The Three Attainments - Attainment of extinction

The anagamí and the arahat who have attained the fourth arupa-jhana (the stage of neither-perception-nor-non-perception) can attain cessation (nirodha-samapatti). This is the attainment of the temporary cessation of citta and cetasikas. They do not arise anymore, but this stage cannot last longer than seven days. The reason is that food that has been taken cannot support the body longer than seven days. The temporary cessation of citta and cetasika is conditioned by two powers: by samatha and by vipassana that are fully developed and which have great strength. The anagami and the arahat who have not attained calm to the degree of the fourth arupa- jhana cannot attain cessation. Neither can the sotapanna and the sakadagami attain cessation, even if they have reached the fourth stage of arupa-jhana.

Those who are able to attain cessation should first attain successively all the stages of rupa-jhana. They should emerge from each stage and then investigate with insight sankhara dhammas (conditioned dhammas) as impermanent, dukkha and anatta, before they attain the following stage of jhana. When they have emerged from the third stage of arupa-jhana, the sphere of nothingness, however, they should first advert to a fourfold preparatory task, which according to the Visuddhimagga (Ch XXIII, 34) is: a) non-damage to others’ property, b) the community’s waiting, c) the Master’s summons, d) the limit of duration.

As regards non-damage to others’ property, this refers to what a bhikkhu uses or keeps, and what are not his personal property but the property of others, such as bowl, robes, bed and dwelling. He should resolve that such property will not be damaged, that it will not be destroyed by fire, water, wind, thieves and so on within the period of cessation-attainment, which lasts no longer than seven days. He does not have to make a specific resolution with regard to his personal property, such as his inner robes and outer robes, or his seat. These are protected from damage or loss by the attainment of cessation itself.

As regards the Master’s summons, he should resolve to emerge from cessation when the Buddha requires his presence.

As regards the limit of duration, he should know whether his life will last longer than seven days or not. During the period of cessation the dying- consciousness cannot arise. Thus, when his lifespan is not due to end within seven days he can enter cessation.

When a bhikkhu has done the fourfold preparatory tasks he can attain the fourth stage of arupa-jhana. After two moments of arupa-jhanacittas of that stage, which arise in that process, he achieves cessation of citta and cetasika. They do not arise anymore and this state can last for seven days. When he emerges from cessation, one moment of phala-citta arises, to be followed by bhavanga-cittas. The attainment of cessation can occur only in the planes where there are five khandhas. It cannot occur in the arupa- brahma planes where rupa-jhanacitta does not arise.

Topic 241