first jhana

On this website, unless stated otherwise, “first jhana” refers to “first samatha jhana”. Samatha is concentration practice. First jhana is the mental state whereby you are able to stay with an object for a long period of time without distraction. An object could be anything you are putting your focus on, and meditators often use the breath as their object.

When you reach a point where your attention is no longer drifting away from your object (e.g. going into thought loops or other distractions), and your concentration is steady, you are said to be in first jhana. Two of the most important aspects of first jhana in the area of personal development are pleasure and equanimity. In this state, one is able to generate one’s own feelings of well-being and therefore is no longer dependent on externalities – so this gets you out of grasping and frustration temporarily. If you then make the pleasure sensation the object of your first jhana, you can “cycle” it and create as much pleasure as you are physically and mentally able to take.

Equanimity is equally important as it allows you to examine your issues dispassionately and gain insight from them, rather than having them drag you down into unskilful mindsets.

It is my theory that anyone who achieves superiority in any field is bringing first jhana to that field, whether it be Tiger Woods making a masterful golf shot or a programmer hitting “the zone”.

The characteristics of first jhana as described in the Buddhist Pali Canon are as follows: directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity & attention.

Mastery of any field becomes possible when you realize first jhana can be applied universally to any object. Cultivating first jhana should therefore be the top priority for anyone wishing to make progress in any area. First jhana is required for practically every technique described on this site.

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26 Responses

  1. AJM says:

    It all makes sense now. The typical explanations on jhana are so technical and complex it’s hard to understand.

    On presence walks when you “lock in” you’re attaining 1st jhana on the visual field. When I do sports and time seems to slow down probably the same thing too. When I have done breath meditation and I get this wave of relaxation and “lock in” etc. So basically when in concentration you’re locked in and you’re mind no longer wanders you have attained 1st jhana. πŸ™‚

  2. Illuminatus says:

    Perfect. πŸ™‚

    And my golf game improved x100 once I started purposely locking in on everything connected with the shot. It’s now something I basically apply to anything I want to be good at.

    The film The Legend of Bagger Vance is about meditation. “The field” is first jhana applied to the hole. I love that film. πŸ™‚

  3. AJM says:

    This to me also indicates the difficulty of studying these matters without personal instrustion. Reminds me of a shinzen young talk about buddha’s texts. He recognized there is value in them, but it is limited even if the texts would be accurate, because you can’t have a discussion with him about what everything is about. He mentions when coaching students he has to make adjustments within the session – ask about what the student is experiencing and adjust instruction based on that.

  4. AJM says:

    Reading MCTB descriptions of jhana it seems when you’re truly “locked in” this might be 2nd jhana already since there is no longer effort required to maintain the concentration.

    • Illuminatus says:

      I agree with that. Maybe at the highest levels of sport, when you are completely immersed and no longer perceive your body or sense of self separate from what’s going on, that could be an even higher jhana, but I don’t have enough experience so it’s just theoretical for now.

  5. Pogy says:

    I have some question regarding the application of first jhana towards various activities

    How do you utilize first jhana in writing (or more so, the task and process of writing), especially it’s something more research based ? or, just writing in general? I’m usually faced with a lot of anxiety during writings and have difficulty getting into the flow of it (which makes it much more enjoyable and exhilarating)

    Do you put the object of focus on EVERYTHING? or do you focus on the screen? breathing? Usually writing for me involves an outline and the draft..but I find that I have difficulty keep on jumping from one thing to another…

    I know when I do basic breathing meditation the breathe is the focus and eventually I get into a state of flow (or very close to where I’m highly alert but at the same time relaxed, while emotions and thoughts just flow freely and a sense of “in sync” with the world.

    But it seems like there should be much more than grinding and spitting words out. From my observations I read about how writers get into a work of flow and they often are able to be highly concentrated for hours on end. Something I’ve only been able to achieve by utilizing drug (my highest record of concentration and “flow” state was probably 2 hours)

    Secondly, I read about you able to go into state of jhana and work for hours on end, but do you take breaks or do you just keep on working? How do you deal with the feeling of “getting stuck” or writer’s block?

    Third, I’m trying to achieve success in various areas of my life and have narrowed it down now. I want to cultivate the ability to be “obsessed” about something. The problem is I often have the “obsession” already but distractions happen, and lack of actions follows. Also I’m very bad at juggling various goals, and I want to really narrow my focus down and the cultivate “obsession+action”. How do you cultivate “obsession”? How do you follow up with it while dealing with endless distractions from thoughts, feelings and etc?

