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Jhāna

(P.). A Pali term derived from the Sanskrit dhyana, or MEDITATION. In BUDDHISM, the various jhanas (or “absorptions) are different attainments in meditation that a practitioner achieves. They are important concepts in Buddhism, but scholars and practitioners do not agree on whether or not they are necessary in the attainment of nirvāna, the ultimate aim in Buddhism.

The jhanas are divided into two general categories: meditation on objects with form (rupa-jhanas) and meditation on non-material concepts without form (arupa-jhanas). Before one can attain these jhana states, however, the meditator must have first conquered the five hindrances which are desire, ill-will, sloth, restlessness and doubt.

Rupa-Jhanas. These are four jhana stages characterized by one-pointed absorption upon objects or forms (rupa). The differences among the four rupa-jhanas involve the presence or absence of four mental factors. In the first jhana, all the four are present, namely, initial thought (vitakka), sustained thought (vicara), delight or rapture (piti), and joy (sukha). The difference between vitakka and vicara was explained by the noted 5th century commentator Buddhaghosa in a series of analogies. Vitakka is like a bird flapping its wings as it rises to the air, while vicara is likened to the same bird gliding gracefully with just outspread wings. In the second jhana, only rapture and joy are present. In the third only joy remains, while in the fourth all the four disappear. What remains in the fourth jhana is equanimity (uppekha) and one-pointedness (ekaggata), the latter of which is a constant quality of all the four jhanas. The rupa jhanas are discussed in several Pali scriptures such as Anguttara (V.28) and Majjhima Nikaya(43).

These jhanas have been compared to the samprajnata samadhi in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (I:17). Under the latter system, the meditator also undergoes four stages, namely, vitarka (reasoning), vicara (reflection), ananda (bliss) and asmita (sense of pure being).

Arupa-Jhanas. These states involve the presence of abstract conceptions that have also four stages. The first one consists of a state of mind that dwells on infinite space; the second is on infinite consciousness; the third on nothingness; and the fourth on neither perception nor non-perception. These states are discussed in Visuddhimagga (Ch. 10).

The jhanas are also divided into mundane (lokiya) and supra-mundane (lokuttara) jhanas. The former are the eight rupa and arupa jhanas enumerated above, whereas the supramundane jhanas are states of enlightenment, connected with the four levels of INITIATION in Buddhism that ends in Arhatship.

V.H.C.

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