Amatadhātu

Renderings

amatadhātu: the immortal phenomenon

amatadhātu: deathlessness

Introduction

The amatadhātu of arahants: deathlessness

PED (under dhātu) says that –dhātu in amatadhātu ‘is so far weakened in meaning, that it simply corresponds to the English abstract suffix -hood or -ity.’ But with no ‘deathless-hood’ or ‘deathless-ity,’ it would be ‘deathlessness.’ When linked to freedom from attachment it means arahantship:

• Having touched with his very being deathlessness, which is free from attachment,
Kāyena amataṃ dhātuṃ phassayitvā nirupadhiṃ (It.46).

Because it implies arahantship, amataṃ dhātuṃ therefore equals amataṃ, which is defined as follows:

• The destruction of attachment, hatred, and undiscernment of reality: this is called the Deathless.
Yo so bhikkhu rāgakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo idaṃ vuccati amataṃ (S.5.8).

The amatadhātu of non-arahants: the immortal phenomenon

Confusingly, there is another amatadhātu that isrealised by non-arahants, a state which is also called nibbāna. We call this ‘the immortal phenomenon.’ We will show that it is equivalent to inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena) (animitto cetosamādhi). This latter state likewise does not necessarily mean arahantship, as Venerable MahāMoggallāna discovered: while he abided therein, his mind pursued phantasms.

Animitto cetosamādhi: Venerable MahāMoggallāna’s mind pursued phantasms

MahāMoggallāna said:

• Here, friends, while I was alone in solitary retreat, a reflection arose in my mind thus: ‘It is said, “inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena); inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena).” What now is the inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena)?’
Animitto cetosamādhi animitto cetosamādhīti vuccati katamo nu kho animitto cetosamādhī ti

… Then, friends, it occurred to me:
Tassa mayhaṃ āvuso etadahosi

… In this regard a bhikkhu, by not focusing upon any abiding phenomenon,
Idha bhikkhu sabbanimittānaṃ amanasikārā

… enters and abides in the inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena).
animittaṃ cetosamādhiṃ upasampajja viharati

… This is called the inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena).
ayaṃ vuccati animitto cetosamādhī ti.

… Then, friends, by not focusing upon any abiding phenomenon,
So khvāhaṃ āvuso sabbanimittānaṃ amanasikārā

… I entered and dwelt in inward collectedness that is focused upon the unabiding (phenomena).
animittaṃ cetosamādhiṃ upasampajja viharāmi

… While I abided therein my mind pursued phantasms.
tassa mayhaṃ āvuso iminā vihārena viharato nimittānusārī viññānam hoti (S.4.263-269).

Focusing one’s mind on the immortal phenomenon

In the Mahāmāluṅkya Sutta the Buddha discusses the path and practice to abandon the five ties to individual existence in the low plane of existence (i.e. the path to non-returnership).
Katamo cānanda maggo katamā paṭipadā pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ pahānāya? (M.1.435).

He explains that in this path and practice a bhikkhu:

1) enters jhāna, then

2) contemplates the five aggregates as an illness, a carbuncle, a (piercing) arrow, suffering etc, then
te dhamme aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato samanupassati

3) averts his mind from those states, then
So tehi dhammehi cittaṃ paṭivāpeti

4) focuses his mind on the immortal phenomenon:
so tehi dhammehi cittaṃ paṭivāpetvā amatāya dhātuyā cittaṃ upasaṃharati

5) Focusing on the immortal phenomenon is followed in the sutta by the following reflection:

• This is peaceful, this is sublime, namely: the quelling of all originated phenomena, the relinquishment of the whole phenomenon of attachment, the destruction of craving, the passing away (of originated phenomena), the ending (of originated phenomena), the Untroubled.
etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ yadidaṃ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭinissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan ti (M.1.435).

6) The sutta then says: ‘Established therein, he attains the destruction of perceptually obscuring states.
So tattha ṭhito āsavānaṃ khayaṃ pāpuṇāti

The destruction of perceptually obscuring states means the attainment of arahantship. Therefore arahantship occurs after having focused the mind on the immortal phenomenon, and even after the reflection ‘this is nibbāna.’ In this case, the immortal phenomenon and nibbāna precede arahantship.

7) The sutta confirms this because it says that those who have the etaṃ santaṃ reflection may not attain arahantship until the following life, because it says:

• ‘If the bhikkhu does not thereby attain the destruction of perceptually obscuring states, then he arises spontaneously (in the higher planes of existence), there to attain nibbāna-without-residue, never to return from those worlds.’
no ce āsavānaṃ khayaṃ pāpuṇāti… opapātiko hoti tattha parinibbāyī anāvattidhammo tasmā lokā (M.1.435).

