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The fourth jhāna: "After detachment from pleasure and pain, after disappear­ance of previous joy and sorrow, the ascetic passes into a state beyond sorrow, be­yond joy, into a state of equanimity, of purity and of illumination-into the fourth contemplation."15 Here we have arrived at the extreme summit of individuated con­sciousness. The catharsis or simplification must be capable of removing even the sensation of pure transfigured intellectual joy so that a state of utter "neutrality" may be achieved, a supreme point of balance, which is without color, without form, com­pletely free of any support whatsoever. This is the frontier between two worlds, the point beyond which consciousness, if it still has enough strength and the will for the absolute not to stop, to advance, to destroy all anguish, can no longer he the con­sciousness of an "I," that is to say, of a particular finite being bound by a particular physical form. It is, in fact, the threshold of transfiguration in a literal sense, that is to say, the point at which one goes beyond "form," beyond the "person." In the texts, in fact, the fourth jhāna represents the boundary that separates the contemplations bound to "form" from those that are anipa or free from form, not "formal" but "essential."

A few considerations, both on the practice and on the "place" of these four jhana: in order to develop them successively, it is of prime importance that the will for the unconditioned should completely occupy the mind. Only then will its advance not be obstructed. Only then, when each single jhāna has been wholly apprehended, can one he aware of what that jhāna still retains that is "compounded," that is

14. Samyutt., 36.11.

15 On the four jhana cf., e.g.: Dīgha, 2.75 82. Samyutt., 28.1-9; Angutt, 3.58.

16. Majjh.. 52.

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"conditioned,"16 and thus find a way that leads still further. When contemplating the phenomena proper to each jhāna in their appearance and development, the ascetic must confront them without inclination. without interest, without ties, without being attached, with his mind not limited by them, and he must apprehend "There is a higher liberty"; and by developing his experience he will, in fact, see: "There is."" The demon of identification and of satisfaction raises its head here also. t must be anticipated and conquered. Every feeling of enjoyment or of satisfaction that may arise upon the realization of each jhāna is immediately seen as a possible bond for the mind and is to be rejected.18 One must apply here the general Buddhist principle that all enjoyment through attachment is lethal, be it either of the "heavens" or of nibbāna itself, since "a fire lighted with sandalwood bums no less fiercely than any other tire." The action must be neutral, absolutely purified and naked. As in the Carmelite symbolism of the ascent of the mountain, the path that does not become lost, which leads straight up to the summit, is that to which are attributed the words: nada, nada, nada-"nothing, nothing, nothing." The difference is that in (he Ariyan path of awakening there is found no equivalent to the crisis that Saint John of the Cross called the "dark night of the soul." In the texts the impersonality of the action is evident also from the fact that the four jhāna are given as phases of a development from within, phases that occur normally as a result of the fundamental direction that one's own being has taken, without "volitional" intervention in a strict personal sense. In the four jhāna, as in the later experiences, one must never think: "It is 1 who am about to achieve this jhāna," or: "It is [who have now achieved this jhāna." or "t is 1 who am surmounting this jhana." On the contrary, the mind, having rightly been set in motion, should lead from one to the other.19 Any intervention by the normal per­sonal consciousness would only arrest the process and lead back to the point of de­parture, in the same way as Narcissus, at the moment of gazing at his image, pre-pared his own end. The Mahayana saying, "there exist the road and the going, but not he who goes," seems not out of place here. We can also remember the Taoist maxim: "To achieve intentionally the absence of intentions."

Active intervention in the normal sense can only be allowed in the process of consolidating each of these states so that they may be summoned at will, This pre-supposes a special scrutiny of each one once they have severally manifested them-selves. The texts record the following episode: by his supernormal power, the Bud­dha appeared to a disciple who, upon coming out of jhāna, found that the perceptions



  1. lbid.. 111.

