issue 21 autumn 03
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A Meditation Retreat

Alan and Jacqui James
Aukana Publishing 2002, £6.95 p/b

Drawn from a series of talks given on introductory retreats, this book provides a useful framework for those new to meditation. One of the authors, Alan James, was ordained as a monk in Thailand in the 1950s and, with his wife, Jacqui, they established The House of Inner Tranquillity in Wiltshire, south-west England.

Their long experience of meditation and Dhamma study as practitioners and as teachers is evident in the breadth of topics covered - as well as the encouraging immediacy of the talks. The inspiring heart of the book is a practical look at the four foundations of mindfulness, which are seen as the basis for vipassana or insight meditation. This emphasis is balanced by a description of loving-kindness meditation and an introduction to reflection on central Buddhist teachings, including the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Three Marks of conditioned existence.

The first chapter sets meditation clearly in context: after warning that 'any view of Enlightenment is suspect', it explores what Enlightenment might mean to western Buddhists. The authors emphasise that meditation and reflection will assist us in becoming happier and more fulfilled. They advise that instead of avoiding negative feelings, like anxiety, we turn the mind towards any underlying distress. Giving attention to our experience helps to cool the heat of the worries, doubts or irritations.

In this short, informative volume the authors optimistically outline the potential of Buddhist practice in daily life. And they remind us that: 'Meditation is to turn around, stop looking in the wrong direction, and come to realise what you already knew'.

Aideen Curtis is production manager of Dharma Life