Levels of “San”
"What is called “san” is vipākā. ... So what should be done as a buddhist after becoming a buddhist is not the removing of “san”, but remove chandarāgā." - Foolish Waharaka Abhayarathanalankara
It must be kept in mind that “san” has various levels. First one needs to remove ‘san‘ that lead to immoral activities that can lead to births in the apāyās; after one becomes a Sōtapanna, one should strive to eliminate “san” involving sense pleasures; after becoming an Anāgāmi, the goal is to remove “san” associated with rupa and arupa jhāna. *
Shall I explain how one can remove "san" associated with arupa jhana. ?
Sankhara (san +khara or doing thing to accumulate "san") are our thoughts, speech, and actions with greed, anger, and ignorance, i.e., they can be mano, vaci, or kaya sankhara.
When those sankhāra become strong, they are called "abhisankhāra" or "strong sankhāra" that can lead to rebirths.
Abhisankhāra are three kinds:
1. There are actions that lead to bad consequences during life and also to bad rebirths in the four lowest realms (apāyas). These are “apunnābhi sankhāra” or immoral deeds: apunna abhi san khāra.
2. Actions that lead to good consequences in life and also to good rebirths are called “punnābhi sankhāra” or meritorious deeds; these lead to birth in good realms (human, deva, and the rūpa lōkas via the first 4 jhānās), thus avoiding rebirth in bad realms where one could get trapped for many aeons. Thus it is important to accumulate punnābhi sankhāra: punna abhi san khāra.
3. When one cultivates higher meditative states (arūpa jhāna leading to rebirth in the highest four arūpa lōka realms), via breath meditation for example, one is able to be reborn in the four higher Brahma worlds. These also prolong sansāra, and are called “ānenjābhi sankhāra“: ānenja abhi san khāra.
- Here those yogis can temporarily suppress all desires for kāma lōka or rupa lōka existences. However, since they had not comprehended the anicca nature, they still have "hidden avijjā" or "avijjā anusaya".
- P.S. One needs to have cultivated rūpa jhāna first, via punnābhi sankhāra.
It is interesting to note that “ānenja” means “no more rebirths” and thus "permanent": the ancient yogis (including Alara Kalama and Uddakarama Putta) thought these realms have permanent existence and equated the births there to the “ultimate release”. Of course, the Buddha discovered that those also have finite lifetimes, even though extremely long, lasting aeons (billions of years).
- The only way to remove "avijjā anusaya" is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, and to permanently remove greed, anger, and avijjā permanently.
- In other words, those yogis had not removed "san", they just suppressed "san". That can be done by "breath meditation" if one can stay away from sense attractions. But the moment they are exposed to sense attractions those "anusaya" can come to the surface and "break" those arupa jhana.
* Referenced in List of “San” Words and Other Pāli Roots