Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World
Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World

Book Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World

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Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das is a profound and illuminating guide to Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and practice. Spanning over 400 pages, this comprehensive work provides a detailed overview of the key concepts, teachings, meditations, and insights that form the foundation of Tibetan Buddhism.

The book opens with an insightful foreword by the Dalai Lama, who praises Lama Surya Das' ability to present these ancient teachings in a way that is accessible and applicable for modern Western readers. The first few chapters provide background on Buddhism in Tibet and introduce core ideas like the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. From there, the book dives deeper into the Four Noble Truths, karma, rebirth, emptiness, bodhichitta, and a variety of meditation techniques.

One exceptionally strong aspect of Awakening the Buddha Within is how skillfully Lama Surya Das blends together the philosophical and the practical. Chapters delve into profound subject matter like the nature of self and reality, but always connect these concepts to our moment-to-moment experience. The book offers an abundance of meditation practices and contemplative exercises that enable the reader to directly apply the wisdom of the Buddha in their own life.

For example, in the chapter on karma, Lama Surya Das not only explains the principles of intentional action and causality, but also provides specific meditations and reflection questions to help recognize unskillful patterns and cultivate more constructive habits. Likewise, the discussion of wisdom is paired with calm abiding meditations designed to develop penetrative insight into the nature of existence. This tapestry of philosophical exposition and practical application is woven throughout the entire book.

One of the standout qualities of Awakening the Buddha Within is the non-dogmatic, ecumenical approach Lama Surya Das takes. He presents Tibetan Buddhism not as an ideology to adopt, but as a collection of methods for achieving spiritual awakening. The book emphasizes recognizing the Buddha nature in all beings and skillfully integrating whatever spiritual practices help us live with greater compassion, wisdom, and fulfillment.

Lama Surya Das' tone is inviting, patient, and good-humored. The book introduces complex philosophies like Madhyamaka and tantra in an accessible way, avoiding arcane terminology when possible. Surya Das employs vivid metaphors and relatable examples to illustrate subtle insights about the non-solidity of phenomena or the luminous clarity of mind. While dense at times, the book is written in a personal voice that feels like studying at the feet of a kind teacher.

With its inclusive approach, bounty of practices, and masterful synthesis of the philosophical and pragmatic, Awakening the Buddha Within lives up to its ambitious title. Surya Das provides an illuminating guide to the spiritual path laid out by Tibetan Buddhism while encouraging readers to find their own inner refuge. This epic work is sure to be treasured by lay Buddhist practitioners and seasoned monks alike as both a profound contemplative manual and an indispensible reference book. After reading Awakening the Buddha Within, one comes away with not just an intellectual understanding, but an experiential glimpse into the vast wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

What about time?

“They say that time is a great teacher but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.”

The book provides some interesting perspectives on time from the Tibetan Buddhist viewpoint:

- It discusses how our normal perception of time as linear and absolute is an illusion. Time is perceived differently in meditative states compared to ordinary consciousness.

- Our experience of time changes when we are no longer clinging to an abstract sense of self. When the mind is still, we transcend habitual time orientation.

- Karma and rebirth point to time being much vaster than our current lifespan. Our actions reverberate across lifetimes.

- The book describes "wheel of time" teachings that see time as cyclical, with realms and worlds arising and dissolving.

- Meditations like dream yoga show we can manipulate experiences of time, as in lucid dreams. This hints at time being more relative and mind-created.

- Texts like The Tibetan Book of the Dead detail the "bardos"- transitional states where the notion of linear time dissolves.

- Ultimately, time is described as a contingent designation, empty of inherent existence like all phenomena. It is something projected by the mind.

In summary, Awakening the Buddha Within portrays time as fluid, mind-dependent and devoid of absolute qualities - challenging our habitual assumptions about the nature of time. The book emphasizes transcending rigid notions of time through practices like meditation.

What about work?

Here are some of the key perspectives the book offers about work:

- Work is seen as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, compassion and skillful action. Even mundane work can be made meaningful.

