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on August 3, 2000
What makes Joseph Goldstein's THE EXPERIENCE OF INSIGHT such an excellent book is that it lives up to its subtitle, "A Simple and Direct Guide to Buddhist Meditation." And yet at the same time it is both subtle and profound. The book is organized around a thirty day meditation retreat, and the chapters are each an evening's talk, starting with beginning instruction, moving through Concepts and Reality, through Death and Loving Kindness, all the way to Buddhist Paths and Closing. Goldstein writes well and clearly, and he knows when to throw in a little Zen story,. It is not a talky, chatty book; it has the cool lucidity of Zen instruction. Some of the chapters end with questions from the meditation participants, like "Why does greed arise?" or "How would you describe the happiness of nirvana?" and Goldstein responds with both Buddhist doctrine and real life examples.
Some of his stories may sound quite familiar since his book was first published in 1976 and those very stories are told widely around the meditation circuit. Goldstein is a serious Buddhist, and besides laying down basic principles of the faith, he also goes into more esoteric issues like the three pillars of Dharma, the five hindrances (desire, anger, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt), the meaning of Hesse's SIDDHARTHA, and others.
This book should satisfy both the curious beginner and the serious student of Buddhism. Goldstein is truly a guru, who encourages us: "Do not be discouraged by wandering thoughts or daydreams. Each time there is awareness of the mind wandering, gently bring it back to the breath or sensations. No matter how many times this happens, if each time the wandering mind is brought back, the hour will be well spent. Be gentle with yourself. Be persevering."
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on July 15, 2002
I picked up this book in hopes of becoming more acclimated with Insight (or Vipassana) meditation. The format is unique in that it is excerpts from speeches given by Mr. Goldstein during a 30 day meditation retreat. Each "chapter" is a different topic, some consisting of a page or two (usually the morning talks) while others span upwards of 10 pages. I liked this format because it felt a little like reading a daily journal. You can follow along, reading a passage in the morning, then one in the evening or whatever pace you choose. One aspect that I really liked was the question and answer section at the end of each evening talk. Many of the questions that I had after reading the passage were brought up and explained in these sections.
The topics chosen by Mr. Goldstein are basic but interesting. The author has a great skill of bringing in outside sources to help clarify and reinforce the ideas that are being expressed. Whether it be Taoism, Japanese Zen, or Tibeten Buddhism, Goldstein shows how closely the hearts of these teachings resemble each other. He also takes time to show that the different schools of Buddhism are just different ways of looking at the same thing or, as he puts it, different fingers pointing to the same moon. To become pre-occupied with the finger is to miss the main point.
As for actual instruction on sitting meditation, this book covers some things lightly but doesn't get into a lot of depth on it. He talks briefly about the common "Mindfulness of Breathing" meditation (along with some small variations on it) and also meta bhavana (lovingkindness) meditation. As far as this aspect of the book goes, I still prefer Pramanada's meditation guide, "Change Your Mind," to this one because of it's detail.
Whether you are new to Buddhism (and it's meditation) or have been practicing it for a while, this book has something to offer you. The journal-like format and easy-reading prose that Goldstein displays allows the reader to focus on the teachings and not the style. I highly recommend you give it a try.
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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2002
If you've ever been perplexed or baffled by books on Buddhism - especially books on Zen Buddhism - your perplexity will vanish when you read this book. The Experience of Insight is a well-edited transcription of many talks given to participants over the course of a one-month meditation retreat. The teachings are largely coaching for meditation. During the retreat, these short talks were small pockets of coaching between large stretches of silence and meditation. That may be why the information comes across so clearly and so usefully.
You'll learn, probably with more understanding than you've ever had before, the Buddhist fundamentals: The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the seven factors of enlightenment, etc. But they are explained in a way that makes their relevance and importance to your practice perfectly clear. I'm the author of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works, and I've specialized in knowing the difference between information that merely sounds great and instruction that actually helps, and Joseph Goldstein manages to deliver teachings that will really help you in your meditation practice. He will inspire you, encourage you, and teach you good technique. If you meditate and would like support for your practice, The Experience of Insight is the best you will find.
