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Mindfulness in Plain English Paperback – September 6, 2011
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"A classic--one of the very best English sources for authoritative explanations of mindfulness." -- Daniel Goleman
"Of great value to newcomers... especially people without access to a teacher." -- Larry Rosenberg, author of Breath by Breath
"This book is the bible of mindfulness." -- Barry Boyce, editor of Mindful magazine and The Mindfulness Revolution
"Wonderfully clear and straightforward." -- Joseph Goldstein, author of A Heart Full of Peace
"Pithy and practical.", Shambhala Sun
"Jargon-free.", USA Today
"Among the very best.", Tricycle
"A classic.", Inquiring Mind
"Profound...a classic interpretation of Vipassana meditation practice.", The Middle Way
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I have a meticulous system for taking notes when I read, but it didn’t work with Mindfulness in Plain English. Underlining 90% of the book doesn’t help highlight the most important lessons. This is the best book on mindfulness and meditation that I’ve read to date.
I read this book as a meditation refresher several years after I started meditating. I expected to take away a few tips on how to breathe better, how to deal with feeling sleepy and how to cope with pain and numb legs. I didn’t expect all the profound insight on the true meaning of mindfulness.
This book tells you what meditation is and what it isn’t. If you have an allergy to the word meditation, this is probably the book to start with because as the title indicates, it’s in plain English. There’s very little of the type of lingo that tends to turn a lot of people away from meditation. The book discusses things like loving kindness in a way that is approachable and understandable. It gives concrete tips on how to deal with some of the challenges you face not only during meditation, but in life. I had so many ah-ha moments that I actually started saying “ah-ha” while reading it.
Even though this book is centered on a Buddhist meditation practice called Vipassana, or insight, meditation, the book felt secular to me. You can get a lot out of it regardless of your religious or non-religious affiliation.
Even if you never plan to meditate, this book is still worth reading. If you’ve ever had anxiety or depression, if you ever get nervous or antsy, if you have difficulties concentrating, if you get distracted easily, read this book. If you’ve ever felt jealous, resentful, or just a little out of control, read this book. If you have regrets about the past or feel uncertain about the future, read this book. If you think you’re too busy to read, read this book.
Both a great orientation for those who are new to meditation and mindfulness and a refresher for seasoned meditators. It's a book I'll read again and again. Highly recommended. 10/10.
"We view impermanent things as permanent, though everything is changing all around us. The process of change is constant and eternal."
Bhante Gunaratana writes with a very engaging and relaxed style, which makes the book easy to follow and even humorous at times. He speaks with candor and right from the beginning he emphasizes that, “Meditation is not easy. It takes time and energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline.” But, then he goes on to emphasize that meditation should be rejuvenating and liberating, and in fact, that most seasoned practitioners have a good sense of humor, because the practice creates a calmness and relaxed perspective about life. The author’s explanations about key concepts is stated in a fresh manner, for instance explaining that the word “suffering” in Buddhism needs to be thoroughly understood to realize that in the original Pali language it does not just mean agony of the body, but that it also means a sense of dissatisfaction that is typical of what all people deal with on a daily basis. He also emphasizes that Vipassana, unlike some other Buddhist traditions, ranks mindfulness and awareness right up beside concentration as a means to liberation. Thus a great part of the focus of meditation is a combination of concentration and mindfulness.
The author takes the time to explain differences in approach between Vipassana Buddhism and other forms, such as classic Mahayana sects like Zen Buddhism and Tibetan traditions. The other key element to this book is the great detail he goes into to explain precisely how to meditate, breaking it down regarding not using any mental recitations at all to help your focus, (which is something some other forms suggest you do). He explains multiple ways to help you focus through counting your breaths in different manners, emphasizing that different ways work for different people. And always, he emphasizes to be gentle with yourself and stay calm and patient as you experiment and practice. This last point is something he emphasizes again and again, making sure we understand that if our practice is causing suffering then we are clearly not practicing correctly. He addresses how to plan your practices and how to deal with common things such as your legs falling asleep, boredom, distractions, discouragement, drowsiness and inability to concentrate.