  2. Ibid.. 3t: 138.

19. Samyutt., 28.1-9; cf. Angutt.. 10.2, where the principle of graduality and of increase k expressed: "Thus, O disciples, from one phenomenon arises another, one leads to the taking place of another, so that these very stales of the world finally lead to the goal beyond the world."

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and states he had already overcome were reappearing and reestablishing themselves. The Buddha taught him how to carry the exercise further so that he might be able to get the better of all such residual states: every distraction must be eliminated and austere concentration reinforced; the mind must be composed, completely mastered, and concentrated in a single point-ekodi-karohi. 20

This brings us to the "place" of the realizations that are represented by the jhāna. Their "place" depends on the degree of intensity of the realizations themselves and on the extent to which they are animate with "knowledge," vipassanā. In the ex­treme case, there can occur through them the complete destruction, without residue, of the "manias," of the āsava, and therefore liberation. In other cases, when the action remains more peripheral and only a part of the samsāric being is thereby neutralized, only some of the bonds are effectively broken, and liberation does not occur during life; indeed, upon the decease of the body, one may even rearise in states of existence that, although they may be more than human, are yet conditioned. We shall discuss these various possibilities in detail in a later chapter (p. 196-97 ff.). The possibility also exists of developing the four jhāna in a "neutral" manner, on an essentially mental plane, not for the purpose of awakening, but rather as means of acquiring and of exercising certain extranormal faculties (siddhi).21



While still on the subject of the "place" of the jhāna we must state generally that these realizations, like the others of which we shall speak later, are not to be under-stood as being on a purely "psychological" or abstractly spiritual basis-as simple spiri­tual states of the individual, but are to be regarded as having a kind of ontological or existential counterpart. The development must be regarded above all as carrying one beyond normal consciousness, into prenatal and preconceptional states that normally correspond to the unconscious that rules in the states of dreaming, sleep, and catalepsy. In the second place, the idea of "sphere" or of "realm" is frequently found in the texts in connection with the jhāna; that is to say, the jhāna introduce us to one of the "spheres" that are included in the objective hierarchy of the multiple states of being. There is even mention of "heavens": with the jhāna one is supposed to reach the "heavens of pure forms" or at least to prepare a way that leads to them.22 There is also mention of spirits or gods or angels of one or other jhāna sphere,23 and contacts that ascetics have had with them are discussed. Details are actually given. The bodhisattva, that is to say those who are advancing toward full illumination, are supposed, to begin with, to per­ceive a bright formless splendor; by purifying the "eye of knowledge" form also is

  1. Samyutt., 40.1ff.

  2. In Angutt., 6.29, the acquisition of such powers is directly connected with the development and frequent. practice of the fourth jhana.

  3. Dhamma-sangani, 160 ff,

  4. Angutt.. 4.123; 3.114.

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perceived; at a later stage actual contacts ("to converse together") may even lake place and, furthermore, they may come to recognize the hierarchical place of these beings ("to which celestial world they belong").24 A close study is also made of the causes that lead to the interruption of such experiences, to the "vanishing of the splendor and of the vision of the forms." "In the course of the development of Mahayana Buddhism there appear outright personifications of the jhāna as so many mythological Buddhas, and divinities of all kinds take the place of the various planes of contemplative and transcendental realizations. t is of importance, particularly in connection with this kind of literature, to understand clearly what is the right point of view: on the one hand the "psychologistic" interpretation must be avoided; when one is in the jhana or in similar states, the center of one's own being, even if only fora time, is "elsewhere." in worlds different from that perceived by the usual waking consciousness and one is not under-going a process that has a merely subjective value. On the other hand, when the pre­sentation, particularly in later Buddhism, is objective and almost theological, with reference to divinities and cosmic or celestial hierarchies, then, stripping off the my­thology, the matter must he understood in its essential form as a function of states of consciousness, of transcendental experiences. This holds good not only of doctrine but also in cases of genuine apparitions. Such possible apparitions arc only "projections," that is to say, exteriorized forms of particular states that are experienced, and the personification takes place on the basis of images fixed in the mind or in the subcon­scious of the individual who is practicing. Thus Tibetan Buddhism goes as far as ad­mitting that, in a particular phase of practice, the Buddhist can see the Buddha trans-formed into a Mahayana god, just as a Christian will sec the Christ or a Muslim Muhammad. Everyone supplies the image that he has himself cultivated or that he has received from his samsāric tradition, as the mode-in the guise of a form, an image or an apparition-in which he experiences a particular state of ascetic or initiatory consciousness. In connection both with the jhana and with other states of experience it is, therefore, important to achieve a point of view that is higher than the ontological-theological as well as the "psychologistic" or "spiritualistic" attitude. Only such a superior point of view can "conforms to reality" and be suffused with taste knowledge. Based on this knowledge, the Buddhist ascesis completely dismisses the whole ghostly world that is made up of "astral" or "mental" visions, phenomena, apparitions, and so on, and that plays such a great part in the deviations of Western theosophy and anthroposophy; even the substantialist aspect of strict theology is left behind. The ref­erences in the earliest texts to the gods and to the angels of the various "regions,"