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on October 6, 2004
After reading all the glowing reviews of this book I couldn't wait to read it. As usual, when your expectations are high, you're usually disappointed. Since this book is based on a thirty-day retreat. I thought it would be more of an intermediate level book than the beginner's book that it is. It didn't go into the specific problems meditators have on a lengthy retreat, rather, it skips around covering different points of Buddhist philosophy in an unorganized way, and which have been covered better in other books. I'm not saying that this book doesn't have something to offer--there are certainly passages that I will go back to again and again. It's just that overall, those passages are few and far between.

A far superior guide to beginning Insight Meditation is "Mindfulness in Plain English" by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. A better betginner's guide to Buddhist philosophy is "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula. And a good combination of the two is "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" by Nyanaponika Thera.
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on June 24, 2000
This is the 7th copy I have purchased, giving it to friend whenever I notice that individual could use some insight. It is a book of gentle westernized Buddhist philosophy and rightful thinking. Stressing simple, easy to understand and follow instructions and thoughts. It is not filled with ponderous sayings. Simply mind healthy practices easily incorporated into daily life. It has been for me, a guide to positive thinking and peace, and I hope, will be such to my friend. Thank you Mr. Goldstein !
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on January 7, 2004
This book focuses it's compass point on Vipassana meditation, often coined "insight meditation." Here Joseph Goldstein offers us a very large body of work explainig hindrances during meditation, and essentially the practice of facing what is happening. This meditation is not about contriving any sort of "good feelings" or "happy thoughts", instead, it is the meditation of experiencing what is. And to delve a bit further, through this style of meditation we are able to see the transparent nature of these "hindrances." There are many forms of meditation to practice out there, yet this is so very crucial because it is a way of saying hello to yourself, in the deepest sense.
I would recommend, as Goldstein does suggest, recording some of the exercises he provides here on tape to play during sitting periods. That or read a section or so right before you meditate. "The Experience of Insight" is a good reminder during "rough periods" of practice, where our minds are very restless and we feel as though something is wrong with us because of that.
Anyhow, I think you'll like this book, so please enjoy it.
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on February 6, 2012
This book, written 36 years ago, stands as one of the freshest takes I've encountered for some time on subjects that are core to the Buddhist experience. I will re-read this one often, putting it on the shelf where I keep my classics. Goldstein writes with such a non assuming voice, retaining as he does here that inquisitive state of mind that so intrigued me when I was in college. He's so accessible as a person when he writes, having that gift that makes the reader want to call him up with yet another question. I felt so present at the retreat he records here because of the unique way he expresses himself. Hes clearly a guy who should pick up the pen and give us some more.
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VINE VOICEon November 19, 2004
The author covers many basic points and instructions on insight (Vipashyana) meditation. This type is employed in many different sects/schools of Buddhism. His instruction is practical, and the book includes questions/answers that can be helpful to the practitioner. It's nicely done too. He also provided a very fine and useful quote for my collection: "People are attached to their own way of looking at things. As soon as you say something that in any way threatens it, they become defensive. So the way is not to threaten, just to be the way you are, letting the Dharma unfold. A peaceful mind has its effect on its surroundings. It takes time and it takes patience, and a lot of love." Thus, the author blends warmth and practicality. Not an easy task.
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on November 6, 2015
This is the first publication of a sincere and deeply involved vipassana meditator, although he draws upon training from other traditions in order to be the effective teacher that he is. This text shows its training wheels, he uses the crutch of documenting one meditation retreat and sharing and elaborating the teaching that went on during the retreat, both practical pointers and Buddhist theory underlying mind development, bhavana.
His second book, Insight Meditation, is my preferred read and the one that I buy for other beginning meditators.
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on March 16, 2010
This classic by Joseph Goldstein has been the the book that launched a thousand meditators in this particular style of meditation -vipassana meditation, which is central to the Buddhist path of purification of the mind and heart. In many ways this book heralds the beginning of the Mindfulness Movement in America, which is an exciting development in modern non-dogmatic spiritual development. To learn more about mindfulness, I recommend ASIN:1432736884 The Path of Mindfulness Meditation.
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