Mysticism and Theravada Meditation
Post on 08-Apr-2016
DESCRIPTIONmistycyzm i theravada
Mysticism and Theravda Meditation ___________________________________________________________
This article is an attempt to analyze Theravda Buddhist meditation in the light of the
constructivist and perennialists methodological approaches. I am not undertaking to decide
which one is wrong and which is right. Such an attempt would be surely pointless because, as
Jensine Andresen and Robert K.C. Forman pointed out, both constructivists and perennial
psychologists made some good points (Andresen, Forman 2002: 8). One of them was the
constructivists plea for recognition of differences.1 There is never enough caution to be
paid while creating interpretative models. Yet, this awareness of differences should be
accompanied by sense for commonalities.
In the first part of my article I will analyze Robert M. Gimellos interpretation of
Buddhist vipassan meditation in general context of mystical experience as presented in his
paper Mysticism and Meditation.2 Gimello's main point here is that Buddhist vipassan
meditation does not fulfill the common criteria of mystical experience and should be
considered a non-mystical (probably meta-mystical, as I understand his view, see bellow)
phenomenon. This issue goes undoubtedly beyond the constructivist-perennialist polemic and
is of wider importance.
Afterwards I will show where the perennialists models of explanation vipassan
experience fall short of precision and become reductionistic.
Briefly, as it is well known the constructivist (Steven Katz, Robert Gimello, Peter
Moore, Frederick Streng and others) methodological approach does not admit that a mystic in
his/her experience could transcend formative cultural concepts which are considered an
integrative part of the experience itself, while the perennialists (William James, Evelyn
Underhill, Joseph Marchal, William Johnson, James Pratt, Mircea Eliade, W.T. Stace,
Rudolf Otto, Aldous Huxley and others) hold that mystics can escape their own conceptual
backgrounds and, consequently, mystics with different cultural backgrounds can share the
same experience. While in constructivists view the conceptual background is informative and
determinative to the experience itself, perennialists find it involved solely in interpretative
1 KATZ 1978: 25 2 GIMELO, R.M. (1978): Mysticism and Meditation, In KATZ, S., (ed.): Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, Oxford University Press 1978.
post-experience works. The experience itself is not necessarily influenced by the cultural
It is important to note, however, that perennialists do not claim that all mystical
experiences are the same. Only that there is a particular state of consciousness (called PCE -
Pure Consciousness Event) in which higher cognitive activities are stopped and so no pre-set
interpretative schemes determine the experience. Besides this apophatic experience there is,
undoubtedly, a vast array of visionary or trophotropic states. These two basic forms of
alternative experiences have, as Forman understands it, their neuro-physiological basis
consisting of two opposite scales of hypo- and hyper-arousals trophotropic and ergotrophic
respectively. The former states are stimulated by excitation of para-sympathetic the later by
excitation of sympathetic nervous systems.3
Forman proposes using term mysticism solely for apophatic phenomena.4 He says that
this restriction has an advantage of avoiding mixing together the states with different
phenomenology, exegesis, and metabolic excitation and corresponds to original meaning of
the words mystikos, mysterion etc. which are derived from Greek myo and means to close.
Thus it concurs also to Pseudo-Dionysios (Areopagite) usage of the term which understands
it as meaning to close ones senses from the distracting multitudeness. He proposes
distinguishing these apophatic mystical states from kataphatic (ergotropic) visionary states.5
Religionists and psychologists have made many attempts to categorize an evasive
realm of alternative states of consciousness or religious experience during the history of
religious studies. One of the basic distinctions has been made between the experience of
numinous and mystical experience. (Cf. R. Otto, N. Smart and others.)
The states and techniques of Buddhist meditative tradition are generally treated as
instantiations of mystical experience. Ninian Smart, for example, argued that while numinous
experience pertains predominantly to prophetic religions such as Judaism, Islam and
Christianity, religious experiences of certain branches of Buddhism (as well as Taoism and
Hinduism) are mystical6. Elaborating upon Rudolf Ottos typology he understands
numinous experience as an encounter with a being wholy other then oneself and altogether
different than anything else. Traditionally, the subjects are not responsible for the occurrence
3 Demonstrating this concept of mysticism Forman adopts Roland Fischers concept of alternations of the states of consciousness, published in his article A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States, In: Science, vol. 174, No. 4012, Nov. 4 See FORMAN 1997: 7. 5 The most elucidative account of Formans position can be found in FORMAN 1997: 3- 53. 6 SMART N.: Reasons and Faiths: An Investigation of Religious Discourse, Christian and Non-Christian (London, Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1958). See also SMART 1978: 13.
of the experience, which is in this sense gratuitous. The mystical experience, by contrast, is
rather an interior attainment of extraordinary state of mind than a gratuitous encounter with
something completely other.
Referring to the both abovementioned conceptions R. Gimello separates Buddhist
meditative experience - more precisely Buddhist vipassan meditation - from the scale of the
mystical experiences. In his own words: Nevertheless, without wishing to subvert the
intentions of a distinction like Smarts, indeed in the hope of furthering them, I think it must
be recognized that there is a modicum of impression in the labeling of the most
characteristically Buddhist experience and discourse mystical However, not all that is not
numinous need to be classified as mystical and it will be shown that there are important
features of Buddhism, especially of its meditation disciplines which seem not to fall neatly
under the mystical rubric. I would suggest that it is difficult to apply any of the widely
accepted definitions or descriptions of mysticism to Buddhist praxis without the most serious
reservations. It will, of course, be anticipated that these disparities are not so much
between mystical experience and the Buddhist meditative experience as between mystical
experience and Buddhisms doctrinaire interpretation thereof. But I wish to argue that it is in
the practice and experience of meditation itself that the distinction between mystical and
meditative experience is evident, not simply in the post- or extra-experiential interpretations
which Buddhists place upon their meditation. (Gimello 1978: 173- 174)
Gimelo's attempt to set Buddhist meditative tradition aside from the rubric of mystical
I understand as an expression of the general constructivist plea for recognition of differences
in dealing with religious experience. However I think that Gimelo in pursuing his aim failed
to see the common patterns and his dealing with vipassan meditation is methodologically
unsound and factually not always correct.
Buddhist meditative practice consists basically of two fundamental techniques -
concentration (P. samdhi,) or calmness (samatha) sometimes referred to as development of
calmness (samatha-bhvan) and awareness or discernment (vipassan ) called also
development of discernment or wisdom (vipassan-bhvan, pa-bhvan). It is the later
of these two techniques which is the crucial soteric instrument while the former has basically
supportive role and is not exclusively Buddhist meditative practice. Samatha-bhvan
consists of eight stages called jhnas (absorptions). The first four are absorptions in the sphere
of form (rpyatana); the later four are absorptions in formless realm (arpyatana).
Meditator achieves these sates via concentration on a particular object. The tradition
distinguishes forty such objects (kammat.t.hna; literally: working objects) with selective
efficacy. Not every object is fit for achieving all absorptions. Probably the most universal are
the ten kasinas (specific colored discs) and breathing. These can lead the meditator up to the
all four sublime-material spheres.
