The Best Guide
Victor N. Davich
(Renaissance)This is one of those innumerable New Age books that would send Pat Robertson into interstellar orbit. Which, now that we think about it, might not be such a bad idea.
Our own recommendation on The Best Guide to Meditation is, initially, a firm maybe. We know Thoreau's dictum --- simplify simplify simplify; but to simplify the mainstay of 25% of the religions of the world seems rather silly --- especially since the act of meditation itself is so tricky. Shut down "the monkey mind" so it's not batting around madly inside the cage the brain seems like a great idea. Let thoughts obtrude, but don't react to them seems like a no-brainer, if we may coin a phrase. Bring the mind gently back to its appropriate study --- namely, nothing.
As Henepola Gunaratana once said, when asked about the beginnings of meditation,
Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless.
No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You're also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation: they have not...The very fact that you have looked at the problem straight in the eye means that you are on your way up and out of it
In other words, and as anyone who has tried it has found --- this, the most simple of disciplines, can not only induce one to know that one is nuts, the knowledge can well drive one bananas. Trying to still the mind is like trying to hold back a steam-roller by pushing against it with bare hands.
What further discouraged us in Davich's book is that it's crammed with the many show-off techniques that publishers use to draw the idiot MTV generation into actually reading a book: sidebars, italics, huge type (great, however, for us geezers), half-tones, simple line drawings, pull-quotes, headlines, double-burns, white space, bullets, cartoons --- naturally in this case those not-
so- funny- ha- ha bean-like figures out of Tricycle. All these print tricks are designed to capture those who have decided for some strange reason that they want to stop booming and start blooming.
The Best does have its moments. It's a succinct review --- a paragraph or two --- of damn near everything one could want to know about meditation in general, as well as mindfulness, stress reduction, "mindful dreaming," mantras, counting breath, visualizations, silence, koans ("On top of a flagpole a cow gives birth to a calf") and that slightly oxymoronic run-on phrase which is the touchstone of the mystical nineties: "lovingkindness."
There are quotes aplenty, including all the old faves (Ram Dass, Alan Watts, George Santayana, Dogen, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Toyota and the Land Cruisers) as well as the rare (Margaret Stevens, Joseph Goldstein, Tarthang Tulku, Tsiang Samdup, the Karmatic Kidz, and Baba Boobie Baby).
In other words, it's a summary of the whole world of what we used to call "eastern religions," what ten generations of colonialists (seriously) referred to as "the Eastern Ways."
The author includes the rare and the obscure: Vishuddha ("The fifth chakra"), tratakam (the Tantric mode of visualization), the Metta Sutra. By the same token, he leaves out such historicallly important masters as Ramakrishna (who could fall into samadhi at the drop of a turban) or Vivekanada (who did as much as any for introducing America to the new Hinduism).
Davish writes like one who wants to reach young money managers on the tantric go, but it can be a bit grating at times, ("In a trance, Cayce's suggestions were on the money!") Still, for an overview for anyone who wants to get into the meditation biz ASAP, this might be it. At least this year.
Oh yes --- he left out another of the major mainstay guru masters of our day, the Flying Karamazovs. One of their lines is,
"In the beginning, there was nothing," says one of them, describing the creation of the Universe. "And God said Let there be light. And then, there was still nothing, but you could see it."