, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 469-489
Date: 18 Jul 2010

From Abstract Concepts to Experiential Knowledge: Embodying Enlightenment in a Meditation Center

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Abstract

How do abstract philosophies turn into lived reality? Based on 2 years of ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews of vipassana meditation practitioners in Israel and the United States, the paper follows the process through which meditators embody the three main Buddhist tenets: dissatisfaction, impermanence and not-self. While meditators consider these tenets central to Buddhist philosophy, it is only through the practice of meditation that the tenets are experienced on the bodily level and thereby are “realized” as truth. This realization takes place in the situated environment of the meditation center, where participation in long meditation retreats facilitates the production of specific subjective experiences that infuse the knowledge of Buddhist tenets with embodied meaning. The paper illustrates how abstract concepts and embodied experience support one another in the construction of meditators’ phenomenological reality and suggests a general framework for studying the variety of relations that exist between the conceptual and embodied dimensions of different types of knowledge.