There is another way to understand the MN 36 account of the Buddha's
rejection of the states attained by his teachers.
Alara Kalama's "sphere of nothingness" is not itself nibbana, and Uddaka
Ramaputta's "sphere of neither perception nor non-perception" is also not
It could be that we are supposed to understand that these teachings did not
reach the required state, that there is a further state, and that the Buddha
The Nikaya teachings add one more state beyond the "sphere of neither
perception nor non-perception," and this state is called the "cessation
of perception and feeling."
Could it be that those monks who practised the jhana's and the formless
attainments, believed that this final state was the goal of the teachings,
the only way to experience nibbana (temporarily) in this life, it's full
attainment being only after death.
These monks simply did not understand the real teaching, that nibbana is
attained permanently in this life, before death. They did not understand
that this final state, the "cessation of perception and feeling" is also
It could be that all the states attained temporarily through the volitional
effort of concentration, can also be attained in a more permanent form which
requires no effort.
The Buddha's recollection of his childhood "jhana" suggests something
natural rather than something attained through effort or long training.