Jhana Development Axes
Daniel M. Ingram:
The ways jhanas may be experienced is extremely wide, leading to confusion at times.
There are the basic strata of mind called jhanas, and, like they colors of the rainbow, they are something fundamental in the way the human brain is built and progresses in its development of consciousness. While people may temporarily skip around or have flashes of peak experience, in general the way the jhanas progress and develop is very predictable. Just as a flame, as it gets hotter, goes from red to orange to yellow to green to blue etc., just so people develop in jhanas.
However, different people with different focuses, talents, limitations, proclivities, inclinations, fascinations, approaches, techniques and goals may experience markedly different things while in the fundamental jhanas.
For instance, one using visual objects such as sacred geometry or a tantric image may experience the jhanas very differently from one using a mantra, the breath, or the qualities of the jhanas themselves. Even someone taking the qualities of the jhanas themselves as object has much to choose from and this will alter how they present. For instance:
- Someone might be in the second jhana and really focusing on the bliss aspect, and it is likely to become stronger by the attention given it.
- Someone else in the second jhana might be paying a lot of attention to the Three Characteristics and vibrations, and so be having more Kundalini-esque experiences or feel little ripples of sensations along their skin.
- Another person might be using a visual object and see a little spinning disk with a star in it or a bright white light.
- Another person might be taking the steady straight-on width of attention as object and hardly notice the bliss or any visual or Kundalini things at all.
- Another person might take the effortlessness as object, and simply dwell in the natural concentration of that state.
- Another person might with the ability to dwell in the No-Dog might be taking that as object and hardly notice the second jhana at all, thought it might manifest quite strongly in some way.
- Another person might be using a mantra, and notice that suddenly the mantra is reciting itself strongly and clearly in a way that it wasn't before.
- Another person might be simply practicing adverting to jhanas rapidly and get into the second jhana rapidly and not really care so much about the specifics, only to jump to another jhana.
- Another person might be going for depth and duration, and really give some aspect of the second jhana a lot of strong, steady concentration with resolutions to stay in it for some long period of time before moving on, allowing it to deepen beyond where it might go if given more superficial attention.
- Another person might be taking the rapture or more erotic and pleasurable aspects of the second jhana as object, having a very different experience than someone taking some other aspect as object.
- Another might be exploring sub-jhanas, really checking out each aspect of the way the jhana develops.
- Another might be adding aspects to the jhana, come up with compound jhanas based on their own talent for combining or augmenting jhanic states.
- There are even good reasons to argue that certain dream experiences correlate with specific jhanas, such as flying dreams having a second jhana aspect to them, or fear/chase/fighting dreams being part of the third jhana.
- On a related note, lucid dreaming itself is a very second jhana sort of thing to do, particularly around the stage of the Arising and Passing Away, such that one might correlate cyclic lucid dreaming activity to being in the phase of the second jhana
In this way, we see by example that there are many directions in which we can develop a jhana. This is far from a complete list, but it gives an illustration of the basic concepts and many of the basic axes. Keep these aspects and nuances in mind when exploring the jhanas in your own practice, when mapping, and when trying to evaluate the experiences and writings of others.