The Buddha on Meditation & States of Consciousness,
Part I, by Daniel Goleman

The file attached below, titled "The Buddha on Meditation & States of Consciousness-Part I," was an important early influence for me in my personal sadhana. I got to know its author, Daniel Goleman, during my graduate studies at Harvard, when he was a member of Gary Swartz's team in the Psychology Department in William James Hall, one of the first groups in US academia officially studying the neurophysiological correlates of meditative states. (Another member of that remarkable group was Richard Davidson, who now directs the Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the world's most sophisticated laboratories studying the mechanisms of mind-brain-body interaction.)

For the past several years, Daniel has become well known in the United States as an editor and writer for among others, JTP, Psychology Today, and the New York Times, plus the author of several best-selling books re meditation and the new fields of emotional and social intelligence.

This article was originally published in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (JTP), Vol. 4, 1972.

Although written over 35 years ago, this article remains one of the most comprehensive Western scientific papers I know of that attempts a systematic analysis of some forms of Buddhist and yogic meditative disciplines, their physiological correlates, and outlines a possible program for an integration between scientific research and personal practice.

This is the first of a two part article, published in consecutive editions of the JTP . I will post the second part in the near future.

Note: This article is formatted as a .pdf document. Mac users will be able to read it automatically. Windows users may need to download a free version of Adobe's Acrobat Reader from:

INTRODUCTION to Part I, by Daniel Goleman

The predicament of Westerners setting out to explore those states of consciousness discontinuous with the normal is like that of the early sixteenth century European cartographers who pieced together maps from explorers' reports of the New World they had not themselves seen. Just as Pizarro's report of the New World would have emphasized Peru and South America and underplayed North America, while Hudson's would be biased toward Canada and North America to the detriment of South America, so with explorers in psychic space:  each report of states of consciousness is a unique configuration specific to the edxperiences of the voyager who sets it down. That the reports overlap and agree makes us more sure that the terrain within has its own topography, independent of and reflected in the mapping of it. The differences in maps show us that there are many routes to these states, and that they can be reached in distinct ways and told of within disparate systems of language, metaphor, and symbol. ...

What has for ages constituted a fundamental transcendental religious experience, and so been described in the terminology of religious belief systems, is on the verge of being translated into the framework of modern psychology, itself a belief system, as "altered" or "higher states of consciousness" (ASC and HSC, respectively).

This paper is concerned with a subcategory of ASC:  meditation-specific states of consciousness, or MSC. Meditation states are distinct from ASC in that they include only those states attained through meditation that transcend normal conditions of sensory awareness and cognition. ASC subsumes a wider range than does MSC: altered states include, e.g., those induced by hypnosis and psychedelics (topics beyond the scope of this paper) as well as MSC. ...

As systematic investigaion of states of consciousness comes to fruition, seeming differences among traditional sources in descriptions and delimitations of meditation and higher states may prove to be due to the individual idiosyncracies of those who have experienced and told of them, rather than to the innate nature of the states themselves. Since most of the teachings about MSC and HSC are within a religious framework, the particular belief system in terms of which the experiences of an HSC are interpreted also must be seen as accounting for some of the variance. Here, as elsewhere, the Schachter (1962) effect prevails: cognitive predispostions determine the interpretation and labeling of internal stimuli... As Suzuki (1958) points out, in every religion it has been the core experience of an altered state which has preceded and been foundation for the subsequent structures of institution and theology. Too often it is the latter that have survived rather than the former; thus the modern crisis of the established churches might be seen in terms of the disappearance in our age of personally experienced transcendental states, the "living spirit" which is the common base of all religions. Still, for each being who enters these staes without a guide, it is as though he were discoverng them for all the world for the first time. A biographer of Sri Aurobindo, for example, notes (Satprem, 1970, p. 256):

"One may imagine that Sri Aurobindo was the first to be baffled by his own experience and that it took him some years to understand exactly what had happened. We have described the ... experience ... as though the stages had been linked very carefully, each with its explanatory label, but the explanations came long afterwards, at that moment he had no guiding landmarks."

This paper begins in Part I with a detailed discussion of the Visuddhimagga account of Gotama Buddha's teachings on meditation and higher states of consciousness––perhaps the most detailed and extensive report extant of one being's explorations within the mind. On the basis of these teachings, implications are discussed for research in the psychophysiology of meditation, and a framework of landmarks are proposed for methodical laboratory tests of meditation and meditative states of consciousness. In Part II, a three fold dynamic typology is generated, using the Buddha's account and map as reference point: concentration on a single object versus contemplations of the workings of the mind itself, plus the integrated combination of the two. This typology is used as a template in a survey of many of the meditation systems currently coming into popularity in the West. ...
(Text of article is continued in attached pdf file ...)