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Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas Paperback – October 13, 2015
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"For those interested in exploring jhana, Leigh brings many years of skillful teaching to this accessible, clear, and helpful guide."—Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart
"Leigh Brasington presents a clear map of jhana practice as he learned it from his teacher, Ayya Khema. As with many aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, different traditions and lineages have different views on what constitutes these deeper states of concentration. Leigh offers many examples from his own experience and from his reading of the Buddhist texts in providing a valuable guide to this particular way of understanding and practicing them."—Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
About the Author
LEIGH BRASINGTON is a teacher of Insight Meditation who was the senior American student of the late Ven. Ayya Khema, who authorized him to teach the jhanas. He has taught them, along with other insight practices, at well over one hundred residential retreats throughout the United States and Europe.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is the only practical book I have seen on Jhana practice that guides the meditator, one step at a time, how to meditate the way the Buddha taught it to his monks , even if you're just starting out. We all are starting out, over and over, when we sit in meditation. And it's written in the simplest non technical style so it is totally accessible. This book deserves reading and re-reading and I bet you'll feel the same.
I’ve read most of the Pali Canon by now, and it seems like every second or third Sutra mentions this fact: Jhana is Right Concentration.
In my late teens I experienced, quite spontaneously, what most likely was the second Jhana. Unfortunately, the state did not last and I could never get back to it. I’m not sure I have to say that I have spent the better part of my life trying to regain that wonderful state and experience.
After looking high and low in both likely and unlikely places I finally stumbled upon Theravada Buddhism and the Jhanas. Yes, yes, I said to myself as I read about them, this is what happened. Man, these guys have known about this all along.
That was about ten years ago, and I have been an avid and practicing Buddhist meditator ever since.
Needless to say, I have ferreted out, bought and read just about everything I could find in the Jhanas, including: “Breath by Breath” by Larry Rosenberg (my first meditation “manual” as it were); “Mindfulness with Breathing” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu; “Focused and Fearless” by Shaila Catherine; “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm; “The Experience of Samadhi” and “The Art and Skill of Buddhist Meditation” by Richard Shankman; “The Path of Serenity and Insight” by Henepola Gunaratana; “The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” by Nyanaponika Thera; and “Practicing the Jhanas” by Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen. These books are all quite wonderful and highly recommended.
And, I have read all these books not once, but at least twice, and each has added to my certainty and enthusiasm in my endeavor.
Also, I have listened to many lectures by many skilled meditation teachers about Buddhist Meditation and the Jhanas, always working on reconciling their message and their advice to incorporate it into my practice
Now, to be honest, these books and other sources on the subject of Jhana do not wholeheartedly agree with each other; in fact, many present conflicting views and advice. At the one extreme there is the Visudhimagga, which quite boldly (and not very encouragingly) suggests that it’s virtually impossible to attain Jhana (especially in our day and age, is the conclusion one draws); at the other extreme is the view that the Jhanas are not even needed to attain spiritual liberation and enlightenment (although the Buddha himself begged to differ throughout the Pali Canon).
This certainly made one wish for a voice that could reconcile things and spell out a workable approach.
Enter, finally, a wonderful and measured voice of reason: Leigh Brasington’s simply wonderful book, “Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas.”
To me, this is the book that reconciles everything. And not only does it make perfect sense, but Leigh’s careful handholding and spot-on advice actually—yes, actually—works. For I am finally seeing the Jhanas (and my wonderful teen experience) again. In other words, and to use a much over-used phrase: I cannot praise or recommend this book enough.
Leigh realized that he might ruffle some feathers in the Jhana community with his views and approach, but I cannot fault him in the least. His take on what the Pali Canon actually says (meaning, in essence, what the Buddha actually taught—as well as can be established lo these 2,500 years later) about the Jhanas makes courageous sense. His approach to reaching the Jhanas (and yes, he stresses, they are very reachable indeed) is practical and based both on the Canon and on his long experience both as a meditator and a teacher.
In other words, this is a book that not only promises but in fact delivers, and I am very grateful for that.
So, if you are a Buddhist meditator, or any kind of meditator, and if your deepest wish is to (in this life) reach enlightenment: buy this book; read this book; treat this book as your best teacher; use this book.
And so, may your dreams come true.
Brasington's direct and conversational tone, and his focus throughout the book on practical approaches to developing and sustaining an undistracted and clear mind, help demystify the process of cultivating mind-states in which liberating insights can arise. His method focuses on following the pleasures and more ever more subtle beneficial qualities that arise in meditation into ever deeper and stiller places. This is a very powerful technique because the pleasures of meditation, which were highly praised and often recommended by the Buddha, help us stop chasing after pleasures that can't last and that are dependent on exterior external conditions being arranged just so, something we just can't control in life.
The most important thing to say about the method presented in this book, which the author (on pages 39 and 160) explicitly makes clear is just his method, the method he learned from his teacher, is that it actually works in practice. I and many others can attest to its effectiveness in our own meditative experiences: among many ways into great stillness of mind, the way Brasington teaches is a very natural and easy way that anybody can cultivate.
Some critics may say that Brasington’s method is invalid because it isn't spelled out in the early texts or later commentaries. But, as Brasington notes, the instructions available to us in the early texts are elliptical in the extreme: the practice of meditation in the Buddhist traditions has always been passed on from teacher to student, with the teacher tailoring and adjusting techniques so that each student can master the practices and put them to use in cultivating insight.
It's silly to debate whether a technique is orthodox and correct if it works: the Buddha only cared about one thing, ending suffering, and any technique that works for you toward this end is the “right” technique. (The Buddha did hold that all awakening happens in fundamentally the same way—by not clinging to experience as “me” or “mine”—but individuals develop their own understanding of this way and their own toolboxes of techniques tailored to their life histories and personalities.)
Brasington is one of the few authors who discuss ways into the four immaterial realms in addition to the classic jhanas, describing how to access them and use them. Here too, he provides simple instructions that work; again, there are other ways in, but the approaches he describes are natural and easy. Anyone who has stilled the mind through his previous instructions can keep going over time into places/spaces that are increasingly spacious and boundless in quality. As Brasington emphasizes, all of these states are all naturally occurring states of mind that were cultivated from ancient times in India: the Buddha saw that they could be used to prepare the mind for letting go and Brasington encourages us to use them to this same end.
In the second half of the book, Brasington presents textual analysis to show that his instructions for cultivating an undistracted mind are in accord with texts in the pre-commentarial tradition. This section provides a refreshing addition to our understanding, with many original comments and corrections. In particular, Brasington’s work to unpack the meaning of key terms in the various texts provides one more nail in the coffin of the idea that somehow the later commentaries are more useful than the suttas (the early discourses that capture the Buddha’s teachings) in understanding how meditation practice develops. Simply put, the commentaries perform scholastic contortions in an attempt to make the teachings of the suttas internally consistent; but the Buddha’s teachings simply don’t appear to have been designed to work this way, being practical approaches to ending suffering rather than philosophical or theoretical offerings.
One of the many beauties of this second part of the book is that Brasington shows that any practitioner can make use of the early Buddhist discourses to guide his or her practice in ways that lead toward freedom. You don't have to be an academic or even an intellectual to enter the thought-world of the discourses, soak up their beautiful and inspiring language, and be guided by the wisdom of the teachings they hold. And, in these early teachings, there is a constant and thorough-going emphasis on the importance of cultivating an undistracted, clear, and still mind in order to create a field for penetrating insight into the nature of all experience. With a method convincingly based in the suttas, Brasington takes us right into the very heart of this practice.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
and it helped me a lot to understand and build a practice that works, and I made a lot of progress.