Jhānacittas
There are many different cittas arising in our daily life which experience objects through the five sense-doors and through the mind-door. Both in the sense-door process and in the mind-door process of cittas there are javana-cittas which are, in the case of the non-arahat, either kusala cittas or akusala cittas. The javana-cittas are most of the time akusala cittas because we cling to all objects which are experienced through the sense-doors and through the mind-door. We cling to visible object and seeing, to sound and hearing, to all the objects we experience. We cling to life, we want to go on living and receiving sense-impressions. We may not notice when there is clinging after seeing or hearing, especially when we do not feel particularly glad about what was seen or heard. But there may be lobha-mūla-cittas with indifferent feeling. There are likely to be many moments of clinging which pass unnoticed, both in the sense-door processes and in the mind-door processes. Time and again an object is experienced through one of the sense-doors and then through the mind-door and there are also mind-door processes of cittas which think of concepts such as people, animals or things. Clinging to concepts is likely to arise very often and thus we think most of the time with akusala citta. When we do not apply ourselves to dāna, sīla or bhāvanā, thinking is done with akusala citta. Even when we perform good deeds there are bound to be akusala cittas shortly after the kusala cittas. Seeing and hearing arise time and again, and after seeing or hearing attachment or aversion on account of what we experience may arise. The cittas which experience sense-objects, the kusala cittas and akusala cittas, all the cittas which arise in our daily life are of the “sensuous plane of consciousness”, or kāmāvacara cittas.
On account of the experience of sense-objects defilements tend to arise. Therefore wise people, even those who lived before the Buddha’s time, who saw the disadvantages of sense-impressions, developed jhāna in order to be temporarily freed from sense-impressions. Jhāna-cittas are not kāmāvacara cittas, they are of another plane of consciousness; these cittas experience with absorption a meditation subject through the mind-door. At the moment of jhāna one is freed from sense-impressions and from the defilements which are bound up with them. Jhānacittas comprise rūpāvacara cittas (rūpa-jhānacittas) and arūpāvacara cittas (arūpa-jhānacittas). Arūpa-jhāna (immaterial jhāna) is more refined than rūpa-jhāna (fine-material jhāna), since the meditation subjects of arūpa-jhāna are no longer dependent on materiality. Later on I will deal with their difference.
Apart from the planes of citta which are kāmāvacara cittas, rūpāvacara cittas and arūpāvacara cittas, there is still another plane of citta: the lokuttara cittas (translated as “supramundane cittas”) which have nibbāna as their object. Those who attain enlightenment have lokuttara cittas, experiencing nibbāna.
Now I shall deal first with jhānacitta. Jhānacittas do not have as their object visible object, sound, or any other sense-object. Jhānacittas arise in a process of cittas experiencing a meditation subject through the mind-door. In this process there are first kāmāvacara cittas which experience the meditation subject and then, in that same process, the jhānacitta arises.
The process is as follows:
  1. 1.
    mano-dvārāvajjana-citta or mind-door adverting-consciousness
  2. 2.
    parikamma or preparatory consciousness
  3. 3.
    upacāra, which means: proximity or access
  4. 4.
    anuloma or adaptation cittas
  5. 5.
    gotrabhū, which means: that which overcomes the sense-sphere, or
    “change of lineage”
  6. 6.
    jhānacitta, appanā or absorption (the moment of citta which attains
    jhāna)
For some, “parikamma” (preparatory consciousness) is not necessary, and in this case there are, after the mind-door-adverting-consciousness, only three kāmāvacara cittas arising, instead of four, before the jhānacitta arises. Gotrabhū (which “overcomes” the sense-sphere) is the last citta in that process which is kāmāvacara citta.
