What is your experience with jhana

Guide to the eight jhanas in Buddhism

Jhanas are deepening levels of meditation. There are eight states of consciousness that are evoked through meditative concentration. Each stage leads to a deeper concentration and can be used as preparation for insight meditation. For the transition from one Jhana to the other, the meditation object is chosen one level more subtle. The following guide to jhanas lists what to focus on at each stage.

Reaching the eight jhanas does not mean enlightenment

Leigh Brasington warns that the likelihood of experiencing a jhana is inversely proportional to the desire to experience it. Because desire is an unwholesome state of mind and thus represents an obstacle to deepening meditation experiences.

Precondition: The adjacent collection

Yet experiencing a jhana requires preparation. One method of preparation is to learn the adjacent collection by focusing on the breath. In other words: through meditation as it is usually practiced.

Some students of jhana retreats report that they experienced the jhanas as children. Accordingly, the jhanas are probably quite natural states of consciousness. The jhanas were not invented by the yogis (and Buddha) either, they were discovered.

How to prepare for this meditation, the ethical conditions to be observed and numerous tips and tricks for meditation with the aim of the adjacent collection (and to hold these 5-15 minutes) can be found in this article:

Learn meditation

Learn meditation - the basic guide from Buddhism

The term meditation has many facets. The spectrum ranges from contemplating a topic (primarily the philosophers' way of looking at things) to complete silence. In the following you will find concrete instructions for the steps that the Buddha himself gave his students to learn deep meditation. Certainly not the worst approach if you have chosen personal development or even enlightenment as the goal of your meditation journey.

At the end you will find a memo card to print out - e.g. B. for the wallet.

Continue reading ...

The first jhana

Sekha Sutta 18: And how, Mahânâma, does a noble disciple achieve, without difficulty or difficulty, the four meditations (jhânas) of higher consciousness in which one dwells to enjoy the elements of experience?

"Filled with happiness, one experiences delight."

DN (Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection) 2.75


"Here Mahânâma, a noble disciple, free from desires, free from unwholesome experiences, enters the first meditation, which is accompanied by attention and reflection and which is evoked by discernment and pleasant sensations, and abides there."

Sekha Sutta 18

As you may have read in the article on meditation, upon reaching the adjacent concentration, your breath becomes very fine and subtle. Your mind, too, which continues to linger on these very delicate breathing sensations - if at all - has become subtle and fine. Before proceeding to the first jhana, you should dwell in this "adjacent collection" for 5 to 15 minutes.

Awareness of a pleasant feeling

Now the "Jhana Meditation" follows. The step from the adjoining collection to the first jhana or meditation deepening consists in withdrawing attention from the subtle breath and directing it to a comfortable feeling in the body.

What kind of feeling, specifically? If possible, a pleasant body sensation. After lingering in the adjacent collection, it is usually not difficult to find it.

And what if I don't feel comfortable in myself?

Then there are a number of recommendations. Leigh Brasington suggests trying a mock smile while meditating first. Pull up the corners of your mouth very slightly while meditating, when you reach the adjacent collection, this artificial smile often feels very real. There you have your pleasant feeling on which you can direct your concentration.

Others who do not like the artificial smile often find a pleasant body feeling

  • in the hands
  • in the space around the heart
  • in the "third eye"
  • in the spine
  • at the top of the head
  • in the shoulders

A slightly pleasant tingling sensation in the respective part of the body is sufficient. Feel "around" inside you, and when you find something pleasant, fix your attention on that pleasant feeling.

Stay with the feeling

And now you don't have to do anything else, als to stick with this feeling. Leigh writes, "Observe the comfort of the comfortable feeling." Which of course can be difficult. If you keep digressing, just keep practicing the adjacent collection.

Experience euphoria

If you dwell on the comfortable feeling with your mindfulness, it should Get stronger. But don't try to actively encourage this in any way. Just watch.

First slowly, then stronger and at some point ... the feeling will get euphoric. Bliss and joy flow through you, you experience a clearly changed state of consciousness. Expressed differently:

You have reached the first jhana.

It "appeared" to you. You yourself only provided the conditions by concentrating on the pleasant feeling. Leigh writes that this experience is similar to that of practitioners of Kundalini Yoga and Tummo practice.

To dwell in the first jhana, keep your mindfulness in your sense of joy and bliss. Remain like this for 10 to 15 minutes.

Can everyone achieve the jhanas?