    Lastly, I have a long time issue with the habit of procrastination. It’s very chronicle for me and I’ve found it very difficult to deal with it the “left brain’ way such as setting time limit, setting deadlines, writing to-do lists etc..
    Not that I don’t understand them, it’s just I eventually fall back into the feedback loop of procrastination, and it seems like a much larger issue than not planning well for me.
    How do I get over the habit of procrastination? Psychology seem to be attempting to scope in on it from analysis of cognition function such as “evolutionary psychology” perspective: it is much more beneficial for us to take the short term reward than the long term reward, much more likely to give into instant gratification therefore we procrastinate..etc…

    But, my gut feeling tells me that you may have a better way to deal with it than that

    Thanks and as always I find your reality tunnel to be very eye-opening!

    • Illuminatus says:

      Hi Pogy,

      To get into a good mindset for work you could sit in jhana for 15 minutes or so before work, to get a one-pointed mind, and get some opioids flowing so distractions don’t feel so “prickly”. You should also be able to get access concentration at will to snap you out of distractions once you begin work. This is just a matter of practising concentration meditation.

      Re writing, first off I write about things I really want to write about. I feel compelled. That takes care of my focus.

      Re obsession, find what captivates you. I don’t get obsessed with arbitrary things; they have to have some personal meaning to me.

      Re procrastination, spend time in the hypnopompic state every morning just fantasizing about your project or what you want to do today. Then get up and just do it.

  6. Vysotsky says:

    I have a question: What kind of activities aren’t good enough for meditation? I mean what is the criterion? Maybe the monotony?
    E.g. is exercise possible with reading, writing or tinkering?

  7. Matt says:

    Yeah man, I also notice that if I can become highly concentrated while im playing my game (Yes I game competitively and wasn’t to far off from going pro) I would sort of play in like a flow, like im in this deep zone of concentration but it did feel hard for me to recreate this experience and still is. but I know it will come in time with strong concentration.

    As for pro athletes like tiger woods. I believe most of them use visualization methods before they take their shots. I remember tiger saying this once in some interview.

    • Matt says:

      But do you know anyone in particular who is famous for their sport or skill that uses jhana before / with their events?

      • Illuminatus says:

        Hey Matt,

        One thing I am going to do in the rewrite of the concentration materials is to distinguish between samadhi (calm abiding) and jhana.

        Samadhi is from yoga and predates Buddhism. Hundreds of methods and mind-states would qualify as samadhi, with different objects. Most of my writing on this site pertains to samadhi, including the above description of first jhana (which needs a serious rewrite). To answer your sport question, I would say probably most high-level athletes use some kind of visualization or mental conditioning that would qualify as samadhi, as would any high-level business leaders etc. I think Average Joe would be surprised how much time these people actually spend visualizing their desired outcome.

        Jhana is the Buddha’s contribution to the meditative arts and is a specific type of samadhi. I would say its distinguishing feature is the extreme to which the reward circuit is turned on, and how starkly negative mind-states are suppressed during the jhana. The specific goal of jhana is as a vehicle to enlightenment, though jhana can also be used for visualization and magick.

        In the rewrite I will focus a lot more on technique specific to jhana rather than general samadhi.

        • Matt says:

          Thanks for that post! and yeah Iv been looking at alot of these “pros” and most of them say “There is no secrete, its just practice hard” but Im quite sure they are hiding something because they don’t want people to surpass them. But for me, iv tried visualizing and it doesn’t seem to have a much powerful affect on me when I do activities for some reason. It usually does when I first try it but after awhile it stops having an effect :/.

          I know you are familiar with Absolutus posts and he talked about gaining skills out of jhana. I know spending time in jhana you can gain good skills over time but he mentioned a few times and even in pm that you can also directly cultivate skills while you are in jhana. He mentioned something along the lines of entering jhana and then shifting your attention to the skill you wish to cultivate, well something like that. Are you experienced with this Illuminatus?

          Also take note that I have not yet gone through all your articles yet but will in my spear time.

          • Matt says:

            And yeah, concentration meditation has made me alot more skilled at gaming (I want to get into professional gaming) But I really want to take it to the next level and become extremely skilled by using these states. Im actually very curious on how good I can get overtime using them haha

            • James says:

              What game you play?

