Is arupa-loka actually the imaginative world of the mind?

This question arose to me lately when I read and contemplated about the Sakyan Sage’s struggle to attain enlightenment in the highest level of the arupa jhana, i.e Neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he could not attain it while he was there, but only managed to do so when he instead went through the route of the rupa-jhanas, starting with the first jhana on up, etc.

If compared to this day, when people use all sorts of imaginative objects as their main meditation theme, and just got nowhere, being deluded, etc. And the Bhagava’s meditation teachers taught him the arupa-jhanas, also got him nowhere near enlightenment. This made me making a connection between the two.

So my pondering thoughts on the matter, is that because the Arupa-loka, being the imaginative world of the mind (all things are made possible through an imaginative world, especially true when you think about arts, literatures, AI and early religious myths and beliefs), cannot be used as the basis for true insight of the real world.

But further questions remain, that if the Bhagava could not attain enlightenment when he was in the highest level of the arupa jhana, why in the sutta did he teach his disciples to attain enlightenment there? Was it a later brahmanical infiltration of the Sutta, or an outright misunderstanding of the Bhagava’s teaching by later unenlightened disciples?

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No the creative mental level is in the planes of the kama-loka (level 10) a higher state of consciousness experienced by artists. This is a form of concentration provided it’s within the bounds of sila. Here are shown artists who experience that:

Such people can be considered intermediaries between the gods and human plane.


Interesting Paul. Anymore thoughts or resources on this?


According to SN/SA suttas, all the nine progressive stages of meditation (i.e. the 4 rūpas, 4 arūpas, and the cessation of perception-and-feeling ‘saññā-vedayita-nirodha’) are the results of mental projection (saṅkhārā).

Only the ‘cessation of desire-hatred-delusion’ is based on true insight of the real world (i.e. ‘right view’):

Page 122 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (73.2 KB)

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Hi Gillian,

The plane above 10 is “those who manage the creative works of others,” which in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand referred to the kings. These were ‘devarajas’- devas living on the human plane. All the associated classical dance, sculpture, and painting were attempts to contact the deva realm. It was a form of meditation within the structure of the planes of existence, this was their entire cultural reference. Artisans became vehicles for devas.

" The king, portrayed by state interests as a semi-divine figure, then became—through a rigid cultural implementation—an object of worship and veneration to his people. From then on the monarchy was largely removed from the people and continued under a system of absolute rule. Living in palaces designed after Mount Meru (“home of the gods” in Hinduism), the kings turned themselves into a “Chakravartin”, where the king became an absolute and universal lord of his realm. Kings demanded that the universe be envisioned as revolving around them, and expressed their powers through elaborate rituals and ceremonies. For four centuries these kings ruled Ayutthaya, presiding over some of the greatest period of cultural, economic, and military growth in Thai History."

—Wikipedia, Devaraja

In 1906 the Cambodian dancers went to Paris, and Auguste Rodin recognizing the value of the gesture in their movement, did a series of drawings of them translating that into line:

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If I read the MN 36, The Buddha told Saccaka that he could not reach enlightenment through Arupa Jhana. In fact, he reach enlightenment only after Jhana IV & directing his mind towards past lifes experiences.

The third knowledge (insight) results in enlightenment:

"When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. I discerned, as it was actually present, that ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress… These are fermentations… This is the origination of fermentations… This is the cessation of fermentations… This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

"This was the third knowledge I attained in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.

—Majjhima Nikaya 36

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That’s the point. Reaching Arupa-Jhana is just a waste of time. In the MN 36, The Buddha did not reach Enlightenment through The Arupa-Jhana. The Path is not The Arupa-Jhana track. The Path only need The Rupa-Jhana. Buddhist or any monks talk about ‘nothingness’ or ‘neither perception nor non-perception’ is totally wrong, maybe???

According to SA 347 [Susima sutra] (but not its Pali counterpart SN 12.70), the liberation (i.e. the wisdom-liberated) is without need of the rupa-jhanas:
Pages 201-2 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (167.3 KB)

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Yes, I consider you are correct, to some extent.

They should talk more about “right view”. This is about knowing and seeing the four noble truths, the notion of anicca, dukkha, suñña (empty), anatta, and the middle way, which all are the core teachings of Early Buddhism, according to SN/SA suttas.

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Just because it isn’t necessary for all people doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary, or at least beneficial, for others. If it were actually ‘a waste of time’ then it’s hard to see why the suttas are full of talk of the formless attainments without an accompanying statement to the effect that they’re a waste of time.

Ordaining as a monastic isn’t necessary for everyone either. Some people can become non-returners without ordaining. That doesn’t mean that become becoming a monastic is unnecessary for everyone, or not beneficial.


It seems not many suttas in SN/SA talk about the formless attainments? Maybe in other Nikayas/Agamas?

My understanding is that their teaching was not grounded in right view, which is why The Buddha-to-be did not reach enlightenment following what they taught.

Right view is the first factor of the N8FP, so without it, enlightenment is not possible.

The arupa loka is made up of 4 kinds immaterial realms where one could potentially be reborn in according to their degree of meditation attainment/s. If this is the case, it cannot be imaginative.

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