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The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science

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Providing step-by-step guidance for every stage of the meditation path, this uniquely comprehensive guide for a Western audience combines the wisdom from the teachings of the Buddha with the latest research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Clear and friendly, this in-depth practice manual builds on the nine-stage model of meditation originally articulated by the ancient Indian sage Asanga, crystallizing the entire meditative journey into 10 clearly-defined stages. The book also introduces a new and fascinating model of how the mind works, and uses illustrations and charts to help the reader work through each stage. This manual is an essential read for the beginner to the seasoned veteran of meditation and can be read from front to back, or used as a reference guide, choosing chapters as needed based on the current state of the reader’s practice.

504 pages, Paperback

First published October 6, 2015

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5 stars
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379 (10%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 295 reviews
7 reviews
March 15, 2016
This book is 450 pages of meditation instruction, and present the most comprehensive introduction to the practice I've ever encountered. Its language is crisp, clear and modern. It seems it took a theravada/vajrayana/neuroscience teacher to make this synthesis of Buddhism with modernity to happen. The book full of insights and distinctions I never made in 6 years of practice with many different teachers. Highly recommended to beginners and experienced meditators alike.

I should note that it's not necessarily an easy read. Consider this a university-level introduction to the theory and practice of meditation. Often one needs to put down the book to really let the meaning of each paragraph sink in.
7 reviews3 followers
November 11, 2016
I've been meditating for twenty years, not making all that much progress and never quite sure what it was I was getting wrong.

This is the book I wish I'd had twenty years ago. I finally *got* it - what meditation is, what it isn't, what I was doing right, what I was doing wrong, all of it.

The author has done a superb job of writing a readable, engaging text; of spelling out exactly what the misconceptions and pitfalls are; of giving useful advice on how to avoid the mistakes; and of what you should and shouldn't expect as you progress.

I read it through from cover to cover to get the "Big Picture" and am now re-reading from the start to pick up on the details. I genuinely feel I've made more progress in the handful of days since reading this than I did in all the years before. For the first time, I'm confident that I'm making progress and will continue to do so.

Rave reviews all around, for me this is *the* book on learning to meditate.
Profile Image for Jon Bash.
113 reviews19 followers
January 11, 2018
This is basically the book I've been looking for for the past 3 years.

Most meditation instructions, even from some of the most lauded teachers with decades of experience, are vague at best, potentially damaging to one's practice at worst. For years my meditation practice essentially went nowhere. Sure, I was marginally more aware and attentive in my day-to-day life, but I had essentially plateaued in terms of my actual practice, and the only advice seemed to be "go to a retreat" (or worse "just sit"). I tried a couple of short ones, but they too were unhelpful, and I wasn't convinced that a longer one was worth the investment of time/money/energy.

This book lays out both the how and the why of meditation. It gives detailed instruction on what to do with your attention, what will happen as a result, and how to handle those results and any struggles along the way. It gives a cognitive explanation for what's actually happening in the brain when we pay attention, are aware, are conscious, are doing anything with our minds. A lot of that is purely theoretical and based only from direct, subjective experiences of practitioners, but this is essentially the only means of research and testing anyways in this realm, and the bottom line is it checks out with the experience of others and is helpful. (It also helps that the author has a friggin PhD in neuroscience.) The book maps out the path of a meditator in a clear way that doesn't over-materialize or make one overly goal-oriented, but also doesn't beat around the bush in a way that will prevent progress. It shows what's possible and how to get there.

As a quick example, most instructions I've heard advocate not worrying when the mind gets distracted from the breath (or other object of attention) when meditating; just note it and gently return to the breath. So I didn't worry about it. At all. In fact, I let my mind wander all over the place and just tried to watch it do its thing, bringing it back to the breath when I really got lost and suddenly remembered. This is what I was hearing from instructions (which I now realize was probably a misinterpretation, but they didn't seem to be saying my approach was wrong per se). This book lays out that the first goal, after just establishing a practice, should be to end mind-wandering. That in and of itself was a revelation. I didn't know that was something I could do. It continues that one should then aim to stop forgetting the breath. Then stop big things from intruding attention for too long. And on and on. And alongside these instructions, he discusses how attention and awareness and intention and diligence actually function, which were also fairly revelatory at times, especially as someone coming to terms with a relatively recent ADD diagnosis, and has struggled with integrating various pieces of knowledge and experience to actually function in the world like a normal human being.

