John of the Cross, the Dark Night of the Soul, and the Jhanas and the Arupa States

A Critical Comparative Study


  • Elizabeth J. Harris Birmingham University



jhāna, arūpa states, pīti, sukha, meditation, contemplation, comparative spirituality, dark night, union with God


This paper examines function and structure within the religious paths advocated by John of the Cross (1542–1591), and the Buddha, with particular reference to the jhanas and the arupa states, as represented in selected suttas within the Pali texts. First, John of the Cross and the jhana and arupa states are contextualised. The teaching in The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night (John of the Cross), and the Samaññaphala Sutta, the Nivapa Sutta and the Anupada Sutta (Sutta Pitaka) is then summarised. The two are then brought into conversation with each other to examine the extent to which the religious paths described move within the same landscape of spiritual practice. Differences in context and metaphysical underpinning are recognised. The paper argues, nevertheless, that similarities are more than evident, particularly with reference to attachment to sensory objects, discursive thought, and the idea of the self or the ‘I’. The paper demonstrates that the two speak of mystical paths, which share many of the same practices and fruits, although couched in different metaphors.

Author Biography

  • Elizabeth J. Harris, Birmingham University
    Elizabeth Harris is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow within the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham, UK, having recently retired from being Associate Professor in Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope University. Her primary research interests are Theravāda Buddhism, Buddhist-Christian encounter and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and she is currently President of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies. Her works include What Buddhists Believe (Oneworld 1998), Theravada Buddhism and the British Encounter (Routledge 2006), as editor, Hope: A Form of Delusion? Buddhist and Christian Perspectives (EOS 2013) and Religion, Space and Conflict in Sri Lanka (Routledge 2018).


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How to Cite

Harris, E. J. (2018). John of the Cross, the Dark Night of the Soul, and the Jhanas and the Arupa States: A Critical Comparative Study. Buddhist Studies Review, 35(1-2), 65-80.