Saturday, April 26, 2008

Book Review

Book Review: A Deeper Beauty by Paramananda

I read this book on retreat, several years ago. My friend said he knew Paramananda from San Fran, and that I’d like the book. So I read it quickly on retreat, remembered liking it.

In my early days of Buddhism, I would quickly consume books. I had a kind of reading style, where I just plow through things. What sticks, sticks. What doesn’t, well it might go into my unconsciousness, and maybe it’s not that great of writing, but maybe something further on down the path will be more apropos for me. I have read hundreds and hundreds of pages to find a few interesting paragraphs that seemed to capture everything.

So one time I recommended a bunch of lovely talks on to a friend, and she pointed out to me she hasn’t asked for that, and that in fact, she doesn’t guzzle the Dharma like I do. She is very careful about what goes in. I thought about that. My private preceptor is like that too. Hum. Something to think about.

I’ve moved through the majority of the FWBO recommended texts oeuvre, including all of Bante’s memoirs. Time to reread. It’s interesting the books I’ve reread: A Survey of Buddhism, Know Your Mind, The Boddhisattva Ideal, The Yogi’s Joy. I’d like to reread the new books on Metta and Mindfulness. I want to reread Meeting The Buddhas by Vessantara too.

So to make things lighter in mitra study, I recommended A Deeper Beauty by Paramananda. The mitra group ultimately dissolved, but I don’t like to quit a book I started reading, so I reread it, more slowly this time.

Here is a quote I liked from the book, that captured my changes in reading style:

P. 61 “It seems all too easy for modern life to become one continuous rush tainted with frustration and a feeling that there is never enough time to do anything with care and sensitivity. So it is very useful practice just to take one’s time. The truth is that if we can take pleasure in what we do and be mindful, we will find we have more time. Our relationship with time itself will change. Time becomes full of life rather than second by second stealing our life away.”

I struggle with an over programmed life. I feel very cramped by my obligations. I yearn for this mindfulness in every moment approach, but have yet to achieve it.

Here is another quote I liked from the book, which also reminds me of Pema Chodron’s work:

P. 79 “Being alive to ourselves does not mean putting everything right, having everything sorted out, knowing exactly where you are going and what you will find. Rather, it is a state of openness that allows us to be surprised by our own response to the world. This openness is found more often in a state of not knowing than one of knowing. Emotionally it is a sense of being responsive to our own feelings; being open-hearted. This open-heartedness is an openness to ourselves as much as to others, it is a taking care of ourselves in the sense of allowing the heart to have its say. It is a state of being that is difficult to maintain as it means we have to allow for the complexity of feeling, and we have to make room for all of ourselves.”

I like being surprised in myself, even if it’s negative, because that’s very useful. I’m learning in my psychotherapy training that opening up to all our subtle experience, being alive and vulnerable is the heart of the work, and why we don’t do that, and how to support people and myself in doing that.

Here is another quote I liked from the book:

P. 83 “Spiritual practice cannot then ignore the darker parts of ourselves. The meditator needs to look with compassion into the depths of the heart, and find what has been neglected and hidden away. Perhaps we will be surprised that the very things we have disregarded and hidden in the mud can, when cared for and led out, prove to have the ability to moisten, and bring new life to, the imagination.”

This last quote reminds me of one of my favorite talks on, by Manjuka, called Dharma and Denial. I’m working on transcribing the talk. I’ll either post it here when I’m done or send it to It speaks to the wholeness I strive for.

I also would like to carry around Chapter 7 entitled “Unfixing Ourselves”. Often when I tell new people that I’m going on retreat, they say, “oh, that must be relaxing.” Read that chapter if you’ve ever said that and you’re interested in seeing why meditation is not about “stress relief”. It reminded me a lovely little book of essays that the same friend that happed me to this book, gave me, called Hooked!: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume. We have a basic reaction to the work driven consumerist society we live in, and I think seeking meditation as stress relief is a kind of symptom of that. I think even in San Francisco they market meditation as stress reduction. I wondered why there were no FWBO representatives in Hooked!. The FWBO is small in America where the writer is from.

The book affects me more when I read it slowly. I think about how it’s hard to do the things of Buddhism instead of acquire knowledge about Buddhism. Bante says more and more of less and less. I think the sexy dharma talk by a famous teacher isn’t the way to deepen your practice, but it might inspire you to dig more. This is a book about practice. I know all the stories he presents in it, but he uses the familiar stories well, draws out his meaning of them quite well. It’s enjoyable to join Paramananda as he works to share how he leads a more meditative life.

I thought of sending this book to my fathers. I suppose I would like someone like Paramananda to have raised me, to teach me this way of being from the beginning. I like this book. I recommend it. I will strive to live the teachings and teach them to my children. The dharma shines through this lovely book.

And he has a book review on Wildmind.

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