In the Visuddhimagga (IV, 74) we can read about the process of cittas in which jhāna occurs for the first time. The Visuddhimagga (IV, 78) states that in that case only one single moment of jhānacitta arises, which is then succeeded by the bhavanga-citta (life-continuum). After that there is a process of kāmāvacara cittas, reviewing through the mind-door the jhāna which has just occurred. For that person the ability to attain jhāna is still weak, he has to continue to purify himself of the hindrances in developing the jhāna-factors until these have become stronger. Further on (Vis. IV, 123 and following) we read that absorption can “last” only when it is absolutely purified of states which obstruct concentration. One must first completely suppress lust by reviewing the dangers of sense-desires and also suppress the other “hindrances”. When someone has become more accomplished there can be jhānacittas succeeding one another, even for a long time. We read (Vis. IV, 125):
But when he enters upon a jhāna after (first) completely purifying his mind of states that obstruct concentration, then he remains in the attainment even for a whole day, like a bee that has gone into a completely purified hive...
Jhānacittas are kusala kamma of a high degree. When jhāna has been attained the hindrances of sensuous desire, ill-will, sloth, torpor, restlessness, regret and doubt are temporarily eliminated. Thus one is truly calm, at least at that moment.
As we have seen in the preceding chapter, the person who wants to develop samatha so as to be able to attain jhāna, has to develop the five jhāna-factors which can inhibit the hindrances, namely:
  • applied thinking (vitakka)
  • sustained thinking (vicāra)
  • rapture (pīti)
  • happy feeling (sukha)
  • concentration (samādhi)
Jhāna is developed in stages, with each succeeding stage being more refined than the preceding one. There are five stages of rūpa-jhāna (fine-material jhāna) in all. For the first stage of rūpa-jhāna it is still necessary that all five jhāna-factors arise with the jhānacitta, but at each higher stage, when one has become more advanced, jhāna-factors are successively abandoned. When one attains to the rūpa-jhāna of the second stage, one does not need the jhāna-factor which is vitakka, applied thinking. At this point the jhānacitta can experience the meditation subject without vitakka, which has the characteristic of directing the mind unto an object and the function of “touching” the object. The other four jhāna-factors still arise with the jhānacitta of the second stage.
At the third stage of rūpa-jhāna vicāra, sustained thinking, is abandoned. At this stage one does not need vitakka nor vicāra any longer in order to become absorbed in the meditation subject. Now three factors remain: pīti, rapture, sukha, happy feeling, and samādhi, concentration. At the fourth stage pīti is abandoned. There is still sukha, happy feeling, accompanying the jhāna-citta, but pīti does not arise. Without pīti the jhānacitta is more quiet, more refined. At the fifth stage sukha, happy feeling, too is abandoned and indifferent feeling (upekkhā vedanā) accompanies the jhānacitta instead. At this stage one is no longer attached to happy feeling. The jhāna-factor which is samādhi, concentration, remains.
Some people can, at the second stage of jhāna, abandon both vitakka, applied thinking, and vicāra, sustained thinking. Consequently, they can, in the third stage, abandon pīti, rapture, and in the fourth stage sukha, happy feeling. Thus for them there are only four stages of jhāna instead of five. That is the reason why rūpa-jhānas can be counted as four stages or as five stages (as the fourfold system or the five-fold system). When we read in the suttas about four stages of jhāna, it is the fourfold system which is referred to.
There can be up to five stages of rūpa-jhāna in all and thus there are five types of rūpāvacara kusala cittas (rūpa-jhāna kusala cittas). Jhānacitta is kusala kamma of a high degree and thus its result is kusala vipāka of a high degree. Jhānacittas do not produce vipāka in the same lifespan: their result is rebirth in higher planes of existence. The result of rūpāvacara kusala cittas is rebirth in rūpa-brahma planes. Rūpāvacara kusala citta can produce result only if one’s ability to attain jhāna does not decline and jhānacittas arise shortly before dying. If rūpāvacara kusala citta is to produce the next rebirth, rūpāvacara kusala cittas arise shortly before the cuti-citta, dying-consciousness. The paṭisandhi-citta of the next life is rūpāvacara vipākacitta and this arises in the appropriate rūpa-brahma plane. It experiences the same meditation subject as the rūpāvacara kusala cittas arising shortly before the cuti-citta of the preceding life. The five types of rūpāvacara kusala cittas are able to produce five types of rūpāvacara vipākacittas.
