[ Sitting Practice ]
Attaining Nibbana without Jhana
This is the fundamental argument of those who contend that the jhanas are necessary for attaining Nibbana: that is, that it is the Jhana that is effecting the attaining. This is an incorrect perception: it is the insight into impermanance and the letting go that is the fundamental tool for attaining Nibbana.
Bottom Line, Simple
To insist that jhana is necessary to attain Nibbana is the same thing as to insist on an explicit statement with regard to existence. There is no more an ultimate 'jhana' there than there is an ultimate 'self'.
What we can see is that it is necessary to abandon the hinderances and have the insight into the ending nature of things to attain Nibbana.
One person could come along and say: Abandoning the hindrances is the entry-point of the First Jhana. By definition then whatever they may call it, abandoning the hindrances and taking up high view, one has entered the first burning and therefore the first burning is necessary for the attainment of Nibbana.
This is reasoning based on the assumption of a 'real' thing there called a 'jhana', and that is a thing that depends on view, not on reality.
As a secondary matter, the reason it is necessary to refute the argument that the Jhanas are necessary to attain Nibbana is that those who hold this view also contend that the jhanas are no longer possible to attain by persons born at this time. A very discouraging (and flawed) argument that needs to be trounced. (Without getting angry!)
Still another twist on this issue has been raised recently, that is that it takes all four Jhanas to attain Arahantship. This group making the argument that "there is no support in the suttas for the idea that Arahantship can be attained from the first jhana." and when confronted with a sutta by Ananda that states just this, the argument is made that this is not a statement by the Buddha and must be dismissed. So here is one by the Buddha which states the same thing: To Malunkyaputta. And for reasons why an argument should not be made using the "no sutta evidence is found to support" construction in the first place, see: One more time.
In this sutta three pairs of individuals are shown:
two who attain and make a habit of the Sphere of Limitless Space,
two who attain and make a habit of the Sphere of Limitless Consciousness,
and two who attain and make a habit of the Sphere of No Things There.
In each case of the six individuals the rebirth subsequent to this one is in the sphere where they have made a habit of residing . . . Space, Consciousness, No Things There.
Of each of these pairs,
one is an ordinary man and
one is a student of the Aristocrats.
In the case of the ordinary man, his good kamma done used up, he is reborn, subsequent to that rebirth, in Hell or as an Animal or as a Ghost. The student of the Aristocrats attains Nibbana before even reaching death in that rebirth (i.e., they are Non-Returners).
There is no mention here of either of the two groups entering any of these states as a consequence of attaining the Four Jhanas.
In the case of the case of the student of the Aristocrats who attains the Sphere of Limitless Space, there is no mention of attaining the Sphere of Limitless Consciousness, No Things There, or Neither-Perception-nor-Non-Perception.
In the case of the case of the student of the Aristocrats who attains the Sphere of Limitless Consciousness, there is no mention of attaining the Sphere of No Things There, or Neither-Perception-nor-Non-Perception.
In the case of the case of the student of the Aristocrats who attains the Sphere of No Things There, there is no mention of attaining the Sphere of Neither-Perception-nor-Non-Perception.
There is no mention of the Sphere of Neither-Perception-nor-Non-Perception, period.
This is the way I see it: While, in other systems, it is necessary to go from point "A" to point "Z" to attain the promised goal; here the goal is attained by letting go and letting go is something that can be done at any point from "A" to "Z".
Again: at what point are you going to be satisfied? How detailed and comprehensive description of this heap of shit do you need before you see that there is not one scrap of it that is permanent, that does not carry with it pain as a consequence of that impermanence, and is not "You" or "Yours."?
What does it take for you to get the joke? (I am not being critical of anyone or anyone's style here, I am just saying "It's like this.")
H: "So then, what is involved in being satisfied? It is obviously more than just an intelectual understanding and agreement with the fact that the Dhamma is true. What is neseccarry in order to unlock the "knowledge" within a person in order to connect the mental acknowledgement of the truth with the total giving into it? I tend to believe that it is within the learning of the Dhamma, the practicing of the Dhamma, and the elimination of all downbound activities of the world that is the connection that is needed. Once one practices enough detachment then one is able to see the impermanence of it all.
