Self and meditation in Indian Buddhism

Johannes Bronkhorst



Section de langues et civilisations orientales

Université de Lausanne


CH-1015 Lausanne


Self and meditation in Indian Buddhism


In order to understand the ideas on the self and on
meditation in early Buddhism and in some other
contemporary Indian religions, one has to take into
consideration the doctrine of karma as it existed at that
time. This doctrine is older than Buddhism, and
constitutes the background for other religious
movements of ancient India besides Buddhism. There
are few records describing the doctrine of karma in its
earliest form, but the evidence we have supports the
following presentation.

Deeds constitute the decisive factor that cause rebirth
to take place and that determine what the new life will
be like: good deeds lead to a good rebirth, bad deeds to
a bad one. The religious movements of ancient India
that accepted this fundamental belief shared in
common that their highest aspiration was not to obtain
a good rebirth, but to avoid any rebirth whatsoever.
How could this aspiration be realised? Moral behaviour
would obviously not be of any help, given that good
deeds were thought to lead to rebirth, even a good one.
What, if not deeds of some kind, could prevent rebirth
from taking place?

Two solutions presented themselves. The first one is
as simple as it is straightforward. If deeds bring about
rebirth, one will have to abstain from all activities
whatsoever if one wants to prevent rebirth from taking
place. This solution requires people aspiring for
liberation to engage in ascetic practices in which
motionlessness of body and mind plays a central role.
Indeed, perfect liberation will be obtained by the ascetic
who manages to immobilise his body and mind
completely right until death. Death will be hastened by
the fact that the ascetic abstains from eating and,
during the last minutes of his life, from breathing.
There is certainly the added complication that deeds
carried out before the ascetic enters his immobile
life-style will still carry fruit. These deeds, however,
were believed to reach fruition in the painful
experiences which the ascetic evokes by his difficult
life-style. The store of earlier deeds having been
exhausted, the ascetic can concentrate on his death,
which he invites through fasting and the interruption of
breathing, as I said above. The moment of death is, for
the successful ascetic, also his moment of liberation.

A different solution was accepted by others. If the
deeds of persons bring about their rebirth, it becomes
important to know which deeds really belong to a
person and which don’t. This entails the question: what
exactly is the person? A number of thinkers answered
that the real self of a person is different from all that
acts. The real self is different from the body to begin
with, but also different from the mind, and from
whatever else that acts for that matter. The self is by
its very nature immobile, motionless and actionless.
Once one realises this, one distantiates oneself
automatically from all parts of the personality that act,
and therefore from one’s deeds. More precisely, one
realises that no deeds whatsoever belong to the
person, i.e., to oneself. Those who have this insight
know that in reality they never act, and that they
cannot therefore be reborn as a result of their deeds.
The knowledge that they ― in deepest reality ― never
act, and that there are therefore no deeds that belong
to them that could bring about a new birth, liberates
those who have this knowledge once and for all. The
nature of this solution, unlike the first one, is such that
liberation can be reached before death. Insight is
obtained while alive, so people who have definitely
reached it will be alive for at least some time after the

The first of the two solutions which I have presented
finds its clearest and least watered down expression in
the texts of early Jainism. These texts celebrate the
motionless ascetic and the conscious choice of death
through starvation. They describe the ever increasing
control of body and mind, until nothing moves any
longer in the ascetic, neither in his body nor in his
mind. These same texts also point out how the
culmination of this life-style, i.e. voluntary death
through starvation, is accompanied by the suppression
of breathing. But the Jaina texts are not the only ones
that glorify the immobilisation of body and mind. Early
Hindu texts, such as certain Vedic Suutras and
portions of the Mahaabhaarata, present a very similar
picture, although it is usually less detailed.

The idea of an inactive self, knowledge of which is a
precondition for liberation, is an almost omnipresent
theme of classical Hinduism. It makes its appearance in
the early Upani.sads (which may have borrowed it from
others). It is a recurring theme in the Mahaabhaarata,
and it is the very basis of many subsequent
developments of Hinduism, including in particular all
the Brahmanical schools of philosophy.

