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In the Theravada tradition, the fetters model makes reference to rūparāgo and arūparāgo found in the higher fetters.

I've never been a jhana follower, but I can clearly recognise that the rupa jhanas and the arupa ayatanas move into me from time to time and sometimes in sequence, one after the other. From early in my practice I noticed they had there own type of sensual craving not particularly connected with dense forms. I found this to be a suitable motivational incentive to move away from desire for worldly form but soon saw the drawbacks of having too much emphasis on rupa jhanas and rupa ayatanas. As such, I developed an indifference about their perceived feeling-tones, but I was still able to utilize the benefits they bring concerning insight and wisdom. My main practice is satipattana.

There is an interpretation I came to naturally understand using the aggregates model alongside my here-and-now experience, that one craves either the perception of form or the perception formless both through objectification of mental ideas born from the study of dhamma and the motion of practice. One could use the term spiritual materialism as an umbrella term. I find this practice helpful but too tricky to compile into words. To summarise, it's just a granular way of watching the rise and fall of the aggregates.

My question is, what other interpretations can be given to rūparāgo and arūparāgo from within Theravada traditions and also other Buddhist traditions?

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From early in my practice I noticed they had there own type of sensual craving not particularly connected with dense forms.

Jhana is not considered "sensual", including when craved for.

Rūparāgo and arūparāgo

The above appears to be lust for the blissful and equanimous feelings of rupa jhana and formless spheres, such as rapture, happiness, equanimity, spaciousness, etc, such as described in AN 9.36:

Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption.... If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion (dhammarāgena) and love (dhammanandiyā) for that meditation. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.

Apart from the above, I do not know of any other sutta explanations.

For a personal opinion, Ajahn Buddhadasa said:

The next defilement, the sixth of the fetters, is desire for the bliss associated with the various stages of concentration on forms (rupa - raga). The first three grades of Aryian are still not capable of giving up attachment to the bliss and tranquillity obtainable by concentrating deeply on forms, but they will succeed in doing so when they move up to the last stage, that of the Arahant. The fully concentrated state has a captivating flavor, which can be described as a foretaste of Nirvana. Though it differs from real Nirvana, it has more or less the same flavor. While one is fully concentrated, the defilements are dormant; but they have not evaporated away entirely, and will reappear as soon as concentration is lost. As long as they are dormant, however, the mind is empty, clear, free, and knows the flavor of real Nirvana. Consequently this state can also become a cause of attachment.

The seventh subtle defilement is desire for the bliss associated with full concentration on objects other than forms (arupa - raga). It resembles the sixth fetter, but is one degree more subtle and attenuated. Concentration on an object such as space or emptiness yields a tranquillity and quiescence more profound than concentration on a form, with the result that one becomes attached to that state. No Arahant could ever become fascinated by any state of pleasant feeling whatsoever, regardless of where it originated, because an Arahant is automatically aware of the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and nonselfhood of every state of feeling. Other hermits and mystics practicing concentration in the forest do not perceive the hidden danger in these blissful states and so become fascinated by and attached to the flavor of them just as immature people become attached to the flavor of sensual objects. For this reason the Buddha used the same word "desire" for both cases. If you think this subject over and really come to understand it, you will be full of admiration and respect for these individuals called Aryians.

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  • Yes, the suttas seem lacking in that region. This is why we drop them entirely and go with our own intuitive direction. I guess that's tough for some practitioners. – NeuroMax Feb 17 at 7:42
  • No, The suttas are clear enough that they apply to non-returners. – Dhammadhatu Feb 17 at 8:32

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