Rahogata Sutta – Ending Fabrications Through Jhana

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Introduction

This introduction is common to the following suttas on Jhana:  Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta, Anupada Sutta, Rahogata Sutta, Jhana Sutta, Jambālī Sutta, and the  Samādhaṅga Sutta. They are all linked here: Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhana

Jhana means meditative absorption. The Buddha teaches, in a general way,  four levels of meditative absorption, or deepening concentration. As can be seen here, these four levels are not in a practical sense strictly defined. The development of concentration can and should be mindfully observed as concentration increases.

The four levels of Jhana are impermanent and are developed from engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation as taught by the Buddha and so should not be viewed as meditative achievement. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is not another opportunity for fabricating experience through continued confusion or continued desire encouraged by misguided instruction. [1]

Free of grasping after, these levels of meditative absorption are simply the recognition that Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is actually developing concentration while avoiding creating further distraction. This aspect of Right View then remains free of conceit – I-making –  that would otherwise create frustration and distraction within Shamatha-Vipassana meditation practice.

The sequencing of the additional descriptions of non-physical meditative experience that follows the descriptions of four levels of Jhana should not be seen as “advanced” levels of meditation as is commonly presented, and certainly not as levels of meditative achievement. These fabricated non-physical meditation experiences were part of the doctrines of Siddartha Gotama’s early teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. [2,3]

Having mastered them, he immediately dismissed them as they “do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, or to unbinding. This (method) only seeks to establish a reappearance in the dimension of nothingness” (or in the dimensions of neither perception nor non-perception, or infinite space, or infinite consciousness, or any other fabricated non-physical self-reference.)

This is a realization Siddartha developed prior to his awakening. As such, it could have been taught to simply avoid any fabricated non-physical self-reference. One of the break-throughs of understanding Siddartha had was insight into the powerful but very subtle strategies that a mind rooted in ignorance will develop and cling to in order to continue ignorance. [4]

With profound wisdom, the Buddha realized the attraction of continuing self-establishment in fabricated non-physical realms. He understood that the most effective method of understanding the foolishness of these doctrines that encouraged continued I-making would be to explain these common experiences in the context of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. In this way, these non-physical fabrications, when seen in the proper context, are simply ordinary fabrications to be recognized and abandoned.

The Buddha typically told his followers to “Go find the root of a tree or an empty hut and do Jhana.” This is instruction on establishing seclusion as the proper environment for Shamatha-Vipassana meditation leading to the development of ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption. The singular meditation method the Buddha taught for deepening concentration is through Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. The Shamatha-Vipassana meditation method is established in the Satipatthana Sutta, the primary sutta on Four Foundations Of Mindfulness. [5]

It is the initial section of the Satipatthana Sutta that is instruction for calming the mind by becoming mindful of the breath in the body. This is the first foundation of mindfulness that begins the process of Jhana – of developing concentration. The second and third foundations of mindfulness continue the establishment of concentration by ending distractions arising from reacting to, or clinging to feelings and thoughts as they arise and pass away, always returning mindfulness to the breath. This instruction relates directly to the levels of Jhana. Avoiding the distraction that would arise by reacting to feelings and thoughts, the joy of seclusion and deepening concentration is recognized.

As concentration increases, directed thought and evaluation is abandoned and a pleasant abiding is established which relates to the fourth foundation of mindfulness – being at peace with the present quality of mind.

(The remaining sections of the Satipatthana Sutta then shows how to apply ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption to other significant themes of the Dhamma. The entire Satipatthana Sutta is not meant as meditation instruction which becomes obvious when seen in the proper context of the Buddha’s Dhamma)

The Buddha’s Dhamma reunites the mind and body and overcomes the self-identification seeking to establish a “self” in fabricated magical, mystical, and imaginary planes of physical non-existence.

(I use the term physical non-existence as it accurately depicts the grasping present in ascetic practices that hope to free the mind from the body using extreme self-denial. These were practices Siddartha Gotama mastered and abandoned as ‘painful distracting, ignoble, and not leading to knowledge, wisdom, or release.’) [3]

As with all of the Buddha’s teachings, this sutta must be seen within the over-arching context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths to be useful and practically applicable. The Buddha awakened to the profound understanding that ignorance of Four Noble Truths is the initiating condition that results in fabricating views of ordinary experience resulting in all manner of distraction, confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences. [6,7]

When seen in the over-arching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma and in the context of engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation solely for deepening concentration, grasping after self-establishment in imaginary and fabricated mind-states is seen clearly as intentional distraction used to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

