Power of the Human Mind – Anariya or Mundane Jhānas

1. The 54 types of cittā (thoughts) belonging to the kāmalōka (called kāmavacara cittā) are not very strong; they can just have enough power to grasp the thought object (arammana in Pāli or aramuna in Sinhala).

  • The power of a thought comes from javana; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power” for an analysis based on Abhidhamma.
  • But the jhānic cittā belonging to the rūpalōka and arūpalōka have much more power and have a firm grasp of the object. This is why it is possible for someone who can get to the fourth jhānic state to acquire some capabilities that exceed the “normal” human potential, like telekinetic (move things with the mind) or the ability to see or hear from long distances; see below.
  • The Pāli word “jhāna” has two roots: “to concentrate” and also “to burn up”.

2. The Anariya or mundane jhānā are attained simply by SUPPRESSING the five hindrances. One simply focuses the mind forcefully onto one thought object, not letting those five hindrances come to surface.

  • Since there is only one citta at a time (even though there are billions of cittā a second), when one forces the mind to one thought object, the five hindrances are kept at bay, and one feels the serenity of a mind unpolluted by the hindrances. This is called samatha meditation.

3. Thus attaining mundane jhānā is purely a mechanistic process. While some Buddhists use them to calm the mind before getting into insight (vipassana) meditation, it is used widely by the Hindus. Even before the Buddha, there were many Hindu yōgis who could attain the highest jhānā.

  • There are many reports of people of other faiths also attaining such jhānic states (see, for example, “Interior Castle” by the Christian nun St. Teresa of Avila; edited by E. Allison Peers, 1946, for a fascinating description of “seven mansions” which seem to correspond to these jhānic states).
  • But such jhānic states are not permanent; one could lose them in an instant, if the moral conduct is broken and defiled thoughts come to the surface (anusaya).

4. There are many techniques for conducting such samatha meditation. The popular ones are breath (whether focusing the mind on the breath at the nostrils or on the rising/falling of the stomach) and kasina meditation (where a certain object, for example a colored disk is used to focus the attention on). As one’s mind gets absorbed in that object, the five hindrances are suppressed, and the mind advances to higher and higher calm states.

  • Obviously, it is easier to attain jhānic states via samatha meditation if one follows at least the five precepts (not killing, stealing, sexually misbehaving, lying, or taking drugs or alcohol). This is because the greedy and hateful thoughts are at a lower baseline state for a person observing the five precepts.
  • If one abstains from all ten immoral acts (dasa akusala), then it is even easier to calm the mind and to attain these jhānic states; see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“.

5. The five jhānic states corresponding to the cittā in the rūpalōka themselves are related to the five hindrances. To get to the first jhānic state, one needs to suppress the five hindrances; this is done by developing five sōbhana mental factors (sōbhana cetasika) to counter the five hindrances:

  • Vitakka inhibits the hindrance of sloth and torpor (thīna middha). This is how one trains to direct the mind to one thought object, say the breath. Vitakka is normally translated as “initial application”, but it comes from “tharka” or going back and forth among many arammana (thought objects); when this is stopped one has “vitharka” or vitakka, i.e., staying on one thought object, for example, breath or a kasina object.
  • Sustained application (vicāra; pronounced “vichāra”) is the continued presence of the mind on that object, i.e., maintaining concentration on that object; vicāra comes from stopping “chāra” or moving around. Vitakka and vicāra are compared to a bee flying towards a flower and then buzzing and hanging around the flower while extracting honey from it. Vicāra serves to temporarily inhibit the hindrance of vicikicca.
  • As the mind gets absorbed in the object, thoughts of ill will are suppressed and zest or mental happiness (pīti or “preethi“) arises in the mind. This is the jhānic factor of piti, and it suppresses the hindrance of ill will (vyāpada). This happiness is felt mainly on the face.
  • The body becomes light due to physical happiness (sukha). This jhānic factor counters the hindrance of restlessness and worry (uddhacca kukkucca).
  • Thus the mind now becomes totally absorbed in the thought object, and one has one-pointedness (ekgaggata). This is the primary jhānic factor in all rūpalōka jhānic states and the essence of concentration (samādhi). This one-pointedness temporarily inhibits sensual desire (kāmachanda).

When all five jhānic factors are present, the five hindrances are temporarily suppressed, and one is in the first jhānic state.

6. The higher jhānā are attained by successively eliminating the grosser jhāna factors and by refining the subtler jhāna factors through sustained concentration.

  • Thus in the Abhidhamma it is stated that there are five jhānic states, where the last four are attained by the elimination of a jhāna factor at each stage; thus in that method, the second jhāna is attained by removing vitakka. But in the suttā, the Buddha expounds the jhānā as fourfold, where both vitakka and vicāra are removed to get to the second jhāna. Therefore  the difference comes in at the second jhāna.
  • For someone cultivating jhāna, this is not of any practical concern. In practice, it is not easy to distinguish between two steps of removing vittakka, vicāra; they seem to go away together. That is probably why the Buddha just combine them into one jhāna in the suttā.
Possible Perils of Mundane jhānā

First of all, the anariya (mundane) jhānā are not stable as Ariya jhānā. A yōgi can be taken out of the jhāna by the anusaya (temptations)  triggered by an external stimulus, for example seeing an attractive woman or hearing a seductive voice; see, “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi)“.

