Early Buddhist Meditation: The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Early Buddhist Meditation

The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight, 1st Edition

By Keren Arbel


224 pages

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Paperback: 9780367111373
pub: 2018-09-27
Hardback: 9781138937925
pub: 2017-02-23
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pub: 2017-03-16
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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.

Table of Contents


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

About the Author

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.

About the Series

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the Buddhist tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive tradition from a variety of perspectives, using a range of different methodologies. The series is diverse in its focus, including historical, philological, cultural, and sociological investigations into the manifold features and expressions of Buddhism worldwide. It also presents works of constructive and reflective analysis, including the role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical context and in the light of current social issues. The series is expansive and imaginative in scope, spanning more than two and a half millennia of Buddhist history. It is receptive to all research works that are of significance and interest to the broader field of Buddhist Studies.

Some of the titles in the series are published in association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, which conducts and promotes rigorous teaching and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition.

Editorial Advisory Board:
James A. Benn, McMaster University, Canada

Jinhua Chen, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Rupert Gethin, University of Bristol, UK

Peter Harvey, University of Sunderland, UK

Sallie King, James Madison University, USA

Anne Klein, Rice University, USA

Lori Meeks, University of Southern California, USA;

Ulrich Pagel, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK

John Powers, Australian National University, Australia;

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University, USA

Vesna A. Wallace, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Michael Zimmermann, University of Hamburg, Germany

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / Buddhism / General (see also PHILOSOPHY / Buddhist)
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General