The nimitta appears right before entering jhana . I don't think he is saying that one attends to the nimitta in various stages of jhana.Ñāṇa wrote:there is a difference between simply attending to a mental object (nimitta) via mental consciousness, and the formless attainments wherein the mind is totally isolated from the five sense faculties. In commentarial terms, attending exclusively to a cognitive representation/mental object already occurs at the stage of access samādhi.Alexei wrote:In regard to 5 senses in jhana I would prefer plain explanation
There is no support for the claim that one goes beyond the 5 senses only in the arupa states. The sutta didn't state that. In the Therigatha there are examples of a lay woman entering the form jhana and when someone tried to pour hot oil over her in order to kill her and take her husband, it did not hurt her.
By the way, it appears that when 500 hundred carts going by Alara Kalama was oblivious to it with eyes closed. But if there were thunderstorm occurring he is not able to not notice it. That 's why the Buddha said:
"Now what do you think, Pukkusa? What is more difficult to do, more difficult to meet with — that a man, while conscious and awake , should not see a great number of carts, even five hundred carts, that passed him by one after another, nor hear the noise, or that one CONSCIOUS AND AWAKE , in the midst of a heavy rain, with thunder rolling, lightning flashing, and thunderbolts crashing, SHOULD NEITHER SEE IT NOR HEAR THE NOISE ?"
"What, O Lord, are five hundred carts — nay, six, seven, eight, nine hundred, or a thousand or even hundreds of thousands of carts — compared with this?" - Mahaparinibbana Sutta
If Alara Kalama was able to do both ( not noticing the carts rolling by and not noticing the thunderstorm) then there is no need to ask which is better. The Buddha asked this because his teacher was only able to do one ( not noticing the carts rolling by) but not the other ( not noticing the heavy thunderstorm). If a person is really beyond the 5 senses, he would notice neither the carts nor the thunderstorm. But here the Buddha's statement indicated that Alara Kalama was only able to do one ( not noticing the carts) and if there is a loud thunderstorm, Alara Kalama would hear it.
"When this had been said, Pukkusa of the Malla clan said to the Blessed One: "The faith, Lord, that I had in Alara Kalama I now scatter to the mighty wind, I let it be carried away as by a flowing stream! Excellent, O Lord, most excellent, O Lord!...And so, O Lord, I take my refuge in the Blessed One, the Dhamma, and the Community of Bhikkhus. May the Blessed One accept me as his disciple, one who has taken refuge until the end of life."
It appears that Alara Kalama is not yet beyond the 5 senses yet. The state which he claimed to teach the Buddha is not the same one the Buddha later taught by the same name. If we look at the various teachers claiming to teach jhana today, we can also see examples of this case, where two teachers said they teach Jhana meditation. But if you look at the state they are pointing to , some are way lighter than the other and still called jhana.