To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyzes reviews to verify trustworthiness.
This book is on the whole an interesting and useful study on meditative states in Buddhism and Hinduism specifically and the issue of religious experience more generally. Sarbacker starts by defining his terms and discussing problems and issues in some of his sources, then he takes on the disputed idea of "religious experience" and convincingly charts a reasonable and non-reductive middle course between those who claim religious experience is the same for all people everywhere and always, transcending time and space, and those who claim that it is totally determined by society, culture, and history--or even that it is a baseless modern invention altogether. Then he attempts to breathe new life into the History of Religions approach (a la Eliade) before getting down to brass tacks and discussing Buddhist and Hindu approaches to meditation on a comparative basis and then extending the discussion to Tantric forms of these same religions.
All of this is fine and well, but the book also has some serious flaws, all of which boil down to the fact that this is after all a reworked dissertation. This does not reflect badly on Sarbacker--it's quite clear that he has done extensive research and thought deeply on these topics--so much as it highlights problems in contemporary academia. And so we get long, long obsessive deliberations on "methodology" with little room left to actually put that methodology to use. We get endless citations of prior scholars in the field, carefully weighing every approach and shade of opinion to the detriment of advancing one's own. We get lots of interesting questions and very few definite answers. Every page has to somehow revolutionize scholarship on the topic as we know it, and these inevitably inflated claims are prematurely pronounced accomplished at the end of the book. Undigested Sanskrit terms of a highly specialized nature pepper the pages, terms doubtless familiar to the dissertation committee but not so manageable to any interested non-specialist in this particular sub-field; countless references to stages of meditative states are referred to without first establishing for the reader what those stages are, how they relate to each other, and most importantly what their characteristics are. And the writing style overall adheres closely to that carefully bland and stilted dialect of English known as Dissertationese.
Despite these handicaps, though, the book has a lot going for it. Sarbacker's approach to the concept of religious experience is a sensible one that does justice to the complexities of the issues involved, and the idea of tempering religious phenomenology with sociological and historical insights seems fruitful and promising (though not accomplished fully yet here, I'd say). More importantly, Sarbacker's elucidation of the numinous and the cessative as complimentary modes of meditative transcendence is convincing, and the way in which he uses this idea to explicate Tantric religious praxis and its relation to prior forms is highly compelling and makes much sense of a confusing (if fascinating) subject. In fact, Sarbacker is at his most original and his prose at its clearest here at the end with the Tantric material--obviously this is where his heart is when it comes right down to it, and now that he's jumped through the PhD hoops we will hopefully get to hear a lot more of what he himself has to say on this subject in the near future.
This book, which is an elaboration of the author's doctoral dissertation, purports "to develop a new methodological approach to the study of yoga and meditation in the religions of South Asia, most notably in the context of Hinduism and Buddhism" (p. 1). Specifically, Sarbacker attempts to integrate psychological and sociological approaches into "a larger phenomenological model." He thus intends to move beyond Mircea Eliade's psychological orientation in explaining religious, yogic phenomena and more sociological approaches, such as I. M. Lewis's. His declared hope is that his study will contribute toward the development of "contemplative studies as a subdiscipline of the History of Religions methodology" (p. 6).
His chosen foci are Classical Yoga, Indian Buddhism, and Tantra. Fundamental to his model is the distinction between what he calls the "numinous" and "cessative" aspects of spiritual practice. By "numinous" he means "the manner in which a practitioner of yoga embodies the world-surmounting power of divinity," while "cessative" stands for the orientation of attaining freedom through separation from phenomenal existence.
Given the methodological nature of this book, the author is understandably preoccupied with definitional and hermeneutical matters, but the patient reader will be rewarded with a spate of helpful insights regarding the yogic process and the dynamics between theory and practice. The book's primary value, however, is in that it generates a host of questions that invite deeper analysis.
Often Yoga is presented as having no or only a weak theoretical "superstructure," but Sarbacker argues that there clearly is such a superstructure and that theory and practice are in a dialectical relationship to each other. He does, however, accept that meditation practice can involve a minimum of theoretical overdetermination, which is why a study of diverse meditation systems can serve as an excellent pivot for comparative analysis of distinct traditions. "The pursuit of the study of meditation and other contemplative methods," states Sarbacker, "may be an avenue for exploring the psychological, social, and ethical ramifications of alternative approaches to living and may bolster the ability of religious studies to act as a medium for social and cultural renewal" (p. 6). This statement refreshingly goes beyond what most scholars would concede.
One of the most fruitful aspects of Sarbacker's investigation is his comparison between Classical Yoga and Buddhism, which underscores the yogic roots of Buddhism on the one hand and the Buddhist influence on Classical Yoga on the other.
This book, like most books based on doctoral dissertations, has a conceptual density revolving around the discussion of the contributions of other scholars that makes for difficult reading. At the same time, the author is commendably sensitive to Yoga's inherent complexity and multifariousness. [...]