What about asaññasatta?

Is there any more or less detailed information in the Suttas or Commentaries about asaññasatta, Unconscious Devas inhabiting the 24th plane of existence corresponding to the forth jhana? They are supposed to have a body and no mind whatsoever but still are considered to be living beings. On the other hand, some of the meditation masters speak about the absence of the body in the rupa-loka. Besides, the idea of them existing sort of undermines the belief in transmigrating stream of consciousness as the connecting element of different births.

Is it really worth it, then, to develop the fourth jhana, get reborn in their world, have no idea about it because you have no conciousness and fall back to the Earth after you die there? Besides, having no consciousness they automatically skip the immaterial attainments and reach saññā-vedayita-nirodha, which is frequently considered to be the highest worldly attainment, very close to Nibbana.

Are these deities a later invention of the Indic mind who is extremely fond of creating intricate and fun cosmologies? If so, why should you come up with such an absurd idea of ‘coma gods’ that is problematic both doctrinally and emotionally? Are there any parallels to these gods in other known Indic cosmologies or are they exclusively Buddhist? Anyway, they seem to me to be the most fascinating category of deities in the traditional Buddhist cosmology.

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At this stage the consciousness is suspended as if the stone suspended in the air when you throw it.
Read more info here:

Do not worry. You should understand the difference of Asannsatta plane and the Nirodha Samapatthi.
Please read for more info here.

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I think asaññasattā is not “unconscious/mindless beings”, but it should rather be translated as “non-precipient beings” (i.e., beings who don’t have perception/sañña). From DN 1, it is said:

Santi, bhikkhave, asaññasattā nāma devā. Saññuppādā ca pana te devā tamhā kāyā cavanti.
There are, bhikkhus, certain gods called ‘non-percipient beings.’ When perception (sañña) arises in them, those gods pass away from that plane.

AN 9.24 too said that the devas don’t have perception:

Santi, bhikkhave, sattā asaññino appaṭi­saṃ­ve­dino, seyyathāpi devā asaññasattā.
Bhikkhus, there are beings without perceptions and without feelings, like non-percipient gods.

IMO, although the condition of asaññasattā’s mind is without perception and without feeling, almost like saññā-vedayita-nirodha/nirodha-samapatti state, there are differences between them. The saññā-vedayita-nirodha is attained with means of arupayatana (formless attainment/arupajhana) until sphere of nothingness by the Arahants, whereas the asaññasattā is not reaching arupayatana state.

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Thanks for your helpful answer!

So you say the consciousness as we know it does exist while in this state it is just suspended, frozen like a bug in a piece of amber?

Sorry I do not know what it means because I do not have a personal experience.
That is how it describe by Ven. Narada in his book Buddha and His Teaching.
The best simile is the stone suspend in the air.
What it means is even if the stone is in the air, it is subject to gravity and eventually will hit the ground.

You may like the following Sutta.

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Could you please still elaborate a little bit? If you talk about a simile then you surely can apply its meaning to the case at hand and say what it means for the mind to be suspended like a stone in the air, because I don’t see how it can. I do not mean it like ‘your position is wrong’ ot something to this extent, I am actually very far from thinking so and believe the stone theory could be a viable explanation of the problem ultimately, but I don’t quite see how exactly it is supposed to work for the consciousless state, I mean, how we should interpret it, in what terms. If we both say that we don’t know what it could it just doesn’t make very much sense to use the stone simile then, I’m afraid because we cannot apply it successfully :sweat:

Not having personal experience is also hardly a good explanation since neither you nor me have ever seen a stone or something similar to a stone suspended in the air but we both understand how the simile works. Besides, stones do not get suspended in the air all by themselves, you need some strong magnetic field or something in that vein, otherwise the suspended stone simile is non-realistic in the physicalistic terms. What could be that ‘magnetic field’ in the context of the asaññasattā? If you think there is no such field, we could modify the simile to make it sound more appropriate, why not?

Since I like the simile so much I would appreciate any further clarification on the matter a lot :anjal:

Another fruitful prospect of investigation could be applying the suspended mind hypothesis to DN 15. Since there can be no nāmarūpa without viññāṇa, we have to account for viññāṇa without any sañña in the asaññasattā state, and I don’t really see how it could be an easy task, especially given the mind suspension theory - suspended viññāṇa without any sañña sounds a bit weird. Still, it sounds a lot better than nāmarūpa without viññāṇa if we - just for the sake of an argument - assume the stone simile is wrong and there is simply no mind in this state. This would be contrary to the very elegant exposition of the DO in the Mahanidana Sutta and generally a very problematic thing.

