Definitions of the term Jhana tend to emphasize the 'mind state' quality it refers to in various states of meditative absorption:

The jhanas are altered states of consciousness which are produced from periods of strong concentration. Dhamma Wiki

In Buddhism, it is a series of cultivated states of mind, which lead to "state of perfect equanimity and awareness (upekkhii-sati-piirisuddhl)." Wikipedia

So in the context of Samatha (concentration) meditation, Jhana states naturally arise as a consequence of concentration. What I'm struggling to understand is the term 'Vipassana Jhana'. Is it a state of mind that arises from insight or a state of mind conducive to insight?

  • 1
    Are you looking for something other than what the web search already offers? Yuttadhammo's Ask A Monk: Samatha Jhana, Vipassana Jhana; and the Dharma Overground's Samatha jhanas and Vipassana jhanas topics?
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 10:56
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    My understanding of the Ask a Monk video was that he ended up comparing and discussing Samatha and Vipassana rather than talking about the Jhanas in particular. Maybe I missed something there. I will check out Dharma Overground. That seems to be closer to what I'm actually asking.
    – Devindra
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 11:25
  • If you are interested in general in Jhanas, then Ajahn Brahm has a book called Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond . There's a free PDF that seems to cover some of the essential bits (146kb) from him on Jhanas that maybe easier to access right away.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 11:32
  • Thanks @Buddho I have that particular book. It is on my To Read list at the moment. Maybe I'll fast track to it now :)
    – Devindra
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 11:36
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    Jhana (Pali) or Dhyana (Sanskrit) translates as "meditative absorption" (since there is no equivalent English word it's close but not exact). So a jhana is merely a highly focused state away from normal consciousness and normal body and mind states. There are also custom jhanas apart from the usual rupa/arupa jhanas, but since they aren't very common nor very useful, we ignore them.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 11:38

5 Answers 5


Ven. Yuttadhammo has written an interesting post about this topic on his weblog Truth Is Within. The post is called "Mahasi Sayadaw on Jhana".

Here is a quote from the section: "First Absorption and Conceit":

“Cunda, I will tell you about the cause of misconception and conceit in connection with the practice of meditation. Among my disciples, there are some monks who have attained the first absorption that is characterised by joy (pīti) and freedom from sensual desire, hindrances, and discursive thinking.”

Absorption (jhāna)² is the concentration of attention on one single object such as earth, water, in-and -out-breathing, an organ of the body or a corpse. This state of consciousness involving concentration and tranquillity is samatha jhāna. The other kind of absorption is vipassanā jhāna, which has as its object the contemplation and insight-knowledge of the three characteristics: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and insubstantiality.

Here is a quote from the section: "Abiding in Bliss Here and Now ":

The first absorption is not the practice of effacement that helps to root out the defilements. In the Sallekha Sutta, the Buddha calls it abiding in bliss here and now (ditthadhamma-sukhavihāra). While the meditator is in absorption, the mind is fixed on a single object. With the mind free from all unwholesome distractions, he or she is calm and peaceful. This state may continue for two or three hours.

The Buddha also pointed out how illusion and complacency may arise from the second absorption with its three characteristics — rapture, joy, and one-pointedness, or from the third absorption with its joy and one-pointedness, or from the fourth absorption with its equanimity and one-pointedness. Of course, the second, third, and fourth absorptions are more sublime than the preceding states of consciousness, but they ensure only bliss in the present life, and can by no means be equated with practice of effacement that is designed to eliminate defilements.

Nor can the practice of effacement be equated with the absorptions of unbounded space (ākāsānañcāyatana), unbounded consciousness (viññānañcāyatana), nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), and that of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññā-nāsaññāyatana), which do not help to overcome defilements. They lead only to peaceful bliss and as such are called peaceful abidings (santavihāra).

Absorption in Insight Meditation

Insight meditation and absorption have some characteristics in common. When the practice of mindfulness is well established at the exploratory stage, i.e. knowledge by comprehension (sammasanañāna), there are initial application (vitakka), sustained application (vicāra), joy (pīti), bliss (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekagattā). Thus, whenever the meditator observes any phenomenon, his insight meditation is somewhat like the first absorption with its five characteristics.

When the meditator gains insight-knowledge of the arising and passing away of all phenomena, he is fully aware of an arising object without initial or sustained application. He has intense joy, bliss, and tranquillity, thus his meditation is somewhat like the second absorption with its three attributes.

The disappearance of the light, and so forth — the corruptions of insight (upakkilesa) — marks an advance in the insight-knowledge of the arising and passing away of phenomena. Then there is no joy, but bliss is very intense. The mind is tranquil and free from distractions. The meditator has the bliss and one-pointedness that are characteristics of the third absorption.

The higher levels of insight-knowledge such as knowledge of dissolution (bhangañāna), wherein the meditator sees only the passing away usually have nothing to do with joy. They are characterised by equanimity and one-pointedness. The former is especially pronounced at the stage of knowledge of equanimity about formations. At this stage the insight meditation is akin to the fourth absorption with its two attributes of equanimity and one-pointedness.

Furthermore, at times the meditator’s whole body disappears, giving him the impression of being in space. At that moment he is like a person absorbed in ākāsānañcāyatana jhāna. At other times, attention is fixed exclusively on consciousness and then the meditator’s state of consciousness resembles viññānañcāyatana jhāna. On occasions, it seems as though he were noting nothingness, a state somewhat like ākiñcaññāyatana jhāna. Sometimes the consciousness may be so transcendental that it becomes non-existent, a state on par with that of nevasaññā-nāsaññāyatana jhāna.