Intensive concentration on the material object brings about its mental visualization
(nimitta), which replaces material kasina for the object of contemplation. Arising of this
visualization together with occurrence of the five specific mental factors are signs of
achieving the first jhna.7
The arpa attainments have their own objects of contemplation. These are: the sphere
of boundless space (ksnacyatana) which the meditator attains when he stops paying
attention to the nimitta and turns his attention towards the space it had occupied. Similarly,
turning his attention from the space to the infinite consciousness which comprises it, he
reaches the second attainment the sphere of boundless consciousness (vin.acyatana).
Subsequently after having abandoned the consciousness as a meditation object, the meditator
focuses his attention on nothingness (akicayatana) that has left, until finally by
abandoning the sphere of nothingness he focuses his attention and reaches the sphere of
neither perception nor non-perception (nevasa-nasayatana) the last of the mundane
While samdhi in Gimello's view falls into rubric mystical experience the
vipassan, does not fit to its definitional marks which are as follows:
7 The so called five factors of absorption (jhnanga) are: thought-conception, discursive thinking, rapture, happiness, and concentration (vitakka, vicra, pti, sukha, samdhi). Their progressive elimination leads a meditator up to the fourth jhna in which two of the mental factors of absorption i.e. samdhi and upekkh (equanimity) which has substituted for sukha are present. Vitakka and vicra are abandoned at entering the second and pti the third jhna. Of course, besides these factors of absorption there are also another mental factors constituting particular state of mind present. 8 The clearest image of Buddhist meditative soteriology we can gain from the authoritative and widely accepted work of Theravda commentator of 5th century Buddhaghosa and his opus magnum Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification). The second, less known but not less important work is Vimuttimagga (The Path of Freedom) a text attributed to monk living probably in first century A.D., Upatissa. The Upatissas text now preserved only in Chinese translation served probably an inspiration to the author of Visuddhimagga. The path leading toward nibbna is divided into seven stages here (The same division we can find in canonical MN. 24). The first of the stages - The Purification of Morality (sla-visuddhi)- consists basically in observing 227 rules of monks right livelihood and lays down the ethical foundation for meditation. On this moral basis is raised the second stage: The Purification of Mind (citta-visuddhi) which consists of eight samdhi absorptions (jhna). The remaining five stages are vipassanic ones. Their enumeration runs as follows: Purification of View (dit.t.hi-visuddhi), Purification by Overcoming Doubts (kankhvitarana-visuddhi) Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What are Path and not-Path (maggmagga-nadassana-visuddhi), Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice (pat.ipadnadassana-visuddhi), Purification by Knowledge and Vision (nadassana-visuddhi).The last of the purifications represents shift from the mundane (lokiya) to supermundane (lokuttara) states.
A feeling of oneness or unity, variously defined
A strong confidence in a reality or objectivity of the experience, i.e. the confidence that it
is somehow revelatory of the truth.
A sense of the final inapplicability to the experience of the ordinary language (the experience
A cessation of normal intellectual operations (e.g. deduction, discrimination, ratiocination,
speculations, etc.) or substitution for them of some higher or qualitatively different mode
of intellect (e.g. intuition).
A sense of coincidence of opposites of various kind (i.e. paradoxicality)
An extraordinary strong affective tone, again of various kinds (e.g. sublime joy, utter serenity,
great fear, incomparable pleasure, etc. often an unusual combination of such as these)
(Gimello 1978: 178)
As we have already mentioned, the basic constructivist tenet says that culturally
bounded conceptual schemes intervene and determine every (i.e. also mystical) experience.
Then from the constructivist perspective vipassan (as well as any other mystical experience)
is a kind of auto-suggestive technique through which the doctrinally acknowledged
worldview is being implemented into the content of one's unusual experience. (Of course,
besides this controlled one there is also a spontaneous constructive activity of mind involved
in forming any experience.)
The main reason why Gimello is unwilling to label vipassan mysticism lies in the
fact that, as he argues, vipassan (called in the passage quoted bellow supramundane
cultivation) is aimed at discerning the characteristics of all existence i.e. its transiency
(anicca), insubstantiality (anatta), and uneasiness (dukkha) - as recognized by Buddhist
doctrine.9 This conclusion, however, is rather surprising because Gimello actually does not
9The supramundane cultivation consists in the review of truths of Buddhism - suffering, impermanence, insubstantiality by applying these concepts both to conventional experience and to the rarefied experience of absorptions. (Gimello 1978: 186)
believe that tilakkhana represents the set of intrinsic characteristics of all things. In his view
the meditator imposes these characteristics to the experience.
Therefore I can not see there any difference between vipassan technique and any kind
of mysticism as it is understood by constructivists as a process of imputing doctrinally
acknowledged worldview (conceptual scheme) into a manner of perceiving the world. In this
sense there is no reason to exclude vipassan from the category of mysticism.
Gimello also criticizes opinion that the experiences of different mystics could be
identical because the interpretation can be actually ingredient in experience and need not be
only something added to the experience by the reflexive intellect. It may well be, in other
words, that the Christian or Jewish mystic who describes his experience as communion with
God rather then as a realization that God and he are one, does so because the former are the
categories that come immediately to mind, not only after the experience in moments of
judicious reflection, but even in the midst of it. In other words, such categories may well be
the very means by which the intellect participates in and thereby informs the experience.
(GIMELLO 1978: 176)
Given that, it is difficult to understand why an experience formed by specific
conceptual framework into a form of communion with God (instead of e.g. being an
experience of unification with God) is treated as a mystical experience but an experience
which, again, due to specific conceptual framework involved, is an experience of tilakkhana
should not be regarded a mystical experience.
One could argue that though vipassanic and mystical experiences are technically the
same they both arise as a result of the process of imposing specific conceptual background
to the experience they actually differ as to their contents. It means that the experience of
tilakkhana does not correspond to the above mentioned criteria of mystical experience. One
could reason that there is no word of a feeling of oneness or unity characteristic to mystical
experience and tilakkhana is clearly defined and verbally articulated while mystical
experience is supposed to be inexpressible.
But this is not a viable way out and evidences go against such an interpretation.10
10 My analysis of the Theravda vipassan meditation will be limited here to its presentation in Buddhaghosas Visuddhimagga and Upatissas Vimuttimagga inasmuch Gimello himself refers to the former (GIMELLO 1978: 196- 197, Note 23.) and the later, as we have already mentioned, covers almost the same area as Visuddhimagga and with all probability served as a pattern or at least an inspiration for it. Only few references will be made also to the text by Dhanit YUPHO: Vipassan-bhvan. Advanced Study, Practical Insight Meditation, Methods for Self-testing and realization of Consequences, which is a guide for the cultivation of vipassan as taught at Wat Mahathat in Bangkok and which follows the lines of thought presented in Visuddhimagga. On few occasions, I will refer to Bhikkhus Bodhi elucidative explication of Theravda understanding of the concept of wisdom (pa).
However, before continuing, I would like to express my hope that the following
argumentation will not be taken ideologically. The term mysticism I (and I am sure R.
Gimello as well) understand as a neutral label which has nothing to do with argumentations
over reality, value, relevance, higher or lower status, truth etc. of the experience. I am just
following the aim to discern whether certain features usually associated with mystical
experience pertain also to vipassanic phenomenology.
