Lecture Series - Early Buddhist Meditation: A Philosophical Investigation

Steven Egan's picture

This term the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (A Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford) wil be presenting a series of five lectures by Dr. Alex Wynne.

The lectures take place every Monday, 29 Jan – 26 Feb, at 5.15pm in Lecture Room 1 at the Oriental Institute, Oxford.  All are welcome.  The lectures will be recorded and posted on our website in due course.

Early Buddhist Meditation: A Philosophical Investigation

What is the philosophical basis of Buddhist meditation? The theory of ‘calm’ (samatha) and ‘insight’ (vipassanā) was the norm in Buddhist India, and remains standard in modern Theravāda. Other Indian options include concentration alone and ‘dry insight’; the former is found in some forms of contemporary Theravāda, whereas recent therapeutic adaptations of mindfulness depend on the latter.

Going against the general consensus, these lectures will claim that none of the traditional theories of spiritual praxis makes sense of early Buddhist philosophy. Instead, it will be argued that the theory of calm and insight was a non-Buddhist idea which distorted the original meaning of Buddhist jhāna. In the earliest form of Buddhist meditation, the four jhānas were not states of inner concentration, and ‘mindfulness’ (satipaṭṭhāna) was not a sort of ‘insight’ (vipassanā) meditation.

Through close textual readings and conceptual analysis, and touching on the early Buddhist philosophies of mind and personhood, the earliest Buddhist meditation will be re-imagined as a natural process of absorption (jhāna), devoid of specific or necessary objects, but enabled by bodily attention (kāya-gatā sati).


1. Monday January 29th: Conceptual foundations: Sāriputta or Kaccāyana?

2. Monday February 5th: Māluṅkyaputta

3. Monday February 12th: What did the Buddha mean by bare cognition’ (viññāṇa-matta)?

4. Monday February 19th: Jhāna

5. Monday February 26th: The Gateway


Steven Egan

Operations and Development Manager

Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies

The OCBS is a Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford.