I just finished reading the book “Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing“, which was written anonymously under the pen name “Jed McKenna”. I had heard about this book for years, but had formed mostly negative impression based on the words and actions of those who said that they had read it. Several friends who I trust…
My last night in North India, after three weeks there, was an emotional one. I was in Bodhgaya, a town best known as the spot where Buddha yes THE Buddha attained full liberation/enlightenment, after he sat all night under a tree in the middle of the open field. Modern Bodhgaya is no longer that serene, 2,500 years later. Instead, it has paved streets full of the typical busy Indian overwhelm that I have become familiar with – jostling noisy crowds of people vehicles and cows, people constantly coming up wanting me to buy something, crumbly buildings and homes, and even snaggle-toothed beggars wearing dirty rags and holding outstretched hands (which is actually a rare sight for me in India).
A central theme in the book is that being human is like being a rider on an elephant, the rider being our conscious intentional awareness, and the elephant being our instinctual habitual animal self. The elephant can be trained, slowly, so that it will obey the rider’s whims, but it takes time and patience.
Some general themes of the book “Codependent No More” are cultivating boundaries, a healthy sense of separation, solid self-respect, saying “no”, paying attention to one’s own business, and being able to strong and brave in walking one’s path. It’s also about finding balance and general emotional health, and cultivating the ability to love and care for others for real (in a way that isn’t draining).
“Zen Mind, Begnner’s Mind” is mystical and otherworldly yet also day-to-day ordinary, it is philosophical and technical yet also beautifully poetic and literary, it is challenging and demands your best yet is also gentle and patient, it is traditional yet also modern, it is serious and sincere yet also light-hearted and easy, it is simple yet also deep, it is Japanese yet also American.
“Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” is a deceptively basic-seeming book that will actually will reward the reader with as much depth as they are willing to seek from it. Some themes in the book are developing a sense of purpose and intentionality in life, cultivating self-discipline and ethical behavior, and ways to create social networks that work (which, in the end, comes down to love). A big theme in the book is taking on practices and self-cultivations in the service of self-improvement.
If you want to understand “enlightenment” not just as a concept, but actually learn how it feels to disidentify with yourself as a finite human being, and to instead experience yourself as an expressive action of the entire universe, then this may be the perfect book for you. Nisargadatta’s teachings are relentlessly confrontational and cosmically mind-blowing. If you are ready for them, the words in this book can take every belief (and perceptual) system that you have, and blow them out of the water, stretching you wider than you could have conceived possible. Some times in reading it, I have felt that this book is IT, the end point of the whole journey.
A straight up masterpiece. This book is filled with deep, true, authentic Buddhist wisdom, and yet is written in an easy, extraordinarily clear Americanized vernacular. It is a comprehensive introduction for mindfulness meditation practice, filled with clear instructions for the path. The book challenges the reader to go deep and to practice properly, but it also has a simple, patient, humorous, kind, smiling vibe to it. It covers a wide ground, and yet touches on each subject in depth.
[Tassajara monastery has no internet and I had no computer there in 1999. I completed writing this letter by hand and then sent the pages through the US postal service to my housemate and friend Rich, who typed it in, and emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]
Starting now, emailing me is the best way to write to me, please don’t write me any more snail mail down here (and, for those of you who never got off your lazy ass to contact me to begin with and didn’t plan on doing so now, please ignore this directive).
The Inner Critic is the self-critical inner voice that judges and shames each of us, trying to get us to be perfect so that we won’t make mistakes or suffer negative consequences. This anxious, pushy voice usually develops in us as a young age, and it has a young, simple view of right and wrong, and good and bad.