VIII. Navaka Nipāta
III. Satt'Āvāsa Vagga
The Book of the Gradual Sayings
The Book of the Nines
III: Spheres of Beings
Translated from the Pali
Michael M. Olds
This is a very difficult sutta both to clearly translate and to get one's mind around. The title sets the pace. What it is saying in the Pali is 'There are these Following-Earlier-Endings.' 'Anupubba, usually translated in a way indicating the meaning as 'sequential' (see the next sutta: AN 9.32): 'one following the next' (Hare: 'Gradual'; Bhk. Thanissaro: 'step-by-step'; Bhk. Bodhi: 'progressive',) I believe the term was originally heard as 'following after and coming before,' a dual 'and/or', opposing meaning, which was not an uncommon feature of early language construction, and which could be heard in three ways: 1. This comes before that; 2. That follows this; or 3. as in the case of this sutta, a meaning which would translate:
Set on foot The First Jhāna —
eliminate sensual-perceptions —
to set on foot The First Jhāna.
Perhaps this interpretation is too contorted, but I take this view here based on the use of the two closely related but slightly different terms Nirodha and Niruddhā. Nirodha, Ending, used in the title, points to the final state; where Niruddhā, eliminating (putting a limit on, circumscribing, putting away, excluding, taking out) points to the process of constraining in a way which might not be permanent. i.e., these are the transition points, this is the process, the process is not the end but shows the way to the end.
I find this construction especially necessary in the case of the setting on foot of the Saññā-vedayitaṃ nirodhaṃ (where the use of nirodha in the name makes things more confusing!) because in this state 'perception' and 'sensation' are not 'ended', perceptions and sensations end there. "One perception arises and another perception comes to an end."
Further ahead, AN 9.33, also seems to call for understanding the steps in the progression in this way. In a word: the jhānas are both the place where certain conditions are brought to an end and also where they have ended.
This is something like the case we find for the definitions of the Eight Pairs of Aristocrats of Men, where the definition is found in two ways: one who is practicing for the attainment (one who has entered the Path), and one who has attained; and one who has attained and one who is enjoying the fruit. A ridgid understanding would ask for the number of cases to be Twelve; a more relaxed understanding would see that there is a loose boundary between the time one is struggling to attain and the time one has attained and is enjoying the fruit.
In the case of the jhānas, experience, as well as references in the suttas to 'temporary liberations' shows that there is a period where there is a back-and-forth struggle to eliminate the obstruction to the attainment of each of the jhāna states and a similar back-and-forth with regard to the enjoyment of the liberation they provide. The struggle is followed by a more stable purchase in the attainment which is, however, immediately disturbed by the obstruction to the next higher state.
The point is that I believe we are to understand these descriptions more as recipies for attainment than descriptions of the attainments and that in fact there is no clear-cut boundary at any stage short of Nibbāna.
In the case of the setting afoot of the Fourth Jhāna where assāsapassāsā is put away the translation is important. Attaining this Jhāna does not bring about the end of respiration, it brings about the end of inhalation and exhalation. There is in this Jhāna a subtle respiration going on by way of the cells. Where it is true that it is said that the ending of in-and-out breathing is the ending of bodily own-making or constructions (sankhara; Bhk. Thanissaro: bodily fabrications), that needs to be understood as the point at which there are no new bodily constructions being made, not that the body has stopped experiencing the consequences of previous constructions.
Once upon a time The Lucky Man, Sāvatthi-town residing,
Jeta Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika's Park.
There then he addressed the beggars:
"Bhante!" the beggars responded.
The Lucky Man said this:
The Second Jhāna comencing, thinking and pondering is eliminated.
The Third Jhāna comencing, enthusiasm is eliminated.
The Fourth Jhāna comencing, exhalation and inhalation is eliminated.
The Sphere of Unending Space comencing, perception of form is eliminated.
The Sphere of Unending Consciousness comencing, the Sphere of Unending Space is eliminated.
The Sphere of Nothing's To Be Had Here comencing, the Sphere of Unending Consciousness is eliminated.
The Sphere of Neither-Perception-nor-Non-perception comencing, the Sphere of Nothing's To Be Had Here is eliminated.
Ending of Perception/Sensation comencing, perception and sensation is eliminated.
These then, beggars, are the Nine following-earlier-Endings."
 Anupubbanirodhā. That which follows the ending of that which came before. PED: Anu: As prefix: (a) General character. anu is frequent as modifying (directional) element with well-defined meaning ("along"), as such also as 1st component of prefix-compounds, e. g. anu +; (b) distributive ... each, every, one by one, (one after one): ... *pubba one after the other.
pubba2: (adj.) [...cp. Goth. fram = from; Gr. πρόμος first, Goth. fruma = As. formo first...] previous, former, before.
nirodhā oppression, suppression; destruction, cessation, annihilation;
I take 'nirodhā' to 'erosion,' 'eradication,' 'ending;'
Hare: 'ending' 'gradual endings'; Bhk. Thanissaro: 'stopping' 'step-by-step stoppings'; Bhk. Bodhi: 'cessation' 'progressive cessations'.
Samāpanna. [pp. of samāpajjati] Sam = co, com, con, with; āpajjati = to 'foot' set on foot, get, get going, so literally to get to a point even with setting on foot.
 Niruddhā. PED: [pp. of nirundhati, cp. nirujjhati] expelled, destroyed; vanished, ceased
Nirujjhati [Pass. of nirundhati (nirodhati) ni+rundhati] to be broken up, to be dissolved, to be destroyed, to cease, die
Rundhati 1. to restrain, hinder, prevent, obstruct, keep out.
 Ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ. Usually translated 'The Sphere of Nothingness' the idea is not so much that there is nothing as that there is nothing there to be 'had'.
 Saññā-vedayitaṃ nirodhaṃ. Perception-sensation ending.