Jhana/Samadhi and Stilling the Mind

The four material absorption states (see this article for more information) signify varying levels of meditative absorption, known in the Pali as “jhana” and in Sanskrit as “samadhi.”

Depending on how long we’ve been meditating (and especially whether or not we’ve experienced a good meditation retreat or two) — and how long our meditation sessions last — we can expect to encounter one or all of the jhana states described by the Buddha and others. Giving rise to jhana/samadhi is one of those things that may take time and perseverance, so if we are interested in living the holy life of a dedicated contemplative, we will NOT give up if things don’t start popping right off the bat. It will happen.

The second jhana is, among other things, marked by a stilling of the mind. In practice, there is a letting-go of conscious effort in applying and sustaining attention with regard to the object of meditation (i.e., the breath). This letting go is accompanied by the arising of “bliss and joy born of tranquility,” which have begun to manifest in the first jhana (i.e., “bliss and joy born of withdrawal”).

As the “bliss and joy born of tranquility” intensify, the mind actually becomes distracted from the distractions of discursive thought.

In other words, as samadhi increases (which it inevitably does the longer we sit), it literally displaces the thoughts, images, feelings and other assorted “junk” that the mind wants to generate when not “being meditated.”

My message to those just beginning their meditation practice is to put in as much time on the cushion as you can, regardless of the hit-and-miss nature of relative “success” that comes along. Begin by focusing on the breath, but as things settle in — say, ten or fifteen minutes into your sit, knowing that this time will decrease as you become more adept — allow your awareness to acknowledge any pleasant sensation that may visit you. For most, these pleasant sensations are subtle and fleeting, as body discomfort and the racing contents of the mind tend to dominate the beginner’s efforts. This is okay — at some point, you will notice a pleasant sensation, and you’ll want to immediately shift your attention from the breath to this sensation.

The pleasant sensation will, once it’s drawn your awareness, begin to expand and deepen, often moving into different bodily places and/or levels of intensity. Allow this new object of meditation (“bliss and joy born of tranquility”) to guide you.

As the bliss and joy inevitably intensify, you will notice that your mind automatically begins to still.

If mind-activity reasserts itself, simply go back into the pleasant sensation(s), and notice that the mind regains its stillness that much quicker.

As your meditation sessions increase in length — especially over the magic one-hour mark — you’ll notice that the level of samadhi increases to such intensity that the mind no longer lapses back into aimless activity.

When this happens, you are at the point of transitioning into the third jhana… which is the topic for another article. Just know, however, that the transition between second and third jhana is symbolized by the Dark Night of the Soul.

What this means is, the intensifying levels of jhana/samadhi (meditative absorption) begin to dig, dig, dig into the deeper parts of your being, exposing those aspects of your life that have gone unexamined and are likely fueling negative manifestations in your daily life.

Many contemplatives are so frightened and/or otherwise turned-off by these experiences that they give up on meditation altogether, convinced that it has made life worse than ever.

The wisdom at this point, of course, is to continue forward — and, in fact, to increase your commitment to the contemplative life.

No turning back; march straight ahead, all systems go.

Trust in the Divine Energy to guide you aright, to transform and heal you at the deepest levels, and to (ultimately) sever the “fetters” that bind you to suffering in this world.

This is salvation, this is enlightenment.


16 responses to “Jhana/Samadhi and Stilling the Mind

  1. karen sattler

    Good one… let the digging begin!

  2. I should’ve named this article “The Shovel That Is Meditation.”

  3. Thank you!

  4. Very well said Michael. I found the stilling of the mind is just an entry point to deeper contemplation (samadhi), which produces that dark night of the soul, which is an essential spiritual crisis, that is intended to take us deeper, if we are self-aware enough to go deeper into our psyche to rout out the obstacles on our spiritual journey.

  5. That’s it in a nutshell, Jeffrey. It’s all about allowing samadhi to navigate our depths and to deal with the inevitable obstacles that keep is in perceived limitation. “Letting go” for a contemplative means allowing this process — through dedication to a rigorous daily contemplative practice — to fulfill its function.

  6. Thanks, Wayne (mi padre)!

  7. Great article. Hard for the novice to understand Samadhi, however you detailed great explanations of ways that meditation and the stages of deepening focus can change into Samadhi.

  8. Thanks for you kind comment, Dr. Greszczyszyn. It’s always gratifying when someone understands that there are natural stages of absorption that must be negotiated along the deeper contemplative path. We are all blessed with perfect internal guidance in the form of Samadhi, if only we surrender fully to It.

  9. Patrick Sencenbaugh

    Your article was just what I needed to support my ecstatic experiences I am having in meditation. “The Order Of The Cross”, is a fellowship founded in 1904 in London. They have preserved the writings of the Reverend John Todd Ferrier who recovered the original teachings of the one know to the world as Jesus Christ. In the writings, the one know as Jesus Christ states that Buddha’s teachings are the teachings of how to live the Jesus life, the life that needs to be lived before the Christ consciousness will be attained. I was a member of the “Order of the Cross” for 30 + years but was disappointed, because I did not see people making progress toward the Jesus life by following Buddha’s teachings. I recently left the “Order of the Cross” to concentrate on Buddha’s teachings knowing I have to live the Jesus life (Buddha’s teachings) before my Christ consciousness will return. The two main books of Ferrier’s writing are: 1. The Master, known unto the world as Jesus the Christ; his life & teachings and 2. The logia, or sayings of the Master; as spoken by Him; recovered in these days, as was foretold by Him. These books are available at Amazon Books at the link below:
    The teachings contained in these books show that the original teaching of the one known as Jesus Christ were lost.
    Thanks again for your article
    Patrick Sencenbaugh

  10. Wonderful response, Patrick — many thanks for sharing about your time with the Order of the Cross,” and for the Amazon link to both of Ferrier’s books. I will look into them, ASAP!

  11. Pingback: Dive Into the Scary Unknown | Samma-Samadhi

  12. Travis McKinstry

    You have no idea how many people your blog is helping. People like me. Thank you so much.

  13. Thanks for writing in, Travis. Contemplatives these days really need to support each other in any way we can — so I’m glad to know you’re among us, and I look forward to sharing with you as time goes one…..

  14. Travis McKinstry

    I completely agree. One las thing; your personal experiences during jhana meditation or just simple samadhi meditation really put things in perspective… there isn’t a lot of literature one can read or familiarize themselves with that detail personal experience with the developing and actual absorption of the meditation, so thanks for that too đŸ™‚

  15. Pingback: Jhanas and Mental Excavation | bardoinbetween

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