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The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

Review: Living Fully — Finding Joy In Every Breath

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When I opened Living Fully I was expecting another Buddhism for the masses sort of thing. I’ve known of Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche for some time, but had read only a couple of excerpts from his writings. Having become accustomed to the seemingly compulsive efforts of a variety of commentators to, in the words of Mark Twain, “Shed darkness upon this subject,” I expected another instance of what I’ve sometimes referred to as Buddhism lite.

Let me hasten to add that I find nothing wrong with popular writing about Buddhism and dharma. We all had to start someplace on the path, and these steppingstones are only slippery when the reader decides she knows enough to go out and practice without finding a teacher. While it is true that anyone can find enlightenment in an instant, it is also true that the more one practices mindfully, the more likely it is that the instant will come to pass. Unhappily, I have read the work of many teachers who fail to emphasize the essential nature of a teacher-student relationship, and I don’t think those worthies are imparting all that a seeker needs to know.

In any case, Living Fully is not that kind of book. I was slightly put off by the imperative style, until I realized that this is essentially a book of short dharma talks. If I were fortunate enough to embark on a prolonged retreat, I would certainly take this collection with me. The individual chapters, comprising a couple of pages each, would make perfect reading before meditation sessions.

Nor is it a book for beginners. Rinpoche’s writings, while not at all inaccessible, lend themselves more to contemplation by those with some understanding of basics, such as the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, and Precepts, than to folks just approaching the subject. Had I run across this book fifteen years ago, I would have thought it pretty impenetrable. As it is, I look forward to again mining it for such gems as these.

When we finally achieve the things we desire, we fear losing them, and this triggers constant anxiety. There is a feeling of sadness and frustration born of out inability to make the world conform to our hopes and expectations.

That is as clear an explanation of a major aspect of dukkha as I ever expect to read, and worth of twenty minutes contemplation all by itself. And again…

It is senseless to continue chasing after the things that have failed us in the past….

and

The best approach is to focus on your own faults. When you condemn others for their shortcomings, think, “This must be my fault. I am causing suffering for myself by being judgemental. I am rejecting what I don’t like, and accepting what I like. I will become bound in an endless cycle of accepting and rejecting.”

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has a basic understanding of Buddhist thought. For beginners, however, the writings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn, or some of the popular teachers such as Joko Beck and Chuck Hagen might be a better place to start. Finally, however, I have to say that Living Fully is a must for those serious about expanding their practice.

Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, Living Fully – Finding Joy In Every Breath, New World Library, Novato, California, 2012.

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Author: Bill

Stumbling down the Middle Path, one day at a time.

7 thoughts on “Review: Living Fully — Finding Joy In Every Breath

  1. Pingback: Love is Blind; Should it Be? « Namaste Consulting Inc.

  2. Pingback: Mindfulness. . . where mischief fears to tread. . . « Namaste Consulting Inc.

  3. Thank you for the book review:) And for not completely knocking “Buddhism lite” – for many of us, the popularized stuff is all we can take in at the beginning —> if it weren’t so readily available, many of us wouldn’t even be able to begin!! Seeds, you know, thrown upon the earth ………. some fall in fertile soil.

    • I have no problem whatever with “Buddhism lite,” and in fact believe it is a good thing. As you pointed out, everyone needs to start somewhere, and if it goes no further, well, even a little dharma is better than none. But there is a difference in the level of simple information, quantitative, not qualitative, that makes some books more suitable for beginners than others.

      I don’t think you can beat HHDL’s writing for simplicity, clarity and — demonstrably — authority. I’m also fond of Steve Hagen’s writing for the same reason, especially “Buddhism Plain and Simple.” Charlotte Joko Beck’s books are dharma talks as well, but far simpler than the formal talks of some lineages (I’m fond of “Everyday Zen”). I don’t mean to imply that the many other writers out there are lesser lights. There are simply too many to mention, so I mention my favorites, admitting bias.

      I am, however, adamant about one point: the writers who do not come down hard on finding a teacher are doing their readers a disservice.

      Thanks much for this and the other comment.

      Namasté

      • I think you are right about the need for a teacher — it is so easy for people to simply STOP, when they come up against something that challenges them too much, or is “impenetrable” (according to their (my) level of understanding. I stopped several times for just these reasons; having a teacher I trusted would’ve really helped!

  4. How does this book relate to Dialectical behavior therapy – a discipline I have found difficult to practice.

    • Hi Roger,
      DBT, in and of itself, is not an integral part of Buddhist practice, to my knowledge. It was developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, and has since been found to be somewhat effective with other spectrum mood disorders. While it is showing some promise in substance abuse treatment, I have no personal experience with or knowledge of it sufficient to answer your question.

      Namasté,

      Bill

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