There is a wide range of views regarding the role of concentration (samadhi) in insight meditation. As a practitioner, teacher and writer, I am particularly interested in this topic. One basic controversy concerns the deeper stages of concentration known as jhana. In one view, insight arises within jhana, which is a state of heightened awareness of changing phenomena, including body sensations. In an alternate view, jhana is a state secluded from body awareness and any other sensory contact, and insight is seen as a separate class of meditation practice undertaken either without attaining jhana or only once the meditator has emerged from jhana into a lesser state of samadhi.
Shaila Catherine’s Focused and Fearless presents a practical system based on this second view, in which concentration is developed so that “the mind is secluded from sensory impingement and deeply unified with a chosen object [and] . . . even physical sensations and sounds eventually fade as the mind becomes entirely immersed in a single coherent focus.” The meditator is instructed to begin by connecting and sustaining the attention on the breath at the tip of the nose without allowing attention to be distracted by stray thoughts. As concentration strengthens and a visual image of brightness or light, known as a nimitta, arises in the mind, the attention is turned away from the physical sensations of the breath and focused on this mental image exclusively. From this point, Catherine offers step-by-step instructions for cultivating jhana and incorporating it into insight meditation practice.
Developing a stable and undistracted mind is essential to most forms of meditation. This book will be of interest to anyone, regardless of their style of practice, wishing to incorporate the deeper stages of concentration and jhana into their meditation.