So far, both the (hopefully temporary) lack of a meaningful interpretation of the stone simile in the context of the mind, accompanying factors like ‘magnetic mind field’, and the trickiest problem of all, the viññāṇa problem still make the concept of asaññasattā as non-perceving from birth to death very challenging to integrate with the Sutta teachings.

There was no mention of viññāṇa in your post. Do you think it is present in these gods? If you do, please read the middle section of my post just above this one, I think the presence or absence of viññāṇa in the asaññasattāposts a very interesting problem.

Dear @Vstakan,

Since the suttas do not mention the absense of consciousness for the beings, just the absense of perception, I just assume there is a possibility of a kind of consciousness without perception for the beings, maybe some kind of subconsciousness (mano-vinnana?).

But this is only my assumption, perhaps there are sutta references which said they don’t have consciousness at all, that I overlooked.

The suttas are quite clear that you cannot have consciousness without feeling and perception. This is clear form the mutual conditional relationship described in the Mahānidāna Sutta (DN 15) and also from the following excerpt from the Mahāvedalla Sutta (MN 43):

Feeling, perception, and consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them. For what one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes. Therefore these qualities are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them.


This is exactly why I find the stone simile a bit problematic, even though interesting. There is no feeling, no perceptions, no consciousness… Well, there should still be sankharas, but can we really say there is any suspended mind in there? If not, it can have far-reaching implications for the idea of a ‘stream of consciousness’ transmigrating between births.

On the other hand, these gods definitely have nāmarūpa, and it is a bit tricky to integrate with the description of the DO in MN 15 as well as the formula of interdependce between nāmarūpa and viññāṇa. What I mean is that it could be indirect evidence of the asaññasattā being a later development within the framework of the Buddhist cosmology. They are mentioned in DN 1, and I will try to look into comparative studies between it and analagous Agama texts to see whether they are mentioned there. However, the hypothesis of them being a later development is a bit flawed as it is hard to think of reciting monks’ rationale to introduce such gods into a world description in the first place. Just as I wrote before, the asaññasattā are very intersting beings :slight_smile:

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” -Douglas Adams

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In Nirodha Samapatthi, there is Rupa (heat etc) but only the consciousness (vedana, sanna etc) is suspended.
There is a Sutta comparing a dead person and a person in Nirodhasamapatti.

This is a fair point, thanks a lot for making it! :anjal: However, it still doesn’t explain the interdepence of namarupa and vinnana we find in DN 15 and talks by Ven. Sariputta. I mean, we are definitely onto something here, but so far I have failed to combine these two things.

Besides, after reading all the threads and links I was referred to here, I still do not see any phenomenological difference between the asanna state and Nirodha Samapatti. They have different causes and arise in different circumstances, they end in different ways, but phenomenologically they are both just the same things: utter absence of any mind activity. Moreover, having no mind activity, you don’t have any sakkayaditthi and that is a problem to explain as well.

Side note: As far as I can remember, you are referring to MN 43 that essentially says the difference between a dead body and a monk in Nirodha Samapatti is metabolism or ‘life heat’. This was always a problematic term for me since it is not accounted for by the standard DO formulae and I have the impression it is crucial for understanding what namarupa is. To my mind, namarupa is matter with a highly sophisticated functional organization. A dead body, which is pure rupa, exhibits a much lower level of functional organization, just like a broken car is less sophisticated than a working one. That is, nama is what signifies the function of the rupa, its functional patterns - just like the name in Ancient India signified which clan a person came from and what position they occupied in the society. How this namarupa can exist without consciousness despite the Dependent Origination formulae and the two-bundle simile by Ven. Sariputta, is an itneresting theoretical problem.

Isn’t this project based on the idea that the Suttas can be brought into alignment in clear ways? These texts are composites from long-standing traditions centuries old at the time of compilation.

Isn’t it also based on the relatively common idea among ancient peoples, there there was correspondence between trance states and levels of the cosmos? These sorts of Correspondence Theories were very common among ancient peoples; this seems more related to contemplative anthropology than the Dhamma, it seems to me.

What if these ideas are inaccurate or misleading? Or at least unnecessary to assert?

For example, suppose that different localities had different ideas about the cosmos, local wanderers talked about their correspondence theories (“as above/without so within/below”) in different ways, and it fell to the Second Council members et al to try putting all this together.