Admittedly, some of the results of the later stages may sound pretty radical (lasting equanimity, radical worldview transformation, and low-level joy that persists between meditation sessions in the face of any challenging scenarios (not to mention the descriptions of the jhanas, the weird pseudo-orgasmic time-frozen meditative absorptions that aren't really the point but essentially make for nice detours on the path)), but his descriptions of the neuroscientific theory behind it sound pretty reasonable, I've experienced some of the lower level weird-stuff and subtle tastes of the upper-level stuff, and many, many others have personally validated his claims, so... I see no reason not to believe it all.

I realize this proooooobably sounds kinda evangelistic, but man, it's simultaneously frustrating that I spent so much time floundering, and also empowering that I now have a semblance of what to do from here. To be fair, the book isn't perfect. He uses terminology that isn't quite in line with what's sort of become standard translations of Buddhist terms, which can get confusing. The book can get redundant at times. It's hard to know what parts to read in what order (there are some really great appendices of additional practices and notes). At times he seems to skirt a liiiiittle close to pseudoscience for my comfort. But despite all that, already I feel like my entire way of seeing the world has improved a bit, and I can only see how it can get better from here.

Pardon the extended metaphor, but after years of mindlessly wandering the meditative landscape among teachers giving vague directions or saying "Don't worry, just drive, you'll eventually get there" when the road I'm on goes up a mountain road to a dead end rather than into town where I'm trying to get, I finally feel like I've been given a freaking map that just tells me where to go and what to look out for.

Your mileage may vary. Maybe the vague stuff works for you. Maybe you're still not convinced it's a worthwhile endeavor. But from what I can tell, it definitely is, and this book seems to be the best way (for me at least, and for many others, and possibly you) to get going, or to keep going.
Profile Image for Jimbo.
51 reviews5 followers
September 13, 2019
Useful as I found this book, the author has, sadly, recently been forced to step down from his own meditation centre after revelations that he is at the centre of a significant ethical scandal. For many books, I feel that the content stands quite independently of the character of the author. But this feels very different. Though it is primarily about meditation, it makes clear the connection between contemplative practice and our day to day behaviour. Following this book creates a student-teacher relationship between the practitioner and the author. I believe that we should always be very careful about who we allow to teach us. We should be sure that they are a person we want to model ourselves after, especially with regard to the things they are teaching. And should be aware that the people we choose to follow provide to others an insight into our own lives and character. I have recommended this book to many people over the last few years - something I no longer feel I can do. Meditation is something that I will continue to pursue, and I'm grateful to John for getting me as far as it did.

I hope he and those around him will recover from what happened. But I'll be seeking my guidance elsewhere. So far, I am finding "The Art and Skill of Buddhist Meditation" by Richard Shankman to be an excellent replacement. It's core method is very similar - using samadhi through (primarily) anapanasati as a platform for vipassana. Unlike TMI, it does not define a linear path, but presents a suite of techniques (many of which TMI practitioners will recognise) along with guidance on when to use them.
Profile Image for Cian Kenshin.
22 reviews15 followers
June 13, 2018
This is the best mediation manual I've read, and I've been through a lot. It gives a nod to tradition but also dives deep into the psychological transformation that happens during meditation and explains the phenomenon that you will experience. it also gives very detailed and explicit instructions for each stage and warns about some traps that exist.

I found in stage 5 a trap that my father had been in for decades, and is now moving past! It's a great read and even better listen since the narrator makes you feel like he's instructing you directly.