The doctrine of karma as I have described it existed
already at the time of the Buddha, as did the two
solutions which I have mentioned. It seems certain that
the Buddha did not accept the doctrine in this form.
For him it is not deeds, i.e. physical and mental
movements, which determine one’s fate, but what is
behind deeds. The early Buddhist texts speak again and
again of thirst or desire (t.r.s.naa) as the root problem,
rather than mere deeds. On some rare occasions they
identify deeds with intention (cetanaa)(2). A deed that
was not carried out in spite of strong desire would
nevertheless leave its karmic traces, and a deed that
was carried out without intention ― perhaps by
mistake ― would not. In other words, the doctrine of
karma accepted by the Buddha was in one fundamental
respect quite different from that accepted by other
religious movements of his time.(3) This had an
unmistakable consequence. The two solutions current
among the other movements could not possibly be
acceptable to the Buddha. Immobilisation of the body
would have no effect as long as desire had not yet been
removed. Much the same could be said about insight
into the true nature of an inactive self. Deeds were for
the Buddha less important than the psychological
states that might, or might not, bring them about. The
challenge faced by the Buddha was not, therefore, to
stop deeds, but to deal with the psychology of the
person concerned.

It follows from what precedes that the solution offered
by the Buddha had to be different from the two
described earlier. His solution had to be different, and
it had to be psychological. Indeed, unlike the other
religious movements of his day, the Buddha taught a
form of meditation with the aim of bringing about a
radical change in the psychological makeup of its
practitioners. This radical change could be brought
about during the life-time of the person concerned, so
it was believed, and the Buddha himself presented
himself as someone in whom it had taken place.(4)

I have so far used the words self and meditation a few
times. The self ― and more in particular the conviction
that the self, by its very nature, does not act ― played
an essential role in one solution to the problem
resulting from the conviction that physical and mental
deeds are responsible for rebirth. Since the Buddha did
not recognise the problem, he rejected the solution.
Knowledge of the self plays no role on his path to
liberation. Because the Buddha did not accept that
deeds themselves are responsible for rebirth, his
method was, and had to be, psychological. Part of his
method was a certain kind of meditation which
supposedly allowed its practitioner to bring about the
requisite psychological changes. It will now be clear
that the items that figure in the title of this lecture ―
self and meditation ― have something to do with each
other. The Buddha introduced a psychological method
of which meditation was part, because he rejected
knowledge of the self as a way toward liberation.

At this point I may have to clarify some points. To
begin with, the early texts are not so clear as to
whether the existence of a self is rejected or not by the
Buddha. Much has been written about this issue,
without a clear and unambiguous solution in sight so
far. Most convincing is probably Claus Oetke(5) who,
at the end of a long and painstaking enquiry, arrives at
the conclusions that the early texts neither accept nor
reject the self. Fortunately we do not have to take
position in this debate. Whether or not the Buddha
accepted the existence of a self, it is certain that he
did not preach knowledge of the self as an essential
element of the path to liberation. His path was
different, and meditation had an important role to play
in it.

A further point to be dealt with concerns meditation in
early Jainism. I have argued that the path of early
Jainism consisted in the immobilisation of body and
mind. The early Jaina texts do sometimes use the term
dhyaana, which is often translated ‘meditation’. A
closer inspection reveals however that this term is
used precisely for the mental immobilisation which is
part of the total immobilisation of body and mind
typical of Jainism and parallel movements. ‘Meditation’
may not be a very appropriate translation for dhyaana
in this context, and the difference with the Buddhist
use of the term is beyond doubt.