In other words, the immortal phenomenon that one focuses one’s mind on is linked to either arahantship or non-returnership.

The immortal phenomenon means animittadhātu

That the immortal phenomenon means animittadhātu (the unabiding phenomenon) can be demonstrated in seven steps:

1) The experience of focusing on the amatadhātu is described in the etaṃ santaṃ reflection, as noted above (M.1.435-7).

2) The etaṃ santaṃ reflection is equivalent to the winning of inward collectedness such that though one does not contemplate the visual sense or visible object… yet one still contemplates.
Idhānanda bhikkhu evaṃ manasikaroti etaṃ santaṃ… nibbānan ti evaṃ kho ānanda siyā bhikkhuno tathārūpo samādhipaṭilābho yathā na cakkhuṃ manasikareyya na rūpaṃ manasikareyya… yampidaṃ diṭṭhaṃ sutaṃ mutaṃ viññātaṃ pattaṃ pariyesitaṃ anuvicaritaṃ manasā tampi na manasikareyya manasi ca pana kareyyā ti (A.5.321).

3) These objects that one does not contemplate are called ‘all nimittāni (sabbanimittāni) in this passage:

• He perceives all phenomena (sabbanimittāni) differently. He sees the visual sense differently, he sees visible objects differently… .
☸ sabbanimittāni aññato passati cakkhuṃ aññato passati rūpe aññato passati… mano aññato passati dhamme aññato passati manoviññāṇaṃ aññato passati manosamphassaṃ aññato passati yampidaṃ mano samphassapaccayā uppajjati sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi aññato passati (S.4.50).

4) Thus focusing on the amatadhātu is equivalent to not contemplating all nimittāni (sabbanimittāni na manasikareyya) yet still contemplating (manasi ca pana kareyyā ti).

5) ‘Still contemplating’ implies contemplating what is animitta.

6) Attaining the liberation (from perceptually obscuring states) by focusing upon the unabiding (phenomenon) (animittāya cetovimuttiyā samāpattiyā) involves two similar steps:

• ignoring all nimittāni
sabbanimittānañca amanasikāro

• focusing upon the animitta phenomenon
animittāya ca dhātuyā manasikāro (M.1.297).

7) Therefore these phrases are equivalent:

• he focuses his mind on the amatadhātu
amatāya dhātuyā cittaṃ upasaṃharati (M.1.435)

• focusing upon the animittadhātu
animittāya ca dhātuyā manasikāro (M.1.297).

That focusing on animittadhātu means perceiving the passing away and ending (of originated phenomena) (virāgasaññā and nirodhasaññā) is discussed sv Nimitta. Presumably the amatadhātu is named as such (and even called nibbāna in the etaṃ santaṃ reflection) because of the immortal quality of these two perceptions.

Illustrations

Illustration: amatāya dhātuyā, the immortal phenomenon

A bhikkhu enters and abides in first jhāna, which is accompanied by thinking and pondering, and rapture and physical pleasure born of seclusion (from sensuous pleasures and spiritually unwholesome factors).
savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with the five aggregates, as unlasting, as intrinsically unsatisfactory, as an illness, as a carbuncle, as a (piercing) arrow, as suffering, as an affliction, as alien, as destined to decay, as void (of personal qualities), as void of personal qualities.
So yadeva tattha hoti rūpagataṃ vedanāgataṃ saññāgataṃ saṅkhāragataṃ viññāṇagataṃ te dhamme aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato samanupassati.

He averts his mind from those states.
So tehi dhammehi cittaṃ paṭivāpeti

and focuses his mind on the immortal phenomenon:
so tehi dhammehi cittaṃ paṭivāpetvā amatāya dhātuyā cittaṃ upasaṃharati

This is peaceful, this is sublime, namely: the quelling of all originated phenomena, the relinquishment of the whole phenomenon of attachment, the destruction of craving, the passing away (of originated phenomena), the ending (of originated phenomena), the Untroubled.
etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ yadidaṃ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭinissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan ti.

Established therein, he attains the destruction of perceptually obscuring states.
So tattha ṭhito āsavānaṃ khayaṃ pāpuṇāti

If he does not attain the destruction of perceptually obscuring states, then because of that righteous attachment, righteous spiritually fettering delight, with the destruction of the five ties to individual existence in the low plane of existence, he arises spontaneously (in the higher planes of existence), there to attain nibbāna-without-residue, never to return from those worlds.
no ce āsavānaṃ khayaṃ pāpuṇāti teneva dhammarāgena tāya dhammanandiyā pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā opapātiko hoti tattha parinibbāyī anāvattidhammo tasmā lokā. Ayampi kho ānanda maggo ayaṃ paṭipadā pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ pahānāya (M.1.435-7) (=A.4.421).