With Karen Armstrong's biography, Buddha, on the New York Times best-seller list, there will no doubt be many people who are interested in learning the practical aspects of the teachings of the Great Physician. Madeline Ko-I Bastis' Peaceful Dwelling is an excellent manual of Buddhist meditation techniques for healing and everyday living. The book is written in an extremely accessible format which outlines several different meditation techniques--mindfulness of breathing, walking meditation, metta meditation, karuna, tonglen and phowa. Rev. Bastis has written a great deal of the book in the first-person plural, conveying the feeling that she is with you as you read the book. Each chapter also contains commonly asked questions with answers that are comprehensible to even the beginning meditator, making the book extremely user-friendly. In addition she shares expreiences from both her life and the lives of others which makes one feel that there is nothing esoteric about these techniques. They can be used by ordianry people to enhance their everyday lives. I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in Buddhism and/or meditation.
The book "Peaceful Dwelling" contains excellent, step-by-step instructions offered by a seasoned Hospice Chaplain and is especially useful for people without any background in meditation. It is also a user-friendly source of information for those interested in the religious roots and historical writings that inform each meditation technique employed. She is obviously well-schooled in Buddhist traditions from Chan/Zen, to Tibetan, to Theravadan meditation styles. Yet her writing style is conversational, never preachy or patronizing.
Though Ko-i Bastis is a Buddhist Chaplain, she never pushes her particular tradition. In her words, "While my own practice is and has for many years been Zen Buddhism, as I visited patients who were suffering spiritually, emotionally, and physically, I began to develop a palette of practices to suit their unique experiences and situations" (p. 7). This fact is reassuring for people with different faith backgrounds (or people with no faith-base at all). It is especially a fine tool for beginners or those unfamiliar with Buddhist meditation (one is never made to feel that any of the techniques are too "far out" or "out of their league"). It is also helpful to old-time meditators. Even though I've been a daily meditator and teacher of world religions for years, I found this book--and the techniques within it--to have revived my own practice of meditation as well to have broadened my experiential teaching repertoire. I found lots of tools to draw from: a variety of prayers, blessings, walking, sitting, working, eating and playing meditation examples are given.
My favorite quote set the tone for the entire book, "Although the stories I tell come mainly from my work with people who are physically ill, they apply to everyone. For, meditation does not treat physical symptoms; it reaches to the roots of suffering. In the quiet space brought about by meditation, our anger, fear, sadness, desire, and delusions are revealed. Meditation brings the serenity that enables us to look at our deepest hurts and to embrace them, as a mother embraces her child. We begin to trust that we can heal ourselves. All we have to do is sit down and begin to follow our breath" (xvi).
It is rare to find a teacher/counselor who is so willing to lay bear her own struggles with real life suffering (alcoholism, loss of a loved one, controlling--classic "helper's"--temperament, etc), but she does so with humor, humility and a desire to model how lasting healing begins.
Chaplain Madeline Ko-i Bastis's guidance in "Peaceful Dwelling" invites all readers to transform unskillful ways of seeing and being so that we can all benefit. That's quite a gift to offer us. Thank you!