Scientific research on the Jhanas

Pål, modified 7 Years ago at 10/6/14 12:59 PM
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Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Do you know any good studies and/or scientific articles on the jhanas? I'm making an essay about it for school, but I have a hard time finding legit sources on the subject...
Derek, modified 7 Years ago at 10/6/14 2:36 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Until Daniel's Dream of a New Scientific Journal comes into being, unfortunately not.

You might find what little research there is if you try different search terms, e.g.:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=samadhi
Pål, modified 7 Years ago at 10/6/14 11:38 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Thanks, hopefully I'll find something there! emoticon

I don't like it that there is so much research about such an undefined and broad term such as meditation, but practically none about the more concrete phenomenons and methods that the word meditation includes today.
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 10/6/14 11:51 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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CJMacie, modified 7 Years ago at 10/7/14 3:15 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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"Very interesting" indeed -- thanks NT for digging this up.

From the abstract: "According to an historical-philological hypothesis (Wynne, 2009) the two forms of meditation could be disentangled. While mindfulness is the focus of Buddhist meditation reached by focusing sustained attention on the body, on breathing and on the content of the thoughts, reaching an ineffable state of nothigness accompanied by a loss of sense of self and duality (Samadhi) is the main focus of Hinduism-inspired meditation. It is possible that these different practices activate separate brain networks."

This dichotomy (Buddhist = vipassana, Hindu = samadhi as 'selfless' [not 'higher self/Brahman?']), if meant as strict either/or, is surprising -- will have to see how (Alexander) Wynne supports this view, apparently in a book: "The Origin of Buddhist Meditation."

btw: found a link having a bunch of articles (all downloadable) by this Alexander Wynne:
http://www.ocbs.org/lectures-a-articles-ocbsmain-121/alex-wynne-articles

This is the first I've ever heard of this author.

cjm
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CJMacie, modified 7 Years ago at 3/8/15 8:09 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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A while ago, Not_Tao found reference to research
(http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5599869#_19_message_5600237)
correlating neural images with "Hindhu" meditation (samatha) and "Buddhist" medication (mindfulness), basing the distinction or concepts from Alexander Wynne's "The Origin of Buddhist Meditation". We had access only to an abstract at that time, and the full research article was available from Elsivier for some $40, which I wasn't about to fork-up.

Today I ran across a pre-publication version of the full article, at:
http://www.academia.edu/8499413/Neural_mechanisms_involved_in_Hinduism_vs_Buddhism_related_meditation

One may have to sign up with academia.edu to download the PDF, but that's not hard.

It's not original research but meta-analysis of other studies. There are, however, some fMRI pictures showing "your brain on samatha" and "your brain on vipassana", so to speak.

The paper is pretty dense, but the historical stuff appears well-documented.

More later when I've been able to digest it a bit...
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 3/8/15 11:51 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Chris, I read through most of this, and I did a little research on the various brain regions mentioned in the conclusion section.  It's very interesting how it relates to the reported outcomes by people who practice each type of meditation style.  The main difference between the the Buddhist and Hindu styles (the article's definitons here) are that the Buddhist style meditation activates the frontal lobe regions associated with executive attention (the control of attention and cognitive processes), whereas the Hindu style meditations activated the posterior temporo-parietal cortex (which are responsible for emotional regulation, memory, and spacial awareness).

The Buddhist style meditation is defined as "mindfulness" or awareness of the breath, the body, and the contents of the mind, and Hindu style meditation is defined as sustained attention on an object with the goal of reaching a state of nothingness or pure awareness.

To me this suggests, at the very least, that the idea of a perennial philosophy (or a single set of experiences shared by all mystics and described differently in different traditions) is probably false.  A "true-self" enlightenment is probably different from a "no-self" enlightenment. It's likely to be messy, trying to separate the two, as well because there's a lot of cross-pollination of tradition and practice in every individual meditator.
Pål, modified 7 Years ago at 3/8/15 2:46 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Interesting! Too bad I've already written the essay. 

@Not Tao
I'm not even sure if all "no-self" awakenings are the same. I mean just read the chapter explaining models of awakening in MCTB and compare to the suttas.
Alin Mathews, modified 7 Years ago at 3/8/15 4:40 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Not Tao:
Chris, I read through most of this, and I did a little research on the various brain regions mentioned in the conclusion section.  It's very interesting how it relates to the reported outcomes by people who practice each type of meditation style.  The main difference between the the Buddhist and Hindu styles (the article's definitons here) are that the Buddhist style meditation activates the frontal lobe regions associated with executive attention (the control of attention and cognitive processes), whereas the Hindu style meditations activated the posterior temporo-parietal cortex (which are responsible for emotional regulation, memory, and spacial awareness).

The Buddhist style meditation is defined as "mindfulness" or awareness of the breath, the body, and the contents of the mind, and Hindu style meditation is defined as sustained attention on an object with the goal of reaching a state of nothingness or pure awareness.

To me this suggests, at the very least, that the idea of a perennial philosophy (or a single set of experiences shared by all mystics and described differently in different traditions) is probably false.  A "true-self" enlightenment is probably different from a "no-self" enlightenment. It's likely to be messy, trying to separate the two, as well because there's a lot of cross-pollination of tradition and practice in every individual meditator.
Interesting. In my case the sole purpose in practicing both forms of meditation was purely to keep exercising the mind's ability to concentrate, something i'd done since early childhood to perfect certain skills. although i had read the philosphies behind them they were never accepted as beliefs, having been raised not to accept anything that was not a proven [sensately experiential] fact. so the reading of their philosophies and various theologies was purely an entertaining way to enhance comprehension and enable contemplation for critical thinking.

A little background.

I became interested in AF because; although i suspect it will take many generations to avoid the childhood programming that at present makes it so difficult to achieve, i see no reason at all why it's not possible and highly beneficial for the planet.  to be free of all beliefs systems especially the most blinding (those that form spiritual mindsets) was the only reason for my meditation practice. physical yoga had the same purpose - mindbody coordination - there was no other goal than to prepare the mind to think more clearly. it was never for self glorification or enlightening a Self. 

I am therefore as baffled by those who hold deep spiritual beliefs as they are baffled that i don't. i've always been more facinated in conscious sense awareness than adopting belief systems for as long as i can remember, so practicing actualism simply came natural to me. this sensate focus - relative to spiritualists - has given this body and those i meet far less stress. and so i advocate it.

interestingly and amusingly i have never met anyone (in person) who does not assume this mindbody's sensate equanimity is the result of a spiritual achievement. but ive given up correcting their assumption as it is incomprehensible to them. their minds have been programmed to believe that an 'inner' Spiritual Being rules over the body and they become inconsolable (or aggressive) when asked to consider otherwise. what they sense is the intimate connection this body has with everything, but they can't comprehend that it's consciousness is like no other person they have ever met.    
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CJMacie, modified 7 Years ago at 3/9/15 6:21 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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re: Not Tao (3/8/15 11:51 AM as a reply to Chris J Macie.)

"To me this suggests, at the very least, that the idea of a perennial philosophy (or a single set of experiences shared by all mystics and described differently in different traditions) is probably false."

I suspect so too. At an extreme, a former teacher (still friend) was prone to assert that "all the great masters" had the same message. I felt that he should have footnoted that with "namely, my message."

"A "true-self" enlightenment is probably different from a "no-self" enlightenment. It's likely to be messy, trying to separate the two, as well because there's a lot of cross-pollination of tradition and practice in every individual meditator."

That does seem to reflect the situation here (e.g. in DhO), where umptine claims -- usually, if subtly, divergent -- of "enlightnment" pop-up, many of them likely of some substance.

"The Buddhist style meditation is defined as "mindfulness" or awareness of the breath, the body, and the contents of the mind, and Hindu style meditation is defined as sustained attention on an object with the goal of reaching a state of nothingness or pure awareness."


This distinction "Hindu" vs "Buddhist" meditation is a bit coarse, but convenient for the researchers; scientists must simplify (reduce / reductionism) to test anything. But it doesn't quite match Alexander Wynne's ideas fully.

I tracted-down and read Wynne's book (and many other papers -- virtually all his writings are on the internet). He's a brilliant scholar, if one can stomach the detailed philology. (And one area he goes into is the pros and cons of reasoning with "indirect evidence"; in particular critique of ways it's used well, and not so well. This kind of reasoning is the crux of the whole field of investigating "the early Buddhist teachings.")

As it's put in the research article (apparently paraphrasing Gombrich):
"…according to the Buddha, Samadhi was a necessay but not a sufficient mental condition to reach the ultimate liberation (nibbana)…"

That puts it quite well, in my estimation – and addresses the perennial squabbling here in DhO (and generally in Western Buddhism). But, if I read Wynne correctly, it's not quite that G. Buddha replaced samadhi with vipassana.

Wynne examines in excruciating detail the accounts (sutta-s) of GB's study with the two (presumably) Vedic masters, who led him thru as far as the "base of neither perception nor non-perception" (aka the "8th jhana"), arguing that these accounts are so unique, so weird (i.e. not likely susceptible to later sectarian messing-with) that they may be taken as historical accounts, facts, if you will. Then he takes apart a couple of sutta-s in the Sutta-Nipata where GB goes back and forth with a series of Brahmanic questioners. As I take it, he was asserting that the then Vedic-traditional samadhi needed to be sort of infused with mindfulness to in fact be able to go all the way (beyond what his teachers had) to the degree of liberation that satisfied GB's quest.

MN 111 comes to mind, where Sariputta goes thru the stages of samadhi (the 4 jhana-s and the 4 arupa-ayatana-s / immaterial bases) – at each stage "these states [of each stage] were defined by him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they disappeared … regarding those states he abided unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free,…"

So, what I think would be really interesting would be fMRIs of a practitioner going through what Sariputta was doing there!
T DC, modified 7 Years ago at 3/9/15 7:17 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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Be it as is may that the temporary experiences gained from different meditations are different, but this in no disproves a singe ultimate state of attainment.  Given the rarity of practitioners with such attainment and the lack of scanning that has been done on their brains, it is unwise to make the massive assumption that no single state of enlightenment exists.  My point is that there is not evidence here to support such a grand claim.

One example I remember clearly of an argument for this position is Jack Korfeild's book "After the extacy the laundry" in which he compared different temporary enlightenment experinces of many practitioners and concluded that not only is there no single enlighetnment, but enlighenement is not actually a lasting state of perception.  The obvious flaw was that he assumed he could base such a grand assumption on temporary meditative experience, which is by definition not a lasting state of enlightenment.  Temporary meditative experiences, be they remarkable and mystical, the jhanas, or a hindu meditative state, are simply experiences on the path, they do not represent the final result of practice. 

The argument that different practices lead to differnt end favors the idea that attainment is not inherant in experience but gennerated by the practices we pursue.  However, for anyone who has attained stream entry is would likely be wrong to suggest that vippasina itself is the basis of the attainment they experienced; consiousness is the basis of attainment, and vipassina is merely the vehicle. 

The fact that the Buddha was able to lay out a path that many since have followed speaks to the existence of a single path.  Were there even two seperate paths determined by one's meditation, there would logically be an infinite number of results, for all persons practice meditation slightly differently.  If such were the case, that practice determined result, each persons experience would have no bearing on another, and we could literally not take advice.  The idea of a single ultimate attainment merely speaks to the commonality of human experience, that all truly do possess, most basically, the same awareness.  Thus as I see it, to posit different ultimate state of attainment is to posit a genuine split in the consiouness of the human race, which truly is not supported by the evidence (i.e. ability to learn from other, DNA..)

The argument for a single final state ultimately can only be resolved in one's own experience, but I post this because it does not seem clear that the evidence favors the other side.
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 3/9/15 10:37 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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T DC, I was basing my assumption on something deeper.  If the temporary meditation states attained by the two different paths light up different regions of the brain, and these regions correspond with the claims made by high kevel practicioners about their attainments, then it seems logical to take the step and say it's probably true that these traditions are disagreeing with eath other for a reason.

I think a lot of Buddhists believe the Hindu idea of enlightenment is either a lower step on the Buddhist path, or a temporary state that has turned into a habit.  But, since the brain regions corresponding to concentration meditation are activating different regions than vipassana style meditation, it seems possible that, given a long term practice, the results really could be completely different.  Hindus describe enlightenment as "being, consciousness, bliss" and a unitive experience with all things.  Don't you find it interesting that their meditation styke lights up both the emotional relay center and the center for spacial awareness?  Buddhists descibe enlightenment as a loss of the sense of self, and the meditation style they use activates the very area of the brain responsible for executive control.

Consider further that the Buddhists in the Thai forest tradition, who use concentration meditation as their basic meditation practice, describe their attainments in a similar way to the Hindus and the plot thickens...
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CJMacie, modified 7 Years ago at 3/10/15 7:39 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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re: T DC(3/9/15 7:17 PM as a reply to Not Tao.)

"Temporary meditative experiences, be they remarkable and mystical, the jhanas,or a hindu meditative state, are simply experiences on the path, they do not represent the final result of practice."

"The fact that the Buddha was able to lay out a path that many since have followed speaks to the existence of a single path."


It's actually quite subtle in the sutta-dhamma. A key passage in the Satipatthana-Sutta reads:

"
Ekāyano ayaṃ… maggo … nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya, yadidaṃ cattāro satipaṭṭhānā."

"There is [the/an] ekayano path (maggo) … for the realization of Nibbana, namely the four satipatthanas."

The key term is 'ekayano', translated (for complicated reasons) by Analayo and B. Bodhi as "the direct (path)". Many earlier translations render this as "the only (path)", which has been widely criticized. The Pali 'ekayano' actually means something like "going in a single direction", or "going to a single, unique goal". Someone as precise as, say, Mahasi might translate it along those lines, but that would never get past English-language editors.

It makes a lot of sense, though, especially in the context of the Satipatthana-Sutta, which actually lays-out an extensive catalog of "paths", some or any or all of which (the details are the subject of Analayo's two rather dense books on the subject) can contribute to attaining to the goal.

(I won't, here, go into whether the Satipatthana-Sutta is more representative of what GB "really taught" than the Anapanasati-Sutta, etc. C.f. the plethora of DhO threads that have hashed that over.)

The sutta-s present all sorts of practices that lead to Nibbana (release, liberation, etc.), presumably at least some of which G. Buddha actually taught. But he does appear to have taught that there is a single goal (though named by a range of terms and metaphors). And in the core traditions (Hinyana, Mahayana, Vajrayana) through the ages and today, those who 'made it', for all their sectarian differences, if they sat down and chatted together about it over coffee, would probably agree on the nature of the goal.
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CJMacie, modified 7 Years ago at 3/10/15 7:50 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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re: Not Tao(3/9/15 10:37 PM as a reply to T DC.)

"… these traditions are disagreeing with eah other for a reason."

A point to consider, from Alexander Wynne's analysis, is that the ideal end-states were, in the Buddha's time, not considered equivalent. In the Vedic tradition, any and all attainment states during life were de facto temporary, as practice for the moment of death, only at which complete union with Bhahma was possible. In the Sutta-Nipata dialogs between G.Buddha and the Brahmanic students (whose level of attainment isn't clear there), what appears to shock them is GB's assertion that complete liberation is possible during this life, 'hear and now'.

Strictly speaking, one can't get an fMRI of a Vedic yogi in full attainment to compare with that of a Buddhist arahant. At least practically speaking given scientific ethics – you can't ask people to die, or kill them for the sake of a study, at least in most countries.

This brings to mind also that from the research article, as a meta-analysis of many, varied experiments, one can't assume the findings relate to full 'attainments'.

Of course, you (Not Tao) are raising a s/w different hypothesis ("…But, since the brain regions corresponding to concentration meditation are activating different regions than vipassana style meditation, it seems possible that, given a long term practice, the results really could be completely different.").

And defining what a "Hindhu" ideal is, in this day and age, maybe problematic.

One surprising fact I learned in reading Wynne (and Ajahn Sujato, and Johanna Jurewicz,…) is that prior to the formulation and writing of the Pali Canon, there was in fact comparatively little Vedic/Hindu literature, and largely Sanskrit mystical creation-myth poetry. That the vast body of literature in that tradition was written AFTER the Buddha and after the (early) Buddhist Canon, and is documented to have been clearly influenced by Buddhism.

That would suggest that Hindhu yogis claiming "enlightenment" or "awakening" today might not be referring to that in the same way it was meant 2500 years ago, in terms of the Vedic / Brahminic (the term Wynne uses) of that time.

What we could use would be comparative fMRI's of the equivalent of a Sayadaw Mahasi (Burmese tradition), of the equivalent of an Ajahn Mun, or Ajahn Chah (Thai tradition), of a modern Hindhu mastery attainer, of a Daniel Ingram, a Kenneth Folk,etc. Maybe even throw in a Jack Kornfield, or a Stephen Batchelor, as control subjects. And somehow assure each subject was "doing" their best attainment state, or whatever, at the time of testing.(The experimental methodology would clearly be challenging.)

Then again, I would suggest giving neuroscience another decade or two before expecting other than grossly hypothetical results. Scientists with solid credentials (that I've read) tend to caution that what is known today is woefully primitive, relative to what the media and popular writers (which includes a large portion of the so-called "neuro-scientists"), make of it all. fMRI's make for good power-point entertainment, but are like watching atmostpheric storms on Jupiter, compared with any scientific "deep understanding" of what's really going on there.

(MRI's, for instance, simply measure blood-flow, with moderately good spatial resolution, but relatively poor temporal resolution. The colors are artificially added to represent quantitative gradations of density of oxygenated blood.)
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 3/10/15 11:00 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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That's true, but the writers here weren't talking about scriptures, they were applying labels to two types of meditation.  I was more interested that their findings line up with how the long term practicioners of each style describe their attainments.  Those who practice concentration long term descibe a state of oneness and emotional bliss, and the areas that are exclusive to these meditation practices in the brain compared to mindfulness are the spacial and emotional centers.  Conversely, those who practice mindfulness descibe losing their sense of a control center, and mindfulness meditation lights up the center for executive funtion while concentration does not.

This doesn't prove anything, but it's very interesting nonetheless.  I think there is reason to be skeptical of the perennial philosophy, given that different practices have different reported results and these results actually correlate to what is happening to the brain while meditating.  That doesn't mean both types of people aren't liberated, but it might mean their experiences are actually different, and there is a real choice to make (or even multiple attainments to master).
T DC, modified 7 Years ago at 3/11/15 5:42 PM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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In my opinion, the differences between the Hindu and Buddhist descriptions of a final state which you brought up differ mainly just due to semantics.  Hindus seem to have no problem asserting an independant and lasting self that is realized upon enlightenment, thus descriptions such as oneness and bliss are naturally used.  In the Buddha's teachings however, there is an emphasis on laying out a path that is so descriptively accurate that it cannot be misinterpreted.  Thus we have Buddhist teachings describing the self as "neither existing, nor not existing, nor both existing and not existing, nor neither existing and not-existing".  Buddhism clearly points to the ultimate state as an experience beyond concept and thus refuses to define it in conceptual terms, save to say what it is not.  Thus it is not all things, resulting in the term "emptiness", or "void".

This approach to description seems to be the Buddha's own, however if we look at descriptions of enlightenment found in the more mystical traditions of Buddhism such as Dzogchen in Tibetan Buddhism, the ultimate state is described as the fusion of wisdom and compassion, and other such term that beg clear compasison to Hindu descriptions.  Ultimately descriptions such as oneness are to be found in many religions, from Christianity to some Native American religions to Taoism (the universal Tao), to even random mystics such as Eckart Tolle who followed no path at all and simply awakened one day.  It is this underlying coherance which seems to support the idea that all genuine spiritual paths lead to a single ultimate state.
Pål, modified 7 Years ago at 3/12/15 3:57 AM
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RE: Scientific research on the Jhanas

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T DC:
In my opinion, the differences between the Hindu and Buddhist descriptions of a final state which you brought up differ mainly just due to semantics.  Hindus seem to have no problem asserting an independant and lasting self that is realized upon enlightenment, thus descriptions such as oneness and bliss are naturally used.  In the Buddha's teachings however, there is an emphasis on laying out a path that is so descriptively accurate that it cannot be misinterpreted.  Thus we have Buddhist teachings describing the self as "neither existing, nor not existing, nor both existing and not existing, nor neither existing and not-existing".  Buddhism clearly points to the ultimate state as an experience beyond concept and thus refuses to define it in conceptual terms, save to say what it is not.  Thus it is not all things, resulting in the term "emptiness", or "void".

This approach to description seems to be the Buddha's own, however if we look at descriptions of enlightenment found in the more mystical traditions of Buddhism such as Dzogchen in Tibetan Buddhism, the ultimate state is described as the fusion of wisdom and compassion, and other such term that beg clear compasison to Hindu descriptions.  Ultimately descriptions such as oneness are to be found in many religions, from Christianity to some Native American religions to Taoism (the universal Tao), to even random mystics such as Eckart Tolle who followed no path at all and simply awakened one day.  It is this underlying coherance which seems to support the idea that all genuine spiritual paths lead to a single ultimate state.

In the mahayana parinirvana sutra, if I remember it right, the Buddha even tells the most advanced bodhisattva monks to abandon the idea of the 3C. 

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