I don’t think I’ve ever written a negative review of any book I’ve read. If it’s bad I would usually just chuck it at the point I’d had enough and move on.
So, am I about to write a negative review on this book? Well ….. yes and no! It’s my own fault of course, the clue is in the title: Buddhism For Busy People, and …. I’m not a busy person any more. Also having first dabbled with Buddhism 45 years ago when I married Dr C my Buddhist wife, then becoming a full-on meditator to counteract the grief of our 22 year old son’s death 23 years ago ….. I’m not looking for basic introductions to the subject. So why on earth did I buy it?
I bought this book to see what would be the main points of Buddhist focus for a busy professional person, as experienced by the author, so as to reflect on and compare them with my own experiences pre retirement 12 years ago. So here goes.
The author begins by comparing the “happiness” of our grandparents with that of ourselves in modern times:
“As a society, we are far better off than our grandparents …. better healthcare, food, property, money ….. but …. we are constantly striving for more! …. “if only” we keep saying to ourselves, we are never satisfied.”
My own search for happiness had been a relentless search for “achievement” in education, career, business, wealth …. as a corporate organisational psychologist. I have been as guilty as the next person in being constantly dissatisfied with things, consciously and unconsciously. In this category on myself I would include redundancy, travel around U.K., constant search for new clients, long working hours, pressure from existing clients always demanding more, paying for a large home in Cotswolds and an apartment in London, buying big cars ….. it was an endless “chase”.
The author goes on to remind us that these”dissatisfactions” are all “externals”, and that we need to rearrange the “internals” which are essentially our cognitions and emotions. Buddhism gives us a means to do this which is a systematic and practical series of steps. Don’t try and take control of your environment, take control of how you EXPERIENCE your environment!
“Buddhism is a practice based psychology. We do not worship Buddha, he is not a deity and The Path To Enlightenment reveals his core teachings which is The Dharma, with specifically The 4 Noble Truths, and the 8 Fold Path. These were written after Buddha’sdeath in the Lamrim.”
So, 25 years ago my whole system, physical, psychological, emotional was stressed to hell! I needed a holistic solution, and I found one in Buddhism and specifically in meditation. However, knowing what to do is easy, but doing it is hard!
The book then describes how meditation tames the Mad Monkey of the Mind and calms our avalanche of thoughts, but first we need to understand what are known as The Four Noble Truths and here is how the author describes them:
1. The nature of reality is dissatisfaction, because things keep changing. This is the underlying, default state of our minds.
2. The source or cause of this dissatisfaction is attachment, aversion, ignorance, desire, anger, a misguided view of reality. Attachment is constantly grasping at things we think will make us happy, constantly driven by product marketing for example. A new watch, phone, tablet, computer, jacket, dress, car …….. all material. A new job, with new status, pay, colleagues ……. Aversion is similar to attachment but the reverse, it’s really anger with …. an incident, such as our boss, something not working, our job …. All caused by our own minds and it’s misguided view of reality. All we do is react! Our ignorance is caused by our misguided view of reality and not understanding that each of us can interpret things such as music, wine, a movie, a meal, an event or a job …. all quite differently. We all act on the basis of our assumptions and the way we perceive things. This is Dependent Arising. So, to achieve happiness we need to rearrange the internals, our perceptions, and NOT the externals or the material things.
3. All of the things we keep striving for are like superstitions. We believe that having a new phone will improve our lives, changing jobs will miraculously make us more happy. We associate a new job, a new iPhone, a new car with increased happiness. (Superstition is associating bad things with other events such as a cracked mirror leading to bad luck, or walking under a ladder associated with bad luck. All false associations.) So we can reduce dissatisfaction by breaking these associations.
4. These associations CAN be broken by following what is known as The Eight Fold Path, the Sanskrit word for it is Dharma, or “the way”.
Now, there are different ways of describing the Four Noble Truths where the word “suffering” is used instead of dissatisfaction but the author has rightly written it this way to appeal more to non Buddhists and help their understanding. “Life is suffering” certainly has put many people off exploring Buddhism further and the book does a good job of using words that will appeal to a broader audience. The author shares many of his own experiences from a busy professional life, the dissatisfactions he felt and how his conversion to Buddhism changed his life. He describes tales of the many monks and lamas he has met since his conversion and how such experiences fit into his own understanding of Buddhist philosophy. But this is where the book breaks down for me. It became a mixture of only 20% Buddhism, 20% related anecdotes, and 60% personal life. The balance is all wrong, especially for someone who is past the complete beginner stage of Buddhism, and I quickly felt myself distracted from what should have been the central theme of the book as per its title.
I suppose that this is the point at which people will ask me “OK, what IS a good book for people wanting to learn about Buddhism”? My answer is, and has to be …..there isn’t one! You may as well ask for the best single book on Christianity or Islam! I have read many Buddhist related books over the years, some were based on the life of Buddha, where he was born, his family, how he left the palace and found suffering, his wandering, his enlightenment. Some were complete books on The Eightfold Path, some were on meditation techniques, one was on the sayings of Buddha. This is no different from any other “genre” of literature, you need to find it yourself. However, I’ll stick my neck out here and say that if you really want the simple understanding of the history, concepts, traditions and practices of Buddhism plus meditation, then you won’t go far wrong if you begin with Buddhism For Dummies, there’s a new revised 2019 edition and its received excellent reviews. I might even buy a copy! Om!