Insight Meditation Society

Enlightenment meets Enlightenment: Finding the Buddha in the secular west

Dr. Arnie Kozak, beliefnet: I recently gave a talk at the University of Vermont College of Medicine called “Beyond Stress Reduction: Mindfulness as a Radical Technology. In this talk, I spoke about the indictment that the healthcare and corporate-related applications of mindfulness are tantamount to “McMindfulness.”

If you read my post on this issue, you know that I think the criticisms of secularized mindfulness go to far. In my talk, I made the point that secular dharma is a uniquely Western dharma.

Secular Buddhism, which seeks enlightenment, accords with the Enlightenment era values of rationality, empiricism, and skepticism…

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As more people meditate, more realize its benefits

Karen Garloch, Charlotte Observer: If the word meditation conjures images of a Buddhist guru sitting cross-legged in a Himalayan cave, you’ve got some catching up to do.

Devotees of meditation do take time each day to sit quietly, close their eyes and focus on their breathing.

But they could also be practicing while sitting in traffic, standing in grocery lines, or stuck in a contentious meeting.

“It’s available to us in a lot of life circumstances,” said Sharon Salzberg, an internationally known leader of meditation retreats and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. “You don’t have to close your eyes. No one even …

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Through meditation, she makes happiness an inside job

Sharon Salzberg, 58, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, has spent more than three decades helping Westerners access a daily spiritual practice that originated in Buddhism but is not confined to that faith.

When Sharon Salzberg returned to New York from her first trips to India in the 1970s, a crinkled cotton blouse was still exotic and people would politely sidle away from her at parties after she told them she taught meditation for a living.

Now even Starbucks sells chai (a milky Indian spice tea), and a landmark Massachusetts General Hospital study released last month has documented that the brain shows positive physical changes — in density of gray matter — after just eight weeks of meditation.

Salzberg, 58, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., has spent more than three decades helping Westerners access a daily spiritual practice that originated in Buddhism but is not confined to that faith.

Her latest book, “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation,” offers a 28-day guide to generating what she calls “sustainable and durable” happiness from within oneself, rather than…

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relying on external events.

“We all want to be happy. We need to expand the notion of what that means, to make it bigger and wiser,” the author said in a telephone interview from Albuquerque, a stop on her book tour. On Feb. 26, Salzberg will lead a three-hour retreat at Santa Monica’s First United Methodist Church for the InsightLA meditation center.

She said a key to experiencing happiness on an ongoing basis is to acknowledge pain and suffering, something American culture resists.

“It’s difficult to admit to ourselves that we suffer. We feel humiliated, like we should have been able to control our pain. If someone else is suffering, we like to tuck them away, out of sight,” Salzberg said. “It’s a cruel, cruel conditioning. There is no controlling the unfolding of life.”

Salzberg’s own childhood was filled with pain and loss. Her parents divorced when she was 4, and her father simply “disappeared.” When Salzberg was 9, her mother died and she went to live with her father’s parents. When she was 11 the father returned to the family, but he soon took an overdose that put him in the hospital and then the mental health system for the rest of his life.

“By age 16, I had lived in five different family configurations, all ending in loss,” she recalled.

After an Asian thought class at State University of New York at Buffalo exposed Salzberg to Buddhism, she left for India on an independent study course that changed her life. She went to Bodhgaya, where Buddhists believe that 2,500 years ago Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) attained enlightenment after 49 days meditating under the Bodhi tree, a sacred fig.

Salzberg said she wasn’t seeking a new religion but a pragmatic way of living, and what she discovered allowed her to relate to her past with “compassion rather than bitterness” and to live with a sense of connection.

She was attracted to the Buddha’s open acknowledgement of suffering in life and the invitation to do something about it.

“As is the case for many people, my childhood traumas weren’t spoken about in our family,” Salzberg said. “I didn’t know what to do with all those feelings.” She said she saw a shocking level of anger and judgment in herself and recognized that her operating system for life was based on fear.

The Buddhist principles of vipassana, or mindfulness, and metta, lovingkindness, afforded Salzberg what she calls a “spacious” form of awareness in which people know they have a choice. Instead of being dominated by her fears, Salzberg said, she began to communicate what she learned, ultimately publishing seven books.

In her first book, “Lovingkindness,” Salzberg explored a meditation technique in which certain phrases with personal meaning — wishing a benefactor well, for example — become conduits for concentration.

In another book, “Faith,” published when Salzberg turned 50, she sought to “go deeper into the unknown.” For Salzberg, faith means “connecting to inner strength and a vision of life in which you are part of a greater whole.”

“I wanted to help reclaim the word and free the word from a lot of what had accrued around it,” Salzberg said, noting that many of her Christian and Jewish contemporaries had felt silenced in the faith traditions in which they grew up.

Although she was raised Jewish and in certain contexts identifies as Buddhist, Salzberg believes meditation can complement any faith tradition.

“Faith is not a commodity that you either have or don’t have enough of, or the right kind of,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process. The opposite of faith is despair.”

Even her Buddhist teachers did not tout Buddhism as the only way to truth, Salzberg said. She remembers that her first teacher told her “the Buddha did not teach Buddhism; he taught a way of life.” Her second teacher went even further: “The Buddha’s enlightenment solved the Buddha’s problem. Now you go solve yours.”

Most of what Salzberg has learned and taught comes full circle in “Real Happiness,” which she said does not imply that other types of happiness are not real. Instead, she said, the mind has the power to keep us depressed even when things are good and to allow us to experience well-being even when times are tough.

Salzberg saw that principle come alive when she taught a meditation class to the nursing staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where young soldiers were recovering from amputations and other injuries suffered in the Iraq war.

On a tour of the hospital, Salzberg was reminded by the nurse conducting it of how one’s internal approach to suffering makes all the difference.

“The nurses who can stay here are not the ones who get lost in sorrow, but the ones who can connect to the resiliency of the human spirit,” Salzberg said her guide told her.

Meditation, said the author, gives people the tools to tap into that spirit.

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That misery called meditation

Robert Wright, the New York Times online columnist and author of The Evolution of God, is pretty much what you’d call a cynic. That’s why I was surprised when he spoke with such reverence of the period he spent meditating at a silent Buddhist retreat. “When I came out, I was quite different,” he told me. “It was one of the best things I’d ever done.”

What could bring such joy to a cynic? The way to find out was to go to Barre, Mass., home of the Insight Meditation Society, where Wright went on his pilgrimage many years ago. Founded in the 1970s by a group of Westerners who had spent time as Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia, it occupies a former Catholic novitiate next to a forest in the middle of nowhere. For nearly 40 years, it has been offering, well, silence.

I went for what was technically called a retreat. More specifically, it was seven days of silent meditation on the quality of infinite and unconditional loving-kindness. (Metta in Buddhist parlance.) There were rules: No speech, no hurting any being (including insects), no sexual misconduct, and no stealing. We would eat simple meals, sit in a meditation hall, or walk slowly back and forth with the mind focused on loving-kindness. In theory, it sounded pretty nice.

I was, it turned out, wrong. By Day 1, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. After my initial curiosity wore through, I began (in the parlance) to “notice” something: I was miserable. Sitting silently on a cushion for hours at a time turns out to be intensely boring. Worse, it was also physically painful. You could sit cross-legged, kneel, or even sit on a chair, but it didn’t really matter, because after a while, the same nauseating pain would creep into my right shoulder and scream into my ears. I was bored, aching, and because of the whole silent thing, lacked anyone to complain to. Wright be damned, I’d come to the wrong place.

My fellow meditators (referred to as “yogis”) actually made things worse. They hardly resembled beacons of love and joy. Instead, they walked around slowly, dragging their feet, faces blank. I began to feel that I was surrounded by zombies; I half-expected to see arms drop off. Sitting at dinner, surrounded by drooping humans, hunched over their plates, I imagined that I was at a banquet for the chronically depressed. I began to feel a physical, sinking dread at being around so much obvious misery. To think I could have been lying on a beach; instead I was trapped in a morgue.

In short, I quickly figured out that it had been a mistake to come here, and I still had about 140 hours of unrelenting boredom ahead of me. Think about it: A week of pure vacation is a valuable thing to waste sitting on a cushion. I kept imagining the myriad other ways I could have spent it. Back to Japan? To Alaska, into the wild? Scuba diving? Rock climbing? Anything and anywhere but here.

So my meditation practice became one long battle with regret. It went something like this: The teacher told us to imagine a place that made us feel happy and peaceful. I pictured a mountain. Fine. Then I pictured myself hiking that mountain. Then I said, What I am doing here instead of there? Angrily, I switched to the ocean. Peaceful. Then I thought of fish in the ocean. The fish became sushi and I became hungry. There was a piece of shiny fish sitting on rice, quivering slightly. I opened my eyes; and the sushi disappeared. I saw instead a room full of zombies trying to imagine what happiness felt like.

These thoughts, the teacher later explained, were something called a “hindrance.” The fact that I wanted to do something other than sit in the meditation hall was a desire, and desire leads to suffering. (This is the first lesson in Buddhism.) At the time, it seemed clearer to me that sitting in that hall, bored stiff and with burning shoulders was the very essence of “suffering.” Desire, meanwhile, seemed to have a lot to say for itself: It took you places, like, say, the local bar. Give me sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, I thought. I’d have settled for a sitcom at that point; something, anything. But there was still no one to complain to but myself, so I complained away, and I felt bad about that as I slowly lost the ability to move my neck from side to side.

If I’d had my own car, that might have been it, but I didn’t leave Barre—though I did spot at least one person dragging their luggage to the parking lot, never to return. The days passed, and after a while, something began to change. The regret subsided, and I found myself beginning to find it more bearable, even mildly enjoyable. The teachers encouraged us to be easy on ourselves, and I took the hint. If Phase 1 was regret-filled misery, in what you might call Phase 2, I retooled the experience to amuse myself; to turn the retreat into my own personal playground.

It began when we were instructed once again to conjure up a person or place that brought forth feelings of joy and love. Suddenly, I was a child, and I saw my mother as a young woman, eyes full of love, holding my hand and leading me through the park across from our home. My chest ached with the memory, and hot tears of joy came to my eyes. I refocused and felt on my hands the rough bark of my favorite childhood climbing tree, joined with the smell of summer. I summoned my best friends from second grade, Peter and Eddie, and together we ran off looking for adventure. I zoomed forward a few years and found myself with fists full of grass, climbing the side of a Swiss waterfall with my brother and best friends, my heart bursting with deepest joy.

In Phase 2, I had somehow grabbed control of the DVD player of life, and I skipped to the best scenes, the greatest moments of uncomplicated joy. I kissed my first girlfriend all over again on the porch at midnight. I flew to Mongolia, landed on a galloping horse, and thundered across the plains. I watched myself, at the age of 26, a young clerk at the Supreme Court, clutching in my hand a secret memo with a crucial fifth vote. With hours to kill and the remote control in my head, I went on adventures in memory that brought forth an outpouring of the love and kindness that we’d come to meditate on.

Back in reality, I also began to realize that despite the strict meditation schedule, no one could actually tell me what to do. If I decided to ditch the meditation hall and go off into the adjoining forest, no one was going to stop me. And so, with a stick serving as a sword, I ventured deep into the woods in search of ancient treasures, heading a troupe of heroes and wizards on a quest for the stone of wisdom. As a British commando, I spied on an enemy fortress, gathering intelligence. I became a wandering samurai, shouting challenges in Japanese and chopping the arms off my opponents (trees). After a while, I had to face it: I was having a ball, deep in a second childhood as vivid as the first.

Back at the seminary, meanwhile, my fellow zombies began to serve as a source of amusement. I laughed (silently) at their goofy posture and serious bearing. Knowing nothing about them, I made up nicknames and personalities: A man who snored his way through most of the sittings was Sleepy; the woman with a well-developed musculature was Hard Body. More naughtily, I began to imagine that my colleagues were arranging secret trysts, breaking the rules banning “sexual misconduct.” There was, I decided, a secret form of meditative sex going on, negotiated and conducted in total silence. I found unlimited amusement in that oldest of speculations: trying to guess who was secretly sleeping with whom.

All this made for great fun, but a touch of guilt, as well. It occurred to me that I wasn’t quite following the program. I wasn’t meditating nearly as much as the schedule called for, and at some level I did want to see what all the fuss was about. My daydreams, as vivid as they were, were, in Buddhist terminology, also hindrances, forms of “thinking,” and not what we were supposed to be doing, namely “being” or “abiding.” The teachers had warned us that the mind would do everything it could to avoid pain or discomfort, and it seemed pretty clear that was exactly what was going on. Yes, I had defeated boredom by the force of my imagination. But I sure hadn’t transcended it. Was there more?

