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Blog

Jan 04, 2012

Making the practice your own

When you first learn to meditate, it’s appropriate and helpful to take on structured practices. There are plenty of such practices available – ones for cultivating absorption, such as mindfulness of breathing, or for ‘positive emotion’, such as metta bhavana, or general overall mindfulness, such as systematically cultivating awareness of the ‘four foundations’ – body sensations, hedonic feeling-tone, mental activities and dhammas or ‘ultimates’.

Structure is usually very helpful for learning the ropes. All Buddhist practices are pragmatic – the main question to bear in mind is ‘is this working’? Is it effective in cultivating the quality that it’s intended to cultivate? If it is, then it makes sense to …

Sep 29, 2011

How does happiness happen?

Happiness and How it Happens, by “The Happy Buddha” Suryacitta Malcolm Smith

At first glance, the most obvious thing about this excellent little book on mindfulness and meditation is just how beautifully produced it is. It’s a pleasure just to pick it up and browse through it. Somehow, the care the publishers have taken with the book’s appearance both reflects its theme and adds to its impact.

So, how, according to Suryacitta, does happiness ‘happen’? He gets straight to the point – “Happiness is our natural state. It happens when we stop making ourselves unhappy by believing in the stories the thinking mind throws up”.

It’s all very well to say this, …

Feb 27, 2009

“Never Turn Away: The Buddhist Path Beyond Hope and Fear” by Rigdzin Shikpo

Never Turn Away, by Rigdzin ShikpoTejananda, Buddhist practitioner, meditation teacher, and author of The Buddhist Path to Awakening, gives an overview of a new, fresh approach to translating the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism into a western idiom.

Rigdzin Shikpo (Michael Hookham) was one of the earliest Western students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa, who died in 1987, was a brilliant yet controversial figure. But whatever his flaws, he was undoubtedly one of the key figures in transmitting and translating Tibetan Buddhism for the western world: not so much translating in the linguistic sense as being prepared to take risks in creating new forms and expressions out of the 1000 year old Kagyu tradition in …

Mar 25, 2008

“The Meditator’s Atlas: A Roadmap of the Inner World” by Matthew Flickstein

The Meditator's AtlasWhat is the Buddhist Path? Can we become spiritually awakened through meditation alone, or do we have to take a more rounded approach? If we’re already free, why do we need to follow a path anyway? Looking for answers, Tejananda, long-term Buddhist practitioner and meditation teacher, follows The Meditator’s Atlas on a spiritual road trip to purification.

The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) is Buddhaghosa’s classic commentary on the way to full awakening. Buddhaghosa was a fifth-century Indian exponent of the Theravada or “Doctrine of The Elders” school. The Theravada bases its approach on the Pali canon which contains some of the earliest extant records of the Buddha and his teachings.

May 05, 2006

“The Attention Revolution – Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind,” by B. Alan Wallace

book cover Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

The Attention Revolution is a thorough outline of the stages leading to the achievement of shamatha—full mental stabilization—according to Indo-Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Anyone buying the book in the hope of a quick fix, though, is fairly soon put right. The achievement of shamatha, Wallace tells us, is liable to involve “five to ten thousand hours of training—of eight hours each day for fifty weeks in the year.”

At this point I nearly stopped reading. I live in a meditation retreat centre, but even my lifestyle allows for nothing like this amount of meditation—and how much more so for people who have “normal” lives. But I’m glad that I persevered. …