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Dhyāna in Buddhism

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Dhyāna in Buddhism

Dhyāna in Buddhism
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Tibetan name
Tibetan samten
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet Thiền
Korean name
Japanese name
Sanskrit name
Sanskrit ध्यान (in Devanagari)
Dhyāna (Romanised)
Pāli name
Pāli झान (in Devanagari)
ඣාන (in Sinhala)
Jhāna (Romanised)
ဈာန် (in Burmese)
ဇျာန် (in Mon)

Dhyāna (Sanskrit; Devanagari: ध्यान) or Jhāna (झान) (Pāli) means meditation in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In Buddhism, it is a series of cultivated states of mind, which lead to "state of perfect equanimity and awareness (upekkhii-sati-piirisuddhl)."[1]

Dhyana may have been the core practice of the earliest Buddhism, but became appended with other forms of meditation throughout its development.[2][3]


  • Description of the four jhanas and four formless bases 1
  • Origins 2
    • Buddhist origins 2.1
      • Invention or incorporation 2.1.1
      • Discovery of dhyana 2.1.2
      • "Liberating insight" 2.1.3
    • Alex Wynne - Non-Buddhist influences 2.2
      • Uddaka Ramaputta and Alara Kalama 2.2.1
      • Brahmanical practices 2.2.2
        • Formless spheres
        • Reversal of the creation of the world
        • Investigation of self
        • Criticism of Wynne
  • Qualities of the jhānas 3
    • The Rupa Jhānas 3.1
      • Jhana and samadhi 3.1.1
      • Rupa Jhana related factors 3.1.2
      • Qualities of the Four Rupa Jhanas 3.1.3
      • Psychic powers 3.1.4
    • The Arupa Jhānas 3.2
    • Nirodha-Samapatti 3.3
  • Mastering the jhanas 4
    • Gradual development 4.1
    • Aspects of jhana mastery 4.2
    • Access concentration 4.3
  • Jhana and liberation 5
    • Various possibilities for liberation 5.1
    • Jhana itself is liberating 5.2
    • Liberation in Nirodha-Samapatti 5.3
    • Jhana as an aid to attaining insight 5.4
      • Dhyana and insight 5.4.1
      • Two kinds of dhyana 5.4.2
      • Theravada-tradition 5.4.3
    • Insight alone suffices 5.5
  • In Mahāyāna traditions 6
    • Dhyāna in the Chán school 6.1
    • Vajrayāna 6.2
  • Influence on Indian religions 7
    • Jhana as liberation 7.1
    • Parallels with Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga 7.2
  • Scientific studies 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • Sources 12
    • Printed sources 12.1
    • Web-sources 12.2
  • External links 13

Description of the four jhanas and four formless bases

Majjhima Nikaya 26:34-42, Ariyapariyesana Sutta, "The Noble Search", gives the following description of the four rupa jhanas ("form jhanas"), the four arupha jhanas ("formless jhanas"), and nirodha-samapatti, the cessation of perception and feeling:[web 1][note 1]

First jhana

"Suppose that a wild deer is living in a wilderness glen. Carefree it walks, carefree it stands, carefree it sits, carefree it lies down. Why is that? Because it has gone beyond the hunter's range.[note 2] In the same way, a monk — quite withdrawn from sensual pleasures, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One. [6]

Second jhana

"Then again the monk, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

Third jhana

"Then again the monk, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.' This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

Fourth jhana

"Then again the monk, with the abandoning of pleasure & stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither-pleasure-nor-pain. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

The infinitude of space

"Then again the monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] 'Infinite space,' enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

The infinitude of consciousness

"Then again the monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of the infinitude of space, [perceiving,] 'Infinite consciousness,' enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

The dimension of nothingness

"Then again the monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, [perceiving,] 'There is nothing,' enters & remains in the dimension of nothingness. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

The dimension of neither perception nor non-perception

"Then again the monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of nothingness, enters & remains in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One.

The cessation of perception & feeling

"Then again the monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And, having seen [that] with discernment, his mental fermentations are completely ended. This monk is said to have blinded Mara. Trackless, he has destroyed Mara's vision and has become invisible to the Evil One. Having crossed over, he is unattached in the world. Carefree he walks, carefree he stands, carefree he sits, carefree he lies down. Why is that? Because he has gone beyond the Evil One's range."


