David's Book:The Nine Levels Of Jhana
[By Dr.David N. Snyder]
To reach the jhanic states one must choose a meditation subject and use one-pointedness
concentration. The subject can be a devotional statue, a colored disc, or simply your breath. As
opposed to insight meditation or vipassana, in this meditation you focus all your attention on
your subject. The background views and noises must remain only part of the background. You
concentrate on your subject with eyes sometimes open and then closed. When your eyes are
closed, look for the after-image of your meditation subject in your mind. Eventually you will
reach a high state of concentration with all of the five hindrances gone from your mind. The five
hindrances are not permanently extinguished, but gone for the meditation to allow the entry to
When your mind state is free of the five hindrances and your concentration is especially strong
you enter the first jhana of pleasant sensations. It takes much practice and remember patience
is very important. You may not experience your first jhanic state until many years of practice.
As you reach each jhanic level, your mind will be tempted to remain at the previous jhanic state.
Simply keep a balanced mind with no clinging to the pleasant or unpleasant and you will
progress to the higher levels. The nine levels of jhana are:
1. Delightful Sensations
4. Utter peacefulness
5. Infinity of space
6. Infinity of consciousness
8. Neither perception nor non-perception
The jhanas are the main part of Right Concentration in the Eightfold Middle Path. The insight of
vipassana meditation can be found in Right Concentration as well, but is primarily part of Right
Effort and Right Mindfulness of the Eightfold Middle Path. The jhanas were well known during
the time of the Buddha and before. The teachers the Buddha studied under before his
enlightenment were all familiar with the jhanas and taught him how to get to the first seven and
then eighth jhana. But, the Buddha discovered that there was more to be known. He knew that
the jhanas were not all that there is.
The jhanas are altered states of consciousness which are produced from periods of strong
concentration. Although not enlightenment experiences, they do provide much needed
experience into the Path and explain much of the cosmology in an experiential way. For
example, each jhana tends to correspond to one or more heavenly realms in the cosmology.
By attaining different levels of jhana, the meditator increases the likelihood of being re-born to a
heavenly plane of existence. If you pass away while meditating at one of the jhanic levels, you
will be re-born to that heavenly existence. If you pass away when you are not in a meditation
session, but have attained to a certain level of jhana in the past, you can still be re-born to one of
those heavenly planes.
The five hindrances to meditation which prevent access to entering the jhanas can be eliminated
by the five factors of the first jhana. The first factor is one-pointedness concentration. By
maintaining one-pointedness concentration, you will not get distracted by sense pleasures or
desires. Focus on your meditation subject, which is usually the breath. There are 40 meditation
subjects for Right Concentration and any of them can allow access to the jhanas, but the common
subject for most meditators is the breath. When rapture and joy become noticeable, this
eradicates the hindrance of aversion. The happiness and comfort that follows eradicates
restlessness and worry. As the concentration gets stronger you aim very well at your subject and
this eliminates sloth and torpor. Since skeptical doubt includes indecision, as you start to have
sustained attention, the doubt about the practice fades.
The First Jhana: Pleasant Sensations
The concentration begins with one-pointedness concentration and then when the concentration
becomes strong you enter a sustained concentration which is a continuous concentration with no
interruptions. You start to enter the remaining jhanic factors of aiming, happiness, and joy or
rapture. You shift your attention from the meditation subject to the joy associated with your
concentration. You do not cling to the sensations, but just watch them. The experience can
include some very pleasant physical sensations such as goose bumps on the body and the hair
standing up to more intense pleasures which grow in intensity and explode into a state of ecstasy.
If you have pain in your legs, knees, or other part of the body during meditation, the pain will
actually disappear while you are in the jhanas. The pleasant sensations can be so strong to
eliminate your painful sensations.
The Second Jhana: Joy
You proceed from the first jhana to the second by keeping a balanced mind with no clinging to
the sensations of the first jhana. Then you shift your attention from the physical pleasure to
emotional pleasure. The pleasurable sensations get put to the background and calm the mind
further. You feel a great joy in your meditation and keep one-pointedness of mind.
The Third Jhana: Contentment
You let go of the physical pleasures which changes the emotional pleasure from joy to
contentment. You experience a more motionless, quiet contentment.
The Fourth Jhana: Utter Peacefulness
The fourth jhana is entered when the mind remains equanimous to the third jhana of contentment
long enough that you are ready to let go further. There is no positive or negative feeling in the
mind or body. Then there is an all pervading, deep peacefulness, with one-pointedness of mind.
