How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald has been described as ‘the next best thing to private instruction’ and we have to say that it really does live up to that description. The author has been a Tibetan Buddhist nun for more than three decades, so she really knows what she is writing about and her depth of knowledge and experience shines through in every chapter. Whether you are someone who wants to learn to meditate from scratch or you have been practising meditation for some time, How to Meditate will provide detailed instruction on all aspects of meditative practice.
There are six parts to this book:
Part 1: Mind and Meditation discusses meditation in general terms, with chapters on Why Meditate? and What is Meditation?
Part 2: Establishing a Meditation Practice caters very well for readers who are new to the practice, with chapters on Advice for Beginners, The Meditation Session, Posture and Common Problems. In these chapters the author discusses such things as where to meditate, why regular meditation is important, how to adopt the proper posture (seven-point posture instruction is provided) and how to cope with a variety of problems, including restlessness, drowsiness and external noise.
The next three parts of this book focus on providing instructions for different types of meditations:
Part 3: Meditations on the Mind, has chapters on the Breath, Clarity of the Mind and Continuity of the Mind.
Part 4: Analytical Meditations consists of eleven chapters, the first ten of which provide instructions for Meditation on Emptiness, Appreciating our Human Life, Impermanence, Death Awareness, Karma, Purifying Negative Karma, Suffering, Equanimity, Love and Compassion and Tonglen. The final chapter in this section talks about Dealing with Negative Energy.
Part 5: Visualization Meditations provides instructions for meditations that deliberately harness the power of your imagination. There are five chapters in this section of the book, focusing on Body of Light, Simple Purification, Tara (the Buddha of Enlightened Activity), Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion) and Inner Heat.
Part 6: Prayers and Other Devotional Practices discusses the use of prayers in meditation practice, and of course here we are talking about things like the Prayer of Refuge, Dedication of Merit, and so on. In this section of the book you will also find instructions for meditations on the Buddha, Healing Buddha and Thought Transformation, and other chapters entitled Prayer to Tara, Vajrasattva Purification, The Eight Mahayana Precepts and Prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas.
As you can see, How to Meditate is not a book to simply read through once and then leave sitting on a shelf. On the contrary, this volume is one that you will want to refer to repeatedly as your meditation practice grows and deepens. The range of meditations taught here is staggering, and even if you only practice a handful of them you will still benefit enormously.