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4.9 out of 5 stars
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path
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132 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana has summarized all of the Buddha's path to happiness, everything we know about affecting change in our lives, and everything that psychology teaches us about healthy living into a single, easy to read, easy to apply manual for happiness. This book is a gem! It can be used for inspiration, or instruction. It can be read countless times for added insight. If you are inclined toward Buddhism, or at least are taken with the Buddhist perspective, you will appreciate the straightforward approach he takes to describing the eight steps. If you are not Buddhist or so inclined, you might be put off with some of what you read (the Author clearly believes that the Buddha's way is THE way, and you might be inclined to think of Jesus as the way, or someone else), but I think any rational person would recognize the power and potential for creating change that is captured in this book.
The eight steps are:
1. Skillful Understanding - recognizing the roles of cause and effect, and truly understanding the Four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha
2. Skillful Thinking - Emphasis on understanding how our attachment to things is the source of our suffering (letting go), the practice of loving-friendliness, and practicing compassion.
3. Skillful Speach - Special emphasis on truth-telling, gentle speach, and avoiding useless chatter.
4. Sillful Action - Particular attention to the Five Precepts, namely abstaining from killing, stealing, speaking falsely, sexual misconduct and misuse of intoxicants.
5. Skillful Livelihood - Understanding that how we make a living can have negative or positive impacts (skillful or unskillful) on our path to happiness.
6. Skillful Effort - Recognizing and dealing with the hindrances and fetters that keep us tied to our unhappiness.
7. Skillful Mindfulness - A study of mindfulness practice in terms of the body, feelings, the mind, and mental objects.
8. Skillful Concentration - Teaches what concentration means in the context of meditation, and how it is developed through the four stages to full Concentration.
At each step, you'll recognize yourself and the things you do that hold you back from the path of happiness. You'll find solace in the knowledge that you are not alone (these are common to all us human beings), and relief in learning how to see things differently so that the world you live in works FOR you and not against you.
This is a wonderful book, and anyone who feels they need to make changes in their life would benefit enormously.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, a prior reviewer's comments were somewhat unintelligible and punctuated by non sequiturs. It is in stark contrast to the substantive and coherent work by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.

I have long sought a practical and comprehensive manual that could clearly explain and outline, in both detail and simple language, the fine points of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. Not only has Bhante accomplished this with beautiful clarity, he has done so in a manner that lends itself to easy application within one's daily life. This is not to say that applying the Buddha's doctrine is necessarily a simple process, but merely that (for those interested in Buddhism) reading this book should eliminate any procrastination in commencing the Path because of any possible lack of understanding.

While the present work was published subsequent to Mindfulness in Plain English - by the same author - it can stand alone quite well. In fact, I would recommend that Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness be read first, before proceeding to Mindfulness in Plain English - as it seems a more natural progression. But, really, this is just a matter of personal preference.

Anyone purchasing this book with the expectation of gaining a greater understanding of Buddhist doctrine in layman's terms is, in my humble opinion, unlikely to be disappointed.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
I've read lots of books about buddhism, but none as practical and readily understandable as this. The author writes in plain language and gives many specific tips on enacting each step. There are no real riddles or obfuscations in the author's approach, and one feels that he's not being stingy or arrogant with his wisdom. Probably not for more advanced practitioners, but a perfect place to start!
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59 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
Gunaratana's book is an excellent introduction to living according to the Noble Eightfold Path. Its ethical wisdom and in-depth coverage of the Path itself will undoubtedly have a positive impact on any reader. The language seems deliberately pared down, clear and simple, making it almost a kind of "Buddhism for Dummies" approach, suitable for persons with any level of understanding. However, I would not recommend this either as a first book on Buddhism or as a self-contained overview of Buddhist principles. It makes a fine supplement to a more rigorous introductory presentation of Buddhism, such as Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught, which is where I would send readers first. This book is one of a handful to turn to next, especially for practical purposes and to expand one's knowledge of the Path, but I see a few problems with it that make me urge both caution and skepticism.

First, Gunaratana equates enlightenment with being "free from any speculative views or theories about reality, about the past, present, and future, about the existence of the self, and about the universe." This seems to make Buddhism not only unscientific (nothing wrong with that as empiricism can't directly address experience or wisdom) but anti-science (that is a problem). This emphasis places Buddhism too close to other religions that claim their teachings are more important than empirical discoveries about the nature of reality. An antidote to this way of thinking is provided by the Dalai Lama's new book, The Universe in a Single Atom. His Holiness looks to the intersection of science and Buddhism, which I accept as the way forward.

Second, Gunaratana places too great an emphasis on quelling doubts about the Buddha's teachings. He treats doubt and skepticism as undesirable rather than productive. Here again, he comes too close to the approach of fundamentalist religions. Instead of seeking to quell doubt, I think a more productive approach is to emphasize a positive realization of the Buddha's teachings--which, to be sure, Gunaratana does, particularly in the final chapter. If the wisdom is secure and can be replicated in one's experience, doubt will take care of itself. This difference in presentation may seem subtle, but it is crucial if one wants a Buddhism based on experience and reality rather than on dogma and tradition.

