A new book about meditation is finding an audience among readers—and some booksellers—who call it a constructive, peaceful alternative to the fearful, aggressive tone in much of the country and Washington.
The book is Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham (Riverhead), and it focuses on meditation as a way of "training" the mind so that, among many other things, the meditator discovers his or her own "basic goodness" and learns to keep the mind from working in ways that make the meditator and others suffer.
The author, called the Sakyong, is the director of Shambhala International, an organization with worldwide meditation and retreat centers. He was raised in India and the U.S. and is a lama, or Buddhist priest, the son of a lama who fled Tibet in 1959, when the Dalai Lama left for India. The Sakyong's father, Choegyam Trungpa, wrote Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (Shambhala Publications) and is credited by many with introducing Buddhist teachings in the West. Turning the Mind into an Ally is the Sakyong's first book.
Since publication January 6, Turning the Mind into an Ally has sold about 15,000 copies and is in its second printing, with a third contemplated. (The book has been a Denver Post bestseller and has appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle list.) The author has toured in the western U.S., appearing in San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle, mostly at Shambhala sites, but with sponsoring bookstores, including A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, Looking Glass and Elliott Bay Book Co. Following a break, the author will travel in March and April to Toronto, Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Austin, Tex.
The author's January 11 appearance at the Unity Church in Boulder, Colo., where about 800 people attended, capped an unusual week for the sponsoring bookstore, the Boulder Bookstore. During that week, Boulder Bookstore sold nearly 700 copies of Turning the Mind into an Ally, which owner David Bolduc told PW was probably "the most copies we've ever sold" of any book.
Bolduc praised the title as "the most accessible book on meditation" and said he was proud to "promote a view of peace." He continued, "Everyone is looking for peace in life and wants to know how to extend it into the world. The contrast to the government is so great. There is a thirst in the country for an alternative view of the world. He teaches how to work with people."
While the Shambhala connection provides a ready-made market, the audiences include many non-Buddhists curious about meditation and concerned about politics.
"Right now, there is a lot of fear and unknowing and a certain level of ignorance and a lot of anger all bundled up," the Sakyong told PW. "The message in the book is that this is a workable situation. Having a knee-jerk reaction even on a personal level is not the best way to go about things, and on a national level is probably not the best, either. Meditation is about giving one's self a little room before taking action."
As he writes in the book, "When we're angry or upset, our untrained mind becomes belligerent and we routinely strike out at others. We imagine that reacting aggressively to the object of our emotion will resolve our pain. Throughout history we have used this approach over and over again. Striking out when we're in pain is clearly one way we perpetuate misery."
The Sakyong said he hopes to "demystify" meditation. "I want meditation to be available to anyone, not just Buddhists. Many times it's confusing, but it's not that complicated. It is mainly about having a strong mind. I look at meditation as a natural human thing about how to work with the mind."