Saturday, 6 June 2009

Review of Bodhipaksa’s “Still the Mind”

* Full disclosure: Bodhipaksa was my first meditation teacher, way back in 2000-2002, when he taught at The University of Montana and the Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center. I also worked with him in the early days of and am currently a contributor to the blog there (so yea, I might be a bit biased).

Whether it was yesterday or years ago, most us have seen an image of the Buddha, or of someone meditating. These images of peace, calm, and happiness often have the power to stop our mind in its tracks. And it was likely just such an image that attracted us to meditation in the first place. Bodhipaksa thus wisely introduces this two-CD set on meditation with a recollection of this imagery and the story of the Buddha’s own journey from a wealthy and indulgent youth to the picture of contentment that we know today.

The Buddha’s story, interwoven with bits of Bodhipaksa’s own, serves to connect us to the human realities of the teacher, to in a way reassure us that our reality is not so far removed from his and others who, through the centuries, have achieved the lasting states of joy and calm that arise from a stilled mind. The point of these stories is to show us that we too can achieve this stillness and that just as they did, we must simply start where we are.

With this, Bodhipaksa leads us through a short meditation followed by a discussion of the five hindrances. Here it seems natural to pause the CD and ask ourselves where the hindrances arise most in our lives. Do we live out our days wrapped in the false comfort of anger toward the world, or perhaps indulgence in sense pleasures? With some thought we will discover one or two that are most dominant for us. As Bodhipaksa notes though, the hindrances, “are not really the enemy, they’re just ineffective strategies for finding happiness.” Seeing them as such, we gently uncover these cycles that have unconsciously dominated so much of our lives.

This practice, Bodhipaksa assures us, opens up space for conscious choice and freedom. This space is where we begin to break free of old cycles, to actively become kinder, to develop patience and awareness. In other words, to begin to give light to our own Buddha nature. Just how this works is too complex for now, but rest assured that we are given an expert analysis, free of jargon and filled with authentic and useful metaphors.

By the time we begin the guided mindfulness of breathing meditation on the end of the first CD, we are convinced of not only our own potential for Buddha-like calm and happiness, but also the effectiveness of this simple process for getting us there. This guided meditation, ranging over four tracks, both leads us and piques our interest in the process of meditation, taking what is too often seen as a bland and boring project and turning it into an intricate journey into our own minds.

Session 2.

In our second sitting, Bodhipaksa offers guidance for the long path of developing and deepening a regular meditation practice. Meditation is, as he notes, not a quick fix. We do not listen once to the CD and walk away enlightened. At least I didn’t. But what we do get is one of the clearest guide-maps we will ever find of the territory between us and awakening.

The second CD concludes with two single-track meditations, the first a body scan meditation and the second a mindfulness of breathing (this time filled with much more silence and less illustration and explanation than when this process was introduced in the first CD).

As briefly noted before, these CDs will serve you best if listened to in chunks, with pen and paper handy, perhaps also a cup of tea and some calm music (I’m listening to the Crystal Voices CD, “Sounds of Light” which serves well to block out the acoustic disturbances of the coffee shop around me). Be prepared to pause the CDs often (but not while in the meditations!) to reflect on a point or take a note. But don’t let reflection and note-taking fall into daydreaming and a journaling exercise.

Stay in the process, perhaps dedicating a set amount of time to listen and reflect. I would even recommend trying to start off with a couple hours to take in the whole experience. For me the initial listening was about 40 minutes in a hot bath, just to get a ‘taste’ of the process. Then I came to the coffee shop, where I have now sat for almost three hours listening. In my listening I have tried to keep my mind with each stage, following the introduction, the brief meditation and discussion of hindrances and so on. The layout of the first CD in short tracks with titles such as “The five hindrances” and “What is mindfulness” helps tremendously in keeping this wild mind on the topic at hand.

Typically in closing a review I try to find some sort of criticism or idea for improvement, but today – perhaps feeling overly zen-like after nearly three hours of Bodhipaksa’s calming voice and Scottish accent – I am having a very hard time thinking of anything. These are CDs I will recommend to anyone interested in a clear and direct introduction to meditation practice. It has served me as a valuable reminder of the key steps of the practice and I know I will listen again and again, both for my own practice and as a primer for teaching meditation to others.

(cross-posted at American Buddhist Perspective)


  1. Thanks Justin. You know for me, practice itself has always been the weak point in my 'practice' as over the last couple years since I've stop seeing my Zen Master I haven't been that serious about it. This looks like a good book to get back on track with!

    Thanks, Kyle

  2. This sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation! I'll get it coming. I've always had an odd view of guided it was restraining in some way. It will be nice to try something different.

  3. yea, Kyle, practice is a weak point for me too. I tend to spend way too much time 'thinking about' Buddhism and meditation and too little actually doing it. These CDs and a very calm Saturday afternoon helped to fix that.

    Siteunseen - restraining is a good word for it, but for our untrained minds this is (usually) a very good thing.