Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa.
Hello to everyone at Dhamma Wheel!
Geoff (emptyuniverse) here.
Oh my, that is a very old draft of that essay.... Nevertheless, the basic points that (1) sensory consciousness is necessarily stopped in jhāna, and (2) that jhāna requires a vision of a light or form nimitta, are simply never stated or implied in the sutta-s.
Of course jhāna requires a nimitta, both in terms of cause
and in terms of mental sign
. One of the four satipaṭṭhāna-s is the nimitta which serves as the cause for the eventual elimination of the five hindrances and, beyond that, the arising of the five concomitant mental factors (pañcaṅgika) of the first jhāna.
And the mental sign of the first jhāna, according to the sutta-s, is the presence of these five mental factors: non-sensual (nirāmisā) pīti and sukha, as well as vitakka, vicāra, and cittekaggatā. This is not only the content of the standard jhāna formula (except cittekaggatā), it is mentioned in the context of the nimitta of the first jhāna in the discourses (e.g. A iv 418: “...idhekacco bhikkhu paṇḍito byatto khettaññū kusalo vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. So taṃ nimittaṃ āsevati bhāveti bahulīkaroti svādhiṭṭhitaṃ adhiṭṭhāti.”). The presence of these concomitant mental factors is the “sign” of having attained jhāna.
Bhikkhu Analayo - From Grasping to Emptiness (emphasis mine) wrote:
In fact, at a later point the Upakkilesa-sutta speaks of directing attention
to the meditative experience of forms or to that of light in
terms of the rūpanimitta and the obhāsanimitta (MN III 161).
This passage explicitly uses the term nimitta to refer to the vi-
sion of light and forms that Anuruddha and his companions
had been unable to stabilize, a usage where nimitta unequivo-
cally stands for something that is perceived.
From this it seems that the Upakkilesa-sutta could indeed be
describing the development of the mental nimitta required in
order to enter the first absorption.
Not even the Visuddhimagga limits counterpart signs to visions of light or forms. According to the Visuddhimagga analysis, of the 30 meditations which lead to jhāna, 22 have counterpart signs as object. And of these, only 19 require any sort of counterpart sign which is apprehended based solely on sight, and can therefore give rise to a mental image resulting from that nimitta (the 10 stages of corpse decomposition and 9 kasiṇa-s, excluding the air kasiṇa which is apprehended by way of both sight and tactile sensation).
As for the Upakkilesa Sutta, nowhere in this sutta does it say that either the obhāsanimitta or the rūpanimitta are essential prerequisites for attaining the first jhāna. Nor does this sutta maintain that the stopping of all sensory consciousness whatsoever is essential for the arising of either of these two signs. Therefore, while these apperceptions and visions can
occur during the course of of meditational development, there is no explicit statement here, or elsewhere in the suttas, that such apperceptions and/or visions must
arise for one to enter jhāna. Indeed, even the commentarial tradition doesn’t maintain that either of these types of nimitta-s are essential.
Also, the Vimuttimagga understands the teaching in the Upakkilesa Sutta to refer to the development of the divine eye. This is understandable as Anuruddhā was designated as the foremost disciple endowed with the divine eye.
Bhikkhu Analayo - From Grasping to Emptiness (emphasis mine) wrote:
Elsewhere the discourses also refer to the "sign of tranquillity",
samathanimitta (DN III 213; SN V 66; SN V 105), to the "sign
of concentration", samādhinimitta (DN III 226; DN III 242;
DN III 279; MN I 249; MN I 301; MN III 112; AN I 115; AN I
256; AN II 17; AN III 23; AN III 321), and to the "sign of the
mind", cittanimitta (SN V 151; AN III 423; Th 85). The unique
contribution made by the Upakkilesa-sutta is that it offers a re-
port of actual practice that involves the nimitta in a context
geared towards absorption attainment.
None of these references refer to any of these nimitta-s being an obhāsanimitta or rūpanimitta related to the context of the Upakkilesa Sutta. The Upakkilesa Sutta is the only discourse where “nimitta” is used in that context.
Bhikkhu Analayo - From Grasping to Emptiness wrote:
Elsewhere the discourses in fact indicate that during the first
absorption it is impossible to speak (SN IV 217), and the hear-
ing of sounds is an obstruction to its attainment (AN V 135).
