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Must read books on Vipassana, samatha meditation practices

What are the must read books on Vipassana , samatha meditation for beginners

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This book “The Noble Eightfold Path” by Bikkhu Bodhi comprehensively explains the roles of serenity and insight meditation, although the factors of the noble eightfold path must be grasped first as the two forms of meditation only exist as instruments of the path:

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html

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‘The Mind Illuminated’ by Culadasa is highly regarded.

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“Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm is an excellent guide on samatha practice. It’s very actionable, well worded and effective. Much more so than any other samatha instruction I’ve received.

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I strongly want to discourage people from reading this book.

The author has been kicked out from the sangha he founded due to improper behavior. He had multiple affairs at the same time without the knowledge of his wife and used family funds for his adultery, again without his wife’s knowledge. He confessed to these transgressions. He has no sila, therefore it seems highly unlikely that his meditative experiences are real and not just made up.

Additionally, the meditation theory put forth in his book is just a mash-up of different traditions combined in a way that is - at least for me - unhelpful and unconvincing.

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Fair enough.

My impression is that he based the book on the experience of very many meditators, not just his own. I find the models and explanations helpful.

About the Culadasa stuff… can we refrain from bringing that dhamma drama here? OP is a great topic, let’s not dillute that with that stuff.
As for his book, I can imagine someone might find it useful. I did for a while. Never got past about half of it though - too many new words and concepts that didn’t seem useful or necessary, and I personally like simplicity.

As for the good books on meditation, I recommend:

  • With each and every breath by Ṭhānissaro B.
  • Mindfulness, bliss and beyond by A. Brahm
  • The mindfulness in plain english collection by B. Gunaratana
  • Right concentration by L. Braisington
    EDIT: and obviously:
  • Majjhima Nikāya
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  • With each and every breath, Thanissaro
  • Mindfulness, bliss and beyond by A. Brahm
  • The mindfulness in plain english collection by B. Gunaratana
  • Right concentration by L. Braisington

These four books are oriented towards serenity practice, with the possible exception of “Mindfulness in Plain English.”
It’s not correct to use a capital for vipassana, which is a process within the noble eightfold path.

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I can’t see how that would be possible. Bringing up the book means bringing up the author means bringing up his scandals. You can’t have one without the other.

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Problem is, if we start discussing this it will quickly derail the profitable discussion of good books. If you feel the urge to discuss his scandals please create a separate topic and link it here. Don’t derail the discussion.

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I only provided further context to a book that was recommended. And I believe this information is necessary.

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Some repeats, here’s my list:

  • Satipaatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide by Bhikkhu Analayo
  • Mindfulness of Breathing: A Practice Guide and Translations by Bhikkhu Analayo
  • With Each and Every Breath by Bhikkhu Thanissaro
  • Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond by Ajahn Brahm
  • Right Concentration by Leigh Braisington
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Seconding the books by Analayo, he really focuses on EBTs and brings in Tibetan, Sanskrit and Chinese parallels.

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Progress of insight- Mahasi Sayadaw

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/mahasi/progress.html

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Bikkhu Bodhi’s book was published about 1985, and preserves the pre-millennial view from the group of scholar-monks writing in Sri Lanka where vipassana was dominant due to the Burmese influence beginning with Nyanaponika’s training there. The books by Burmese authors strongly focussed on insight are not for beginners. As can be seen from the other titles recommended above, since 2000 there has been a shift towards samatha meditation. The exception are current books by Analayo whose formative years were in Sri Lanka, such as “Satipatthana” and are the ones most used now by intermediate/advanced practitioners.

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I have a question regarding “how to” kind of books on this topic. If you have read it, can anyone give me their opinion on Shaila Catherine’s “Wisdom Wide and Deep”? (Wisdom Publications). I have read it but I do not know where really experienced and long time practioners place it in terms of authenticity and rigor. Thanks.

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I don’t recommend it.

Lengthy monologue no one wants to read~

“How-to” books can only take you so far. Even the ones by the most accomplished teachers, and that’s really just because when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of practice, it’s a very personal and subjective experience. And that experience changes from second to second. The best books help you develop your own sense of reflection and discernment, to gain some footing. But no book can teach you how to attain the highest levels of absorption and insight.

I tend to be somewhat anti-establishment in my leanings, so I side with the forest ajahns when they say the true practice is found in the heart. Words on a page, at the end of the day, are just words.

All that said, I also second Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide by Bhikkhu Analayo. A Swift Pair of Messengers by Bhikkhu Sujato is also a good read :grin:

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I’ve read about 25% of it, so not sure if that counts. I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of it anytime soon though.

Long time practitioner? Yes. Experienced? I don’t think so.

I can’t say about authenticity and rigor. I tend to read such books to see if I can find anything useful for my practice, I don’t care if they are “proper” as long as they help. This book read as if it was an adaptation of some Abhidhamma or Vishuddhimagga style of work. Overloaded with terms, definitions, tables. As boring as watching the paint dry. And not really practical to me - too much theory, too little hands on advice.

That said, different people have different needs, so if you like encyclopedia type of works, it might be good for you. It definetely has a lot of material in it, how “authentic” it is I don’t know. I’m not sure what exactly are you asking here. Is it EBT compatible? Only as far as Vishuddhimagga is, as it seems to borrow a lot from it.

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@Sumano and @tuvok Thank you very much. That helps a lot. I had mixed feelings about the book and then I wasn’t sure where my unease was coming from.

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@trusolo
Shaila Catherine is a long term and very experienced practitioner and Dhamma teacher. While she is very familiar with the suttas, her teaching and instructions for samadhi/jhana are based on Pau Auk’s teaching (she has studied with him) which are based on the commentaires (and a la the Vissuddhimagga) and include very detailed and specific step by step instructions (‘authentic’ for one practicing in that tradiion). So it really depends on your orientation and interest.

Personally, that approach does not appeal at all to me (though I know other practitioners who have benefited greatly from it). I’m much more oriented to ‘early Buddhism’ and practices as discussed in the suttas. In addition to the books by Ven Analayo recommended by others, I also highly recommend his Compassion and Emptiness , which interweaves vipassana and samatha practice in the way it’s taught in the suttas.

I think it’s important for each practitioner to discover for themselves what approach(es) works for them, but it’s good to understand the historical layers in terms of how Buddhist schools and traditions have developed. Otherwise teachings can seem quite contradictory as they are operating within different contextual and conceptual frameworks.

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