Book Review: Jhana Consciousness: Buddhist Meditation in the Age of Neuroscience

- through Francois Leclercq

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On December 20, 2022, Shambhala Publications published Jhana Consciousness: Buddhist Meditation in the Age of Neuroscience by Paul Dennison.

British-born Dennison has trained, worked, taught and researched all over the world, from Cambridge universities to Australia, Japan and Thailand. His travels have been as varied as his studies: from physicist to founding the Samatha Trust as his interest in meditation grew; from adviser in interplanetary radio astronomy to merchant of precious stones and goldsmith; from Buddhist monk in a rural Thai monastery to consultant psychotherapist in London, specializing in trauma and personality disorders; and groundbreaking neuroscience research with an article published in the journal Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. This resulted in Dennison's unique assimilation of specialist information. For more than 50 years, Dennison has practiced and taught meditation. For more than 20 years, he has devoted himself deeply to his independent academic exploration and practice of Jhana meditation and brain science.

Dennison's research, coupled with her years of practicing meditation, has provided invaluable insight into what is usually a highly subjective experience. It also provides access to historical documents that would otherwise have remained obscure, adding verifiable historical validity to its empirical findings. As such, Jhana Consciousness is considered exceptionally insightful, with its peer-reviewed findings on the reforms of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia before the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the practices of Jhana meditation and the science of its neurological effects.


Am I okay? Absolutely.

It is of course possible that I am biased: I am just as fascinated by the chemical processes of the human brain as by the enigmatic, even ineffable spirit, located beyond the body. Much of what Dennison offers here resonates with me. Those of us with insatiably curious minds will appreciate that there is such measurable neurological data to quantify the “reality” of higher states and heightened awareness of meditative awareness. Jhana consciousness.

Jhana meditation itself is a form of deep concentration and mindfulness practice rooted in Buddhist traditions. Jhana meditation, also known as dhyana in Sanskrit, emerged in the context of early ancient Indian Buddhism, with practices initially recorded in ancient texts, such as the Pali Canon, dating from around the fourth century BCE.

Jhana are progressive stages of absorption, during which the meditator's consciousness is temporarily suspended from ordinary awareness, as well as ordinary thoughts and sensations. During Jhana In meditation, practitioners focus their attention on a single object, such as the breath or a visualized image, gradually withdrawing their attention from all external stimuli. As you progress through the stages of Jhana, one experiences heightened levels of absorption and tranquility. The mind becomes more focused, calm and detached from distractions, and able to reach deep states of meditative absorption and mental clarity.

This practice is often characterized by intense joy, tranquility and equanimity.

Jhana meditation is not easy and requires constant practice and guidance from experienced practitioners or teachers. The number of stages can vary according to different interpretations of Buddhist teachings, but there are generally eight or nine described in traditional Theravada Buddhism, each characterized by specific qualities of concentration and experience. The Pali scriptures describe four progressive states called rupa jhanas (with form), and four meditative realizations called Arupa (report).

Le jhanas are seen as a path to developing mindfulness, insight, and a way to cultivate deep states of focus that can lead to a deep understanding of the transient, unfulfilling, and altruistic nature of existence, along with deep discernment of nature of the mind and of reality itself. .

The book is packed with traditional practices, mantras – and the biological effects of mantras on the brain's measurable response to speech – and Pali terms, as well as English meanings offered each time. So while some of the original texts may seem intimidating to those unfamiliar, Dennison keeps us fully informed and also serves as historical support for contemporary findings.

Paul Dennison. At

Returning to my previous point, this book delves into the historical context that has influenced the evolution of concepts surrounding meditation. It made me think about the recurring thread of human arrogance woven through the annals of history. Over generations, there has been a tendency to inherit and reshape the legacy of those who came before them, often with a privileged few wielding authority to enforce their ideas, sometimes at the expense of others. Arguably, this phenomenon continues in our contemporary times. I can't help wondering how much time and wisdom may have been about to be lost because of religious reforms. Yet, with invaluable resources like Dennison's research, we are fortunate to tap into this wealth of knowledge.

Another personal reflection that this book has inspired me concerns individuals who practice meditation, especially those who claim to be accomplished practitioners. Dennison introduces the concept of "facsimile" experiences, a term that will resonate with many people who have witnessed or experienced such moments. This idea prompted me to draw a parallel with primiparas entering their third trimester, anxiously or anxiously awaiting labour. Often these mothers confuse late-stage Braxton-Hicks contractions or the discomfort of carrying another life in their abdomen with actual labor, which is completely understandable given the anticipation of giving birth – a feeling which I equate to the eagerness to reach Jhana states of consciousness. However, experienced mothers invariably recognize the unmistakable signs of active labor. There is no doubt at this point. It is no longer possible to think that you pourrait be. There is no more ambiguity. I believe this analogy is also true for achieving deep meditative states. If you thought you've reached them, chances are you haven't. This perspective gains credence from the neurological data that Dennison shares and explains.

Buddhist literature often features authors who employ elaborate and ornate language, but Dennison takes a different approach. He uses his scientific perspective to convey information clearly and pragmatically without sacrificing the spiritual essence. Although this may be a subjective preference, I appreciate it. In fact, I prefer it. It is nothing more than a presentation of the facts, which in itself constitutes a precious treasure.

In conclusion, Jhana Consciousness is a remarkable and insightful work that bridges the worlds of meditation and neuroscience. It offers a pragmatic yet spiritually rich perspective, making it an invaluable resource for those interested in deep states of meditative consciousness and the science behind them.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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