This deep-thinking primer presents Buddhist meditation as a treatment that alleviates normal unhappiness better than the methods of modern psychotherapeutic tradition.
Psychologist Chapelle’s (The Soul in Everyday Life, 2003, etc.) discussion, built around eight “Views,” or principles, poses a radical challenge to Western notions of the psyche, identity, and knowledge. Unhappiness, he argues, rises from our obsession with an untenable sense of who we are and a mistaken belief that we have a “personal self” at all. To resolve it and attain a “profound cheerfulness,” he says, we must suspend fixed beliefs about our identities (and everything else) and open up to a vast and formless “awareness itself” that’s the true stuff of reality behind ephemeral objects and events. He also advocates exchanging judgmental moralism for an ethic of emulating idealized role models (like the Buddha) and ceasing our anxious, future-oriented busyness to live in the immediate here and now. The eight meditative “Practices” accompanying these lessons mainly consist of contemplative exercises that rejigger perspectives by defusing obsessive, particularistic thoughts with metaphors—stillness, silence, mirrors, space, seas—and activities. One practice involves imagining the mythic hero Manjushri touching his flaming sword of enlightenment to false beliefs in order to dematerialize them; another has practitioners do some mundane task, such as dressing, very slowly in order to immerse themselves in the moment. Mystical themes abound in this book: the oneness of all being; the dissolution of the individual in oceanic connectedness (the bogus distinction between “self and not-self,” the author says, is “the source of all unhappiness”); the futility of purposive action; and direct experience, not intellectual discourse, as the path to understanding. These notions have some intrinsic murkiness, but for the most part, Chapelle’s exposition of Buddhist doctrine is lucid and readable, and it broadens into insightful commentary on points of contention and resonance with the Abrahamic faiths. Although Chapelle discounts Western psychology’s central concept of an ego struggling with psychic trauma, his meditative techniques will strike many readers as a cogent approach to dealing with everyday neurosis.
A probing, useful guide to soothing the soul with Buddhist teachings.