Experiencing the Theravādin Buddhist Jhāna Absorptions through the Breath


In this presentation, the place of the Old School Buddhist form jhāna absorptions within Theravādin meditation practice is outlined, with a note on the modern history of their practice. The heart of the presentation is a first-hand account of what the experience of jhāna through the breath entails. Brief reflections are offered on implications of such experience for our constructions of “religion,” and “philosophy,” and “psychology.”

Questions for reflection

What is the relationship in Old School Buddhism (Theravada) between “mindfulness,” “concentrative absorption,” and “insight”?

What implications does the occurrence of altered states have for how we understand our “ordinary” states of mind?

Further reading

David Collins.  2019. “Deconstructing Mindfulness: Embracing a Complex Simplicity.” https://thesideview.co/journal/deconstructing-mindfulness/

Shaila Catherine. 2008. Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. (Wisdom Publications.)

Richard Shankman. 2008. The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation. (Shambhala.)

David Collins, Ph.D., is a staff member in UT’s Psychology Department. He graduated from Dartmouth with a double major in psychology and religion, and has master’s degrees in contemplative theology from the Graduate Theological Union and in world religion, with an emphasis in Buddhist studies, from Harvard. His doctorate is in clinical psychology, for which his dissertation was a comparison of contemplative deconstruction in The Cloud of Unknowing and Zen master Dōgen. David also has a long-standing meditation practice, primarily in Zen and Vipassana practice styles.