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Our Current Study:

Wake Up To Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention (Paperback), by Ken McLeod

Review by George L. Draffan:
Hundreds of books on Buddhism have been published in recent years, but Wake Up To Your Life, by Ken McLeod, is one of the first systematic curricula written by a Westerner thoroughly trained in traditional Tibetan ways. With deep insight, clear instructions, and entertaining stories, McLeod has given us a comprehensive manual for a lifetime of spiritual work.

Wake Up To Your Life begins as many books do, introducing the context and motivations for practicing meditation, and covering basic topics such as the four noble truths, the three disciplines of morality, meditation, and understanding, and the cultivation of mindfulness. It continues with contemplations on death and impermanence, karma, reactive emotions, and the four immeasurables, and ends with difficult practices for mind training, insight, and direct awareness.

McLeod breaks new ground from beginning to end. For example, the differences and synergies between mindfulness, awareness, and attention are clearly delineated, and active attention ("volitional, stable, and inclusive") is the central principle. That has practical implications, one of which is that ethical behavior becomes primarily a natural expression of attention, rather than a set of rules dictated by an authority or tradition.

Wake Up To Your Life is especially valuable in making explicit what has been hidden from or confusing to many practitioners. Those who have struggled to practice with insufficient instruction will benefit from McLeod's pragmatic approach. For example, he makes clear the important differences between the purpose, methods, effects, and results of meditation practice. Thus the meditator who has been instructed to "open your mind" or "be centered" will learn that being open and feeling centered (as well as distraction, clarity, sleepiness, and euphoria) are effects of meditation, and not methods. The book is packed with tools for choosing and working with a teacher, for cutting through confusion and self-deception, and for discriminating between genuine insight and passing mental states and energy surges.

Those who have been bewildered by Tibetan visualization and contemplative practices will see how they are rooted in basic Buddhist principles, and those who have been confused or put off by cosmology and deity practices will find clear explanations and a sensible approach. We see how the six realms are the worlds projected by our reactive emotions, and how an understanding of the five elements and five dakinis can help us transform the energies of our reactive emotions into pristine awareness.

The chapter on karma is a significant contribution to our understanding of meditation and of psychology. Detailed analysis of how our beliefs, reactive emotions, and habituated behaviors create and perpetuate the suffering in our lives is integrated with practical exercises for dismantling the components of those beliefs and behavioral patterns. McLeod has formulated the practices in terms directly relevant to modern audiences, and encourages the reader to rely on experience rather than belief. Waking up to your life does not depend on exchanging Western assumptions for Eastern ones; it depends on direct experience.

In the debate over whether teachers should transmit the Dharma just as it was received, or whether each culture and each generation must make the Dharma their own, McLeod is squarely in the second camp. He integrates age-old Buddhist methods with modern psychological sensibilities, and uses science and Sufi teaching stories to make his points, but the result is no sweet New Age concoction. Confusion is cut at every juncture, and no slack is given for wishful thinking. "You would probably prefer not to look at some parts of your life, but to ignore the areas of life that are uncomfortable to look at is not a good idea. If we protect any aspect of our life from the practice of attention, the habituated patterns connected with that part of our life absorb the energy of practice and gradually take over our lives. We become what we don't dismantle."

While Wake Up To Your Life is intellectually challenging and satisfying, it is ultimately a manual for spiritual practice, and not an exercise in cultural reeducation, religious history, or philosophical doctrine. Its only purpose is to provide a set of tools to deal with the challenges we encounter while engaging the work of "waking up from the sleep in which we dream that we are separate from what we experience."

Both beginning and experienced students and teachers of Buddhist meditation will benefit from using the methods in Wake Up To Your Life, but McLeod's pragmatic and integrated approach applies the power of attention to social, work, and personal relationships as well as to formal meditation practice. The book will be valuable to psychologists, mediators, managers, parents, and anyone else who deals with people and their reactive emotions. It's for anyone who has felt the suffering and confinement caused by their habitual patterns, and is serious about cultivating presence and freedom.