It all came to a head in a meeting with Michele McDonald, the head teacher, a woman whose arrival in a room seemed to send invisible shock waves in every direction. She looked at me for a few moments, and then she asked how I was doing. The sound of my voice seemed strange, but I heard myself explaining that, after a rough start, I was feeling a lot of love and having a good time. I referred to an early talk where she warned us about trying to shut the door on pain, and I thought I should address that. I said that while I’d tried to find some pain, I had more or less given up on that and decided to just have fun, and so—

“Sit longer!” she commanded.

I was taken aback.

“Think about it for a second” she said. “What makes you get up? Sit! Don’t move, and you’ll see.”

It is hard to ignore a direct command that comes from a Buddhist master. So began what you might call Phase 3: I went to the meditation hall and sat. Really sat, I mean, without moving, not even to scratch an itch or stretch an ankle. By this time, I’d actually learned to sit in something like a loose, highly undignified interpretation of the lotus position, and there I remained for close to three hours, by far the longest I had ever sat in one place without moving a muscle.

And the master was right—something did happen. As predicted, the pain came. But I didn’t move. Into the second hour, the pain was sometimes excruciating: I could have sworn that live coals were being held to my ankles. But at some level I had decided to sit, and that was it. Yes, I was aching, but it was bearable, and even, in a weird way, sort of lovable. For somewhere within it I was beginning to feel a surrender that was deeply and profoundly relaxing.

After that session, I changed my approach and began to surrender further, relinquishing control bit by bit. I gave up trying to do anything special or different than anyone else. Basically, I became one more zombie. When the teachers said, “Sit,” I sat, and when it was time to walk, I walked. Somehow it didn’t feel boring any more. It was almost as if I’d forgotten what boring was.

At about the same time, a few other strange things began to happen. Once, while eating, my eyes became fixated on a patch of moss, and without warning, time stopped for who knows how long. At other times, colors seemed to be wrong, as if I was wearing tinted glasses. At one point I realized that I had forgotten my own name, the way you might forget the capital of Serbia. And I had begun to find even the smallest thing fascinating. Watching an ant crossing a rock was, for me, like Avatar in 3-D.

And just like that, it ended. Suddenly, we could speak again. I met Sleepy and Hard Body, who had real names and personalities completely different than the ones I had imagined. I hitched a ride back to New York City, where everything looked quite alien. Coming home, I noticed for the first time the sound of the floorboards creaking beneath my feet.

If New York was the same, I was still far from normal, at least for a while. Real life seemed like a big joke—it was far too dramatic, exaggerated, and, above all, comic to be real. A fat man argued with a short man, pointing wildly. Along came a group of girls, dressed for the evening, giggling and texting. And all these people talking to their dogs! Surely I was sitting in a giant theater, and these were paid actors, albeit exceptionally well-cast for their roles.

But over the next few days, those effects slowly wore off. (I did write a lot of kind and loving e-mails, knowing I might not see things so clearly later on.) I began to eat meat again, got on airplanes, and rediscovered what it felt to be rushed. I can’t really say whether the week of silence had a lasting effect, though I’d like to hope it did.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m not destined to reach enlightenment or to be a Buddhist yogi—not in this life, anyway. The retreat helped me realize that I’m full of desire, of longings for raw experience, and unbelievably controlling of how my life is lived. I also know that a taste for adventure is, at some level, why I went to the retreat in the first place; in that sense, the whole thing was corrupted from the start. But I can report that Robert Wright did know what he was talking about. It sounds simple, but one week of silence may give you a hint, maybe more reliably than almost anything else, of who you are.

[Tim Wu, Slate]
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Teacher who helped shape American Buddhism is still on a quest

Jack Kornfield says ‘we’re teaching meditation not as a religious activity but as a support for living a wise and healthy and compassionate inner life.’

In 1972, Jack Kornfield stepped off a plane in Washington, D.C., his head shaved and his body swathed in golden robes. He had come home to see if he could make it as a monk in America.

Kornfield had spent several contemplative years at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, where he lived with few possessions, followed a strict monastic code and retreated each day to the lush forest for hours of meditation.

But in the U.S., he found no monasteries that practiced the Vipassana meditation he had studied. And the precepts he had followed in Thailand — which barred him from handling money and required that he eat only donated food — proved difficult to follow.

