cover image Jhāna Consciousness: Buddhist Meditation in the Age of Neuroscience

Jhāna Consciousness: Buddhist Meditation in the Age of Neuroscience

Paul Dennison. Shambhala, $24.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-64547-080-9

This heady if overly technical study by psychotherapist Dennison (The Bojjhaṅgās) explores the Buddhist practice of jhāna meditation, which aims to develop “states of deep absorption leading to insight into the nature of existence and identity.” The author details how 19th-century Buddhist reforms in Southeast Asia suppressed jhāna meditation and argues that the practice is ripe for resurgence. He describes the eight stages of jhānas, or states of “meditative concentration,” during which the practitioner disengages from everyday sensory perception, embodies “subtle” qualities (e.g., equanimity, bliss, and mindfulness), and comes to view oneself as one with the world. However, the jargon-heavy prose means readers will struggle to follow along (“The transition from the third to the fourth rūpa jhāna can develop in a natural manner as upekkhā... takes over as the primary factor of the third rūpa jhāna”). The problem worsens when Dennison dives into his five-year-long neuroscientific study of the brain activity of jhāna practitioners, the findings of which will remain obscure to lay readers (“Frontal electrical activity is suppressed by around 300–400 μV, while activity at temporal sites T3 and T4 is strongly increased”). Readers interested in the intersection of Buddhist meditation and neuroscience will find this robust and integrative, though the specialized language will make this impenetrable for many. This is best suited for specialists. (Sept.)