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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



see Consciousness, Zen

MEDITATION MADE EASY by Lorin Roche ($16.00, paperback, 198 pages, Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 006251542X) HARPER AUDIO

There are many good introductions to meditation around but few can compare to getting down to the essence of what meditation is as well and as free of cant and traditionalism as does this little book by Roche. It may be a commonplace to call this an instant classic but really there is no better advice around. It could save you hours of fruitless self-deluding practice and lure you immediately into the pleasures and rewards of a natural mind and being okay with your self.

You've probably heard about the benefits of meditation: Sharper thinking,reduced stress, improved concentration, lower blood pressure, even increased sexual pleasure-all of these positive effects have been confirmed by science. So what's holding you back? Perhaps you don't see yourself signing up with a guru. Or twisting yourself into a lotus position while repeating a mantra. Or spending hours trying to let go of desire and empty your mind. But what if meditating were as easy and pleasurable as eating a dish of ice cream? In this uniquely accessible guide, Lorin Roche proves that meditation is that easy-and even more pleasurable.

Roche begins by answering questions and debunking myths, most of which have to do with meditation's long association with Eastern religions. He then gives you three easy-to-follow techniques for getting started-"the Do
Nothing Technique," "Salute Each of the Senses," and "Feeling at Home Exercise"-and shows you how to integrate "mini meditations" into spare moments of your day, from savoring your morning coffee to taking
advantage of the five minutes before a meeting. He explains how to overcome meditation obstacles, customize meditation to your own needs, and use your breath, voice, and attention as meditation aids. And he shows how meditation will give you the power to explore your inner passions-and enrich your sense of self.

About the Author: Lorin Roche, Ph.D., has been a meditation trainer for three decades. Since 1975 he has developed and taught innovative meditation techniques that are specially tailored to North American lifestyles. He lives in Marina del Rey, California.

ZEN AND THE BRAIN: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness by James H. Austin, ($40.00, hardcover, 844 pages, MIT Press, ISBN: 0262011646)

In this book Zen Buddhism becomes the opening wedge for an extraordinarily wide-ranging exploration of consciousness. In order to understand which brain mechanisms produce Zen states, one needs some understanding of the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain. Austin, both a neurologist and a Zen practitioner, interweaves the most recent brain research with the personal narrative of his Zen experiences. The science is both inclusive and rigorous; the Zen sections are clear and evocative. Along the way, Austin examines such topics as similar states in other disciplines and religions, sleep and dreams, mental illness, consciousness-altering drugs, and the social consequences of the advanced stage of ongoing enlightenment. This work is obviously a work of serious devotion to the puzzles of human awareness and a state-of-the-art survey of what is known of the psychophysiology of consciousness.

Aldous Huxley called humankind’s basic trend toward spiritual growth the "perennial philosophy." In the view of James Austin, the trend implies a "perennial psychophysiology" - because awakening, or enlightenment, occurs when the human brain undergoes substantial changes. What are the peak experiences of enlightenment? How could these states profoundly enhance, and yet simplify, the workings of the brain? ZEN AND THE BRAIN presents the latest evidence.

James H. Austin, M.D., is Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. He is the author of CHASE, CHANCE, AND CREATIVITY (Columbia University Press) and the author or co-author of more than 130 publications in the fields of neurochemistry, neuropharmacology, and clinical neurology.

MASTERY of AWARENESS: Living the Agreements by Doha Bernadette Vigil with Arlene Broska, Ph.D. Foreword by don Miguel Ruiz (Inner Traditions) Break free from the layers of self‑limiting thoughts. Uncover your true self. Fulfill your complete potential as a human being. Make the changes that will transform your life. Master your awareness.

`This is a fascinating description of the transformation of a woman who lived her life victimized by her own beliefs and judgments about the role of a woman in society. With touching authenticity, she shares her transformation from a helpless victim into a woman of power and wisdom. Dona Bernadette and I have worked together for more than ten years. Like the many people whose lives have been enriched by Dona Bernadette's teachings, you may find in this book the opportunity to change the direction of your life." ‑Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements and The Four Agreements Companion Book

Doha Bernadette Vigil travels worldwide presenting Toltec wisdom workshops and leading power journeys. She also continues to teach with nagual don Miguel Ruiz. A professional artist whose work has been widely exhibited, Dona Bernadette lives in New Mexico.

MEDITATION by Klaus Engel Meditation Vol. I: History and Present Time Vol. II: Empirical Research and Theory ( Vol. I: $48.95, hardcover, 243 pages, 0820432733; Vol. II: $39.95, hardcover; 178 pages 082043275X; Peter Lang)

Meditation can be viewed as a path along which spiritual change and perfection can be achieved. The historical review gives an account of the development of meditation both in the Orient India, Tibet, China and Japan and in the Western World Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The development of meditation in modern times is illustrated in the biographies of prominent representatives from both the Eastern and the Western World. The section of the book that deals with the systematics of meditation describes the practical procedures of individual meditative paths. Volume I provides the historical background for Volume II, a treatise on Empirical Research and Theory.

The volume is especially good at giving a synopsis of the general religious traditions of meditation in Christian perspective. The sections dealing with Judaism and Islam are much too brief and rely too uncritically upon secondary sources. The best sections of the book deal with some major lines of meditation practice emerging from modern India and a solid introduction to Zen following the well known Ox herding sequence from Japan.

