Jhāna, dhyāna

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Jhāna, dhyāna (Pāli, Skt., ‘meditation’, ‘absorption’; Chin., chʾan; Jap., zen). In traditional Buddhism, the scheme of meditational practice which leads to samādhi; the different stages within that scheme; any kind of mental concentration or effort.

The system of meditation known as Buddhist Jhāna is composed of eight successive steps, called jhānas: the four lower jhānas or ‘meditations on form’ (rūpajjhānā) and the four higher jhānas or ‘meditations on the formless’ (arūpajjhānā).

Meditation proceeds with the selection of a suitable object (kasiṇa) upon which to fix one's gaze. This object (parikamma-nimitta, visual image) is then contemplated until one is capable of forming in the mind's eye a replica image as vivid as the sensation of the original object. The meditator continues to contemplate the idealized image until he finds that methods become a disturbance to him, and he eliminates them; by so doing he enters the second jhāna. He then enters the third jhāna by eliminating pīti (ecstatic joy). The fourth jhāna is attained when all forms of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy are transcended and upekkhā and mindfulness (sati) alone remain. He may now go on to develop the brahma-vihāra meditations, or the abhiññās, or make the transition to the higher jhānas of the formless realm. By now concentrating upon the infinite void or space left by the discarded image he is said to achieve the fifth jhāna. By shifting his concentration from the infinite space perceived to the act of infinite perception which does the perceiving, he enters the sixth jhāna. The seventh jhāna is marked by the removal of the act of perception itself, so that nothing at all remains. In the eighth and final jhāna the ‘idea’ of ‘nothing’ is removed and the meditator ceases conscious ideation altogether.