  1. Ibid., 8.64.

  2. Majjh., 128. Some of the "impurities of mind" that paralyze the vision are doubt, inattention, fear, exultation, excessive effort, relaxed effort, complacency, perception of diversity.

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where they do not represent interpolations and infiltrations of popular beliefs, are en­tirely schematic. The Ariyan ascetic achieves the various states that are the substance of such "worlds" and goes beyond, without allowing his attention to be distracted by a phenomenology that is only made possible when "direct knowledge" wavers and when one is subject to the play of one's own unconsciously objectivizing imagination. The world of the original Buddhist contemplation is extremely clear, almost Doric. Such fantastic creations are entirely foreign to it-and it is for this reason that in some short-sighted people there has arisen the idea that we are here dealing with stales that are merely "psychological" or, at the most, "mystical."

When intensely experienced, the jhāna transform not only consciousness but also particular faculties-speech, thought, and breath-"purify" them and take us well beyond the catharsis. We have seen that these faculties remain suspended dur­ing practice of the jhāna; and consequently they become quiet and mastered.26 This suspension means, in fact, that consciousness has been taken beyond their source and that it continues to exist beyond them. Thus these faculties are brought into virtual subordination, by means of consciousness, which has now become the essen­tial foundation of the faculties, and passes on to them the calm that it has achieved in itself. The catharsis of certain conditioned feelings is also considered,27 and it is emphasized that the force, thus advancing, cuts off not only the bond represented by "evil thoughts" (which disappear in the first jhāna) but also the bond of "good thoughts" (which disappear in the second jhana).28

On emerging from the jhāna, even the general form of experience is not the same as before. In this connection, three modes of "contact" are mentioned, given in some texts also as three "liberations": contact of the "void," contact of the "signless," contact of the "without tendency"-sunna-, animitta-, appani-hita-phassa.29 We can consider these as new "categories," new modes of experience, which appear, in general, at the moment when the ascetic, after going to the limit of conditioned con­sciousness, returns to normal existence. t will be as well, however, to discuss such forms of experience at a later point since they can only be considered in conjunction with the jhāna if we assume that these latter have been so intensely experienced as almost themselves to lead to liberation, while normally in the texts, after the jhana, there are other transformations of the consciousness that come under the heading of panna, or transcendental knowledge. There are, however, some texts that consider special forms of contemplation in which the jhāna use the "void," the "signless" and



  1. Samyutt.. 36,11.

  2. Angutt., 4.200.

  3. Majjh., 78.

  4. [hid., 43.

