We read in the scriptures about people who could attain jhana if they cultivated the right conditions for it. Before the Buddha's enlightenment jhāna was the highest form of kusala people could attain. Jhāna, which is sometimes translated as absorption, is a high degree of calm. At the moment of jhānacitta one is free from sense-impressions and from the defilements which are bound up with them. The attainment of jhana is extremely difficult, not everybody who develops samatha can attain it. However, even if one has no intention to cultivate jhana there can be conditions for moments of calm in daily life if there is right understanding of the characteristic of calm and of the way to develop it.
In the cultivation of samatha one develops five cetasikas which can
eliminate the hindrances; they are the jhāna-factors.
The first jhāna-factor is vitakka, which is translated into English as 'applied
thinking'. Vitakka is a mental factor (cetasika) which arises with many kinds
of citta ; it can arise with kusala citta as well as with akusala citta. When the
wholesome kind of vitakka is developed in samatha it is one of the jhāna-
The 'Visuddhimagga' (lV, 88) states concerning vitakka:
'... Herein, applied thinking (vitakkana) is applied thought (vitakka); hitting
upon, is what is meant. It has the characteristic of directing the mind onto an
object (mounting the mind on its object). Its function is to touch and strike--
for the meditator is said, in virtue of it, to have the object touched at by
applied thought, struck by applied thought. It is manifested as the leading of
the mind onto an object...'
Vitakka, when it is a jhāna-factor, is opposed to thīna and middha (sloth and
torpor). In 'thinking' of the meditation-subject vitakka helps to inhibit thīna
and middha temporarily.