The time of the Buddha saw the rise of the Shramanic movement, ascetic practitioners with a body of shared teachings and practices.[4] The strict delineation of this movement into Jainism, Buddhism and brahmanical/Upanishadic traditions is a later development.[4]

Buddhist origins

Invention or incorporation

According to Bronkhorst, dhyana may have been an original contribution by the Buddha to the religious practices of ancient India, in response to the ascetic practices of the Jains.[3] According to Wynne, the attainment of the formless meditative absorption was incorporated from Brahmanical practices,[5] These practices were paired to mindfulness and insight, and given a new interpretation.[5] The stratification of particular samādhi experiences into the four jhānas seems to be a Buddhist innovation.[5] It was then borrowed and presented in an incomplete form in the Mokṣadharma, a part of the Mahābhārata.[6] Kalupahana argues that the Buddha "reverted to the meditational practices" he had learned from Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta.[7]

Rhys Davids and Maurice Walshe agreed that the term "samadhi" is not found in any pre-buddhist text. Samadhi was first found in the Tipitaka and not in any pre-Buddhist text. It was later incorporated into later texts such as the Maitrayaniya Upanishad.[8] But according to Matsumoto, "the terms dhyana and samahita (entering samadhi) appear already in Upanishadic texts that predate the origins of Buddhism".[9][note 3]

Discovery of dhyana

The Maha-Saccaka Sutta, Majjhimanikaya 36, narrates the story of the Buddha's awakening. According to this story, he learned two kinds of meditation, which did not lead to nibbana. He then underwent harsh ascetic practices with which he eventually also became disillusioned. The Buddha then recalled a meditative state he entered by chance as a child:[3]

I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?' Then following on that memory came the realization: 'That is the path to Awakening.'[11]

"Liberating insight"

In the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, dhyana is followed by insight into the four truths. The mention of the four noble truths as constituting "liberating insight" is probably a later addition.[12][13][3] Originally the practice of dhyana itself may have constituted the core liberating practice of early Buddhism, since in this state all "pleasure and pain" had wained.[2] According to Vetter,

... probably the word "immortality" (a-mata) was used by the Buddha for the first interpretation of this experience and not the term cessation of suffering that belongs to the four noble truths [...] the Buddha did not achieve the experience of salvation by discerning the four noble truths and/ or other data. But his experience must have been of such a nature that it could bear the interpretation" achieving immortality".[14]

Discriminating insight into transiency as a separate path to liberation was a later development,[15][16] under pressure of developments in Indian religious thinking, which saw "liberating insight" as quintessential to liberation.[2] This may also have been to due an over-literal interpretation by later scholastics of the terminology used by the Buddha,[17] and to the problems involved with the practice of dhyana, and the need to develop an easier method.[18]

Alex Wynne - Non-Buddhist influences

Alexander Wynne attempted to find parallels in Brahmanical texts to the meditative goals the two teachers claimed to have taught, drawing especially on some of the Upanishads and the Mokshadharma chapter of the Mahabharata.[5]

Uddaka Ramaputta and Alara Kalama

Alex Wynne suggests that Uddaka Ramaputta belonged to the pre-Buddhist tradition portrayed by the Buddhist and Brahmanic sources, in which the philosophical formulations of the early Upanishads were accepted and the meditative state of "neither perception nor non-perception" was equated with the self.[19] Furthermore, he suggested that the goal of Alara Kalama was a Brahminical concept. Evidence in the Chandogya Upanishad and the Taittiriya Upanishad suggests that a different early Brahminic philosophical tradition held the view that the unmanifest state of Brahman was a form of non-existence.[20] According to Wynne it thus seems likely that both element and formless meditation was learned by the Buddha from his two teachers and adapted by him to his own system.[21][note 4]

Brahmanical practices

Formless spheres

It appears that in early Brahminic yoga, the formless spheres were attained following element meditation.[23] This is also taught as an option in the early Buddhist texts.[24] The primary method taught to achieve the formless attainment in early Buddhist scriptures, on the other hand, is to proceed to the sphere of infinite space following the fourth jhāna.[25]

Reversal of the creation of the world

Wynne claimed that Brahminic passages on meditation suggest that the most basic presupposition of early Brahmanical yoga is that the creation of the world must be reversed, through a series of meditative states, by the yogin who seeks the realization of the self.[26] These states were given doctrinal background in early Brahminic cosmologies, which classified the world into successively coarser strata. One such stratification is found at TU II.1 and Mbh XII.195, and proceeds as follows: self, space, wind, fire, water, earth. Mbh XII.224 gives alternatively: Brahman, mind, space, wind, fire, water, earth.[27]

In Brahmanical thought, the meditative states of consciousness were thought to be identical to the subtle strata of the cosmos.[28] There is no similar theoretical background to element meditation in the early Buddhist texts, where the elements appear simply as suitable objects of meditation.[29] It is likely that the Brahmanic practices of element-meditation were borrowed and adapted by early Buddhists, with the original Brahmanic ideology of the practices being discarded in the process.[30]

Investigation of self

On this point, it is thought that the uses of the elements in early Buddhist literature have in general very little connection to Brahmanical thought; in most places they occur in teachings where they form the objects of a detailed contemplation of the human being. The aim of these contemplations seems to have been to bring about the correct understanding that the various perceived aspects of a human being, when taken together, nevertheless do not comprise a 'self'.[31] Moreover, the self is conceptualized in terms similar to both "nothingness" and "neither perception nor non-perception" at different places in early Upanishadic literature.[28]