It should be clear, then, that the attitude of the Buddha
with regard to self and meditation had much to do with
his understanding of the doctrine of karma. Yet there
are indications that his psychological understanding of
this doctrine caused confusion and misunderstanding
among his followers. At least some of the early
Buddhists, many of whom may have been recruited
from surroundings where the other understanding of
the doctrine of karma held sway, appear to have
somehow missed this important feature of the
Buddha’s teaching. They held on to the view that deeds
themselves (rather than the desires that inspire them)
lead to rebirth, and consequently they felt attracted to
the two solutions described above. Already the old
Suutras describe some practices and beliefs that fit the
physical interpretation of the doctrine of karma much
better than the psychological one. We find feats of
immobilisation glorified, and mental exercises which
appear to have had no other aim than to immobilise the
mind. What is more, we find the view that insight into
the true nature of the self leads to liberation
reintroduced, but in a modified form. Let us consider
this last point first.

As pointed out above, knowledge of the true nature of
the self was believed (by certain non-Buddhists) to lead
to liberation because it implied distantiation from all
that is active in body and mind. Such a liberating
knowledge, as we have seen, was not recognised by the
Buddha. Now listen to the following passage from the
second sermon attributed to the Buddha:(6)

Then the Lord addressed the group of five
monks, saying: "Matter (ruupa), monks, is
not self. Now were this matter self, monks,
this matter would not tend to sickness, and
one might get the chance of saying in regard
to matter, ‘Let matter become thus for me,
let matter not become thus for me’. But
inasmuch, monks, as matter is not self,
therefore matter tends to sickness, and one
does not get the chance of saying in regard
to matter, ‘Let matter become thus for me,
let matter not become thus for me’." The
same words are then repeated with regard
to the remaining four constituents of the
person (skandha), viz. feeling (vedanaa),
ideation (sa.mj~naa), the habitual
tendencies (sa.mskaara), consciousness
(vij~naana). The Buddha then continues:

"What do you think about this, monks? Is
matter permanent or impermanent?"

"Impermanent, Lord."

"But is that which is impermanent suffering
or bliss?"

"Painful, Lord."

"But is it fit to consider that which is
impermanent, painful, of a nature to change,
as ‘This is mine, this am I, this is my self’?"

"It is not, Lord."


The same words are then repeated, this time in
connection with the remaining four constituents
(skandha) of the person.

In order to correctly appreciate this passage, recall
that matter (ruupa), feeling (vedanaa), ideation
(sa.mj~naa), the habitual tendencies (sa.mskaara),
and consciousness (vij~naana) are the five
constituents (skandha) of a person. Together they
constitute the person’s body and mind. This passage
points out that with regard to none of these one can
say ‘This is mine, this am I, this is my self’. Scholars
have often wondered what this teaches us about the
acceptance or otherwise of the self by the Buddha, but
this question does not interest us at present. The
passage primarily states that one is not identical with
any of these constituents. This, in its turn, implies that
one should not identify with one’s body and mind. And
this is precisely what knowledge of the true and
inactive nature of the self was supposed to bring about
among those who accepted that as a path to liberation.

This conclusion is confirmed by the sequel of the
sermon, which reads:

Seeing in this way, monks, the instructed
disciple of the ariyans turns away from
matter and he turns away from feeling and
he turns away from ideation and he turns
away from the habitual tendencies and he
turns away from consciousness; turning
away he is dispassionate; through dispassion
he is freed; in the freed one the knowledge
comes to be: ‘I am freed’, and he knows:
Birth has been destroyed, the pure life has
been lived, what was to be done has been
done, so that there is no more return here.

It is easy to see that the liberating insight into the true
nature of the self has here been replaced by another
liberating insight, that of non-self. The monks who
have heard this sermon and obtained this insight reach
immediate liberation:

Thus spoke the Lord; delighted, the group
of five monks rejoiced in what the Lord had
said. Moreover while this discourse was
being uttered (imasmi~n ca pana
veyyaakara.nasmi.m bha~n~namaane
the minds of the group of five monks were
freed from the intoxicants without grasping.
At that time there were six perfected ones
(arhat) in the world.

