Tuesday, January 24, 2012


A good book, for me, is one that tells me more about my humanity--and the humanity of others. It helps me to become more fully human. A pebble in the pond, it causes ripples everywhere. No matter whether it be fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, a good book changes everything. So I like to believe. What a joy for me to receive an email this morning about Mind Work: "A magic manual for seeing yourself in everyone and everyone in you." I could find no greater compliment for H.E. Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche's Living Fully: Finding Joy in Every Breath.

Had I read one chapter only of this book, I would have been amply rewarded. Reading Rinpoche's passage on "Honesty," I found myself nodding in enthusiastic agreement: it articulated with precision and clarity exactly what I believe the most important human work to be about--both the internal work of self-examination and the external work of being in the world. Read this:
From an unenlightened perspective, the ego or "self" is what we believe to exist as an unchanging, independent, and separate entity. The notion of self is merely imputed upon a ceaseless continuum of thoughts, feeling and perceptions. A careful examination of the self reveals itself only to be a mistaken construct. If we thoroughly investigate this self, we find that it is temporary and does not exist in any substantial way. Nevertheless, we have a hard time accepting this. The self is continually trying to proclaim a distinct identity, separate from the rest of the universe, like an unruly child who insists on being the center of attention.
That's my ego: an unruly child, demanding attention. I don't know about yours, but I suspect it might well be something similar. The task is to observe its actions critically, to disarm its fantasies with kind insistence and substitute them with reality, and to see this small self in the great perspective of the universe. It's a day-by-day, sometimes painful, always challenging, though often simply mundane activity. Honesty, Rinpoche adds, "means living without fabrication, pretense, or foolishness"; and "true honesty also means experiencing each moment completely. When you are dishonest, you miss the present moment because you are lost in thoughts of the past or future."

The central argument of Rinpoche's book, as I understand it, is that we are born with an "innate intelligence," an "inner radiance," a potential for unencumbered freedom and happiness that we are able to achieve only by learning to "dispel our ignorance and enjoy a truly wholesome way of living." His passages are short--I happen to love brevity: why use six hundred words when you can say it all elegantly in half that number?--and easily readable. No obfuscation here; just clarity. If we'll be guided, Rinpoche walks us through the steps that make it possible to move from ignorance and delusion to "perfect freedom."

The essays in "Living Fully" may be diamond-like in their precision and clarity; they are also dense with the complexities of human experience and with a compassionate understanding of our human conflicts and contradictions. Some may find it easy to read cover-to-cover, following the path that Rinpoche lays out. I do not. There's simply too much there. My preference has been to treat the essays as a slow read, not even necessarily in sequence, picking out passages that call to me here and there, putting the book down and returning to it when I'm ready. Generously, the book allows for the slow read--and the slow learner!

"Living Fully" is a treasure chest that yields rich rewards for those in search of a more profound experience in their lives. It's one of those books I wish everyone would read--and pay attention to.

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