These characteristics that insight meditation has in common with absorption often leads to complacency, which is an obstacle to spiritual progress. In meditation it is necessary to note these unusual experiences and reject them. In the Sallekha Sutta, the Buddha, after pointing out the misleading nature of absorption, proceeds to spell out the practice of effacement that is calculated to root out defilements.

I do recommend reading the whole blogpost. Its well written and i think it will provide the answers you are looking for.


  • I would ask for the definition of "somewhat like" if I were you!..lol Would you settle for a "somewhat like" jhana. Possibly getting a "somewhat like" enlightenment.
    – Samadhi
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 16:27
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    @Samadhi. Thanks for the concern. Although words and phrases are just conventional terms belonging to conventional language, again belonging to conditioned reality. Do not put too much value into this. Actually the Buddha said: "It's okay to use conventional language but do not be fooled thereby". Having discussions about these profound things will not give much anyway. The way to understand these things are through insight meditation practice and the gaining of experiental knowledge.
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 17:45
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    Ok great! Exactly what I was looking for Lanka. Since asking the question, subsequent research led me to Kenneth Folk's 20 Strata of Mind Here he seems to affirm the blog post you mention. Since Kenneth comes out of the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, this is hardly surprising.
    – Devindra
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 19:54

There is no samatha jhana nor is there vipassana jhana mentioned in the suttas, I may have missed it!

There are the 4 rupa jhanas mentioned with each containing various jhana factors and 4 arupa jhanas.

IMHO, the distinction is made to rationalise some meditation practices which dispense with the development of jhanas as a necessary step.

Vipassanā jhanas are stages that describe the development of "vipassanā"meditation practice as described in modern Burmese Vipassana meditation.[31]  Mahasi Sayadaw 's student Sayadaw U Pandita  describes the four "vipassanā jhanas".


In the sutta pitaka the term "vipassanā" is hardly mentioned:

If you look directly at the Pali discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquillity, and vipassanā to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassanā — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassanā," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassanā with any mindfulness techniques.[8]


Ask A Monk: Samatha Jhana, Vipassana Jhana says (if I paraphrase properly),

  • Samatha Jhana (e.g. concentrating on a white disk) cannot lead to insight because it's concentration on a conception (e.g. on the colour "white").

    Samatha Jhana involves focus on something stable, but if you focus on something stable then you won't see "impermanent, suffering, and non-self".

  • Vipassana Jhana is meditation on the three characteristics, which are common to all real things. This Jhana is necessary to become enlightened because it's what allows you to let go.

    Samatha Jhana (concentration) was discovered before Buddhism (e.g. Hindu practitioners are expert).

    Jhana is necessary but Samatha Jhana is not necessary for enlightenment: what is required is to see things clearly.

  • Thanks for the summary above @ChrisW but unless I'm missing something, as I said in above comment, he is actually talking about the distinction between vipassana and samatha but not about the technical distinctions between the Jhanas (mind states) of the two. A 'mind state' (absorption) is qualitatively different to an 'insight' IMO. My understanding is that Jhanas are 'mind state's and so am having difficulty in reconciling 'mind state' and 'insight'.
    – Devindra
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 11:33
  • This dictionary defines "Jhāna" as "literally meditation" and "technical term for a special religious experience". I don't know (I really don't know) whether "absorption" is the right word to use for a meditation that's meant to lead to, I don't know, renunciation or detachment.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 12:08
  • The proof it seems, in this case, is very much in the pudding ...
    – Devindra
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 12:14
  • @Devindra A Chinese speaker once told me that English is difficult because it has so many distinct words; Chinese for example has "people vehicle" (bus), "private vehicle" (car), "public vehicle" (taxi), "human vehicle" (bicycle), "goods vehicle" (truck or lorry) etc. Is it interesting that they're both called "jhana", or that they're all called "vehicle"? Or are you more interested in the difference, "Samatha" versus "vipassana"? Might this answer and its references help (because I think that's meant to describe enlightened awareness)?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 12:39
  • Just trying to REALLY understand Jhana ... here is some clue as to my conundrum leighb.com/jhanantp.htm - here the author gives a subjective idea of just how the concept 'Jhana' has evolved through history and the various lineages and teachers who all have there own experiential focus.
    – Devindra
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 12:52

The confusion arise because the Burmese use vipassana to mean the method of meditation as taught by mahasi sayadaw. It is also used by those in the vipassana/goenka tradition/movement. These teachers discourage the practise of jhana. To have an understanding of jhana, you need to look at teachers from other traditions eg Ayya Khema, Ajahn Brahm etc. As Thanissaro bhikkhu has pointed out, there is no such thing as vipassana jhana in the suttas. In fact, jhana is the word used often by Buddha not vipassana. And, yes Leigh brasington is an expert on jhana.

  • Thanks for this. Welcome Vin Ferato Buddhism.SE! Our Welcome page has useful tips for posting questions and answers.
    – Devindra
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 18:45

As I see it Vipassana and Samatha Jhana linguistic development to distinguish between Jhana born from contemplating on the 4 Satipatthana as in the Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta (as Vipassana Jhana) and based on conceptual or mental constructions.

Mental and conceptual constructions (pannatti) are more susceptible to distortions of the mind where by you may see this construction as perhaps permanent and not see its impermanent nature. Likewise other other distortion can happen. For more on these distortions see: Vipallasa Sutta. Jhana based on such conceptual framework this is mainly the mode of pratice in Samatha meditation can be identified as Samatha Jhana.

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