The mere fact of hearing this wisdom proclaimed was
apparently enough for the five monks to reach instant

I hope it becomes clear that, and why, the idea of
knowledge of the true nature of the self as a
precondition for liberation exerted an attraction already
on the early Buddhists, among them the composer, or
redactor, of this part of the Buddha’s first sermon.
However, at this early period knowledge of the self
could not be accepted as liberating insight in
Buddhism. We may assume that the rejection by the
Buddha of this particular solution was still in the minds
of his followers. As a result they introduced this
solution through a backdoor: they introduced
knowledge of non-self rather than knowledge of self as
liberating insight.

The idea of an inactive self continued to exert an
attraction on the Buddhists. It finds expression in the
so-called tathaagatagarbha doctrine of Mahaayaana
Buddhism. The similarity between the
tathaagatagarbha of certain Buddhists and the self of
certain non-Buddhists was so striking that one
Buddhist text comments upon it. The following passage
occurs in the La^nkaavataara Suutra. The
Bodhisattva Mahaamati addresses the following
question to the Buddha:(7)

You describe the tathaagatagarbha as
brilliant by nature and pure by its purity
etc., possessing the thirty-two signs [of
excellence], and present in the bodies of all
beings; it is enveloped in a garment of
skandhas, dhaatus and aayatanas, like a
gem of great value which is enveloped in a
dirty garment; it is soiled with passion,
hatred, confusion and false imagination, and
described by the venerable one as eternal,
stable, auspicious and without change. Why
is this doctrine of the tathaagatagarbha not
identical with the doctrine of the aatman of
the non-Buddhists? Also the
non-Buddhists preach a doctrine of the
aatman which is eternal, non-active, without
attributes, omnipresent and imperishable.

The Buddha’s answer does not interest us at present.
An attempt is made to show that there is, after all, a
difference between the tathaagatagarbha of the
Buddhists and the aatman of the non-Buddhists. The
main point is that the two were so close that even
Buddhists started wondering what the difference was.
Clearly, the idea of an inactive self had maintained its
attraction for the Buddhists of this later period.

At this point something has to be said about the
pudgala, the notion of the person or self that came to
be accepted by the so-called Pudgalavaadins. The
pudgala is to be distinguished from the self I have
talked about so far. The pudgala was not believed to be
inactive; knowledge of the true nature of the pudgala
could not therefore guarantee or be a precondition for
liberation. Quite on the contrary, the pudgala was
thought of as neither identical with nor different from
the skandhas, the constituents of the person. It
appears to have been conceived of as the whole of
those constituents. Many other Buddhists, especially
those belonging to the Abhidharma schools, had such a
concept of the person. They certainly rejected this
concept, whereas the Pudgalavaadins accepted it. It
must however be recalled that what these Buddhists
rejected, and what the Pudgalavaadins accepted, was
something quite different from the notion of an
inactive self which we have been discussing so far. The
Buddha had rejected knowledge of the inactive self as
an essential step on the road to liberation, and later
Buddhists reintroduced this notion, first through a
back-door (as knowledge of the non-self), then in the
form of the tathaagatagarbha. The notion of the
pudgala was not yet important at the time of the
Buddha, and may indeed not have evolved until much
later, when Abhidharma systematically analysed the
person and everything else there is. The rejection by
these Buddhists of the pudgala should not therefore be
confused with the rejection of the inactive self.

After these reflections about the self let us now turn to
meditation. It has already been pointed out that in the
way preached by the Buddha meditation played a
central role. The most important part is constituted by
the so-called Four Dhyaanas, which follow a long series
of preparatory exercises in which mindfulness (sm.rti)
plays an important role. The Four Dhyaanas are
described as follows in the Mahaasaccaka Suutra:(8)

Then indeed, Aggivessana, having taken
ample food, and having recovered strength,
being separated from desires, separated
from bad things, I reached the First
Dhyaana, which is accompanied by thought
and reflection, born from separation, and
consists of joy and bliss, and resided
[there]. …

As a result of appeasing thought and
reflection I reached the Second Dhyaana,
which is an inner tranquillisation, a
unification of the mind, free from thought
and reflection, consisting of joy and bliss
that is born from concentration
(samaadhija), and resided [there]. …

As a result of detachment from joy, I
remained indifferent, attentive and mindful.
I experienced with my body the bliss which
the noble ones describe [in these terms]:
‘indifferent, with attentiveness, residing in
bliss’; thus I reached the Third Dhyaana and
resided [there]. …

As a result of abandoning bliss, and
abandoning pain, as a result of the earlier
disappearance of cheerfulness and dejection,
I reached the Fourth Dhyaana, which is free
from pain and bliss, the complete purity of
equanimity and attentiveness, and resided
[there]. ….