The latter corresponds to Yajnavalkya’s definition of the self in his famous dialogue with Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and the definition given in the post-Buddhist Mandukya Upanishad. This is mentioned as a claim of non-Buddhist ascetics and Brahmins in the Pañcattaya Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 102.2).[32][33] In the same dialogue in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya draws the conclusions that the self that is neither perceptive nor non-perceptive is a state of consciousness without object. The early Buddhist evidence suggests much the same thing for the state of "neither perception nor non-perception".[33] It is a state without an object of awareness, that is not devoid of awareness.[34] The state following it in the Buddhist scheme, the "cessation of perception and sensation", is devoid not only of objectivity, but of subjectivity as well.[35]

Criticism of Wynne

The Brahmanical texts cited by Wynne assumed their final form long after the Buddha’s lifetime. The Mokshadharma postdates him.[22]

Qualities of the jhānas

The Pāli canon describes eight progressive states of jhāna. Four are called meditations of form (rūpa jhāna), and four are formless meditations (arūpa jhāna).

The Rupa Jhānas

There are four stages of deep collectedness which are called the Rupa Jhāna (Fine-material Jhāna).

Jhana and samadhi

According to Henepola Gunaratana the term "jhana" is closely connected with "samadhi", which is generally rendered as "concentration." The word "samadhi" is almost interchangeable with the word "samatha," serenity.[36]

In the suttas samadhi is defined as mental one-pointedness.[36] Buddhaghosa explains samadhi etymologically as

... the centering of consciousness and consciousness concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object... the state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered (Vism.84-85; PP.85).[36]

In the widest sense the word samadhi is being used for the practices which lead to the development of serenity. In this sense, samadhi and jhana are close in meaning. Nevertheless, they are not exactly identical. Samadhi signifies only one mental factor, namely one-pointedness, while the word "jhana" encompasses the whole state of consciousness.[36]

Samadhi also covers another type of concentration, namely "momentary concentration" (khanikasamadhi), "the mobile mental stabilization produced in the course of insight contemplation of the passing flow of phenomena."[36]

Rupa Jhana related factors

The rupa-jhānas are described according to the nature of the mental factors which are present in these states:

  1. Movement of the mind onto the object (vitakka; Sanskrit: vitarka)
  2. Retention of the mind on the object (vicāra)
  3. Joy (pīti; Sanskrit: prīti)
  4. Happiness (sukha)
  5. Equanimity (upekkhā; Sanskrit: upekṣā)
  6. One-pointedness (ekaggatā; Sanskrit: ekāgratā)[note 5]

Qualities of the Four Rupa Jhanas

For each Jhāna are given a set of qualities which are present in that jhana:[37]

  1. First Jhāna — the five hindrances have completely disappeared and intense unified bliss remains. Only the subtlest of mental movement remains, perceivable in its absence by those who have entered the second jhāna. The ability to form unwholesome intentions ceases. The remaining qualities are: "directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity & attention"
  2. Second Jhāna — all mental movement utterly ceases. There is only bliss. The ability to form wholesome intentions ceases as well. The remaining qualities are: "internal assurance, rapture, pleasure, unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention"
  3. Third Jhāna — one-half of bliss (joy) disappears. The remaining qualities are: "equanimity-pleasure, unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity & attention"
  4. Fourth Jhāna — The other half of bliss (happiness) disappears, leading to a state with neither pleasure nor pain, which the Buddha said is actually a subtle form of happiness (more sublime than pīti and sukha). The breath is said to cease temporarily in this state. The remaining qualities are: "a feeling of equanimity, neither pleasure nor pain; an unconcern due to serenity of awareness; unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity & attention".[37]

Psychic powers

Traditionally, the fourth jhāna is seen as the beginning of attaining psychic powers (abhijñā).[note 6]

The Arupa Jhānas

Beyond the four jhānas lie four attainments, referred to in the early texts as aruppas. These are also referred to in commentarial literature as immaterial/the formless jhānas (arūpajhānas), also translated as The Formless Dimensions, in distinction from the first four jhānas (rūpa jhānas). In the Buddhist canonical texts, the word "jhāna" is never explicitly used to denote them, but they are always mentioned in sequence after the first four jhānas. The immaterial attainments have more to do with expanding, while the Jhanas (1-4) focus on concentration. The enlightenment of complete dwelling in emptiness is reached when the eighth jhāna is transcended.

The four formless jhanas are:

  1. Dimension of Infinite Space - In this dimension the following qualities are "ferreted out":[37] "the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention".[37]
  2. Dimension of Infinite Consciousness - In this dimension the following quailities are "ferreted out":[37] "the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention".[37]
  3. Dimension of Nothingness - In this dimension the following qualities are "ferreted out":[37] "the perception of the dimension of nothingness, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention"
  4. Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception No qualities to be "ferreted out" are being mentioned for this dimension.[37]

Although the "Dimension of Nothingness" and the "Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception" are included in the list of nine Jhanas taught by the Buddha, they are not included in the Noble Eightfold Path. Noble Path number eight is "Samma Samadhi" (Right Concentration), and only the first four Jhanas are considered "Right Concentration". If he takes a disciple through all the Jhanas, the emphasis is on the "Cessation of Feelings and Perceptions" rather than stopping short at the "Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception".


