MCTB The Fourth Jhana
As before, if the practitioner wishes to go on to the fourth jhana, then they just cultivate the third jhana and begin to pay attention to the fact that even the bodily bliss is somewhat irritating or noisy. Eventually, the mind will abandon the third jhana and shift into the fourth jhana, which is the height of equanimity. This state is remarkable in its simple spaciousness and acceptance. The extreme level of imperturbability would be astounding if there was not such pronounced imperturbability. This is by far the most restful of the first four jhanas.
The focus of attention is now largely panoramic and thus even saying “focus” here is a bit problematic. In the first jhana the object was finally clear but static and solid in a way that we can stay with. In the second jhana the object begins showing itself and some simple motion is allowed. In the third jhana we go from a spot of attention to a wide circle of attention and the motion gets more complex, so we now have two spatial dimensions and time. In the fourth jhana things get three-dimensional and mind-made objects such as visualizations take on a life of their own, becoming living, luminous and transparent. The fourth jhana includes space and awareness in a way that the previous three do not. Mindfulness is considered to be perfected due to equanimity, though this factor does not stand out as in the third jhana. When we are really in this state, the basic sense we have of where our body is and what it looks like can get very vague or even vanish entirely, though this is less true if we are in this state with our eyes open.
This is quite a high attainment, and can easily be confused with the goal of the spiritual life, though it very much isn’t. From this state the practitioner has quite a number of options. They can get stuck, they can move on to the formless realms, they can cultivate what are described as “psychic powers,” or they can investigate this state and begin the progress of insight. When investigating this state, special attention must absolutely be given to the fact that the myriad sensations that make up equanimity and spaciousness come and go moment to moment, do not satisfy or provide a permanent resting place, and are not self.
Again, it is easy to get attached to the sensations that make up these high states, and so great precision and attention (as well as honesty) must be given to this if the practitioner chooses this option. Another alternative is to leave this state and then begin insight practice, as the qualities that this state writes on the mind linger for a short time, and this can be helpful if the practitioner does not cling to these benefits.