It is important to remember that these meditative
states are not presented as aims in themselves. The
aim, as always in the early Buddhist texts, is liberation;
this in its turn is the result of a psychological
transformation that can only take place in meditative
trance, in the Fourth Dhyaana to be precise. This
psychological transformation, which is the result of a
liberating insight, is described as follows: (9)

Because he knows this and sees this, his
mind is liberated from the taints (three
kinds of taints are enumerated, which I leave
out, JB). Once [his mind] is freed, the
insight arises in him: "I am freed". "Rebirth
is destroyed, the sacred life has been lived,
what had to be done has been done, so that I
will not return here." This is what he knows.

It will be clear that liberation here is not the result of
meditation itself, but of a psychological transformation
which the meditator brings about in this meditative
state. This implies that this meditative state, and the
Four Dhyaanas in general, are not totally devoid of
mental activity. This is exactly what we would expect,
for immobilisation of the mind was no aim of the
Buddha. His answer to rebirth as a result of action was
not inaction, but psychological transformation. This
psychological transformation takes place as the result
of an important insight. Regarding the nature of this
insight the text offer many different answers. There is
indeed reason to believe that the earliest tradition had
no precise information as to its content. This, in its
turn, is not very surprising if we take into account that
this insight was obtained and brought about its effect,
liberation, in a state which nowadays would be called an
"altered state of consciousness".

However, many contemporaries of the Buddha did not
agree with the idea of psychological transformation as
precondition for liberation, as we have seen. Nor did
some of his early followers. They were tempted by that
other understanding of the doctrine of karma in which
karma is activity, and liberation from its effects takes
place as a result of inaction. Practices relating to that
other understanding of the doctrine of karma were
therefore introduced into Buddhism, and among these
there are meditational practices of a different kind.

Let us first consider some physical practices.
Non-Buddhist ascetics cultivated total control of the
senses, so much so that their functioning could be
completely suppressed. No such suppression was
advocated by the Buddha, and indeed, at least one
Buddhist Suutra (the Indriyabhaavanaa Sutta of the
Paali canon and its parallel in Chinese translation)
ridicules the kind of so-called ‘cultivation of the
senses’ which leads to their non-functioning; the
Buddha is here reported to say that if this is cultivation
of the senses, the blind and deaf would be cultivators
of the senses. And yet, in the
Suutra, in its various recensions, where a discussion
with someone called Putkasa (in Sanskrit) or Pukkusa
(in Paali) is recorded, the Buddha is presented as
boasting that once, in a violent thunderstorm when
lightning killed two farmers and four oxen nearby him,
he did not notice it. We must assume that this
apocryphal story reflects the admiration that, in spite
of the Buddha, certain Buddhists felt for these kinds of

Clearer, and even more surprising, is the fact that
sometimes the Buddha himself is credited with
practices which we can recognise as being typical of
early Jainism, and which certain Buddhist text indeed
ascribe to Jainas and criticise as such. For example, a
Suutra of the Majjhima Nikaaya (the
Cuu.ladukkhakkhandha Sutta) and its parallels in
Chinese translation describe and criticise the Jainas as
practising ‘annihilation of former actions by asceticism’
and ‘non-performing of new actions’. This is an
accurate description of the practices of the Jainas. But
several other Suutras of the Buddhist canon put
almost the same words in the mouth of the Buddha,
who here approves of these practices. We conclude
from this contradiction that non-Buddhist practices ―
this time it clearly concerns Jaina practices ― had
come to be accepted by at least some Buddhists, and
ascribed to the Buddha himself.

The appeal of these practices remained strong, even
centuries later. As late a text as the third
Bhaavanaakrama of Kamala^siila (8th century C.E.)
criticises the following opinion: (10)

A certain [teacher] has the following
opinion: "It is because of the force of good
and bad deeds (^subhaa^subhakarman),
produced through mental construction
(cittavikalpa), that sentient beings (sattva)
revolve in the round of existences
(sa.msaara), experiencing the fruits of
deeds (karmaphala) such as heaven
(svargaadi). Those who on the contrary
neither think on anything (na ki.mcic
) nor perform any deed whatever
are completely freed (parimuc-) from the
round of existences. Therefore nothing is to
be thought on (na ki.mcic cintayitavyam),
nor is salutary conduct (ku^salacaryaa)
consisting in generosity and the like
(daanaadi) to be practised. It is only in
respect to foolish people (muurkhajana) that
salutary conduct consisting in generosity
and the like has been indicated (nirdi.s.taa)."

The same opinion is further characterised in these
words: "No deed whatever, salutary or otherwise, is to
be performed" (na ki.mcit ku^salaadikarma

We have seen that non-Buddhists practised asceticism
in order to evoke painful experiences which were taken
to be the fruition of earlier deeds. The Buddha had
rejected this notion as well as the need for painful
asceticism. However, the traditional biography of the
Buddha before his enlightenment, i.e., when he was still
Bodhisattva, includes a long period of severe
asceticism. It has been pointed out, most recently by
Minoru Hara,(11) that a number of accounts of the life
of the Buddha depict his pre-enlightenment asceticism
as a way to deliver him from defilement incurred in an
earlier existence.

The practices which were introduced, or attempted to
be introduced, into Buddhism did not only concern
suppression of bodily action and of the senses.
Suppression of mental activity, too, is prominent.
Consider first the following.

The Vitakkasanthaana Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaaya
and its parallels in Chinese translation recommend the
practising monk to ‘restrain his thought with his mind,
to coerce and torment it’. Exactly the same words are
used elsewhere in the Paali canon (in the Mahaasaccaka
Sutta, Bodhiraajakumaara Sutta and Sa^ngaarava
Sutta) in order to describe the futile attempts of the
Buddha before his enlightenment to reach liberation
after the manner of the Jainas. The passage from the
third Bhaavanaakrama just cited states, similarly, that
"nothing is to be thought on" (na ki.mcic
). Other indications show that
suppression of mental activity, though rejected by the
Buddha, came to characterise much that became
known as Buddhist meditation.

Let us first look at the so-called eight Liberations
( / vimokkha). They are the following:

1) Having visible shape, one sees visible

2) Having no ideation of visible shape in
oneself, one sees visible shapes outside

3) One becomes intent on what is beautiful

4) By completely going beyond ideations of
visible shape and the coming to an end of
ideations of aversion, by not fixing one’s
mind on different ideations, [thinking]
‘space is infinite’, he reaches the Stage of
Infinity of Space
(aakaa^saanantyaayatana /
) and remains

5) Having completely gone beyond the Stage
of Infinity of Space, [thinking] ‘knowledge
is infinite’, one reaches the Stage of Infinity
of Perception (vij~naanaanantyaayatana /
) and remains

6) Having completely gone beyond the Stage
of Infinity of Perception [thinking] ‘there is
nothing’ one reaches the Stage of
Nothingness (aaki~ncanyaayatana /
) and remains

7) Having completely gone beyond the Stage
of Nothingness, one reaches the Stage of
Neither Ideation nor Non-Ideation
(naivasa.m-j~naanaasa.mj~naayatana /
) and
remains there

8) Having completely gone beyond the Stage
of Neither Ideation nor Non-Ideation, one
reaches the Cessation of Ideations and
Feelings (sa.mj~naavedayitanirodha /
) and remains


It is difficult to understand fully what exactly is meant
by this series of stages, but there can be no doubt that
it is a list of graded exercises by which the practitioner
gradually puts an end to all ideations. In the Stage of
Nothingness the most ethereal of ideations alone
remain, described as "there is nothing". In the following
two states even this ideation disappears. Mental
activity is in this way completely suppressed.

