Backwards Buddhist


A Great Book For 2010

The Backwards Buddhist by Barbara Fleming

In the Backwards Buddhist, Barbara Fleming searches for a path to freedom. Retelling her own spiritual journey from basic meditation to the practices of the highest Dzogchen of Rushen, Trekchod, and Togal this reviewer learned a lot about the author, her journey and her many destinations. In creating her own path to freedom and beginning a new journey away from her old beliefs, the author formulated a plan of her own: first she had to decide what path to follow. Next, she had to pursue the path until enlightenment or until it was no longer appropriate. Third, she had to reassess while proceeding on the journey in order to measure her progress. Then, not micromanage course corrections and finally evaluate additional major spiritual shifts thoroughly. She decided on Meditation as the start of her journey.

Meditation is the conscious cultivation of attention and awareness, often referred to as mindfulness. When you develop mindful awareness it purifies, illumines and frees the mind. It helps to free the person of habitual conditioning, compulsion and attachment. It clarifies and helps to resolve inner conflicts and untangles what is tangled. It helps to sharpen and enhance powers of observation and sharpens the mind. Meditation often brings the person inner peace, calm, centeredness, concentration, relaxation and more. This is something that anyone, regardless of his or her spiritual beliefs can benefit from. Our author decided to take the path of learning Dzochen, which teachings concern the true nature of the mind. Dzogchen is a Tibetan word meaning Great Perfection. It refers to a method of meditative practice that enables the person to recognize their true nature. Ultimately, great perfection is that very nature: the natural.

The meditation practice described by the author is that of the Great Perfection and is designed to break up obscuring mental habits of mind and revealing at that moment what is really there. When you meditate you relax and rest in that true nature. You can observe how thoughts spontaneously arise, abide and disappear. In meditation you can discover that there is no effort required to dissolve thoughts and that the very same ones that cause your problems actually arise by themselves and then dissolve by themselves.

Beginning her journey at a two week retreat in 2002, our author, allows the reader to join in her journey and experiences and enter the new world of silent retreat along with her. Learning new vocabulary, simple mediations from the teachers, chanting simple mantras and immersing herself in the teachings of Dzogchen.  Describing her first days at the retreat you can feel and understand her frustrations, her successes and her determination to learn about Tonglen, the many of the philosophies taught in Buddhism. I am going to summarize the ones that I think the reader would really like to learn and understand and then I will describe some of her experiences at the retreats that she participated in. Starting with the Four Boundlessness or Four Immeasurables. Understand that the premise behind the book is not to convert the reader or convince you to change your beliefs but to go along with her on her journey to change.

The premise of her book as she stated is finding the answers before formulating the questions. As with most people this author, like myself, would rather know where you will wind up and the end result and not just the questions or the roads in between. Here are the Four Immeasurables and Tonglen that she learned and followed during her retreat. These are practices that she incorporated in her daily life when she returned home and that anyone can understand and even might incorporate in their lives too.  Briefly, in Buddhism there are some basic tenets that are common to all sects or schools. These are the Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Four Mind Changers and the Four Immeasurables, which I will now explain. The others you will have to read and learn about yourself. In her retreat experience is where she learned these. The first is empathetic joy, which means sympathy or understanding. This might evoke a different meaning other than the one that is intended. In other words having empathetic joy was the basic idea and behavior it means to develop, the ability to rejoice in the good fortune of others. For example: If a child receives a special present or a job promotion you should be truly happy and feel joy for that person. The next immeasurable is Loving Kindness which begins at home. This immeasurable helped our author learn to put her ego in the backseat and realize that everyone is the same when seeking happiness. Compassion is third and she learned this on the retreat too. Showing compassion for others is not as hard as showing it for yourself. Compassion in this sense is to be able to show it for yourself in a situation that calls for your understanding of you. Finally, the last immeasurable is Equanimity which is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper in difficult and different situations. In order to learn how these impacted our author and her life, you need to read about her experiences yourself.

Every road has its bumps or in this case hindrances that need to be addressed as the author finds out along the way. With the help of her teachers and asking questions, she learns to understand more about herself and the philosophies,

She goes on to tell about the main forms of Tibetan Buddhism. They are Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Each are also referred to as the lesser, greater and diamond vehicles. The first path focuses on achievement of personal enlightenment and is gradual. The second focuses on compassion for self and others and the third is the path of transformation of life’s experiences, mantra, visualization and deity practice leading to enlightenment. The author’s journey and what she learned are really interesting and informative and should be read by the reader in order for you to learn what I did reading this insightful book. You want to go along with the author on her journey and feel a part of it in order to truly understand her message in writing this book.

Finally, I will discuss Dzogchen, which is taught in three sections. The first is Rushen, the second Trekchod and third Togal. These three whether together or separately provide the structure for constructing a practice leading to full enlightenment. Rushen is the preliminary practice and devoted to self-inquiry. Trekchod is translated as cutting through a person’s self-generated delusional perspective of reality. The last, Togal, is a visionary practice. In order to truly understand what leads to the Natural Great Perfection you must read Chapter 9.

Implementing this into her life the author states that she dislikes and has a strong resistance to rules and regulations. She also has difficulty sitting from 30 or 40 minutes at a time to meditate and she knows that specific times should be set aside. She does practice various kinds of meditation depending on her state of mind. Meditation as she states is personal and how she worked it into her daily life is described in Chapter 12. There is so much more that I learned from reading this book that you will have to explore and learn for yourself. At the end of Chapter 12 the author defines the basic precepts, concepts and preliminary teachings not included in the rest of the book. The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, The Six Paramitas or perfections, Refuge Vow, Bodhisattva Vow, Vajrayana practices, Lojong, the three kayas, shunyata, emptiness, which she follows to one degree or another.

In conclusion I will say that whether you believe in these philosophies or not, you need to keep an open mind as this reviewer did and read and learn about Buddhism, Dzogchen and the many concepts and precepts involved in the teaching and decide for yourself if any, some or none can be incorporated in your life. Chapter 13 will help you learn the situations that the author created for herself or encountered where her teachings and lessons helped her through.

Thank you for allowing me to go on this journey with you and thank you for giving me the honor of reviewing this book. I learned about many things and teachings as well as the philosophies and understandings of Buddhism and Dzogchen. This book should be read by those who have open minds, want to explore new avenues of learning and want to learn how to be more loving, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and more to others.

I never give stars to books that I find above the rest. I try to give five of something related to the text and that would be meaningful: I give this book: perfect teaching, perfect teacher, perfect student, perfect time, and the perfect place: the Five Perfections.

I reviewed this book for the author. My review just highlights what I think most people will understand. I feel that you need to decide for yourself whether you would read this book. The author wrote it to share her journey with the reader and not to try and convert, or change your beliefs.

Namaste  (that means I bow to the best in you).

Barb F

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