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

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


Goodreads Link | Author Website

3-5Button

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.

___________________________________________
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: Interconnected (HH. The 17th Karmapa)

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


Goodreads Link | Author Website

5Button

Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Anybody with an interest in Buddhism, self improvement and global fellowship.

About the Book…

In Interconnected, His Holiness invites us to explore the fundamental connections that bind us to everything else. The book explores all manner of themes, from our environmental impact to our interpersonal relationships. Through a mixture of personal anecdotes, musings and philosophy, His Holiness paints an insightful picture of our place in the world, and how we can improve it by switching our focus to the things that connect us, rather than those that divide us.

This book continues on many of the themes raised in The Heart is Noble. (Book Review: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa))

What I thought…

Interconnected is clearly a labour of love. These are the words of a man who truly believes the advice he gives, and follows that advice to the letter. As I have come to expect from His Holiness, this book is wonderfully written, in an insightful, wise and friendly manner.

Probably my favourite element of this book, among it’s many admirable qualities, is the way His Holiness speaks quite candidly about his own life experiences. We are treated, not just to tales from his childhood, but also to difficulties that arise from his position as a spiritual leader. Personal anecdotes are provided often as a demonstration of some of the more difficult elements contained within the book. For example, there is a wonderful passage about how freedom and responsibility are linked, which on the surface could be a difficult concept to grasp, as it appears to be quite a contrast to the common western notion of freedom. His Holiness illustrates this point by imagining he wished to exercise personal freedom, and start a game of basketball in the monastery – an act which would cause many others a great deal of problems, and not just those in the immediate vicinity.

Final Thoughts…

Some elements of this book will be easier to digest if you are a practicing Buddhist, since His Holiness is obviously heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking and refers to it frequently. Having said that, everything in this book could easily be understood and acted upon by anybody, and you certainly would not need to be a Buddhist to take a great deal of positive ideas from this book.

___________________________________________
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: Illuminating Silence (Master Shen Yeng & Dr John H Crook)

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


Goodreads Link

 

3Button

Ragdoll Rating: 3/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Experienced Buddhist practitioners, people wanting insight on the Chan (Chinese Zen) path

About the Book…

The content of  Illuminating Silence comes from Master Sheng Yen, a Chinese Chan master. The book contains edited transcripts of the talks Master Yen gave over the course of two week-long retreats in Wales. The talks were given in Chinese by Master Yen, translated by a Mr Ming Yee and transcribed by Dr Crook.

What I thought…

I found this book to be difficult but interesting read. I suppose the only review I can give about this book is based in the fact that I am having such difficulty in thinking of anything – at all – to say about it.

There is a great deal to learn from this book, I am sure. I think the key problem for me is that these are transcripts, offered without external commentary. This means that if you find yourself confused or lost (as I often did) there is nothing but Master Yen’s words to guide you through it. What I’m saying is that this book is not for the faint of heart and almost certainly not for the beginner. A lot of Chinese words remain untranslated, and although there is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, the unfamiliar vocabulary was hard to cope with.

It took me a long time to finish this book, nearly a month apparently, and to be honest I really don’t think I could tell you more than one thing I learned while reading it. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything, I distinctly remember many occasions where my understanding of a topic was deepened or a new concept was introduced, I just can’t remember what they were. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, or perhaps I’m just too inexperienced to fully appreciate it.

A lot of time was spent dedicated to dissection of a poem, most of which was lost on me. I’m not good with poetry at the best of times, and poetry in translation…eek!

During my reading, I made a note of one line, something I almost never do. “It is not important to get enlightened quickly.” This, coupled with frequent reminder that you still have to practice even post-enlightenment stuck with me, and actually I think this message on it’s own made the book worth reading.

Final Thoughts…

This book is a tough read, and is probably much more enjoyable with an improved understanding of the topic. Perhaps I’ll read it again some day and find it more accessible.

___________________________________________
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: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Life advice for anybody – not just Buddhists!

TL;DR – Advice and thoughts from a Buddhist monk to the rest of the world. Not just for Buddhists.

5 Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve read lots of snippets from His Holiness around the internet in the course of my day-to-day ramblings, and have found those snippets to be insightful and useful to me, so I have been keen to read a book by His Holiness for some time – this just happened to be the first one I bought.

The Book…

This book is intended as personal thoughts and advice from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, to anybody who is interested. It is based in Buddhist thought – as you would no doubt expect from a Buddhist monk – but it is not just for Buddhists, it’s good advice for anybody.