The Stage of Infinity of Space
(aakaa^saanantyaayatana /
), the Stage of Infinity of
Perception (vij~naanaanantyaayatana /
), the Stage of Nothingness
(aaki~ncanyaayatana / aaki~nca~n~naayatana) and
the Stage of Neither Ideation nor Non-Ideation
(naivasa.mj~naanaasa.mj~naayatana /
) often occur
together in the Buddhist Suutras, also in other
contexts. They are known by the name aaruupya
"Formless States". Independent evidence, from early
Abhidharma this time, confirms that neither these
Formless States nor the Cessation of Ideations and
Feelings (sa.m-j~naavedayitanirodha /
) were part of the Buddha’s
original teaching.(12) And yet they came to be looked
upon as central to Buddhist meditation.

What can we conclude from the above observations? It
is clear that the development of Buddhism, already in
India and already in the early centuries following the
death of its founder, cannot be looked upon as the
simple preservation of the teachings of the historical
Buddha. Elements that had not been taught by him and
even some that had been explicitly rejected by him
found their way into the practices and theoretical
positions of Buddhism. Other important developments,
such as Abhidharma and perhaps also certain
philosophical developments associated with
Mahaayaana, came about as a result of attempts to
order and systematise the Buddhist teachings. These
and other factors have to be taken into account if one
wishes to understand Buddhism in its historical

Similar reflection can be made when it comes to self
and meditation in Buddhism. It seems certain that the
Buddha never preached knowledge of the self as
essential for reaching liberation. Yet his followers
introduced this notion, first in a roundabout way, later
directly in such forms as the tathaagatagarbha. With
regard to meditation we can be sure that the Buddha
taught some kind of meditation ― the four Dhyaanas
to be precise ― as preliminary stages to the
psychological transformation that constituted the aim
of his teachings. His followers, once again, introduced
other forms of meditation which had little to do with
this psychological transformation, and much more with
the originally non-Buddhist aim of immobilising the



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Abbreviations: (13)


A^nguttara-Nikaaya, ed. R. Morris, E. Hardy, 5 vols.,
London 1885-1900 (PTS); vol. 6 (Indexes, by M. Hunt
and C. A. F. Rhys Davids), London 1910 (PTS)


Alt- und Neuindische Studien, Hamburg


Asiatische Studien, Études Asiatiques, Bern


I. B. Horner (transl.), The Book of the Discipline,
Vinaya Pi.taka, vols. 1-6, London 1938-1966 (SBB)


Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,
University of London, London


Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, Darbhanga


Indica et Tibetica


Journal of the International Association of Buddhist
Studies, Madison


(Saddharma)la^nkaavataarasuutra, ed. P. L. Vaidya,
Darbhanga 1963 (BST 3)


Giuseppe Tucci, Minor Buddhist Texts, pt. I, Roma
1956 (SOR IX); pt. II, Roma 1958 (SOR IX,2); pt. III,
Roma 1971 (SOR XLIII)


Majjhima-Nikaaya, ed. V. Trenckner, R. Chalmers, 3
vols., London 1888-1899 (PTS)


Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien


Pali Text Society, London


Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften
in Wien, Phil.-hist. Kl., Wien


Sacred Books of the Buddhists Series, London


Serie Orientale Roma, Roma


Vinayapi.taka, ed. H. Oldenberg, 5 vols., London
1879-1883 (PTS)