When one is born with a paṭisandhi-citta which is rūpāvacara vipākacitta, all bhavanga-cittas and the cuti-citta of that life are of the same type of citta as the paṭisandhi-citta. Rūpāvacara vipākacitta can only perform the functions of paṭisandhi, bhavanga and cuti.
There are five types of rūpāvacara kiriyacittas which are the cittas of the arahat who attains rūpa-jhāna. He does not have kusala cittas but he has kiriyacittas instead. Thus, there are fifteen rūpāvacara cittas in all. Summarising them, they are:
  • 5 rūpāvacara kusala cittas
  • 5 rūpāvacara vipākacittas
  • 5 rūpāvacara kiriyacittas
Those who have attained the highest stage of rūpa-jhāna and see the disadvantages of rūpa-jhāna which is still dependent on materiality (97), might want to cultivate arūpa-jhāna or “immaterial jhāna”. The meditation subjects of arūpa-jhāna are not connected with materiality. There are four stages of arūpa-jhāna. The first stage of arūpa-jhāna is the “Sphere of Boundless Space” (98) (ākāsānañcāyatana). In order to attain this stage of arūpa-jhāna one has to attain first the highest stage of rūpa-jhāna in any one of the kasina meditations (excepting the “kasina of limited space”) and achieve mastery in it. We read in the Visuddhimagga (X, 6):
When he has seen the danger in that (fine-material fourth jhāna (99)) in this way and has ended his attachment to it, he gives attention to the “Base consisting of Boundless Space” as peaceful. Then, when he has spread out the kasina to the limit of the world-sphere, or as far as he likes, he removes the kasina (materiality) by giving his attention to the space touched by it, (regarding that) as “space” or “boundless space”.
As regards the “Sphere of Boundless Space”, the Visuddhimagga (X, 8) explains about the “removing” of the kasina:
And when the kasina is being removed, it does not roll up or roll away. It is simply that it is called “removed” on account of his non-attention to it, his attention being given to “space, space”. This is conceptualized as the mere space left by the removal of the kasina (materiality)...
In this way he can surmount the materiality of the kasina and attain the first arūpa-jhāna, the “Sphere of Boundless Space”. There are three more stages of arūpa-jhāna, and each one of these is more subtle and more peaceful than the preceding one. The second stage of arūpa-jhāna is: the “Sphere of Boundless Consciousness” (viññāṇañcāyatana). The meditation subject of this stage of arūpa-jhāna is the consciousness which is the first arūpa-jhānacitta. This citta had as its object “Boundless Space”. The person who wants to attain the second stage of arūpa-jhāna should first achieve “mastery” in the “Sphere of Boundless Space”; he should see the disadvantages of this stage and end his attachment to it. We read in the Visuddhimagga (X, 25):
...So having ended his attachment to that, he should give his attention to the base consisting of boundless consciousness as peaceful, adverting again and again as “Consciousness, consciousness”, to the consciousness that occurred pervading that space (as its object)...
The third stage of arūpa-jhāna is the “Sphere of Nothingness” (ākiñcaññāyatana). We read in the Visuddhimagga (X, 32) that the person who wants to attain this stage should give his attention to the present non-existence of the past consciousness which pervaded the “boundless space” and which was the object of the second stage of arūpa-jhāna, the “Sphere of Boundless Consciousness”. We read (X, 33):
Without giving (further) attention to that consciousness, he should (now) advert again and again in this way, “There is not, there is not”, or “Void, void”, or “Secluded, secluded”, and give his attention to it, review it, and strike at it with thought and applied thought.
Further on (X, 35) we read:
...he dwells seeing only its non-existence, in other words its departedness when this consciousness has arisen in absorption.
The fourth arūpa-jhāna is the “Sphere of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception” (n’eva-saññā-n’āsaññāyatana). The object of this jhāna is the four nāmakkhandhas (citta and the accompanying cetasikas) which attained the Sphere of Nothingness,(at the third stage of arūpa-jhāna.) We read in the Visuddhimagga (X, 49):
The word meaning here is this: that jhāna with its associated states neither has perception nor has no perception because of the absence of gross perception and presence of subtle perception, thus it is “neither perception nor non-perception” (n’eva-saññā-n’āsaññaṃ).
