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Living as a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change Paperback – October 1, 2010
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This book is one of the best explanations of what the separate self is, what it does, and how being free of the static sense of a separate self benefits humanity, leaving us "peaceful yet engaged." It reminds us of why awakening is not just about personal freedom, but also compassion, ethics, action, and care and concern for all sentient beings. These elements are sometimes missed in our modern attempts to translate Buddhist texts in order to "rush to a personal awakening."
"I wrote Living as a River because I'm fascinated by the Buddhist Six Element Practice and I wanted to communicate my explorations. But my book isn't really about the Six Element Practice (which is really just the framework for the explorations it contains). It's a way of letting go of our clinging so that we can, eventually, lose our clinging and find freedom. But that's not a very adequate description of the book either" says Bodhipaksa.
Living As A River contains a great balance between explaining awakening and giving direct injunctions to the reader to bring about the awakening. As Bodhipaksa explains, like a river --life is dynamic, vibrant, ever-changing. The static, fixed views of ourselves, others, and the world freeze us, stifling our creativity, and turning us away from the inherent love within each of us.
*Bodhipaksa adds: "I could describe the book in just two words: "Embracing change." So that's what the book's about. It uses the structure of the Six Element meditation in order to face up to the reality of change, and to help us let go of clinging so that we can embrace impermanence."
This book perfectly illuminates the real purpose of awakening, which is not to just talk about that river or even enter the river, but to realize we are it --fully. Review by Scott Kiloby, author of Love's Quiet Revolution, Reflections of the One Life, and Natural Rest: Finding Recovery Through Presence. -- Non-Duality America - Scott Kiloby
About the Author
Bodhipaksa was born Graeme Stephen in Scotland, and currently lives and teaches in New Hampshire. He is a Buddhist teacher and author who has been practicing within the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order since 1982, and has been a member of the Western Buddhist Order since 1993. He runs the online meditation center WildMind.org, whose mission is to increase awareness of the positive effects of meditation.
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Although his writing may seem repetitious at times, his choice to approach the same subject from many angles helps us to "get it." The author is, after all, not appealing only to our intellect, but rather speaking to our whole being - or more accurately, our whole BECOMING, since we are not fixed selves. The world flows through us, our actual body composition changing completely many times throughout out lives.
"In reality, we become liberated from the inside out by developing greater mindfulness of our experience, and by directly observing the impermanent nature of the self," Bodhipaksa writes. To help us understand how we are collections of ever-changing parts, "vortices through which the world pours," he discusses not only our internal experience of ever-changing consciousness but also the philosophies, practices and scientific discoveries which substantiate it.
He introduces Buddhist theory including the six elements practice, pre-Socratic philosophy, mythology and linguistic analysis. He draws from genetics, neuropsychology, the biology of cell regeneration, the psychology of memory, contemporary physics and geology. He uses meaningful analogies such as an eddy which "never holds exactly the same form for two consecutive moments, but there is often a relative constancy of location and shape that gives it, to the human mind, a sense of permanence." A particularly potent metaphor is the Vin Fiz coast-to-coast flight a century ago during which the plane was repaired so many times during its flight that it consisted of almost entirely different parts at the end of its journey. Was it therefore the same plane?
Not only is the self impermanent, but so is the world to which we are connected. As Bodhipaksa says, "We name things, and then we assume because the name is static, so too is the thing named. Having labeled, we cease to pay attention to the process to which we've attached the label."
Bodhipaksa expresses essentials of the Buddhist conception of self and no-self with clarity, in a manner accessible to and relevant to the Western reader. In the process, he focuses upon "The Three Fetters," that obstruct us - belief in the fixed self, doubt that we can change, and the assumption that external change brings internal change. He counters these three fetters with three guidelines for living -start at the top (with a vision or goal), live in the gap, and steer for the deep.
I found Bodhipaksa's writing, approach and subject matter to be worthwhile reading. However, I kept wanting him to address and answer the questions which arose for me and which are important to my ability to integrate the teachings that he presented. How do we understand the underlying pattern/ structure that generates the ever-changing flux that we experience as self and body? How do we live with awareness of the interconnectedness of all while maintaining the separate self and ego necessary for us to exist effectively in this world? And what about those of us who too easily dissociate from our feelings or bodies? How do we benefit from meditating upon "This is not me; this is not mine. I am not this" if we need to more fully own our bodies in order to take better care of them?
Bodhipaksa eloquently addresses his subject in a multi-faceted way, awakening us to the possibility of greater freedom as result of expanding our consciousness and letting go of self-definitions. But his book could be even more helpful and meaningful if he also addressed how we cultivate this consciousness AND also fully live in this world.
Well, it's a challenge, but the author does a masterful job of explaining his points with great wit and verve and overwhelming scholarship. He uses Buddhist texts and abundant scientific research, in the fields of neurobiology, genetics, psychology and more. Much more. It's a treasure-house of cutting edge information. The book may not get you to enlightenment, but it will get you thinking and reevaluating some of your most cherished understandings.
Bodhipaksa writes in an easy, flowing style, at times a little long-winded, and sometimes repetitious. Still, he has digested so much scientific research and presents it so well, that you have to keep reading. He even tells a little (too little) about himself and his own spiritual search. He includes full citations for the research he uses, and also includes suggestions for the readers' own spiritual practice. If you're interested in what a contemporary spiritual master has to teach, this may be just the book for you. I recommend it. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
Bodhipaksa uses storytelling along with fact after scientific fact to confront some of the myths that we have accumulated throughout our lives; that we are fixed beings living in a fixed permanent world just being one of them.
In what amounts nothing short of brilliance Bodhipaksa in one instance uses the story of The Vin Fiz; the first attempt by a man to fly east to west across the United States in an aeroplance to smash the myth of a fixed permanent self and explain the difficult concept of "no self" or "anatta". This particular story and explanation of "no self" and "anatta" is the crescendo of the whole book however the book does not end here.
Bodhipaksa then continues throughout the book continuing through the six elements as one would peel away at an onion except with this onion you don't want it to end. This book is definitely the kind of book that makes you think throughout and consider the book as a whole and the book as a sum of its parts.
For those with some experience in Buddhism; chapters 14: Stepping Into The Stream and 15: The Self Beyond Measure could well be considered a cheat sheet for anybody wanting to move their practice to the next level.
Complete with things to look out for in your practice the chapter on Stepping Into The Stream is a mirror for the experienced and not experienced a like and would be worth buying the book for this chapter alone.
The final chapter The Self Beyond Measure polishes up on the content previously discussed and brings the book to an orderly close.
I have given this review a five star recommendation as a reflection of the overall quality of the content of the book. I would recommend it to anybody with a basic background in Buddhism and upwards. I consider this book an essential element of my Buddhist library alongside other greats I have such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Ajahn Chah