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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
FALL 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 49 like humans, except that males do not emit semen. The Yama gods, in the realm above, embrace but there is no penetration. The gods of Tusita merely hold hands. The gods of the Nimmanarati heaven do not touch at all but find sexual pleasure simply by smiling at one another. The highest sensual-realm gods don’t even go that far, but only gaze into each other’s eyes. In this way, ascending one more level, from the high- est sensual realm into the brahma world and beyond sensuality altogether, is not so great a leap. Moreover, for a being in any of these realms, there would be no desire whatsoever for the forms of pleasure experienced by the beings in a realm below them. They would surely regard such pleasures as coarse and gross. The aban- donment of sensuality is therefore not seen as a painful sacrifice but rather as a joyful transcendence upon find- ing something more sublime. For human meditators, this corresponds to the deep states of absorption known as jhana (Sanskrit dhyana). The Abhidhamma makes an explicit parallel between the four jhanas and what I have termed the four tiers of the brahma world. When a meditator experiences jhana, she has for the time being left the sense-desire realm, at least subjectively. Her state of inner being now belongs to the rupavacara, the realm of form, where the brahma gods live in the outer cosmos. This is why the mind in jhana is said to be removed from the sense bases. The progression through the jhanas is most com- monly described in terms of their factors. First jhana has five factors: applied and sustained thought, rap- ture, bliss, and one-pointedness. Second jhana has three, applied and sustained thought having fallen away. Third jhana has only bliss and one-pointedness, and fourth jhana replaces bliss with equanimity. So we have a progression from the coarse to the subtle, with those being relative values; what is subtle in one stage becomes coarse when viewed from a higher perspective. Thus, before entering jhana, a person naturally regards the experiences of the senses as desirable, pleasurable, and subtle. However, they are only a coarse distraction to the jhanic mind; sound is said to be “a thorn” to first jhana. By the time the meditator is in second jhana, the physical senses are too far removed to be a problem, but now thought becomes the “thorn” just outside the gate. Rapture, piti, is the dominant factor here but that begins to seem coarse compared to bliss, sukha, as the mind moves into third jhana. Fourth jhana is such a refined state that even bliss seems too gross, and the mind rests in the purified peace of equanimity. A representation of Mount Meru, also known as Mount Sumeru Japan, 19th century COURTESYOFTHENATIONALMUSEUMOFJAPANESEHISTORY