The glossary and index make it a great reference manual, so I purchased both printed and audio book. I can't wait to meet and speak to Culadasa, interestingly enough he trained with the same teacher I did when I was a kid, Kama Ananda.
Profile Image for Vladimir.
109 reviews27 followers
May 4, 2018
It's a good meditation manual, but I don't find it as impressive as other reviewers. For one thing, I think that the promise made on the cover about "integrating Buddhist wisdom and brain science" is not really kept to the extent I would have liked. Sometimes I get the feeling that publishers and writers of books on meditation feel the need to use the word "science" often enough to avoid falling into some kind of sappy New Age category of books. In this case in particular, the model of the mind elaborated by Culadasa is really very interesting and useful for understanding our everyday experiences, as well as potentially useful for scientific inquiry, but it is not brain science. On the other hand, similar and nearly identical models of the mind have been proposed dozens of times in the history of Western philosophy, so that could have been a better anchoring point for the book; as fascinating as Buddhism is, it's really not entirely new for Westerners, our history of thought is very diverse and includes same and similar ideas, but because it falls out of the scope of what American academics think is philosophy (as opposed to the much maligned "continental" philosophy) it gets left out and then Buddhism suddenly appears to offer something entirely unheard of;I guess one has to cater to tastes of the American public for which this was written.
The reason I focused on less positive aspects of the book was merely to balance out the overwhelmingly positive reviews which tend to overlook some slight shortcomings of the book. I still gave it 4 stars, meaning it's among the better books of its kind I came across. My favorite still remains Mindfulness in Plain English. Compared to Culadasa's book, for example, it leaves more room for individual variations, and offers a less structured model which is then more inclusive of a wider variety of individual experiences.
Profile Image for Vikrant Varma.
23 reviews24 followers
November 27, 2017
The clearest explanation I've seen about what meditation is, how to start, and how to improve. Effective in getting me to actually do it. Recommended if textbooks work well for you.
Profile Image for Rif A. Saurous.
162 reviews17 followers
August 2, 2020
I've only read about half of this book so far, but I'm going to go ahead and give it five stars since it changed my life. If you're interested in making meditation a serious part of your life, you want to learn things from books, and you want a non-religious approach, this book is far and away the best thing out there.

The book contains very detailed practical instruction on meditation, as well as a succession of progressively more complex mental models that attempt to explain (at the level of analogy, not neuroscience, although the author is a former neuroscientist) what's going on. The practice is divided into ten stages, with different instructions and things to focus on in each one. One works on a few consecutive stages at a time: for instance, as of this writing on a typical day I am mostly working on stage three issues, I occasionally dabble with stage four, and on tough days I fall back to struggling with stage two. I imagine it will take several years to get through all the stages, and that I'll also need direct teaching and retreats. Some folks have complained that the explicit division into stages overly "gamifies" meditation; I think it's important to focus on the practice and not attach to "achieving" a certain stage by a certain time, and given that I think the division into steps is helpful.

At the time of this writing, there is an active subreddit discussing the book, with many helpful commenters and useful discussions. There are also starting to be teachers who specialize in this material, who were taught by the author of the book. (The author, Culadasa, also still teaches some, but is in declining health.)

I would give more than five stars if I could.

UPDATE, AUGUST 2020

Since I've been meditating every day for two and a half more years since I wrote this, this is worth an update. The Mind Illuminated remains by far the single best, most important book on meditation I have seen: if you're interested in getting serious about meditation in a way that will deeply transform your life for the better, TMI is an excellent place to start.

Although the book is a "ten stage program", my view (and this seems widely shared) is that the strength of the book is the description of stages 1-6 (and maybe 7), and even more than the very precise ordering into stages, the value is in the (relatively) precise description of inner experience in a way that can be used as a guide. The last few stages are vaguer and represent "a possible unfolding" rather than a clear path. (By bulk, the chapters on the last three stages are very short, so the book is almost entirely useful.)

It's probably worth noting that the author, Culadasa, has engaged in some pretty non-virtuous behavior. This underscores the (depressingly commonly observed) fact that one can attain pretty high-levels of realization / enlightenment while still engaging in highly immoral behavior. Morality doesn't come for free. The book remains invaluable as a guide to mental development, if we keep in mind that we need to do separate work to (attempt to) ensure right action.
Profile Image for Antti Värtö.
411 reviews30 followers
January 2, 2020
I'll join the chorus: this is the greatest book on meditation I've ever found. I wish this book had existed back in the early 2000's when I last seriously tried to practice meditation. Back then, I quit with frustration since the meditation didn't seem to go anywhere. With TMI I was able to make more progress in a month than I had previously managed in a year.

The book is divided into ten "stages", where Culadasa explains the practice goals and describes in detail the various problems the mediator may encounter. This was incredibly useful: all the things that had previously hindered me were described here, as well as different approaches that can be used to overcome those hindrances.