Firstly, the peak of the vipassanic experience nibbna here and now or a state of
ceasing of perception and feeling (savedayitanirodha) called also attainment of cessation
(nirodhasampatti)11 has besides it experiential also ethical and cognitive aspects.
The last two are tantamount to elimination of all fetters binding one to sam.sra and
understanding of the Four Noble Truths respectively. The Four Noble Truths contain also the
understanding of that there is no Self (atta). Understanding here does not mean an
intellectual grasping or memorizing of the doctrine of Not Self (anatta) but its direct
realization or experience. This experiential aspect of the state we will address later. Thus if we
can elimination of ego, i.e. disappearance of subject-object distinction call a form of oneness
or unity, variously defined the first criterion of the Gimello's list of mystical phenomena is
fulfilled. Surely enough, although the motive of not I or not Self is fundamental to Buddhist
soteriology and frequent in Buddhist texts: anatta is one of tilakkhana, upon hearing
Anattalakkhan.a Sutta (The Discourse of Not Self) the second sermon Buddha delivered after
his enlightenment, the listeners immediately attained nibbna, contemplation of no-self
(anattnupassan) belongs to eighteen basic kinds of insight-knowledge (mah-vipassan)
(cf. VsDM. XXII, 113) etc12., in Ariyapariyesan Sutta (MN. 26) and Mahasaccaka Sutta
(MN. 36) two suttas which address the event of Siddhatthas awakening under the bodhi tree
it appears only implicitly. In Mahasaccaka Sutta it is said that the Buddha by his liberating
experience attained knowledge of the taints (sava) one of which is a taint of ignorance
(avijjsava). This is not knowing that there is not I. The Buddha's awakening experience
itself was noetically identified with understanding of dependent origination
(pat.iccasamuppda), which also explains that there is no Self transmigrating from one life-
11 But that which is experienced in the Nirodhasampatti is the state of Nirvn.a, namely, the cessation of all mental activities, which is comparable to that of final Nirvn.a. The final Nirvn.a is called Khandha-parinbbn.a, the complete cessation of the five aggregates and is attained by the Arhat at his death. Vajiran.a 1975: 467. 12 See Vin. i.7-14, or Bhikkhu N.AMOLI, Bhikkhu BODHI 1995: 1217- 1218, note 314.
existence to another13. Therefore if this specific truth was gained through vipassan practice
Gimello's intention to exclude vipassanic states from the rubric mystical on the basis of
absence of noetic moment remains unintelligible.
Secondly, the peak of the meditative vipassanic experience bears a sense of reality
since the meditator is said to see things as they really are (yathbhtam). Seeing things as
they really are, is seeing the true, objective state of things. It is not a kind of hallucination
and that is the second characteristic of mystical experience in Gimellos list. However, as
explained bellow, this seeing things as they are is rather unusual view.
Thirdly, though Buddhist doctrine does verbally explain the character of the world (the
concepts of pat.iccasamuppda, tilakkhana, and suat, being probably the fundamental
ones) the very peak of the experience, seeing things as they really are, is inexpressible, in
sense that the meditator does not see objects with predicable attributes but rather a flux of
impersonal phenomena which appear and disappear with enormous velocity.14
Inexpressibility as we could have seen - is the third of the Gimello's characteristics. We
have already mentioned that the peak of the experience is called also savedayitanirodha -
or ceasing of perception/conceptualization and feeling, which is an equivalent of cessation of
13 I considered: This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in worldliness, takes delight in worldliness, rejoices in worldliness. It is hard for such a generation to see this truth namely, specific conditionality, dependent origination. And it is hard for such a generation to see this truth, namely, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbna. (MN. 26: 19) 14As Bhikkhu Bodhi has it in his Introduction to the book Abhidhamma Studies. Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time by Nyanaponika Thera: For wisdom or insight to arise, the meditator must learn to suspend the normal constructive synthesizing activity of mind responsible for waving the reams of immediate sensory data into coherent narrative patterns revolving around persons, entities, and their attributes. Instead, the meditator must adopt a radically phenomenological stance, attending mindfully to each successive occasion of experience exactly as it presents itself in its sheer immediacy. When this technique of bare attention is assiduously applied the familiar world of everyday perception dissolves into dynamic stream of impersonal phenomena, flashes of actuality arising and perishing with incredible rapidity. Nyanaponika 1998: xvii. It is clear that in such an experience there is no room for stable immutable persisting Self (atta). Therefore here too we can take Gimello's first characteristic of mystical experience fulfilled. Moreover Theravda development of mindfulness implies doctrine of momentariness of all phenomena including phenomenon of self-identity. As we can read in Vimuttimagga: Nothing exists for two moments. Thus all beings sink in the conscious moment. (Citta-kkhana, which according to commentaries is the billionth part of the time occupied by a flash of lightening. See NYANATILOKA 1988: 86, note M.H.) It is taught in Abhidhamma thus: In the past conscious moment, one did not live, one is not living, one will not live. In the future conscious moment one did not live, one is not living, one will not live. In the present conscious moment, one did not live, one will not live only one is living. And again it is taught in this stanza: Life and personality, sorrow, happiness and all are joined to one thought; quickly the moment passes. By the yet-not-become, nothing is born; by the present one lives. When minds shattered, the world dies, so the world's end was taught. VmTM. Ch. 8, sect. 4, pp. 169-170
normal intellectual operations - the fourth items on the list of characteristics of mystical
This apophatic experience is supposed to cause significant personal changes an issue
we will address later. Here be it anticipated that the shift in personal ethical and cognitive
orientation caused by attainment of wisdom (pa) is deeply rooted and irreversible. It can
hardly be compared to a personal change which one undergo upon simple getting to know that
Santa Claus does not exists or that the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of being fixed in
the very centre of the Universe. Therefore Gimellos presenting the vipassanic bare
knowledge as if comparable to acquiring information of any kind and contrasting it to unusual
mystical experience is inadequate. Overwhelming majority of Buddhists know that all things
are anicca, anatta, and dukkha. But it doesn't mean they are all awakened arahants. After all,
every one of us has an empirical experience of the worlds unstable character, however it can
hardly be regarded vipassanic understanding of anicca. Interpreting the peak of vipassanic
experience we should not fail to acknowledge subject-predicate structure of English (and Pli
and Sanskrit as well) languages and the game which this structure may play with our
understanding. It is not the case that in the state of ceasing of perception/conceptualization
and feeling (savedayitanirodha) the meditator sees that all things have attributes such as
anatta, anicca, dukkha. In the experience of anicca there cannot be any things present
inasmuch as these have dissolved into a flux of ever-changing phenomena. (See note 14.)
Thus the situation is far from that of everyday perception of stable things bearing their
qualities. The basic structure our perception and language hangs on (i.e. subject-predicate
structure) is destroyed, the experience is apophatic. Hence the inexpressibility of the peak
experience comes. Therefore all things are anicca, anatta and dukkha can come later as a
result of the interpretation of the extraordinary rupture in everyday experience and hardly as
an experience itself.
