Transcript: About Jhana

In response to a question on ‘jhana’, by Tahn Pamutto on June 12 2024:

What is jhana?  Jhana is…

Well first, Samadhi is the overarching word for Buddhist meditation. It’s sort of like  composure of mind. But jhana is a more technical term. Like, when samadhi  reaches particular stages, very deep stages of samadhi, very profound stages  of samadhi, you’ll have certain parts of the mind that to our surface mind  seem like they’re built in. It seems, ‘Well, that’s just how the mind works.  That’s always there.’

When you reach the jhana, you’ll reach a point where something falls away  and you realize that that component of the mind was an optional part of the  mind and that it was such an attractive and seemingly useful part of the mind that you never would have conceived of dropping it.

Once you reach jhana, you kind of have these fallings-away and you get to a  new level of purity of mind, because even something really useful, like  applied and sustained thought along a particular theme, when it falls away,  you say, wow, it’s way more peaceful when I’m not thinking, when my mind  doesn’t have the idea of going here and there, when it’s just in the  neighborhood of the theme and it’s not moving anywhere, this is way more  peaceful.

And so it’s a technical term. But it’s useful to know, because when you read  the scriptures, the Buddha definitely lets you know that samadhi will develop in that direction. If you’re developing meditation, right meditation will lead to jhanas eventually. It’s a really straightforward way of understanding why the  attainment of jhana is lauded as such a breakthrough moment, and why, when the Buddha, he was just kind of pitching it out to the group of five, he’s like,  “well, how should we rank ourselves in the sangha? We have all these  monastics of all different backgrounds and all different levels of practice.  Like, how should we organize ourselves? Who’s in charge?”

And some people said, “well, I’ve attained the first jhana, I should be in  charge.” But then some people are like, “well, I’ve attained the second jhana,

I should be in charge.” And, you know, on and on and on.

So it’s like, getting to that point is you have accomplished something. It’s  something our minds can latch on to. “I’m gonna get jhana, and then I’ll have  jhana.” You don’t get anything. It’s like pulling the blinds up on your window  and getting a view of the outside. You don’t own that. Yeah. But you have  gotten that you suddenly know what’s going on outside. You suddenly know  where you are, and that’s what the jhanas are.

It’s like when you do attain that first moment, you’re able to see something  that you haven’t seen before in the continuity of this current life, which is that there’s something beyond the continuity of this very life, like the attainment  of the first jhana actually breaks the life continuity.

I don’t know how it’s said in a particular way in the commentaries, but there’s  some principle of continuity where that’s basically sort of like a death  experience. Yeah. You suddenly realize that this life from birth to death is  bounded, but that there is something outside of it. And the first jhana gives  you that glimpse. And, so, people come out of a near death experience and  they can say, well, I’m so changed. And you’d be like, well, what changed?  They’re like, well, nothing. Not my habits, not my personality, not my  hairstyle.

What really changed is they just realized that this one life isn’t everything,  and jhana is similar. It’s like you’ve attained the second jhana and you’re like,  wow, I really thought applied and sustained thought where things were at…  it’s way better when they’re gone. You can’t undo that knowledge. Yeah. So  that’s what’s been attained, but it doesn’t actually give you anything beyond  that.

Scroll to Top