Review: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations is a collection of twelve books of the personal writings of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.  Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoic philosophy and Meditations is the result of analysis of Stoic philosophy and the application of it to his life.

Don’t despair, the book isn’t nearly as long, boring, or complicated to read as you’d expect.  It is quite the opposite.  Short and to the point; Meditations gets to the heart of the issues Aurelius was contemplating and sets out reminders on how to live a good life.

A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behaviour, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’ insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style.” (GoodReads blurb)

I read Gregory Hays’ translation and in his introduction he describes how philosophy was more than a set of ideas to Aurelius and his contemporaries:

“But philosophy also had a more practical dimension. It was not merely a subject to write or argue about, but one that was expected to provide a “design for living”—a set of rules to live one’s life by.”

Meditations, then, is a kind of journal and serves to remind us of simple truths about how we can best live our lives;  a blueprint for successful living.  I enjoyed reading it; he was my kind of guy.  He contemplated life, death, and change a lot; but he also dealt with the smaller, yet equally important, stuff like handling other people.  For example:

“The best revenge is not to be like that.”

I liked that.  When people talk about Meditations, though, they tend to describe it as life-alteringly profound.  And profound it is; but I think a lot of what you find in Meditations you may have heard in some form before.

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the colour of your thoughts.”

This book is a very eloquent reminder of some key pieces of advice that without doubt will help you in your life but which you may already have encountered.  But read it because he’s an interesting guy and he has a great way of putting things.  It’s a classic for a reason.

There’s some advice we may have forgotten as we continue to industrialise and incorporate technology into our lives:

“The world as a living being—one nature, one soul. Keep that in mind. And how everything feeds into that single experience, moves with a single motion. And how everything helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together.”

Even back then people were aware of how important it is to look after nature and each other because we’re all connected.

All in all, to my relief, Meditations wasn’t what I was expecting.  It was a far easier and more comprehensible book than I was expecting having been written so long ago.  It was a pleasant and highly quotable read.Sav

Review: The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely read of the Buddhist scriptures and the most essential.  There are many translations but I chose Easwaran’s because of a recommendation – the source of which I can’t for the life of me remember.

“As irrigators guide water to their fields,
as archers aim arrows, as carpenters carve
wood, the wise shape their lives.”
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The Dhammapada is an easy and enjoyable read.  It is full of simple wisdom some of which may seem likeThe Dhammapada Eknath Easwaran common sense but is lovely to be reminded of from the Buddha’s unique perspective.  He has a very simple and down to earth way of delivering essential truths which is the essence of his teachings.

“…the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide. This is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.”
Eknath Easwaran, The Foreword

The Dhammapada is described as a handbook to the teachings of the Buddha but it is Easwaran’s informative introduction on Buddhism and the text that give an extra insight to the seemingly simple words of the Buddha.  I enjoyed reading his introduction and it serves as a great starting point not only for this text but for Buddhism on a whole.

If, like me, you’ve never read any Buddhist texts (or much about Buddhist teachings) this short book of verse is a great place to start, particularly Easwaran’s translation.  The opening verse of the Dhammapada is a profound reminder that our lives are shaped by our minds and we become what we think:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts
give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows
them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
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It happened that earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, then some weeks later Easwaran’s Dhammapada, followed by The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which in retrospect could not have been better planned.  I didn’t read them back to back but each prepared me for the next and I think I was able to take a great deal more from each one’s message for having read them in this order.  Obviously you don’t need to read them like this but if you’re interested I enjoyed this reading order.

I enjoyed and recommend reading The Dhammapada.  A wide variety of translations exist but I found Eknath Easwaran’s Introduction a highlight of reading this book.  He has also done translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita which I hope to get to at some point also.Save

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Review: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I have found that I’ve read many books at just the time I needed them, no matter whether they were fiction or non fiction, and on occasion the order in which I’ve read some books has been just right that it helped me fully digest or appreciate the books that came later.

This is true of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for me.  I’m sure by now everyone has heard of this book.  It has been translated into over 30 languages and even Oprah sings its praises.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but honestly if I’d read it before now (no pun intended) I’m not sure I would have got the message.  Earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse which led me on internet travels of Buddhist thought and I’m currently reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Dhammapada whose introduction was very interesting reading.  Both those books got me into the right frame of mind for The Power of Now.

It’s not the easiest self help book to get through.  At first I wasn’t really comfortable with the question answer style of certain parts as I prefer a narrative style but you do get used to it.  You may or may not be familiar with some of the ideas that form the basis for Tolle’s message.  Your familiarity with or exposure to some of the concepts in the book could potentially affect how you feel about it.  Stick with it, read slowly, let it percolate.

I do think it is an important book for us all to read at some point.  It’s a short book but best read slowly.  There is a lot to take away from The Power of Now but the most basic message as you may have guessed is related to time.  There is no time but Now.  The past is but memories and the future is imagination, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is now.  This is quite liberating if, like me, you often find yourself worrying about a future that doesn’t exist yet and a set of problems that may never exist.