So then, what is it that makes being involved in the world a hinderance to letting go? Why can't someone, just like the three pairs of aristocratically trained beggars, go only as far as acknowledging the fact that the Dhamma is true and let go then? Couldn't one simply know that everything around him or her is uselessness in order to escape? If it be true that these men could escape the endless cycle by attaining the sphere of unlimited consciousness, etc, then one must also be able to escape the endless cycle by attaining the first or second jhana. It must be that one who has never attained any other state than a slight detachment from the world has not yet fully convinced himself in its impermanence.
So then, at what point are we going to be satisfied? How much of a description of this confounded, double ended shitbag does it take in order for us to see that not even one scrap of it is permanent?
I have fixed on this word, "Satisfied" because it fits. We tend, wrongly, to think of "satisfaction" as the state of enjoyment during the orgasm; what satisfaction is, in fact, is the state after the orgasm: the state of having had enough; not desiring any more.
You are correct in stating it is more than just an intellectual understanding and agreement with Dhamma. Three things are needed:
one does need the intellectual framework (The Four Truths);
one also needs to see that it is true (Vipassana); and
one needs to have let go (Pahana, Nekkamma, Upekkha, whatever word you want to use for letting go, dumping it, getting rid of it, being free from it)
...and all of this to the degree of complete detachment from everything conceivable whatsoever, including the Dhamma itself.
I believe the difficulty you may be having with this lies in the mental construction: "unlock the knowledge within".
This construction carries some baggage with it. Here we can speak of no "knower" of the knowledge; hence there is no "knowledge within" to be "unlocked." The idea has been likened to a curtain, or veil; when it is removed, there is then nothing obstructing the knowing and seeing of what lies behind the curtain.
I would modify the idea of "practicing detachment". What one is doing when one is practicing detachment is one is practicing "poise" (passadhi, impassivity), which can lead to detachment, but detachment is the accomplished state, not something that can be practiced. One is detached or one is not.
"Being Involved". There is the clue to your question as to what it is that makes being involved in the world a hindrance to letting go.
"Being" is the state of being; the state being one who is subject to time, coming to an end.
"Involved" means "wrapped up in".
Beings are involved because of motives; motives are the symptoms of attachment, desires; they are the hindrances themselves. Imagine a huge pile of shit and some Beggar inside that pile saying: "Although I am involved in eating and drinking and enjoying the sights, there is no hindrance to me in this." Clearly, whatever he may think, he does not see the true nature of what it is that he is involved in.
Backing off, as in the method described in the Emptiness suttas, is a way of allowing for objectivity about what has been left behind.
The reason someone cannot just go as far as acknowledging the Dhamma and let go is because "acknowledging" is not what we need here. What we need is to have actually seen the truth of the Four Truths, and to have managed the actual fact of detachment.
What you need to do to see how intellectual understanding actually isn't sufficient is to practice giving up something to which you are really attached (in the case of this exercise, it is not precisely necessary to see that what you are attached to is a potential source of pain; but in the case where this insight is not present you will find your willpower greatly diminished . . . and it's no easy job even when one is highly motivated by the knowledge that one is getting away from pain). You might just try giving up sex for a year; try giving up sleep for one night, as on Uposatha; try quitting smoking; drinking; eating more than the body requires. Try this and you begin to see the nature of the enemy. Mere intellectual knowledge won't do the trick.
I do not see how you arrive at the "must" when you say: "If it be true that these men could escape the endless cycle by attaining the sphere of unlimited consciousness, etc, then one must also be able to escape the endless cycle by attaining the first or second jhana." But let's put it this way: it isn't the attaining of the sphere that is giving them the liberation; it is the letting go of the rest. In a case such as this, what has happened is that the individual has given up all else but the particular jhana; then they reach an end of that and they are able to give that up also.
That said, there are examples of Beggars attaining Nibbana after only the first jhana and even before attaining any jhana.
The jhana is only a tool to be used to produce sufficient vision to convince the individual to let go of it all. The simile of the mountain is given. The idea is, at the base of the mountain it is not easy to see a vast horizon, but from the top one is able to see in all directions.
Again, when you say: "It must be that one who has never attained any other state than a slight detachment from the world has not yet fully convinced himself in its impermanence.", I need to underscore that this is not a matter of convincing one's self; it is a matter of seeing things as they are. Some are able to do this with only a very small nudge; others need to climb to the top of the mountain.
And again, when you say: "How much of a description of this confounded, double ended shit bag DOES it take in order for us to see that not even one scrap of it is permanent?", this is a case where every individual is unique. But it is not any kind of "description" that does it. I could describe to you in minute detail the taste of some exotic food and in the end you would have no idea. One needs the description like a map to plot the course, but there is no attaining the goal without actually walking the walk.
A sutta indicating the attaining of Arahantship after only the First Burning.
Discourse to a Citizen of Atthaka
Dasama: "...is there, revered Ananda, any one thing pointed out by that Lord who knows, who sees, perfected one, fully Self-Awakened One, whereby if a monk dwell diligent, ardent, self-resolute, his mind, not (yet) freed, is freed; or the cankers, not (yet) completely destroyed, go to complete destruction; or he attains the matchless security from the bonds, not (yet) attained?"
Ananda: "There is...
"As to this, householder, a monk, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, enters and abides in the first meditation, which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness and is rapturous and joyful. He reflects on this and comprehends: 'This first meditation is effected and thought out. But whatever is effected and thought out, that is impermanent, it is liable to stopping.' Firm in this, he attains the destruction of the cankers. If he does not attain the destruction of the cankers, then by this attachment to dhamma, by this delight in dhamma, by the destruction of the five fetters binding to this lower (shore), he is of spontaneous uprising, one who attains Nibbana there, not liable to return from that world. This, householder is one thing..."
Ananda goes on to say that the same formula applies for the Second Burning, Third, Fourth, each of the 4 Brahmaviharas (never, as far as I can remember have these been termed "jhanas" -- they are sometimes said to be developed to the degree of jhana), and 3 of the four arupajhanas (I do not know why he left out the n'evasannanasanna).
Also, along the same lines I would point to the formula that precedes each of the "Ten Lessons" (10 Questions): What One (Two, Three...) Concept(s), when seen to the Root with Penetrating Knowledge, and understood to the broadest limits, such that it's repellant nature is seen as it really is and one has released it in its entirety, can bring one to the Uttermost Freedom of Detachment? 
Another sutta that describes attaining Nibbana after only the First Burning:
To Malunkyaputta (Greater)
"And what, Ananda, is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters? Here, with seclusion from objects of attachment, with the abandoning of unwholesome states, with the complete tranquilization of bodily inertia, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.
Whatever exists therein of material form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness, he sees those states as impermanent, as suffering, as a disease, as a tumor, as a barb, as a calamity, as an affliction, as alien, as disintegrating, as void, as not self. He turns his mind away from those states and directs it towards the deathless element thus: 'This is the peaceful, this is the sublime, that is, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbana.' Standing upon that, he attains the destruction of the taints. But if he does not attain the destruction of the taints, then because of that desire for the Dhamma, that delight in the Dhamma, with the destruction of the five lower fetters he becomes one due to reappear spontaneously (in the Pure Abodes) and there attain final Nibbana without ever returning from that world. This is the path, the way to the abandoning of the five lower fetters.
This sutta also goes on to repeat the same thing for the second, third, fourth, the Spheres of Space, Consciousness and No Thing...and, interestingly, also does not go on to the n'evasannanasanna
So what is the idea here?
Without having to dig into the details of their mechanisms of action (dig at the Abhidhamma), one looks at the components of life (the Khandhas, the Five stockpiles of Dukkha) making one's self conscious of their nature as impermanent, suffering, a disease, a cancer, a thorn, a disaster, a sickness, strange, decaying, not-self.
In the act of so seeing one is turning one's mind away from the five lower fetters, and one is directing it towards the deathless element.
But it should be done this way: Thinking: "This is the better way, the peaceful way, the high way. What is? Stilling, calming, tranquilizing body, sense experience, perception, the personal worlds, and consciousness. Letting Go of Attachments. Destroying lust. Dispassion, ending, Nibbana."
Taking a stand on this idea, on this position means taking a stand against all the influences that might try to convince you otherwise.
Taking a stand on this position one will attain the destruction of the asavas, which is Nibbana.
Falling short one becomes a non-returner.
So then we must ask ourselves: "Are we going to be prevented from attaining the goal because some people who were not the Buddha and whom we do not know or have any reason to trust, has said that even attaining the First Burning is impossible these days?" When the Buddha says "It can be done", who is it but Mara that is saying "It can't be done"? Even in pre-Buddha ages, there are the so-called 'Silent-Buddhas' men who attain Nibbana for themselves (that is, they are Arahants) who are not able to teach large groups.
Look at what is involved in attaining the First Burning:
Here is the formula found throughout the suttas:
Here a beggar ...
(2) akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ
(1) free of, detached from (Viveka is always a woman out of reach) "going after getting",
(2) unskillful things,
(3) passhand, letting go
(7) vivicc'eva kāmehi
(8) vivicca akusalehi dhammehi
(9) savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ
(9) (sa)with vitakka and with vicara "thinking and reflection" so you do not even here reach the end of the inner dialog a la Castenada (it's not talking about you "reach" vitakka and vicara, it's talking about you still have vitakka and vicara, so don't worry about what these are, you're already doing them, although I tell you they are just terms for thinking)
(10) (ja) born of (Viveka) detachment (solitude, aloneness)
(11) (piti)entheusiasm (sukha)sweet
(12) first "earth" #1
(13) Burning/Shining with knowledge
(14) (upa) up-pass (sam) one's own or with (pa) pass (jati) born...essentially, "getting"
(15) residing, sitting down beside, visiting, revisiting
So: Here, a beggar, detached from trying to make things happen, letting all unskillful things pass from the hand, not acting lewdly with the body, becoming impassive, detached from pleasure, detached from the unskillful, still thinking and reflecting, enjoying enthusiasm, enters the First Burning for a visit.
Who can say: "I can do that!"?
Here. . . a monk, by aloofness from 'clinging' by getting rid of unskilled states of mind, by allaying every bodily impropriety, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, enters and abides in the first meditation which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness and is rapturous and joyful.
Here, with seclusion from objects of attachment, with the abandoning of unwholesome states, with the complete tranquilization of bodily inertia, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.
"What is supposed to be done for his students by a Teacher, Beggars, I have done for you. Here are the roots of trees, solitary places! Meditate! Do not give yourselves grounds for self recriminations later!"
Attainment while listening to a sutta
A possible clue (likely explanation) about this business of attaining Arahantship while listening to a Sutta.
Here we have the Brahman Brahmayu sitting before the Buddha listening to a discourse, and we are told (Horner trans):
"...Then the Lord gave a talk to Brahmayu the brahman on various topics: talk on giving, talk on moral habit, talk on heaven; he explained the peril, the vanity, the depravity of the pleasures of the senses, the advantage in renouncing them. When the Lord knew that the mind of Brahmayu the brahman was ready, malleable, devoid of the hindrances, uplifted, pleased, then he explained to him that teaching on dhamma that the Awakened Ones have themselves discovered: anguish, uprising, stopping, the Way. And as a clean cloth without black specs will easily take dye, even so as Brahmayu the brahman was (sitting) on that very seat did dhamma-vision, dustless and stainless, arise in him: that "whatever is liable to origination all that is liable to stopping." Then Brahmayu the brahman, having seen dhamma, attained dhamma, known dhamma, plunged into dhamma, having crossed over doubt, put away uncertainty and attained without another's help to full confidence in the Teacher's instruction spoke thus to the Lord: "It is excellent, good Gotama..."
A couple of paragraphs later the brahman has died and is declared to have been a non-returner by Gotama. Certainly he is a Streamwinner before he rises from his seat, and I do not think it is stretching things to infer that a similar process is at work for those who attain Arahantship under such circumstances.
So what is the important point here? It is in the phrase: "devoid of the hindrances". The accompanying words may mean the same thing, but it is this phrase that tells us absolutely that the brahman is, at the very least, at the level of the first jhana. (The final step prior to entering the First Burning is letting go of the hindrances: Bindups)
Since we have been told that attaining Arahantship is possible from the first jhana, we need know no more to understand at least one mechanism described in the suttas for attaining Arahantship while listening to the Buddha.
Here is no mention of Jhana, but the description is otherwise the description of the First Burning. So is that attainment without jhana or not?
My concern has always been to eliminate the discouraging effect of the statements that
1. Arahantship can only be attained via (usually the Fourth Burning), and
2. that the Burnings are not possible to attain in this day and age.