The book is split into chapters covering a number of themes, ranging from Healthy Relationships to Food Justice / Vegetarianism to Gender Identity. His Holiness provides his own thoughts on a range of subjects he sees as problematic in the world and offers his own ideas as to how we all can work to combat these problems.

What I liked…

I found this book to be insightful, and very interesting. There is nothing dogmatic about this book – you aren’t supposed to just agree ‘because the Karmapa said so’, or even because it seems like the Buddhist thing to do. His Holiness provides his thoughts in a clear manner, and invites you to test them against your own experiences to determine their validity.

I found the chapter on vegetarianism particularly interesting. I personally find this a difficult subject because of two parts of my personality. First, I love eating meat, secondly, I believe it is ethically wrong of me to do so. I expected this chapter to make me feel worse about it – to go on and on about how terrible I am for eating meat, like so many others have done in the past. But it didn’t. What I got was a story from His Holiness about how things were in Tibet, and how they are now. We start by learning that His Holiness ate a lot of meat when he lived in Tibet – because that’s what was available. He then explains how this changed once he escaped to India. He tells us he became vegetarian after watching a documentary about the meat industry and feeling a surge of compassion for the emotions of the animals. But it wasn’t heavy handed, there was no sense that you must agree with his assessment, it was just stated plainly that this was how he felt and from that he turned to vegetarianism. His Holiness even admits that he still occasionally craves a certain kind of meat he remembers from his childhood. He then goes on to explain all sorts of things about why he thinks vegetarianism is would be a good thing for everyone to adopt, but it never feels pushy or aggressive. But it is persuasive. It has led me personally to make a move towards vegetarianism I felt poorly equipped to make before.

The whole book is like this. In a friendly, approachable style, His Holiness provides anecdotes and the occasional piece of Buddhist wisdom or storytelling to illustrate his points and reminds us constantly about the important of compassion and loving kindness.

What I disliked…

There is nothing about the book I really disliked, but I do have to mention one thing because it may upset some readers.

Buddhism calls for universal compassion, and when I say universal I mean it. Compassion for everyone. In the last chapter we are taught how far this actually goes. It specifically mentions rapists, child abusers and murderers as people who deserve compassion. It states that we are quick to be compassionate to the victims (as indeed we should be) but that we are all too quick to withhold compassion from the perpetrators (which is true). This is hard to read – and His Holiness admits right at the start of the chapter that it is easier read than put into practice. It is a fairly simple concept to grasp, but can be quite difficult to read – especially if you have ever been the victim of something like this.

Just be aware of that.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed reading this book. It has been quite the treat for me to sit down every night before meditating and read a chapter of this book. I can’t wait to read some more by His Holiness, and I hope you will consider reading it, whether you are Buddhist or not.

___________________________________________
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: Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin (John Blofeld)


Goodreads Link

Interesting, if a little confusing.

TL;DR – A series of collected stories and information about Kwan Yin, Bodhisattva and Godess.

3.5 Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 3.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I came across Kwan Yin Bodhisattva some time ago – one of my Buddhist friends introduced her to me. It was interesting to see a prominent Buddhist figure who had gone from a male from (Avalokiteshvara) to female, some trans Buddhist folk I know see that as a really big thing for what I assume should be obvious reasons. Since then I’ve been meaning to research her a bit and this book was on a list of recommendations.

The Book…

This book is more like a collection of anecdotes than anything else. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t appear to have been actually researched. That’s not to say it isn’t accurate, just don’t go into it expecting references or academic stuff.

It follows Blofeld’s quest to discover Kwan Yin. He begins by telling us how his quest began – specifically that a bronze statue addressed him in a temple once. What follows is an examination of Kwan Yin from as many perspectives as possible. We learn about the manifestations of Kwan Yin – from Buddhist figure to Chinese mythical princess. Then we look at her origins in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism and her possible origins and a combination of Tara and Avalokiteshvara. Then we have some chapters on her history as the subject of Chinese folk tales, sacred rites and practices, meditations and so on.

Each chapter is presented as either first hand information or recollection of stories the author was told by people he has discussed the topic with.

What I liked…

I liked the first half of this book or so. The discussion of the theoretical histories, origins and interpretations was really interesting, and the fact that Blofeld provided (what he claims to be) accurate transcripts of discussions he’s had was a peculiar but welcome change from the usual academic non-fiction I read.