Third, there is an unexamined logical tension between the teaching that there is no self and the belief in reincarnation, which Gunaratana seems to take in a literal sense. If there is no self, what exactly is reincarnated? Gunaratana does not address this question. His approach to the whole subject of reincarnation is oblique and, I'm afraid, obscurantist in the worst "mystical" sense. He takes the concept as a given and does not explore it in logical or empirical terms. (Rahula deals with this subject much more satisfactorily: see pgs. 33-34.)

These objections are significant, but please do not misunderstand: I still highly recommend this book and am willing to give it four stars. I have definitely profited from it personally. It contains a wealth of material that is wise and practical, and this material (the bulk of the book) is by no means invalidated by a few problematic areas. Gunaratana is especially insightful on such subjects as "Skillful Thinking" and "Skillful Livelihood" (he consistently uses the term "skillful" instead of "right," which lends these discussions a refreshingly non-dogmatic air). For instance, he writes, "We all tend to lock into unhealthy thought patterns--grooves we have worn into our consciousness that keep us circling in familiar tracks leading to unhappiness." Just contemplating this idea can be liberating. And Gunaratana offers excellent practical advice for altering such unproductive patterns. Passages like this show how valuable the book can be as high-order "self-help." The later chapters take one well beyond even that point.

To me, the problematic areas indicate that readers should seek out other books and other interpretations of Buddhism. For my tastes, Gunaratana's approach is too hermetical and insufficiently empirical in some places; but the ethical wisdom he offers and the encouragement he gives to those seeking to tread the Buddha's Path are indispensable.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Buddha's fourth truth is to be cultivated. It is called the nobel eight-fold path. The eight steps are memorized by every person who hears of them and takes up meditation. But memorization is not enough. These steps must be cultivated. How? That is precisely the question Bhante Gunaratana takes up in his book, Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness.

I recommend this book to experienced meditators, not to beginners. Why? Because it may be too subtle for the neophyte. That's presumptuous I know, but that is how I feel about the work. Bhante G is a very skillful writer. Given the subject could I have chosen a different adjective? His writing is in no way obscure or mysterious, but it is very subtle and a reader may too easily dismiss it.

That said, this is a wonderful book describing the Buddha's eight-fold path and what the practitioner should consider with each step along it. I highly recommend it for novice to experienced meditators.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have read well over a dozen books regarding forms and aspects of Buddhist thought before reading this one, including Bhante G's other book, Mindfulness in Plain English (also an excellent book).

This book explores and clarifies the Noble Eightfold Path in great detail, dedicating a chapter to each step of the path. Bhante G explains how we can allow true happiness and peace to permeate every aspect of our lives while drawing firm reasoning and logic for his points from the Buddha's teachings. He does this in a comprehensive and down-to-earth style, which helps the reader genuinely understand that the path to lasting happiness is both feasible and available to us here and now.

The wisdom and encouragement provided in this book never fails to inspire me. I bring it with me anywhere I travel, and consult it regularly. It's helped me change my life, and I feel certain that it will do the same for anyone else with an open mind and a desire to find lasting happiness.

One thing I feel I should note are some errors in another review. The author of the review complains that equating enlightenment with being "free from any speculative views or theories about reality, about the past, present, and future, about the existence of the self, and about the universe" is being unscientific. However, if someone is fully enlightened, how can he/she still be bound by mere theories and speculation regarding the nature of reality? The enlightened person must have seen the truth himself/herself directly, and must thus be free from speculation and confusion.

Also, the author of that review states that Gunarutana places too much emphasis on the quelling of doubts about the Buddha's teachings. It's true that we must follow our intellect and logic to lead us to the path we think is correct. However, what Bhante G tries to "quell" is not the use of intelligence in the pursuit of happiness, but rather the nagging voices in the back of one's head when, despite one's prior conviction, still arise during meditation on occassion. I have experienced this first-hand from well over a year of meditation experience, and I know that such doubt is simply unproductive and unhelpful. Bhante G's advice has actually helped me overcome that and progress in my meditation.