The Buddha also rediscovered an attainment beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, Nirodha-Samapatti, the "cessation of feelings and perceptions".[37] This is sometimes called the "ninth jhāna" in commentarial and scholarly literature.[38][39]

Mastering the jhanas

Gradual development

The scriptures state that one should not seek to attain ever higher jhānas but master one first, then move on to the next. Mastery of jhāna involves being able to enter a jhāna at will, stay as long as one likes, leave at will and experience each of the jhāna factors as required. They also seem to suggest that lower jhāna factors may manifest themselves in higher jhāna, if the jhānas have not been properly developed. The Buddha is seen to advise his disciples to concentrate and steady the jhāna further.

The early suttas state that "the most exquisite of recluses" is able to attain any of the jhānas and abide in them without difficulty. This particular arahant is "liberated in both ways:" he is fluent in attaining the jhānas and is also aware of their ultimate unsatisfactoriness. If he were not, he would fall into the same problem as the teachers from whom the Buddha learned the spheres of nothingness and neither perception nor non-perception, in seeing these meditative attainments as something final. Their problem lay in seeing permanence where there is impermanence.[40]

Aspects of jhana mastery

A meditator should first master the lower jhānas, before they can go into the higher jhānas. There are five aspects of jhāna mastery:

  1. Mastery in adverting: the ability to advert to the jhāna factors one by one after emerging from the jhāna, wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and for as long as he wants.
  2. Mastery in attaining: the ability to enter upon jhāna quickly.
  3. Mastery in resolving: the ability to remain in the jhāna for exactly the pre-determined length of time.
  4. Mastery in emerging: the ability to emerge from jhāna quickly without difficulty.
  5. Mastery in reviewing: the ability to review the jhāna and its factors with retrospective knowledge immediately after adverting to them.

Access concentration

According to the Pāli canon commentary, access/neighbourhood concentration (upacāra-samādhi) is a stage of meditation that the meditator reaches before entering into jhāna. The overcoming of the five hindrances[note 7] mark the entry into access concentration. Access concentration is not mentioned in the discourses of the Buddha, but there are several suttas where a person gains insight into the Dhamma on hearing a teaching from the Buddha.[note 8][note 9]

According to Tse-fu Kuan, at the state of access concentration, some meditators may experience vivid mental imagery,[note 10] which is similar to a vivid dream. They are as vividly as if seen by the eye, but in this case the meditator is fully aware and conscious that they are seeing mental images. According to Tse-fu Kuan, this is discussed in the early texts, and expanded upon in Theravāda commentaries.[42]

According to Venerable Sujivo, as the concentration becomes stronger, the feelings of breathing and of having a physical body will completely disappear, leaving only pure awareness. At this stage inexperienced meditators may become afraid, thinking that they are going to die if they continue the concentration, because the feeling of breathing and the feeling of having a physical body has completely disappeared. They should not be so afraid and should continue their concentration in order to reach "full concentration" (jhāna).[43]

Jhana and liberation

The Buddhist tradition has incorporated two traditions regarding the use of jhana.[3] There is a tradition that stresses attaining insight (bodhi, prajna, kensho) as the means to awakening and liberation. According to the Theravada tradition dhyana must be combined with vipassana,[44] which gives insight into the three marks of existence and leads to detachment and "the manifestation of the path".[45]

But the Buddhist tradition has also incorporated the yogic tradition, as reflected in the use of jhana, which is rejected in other sutras as not resulting in the final result of liberation. One solution to this contradiction is the conjunctive use of vipassana and samatha.[46] In Zen Buddhism, this problem has appeared over the centuries in the disputes over sudden versus gradual enlightenment.[47]

Various possibilities for liberation

Schmithausen notes that the mention of the four noble truths as constituting "liberating insight", which is attained after mastering the Rupa Jhanas, is a later addition to texts such as Majjhima Nikaya 36.[12][3][2] Schmithausen discerns three possible roads to liberation as described in the suttas, to which Vetter adds a fourth possibility:[48]

  1. Mastering the four Rupa Jhanas, where-after "liberating insight" is attained;
  2. Mastering the four Rupa Jhanas and the four Arupa Jhanas, where-after "liberating insight" is attained;
  3. Liberating insight itself suffices;
  4. The four Rupa Jhanas themsef constituted the core liberating practice of early buddhism, c.q. the Buddha.[49]

Jhana itself is liberating

Both Schmithausen and Bronkhorst note that the attainment of insight, which is a cognitive activity, can't be possible in state weherin all cognitive acitivy has ceased.[3] According to Vetter, the practice of Rupa Jhana itself may have constituted the core practice of early Buddhism, with practices such as sila and mindfulness aiding to its development.[49] It is the "middle way" between self-mprtificatio, ascribed by Bronkhorst to Jainism,[50] and indulgence in sensual pleasure.[51] Vetter emphasizes that dhyana is a form of non-sensual happiness.[52] The eightfold path can be seen as a path of preparation which leads to the practice of samadi.[53]