Meditation Volume II forms a link to the accounts of experience detailed in Volume I and operationalizes them for empirical research. The first two chapters summarize the vast number of empirical studies several hundred and divides them into physiological and mental correlatives. The studies relate to inpatients, the workplace, normal test persons higher states of consciousness, negative results, side effects and prognostic factors of meditation. The third chapter treats of theoretical models, followed by a section on measuring instruments. The appendix introduces a research project questionnaire.

The research strategies offered in the second volume provide a good introductory survey of emprical research and some research results not otherwise available in English.

Contents: Vol.. I. Historical roots of meditation The lives of prominent figures in meditation of the present Meditative paths and accounts of experience depicting what meditation strives to achieve. Vol., II. Empirical studies Physiological, mental, inpatients, workplace studies ‘higher states’, negative results, side effects, prognostic factors Theoretical Models Measuring Instruments Research Project.

Klaus Engel: After studying psychology and medicine Klaus Engel trained as a psychoanalyst, working and teaching at the University Clinics of Heidelberg and Hamburg. He is currently Professor of Psychosomatics at the University of Bochum. Having first become acquainted with meditation at a Buddhist Monastery in Sri Lanka, K. Engel is now a practitioner of Zen Buddhist meditation.

The German edition of "The History and Science of Meditation" published in 1995 has been such a success that it is almost out of print. So it was decided to publish an English edition to make the book available to a wider readership. Since the book is being constantly extended and improved so as to take into account the increasing amount of empirical and other relevant literature available, the English language edition has been published in two volumes.


The English edition of Volume I has been extended by the insertion of a chapter on Contemporary Meditation which includes brief biographies of several prominent representatives of contemporary meditative movements. Our choice is not systematic and therefore does not imply any evaluation of those who are not included. We relate what has impressed us most because we believe that reading about meditation will inspire the individual and advance the meditative movement in equal measure.

As a rule the preface to a book is written at the end here too. Meditation Volume 2 presents a summary of empirical research, attempts to set up a theoretical structure of the subject matter and concludes with a discussion of measuring instruments with which to achieve a more precise description of meditation. The appendix provides an overview of a research project that will revolve around two concepts: meditation development steps along the meditative path, for example the traditional Zen story of the ox and his herdsman which we have retold in the previous volume. The other chapters of Volume I deal with the historical roots of meditation, the biographies of prominent figures in meditation and accounts of experience illustrating the final goal of the meditative path.

The second concept of the research project is connectedness: the reconciliation of the two levels of existence. Though the traditional expressions ‘immanence’ and ‘transcendence’ will continue to exist, new schools of meditation will find new appellations.

The meditative movement will continue to be accompanied by research so as to provide objective results and enhance communication between different theoretical concepts and the various paths.

For centuries meditation has been practiced both in eastern and western civilizations as a practical way of changing and perfecting the human being. As a consequence of intercultural exchange meditation today has become the focus of interest and of discussion of theory and practice. Empirical research on phenomena related to meditation has been carried out for several decades now, so that a large amount of literature is available on this subject. One of the effects of the transcultural exchange is that we are now getting an ever clearer picture of the range of phenomena that are paraphrased using the concept of meditation. An insight into meditative traditions and empirical studies shows us how the many theories of meditation relate one to the other: each culture often describes quite similar phenomena using its indigenous language. The exchange between the various approaches and research has brought about a state of theoretical reduction and, in some areas, the complete secularization of meditation, for example as a medical technique in the sense of a relaxation procedure. But the advantage of taking meditation out of its original context is also significant: on the one hand it makes meditation accessible to people who consider philosophical or religious systems to be suspect or even superfluous; on the other hand empirical research is in a position to investigate meditative phenomena objectively. To make sure that the price to be paid for theoretical reduction is not too high we have chosen to present a historical review of meditation (Chapter 2), describe a number of important figures in present-day meditation (Chapter 3), characterize the diversity of meditative paths (Chapter 4) and in particular to attempt a transcription of the aims of meditation (Chapter 5). In conclusion, in Volume II we give an account of empirical research (Chapter 6); we attempt to present a theory of meditation (Chapter 7) and describe methods of inquiry with which to investigate a meditative path (Chapter 8). In order to help the reader to find his way through the multitude of meditative approaches we would like to divide them into what we call ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ procedures. The introvert meditative approaches strive to achieve absorption within the soul and integration of the depths of the soul, as the main experience in the language of Christianity has been termed, or integration of the dimension of the soul which is called samadhi in Indian Hindu tradition. Contrasting with these introvert approaches are the rather more extrovert approaches which devote themselves to processing existent and externally directed consciousness, thus leading to the highest experience known as satori, a term from Zen Buddhism which we will define later. A simple way of telling which meditative path a person has decided on is the distinction between meditation with the eyes closed (introvert) and meditation with the eyes open (extrovert). We would like to show that both introvert and extrovert meditation strive to achieve the same goal: unio, unity, mastery of the subject object dichotomy. In practice reconciliation between the two forms of meditation often occurs right from the start so the question of open or closed eyes does not arise. The Zen Buddhist path speaks of the ‘blind view’ or ‘looking but not seeing’. Breathing also joins ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ thus taking a first concrete step towards initiating mastery of the subject object dichotomy.

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