Bhikkhu Analayo & the proportionate valorization of absorption

the proportionate valorization of absorption

Visiting a friend I had a chance to look briefly at Bhikkhu Analayo’s book Developments in Buddhist Meditation Traditions. Section 3 on Absorption surprised me in that he does not find a strong role for Absorption on the path. I wasn’t able to read the book or even that section before dinner but I did come away with not knowing whether he was

  1. diminishing the case for absorption as important on the one hand or

  2. on the other simply criticizing valorizing absorption as a separate process from insight.


Excerpts from Chapter 3 Developments in Buddhist Meditation Traditions by Venerable Analayo

Implications for the Progress to Awakening
The development suggested above implies that the equation of right concentration with the four absorptions reflects a more evolved stage in the development of definitions of the eighth path factor. This certainly does not in any way imply a devaluation of the cultivation of absorption as such.

At least as far as stream-entry is concerned, however, it seems as if the ability to attain absorption need not be required. Nevertheless, a requirement would be that the mind is free from the hindrances.
That the fulfillment of right concentration is not a question of mastering a particular level of absorption is in fact fairly evident in the Mahāsaḷāyatanika-sutta and its parallels, discussed above. These agree that insight meditation in relation to the six sense-spheres forms sufficient ground for considering the concentration thus cultivated to be of the right type. Here “right concentration” is not a matter of attaining absorption but has a more general sense that is in line with the broad compass of the meaning of the term samādhi in the early discourses. In fact, some reports of the attainment of stream entry in the early texts give the impression of involving individuals who may not have meditated at all previously, let alone been proficient in attaining absorption.

Another problem to be considered is that the attainment of absorption on its own hardly suffices for being qualified as “right” concentration. (Here Analayo gives the example of Alara Kalama and Uddaka as attainment of absorption not necessarily being right concentration).

In sum, for concentration to become “right,” it requires the diagnostic perspective afforded by right view. Building on this diagnostic perspective and corresponding intentions, ethical conduct in its three dimensions needs to be streamlined accordingly. Based on this foundation, the effort to emerge from what is unwholesome and cultivate what is wholesome needs to collaborate with the establishing of mindfulness in building the required environment for concentration to flourish. It is in this way that any concentration, no matter what level of strength it may have, can turn into right concentration.


Summary of Textual Developments

The central conclusion drawn on the basis of comparative study is that the definition of right concentration by way of listing the four absorptions does not appear to be the earliest such definition. Apart from the textual evidence, reflection on the purpose of this path factor makes it indeed meaningful to propose that what makes concentration become “right” is not so much its depth but rather the presence of right view as well as the context set by the other path factors.


By way of concluding my survey of textual developments, I would like to note that the above does not provide a balanced overview of the role of absorption in the early discourses. This is simply because the purpose of my exploration is much rather to place into perspective passages that overstate the importance of absorption. For this reason, I have not taken up the many passages that testify to absorption as an integral part of early Buddhist meditation with manyfold benefits. As mentioned earlier, my presentation is not meant in any way to devalue the cultivation of absorption as such. My aim is only to query the supposed indispensability of absorption for progress to streamentry and its identification with liberating insight as such.


In the present instance, the same interplay has a more strongly dogmatic and at times even polemic component, where an increase in the degree of importance attributed to absorption as a vehicle for progress to awakening has strongly impacted debates among Buddhist scholars and practitioners. These have in turn stimulated the arising of corresponding forms of meditation practice together with their respective authentication strategies.

Given as briefly as I can on main stances that I thought was important without delving too deep into historical-critical textual analysis.


When i made the series of post on purification i realised that the purpose of concentration on the Path is that functions as a vital condition for the Knowledge and Vision of things as they really are. And that becomes a vital condition for nibbida and that for dispassion.

Indeed, it is not really about abiding in jhana. The ordinairy mind must have the concentration that is a vital condition for seeing things as they really are, not me, not mine, not my self, anicca, dukkha, and anatta.

I believe, in practice this means that the mind is not in a state of thinking and conceiving.

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Thanks! I found I had my usual trouble reading a PDF so I bought it on Amazon… its only $10… I dont know how they can afford to do that.

I will study your post as a way to come up to speed.


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