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Yoga and the four jhanas/ dhyanas

The question arises, did Buddha develop the four jhanas of samatha meditation or did he employ yoga techniques from renouncers or Brahmins? Some scholars (J. Bronkhorst and F. Heiler) think that the four jhanas are Buddha’s own techniques (based on Buddha’s childhood experiences practising the first jhana), which were later adopted by yoga, while others (WL. King and A. Wynne) maintain that the four jhanas in reality are Brahmin yoga notions – the four dhyanas – adopted and expanded by Buddha.198 No matter who invented the four-step samatha meditation, we can see from texts like the Yoga Sutra that the four dhyanas were (or certainly became after Buddha) central to yogic meditation.

Some Buddhist schools value the four jhanas highly, but in the same breath they also assert that these, in themselves, will not lead to liberation! According to these schools, what happened instead in this state of consciousness – both traditions call it samadhi – is that the meditator is still attached to self and other delusions. So the adept will stagnate in this condition of internal tranquillity and bliss’ and never reach liberation. Many Buddhists have argued that there are such limitations to yogic tranquillity-meditation’ – samatha.

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