November 24, 2001
By LISA MILLEGAN
MODESTO BEE STAFF WRITER
Few Americans are skilled in the ancient technique of Jhana Buddhist meditation. One who is will lead a retreat in Stanislaus County on Dec. 1. Leigh Brasington, an Alameda resident, describes the Southeast Asian discipline as a system of achieving eight altered states of consciousness. The goal is to improve concentration and increase self-awareness.
The 52-year-old software engineer was invited to the area by the Modesto Almond Blossom Sangha, a meditation group. At the retreat, he will give an overview of the discipline and lead sitting and walking meditation. But he emphasizes that most people will not be able to achieve the altered states without additional practice. The retreat is designed for experienced meditators, who ideally have attended at least one weeklong retreat before.
Stan Cunningham, a member of the Modesto Almond Blossom Sangha, is planning to attend because he likes the idea of a systematic approach to achieving higher concentration levels. He said it would be helpful to know what stage he had reached during meditation.
Brasington started meditating 16 years ago and learned about the Jhana system from his teacher, Ayya Khema.
The son of a Presbyterian minister, he grew up in Mississippi and belonged to a "conservative" church. He said he became disenchanted with his family's faith when he was 18 while reading James Michener's "The Source," a sweeping novel about the history of Judaism. "Basically, God died that summer," he said. "I couldn't believe what I believed before." He eventually became an agnostic and lost interest in the spiritual life for many years.
He became attracted to the metaphysical when he took a three-year trip around the world in his early 30s. He spent nine months in Asia and was impressed by the importance placed there on the spiritual dimension of life. Religious architecture was everywhere and people's values starkly contrasted with the materialism of the West.
Brasington didn't immediately start practicing Buddhism after he returned to the United States. A few years later, he began reading about the subject and attending meditation retreats.
He attended one 10-day event led by Ayya Khema, a German-Jewish Buddhist nun who ultimately taught him about the Jhanas. Eventually, Brasington was able to achieve all eight altered states of consciousness. Ayya Khema, who died in 1997, encouraged him to teach what he knew because she feared the discipline was becoming a lost art.
Brasington was reluctant to teach at first because he didn't think he knew enough. Now, he leads retreats all over the country. He is currently planning events in Washington, New Mexico, Colorado and England.
Brasington said the Jhana meditation system has been "enormously beneficial" for him. It helps free him from an egocentric view of the world. "I gain knowledge that is more in accordance with how the universe is put together," he said.
The retreat [was] be held Dec. 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County.
[The original article appeared 24 Nov '01 in the Modesto Bee's Faith and Values section].
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