Jhāna – Finer Details

Jhāna are mental states of rupāvacara Brahmās who have not eliminated kāma rāga. They are a type of “mundane” (or “anariya“) samādhi. A mundane jhāna can be turned into an Ariya jhāna by attaining a magga phala “while in that jhāna.” Here, “while in that jhāna” means while in that “jhāna samāpatti.”

April 26, 2024


1. The Buddha mainly recommended two approaches for Sotapannas to strive for higher magga phala ending in Arahanthood

  1. One approach is “samatha pubbaṅgama vipassanā” (“pubbaṅgama” means “before”), where one can cultivate one or more of the four jhānās and get into an “agitation-free” mindset of a rupāvacara Brahma. Once in a jhāna, it is easier to cultivate Vipassanā (insight meditation) and break free of various saṁyojana/anusaya that bind one to the rebirth process. However, one must be careful not to get “stuck” in the “pleasurable jhānic experience.” 
  2. The other approach is “vipassanā pubbaṅgama samatha,” where a Sotapanna can engage in insight mediation directly. That also leads to “calming the mind” but may or may not lead to jhānic experience. This is essentially the cultivation of SatipaṭṭhānaThere is no specific reference to jhānās in the “Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (DN 22)” or the “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10).”
  • Both approaches lead to the “burning of defilements or samasaric bonds (samyojana).” Burning or breaking those mental bonds requires comprehension of the Four Noble Truths.
“Jhāna” Can Help Burn Defilements/Saaṁsāric Bonds

3. Jhāna can help accelerate that “burning process” because jhānās are particular types of samādhi corresponding to the mental states of “rupa loka Brahmās” who have temporarily overcome “kāma rāga” and have temporarily transcended “kāma loka.” As we know, most akusala kamma are done in the “kāma loka.” Being in the “rupa loka,” most akusala kamma do not get to “manifest;” thus, a mind is relatively pure and conducive to meditation. See #8 of “Samādhi, Jhāna, and Sammā Samādhi.”

  • The Buddha recommended cultivating jhāna for bhikkhus, and many suttās discuss that. However, he did not ask lay people to cultivate jhāna because it is impossible for a “householder” to abstain from sex or other types of “sensual pleasures.” Yet, some laypeople can easily get into jhāna (while living an everyday “householder life”) because they had cultivated jhāna in recent previous lives.
  • The four jhānās correspond to the mental states of Brhmas in the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms.
Jhāna and “Jhāna Samāpatti” – Different

4. A yogi is said to have cultivated a jhāna ONLY IF he/she can “get into a jhāna at will” and “stay in that jhāna” for at least several minutes. 

  • If a yogi is able to generate jhāna cittās continuously for a period of time, that yogi is said to be in “jhāna samāpatti” for that period.
  • It is possible that jhāna cittās flow for many others (while in meditation) who do not have the ability to get into a jhāna samāpatti at will. 
  • To “cultivate a jhāna means to be able to generate jhāna cittās at will and be able to get into “jhāna samāpatti.
  • To understand that, we need to turn to basic Abhidhamma
Jhāna Cittas Can Run Without One Noticing It

5. In kāma loka, sensory inputs through the five physical senses are analyzed with pañcadvāra citta vithis, each with 17 cittās. There are citta vithis associated with only the mind (i.e., manodvāra citta vithi), which are shorter.

  • When a yogi transcends the kāma loka and gets into the mindest of Brahmās in “rupa loka,” the mind starts generating “jhāna cittās.” Initially, they are generated in short manodvāra citta vithi with only one or two jhāna cittās.
  • Cultivating “jhāna samāpatti” requires effort, including formal sitting meditation. One must be in an environment that allows one to focus on the “jhāna nimitta” and try to regenerate jhāna cittās continuously.
  • This becomes clear when we look at a manodvāra citta vithi that generates jhāna cittās. An introduction to citta vithi is in “Citta Vīthi —Processing of Sense Inputs.”  
Jhāna and Jhāna Samāpatti

6. The initial jhāna citta generation process is described in #13 and #14 of the above post, and I am reproducing that citta vithi below.


