Enlightenment can be momentary insights or grand epiphanies; it can be spiritual advancement from the slightest to the greatest extent; it can be evolution by the inch or a giant leap into the ultimate, such as Buddhahood.
Earlier posts about meditation practices leading to enlightenment refer to a very specific kind of result: meditative absorption that frees your six senses from the usual limitations, opening you to a new horizon/dimension.
For the exceptional practitioner who has been practicing for countless lifetimes, such enlightenment may be speedy, in 21 days for example! For most of us, the progression toward such enlightenment comes in 55 stages and countless eons. An explanation about the 55 stages may come in a future post.
For now, let me hone in on a blessed audience. . .
While you are agonizing over a numbness or ache in your body during meditation time, you may not think you are blessed like a heavenly deva, but you are. Heavenly beings are those with much blessings, such as for those of us residing in the West. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to enter blissful meditation states, and beings of heavenly realms do that best. I mean heavenly beings in a literal and a figurative sense.
For serious meditators, you may want to check your progress against the descriptions of these heavenly realms, analyzing and comparing them only after you exit meditation of course. Were you to think about how well you are doing in meditation during meditation, you wouldn’t be meditating well.
Here are 28 heavenly literal and psycho-spiritual states for your reference as you deepen your meditation. (The list ends with the number 27, but one of the bullets name two heavens that stem from the same fork on the path.) Other types of beings and the states that represent them will appear in a future post too.
I. Desire Realm
- Heaven of Four Kings
Blessings from committing ten types of good deeds. When here, sexual activity and sexual thoughts continue, hence your mind is not entirely single-pointed. This heaven is located in the same galaxy as earth’s sun and moon.
- Triyastrimsha Heaven
When here, you enjoy lowered sexual interest and less frequent sexual activity. This heaven is located beyond the sun and moon of this galaxy.
- Suyama Heaven
When here, rare instances of sexual activity occur and you don’t miss it when not involved. You are mostly grounded and still, rather than restless. This heaven is located in outer space beyond the reach of sunshine or moonlight. Beings like you and your dwellings emit light.
- Tushita Heaven
When here, you do not resist sexual activity if in that situation, but you are usually free from the control of libido. You remain still most times. This heaven is refined and untouched by the predicaments of the lower human and celestial realms, including three major types of disasters.
- Heaven of Transformation
When here, you are asexual. Sexual activity is tedious to you. Beings of this heaven transcend the lower realms and delight in self-transformations.
- Heaven of Others’ Transformations
When here, you focus on the transcendental rather than anything secular. Not only is sexual activity unsavory, you remove yourself from your physical body during the act. This heaven is beyond the states of transformation or no transformation.
II. Form Realm. Freed from disputes between likes and dislikes, when here you are focused on singleness of mind. But you remain a being with physicality.
A. The First Dhyana Heaven: when here, you are unaffected by various worries. Although you haven’t reached true meditative absorption, there is no more leakage or rousing to your purity. You experience the joy of meditation. The gap between your inhalations and exhalations extends so it appears as if you are not breathing – until your next breath occurs.
- Brahma Throngs Heaven
When here, you do not garner any wisdom from meditation. You are here because you excel in the Buddhist code of conduct. You are free from sex drive, including thoughts of lechery.
- Brahma Aides Heaven
You are here because you have no more habitual passions; you enjoy various aspects of precepts and ethical conduct. You excel in both the Buddhist code of discipline and meditative absorption.
- Great Brahma Heaven
You are here because you excel in the Buddhist code of conduct and wisdom, hence you lead throngs of celestial beings here.
B. The Second Dhyana Heaven: when here, you are unaffected by various forms of sadness. Although you haven’t reached true meditative absorption, you are in charge over any crude leakage that adversely affects your purity. You experience even greater joy in meditation. You pulse, heart beat pause, whereas thoughts remain.
- Limited Lights Heaven
When here, your mind is clear, unmoving, and transparent to the point that it glows. Mostly due to an absence of ardor, your stilled mind deflects and reflects light and phenomena.
- Limitless Lights Heaven
When here, your meditation is increasingly lucid and you emit a universal light.
- Lights as Sound Heaven
When here, you proclaim teachings about purity by speaking with light.
C. The Third Dhyana Heaven. You can go for an extended period of time meditating without eating or drinking. You have now transcended happiness because you have no more thoughts. Here you may still question yourself on whether you will be able to return to such a tremendous meditation state upon exiting it.
- Limited Purity Heaven
When here, your pure conduct becomes even more exquisite, as your aura transforms into sound. Unlike the beings of Lights as Sound Heaven, however, you enjoy quietude rather than motion. You can tap into the joy of quiescence but it is only an initial connection, not yet a full realization.
- Limitless Purity Heaven
When here, you experience pure emptiness expanding into boundlessless. The quiet joy from the earlier realm is only an inner joy, whereas here, body and mind are at peace inside and out, radiating outward until it is throughout expanses.
- Pervasive Purity Heaven
When here, the perfected purity that is emptiness pervades not only your body and mind, but worlds. Remnants of sadness remain only as subtle thoughts.
