Books Of India Blog

Book Review: Heart of Buddhist Meditation: A Handbook Of Mental Training by The Venerable Nyanaponika Thera

The Buddhist Publication Society | ISBN: 9789552401008 | £8.99

The Heart of Buddhist Meditation is a complete course in Buddhist meditation techniques drawn from the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. The teaching is progressive, building from simple mindfulness practices to advanced meditation techniques, capable of inducing powerful states of consciousness. The core practice is ‘insight meditation’, or vipassana, the purpose of which is to give the practitioner direct insight into the true nature of reality. Buddhism posits three underlying states of existence that can be revealed by meditation, these being ‘suffering’, the illusory nature of the self, and the impermanence of matter.

For a Buddhist, direct apprehension of these states brings a deep sense of peace and self-knowledge, but not enlightenment itself. For enlightenment to be possible, the practitioner must combine insight meditation with Samatha meditation – a series of practices designed to calm the mind based around single pointed awareness and breath control.

Many practitioners struggle with Samatha for years without gaining much apparent progress. The Heart Of Buddhist Meditation bypasses these difficulties by allowing the practitioner to focus primarily on insight meditation. The premise of the book is that greater calm and focus automatically come as a result of insight meditation: you do not need to already have a calm mind in order to practice vipassana effectively.

The second part of the book contains an excellent English translation of the Buddha’s own instructions for meditation: The Great Discourse on The Foundations of Mindfulness.

Who This Book Will Appeal To

Heart is a fairly advanced Buddhist meditation guide. Its primary audience are practising Buddhists who want a straightforward technical guide to the deeper aspects of spiritual discipline associated with their religion. It therefore skips over a lot of the basic doctrine and assumptions that take up so much of other Buddhist titles. This is a strength, because it means a Buddhist looking for practical meditation advice won’t have to wade through basic material they are already familiar with.

It also means the book may appeal to secular Westerners or non-Buddhists who are nonetheless interested in mindfulness and other meditative techniques – as the practices can be implemented without much reference to their spiritual underpinnings. The two parts of the book can be approached independently if desired. This is a great meditation manual and will enrich any bookshop section on Buddhism, Eastern religions, or mind body & spirit. It is not, however, an introduction to Buddhism. For this, you will need to stock supplementary titles, of which we can recommend some good ones.

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Many of the most respected and expert authorities in the Buddhist tradition do not publish their works outside of India. This doesn’t mean they are inaccessible to English readers – they are, usually in a high-quality English translation published by one of India’s many publishing companies, or from Nepal, Bhutan or Sri Lanka. However, they are not usually picked up by the big Western publishers, so go largely unknown outside their home countries.

At Motilal Books we stock hundreds of Buddhist titles, covering everything from religious history to meditation guides, liturgies, biographies and much more. All major branches of the religion are covered (including Zen, Tibetan, Mahayana, Theravada, Nichiren etc), making our Buddhist collection an indispensable resource for practising Buddhists in the West, or readers interested in Asian religious studies.

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