Further on (X, 50) we read:
...Or alternatively: the perception here is neither perception, since it is incapable of performing the decisive function of perception, nor yet non-perception, since it is present in a subtle state as a residual formation, thus it is “neither-perception-nor-non-perception”...
It is also explained that the feeling arising with this jhānacitta is “neither-feeling-nor-non-feeling” (since it is present in a subtle state as a residual formation); the same applies to consciousness, contact (phassa) and the other cetasikas arising with the jhānacitta.
Since there are four stages of arūpa-jhāna, there are four types of arūpāvacara kusala cittas. They can produce vipāka in the form of rebirth in the happy planes of existence which are the arūpa-brahma planes. The four types of arūpāvacara kusala cittas produce four types of arūpāvacara vipākacittas. When the paṭisandhi-citta is arūpāvacara vipākacitta, all bhavanga-cittas and the cuti-citta of that life are of the same type of arūpāvacara vipākacitta. Arūpāvacara vipākacitta can only perform the functions of paṭisandhi, bhavanga and cuti (100).
There are four types of arūpāvacara kiriyacittas which are the cittas of the arahat who attains arūpa-jhāna. Thus, there are twelve arūpāvacara cittas in all. Summarising them, they are:
  • 4 arūpāvacara kusala cittas
  • 4 arūpāvacara vipākacittas
  • 4 arūpāvacara kiriyacittas
Those who have cultivated jhāna can develop the various types of “direct knowledge” (abhiññā) (101). They should attain the highest stage of rūpa-jhāna (the fourth according to the fourfold system and the fifth according to the fivefold system) in the kasina meditations, and they should exercise “complete mind-control in fourteen ways” (described in the Visuddhimagga, chapter XII). For example, they should, with the different kasina meditations, be able to attain the subsequent stages of rūpa-jhāna in order and in reverse order. In developing the kinds of “direct knowledge” or “supernormal powers”, one’s concentration will become more advanced. The “supernormal powers” (abhiññā) are the following:
  1. 1.
    Magical powers such as passing through walls, walking on water,
    travelling through the air.
  2. 2.
    Divine ear, by which one hears sounds both heavenly and human, far
    and near.
  3. 3.
    Knowledge of the minds of other people.
  4. 4.
    Divine Eye, by which one sees the deceasing and rebirth of beings.
  5. 5.
    Remembrance of one’s former lives.
These are the five “mundane supernormal powers”. However, there is a sixth power, which is realized by lokuttara citta, namely, the eradication of all defilements, when arahatship is attained. The sixth power is the greatest and in order to realize it insight has to be fully developed.
Those who have cultivated the right conditions can achieve “marvels”. In the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, chapter VI, paragraph 60, III, Sangārava) we read about the greatest “marvel”. The Buddha asked the brāhmin Sangārava about the topic of conversation of the royal party, when they were together in the palace. The brāhmin Sangārava answered that they were talking about the fact that in former times the monks were fewer in number, but those possessed of supernormal powers were more numerous, and that now it was just the opposite. The Buddha said to him:
“Now as to that, brāhmin, there are these three marvels. What three?
The marvel of more-power, the marvel of thought-reading, the marvel of teaching. And what, brāhmin, is the marvel of more-power?
In this case a certain one enjoys sorts of more-power in various ways. From being one he becomes many, from being many he becomes one; manifest or invisible he goes unhindered through a wall, through a rampart, through a mountain, as if through the air; he plunges into the earth and shoots up again as if in water; he walks upon the water without parting it as if on solid ground; he travels through the air sitting cross-legged, like a bird upon the wing; even this moon and sun, though of such mighty power and majesty, - he handles them and strokes them with his hand; even as far as the Brahma world he has power with his body. This, brāhmin, is called ‘the marvel of more-power’.
And what, brāhmin, is the marvel of thought-reading? In this case a certain one can declare by means of a sign ‘Thus is your mind. Such and such is your mind. Thus is your consciousness’...”
