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Nikāya Buddhism and Early Chan

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While it has long been acknowledged that Chan differs in many ways from more mainstream forms of Buddhism, recent scholarship has also resulted in an increasing awareness of the originality of early Buddhist teachings found in the Nikāyas and their distinctiveness from the later doctrine of classical Theravāda. This book is inspired by passages in Nikāya and early Chan texts that can be read as expressing surprisingly similar and at the same time very unconventional ideas about meditation, consciousness, and reality. While due to their unorthodox character, these passages have often been ignored or explained away when studied in the context of just one tradition, the new perspective provided by their comparative analysis allows a more direct reading to be considered, thereby drawing out their radical implications.

This book argues that the unconventional concepts found in Nikāya and early Chan texts are part of a unique and coherent meditative paradigm that is very different from the one commonly associated with Buddhism and dominant in its history. One of its central ideas is that certain crucial meditative states cannot be directly attained through methods involving acts of will and mental effort such as active concentration, but their occurrence is dependent on a specific way of life, state of mind and existential condition. To make better sense of Nikāya and early Chan views that are often at odds with commonly held beliefs about mental functioning and the structure of reality, and to assess their plausibility, they are compared with relevant developments in Western philosophy and cognitive science.

Published: Aug 30, 2024