1. The 54 types of cittas (thoughts) belonging to the kamaloka (called kamavacara cittas) are not very strong; they can just have enough power to grasp the thought object (arammana in Pali 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 jhanic cittas belonging to the rupaloka and arupaloka 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 jhanic 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 Pali word “jhana” has two roots: “to concentrate” and also “to burn up”.
2. The Anariya or mundane jhanas 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 cittas 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 jhanas 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 yogis who could attain the highest jhanas.
- There are many reports of people of other faiths also attaining such jhanic 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 jhanic states).
- But such jhanic states are not permanent; one could lose them in an instant, if the moral conduct is broken and defiled thoughts (anusaya) come to the surface.
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 jhanic 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 jhanic states; see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“.
5. The five jhanic states corresponding to the cittas in the rupaloka themselves are related to the five hindrances. To get to the first jhanic state, one needs to suppress the five hindrances; this is done by developing five sobhana mental factors (sobhana cetasika) to counter the five hindrances:
- Vitakka inhibits the hindrance of sloth and torpor (thina 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 (vicara; pronounced “vichära”) is the continued presence of the mind on that object, i.e., maintaining concentration on that object; vicara comes from stopping “chära” or moving around. Vitakka and vicara are compared to a bee flying towards a flower and then buzzing and hanging around the flower while extracting honey from it. Vicara 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 (piti or “preethi“) arises in the mind. This is the jhanic factor of piti, and it suppresses the hindrance of ill will (vyapada). This happiness is felt mainly on the face.
- The body becomes light due to physical happiness (sukha). This jhanic 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 jhanic factor in all rupaloka jhanic states and the essence of concentration (samadhi). This one-pointedness temporarily inhibits sensual desire (kamachanda).
When all five jhanic factors are present, the five hindrances are temporarily suppressed, and one is in the first jhanic state.
6. The higher jhanas are attained by successively eliminating the grosser jhana factors and by refining the subtler jhana factors through sustained concentration.
- Thus in the Abhidhamma it is stated that there are five jhanic states, where the last four are attained by the elimination of a jhana factor at each stage; thus in that method, the second jhana is attained by removing vitakka. But in the suttas, the Buddha expounds the jhanas as fourfold, where both vitakka and vicara are removed to get to the second jhana. Therefore the difference comes in at the second jhana.
- For someone cultivating jhana, this is not of any practical concern. In practice, it is not easy to distinguish between two steps of removing vittakka, vicara; they seem to go away together. That is probably why the Buddha just combine them into one jhana in the suttas.
Possible Perils of Mundane Jhanas
First of all, the anariya (mundane) jhanas are not stable as Ariya jhanas. A yogi can be taken out of the jhana by the anusaya (temptations) triggered by an external stimulus, for example seeing an attractive woman or hearing a seductive voice; see, “Gathi (Character), Anusaya (Temptations), and Asava (Cravings)“.
- There is this story about a yogi who was travelling by air with abhinna powers and saw a flower in the shape of a woman (called “närilathä”) and lost the jhanic state and came down; there is another such story where the yogi heard the singing of a woman and had to face the same fate.
- In contrast, when someone gets into an Ariya jhana, that jhana cannot be broken by any such influence even though the yogi may see or hear such external stimuli; see, “Power of the Human Mind- Ariya Jhanas“, and “Ariya Jhanas via Cultivation of Saptha Bojjanga“.
- Thus even though the yogi may have not removed some asavas, the anusaya are PREVENTED from arising in an Ariya jhana; this is because the object of concentration (arammana) in an Ariya jhana is not a mundane object, but Nibbana.
1. There are many people even today, who can get into these mundane jhanas. But it is not a good idea to attain such mundane jhanas at or above the fifth jhana.
- This is because, if someone dies while in such an arupa jhanic state, he/she will be born in the arupa loka: it is not possible to attain the Sotapanna stage in the arupa loka because the eye and ear faculties are not present (so one could not learn Dhamma), and thus cannot become a Sotapanna. 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 vipaka and be destined to the apayas.
- Thus it is better to make the effort to become a Sotapanna, rather than seeking any jhana. A Sotapanna will never be born in the apayas (lowest four realms).
2. There is yet another danger in attaining these mundane jhanas. Even before the jhanas, 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 Nibbana 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 brahmas (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 (Abhinna)
1. When one attains and perfects the fourth jhana, 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 (dibbasota), 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 (cetopariyanana), 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 (pubbenivasanussatinana).
2. It is possible for a yogi to develop the abhinna to the extent that he/she can see past lives through half of a Maha Kalpa (which can be taken to be roughly 15 billion years). The ancient yogis with such power saw that the Maha Brahma has been there all through that time period. Therefore, they came to the wrong conclusion that the Maha Brahma was the one who created the world at that time in the past.
- Those yogis who are born in the asanna realm spend 500 Maha Kalpas there like a lifeless log (no thinking, that is what asanna means). When they exhaust that lifetime, they normally are reborn in the human realm, and because of this past “gathi” to cultivate jhanas, they may again develop abhinna powers. Now they look back at past lives, but do not see any because they can look back only half of a Maha 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 Maha Kalpas in the blink of eye. This is why he said there is no discernible beginning to life.
- An Arahant with abhinna powers can see back through numerous Maha Kalpas since Ariya jhanas 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 jhana 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 avijja (ignorance) and has only suppressed greed (lobha) and hate or ill will (dosa), 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 jhanas 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 jhanas, a human can access the higher realms of existence and also attain super normal powers, but these mundane jhanas are at a much lower level than Ariya jhanas.
Next, “Power of the Human Mind- Ariya Jhanas“, ……….