The Buddha explained more about mind-reading, and then he said:
“And what, brāhmin, is the marvel of teaching? In this case a certain one teaches thus: ‘Reason thus, not thus. Apply your mind thus, not thus. Abandon this state, acquire that state and abide therein.’ This, brāhmin, is called ‘the marvel of teaching’. So these are the three marvels. Now of these three marvels, which appeals to you as the more wonderful and excellent?”
“Of these marvels, Master Gotama, the marvel of more-power ...seems to me to be of the nature of an illusion. Then again as to the marvel of thought-reading ...this also, master Gotama, seems to me of the nature of an illusion. But as to the marvel of teaching ...of these three marvels this one appeals to me as the more wonderful and excellent.”
Sangārava then asked the Buddha whether he possessed all three marvels and the Buddha told him that he did. Sangārava also asked whether any other monk possessed them and the Buddha answered:
“Yes, indeed, brāhmin. The monks possessed of these three marvellous powers are not just one or two or three, four, or five hundred, but much more than that in number.”
Sangārava then expressed his confidence in taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and he asked to be accepted as a lay-follower.
In the Buddha’s time many monks had cultivated conditions for “marvellous powers”. The greatest “marvel” of these, however, is the “marvel of teaching” since it can lead to the eradication of all defilements, to the end of all sorrow.
For those who have accumulations for jhāna there are many benefits since jhāna is kusala kamma of a high degree. One of the benefits is a happy rebirth, even for those who can attain only “access-concentration” or upacāra samādhi (Vis. XI, 123). However, even rebirth in a happy plane of existence is dukkha, because life in a happy plane may be followed by rebirth in an unhappy plane. Therefore, no birth at all is to be preferred to any kind of rebirth. This can be realized only by developing the wisdom which eradicates defilements.
Jhāna is called in the teachings an “abiding in ease, here, now” (for example, in the “Discourse on Expunging”, Middle Length Sayings I, no. 8). Those who have become advanced in the development of calm can have many jhānacittas in succession, since they have cultivated conditions for this. They truly are “abiding in ease, here, now”. However, the Buddha would point out that “abiding in ease” is not the same as “expunging” (eradication). We read in the Discourse on Expunging that the Buddha said to Cunda with regard to the monk who could attain rūpa-jhāna:
The situation occurs, Cunda, when a monk here, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, may enter on and abide in the first jhāna which is accompanied by initial thought (vitakka) and discursive thought (vicāra), is born of aloofness, and is rapturous and joyful. It may occur to him: “I fare along by expunging”. But these, Cunda, are not called expungings in the discipline for an ariyan. These are called “abidings in ease, here, now” in the discipline for an ariyan.
The Buddha said the same with regard to the attainment of the other stages of rūpa-jhāna. With regard to the monk who could attain arūpa-jhāna, he said:
...It may occur to him: “I fare along by expunging”. But these, Cunda, are not called “expungings” in the discipline for an ariyan; these are called “abidings that are peaceful” in the discipline for an ariyan...
Those who have accumulated great skill for jhāna and have developed vipassanā can attain enlightenment with lokuttara jhānacittas, that is, lokuttara cittas accompanied by jhāna-factors of the different stages of jhāna, according to their accumulations (102). Instead of a meditation subject of samatha, nibbāna is the object which is experienced with absorption by the lokuttara jhānacitta. In the process during which enlightenment is attained the magga-citta (path-consciousness, lokuttara kusala citta) is immediately followed by the phala-citta (fruition-consciousness, the result of the magga-citta). When the phala-cittas have fallen away that process of cittas is over. The magga-citta of that stage of enlightenment cannot arise again, but for those who have developed jhāna and attained enlightenment with lokuttara jhānacitta, the phala-citta can arise again, having nibbāna as object, even many times in life.
Those who have attained the fourth stage of arūpa-jhāna, the “Sphere of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception”, and have also realized the third stage of enlightenment, the stage of the anāgāmī or who have realized the stage of the arahat, can attain “cessation” (nirodha-samāpatti) which is the temporary ceasing of bodily and mental activities.
