Dear Blog Readers,
I am thrilled to let you know that Shambhala Publications, the world’s leading publisher of Buddhist books, has decided to bring out a new edition of Buddhism for Busy People. First published in Australia in 2004 and USA in 2008, my very first book about Buddhism has had a momentum beyond anything I ever imagined, continuing to be published around the world not only in English, but also in a growing number of other languages.
I am delighted with the stunning new cover Shambhala has created for the book – and the tweaked sub-title: Finding Happiness in a Hurried World.
Shambhala asked me to write a short introduction to the new edition. I am sharing it below. Those of you who have read the book may be interested in following up what has happened with it, while those who haven’t yet read it may be curious to know more about what it contains.
May all beings have happiness!
Twelve years since Buddhism for Busy People was first published, I am delighted by the way the book continues to resonate with readers around the world. I regularly receive heart-warming messages from people, telling me what the book has meant to them. Some even share ways in which they decided to change elements of their lives – large or small – after reading the book.
One middle-aged man picked up the phone to the sister from whom he had been estranged for many years, leading to a family reconciliation. A young woman found the courage she needed to open a shop selling inspirational books and self-development programs. Then there was the couple who threw in high-flying corporate jobs to create an animal sanctuary.
I suggest none of these things in this book, and certainly claim no credit for the brave and transformational decisions of others. What they illuminate, however, are the ways in which the practices first offered by Buddha two and a half thousand years ago still have a direct and powerful relevance to us today. Exactly how they may impact each one of us is part of an unfolding journey of discovery. One that grows all the more life-enhancing with each passing year.
Both the title and sub-title of this book were chosen to reflect the zeitgeist of the early years of this century. Mobile phones and the internet had recently become ubiquitous. We had just lived through the bursting of the dot com bubble and the 9/11 attacks. Scientists started talking about climate change. Many of the reassuring certainties of life seemed to be dissolving beneath our feet. We had never felt busier.
Fast forward to the present, and the pace of life back in the early noughties seems positively quaint. Life before Facebook? Mobile phones that weren’t online? What do you mean you didn’t check the sales spreadsheet before you came into work this morning – I forwarded them to you last night?!
The convergence of mobile technology and the internet has fundamentally changed society, as we can observe at a glance at any city street, railway carriage or school yard. Along with the demands of the real world, a global, 24 hour virtual world has insinuated itself into many people’s lives with compelling potency.
While there is no doubt that we have taken a giant leap forward in connectivity, access to information, and a myriad other ways, all this has come at a cost. A growing body of research shows that high usage of social media degrades our attention spans. We are less able to recall things and more easily distracted. A recent study showed that the average teenager checks his or her social media 100 times a day. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and the need to project an often impossibly enviable version of oneself online has piled a new set of pressures onto those of an age when trying to arrive at a resolved, adult identity is fraught enough. Is it any wonder that anxiety among teenagers is at sky high levels?
Even those of us who should know better sometimes find it hard to avoid the siren calls of social media. Sitting to meditate, reading a mind-improving book or even a blog is something we may promise ourselves we fully intend to do … after we have checked our social media feed. It’s hard to ignore the paradox that, at a time in history when it’s never been easier to access the spiritual wisdom for millennia the preserve of an elite few, we have never been less interested or mentally capable of using it!
The digital revolution has been one of the game-changers of the past decade, ramping up our busyness and sense of volatility. But it hasn’t been the only one. The Global Financial Crisis has been an earthquake inflicting massive damage on whole industries and communities, and continuing to reverberate around the world today. 9/11 set off a chain of events leading to the rise of a new breed of do-it-yourself terror groups, bringing the prospect of violent and random massacres of ordinary people into our own cities. And evidence of climate change suggests that extreme and unseasonal weather patterns are now part of our new normal.
Fortunately, for those with an interest in a permanent solution to wellbeing, none of these developments need be as worrisome as they may appear. In fact, there is nothing quite like a sense of deep disillusionment with conventional reality to prompt us to ask the questions that really matter. Questions like: is there an enduring source of happiness I can rely on through all this frenetic activity and upheaval? If I can’t change reality, can I at least change the way I experience it? Who, really, is this person called ‘me’, and is there any point to my life besides enjoying whatever pleasures I can find along the way?
The reason that Buddha’s teachings have continued to be handed down to us through the centuries is because they offer such exciting, radical and perspective-shifting insights. While those insights haven’t changed, what has changed, particularly in recent years, are the advances made by scientists, which have brought about a fascinating convergence of east and west, ancient and contemporary.
Yes, cognitive therapists now confirm, it is not events in the outside world which make us feel elated or miserable, but the way we interpret them. Medical researchers are now able to attest to the significant, holistic, multi-factorial range of benefits delivered by meditation, not least being the capacity to shift our ‘set point’ for happiness. Neurobiologists can certainly confirm that what we see, hear and perceive of the outside world is not so much what is ‘out there,’ as a projection of our minds. And quantum scientists use almost identical language as Buddha himself to describe the ultimate nature of reality, as well as our relationship with it.
When we live our lives in accordance with the way that things really are, rather than some baseless negative narrative, we are very much more likely to operate more effectively, both for our own benefit, as well as for those around us. When we catch a glimpse of our own true nature beneath the surface agitation, discovering ourselves as beings of boundless radiance, tranquillity and benevolence, we begin to awaken to what is real and enduring. A state of being that supports equanimity in the face of chaos, and calm amid a frenetic pace of life.
It is my sincere hope that readers of Buddhism for Busy People will continue to enjoy family reconciliations, fresh entrepreneurial adventures, the creation of animal sanctuaries and many other wonders besides! More than this, it is my heartfelt wish that each one of you will discover in the wisdom of my kind and extraordinary teachers – for whom I am a mere conduit – that you really do possess Buddha nature. You may keep it well hidden – even from yourself! – but deep down you are a being of pure, great love and pure, great compassion. Come home to yourself, dear reader, and all is well.
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