The Four 'Jhanas' and their Qualities in the Pali Tradition


  • Peter Harvey University of Sunderland (Retired)



jhāna, vitakka, vicāra, pīti, sukha, somanassa, domanassa, breathing, hearing, masteries, insight


A strong strand of the scholarship of Lance Cousins focussed on the jhanas and related matters, and he was also a practitioner and teacher of samatha meditation, which aims at the jhanas. In this dual tradition, this paper explores subtle questions about the nature of each jhana as dealt with in the Pali Nikayas, Abhidhamma and commentaries. Its aim is to help illuminate what it is like to be in any of these jhanas: what is going on in them, and what has been transcended? What do the similes for each jhana convey about the overall situation in them? What kind` of thought and feelings are understood to occur in them? To what extent does breathing stop in deep jhana? To what extent is hearing transcended in them? What happens in moving between them? How are they related to developing insight?

Author Biography

  • Peter Harvey, University of Sunderland (Retired)
    Peter Harvey is Emeritus Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland. He co-founded, with Ian Harris, the UK Association for Buddhist Studies, has acted as its Secretary and President, and now edits its journal, Buddhist Studies Review. His books include An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge University Press 1990 and 2013), An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues (Cambridge University Press 2000), and The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism (Curzon, 1995), and he has published many papers on early Buddhist thought and practice and on Buddhist ethics. Most recently, he edited an extensive integrated anthology of Buddhist texts, Common Buddhist Text: Guidance and Insight from the Buddha (2017) published for free distribution by Mahachulalongkorn-rajavidyalaya University, Thailand.


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How to Cite

Harvey, P. (2018). The Four ’Jhanas’ and their Qualities in the Pali Tradition. Buddhist Studies Review, 35(1-2), 3-27.