Surely enough, a religious insider has the full right to say that he/she perceives the
three characteristics of the whole existence. Such a claim is absolutely legitimate,
indisputable, respectable and valuable. Inasmuch as he interprets the experience in lines of
particular religious tradition. But the scientific view should strive to find out what it means
when the religious insider says that he sees the basic characteristics of the things. In other
words scientific explication should follow different tradition.
Speaking about a noetic aspect of an inexpressible experience may sound
paradoxical (paradoxicality, however, is one of the characteristics Gimello has on his list but I
am not going to make a point of it here) and the relationship between an apophatic experience
and any verbalized doctrine related to it is one of the most puzzling issues. In my view there
are three possible interpretation of it:
1. The apophatic experience may act as a kind of refreshing reset of the thinking
stereotypes. It stimulates new enlightened associations or re-formatting of habituated
thinking patterns. Indeed, in this respect the experience can be regarded a stimulus for getting
upon a new knowledge.
2. The contentless apophatic experience can - as to its form - be similar to the dream-
experience when on dreams he/she have got an eminent idea, has invented beautiful poem or
musical composition but upon trying to get his/her artifact into the focus of his/her partly
awake consciousness: to read the poem or analyze the idea, he/she finds out that there is
nothing to remember but a cluster of unintelligible words, letters or any other signs.
3. The apophatic experience can be a result of the process of dissolution of the
ordinary objects of experience into a rhapsody of percepts or impersonal phenomena
(dhammas) freed of selecting and synthesizing activities which higher cognitive functions of
the mind usually perform over them.
The third one is apparently the explication which adopts Buddhist Theravda tradition.
(See note 14.)
However, Gimello this apophatic aspect of vipassanic exercise completely ignores. He
simply states that (s)ome texts speak of a still more refined anoetic transic state
(sam.jvedita-nirodha, the extinction of concept and feeling) which is virtually an utter lack
of consciousness and which approaches death. (GIMELLO 1978: 186). But one of those texts
in which the state of savedayitanirodha is explained as the very goal of vipassanic
exercise is also Visuddhimagga, Gimello's point of reference. Therefore his taking no notice
of it is hardly methodologically acceptable. Moreover, he speaks of savedayitanirodha as
if it was a samadhic state, pertaining to worldly attainments, simply following the eight jhna
without any significant break between them though Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga clearly
state that the event occurs only after one has ascended in his meditation from the worldly to
superworldy realm. There is also no room for doubt that this state can rise solely as a result of
vipassan meditation which Gimello calls superworldy: As though to confirm the
subordination of calming to discernment in Buddhist meditation, the later scholastic
(abhidharma) traditions of Buddhism develop a distinction between the mundane (laukika)
and the supramundane (lokottara) cultivations (bhvan). The mundane cultivation is the
practice of the eight absorptions and attainments listed above. The supramundane practice
consists in the review of the truths of Buddhism suffering, impermanence, insubstantiality
by applying these concepts both to conventional experience and to the rarefied experiences
of absorptions. (Gimello op cit.: 185- 186) See also note 9 of the present paper.
Inability of the ordinary language to fit to the extraordinary experience led authors of
Theravda commentarial literature to making clear distinction between ordinary language
(vohra-vacana) and higher (paramattha) language only capable to convey the content of the
mystical experience. This distinction is based on Sutta distinction between explicit meaning
(ntattha) and implicit meaning (neyyattha).15
Stopping of perception and feeling is in Theravda exposition equated with a state of
emotional equanimity (upekkh)16, which is clearly the last of the characteristics mentioned in
the Gimello's list. So the peak of vipassanic experience as described in authoritative
meditative manuals of Theravda tradition clearly fulfills the criteria Gimello puts on mystical
Beside this main point, there are also some minor inaccuracies influencing Gimello's
argumentation. One of the most serious is that despite the general constructivist plea for the
recognition of differences he speaks about Buddhist meditation in general and quotes
sources as doctrinally, historically, culturally and geographically remote from each other as
Theravadins commentarial text Visuddhimagga (written probably in the fifth century),
Chinese translation of Asangas Abhidharmasamuccaya (written in the fourth century),
Kumarajvas Chinese translation of Vimalakrtinirdea (original text written probably in the
second century translated by Kumarajva in the fifth century) and various Zen Buddhist texts
as if there was not a difference between them in regard of meditation theory and practice. Yet
the contrary is true: there are significant discrepancies in the opinion on meditation not only
between two different traditions but even within one single tradition as well. As Sharf puts it:
(t)here is simply not public consensus in the contemporary Theravda community as to the
application of terms that allegedly refers to discrete experiential states. Not surprisingly, the
same is found to be true in Japanese Zen. (Sharf 2002: 279)17
Though it is true as Gimello has it, that in all versions of the stories of Buddha's life
and in all systematic curricula of meditation, it is discernment, or its perfection as insight
(praj), which is the proximate cause of enlightenment, not amatha or samdhi . The
differences among the various regiments of Buddhist meditation do not put this in question
15 See Nyanatiloka 1988: 235. 16 However, at a higher-level jhna, even bliss is supersede by equanimity or tranquility of mind, which might be called the psychologically dominant quality of the enlightened consciousness (King 1992: 24) 17 For detailed account see R.H. Sharf (1995), Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience, In: Numen, 42 (3).
(Gimello 1978: 185), opposite to Gimellos and probably commonly accepted view it was not
always vipassan meditation which conveyed this soteric knowledge (S. praj, P. pa).
There is no mention of vipassan meditation in the two suttas that describe Buddha's
awakening under the bodhi tree (already mentioned Ariyapariyesan Sutta /MN. 26/ and
Mahsaccaka Sutta /MN. 36/). The texts which, to my knowledge, says more about the
technique Siddhattha used just before his awakening is are commentarial Saddhammapaksin
and Vissudhimaga. But neither of the two suttas tells us what was the technique which led
Siddhattha toward the final liberation, though M. 36 suggests that just before the final
attainment he passed successively through the four jhnas. (See MN.36, 34- 37)
Vipassan meditation is absent also in the canonical description of the Buddha's last
moments before his parinibbna though these were in the same way as the moments before
his awakening, accompanied by samdhi events. In both cases the canon depicts the Buddha
progressively passing through successive stages of concentration (jhnas).
The importance of samdhi meditation treated by the later Buddhist tradition
sotericaly secondary can be seen in the fact that it was exactly Siddhatthas remembrance of
his childhoods experience of spontaneous entering the samdhi state (jhna) that took him
away from the way of fruitless asceticism. Development of samdhi was his turning point
towards attainment of the final liberation. (See MN. 36, 31- 32)
Highly useful in this context is Hajime Nakamuras argumentation18 that older layers
of the Buddhist canon present as the soteric goal those samatha (!!!) attainments which the
later parts ascribed to Siddhatthas teachers Al.r Klma and Uddaka Rmaputta, and
which according to Ariapariyesan Sutta and Mahsaccaka Sutta - Sakyamuni utterly
dismissed as mundane (lokiya) states subordinate to attainment of nibbna and other
supermundane (lokuttara) states.19
As Hajime Nakamura puts it:
In the initial stage of Early Buddhism.
A. (the period represented by the oldest scriptures in the section of the
Pryana) as the logical conclusion of the teaching advocating freedom
from clinging, the state of non-existence was a goal and for that purpose
18 Hajime Nakamura 1979: 269- 277. 19 The last two of arpa absorptions (Sphere of Nothingness and Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-perception) are the samdhi attainments which in Paryna, the oldest section of Suttanipta - the most ancient Buddhist text - and At.t.hakavagga respectively occur as the very soteric goals advocated by the Buddha. However the traditional Buddhist exposition places them into the sphere of sam.sra which is to be transcended. The transcendence of the sam.sric or worldly (lokiya) realm is brought about by vipassan technique.
meditation was practiced. The Jains also posited this ideal goal. This stage
was known as sa vimokkha (deliverance from thought)
However, when Buddhism evolved and entered into a second period of Early
B. (represented by the At.t.haka section) they advanced one step further and
began to consider the ultimate state as neither the existence nor-
nonexistence of thought. This is probably due to the fact that if they were to
advocate views such as there is no thought or nothing exists they would
be mistaken as nihilists, which they sought to avoid.
When Buddhism underwent dramatic evolution (in the post-Aoka period or possible
after the reign of King Nanda), the concepts of the periods A and B were no longer
acceptable to the contemporary people and new ideas became necessary. As a result,
the concept of non-existence was attributed to l.ra Klma and the theory of
thoughtless-thought (the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, note M.H.)
attributed to Uddaka, son of Rma, while Buddhism itself set forth new views. This
situation was quite similar to the time when Mahyna Buddhism rose as a contrast to
Hnayna. In this manner, the development was formalized in the Majjhima Nikya
and despite the fact that the theories of nonexistence and thoughtless-thought were
originally Buddhist, they were now considered non-Buddhist and applied to the
framework of the four Arpa Dhtu meditations, placed respectively at the third and
fourth deva heavens of Arpa Dhtu. (NAKAMURA 1979: 273- 274)
No doubt it is one of the most striking points of Buddhist soteriology because the
development of awareness or vipassan bhvan features in later parts of the Buddhist canon
as condition sine qua non of attaining the final goal (nibbna). Indeed, the Buddhas own
spiritual development was unique. It was marked by strong resolution to find the answer on
the question of suffering, long-lasting effort and several radical changes in his meditation
exercise. The most significant of the changes Siddhattha made on his path was a complete
abandonment of asceticism and pain-causing meditative techniques and embracing moderate,
middle-way, style in both his livelihood and meditation-exercise. If we can rely in this point
on the canonical depiction, all this might have left imprints on his final liberating experience.
So it is quite plausible to hypothesize that for certain time of developing Buddhist path there
was an uncertainty about how to convey the teaching and what technique to use to stimulate
the liberating experience in his followers. A canonical accountteach us that in case of the
Buddhas five co-searchers it was mere listening to the Dhamma without specific
meditation technique involved which brought about their enlightenment.
Higher and lower states
In Gimello's view the vipassanic states coming out as results of scrutiny of samdhi
states defined as mystical are ipso facto meta-mystical. But such a conclusion is not self-
evident and in my opinion also incorrect. Without making evaluative (higher-lower, pure-
profane) distinction we can be safe concluding that the fact that vipassan technique uses
samdhi states as its working objects, does not imply that the results of this technique leads
to achievement of states which are inevitably (i.e. with logical necessity) higher or purer.
Shortly, even though this higher-lower distinction is generally taken for granted in Buddhist
texts and is canonically based, it does not mean that it also reflects anything experiential. No
doubt constructivists unwillingness to acknowledge the difference between experience and
its interpretation makes them widely open to such an erroneous conclusion.
Sure, the doctrinal presentation of vipassan as a technique or instrument to work over
the samdhi states made Gimello to see samdhi vipassan relation through upper - lower
interpretative prism. But this is evaluative religious and not impartial scientific classification,
and as such it should not be accepted unrestrictedly. There is no reason to think that the states
themselves have somehow hierarchical structure.
As for the hierarchy within the realm of samdhi states, I am not quite sure about
phenomenological criteria which would allow for 1. making distinction between them and 2.
claiming their hierarchical arrangement. Indeed, within the sole sequence of rpa jhnas we
do can find a criterion of sublimity of the states or at least a key to its understanding. We can
understand that e.g. the second jhna is more sublime then the first jhna due to absence of
gross mental factors vitakka and vicra in the former and that the third jhna is even more
sublime because rapture present in the first two jhnas does not occur here, but with the
fourth jhna the situation takes different course. Starting with the fourth jhna the mind,
according to texts remains constituted of two factors of absorption (upekkh, samdhi). What
changes is the object of meditation not the constitution of the mind, expressed in Buddhist
literature by a neat list of constitutive mental factors.
Therefore the sequence of arpa states subsequent to the fourth jhna lacks the auto-
phenomenological description of the mind constituents supporting its hierarchical structure.
Then, it is not easy to see, in my opinion, why (if we stick to pure phenomenology) e.g. the
plane of nonexistence (kicayatana) is more sublime then plane of boundless space
(ksnacyatana) the first of arpa planes, considered the grossest one. Moreover, how to
distinguish (on phenomenological level) between empty space and nothingness?20 Not
mentioning the fact that nothingness in sense of complete annihilation of being is a concept
which Buddhist doctrine does not admit. Admittance of an absolute, complete non-existence
nihil (asat), would mean adherence to doctrine of annihilation, severely criticized by
If any, it is exactly neurophysiologic or psychological quantitative processing of
experimental data and inter-disciplinary analysis of mystical experiences, advocated by
perennialists, which could suggest a hierarchical arrangement of the states. Sure enough, a
non-quantitative way to presuppose hierarchical structure of the states can be maintained by
taking some states as a prerequisite for the others. But though some canonical and
commentarial passages suggest such a relation, another does not support it. 21
Besides, Mahasaccaka Sutta teaches us that Siddhattha recalled his childhood
experience and subsequently took up samdhi training after his ascetic period and split with
Al.r Klma and Uddaka Rmaputta who taught higher arpa samdhic states.22
Therefore Siddhattha and his two teachers were able to attain these states without having
attained the lower jhnas before! In my understanding there is not a way to reconcile this fact
with the general claim of hierarchical structure of samdhi states. Moreover, the texts related
to the Siddhatthas liberating experience mention neither arpa jhnas nor
saavedayitanirodha. Therefore Friedrich Heller proposes that the higher jhnas be Yogic
20 For the commentarial explanation of the arpa attainments see VmTM. Ch. 8, sect. 2; VsDM, Ch. 10. Though there can be seen some logical structure behind the hierarchical depiction of the arpa states I am not sure about its claimed experiential correlation. At least our ordinary concepts of empty space and nothingness does not allow for postulating any distinction between them on phenomenological basis. 21 W. King observes that apart from canonical passages mentioning four subtle-material jhnas (t)here is also another, less numerous set of passages that describe or allude to the formless meditations apart from the four jhnas , whose attainment supposedly makes possible the attainment of the formless meditations and also apart from nirodha-sampatti, whose attainment the formless meditations make possible. Finally, a third set of passages portrays the joining of the four jhnic attainments and the four formless meditationsin a continuous series of states climaxing in nirodha-sampatti. (King 1992: 15) 22 But by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to enlightenment? I considered: I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could there be another path to enlightenment? MN. 26: 30- 31
superimposition upon the four original Buddhist jhnas.23 Thus we can not take the
succession of the states immutable and the traditional structure as represented in VsDM. and
As for the distinction between particular vipassanic attainments listed as a sequence of
five purifications starting with the Purification of View (dit.t.hi-visuddhi) up to the seventh
purification - Purification by Knowledge and Vision (nadassana-visuddhi) (See note 8.)
