Human Nature and Buddhist Liberation

by Johannes Bronkhorst

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"… a splendid work of Buddhology, psychology, and philosophy." (Prof. Florin Deleanu).

"An original book, and a substantial contribution to the cognitive science of 'mysticism' and religion in general" (Prof. Ilkka Pyysiäinen)

"… a stimulating philosophical essay … The model Bronkhorst presents does not only provide space for the mental possibilities recorded in early Buddhist texts but it also tries to present a coherent picture of 'ordinary' mental events." (Prof. Eddy Van Laerhoven)

Absorption (paperback)

ISBN 978-3-906000-24-4. 263 pp.

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This book argues for the central role played by absorption in the functioning of the human mind. The importance of absorption makes itself felt in different ways; the two studies combined in this book concentrate on two of them.

The first study argues that, largely as a result of language acquisition, humans have two levels of cognition, which in normal circumstances are simultaneously active. Mental absorption is a (or the) means to circumvent some, perhaps all, of the associations that characterize one of these two levels, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as mystical experience, but which is not confined to mysticism and plays a role in various “religious” phenomena, and elsewhere.

The second study takes as point of departure some puzzling statements in the early Buddhist canon that raises serious questions of a psychological nature. An essential element in the psychological theory proposed is the observation that mental absorption is a source of pleasure. Since the human mind is in large part guided by pleasure, which it seeks to repeat, states of absorption leave memory traces that subsequently direct the mind. However, these memory traces do not “recall” the states of absorption themselves, but rather the objects or circumstances that accompanied them. The resulting activity of the mind differs in this way from person to person, and can pursue wildly diverging goals.

Johannes Bronkhorst is emeritus professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies at the University of Lausanne. He has published widely in the history of Indian religious, philosophical and scientific thought, and in religious studies in general. Among his recent books: Greater Magadha (2007), Aux origines de la philosophie indienne (2008), Buddhist Teaching in India (2009), Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism (2011), Karma (2011).