Liberation in Nirodha-Samapatti

According to some texts, after progressing through the eight jhanas and the stage of Nirodha-Samapatti, a person is liberated.[37] According to some traditions someone attaining the state of Nirodha-Samapatti is an anagami or an arahant.[54] In the Anupadda sutra, the Buddha narrates that Sariputta became an arahant upon reaching it.[55]

Jhana as an aid to attaining insight

Dhyana and insight

According to Alexander Wynne, the ultimate aim of dhyana was the attainment of insight,[56] and the application of the meditative state to the practice of mindfulness.[56] According to Frauwallner, mindfulness was a means to prevent the arising of craving, which resulted simply from contact between the senses and their objects. According to Frauwallner this may have been the Buddha’s original idea.[57][note 11] According to Wynne, this stress on mindfulness may have lead to the intellectualism which favoured insight over the practice of dhyana.[58]

Two kinds of dhyana

According to Richard Gombrich, the sequence of the four rupa-jhanas describes two different cognitive states:

I know this is controversial, but it seems to me that the third and fourth jhanas are thus quite unlike the second.[59][note 12]

Alexander Wynne further explains that the dhyana-scheme is poorly understood.[58] According to Wynne, words expressing the inculcation of awareness, such as sati, sampajāno, and upekkhā, are mistranslated or understood as particular factors of meditative states,[58] whereas they refer to a particular way of perceiving the sense objects:[58]

Thus the expression sato sampajāno in the third jhāna must denote a state of awareness different from the meditative absorption of the second jhāna (cetaso ekodibhāva). It suggests that the subject is doing something different from remaining in a meditative state, i.e. that he has come out of his absorption and is now once again aware of objects. The same is true of the word upek(k)hā: it does not denote an abstract 'equanimity', [but] it means to be aware of something and indifferent to it [...] The third and fourth jhāna-s, as it seems to me, describe the process of directing states of meditative absorption towards the mindful awareness of objects.[60][note 11][note 13]


According to the Theravada-tradition, the meditator uses the jhāna state to bring the mind to rest, and to strengthen and sharpen the mind, in order to investigate the true nature of phenomena (dhamma) and to gain insight into impermanence, suffering and not-self.

According to the sutta descriptions of jhāna practice, the meditator does not emerge from jhāna to practice vipassana but rather the work of insight is done whilst in jhāna itself. In particular the meditator is instructed to "enter and remain in the fourth jhāna" before commencing the work of insight in order to uproot the mental defilements.[61]<[note 14]

According to the later Theravāda commentorial tradition as outlined by Buddhagoṣa in his Visuddhimagga, after coming out of the state of jhāna the meditator will be in the state of post-jhāna access concentration. In this state the investigation and analysis of the true nature of phenomena begins, which leads to insight into the characteristics of impermanence, suffering and not-self arises.

According to the contemporary Vipassana-movement, the jhāna state cannot by itself lead to enlightenment as it only suppresses the defilements. Meditators must use the jhāna state as an instrument for developing wisdom by cultivating insight, and use it to penetrate the true nature of phenomena through direct cognition, which will lead to cutting off the defilements and nibbana.

Insight alone suffices

The emphasis on "liberatiing insight" alone seems to be a later development, in response to developments in Indian religious thought.[3][49] Vetter notes that such insight is not possible in a state of dhyana, since discursive thinking is eliminated in such a state.[63] He also notes that the emphasis on "liberating insight" developed only after the four noble truths were introduced as an expression of what this "liberating insight" constituted.[64] In time, other expressions took over these function, such as pratītyasamutpāda and the emptiness of the self.[65]

In Mahāyāna traditions

Bodhisattva seated in meditation. Afghanistan, 2nd century CE

Mahāyāna Buddhism includes numerous schools of practice. Each draw upon various Buddhist sūtras, philosophical treatises, and commentaries, and each has its own emphasis, mode of expression, and philosophical outlook. Accordingly, each school has its own meditation methods for the purpose of developing samādhi and prajñā, with the goal of ultimately attaining enlightenment.

Dhyāna in the Chán school

In China, the word dhyāna was originally transliterated 禪那 (pinyin: chánnà), and shortened to just (pinyin: chán) by common usage. In Chinese Buddhism dhyāna may refer to all kinds of meditation techniques and their preparatory practices which can be used to attain samadhi.[66] The word chán became the designation for the Chán school (Japanese: Zen).

