Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Genuine Happiness: Meditation as the Path to Fulfillment
Wallace, founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, explores key Buddhist meditation-related concepts that aid the "conquest of our inner obscurations" and "present a path to inner fulfillment and human flourishing." He first examines several particular methods—such as "mindfulness of breathing"—for cultivating shamatha, a state of "meditative quiescence" in which people's capacity for attention is refined and stabilized. They can then use these techniques to make a direct, delusion-free investigation of their own bodies, feelings and thoughts. These insights, in turn, help them nurture hearts of compassion and equanimity and, ultimately, realize more advanced teachings such as cultivating bodhichitta (a "spirit of awakening"), dream yoga and a highly developed meditation technique known as dzogchen. Wallace's discussions are usually clear and helpful (on why meditation works: "sustained, continuous effort can actually reconfigure your brain"), and his questions invite readers to see for themselves if his assertions resonate. Moreover, each chapter contains guided meditations to help readers encounter the teachings more directly. Nevertheless, the text can become dense and self-referential, and if readers miss a particular point early on, the effectiveness of later sections may be lessened. The result is a solid—if advanced—examination of some key Buddhist meditation techniques that will appeal to the serious student more than the casual seeker.