The person who has attained “cessation” (“the stopping of perception and feeling”) is different from a corpse. We read in the Greater Discourse of the Miscellany (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 43) that Mahā-Koṭṭhita asked Sāriputta a number of questions. He also asked questions about the dead body and about the difference between the dead body and the monk who has attained cessation. We read that Mahā-Koṭṭhita asked:
“In regard to this body, your reverence, when how many things are got rid of, does this body lie cast away, flung aside like unto a senseless log of wood?”
“In regard to this body, your reverence, when three things are got rid of: vitality, heat and consciousness, then does this body lie cast away, flung aside like unto a senseless log of wood.”
“What is the difference, your reverence, between that dead thing, passed away, and that monk who has attained to the stopping of perception and feeling?”
“Your reverence, the bodily activities of that dead thing, passed away, have been stopped, have subsided, the vocal activities have been stopped, have subsided, the mental activities have been stopped, have subsided, the vitality is entirely destroyed, the heat allayed, the sense-organs are entirely broken asunder. But that monk who has attained to the stopping of perception and feeling, although his bodily activities have been stopped, have subsided, although his vocal activities have been stopped, have subsided, although his mental activities have been stopped, have subsided, his vitality is not entirely destroyed, his heat is not allayed, his sense-organs are purified. This, your reverence, is the difference between a dead thing, passed away, and that monk who has attained to the stopping of perception and feeling.”
For those who emerge from cessation, the first citta which arises is a phala-citta (lokuttara vipākacitta), having nibbāna as its object. In the case of the anāgāmī it is the phala-citta of the stage of the anāgāmī and in the case of the arahat it is the phala-citta of the arahat. The Visuddhimagga (XXIII, 50) states that their minds tend towards nibbāna. We read:
Towards what does the mind of one who has emerged tend? It tends towards nibbāna. For this is said: “When a bhikkhu has emerged from the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling, friend Visākha, his consciousness inclines to seclusion, leans to seclusion, tends to seclusion” (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 44, 302).
In the Lesser Discourse in Gosiṅga (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 31) we read that the Buddha came to see Anuruddha, Nandiya and Kimbila when they were staying in the Gosiṅga sāl-wood. The Buddha asked them about their life in the forest. They could attain all stages of rūpa-jhāna and arūpa-jhāna and they could “abide” in them for as long as they liked. The Buddha said:
“It is good, Anuruddhas, it is good. But did you, Anuruddhas, by passing quite beyond this abiding, by allaying this abiding, reach another state of further-men, an excellent knowledge and vision befitting the ariyans, an abiding in comfort?”
“How could this not be, Lord? Here we, Lord, for as long as we like, by passing quite beyond the plane of neither perception-nor-non-perception, entering on the stopping of perception and feeling, abide in it, and having seen through intuitive wisdom, our cankers come to be utterly destroyed. By passing quite beyond that abiding, Lord, by allaying that abiding, another state of further-men, an excellent knowledge and vision befitting the ariyans, an abiding in comfort is reached. But we, Lord, do not behold another abiding in comfort that is higher or more excellent than this abiding in comfort.”
“It is good, Anuruddhas, it is good. There is no other abiding in comfort that is higher or more excellent than this abiding in comfort.”

Questions

  1. 1.
    What is the advantage of arūpa-jhāna, compared to rūpa-jhāna?
  2. 2.
    What is the difference between the fourth stage of arūpa-jhāna, the
    “Sphere of neither perception nor non-perception”, and “cessation”?
  3. 3.
    Can anybody who has developed the fourth stage of arūpa-jhāna attain
    cessation?
  4. 4.
    What is the purpose of the “supernormal powers” (abhiññās)?
  5. 5.
    When six abhiññās are mentioned, which of those is the greatest?
  6. 6.
    What benefit is there for those who develop both jhāna and vipassanā
    and attain enlightenment?
  7. 7.
    What is the object of citta at the moment of jhāna?
  8. 8.
    Through which door can the jhānacitta experience an object?
  9. 9.
    What is the object of lokuttara jhānacitta?
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