I particularly enjoyed the section where Blofeld discussed – at length – the connection between Kwan Yin and Tara. Blofeld treats us to stories of peoples interactions with these figures, without trying to dismiss them automatically as nonsense – and speaks of his own experiences that could be considered ‘supernatural’.

What I disliked…

The last chapter. I really don’t know what happened. I was enjoying the book until the last chapter, at which point it felt like the writing changed and all of a sudden I was reading a different book. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you how this book ended.

Final thoughts…

This book was an interesting read, and the format of collected anecdotes was novel and different – although what the means in terms of accuracy I’m not sure. It was worth reading though, even if I didn’t enjoy the final chapter.

___________________________________________
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: No Mud, No Lotus (Thich Nhat Nanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

I can only hope to one day see the world as Thich Nhat Hanh does…

TL;DR – A collection of personal experiences, Buddhist teachings and mindfulness practices to help heal the suffering of the world.

4 Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

This was part of my ongoing practice of reading a Buddhism book before meditation. I chose this book because I was so moved by The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh) that I felt I had to read more of Thay’s writings, and I chose this book specifically because I liked the title.

The Book…

(Please note: In the interests of my own sanity and time saving, I will refer to the author by the honorific Thầy – teacher/master, instead of his full name)

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” ~Thich Nhat Nanh

The tagline for this book is “The art of transforming suffering”, and that is what this book is, a guidebook for turning suffering into – well, not suffering.

The first (and biggest) section of this book is dedicated to discussing suffering, it’s effects on us as individuals, and on society itself. Each chapter is split into little sections that are written with the authors usual somewhat eclectic mix of personal stories, scripture and metaphor.

In the first chapter, Thầy tells us how suffering and happiness are linked – you cannot have one without the other, and suggesting that the causes of suffering and happiness can be the same thing. Here he uses an example of being cold:

“Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes. But when you’re feeling overheated (…) the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy…” Thich Nhat Hanh (p.11)

Thầy also provides useful practices you can try for yourself in times of suffering, to try and provide some relief, either for you or for the people around you. Chapter 5, for example, is dedicated to 5 practices for nurturing happiness, such as letting go of attachment, and simple meditations.

The second section of the book is entitled ‘Practices for Happiness’ and details 8 (relatively) simple things we can all try to do, to help transform our suffering and the suffering of others.

What I liked…

One thing that really appealed to me in this book was that Thầy always provides multiple forms of explanation and example to any point he makes. Nothing is left to chance. You will often find multiple metaphors, personal examples and stories from the Buddhist canon to help aid understanding of what can be difficult points.  Some people might find this annoying and it could be interpreted as unnecessary repetition, but I personally find that it helps me understand each point much better because of it.

On a similar note, the combination of traditional Buddhist stories and personal anecdotes is also refreshing. One problem I often find with guides for personal improvement, is that if often the steps seem impossible – if you tried them, you would fail – and once you feel like it’s too difficult, you stop paying attention. Having examples of how Thầy puts this guidance into practice – is really refreshing. But this book goes one step further. We also have examples where Thầy talks about times he has found himself confused about teachings (for example the section entitled “Did the Buddha suffer”) – which is really reassuring. It’s nice to see someone admit that they didn’t always understand how these things worked, because often I find hearing guidance from people comes across as if the knowledge was inside them from birth, which as an often-confused person, is really quite disheartening.

What I disliked…

I’m not sure this is so much a dislike in the traditional sense – it’s certainly not the authors fault – but at times this book was hard to read. Not in the usual sense, the language is pretty straightforward, it’s written clearly and has lots of examples – it’s not an ‘advanced text’ or anything like that. It’s the concepts addressed in the book.

There is guidance in this book that seems difficult, if not impossible to follow. For example, there is a place in the book (although I can’t find the specific page as my bookmark fell out) where Thầy talks about how to respond to somebody else’s anger. He encourages us not to respond in kind, not to become angry ourselves or to shout or defend ourselves. Instead he tells us to listen, apologise for your part in this persons pain and just hear them out. Then later, when things are calmer you can try to transform this persons view should an opportunity present itself.

Now, I totally see how this could work. In fact I know it works at times because I’ve done it – not on anything particularly important mind you, but it can work. Even if I hadn’t actually put this into practice, I would be able to see the logic behind it because it is all explained in a clear and simple fashion. BUT, this – and other pieces of guidance – can be really, really daunting. I know on several times during this book, I stopped reading and thought to myself;

“How the hell am I supposed to pull that off!?”