D. The Fourth Dhyana Heaven: when here you are not affected by any miserable or delightful states. Although you do not embody true aplomb yet, your mastery is increasingly expert. Here you have let go of thoughts in toto, there is not even a thought about your thinking. You no longer concern yourself with whether you would be able to return to the same meditation state, hence you do indeed.
- Generating Blessings Heaven
When here, you spontaneously forsake both causes of suffering and joy that must be ephemeral.
- Loving Blessings Heaven
When here, your practice of letting go matures further so that it does not tend toward being void, like that of the earlier realm. Your practice is increasingly integrated so that insights are supreme and pure. You reach the state of every wish being fulfilled, throughout time.
From this heaven onward is a fork to two heavenly realms.
- 1) Vast Results Heaven
Integrating focus with the blessing of having wishes fulfilled, when here you glow from deep meditative absorption. In this light, blessings and virtues multiply and shine. The extensive effects that result come from letting go of those tainted realms below.
- 2) Devoid of Thoughts Heaven
When here, you intensify the practice of letting go, becoming weary of both misery and happiness to the point that your thoughts deaden, body and mind both cease for the latter half of each eon for 500 eons. And yet, you cannot access the essence that neither comes into being nor ceases to be.
- Five Heavens of No Return: once here, you do not return to the Desire Realm for future incarnations. The nine types of habits of the lower realms are exhausted while you forget both misery and joy. These are the realms of sages now. You are in these transitional realms until you end your 72 types of subtle habits to become an arhat (sage).
- Devoid of Worries Heaven
When here, contention between likes and dislikes dissipates. Freed from fiery agitation, you are refreshingly cool.
- Devoid of Heat Heaven
When here, you have mastered the ability to let your thoughts cease or rise, focusing on the singleness of mind where thoughts have either been let go or prevented from release, hence no thoughts at all. Here you purify your state of mind further by letting cease more thoughts; heat and dissension cannot engage you.
- Wholesome Vision Heaven
The perfectly lucid vision referred to here is a supernatural ability to see material things beyond barrier, including into each of the ten directions around you. When here, no thought stagnates in the mind, hence all convoluted thinking ends. Clarity and single-pointed focus in your meditation are ideal for seeing and seeing beyond.
- Wholesome Manifestation Heaven
When here, you have gotten even better with your use of concentrated visioning, to the point that you shape your vision. This ability is likened to the ease of a virtuoso, melding gold or molding clay.
- Heaven of Ultimate Form
When here, you end even the subtlest of confusions regarding the nature of form.
III. Formless Realm. Another fork at this edge of the Form Realm. If wisdom develops from letting go, you become an arhat who enters the path of enlightening beings once here. The mind is the lid that you must remove in your progressively potent concentration. For you with capacity to generate wisdom without desire seeping over, you transcend the Triple Realms (Desire Realm, Form Realm, Formless Realm). For you with below average capacity, you aim for the upper realms and detest the lower realms as you enter the Formless Realm.
A. Arahats who return to the path of enlightening beings (Bodhisattvas)
B. Arahats who remain in dull emptiness and refuse to return to the path of enlightening beings: when here, your body and mind cease and the essence of your meditative absorption manifests. When you leave meditation, your body and mind are both empty; you exist without an existent form that is the result of your karma. You remain in a spiritual consciousness that is three feet above your would-be physical form for 200,000 eons. You haven’t reached true emptiness to part with the effects of karma forever though.
- Boundless Heaven of Emptiness
When here, you reach the conclusion that the body is an obstruction. You let your physicality become void.
- Boundless Heaven of Consciousness
Since obstructions deemed to be form have disintegrated, there is nothing to obstruct or quell, which means you don’t rely on emptiness when here. What remains is the alaya (8th) consciousness and the consciousness portion of the manas (7th) consciousness for your future incarnation. The seventh consciousness maintains conditional relations to form, emptiness, and other consciousnesses. You have let go of major conditional relations with form and emptiness, relying only on a subtle portion that is this consciousness.
- Heaven of Nothing Everywhere
With intense concentration, you let go of consciousness too when here. You enter a void that is stagnation with no next step.
- Heaven of the Antithesis of No Thought
The nature of your consciousness remains still, which is intact because it is only the consciousness of mind that was let go in the earlier realm. When here, you try to let cease the nature of your consciousness through sheer force, which leads you nowhere. Your seventh and eighth consciousnesses are only dimly lit, hence exist but as if don’t, ending but as if not. You don’t have thoughts, but it’s not that you are devoid of no thought either.
While these are descriptors for heavenly meditation progress, these are not end goals. These stages are mirages nevertheless. You want to aim for ultimate enlightenment, perhaps using these as signposts that demonstrate how sexual desire, emotions, and thinking forestall enlightening experiences. You also want to avoid pitfalls of literal and figurative mind states of hell beings, ghosts, animals, humans, immortals, and titans. Just as your six senses can get you to enlightenment, similarly they can get you to realms of misery. It helps to know the mind states and their associated cosmological order for these realms in learning about where we are and where we want to move toward.