Ajahn Brahm was in Ottawa last week, in time for Canada Day! He gave a talk at the University of Ottawa and lead a meditation the following morning. It was inspiring to be in his (strong) presence, in large part because of the love and kindness that he showed in his interactions with people and the good humour he showed at every turn. And doesn’t mince his words, either!

I bought his book, Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond (you can read the first few chapters on line) in which he advocates the practice of Jhana meditation as the path to enlightenment.

There are other meditation teachers who teach this path. Bhante Gunarathana is one – you can get a whole medition course on CD that teaches the Jhanas. Leigh Brasington also teaches Jhana retreats and has done so in the Ottawa region in the past – I think he’s scheduled to give another one in 2009.

But I’ve never seen a Thai Forest monk put such emphasis on this method. On page 63 of his book Ajahn Brahm says (regarding the 4th Jhana):

That’s the pinnacle of mindfulness…. That’s as powerful as mindfulness can get. Once you have experienced that level of mindfulness, then you will know for yourself how ridiculous it is to think that you can become enlightened without Jhana.

I find this assertion — that enlightenment is impossible without Jhanas — astonishing. Not that I have any opinion about whether this is true or not from personal experience. It’s just that I didn’t think that any particular experience (in the historical dimension) was a pre-requisite for elightenement. I didn’t even think meditation was required at all!

I guess I worry that statements like that can set up expectations in us mere (lay) mortals that there’s no hope for us unless we dedicate our lives to formal practice. Sometimes I like to remember a talk by Sr. Chan Duc in which she described meditation as the practice of opening the windows in your house to enable the winds of grace to enter.

Some of us try so so hard to be good, to meditate, to develop virtues…. and yet we continue to suffer because we haven’t been able to let go. So this kind of statement “Enlightenment -> Jhanas” induces the thought – “I’ve got to ‘get’ Jhanas” – one more thing to attain! When perhaps all that can be hoped for is to make sure the windows are open.