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“A classic—one of the very best English sources for authoritative explanations of mindfulness.”― Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of The Varieties of the Meditative Experience, Emotional Intelligence, and Social Intelligence
It’s hard to be mindful in today’s world. Taking care of kids, running errands, cooking, cleaning, and all the other activities of daily life can make it hard to find time to work it into your schedule.
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a straightforward book on how to practice mindfulness and meditation effectively with just the right balance of simplicity and depth. It has been an invaluable resource for many people who are looking to learn more about mindfulness and meditation but are unsure of where to start. The author’s clear and concise writing style is the perfect foundation for anybody looking to start incorporating mindfulness into their life.
The book is written with a deep understanding of the human mind, as the author has spent more than 80 years as a Buddhist monk. In Mindfulness in Plain English, he draws from his own experience to teach about how mindfulness can be practiced for personal growth and development.
Mindfulness in Plain English was released in 1992, but it is still very relevant today because many of the teachings apply to everyday life, from work to parenting. Mindfulness in Plain English is a beautiful and comprehensive overview of mindfulness for those seeking to explore their innermost depths and to grow in their own practice. It is an excellent resource for beginners, but more seasoned practitioners can also use Mindfulness in Plain English as a kind of guidebook, a reminder of the basics.
About Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is an internationally recognized author and meditation teacher. He is the founding abbot of the Bhavana Society. Born in rural Sri Lanka, he has been a monk since age twelve and took full ordination at age twenty in 1947. “Bhante G” (as he is fondly called by his students) has written a number of books, including the now-classic meditation manual, Mindfulness in Plain English, its companion, the Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, and his autobiography, Journey to Mindfulness.
He has taught in a number of settings, including the American University of Washington DC where he served as a Buddhist chaplain, and the Buddhist Vihara of Washington DC, where he served as president. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana has a strong scholarly background and lifelong commitment to Dhamma. In 1996, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana received the title of Chief Sangha Nayaka Thera for North America. It acknowledged his status as the highest-ranking monk in his sect in the United States and Canada. In 2005, the Sri Henepola Gunaratana Scholarship Trust was founded under his guidance. The trust provides education for poverty-stricken children in rural Sri Lanka.
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana continues to write articles, leads retreats on vipassana, mindfulness, metta (Loving-kindness), right concentration, and other topics, and teaches at the Bhavana Society and all over the world.
StoryShot #1: The Problem
There is a great problem in society. We keep telling ourselves: “If only I had a bigger house. If only I had a nicer car. If only I had more money. If only I had a better wife. If only my kids weren’t so annoying.” In life, we are constantly chasing things, trying to get to the next level, to fix this pervading sense of tension that we have.
We numb ourselves with drugs and alcohol, TV shows, and social media to escape the boredom that is life. And the issue is that we have put a huge emphasis in society on education, flashy objects, the exterior things, and the superficial things that we can see whilst ignoring our inner worlds.
And it’s strange because we have all of these materialistic things and live in conditions that haven’t been improved and yet people’s happiness has been going down. Why is that? Our sense of control has been going down, addictions have been going up. Why is that? It’s because we haven’t tackled what’s most important.
StoryShot #2: The Illusion
Now the problem is we live in a self-created illusion. What’s an illusion? An illusion is something that’s not real. Think of a magic trick. When David Blaine or whomever your favorite magician does a trick, you know it’s flashy. It’s amazing, but at the end of the day, you know it’s not real. Now, the greatest illusion we play is on ourselves.
We can experience life through three modes: memories, thoughts, and mindfulness. Let’s say you have a vision in your mind of your second-grade teacher. That vision is a memory. It often plays out like a movie. Perhaps you can hear sounds or remember textures. When you become aware that it’s a memory or when you know that it’s a memory, that’s you being mindful.
When you say, “Oh, I’m having a memory.” That voice in your head is a thought. So those are the three distinct differences.
Now, awareness is the truest of them all because it’s you responding to your senses of what’s happening in the outside world, i.e. mindfulness.
