The Landmarks of All Jhana
No thought, no decision-making, no perception of time. From the moment of entering a jhana, one will have no control. One will be unable to give orders as one normally does. The very idea of “what should I do next” cannot even come up. When the “will” that is controlling vanishes away, then the “I will” that fashions one’s concept of future also disappears. The concept of time ceases in Jhana. Within a Jhana, one cannot decide what to do next. One cannot even decide when to comeout. It is this absolute absence of will and its offspring, time, that give the jhanas the feature of timeless stability and that lead to jhana states persisting, sometimes for many blissful hours
Non-Dual Consciousness. Because of the perfect one-pointedness,because attention is so fixed, one loses the faculty of perspective with in Jhana. Comprehension relies on the technique of comparison, relating this to that, here to there, now with then. In jhana, all that is perceived is non-dual bliss, unmoving, compelling, not giving any space for the arising of perspective. It is like that puzzle where one is shown a still photograph of a well-known object but from an unusual angle, and one has to guess what it is. It is very difficult to comprehend such an object when one is unable to turn to over, or move one’s head to look at it thisway and that. When perspective is removed, so is comprehension. Thus in jhana, not only is there no sense of time, but also there is no comprehension of what is going on! At the time, one will not even know what jhana one is in. All one knows is great bliss, unmoving,unchanging, for unknown lengths of time.
Awareness of Bliss that Doesn’t Move. Even though there is no comprehension within any jhana, due to the lack of perspective, one is certainly not on a trance. One’s mindfulness is hugely increased to a level of sharpness that is truly incredible. One is immensely aware.Only mindfulness doesn’t move. It is frozen. And the stillness of the super, superpower mindfulness, the perfect one-pointedness of awareness, makes the jhana experience completely different to anything one has known before. This is not unconsciousness. It is non-dual consciousness. All it can know is one thing, and that is timeless bliss that doesn’t move.
Afterwards, when one has emerged from jhana, such consummate one-pointedness of consciousness falls apart. With the weakening of one-pointedness, perspective re-emerges and the mind has the agility to move again. The mind has regained the space needed to compare and comprehend. Ordinary consciousness has returned.
Having just emerged from a jhana, it is usual practice to look back atwhat has happened and review the jhana experience. The jhanas are such powerful events that they leave an indelible record in one’s memorystore. In fact, one will never forget them as lone as one lives. Thus, they are easy to recall, with perfect retention of detail, after emerging. It is through such reviewing right after the event, that one comprehends the details of what happened in the jhana, and one knows which of the jhanas it was. Moreover, the data obtained from reviewing a jhana formsthe basis of insight that is Enlightenment itself.
The Five Senses are Fully Shut Off. Another strange quality that distinguishes jhana from all other experiences is that within jhana all the five senses are totally shut down. One cannot see, one cannot hear, one cannot smell, taste nor feel touch. One cannot hear the sound of the birds, nor a person coughing. Even if there were a thunderclap nearby,it wouldn’t be heard in a jhana. If someone tapped one on the shoulder,or picked one up and let one down, in jhana one cannot know this. The mod in jhana is so completely cut off from these five senses that they cannot break in.1
A lay disciple once told me how he had “fluked” a deep jhana while meditating at home. His wife thought he hade died and sent for an ambulance. He was rushed to hospital in a wail of loud sirens. In the emergency room, there was no heartbeat registered on the E.C.G., nor brain activity to be seen by the E.E.G. So the doctor on put defibrillators on his chest to re-activate his heart. Even though he was being bounced up and down on the hospital bed through the force of the electric shocks,he didn’t feel a thing! When he emerged fro the jhana in the emergency room, perfectly all right, he had no knowledge of how he had got there,nor of ambulances and sirens, nor of body-jerking defibrillators. All that long time that he was in jhana, he was fully aware, but only of bliss.This is an example of what is meant by the five senses shutting down within the experience of jhana.
Summary of the Landmarks of All Jhanas
It is helpful to know, then, that within a jhana:1.There is no possibility of thought;2.No decision making process is available3.There is no perception of time;4.Consciousness is non-dual, making comprehension inaccessible;5.Yes. One is very, very aware, but only of bliss that doesn’t move;6.The five senses are fully shot off, and only the sixth sense, mind, isin operation.These are the features of jhana. So during a deep meditation, if one wonders whether it is jhana or not, one can be certain it is not! No such thinking can exist within the stillness of jhana.
These features will only be recognized on emergence from a jhana, using reviewing mindfulness once the mind can move again.
