1st Edition

Early Buddhist Meditation The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight

By Keren Arbel Copyright 2017
    236 Pages
    by Routledge

    234 Pages
    by Routledge

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

    Current literature on the phenomenology of the four jhànas and their relationship with the 'practice of insight' has mostly repeated traditional Theravàda interpretations. No one to date has offered a comprehensive analysis of the fourfold jhàna model independently from traditional interpretations. This book offers such an analysis. It presents a model which speaks in the Nikàyas' distinct voice. It demonstrates that the distinction between the 'practice of serenity' (samatha-bhàvanà) and the 'practice of insight' (vipassanà-bhàvanà) – 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 jhànas as 'altered states of consciousness', absorptions that do not reveal anything about the nature of phenomena, is incompatible with the teachings of the Pàli Nikàyas.

    By carefully analyzing the descriptions of the four jhànas in the early Buddhist texts in Pàli, 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.


    1. The fourfold Jhàna Model: Buddhist or Not?

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

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

    4. Awakening-jhàna Factors.

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

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

    7. Morality (sila), Wisdom (pannà) and the Attainment of the Jhànas.

    8. Reconsidering Samatha-bhàvanà, Vipassanà-bhàvanà & Pannà-vimutti.

    Final Reflections


    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.