Book Review: Leigh Brasington

Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas

I have known about Leigh Brasington as a good meditation teacher for a while, and when he published his “Practical Guide to the Jhanas” I was both curious and excited.

To my mind, there is little if any doubt that what the Buddha meant by “Right Concentration” (as the Eighth, final, and crucial step of his Noble Eightfold Path) was the Jhanas.

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.