Early Buddhist Meditation

Early Buddhist Meditation : The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight

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This book offers a new interpretation of the relationship between 'insight practice' (satipatthana) and the attainment of the four jhanas (i.e., right samadhi), a key problem in the study of Buddhist meditation. The author challenges the traditional Buddhist understanding of the four jhanas as states of absorption, and shows how these states are the actualization and embodiment of insight (vipassana). It proposes that the four jhanas and what we call 'vipassana' are integral dimensions of a single process that leads to awakening.

Current literature on the phenomenology of the four jhanas and their relationship with the 'practice of insight' has mostly repeated traditional Theravada interpretations. No one to date has offered a comprehensive analysis of the fourfold jhana model independently from traditional interpretations. This book offers such an analysis. It presents a model which speaks in the Nikayas' distinct voice. It demonstrates that the distinction between the 'practice of serenity' (samatha-bhavana) and the 'practice of insight' (vipassana-bhavana) - a fundamental distinction in Buddhist meditation theory - is not applicable to early Buddhist understanding of the meditative path. It seeks to show that the common interpretation of the jhanas as 'altered states of consciousness', absorptions that do not reveal anything about the nature of phenomena, is incompatible with the teachings of the Pali Nikayas.

By carefully analyzing the descriptions of the four jhanas in the early Buddhist texts in Pali, their contexts, associations and meanings within the conceptual framework of early Buddhism, the relationship between this central element in the Buddhist path and 'insight meditation' becomes revealed in all its power.

Early Buddhist Meditation will be of interest to scholars of Buddhist studies, Asian philosophies and religions, as well as Buddhist practitioners with a serious interest in the process of insight meditation.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 159 x 235 x 19.05mm | 476g
  • Taylor & Francis Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • black & white halftones
  • 1138937924
  • 9781138937925

About Keren Arbel

Keren Arbel holds a PhD in Buddhist Studies and teaches at the Department of East Asian Studies in Tel Aviv University, Israel. Her research interests include early Buddhism, Buddhist Meditation, Indian contemplative traditions, and South Asian Buddhism.
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Table of contents


1. The fourfold Jhana Model: Buddhist or Not?

2. The First Jhana: A Turning Point in the Spiritual Path.

3. The Second Jhana: Non-discursive Broad Field of Awareness.

4. Awakening-jhana Factors.

5. The Third Jhana: Establishing a Specialized Form of Awareness.

6. The Fourth Jhana: Non-reactive & Lucid Awareness of the Phenomenal Field.

7. Morality (sila), Wisdom (panna) and the Attainment of the Jhanas.

8. Reconsidering Samatha-bhavana, Vipassana-bhavana & Panna-vimutti.

Final Reflections
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