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How To Practise: The Way to a Meaningful Life

by By His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Translated and Edited by Jeffrey Hopkins

listed in buddhism

[Image: How To Practise: The Way to a Meaningful Life]

The Dalai Lama requires little introduction. Since his escape from Tibet to India in 1959 he has achieved the status of a world spiritual leader. He has published many books. In this book he draws on a long tradition of spiritual practice in Tibet and on his own experience to offer suggestions on how to practise a spiritual path that will lead to mental clarity and personal transformation. With typical humility he describes himself "not as a God King as some would call me. I am just a Buddhist monk. What I am saying comes from my own practice, which is limited. But I do try to implement these ideas in my daily life, especially when I face problems… anyone can make use of (these) particular steps to improvement as they see fit".

This is a great angle to take, as this relatively short paperback of 223 pages conveys many interesting insights to Buddhist monastic practice (well worth reading in its own right). It also offers these practices to non Buddhists.

One captivating aspect is that his Holiness speaks from the first person throughout, bringing in many practical examples from his own life. The basic teachings of the Buddha are present and those seeking a digestible and authoritative introduction to Buddhism and Buddhist monastic practices would find the book a useful starting point. The three basic practices for mental development in Buddhism are laying a foundation of morality (your personal system of ethical behaviour), then concentrated meditation and finally special techniques for achieving the wisdom that leads to enlightenment. Whilst this all sounds very grand it is presented using language and concepts that are easily related to the everyday.

Each of these themes is unravelled in the book within the context of the noble truths of Buddhism starting with the nature of suffering and how to address it and are further outlined in the following 10 chapters covering such areas as:-• Discovering how trouble starts and stops• Refraining from Harm• Extending Help• Aspiring to Enlightenment• Focusing the mind

At the back of the book there is a useful 10 page summary of the steps bringing them together. Those unfamiliar with the principles of Buddhism may prefer to start here to see how the various aspects gel. However much would be missed if the journey through the main body of the text remained untravelled.

There is a strong autobiographic angle to the book – one of its principal treasures. The Dalai Lama interprets these practices into something you and I may put to daily use, whilst also revealing a great deal about his daily life and its ups and downs, including the period when the Chinese invaded Tibet. He asserts whilst there is a potential element of suffering in every experience (even the enjoyment of fine food can lead to indigestion!) a time of great turbulence and trouble has its positive aspect as well as negative dimension. "Instead of getting angry, nurture a deep caring and respect for troublemakers because by creating such trying circumstances, they provide us with an invaluable opportunity to exercise tolerance and patience" Yes – he too admits to getting angry at times!

In particular he emphasizes the importance of a mind frame that has been developed through daily meditation to focus the mind – through meditation we can achieve stability, clarity and focus. Meditation also assists us to recognize the discrepancy between appearance and reality, sharpening the mind and improving memory. A wide selection of methods are given including examples as humble as you wrist watch "Observe how an item such as a watch appears in a store when you first notice it, then how its appearance changes and becomes even more concrete as you become more interested in it, and finally how it appears after you have bought it and considered it yours". Alternatively, when you get irritated you can concentrate on the nature of the anger itself and therefore undermine its force.

Many of us would consider ourselves to be on a spiritual path, although we would not necessarily call ourselves Buddhists (or any other 'ist') This is no problem for the writer as he encourages us from the beginning to make use of the particular steps to improvement as we see fit. Certain approaches are advocated in line with Buddhist belief and the Dalai Llama's strong conviction. Not everyone would agree that a mainly vegetarian, non alcohol existence was for them – although many are heading in this direction. Most of us would agree that taking the right amount of sleep, adopting a good physical posture, taking the time and finding a quiet space for meditation would do many of us a lot of good.

Much can be achieved through the use of the positive daily rituals and visualizations that the Dalai Lama recommends and much of the focus in this, is plugging yourself and your own actions into the context of others and the wider world. There is a fascinating chapter towards the end of the book concerning Tantra practice and in particular the practice of deity yoga. This practice has many similarities with the NLP 'change state' techniques that life coaches and other advisors sometimes deploy in work with their clients.

In this practice you imagine:1. Replacing your mind as it ordinarily appears, full of troubling emotions, with a mind of pure wisdom motivated by compassion;2. Substituting your usual body state(composed of flesh blood and bone) with a body fashioned from compassionately motivated wisdom;3. Developing a sense of a pure self that depends on arranging mind and body in an ideal environment – even to the extent of imaging yourself with the Buddha's body, activities, resources and surroundings.

The use of sexual practices of Tantra in the Buddhist spiritual path are not skipped over as they relate to transforming how you see yourself, others, the environment and your activities and the few pages on this subject contain one of the clearest explanations I have read.

There are 3 levels of value in the book:• The autobiographic element• The insights to Buddhist monastic practice and Buddhist principles• For those who meditate a reminder about why we do it and how it fits into our spiritual path. Those who are interested but do not currently meditate, may find within these pages the motivation they seek to start the journey.

In How to Practise the Dalai Lama gives his own unique interpretation of the Tibetan Buddhist approach to creating a meaningful life. This short book packs a lot in and will appeal to a wide audience.

Anita Bell
Published by Rider Books. Paperback
ISBN 0-7126-3030-9

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