Keren Arbels "Early Buddhist Meditation"

So, how come no one has even mentioned Keren Arbels new book Early Buddhist Meditation: The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight? :slightly_smiling_face:

Perhaps because they’ve never heard of her before. (I hadn’t).

Or perhaps they have heard of her but are reluctant to spend $104 on a hard copy or $48 on the Kindle version.

Or perhaps they’ve read the publisher’s blurb and thought: “Oh no, not another writer with an innovative new theory about the jhānas.”

Have you read it yourself?


Yes, I have waited for her work to be finished for years. She confirmed my own view of the jhanas on many points, and helped me to sort out my own thinking, though I could get lost in some chapter. But I really recommend her work, its’a good contribution to the study of early buddhism.


I have the book actually on my to-read-pile. There are unfortunately no reviews out there, but some reading is available on google books here and here (not sure if it’s the same).

Could you please tease us a bit @Dhammiko what you liked about it or what new insights it presents?

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There are eight 5-star reviews of this book on Amazon.

I wonder why contemporary western thought on meditation is so wrapped up in a profound fear of absorption. It’s almost like people are afraid that if they practice absorption they will get “stuck” in some catatonic trance from which they can’t escape.

This idea that one must always be “investigating” and accumulating knowledge in order for meditation to be productive or effective seems like some weird puritanical western work ethic applied to the spiritual realm.

Why do people have so much difficulty accepting that in order to be liberated from Mara’s realm, one must let go of the world of experience one is clinging to, and drop one’s engagement with it? And why are people unwilling to experience an innocent and pure pleasure higher than any sensual pleasure?


This is a huge field; the idea that there’s

has no application at that level.

…but! Let us at least laud the author a smidgen more, because:

Keren published two books: one is an annotated Hebrew translation of collection of Suttas from the original Pali into Hebrew.

…this is kinda neat.


I meant reviews in scientific journals

I think it’s intellectual arrogance. “Sure I understand what Buddhism is about, in fact I knew the whole ‘letting go thing’ before I heard about Buddhism, easy-peasy”

But the jhanas are an actual reference that you can’t weasel yourself out. But of course there is the re-interpretation of the first jhana as “I had some nice feelings, and some thoughts were there too, I guess that is the first jhana, no big deal”.

So it’d be a narcissistic hurt to be reminded that my skills are limited and as a reflex diminish the importance of the goal I can’t achieve.


Yes, there is that, but there is something else going on too.

The English-speaking western cultures are steeped in deeply and zealously held ideas about busyness, work, productivity, social obligation, social engagement, justice warriorhood, purposefulness and usefulness, and a religious or quasi-religious condemnation of idleness. Even traditions that accept the need for “self-actualization” or personal cultivation often turn that activity into a highly active pursuit aimed at making life “full” or making one’s worldly activity more “effective”. The very idea of simply detaching from the world in order to get off the rack of worldly suffering and find true liberation strikes the typical westerner as selfish, purposeless, nihilistic and even dangerous - since idleness is the devil’s workshop and one’s soul is damaged from neglect of the virtue of industry.

That’s why the western meditation industry is hard at work transforming the Buddhist path into just another form of western psychotherapy aiming at producing socially “well-adjusted” and engaged western citizens on the classical liberal republican model, filled with all sorts of motivating social emotions of the “right” sort. They have started telling people there is even such a thing as “right anger”.

Something similar happened to Buddhism when it made its way into China and Japan, and encountered the powerfully outward-directed and duty-driven philosophies of those cultures, based on intense feelings of social and family obligation. You get weird monstrous offspring.

The Buddha thought “the world” was for shit. He sought seclusion from it and release from the fetters that bind us to it, and taught a path that could help others escape from it as well. For people enmeshed in the grinding suffering of life in worldly society, enslaved by its hopelessly unsatisfiable demands and purposes, the Buddha’s vision and example has always been both profoundly attractive and profoundly horrifying.

“Jhana? Absorption? That scares me! It’s not productive! I won’t be learning anything and filling my head with improved, progressive ideas when I’m zoned out in jhana! And what if I like being detached from the world and don’t want to come back? Who will plan the next fiscal year’s budget? Who will run the get-out-the-vote drive? Who will do the Christmas decorating? How will I achieve anything?”


I see what you mean but don’t think the marketing machine would have trouble selling jhana - if it was achievable. “It’s the birth-place of creativity” “the ultimate ecstasy” “better concentration than any Ritalin” “You’ll feel connected to people and compassionate like never before!” etc. There can be a way of selling jhana without selling nirodha I think. Look at the allure of Zen in the West for example

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I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding.

The West is messing around with samatha meditations, basic jhanas and all sorts of worldwide, past & present-day methods of meditation and whatnot, and, it got its attention fixed on this stuff because of Buddhism.

But it’s not turning Buddhism into anything, it’s just the West taking up another aspect of its own explorations of these things, just like all peoples. What’s happened is that a basic human contemplative capacity has been & is being explored by innumerable cultures & individuals, and here we have a modern scientific approach, a modern instrumental approach (wrapped up in complex issues, as you indicate), and so on.

That’s it. Buddhism isn’t really being harassed by all this, as far as I can tell. (Maybe the OP is? :confused: )


It seems that each person, school, culture, etcetera transforms the dhamma to some degree or another. I can just imagine the people that took the beautiful dhamma of the Buddha and turned it into the Abhidhamma. Pure of intention yet…

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Are these your own thoughts, Dan?.. or an imaginary scenario? I’ve never heard anyone speaking like that myself.

Rather than going from valuing business to valuing the lack of business, there is a middle path. It isn’t a later cultural addition either -its called practicing samatha and AND vipassana. The intellectuals will be draw to the vipassana, and those drawn to renunciation will be drawn to the samatha. But you will need to cross the divide and go to the otherside, at some point. (see AN4.94). Letting go of attachment to insight or jhana, would be a valuable starting point.

with metta

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Expressions of fear and panic about jhana and “jhana addiction” seem to be less common than they once were, now that Bodhi’s sutta translations are widely available. But it once was commonplace among those who had learned about meditation through the “dry insight” tradition.

The Buddha was the original samatha meditator_ -he found them beneficial but not solely up to the task, of fully letting go - of all phenomena. He needed a meditation that would display the five aggregates, for those who wouldn’t settle for another person’s words, but wanted to know and see, for themselves- I was like that when I started too.

With metta