Dhyāna is a central aspect of Buddhist practice in Chán. Nan Huai-Chin:

Intellectual reasoning is just another spinning of the sixth consciousness, whereas the practice of meditation is the true entry into the Dharma."[67]

According to Sheng Yen, meditative concentration is necessary, calling samādhi one of the requisite factors for progress on the path toward enlightenment.[68]


B. Alan Wallace holds that modern Tibetan Buddhism lacks emphasis on achieving levels of concentration higher than access concentration.[69][70] According to Wallace, one possible explanation for this situation is that virtually all Tibetan Buddhist meditators seek to become enlightened through the use of tantric practices. These require the presence of sense desire and passion in one's consciousness, but jhāna effectively inhibits these phenomena.[69]

While few Tibetan Buddhists, either inside or outside Tibet, devote themselves to the practice of concentration, Tibetan Buddhist literature does provide extensive instructions on it, and great Tibetan meditators of earlier times stressed its importance.[71] All this being said, Wallace has translated and commented on Tsongkapa's Stages of the Path, a Tibetan classic on this topic, in his book Balancing the Mind. It is a very intricate guide on mastering equanimity and insight during meditation, both of which are claimed to be required to advance up the jhanas.

Influence on Indian religions

Jhana as liberation

Hindu texts later used that term to indicate the state of liberation. According to Walshe, citing Rhys Davids, this is not in conformity with Buddhist usage:[72]

its subsequent use in Hindu texts to denote the state of enlightenment is not in conformity with Buddhist usage, where the basic meaning of concentration is expanded to cover ‘meditation’ in general.[8]

But according to Vetter, the practice of dhyana may have been the original liberating practice in Buddhism.[2]

Parallels with Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga

There are parallels with the fourth to eighth stages of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga, as mentioned in his classical work, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali composed in the 2nd century BCE.[73]

Patanjali discerns bahiranga (external) aspects of yoga namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the antaranga (internal) yoga. Having actualized the pratyahara stage, a practitioner is able to effectively engage into the practice of Samyama. At the stage of pratyahara, the consciousness of the individual is internalized in order that the sensations from the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell don't reach their respective centers in the brain and takes the sadhaka (practitioner) to next stages of Yoga, namely Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (mystical absorption), being the aim of all Yogic practices.[74]

The Eight Limbs of the yoga sutras show Samadhi as one of its limbs. But the Eight limbs of the Yoga Sutra was only developed after the Buddha and is influenced by the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. The suttas show that during the time of the Buddha, Nigantha Nataputta, the Jain leader, did not even believe that it is possible to enter a state where the thoughts and examination stop.[75]

Scientific studies

There has been little scientific study of these mental states. In 2008, an EEG study found "strong, significant, and consistent differences in specific brain regions when the meditator is in a jhana state compared to normal resting consciousness".[76] Tentative hypotheses on the neurological correlates have been proposed, but lack supporting evidence.[77]

See also


  1. ^ See also Samadhanga Sutta: The Factors of Concentration
  2. ^ See Majjhima Nikaya 25, Nivāpa Sutta, in which the Buddha compares the search of the recluses and brahmins with deers (the recluses and brahmins) who try to escape the bait (sensual pleasure) of hunters (Mara). The deers who escape are those who keep accees to the senses, but in a mindful way; and who don't hold views like "the world is eternal, "the world is not eternal", et cetera. This is possible by the practice of jhana, which puts the recuses and brahmins out of reach of Mara.[web 2]
  3. ^ It is important to note that of the 200 or so Upanishads, only the first 10 or 12 are considered the oldest and principal Upanishads. Among these 10 or 12 principal Upanishads, the Taittiriya, Aitareya and Kausitaki show Buddhist influence.[10] The Brihadaranyaka, Jaiminiya-Upanisad-Brahmana and the Chandogya Upanishads were composed during the pre-Buddhist era while the rest of these 12 oldest Upanishads are dated to the last few centuries BCE.
  4. ^ According to Bronkhorst, the account of the Buddha practicing under Uddaka Ramaputta and Alara Kalama is entirely fictious, and meant to flesh out the mentioning of those names in the post-enlightenment narrative in Majjhima Nikaya 36.[3][22] According to Bronkhorst, the Buddha's teachings developed primarily in response to Jain teachings, not Brahmanical teachings.[3]
  5. ^ In the Suttapitaka, right concentration is often referred to as having five factors, with one-pointedness (ekaggatā) not being explicitly identified as a factor of jhana attainment (see, for instance, SN 28.1-4, AN 4.41, AN 5.28).
  6. ^ For instance in AN 5.28, the Buddha states (Thanissaro, 1997.): "When a monk has developed and pursued the five-factored noble right concentration in this way, then whichever of the six higher knowledges he turns his mind to know and realize, he can witness them for himself whenever there is an opening...." "If he wants, he wields manifold supranormal powers. Having been one he becomes many; having been many he becomes one. He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. He dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting crosslegged he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful. He exercises influence with his body even as far as the Brahma worlds. He can witness this for himself whenever there is an opening ..."
  7. ^ Sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry and doubt
  8. ^ According to Peter Harvey, access concentration is described at Digha Nikaya I, 110, among other places: "The situation at D I, 110, then, can be seen as one where the hearer of a discourse enters a state which, while not an actual jhana, could be bordering on it. As it is free from hindrances, it could be seen as 'access' concentration with a degree of wisdom." Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 95. See also: Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind, page 170.
  9. ^ The equivalent of upacāra-samādhi used in Tibetan commentaries is nyer-bsdogs.[41]
  10. ^ Pāli: nimitta
  11. ^ a b "In this order, therefore, what we should understand as vipassanā is not at all a synonym for sati but rather something which grows out of the combination of all these factors especially of course the last two, samma sati and samma samadhi applied to the ruthless observation of what comes into being (yathābhūta). One could say, vipassanā is a name for the practice of sati+samadhi as applied to anicca/dukkha/anatta (i.e. generating wisdom) directed at the six-sense-process, including any mental activity."[web 3]
  12. ^ Original publication: Gombrich, Richard (2007), Religious Experience in Early Buddhism, OCHS Library 
  13. ^ According to Gombrich, "the later tradition has falsified the jhana by classifying them as the quintessence of the concentrated, calming kind of meditation, ignoring the other - and indeed higher - element.[59]
  14. ^ Samaññaphala Sutta: "With the abandoning of pleasure and pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress — he enters and remains in the fourth jhāna: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither-pleasure nor pain...With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, the monk directs and inclines it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. He discerns, as it has come to be, that 'This is suffering... This is the origination of suffering... This is the cessation of suffering... This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering... These are mental fermentations... This is the origination of fermentations... This is the cessation of fermentations... This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations."[62]