Spectrum of Ecstasy: Embracing the Five Wisdom Emotions of Vajrayana Buddhism,
by Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen

Spectrum of Ecstasy describes the Dzogchen view of emotions, emotional pain and pleasure - and the liberation of emotions. It is valuable reading for anyone interested in human psychology according to Dzogchen and a must-read for everybody seriously interested in Aro. The book is suited for experienced meditators as well as for beginners on the Buddhist path.

The teaching on the psychology of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) shows how we ourselves create unenlightenment through neurotic patterns of emotional reaction to our own spacious nature. It demonstrates in a direct and often amusing way how we are addicted to the form qualities of the five elements. We are obsessed with manipulating our experiential reality in order to prove to ourselves that we are solid, permanent, separate, continuous, and defined. However, as emptiness is always the basis of the equation, this obsession is doomed to interminably repeated failure.

Fortunately, by applying the practice of Dzogchen trèk-chöd, we can break this cycle. Our emotions become a powerful dimension of transformation in which we can discover innate enlightenment. This means that instead of acting out, suppressing or obliterating neurotic emotional patterns, we allow the energy of the emotions to expand into their enlightened qualities according to the five elements. Thus, the personality of the practitioner becomes the key to liberation.

Spectrum of Ecstasy is written in colourful contemporary language and introduces a wealth of practical examples. After each chapter, there are extensive question and answer sessions taken from teaching conversations between Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen and their students. These sections highlight the teachings from different angles and are an informative display of the style of teaching chosen by the authors.

The Five Wisdom Energies: A Buddhist Way of Understanding Personalities, Emotions, and Relationships,
by Irini Rockwell

The five wisdom energies, or "buddha families," presented in this book make up a unique system for understanding personality. Discovering our place within these five syles of being can yield enormous insight into our own pattern of behavior and emotions, as well as into the energies at play in all our relationships. Each of the five energies is associated with a particular way of perceiving and interacting with the world. Each has its intelligent and confused aspects, and each has a rich array of qualities.

We all have the potential to embody each of the energies, although one or two are usually dominant in us, and we often display different energies in different areas of our lives. They are dynamic, evolving with us as our lives change. With practical exercises and engaging stories, Irini Rockwell shows how to identify the wisdom energies at work in out own lives - and how to use them in any situation to cultivate self-awareness, improve communication in relationships, and liberate creative expression.

Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up, by B. Alan Wallace

Here at last is an organized overview of Tibetan Buddhism's teachings, beginning with the basic themes of the sutras — the general discourses of the Buddha — and continuing through the esoteric concepts and advanced practices of Tantra. Unlike other introductions, Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up doesn't stop with theory and history, but relates timeless spiritual principles to the pressing issues of modern life, both in terms of daily experience and a uniquely Western world view. This fascinating, highly readable book asks neither unquestioning faith nor blind obedience to abstract concepts or religious beliefs. Rather, it challenges the reader to question and investigate life's issues on a personal level, in the light of an ancient and effective approach to the sufferings and joys of the human condition.

The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character, by Dale Wright

Here is a lucid, accessible, and inspiring guide to the six perfections--Buddhist teachings about six dimensions of human character that require "perfecting": generosity, morality, tolerance, energy, meditation, and wisdom. Drawing on the Diamond Sutra, the Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, and other essential Mahayana texts, Dale Wright shows how these teachings were understood and practiced in classical Mahayana Buddhism and how they can be adapted to contemporary life in a global society. What would the perfection of generosity look like today, for example? What would it mean to give with neither ulterior motives nor naiveté? Devoting a separate chapter to each of the six perfections, Wright combines sophisticated analysis with real-life applications. Buddhists have always stressed self-cultivation, the uniquely human freedom that opens the possibility of shaping the kind of life we will live and the kind of person we will become. For those interested in ideals of human character and practices of self-cultivation, The Six Perfections offers invaluable guidance.

