A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life – a book review

What keeps me well is well, reading, although at age 49, I go for the easy reading styles of various writers. In my late teens and 20s I could read any time of day rapidly, but now certainly not at night.

There is much in this book to inspire many of us in what can be the drearier, tiresome, boring, darker sides of our lives.

Buddhism is about hard work, to change ourselves, because only we want to, it is not really romantic meditation making us up-float of somewhere to escape.
I find only non-Buddhists tend to romanticise Buddhism in this way, for Buddhists we are Mandelic: having long ago realised that grinding the stubborn boulders and barriers in our minds of fear, hate, passions and ignorance, into a softer path of forward travel – and with a lightening load – is the coalface, the real thing. There is much joy and sunshine, and calm plateaus if we do the work of meditation. The path to end mental suffering is neither grim or cynical or romantic, it is in between: real compassion with joy.
The best Buddhists in my view are totally real about their downfalls, groundhog days, about the grim suffering of their lives, yet also manifest a clear joy, a vision of liberation walked step by step; who also share their joys, often non verbally. They are real and appeal to the heart, often with humour, vitality, wit, joy and a solid kind of realness. This too, is Paramananda’s style.

So I’m going to take extracts and let you get a flavour of his practice of compassion, his practice of loving kindness, with all the trails and trials, ‘boring’ bits and joys:

I found Paramananda’s A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life, clear, human and inspiring.

He has written a popular guide to meditation Change your Mind. Paramanada was born John Wilson in North London in 1955. From an early age he was curious about Eastern ideas, but it was not until the age of 23, after the death of his father, that his interest in Buddhism was aroused. At the same time, the focus of his life shifted from the world of politics, in which he had been active, to more spiritual concerns.

During his twenties Paramananda worked as a Psychiatric Social Worker.
He has also been involved in various types of voluntary work, including the Samaritans, drug detox, and more recently in a hospice.

In 1983 he came into contact with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and 2 years later was ordained into the Order itself. Since then he has been teaching meditation and Buddhism full-time. He sees as powerful tools for both individual and social change, and believes that service to the community is a vital aspect of practice. From 1993 to 2001 he lived in California where he was chairman of the San Francisco Buddhist Centre. He now lives in North London where he continues with his teaching and writing.

Introduction

I have been walking a while
on the frozen Swedish fields
and I have seen no one.

In other parts of the world
people are born, live and die.
In a constant human crush.

To be visible all the time – to live
in a swarm of eyes –
surely that leaves its mark on the face.
Futures overladen with clay.

The low voices rise and fall
as they divide up
heaven, shadows, grains of sand.

I have to be myself
ten minutes every morning,
ten minutes every night,
and nothing to be done

we all line up to ask each other for help.

Millions.

One.

‘Solitude 2’, Tomas Transtromer (translator: Robert Bly).

Sitting in my London flat on rainy summers day, trying to figure out what to say in this introduction, I pull from my shelf one of my favourite anthologies of poetry. I open the book at random and find the above verses, which I cannot remember reading before. It seems as good a place as any to begin. I am particularly struck by the image of a man walking alone across frozen fields – and the 10 minutes the poet takes every morning and evening to be by himself. It reminds me of meditation, time taken to be more fully with oneself.

This book has developed put of nearly 20 years of attempting to convey the meaning I sometimes in Buddhist practice, in particular in meditation. I say ‘sometimes’ because the truth is I often lose the thread of that practice. ‘Being’ a Buddhist meditation teacher has not insulated me from the confusion and periodic despair of life. Despite what follows, I do not always manage to be mindful or even simply kind. I am in some sense a constant failure. Nevertheless, I do feel that over the years I have made some kind of small progress and I have become at least a little clearer about what is important to me.

If this book has a central theme it is the need to be ourselves, the relationship between this need and living in the world with others, and how to become more fully into the experience of being ourselves in such a way that this strengthened sense of ourselves finds positive relationship with others and with the world at large. This in lives that are increasingly full of activity that it often feels as though we are being pulled away from ourselves, pulled further and further away from ourselves, pulled further and further away, from a sense of who we are. Finding ourselves adrift in our lives with no sense of purpose beyond getting through each day with as much pleasure and as little pain as possible.

Perhaps I should say from the outset that I simply do not supply any definitive answers to the ills of modern life. I hope that on the whole I avoid telling you what you should or should not do. I hope that I raise points and issues that are worth taking a little time to reflect upon. Most importantly I hope that you, the reader, will be in some small way encouraged in your life. Despite the awful mess that we so often seem to make, on a personal and global level, there is something extraordinary about being here at all, and I hope that, like me, you will feel you would like to make the most of the magic of your life.

I have occasionally used terms not often found in most books written from a Buddhist perspective; for example, I refer to the ‘soul’ in several places. If you know even a little about Buddhism you will know that it strongly rejects the eternalism implied by such a term. However I employ it because for me it has a richness of texture that no other English terms seem to convey; it implies something that cannot be fully expressed in the language of science and logic. I use it, then, poetically in order to convey that we as human beings are more than the sum total of our biological and environmental conditioning. I use poetry for the same reason.

So while, with the help of my editor, I have attempted to be as clear as possible, the book is suggestive rather than prescriptive, in that I have attempted to capture the ‘atmosphere’ of what Buddhist practice means to me. In the appendix I have outlined the meditation practices I refer in the text, in case you are not familiar with them, although there is no substitute for learning from a teacher, and with others.

Within the Buddhist tradition there has always been a strong emphasis on individual experience, and it is in this spirit that the book should be read, by which I mean don’t take my word but judge what I have to say ion the light of your own exp; some it might ring true while some of it might not. Either way, I hope it encourages you to look afresh at your own practice- whatever that might be. In his poem ‘St Francis and the Sow’, Gathay Kinnell writes

the bud
stands for all things
even for those things that don’t flower,
everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

meditation is a form of self-blessing that leads us deeper into our own heart, and in so doing reveals a door of beauty in the world around us.

From a CD cover case, from Johnny Solstice

It seems to me relevant:

”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves ”who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of the universe. Playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel small around you. We are meant to shine as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of the universe within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously allows others to. As we are liberated from our own fear, we liberate others.”

Nelson Mandela

You can order
A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life and
& Change your Mind
through Tri Ratna Buddhist Order, Telephone 0113 244 5256
Leeds Buddhist Centre,
4th Floor, Bridge House email: enquiries@leedsbuddhistcentre.org
Hunslet Road web: http://www.leedsbuddhistcentre.org
Leeds LS10 1JN.

Near the Adelphi Pub; Tetley Art Gallery & Cafe

There are 2 beginners 10-week courses for medititors:
Mondays, 5.15 – 6.15pm
Wednesdays 12.45 – 1.30pm

or through http://www.amazon.com/seconds

 

Advertisements

One thought on “A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life – a book review

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s