It might seem hard to believe that, in the din of today’s cacophony and crazy talk, we could have a great wisdom teacher in our midst, but we do indeed. Her name is Sharon Salzberg, an American Buddhist meditation leader, author and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.
An earthy, hard-won wisdom suffuses each of Salzberg’s discourses on Buddhist philosophy and meditation and their applicability to our postmodern age. With her new book "Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation" (Workman Books, 2011), Salzberg simply and methodically lays out a 28-day meditation program, complete with all the rules and tools that one needs to begin and sustain a meditation practice.
"Real Happiness" differs vastly in style from Salzberg’s previous books. In "Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness" (Shambala Publications, 2002), Salzberg delves deeply into the efficacy and esoterics of metta, or, lovingkindess meditation, which she did so much to help popularize throughout the west.
In "Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience" (Riverheard Trade, 2002), perhaps her best book to date, Salzberg’s prose is both erudite and mellifluous as she examines not only her own journey toward becoming a dharma instructor, but also how the issue of faith plays out in traditional Buddhism, a system that makes no reference to an external deity.
By contrast, "Real Happiness" is a straightforward guidebook, perfect for beginners in that it offers the nuts and bolts of practice without leaving readers wading in the high waters of metaphysics. Again and again, Salzberg makes clear that one doesn’t need to become a Buddhist or give up their current religion in order to meditate.
In practicing meditation, Salzberg says, "Our practice is, as much as possible to recognize our experience without getting lost in old, routine reactions." We might find that meditation brings us inner peace and that it helps us to slow down before flying off the handle when triggered, but we might also question how our own individual practice helps others outside of our immediate experience. Salzberg’s response to this is: "We’re connected to a vast network of lives and small daily shifts in behavior and intention can radiate outward exponentially."
In other words, we never know how much influence one simple act of kindness or restraint might have on events and circumstances beyond our purview. Meditation helps us to train in skillful thought, action and intention, and is therefore of incalculable value to our own lives and the lives of others.
Salzberg provides basic instruction in traditional meditation techniques (breathing meditation, walking meditation, meditation on emotions), along with scientific testimony from today’s foremost experts on the benefits of meditation. The book also contains a CD of four guided meditations to facilitate our practice, whether we are beginners or longtime practitioners.
Shot through with easy-to-follow lessons and the most practical advice around, there is simply no better book, and no better teacher, to get started on a meditation program with than "Real Happiness" by Sharon Salzberg.
by Sharon Salzberg
Publisher: Workman Publishing. Publication Date: Dec. 29. 2010. Pages: 224. Price: $14.95. ISBN-13: 978-0-761-159-254