Book review – The Origin of Buddhist Meditation

Book review - The Origin of Buddhist Meditation

A few years ago, at a Buddhist conference, I heard someone claim that we know nothing about Buddhism. Perhaps the Buddha did not exist, said this speaker proudly. We do not know this, he says, because we do not know the irrefutable facts, after all, we have only the texts. I’ve heard such voices before and they come mainly from the United States. This is because “science”, that is, the natural sciences, is considered to be the standard for any kind of science. The study of Buddhism consists mainly of reading and interpreting texts, so it is an hermeneutical science. Interpretation means as much as the interpretation of the text. However, reading a text is quite different from making a scientific observation, such as measuring the boiling temperature of water. When you read a text, you must have an idea in advance what the text is about, otherwise you will not know what to look for. For example, if you start reading the Bible as a cookbook, you won’t understand it. Then you learn from the text. So there’s a circular motion, you look at the text with some kind of bias and the text teaches you something. This will change your bias so that you can read the text better etc. This hermeneutic principle is generally accepted and as a result procedures and truth in the hermeneutic sciences differ from those in the natural sciences.

The Origin of Buddhist Meditation

In the book “The Origin of Buddhist Meditation” the author, Alexander Wynn, works in an hermeneutic way. He notes that the “training” of the Buddha, or rather a bodhisattva, is described in several suta. He found the most authentic description in Ariyapariyesana Soetta. Buddha had two teachers and taught four lowers (Samabatis) to reach: the infinity field of space, the infinity field of consciousness, the field of nothingness, and the field of unconsciousness and unconsciousness. These four areas, called shapeless cuts, are mentioned in various places in the Pali Canon. They were apparently also taught, perhaps in a modified form, by the Buddha.

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Discover the Bodhisattva

Wayne begins by proving that both Buddha’s teachers are historical figures. This also means that the records of the meditations Buddha taught there and evaluated for their limitations are correct. The main limitation, as considered by the Bodhisattva, is that the meditator has a rebirth even in the most profound limit of non-perception and non-perception. So it’s still facing reality from I’s perspective. However, Bodhisattva praises each of his teachers and expects them to understand his discovery quickly.

First experience Jahana, or the stage of assimilation, was a bodhisattva as a boy when he looked at his father plowing the land, and this appears to have been accompanied by a loss of I perspective. This gave him an indication of a possible alternative path to liberation. However, this discovery, according to Wynn, only meant a rejection of asceticism and not of the meditations he had learned.

What were these reflections? These are shapeless cuts, so attention is not focused on one thing. According to the Upanishads, a person who wants to know Brahman must let his consciousness go back to the origin against the current of evolution. This begins with a focus on the elements: earth, water, air, and fire. From there attention moves to the core of the elements and from there to the four cuts described above. Finally trace the Brahman experience. These meditations on the elements are called Casiwa Meditations, where “Kassiwa” means “whole.” When you meditate on the earth element, you experience the totality of all the earth everywhere, and you get an unfathomable infinite experience. This is what the philosopher Kant called the experience of transcendence. In such an overwhelming experience, all concepts lose their grip and pervasive thinking is paralyzed. The meaning of this in the Upanishads is clear, you realize more and more basic infinities, until you realize basic infinities: Brahman

The method applied is different

According to Wynn, the Buddha appears to have adopted this method without intention, possibly due to the occurrence of the experience of the sublime. The original purpose of this series of cuts is to experience oneself, and Othmanmatched with Brahman† Indeed, in the Upanishads, the limitation of nothingness as well as non-perception and non-realization are related to the Self. So both cuts are experiences of peace of mind and stopping rampant thinking. This was what Buddha taught and what he was not satisfied with, because the I perspective had not yet been overcome. Meditation on the Elements is mentioned in several places in the Pali Canon.

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There are three ancient texts in Brianavaga subordinate Sutanipata Where Buddha speaks specifically of meditation (Sn 5.6, 5.13 and 5.14). The first, the dialogue with Upasīva, is particularly interesting because the Buddha there refers to other existing forms of meditation. Wynne develops a new interpretation based on feedback. The instruction given by the Buddha to Obasiva is to regard sensory things as mere phenomena. So he must, so to speak, discover nothing beyond things. This is shorthand for nothingness. According to the Upanishads, this shorthand is a ban on all sensual things, but now according to Wynn, Buddha explains this as a special way of paying attention to something. If the senses continue to function, you will no longer see things, only phenomena that appear as things. This is the domain of non-perception and non-perception.

According to Wayne, satay, Attention, in ancient texts to consider the meaning of a thing with interest in itself, as it happens. So you see shapes but shapes, sounds hear nothing but sounds, and so on. After all, every reference to something more revives the perspective of I. The fact that you know, for example, that the garden gate whistling is the neighbor coming home from work, is not experienced as an indisputable fact, but as a phenomenon, an idea that appears and disappear again. There is only emptiness and phenomena.


Why has this explanation not been noticed so much? Wayne attributes this to the influence of Brahmanical philosophy. Buddha himself has already noted in several places in the Pali Canon that his teachings are subtle and not easily understood. Since the teachings of the Upanishads seemed so obvious to many, the texts were often adapted to them. We should note here that Wynne’s interpretation is very close to the philosophy of materialica And in the later practices of Muhammadiyah And Dzogschen† So Nagarjuna was convinced that he was one of the few who truly understood the teachings of Buddha.

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Furthermore, we see that later texts are overshadowed by the enduring debates between the various Buddhist schools. These discussions gave rise to ever-increasing dogmas. These tenets were eagerly adopted by other cultures as Buddhism spread beyond the borders of India. The same dogmatism continues to be of great interest in Buddhist studies, which consists mainly of translating texts. Still, being able to meditate well is not a requirement for a position as professor of Buddhism at university.

the book

The book is fun to read, but it’s written for the experts. Eventually, Wynne earned her Ph.D. in this research. It contains a lot of information and everything is justified by extensive references to source texts. This may seem a little confusing to the reader who is not sufficiently entered. On the other hand, Wayne regularly summarizes his views. In addition, each chapter ends with a summary.

Above all, I think this is an important book, it is important for anyone who is very interested in Buddhism and wants to know what it is about. However, there is a significant risk: Wen’s interpretation is not the standard interpretation proclaimed by most Buddhist teachers. Whoever is reading this should think!

Alexander Wayne: The Origin of Buddhist MeditationRoutledge 2007, 184-page paperback.

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