they are stages of understandings the particular aspects of the doctrine. On the first of them
(The Purification of View) the meditator gets aware of the fact that all existence consists of
two basic categories of phenomena nma and rpa, i.e. mental and material (or form)
behind which there is no any Self (atta) lurking. By the following he understands their
mutual conditioning while the next purification (Purification by Knowledge and Vision of
What are Path and not-Path (maggmagga-nadassana-visuddhi)) leads him to realize what
is and what is not the right path towards nibbna. On the subsequent stage the meditator
experiences nine specific phenomena (nine insights) such as awareness of terror,
contemplation of aversion or desire for deliverance etc. These particular understandings as it
is presented in VmTM. and VsDM. - raise either in consequence of application of particular
doctrinal tenets into experienced events or mental contemplation of the three characteristics of
whole existence. All purifications however, serve as a springboard to the four specific flashes
of unusual suprerworldy experiences which occur on the seventh stage. These convert a man
progressively to four types of noble person. The last flash brings the experience of nirodha-
sampatti (saavedayitanirodha) and the state of arahatship. The main distinguishing marks
between these flashes of consciousness consist in their post-experiential effects i.e.
particular personal changes. See bellow.
If there is a fundamental substantival distinction between samdhi and vipassan
practice as Gimello on the basis of Buddhist texts stresses then samdhic arpa states can not
bring about liberating experience of understanding the Four Noble Truths, tilakkhana and
pat.iccasamuppda. These according to the Buddhist doctrine are attainable exclusively via
vipassan method. And as we have already mentioned, one of the most striking things about
Buddhist soteriology is that there is no word of vipassan in the suttas which describe events
under the bodhi tree. If however vipassan meditation originated later as an instrument of
making the character of reality revealed by the Buddha accessible also to his followers the
23 F. HEILER, Die Buddhistische Versenkung, Munich: Reinhardt. N/A. Quoted in King 1996: 15
vipassanic experiential content must have been present somehow in samdhic states (and it is
important to note: not only in one specific samdhi state but in a series of states) and the strict
demarcation between vipassan and samdhi is a result of the later doctrinal development of
Upatissas Vimuttimagga and Buddhaghosas Visuddhimagga were clearly written
from the standpoint of already established doctrine and determined expectations on the results
of the meditative exercise. But this probably was not a situation of early Buddhism.
Though, as I have tried to show, Buddhist meditation can be treated as an instance of
mystical experience, the variety of its phenomenological expression escapes the rather narrow
definition of mystical experience as a state of consciousness deprived of phenomenological
attributes and content, (PCE)24 presented by Forman. Also his identification of mysticism
with solely trophotropic states is rather reductionistic.25
Exclusion of the visionary states even though it helps to clean the area somehow
provides us with a rather inadequate picture of meditative experience. It strips apophatic
experience of its genuine context. Buddhist meditative experience is not a homogenous event
24 In sum, the PCE may be defined as a wakeful but contentless (non-intentional) experience. (FORMAN 1998: 90). 25 See Forman 1997: 7. In his What Does Mysticism Have to Teach Us about the Consciousness R. Forman nevertheless offers a specification of his understanding of mystical experience. In this account he expands the category of mystical from pure enstatic transic states to Dualistic Mystical States and Unitive Mystical States. His explanation of these two states runs as follows: The first is an experience of a permanent interior stillness, even while engaged in thought and activity one remains aware of ones own awareness while simultaneously remaining conscious of thoughts, sensations and actions. Because of its phenomenological dualism a heightened cognizance of awareness itself plus a consciousness of thoughts and objects I call it the dualistic mystical state (DMS). The second shift is described as a perceived unity of ones own awareness per se with the objects around one, an immediate sense of a quasi-physical unity between self, objects and other people. States akin to this have been called extrovertive- or sometimes nature- mysticism; but I prefer to call it the unitive mystical state, UMS. ... Now, as I understand them, advanced mystical experiences result from the combination of regular PCEs plus a minimization of the relative intensity of emotions and thoughts. That is, over time one decreases the compulsive or intense cathexis of all of ones desires. The de-intensifying of emotional attachments means that, over the years, ones attention is progressively available to sense its own quiet interior character more and more fully, until eventually one is able to effortlessly maintain a subtle cognizance of ones own awareness simultaneously with thinking about and responding to the world: a reduction in the relative intensity of all of ones thoughts and desires. (FORMAN 1998: 186) But if Dualistic Mystical State is to be included within the scope of mystical experiences and only apophatic states are to be called mystical than it does not conform with what Jensine Andresen and Robert K.C. Forman say on apophatic-kataphatic distinction in their foreword to their book: In our diagram we have separated two distinct kind of religious experience, non-dualistic and dualistic, roughly apophatic and kataphatic forms of spirituality. (ANDRESEN, FORMAN 2002: 12).
describable as contentless mind nor does the succession of alternative states of
consciousness leading to the final state of savedayitanirodha consist of a strand of clearly
determined blocks without any significant ruptures, overlapping or short excursions to the
opposite ergotropic (i.e. kataphatic) realm. Though the states situated on ergotrophic and
trophotropic scales have opposite characteristics, exegesis and metabolic excitation, as one
moves along one of the continua he/she takes sporadic side-steps into the opposite continuum.
This happens not only at the peak of the both scales of the states as the Fischers diagram and
Forman in his Mysticism, Constructivism, and Forgetting (FORMAN 1997: 3- 53) present it
but also on the lower stages of hyper- and hypo- arousals.
Newberg and dAquili correctly pointed out that (t)he ergotropic and trophotropic
systems have often been described as antagonistic to each other, but they can be
complementary to each other under certain conditions. (Newberg and dAquili 2002: 255)
In addition to Hypertrophotropic and Hyperergotropic states when respective systems are
exceptionally high the authors recognize three additional states: Hypertrophotropic State with
Ergotropic Eruption, Hyperergotropic State with Trophotropic Eruption which are states of
hyperactivation of one system with spillover into excitation of the other system and also a
state of maximal stimulation of both the ergotropic and trophotropic systems. (Newberg and
dAquili 2002: 255- 256)
They also remark that it is difficult to test such a hypothesis due to the difficulty of
isolating these experiences. (Newberg and dAquili 2002: 256)
If we take a closer look on the process of vipassan-bhvan as described in
Vimuttimagga, Visuddhimagga or the texts based on them we will find that the practice leads
to various states which clearly show intermingling of kataphatic and apophatic phenomena.
