Theravada training ...
Ah, the mysteries of the Newberry Library Book Fair
… there are always strange inclusions that one wonders came from a private collector, now deceased, a library moving out old volumes, or what. As I've noted in previous reviews of books from that over the years, sometimes there are dedications, book plates, or assorted ephemera which can give you some idea of how that particular (old) book found its way to one of the many dozen tables across the ground floor of the Newberry, but this time I drew a blank.
Not only did I draw a blank, the current volume didn't even have an ISBN, or even particularly specific publication data (although it does have info on the printer and an address, of the author, to send donations if one was so inclined). According to the (unnamed) Translators' preface (from July of 1989) the author, Phra Ācariya Thoon Khippapañño, is an “abbot of a forest monastery in northeastern Thailand”
who has written several books, Beyond the Stream of the World
being one of a series.
I bring this up because this slim volume isn't the typical “Buddhism book” out there, as the author is writing very much from a narrow context, and, while the book is
targeted to a novice audience, it is coming out of the specific Theravada environment, so has notable differences (most notably in spellings here) from the more familiar Mahayana branches of India, Tibet (Vajrayana), and Japan (Zen). Much of this book is focused on having the student study the “right” materials and practices, which, obviously, relates to this focus. Here's a bit from one of the introductory sections:
The practice on mind development is a very delicate process. It involves all-round knowledge to avoid possible misunderstandings. It is not the case that all the realizations, which arise in the course of the practice, are true, because these realizations can arise from two different sources: Right View and Wrong View. The two lead to completely different ends. The knowledge gained from right views teaches the mind and raises it to a higher level of Dhamma practice in line with the Noble Path (Magga), which leads to the Final Goal (Nibbána), the cessation of all defilements and suffering. In contrast, knowledge from wrong views leads the mind in a wrong direction forever, and the chance of returning to the right line of Dhamma is very remote.
While the book is quite short, it's also quite intense, and one gets the impression that this was developed our of work with young monks who needed to be “whipped into shape”, and much of this stern hand finds its way onto the pages here. The book is in two sections, the main “discussion” comprising 22 topics, plus an appendix which presents a number of approaches to a walking and sitting meditation. I suppose it's a tribute to the author that this is a very dense, and at points difficult, read … as a lot of books of its size would be far less challenging, and there is little here that does not demand to be chewed over with deliberate concentration!
In the “Concluding Remarks” section, the author writes:
“A Dhamma student must use wisdom to find a deft way to eradicate harmful memories, suppositions and fabricated thoughts from the mind, using mindfulness to restrain the heart and wisdom to contemplate the negative side of sights, sounds, etc., at all times.”
... which at that point is very cogent, clear, and comprehensible, not, what I would guess, would be most readers' reactions coming to this cold.
As such, I have to give this credit for being a very effective introductory book to the author's school of Buddhist thought … he presents a fairly complete over-view of the religion, addresses many points which are essential to the practitioner, and sets up the basic structure for the student to follow, then adds on practical instruction in key meditations.
Again, Beyond the Stream of the World
is not an “easy read” but it's a “quality read” for a background in Theravada. It appears that these are intended for free distribution, and while a couple of copies “are out there” from the usual suspects, you might look closer to the source for a copy. In fact, I found a couple of groups operating out of Malaysia (HERE
) which offer to send out free books (and they have close to a hundred titles each), just requesting that you send them the equivalent of the postage once you've received the books. However, I've also discovered that the text of the book is also available on-line at the DharmaWeb
site … which, needless to say, would be your most cost-effective way to go if you don't need to have the dead-tree version in hand!