*For full disclosure I’ll mention that Bodhipaksa was my first meditation teacher, “way back in the day,” as they say (in the fall of 2000 in Missoula, MT). However, since he got his business degree and his website became wildly successful, he’s managed to avoid me well for quite some time and even waited for me to be safely in India before returning to Missoula on his recent book tour.
The book unfolds as an offering (dāna). What is offered is an alternative to our unhappiness, our mere fleeting happiness, and our chasing of ever more happiness. The alternative is framed around the Buddhist Six Element Practice. But as Bodhipaksa says, this is not “a ‘Buddhist book.’” While the traditional Buddhist Six Element Practice forms the spine of the book, the heart is as fresh and modern as the many psychology experiments and quantum physics theories you will read about in its pages. It consists of fifteen chapters, plus an introduction, filled with philosophy, mythology, science, poetry, and the author’s own experiences, all winding a common path toward the destruction of our habitual, and false, idea that we have an unchanging self.
In fact “Living Like a River” begins with a psychology experiement in which a professor asked subjects to imagine the death of their partner. The result? The subjects, “reported feeling more positive about their relationships and less troubled by their significant others’ annoying quirks.” This makes the point that, more often than not, the things that we think will make us happy, do not – and the things that we think might make us unhappy – or be simply morbid, like imagining death – can actually improve our lives.
And so the book marches forth, beginning at times with a bit of poetry, a story from Bodhipaksa’s life, or an interesting fact from recent scientific research, all woven together around the key insights first elucidated by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, some 2500 years ago. The purpose of the book isn’t to be “about Buddhism” as the quote mentioned above makes clear. It is about a way of thinking, a way of seeing clearly (or cultivating “insight” as the Buddhist meditation vipassanā is commonly translated) ourselves and the world. For all readers, it should be a joyful jorney through a hand-picked series of scientific articles and discoveries, poetry, and anecdotes. It is lucidly written, and even consistently funny (a nice change of pace for some of us!).
As I re-skim it now to write this, I find quote after quote and story after story that I’d love to recount for their simple and direct teaching power. But alas, I’ll spare you all of that and just suggest you get the book yourself. You’ll be glad you did. (available at Soundstrue or Amazon)
Cross-posted at Progressive Buddhism.