              I’ve always been an avid gamer, always been good at them too πŸ˜€

              Everything I ever got good at has 2 things in common (gaming, martial arts etc…)

              1. Seeing it from the other persons perspective – this would be visualizing what the other person is experiencing, and then programming yourself for the reaction.

              2. Having very challegning, specific goals… For instance, In gaming it might be to only shoot head shots, and never miss a bullet.

              Martial arts might be landing a jab on somones airpocket while they are stepping forward and are breathing out.

              • Illuminatus says:

                “1. Seeing it from the other persons perspective – this would be visualizing what the other person is experiencing, and then programming yourself for the reaction.

                2. Having very challegning, specific goals… For instance, In gaming it might be to only shoot head shots, and never miss a bullet.”

                I was #1 in the world on the game Rogue Spear for a while and would do these two exact things. I started with the assumption that the opponent was a human like me so would tend to walk around the map in a similar pattern. This meant I could throw a grenade without even looking and get somebody just because their mental hardware is human and therefore predictable. With practice this led to spooky “merging” and a predictive ability with the appearance of being psychic at times. I think most gamers have experienced this at some point, if not regularly. These mental states are no doubt states of high absorption, and experience of entering them regularly can indeed be transferred over to meditation, e.g. in becoming absorbed in your breath or other object.

                And the other thing I did is, like you say, only ever aim for the head. “You’re cheating — you only ever get headshots!” Yes, because I only aim for the head.

                • Matt says:

                  Reply to both of you :
                  First of all I don’t take gaming as serious now due to lack of time I have but my meditation can make up for it and improve me quite greatly without playing for 10 hours. But I came from a competitive background and grew up in gaming around many eSport players from games like cs, tf2, quake, cod and even one of my buddies is up there in Overwatch atm (Overwatch is the only game I play now).

                  I played a little when this was around https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberathlete_Professional_League
                  But never got very far due to age restrictions at the time and I was quite young. But yeah, most of the pro players I played with did nothing but just bash away 8 – 10 hours a day for years.

                  Speaking about only aiming for the head. Im not sure if you guys have heard of SCREAM from csgo, I never personally looked into him but just saw a few plays of him. Hes meant to have one of the best aims in the world and I remember seeing him play at one point and he looked soooo still and concentrated and I actually thought it was just an “image” but no its just because he was very still and looked absorbed.

                  I thought maybe he did some type of mental conditioning or visualization to improve his aim to that extent but it turns out he just put over 6000 hours into practicing his aim so it kinda brought my hopes down because it was really just practice and Im looking for ways to jump start my practice and improve very rapidly and get an aim like this guy without spending years and hours everyday trying to improve. Tbh I feel I could improve very drastically if I entered jhana but iv only hit it a few times.

                  The only issue with practicing to aim for the head is how long that takes to improve with, some people it can take years.

                  Btw this is the guy here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1ken7K5kQ4 .. Sound does get muted sometimes through video due to copyright issues on youtube (Also. All clips are mostly done on other pro players)

                  And also, Thats awesome Illuminatus that you were #1 in your game πŸ™‚ I only made it to top 15 in my game (Hl2dm) game had an extremely high skill cap and these people were bashing away at improvement for over 8 years with me only 4. Game is dead now (Thank Valve for that) but there was still an ex pro player from Aus who was best in Australia and he was much better than me and it was by quite far. At the end of last year I started doing concentration meditation and I gained huge results from it and within 3 weeks I caught upto him πŸ™‚ he was like “wow wtf?” and I wasn’t even practicing that hard haha. But this was when I was getting close to jhana but not hitting it.

                  Played with these guys for a bit in hl2dm, I beat 1 of their members in a 1v1 and asked to join them but they turned me down because of my ping ._. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtJgwl0EfgU

                  Sorry for long post guys haha. But yeah, Thats what Im after anyway, accelerated improvement which iv been able to obtain out of those rare times entering jhana, Just gotta master it.

                  • Matt says:

                    oh yeah and Iv been able to pull off in-human-like reflex shots or otherwise known as (Flick shots) quite consistently IF im in the zone, Im learning to be able to enter the zone at will and the stronger my concentration is, the more easier I can enter it.

                • Matt says:

                  Do you have any advice on absorbing into a game? I find it quite hard since there is always a moving animation and Im not sure if I should focus on a single aspect in the game or just the whole screen in general. I plan to use this as practice in my spare time to add onto my progress for when I do meditate.