But what we tend to do is stay stuck in our heads. We stay stuck in what people often call the “monkey mind”, which conceptualizes things. So imagine that a plate breaks in the room next to you. What do you do? Nine times out of ten, the first thing you’re going to do that’s going to happen automatically is you’re going to envision a plate breaking. You’re probably going to picture who’s dropping the plate and make a judgment like, “Oh, this is bad.” What’s happening there is you’ll get sapped out of the actual reality of the situation; the plate just falling and breaking. You’re creating a mental image, and that mental image is not real. It’s an illusion—your brain’s go-to. It’s useful when it’s needed. When you’re doing an engineering problem or when you’re planning your week, it’s useful to conceptualize things and think ahead; but we are consistently conceptualizing, and we are consistently creating stories in our minds that aren’t true.
And the biggest story that we create, the biggest illusion that we fabricate, is the illusion of ourselves. I will talk about that a little bit later.
Because we walk through life, stuck in our thoughts, we miss out on a lot of life. 10% of our experiences are great experiences. You win some money; you get your first girlfriend and you go out on a holiday. We grasp onto these experiences, these experiences that we labeled as good. Other times, some of the experiences are bad. You get fired; you gain weight and you get dumped. These are bad experiences, and we try to keep away from them. The other 80% of experiences are just neutral. They don’t really affect us that much. They’re boring. We tend to overlook them. So if you’re not careful, what tends to happen is you go throughout your life chasing the 10% high that you feel, running away from the other 10% of negative emotions, and 80% of the time, you don’t really pay attention. You’re stuck in your thoughts, thinking about the good feelings and running away from bad ones.
So you miss out on life. You live in your mind; you live in your thoughts, and this is a sickness. It just doesn’t seem like a sickness because 99% of the population is running that way. But this is the primary route of suffering. This is the primary root of discomfort. The cause of 99% of your problems is the fact that you live in a self-created world. You are not in the here and now… not paying attention to your life. You are not digging deeper. You’re stuck.
StoryShot #3: Meditation Myths
Now, the solution is Vipassana meditation, which is mindfulness meditation. But before getting to that, let’s talk about what meditation is not. Because a lot of people get caught up in a lot of misconceptions and myths.
Meditation is not otherworldly, right? It’s not religious. It’s not about fighting demons. It’s not about levitating. It’s not about becoming a psychic. Although some people would develop psychic abilities through meditation, later on, it’s not about that. It’s not about relaxation. It’s not about pleasure. You know, they’ve shown studies that the human body can create similar chemicals such as DMT. So you can create your own high. But it’s not about creating your own high and being stuck in this blissful state. That’s not what meditation is about.
Vipassana meditation/mindfulness is about awareness. It’s about penetrating reality. It’s not dangerous. A lot of people fear meditation because when you’re sitting down alone and you’re meditating, some repressed memories or thoughts from years ago could come up and cause some sort of trauma at their moment. But that’s not dangerous. That’s all we want. We want to confront these things. So don’t use these excuses. Let these myths derail you from meditation because there are a lot of perks that come from it.
“Buddhism advises you not to implant feelings that you don’t really have or avoid feelings that you do have. If you are miserable you are miserable; that is the reality, that is what is happening, so confront that. Look it square in the eye without flinching. When you are having a bad time, examine that experience, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart piece by piece. The trap can’t trap you if it has been taken to pieces. The result is freedom.”– Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
We rate this book 4.2/5.
“Deeply buried in the mind, there lies a mechanism that accepts what the mind experiences as beautiful and pleasant and rejects those experiences that are perceived as ugly and painful. This mechanism gives rise to those states of mind that we are training ourselves to avoid– things like greed, lust, hatred, aversion, and jealousy.”― Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy.”― Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“The irony of it is that real peace comes only when you stop chasing it—another Catch-22.”― Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“Patience is the key. Patience. If you learn nothing else from meditation, you will learn patience. Patience is essential for any profound change.”― Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“Buddhism advises you not to implant feelings that you don’t really have or avoid feelings that you do have. If you are miserable you are miserable; that is the reality, that is what is happening, so confront that. Look it square in the eye without flinching. When you are having a bad time, examine that experience, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart piece by piece. The trap can’t trap you if it has been taken to pieces. The result is freedom.”― Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is not.”― Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“Don’t set goals for yourself that are too high to reach. Be gentle with yourself. You are trying to follow your own breathing continuously and without a break. That sounds easy enough, so you will have a tendency at the outset to push yourself to be scrupulous and exacting. This is unrealistic. Take time in small units instead.”― Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
“The crucial thing is to be mindful of what is occurring, not to control what is occurring.”― Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
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