How to Practice by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins) is subtitled The Way to a Meaningful Life, and serves as a practical guide to Buddhist practice that you will want to refer to again and again.
The book opens with the Dalai Lama explaining in his Introduction that there are two ways to create happiness – the first is by focusing on externals (getting a better house, better clothes, and so on) and the second is through mental development. He then explains that these two approaches to happiness aren’t equally viable, because external happiness is itself reliant on inner happiness. It is therefore more important to develop inner happiness than to focus on externals, and How to Practice will tell you how.
As the author states:
‘In this book I offer you, the reader, valuable techniques from Tibetan traditions which, if implemented in daily practice, lead to mental peace.’
How to Practise is divided into six main parts. Part I: The Basics illustrates how the Buddha’s path to enlightenment gives us a model that we can follow. The order of practice is specifically morality first, concentration second and wisdom third, and the next three parts of the book focus on each of those practices in turn.
Part II: Practising Morality identifies the various types of morality and takes us through the Four Noble Truths. His Holiness then provides teaching on Refraining from Harm, Extending Help and Aspiring to Enlightenment. Part III: Focusing the Mind identifies the two types of meditation and provides detailed instruction on achieving calm abiding. Part IV: Practising Wisdom discusses Examining How Beings and Things Exist, The Middle Way and Mind and the Deep Nature of Mind.
That leads us nicely into Part V: Tantra, where the Dalai Lama introduces ‘taking imagination as the spiritual path’ and explains that Tantra is a path that can enable us to be of service to others more quickly than would be possible with the Sutra path. Part VI: Steps Along the Way then leaves us with an Overview of the Path to Enlightenment.
Throughout this book you will be given practical instructions for daily practice which makes it easier to apply what you learn to your own life. As you would expect from a title by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, How to Practice covers some complex topics that you may not grasp fully on your first reading, but that won’t stop you from following the daily practice instructions one bit. And of course, you can return to the text to deepen your understanding of the more complex matters at a later time when you have developed more morality, concentration and wisdom.
In short, this is a superb book that will be of great benefit to anyone on the Buddhist path, so whether you are just starting out or you have been practising for years, How to Practice is highly recommended.