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1) This article draws heavily on my earlier publications, esp.
The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India (2nd
edition, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1993); The Two
Sources of Indian Asceticism
(Peter Lang, Bern, 1993;
2nd edition, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1998, forthcoming);
"The Buddha and the Jainas reconsidered" (AS 49(2), 1995,
333-350); "Dharma and Abhidharma" (BSOAS 48 (1985), pp.
305-320); "Remarks on the history of Jaina meditation" (Jain
Studies in Honour of Jozef Deleu
, ed. Rudy Smet and Kenji
Watanabe, Tokyo: Hon-no-Tomosha, 1993, pp. 151-162);
"Die Buddhistische Lehre" (Der indische Buddhismus und
seine Verzweigungen, Die Religionen der Menschheit
, vol.
24,1, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, forthcoming); "Did
the Buddha believe in karma and rebirth?" (JIABS 21(1),
1998, forthcoming); "Zur Genese des Buddhismus in seinem
geschichtlichen Kontext. Proprium ― Abgrenzung
gegenüber hinduistischen Traditionen und Jinismus" (Der
Buddhismus als Anfrage an christliche Theologie und
, ed. Andreas Bsteh, Mödling: St. Gabriel,
forthcoming). These publications contain full references to
the original texts.


2) AN III.415.


3) Richard Gombrich ("The Buddhist attitude to
thaumaturgy," Bauddhavidyaasudhaakara.h: Studies in
Honour of Heinz Bechert on the Occasion of His 65th
, ed. Petra Kieffer-Pülz and Jens-Uwe Hartmann,
Swisttal-Odendorf 1997 (IndTib 30), pp. 165-184) is right in
emphasising the revolutionary nature of the Buddha’s
theory of karma, but no doubt wrong in suggesting that
before his time primarily ritual acts were believed to be
responsible for continual rebirth (p. 171). See also the
chapter "Kamma as a reaction to Brahminism" in
Gombrich’s book How Buddhism Began: The conditioned
genesis of the early teachings
(London & Atlantic
Highlands, N.J.: Athlone, 1996 (Jordan Lectures 1994), pp.


4) Some scholars seem to have missed this point. Oskar v.
Hinüber ("Old age and old monks in Paali Buddhism,"
Aging, Asian Concepts and Experiences, Past and
, ed. Susanne Formanek and Sepp Linhart, Wien:
ÖAW, 1997 (SAWW 643), pp. 65-78), for example, writes (p. 67) that
"the Buddha … spent half a century striving for
enlightenment and teaching before he finally entered at the age of 80".


5) "Ich" und das Ich. Analytische Untersuchungen zur
buddhistisch-brahmanischen ?tmankontroverse
Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1988 (ANISt 33), pp. 59-242.


6) Vin I.13 f.; tr. BD 4 p. 20 f., modified.


7) La^nkaav(V) 2.137, p. 33 l. 10 ff. The word kartaa at the
end of Mahaamati’s question has been corrected into
akartaa ‘non-active’; only this reading makes sense; it is
moreover confirmed by the Tibetan translation (Taipei
edition vol. 10, folio 86a), as I have been informed by T.


8) MN I.247.


9) E.g. MN I.23


10) MBT III, pp. 13-14; tr. David Seyfort Ruegg,
Buddha-nature, Mind and the Problem of Gradualism in a
Comparative Perspective: On the transmission and
reception of Buddhism in India and Tibet,
London: School
of Oriental and African Studies, 1989 (Jordan Lectures
1987), p. 93.


11) Minoru Hara, "A note on the Buddha’s asceticism: The
Liu du ji jing (Six Paaramitaa-suutra) 53,"
Bauddhavidyaasudhaakara.h: Studies in Honour of Heinz
Bechert on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday
, ed. Petra
Kieffer-Pülz and Jens-Uwe Hartmann, Swisttal-Odendorf
1997 (IndTib 30), pp. 249-260.


12) See my article "Dharma and Abhidharma" mentioned in
note 1, above.


13) Where possible I follow the Abkürzungsverzeichnis zur
buddhistischen Literatur in Indien und Südostasien
insbesondere zu den Veröffentlichungen der Kommission
für buddhistische Studien der Akademie der
Wissenschaften in Göttingen
, ed. Heinz Bechert,
Vorabdruck, Göttingen 1988.