He gave up his robes and starting driving a taxi. He dated, got a doctorate in psychology and continued to practice Buddhism on his own terms, using the teachings he had learned to help cope with everyday life’s ups and downs. And with time, he began to help build a new Buddhism.

This distinctly American incarnation encouraged students to find mindfulness in all parts of life, not just in meditation. It was less religion and more practice.

“More and more, we’re teaching meditation not as a religious activity but as a support for living a wise and healthy and compassionate inner life,” Kornfield said recently. “A number of the people I teach don’t consider themselves Buddhists, which is absolutely fine with me. It’s much better to become a Buddha than a Buddhist.”

Kornfield is in Los Angeles this weekend for two events — a talk at the Armand Hammer Museum on Friday night about the psychologist Carl Jung’s journals, and a three-hour meditation class on Saturday at the InsightLA meditation center.

As one of the founders of the Insight Meditation Society, one of the nation’s most popular Buddhist centers, he has led retreats around the globe and has taught alongside eminent Buddhist monks such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.

Kornfield is credited as one of the teachers who helped Buddhism take root in the West by making it palatable and relevant for Americans.

These days, there are hundreds of Buddhist centers across the country, and meditation programs in schools, prisons, hospitals and even corporate boardrooms. But when Kornfield helped found the Insight Meditation Society in 1976, Buddhism was still a novelty in America. The small scene was dominated by Asian emigre monks — charismatic Tibetan teachers and Zen masters who taught Buddhism with a samurai-like intensity.

Kornfield and two similarly inclined friends, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, decided America needed a place where people could practice the Vipassana meditation of Southeast Asia and India. More so than is taught in Zen or Tibetan Buddhism, Vipassana calls for a systematic exploration of the inner self.

Together, they bought an old Catholic monastery in the woods of Barre, Mass., and invited spiritual seekers for retreats. In sitting and walking meditation sessions, they encouraged participants to be mindful of their bodies, their breath and the activity of their minds.

Students and teachers wore street clothes, and teachers gave real-life advice on how to live mindfully in the modern world.

Although nearly all students of Buddhism in Asia were monks, most American Buddhist students were laypeople with families, jobs and Western sensibilities. Kornfield knew from experience that they needed their own message.

“Our minds are quite scattered with planning and remembering and tracking and we don’t live much in the present,” he said. “We can be so lost in our minds that we don’t see the sunset over the Pacific, we don’t see the eyes of our children when we come home, we don’t see the garden.”

Kornfield, who sees affinities between meditation and psychology, encourages his students to pair traditional meditation practice — usually sitting — with forms of cognitive therapy.

Some critics have dismissed Kornfield’s approach as “Buddhism lite.” But if his bestselling books are any indication, his message resonates with many people.

Trudy Goodman, who had studied with Zen and Tibetan monks before she arrived at the Insight center in Massachusetts in the late 1970s, said it was sometimes harder to connect with her Asian-born teachers.

“I feel that Jack has changed Buddhism by being a pioneer for the inclusion of our emotional lives in the practice,” said Goodman, who runs the InsightLA center.

In 1988, Kornfield founded the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the Marin County community of Woodacre, which he still runs. He has a wife, Liana, a psychologist, and a daughter, Caroline, who is on an internship in Cambodia this summer. He opened the center as a place to explore a more family-oriented approach to Buddhism. Among other things, he and others lead classes in parenting and teach introductory Buddhist courses for middle school students.

Kornfield also continues to develop his own practice.

His roving life of teaching gives him plenty of opportunities to practice patience and mindfulness, he said. When he’s home, he likes to spend time in his small writer’s cottage on the retreat center’s grounds. From the window, he can see rolling green hills and a line of bay trees planted along the edge of a stream.

[Kate Linthicum, LA Times]
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Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, by Jack Kornfield

Buddha’s Little Instruction Book

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

This delightful little book by Jack Kornfield, the former monk, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, psychotherapist, and accomplished author, is a collection of pithy aphorisms along with six short guided meditations.

The aphorisms, collected from a variety of meditation teachers such as Ajahn Chaa, Robert Aitken Roshi, Suzuki Roshi, and Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as the Buddha himself, provide rich food for reflection. Although the entire book could be hungrily devoured in an idle hour, the ideal would be to savor each quotation as the potent yet subtle delicacy it is, letting the effect sink in and allowing the mind and heart to make connections with one’s personal practice and life.