One of the most noticeable are so called The Ten Imperfections of Insight (vipassankkilesa)
appearing at the stage which Buddhist tradition calls Purification by Knowledge and Vision of
What is Path and not-Path (Maggmagga-n.adassana-visuddhi). The list of them runs as
1. illumination (obhsa)
2. knowledge (na)
3. rapturous happiness (pti)
4. tranquility (passaddhi)
5. happiness (sukha)
6. resolution (adhimokkha)
7. exertion (paggaha)
8. mindfulness (upat.t.hna)
9. equanimity (upekkh)
10. attachment (nikanti)
We can see that among the vipassan inducted phenomena there are present also
effulgence of light, knowledge, tranquility, happiness and equanimity that is to say those
phenomena which Gimello has on his list. And some of them (i.e. pti, sukha) are even the
ones having been abandoned on lower samdhi stages. (See note 7.)
Moreover the effulgence of light is not the only hallucinative or visionary experience a
vipassanic meditator passes through. Theravda meditative manuals frequently speak on
visions of buddhas, a skeleton or ghosts etc. occurring at certain point of vipassanic
practice.26 In Thailand for example such visions as a number in the sky may sometimes be
interpreted as divinatory experiences revealing the lucky lottery numbers etc.
Besides, visions of light occur during the practice of vipassan training even on lower
stages of attainments i.e. before the stage of the ten defilements.
Visualizations actually form an important part of samdhi exercise as well.
Achievement of the first jhna is characterized by occurrence of the abovementioned five
factors of absorption (jhnanga; see note 7) as well as so called acquired sign (uggaha-
nimitta) which is a vivid mental replica of material object of contemplation. Biography of
Achan Mun by Achan Mah Boowa speaks of a vision of Thus the context of any particular
meditative state which is actually set in an interplay, overlapping and sequential arrangement
of various mental events deserves close attention.
Though the analysis of a particular states of vipassanic attainments as described in
Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga is of high importance and for the due treatment needs
room which exceeds this study, I think we are at least safe now concluding that a vipassan
practitioner experiences phenomena of mystical (in Gimello's sense) as well as visionary (in
Forman's sense) kind. This should be duly acknowledged instead of cramming empirical
evidence into Procrustean bed of favorite theories.
26 Sometimes during the Sitting Meditation with closed eyes, he or she sees his or her skeleton sit with crossed legs, black and eminent, like a figure in a dark space. (YUPHO 1988: 81) For instance while the meditator is performing the Insight Meditation with closed eyes, the conditions appearing reveal that his or her body becomes rotten and gradually inflated until it swells like a bloating corpse For many times it appears that the meditators body gradually bloats at the abdomen, body, arms, back of the hands, insteps, legs, faces, especially the cheek flesh. (YUPHO 1988: 86) For further descriptions see YUPHO op. cit, p. 40.
As for the vipassankkilesa an important point here is that some of these phenomena,
though called imperfections, are in Buddhist milieu highly praised sotericaly valuable
states: knowledge, resolution/awareness, assurance, and equanimity. They are rendered
imperfections because they are taken by a meditator to be the path and fruition of the
meditation and thus he takes what is not the path to be the path and what is not fruition to be
fruition, the course of his insight is interrupted. He drops his basic meditation subject and sits
just enjoying the attachment. (VsDM. XX, 123)
Thus they become a basis for defiling attachment:
And here illumination, etc., are called imperfections because they are the basis for
imperfection, not because they are (kammically) unprofitable. But attachment is both an
imperfection and the basis for imperfection. (VsDM. XX, 124)
Thus not the phenomena themselves but their interpretation and approach
(attachment) to them are undesirable.
Now, if we were to ask for a criterion which would allow us to presume in this variety
of phenomena single liberating experience common to whole Buddhist Theravda tradition, it
should be looked for not in the realm of techniques or specific states of consciousness
attainable by them but probably in personal (emotional, cognitive, and axiological) changes
the state cause.27 Actually some of the techniques used by contemporary Theravda masters
seem to be in discordance even with the very Buddhist canon. For example, though Buddha
deprecated any meditative technique that causes pain28 and during npnasati (a meditation
based on observing in-and-out-breathing) one should breathe normally, the technique of
famous Burmese master Sunlun Sayadaw presupposes an intense painstaking breathing
causing intensive bodily pain which subsequently becomes an object of inspecting awareness.
As Sharf puts it On closer inspection, however, we find that scriptures upon which
the vipassana revival is based (primarily the two Satipatthana-suttas and the Visuddhimagga)
are often ambiguous or inconsistent, and contemporary vipassana teachers are frequently at
odds with each other over the interpretation of key terms. All contemporary Theravda
meditation masters accept the canonical categories outlined above (that of samatha/samdhi
27 It, however, is not to say that there are no specific states demonstrating classificatory significant characteristics, as we could have seen above. 28 MN. 36: 18- 25.
and vipassan, note M.H.). But curiously, despite the fact that these masters have tasted the
fruits of practice, there is little if any consensus among them as to the application of these
key terms. On contrary the designation of particular techniques and the identification of the
meditative experience that result from them are subjects of continued and often acrimonious
debate. More often than not the categories are used polemically to disparage the teachings of
rival teachers. Since all agree that vipassana leads to liberation while samatha does not,
samatha is used to designate the techniques and experiences promoted one's own competitors,
while vipassana is reserved for one's own teachings. (Sharf 2002: 278- 279)
Yet this multitudeness of meditative traditions is not without a universal pattern which
as we have said consists mainly in a meditations efficacy.
Even samdhi with its lower soteric efficacy attributed to by Theravda tradition is a
means to suppress the unwholesome phenomena. Thus, we can say with Sharf, that the value
of meditation taken over the Theravda Buddhist tradition does consist in its capacity to
eradicate or suppress these phenomena which are in Buddhist Theravda literature variously
called taints (savas), fetters (sam.yojana) or roots (mla) of unwholesome attitudes. (Sharf
2002: 272) The most frequent enumeration of taints (savas) found in the Sutta Pitaka lists 1.
sensual desire /kmsava/, 2. desire for eternal existence /bhvsava/, and 3. ignorance
/avijjsava/. The later parts of canon (DN. 16) and para-canonical literature add the fourth
dit.t.hsava, a taint of wrong view. As Nyanatiloka points out the state of Arahatship is
frequently called svakkhaya, the destruction of the cancers. (NYANATILOKA 1988: 54)
The canon also recognizes ten fetters (sam.yojana) which binds one to the circle of
sam.sra. Vipassan meditation serves as a unique means to achievement of the four
successive noble attainments (ariya-phala) which progressively eradicate the fetters and
consequently convert a practitioner to a particular noble person (ariya-puggala) until reaching
of the final goal.
The first of the Noble persons, Sotpanna, is freed from personality-belief (sakkya-
dit.t.hi), skeptical doubt (vicikicch), clinging to mere rules and rituals (slabbata parmsa);
The second one, Sakadgmi, eliminates grosser forms of sensuous craving (kma-rga) and
ill-will (vypda) whose Angm eradicates the utterly and Arahant is one who is freed of all
fetters including the last five ones, i.e. craving for fine-material existence (rpa-rga),
craving for immaterial existence (arpa-rga), conceit (mna), restlessness (uddhacca) and
ignorance (avijj). (See AN. IX, 67, 68, X, 13; D. 33, VmTM Ch. 12, sect. 2, etc.)
