Jhana is the Pali word for meditation or a meditative state that is best characterized as a condition of supreme tranquillity. According to the Pali Canon, there are eight stages of jhana, one progressing to another. The first four stages (Rupa Jhana) involve meditation upon a subject. The latter four stages are more subtle – Arupa Jhana or formless meditation. There are five hindrances that must be conquered for effective meditation – sensual attachments, anger, slothfulness, anxiety and scepticism.
First Jhana: The practitioner experiences extremely pleasant sensations and a cessation of any existing physical aches.
Second Jhana: This is characterized by emotional joy and increased serenity.
Third Jhana: Joy changes to a more subdued feeling of contentment.
Fourth Jhana: Equanimity reigns, with neither positive nor negative sensations in mind or body. Instead, there is an all-pervasive peace, with the mind singularly focused upon itself.
Fifth Jhana: The practitioner’s attention shifts outward, as if watching himself from above. The body experiences floating, expansive sensations, as though it were gradually filling out all of space.
Sixth Jhana: The meditator realizes that the unlimited space he “occupies” includes his own consciousness. There is a sense of unification with nature and concentration becomes further pinpointed.
Seventh Jhana: Realization dawns that this infinite consciousness contains nothing permanent – the universe is always in flux.
Eight Jhana: This is a state of indescribable peace. There is little realization of the experience, yet the practitioner is not entirely unaware of what is happening, either. Enlightenment however, is still some distance away.
The Buddha is said to have experienced a ninth jhana – a complete termination of all feeling and perception. Advanced practitioners of the jhanas, such as arahants, are said to acquire superhuman powers and insight into their past lives as well as those of others. The Buddha forbade his disciples from displaying theirs as he knew that doing so inevitably meant inflating the ego.