So I ask you, at that moment when your attention is completely focused on an issue of Dhamma, or on the attributes of the Buddha, or even when you have attained a fair to middl'n focus on your breathing, is that not, if even for only so short a time as it takes to snap the fingers, a moment free from the hindrances? And if that is so, did you then attain the First Jhana?
Who would say "no, that is not attaining the first jhana" would needs say that Brahman Brahmayu attained Streamentry without Jhana; he who would say that it was the First Jhana would say that most of us are able to attain the First Jhana without too much trouble.
I'm just debating this to get rid of a stumbling block that exists for some; I think with this description of attaining Streamwinning, we are not out of line to say: the important thing is not the Jhana or getting the Jhana, it is so working with your mind that dhamma-vision, dustless and stainless, arises such that you see for yourself that "whatever is liable to origination all that is liable to stopping," and that this, being "seeing the dhamma, attaining dhamma, knowing dhamma" is made the way to plunge into dhamma, and the way to cross over doubt, put away uncertainty, and attain for yourself full confidence in the Teacher's instruction.
Dasama, the housefather
In this sutta (a different version/translation of the one cited above), Dasama, a householder, asks Ananda:
". . . is there any one condition enunciated by that Exalted One who knows, who sees, that Arahant who is a perfectly enlightened one -- a condition whereby a monk who lives in earnest, ardent, with the self established, can get release for his heart yet unreleased; or whereby the cankers not yet destroyed will come to an end a condition whereby he wins the unsurpassed peace from bondage not yet won?"
"There is ... Herein, housefather, a monk aloof from sense-desires, aloof from unprofitable states, enters upon the first musing, which is accompanied by thought directed and sustained, born of seclusion, zestful and easeful, and abides therein. He thus ponders: This first musing is just a higher product, is produced by higher thought. Then he comes to know: Now even that which is a higher product, produced by higher thought, is impermanent, of a nature to end. Fixed on that he wins destruction of the cankers; and, if not that, yet by his passion for dhamma, by his delight in dhamma, by utterly making an end of the five fetters belonging to this world, he is reborn spontaneously, and in that state passes utterly away, never to return (hither) from that world.
This is enough to state categorically that in the suttas the statement is made that it is possible to attain Arahantship, Nibbana at the level of the first burning.
But this sutta goes on to repeat this formula for the second, third, fourth burnings...and then makes the same statement for those who have developed the heart possessed by Friendly Vibrations or Sympathetic Vibrations, etc. and then goes on to state the same thing with regard to attaining of the sphere of akasa, vinanna, and akincanna where he stops.
And this is the importance of this: This is the method: One cultivates a concentrated state of mind sufficient to reach a position from which one has attained satisfaction with one's knowledge that all, every confounded thing is of the same nature, and then one lets go. This may happen for some at the mere hearing of the idea that things change (as it was with Sariputta) or it may take going through mastering all the Jhanas and all the magic powers to convince one. What we all need to do is to keep flexable about this. There is One Way, but there is no Only One Way.
There is a whole mess of wrong-headed thinking going on around this subject.
First of all, at the lowest level, is thinking that is looking for evidence in the suttas for attaining Arahantship without jhana. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the construction of the Dhamma (the suttas). The Dhamma is not set up to provide all the cases "for." It's very nature is generalization. Virtually every Dhamma (basic unit on which the teachings are built) is highly generalized: the Buddha teaches "Do not harm," not "Do not kill kings and queens or powerful individuals or your neighbour or men or animals or rabbits, etc.") And it is not constructed to describe "sight" as it were, it is constructed so as to provide the methodology for getting rid of blindness (avijja) what is obstructing the attainment of the goal. The argument: "There is no evidence in the suttas for the attainment of Arahantship without Jhana" is based on the assumption that there is in the suttas a positive statement concerning every manner of attaining arahantship. I would suggest that there was no evidence in the suttas to suggest that such a thing should be saught in the suttas.
