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Errors and Enhancements

Like all the things of creation, a book is also subject to anicca. Here any Errors and Enhancements will be documented. The order in each section reflects the order of the book.

Errors

  • Chapter 4 - First Jhāna, pg 37, footnote *
    "periscope" should be "pericope"

 

Enhancements

  • In Chapter 3, Entering the Jhānas, in the last section entitled Possible Problems Associated with Attempting to Enter the Jhānas, page 29, I write "Your body knows how much oxygen you need and knows what to do to get it." Well, unually! I received the following information in an email from a friend:

      You recommend that we let go of the breath and avoid that sudden inhalation. You say that the body knows how much oxygen it needs. But I ran into a situation that is probably rare but not unknown to doctors.

      On a 9-day metta retreat, I started having strong, regular jhanas. Then, late one day, I had an prolonged (around 30 minues) episode of heart arrhythmia. I continued to have 3 or 4 episodes each day and was pretty frightened. I at first thought it was about the jhanas and tried to stop. But at that point I kept having jhanas. I would just sit and the factors were so strong that I would slide right in. So I stopped concentrating, started reading and checking email and such. The jhanas stopped but the heart condition did not. After 3 days I took the attitude that the arrhythmia hadn't yet killed me, so it probably wouldn't anytime soon.

      After the retreat I saw my doctor. He gave me an EKG and found that my resting heart rate is around 50. This is ridiculously low. (The doctor said I'd probably need a pacemaker at some point.) But it turns out that the arrhythmia is something that can happen when the heart rate goes too low; a secondary bundle of nerves in the heart starts firing to try to bring the heart back up to speed. This is a well-known phenomenon.

      The episodes continued for 6 or 8 weeks but gradually became less severe and less frequent until they went away altogether.

      So I can't just let the breath go quiescent, because the heart rate gets too low, triggering the arrhythmia. I was worried about how this would affect my jhana practice. But, since then, I've done my anapanasati while consciously maintaining an elevated breath rate. It's been weird, but I have been able to reach 1st and 2nd jhanas while doing this.

      I tell you this because you may not have encountered it in your teaching, but you might run into a case in the future.

    So an exception to my statement "your body knows how much oxygen you need" would be that in certain rare circumstance this might not be the case, especially if your resting heart rate is abnormally low.

  • In Chapter 3, Entering the Jhānas, in the last section entitled Possible Problems Associated with Attempting to Enter the Jhānas, page 31, an additional resource for working with Dysthymia (low drive, low self-esteem, and a low capacity for pleasure in everyday life) is James Baraz's on-line course Awakening Joy.

  • In Chapter 9, The Immaterial Jhanas page 89, we find "But if you are going to be doing … such as body scan or noticing vedana, …" Vedana is not explained nor is the practice discussed in the book. There should be a footnote on vedana that reads

      Vedana is usually translated as "feeling" but that has the unfortunate connotation of emotion and vedana certainly never means emotion. It refers to the initial categorization of a sense input and there are only three possibilities: pleasant, unpleasant and neither unpleasant or pleasant. There is no English word that has this meaning, so I've left it untranslated. Mindfulness of vedana is the second practice given in the Satipatthana Suttas.

  • In Chapter 12, First Jhāna, page 110, there is the discussion where others want to translate kaya as "being." But Pali has other words besides kaya that could refer to the English concept of "being." Most obvious is satta which means "a living being;" there is also nāmarūpa which is probably closer to "ones being" than satta or kaya. There are also a number of Pali words that could be used if the drenching, steeping, etc. is refering to something mental: citta, mano, saññā, viññāṇa. It seems unmistakable that kaya in this case simply is referring to ones physical body.

  • In Chapter 19, The Cessation of Perception and Feeling, page 141, the documentary "Shortcut To Nirvana" is referenced. The entire movie is currently available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4Sn3JiwGKo.

  • In Appendix 1, Frequently Asked Questions, the following question occurs:
      It says in the suttas that the Buddha-to-be rejected the jhānas he learned from his two teachers. Why would he return to practicing them?
    My answer only addresses the fact that the Buddha subsequently used the jhānas for a preliminary practice rather than as an end, as his teachers taught.

    However, we don't really know when or where the Buddha-to-be learned the first four jhānas. The usual assumption is that he learned the first seven jhānas from his first teacher and the eighth from his second teacher. But it is possible he only learned jhānas five thru eight from those teachers. Whether or not he learned jhānas one thru four from those teachers, it is possible he subsequently rejected only the four immaterial states. The scholars are still quite divided as to whether the immaterial states were actually part of the Buddha's original teaching or whether they were later added to the suttas. A very convincing case can be made for both viewpoints.

    Either way, concentration states were (and still are) only a means to the end, not an end in and of themselves -- no matter when or how the Buddha-to-be learned these states and whether or not he totally rejected the immaterial states.

  • In Appendix 3, Access Concentration Methods, the section Mindfulness of Breathing discusses paying attention to the breath at the nostrils. Since Right Concentration went to press, several students have asked how to work with paying attention to the breath at the nostrils if only part of the cycle of breathing can be felt there. The answer is to just keep your attention in the one spot where you do feel the tactile sensations of breathing most strongly. As long as you can tell an in-breath from an out-breath and know which is currently happening, you'll be just fine. And by not moving your attention, you'll more easily generate the one-pointed attention need to enter the jhanas.


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