Can we attain Arupavacara Jhana without first going through Rupavacara Jhana?

My understanding is that Buddha learned Arupavacara Jhana from his teachers and
Buddha discovered Rupavacar Jhana.
I also understand that Arupavacara Jhana is a projection from fourth Jhana.
Am I correct?

There are the two accounts of the Buddha’s search: (i) MN 26, which refers to being taught arupajhana; & (ii) MN 36, which refers to recollecting the 1st jhana spontaneously entered as a child. MN 36 is strange to me because how could the unenlightened Bodhisatta know the 1st jhana: “Is indeed the path to enlightenment” unless Gotama, as a child, entered the 1st jhana spontaneously via accidental non-attachment, experienced the freedom of non-attachment and thus sensed non-attachment was related to Nirvana (rather than the 1st jhana itself).

However, ignoring what I posted above & assuming both MN 26 & MN 36 are true, the arupa jhanas taught by the two teachers could have possibly been a ‘thought-created’ form of arupa jhana rather than a natural arupa jhana that unfolds from the natural jhana purification process.

For example, if you philosophically believe ‘there is nothing’ & continuously cultivate the thought ‘there is nothing’, the mind should enter into a kind of ‘blank’ state of concentration born of ‘thought’ or ‘willfulness’ (rather than born of ‘purifying consciousness’).

Similarly, if you volitionally or willfully try to get rid of all perception (labeling), that is a difficult maybe impossible task to do, therefore the mind is going to flash in & out of perception.

Therefore, I can only speculate that the arupa jhana taught by the two teachers may have been a very low quality arupa jhana that did not require rupa jhana as a foundation (rather than a high quality arupa born from letting go & natural purification where rupa jhana naturally occurs before arupa jhana).

Yes, you can attain arupa jhana without rupa jhana first. The Buddha has taught the way of meditation to attain this in MN 121

This is strange.
That is my next question in line!
I created a new question for it to avoid off topic discussion.

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnote to MN 121 states the perception of earth is used to attain the four jhanas.

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Oops, sorry, I miss that :smiley:

In MN 105 (9-17) we have another pathway, not so much for the arupas but more specifically to the levels the Buddha’s teachers had: The succession here is

  • being intent on material things
  • not being intent in material things, but intent on the imperturbable
  • not on the imperturbable, but on base of nothingness
  • not on base of nothingness, but on neither-perception-nor-non-perception
  • not on that but on nibbana.

except for the last step this could have been the way of practice that led his teachers. It’s not a direct reference, but this path seems plausible without bringing in jhana. Still, the Buddha goes on explaining how practitioners might believe they are purified, when in fact there is still tanha. again, there is no reference to his teachers, but in the context of this topic i like to think that this might be a difficulty in this particular succession, that it lacks to provide a clear understanding if tanha is completely eradicated or not.


We might even narrow it down a bit further. In MN 106 the Buddha describes three ways to reach the sphere of nothingness. If he reached it by the instruction of Alara Kalama then his instruction couldn’t have been too bad, and why shouldn’t the Buddha have passed it on?

So the three ways are:

  • to understand that sensual pleasures, sensual perceptions, material forms, perceptions of forms, and perceptions of the immovable - that all are perceptions. And to seek where these perceptions cease without remainder.
  • to consider: ‘This is void of a self or of what belongs to a self.’
  • to consider: ‘I am not anything belonging to anyone anywhere, nor is there anything belonging to me in anyone anywhere.’

Since the last two considerations imply the teaching of anatta we might speculate that the first way was the one that Alara Kalama instructed. I’m obviously just making assumptions here, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched a possiblity.