How much I liked the book: 4/5 (Excellent)
This is a book by a Buddhist teacher, talking of mindfulness. The book flows beautifully from the start till the end. It almost has a poetic flow to it. I found most of the book to be captivating. There were parts of the book that went over my head. I hope to get a better grasp when I come back to this book after some time. Maybe after a couple of years.
The book moves seamlessly between explaining the essence of mindfulness to teaching basic technique of the practice. This happens very smoothly through the book. This is also a book that almost completely leaves out any conversation of re-birth, god etc., As an atheist, I don’t need to continuously filter out these as I have to do reading books on meditation that mixes a lot of religion within it.
I would recommend this book to anybody exploring mindfulness and meditation, especially for beginners. As I had promised myself for book reviews the rest of this post will be my notes and highlights from the book. Note: All sentences within double quotes (“) are directly from the book.
“Mindfulness itself is the life of awareness“.
“watching and letting go; watching your breath and letting go of everything else“, this is the Buddhist style of meditation. This has worked well for me, the alternatives of meditation with focus on prayers, images etc., did not work for me. I believe this sentence in its true essence is the start and end of everything you want to know of meditation. But as you continue along the practice you will be exposed to and experience levels that you cannot comprehend as you start (FYI, I have not crossed or experienced any levels real or metaphorical )
“You must know how to recognize the presence of every feeling and thought which arises in you“…. “This must be done at all times, during your day-to-day life no less than during the hour of meditation”
“While practicing mindfulness, don’t be dominated by the distinction between good and evil, thus creating a battle within oneself“.
Another warning in meditation is around an assumption that there is a observing mind and an observed mind… “We are both the mind and the observer of the mind“…..”mind can only observe itself“……”Therefore, chasing away or dwelling on any thought isnt the important thing. The important thing is to be aware of the through“.
The rare humor in the book, with an apt warning for beginners – “If you are just beginning, don’t wait to ‘see into your own nature.’ Better yet, don’t wait for anything. Especially don’t wait to see the Buddha or any version of ‘ultimate reality’ while you are sitting. In the first six months, try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner calmness and serene joy”
Something new I learnt in the book was the idea of the Dharmas, grouped into five categories in Buddhism. The core belief at the center of all this “You meditate on them (The five aggregates) until you are able to see the presence of the reality of oneness in your own self, and can see that your life and life of the universe is one. If the five aggregates return to their sources, the self no longer exists“.
A detour: The above piece and a similarly held belief within Hinduism seems to perpetuate the idea that there is something beyond the body and mind to which our soul is “connected” to and our primary objective in life (and over multiple lives) is to unite with that reality. This idea almost never holds water when one deeply thinks through it with all the information available today. But the believers of this reality have a strong faith that this reality can only be experienced and never be explained or understood. The “enlightened” ones are supposed to have reached this state where they have escaped from our world of illusion. Note: Am using the term reality due to lack of any other available term. The fact that this “enlightened” state can be achieved by many through meditation and through drugs today still does not deter the faithful. In this state people experience the sense of being connected with every object outside themselves. This state is assumed to be the “true state of reality” by the faithful and our normal mental state is assumed to be an “illusion”. Anyway this is a longer topic for later, back to the review….
“We must look at death in the face, recognize and accept it, just as we look at and accept life“….”Thus by overcoming revulsion and fear, life will be seen as infinitely precious, every second of it worth living.”
The harder concept to grasp “Reality is reality. It transcends every concept. There is no concept that can adequately describe it.“…”When reality is perceived in its nature of ultimate perfection, the practitioner has reached the level of wisdom called the non discrimination mind“….”Any of us – by persisting in practicing even a little – can atleast taste of it“. I am struck by the emphasis on persisting rather than the extent of practice.
Advice for beginners: “Practice looking at all beings with the eyes of compassion: this is the meditation called ‘the meditation of compassion‘”… “In Mindfulness one is …. alert and happy. Meditation is not evasion, it is a serene encounter with reality“… “For beginners I recommend the method of pure recognition: recognition without judgement“… “When posessed by a sadness, and anxiety, a hatred or a passion or whatever, the method of pure observation and recognition may seem difficult to practice. If so turn to meditation on a fixed object…”
He quotes a story by Tolstoy to talk of the present moment “The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. …”
There is a full chapter on a set of exercises in mindfulness. The final chapter is a selection of Buddhist sutras which are crisp and may take a few rounds to truly understand. In my first take I only seemed to get a very basic grasp of what is being talked about, hopefully in my next round I will get a better understanding. An example of what you will find in this chapter, with a favorite quote of mine “He knows how the arising of the non-arisen doubt comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen doubt comes to be; he knows how the non=arising in the future of the abandoned doubt comes to be“