Thursday, March 26, 2020

"A Monk's Guide to Happiness - Meditation in the 21st Century" - Gelong Thubten

"A Monk's Guide to Happiness: Meditation in the 21st Century" is striking in its simplicity, a well-informed and gently presented exploration of the nature of happiness and how to bring the practice of meditation into our busy 21st century lives. 

Author Gelong Thubten is a Buddhist monk, meditation teacher, and author who turned to a Buddhist monastery 25 years ago despite, or perhaps because of, living a fast-paced life with much success that many would respect and mire. Thubten, on the other hand, was miserable and in a downward spiral mentally and physically. 

The result has been a life journey often centered around the nature of happiness and the teaching of meditation around the world. In fact, the proceeds from his writing goes to benefit the establishment of meditation centers. 

"A Monk's Guide to Happiness" can help the readers: 1) Learn practical methods toward choosing happiness; 2) Develop greater compassion for self and others; 3) Learn how to meditate in micro-moments throughout a busy day; and, 4) Discover the truth that we are all hard-wired for happiness. 

Thubten is refreshingly authentic, sharing his own struggles with meditation and also sharing how difficult it has been for him when he has experienced longer-term meditation retreats for lengths such as 9 months and even 4 years. He's also refreshingly open about his turbulent early adulthood years, yet he doesn't so much judge himself for these years as seem to express gratitude that he found a better way to live. 

One of the true joys of "A Monk's Guide to Happiness" is that Thubten structures the book in such a way that it really reinforces his own belief in starting with meditation simply and growing into it with discipline. As he writes about the various aspects of meditation, he ends each chapter with increasingly involved meditations and practices. It's a simply beautiful and effective way of constructing the book. Thubten explores the difference between mindfulness and meditation, and they are different, and provides easily accessible language that defines meditation and mindfulness in ways that don't intimidate or make them feel unreachable. 

While there are moments when the writing teeters toward methodical, this is much preferable to the many writers on meditation who make it seem so mystical that it becomes daunting. Thubten also removes the often stylized westernization of meditation by grounding it simply, concretely, spiritually, and in remarkably practical ways. There were a couple times when it felt like Thubten might be contradicting himself a bit, a result it seemed from his ongoing issues with self-esteem and bouts of depression. While often writing about removing the agenda from meditation, or the "goal," there are times when Thubten writes about his own retreat experiences where it seems like meditation has been used to help him "get through" his own issues rather than resting in mindfulness. It's a fine line, but it's a concern I noticed at least twice. 

However, these are truly minor quibbles for a book I truly enjoyed and would easily read again. It's an excellent book for those experiencing meditation for the first time and also for those who feel, perhaps, a bit stuck in their practice of meditation. With humility, humor, and an abundance of heart, Gelong Thubten has crafted a truly enjoyable book that deserves to be placed alongside the best and most practically helpful books on meditation.

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