Monday, May 18, 2015

The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness / Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche -- N.Y.: Harmony Books, 2007

In 2002, Yongey Mingyur was among a small number of Buddhist monks who came to the University of Wisconsin to become the subjects of a psychological study of long-term meditation adepts.  This study was among the groundbreaking research that has made the interaction between Western psychology and Buddhism so fruitful in recent years.  Subsequently, Yongey Mingyur has written a number of books on Buddhism, particularly Buddhist meditation.  The Joy of Living is among these books.

The Joy of Living is an endearing combination of personal stories, advice on meditation, Buddhist doctrine, and explanations of scientific discoveries that are important to the Buddhist worldview.  For example, Yongey Mingyur describes how neuroplasticity is related to the Buddhist practice of training one's mind and he lays out the similarities between contemporary theories in physics and the Buddhist conceptions of impermanence and emptiness.

Most significant, however, is his advice on meditation.  In a nut shell, Yongey Migyur demystifies meditation, explaining that it is not something that requires great effort.  Instead, one can begin a meditation practice simply by taking the time to passively observe the feelings, experiences, and thoughts that come to one's mind.  Furthermore, meditation need not involve retiring to a quiet secluded place, but can be done anywhere and for even very short periods of time.  Distractions that are normally thought to be impediments to meditation are, for Yongey Mingyur, simply objects upon which one might meditate.

One suspects, however, that this description of meditation is merely preliminary to a more advanced practice.  Beginning by observing one's feelings, experiences, and thoughts certainly allows one to distance oneself from the activity of "the monkey brain" that normally drives us from one mental phenomenon to the next.  With that distance, one is then in a position to control (or at least nuance) one's mental phenomena and bend it toward the non-attachment that characterizes enlightenment.  Yongey Mingyur's preliminary practice is certainly a necessary step toward the more advance, practice that is less casual what he encourages.

Most of all, Yongey Mingyur's literary style is conversation and extremely accessible, even while he explains extremely difficult ideas in Buddhist doctrine.