The Selfless Mind by Harvey

Peter Harvey. The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, repr. 2004. Paperback, 293 pp.

This excellent work was first published in 1995, and the present reprint is timely and welcome. Harvey, who is Reader in Buddhist Studies in the School of Social and International Studies at the University of Sunderland England, has compiled key materials on yogic psychology based on the Pali sources and also has furnished invaluable analyses of important psychological and philosophical concepts. His book with its fine detail replaces the earlier pioneering study by T. Stcherbatsky.

Anyone interested in Buddhism, psychospiritual/yogic processes, and the phenomenology of meditation/ecstasy will unquestionably find this book a treasure trove. Harvey’s analyses are thorough and unbiased.He has succeeded in debunking some long-held opinions and risky conjectures, and with the aid of his book early Buddhist theory–perhaps even the teaching of the Buddha himself–has come within our grasp.

One of the notions that every so often surfaces in scholarly discussions is that Gautama the Buddha after all taught the existence of an eternal Self. Harvey’s careful scrutiny of the relevant passages in the Suttas once and for all puts this idea to rest. While the existence of an eternal Self is not explicitly denied, the Buddha avoided affirming it. His agnosticism relative to the hard metaphysical questions is a uinque feature of his teaching.

Harvey also examined the notion of an arhat’s extended “unbounded” consciousness, resembling a big Self, and arrived at the conclusion that this metaphor also must not be concretized into an actual transcendental, eternal Self. His analysis of the bhavanga, or resting state of the mind, is an admirable tour-de-force, which exposes the Buddha’s approach to the core.

Harvey’s portrayal of the “continuities” that are postulated to exist between one life and the next is particularly illuminating, clearly showing the Buddha’s unique interpretation. The “life principle” ( gandabbha) that is in effect between lives must not be understood materialistically or in the manner of the parallel passages in the Upanishadic literature. There simply is no room for ” eternalism” in the Buddha’s teaching.

In a way, the first ten chapters of the book clear the ground for a protracted analysis of nibbana (nirvana) in the remaining three chapters. An in-depth study of this erudite book will undoubtedly give the reader a 20/20 view of the most seminal psychologica/metaphysical concepts of early Buddhism.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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