Differences and interaction between meditative cultivation and philosophical thought/insight in early and Theravāda Buddhism

Authored by: Peter Harvey

Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Meditation

Print publication date:  May  2022
Online publication date:  May  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367647469
eBook ISBN: 9781003127253
Adobe ISBN:


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Buddhism has a long tradition of integration between meditative cultivation of the mind and scholarly philosophical probing of what are seen as mistaken ideas and harmful cognitive orientations, both considered aspects of wisdom. Buddhist meditations aim to develop deep changes of attitude and of emotional and cognitive distortions, each considered mutually enhancing. They aim to change one by transforming understanding and by challenging negative beliefs, instincts, and habitual reactions. This is as much psychology as philosophy. It works with the fine-grained nature of the mind, involving phenomenological observation that changes the flow of mental processes. These changes include the attainment of altered states of consciousness which allow the experience of increasingly deep inner silence. Some see a tension between the attenuation of thought in deep meditation and the cognitive processing required for the analysis needed to deeply comprehend and assimilate Buddhist philosophical insights. Yet while deep meditation goes beyond certain kinds of mental events, other mental processes continue. When the “fog” of thoughts clears, it can be easier to see certain things. This can bring a cognitive shock, even to Buddhists familiar with the relevant ideas on the mind as a complex dance of ownerless interacting processes.

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