Jhana means to be absorbed or focused in a single object, as when we deal with the breath.

The first jhana has five factors: (a) Directed thought: Think of the breath until you can recognize it clearly without getting distracted. (b) Singleness of object: Keep the mind with the breath. Don’t let it stray after other objects. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal only with the breath until the breath becomes comfortable. (The mind becomes one, at rest with the breath.) (c) Evaluation: Let this comfortable breath sensation spread and coordinate with the other breath sensations in the body. Let these breath sensations spread until they all flow together. Once the body has been soothed by the breath, feelings of pain will grow calm. The body will be filled with good breath energy. These three qualities must be brought to bear on the same stream of breathing for the first jhana to arise. This stream of breathing can then take you all the way to the fourth jhana. Directed thought, singleness of object, and evaluation act as the causes. When the causes are ripe, results will appear. (d) Rapture: a compelling sense of fullness and refreshment for body and mind, going straight to the heart, independent of all else. (e) Pleasure: physical ease arising from the body’s being still and unperturbed; mental contentment arising from the mind’s being at ease on its own, unperturbed, serene, and exultant. Rapture and pleasure are the results. The factors of the first jhana thus come down to two sorts: causes and results.

As rapture and pleasure grow stronger, the breath becomes more subtle. The longer you stay focused, the more powerful the results become. This enables you to set directed thought and evaluation (the preliminary groundclearing) aside, and—relying completely on a single factor, singleness of object—you enter the second jhana.

The second jhana has three factors: rapture, pleasure, and singleness of object. Rapture and pleasure become stronger in the second jhana because they rely on a single cause, singleness of object, which looks after the work from here on in: focusing on the breath so that it becomes more and more refined, keeping steady and still with a sense of refreshment and ease for both body and mind. The mind is even more stable and intent than before. As you continue focusing, rapture and pleasure grow stronger and begin to pulsate. Continue focusing on the breath, moving the mind deeper to a more subtle level to escape the motions of rapture and pleasure, and you enter the third jhana.

The third jhana has two factors: pleasure and singleness of object. The body is quiet, motionless, and solitary. No feelings of pain arise to disturb it. The mind is solitary and still. The breath is refined, free flowing, and broad. A radiance—white, like cotton wool—pervades the entire body, stilling all feelings of physical and mental discomfort. The breath fills the body. Mindfulness fills the body.

Focus on in: The mind is bright and powerful, the body is light. Feelings of pleasure are still. Your sense of the body feels steady and even, with no slips or gaps in your awareness, so you can let go of your sense of pleasure. Singleness of object, the cause, has the strength to focus more heavily down, taking you to the fourth jhana.

The fourth jhana has two factors: equanimity and singleness of object, or mindfulness-solid, stable, and sure. The breath property is absolutely quiet and still, free of ripples and gaps, like an ocean free of currents or waves. The mind, neutral and still, lets go of all preoccupations with past and future. The present is neutral and still. This is true singleness of object, focused on the unperturbed stillness of the breath. All aspects of the breath energy in the body connect so that you can breathe through every pore. You don’t have to breathe through the nostrils because the in-and-out breath and the other aspects of the breath in the body form a single, unified whole—even and full. Mindfulness and alertness converge into one, giving rise to great energy that can dispel all inner darkness.

From Keeping the Breath in Mind, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Reprinted with permission ofwww.accesstoinsight.org.

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