  • Please consult the above post for an explanation of the symbols used. The “Jhcitta is the “jhāna citta.”
  • As explained there, the yogi may not even notice the jhāna citta.
  • As the yogi stays in the samādhi longer, more “Jh” cittās may arise (as shown below), and the yogi will start experiencing the jhāna.

B B B “BC BU MD P U A G Jh Jh Jh Jh Jh Jh Jh Jh” B B B

  • Note that if the yogi stays in the jhāna even for a second, millions of jhāna cittās (Jh) will have passed.
  • As the yogi “cultivates the jhāna,” he/she will be able to generate jhāna cittās for many minutes; that means the yogi can get into jhāna samāpatti.
  • As the jhāna is cultivated further, the yogi will be able to get into jhāna samāpatti at will.
Levels of Jhāna

7. the four jhānās are categorized into three levels based on how quickly a yogi can enter them and how long he can stay there.

  • Thus, there are three levels for each jhāna: low (hina,) intermediate (majjhima,) and superior (panita.) Rebirths in the rupa loka Brahma realms take place according to the level.
  • For example, yogis who cultivate the first rupāvacara jhāna at those three levels will be reborn in the Brahma Pārisajja, Brahma Purohita, and Mahā Brahma realms, respectively (the three lowest realms.)
  • Those who cultivate the arupāvacara samāpatti will be reborn in the four arupāvacara realms.
  • See #6 of the post “31 Realms of Existence.”
Cultivating Higher Jhāna and Arupāvacara Samāpatti

8. Once a yogi gets to the superior level of the first jhāna, he can start getting into the lower level of the second jhāna. Of course, Ariya and anariya yogis cultivate jhāna differently, as we have discussed.

  • Thus, getting to the superior level of the fourth jhāna could take a lot of practice, especially for anariya yogis.
  • Once reaching the superior level of the fourth jhāna, a yogi can cultivate abhiññā (supernormal) powers. They can also cultivate the arupāvacara samāpatti and subsequently attain the highest arupāvacara samāpatti. That is the highest achievement possible for an anariya yogi.
Nirodha Samāpatti – Only for Ubhatovimutta Arahants

9. In contrast, an Ariya yogi who cultivates all the jhāna and samāpatti up to the highest arupāvacara samāpatti would be “Ubhatovimutta Arahant.” 

  • An Ubhatovimutta Arahant can transcend the highest arupāvacara samāpatti  and get into nirodha samāpatti.
  • In nirodha samāpatti, the flow of citta vithi stops. It is identical to what happens at the Parinibbana of an Arahant. It is as if the Arahant is not “living in this world.” 
  • However, as long as the Ubhatovimutta Arahant‘s physical body has more time to live, he can stay in nirodha samāpatti for up to seven days. During that time, kammic energy keeps the physical body alive. 
Ability to Perform Abhiññā (Supernormal Actions)

10. Whether an Ariya or anariya, a yogi at the superior level of the fourth jhāna could cultivate abhiññā powers. We don’t know of anyone with those abilities at present, but Waharaka Thero had cultivated some of them.

  • Of course, Ven. Moggalana had the highest abhiññā powers next to the Buddha.
  • Even Devadatta had cultivated abhiññā powers with anariya jhāna. Yet, he lost all those powers and was reborn in an apāya.
  • Some Ariyas did not have to make any effort to “cultivate” jhāna, samāpatti, or abhiññā powers but attained all of them in a day! For example, Ven. Cūḷapanthaka could not even memorize a single gāthā (verse) after trying hard for months. He had almost completed pāramitā in previous lives, but a strong kamma vipāka blocked his progress. With Buddha’s help, he was able to attain Arahanthood in a day and simultaneously attained jhānās and iddhi powers as well: “Cūḷa­pantha­ka.”  
  • There are many complexities involved in the subject of jhāna. That is why we can only speculate on some aspects. These complexities in jhāna illustrate why the Buddha stated that “jhānavisayo acinteyyo” OR “the subject of jhāna is fully comprehensible only to a Buddha.” See “Acinteyya Sutta (AN 4.77).” 
Our Focus Should be Magga Phala

11. We all had attained the highest rupāvacara jhāna and arupāvacara samāpatti innumerable times in our deep past. Those who have cultivated them in recent previous lives can “get them back” relatively quickly.

  • Jhanas are a type of puññābhisaṅkhāra (puñña abhisaṅkhāra) that leads to rebirths in the rupa loka. This is similar to engaging in puñña kamma, which leads to rebirths in Deva realms. In the same way, the cultivation of āneñjābhisaṅkhāra leads to arupāvacara samāpatti and rebirths in the arupa loka. See #5 of “Samādhi, Jhāna, and Sammā Samādhi.”
  • In all these cases, future suffering will not be eliminated. All anariya Devās and Brahmās “return to kāma loka” and could be reborn in an apāya. Thus, our goal should be attaining magga phala (leading to Arahanthood) and eliminating even a trace of suffering.
  • That requires comprehending the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana. See “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”
  • Attaining jhāna can be helpful, but it is not necessary. 
“Baseline” Jhāna Are the Same Whether Cultivated by Ariya or Anariya

12. Finally, the exact stock phrase “vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati” appears in describing jhānic states cultivated by anyone. Here, “vivicceva kāmehi” does not mean “one has removed/burned kāma rāga saṁyojana/anusaya.” It means “willingly abstain from sensual pleasures.” In the old days, yogis went deep into jungles to be away from “tempting sensual objects.”

  • For example, in the “Mahāsudassana Sutta (DN 17),” that exact verse describes the cultivation of jhāna by our Bodhisatta when he was a King named Mahāsudassana. Obviously, he was an anariya at that time and had not removed kāma rāga anusaya.
  • Thus, jhānās are the same regardless of who cultivates them; they represent the mindset of rupāvacara Brahmās, who willingly gave up sensual pleasures but had not broken/burned kāma rāga saṁyojana.
  • Those who have removed kāma rāga saṁyojana/anusaya would be Anāgāmis and Arahants.
Two Ways to Attain jhāna

13. Although Ariyās and anariyās reach the same jhāna, they do so in very different ways. Anariya yogis focus on a “lokiya/mundane meditation object” (like breath or a kasina object), while Ariyās focus the mind on Nibbāna. Specifically, one should contemplate the drawbacks of “kāma assāda” or “sensual pleasures.” Our immoral actions (that can lead to rebirths in the apāyās) are based on our attempts to enjoy “sensual pleasures.”

  • Regardless of how they are attained, jhānās (or arupāvacara samāpattis) are the same. They correspond to the mental states of Brahmās. We can call them “mundane jhānās” because they are mental states corresponding to “better existences” within the rebirth process. They arise only to “fall back” to “kāma loka.”
  • However, such a “mundane jhāna” can be converted to an “Ariya jhāna” by comprehending the Noble Truths while in it; when that leads to a magga phala, that jhāna becomes a “stable Ariya jhāna” that one will never ever lose, even through future lives.
  • I will discuss that in the next post.
Anuseti Means to “Feed Existing Anusaya

14. Much of the confusion regarding “Ariya jhāna” seems to center on the incorrect idea that “na anuseti” (“nānuseti“) means “anusaya is not present.” However, it only means “one would not feed anusaya by engaging in abhisaṅkhāra” in that situation. While a puthujjana yogi would enjoy the “jhānic pleasures,” an Ariya would strive to overcome the attachment to that “jhānic pleasure.”

15. The following is a desana by Waharaka Thero where he presents clear evidence that jhānās are not necessary to attain magga phala (it is in the Sinhala language):

ධ්‍යාන සහ සමාධි (ක්ෂණික, අර්පණා, උපචාර)

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