A critical analysis of the jhanas
by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, Ph.D.
This work, by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, provides an analytical study of the Jhãnas, as they are an important set of meditative attainments in the contemplative discipline of Theravãda Buddhism. Despite their frequent appearance in the texts, the exact role of the Jhãnas in the Buddhist path has not been settled with unanimity by Theravãda scholars, who are still divided over the question as to whether they are necessary for attaining Nibbana. The primary purpose of this dissertation is to determine the precise role of the Jhãnas in the Theravãda Buddhist presentation of the way to liberation.
For source material the work relies upon the three principal classes of authoritative Theravãda texts: the Pali Tipitaka, its commentaries, and its sub-commentaries. To traditional canonical investigations modern methods of philosophical and psychological analysis are applied in order to clarify the meanings implicit in the original sources. The examination covers two major areas: first the dynamics of Jhãna attainment, and second, the function of the Jhãnas in realizing the ultimate goal of Buddhism, Nibbana or final liberation from suffering.