Jhana and Samadhi
Tuesday 24 May 2016, by
In the vocabulary of Buddhist meditation the word "jhana" is closely connected with another word, "samadhi" generally rendered by "concentration." Samadhi derives from the prefixed verbal root sam-a-dha, meaning to collect or to bring together, thus suggesting the concentration or unification of the mind. The word "samadhi" is almost interchangeable with the word "samatha," serenity, though the latter comes from a different root, sam, meaning to become calm.
In the suttas samadhi is defined as mental one-pointedness, (cittass’ekaggata M.i,301) and this definition is followed through rigorously in the Abhidhamma. The Abhidhamma treats one-pointedness as a distinct mental factor present in every state of consciousness, exercising the function of unifying the mind on its object. From this strict psychological standpoint samadhi can be present in unwholesome states of consciousness as well as in wholesome an neutral states. In its unwholesome forms it is called "wrong concentration" (micchasamadhi), In its wholesome forms "right concentration" (sammasamadhi).
In expositions on the practice of meditation, however, samadhi is limited to one-pointedness of mind (Vism.84-85; PP.84-85), and even here we can understand from the context that the word means only the wholesome one-pointedness involved in the deliberate transmutation of the mind to a heightened level of calm. Thus Buddhaghosa explains samadhi etymologically as "the centering of consciousness and consciousness concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object... the state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered" (Vism.84-85; PP.85).
However, despite the commentator’s bid for consistency, the word samadhi is used in the Pali literature on meditation with varying degrees of specificity of meaning. In the narrowest sense, as defined by Buddhaghosa, it denotes the particular mental factor responsible for the concentrating of the mind, namely, one-pointedness. In a wider sense it can signify the states of unified consciousness that result from the strengthening of concentration, i.e., the meditative attainments of serenity and the stages leading up to them. And in a still wider sense the word samadhi can be applied to the method of practice used to produce and cultivate these refined states of concentration, here being equivalent to the development of serenity.
It is in the second sense that samadhi and jhana come closest in meaning. The Buddha explains right concentration as the four jhanas (D.ii,313), and in doing so allows concentration to encompass the meditative attainments signified by the jhanas. However, even though jhana and samadhi can overlap in denotation, certain differences in their suggested and contextual meanings prevent unqualified identification of the two terms. First behind the Buddha’s use of the jhana formula to explain right concentration lies a more technical understanding of the terms. According to this understanding samadhi can be narrowed down in range to signify only one mental factor, the most prominent in the jhana, namely, one-pointedness, while the word "jhana" itself must be seen as encompassing the state of consciousness in its entirety, or at least the whole group of mental factors individuating that meditative state as a jhana.
In the second place, when samadhi is considered in its broader meaning it involves a wider range of reference than jhana. The Pali exegetical tradition recognizes three levels of samadhi: preliminary concentration (parikammasamadhi), which is produced as a result of the meditator’s initial efforts to focus his mind on his meditation subject; access concentration (upacarasamadhi), marked by the suppression of the five hindrances, the manifestation of the jhana factors, and the appearance of a luminous mental replica of the meditation object called the counterpart sign (patibhaganimitta); and absorption concentration (appanasamadhi), the complete immersion of the mind in its object effected by the full maturation of the jhana factors.5 Absorption concentration comprises the eight attainments, the four immaterial attainments, and to this extent jhana and samadhi coincide. However, samadhi still has a broader scope than jhana, since it includes not only the jhanas themselves but also the two preparatory degrees of concentration leading up to them. Further, samadhi also covers a still different type of concentration called momentary concentration (khanikasamadhi), the mobile mental stabilization produced in the course of insight contemplation of the passing flow of phenomena.