chapter  8
26 Pages

Religious Experience in Early Buddhism?

ByRichard Gombrich

In this chapter I propose to examine on the one hand the overlapping concepts of religious experience and of mystical experience, and on the other hand the religious and/or mystical experiences of the Buddha and his immediate followers, in so far as these are accessible to us through the early Pali texts; and I hope that the two sides of my examination may shed some light on each other. When we attempt to study religious experience, the founder and patron saint

of our studies must surely be William James, and I take his great book, The Varieties of Religious Experience (James 1985), as the basis of my exposition of that topic. When I began thinking what to say about religious experience in general before applying it to the Buddha, I had a few ideas which seemed to be worth communicating. When I picked up that book, I found most of them in it. On this occasion I have been particularly struck by how well James agrees with the Buddha, as I understand him – even though James, writing a century ago, was naturally not very well informed about Buddhism.1