Book Review: When the Chocolate Runs Out (Lama Thubten Yeshe)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People with a little Buddhist experience

About the Book…

When the Chocolate Runs Out is a million-mile-an-hour run through some of the fundamental concepts in Buddhism. In it, Lama Yeshe provides instruction on a wide variety of topics, from Karma, attachment and ego.

What I thought…

Up until the very end, my primary thought about this book was: “Thank god I already know about this!” Somewhere in this book, Lama Yeshe explains that the point of Buddhism and the dharma, isn’t to learn everything but to put things into practice and test ideas against your own experience. This philosophy is obvious throughout the book as Lama Yeshe provides a lot of “What to do?” and very little How or Why. As such, if you weren’t already familiar with some of the concepts, I can imagine this book could be quite frustrating at times, finding yourself unsure of how to do something or why it’s worth it in the first place. Of course the Why is because Lama Yeshe has found it helpful in his own experience, but that can be a difficult position to start from. It’s certainly one I struggle with.

That said, there was a lot of material covered and if you do already have some background knowledge of Buddhism’s workings, then it’s quite a good reminder and a fresh perspective on a number of fairly key concepts.

My favourite part about this book is actually at the end, where Lama Yeshe – very – briefly, runs the reader through a number of simple meditations. This section actually turned the whole book around for me, as the instructions were very clear and and offered additional guidance about our expectations. Good meditation instructions can be difficult to find, either being overly simplistic or complicated, but Lama Yeshe manages to find a good balance between the two that allows the concepts to be delivered and understood without taxing the mind one way or the other.

I think this is a book that perhaps would be best treated as a coffee-table read, the kind of book you dip in and out of frequently. The chapters are short and sweet, and the format throughout lends itself much better to frequent short bursts, compared to long period of reading (which is what I just did, and I finished it in just over an hour).

Final Thoughts…

Overall, my opinions on this book are a little all over the place. It is certainly something I would happily come back to, as I’m sure there is more wisdom contained within than I have taken in during this read-through.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Mindfulness in Plain English (Bhante Henepola Gunaratana)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Mindfulness in Plainer English might be a more appropriate title. 

TL;DR – A useful guide to the practice of Vipassana (insight) meditation.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

This came under the heading “A book that will make you smarter” in my reading challenge. Also I’m trying out a selection of ‘basic’ meditation guides in an attempt to deepen my practice.

The Book…

This book is presented as a step-by-step guide to the practice of Vipassana (insight) meditation – or MINDFULNESS.

It’s primary selling point is that it is written in, as the title suggests, plain English, as opposed to many of the other meditation manuals that are often steeped in jargon and difficult concepts that require quite a lot of prior knowledge and experience before it can be even remotely useful.

The book has some pretty amazing quotes on the cover that sing high praises of it’s content and author. I’m not entirely sure I agree with them.

What I liked…

The thing I liked most about this book was definitely the last chapter on metta (or loving friendliness / kindness). Bhante G (as the author is often known as), provides a detailed explanation of a concept of loving friendliness, it’s place within a Buddhist context, it’s purpose and then provides real-world examples of it’s use and benefits, alongside examples from Buddhist scriptural writings. It is an excellent chapter and probably my favourite bit of writing on the concept of metta that I have read so far.

One story from this chapter tells of how Bhante used to wave at a man who seemed very angry all the time whenever he went past. This man, as it turned out, would never wave back because he was recovering from a serious accident and literally couldn’t wave back. Bhante notes that had he just written this difficult man off as angry and unworthy of loving-friendliness he would have written off a good man, and indeed a friend, because of circumstances the man had no control over. I’ve made a real pigs-ear of explaining this story because I think it needs to be read in Bhante’s own words – but it is a really excellent example of why loving friendliness should be extended to everyone – even those who by appearances don’t seem to deserve it.

The rest of the book is pretty good – although I didn’t find it quite as good as others seem to have done. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bits I have taken in while reading that have definitely helped my practice and I definitely recommend it as a book for any meditator to read, I just didn’t think it was ‘a masterpiece’ as the front cover would have you believe. This is probably down to the fact that the last dharma book I read was literally life changing, and this is a practice guide and not a philosophical work.

The book is well written and the instructions are mostly pretty clear. Actually come to think of the the instructions are pretty much excellent because it deals with a whole bunch of things some books overlook. Like pain.

If you are serious about meditation I don’t think you would have much difficulty in understanding the instructions – although following them is quite intimidating.

What I disliked…

I have some issues with the title. Plain English. There is no two ways about it, this book is infinitely plainer in it’s speech than the vast majority of books that I have read on the subject. That does not mean, however, that this book is jargon free. There are a lot of Pali terms flying around and a handful of high-concept words that, while mostly well explained, could be intimidating to the beginner. This book was written by a Buddhist monk after all, so it is to be expected that some Buddhist terminology is included – it’s just something people should be aware of as mindfulness tends to be thought of as a secular thing a lot these days.

I warn you now, what I’m about to point out would stop a great deal of reading this book – and I have to admit it made me feel pretty weird about the whole thing too. All I can do is say that just because I’m pointing this out doesn’t mean you should write off the whole book. Just forget this bit and move on – it’s not worth missing the whole book because of one paragraph.

“There is a point in the meditator’s career where he or she may practice special exercises to develop psychic powers…Only after the meditator has reached a very deep stage of jhana will he or she be advanced enough to work with such powers…” p.15

This quote comes from a section entitled “Misconception 4: The purpose of meditations is to become psychic”. Obviously it’s good that Bhante is making a point of saying you don’t meditate to try and become psychic, but he also pretty much

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MMM….bitter pill…

point blank says that it is a thing that can happen and that you can train to do it when you are very experienced. This is obviously going to be a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of people – and by bitter I’m talking bitter like the sour candy Homer Simpson eats at that trade show that all but turns his mouth inside out kind of bitter. If this bothers you, just move on and forget you read it.

Final thoughts…

This book definitely helped me absorb some useful tips for my meditation practice, and probably deserves a second read another time when I haven’t just finished something life-changing.

I would recommend it to anyone who meditates or plans to meditate, providing they don’t go into this book expecting a secular mindfulness guide.

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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!

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

Goodreads Link |  Author Website

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

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4.5/5 BUTTONS

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.

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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!