  1. ^ Vetter 1988, p. 5.
  2. ^ a b c d e Vetter 1988.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bronkhorst 1993.
  4. ^ a b Samuel 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d Wynne 2007.
  6. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 29.
  7. ^ Kalupahana 1994, p. 24.
  8. ^ a b Walshe, Maurice (trans.) (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.
  9. ^ Matsumoto Year Unknown, p. 242.
  10. ^ King 1995, p. 52.
  11. ^ Nanamoli 1995.
  12. ^ a b Schmithausen 1981.
  13. ^ Vetter 1988, p. 5-6.
  14. ^ vetter 1988, p. 5-6.
  15. ^ Vetter 1988, p. xxxiv-xxxvii.
  16. ^ Gombrich 1997, p. 131.
  17. ^ Gombrich 1997, p. 96-134.
  18. ^ Vetter 1988, p. xxxv.
  19. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 44, see also 45-49.
  20. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 196.
  21. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 50.
  22. ^ a b Vishvapani (rev.) (1997). Review: Origin of Buddhist Meditation. Retrieved 2011-2-17 from "Western Buddhist Review" at
  23. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 56.
  24. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 29-31.
  25. ^ Henepola Gunaratana, The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation. [1].
  26. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 41, 56.
  27. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 49.
  28. ^ a b Wynne 2007, p. 42.
  29. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 39.
  30. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 41.
  31. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 35.
  32. ^ M II.228.16 ff according to the PTS numbering.
  33. ^ a b Wynne 2007, p. 43.
  34. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 44.
  35. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 99.
  36. ^ a b c d e The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist MeditationHenepola Gunaratana,
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h i j as stated by Buddha Gotama in the Anuppada Sutta, MN#111
  38. ^ Steven Sutcliffe, Religion: Empirical Studies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004, page 135.
  39. ^ Chandima Wijebandara, Early Buddhism, Its Religious and Intellectual Milieu. Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, 1993, page 22..
  40. ^ Nathan Katz, Buddhist Images of Human Perfection: The Arahant of the Sutta Piṭaka Compared with the Bodhisattva and the Mahāsiddha. Motilal Banarsidass, 1990, page 78.
  41. ^ B. Alan Wallace, The bridge of quiescence: experiencing Tibetan Buddhist meditation. Carus Publishing Company, 1998, page 92. Wallace translates both as "the first proximate meditative stabilization".
  42. ^ Tse-fu Kuan, Mindfulness in Early Buddhism: New Approaches Through Psychology and Textual Analysis of Pali, Chinese and Sanskrit Sources. Routledge, 2008, pages 65-67.
  43. ^ Venerable Sujivo, Access and Fixed Concentration. Vipassana Tribune, Vol 4 No 2, July 1996, Buddhist Wisdom Centre, Malaysia. Available here.
  44. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 73.
  45. ^ King 1992, p. 90.
  46. ^ One Tool Among Many. The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist PracticeThanissaro Bhikkhu,
  47. ^ Gregory 1991.
  48. ^ Vetter 1988, p. xxi-xxii.
  49. ^ a b c Vetter & 1988 xxi-xxxvii.
  50. ^ bronkhorst 1993.
  51. ^ Vetter 1988, p. xxviii.
  52. ^ Vetter & 1988 xxix.
  53. ^ Vetter & 1988 xxx.
  54. ^ Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University Press, 1990, page 252.
  55. ^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary on the Anuppada Sutta, MN#111
  56. ^ a b Wynne 2007, p. 105.
  57. ^ Williams 2000, p. 45.
  58. ^ a b c d Wynne 2007, p. 106.
  59. ^ a b Wynne 2007, p. 140, note 58.
  60. ^ Wynne 2007, p. 106-107.
  61. ^ Richard Shankman, The Experience of Samadhi - an in depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Shambala publications 2008
  62. ^ "Samaññaphala Sutta". 
  63. ^ Vetter & 1988 xxvii.
  64. ^ Vetter & 1988 xxxi.
  65. ^ Bronkhorst 1988.
  66. ^ Fischer-Schreiber 2008, p. 103.
  67. ^ Nan, Huai-Chin. To Realize Enlightenment: Practice of the Cultivation Path. 1994. p. 1
  68. ^ Sheng Yen. Orthodox Chinese Buddhism. North Atlantic Books. 2007. p. 122
  69. ^ a b B. Alan Wallace, The bridge of quiescence: experiencing Tibetan Buddhist meditation. Carus Publishing Company, 1998, pages 215-216.
  70. ^ Study and Practice of Meditation: Tibetan Interpretations of the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions by Leah Zahler. Snow Lion Publications: 2009 pg 264-5
  71. ^ B. Alan Wallace, The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind. Wisdom Publications, 2006, page xii.
  72. ^ Maurice Walsh, The Long Discourse of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikay, pg. 1700
  73. ^ 2.54-2.55: - Pratyahara or Sense WithdrawalYoga Sutras Yoga Sutras, 2.54-2.55.
  74. ^ Moving Inward: The Journey from Asana to Pratyahara Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy.
  75. ^ Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
  76. ^ Hagerty et al 2008, "EEG Power and Coherence Analysis of an Expert Meditator in the Eight Jhanas" [2]
  77. ^ Leigh Brasington 2010 "The Neurological Correlates of the Jhanas. A Tentative Hypothesis" [3]


