Book review: The miracle of mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

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

Book review: Five minute meditation by LISA SHEA

Rating: 3/5

With my recent interest in meditation this is my 4th book in the last 3 months on this subject. Reviewing it as this has been my latest read.

This book could have easily been one big blog post. It is short, crisp and sticks to the basics. Would strongly recommend for beginners to read once. It is also available for free in amazon.

Does not come across as a book written by a meditation master but Lisa does not pretend to be one anyway. She is also not tied into a specific school of meditation, hence I find this book to be a very pragmatic one. As an atheist it also appeals to me with no hint of god in the whole book.

Among other things she talks of the various body postures possible, the various challenges etc.,

The very basic nature of the book is also its limitation. She does not seem to have reached the depths in meditative practice the masters talk about (such as what you find in the book “How to meditate by Easwaran, which I will review later).

I would still recommend this book strongly to somebody starting on meditation. This is not a comprehensive book and will definitely not be enough even for a beginner. You need to plough through a few more books before starting to get serious about meditation.

Book reviews and blogging

Have stated on a goal of reading atleast one every month, have managed to do more than 2 a month over the last 2 months. Helps having kindle on all my devices synced and also having the kindle device.

I also have an additional goal of writing atleast three articles every week. The consequence will be my coming back to blogging regularly.

In addition to my blogging here I would also be setting up the blog for HireWand and blogging at

Moving on from the democracy that exists today

Democracy, and individual liberty has been one of humankind’s greatest achievements. This along with the massive growth in overall material wealth* and the benefits that came with it.

In a very simplistic depiction what we have today is a model where the citizens

  • Elect “leaders” and hand them the ownership to govern and to set the rules for the collective and enforce it.
  • Follow the rules laid down.
  • Evaluating and change the leaders after a reasonably long period.
  • Form smaller lobbies to get the leaders to frame rules with their own interests and believes. This comes in many flavors – as idealists, as protectionists, as religious zealots, as do gooders, as intellectuals and as economic powerhouses.

This model of democracy has outgrown its life. We need to move on to the next stage of structural changes to build on what we already have. What structure needs to evolve is not something easily answered, but is something immensely interesting to visualize and refine as a thought exercise. Hopefully something I can do on this blog.

*Note: The growth of material wealth across the board for most humans is something we need to be proud of, which we rarely seem to do in today’s discourse. This would be a nice topic for another blog post.

Civil society, to keep it civil is the challenge

The recent judgment against Binayak Sen terrifies me…

I care the least about Maoist/Marxist ideology, it only lead to a destructive, abusive and draconian society.
I am not a legal expert to pass expert opinions on the case of Binayak Sen.

Still, this case feels like a war of the state against an individual with an ideology that is at odds with it. Also scary is the idea of “any punishment goes” for somebody who is on the other side of the fence. Here the state would like to co-opt me into the notion of being the “us” with Mr. Sen being part of “them”, the terrorists. Once this label is set the supposition is that Mr. Sen can be punished by any means possible – to help maintain peace, and to protect the likes of me, the citizenry.

The below snippet comes back to mind today:

First They Came for the Jews
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

Also found this chilling conversation, apt for the situation from “They Thought They Were Free” by Milton Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

people with ideas on how others must run their lives

An interesting comment –

Makes quite some sense for what happens in India across our political, cultural and religious spectrum:
“…persons who have ideas – especially ‘Big Ideas’ – for how to run other people’s lives are mistaken for being thoughtful and caring. In contrast, persons who offer no ideas, big or small, for how other people should live their lives – persons who have no itch to meddle in the affairs of others and want only to be left alone to mind their own business as they each judge best – are mistaken for being feeble-minded and uncaring….”

Shining Eyes

Checkout the presentation below, a really good one. This guy is so comfortable with music, I envy him…

A quote I liked
Characteristics of a leader – that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he is leading to realize what ever he is dreaming.

I liked this one even better
If you children(s) eyes are not shining you ask yourself who am I being that my children(s) eyes are not shining.

And then listen to the last one minute of the presentation, beautiful stuff to remember.