THE FIRST JHANA
The “Wobble” (Vitakka and Vicára). All jhanas are states of unmoving bliss, almost. However, in the first jhana, there is some movement discernible. I call this movement the “wobble” of first jhana. One is aware of great bliss, so powerful it has subdued completely the part of the ego that wills and does. In jhana, one is on automatic pilot, as it were, with no sense if being in control. However, the bliss is so delicious that it can generate a small residue of attachment. The mind, not thedoer, instinctively grasps at the bliss. Because the bliss of first jhana is fuelled by letting go, such involuntary grasping weakens the bliss.Seeing the bliss weaken, the mind automatically lets go of its grasping and the bliss increases in power again. The mind then grasps again,then lets go again. Such subtle involuntary movement gives rise to the wobble of first jhana.
This process can be perceived in another way. As the bliss weakensbecause of the involuntary grasping, it seems as if the mindfulness moves a small distance away from the bliss. Then the mindfulness gets pulled back into the bliss as the mind automatically lets go. This back and forth movement close to the bliss, is a second way of describing the same first jhana wobble.
This wobble is, in fact, the pair of first jhana factors called vitakka andvicára. Vicára is the involuntary grasping of bliss vitakka is the automatic movement back into bliss. Some commentators explain the pair, vitakka and vicára as “initial thought” and “sustained thought.”While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in jhana they certainly mean something else. It is impossible that such a grossactivity as thinking can exist in such a refined state as jhana. Infact, thinking ceases a long time prior to jhana. In jhana, vitakka and vicára are both sub-verbal and so don’t qualify as thought. Vitakka is the sub-verbal movement of the mid back into bliss. Vicára is the sub-verbal movement of mind that holds onto the bliss. Outside of jhana,such movements of mind will often generate thought, and sometime seven speech. But in jhana, vitakka and vicára are too subtle to create any thought. All they are capable of doing is moving mindfulness back onto bliss, and holding mindfulness there. This movement is the wobble of the first jhana, represented as the pair of first jhana factors vitakka and vicára.
One-pointedness (Ekaggatha). The third factor of jhana is one-pointedness, Ekaggatha. One-pointedness describes the mindfulness that is so sharply focused on a minute area of existence. It is one-pointed in space because it only sees the point source of bliss, together with a small area surrounding the bliss caused by the first jhana wobble.It is one-pointed in time because it only perceives the present moment,so exclusively and precisely that all notion of time completely disappears.
And it is one-pointed in phenomena because it only knows the mental object of pitisukha, and is totally oblivious to the world of the five senses and one’s physical body.
Such one-pointedness is space produces the peculiar existence, only found in the jhana, of non-dual consciousness, as explained in detail in the previous section. Non-dual consciousness describes the jhanic state where one is fully aware but only of one thing, and from one angle, for timeless periods. Consciousness is so focused on the one thing that the faculty of comprehension is suspended a while. Only after the one-pointedness has dissipated, and one has emerged from the jhana, will one be able to recognize these features of first jhana and comprehend them all.
The one-consciousness in time produces the extraordinary stability of the first jhana, allowing it to last effortlessly for such a long period of time.The concept of time relies on measuring intervals: from past to present orfrom present to future of from past to future. When all that is perceived within the first jhana is the precise moment of now, then there is no room for measuring time. All intervals have closed. It is replaced with the perception of timelessness, unmoving.
One-pointedness of phenomena produces the exceptional occurrence of bliss upon bliss, unchanging throughout the duration of the jhana. This makes the first jhana such a restful abode. One-pointedness of phenomena accounts for the great stillness in jhana.
Thus, the one-pointedness of the first jhana is experienced as noon-duality of consciousness, timelessness and effortless stillness.
In academic terms, ekaggatha is a Pali compound meaning “one-peak-ness.” The middle term agga (Sanskrit Agra) refers to the peak of a mountain, the summit of an experience, or even the capital of a country(as in Agra, the old Mogul capital of India). Thus ekaggatha does not mean just “one-any old point-ness,” but it refers to a singleness of focuson something soaring and sublime. The single exalted summit that is the focus of ekaggatha in the first jhana is the supreme bliss of pitisukha.
Joy-happiness (pitisukha). Indeed the last two factors of the first jhanaare piti and sukha. Here, I will deal with them together since they are such a close-knit pair. In fact, they only separate out in the third jhana,where piti ceases leaving sukha widowed. Therefore, only after the third jhana can one know from experience what sukha is and what piti was.Here, it sufficient to explain the pair as one thing.
The last two factors of first jhana, called pitisukha, refer to the bliss that is the focus of attention, and which forms the central experience that isthe first jhana. Bliss is the dominant feature of the first jhana, so much so that it is the first thing that one recognizes when reviewing after thejhana. Indeed, mystic traditions other than Buddhism have been so overwhelmed by the sheer immensity, egoless-ness, stillness, ecstasy,ultimateness and pure out-of-this-worldliness, of the first jhana, that throughout history they have comprehended the experience, onreviewing, as “Union with God.”
