Minding Closely: The Four Applications of Mindfulness, by B. Alan Wallace, 2011, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York.  (Also available on Kindle)

Reviewed by Peter Carlson

There are many excellent books that are commentaries on the Satipatthana Sutta, one of the core teachings of Theravada Buddhism. This one is written by someone who is a well respected author in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, the Vajrayana. Alan Wallace has the insights about this sutta from both the Theravada practices (he sat retreats with several acknowledged teachers of this tradition, including S. N. Goenka and Balangoda Ananda Maitreya) and from the teachings he received from his Tibetan teachers, including the Dalai Lama.

One distinctive difference between the Theravadin and Tibetan traditions is the emphasis each places on the three characteristics common to all Buddhist traditions: anicca (impermanence, the transient nature of all phenomena), dhukkha (the dissatisfaction and insecurity that is the consequence of craving and clinging), and anatta (the absence of an inner self that is separable and isolated from the complexity and interdependence of the world). Theravada practices emphasize awareness of the arising and dissolution of self states, thereby illuminating the absence of an independent self. Tibetan practices emphasize the interdependence and interrelatedness of the world and the cultivation of compassionate awareness regarding all beings, thereby illuminating the misperception of permanence.

I enjoyed Wallace’s descriptions of voidness or emptiness, clarifying that these terms don’t point to meaninglessness or empty space, but rather the essential communion of all phenomena—we’re all in this together, so we might as well be kind to each other and thoughtful of how human activities are interrelated to the ecology of the planet.

I believe his suggestions for different practices/experiments for meditation and awareness useful and inspiring; not many commentaries offer such helpful tips on how to apply the four foundations teachings. I hope you find his book useful, too. I wish you well.

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