I suppose the thing is, it is all very well explained and I can see what to do, and why I should do it and all those nice things that should make it seem like a walk in the park, but in the back of my head something is telling me the whole thing is nuts. The teachings in this book can be hard to process and accept – that’s just conditioned into us I suppose, and something we all need to unlearn. Just be aware of it.

Final thoughts…

This book is well thought out, brilliantly written and no doubt it will prove incredibly useful in the future. I have already attempted to put some of the teachings into practice.

The book is clear, but some of the concepts are hard to digest. Your mind may try and reject them, even though they are really good stuff. My advice is if you find yourself resisting something in the book, put it down, breath deeply for a minute or two, then start reading again. It will be worth it.

This book is now on my re-read pile. I recommend this to everyone.

___________________________________________
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: 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.

4Button

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

homersourball
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.

___________________________________________
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: The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (June 2018)

“This is definitely one of the most important books I have ever read.” ~Me

TL;DR – This book is a basic introduction to the foundations of Buddhism, taught from the point of view of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Absolutely recommended.

EBBanner

RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

The Book…

The book covers the absolute fundamentals of Buddhism. Thầy introduces us to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path and a handful of other concepts he considers to be the bedrock of the Buddhist faith.

The writing style is quite unusual – I have no idea of this a trait of Zen masters, poets, Vietnamese folks or just a personal quirk but it seems quite unique. Specifically, the writing seems to flow quite rapidly from one thing to another, usually from explanation to metaphor and back again. I don’t personally find it difficult to read because my mind tends to wander a lot anyway and I found it actually helped me take things in, but some people my find it a little tricky to deal with.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Who I will refer to as Thầy (teacher) from now on) is not only a Zen master but a poet too and this look is laced with sections of poetry on related topics. It’s a nice touch although I confess I am far to ignorant of poetry to be able to suggest how good it is.

The book is well referenced, linking to canonical texts, other Buddhist teachers works, and other books Thầy has written. It also includes, in the final section, a small selection of translated discourses which had been mentioned in the text.

Why I read it…

I’ve been trying to read a Buddhist text before my evening meditation and I just happened to buy this book not so long ago. I had listened to a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh and found his insights really struck a chord with me.

Conveniently, this book also took up a position in my reading challenge in the “A book that will make you smarter” category.

Thầy has devoted a considerable amount of word-space to the teachings of the Four Nobel Truths and the Noble Eightfold path – 16 chapters in fact. He breaks down the teachings into their component parts, explains these parts, often with the use of poetry, metaphor and canonical sources. Then he explains how all these elements are connected, how the interplay and are how the ‘inter-are’ – when you truly focus on one element, you will be practicing all the elements automatically.

The third section of the book is dedicated to what I hesitate to call lesser known teachings. Perhaps if you have a good background in Buddhism then you would probably at least know what they were (I knew a handful) but if you are new to Buddhism then the chances are you wouldn’t know them. These teachings are well explained and most importantly linked in to the other elements. It was really good to read about these other important teachings.

Why I love It…

Firstly I have to mention the use of metaphor. This book is full of metaphorical explanations to aid the reader in their understanding. They help make the teachings easier to digest – and some of these teachings can be confusing at the best of times. One thing that really stuck in my mind was a metaphor about waves:

“When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, the wave also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, ‘Some day I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing.’

These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. A wave can be recognized by signs — beginning or ending, high or low, beautiful or ugly. In the world of the wave, the world of relative truth, the wave feels happy as she swells, and she feels sad as she falls. She may think, ‘I am high!’ or ‘I am low!’ and develop superiority or inferiority complexes, but in the world of the water there are no signs, and when the wave touches her true nature — which is water — all of her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death,” (p.124/5)

While I was reading this passage (and many others), suddenly the ideas behind impermanence, rebirth and all sorts of other things started to make a bit more sense. The book is full of useful metaphors like these and by the end I felt like my understanding of the fundamental concepts was improved.

All the way through I found myself learning new things, and understanding concepts I already knew about much more clearly than I ever have before. I’m sure I missed more than I took in, and this book will definitely become a book I will re-read over and over.

The main reason this book is ranked ‘exceptional’ rather than just 5 buttons is basically because of my emotional reaction to text. With every chapter my understanding grew and I had clear guidance to help me understand some difficult concepts and encouragement to apply these things to me own life. I really strongly felt motivated to make improvements in my life and to follow the teachings of the Buddha more closely. I felt a really strong emotion of loving kindness in my heart as I read this book and that feeling continued after I put the book down each night. It was a rare experience and one I feel very happy to have gone through. I genuinely feel this may be one of the most important books I have ever, or indeed will ever read.