                  • James says:

                    When I played shooting games, I would make my crosshair just a dot, It helped me aim.

                    One day I decided to just focus in on the dot while playing counterstrike… and then I was the dot, the rest of the screen looked like a sort of, vortex of color being sucked into the dot, and I played…

                    And I did fucking awesome, even though I literally had no clue what was going on – I knew the map well enough (The Office) and everytime my crosshair would run across something darkblue/black I’d click the mouse, BOOM! head shot.

                    Was trippy.

                    • Matt says:

                      Yeah Just tried it just now. Got 5 headshots in a row without miss and they were just 1 shotters with pistol but my concentration needs work because it was a temporary effect. You upto play some time with me? and do u play overwatch?

                    • Illuminatus says:

                      ^^^ This is exactly what I used to do.

                    • Matt says:

                      haha yeah just gets a bit hard at times though when u die and crosshair disappears or when an enemy moves around to much on ur screen which can be quite distracting but I’ll overcome it eventually.

  8. K says:

    To Illuminatus : This comment really doesn’t pertain to the discussion that’s going on, but I’d appreciate If you can make a guide for magick/ intention manifestation. Most the guides I’ve seen on the internet are really esoteric. Maybe the members here can follow your methods and share results.

    • Illuminatus says:

      I haven’t been writing much on PPM these last few months as I’ve been working on my myofascial unwinding project and getting it down to the most simple, communicable steps. The good news with that one is that the whole lot appears to be able to be fixed with just yawning. πŸ™‚ I am close to being able to create a product explaining that.

      I always intended to write a magick guide and probably will do so at some point. There is a simple reason however why most magick guides end up being esoteric. This reason is as follows. To really understand what is going on when you do magick you have to make certain huge concessions about what the universe is and what “you” are and how those things resolve. This realization is in fact what enlightenment is all about and it usually involves a total rewrite of an individual’s model of reality which is probably unavoidably painful. So, a thorough magick guide would have all that stuff in it too, about how “you” actually “are” the “universe” etc. etc. (non-duality). This stuff just is not easily comprehensible to people without a lot of insight (meaning: mystical insight, i.e. what insight meditation produces). The entire Western world is built on dualistic principles so this stuff doesn’t go into people’s heads very easily at all and the inclination is to write it all off as claptrap. Actually practising magick itself and seeing the results firsthand is even more of an assault on your worldview and is capable of triggering a Dark Night immediately.

      So, all the above is if you actually wish to UNDERSTAND magick. If you just want to get into practising magick then you will need a method which circumvents all your beliefs about material reality and slips through the cracks of your worldview and gets you the results that way. For this to happen, the magick method must wrap up the principle of magick in all sorts of ritual and nonsensical language and spells and all that. Those things are for your benefit, to avoid you having to make serious re-evaluations about reality. However, if you practise even this sort of magick long enough, you will be forced at some point to make those concessions about reality, the universe etc.

      So that is why guides end up being esoteric. They are either comprehensive and therefore alien-sounding (since they describe non-duality which rubs up against your dualistic worldview) OR they take the alternative route of hiding non-duality in dualistic archaic language and “spells”, which is necessary to get past your dualism filter.

      Daniel Ingram’s magick article is good enough to get started: http://integrateddaniel.info/magick-and-the-brahma-viharas/

  9. Matt says:

    Hey Illuminatus, I took a look at daniel ingram since you brought him up and he says once you can hold your concentration on an object for 1 minute, go to 10 minutes, then from 10 minutes, to an hour. But it only takes around a minute of pure focus to enter jhana, even you said it took you less than a minute when you timed it. So why is he saying once you can do it for 1 – 10 minutes go for an hour when it should only take 1 minute of pure focus?
    Sorry Im just quite confused is all.

    • Illuminatus says:

      Well that chapter is aimed at beginners. It it highly unlikely a beginner will be able to get anything close to “pure focus”, let alone to hold it for a full minute.

      He is encouraging beginners to keep exercising the concentration pathway so it becomes strong and capable of causing jhana. If a beginner can hold 50% focus for ten minutes then that has a good chance of causing a jhana to arise; but 1 minute at 50% focus most likely won’t cause jhana.

      Getting a jhana within 10 minutes is a pretty good goal for a beginner.

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