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Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Spiritual

Over the years, I browsed through many spiritual books. A few good ones are listed here. I also liked books by Dalai Lama, even though none is listed here — he writes in plain English.

The Miracle of Mindfulness

An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

by Thich Nhat Hanh, 140 pages, 1999 (Amazon link).

Thich Nhat Hanh is a famous Buddhist monk from Vietnam. In 1967, Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Prize.

The Miracle of Mindfulness is a short, high quality book that explains how to incorporate meditation into our daily lives. The beauty of the book lies in its depth of ideas presented in simple language. For me, this book is special — just reading the first few chapters of this book makes me feel calmer.

Practical Insight Meditation (free) (16 pages, 1944) by Mahasi Sayadaw would be a good booklet to complement Thich Nhat Hanh's 'A Miracle of Mindfulness'. Mahasi Sayadaw's booklet also has precise instructions on how to practice mindfulness in our day to day lives. 10-day Vipassana meditation courses would be helpful in learning mindfulness techniques formally.

Who Am I?

The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

by Ramana Maharshi, 16 pages, 2008 (Amazon link).

Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) was a saint in Tamil Nadu, India. He was mostly silent. Visitors from all over the world used to visit him to spend some time in silence with him. He wrote no books.

The most famous book associated with Ramana Maharshi is the 16-page booklet titled 'Who Am I' with 28 questions and answers. The booklet is available for free in PDF format. Ramana Maharshi's technique was quite simple: he emphasized that when a thought occurs, we must question, 'To whom does this thought arise?' :) That begs the question: is it possible to see our thoughts in the first place? Yes, through a variety of meditation techniques, the mind can be stilled to the extent that the ability to see thoughts in third person may be acquired. Thereafter, Ramana Maharshi's technique is applicable by asking ourselves, 'To whom does this thought arise?' :)

The answer is captured beautifully by Atma Shatkam by Adi Shankaracharya. The relationship between Atma Shatkam and the 28 Q&A in 'Who Am I' by Ramana Maharshi is quite clear. Both of these teach Advaita Vedanta, an understanding which may be aided by these lectures: (1) Who Am I — Part I (YouTube) and Who Am I — Part II (YouTube) by Swami Sarvapriyananda (monk at Ramakrishna Order) at IIT Kanpur, 2014. (2) Sadhana (YouTube) by Swami Advayananda (President, Chinmaya International Foundation), 2015.

I Ching Wisdom (Volume One)

Guidance from the Book of Answers

by Wu Wei, 162 pages, 2004 (Amazon link).

A collection of 81 insightful sayings. Each saying is accompanied by a brief, one-page summary that explains the saying. I chanced upon this book in 2007. It was helpful to me. Here are two of the 81 sayings:

Saying 1: "A situation only becomes favorable when one adapts to it."

Explanation: As long as you are angry or upset over an event, you will be unable to perceive its beneficial aspects, and you may wear yourself out with unnecessary resistance; the event may have been to your complete advantage from the first moment. Even happy turns of fortune sometimes come to us in a form that seems strange or unlucky. The event itself is simply an event; the way you respond to the event determines its final outcome in your life. Once an event has taken place, since you cannot alter the past, all that is left to you is your response. Why not respond as though the event occurred for your benefit? You will then immediately experience good feelings about the event, and by acting in accord with your feelings, you will help to bring about that end. Anyone who understands this concept and acts accordingly will mount through the skies as though on the wings of six dragons.

Saying 4: "Do not hate. Hatred is a form of subjective involvement that binds you to the hated object."

Hatred is a product of evil. To the extent you allow yourself to feel hatred, to that extent you become an instrument of evil. When you hate someone you draw that person to you. Is that what you want? To eliminate the connection, dismiss the person from your thoughts. To combat evil, respond with goodness.

I like this book because it provides concrete advice about real life situations using plain language.

The Meditative Mind

The Varieties of Meditative Experience

by Daniel Goleman, 240 pages, 1996 (Amazon link).

A comparison of meditation techniques from various traditions. Quite illuminating. Daniel Goleman was a Professor of Psychology at Harvard in 1970s. He then spent many years with spiritual masters in India, then returned to the West to write books like Emotional Intelligence (1997).

I read this book around 2007-2008 time frame when I was researching meditation techniques. The book was quite interesting. However, by merely reading this book, I was not able to figure out what exactly meditation was, and how different traditions differed from each other. In September 2007, I did my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course — that was a life changing event. That course taught me what meditation really was, and how it changes us positively.

In the same book, Daniel Goleman mentions two different paths: one leading to 'zero', another leading to 'one', and that these two paths ultimately led to the same realization. In 2007-2008 time frame, I couldn't make any sense of these statements. Even after the 10-day course, these concepts were unclear. It was sometime in December 2015 that these dots got connected for me — at least I understood intellectually what zero and one meant.

Courage

The Joy of Living Dangerously

by Osho, 208 pages, 1999 (Amazon link).

This book is in 'veer rasa' (inspirational). The basic idea is simple: we all feel comfortable in our current situation even though it may be highly unpleasant. We fear the unknown. In a BIG way! Osho emphasizes that belief in the known is an illusion. What will happen tomorrow, or even a few minutes from now, is actually unknown. For example, one of the biggest unknowns is the time of our death. Through a variety of angles, Osho encourages us to become bold, to "hold the bull by the horn", to become fearless! I like the writing style of this book: it's evocative and inspiring.

In general, I find Osho's writings too verbose. He uses too many words. In the end, I'm not even sure if I understood what he was trying to convey. In contrast, sayings of Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramhansa are precise, to the point, brief — I can readily connect with what they are conveying.

© Copyright 2008—2017, Gurmeet Manku.