Printed sources

  • Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Cousins, L. S. (1996), "The origins of insight meditation", in Skorupski, T., The Buddhist Forum IV, seminar papers 1994–1996 (pp. 35–58), London, UK: School of Oriental and African Studies 
  • Dumoulin, Heinrich (2005), Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1: India and China, World Wisdom Books,  
  • Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid; Ehrhard, Franz-Karl; diener, Michael S. (2008), Lexicon Boeddhisme. Wijsbegeerte, religie, psychologie, mystiek, cultuur en literatuur, Asoka 
  • Gregory, Peter N. (1991), Sudden and Gradual. Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • King, Richard (1995), Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: The Mahāyāna Context of the Gauḍapādīya-kārikā, SUNY Press 
  • King, Winston L. (1992), Theravada Meditation. The Buddhist Transformation of Yoga, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 
  • Matsumoto, Shirõ (Year Unknown), The Meaning of "Zen" 
  • Nanamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) (1995), The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Wisdom Publications,  
  • Schmithausen, Lambert (1981), On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism". In: Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus (Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf), hrsg. von Klaus Bruhn und Albrecht Wezler, Wiesbaden 1981, 199-250 
  • Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL 
  • Williams, Paul (2000), Buddhist Thought. A complete introduction to the Indian tradition, Routledge 
  • Wynne, Alexander (2007), The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Routledge 


  1. ^ , "The Noble Search"Ariyapariyesana Suttaaccess to insight, Majjhima Nikaya 26,
  2. ^ , "The Simile of the Deer Feeder", Majjhima Nikaya 25, Nivāpa Sutta
  3. ^ The Yoga Sutra: a handbook on Buddhist meditation? (2010),

External links

  • Henepola Gunaratana, The Jhana In Theravada Buddhist Meditation
  • Ajahn Brahmavamso, Travelogue to the four Jhanas
  • Bhikkhu Isidatta, Reflecting on the four Jhanas
  • Leigh Brasington, Interpretations of the Jhanas
  • Tse-fu Kuan, Clarification on Feelings in Buddhist Dhyāna/Jhāna Meditation
  • Bhante Vimalaramsi Mahāthera, MN 111 One by One as They Occurred - Anupada Sutta. Dhamma-Talks on the Anupada-Sutta. This provides a highly detailed account of the progression through the jhānas,
  • Ajahn Brahmavamso, The Jhanas
  • Bhikkhu Isidatta, Surfing on the Wave of Bliss
  • "The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation," thesis by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, published by BPS as Wheel 351/353 (1988). (See also ATI version.)
  • "Jhana" (2005), descriptions and similes from the Pali Canon's Anguttara Nikaya and Dhammapada, by John T. Bullitt.
  • "Jhanas Advice": Information about the Jhanas from Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder, authors of Practicing The Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation As Presented By The Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw by Snyder, Stephen; Rasmussen, Tina. Shambhala: 2009. ISBN 978-1-59030-733-5
  • The Fruits (Phala) of the Contemplative LifeJeffrey S, Brooks,
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