With all that said, regardless of what you've read in the past or how much prior knowledge you have with Buddhism, I feel this book provides a great and vast source of advice to directly experience the true nature of Buddha's teachings throughout our lives and bring us ever closer to true happiness.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Short and sweet. In my not-so humble opinion, I would suggest that anyone really interested in Mindfulness Meditation, buy this book. Bhante G. is thorough, but concise and writes straight to the point in the American vernacular. It isn't easy to translate eastern ideas into western terminology, but Bhante G. is a Buddhist Master who has taught Buddist studies in major American Universities...ie: he gets the point across and more, making it interesting and accesible to all from the first line of the introduction. All three of his books on Mindfulness are spelled out from word one but they progress in detail to define the meaning of the phrase, "sounds simple,..looks easy....works hard!!!" By no means let that idea cause you to back off. If you want to understand Mindfulness and are willing to find out for yourself if the middle path is of benefit to you, this book (and his 2 others) are what you need to sink your teeth into. Here is someone who can guide you to find your own way if you are willing to read and practice. This practice is no overnight self help cure all. It is an ancient way that has worked for many over the 2.5 millenia since the Buddha first taught. If it didn't work, it wouldn't be here now. And, if it didn't work for Americans there wouldn't be the influx of so many tomes on the subject. Bhante G.'s technique is to make it simple, clear and operational for us from the very beginning. The eight steps, left to us by the Buddha, form the foundation for happiness. The practice sounds easy enough, but the steps are quite visceral. Faithfully followed, with guidance and patient practice, you will find a way through the steps... your way...... and... your answers, as to how the practice serves...and what the merrit and benefits of your practice are ..... here and hereafter.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness offers a mentally evolved, elegant presented, beautifully simple, Buddhist approach to life. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana was born in Sri Lanka, ordained as a Buddhist monk at the age of twelve, earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from The American University, and taught courses in Buddhism in several American colleges and universities. He draws upon his immense expertise, insights, and education skills to share the Buddha's teachings on every aspect of human life. Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness is a wonderful and much appreciated contribution to the growing library of Buddhist literature available to an American readership.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 11, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a book for someone interested in learning how to _practice_ Buddhism. It is more useful than the long-standing favorite introductory text, Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught, which is long on philosophy and short on practicalities. 8 Mindful Steps contains very little Pali, the language of the ancient scriptures, and requires no previous knowledge of Indian philosophy. It features numerous examples from the author's personal life and his experiences as a teacher, as well as a smattering of Buddhist folk tales. Full of the wisdom of many years teaching and practicing, solid with confidence in the promises and results of the Buddha dhamma, this a book from which both beginners and long term practitioners many benefit.

I give the book less than 5 stars for two reasons.

The Bhante's case for meat eating is overly legalistic. He notes that in Buddhist philosophy killing requires the intention to kill, and since most meat eaters have no such intention, they are not in the strict sense guilty of killing. He notes that farmers kill many animals in the soil when raising grains, fruits and vegetables, as if to say - look, vegetarians are also complicit in killing. While it is certainly true that living entails killing, not all killing is equal and for the Bhante to overlook the chain of causality that leads from the desire for flesh to the need for meat eaters to pay someone to generate the intention to kill seems intellectually dishonest.

Regarding causality, the Bhante quotes the Buddha on karma, that we are owners of our actions. What we do matters, not only to others, but to ourselves as well. In a later discussion on overcoming hindrances in meditation, he writes, "No single event can cause anything else." And in an even later discussion on Skillful Effort, he notes our "lack of control of anything." If reality is so complex that no one act is the result of any one cause, and if the lack of a self means we have no control over conditions, then what can we own except the results of _all_ acts, which determine each other?

QUOTABLE
---------------------------------------------------------------
As I travel and teach, sometimes people approach me and inform me that they have quickly reached enlightenment. I respond by quoting the Buddha's description of the attributes of someone who has attained the stages of enlightenment. Since the people speaking to me do not have these attributes, they sometimes become very disappointed or even angry with me because my response does not please their egos. p63

Nothing that arises in meditation is a sign of failure. There is only the failure to watch. p78

In spite of [the Buddha's] teaching, sometimes people say that spiritual growth takes "effortless effort." I'm sorry to disillusion you, friends, but there is no effortless effort. Effort must be balanced. Too much effort or unskillful effort can cause more stress for the mind and lead to a downward spiral into unwholesome states. Yet if effort is too slack, you will become bored or tired or lose interest. Then you must make unrelenting effort to bring effort back into balance with other wholesome mental factors. The truth is that you can never achieve anything great without effort. p171

Be skeptical, however, of anyone who says you can mindfully enjoy sensual pleasures. That is not the Buddha's way. The Buddha taught us to mindfully let go of sense pleasures and to enjoy the pleasant unworldly feelings that come from letting go. To let go, we remain mindful of the impermanent nature of these sensual pleasures. Thus we remain detached, and this detachment evokes unworldly pleasant feelings. p212

Finally, don't fool yourself into thinking that mindfulness alone is sufficient to take you to enlightenment. You cannot say, "I do not care for concentration or morality. I simply want to practice mindfulness." Mindfulness cannot be taken out of context or isolated from the other steps of the Buddha's path. People who do not practice the rest of the steps often find they are unable to end their lust, hatred, and ignorance and thus are not successful in their mindfulness practice. p242

Enlightenment is not something you wish for. It is the state that you end up in when all your wishes come to an end. p251

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
For those who want to learn more about the Eightfold Path in a very practical way, this book fits the bill. Bhante Gunaratana, author of Mindfulness in Plain English, offers a very down to earth approach to understanding and being able to apply the tenets of the eightfold path which is stated in the Fourth Noble Truth. I have read this book many times and use it in my classes. Highly recommended for beginners and experienced practitioners of insight meditation as well as those who just want to explore.
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