Anariya (or mundane) jhāna are not necessary to attain Nibbāna and can be a distraction if one is not careful.
Pre-2015 post; rewritten December 15, 2022; #10 revised December 18, 2022
1. I will make general statements here to explain the “big picture.” While there can be exceptions, the following statements generally hold.
- Sentient beings in the 31 realms have different mental states and capabilities. The 26 realms above the human realm have better mental states with less mental and physical suffering. The four realms below the human (apāyās) have more mental and physical suffering.
- At the beginning of a world cycle or a Mahā Kappa (with a newly-formed Earth), most sentient beings are “Brahma-kāyika humans.” They have just descended from the Ābhassara Brahma realm. However, the Brahma realms above the Ābhassara Brahma realm were not destroyed. Thus, a new world cycle starts with only the Human and the 20 Brahma realms populated. All Deva realms and the apāyās are empty at the beginning of a new world cycle!
- Over millions of years, those humans’ hidden defilements (anusaya) begin to surface. They gradually start committing immoral deeds, and their bodies transform into the dense physical bodies we have today. Like Brahmās, the “early humans” did not have sex organs.
- Those aspects are summarized in the post “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27).”
The “Early Humans” Branch Out into Other Realms
2. In the newly-formed Earth, there were no plants or animals. Those evolved over hundreds of millions of years. With time, humans started engaging in immoral activities, and the physical environment (as well as their physical bodies) evolved according to that too.
- Plants appeared, and the first batch of small animals was born with opapatika births. That took place long after humans evolved into bodies with sex organs. Those humans who got corrupted first were reborn animals.
- The lower three apāya realms also formed over a longer time, according to the kammic energies that evolved humans deposited when they started cultivating apuñña abhisaṅkhāra. Of course, some humans cultivated puñña abhisaṅkhāra and were born in Deva realms.
3. The early humans had long lifespans (lifetimes.) By the time the first Buddha (Buddha Kakusanda) was born, the human lifespan had decreased to 80,000 years. That happened after a long time, probably over a billion years after the formation of the Earth.
- By that time, possibly the lower three realms had been populated by those humans who got “corrupted first” and engaged in immoral deeds and cultivated apuñña abhisaṅkhāra. Of course, those who engaged in moral deeds (with puñña abhisaṅkhāra) populated the Deva realms and the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms. Furthermore, others cultivated āneñjābhisaṅkhāra (āneñja abhisaṅkhāra) and were reborn in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms.
- It is good to understand how the cultivation of the three types of abhisaṅkhāra leads to rebirth in various realms: “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra.”
Future Rebirths Are According to One’s Gati
4. It is clear that rebirths in various existences (bhava) are according to the type of abhisaṅkhāra. A sentient being tends to cultivate a specific type of abhisaṅkhāra based on the gati (character/habits) at that time.
- No sentient beings (below the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage) have “fixed gati.” We all had cultivated apāya, human, Deva, and Brahma gati and were born in all those realms! That is why the Buddha said there is no fixed “soul/ātman” traversing the rebirth process.
- Only when one starts attaining various stages of Nibbāna, that one’s gati will not “fall back” from that attainment. Thus, for example, an Anāgāmi will never again be born in kāma loka because they had eliminated “kāma gati.”
- On the other hand, those born in even the highest Brahma realms (without a magga phala) can “get back apāyagāmi gati” and be reborn in an apāya in the future. As we saw, all sentient beings were in the Ābhassara Brahma realm at the beginning of this world cycle, yet most are now in the apāyās.
Various Types of Gati Cultivated in the Human Realm
5. The human realm is unique. It is where a sentient being can cultivate abhisaṅkhāra of all three types. The human realm is like a “training school” where people train to be reborn in different realms by cultivating specific types of abhisaṅkhāra.
- Animals and other sentient beings in the lowest realms do not cultivate puñña abhisaṅkhāra or āneñja abhisaṅkhāra. They are primarily like robots.
- Even those in the Deva and Brahma realms (without a magga phala) mostly spend time there enjoying their lives without accumulating significant abhisaṅkhāra of any type.
- Humans have the unique ability to cultivate any abhisaṅkhāra (that leads to rebirths in various realms) and also cultivate the Noble Path to Nibbāna.
6. Those humans with immoral gati (at a given time) cultivate apuñña abhisaṅkhāra and are reborn in the apāyās. Others with moral gati cultivate puñña abhisaṅkhāra (puñña kamma and rupāvacara jhāna) and are reborn in the human, Deva, and rupāvacara Brahma realms. Others cultivate āneñja abhisaṅkhāra and are reborn in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms. See “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra.”
- With that background, now we can discuss the cultivation of anariya jhānās. Cultivation of anariya jhāna does not require the knowledge of Buddha Dhamma.
- As we saw above, all sentient beings had to cultivate anariya jhāna by the time Earth was destroyed (in the previous world cycle) to be born in the Ābhassara Brahma realm! That happened naturally.
Cultivation of “Brahma Gati” – Two ways
6. We are now in the human realm (in kāma loka) because we all had cultivated “kāma abhisaṅkhāra.” Those did not involve immoral actions, but we had craved “sensual pleasures.” Bhava and jāti are according to the abhisaṅkhāra cultivated via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” Again, I refer to the post “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra.”
- Even though most of us enjoy sensual pleasures, we can also see their drawbacks. To enjoy them (especially taste, smell, and bodily contacts, including sex), a dense physical body is required. But such a physical body can and will be subjected to various illnesses, injuries, and old age issues leading to inevitable suffering.
- There are two ways humans transcend the human realm (without the help of a Buddha) and experience the higher mental states belonging to the rupa loka.
