From the Jacket
Beginning with a general description of similarities and differences between the Upanisadic-Yogic and early Buddhist viewpoints, the author goes on to analyze Gotama's rejection-acceptance-modification of the Upanisadic-Yogic method of striving for moksa (salvation) in his search for Buddhahood (enlightenment), as related in the Pali Canon.
A second major section analyzes the meditational method of Buddhaghosa, showing the interaction between Upanisadic-Yogic jhanas (modes of concentration) and Buddhist Vipassana (insight meditation). Attention is given to the highest attainable state, nirodha-samapatti (cessation of thought and perception), held by Theravada Buddhism to be an actual experience of Nibbana (world-escape) in this life.
The final chapter discusses the attraction of Theravada meditation in parts of the contemporary world, notably Burma, drawing upon materials little known in the West. In Burma and, to some degree, in Ceylon and Thailand, emphasis is on a simplified meditational method open to layman as well as monk, yet viewed as fully orthodox.
About the Author
Winston L. King is the author of six books on comparative religion and Buddhism, including A Thousand Lives Away: Buddhism in Contemporary Burma and Buddhism and Christianity. He has been a visiting professor in Burma, India, and Japan and on the faculties of Vanderbilt, Grinnell, Colorado State, and Oberlin.
WINSTON L. KING (1907-2000) was one of those remarkable scholar-teachers of an older generation who never ceased to develop new intellectual and research interests. His two-year appointment with the Ford Found- ation as the advisor to the Inter-. national Institute for Buddhistic Studies in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar) , from 1958 to 1960 proved to be a major turning point in his life and established his reputation as a significant interpreter of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Three important monographs resulted from Winston's stay in Burma: Buddhism and Christianity : Some Bridges of Understanding (1963). In the Hope of Nibbana: An Essay on Theravada Buddhist Ethics (1964), and A Thousand Lives Away (1964).
In Buddhism and Christianity, he compared Christian prayer and Buddhist meditation, later he was to compare Theravada and Zen medi- tational methods and goals (History of Religions, 1970) and explore the yogic methodological background to Budd- hist insight meditation (Theravada Meditation: The Buddhist Transformation of Yoga, 1980).
That is basic world view (weltanschauung) embodied in a developed religious tradition strongly influence, or even determines, its prescribed salvational methodology, seems to be an unexceptionable general statement. But in the case of the a given tradition the determining factors and determined techniques must be clearly specified.
Such is the attempt in this volume. The given tradition is the Theravada Buddhist: and the prescribed technique of salvation is meditation. The thesis maintained here is the orthodox Theravada world view of determines the motivations, practice and resulting experiences of the orthodox meditational discipline. Perhaps even aboriginally the yogic experience of a timeless, utterly detached, transic peace was an important ingredient and determinant of the Buddhist conception of Nibbana: that is, it is an experience-produced doctrine. But it is also true that the Pre-Buddhist yogic techniques had their contextualizing world view too, one which was not totally unlike the Buddhist world perspective developed later: and, further, the developed Buddhist world perspective developed Buddhist meditational tradition with which we deal here, portrayed in the Pali Canon, the Vimuttimagga, and the Visudhimagga, did operate with the basic Buddhist weltanschauung as its all-pervasive given.
The Pali Canon world view is sharply defined in terms of the polar opposites of samsara and Nibbana. Samsara is thus describes:
Monks, everything is burning the eye the ear the nose the body the mind the feeling which raises through impingement on the mind, be it pleasant or painful or neither painful nor pleasant, that to is burning. With what is the burning? I say it is burning with the fire passion, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of stupidity; it is burning because of birth, ageing, dying, because of grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair.
And the other pole, Nibbana, is described thus: "He focuses his mind on the deathless element, thinking: 'This the real, this is the excellent, that is to say the tranquillising of all the activities, dispassion, stopping, nibbana." And a description of the way to it follows immediately. If he is steadfast therein, he achieves destruction of the cankers one who attains nibbana not liable to return.
Briefly this is the geography of that terrain on which salvation must be achieved in Theravada Buddhism. And the mode of that achievement is determined by the polarized terrain. A methodology has been designed to put out the fires of samsaric craving (destruction of the cankers) and to introduce the deathless element, Nibbana, in which only eternal coolness and calm are to be found. It is a technique by which the Nibbanic pole neutralizes and finally eliminates the samsaric in its entirety.
This quenching of samsara's fever is a functional description of Theravada meditation. This meditative practice, then is an operational model, a dynamic embodiment of the Theravada world view. In this model the existential experience of both the samsaric pole (of deathless peace, of awareness of the unconditioned absolute) are deliberately intensified. This is the purpose of vipassana (insight) meditation. The meditator in his or her awareness and lived quality of life becomes, so to speak, an incarnation of the Theravada world view, which touches and transforms everything experienced.
But, because Buddhism derives from Indian (Brahmanical yogic) spirituality and meditation methodology, an alien, or non-Buddhist, element exist in the orthodox Theravada meditational structure. This is the Brahmanical- yogic technique of including transic states which, in the form of its jhanas and formless-base meditations, are integral to the Buddhist meditational structure. The Brahmanical-yogic technique had become an intrinsic part of that structure by the time many of the Pali Canon passages were written, to say nothing of the later time of the writing of the Visudhimagga, ca A.D. 500.
What then is the relation of this yogic methodological inheritance, with its latent but intrinsic Brahmanical presuppositions and values, to the Buddhist world view embodied in Vipassana meditation? This relationship of rejection-acceptance, use-transcendence, and of fundamental qualification of the yogic inheritance by its Buddhist contextual setting and employment, is perhaps the central feature of the total meditational structure. It seems to me also to be a basic functional dynamic, a creative tension within the theory and practice of meditation that explains its distinctive character. In this book, I am concerned with unraveling and clarifying this inner pattern of interactive relationship.
Thanks are to be given to the many person with whom I have discussed these matters during the years, both in Burma and in the United States; to Buddhaghosa for his massive work, The Path of Purification (Visudhimagga); to my wife with whom I have endlessly discussed the substance of these pages, and to whom I have read them all for criticism; to Mrs. Myrle Phelan, who has expertly typed them all; and to the copyediting staff of The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Thanks of a very special sort are to be given to the Buddhist Association of the United States, Professor Charles Prebish, and Garma C.C. Chang, without whose generous support and encouragement this book would not have been published.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend