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VINE VOICEon October 8, 2004
--This wonderful book, despite its somewhat misleading title, is a modern commentary on Buddhism's Jhanas, or supreme meditative contemplations (others might use terms like "peak spiritual experiences" or "liberated states of awareness."). The Jhanas include eight levels of conscious awareness, and they appear to be the mystical "mystical experiences" that so many pilgrims from so many religious traditions have sought for so many centuries. This book gives a Buddhist perspective on them, although the methodology for approaching and assessing the Jhanas are subjects of some debate within the Buddhist community.

--Ayya Khema, a well-respected Buddhist nun, centers her book around a little-known part of Buddhist scripture called the Potthapada Sutta, in which a well-meaning but unsophisticated student asks the Buddha how to achieve the highest level of conscious awareness. The Buddha often answered such complicated questions very simply and with some humor, but he now takes the reader into a journey full of wisdom and depth. Instead of answering the student directly, he defers the answer until he has addressed the preparation needed to comprehend the question. The Buddha clearly indicates that the higher mental states should be approached indirectly, carefully, and with great ethical and mental preparation. Such preparation usually takes tremendous effort and personal change, but without them, chasing after something like the "highest conscious states" may not only be useless but a dangerous source of attachment and delusion. Far from being an esoteric spiritual cookbook, Buddhism demands adequate awareness, a practiced discernment of existence, and an ethical "guarding of the sense doors." Only then can the various Jhanas be productively accessed, although they are not simply "obtained" by our own efforts. Liberation depends on comprehending existence, not manipulating it.

--Ayya Khema then gives a superb commentary on the Buddha's description of the Jhanas, and discusses what they mean for us. The author suggests the Buddha viewed these supreme mystical experiences far differently from many other religious leaders. Although the Jhanas are a supremely wonderful and useful place for the mind to be, they too are subject to arising and passing away, and are not the End of the Road. Instead, their value is to allow the mind to become so clear and so focused that Insight Meditation becomes more, well, insightful. As the author puts it, the Jhanas can have indispensible value in "understanding experience," and in managing the questions of old age, suffering, and death. When all becomes still and one becomes kind, all becomes obvious.

--Ayya Khema has artfully described a wonderful teaching. She has introduced us to steps on the spiritual journey that many of us had not expected to take -- those of discipline, renunciation, heightened awareness, and decency. Life isn't easy, but it can be positive for one who pays attention and changes accordingly.

--This book deserves the attention of anyone interested in this dimension of Buddhist meditation. You may also want to consider a directed Jhana retreat, such as one of those found on her student Leigh Brasington's website.

--I should add the Potthapada Sutta is not only an excellent commentary on the Jhanas, it gives superb advice about the overall Buddhist path.
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on July 16, 2001
books on meditation abound . the hard part is sifting through the morass of confusing and often contradictory methods that all but scream for your attention . ayya khema's book doesn't scream .... it whispers . and its still whispering to me , long after i have finished it .
meditation books can be dry , they can be humorous , technical etc , but they all need to appeal to the experience of the everyday person , the one we're all so familiar with . we have to see our everyday selves in a book on meditation for it to appeal to us . ayya khema's book appeals .
buddhism can be so esoteric . but this book keeps it simple , the way buddha intended it before our vainglorious egos started putting words into his mouth .
now if i sound like i'm about to fall at ayya's khema's feet in servile obeisance , i'm not . there are plenty of other good books out there on meditation , but few wrenched my gut the way this one did . the best part of this book is that ayya khema writes like she has herself been through the pains of the path . buy it and begin practising !
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on February 4, 2010
I stumbled upon this gem and decided to give it a chance, despite not being familiar with the author. I had another book that went through the jhanas in my hand and comparatively, this one seemed to be more organic and contextual. Additionally, the author's voice is conversational, an amazing feat in and of itself. She has to know her stuff inside out to present something so profound and unpack it the way she does. The book is comparatively short given the breadth of the topic. The sutta contains the whole of the practice.

Other reviewers basically said what I feel, so I won't repeat it. If I could take but one meditation book to a deserted island, this would be it. It engages ALL one needs to consider to become liberated, not only meditation. The book is very true to the original teachings and without any egotistical need to put her stamp on it. The title is really not a good representation of all the book contains but by the end, you will hopefully understand why she picked it. Losing our belief in an existent "self" is the sinequanon of the why of buddhist practice and what liberation is dependent upon. That idea is impossible to comprehend and will only make sense after meditative experience.

The author provides a map from the beginning of our path (the confused person who does not understand what practice is all about) and the end (becoming a Buddha- awakening to the ultimate reality vs. what we thought was "true" all along). I love it and I can't say enough. It is packed with the wisdom and experience of someone who has tasted the fruit of practice. Her engagement of path and fruition (fruit) is clear and compelling. I've read this short chapter multiple times and will continue to do so. It also inspires me to continue to engage in my practice, and what can be better than that? This book stands heads and shoulders over any other meditation book I've read, especially contemporary ones. In fact, I am selling alot of my books to live more simply and this one is definitely not going anywhere.
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on March 6, 2006
I own over a dozen books on Buddhism, but this is the *only* one that actually describes stream-entry. The descriptions of the jhanas are just wonderful, and certainly have helped me in my meditation practice. My deepest gratitude goes out to the late Ayya Khema.

Don't be fooled by the title (which I really find misleading). This book is a treasure of simple, yet detailed explanations on a complex subject. This book is a must for the serious buddhist meditation practitioner.
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on August 1, 2010
There are many wonderful reviews of this book. So, I'll limit my 'review' to just a few comments. This book is like a meditator's manual and it is superb. It is very clearly written and, most importantly, it works! You'll probably not read this book straight through; it'll probably be dipped into as your practice progresses. This is not a beginner's book: purchase it only if you are very serious about your practice and are looking at establishing a daily practice or at least a very regular practice. And it would also be helpful if you have some background on Buddhism e.g. from The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path, both of which are excellent resources. Also, please note that this book is written from a Theravada perspective. So, if you are learning Tibetan Buddhism (tonglen, lojong) or Zen Buddhism then this is perhaps not the first book to get, because you may find it confusing.
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on July 6, 2008
I disagree that this book's title is misleading. True, the focus is on meditation and the jhanas, but the point is that if you practice in this manner you WILL discover who the self is, or rather that it is not.

Ayya has a very readable writing style. And Just as a question arises in my mind, she answers it. She starts out with the difficulties we all have when starting meditation by focusing on the need for an ethical lifestyle, then detailing the hindrances we all face from time to time, and then going into details of the stages of the Jhanas.

I get much out of all of Ayya's books, and am currently in the process of rereading them. Each time I learn more. I think this is my favorite Ayya book. Her books are well organized, superbly written, and the ideas well articulated, easy to understand, with many wonderful examples. And she sticks to the Buddha's teachings and interjects quotes from various texts of the Cannon. I can't recommend this book enough.
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on January 29, 2009
This was my first Ayya Khema book and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. She packs a lot into this text - her knowledge of Theravadan thought is formidable. And yet she delivers it all with the warm and comforting voice of a close friend. Her descriptions of the advanced stages of the Path of Enlightenment are both thought provoking and fun to read. In this book Ayya Khema reminded me that the Buddha's message is a cause for joy. Great stuff.
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on March 9, 2010
Down to earth commentary on the Potthapada sutta with realistic description of the jhanas, along with what the path is and isn't. Reading Ayya Khema makes one want to meditate! This is a book i wish I had read as a beginner and maybe saved myself a lot of time.
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on April 19, 2013
This book explains the original Buddhist meditation tradition very well. It covers everything from the basic beginner instructions to highly advanced formless jhana meditation and insights leading toward enlightenment. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the traditional approach to jhana.
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on April 8, 2013
Ayya Kheyma was the most inspirational person I have ever known (by book, video and a meeting years ago). She embodies kindness, selflessness, heart, knowledge, wisdom. I wish I could give this book to everyone I know.
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