The essential role of the four jhānas in the early Buddhist account of awakening.
This paper explores the early Buddhist thought preserved in the Pāḷi Nikāyas in order to understand how happiness is conceived and its role in the progress towards awakening. Although the Buddha presents his teaching as a path leading to the liberation from suffering, he also stresses that a complete overcoming of the root of suffering (namely, the craving for sensual pleasures) cannot be achieved until one directly experiences true wholesome happiness, joy and pleasure. The paper argues that this happiness is cultivated and developed through right concentration (samma samadhi), namely, through the meditation practice commonly presented in the discourses as the ‘four jhānas’. While jhāna practice is controversial today, the paper argues that it fulfills by itself the criteria to develop and achieve insight and awakening. Moreover, jhāna practice discloses a deep philosophical teaching about the genuine nature of happiness and its existential value.