As concentration increases refined mindfulness is established supporting the integration of the Eightfold Path developing a profound understanding of Three Marks Of existence. [8,9]

The Buddha “awakened” to the profound understanding that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that is the requite condition for fabrications. Fabrications are the glue that binds thinking to ignorance, obscures reality, and establishes stress, disappointment, and suffering – Dukkha – as the common human experience. [5]

In the Rahogata Sutta, the Buddha teaches that feelings of pleasure, pain, or ambivalence, when perceived through a mimd rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths will fabricate what is experienced in a way that reaffirms ignorance and continues stress. He teaches here that ignorer to recognize and abandon fabrications a Dhamma Practitioner uses Shamatha-Vipassana meditation as intended – to deepen concentration. From a well-concentrated mind, fabrications are easily recognized and abandoned. [2]

Rapture is a word often used in the Dhamma to describe a profoundly joyful engagement with the Dhamma.

Directed Thought has Right Intention as its motivating factor – to recognize and abandon craving and clinging.

Evaluation here refers to the value placed on an experience as being either pleasurable or painful.

Samsara is the continued state of ignorance prone to confused, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointment.

My comments below are in italics.

Rahogata Sutta – Ending Fabrications Through Jhana

Samyutta Nikaya 36:11

On one occasion a certain monk went to the Buddha with a question. Upon arrival he bowed and sat to one side: Great Teacher, just now, in seclusion, the thought occurred to me ‘You speak of three types of feelings – there is a feeling of pleasure, a feeling of pain, and a feeling that is neither pleasure or pain. Then you said that whatever feeling arises, they are all stressful. In what connection did you stay this?’

“Excellent question, my friend, excellent question! I have spoken of these three feelings of pleasure, pain, and neither pleasure or pain. I have also stated that whatever feeling arises, they are all stressful. I have stated this in connection to fabrications. Fabrications are impermanent. It is the nature of fabrications to arise and pass away, to change. It is in connection to fabrications that I stated that whatever feeling arises, they are all stressful.

“Furthermore, I have also taught the step-by-step process of the cessation of fabrications:

  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the first Jhana, speech falls away. (Including internal dialogue)
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the second Jhana, directed thought and evaluation falls away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the third Jhana, rapture falls away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the fourth Jhana, (intentional, directed) in-and-out breathing has passed away. (The mind, now united with the body, rests in equanimity – a pleasant abiding.)
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of infinite space, the perception of form passes away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of infinite space, the perception of form passes away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of infinite consciousness, the perception of the dimension of infinite space passes away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of nothingness, the perception of the dimension of infinite consciousness passes away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of neither-perception nor non-perception, the perception of the dimension of nothingness passes away.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has recognized and abandoned these qualities, they have attained the  cessation of perception and feelings.
  • When these unskillful mental qualities have ended, greed, aversion, and delusion have ended.

“Furthermore, I have also taught the step-by-step process of the stilling of fabrications:  (the cessation of fabrications is recognized and experienced as stilling)

  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the first Jhana, speech has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the second Jhana, directed thought and evaluation has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the third Jhana, rapture has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the fourth Jhana, in-and-out breathing has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of infinite space, the perception of form has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of infinite space, the perception of form has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of infinite consciousness, the perception of the dimension of infinite space has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of nothingness, the perception of the dimension of infinite consciousness has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the (fabricated) dimension of neither-perception nor non-perception, the perception of the dimension of nothingness has been stilled.
  • When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the cessation of perception and feelings, perception and feelings have been stilled.
  • When these unskillful mental qualities have ended, greed, aversion, and delusion have been stilled.

“Now, friend, there are these six profound calmings:

(This is the culmination of the cessation of fabrications. TheBuddha consistently described the quality of mind of one awakened as calm.)

  1. When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the first Jhāna, speech has been calmed.
  2. When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the second Jhāna, directed thought & evaluation have been calmed.
  3. When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the third Jhāna, rapture has been calmed.
  4. When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the fourth Jhāna, in-and-out breathing has been calmed.
  5. When a Dhamma practitioner has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, perception and feeling have been calmed.
  6. When a Dhamma practitioner’s effluents have ended, passion has been calmed, aversion has been calmed, delusion has been calmed.”

There is no mention here of non-physical dimensions as they have been abandoned by stilling the mind. This shows that striving for these fabricated experiences results only in continued distraction furthering ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

End Of Sutta

 

  1. Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation
  2. Mental And Bodily Fabrications
  3. The Noble Search For The Noble Path
  4. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
  5. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutt
  6. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  7. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  8. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  9. Fire Discourse

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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