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the "without tendency" as a base from which to produce a higher degree of "purifica­tion," characterized, in fact, by those three elements: suddhika-sunnatam, suddhika-animittam, suddhika-appanihitam.30

The perfection of the four jhāna implies their "embodiment," and this also signi­fies a transformation of the invisible structure of the human organism (with particu­lar emphasis on the samsāric being which is its root), which is brought about by the pervasion of this structure by the states corresponding to the jhāna. The texts, in fact, speak of an actual "bodily reliving in oneself' of "those saintly liberations, which are high above all form. formless," and this is considered as a higher stage of achievement. Thus. there is a distinction between one who is "liberated on both sides"-ubhatobhāga-vimutta-and one who is only liberated "as to knowledge"-panna-vimutta. The second is the case of the man who "has not bodily achieved those blissful liberations that are beyond form, formless" and in whom the intoxications, the "manias" or āsava, are for this reason only removed in part"

To show this process of "embodiment" of the four jhana, appropriate similes are given throughout; they are important since they also serve to throw further light on the essence of each of the practices in question.

Here is a simile that concerns the first jhāna: "As an expert bath attendant or bath attendant's apprentice puts soap powder in a bath, soaks it with water, mixes and dissolves it in such a manner that its foam is completely permeated, saturated within and without with moisture, leaving none over: just so the ascetic pervades and infuses, fills and saturates his body with the serenity born of detachment, perceptive and thoughtful, pervaded with fervor and beatitude, so that not the smallest part of his body is left unsaturated with this serenity born of detachment."

Second jhāna: "As a lake with a subterranean spring; and into this lake there flows no rivulet from east or from west, from north or from south, nor do the clouds pour their rain into it, but only the fresh spring at the bottom wells up and completely pervades it, infuses, fills, and saturates it, so that not the smallest part of the lake is left unsaturated with fresh water; just so the ascetic pervades and infuses his body with internal serene calm, born of self-recollection, pervaded with fervor and beati­tude." We should note, here, the simile of the internal spring, the idea of something fresh that spreads out from the inside and from the "bottom"-from the detached "intellectual simplicity" which has been achieved-unsullied by any influx of out-side currents; that is to say, with all vital samsaric nourishment neutralized.

Third jhāna: "As in a lake with lotus plants some lotus flowers are born in water,


  1. Dhamma-sangani, 344-53: 505-27.

  2. Majjh , b.

  3. [bid,. 70.

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develop in the water, remain below the surface of the water, and draw their nourish­ment from the depths of the water, and their blooms and their roots are pervaded. infused, filled, and saturated with fresh water, so that not the smallest part of any lotus flower is left unsaturated with fresh moisture: just so the ascetic persuades and infuses, tills and saturates his body with purified joy, so that not the smallest part of his body is left unsaturated with purified joy." While in the preceding phase we spoke only of a deep internal spring, here we have a further development, we have a state that now encloses, permeates, and nourishes the entire bodily structure, by transforming the general sensation that corresponds to it, just as we have already said.

Fourth jhāna: "As a man might cloak himself from head to foot in a white mantle, so that not the smallest part of his body was left uncovered by the white mantle: just so the ascetic sits, having covered his body with a state of extreme equanimity and purity and clarity, so that not the smallest part of his body is left uncovered by the state of extreme equanimity and purity and illumination." We are, then, at a third phase: the body is not only pervaded but also covered by the new force, it is envel­oped in the force as if the body did not contain the force but the force contained the body. The ascetic dominates his body, covers his body."

The similes we have just given are among those that, to a great extent, serve as "magic keys": they have a power of illumination for those who use them as a starting point when elaborating this phase of embodying the experience corresponding to the four jhana.

The path leading through the jhāna is not the only one considered by the Buddhist teaching. The texts indicate a second path that, from its effects, would seem to be equivalent. It may be called "path of saintliness" or "wet path," as opposed to the other which is mainly in the nature of a "dry path." While the jhāna are necessarily
achieved by way of an intellectual catharsis and spiritual concentration, in the other path, which we shall now briefly discuss, feeling plays a large part, although it is employed in conjunction with perfect awareness and is used purely instrumentally. This second path consists of four awakenings that are called brahmavihara-bhavana, that is, "unfolding of the divine states," or appamannā, "the limitless," the "infinite (states)," We shall use the term irradiant contemplation. The method aims at dissolving the bond of finite consciousness by means of the irradiation of an ever vaster, more disindividualized and more universal feeling, so developed that it ends by leading to the same state as the fourth jhāna, to a state of almost discarnate

33. Digha. 2.82. The white mantle of some western monastic orders that is provided with a hood coveting the head also. in special rites, has a symbolical value That may he interpreted on these lines: a value that in the Church has been lost.

