How to practice - book recommendations?

Hello there,

I recently posted on the thread titled Polak’s reexamining Jhanas, and my post was somewhat off topic. I would like to redirect my question here. Although Deele (I think) already gave me a nice answer on that thread, it would be nice to see what the consensus (if there is one) on a samatha based practice here.

Firstly, a bit of background of my practice thus far - feel free to skip this section. I have done three vipassana retreats in the past (all within 6 months of eachother, 1 goenka, 2 mahasi all in the UK). I practiced mahasi for a while, then switched to forgiveness meditation as espoused by Bhante Vimilaramsi over at dhamma sukha. I don’t know how I feel about their practice and although my mind became kinder (to myself), I found myself unable to use that meditation object in a stable enough way (the object of the forgiveness feeling was hardly ever present). I did that for a year, switching between that and metta.

I’m now much more interested in the suttas and more specifically suttacentral, as a result of wanting to figure out the underlying rationale behind different meditation techniques and getting more and more interested in the buddhist system itself. I currently take the 5 precepts daily, take refuge when meditating (twice a day, first of 45 minutes, second on average 15), and share merit after meditating.

My meditation is currently - get distracted, accept that, soften, smile a little, return to settling onto the breath. Each time I return I treat it as an opportunity (ideally) to be kind to those habitual tendencies and softly let go of them, and replace them with a wholesome return to the breath, which I will currently move my attention to wherever I find most pleasent in that moment and not trying hard to feel specific sensations, rather having a light touch with it, in between knowing it is there and feeling it (I, as I’m sure many do to, have the habit of trying a bit too hard or wanting meditation to be a certain way).

Aside from my background now, what books would you all recommend to start with. I’m about to read a swift pair of messengers by Ajahn Sujato, anything else?

Also, what is your opinion on jhana, is it attained by letting go, by absorption of mind (one pointed attention - which feels a little yogic/try hard to me), or do these methods not matter (the former seems more intuitive to me since the buddhist path seems to be about renunciation and letting go and being more flowy rather than pushing things away).

How would you recommend integrating a gradual training into one’s life - any books or articles on this, or forum threads?

I look forward to responses, for now, and even after I get responses, I hope to test things out and see for myself what works and what doesn’t whilst maintaining a keen critical eye on whether the suttas justify what I am doing or not.

May you all share any of the merit that I acquire!


Here’s a helpful discussion about the ways to samadhi according to the suttas:

Personally I have my difficulties with the Anapanassati Sutta (MN 118) or the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) as I find they are not self-explaining and are more a summary of the whole meditation path than an actual practical guide. The “gradual training” on the other hand is more straight forward I think:

If you look for meditation masters that represent the spirit of the Dhamma more than a scholarly exposition, I would recommend Ajahn Dtun - The Sacred Equation

Best wishes for the practice!

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Here is a .pdf of Analayo’s Satipatthana book, which I would recommend you read quite soon, for practical advice & guidance:


For the gradual path, pick guarded, concerted, ongoing awareness (sense gate guardianship & satipatthana) as the baseline practice. Nevermind jhana & nevermind anapanasati, for quite a while at first, I suggest. For a seated practice, do seated satipatthana. These things are important foundational practices for later effort.

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As far as books go, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words is a pretty nice collection of suttas and introductions. And of course nothing beats reading the four Nikayas themselves. At first they might seem a bit boring and repetitive but after a while their content will become the most powerful and beautiful thing in the world. At least that’s my experience.

Also, I wouldn’t worry about jhana at this stage. As far as I know, it’s pretty rare for them to occur in monastics, let alone laypeople. After all they are the eighth and last factor in the Noble Eightfold Path. So I would focus on the sīla or virtuous conduct part of the path - right action, right speech and right livelihood. Also, I’ve found that studying about kamma and rebirth is really helpful in purifying my actions (check out the kamma and rebirth course on this youtube channel). And any kind of meditation helps to better understand the Dhamma and keep you focused on practicing it. I find Ajahn Brahm’s teachings on meditation very good. Check out some of his retreats on this youtube channel or read his new short and concise book Kindfulness for an introduction to his method.

So basically keep in mind that you reap what you sow, try to let go of the non-essential material stuff, be kind and gentle towards all living beings, don’t harm them with your bodily or verbal actions and as much as you can, be aware of your actions and their consequences. Then your mood and self confidence will start to improve, you’ll start feeling more joy and your meditation will start to take off all by itself.

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Dear Peace

For me by far the practice of Metta (Brahmaviharas) has been the most useful, sutta support for this can be found starting at SN 46:54 where you can see that is ok to use it as a main practice, and continuing with the Awakening Factors section on the SN where you can see that careful attention is what feeds the awakening factors. I have read extensively the Nikayas and I can say that unless you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, it is more an academic exercise than practical. I got great benefit from memorizing and reciting Suttas in English, for example MN 148 so I recommend to do this instead of reading a large selection.

One aspect of the meditation that is crucial is to balance the energy of the observation and generally I think that less energy is needed in order to be able to stabilize the object of meditation but you need to be alert to what is happening and to adjust accordingly, if the mind becomes restless reduce it and if it becomes sleepy increase it.

I also think that a better term for the jhanas is collectedness instead of concentration this way you remain aware of what is happening and can see the links of DO.

You are lucky to have come across a great teacher like BV.


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As your practice sounds very similar to my own at this point, I would highly recommend “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm.