gunaratana is the master and his writings are easily understood. Probably best to start with him!

More Information About Jhana

8 thoughts on “What is Jhana Meditation?

  • at 11:27 pm

    Dear Vern,
    Me again :-). I just commented on your blog post, and then i read this piece about jhana.

    I have a question … is jhana considered a ‘good’ thing? A desireable state to reach? Is it something that people look forward to attaining, as with the idea of enlightenment? If so, ehy? I dont get it. I understand the concept of enlightenment; how finally breaking free of ego and illusion is a very desireable place to be. But, this jhana feels confusing to me … it almost soundz like something to avoid. Especially considering how it seems to strip away all feeling, including joy and wonder. Call me crazy, but i’m quite a fan of joy and wonder … it’s the one thing that keeps me going these days. Being awestruck by the wonders of this world around me. what is the benefit of jhana if it numbs a person out to the extent you describe? Thanks for putting up with me! I really am genuinely curious about this jhana; i am nog asking this rhetorically. Im just so confused aboug it!

  • at 11:31 pm

    P.s. sorry for all tbose typos and poorly worded phrases! I’m tying with one finger on my kindle, and i made the mistake of not proofreading before hitting submit :-o.

  • at 11:37 pm

    ha! no worries… You did much better than I could have without a real keyboard!

  • at 11:45 pm

    Hi Maureen,

    Jhana is something that most Buddhists see as the holy grail, I mean, if they are serious about getting somewhere. Some teachers don’t even bother teaching about it, and that’s a shame, but the Buddha said Jhana isn’t necessary… but it is good to have it. Don’t quote me… lol.

    Jhana are a series of experiences. Most break them out into levels. They are levels of letting go of ‘you’. They are mysterious, fun, amazing, phenomenal, and yet, they are all just part of a natural process that begins to occur when the mind has slowed down enough to focus on just one sensation / object. They aren’t religious (to me), they aren’t magical, they are nothing outside of the ordinary… it’s just that to get them to start, you have to do something that allows them to start. You have to loosen the grip on yourself and focus the mind at a very small point (many use the breath where it comes into and exits the nostrils).

    So, that’s about it. Once you start getting jhana pretty good, the potential to start a process rolling which pulls you toward what the Buddhists call nibbana – is there. It seems to have been progressing right along in my head, whether I continue meditating or not, and this has been over the last 12+ years…

    It’s a case of, “Be careful what you ask for.” Now my mind is empty, and yet I cannot create like I used to. My mind was an idea factory before meditating. I could churn out great ideas in a very short time. Today I’m stymied. I come up with small things, and the big ideas elude me. The silence in my mind is not frightening, and doesn’t cause sadness… but, I wish the mind would go one way or the other… nibbana or let me go back to being a great idea guy. I have books to write, mouths to feed. If I could turn the clock back, I’m not sure I’d have meditated at all. In spite of the amazing experiences and peace of mind I have… I don’t know that it’s better at all to what I had before. Well, impossible to compare. Better in many ways. Not so good for creativity at the moment. Lol.

    Ok then, thanks for your comments. 🙂 Vern

  • at 2:28 am

    lol – no worries!

  • at 7:22 am

    Hi Vern! You shared this link at:

    What exactly do you mean by “surface jhana” ? Is it a “light/soft” jhana where you don’t lose awareness of your surroundings ? That is the kind of jhana Ayya Khema abd Leigh Brasington teach.
    Are you aware of the debate regarding soft vs hard jhanas ?
    I had asked you about total absorption jhanas(Hard Jhanas) because many people who practice strenous concentration claim that by “gentler” approaches they only reach soft jhana aka awareness of their surroundings exists at some level. On the other hand a few people like Ajahn Brahm(and now you) say that you reach a hard jhana by a gentler method.

    I personally have reached a hard jhana only recently. I practice a kind of “do nothing” meditation, where I literally do nothing. My mind tends to settle down on either the breath or my “sense of I-ness” deepening into bliss. I have now added a feeling of surrender to this acceptance/let go , as it really deepens the Acceptance by melting the “hard/intellectual” ego that is really very crystallized in me. I go back to this surrender throughout the day, falling back into my “natural self”. Goal orientation makes me neurotic. This has given me many benefits including better and deeper listening skills, contentment, better relationships, energy, enthusiasm at the right time etc. Though hard jhana is not as yet a controllable phenomenon, I tend to sit with the attitude that I will have the experience that Universe/God has willed for me at this moment. However moments of bliss are increasing in frequency.

  • at 7:17 am

    Hi Arpan, thanks much for your comment… yes, I’m sort of aware of the hard vs. soft jhana camps. I don’t really argue about it. I have never had a soft jhana… so not sure what it even is… just know that it is not what I experienced.

    I’m not sure what you mean by gentler approach to jhana… I only did what I outline in both of my books – Meditation for Beginners – a 22 day course, and “secrets for success” – both at amazon – just search my name: vern lovic. I think my style is gentle… but not sure how you’re defining it.

    Yes, the idea to “let go” – was something I did extensively while meditating. I think it’s one of the main keys. It’s detailed in the books – the secrets book really goes into more detail.

    I like your do-nothing meditation idea. I sort of do that… for the past i don’t know – 6-8 yrs. I dont do traditional meditation any longer… I should do a video about that I think.

    Have you added any mindfulness of the present moment to your practice? I think it helps. It might help tremendously, I can only say I’ve done it and think it helped me. Might help you.

    OK, cheers then, thanks for taking the time to send me this msg… loved reading it.

    Oh, and the hard jhana being a controllable phenomenon – is likely impossible. You get there by letting go – no control at all…


  • at 10:34 am

    @ Vern:
    By “gentler” approaches I meant like yours: acknowledging thoughts and returning to the object. The kind of approaches that are not “stern” and “strenous”. It is these approaches that Illuminatus was criticizing in his article on which you addressed.

    “Soft jhana” is one in which khana factors like Ekaggata (one pointedness), piti (physical rapture) and sukha (emotional bliss) are present (talking about 1st jhana here) but sensory perception of outer environmental sounds etc has not completely ceased, nor has nimitta (a bright light which is the sign of concentration just before entering a hard jhana) appears.

    By “controlling” hard jhana, I meant the ability to repeat it in meditation at Will. I understand that WHILE on cushion one needs to let go.

    I used to practice all day mindfulness which you mentioned. However now I am trying to make my practice as “uncontrived” as possible. In my experience what’s important is the inner-attitude and not the outer form you give to your practice/concentration. An example: If you meditate on metta or Divine love, you need not repeat same sentences/images everyday. It’s best to just invoke that attitude and let your mind-body create whatever feelings/words/images that it is inclined to on that particular day. Essential thing is focus on metta/divine-love, not the particular external forms. Thus, now I just “surrender”/ do-nothing whenever I find myself “intentionally” doing something at any level of mind or emotion(except for what actual task I am performing). This creates a state of receptivity, acceptance and beautitude, in which sometimes the mind settles on the breath in an uncontrived manner for the entire day Or on a mystical idea I am inclined to: Seeing the One in All things, All things in One, All things as One (this becomes natural when the mind is very non reactive and equal-sighted in all phenomenon and everything seems to have a fresh, glassy look). The outer form that concentration takes depends on your natural proclivity basically.

    Even during formal sitting Do Nothing meditation: some people who have done breath meditation for years, awareness naturally rests on breath. For some who used to practice witnessing-thoughts method (like me) awareness naturally rests on sense of self, “I”, which is akin to self enquiry. Some I know get beautific vision of their favourite deity. Thus, Do Nothing seems to be a mother-practice that can take any outer form.

    For hyper-technical process oriented minds who are habituated to an “anchor”, Do Nothing can be very confusing to practice.
    For each audience (I was in that camp) I find this video as the best starting point:

    This is I guess one reason why related practices of the “Path of Surrender” like devotion to God etc easily skyrockets illiterate people into deep ecstasy while it does not find favour with the more modern-educated.


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