The 4 Spiritual Bodies in Buddhism — (part of the 7 sets series)

Fig. 7 Water's temperature does not change dur...

Fig. 7 Water’s temperature does not change during phase transitions as heat flows into or out of it. The total heat capacity of a mole of water in its liquid phase (the green line) is 7.5507 kJ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 4 Jhanas – this article is part of the TiltedCandle series on the 7 sets

The Buddha told a merchant that every man has four spiritual bodies. When the merchant asked him if every man has them at the same time, the Buddha told him no. We do not have them at the same time. The bodies are like milk, cream, butter, and cheese. We churn milk until it is cream, then butter, then cheese. We do not have milk and cream at the same time.

The process of developing a spiritual body is therefore similar to a phase change, ice melting to water, water boiling to steam. Also in my experience, there is a kind of latency effect. You pour energy and effort into the work, and there are results. But depending on how you observe, there may seem to be a plateauing effect.

When you heat water to boiling, there is a direct linear relationship between the energy you apply to the water and the rise in degrees of the water temperature over time. When the water comes to boiling, it does not get any hotter. Instead, that energy now has a direct linear relationship to the mass of the liquid water being liberated into steam.

The bodies the Budda was describing, which are organic and naturally-occuring phase changes, like the conversion of milk into cheese, are Jhanas. There is a little bit of slack and difference in the description of the Jhanas. It seems to me these differences are largely due to whether the source is describing the state the body is in (liquid or steam) or the process of conversion between them (boiling).

The Buddha said that to develop the body of the next Jhana, you drench your whole being with the energy of the Jhana you’re on. That energy reaches some critical density and the substance of your being condenses into the substance of the next body, bringing you to the next Jhana.

There are 4 Jhanas.  We can also consider the body we start off with, and the end result of total Clarity.

0. RENUNCIATION. Here we develop Bodhichitta, the desire to benefit all sentient beings. We cultivate Metta, lovingkindness. We banish sensual desire, ill-will, torpor, restlessness, worry, and skeptical doubt. Study of the 7 sets and metta meditation are good foundational activities. Develop mindfulness, insight and persistence.

1. RAPTURE. Here we meditate on a single object. This body is marked by thought conception and discursive thinking. It is born of detachment, filled with rapture and joy.

2. SERENITY. Serenity is born of concentration. It is described as a kind of mental joy and ease. It is also physical, since that of the body does not touch us as it once did. Here we put away thought-conception and discursive thinking. One can still think in words, but it’s not the primary activity of consciousness.

3. EQUINIMITY. Through serenity, the fading away of joy. Now one becomes mindful and clear only, with a sense of ease.

4. CLARITY. Giving up pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, we become pure mindfulness. This is born of equinimity. Finally we concentrate on the mortality of consciousness, and attain enlightenment.

ENLIGHTENMENT. This is attainment of the no-self. In his discussion of the four bodies, the Buddha said that one now attains supernatural powers: one walks on clouds and distant mountaintops, goes under the sea, and does all these things while one is still alive. This is what the buddha meant by “adorning Buddha lands.”

The attainment of enlightenment is possible because the stuff one is made of is no longer attached to the self. Not being attached to the self is the emotional nature of compassion and loving kindness, and the mental nature of Just Sitting meditation. Therefore compassion, loving kindness and just sitting are intrinsic to the path to enlightenment. Non-dualism is an indication that one is making appropriate progress along this path.

In the 7 sets, you will notice that the 4 Jhanas are the last four of the 7 Factors for Awakening.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Buddhism Series — the 7 Sets! — introduction « TiltedCandle
  2. Trackback: The 7 Factors for Awakening — Waypoints on the Journey to Enlightenment (part of the 7 Sets series) « TiltedCandle

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