The Fifth Jhana: Infinity of Space
The fifth through the eighth jhanas are the ―absorptions without form.‖ This is because they
refer to states of consciousness where there is no perception of a form or body. They correspond
to heavenly realms which also have no form or body. That is, beings re-born to the formless
realms, which are some of the heavenly planes, do not have a body, but do have pleasant
You enter the fifth jhana by remaining in the utter peacefulness state and then shift your attention
to the boundaries of your being. You focus your attention outward as if you are watching
yourself from above. You may feel like you are floating above your body at first. You put your
attention on your body so that it feels like you are filling the room. This is expanded further and
further so that you fill your whole neighborhood, city, country, continent, and then to space
itself. You find yourself in this huge expanse of empty space.
The Sixth Jhana: Infinity of Consciousness
You enter the sixth jhana by realizing that the infinite space you occupy includes your
consciousness. So you shift your attention to infinite consciousness instead of infinite space.
You may feel ―at one‖ with all nature and existence, but do not be fooled, this is not full
enlightenment. Concentration is further increased and there is still one-pointedness of mind.
The Seventh Jhana: No-thingness
The seventh jhana is entered by realizing that the content of the infinite consciousness is
basically empty of any permanent nature. We also realize that there is no ―thing
either. There is nothing in the universe that has any permanent essence to it. We realize that
everything is in constant flux.
The Eighth Jhana: Neither perception nor non-perception
The eight and ninth jhanas are difficult to discuss because they are so hard to describe in much
the same way nibbana is hard to describe. This is because they are such heightened levels of
concentration and of the Path itself, that they must be experienced. There is also very little to
discuss with the eighth and ninth jhanas, since the perception levels have become so fine and so
subtle. You enter the eighth jhana by letting go of the sense of no-thingness and enter a very
natural, calm place. In the eighth jhana there is very little recognition of what is happening, but
you are also not totally unaware of what is happening. There is such a peaceful state and you
have gone beyond the duality of perception nor non-perception that it is easy to be fooled that
you have experienced full enlightenment. But there is still more to do.
The Ninth Jhana: Cessation
When you reach the limits of perception, you realize that lesser mental activity is better for your
calm and peaceful state. You enter a state of ―cessation‖ of consciousness where there is only a
very sublte form of perception. The meditator may appear to be unconscious. There have been
reports of meditators having heart beats as low as 20 to 40 beats per minute at this jhanic level.
The nearest way to describe this state is something like a very deep sleep. The eight and ninth
jhanas are not full enlightenment, but very close stepping stones to full awakening. Only those
who are very close to being fully enlightened can enter the eighth and especially, the ninth
Everyone will approach the jhanas in their own unique way. It can take several years or even
decades before having your first jhana experience. It is not something to pursue or chase after or
to be impatient about. Otherwise it may never come. One is not supposed to talk too much
about jhanic experiences since it is virtually impossible to discuss your jhanic attainment or any
powers from the jhanas without inflating one‘s ego.
In the interest of providing an example, I will briefly discuss my first experience with the first
five jhanas. I was living near Dallas, Texas and attended a three day weekend meditation retreat
at a zen Buddhist temple. The meditation program called for the participants to sit through the
last night with no sleeping. We continued our meditation after dinner and attempted to go all
night meditating, without sleep. Most of the participants dozed off into sleep and their snoring
became quite loud. In addition I had severe pain in my legs and knees from sitting so long that
weekend. I was so frustrated with the pain and the snoring noise. Then I realized my judging
mind was too much at work and I decided I needed to focus on my own practice and ignore the
others. I thought to myself, I am going to sit cross-legged, no matter how much pain there is, I
will sit through it. Maybe I was so tired and in pain that I was getting delirious, but I did not care
about my own health at that moment. I sat down and accepted the pain. I focused directly on the
pain and then to my long, deep breaths. My concentration was very good toward my breath as it
eased my pain. After a few hours all of a sudden, all the pain went away. I felt wonderful
sensations and tingling all over. The pain in my legs and knees were gone. I passed through
moments of joy, happiness, rapture, contentment, and peacefulness. Then I felt as if I was
floating through the air. I felt as if my body was filling the room and beyond.
It was several years later before I even realized that I had experienced the jhanas. I was
originally attracted to the Theravada – vipassana school of Buddhism, but could not find a center
near me. So I mostly practiced with zen and vajrayana centers. It is primarily the Theravada and
vipassana teachers who talk about the jhanas so at that time I had no information or knowledge
of the jhanas. Later when I learned of the jhanas I was pleased to find out that the experience
was an important insight and not me losing my mind.
------to be continued------