The more time that passes since finishing it the more I realise about its implications for my life.  I’m sure that no matter what you’re going through; good, bad, or meh, there’s something for you in this book that will help you.  If you’ve already read this book I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

 

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Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha is a short novel written in 1922 by Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse.  Many people agree that Siddhartha is one of those books that people should read in their lifetime.  It’s a spiritual or philosophical story of a man’s journey of self discovery set in the time of Gautama Buddha.  Interestingly, the name Siddhartha is made up of two Sanskrit words;  siddha (achieved) and artha (what was searched for).  Siddhartha, both words together, means “he who has attained his goals” according to The Life of Siddhartha Gautama – the siddhartha hermann hesseBuddha whose name was also Siddhartha before his renunciation.

This is fitting because in the book Siddhartha does in fact achieve his goals but not at all in the ways he expected.

“In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.” (GoodReads)

This is a lovely story of how all that we go through, positive and negative, is part of our own journey of self discovery in life and ultimately all good and valuable.  A quote from the book that I liked:

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

A strong message that we all have to experience life and all its offerings for ourselves to truly understand.  It cannot be taught or bought.  You have to go out and experience life for yourself and walk your own journey.

I enjoyed reading it and it has a lyrical feel to it so it’s different from any of the modern books of its kind.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

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Review: The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis, published in 1942, was a very enjoyable read that I’ve thought a lot about since I finished it at the end of February.

GoodReads Blurb:The Screwtape Letters

A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a senior tempter in the service of “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C. S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging and humorous account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.

As the title suggests, the story is told through a series of letters written from Screwtape, a senior demon in the underworld, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  We only get to read the letters Screwtape sends to Wormwood and not his nephew’s replies but in this case I thought monologic was a great choice because the extremes in Screwtape’s mood in his responses to Wormwood’s letters can be quite funny which I think might have been lost if you actually had to read Wormwood in all his inefficiency and lack of experience.  Wormwood has been sent to tempt a man known only as ‘the patient’ to the dark side.  And really the book is a very clever way of showing all the ways that we can fail in walking a path that leads to Heaven.

It is essentially about being a christian and all the small ways we may find ourselves tempted from the right path.  It is not, however, full of dogma or anything like that.  It is simple and discreet in its message and I found it made some very insightful points. Lewis very cleverly chose to write this book from the perspective of the other side which I found refreshing although I have read that he abhorred writing this work which was originally published as a series of columns in a weekly Anglican periodical.

What really came across to me as an important point that Lewis regularly conveyed is that the demons can never quite win because they simply cannot understand God’s unconditional love for these humans and therefore are constantly trying to figure out what he is up to or stands to gain.  After a few weeks of stewing that’s what I’m taking away from this book – that unconditional love is the greatest good.

There was a lot of humour in this book, at least for me.  I laughed out loud a number of times because really Screwtape is quite a character.  It goes without saying that Lewis’ writing is impeccable and, if you are interested in how English has and continues to evolve as I am, then it is also nice to see the little differences in style and diction.  Overall I really enjoyed it.  I think if the blurb speaks to you give it a go.  It’s really quite short and you’ll know a few pages in if it’s for you.

If you’ve read this book what did you think?  I’d love to hear some opinions.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

Review: The Sacred History by Jonathan Black

I thoroughly enjoyed Black’s previous book The Secret History of the World so when I came across The Sacred History of the World I knew I was going to enjoy it.  Black writes his non fiction books in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn into them.  Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

The Sacred History: How Angels, Mystics and Higher Intelligence Made Our World

“The Sacred History is an account of the workings of the supernatural in history. It tells the epic story of angels, from Creation, to Evolution through to the operations of the supernatural in the modern world.  This tale of how people and peoples have been helped by angels and other angelic beings is woven into a spellbinding narrative that brings together Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Elijah, Mary and Jesus, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, the angels who helped Hungarian Jews persecuted by the Nazis, and stories from African, Native American and Celtic traditions.  Told from the spiritual point of view, The Sacred History relates every betrayal, every change of heart, every twist and turn, everything that looks like a coincidence, every portent, every clue, every defeat, every rescue moments before the prison door clangs shut. This is the angelic version of events.” (GoodReads)

Essentially this book is about looking at the world and its history from the perspective of idealism as opposed to the more prevalent perspective of materialism.  This is the history of the world from a non secular outlook.  I found it fascinating and again Black has succeeded in communicating a story that we may know but telling it from a perspective that I had not considered.  What I found incredibly interesting was Black’s recounting of important cultural stories from the distant past all the way up to modern times.  I have always found the creation stories of other cultures as well as their myths and legends very interesting and nowadays we tend to look at all those stories as nothing more than fiction.  In this book Black presents these stories as a means to understanding the evolution of human consciousness, to see what these stories have to teach us from the perspective of idealism.  I really enjoyed this book and took my time with it.  If the blurb appeals to you, I’m pretty sure you’ll find this an interesting read.

 

 

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