Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting a bit Zen - A Book Review!

Not done a book review for a while. Mostly because I've not managed to read anything I felt like recommending super highly. But this past weekend I finished a few books and one in particular has been really brilliant: 

This was recommended to me during a meditation retreat. I was familiar with Ezra Bayda and his primary teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, from many of the podcasts I listen to. Seriously - if you want to find great philosophical or contemplative writing, listen to a few podcasts and you'll soon have an insurmountable reading list.

But I digress....

I enjoyed this book immensely. Whilst Ezra is a student of Zen, much of what he writes about is incredibly similar to the mahayana and vipassana teachings I'm most familiar with - but also, like so many Buddhist texts, a lot of it is general common sense. More of that 'stuff that just really makes sense regardless of the package it comes in'.

In such books the teachings can become quite repetitive, which is fine because I feel it solidifies my understanding to hear the same thing taught in a different way. In the case of this book the old teaching that came across in a very new way is the practice of asking 'What is this?'

One of the great misunderstandings of meditation practice is that it's something that's meant to help us 'transcend' or 'transform' ourselves. This is not true at all and something that took me quite a while to figure out.

Meditation isn't about fixing or answering or changing anything. Meditation is a formal practice of being present. It's a practice of accepting, being and embracing. And it's a practice of curiosity.

Regardless of the school of Buddhism a person follows, the four noble truths are at the heart of the teachings and the first truth, 'Life is suffering' is what we learn to open up to through meditation. Asking the question 'What is this?' is a great way to do this and something I began trying out as soon as I'd read Ezra's explanation of it in this book.

The idea is not a nihilistic one. It's one that invites us to see the world as it actually is, rather than how we want it to be or expect it to be or imagine it to be based on a storyline we've developed. I find this difficult to put into words and appreciate how challenging it is to teach such a thing, which is why I loved this book so much. I feel that Ezra, especially in the final chapter, really gives clarity to what it means to accept and embrace the nature of the world.

It's not a passive experience - it's an experience that gives us great clarity and allows us to act skillfully because we're not restricted by what we think we know.

I don't know that I've explained any of this well so to summarise - this book was really great and super helpful for my practice. I think, regardless of whether Buddhism is your thing or not, that most people would benefit from reading it.

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