Though arahantship is generally accepted as elimination of all the ten fetters its
achievement is in the contemporary Theravda tradition not always connected with attainment
of the state of savedayitanirodha as Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga describe it. For
example the tradition of so called dynamic vipassan meditation, the main Thai protagonist
being Loo-ang Poor Teean (1911-1988) who is said to have reached the end of suffering in
the eight month of 1957, strongly opposes to the necessity of any transic achievements. And
as we have already seen there is no mention of such a special state in the two important suttas
(MN. 26 and MN. 36). However the main aim of even this practice is defined as eradication
of the three mlas. Interesting point might be that though elimination of all the three roots is
unequivocally stated as attainment of the final goal, of the three especially anger or ill-will
occurs, according to my findings, as the most frequent motivation for setting for to the path of
the liberation among followers of Loo-ang Poor Teean, monks and laymen. Persisting
presence of anger erupting unexpectedly from its latent state where it was temporarily
expelled to- appeared during my field work as a recurrent motive to made practitioners to
abandon their previous training and search for a new teacher.
Not only mysticism and meditation treated as such are rather blurring concepts.
There is a strong need to distinguish also between various meditative traditions and further
between various meditative branches within them.
As for the Buddhist contemplative practices, before attempting for any generalizations
we should make clear if we are going to talk about Buddhist scriptural or living tradition. And
within both of them further specifications are needed to determine if we are to deal with
canonical or e.g. commentarial literature or texts based on both, on one of them or if we are to
talk about an independent sprout. As we could have seen these might differ in important
aspects. Superficial correspondence of basic categories can comprise rich phenomenological
As for the living tradition the approach of the masters to the scriptural prescriptions is
an important issue. There are schools which put strong emphasis on study of Abhidhamma
literature before taking up and during the course of the meditation while in the same time
there are masters who discourage an adept to read any book after having started with the
practice. However these are only the basic points.
Gimello's interpretation though rightly intended on paying respect to vipassanic
specifics within the context of mystical experience failed to acknowledge the variety of
Buddhist meditative tradition as well as the commonalities of vipassan and mystical
experience as this is generally defined.
Though Gimello himself warns against simplifications he also clearly failed to
concede that despite apparent similarity in employed categories there is no unanimity in their
interpretation and to talk about Buddhist meditation as such is rather tricky business. But if
we take such authoritative texts as Visuddhimagga or Vimuttimagga as a representatives of
meditation as understood by scriptural Theravada Buddhist tradition we can not but admit that
the goal of vipassanic technique is a transic (or better enstatic) state of stopping all
emotionality and perception, equivalent to PCE as perennialists understand it. This is regarded
tantamount to acquiring pa or liberating wisdom as well as to elimination of all emotional
defilements. But based on the mentioned texts we can also conclude that vipassanic technique
consists in learning of seeing the world through the doctrinally approved prism, which is the
point stressed by constructivists.
To offer the more complex picture we must stress that in contemporary Theravda
(especially Thai and Burmese) tradition there is plenitude of teachers who teach development
of awareness of all bodily sensations, emotions and ideas so that these converts from
subjective impulsions for bodily and mental activity to mere objects of attentions. They are,
as if to say, replaced from subjective to objective side of the world. Such a technique does not
require, at least not explicitly, attributing of Buddhist doctrinal categories such as khandha,
dhtu etc. to the experienced reality.
As for the perennialists, there is an important point of not getting locked in the idea of
culture-specific private languages of the mystics describing their experience in their approach.
Yet, any perennial or cross-cultural model should take into consideration
phenomenological variety of religious experiences. Vipassan meditation as described in the
two authoritative meditation manuals visibly shows penetration of apophatic and kataphatic
phenomena. Actually, and it is an important point, this closeness of the both opposite types of
alternations of consciousness appears not only in literature based on Visuddhimagga and
Vimuttimagga but also on the rather independent meditation practices such as already
mentioned dynamic meditation. This offers rich comparative material for perennial analysis.
Not unimportant in this respect is the issue of the impact of meditation on the personal
In any case all these, an also the other, investigations of the realm of Buddhist
meditation invite for both the recognition of differences as well as the sense for
ANDRESEN, J., FORMAN, R.K.C. (eds.): Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps,
Thorverton: Imprint Academic, 2002.
BUDDHAGHOSA: Visuddhimagga (transl. Bhikkhu namoli), Kandy: BPS, 1991.
FISCHER, R.: A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States, In: Science, vol.
174, No. 4012, Nov.
FORMAN, R.K.C.: What Does Mysticism Have to Teach Us about Consciousness,
Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 5, Issue 2, 1998, pp.185- 201.
FORMAN, R.K.C. (ed.): The Problem of Pure Consciousness. Mysticism and
Philosophy, New Your: Oxford University Press, 1997.
GIMELLO, R.: Mysticism and Meditation, In Katz 1978, pp. 170- 199.
KATZ, Steven T. (ed.): Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, New York: Oxford
University Press, 1978.
KING, W.L.: Theravada Meditation: The Buddhist Transformation of Yoga, Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass, 1992.
NAKAMURA, H.: A Process of the Origination of Buddhist Meditations in
Connection with the Life of the Buddha, In. NARAIN 1979, pp. 269- 277.
NARAIN, A.K. (ed.): Studies in Pali and Buddhism: A Memorial Volume in Honor of
Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap, Delhi 1979.
PARAVAHERA VAJIRAN.A Mahthera: Buddhist Meditation in Theory and
Practice. A General Exposition According to the Pli Canon of the Theravda School,
Buddhist Missionary Society, Jalan Berhala, Kuala Lumpur 09 06, Malaysia.
NEWBERG, A.B., DAQUILI, E.G.: Neuropsychology or Religious & Spiritual
Experience, In ANDRESEN, J., FORMAN, R.K.C., (eds.) 2002, pp. 251- 266.
Bhikkhu NANAMOLI (transl., com.) The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha:
A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya (Teachings of the Buddha), Boston: Wisdom
NYANAPONIKA, Thera: Abhiddhama Studies. Buddhist Explorations of
Consciousness and Time, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
Ven. NYANATILOKA: Buddhist Dictionary Kandy: BPS, 1988.
SHARF, R.H.: Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion, In ANDRESEN, J.,
FORMAN, R.K.C. (eds.) 2002, pp. 267- 287.
SHARF, R.H.: Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience, In:
Numen, 42 (3), 1995, pp. 228- 283.
SMART, N.: Understanding Religious Experience In: KATZ, S.T. (1978), pp. 10-21.
UPATISSA: Vimuttimagga, (transl. N.R.M. EHARA, SOMA Thera, KHEMINDA
Thera), Colombo: Dr. D. Roland D. Weerasuria, Balcombe House, Balcombe Place, Colombo
WALSHE, M. (transl., com.): The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of
the Digha Nikaya (Teachings of the Buddha), Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
YUPHO, Dhanit : Vipassan-bhvan. Advanced Study, Practical Insight Meditation,
Methods for Self-testing and realization of Consequences, Bangkok: 84, 000 Phra
Dhammakkhanda Foundation, Wat Mahdhtu, 1988.