How only Buddhists can stop thinking and get away with it: a theory of ‘the attainment of cessation’ (nirodha-samāpatti) in early Buddhist literature.
By Rupert Gethin, University of Bristol
Since La Vallée Poussin, scholars have tended to read the apparently differing accounts of the Buddhist path and its goal found in the earliest Buddhist sources as reflecting the competing voices of those among the Buddha’s early followers who conceived of meditation primarily in terms of stilling thoughts and emotions (characterised by especially craving) and those who conceived of it in terms of acquiring new knowledge and understanding: the mystics versus the rationalists.
Yet, in contrast to other disputed issues adumbrated in the Nikāya-Āgama literature (such as the status of the ‘person’, intermediate existence between lives, the nature of the past, present and future), there is no clear trace of such a dispute in early Buddhist scholastic literature. In fact there is a general agreement on this issue.
The present paper argues that the Nikāya-Āgama material concerned with the complete stopping of thoughts represents an attempt to position the Buddhist theory of meditation and its goal in relation to the claim of ‘wanderers of other schools’ that simply stopping the activities of the mind was equivalent to liberation.