At the next level the thinking is similarly mis-oriented. Here the arguments are concerned with "getting" the jhanas in order to "get" arahantship. Again, Nibbana is not something that is "got", it is what remains when what is obstructing it is got rid of. Take a look: The hindrances are got rid of the result is the first jhana, thinking is got rid of, the result is the second jhana, excitement is got rid of, the result is the third jhana, enjoyment of ease is let go, the result is the fourth jhana, paying attention to materiality is let go, the result is the the sphere of space, the sphere of space is let go the result is the sphere of consciousness, the sphere of cosciousness is let go the result is the sphere of no thing there, the sphere of no thing there is let go, the result is the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, the sphere of neither perception nor non perception is let go, the result is the ending of perception and sense experience, the ending of perception and sense experience is let go and, if at this point freedom is recognized as freedom, the result is Nibbana.
The meditator who thinks that he has let go of the hindrances and has got the first jhana, thinking "I have let go of the hindrances and have got the first jhana!" not only has not let go of the hindrances, but has not got the first jhana; if he similarly progresses through the four jhanas and the four arupajhanas and the ending of perception and sense experience and "gets" Nibbana, he has not got "Nibbana" at all. This is the meaning of "miccha vimutti" wrong freedom. He has not even started. He suffers from 'the maha blindness element'.
At the next level the orientation is correct: based on the understanding that the jhanas are what results when one lets go off what is obstructing them, this individual states that to attain Nibbana one needs to: Let go the hindrances which will result in the first jhana, let go of thinking resulting in the second jhana, let go of excitement resulting in the third jhana, let go of enjoyment of ease resulting in the fourth jhana, let go of perception of materiality resulting in the sphere of space, let go of the sphere of space resulting in the sphere of consciousness, let go of the sphere of consciousness resulting in the sphere of no thing there, let go of the sphere of no thing there resulting in the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, let go of the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception resulting in the ending of perception and sense experience, let go of the ending of perception and sense experience, recognize freedom as freedom and realize Nibbana. Nothing wrong with that. But then this person says: It is necessary to go from the letting go of the hindrances stepwize through the jhanas and arupa jhanas to attain Nibbana. The thinking here is linear and the world is not.
That which comes to be comes to be relative to that which does not come to be. Another way of saying that is that Nibbana is never more than one step away from any confounded thing (a thing that has come to be that is identified with): that one step is letting it go.
So the perception needs to be not that the jhanas are needed to attain Nibbana, there is really nothing there that can be said to be a jhana, any more than it can be said that there is anything there that can be said to be Nibbana, it is just that the jhanas as they are understood are likely to be attained on the way to Nibbana by most individuals.
But here's the real scoop: those people who are engaging in this endless debate and indulgence in speculation are doing so to escape the actual setting up of starting out on the path. This is thinking of the future and is based on fear; a needing to be certain of the goal before starting out. But the focus is on the wrong object. The goal is clearly visible if you listen: it is the end of pain. To be certain that the goal is worth working towards, the thing that needs to be given this sort of scrutiny is the First Truth. Can you actually see how it is that every confounded thing, every thing that comes to be to which one is attached will inevitably result in pain? Once that is seen, the goal is clear, the only thing that needs to be understood then is the simple logic of the Second Truth: that pain is caused by thirst, and the third truth: get rid of that thirst and you will get rid of that pain. The Way is simply a detailing of an encompassing set of generalizations of those areas in life where this thirst exists and needs to be let go. Worrying about and arguing over the jhanas is missing the point completely.
 Retain this reference in mind when encountering discussions which assert that Non-Returners always enter the Pure Abodes.
 For those who would assert that attaining the four Jhanas is implied, recollect the statement that it was only when Gotama recollected his first encounter with the First Jhana (see: Sitting under the Tree of Knowledge), that he first figured out a way to Nibbana. Then recollect that Gotama's previous teachers were able to attain, and taught Gotama how to attain the arupa jhanas up to the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. In other words, Gotama figured out the jhanas after having attained the arupajhanas.
 N/B introduce the Pure Abodes here on their own -- it's not in the text. There is plenty of evidence (see the first message in this thread where non-returners go to the Sphere of Space or Consciousness or No Things There) to indicate that the Non-returner is not restricted to the Pure Abodes in his next rebirth.
 Anguttara Nikaya: V: Ekadasaka-Nipata V #17, V.342
PTS: The Book of the Gradual Sayings V: The Book of the Elevens: Dasama, the housefather, 17.219 (Hare, trans)