Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English

I just read this book, Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English. I got it because I had read Mindfulness in Plain English and it was very good. Also, Daniel Ingram recommended the author, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, as someone who writes well about jhanas. (again, jhanas are states of high concentration, and concentration is one of the three practices to get you to enlightenment. The others are morality and insight.)

Some things I learned:

- I was pretty naive about how big a deal achieving even the first jhana is. Ingram made it sound easy. Gunaratana recommends at least an hour meditating skillfully, ideally longer sessions in a retreat setting, and notes that “most meditators practice in access concentration (a prerequisite to any jhana) for a good while before attaining jhana.” So maybe I’m further away than I thought.

- However, I am pretty sure that I’ve achieved access concentration! The descriptions he gives sound a lot like what I felt in those two half-hour sessions towards the end of this past retreat: a strengthening of concentration, maybe slightly odd visions, maybe a feeling of lightness.

- However, I think I was “doing it wrong”, in that I was trying to force it. I really wanted that concentrated state, and I just kinda tossed insight aside. Gunaratana makes it clear that you have to practice concentration mindfully or else you might develop “wrong concentration”- absorption without mindfulness. Wrong concentration is dangerous, because you might actually achieve some blissful states and get really wrapped up in them, and then you won’t be able to develop insight because you’re so attached to absorption.

- Thus, the kind of concentration I’m looking for is not “just concentrating a lot” or “becoming one with ____” where ____ is your breath or a candle or a clay disc or whatever.

- Given all this, I think I’m more at peace with the slow boat to enlightenment. Reading Ingram, I wanted to get enlightened in 5 years. Reading someone more mainstream like Gunaratana, I’m reminded how you can’t really rush it; or, you can rush it, but by putting in the work, not by just wanting it to go faster. I could get enlightened in 5 years, but I’d have to spend a lot more time in retreats and daily practice. And I’m not a monk, nor do I currently want to be one.


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