Book Review: Buddhist Meditation: Tranquility, Imagination and Insight (Kamalashila)

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A brilliant meditation guide with something for all learners.

TL;DR – This book is a great guide for any meditation practitioner – from the absolute beginner to the more advanced users



Why I read it…

I’ve been meditating for a while now – every day for 200 days, and on-and-off before that – and I’ve been wanting to find a way to deepen my practice at home. A friend recommended this book to me as an excellent meditation guide so I thought I would give it a shot – this also, conveniently, meant that the book counted as my “Book recommended bya friend” for my reading challenge…two birds and all that!

The Book…

This book is described as:

“A comprehensive and practical guide to Buddhist meditation, providing a complete introduction for beginners, as well as detailed advice for experienced meditators seeking to deepen their practice.” (from the blurb)

This seems to be about as good a description as I could possibly give. We start with an introduction to the concept of meditation, what it is and what it’s for, then we have instructions for some basic meditations – mindfulness of breathing, metta bhavana (loving kindness), sitting and walking.

Following these basic meditations, we have instructions on how to take our meditation practice to a deeper level, eventually leading into some much more in-depth and advanced practises.

What I liked…

The first thing I loved about this book is the way instruction is offered for meditations. Instructions are broken down into 3 parts.

  1. Brief instructions: Each stage of the meditation is broken down to a few lines, so you can get a feel for what you are supposed to do.
  2. Table guide – Each stage is broken down into the smallest instruction possible, (i.e “Count just after each out-breath”) and displayed in a handy table for easy memorisation.
  3. Detailed instructions. This gives you the full detail for the practice. From posture, to breath, if you’re supposed to do or think something you will find it clearly stated in the long instructions.

This breakdown provides a brilliant opportunity for people who are learning without the benefit of a teacher or group of experienced meditators. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the addition of the table and the brief instruction sections make it easier to remember what you are supposed to be doing so you (hopefully) don’t have to keep looking at the book when you should be concentrating.

The next thing I loved was the inclusion of descriptions of things you might feel or experience as you meditate. As anybody who meditates will no doubt know, probably the biggest barrier stopping people from meditation is that they feel they are doing it wrong. They expect meditation to feel different, maybe they expect perfect calm, or insight or a clear mind – it doesn’t always work like that and this book is very clear on the fact that it could feel amazing, but it could also feel like nothing much was happening. Kamalashila then goes on to explain why feeling nothing isn’t actually a problem.

There are also sections about the hindrances to meditation and the importance of routine. The book identifies the primary hindrances, explains what they are and explains how to counteract them. This, I found, was a really useful section as often these sort of things can be completely overlooked when you are learning.

Finally, I loved how in depth the book got – and it went deep. If you are just starting your meditation journey then I warn you now that the second half of this book is going to come at you like a train and seem completely overwhelming – and I’m right there with you. This book went waaaaaaaay deeper than I expected it to go, and well beyond my level – which is fantastic, because with the best will in the world, it’s all well and good knowing who to practice the metta bhavana and get a routine going, but if that’s where my practice is going to end then I feel like I’m missing something. This book should help make my practice deeper for a long while to come.

What I disliked…

In my notes I have written down 2 things that bothered me about the book. The first note was that there where some untranslated mantras kicking around in there – I am aware that mantras don’t necessarily translate very well (and the book might even mention that, I can’t recall), but it would have been nice to have some idea what the words meant without a google search.

I also have written down, the phrase “Use any method…” I’m not 100% certain what this was referring to any more, I just remember thinking that if I had been a complete beginner then I probably wouldn’t actually know any other methods (of whatever it may be) and that bothered me.

Having said that, neither of those things bothered me enough to knock of a whole star, and to be honest for my own purposes barely warranted a half start reduction – take from that what you will.

Final thoughts…

I can’t decide if it was a mistake to read this book like a novel – a chapter or so a day until I finished. I think reading it like that made the content seem overwhelming and intimidating at times, although it did open my eyes to the scope of meditation practice. I am quite certain I will find myself coming back to this book from time to time, to dip in-and-out of in order to deepen my practice.

My recommendations for this book would be definitely for meditators who want to deepen their practice. Advanced meditators might find it useful, but not being an advanced meditator myself, I wouldn’t like to assume. I would recommend this to beginners, with the proviso that you should take it slowly and get the hang of what you have read before moving on.


Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

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