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The Wish-Fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings, by Gampopa,
translated by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche

A masterwork of Tibetan Buddhism--providing the complete foundation for study and practice--from beginning to Buddhahood. Includes teachings on Buddha-nature, finding the spiritual master, impermanence, karma, cultivation of bodhicitta, development of the six perfections, the ten bodhisattva bhumis, Buddhahood, and the activities of the Buddha.

Used in Ken McLeod's podcast series, "Then and Now."

Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness
by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche (advanced)

* Previous Dharma Study Class with Luminous Mind *

Progressive Stages

In this teaching, Rinpoche presents the main schools of Buddhist philosophy with their progressively more subtle and refined views of reality. However it is not just a teaching on the view, but a presentation providing the student the means to realize it through meditation practice. The idea of a series of meditation practices on a particular aspect of the Buddha's teachings is that by beginning with one's first rather coarse commonsense understanding, one progresses through increasingly subtle and more refined stages until one arrives at complete and perfect understanding. Each stage in the process prepares the mind for the next insofar as each step is fully integrated into one's understanding through the meditation process.

Gateway to Knowledge, Vol. 1
by Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche (academic)

Contents: The Aggregates, The Elements, The Sense-Sources, Interdependence, The Correct and the Incorrect, The Faculties, Time

Gateway to Knowledge is a condensation of the Tripitaka and its accompanying commentaries by the Tibetan Buddhist master Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche. Consolidating the intent of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings into a unified body of textbooks, it is the philosophical backbone of the living tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This rich source book embodies the basics of Prajnaparamita and Madhyamika as well as the Abhidharma from both the Mahayana and Hinayana perspective.


Audio Teachings

Perfect Just As You Are:
Buddhist Practices on the Four Limitless Ones:
Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity

* Current Dharma Study Class with Luminous Mind *

Spiritual practice, Pema Chödrön teaches, has nothing to do with self-improvement, since, as the course's title claims, you're already perfect right now. The limitless qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are your deep-down, ultimate reality, and those are qualities that can't be improved upon.

If you're not feeling particularly kind, compassionate, joyful, or equanimous at the moment, take heart: the Four Limitless Ones are there like seeds, waiting to be cultivated through practice-and, being limitless, they're rich enough to be worked with for a lifetime. This intensive program of study and practice provides the tools you need to access these radiant states and to nurture their growth for sake of all beings, including yourself. Here's some of what you'll learn:

  • How cultivating the Four Limitless Ones is the antidote to depression, irritation, and isolation
  • Basic meditation instructions to get you started in the foundational practice
  • A wealth of guided meditations for generating these radiant qualities to yourself, others, and the world
  • Writing and reflection exercises to bring the Four Limitless Ones powerfully into real life
  • A simple chant you can use to create love and good will around yourself
  • Powerful on-the-spot practices you can use throughout the day, even when there's "no time to practice"

The program fits perfectly with any other kind of meditation you're doing or with other spiritual practices. And since no previous knowledge of Buddhism is required, it's also ideal for those new to spiritual practice.

Noble Heart: A Self-Guided Retreat
on Befriending Your Obstacles

You can’t get away from suffering. That’s the good news, teaches Pema Chodron. For at the core of your most painful experiences – perhaps more than anywhere else – you will find the seeds of your awakening. On Noble Heart, this bestselling author and Tibetan Buddhist shows you how vulnerability is our greatest spiritual resource on the path through life’s difficulties. Using special meditations and teachings, she shows how to cultivate your own noble heart – one that sheds its armor, and opens fearlessly to both heartache and delight. Recorded live as it happened within the peaceful shrine room of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Noble Heart is structured so that you can create your retreat at home or at your meditation center. Here are treasured teachings from this beloved acharya (master teacher) – a full 12 session curriculum of meditations, practices, teaching stories, and real-life examples presented in clear, easy-to-follow language. Noble Heart invites you to! discover for yourself the compassion and wisdom that have established Pema Chodron as a leading voice in American Buddhism.