What is the difference between the dimension of nothingness and the cessation of perception and feeling

I need help understanding the difference between the dimension of nothingness and the cessation of perception and feeling. These are quite subtle. How would this be explained to laity?


This is one of those issues that I imagine I’ll sort out when I get there.


What do you mean by “cessation”? “Nirodha”?

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the Sutta explain that the Immaterial Jhana are realized by ‘what is called Intellect, mind or consciousness (Assutavā Sutta: Uninstructed (1))’ divorced from the five senses, it is referred to as ‘realizable by purified intellect’ -Mahavedalla Sutta: The Greater Set of Questions-and-Answers
It is divorced on account of equanimity and dispassion toward Form.

"One discerns that 'If I were to direct equanimity as pure & bright as this towards the dimension of the infinitude of space and to develop the mind along those lines, that would be fabricated. One discerns that ‘If I were to direct equanimity as pure and bright as this towards the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and to develop the mind along those lines, that would be fabricated.’ Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Properties

As i understand it the nutriment of these states is contact, intellectual intention and consciousness - Ahara Sutta: Nutriment

The Dimension of Nothingness is essentially felt and perceived. One is percipient in this way; ‘There is nothing’. Kosala Sutta: The Kosalan

As for the cessation of perception & feeling, there is the cessation of intellect, cessation of contact and it is without support, without nutriment and as the contact ceases there is cessation of perception and feeling, one is then percepient of the cessation in this way: > ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’ Samadhi Sutta: Concentration

It’s in this way that a monk could have an attainment of concentration such that he would neither be percipient of earth with regard to earth, nor of water with regard to water, nor of fire… wind… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception… this world… nor of the next world with regard to the next world, and yet he would still be percipient."

The word ‘World’ in this good Dhamma is that in the world which perceives and conceives of the world.

Whatever in the world through which you perceive the world and conceive the world is called the world in the training of the noble one. And through what in the world do you perceive the world and conceive the world? Through the eye in the world you perceive the world and conceive the world. Through the ear … nose … tongue … body … mind in the world you perceive the world and conceive the world. SuttaCentral

The immaterial existence is conceived and perceived by what is called Intellect, Mind or Consciousness and is therefore in and of the world and the cessation of perception & feeling realizes the cessation of the World and when the World is not conceived, on account of the extinguishment of perception based on the conditioned, there is the discernment of the Unconditioned state, not brought about, uncreated, Sorrowless state without supports and requisite conditions.

“Mendicants, I say it’s not possible to know or see or reach the end of the world by traveling. But I also say there’s no making an end of suffering without reaching the end of the world.” SuttaCentral


“The dimension of neither perception nor non-perception” is the one that baffles me.
Perception looks to me like an on-off thing, either you do, or you don’t.


There is no consciousness (suspended) in Cessation of perception and feeling.
There is consciousness in the dimension of nothingness.


This question seems ridiculously beyond my pay grade in terms of actual experience! :grin: However, in terms of my sutta understanding, I can remember allusions to the sphere of nothingness as being the “peak of perception”. That makes sense, I think, in that this arupa jhana seems to be the most refined type of perception possible in the Buddhist scheme. Perception seems to become quiescent in the following sphere of neither perception nor non-perception.

In MN44, Dhammadinnā talks about successive cessation of the verbal, bodily and mental formations/faculties. It has struck me that cessation of a faculty seems to involve a two step process: one step where the associated activity becomes quiescent and a second step where the underlying faculty fully ceases.

So, it appears that the first jhana is where speech activity has become quiescent but it is only in the second jhana where true “noble silence” occurs and the faculty itself (V&V) has truly ceased. A similar transition seems to occur going from the fourth jhana to the first immaterial jhana. The bodily formation (associated with the breath) has quietened to stillness, but the meditator really doesn’t fully go beyond the body until the following immaterial jhana. My hypothesis is that a similar transition occurs for the mental faculty (composed of feelings & perception) between the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception and the cessation of feeling and perception (from just quiescence to the faculty actually fully ceasing).

EDIT: Actually it is DN9 that has a reference to the “peak of perception”. There’s a run through the jhanas stopping at the sphere of nothingness, and shortly afterwards there’s talk of the “peak of perception”.


Wow! Thanks for all the great answers. I have some new suttas to read!
:pray: :heart:


I remain uncertain how to square any of this with the jhana model that understands perception to cease at the first jhana. I imagine that it must have been covered here previously, but I haven’t found it. I would be grateful for pointers.


I’m not familiar with that. From MN44, verbal processes cease first, but perception is not a verbal process. Would you have references for study?


External sense perception. There still are internal (purely mental) perceptions in Jhana in this model.


I think this is because we rely completely on a duality concept of reality, and this state transcends duality. That is why we can’t really comprehend this state, and it seems a bit nonsensical. Thus:

Sounds about right to me!


nothing special about neither perception nor non perception to the extent that it is still dependent on contact, conceived by the intellect and sustained by intention.

From the Dhammasanghani;

The Sphere where there is neither Perception nor Non-perception

Which are the states that are good?

When, that he may attain to the Formless heavens, he cultivates the way thereto, and, having passed wholly beyond the sphere of nothingness, enters into and abides in that rapt meditation which is accompanied by the consciousness of a sphere where there is neither perception nor non-perception —even the Fourth Jhāna, to gain which all sense of ease must have been put away, etc.


Martin asked about this. I believe it means that there is a tiny bit of perception left, almost like a flicker. These are all graduated states leading up to cessation of perception, which is the total ending of all perceptions.



I strongly disagree with that word choice, as it implies movement — of which there is absolutely, positively none in this arupa jhana.


My hypothesis is that there would still be an “I-ness” here, a certain core bhava, that base assumption of self, open to experience, awaiting, abiding, prepared to react and grab.

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Yes, that’s my understanding too. Beautifully said!

That’s why it’s neither perception nor nonperception: it’s a subject without an object. A pure potential.


Avijja to manifest requires thoughts

Attachment has been left behind at the first jhana

It’s switching between consciousness and losing consciousness; it was already emptiness in the previous attainment. It’s not about an object of consciousness and losing an object, therefore it’s hard to make sense it, …imagine hearing static crackle except this is with consciousness.

Where did you get this amusing idea? :joy:

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When the Buddha was in pain he switched off awareness in the immaterial attainments. He didn’t hear a thunderstrike next to the barn near him when he was in Arupa jhana. Height of perception is the 7th attainment, and not neither-perception nor non-perception attainment. By Consciousness I did not mean Buddhism’s consciousness but consciousness in English. The flight of jhanas are a series of letting go of gross phenomena into subtler phenomena, the higher you go. The highest is ‘hardly any phenomena’.

I don’t understand why you would have an issue with it.