Leigh Brasington is a little daring here. He speaks of a "not inconsiderable percentage" for whom that would be possible. Adequate adjacent collections are always required. He sees that some have a talent for the jhanas. Others have different talents and should use them for their spiritual development.


The second jhana

To get from the first jhana to the second, a deep breath is enough and shifting your mindfulness. As you inhale deeply and then exhale slowly and fully, the feeling of rapture (Pali: piti) should subside. Yet an emotional joy (Pali: sukha) remains strong enough to be able to focus on it.

"... the practitioner enters the second meditative deepening, which is free of thought and contemplation, and is filled with the bliss and feeling of happiness that has arisen through concentration and lingers in it."

DN (Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection) 2.77


"By ceasing to pay attention and reflect, one enters the second meditation, the inner calming of the mind, focused, without attention or thought, evoked by samādhi [and] pleasant sensations, and dwells in it."

Sekha Sutta 18

On this gentler emotional joy your mindfulness now dwells in the second jhana. Incidentally, that sounds easier than it is. The emotional joy (sukha) that serves the mind as an object of meditation in the second jhana is much more subtle than the euphoria (piti) on which you were focused in the first jhana. Leigh Brasington: "It takes an even more concentrated mind."

The joys of the Jhana practitioner

MRI and EEG measurements have shown that the first four jhanas are associated with increased activity of the left prefrontal cortex. Leigh writes that serving jhanas (in addition to preparing for deep insights) includes: also to:

  • To lose the pursuit of worldly pleasures and sensual desires.
  • They decrease emotional responsiveness.
  • The jhanas reduce the automatic fear response.
  • They create a positive mood and a "pleasant stay".
  • They bring joy without worldly pleasures.


The third jhana

In the third jhana the rapture (piti) is dimmed even further and the emotional joy (sukha) turns into one indifferent satisfaction.

The crossing is through a another deep breath brought about, which once again weakens the physical rapture. At the end of this breath you get it Remembering a moment of complete satisfaction - for a very short moment.

Then you stay with your mindfulness entirely Sensation of indifferent contentment as an object of meditation and dwell in it. All wishes are silent, you are inwardly very calm and happy.

"The indifferent, mindful one lives happily."

DN Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection 2.79


By detaching yourself from joy, one remains neutral and mindful and awake and experiences pleasant sensations with the body. One enters and dwells in the third meditation, about which the noble ones say: "One is neutral, mindful and remains in pleasant sensations."

Sekha Sutta 18

That would be the third jhana.

It is best to think about when in your own life such a moment of complete contentment with a serene mind occurred before meditating. So you have this reminder immediately at your disposal during the transition. When was the last time you were so "completely satisfied"? Maybe during a full bath? After a relaxation exercise? After enjoying a delicious meal?

Becoming familiar with the jhanas

To practice the Jhanas you can in the individual recesses go back and forth. From Jhana 1 to 2 and 3, back to 2, again up to 3, then again over 2 to 1. By practicing like this you will get into the Jhanas faster and more safely.


The fourth jhana

You slide from the third to the fourth jhana by letting go of the pleasant feeling of indifferent contentment and enter a neutral state of mind. As you let go of contentment, you will mostly feel a physical sense of sinking down. Don't lock yourself against it, just let yourself sink in. Do not be afraid. Rather, focus your mindfulness on sinking. This process of sinking continues until your mind "gathers in a place of inner silence".

"... after letting go ... into the joyless-sufferingless fourth indentation, purified through equanimity and mindfulness, and lingers in it."

DN (Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection) 2.81


"By giving up pleasure and suffering and the cessation of happiness and suffering, one enters and remains in the fourth meditation, which is without suffering and pleasure and is purified through neutrality [in the sense of a neutral observer] and mindfulness."

Sekha Sutta 18

Your meditation object in the fourth jhana is the feeling of calm stillness. A very relaxing state. Try to stay in it for 10 to 15 minutes.

This meditation object, the silence, is even more subtle than the equanimity in the third jhana.

Sekha Sutta 18

In this way, Mahānāma, a noble disciple, receives without difficulty or difficulty the four meditations (jhānas) of higher consciousness in which one dwells in enjoying the elements of experience.

Now it gets more subtle:

The disembodied jhanas

The following four jhanas from five to eight are also referred to as "formless" or "incorporeal". The meditation objects are extremely subtle and require strong concentration. I am only briefly describing the following Jhanas here, if you would like to find out more about them please refer to the book by Leigh (see below) or take part in a meditation retreat with the Jhanas as a topic.


The fifth jhana

From the fifth jhana it is important to leave all physical sensory perceptions (silence, equanimity, rapture, etc.) behind. Instead, imagine that an object (e.g. a balloon) or your consciousness is expanding. One stops at that the concentration always with this feeling of expansion.

If at some point the feeling of a "unlimited space"is set, one detaches the mindfulness from the feeling of expansion and directs it entirely to this feeling of the infinity of space. Remain for 10 to 15 minutes with this feeling.

The sixth jhana

The transition from the fifth to the sixth jhana takes place by exercising mindfulness "from unlimited space to awareness of this experience of spaceSay: You make your own mindfulness your meditation object.

It's very subtle ...

If you are more skilled in the sixth jhana, you should experience that subject and object, Observer and observed become one. You will no longer experience separation.

Stay in it again for 10 to 15 minutes.

The seventh jhana

The transition from the sixth to the seventh jhana takes place because you are in yourself create a feeling of "nothingness". A "feeling of nothing". For this it should help to become aware of the content of the infinite consciousness from Jhana 5. The focus of mindfulness is this "nothing".

Some meditators experience it as if they are looking into a windowless room - completely without light.

Again, it is important to maintain this state for 10 to 15 minutes.

The eighth jhana

If one is sufficiently established in the seventh jhana, one leaves this "Non-existence sphere"and goes to the limit of possible perception (DN Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection One can no longer really describe the meditation object of the eighth Jhana with words. It is an experience without attributes.

Leigh Brasington recommends that the "well-developed, established nothing" of the seven jhanas "collapse" in front of one's face and let it come to rest. Then see if the mind goes into a "state without properties".

Although difficult to describe, this (final) transition is, according to Leigh, quite easy to get to.


Jhana vs. Vipassana meditation

As I said, attaining the jhanas does not mean being enlightened. According to the Buddha, must a development of your character and your wisdom take place in parallel. The instrument of Vipassana meditation was created for this purpose - insight meditation with its numerous possible topics such as transience, the body, one's own origin, the bond of consciousness to the body, the "fundamentally unsatisfactory, empty nature of the universe", suffering, etc. .

The goal is to overcome urges and desires. Buddha taught that in order to attain liberation, the practitioner must completely disenchant and see through the world of things to which we are attached. Sober for freedom.

"If the mind is so concentrated, completely pure and clear, ... one directs the mind to insight."

DN (Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection) 2.83

Some advice to be careful

Since insight meditations on rather negative topics can lead to frustration, bad temper or other unpleasant states of mind instead of profound insights, it is always advisable to practice these only with the supervision of an experienced teacher.

Leigh Brasington emphasizes that a Vipassana meditation following a Jhana meditation is much more insightful. The Jhanas are a "miracle fertilizer" for insight. He therefore recommends practicing the Jhanas even for pure seekers of wisdom and thus increasing the effectiveness of Vipassana meditation many times over.

"Collected mindfulness imbued with righteousness is of great use and reward; wisdom imbued with concentrated mindfulness is of great use and reward."

DN (Digha-Nikaya or Longer Collection) 16.1.4


How do I shape the transition from Jhana to Vipassana meditation?

Before starting the meditation, think about what you would like to contemplate on after the jhanas. If you then dwell for some time in the highest jhana available to you (e.g. the silence of the fourth jhana), you switch from the respective meditation object directly to insight practice. The feeling of meditative absorption will subside, which is completely normal. For that, the insights follow.


Of difficulties, tips and more detailed explanations

Above I have described the eight Jhanas and the possibilities of their experience in a very brief form. Seldom does the process of going through jhanas go completely smoothly. Pitfalls can lurk everywhere, obstacles appear and you somehow get out of the collection. Of difficulties with breathing to the emergence of a headache or psychological issues that slumbered unresolved within you.

One meditator's experience is seldom exactly the same as that of another. Can a jhana be experienced by one person so and here, another so and there?

Leigh Brasington taught Jhanas meditation to Buddhist students for many years. He lets all of his experiences flow into his book "The Happiness of Meditation - Guide to the Jhanas". In it you will learn numerous tricks and solutions to overcome these difficulties. You will also receive help with every Jhana.

The book on the Jhanas

Published by Jhana Verlag

Language: German

Book form: paperback

Pages: 240 pages

ISBN: 978-3-931274-66-5


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Last updated: 29.April 2021