Now, on this topic I grant SN 12.65 priority:

“Then, bhikkhus, it occurred to me: ‘This consciousness turns back; it does not go further than name-and-form. It is to this extent that one may be born and age and die, pass away and be reborn, that is, when there is consciousness with name-and-form as its condition, and name-and-form with consciousness as its condition.

All experiences are wholly based on this vortex:

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who recollect their manifold past abodes all recollect the five aggregates subject to clinging or a certain one among them.

I don’t have to assert that the Buddha was wrong, I only have to say that the religion & its cosmic foci are wrong-headed approaches. I think this is born out (haha) by the texts’ historical situation.

To me, it seems that name (labels, designations) and form (mental forms including mental representations of physical forms) are things that can be known by conciousness and conciousness is in turn defined by what it knows.

So in Nirodha Samapatti there is no name and form or conciousness for the one abiding in it…not even the body heat. That doesn’t mean there is no name and form or conciousness for other beings…the meditators body heat at that time is also only known by other beings.

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This is only a problem if one believes a correspondence theory such as I mentioned above. When taken as a given, the followup question can be asked, “How does the correlation of dwelling in other realms happen alongside the fact that one on such journeys is still sitting right over there?” Life heat keeps the body there and it’s an anchor of some sort, or there’s a mind-made body… all sorts of metaphysical stuff can launch from these speculations.

It’s all namarupa-vinnana, whatever else it is, and there are amazing ways to get views wrong when basing them on meditative & contemplative namarupa-vinnana-recollections, to say nothing of the more pedantic sources, e.g. traditions, reasoning.

Right; it seems to me to be some sort of suspended state, a bit of a pseudo-coma.

To tell you the truth, this is exactly my presupposition. The asannasatta are one of the problems for this larger project, since their supposed existence poses a number of difficult theoretical problems. So far, the discussants including me tried to see whether these problems are not illusory. Saying the cosmology and existence of these gods is a later invention is another way to solve these problems, but then it would be great if there were any research to parallels in other Hindic traditions. If there are none, it is somewhat more difficult to me personally to discard the asannasatta as non-authentic Buddhavacana. Of course, the whole cosmology thing is actually pretty insignificant for the Dhamma, but it presents a certain scholarly interest to me :slight_smile:

Just as a little side note, I would add another quote from DN 15 was mentioned in another somewhat related discussion:

… to this extent that there is a pathway for designation, to this extent that there is a pathway for language, to this extent that there is a pathway for description…

It is perfectly possible that the other two nidanas, avijja and sankhara, do exist but are hardly describable or not describable at all. So, many complex mathematical concepts are hardly explainable in the ordinary language. For sankharas and avijja, the dissimilarity between them and our ordinary experience of vinnana and namarupa can be even greater. Heck, even the wave-particle dualism is actually hardly describable. This is especially interesting considering the sankharas are though to be the ‘carriers’ of kamma and responsible for rebirth.

I wholeheartedly agree with the little correction that there is nobody ‘abiding there’. To me, Nirodha Samapatti is a state of ‘mini-death’ where four of the five khandhas cease to exist: the body sitting in the meditation is just a metabolizing body that is no longer part of the phenomenal unity called ‘meditator’. The only active khandha there is sankharas who sort of ‘re-assemble’ the meditator after the nirodha is over. The only difference between it and rebirth is that the namarupa stays the same. Again, this theory is bound to be false in some or all of its parts, but I don’t really regard it as (an important) part of the Dhamma or practice, it’s just a little bit of fun pseudo-scholarly speculation.

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It appears there are some doubts about the Sutta.
Even though we should not take Sutta in it’s face value, on should not discard them unless one has experience themselves to a higher degree of concentration.
For me Asannasatta is a possible theory.
It is as clear as this frozen fish come alive.

I think anyone would agree that it is a perfectly possible theory. However, it is interesting how it got there into the Suttas, in particular into DN 1, whether it was Buddha’s word or a later idea. If it was the latter it may still be true but I personally will not waste any more time with it, it will be just too irrelevant for me.

Now, that a frozen fish, a person in coma or anything along these lines may come back to life is a perfectly okay idea. I just wonder whether it really makes much sense to say one is born as a frozen fish in a huge fridge, spends their whole life there with other frozen fish without ever getting defrozen and then dies - as a frozen fish of sorts of course. It is possible but a bit too fanciful for me to believe in it without any further doubts :disappointed: