Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English - Preface

An Introductory Guide to Deeper States of Meditation

Preface

Many teachers brought insight meditation, vipassana, to the West in the 1970s, and it proved to become very popular. A part of vipassana is the “mindfulness” practice that has come to such prominence today. In the 1980s, many students wanted to read a clear introduction to the practice, but most of the books they could find tended to be scholarly and not very accessible to laypeople. And thus, I wrote Mindfulness in Plain English, a how-to book on mindfulness technique and its underlying principles. That book, like this one, was written for ordinary people in straightforward language.

While the words mindfulness and even vipassana have grown increasingly common and the practice itself has received lots of attention, deep concentration meditation, shamatha, seems to have received less. In fact, it was widely considered a kind of meditators’ Olympics, a pursuit suited only to extraordinary beings who lived in caves or monasteries, far beyond the ken of “normal people,” folks with busy daily lives.

In the first decade of this century, interest seems to be turning toward the concentration path. And that is a good thing, because it is truly a parallel yet complementary path to insight meditation, to mindfulness. The two are intertwined and support one another. Over the last two millennia, these two path were codified and refined as parallel paths for a very good reason: they both work, and they work best together. In fact, the two are really one. In truth, the Buddha did not teach shamatha and vipassana as separate systems. The Buddha gave us one meditation path, one set of tools for becoming free from suffering.

This book is intended to serve as a clearly comprehensible meditators’ handbook, laying out the path of concentration meditation in a fashion as close to step-by-step as possible. Also, this book assumes you have read Mindfulness In Plain English or something similar, that you have begun to cultivate a mindfulness practice, and that you are now ready to take the next step—beyond mindfulness.

One note about the structure of this book: throughout it (and especially where talking in detail about the jhanas), I have offered a number of quotations from the canon of Pali suttas, our best record of what it is the Buddha himself taught. Since this is not an academic work, we have not used endnotes. Nonetheless, I’d like to acknowledge the many fine translators whose work I’ve drawn on in this volume: Bhikkhu Bodhi, Nyanaponika Maha Thera, Bhikkhu Nanamoli, John D. Ireland, and Gil Fronsdal. Additional there are a few translations which are my own, and several that come from the Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli.

And one final note: one of the essential parts of any study is the meaning of the basic terms. There is an extensive and detailed glossary of terms at the back of the book. Please make use of this glossary as you read. Indeed, you can get a very fine review of the material in this book just by reading the glossary.

I am profoundly grateful to John Peddicord for the generous gifts of his time and patience. This book, like Mindfulness in Plain English, could not have come into being without his extensive hard work in its development.

I am also thankful to Josh Bartok of Wisdom Publications for making many valuable suggestions to complete the work. Others who contributed their time and effort include Barry Boyce, Brenda Rosen, Fran Oropeza, Bhante Rahula, Bhante Buddharakita, and Bikkhuni Sobhana. I am grateful to all of you.
 

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

 

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© Bhante Gunatarana, Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English (Wisdom Publications, 2009)

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