With the first absorption one has gone beyond Māra's vision
(MN I 159), having reached the end of the world of the senses
(AN IV 430). These passages confirm that the first absorption
is indeed a state during which the mind is "absorbed" in deep
According to Ven. Anālayo’s interpretation of S iv 217 it would be “impossible to breathe” in the fourth jhāna or any of the formless attainments. Although this interpretation has also been put forward over the centuries, IMO it’s not a correct interpretation of the discourse. One doesn’t speak in the first jhāna because there is no volitional intention to do so. And while breathing can slow to the point of being imperceptible in the fourth jhāna, this doesn’t mean that one has completely ceased breathing. Breathing – even when imperceptible – is an involuntary process.
As far as sounds are concerned, A iii 137 states that one must be able to tolerate sounds to both enter and remain in sammāsamādhi. And sammāsamādhi is most commonly defined as the four jhāna-s in the discourses, as is the training of heightened mind (adhicittasikkhā), as well as the faculty of concentration (samādhindriya) and the strength of concentration (samādhibala) as practiced by a noble disciple (ariyasāvaka). There is simply no integrated eightfold path without the inclusion of jhāna – in the suttantika sense of “jhāna.”
And A iv 430 doesn’t say what Ven. Anālayo wants it to say. The kāmagunā (“strings of sensuality”) metaphor only applies to sensory phenomena “that are wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust.” A iii 410 tells us that they are not inherently “kāma” in and of themselves. MN 13: Mahādukkhakkhandha Sutta tells us that they are “the allure” (or gratification) of kāma. It goes on to tell us that it’s the “abandoning of desire-passion (chandarāga) for sensuality,” which is the escape from kāma. Thus external sensory objects are only “strings” of kāma insofar as they are desired and wished for. Returning to A iv 430, it states that it is only with the attainment of the cessation of apperception and feeling that one actually comes to the end of the world (an attainment not necessary for liberation).
BTW, Ven. Anālayo goes to significant lengths to suggest that sammāsamādhi is actually satipaṭṭhāna, and yet he also maintains that jhāna – which he acknowledges is necessary at some point on the noble eightfold path – is an absorption somehow beyond sammāsamādhi.
Regarding what else is present or absent in the four jhāna-s, S v 214 states that the pleasure faculty (sukhindriya) doesn’t cease until the third jhāna, and S v 211 defines the pleasure faculty as pleasure born of body contact. S iv 236 further tells us that nirāmisā pīti and sukha are what is experienced in jhāna – hence the pīti and sukha of jhāna are non-sensual, yet sukha is still born of body contact.
Moreover, M i 293 and A iv 426 both explicitly state that it is only when abiding in the fully purified formless attainments that the mind is isolated from the five sense faculties and doesn’t attend to any apperceptions of the five sensory spheres. It’s worth quoting both. MN 43 Mahāvedalla Sutta:
“Friend, what can be known with the purified mental-consciousness (manoviññāṇa) isolated from the five [sense] faculties?”
“Friend, with the purified mental-consciousness isolated from the five faculties the sphere of infinite space can be known as ‘infinite space.’ The sphere of infinite consciousness can be known as ‘infinite consciousness.’ The sphere of nothingness can be known as ‘there is nothing.’”
AN 9.37 Ananda Sutta:
Ven. Ananda said, “It is amazing, friends, it is marvelous, how the Blessed One ... has attained and recognized the opportunity ... for the attainment of the right method ... where the eye will be, and forms, and yet one will not be sensitive to that dimension; where the ear will be, and sounds... where the nose will be, and aromas... where the tongue will be, and flavors... where the body will be, and tactile sensations, and yet one will not be sensitive to that dimension.”
When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Ananda, “Is one percipient when not sensitive to that dimension, my friend, or unpercipient?”
[Ananda:] “One is percipient when not sensitive to that dimension, my friend, not unpercipient.”
[Udayin:] “When not sensitive to that dimension, my friend, one is percipient of what?”
[Ananda:] “There is the case where, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ one enters and remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. This is one way of being percipient when not sensitive to that dimension....”
As always, I don't think that there is only one true way. The real question is what is useful and skillful for us.