- Attachment to outcomes of work should be avoided, as it leads to frustration. Work is encouraged as service rather than for status.

- The book advocates balancing work with other areas of life like relationships, recreation and spiritual development. Workaholism is seen as unhealthy.

- Skill in one's work arises from focused discipline, but goals should not be pursued harshly. Gentleness balanced with diligence is ideal.

- Work environments can be approached as communities. Co-workers are to be treated with kindness, not competition.

- Physical work such as crafts and gardening are valued for their meditative benefits. Manual labor calms the mind.

- Generosity and right livelihood are encouraged, ensuring one's work does not harm others or the environment.

- Life's purpose extends beyond any one job. Work is one component of our human potential, not the sole focus.

In summary, the book portrays work as most meaningful when done with mindfulness, ethics and balance. Work enables us to serve others while developing focus and talents. But attachment to work is cautioned against.

Book organization:

Awakening the Buddha Within is organized into ten parts, each exploring a key aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. In Part One, Lama Surya Das examines the Buddha's life and the core concepts like the Four Noble Truths. Part Two is all about meditation, with chapters covering different techniques like calm abiding, insight meditation, tantric visualizations, dream yoga, and Dzogchen.

These meditation instructions are very detailed, often providing step-by-step guides that even a beginner could follow. For example, when teaching breath awareness meditation, Surya Das walks through how to sit, align your spine, relax your body, work with distractions, and cultivate moments of inner stillness. He offers landmarks to look for when stabilizing the mind, as well as common obstacles that may arise.

Part Three focuses on the bodhisattva path, emphasizing the Mahayana teachings on wisdom, compassion, skillful means, and recognizing our interconnectedness. In Part Four, Surya Das explores profound philosophical topics like emptiness, dependent origination, and the two truths doctrine. He uses vivid metaphors to elucidate these complex concepts. For instance, to explain emptiness, he compares experiencing life like a rainbow - vibrant yet insubstantial, contingently arising due to many factors.

Part Five covers Tibetan Buddhist cosmology, explaining realms of existence, karma, rebirth, and the six bardos. Part Six provides detail on the many Buddhas, yidams, dakas, dakinis and other tantric deities. Part Seven explains the preliminary practices that prepare one for Vajrayana teachings. Parts Eight and Nine get into the nitty-gritty of Deity and Mahamudra meditation. Finally, Part Ten concludes by emphasizing integrating these practices into daily living.

Throughout the book, Surya Das aims to present Tibetan Buddhism in an accessible, inclusive way for Westerners. He is learned but down-to-earth, rarely using esoteric Tibetan terms without offering definitions. With its unique blend of profound philosophy and practical meditation, this in-depth book succeeds as the comprehensive guide to Tibetan Buddhism it sets out to be. Let me know if you would like me to expand on any part of this summary further!

Quotes from the book:

“With every breath, the old moment is lost; a new moment arrives. We exhale and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In doing so, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming. In doing so, we welcome the person we are becoming. We repeat the process. This is meditation. This is renewal. This is life.”

“Breath by breath, let go of fear, expectation, anger, regret, cravings, frustration, fatigue. Let go of the need for approval. Let go of old judgments and opinions. Die to all that, and fly free. Soar in the freedom of desirelessness.

"Let go. Let Be. See through everything and be free, complete, luminous, at home -- at ease.”

“Having a calling or meaningful and fulfilling purpose in life does not necessarily mean being drawn to a certain kind of job, task, or professional mission. Many people are compelled instead to commit themselves to a particular set of values - ones that they infuse into every aspect of their life, regardless of the various roles they play or situations they address as they go through their daily lives.”

“People sometimes find Buddhism pessimistic, saying there is too much talk about death. It’s essential to understand that Buddhists don’t contemplate death because they are morbid or depressed; they focus on death, mortality, and human frailty as a means of better understanding and appreciating life.”
Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World

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