Turning Toward Awareness: Stop Suffering Start Living is a posthumous collection of talks that were given by Ven. George Teng, a western monk who was ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and preferred to be called ‘Monk’. This preference about how he liked to be addressed was just one manifestation of Monk’s love of simplicity. He lived a simple and straightforward life, often keeping his own company, and he spent the last eight years of his life in silent retreat. Monk died in 1997, but the publication of this book means that his teachings can continue to benefit spiritual practitioners of all faiths for decades to come.
The teachings in Turning Toward Awareness were selected and edited by Francis Paone, who met Monk in 1969 and continued studying with him after receiving a BA in Study of Religion in 1978. This personal relationship between Paone and Monk is important, because it means that the teachings contained in this book have been selected by someone who knew the teacher first-hand.
The basic premise of this book is that suffering arises from false views. Our distorted beliefs, ignorance, cowardice and weakness effectively obscure our innate Buddha nature, but if we recognise that fact and address the situation by working to remove those obstacles, the qualities of wisdom, power and compassionate love will begin to shine through.
Each of the first seventeen chapters in Turning Toward Awareness focuses on a different aspect of this practice in the context of how we actually live our daily lives. Monk’s teachings therefore cover everything from Right Views, Action, Communication, Roles, Problems and Relationships to Self-Image, Pain, Prayer, Love and Purity of Thought. The eighteenth chapter is a Conclusion to the work, and encourages us to continue on the journey.
Just as you wouldn’t expect to be able to fully appreciate eighteen full-length dharma talks given on a single day, so you shouldn’t expect to get the most from this book by reading it straight through at the same pace as you might read a novel. A much better approach would be to take things slowly, reading one chapter or even just one section of a chapter in a single sitting, and then giving yourself time to reflect on the teaching and think about how you can start applying it to your life.
Monk was hugely popular with his students, and from this collection of teachings it isn’t at all difficult to see why. He communicates in a clear, down-to-earth manner, and gets straight to the point without ever wasting a single sentence. In short, Turning Toward Awareness is a book which deserves to become the constant companion of anyone who wants to stop suffering and start living.