However, the Buddha explained that this is but one form of supramundane bliss and there are other forms that are superior! In the Buddhist experience of the jhanas, one gets to know many levels of supramundane bliss. The first jhana is the first level. Even though after first jhana, one cannot conceive of an experience more blissful, there is much more!
These different levels of bliss each have a different “taste,” a different quality that sets them apart. These different qualities of bliss can be explained by the diverse cases of bliss. Just as heat generated by sunlight has a different quality to heat cased by a wood fire, which ahs adifferent “taste” to heat generated by a furnace, so bliss fuelled by different causes exhibits distinguishing features.
The distinguishing feature of the bliss of first jhana is that it is fueled by the complete absence of all five-sense activities. When the five sensessh it down, including all echoes of the five senses manifesting as thought,then one has left the world of the body and material things (kamaloka)and entered the world of pure mind (rupaloka). It is as if a huge burdenhas dropped away. Or, as Ajahn Chah used to describe it, it is like onehad been enduring a tight rope around one’s neck for as long as one can remember. So long, in fact, that one had become used to it and nolonger recognized the pain. Then some how the tension was suddenlyreleased and the rope removed. The bliss one would feel would be the result of a huge burden disappearing! In much the same way, the bliss of the first jhana is caused by the complete fading away of the “tightrope,” meaning all that one took to be the world. Such insight into thecause of the bliss of the first jhana is fundamental to understanding the Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths about suffering.
Summary of the First Jhana
In summary then, the first jhana is distinguished by the five factors, here compressed into three:
1+2.Vitakka – Vicára: experienced as the “wobble,” being the fine,subtle movement in and out of the bliss;
3.Ekaggatha: experienced as non-duality, timelessness and stillness;
4 +5Pitisukha experienced as a bliss surpassing anything in the material world, and fueled by the complete transcendence of that world to enter the world of pure mind.
THE SECOND JHANA
Subsiding of the “Wobble.” It was explained in the description of the first jhana that vitakka and vicára is the involuntary grasping of bliss,causing the mindfulness to move away. Vitakka is the automatic movement of the mind back onto bliss.
As the first jhana deepens, the wobble gets less and the bliss consolidates. One comes to a state where vicára is till holding on to thebliss with the most subtle of grasping, but this is not enough to causeany instability in the bliss. The bliss doesn’t decrease as a result ofvicára, nor does mindfulness seem to move away from the source. The bliss is so strong that vicára cannot disturb it. Although vicára is stilla ctive, there is no longer any vitakka, no movement of mind back ontothe source of bliss. The wobble has gone. This is a jhana state described in the suttas as without vitakka but with a small measure of vicára (e.g.DN 126.96.36.199, AN 8’s.63). It is so much closer to the second jhana than the first, that it is usually included within the second jhana.
As the bliss strengthens into immutable stability, there is no purpose for vicára to hold on any more. At this point, the mind becomes fully confident enough to let go absolutely. With this final letting go, born ofinner confidence in the stability of the bliss, vicára disappears and one enters the second jhana proper.
The first feature then of the second jhana described in the sutras is a-vitakka and a-vicára, meaning without vitakka and vicára. Inexperience, this means that there is no more wobble in the mind. The second feature is ajhattam sampasadanam, meaning “internal confidence.” In experience, this describes the full confidence on the stability of the bliss, which is the cause for vicára to cease.
Perfect One-Pointedness of Mind (cetaso ekadibbavam). The third feature of the second jhana is ekadibbavam, meaning perfect one-pointedness of mind. This absolutely perfect one-pointedness of mind is the salient feature in the experience of second jhana. When there is no longer any wobble, then the mind is like an unwavering rock,more immovable than a mountain, and harder than a diamond. Such perfection in unyielding stillness is incredible. The mind stays in the bliss without the slightest vibration. This is later recognized as the perfection of the quality called samadhi.
Samadhi is the faculty if sustained attention, and in the second jhana,this attention is sustained on the object without any movement at all.There is not even the finest oscillation. One is fixed, frozen solid, stuckwith “super-glue,” unable even to tremble. All stirrings of mind are gone.There is no greater stillness of mind than this. It is called perfect samadhi, and it remains as a feature not only of this second jhana, but in the higher jhanas as well.
The bliss born of samadhi (samadhijam pitisukham). It is this perfection of samadhi that gives the bliss of the second jhana it unique“flavor.” The burden that was present in the first jhana that has been abandoned in the second jhana is the affliction of movement. Everything stands perfectly still in the second jhana, even the knower. Such absolute stillness transcends the mental pain born of the mind moving,and it reveals the greater bliss fuelled by pure samadhi. In the suttas,the bliss of the second jhana is called the pitisukha born of samadhi (e.g.DN 9.11). Such bliss is even more pleasurable, hugely so, than the bliss resulting from transcending the world of the five senses! One could notanticipate such bliss. It is of a totally separate order. After experiencingthe second jhana, having realized two rare “species” of supramundanebliss that are extreme, one begins to wonder what other levels of bliss may lie ahead. One ponders where the end of bliss lies!