7. First, to avoid such suffering in the human realm and with the expectation of being born in the Brahma realms, ancient yogis cultivated (anariya) jhānās. As we know, Brahmās do not have dense bodies; they only have the manomaya kāya. They don’t need to eat to sustain those subtle “energy bodies.”
- Those ancient yogis knew they had to avoid “mind-pleasing” contacts such as tasty food, perfumes, and even seeing women. (We know that is true since only such arammana can get a mind to generate “kāma abhisaṅkhāra” via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” See “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime” and especially the second post.)
- Avoidance of “mind-pleasing sensory objects” will happen naturally toward the end of a world cycle. When the Earth starts getting hot, such mind-pleasing objects will gradually be destroyed. Human minds will be naturally released from “kāma saṅkappa,” or “thoughts of sensual pleasures.” That is the second way of getting rebirths in Brahma realms.
Mental States of Rupāvacara Brahmās
8. We are “bound” to this world via three types of “rāga“: kāma rāga, rupa rāga, and arupa rāga.
- The “highest level of bondage to this world” is in the lower 11 realms where kāma rāga is dominant. Here a conscious being highly values all six sensory inputs.
- When those ancient yogis realized the drawbacks of kāma rāga, they found ways to detach their minds from kāma saṅkappa. While being isolated in deep jungles helped, that was not enough. Their minds still wanted to recall the sensory pleasures of the old days. So, they started using “kasina objects” to keep their minds focused on inert objects like clay balls, fires, etc.
- The easiest of such “mundane kasina meditations” was to focus the mind on the breath. That was available at all times! That is the origin of the “mundane Ānapāna meditation.” That is not the “Buddhist Ānapānasati meditation.” See “Elephant in the Room 3 – Ānāpānasati.”
- Thus, those ancient yogis transcended the lowest mental states in the kāma loka by cultivating nekkhamma saṅkappa (i.e., absence of kāma saṅkappa) by focusing the mind on “neutral kasina objects” to keep their minds off of kāma saṅkappa.
What Is a Jhāna?
9. Those mental states reached via “transcending of the kāma loka” are the rupāvacara jhāna, sensory experiences of rupāvacara Brahmās.
- When a mind transcends the kāma loka, it gets to the mindset of rupāvacara Brahmās. Those are the four jhānic states (the first jhāna is split into two in Abhidhamma analysis.) Lower Brahma realms have lower jhānic states, and higher Brahma realms have higher jhānic states.
- From the discussion in #7, it should be clear that a mind must give up kāma saṅkappa. The second mechanism happened naturally due to “mind-pleasing things” being destroyed naturally.
- But let us look into the first method used by ancient yogis to get some insights.
What Is a Jhāna Samāpatti?
10. But when a human enters a jhāna (especially without much practice), the mind does not stay continuously in the jhāna citta stream. It alternates between jhānic citta vithi and pañcadvāra citta vithi belonging to the kāma loka, i.e., kāmāvacara citta vithi also arise intermittently. Thus, the yogi may see and hear while in a jhānic state.
- Initially, only 2-3 jhānā citta vithi flow before a pañcadvāra citta vithi comes in. As one cultivates the jhānā, there will be less and less pañcadvāra citta vithi coming in between successive jhānic citta vithi.
- With practice, one could be experiencing jhānic citta vithi continuously for many minutes. That means the yogi will not be aware of any sensory inputs through the five physical senses; thus, he will not see, hear, etc. During that time, the yogi is in a jhāna samāpatti.
- The duration of a jhāna samāpatti can be increased to many hours with practice.
Arupāvacara Samāpatti – Third and Highest Mental States in This World
11. In the above, we learned that overcoming kāma rāga will advance a mind to the higher mental states (rupāvacara jhāna) enjoyed by the rupāvacara Brahmās.
- When a yogi reaches the fourth (or fifth in Abhidhamma classification), their minds become detached from the physical body. They can even come out of their physical body with their manomaya kāya and perform many “miraculous feats” like going through walls. See “Buddhahood Associated Controversies.”
- Once getting to the highest rupāvacara jhāna, those yogis realized they could advance to the highest mental states available in the arupāvacara Brahma realms.
- Those four highest mental states in this world of 31 realms are ākāsānañcāyatana, viññāṇañcāyatana, ākiñcaññāyatana, and nevasaññānāsaññāyatana samāpatti. There are no arupāvacara jhānic states.
Even Arupāvacara Samāpatti Will Not Stop Suffering in the Rebirth Process
12. Before he attained Buddhahood, our Bodhisatta learned those mundane meditation techniques from two yogis: Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta.
- But he soon realized that none of those “higher states” solve the problem of rebirth. The main reason is that those techniques (mundane kasina and Ānapāna meditations) only suppress lobha, dosa, and moha defilements. They remain hidden as “anusaya” and inevitably come to the surface under strong enough sensory attractions (temptations.) See “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi).”
- Even though a yogi can be reborn in a rupāvacara realm with long lifespans or even an arupāvacara realm with very long lifespans, they all “come back” to lower realms at the end of their long lifespans. They can and will be reborn in apāyās unless they attain a magga phala on the way to Nibbāna.
- In other words, those meditation techniques do not break the mental bonds (saṁyojana) to the world of 31 realms. See “Dasa Samyōjana – Bonds in Rebirth Process.”
13. It should be clear that any rupāvacara jhāna/samāpatti or arupāvacara samāpatti will not solve the issue of suffering in the rebirth process. We all have attained all of them uncountable times in the past.
- Suffering in this world of 31 realms ends only with the Parinibbāna of an Arahant.
- One could cultivate Ariya jhāna on the way to Arahanthood, but it is unnecessary. We will discuss that in the next post.