Take this one: “The trouble is that you think you have time.”

Or this: “When you walk, just walk. When you eat, just eat.”

Or this: “In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you learn to let go?”

These and any of the other 121 quotations in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book can help us to look at our life and practice anew, bringing a sense of curiosity and the dawning of an “aha!” moment.

The six meditations at the end of the book are beautifully crafted, with the language very simply yet richly giving instruction in classic Vipassana sitting meditation, as well as in walking meditation, eating meditation, and the cultivation of lovingkindness (metta), forgiveness, and compassion (karuna). The meditations are not overly structured but are more free-flowing and organic, although they are also very rich and the guidance, if returned to again and again, will be found to be fresh and multi-layered.

My only regret is that for all but a handful of the quotations no references are given, but given that Kornfield writes that the words are sometimes taken not literally but in the spirit of meditation masters, it’s perhaps fitting that so many of them stand on their own.

This is a book that I will certainly return to time and time again.

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation, by Larry Rosenberg

Breath by Breath

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

Rosenberg’s book, taken from talks given at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts, is a masterful exploration of a traditional Buddhist text on the Mindfulness of Breathing practice.

Rosenberg is not only profound, but witty. His book is full of meaningful and sometimes very humorous anecdotes from his years of practice and teaching.

With extraordinary lucidity he plumbs the depths of this simple practice, showing us that “To contemplate breathing is to contemplate life itself.”

Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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“Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom,” by Joseph Goldstein

Insight Meditation- The Practice of Freedom

Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Rereading Goldstein’s classic recently in preparation for a forthcoming interview, I was struck by just how outstanding a teacher of meditation he is compared to many of the other big-hitting Insight Meditation teachers, excellent as they are. This is due in no small part to the depth of his understanding of the Buddhist tradition. Instead of treating meditation as an independent and secularized discipline he sees it as an integral part of a whole system with the aim of living life well.

This understanding of the breadth of Buddhist practice shows in the way he covers the Buddhist path, practicing in everyday life, dealing with distractions, practicing lovingkindness, etc., with clarity, gentleness, and subtlety. The topics covered are those which Goldstein has been most frequently asked by his meditation students over the years, and I recognized in him a practitioner who has dug deep into his experience in order to find ways to help others to grow and develop.

Goldstein’s wisdom and maturity make this a book well worth reading.

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“One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism,” by Joseph Goldstein

one dharma joseph goldstein

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Goldstein has been meditating in the Theravadin tradition since the 1960’s, and is one of the founders of the Insight Meditation Society. So it’s interesting that for the last few years he’s also been practicing in a Tibetan meditation tradition called Dzog-chen.

Although the practices of Insight Meditation and Dzog-chen are quite similar, their theoretical and metaphysical underpinnings are very different indeed, and One Dharma has emerged from the creative tension that comes about from practicing two very different forms of Buddhism.

Goldstein is not alone in following teachings from more than one Buddhist school. In the cultural melting-pot that is the West, more and more people are seeking spiritual advice from more than one teacher. This inevitably brings up important questions such as, what is essential in each tradition? Strip away the cultural accretions, and what are you left with? If traditions differ on important points, is only one of them right? Or could it be that all Buddhist teachings are simply “Skillful Means” — fingers pointing at the truth, where the finger itself is just showing the way? This is the territory that Goldstein explores.

He expounds an approach to the Buddhist path that is nonsectarian, and which is based on the practice of Mindfulness and the cultivation of Wisdom and Compassion. He skillfully outlines the universally applicable practice of Buddhist ethics, gives an explanation of mindfulness and lovingkindness (practices taught on Wildmind), explains various approaches to cultivating Compassion, and elucidates the cultivation of Wisdom through the practice of non-clinging.

This is an ambitious book, and with any ambitious project there is scope for improvement. The meditation instruction is rather thin, for example. But on the whole this is a fascinating book, of interest to anyone who is exploring the Buddhist path and who is trying to make sense of the bewildering array of Buddhist teachings on offer in the West. Goldstein offers a clear outline of the most fundamental Buddhist principles. Having understood those we are in a far better position to reconcile apparently contradictory teachings and approaches.

This book is, as Daniel Goleman says on the dust-jacket, “a brilliant map of the spiritual path.”

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