The end of all doing. Another salient feature of the second jhana s that within the jhana all “doing” has totally ceased, even the involuntary“doing” that caused the wobble to appear has completely vanished. The“doer” as died. Only when one has experience of the second jhana canone fully appreciate what is meant by the term “water,” when water “dies”during the frog’s first experience on dry land. Within the second jhana,the “doer” has gone. It is no more. Absolute stillness remains.Moreover, it seems as if something that was so obvious to you as anessential part of one’s eternal identity, the doer, has now been deleted from existence. How often does what seem obvious now, later turns out to be a mirage, a delusion! After the second jhana it is possible touncover the delusion that the self is the doer. One penetrates theillusion of free will, from the data of raw experience. The philosopher who concludes that “to be is to do,” could not have known the state ofsecond jhana. In the second jhana, “being” is (through knowing), but“doing” is not. These jhanas are weird, They defy normal experience.But they are real, more real than the world. Moreover, the second jhana and the above unlock the meaning of non-self, anatta.
Summary of the Second Jhana
Thus the second jhana is distinguished by another collection of features:
1+2.a-vitakka-a-vicára , ajhattam sampasadanam” experience as the subsiding of the “wobble” from the first jhana due to internal confidence in the stability of the bliss;
3.Cetaso Ekodibbanam: perfect one-pointedness of mind due to full confidence in the bliss. This is usually experienced as rock-likestillness, the temporary “death” of the “doer,” or the perfection ofsamadhi;
4.Ssamadhijam pitisukham: being the focus of this jhana, the supramundane bliss generated by the end of all movement of themind, and
5.The end of all doing: seen as the first that the “doer” has completely gone.
THE THIRD JHANA
As the stillness of the knowing, samadhi, becomes longer established,then the stillness of the known grows ever more profound. It is to be remembered that in jhana, what is known is the image of the mind.Citta, and the mind is the knowing. In other words, the knowing knows an image of itself in the jhana. First the knowing becomes still, then its image, the known, gradually becomes still.
In the first two jhanas, this image of the mind is recognized as a blissthat up until now has been called pitisukha. In the third jhana, theimage of the mind has gone to the next level of stillness, to a verydifferent kind of bliss, the like of which one hasn’t seen before.
Piti has Vanished! Prior to the third jhana, all bliss has something in common, as well as differing in its “flavors“ due to the distinguishing causes. That something in common was the combination of piti plussukha. Because they were always together, seemingly as inseparable as Siamese twins, it was not only pointless but even impossible to tell the mapart. It was this combination that, up to now, gave all bliss a common quality. Now in the third jhana, piti has vanished leaving only sukha,producing a very different species of bliss altogether.
It is only after the experience of the third jhana that one can know what sukha is, and by inference what piti was. Piti appears as the more burdensome part of bliss, although the word “burdensome” in thecontext of the second jhana only just seems appropriate. Sukha is themore refined part. In the third jhana, the bliss that was known in the second jhana separates out leaving only the sukha.
Great Mindfulness, Clear Knowing and Equanimity. As with many jhanas, the experiences are next to impossible to describe. However, thehigher the jhana, the more profound the experience and he more difficultit becomes to put into words. These states as their language are remote from the world. At a stretch, one may say that the bliss of the third jhana, the sukha, has a greater sense of ease, quieter and more serene.In the suttas, it is accompanied by the features of mindfulness (sati),clear knowing (sampojanna) and equanimity (upekkha), although these qualities are said in the Anupada Sutta (MN 111) to be present in alljhanas. Perhaps these features are emphasized in the sutta as qualitiesof the thirds jhana in order to point out that in these very deep jhanas,one is exceptionally mindful, very clear in the knwing, and so still that one looks on without moving, which is the root meaning of equanimity(upekkha).
The Same Rock-like Stillness and Absence of a Doer. The third jhana retains the perfect samadhi, the rock-like stillness, the absence of a doer,and the in accessibility from the world of the five senses. However, it is distinguished from the second jhana by nature of the bliss, which has soared up to another level and appeared as another species of bliss altogether. So much so that the suttas describe the third jhana as what the Awakened One with Awareness’s describe by “as one who abides in bliss (in the third jhana) mindful, just looking on” (e.g. DN 9.12).
Summary of the Third Jhana
Thus the third jhana has the following features:
1.The bliss has separated, losing the coarse part that was piti;
2.The bliss that remains, sukha, exhibits the qualities of great mindfulness, clear knowing and the sense of just looking on;
3.The same absolute rock-like stillness and absence of a doer, as in the second jhana.