MCTB The Third Jhana
If the meditator decides to go on to the third jhana, then just cultivating the second state more deeply and noticing that the rapture or emotional “wow factor” of that state eventually becomes annoying can cause the mind to eventually abandon this state and shift into the third jhana.
In this state, the rapture drops away, and what is left is more cool “bodily” bliss and equanimity with a lot of mindfulness of what is going on. (It must be noted that it is possible to be so deeply into any jhana, even the first jhana, that the sense of the body is quite vague, distorted or even entirely absent, so this must be kept in mind when reading these descriptions.)
The attention is now in wide focus, sort of like resting in the half of space that is in front of one’s self. The third jhana is like the counterpoint to the focus of attention of the second jhana. In the second jhana, wherever we look we see clearly, whereas in the third jhana the wide periphery of our attention is clear and the center of our attention is murky. This can be extremely confusing until one gets used to it, and trying to stay with one object in the center in the third jhana will cause the meditator to miss what this state has to offer and teach. Moving from the second to the third jhana is like going from focusing on the donut hole to focusing on the outer edge of the donut, except that now you are sitting in the center of the donut. Remember this when you get to descriptions of the Dark Night in the section on the stages of insight, as the Dark Night has as its foundation the third jhana but adds the Three Characteristics. Focusing on the wide periphery is a more inclusive, broader, more sophisticated and complex kind of concentration than the first two jhanas, like going from listening to Elvis to listening to very complex, dissonant Jazz.
In its pure and simple spaciousness, profound clarity, balance and contentment, the third jhana is even better than the second jhana. It is no wonder that people can easily mistake these states for enlightenment, as they can seem to fit the descriptions of what enlightenment might be like. Remember that enlightenment is not a mind state, nor is it dependent on any condition of reality. It does not come and go as these states do.
Again, from this state, the meditator has a few options. They can get stuck, which definitely happens, they can move on to the fourth jhana, or they can investigate this state and begin the progress of insight. This would require extra special attention to make sure that all of the specific sensations that make up peace, equanimity, bliss and spaciousness are clearly observed to arise and pass, not satisfy, and not be self or the property of self.
These qualities are not easy to let go of, and so this can be difficult. However, upon leaving such a state, the mind will still have a measure of the good qualities of the state. This can be useful to insight practice if one is willing not to cling to such things. This applies to the other states as well, and this is why many teachers have their students master concentration states before they move on to insight practice. On the other hand, such states can be so intoxicating and such a stagnant dead end for those that become fooled by them that some teachers have their students avoid them like the plague until they have some very deep insights into the truth of things.