Top international reviews
This came under the heading "A book that will make you smarter" in my reading challenge. Also I'm trying out a selection of 'basic' meditation guides in an attempt to deepen my practice.
This book is presented as a step-by-step guide to the practice of Vipassana (insight) meditation - or MINDFULNESS.
It's primary selling point is that it is written in, as the title suggests, plain English, as opposed to many of the other meditation manuals that are often steeped in jargon and difficult concepts that require quite a lot of prior knowledge and experience before it can be even remotely useful.
The book has some pretty amazing quotes on the cover that sing high praises of it's content and author. I'm not entirely sure I agree with them.
What I liked…
The thing I liked most about this book was definitely the last chapter on metta (or loving friendliness / kindness). Bhante G (as the author is often known as), provides a detailed explanation of a concept of loving friendliness, it's place within a Buddhist context, it's purpose and then provides real-world examples of it's use and benefits, alongside examples from Buddhist scriptural writings. It is an excellent chapter and probably my favourite bit of writing on the concept of metta that I have read so far.
One story from this chapter tells of how Bhante used to wave at a man who seemed very angry all the time whenever he went past. This man, as it turned out, would never wave back because he was recovering from a serious accident and literally couldn't wave back. Bhante notes that had he just written this difficult man off as angry and unworthy of loving-friendliness he would have written off a good man, and indeed a friend, because of circumstances the man had no control over. I've made a real pigs-ear of explaining this story because I think it needs to be read in Bhante's own words - but it is a really excellent example of why loving friendliness should be extended to everyone - even those who by appearances don't seem to deserve it.
The rest of the book is pretty good - although I didn't find it quite as good as others seem to have done. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of bits I have taken in while reading that have definitely helped my practice and I definitely recommend it as a book for any meditator to read, I just didn't think it was 'a masterpiece' as the front cover would have you believe. This is probably down to the fact that the last dharma book I read was literally life changing, and this is a practice guide and not a philosophical work.
The book is well written and the instructions are mostly pretty clear. Actually come to think of the the instructions are pretty much excellent because it deals with a whole bunch of things some books overlook. Like pain.
If you are serious about meditation I don't think you would have much difficulty in understanding the instructions - although following them is quite intimidating.
What I disliked…
I have some issues with the title. Plain English. There is no two ways about it, this book is infinitely plainer in it's speech than the vast majority of books that I have read on the subject. That does not mean, however, that this book is jargon free. There are a lot of Pali terms flying around and a handful of high-concept words that, while mostly well explained, could be intimidating to the beginner. This book was written by a Buddhist monk after all, so it is to be expected that some Buddhist terminology is included - it's just something people should be aware of as mindfulness tends to be thought of as a secular thing a lot these days.
I warn you now, what I'm about to point out would stop a great deal of reading this book - and I have to admit it made me feel pretty weird about the whole thing too. All I can do is say that just because I'm pointing this out doesn't mean you should write off the whole book. Just forget this bit and move on - it's not worth missing the whole book because of one paragraph.
"There is a point in the meditator's career where he or she may practice special exercises to develop psychic powers...Only after the meditator has reached a very deep stage of jhana will he or she be advanced enough to work with such powers..." p.15
This quote comes from a section entitled "Misconception 4: The purpose of meditations is to become psychic". Obviously it's good that Bhante is making a point of saying you don't meditate to try and become psychic, but he also pretty much point blank says that it is a thing that can happen and that you can train to do it when you are very experienced. This is obviously going to be a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of people - and by bitter I'm talking bitter like the sour candy Homer Simpson eats at that trade show that all but turns his mouth inside out kind of bitter. If this bothers you, just move on and forget you read it.
This book definitely helped me absorb some useful tips for my meditation practice, and probably deserves a second read another time when I haven't just finished something life-changing.
I would recommend it to anyone who meditates or plans to meditate, providing they don't go into this book expecting a secular mindfulness guide.
Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!
The world is a harsh and violent place, but thankfully this book outlines that you don't have to contribute to that pain. Causing more suffering in this world is always a choice, and once you see the cycle of suffering, you're naturally going to drop those habits.
If you want what the book offers, then it genuinely can change your life for the better.