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Jhāna Paccaya – Condition of Meditation

A condition of meditation, is a condition wherein the mind seeks an escape from matter.



Meditation is about finding the middle path. And this applies also to our familiar consideration of the four elements. Each of the four elements has its own distinctive qualities, some of which are seeked to be overcome through meditation, while other qualities are deliberately pursued.

Starting with a consideration of the earth element, the first thing we may find, is, that in meditation we are trying to overcome, or else avoid, all forms of coarseness. But, we do want something of the earth, and that are the qualities of stability and distinctness.

With the element of water, we have a similar dynamic. Here, we want to avoid especially the qualities of diluteness and liquidity; while we are at the same time after the experiences of depth and clarity.

The element of fire follows the same pattern. There, what we do not want in meditation, is any excess of heat, or energy of an excessive fiery kind, while the main fire-quality we do hope for, is the quality of brightness.

Finally, as the last element, we have the element of air. Here, we endeavour to find the balance between trying to overcome, or to prevent in the first place, the earthy quality of stagnation, while we at the same time seek to avoid an excess of kinetic energy, that is any excess of an inner drive to movement. Consequently, the main airy qualities that we are after, are subtlety, purity and non-stagnation.

Further in our scheme, we always had as a second consideration of the Paṭṭhāna, various examinations of the nature of the body. And following these considerations, we find, that first of all, meditation builds up on a foundation of good health. Now, good health in our scheme means, the experience of the life-element, or an increase in the life-element. This in turn has one major cause: a wise driving of the body, or a wise usage of the body. Yet, in order to wisely drive the body, or in order to wisely use the body, a certain amount of understanding of the physiological processes of the body will be quite necessary. Because this is what brings the mind’s awareness to the body. Further, will then this, first initial and, further on, sustained awareness on the bodily processes actually many times constitute, what are called the first two Jhāna factors. Therein will the closer connection between the body and the mind, be precisely the requisite condition for the factor of sustainment and all the wholesome factors to follow.

The mental factors that a meditator seeks to develop, are those mental factors categorised as wholesome, as listed in the part on ‘Emotions’ in the main blog of this website. Thus, a meditator should keep in mind, that one of the goals of meditation is to develop wholesome mental states such as:

Calmness of mind (and body) (that is, what generally is referred to as peace), malleableness of body and mind, collectedness, proficiency, wisdom, goodwill (desire to do good), love, compassion, and/or similar beneficent mind states.

These are usually established in germ form already by the practice of virtue and are here then further developed.

But the Abhidhamma does also recognise an unwholesome Jhāna. That is, a Jhāna with a ‘bad mind’ (domanassa). This will usually only be cultivated by those on the dark path (or those bending in that direction). For even many acts of black magic will have a certain kind of Jhāna as their base.

To attain whatever Jhāna, what was before merely an unwanted emotion, will now be considered as a defilement, a hindrance, a flood or a bond.

The objects or ideas a meditator pays attention to in order to achieve meditative states of mind, will vary according to temperament. And once some success is secured, the object used as an anchoring (and as a counterbalance to arising obstacles) in the preliminary stages of meditation is usually, for the most part, let go of, while wholesome mental factors as have been mentioned before, together with various nimittas (meditation signs) will be the main support for the mind.

Seen from the point of view of mental processing, meditation, or Jhāna is, although basing itself on wholesome resultants, a condition of continuous wholesome mental activity. An activity which is involved with, or aware of, things subtler than sensory or material things, often stabilised by thoughts of a grander nature than common to the sense-sphere world. Thus the mind is usually taking as a support an idea that is counterbalancing a certain unwholesome kamma. Examples of which will be the contemplation of unattractiveness, for a person with a kammical condition of much greed, the contemplation of light for a person who generally lacks brightness, or the contemplation of the qualities of a saint or Arahant to counterbalance all forms of worldliness. And conceptualising thus, an idea forms regarding a ‘Right’ as distinguished from a ‘Wrong’ in regards to the proper way of considering.

Traditionally the Jhānas are distinguished into Rūpa- and Arūpa Jhānas, depending on whether the mind is primarily involved with the fine-material element (again subdivided into grades of varying refinement) or with cosmic perceptions and ideas, of which the 4 handed down in the tradition refer specifically to ideas of Indian cosmology.

Cosmological, the first 4 Jhānas are related to the fine-material realm (rūpa-loka), in which are said to abide those gods, which, through their purity have transcended sensuality (at least as long they remain in that realm). While the remaining 4 (the 4 Arūpa Jhānas) relate to the immaterial sphere, wherein the mind is capable of functioning entirely without any kind of material support of inner or outer visual perception (at least beyond the second arūpa Jhāna), contemplating purely abstract ideas.

The usual sequence of the factors of Jhāna will be, application, sustainment, interest or joy, happiness and one-pointedness.  The initial effort put forth to attain concentration, therein is called application of consciousness (vitakka). This is the first Jhāna factor. If some sign (nimitta) arises, indicating that some amount of concentration is attained, and the mind can attune to this sign of concentration for some time, it is called sustainment of consciousness (vicāra), the second Jhāna factor*. If the mind, being attuned to this inner experience, becomes interested or filled with enthusiasm, it is called joy (pīti). If the mind, being attuned to the experience and enthusiastic about it, becomes happy, it is happiness or sukha. And if, based on this balance, the mind becomes perfectly one-pointed it is called one-pointedness (or collectedness) (ekaggatā).

The first Jhāna will be marked by the repeated breaking of the experience, followed by the repeated application of consciousness. But gradually, the mind learns to sustain the experience for longer, slowly perfecting it by giving emphasis to the more desirable qualities in it.


Note: *Vitakka and vicāra according to my understanding have a dual aspect: Vitakka means application on the side of consciousness, but thinking on the side of mind. While vicāra means sustainment on the side of consciousness, but pondering or sustained thought on the side of mind. But in the context of the Jhāna factors it is always the condition of consciousness that is concerned.


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