"In this very life" radically changed my life. Its greatest strength is that it demystifies the process of awakening. When it is presented by Sayadaw U Pandita, the process of awakening is like a mathematical proof: one step follows inevitably from the previous ones. This is one of the very few books in any genre that makes complete sense to me.
It's taken me over a year to read partly because it's so dense, but also because parts of it only made sense after I had been meditating and struggling for a while.
I had been practicing meditation seriously for about a year when some friends recommended it to me. Before I read it, I had only vague notions of what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to be totally committed to understanding reality--that this was the only worthwhile thing in life. But wanting this, knowing how to do it, and doing it are three separate things. This book tells you how to do it.
This book also answers the questions: What can humans achieve? We all know that life can be lived in an all-too-human way. Is there any way to live that overcomes our heritage of craving, anger, and ignorance? According to this book there is. There is a way to live free of fear, stress, suffering, and all the things that drive us to behave ignobly. There is a more civilized and peaceful way to live.
The first chapter starts at the very beginning for the complete beginner: what to do when you sit, and how to provide yourself with conditions favorable for making progress. The beginning meditator could read the first chapter and follow its instructions for months before needing to read the second one. For me, the first chapter was very helpful in clearing up things that I was unsure about in the meditation process.
Once you have the basics down, the book goes into more refinements of creating favorable conditons for yourself to make more progress and the things you need to overcome. If you've been meditating, you can know from experience that these are indeed things you need to overcome.
The fourth chapter is perhaps the most important. The basic message is "keep going." Keep applying mindfulness to everything no matter what. And Sayadaw U Pandita explains how to apply this mindfulness: take mental aim at the object, and get the mind to in some sense rub up against it. To do this, moment by moment for your entire life takes courage since the mind inevitably rebels and wants to lose itself in a fantasy, and because pain can arise in different ways. So much of what is written here inspires this courage.
The fifth and sixth chapter describe in detail the progress of insight and where it all leads. When I was reading these chapters I realized that with heroic effort, a kind of ultimate knowing is something that is attainable by almost anyone. This was very heartening to me and gave me hope--that with enough hard work I could achieve this in this very life.
The fourth, fifth and sixth chapter are conveniently summarized at the end of the book, and there are study aids, glossary and index in the back as well.
It is the ultimate self-improvement book. Along the way, one becomes morally and mentally healthy, mentally concentrated, self-disciplined, joyful, happy, content and peaceful.
I think that any meditator would want to be taught by an person who has been awakened. It's clear that Sayadaw U Pandita has been, and has also helped numerous people to experience this as well. By reading this book, he can become your teacher. The greatest veneration you could give to him would be to read it, understand it, apply these instructions in your own life, and awaken yourself.
This is a book that is excellent for beginners, intermediate and advanced students. For the beginner, it sets a framework for understanding meditation that will be useful as a frequent reference. For the intermediate and advanced students, it seems to address issues that they will experience in their own meditation practice. It also provides a vast amount of information that is worthwhile to learn about, whether one is able to experience this in their own practice or not.
The book increased my desire to practice and experience what I was reading about. It should be the foundation for any meditator's library.