 

Recommended For…

Everyone with an interest in Buddhism, from the absolute beginner to the advanced practitioner.

Everyone generally. I would recommend this book to everyone actually – the contents are very Buddhism-centric (obviously) but there are lessons to be learned from this book that everyone from all works of life could make use of.

Final thoughts…

This book is probably one of the best books on Buddhism that I have read for a beginners view. The concepts can be difficult but Thầy offers excellent guidance and explanation to help you understand.

The book also contains a good deal that would be of value to a more experienced practitioner. Yes, it’s good as a reminder of the basic teachings but the poetry and imagery of this work make it well worth reading as a guide to deeper understanding and encouragement to deeper practice.

Everyone should read this book.

___________________________________________
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

4-5Button

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.

___________________________________________

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: Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism (Sangharakshita)

Goodreads Link | Sangharakshita Website

“To consider the Bodhisttva ideal is to place one’s hand on the very heart of Buddhism, and feel the beating of that hears.” ~Extract from the blurb

TL;DR – A fascinating read. Don’t read this unless you have at least some idea about Buddhism beforehand.

4-5Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 4.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Bodhisattva from the moment I first heard about it, and this seemed as good a place as any to start.

As it says in my introduction, I am a practising Buddhist. I have started to read a chapter of a book on a Buddhist topic every day before meditating.

Also, it was on my Reading challenge list.

The Book…

This book is an intended as an introduction to the concept of the Bodhisattva – which simply (and completely underwhelming put), is a being who seeks enlightenment for all sentient beings, rather than for themselves.

The first chapter takes you briefly through the origins of this ideal – detailing the differing opinions of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. This history is filled out a little more in the following chapters to provide you with a neat little guide to the origins and reasons for the rise of this ideal.

The remaining chapters are a fascinating account of the qualities of a Bodhisattva, and detailing how one becomes a Bodhisattva.* Chapter 2 introduces and explains the concept of Bodicitta and how it applies to the ideal. Chapter 3 introduces the Bodhisattva vows, and so on and so fourth. Each chapter introduces further qualities and concepts and explains them all.

*NOTE:- when I say ‘how one becomes…’ I do not mean to suggest this book is a sort of spiritual ‘how-to’ guide, nor that it pretends to offer a ‘quick’ guide to enlightenment.

What I liked…

I enjoyed the writing style. It was – for the most part – quite clear, and made use of metaphor, and drew parallels to other things in order to try and make difficult concepts clearer. I found the book mostly easy to read and to digest – the chapters are about 25-30 each, which was perfect for the way I chose to read this book.

Obviously I enjoyed the content. Going in, I was primarily interested in finding some explanations as to how a Bodhisattva functions – unlimited compassion and seeking enlightenment for all sentient beings is a lofty ideal, and something that I find both interesting and inspiring. I found some good information in this area, and the rest of the book was just as interesting. The historical aspects in particular were very enjoyable.

I also liked that the book was well referenced throughout, pointing to Buddhist. It’s usually a good sign to have proper referencing in a factual book.

Finally, there is a neat little Further Reading section at the back, which is something I always like to see.

What I disliked…

I would have liked a glossary of terms at the end – all the non-English terminology is translated and explained within the text, it just would have been nice. That said, there is a fairly big index that appears to contain all the non-English terminology (and a whole lot more) so it would not be difficult to research.

I found it a little difficult at times to grasp some of the concepts, and on occasion I was confused about the point being made – however this almost certainly has more to do with the complexity of the topic, the difficulty of explaining concepts that by their are difficult do understand from what I would term ‘the normal level’, and also inexperience on my part – as such, I would warn that this is not a book for the beginner; some knowledge of Buddhism is (I would think) essential, before reading this book.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed this book. I found it a very enjoyable and fairly simple read, and it answered a lot of questions – of course it also raised countless other ones, but that is definitely a good thing. It has inspired me to further reading on the subject of the Bodhisattva ideal, and also Buddhist history.

The book loses half a star, purely because it was not always as beginner friendly as I hoped. However, it will be going on my ‘read again’ list for a time when I will understand it better.

I would definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in the subject – providing they have some prior knowledge of Buddhism or don’t mind a doing a little bit of research.

___________________________________________

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!