Did Uddaka Rāmaputta and Ālāra Kālāma attain the jhanas or some 'watered down' version?

Did Uddaka Rāmaputta and Ālāra Kālāma attain the jhanas and immaterial attainments or some ‘watered down’ version?

One teacher uses the simile, to describe their attainments, of some University degrees you can purchase by doing some fake online courses, which are not the same thing in reality as proper University degrees. This would explain why they didn’t get insight in non-self. What do you think? Are there any good articles you know, arguing that their meditative attainments were not ‘the real thing’?

Alternatively if they really did experience these deep states, then it is confusing that they didn’t get the liberating insights.

Also, if they did experience the jhanas and taught the Buddha before his enenlightenment; then why did the Buddha have to remind himself of his early experience of jhana as a child as the way to enlightenment (rather than his more recent experiences with his teachers)?


The difference between Hindu and Buddhist meditation is sila:

“Religious knowledge or “vision” was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside the Buddhist fold. According to the Samaññaphala Sutta this sort of vision arose for the Buddhist adept as a result of the perfection of ‘meditation’ (Sanskrit: [dhyāna]”(Dhyāna in Buddhism - Wikipedia)) coupled with the perfection of ‘ethics’ (Sanskrit: śīla). Some of the Buddha’s meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of “religious insight” was original.[52]"—Wikipedia

The Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment as a result of reflecting on childhood experience was a result of acceptance of joyful feelings not of the flesh:

"I thought: ‘So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?’ I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities, "—MN 36

There is wrong concentration and right concentration. One can attain wrong jhanas with wrong view

Wrong concentration jhanas are brute forced with clinging to the elements and perceptions.

“He is absorbed dependent on earth… liquid… fire… wind… the sphere of the infinitude of space… the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness… the sphere of nothingness… the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception… this world… the next world… whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect. That is how an unbroken colt of a man is absorbed.

This does not destroy fetters or lead to dispassion

The noble ariya right jhanas are different

He is absorbed dependent neither on earth, liquid, fire, wind, the sphere of the infinitude of space, the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness, the sphere of nothingness, the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, this world, the next world, nor on whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, or pondered by the intellect—and yet he is absorbed. And to this excellent thoroughbred of a man, absorbed in this way, the gods, together with Indra, the Brahmas, & Pajapati, pay homage even from afar

This is why the Buddha said Udakka and Alara’s jhanas do not lead to dispassion, because they’re dependent on perceptions, and not on turning away from perceptions.

This is why I don’t think it’s mindfulness of breathing, but mindfulness with breathing, aka maintaining mindfulness at the frequency of in and out breath. For example in other suttas, like the meditation of death sutta, the Buddha says you should be aware of death with each breath, so here breath is used as frequency, not an object.

For the Ariya, the object of meditation is always Anicca (Impermanence), hence death is Impermanence. The first noble truth is specifically about Impermanence. Suffering is dependent on Impermanence.

Sati means to remember. To remember the dhamma, specifically Impermanence. Always see the Impermanence in everything.

When you see that clinging or craving anything is futile because of impermanence, you will naturally become dispassionate and “absorbed without being dependent”.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering:

  • (Impermanence) = birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering
  • (No control aka no-self) = union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

First noble truth = anicca, dukkha, anatta


Thank you for these observations:

This seem very plausible, and the Buddha says of Āḷāra Kālāma’s teaching:

Then it occurred to me,
‘This teaching doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in the dimension of nothingness.’
Realizing that this teaching was inadequate, I left disappointed.

However, the conclusion that:

… they’re dependent on perceptions …

still feels like something of an extrapolation, and I wonder if there are any other clues we could bring to bear on the issue.


Yes, there are other clues in other suttas.

MN64 says to destroy fetters one needs to attain jhana, see the 5 aggregates within them as the 3 characteristics, which then results in turning away from them and then towards the nibbana element (the unconditioned).

There is also another sutta where the Buddha sees what is painful in each jhana/ayatana and then “calms” that painful factor. E.g. vitakka & vicara is calmed to enter second jhana because he sees it as painful.

So the main takeaway is seeing things that are not Supermundane (aka conditioned) as painful, if you see everything that is conditioned as painful, your last escape is the noble eightfold path. Thus seeing the impermanence of everything, is seeing everything as painful.

Mendicants, there are these four perversions of perception, mind, and view. What four?

Taking impermanence as permanence.
Taking suffering as happiness.
Taking not-self as self.
Taking ugliness as beauty.

  • AN 4.49

When a non-ariya attains jhanas, he doesn’t see the things in there as painful, instead he clings and delights to the things there

"There is the case where an individual, withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He savors that, longs for that, finds satisfaction through that. Staying there — fixed on that, dwelling there often, not falling away from that — then when he dies he reappears in conjunction with the devas of Brahma’s retinue. The devas of Brahma’s retinue, monks, have a life-span of an eon. A run-of-the-mill person having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, goes to hell, to the animal womb, to the state of the hungry shades. But a disciple of the Blessed One, having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, is unbound right in that state of being. This, monks, is the difference, this the distinction, this the distinguishing factor, between an educated disciple of the noble ones and an uneducated run-of-the-mill person, when there is a destination, a reappearing.


"There is the case where an individual, withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. At the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in conjunction with the devas of the Pure Abodes. This rebirth is not in common with run-of-the-mill people.

Thank you for sharing. Indeed this would imply that it is possible for someone to experience jhanas often

and yet not attain stream entry, since they are eventually reborn in hell or another lower realm

Discussion has developed around what might have been a simple yes/no response, so I’m moving this to the Discussion category.

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In my opinion -
There are thousands of characteristic of a given experience. Buddha’s brilliance is that he was able to filter out the 3 characteristic that could lead to Nibbana.
It doesn’t discredit other features of an experience in priority of other destiny.

That means, deep meditative state are rather neutral towards views. It is the view we immerse in & out as the priority, the direction. Meditative state offers merely power toward it. and it can equally power up other destiny too.

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Yes, as long as the fetters aren’t given up, one is liable to be reborn in hell. Right view is defined as “knowing what is wholesome and unwholesome, and the root of wholesome and unwholesome” (root is 3 poisons moha, dosa, raga).

Supermundane Right View is what makes one an Ariya.

There’s a sutta where the Buddha explains how Devas end up in hell, it happens when they get mad/angry which causes them to produce bad karma and they die and are reborn in hell.

A sotapanna understands dependent origination (and thus the relation between kamma and sankhara) enough to not allow him/herself to break a precept, hence they have perfect virtue.

Someone who never hears the True Dhamma, has no idea about dependent origination, of course even if they have mundane right view and abides in jhanas, they’re still liable to falling back and being reborn in hell.

One of the benefits of the fruit of stream entry is not being liable to fall back.

Monks, there are these six rewards in realizing the fruit of stream-entry. Which six? One is certain of the true Dhamma. One is not subject to falling back. There is no suffering over what has had a limit placed on it. [1] One is endowed with uncommon knowledge. [2] One rightly sees cause, along with causally-originated phenomena.

“These are the six rewards in realizing the fruit of stream-entry.”


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