  • There is this story about a yōgi who was travelling by air with abhiññā powers and saw a flower in the shape of a woman (called “nārilathā”) and lost the jhānic state and came down; there is another such story where the yōgi heard the singing of a woman and had to face the same fate.
  • In contrast, when someone gets into an Ariya jhāna, that jhāna cannot be broken by any such influence even though the yōgi may see or hear such external stimuli; see, “Power of the Human Mind- Ariya jhānā.
  • Thus even though the yōgi may have not removed some āsavā, the anusaya are PREVENTED from arising in an Ariya jhāna; this is because the object of concentration (arammana) in an Ariya jhāna is not a mundane object, but Nibbāna.
  • June 8, 2018: The critical differences between Ariya and anariya  jhāna discussed in “Pathama Metta Sutta“.

1. There are many people even today, who can get into these mundane jhānā. But it is not a good idea to attain such mundane jhānā at or above the fifth jhāna.

  • This is because, if someone dies while in such an arūpa jhānic state, he/she will be born in the arūpa lōka: it is not possible to attain the Sōtapanna stage in the arūpa lōka because the eye and ear faculties are not present (so one could not learn Dhamma), and thus cannot become a Sōtapanna. Thus one would spend a very long time there, and has to start all over when one returns to the human world. Once in the human world, it is possible that one could accumulate bad kamma vipāka and be destined to the apāyā.
  • Thus it is better to make the effort to become a Sōtapanna, rather than seeking any jhāna. A Sōtapanna will never be born in the apāyā (lowest four realms).

2. There is yet another danger in attaining these mundane jhānā. Even before the jhānā, one could start seeing objects of one’s liking (such as religious figures of any religion, religious symbols, colorful lights, etc).

  • Thus many people tend to believe that they have attained some of sort of advancement in meditation or in their belief system; some Buddhists may believe they have attained Nibbāna or something close to it. It could be dangerous to play with such illusions. When such lights or other images appear, one should completely ignore them. I used to see them too, but luckily I found my teachers before getting heavily involved with these illusions.

3. It is said that in some rare instances, lowly spirits try to convince meditators that they are devas or Brahmā (beings in the realms higher than the human realm). It is dangerous to get involved with them too. It is possible that some of the horror stories we hear from time to time about people killing their own families were committed under such influences.

Extrasensory Perceptions and Powers (Abhiññā)

1. When one attains and perfects the fourth jhāna, one could start developing several extra sensory perceptions and powers, which could take considerable effort. No reports are available on anyone with ALL these abilities at the present time. However, when one attains the Arahant stage, certain extra sensory powers can be attained if cultivated, including the last one on the following list, the ability to “see” the past lives:

  • Psychokinesis (iddhividha) or various manifestations of the “power of will”.
  • Clairaudience (dibbasōta), the faculty of perceiving sounds even at long distances, far beyond the range of ordinary auditory faculties.
  • Clairvoyance (dibbacakkhu), which enables one to see far events as well as heavenly worlds (i.e., other beings that are not visible to normal human eye).
  • Telepathy (cētopariya ñāna), which enables one to comprehend the general state as well as the functioning of another’s mind.
  • Ability to recollect one’s own past lives (pubbē nivāsānussati ñāna).

2. It is possible for a yōgi to develop the abhiññā to the extent that he/she can see past lives through half of a Mahā Kalpa (which can be taken to be  roughly 15 billion years). The ancient yōgis with such power saw that the Mahā Brahma has been there all through that time period. Therefore, they came to the wrong conclusion that the Mahā Brahma was the one who created the world at that time in the past.

  • Those yōgis who are born in the asañña realm spend 500 Mahā Kalpas there like a lifeless log (no thinking, that is what asañña means). When they exhaust that lifetime, they normally are reborn in the human realm, and because of this past “gati” to cultivate jhānā, they may again develop abhiññā powers. Now they look back at past lives, but do not see any because they can look back only half of a Mahā Kalpa, which is only a thousandth of the duration of the past life. Thus, they also conclude erroneously that they are “new” beings, who did not have any past lives.
  • The Buddha, upon his Enlightenment, could see thousands of Mahā Kalpas in the blink of eye. This is why he said there is no discernible beginning to life.
  • An Arahant with abhiññā powers can see back through numerous Mahā Kalpas since Ariya jhānā are much more powerful.

3. Further details can be found in:

  • “The Manuals of Dhamma”, by Ven. Ledi Sayadaw (2006), p. 105.
  • “Abhidhammattha Sangaha – Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (1999), p. 344.

4. These kinds of direct knowledge are all mundane and are dependent on the mastery of the fourth jhāna and focusing attention on these tasks. The Buddha discouraged bhikkhus from pursuing these mundane powers, and also prohibited bhikkhus from public display of such powers, calling them “childish”. That is because all these powers are temporary. Since one has not removed avijjā (ignorance) and has only suppressed greed (lōbha) and hate or ill will (dōsa), they can resurface any time and remove all those achievements.

  • One good example from the Buddha’s time was Devadatta, who was a brother of princess Yasodhara. Devadatta became a monk and developed the mundane jhānā and attained those direct knowledges described above. He could perform many “miracles”, and one time he appeared in the bedroom of Prince Ajasattu to impress him. But when Devadatta went against the Buddha and at one time injured the Buddha, he lost all his mundane powers and ended up in the lowest realm (avici niraya) because of those offenses.

By now one should be able to get a sense of the potential of the mind. With even these mundane jhānā, a human can access the higher realms of existence and also attain super normal powers,  but these mundane jhānā are at a much lower level than Ariya jhānā.

Next, “Power of the Human Mind- Ariya jhānā“, ……….

In depth discussions at: “Samādhi, Jhāna (Dhyāna), Magga Phala“.

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