I came across the book “Mindfulness in Plain English” when I was searching for good books on meditation. This being one of the most read books on meditation increased my curiosity towards it. I am practicing meditation since past few years. However, after going through this book I came to know about the improvement points required in my meditation practice. This book will provide a wealth of knowledge to the people interested in meditation, those who have just started with meditation and to the experienced meditators as well.
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, the author of this book is a Sri Lankan Buddhist Monk. He is also an internationally acclaimed author and a meditation teacher. This book is a step by step guide to Vipassana or insightful meditation practice. Most of the points described in this book is drawn from the Tripitaka – Buddha’s original teachings. Tripitaka contains the code of discipline for monks, nuns and lay people.
The author starts off the book with the explaination of the word “Gumption” that is required to do meditation regularly. Meditation requires time, energy, grace, determination and discipline ,i.e, the qualities normally regarded as unpleasant that most of us try to avoid. He later delves into the nature of the human mind that is always in search of happiness and peace. Thoughts of various types come and go. People postpone their happiness to fulfill their desires first. The author highlights that man’s desire is never ending so he is stressing to recognise one’s desires and to not be controlled by them. Attaining a purified mind should be one’s goal as that can help you attain happiness and peace.
Meditation helps to purify the mind by cleansing the thought process of its psychic irritants like greed, hatred and jealousy. It brings about a state of tranquility, awareness, concentration and insight. The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. It changes a person by the process of sensitisation by making him/her aware of one’s own thoughts, words and deeds. Thus meditation prepares you to better handle the ups and downs of life by making you mindful of the fear, worry and tension.
There are many misconceptions surrounding meditation like it’s just a relaxation technique, it is for the hermits or monks etc which is not true as the author clearly explains that the goal of meditation is awareness and the other benefits are just a byproduct. Thus it is not only applicable to monks but to anyone who wants to bring about self transformation in everyday life. There are many other misconceptions and the respective answers in the book that is worth going through.
Hindu yogic meditation aims at focusing the mind on a single object like a stone, candle flame etc by not allowing it to wander. Advanced meditation involves focusing the mind on other complex objects like chants, body, religious images etc. By this we can understand that it is basically an exercise in concentration. However, in Buddhist meditation concentration is highly valued along with another element called awareness. Buddhism has various techniques of meditation among which Vipassana is the oldest. Vipassana is a direct and gradual cultivation of awareness. We learn to listen to our own thoughts without being caught up in them. The object of this practice is to see the truth of impermanence.
In the subsequent chapter the author highlights the attitudes required to be successful in meditation. A few of them are, to not expect anything from meditation and to just go with the practice regularly, to not force oneself just because someone is forcing you, to go into meditation in a relaxed manner and to not rush etc. Next the author gives an introduction about the actual Vipassana practice. To start with, the beginner needs to focus one’s attention on the breath to improve concentration. But the goal of the practice should be to see things as they are and to not get attached to them.
In the next section the author writes about the recommended physical practices that will aid a person to master the meditation skill. Sitting on a chair or on the floor is fine but must be appropriately cushioned in order to avoid pain, numbness and sleep. Keep the back straight and the head should be held in line with the spine. The clothing you wear should be loose and soft. After detailing on the physical practices the author moves on to the mind. The traditional vipassana practice stresses on mind control by mindfulness through focus on the breath. Ancient pali texts compare the human mind to a mad elephant that when tied to a post, i.e, the object of meditation with the rope of mindfulness will eventually know that it cannot escape. Thus meditation tames the mind.
Keeping aside a specific time in a day for the meditation practice is really important. This helps to release the tension from the mind after a hectic day. Meditation recharges your mindfulness. Choosing a quiet place free from any disturbances is also equally important. Morning time is the best for meditation but one can choose to meditate even in the evening. Beginners can sit as long as one feels comfortable that may be anything around 15 minutes. Gradually increase the time as you become used to it and after sometime you will not need to keep time. Inorder to clear the mind before a meditation practice, there a mention of certain recitals to be done as well.
Next the author mentions about the various physical, emotional and attitudinal roadblocks to meditation and how to overcome the roadblocks. Further, he also explains how to go about dealing with distractions. In case of vipassana meditation, whenever distracting thoughts appear, distance yourself from it and observe the start, how long it lasts and return the focus back to the breath again. Don’t wait for distractions but focus on the breath and let the distractions come to you. Mindfulness,i. e, observing things objectively without any reaction is what brings you back to the object of meditation when distracted. Whenever you focus on the breath it is concentration that keeps your attention on the breath.
Towards the final chapters of the book, the author explains how to practice meditation while performing the everyday tasks. By developing awareness in your everyday tasks, the mind is more attentive and is ready to handle any thoughts or emotions. Thus being mindful extinguishes distractions and worries. You are no longer caught up in worries as you are mindful and conscious of every experience.
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