[Buddha-l] Abdhidharma vindicated once again

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sat Mar 5 10:33:09 MST 2011

Good questions, Herman.

There is some ambiguity in the Pali accounts about the number of jhanas and 
what goes on in them (e.g., some noticeable discrepancies between the Nikaya 
and Abhidhamma accounts). The formless meditations are sometimes four, with 
"neither with nor without perception and feeling" as the topmost, and 
sometimes five are given, with "cessation of perception [and sometimes 
including feeling]" as the fifth. You are correct that this fifth, 
sañña-vedayita-nirodha, is an early Pali term for nirodha-samapatti.

Why did the Buddha "exit" from the top of the rupa jhanas instead of the 
arupya samapattis? Typical speculation is that this reflects a rift or 
debate within the sangha about the relative importance of the types of 
meditative activities done in each, and what each accomplishes. All 
apparently agreed that the rupa-jhanas were indispensible, but the 
arupa-meditations were sometimes more connected with acquiring iddhis 
(powers) like clairvoyance, etc., and so were considered dispensible, 
possibly even distractions to the main business of achieving awakening. 
Hence it would be unseemly for Buddha to exit from the distractive arupa 
meditations. Also, exiting from the peak of the rupa-jhanas, since this is 
the base from which the arupa-jhanas begin, would be a "middle way" between 
rupa and arupa.

When it came time to locate various attainments and their corresponding 
devalokas, some placed the aforementioned asamjni-deva-loka (the "realm of 
thoughtless deities") between the 3rd and 4th rupa-loka (remember Vasubandhu 
considers this the pursuit of utter mindless idiots who valorize that 
idiocy), while nirodha-samapatti gets associated with Bhavagra, the highest 
outpost of the arupya levels.

As for Tibetan 'tukdam,' I don't know whether it is meaningful to conflate 
that with nirodha-samapatti.


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