Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Personal read: How To Practice - The Way to a Meaningful Life

First, backstory. When I was a teenager, I experimented spiritually. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that both showed respect for all religions and also promoted Christian compassion. There was a class called "World Religions" that sampled major ones like Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. Because of that, I bought "How to Practice" when browsing a store. It was only a month or so ago that I finished reading it.

It's about the Dalai Lama lecturing about how to live a "meaningful life".  It's not about how to live a meaningful Buddhist life, but one that can be universal, which I found both refreshing and respectful. It's about developing compassion, understanding, and peace of mind, while toning down vices like greed and vanity.

It's broken in sections for different aspects of the "meaningful life" that the Dali Lama speaks of. These include morality, meditation, (Buddhist) wisdom and also something called "Tantra". As a practicing Christian, I found the first two to be quite helpful.

Indeed, the morality one is basically "love thy neighbor". For instance, there is one thought exercise that goes like this: imagine a reflection of yourself (specifically, your negative qualities like greed) to your right and a group of suffering people to your left. Acknowledge that both of these groups equally deserve to receive happiness and avoid pain, but the compassionate choice is to side with the group on the left.  I didn't read anything in this section that is incompatible with Christian morality.  I'll likely read it again in the future to better understand and retain it.

Most valuable is that it contains a solution to The Problem of Evil that I found appealing. The Dalai Lama said that, (paraphrasing), bad things happen to good people to give those people a chance to develop qualities like patience and compassion and essentially become better people. He, of course, was talking more along the lines of karma than God's will, but it can work for a Christian like me.

 The meditation one is pretty secular. It's written in such a way that I imagine even an atheist would benefit from it; there's no invoking Buddha or contemplating nirvana or anything supernatural like that. It's about developing a peaceful and focused state of mind that can block out distractions of life, be they big or small, and endure life's suffering and disappoint with grace, be they petty or tragic.

After this, the usefulness to non-Buddhists goes down significantly because it goes further into  Buddhist philosophy like "non-existence" and exercises like calling on the Buddha and the bodhisattvas to help one become a Buddha. That's something I can't use. He occasionally says things like "You can replace Gautama Buddha with Jesus the Christ" but at times I get the feeling that he forgets he's not writing for an exclusively Buddhist audience.

I like the style of the writing. It's friendly and humble; not at all preachy. At times, he even makes jokes.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "How To Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life" a B+

Click here for the next book review (which was not a request): 7th Moon
Click here for the previous book review (which was a request): Negative Thinking

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