Monday, November 2, 2009

"Practicing the Jhanas" (book review)

Dharmachari Seven (Wisdom Quarterly)
Now available at

The new version of Jhanas Advice brings to light a woefully neglected subject in Buddhist meditation -- how to achieve the meditative absorptions (jhanas). Frequently discussed by Wisdom Quarterly, they are otherwise a secretive topic reserved for forest monasteries. Descriptions and references are unavoidable in the sutras. But the vipassana ("dry insight") meditation movement, which has been underway for many decades now, looks on the jhanas as a pitfall on the path to enlightenment. One may characterize it as a fear of jhana, a fear of of the potential of attachment to bliss, a fear of distraction by the supernormal powers (abhiñña) possible through concentration.

Meditator holding the jhana mudra

But the jhanas are fundamental to attaining, at will, the levels of concentration necessary for insight practices (as outlined in the famous Satipatthana Sutra, the "Four Foundations of Mindfulness") to work and serve their function of breaking through to "knowing and seeing" nirvana. The teachings correspond to the Buddha's instructions on the path to enlightenment as handed down by oral tradition, the sutras, the commentaries (such as Ven. Buddhaghosa's Path of Purification), and of greatest value, personal verification.

Pa Auk Sayadaw is the foremost living scholar-practitioner on the twin subjects of vipassana (insight) and jhana (absorption). Rasmussen and Snyder studied with him in America, and their profound experience led to this book and a nascent teaching career. Through their experience as meditators, retreatants, and a married couple living in the world, they are able to show Americans how it is indeed possible to follow the original meditation path laid out by the Buddha.


  • “Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen know what they write about in this book through their own direct experience as dedicated yogis. This book serves as a bridge for Westerners, as a conduit to the traditional teachings of the Buddha.” — Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw
  • “This is a unique road map to the extraordinary and transforming states of mind known as the jhanas. As a psychologist and as a practicing Buddhist, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” — Rick Hansen, Ph.D., co-author of Buddha’s Brain: The New Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
  • Practicing the Jhānas is a wonderful addition to our understanding of concentration practice. Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder draw on a wealth of personal experience to clearly elucidate and fine-tune this profound meditative path. Highly recommended.” — Joseph Goldstein, author of A Heart Full of Peace and One Dharma
  • “A fascinating look at the inner experience of jhāna meditation as taught by the Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. Tina and Stephen are among a very few Western students of Sayadaw who can speak authoritatively about these profound levels of concentration. Their work is a most valuable addition to the contemporary literature of Theravadin Buddhism.” — Guy Armstrong, teacher, Spirit Rock Meditation Center
  • “This book will be of interest to any dedicated meditator, regardless of their style of practice. It provides a valuable contribution to the growing understanding of jhāna and its important place in Buddhist meditation.” — Richard Shankman, author of The Experience of Samadhi


This is a clear and in-depth presentation of the traditional concentration meditation known as jhāna ("meditative absorption") practice, from two authors who have practiced the jhānas in retreat under the guidance of one of the great living meditation masters, Pa Auk Sayadaw. The authors describe the techniques and their results based on their own experience.

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