How to Gain the Jhānas of the Suttas

by Kumāra Bhikkhu, The Buddhist Channel, 27 July 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- The jhānas are not gained by trying to gain them. They are gained by abandoning that which prevents them, i.e. the “five hindrances”. So, instead of thinking about how to gain the jhānas, we need to think about how to abandon the five hindrances.

There are basically two ways:

1. Establishment of mindfulness
2. Personalized practice for mental settling

Establishment of Mindfulness

This is usually taught first. We start with basic mindfulness, that is, observing the body: what the body does and how it feels. The idea is to establish proper mindfulness: remembering to be aware, remembering to relax, remembering the right view and right attitude. (For details on the basic practice, please refer to Open Awareness Meditation: a quick introduction [].)

We need to learn how to maintain awareness all day long, which takes time and interest. When we can maintain awareness persistently, mindfulness is said to be established.

As one’s awareness grows stronger, one begins to notice less of the body and more of mental feelings, or moods. This is a natural development. Stronger awareness is finer awareness, which is able to recognize finer things.

Bear in mind, however, that to go beyond observation of the body, it’s important to practise it with right view (i.e., to see things as they are) and right attitude. When these two factors are in place, the awareness comes with wisdom. Only by using wisdom can wisdom become stronger. The stronger the wisdom, the finer the things the mind can recognize.

Then later, one begins to notice less of feelings and more of mental states; then eventually one begins to notice all sorts of phenomena, including the hindrances: sensual desire, enmity, dullness & drowsiness, restlessness & guilt, and incertitude.

When one is able to observe hindrances as they are, one needs to recognize their presence when they are present, and their absence when they are absent. What is it like when a hindrance, such as sensual desire, is present? What is it like when it is absent? Observing in this way, the mind learns that their absence is more peaceful and pleasant, and therefore inclines towards abandoning them.

Personalized Practice for Mental Settling

Usually one can just practise as above. However, one may not be able to do so when unfavourable conditions arise. For example, one might be overwhelmed by lust or mental sluggishness. Or one’s mind might somehow become so scattered that one is very lost in thoughts. Whatever the case may be, so long as one is mostly unable to remain mindful, the situation calls for special treatment.

In Bhikkhunupassaya Sutta (SN47.10), the Buddha recommends setting the mind on “some [mind-]brightening basis”. The commentary to that sutta suggests the six recollections mentioned in AN11.12: the Tathāgata (i.e. the Buddha), the Dhamma, the Saṅgha, one’s own (good) conduct, one’s own generosity, and the devas. According to MahāNiddesa, these recollections are suited to those of faith-temperament.
But what if you’re not of the faith-temperament? Here are some suggestions from MahāNiddesa:

To the person of passion-temperament, the Bhagavā gives a talk on unattractiveness. To the person of aversion-temperament, the Bhagavā speaks on the friendliness-cultivation. For the person of delusion-temperament, the Bhagavā settles [him] in a programme - quizzing, timely dhamma-listening, timely dhamma-discussion - and co-residence with a teacher. To the person of thinking-temperament, the Bhagavā speaks on mindfulness of breathing. To the person of faith-temperament, the Bhagavā speaks of a [mind-]brightening basis: the Buddha’s utter awakening, the Dhamma’s utter ‘Dhamma-ness’, the Saṅgha’s good practice and precepts. To the person of own-knowledge-temperament, the Bhagavā speaks on the basis of distinct seeing: the impermanence-condition, the suffering-condition, the not-self condition.

(Note that you may be of two temperaments.) The above is not meant to be exhaustive, as the Suttas also speak of other ways to settle the mind. In any case, it is good for us to find a few ways that work for us.

Ways that work for you are those that brighten the mind. Doing that will bring about gladness, leading to joy, then calming down the body. With that, you feel happy in a peaceful way, and so the mind becomes composed. Once that is accomplished, you return to establishing mindfulness.


In the beginning, I said that to gain the jhānas, you should think about how to abandon the five hindrances. Actually, you shouldn’t even concern yourself with that. Instead, think about how to get the basics right first. When your basics are strong, gaining the jhānas will be easy.


1. This writing is at best an outline of how to gain the jhānas. If you wish to learn meditation according to the Suttas, you are well advised to learn from an experienced teacher, which this writing cannot replace.

2. If you wish to understand the theories behind this topic, please refer to What You Might Not Know about Jhāna & Samādhi (, also written by me.

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