I thought I would share with you a testimonial that I just wrote for my friend, teacher and brother, Jeffrey S. Brooks — aka, Jhanananda.
The path of a contemplative is a lonely one. The few of us who’ve ended up in Jeffrey’s orbit are either averse to spiritual authority in general, or have experienced ecstatic phenomena that are alien and/or threatening enough to mainstream religious/spiritual traditions that we’ve been marginalized, shunned or otherwise made to feel outcast from those traditions. Perhaps a few of us have just stumbled onto Jeffrey’s advice through some unknown agency.
Being a preacher’s kid, I rebelled against spiritual authority at an early age, and was able to run away from the religion of my upbringing at the age of 19, in 1981/82. I spent the next ten years or so living it up, hell-raising and workin’ for a living, doing drugs and swilling alcohol like there was no tomorrow. Then, in 1991, I moved to Boulder, Colorado and fell headlong into an abundance of “alternative” spiritual expressions, learning Tarot and astrology, hypnotherapy, dreamwork and many other practices — including lucid dreaming and out-of-body exploration. In 1993 I started to experiment with trance states, and by 1994 I was spending up to ten hours a day working with techniques to induce OOBs. I did not know at that time that I was actually engaging in rigorous and skillful ecstatic meditation practice, so I was a little freaked out when, in 1995, my third eye started tingling and the “celestial choir” started singing in my inner ear.
At about that time, I started following the “satsang circuit,” which has a major stop in Boulder. These are mainly followers of Papaji, who was a student of Ramana Maharshi — teachers like Gangaji. I immersed in what I call “pseudo-advaita” teachings for several years, during which I became very good at speaking the lingo — to the point where people were seeking me out for clarification on the teaching. I came very close to putting myself out there as a teacher at that time, and would probably have gone that route had I not run into a woman named El who knocked me off my high horse. I was really hurt by her “attack” for about three days, but after licking my wounds, I ended up writing her a long thank-you letter, to which she responded, “There’s hope for you.”
Late in the 90’s, maybe in 2000, I was surfing various advaita Yahoo! groups, since I didn’t know where else to go. The charisms had become VERY pronounced by that time, and I would say that I was already saturated in them, although I was only meditating once a day for between 30 and 60 minutes — feeling guilty for doing so, since all my teachers were telling me that meditation is just a distraction from “what is.” While reading down the list of entries on one of those listserve groups, I noticed a post by Jeffrey that challenged the group’s premises, and at the end of his post, he left an invitation to come check out the GWV group. Then, Jeffrey got banned from the group… a fact that appealed to the rebel in me, for sure… so I checked out his teachings.
Within a short period of time, I became active on the GWV forum and was working with Jeffrey through private emails to establish myself in a daily practice. In 2003 (I think) we met at a Bhante Gunaratana 9-day retreat in Riverside, California, along with several other GWV members, including my future wife, Karen.
Suffice it to say, I find Jeffrey’s human-ness and lack of pretense to be refreshing and reassuring. Once, when he came to Boulder to lead a 10-day retreat up in Gold Hill at one of my Buddhist friend’s kiva, I witnessed Jeffrey go off on a long diatribe and argument with my friend — it was about Bhante Gunaratana and the marginalization of Jeffrey in the Buddhist community — Bhante G. is my friend’s guru — and it was clear to me at that moment that Jeffrey will always be Jeffrey, that he is a bulldog through and through, and that as long as we are in human form, our human traits will continue to express according to things like karma, DNA, family heritage, childhood influences and so forth — but that our attachment to all of that is what eventually falls away. So, I did not judge Jeffrey’s outburst as a sign of anti-enlightenment, and my affection for him in fact increased, because I see what he is up against in this world, which not only doesn’t understand the ecstatic basis for all religion and spiritual tradition, but actively represses it to the point of putting someone like Jeffrey out on the street.
As I’ve written elsewhere on this forum, I’ve been in a very dark and difficult place with my practice and with life for the past several years. Jeffrey, who is my friend, teacher and brother, has been lurking in the background of my experience throughout this period. I’ve retreated with him, Skyped with him, emailed with him, talked on the phone with him… but, mostly, I’ve just meditated, studied, and grinded it through each day, feeling his presence as a genuine support that allows me to keep going straight ahead. Eroding the fetters is NOT for the feint of heart, let me tell you — it is death by a thousand knife slices, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who is just dabbling in meditation as something “cool” and “peaceful” to do. Jeffrey is here for SERIOUS MEDITATION PRACTITIONERS who literally have nowhere else to go — he is standing at the end of the line, folks, making himself available to those very few who walk through the narrowest of gates. Years may pass without him encountering another jhana-hobo at the terminus where he resides — so, in the interim, he works on his scientific projects, he fulfills his correspondence responsibilities, he meditates, he flies out of the body each night, he writes poetry, he finds free food… and he lives in the moment as Jeffrey S. Brooks, even though he knows better than to buy into that particular illusion….