Buddhism is, in many regards, a spiritual philosophy that lends itself more to practical involvement than theoretical teaching.
This is particularly the case when one is learning the specialized discipline of the jhanas -an offshoot of meditation that develops around deepening degrees of mental concentration.
In his book ‘Right Concentration’, Buddhist teacher Leigh Brasington warns his reader of the complexities behind jhana practice – one which he ready admits is
…best learned on a ten-day or longer meditation retreat.. and which he also states
…is a controversial topic…
He admits that the contents of his book may well
….add to the controversy.
What are the Jhanas?
Brasington describes the jhanas as eight altered states of consciousness brought about through fixed focus, with each yielding a deeper state of concentration than the previous one.
They form important steps along the road to enlightenment and the dissolving of the personal ego.
The word jhana means “meditation” and the tradition used in ‘Right Concentration’ is based upon the jhana teachings contaIned within the suttas of the Pali canon.
Divisions of the Jhanas
Brasington has divided his book into two distinctly separate parts. In the first of these, titled ‘Practical Jhanas’, he opens with the preliminary steps required by a student starting out for the first time.
This preparatory state involves confronting what are termed as the ‘five hindrances’ or unwholesome states of mind.
Here Brasington offers practical advice on the correct meditational pose to enter into, the physical changes that occur in such areas as breathing as one enters the various jhana states and explains the possible problems that may arise at this stage of the practice.
The author then takes his reader through a detailed explanation of each of the first four jhanas, with the second set of four being described by the author as
immaterial states rather than meditation states.
Once again he describes the type of sensory experience that one can expect from entering into these increasingly deeper levels of consciousness.
The Immaterial Jhanas
The second quaternary of jhanas consists of states which the author describes as being
…quite unlike anything we have ever experienced in this world.
Indeed, just the title itself of the fifth jhana, namely, ‘The Sphere of Infinite Space’, conjures up a sense of the rather nebulous states of conscious that unfolds at this level!
Part two of ‘Right Concentration’ explores even more deeply the complex ideas and principles that surround the the jhanas and which gradually manifest themselves as one moves progressively through them.
To this end the author draws increasingly upon Buddhist ideas and principles which give the practice a framework or context.
Another aspect to successful practice of the jhanas is the natural development of psychic powers (iddhi) which the author explains can be divided into three groups comprised of two.
Finally, the author describes offers some advice on other additional benefits that result from jhana practice – one of which is the change in neurological development that occurs leading the brain to develop a more positive emotional outlook on life.
In fact, as the author himself points out when closing his book, a good instructor in jhana work needs to monitor his or her student in case they become addicted to the practice and to the positive changes that it brings about!
Our Review of ‘Right Concentration’ by Leigh Brasington
What emerges from reading ‘Right Concentration’ is the immense complexity of both the main subject as well as to its subsidiary offshoots.
Despite this, the author has performed a thoroughly impressive task in making a complete newcomer to the subject such as myself, understand the practice, to get a grasp on the obstacles that exist to its development as well as the clear benefits from following his personal guidance and practical teaching.
Given just how technical jhana work is – the author states that working with them is not for complete novices and that a degree of understanding and attainment in meditation is a necessary prerequisite, Brasington has created a deeply fascinating and universally-approachable appraisal of concentration practice within the Buddhist tradition.
I can thoroughly recommend ‘Right Concentration’ to anyone interested in discovering more about this fascinating aspect of meditation work – but specifically to those who are interested in accessing deeper levels of the mind and reality.
I am sure, this is a book that will be of major benefit to them.
Right Concentration is a practical manual that reveals in clear and concise terms the benefits of focused concentration in meditation. Anyone who is engaged in any form of spiritual work will find within its pages a rich vein of valuable instruction and insight.
Book of the Month: December 2015