19 December 2007

An essential companion to contemplative practice

The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation
Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
Shambhala Publications, 2002

For starters, this is not a book for reading only; instead, it is a companion to regular contemplative practice (albeit not necessarily one that is "Buddhist").

I was "forced" to read this book as a graduate student at The Naropa Institute (in the same way that all students are "forced" to read textbooks) and found that I got very little out of the book. While at times his presentation was incredibly lucid, at other times Trungpa's turns of phrase made little sense, leading our circle of student heretics to coin the descriptive phrase "Trungpa-babble." (Full-disclosure: One of the reasons that this book appeared so jargon-laden at the time I first read it probably had to do with the fact that my sitting practice was very new and so I had little experience with which to compare Trungpa's ideas.)

On re-reading this book as one of the titles on my guru's reading lists, I was impressed by how much of the same material that had once left me cold now applied directly to my life and practice. Trungpa definitely takes the "romance" out of spiritual practice and reveals it to be as mundane as going to work, eating dinner, or taking a bath. Like those other activities, though, meditation (in this context the basic practice of sitting with oneself and familiarizing oneself with the neurosis and clarity that make up the mind) is essential to a life fully lived.

(This review was originally written March 21, 2006.)

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