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equanimity and mental clarity. This path entails the recognition that: "Before, this mind of mine was limited and obstructed. But now, it is limitless and unfolded, and no limited action can still exist in it or maintain itself in it."34 Again we have a cathar­sis. The four appamanna are conceived as containing, in fact, a "purification"; thus it is said that one who has realized them "has bathed with the inner bathing" and has no further need of external rites of purification.35 They produce "the limitless re­demption of mind."36



Here are the formulae that are given by the canon for the four irradiant contem­plations: "The ascetic dwells with his spirit pervaded by love (mettā) and irradiates one direction, a second, a third, a fourth, so across and upward and downward: iden­tifying himself in all things everywhere, he irradiates the whole world with spirit pervaded by love, with ample, profound, unlimited mind, free of hate and rancor." The formula is repeated three more times, unchanged except for the term, love, which is replaced in turn by compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and lastly equanimity, immutability, or stability (upekkhā). After the irradiation of the feeling of love, follow compassion and sympathetic joy. Through love the ascetic feels himself in all beings, noble or common, happy and unhappy, both of this world and of every other world; he feels their destiny as though it were his own, he takes upon himself the contingency of their life, he feels with their feeling or suffering (compassion)-but he then irradiates joy, as if the darkness in each being had dis­solved, as if the feeling he irradiates were beneficial to the beings and were sustain­ing, clarifying, and liberating them. Then follows the last irradiation, that of immuta­bility or stability: the ascetic, still developing this universal consciousness, is as if he willed the "being" of each being. He aims at infusing in every creature that same calm, that same quality of stability and of equanimity that he has developed in him-self, by projecting in them the quality of "being," that same unshakability or security that he has achieved by completing this process of universalization. In this connec­tion, we may call to mind these words: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth), give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it he afraid."37 The formula is repeated, changing only, for each contemplation, the quality of the basic feeling that is to be aroused first in oneself and then to be irradiated: "The ascetic dwells with compassionate-joyful-immutable mind and irradiates one direction, then the second, then the third, then the fourth, above, be-low, across: identifying himself everywhere in all things, he dwells irradiating the


  1. Angutt , 10.208.

35 Majjh.. 7.

36. Ibid., 43.

37. John 14:27; cf. Mahaparinirv., 40 : "The Awakened One 15 peace lo himself and hears peace for the entire world."

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whole world with compassionate-joyful-immutable spirit, with ample, profound, unlimited mind, free of hate and rancor."38

To set free one's heart by unfolding a love that turns to compassion, a compas­sion that turns to joy, a joy that turns to unchangeability, to impassible clarity and unshakable detachment, is the aim of this fourfold contemplation. To achieve it en­tirely, that is to say, to dissolve all trace of finite and unquiet subjectivity, is, accord­ing to Buddhism, to have achieved the condition necessary for a state of union with the theistic god, with Brahma-brahma-sahayata One text, in connection with the fourth irradiant contemplation, even states; "Thus, 0 disciples, an ascetic dwells as a god."39 In any case, by this path that, as we have said, is comparable to the "way of saintliness," the anagami-phala or the "fruit of no return" may be achieved: the indi­vidual in question, after the dissolution of the body, arises in the world of Brahma, a world, as de Lorenzo has rightly pointed out,40 of which Dante's whole paradise is but an allegorical representation; a world that for Buddhism, however, is only a stage to be passed, a world that, when compared with absolute liberation, appears as something inferior-hina-as something yet conditioned '

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