In between the chapters about the stages there are "intermissions", where Culadasa explains the theory behind meditation. This is a mix of Buddhist wisdom and modern brain science. Usually this kind of mix is found in the "woo-woo" self-help, but Culadasa avoids needless mysticism. I'm an atheist and an aspiring rationalist, and I couldn't find anything disagreeable with the theory.

I've now practiced for a year with the help of TMI. I'm at Stage Three, very near Stage Four, even though my practice is pretty light (only half an hour of meditation per day). I'm pretty pleased at that: I've never gotten this far before. No Enlightment in the near future, I'm afraid, but then again time is an illusion anyway, so I guess there's no rush.
Author 6 books95 followers
March 24, 2018
Best book on meditation that I have ever read, by far. Detailed instructions and goals for each level of skill, as well as discussion of obstacles previously encountered on that stage, allowed me to get forward in my practice after I'd hit roadblocks that previous instructions hadn't adequately prepared me for. Also has extensive theoretical models, using language derived from cognitive psychology rather than anything mystic and esoteric, for understanding what is going on in the practice.

Probably one of the top five or so books that's improved my life the most so far.
Profile Image for Clive F.
180 reviews14 followers
August 13, 2019
This is an extraordinary book. Really, it's amazing. I mean, I know I bought it because it had just about the highest rating I'd seen for a meditation book on Goodreads, so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but still... it's superb. So yes, it's a gold-standard five star book for me too, no question.

What's so great about it? Basically, The Mind Illuminated (TMI, hereafter) describes in detail a structured, systematic, entirely secular, ten-stage path all the way from your first sit, through to Insights and potential Awakening. Each stage has guidance as to what you should be doing to progress, as well as a description of what you're likely to be running into trouble with, and how to deal with that. TMI's path is suitable for the beginning meditator to follow, or for a more experienced meditator to pick up further along.

The stage descriptions are detailed and specific, with a clear progression and explanations. It uses a small technical vocabulary that is explained up front, and that you'll easily pick up and be able to understand. The author generally uses English words for this vocabulary, while noting the Pali originals, and uses words that have a specific meaning here - things like Attention, Awareness, Subtle Distractions, and Dullness. This is extremely helpful, I found, and made my own understanding of what was going on much clearer.

The distinction between Attention and Awareness in particular is key, and the explanation here is very clear:
Attention singles out some small part of the context of the field of conscious awareness from the rest in order to analyze and interpret it. On the other hand, peripheral awareness is more holistic, open and inclusive, and provides the overall context for conscious awareness.

This dual aspect of meditation is vital - it's not all about concentration and attention, it's also about maintaining awareness of the larger context whilst keeping attention stable on a single object. A difficult balancing act for some of us!

Of course, it would doubtless take most of us a number of years to progress through all ten stages, and indeed many of us (myself included) will probably never make it to the end. This doesn't matter, though: each step brings additional benefits into your life. You can gain further benefits by undertaking some of the other practices detailed in the appendices - Walking Meditation, Metta or loving-kindness meditation (my favourite!), and Analytical Meditation (for working on specific problems in your work or life).

So that's it in a nutshell. It's my new go-to manual, beating out my previous favouriate Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book. Don't get me wrong, I love MCTB: if you do get half way up the ten-step ladder, it will brilliantly show you what the view from there on to the top looks like. But even the author of MCTB, Daniel Ingram, recommends this very book - he says of it
Essential reading for anyone interested in meditative development from any tradition ... this is the most thorough, straightforward, clear and practical guide to training the mind that I have ever found.


TMI is also better for me than other classics like Mindfulness in Eight Weeks: The revolutionary 8 week plan to clear your mind and calm your life and Mindfulness in Plain English. Both of which are great introductions, and Mindfulness in Eight Weeks is very useful if you're coming to meditation to help with stress and anxiety, as it integrates meditation with Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR), a clinically-validated technique to help with anxiety. TMI beats these for me, however, because of the Why? factor.

What do I mean by the Why? factor? I mean that The Mind Illuminated explains why you are doing the various things at each step. Why am I counting the breaths? To focus attention. Why am I doing a bodyscan in this way? To build peripheral awareness. Why do thoughts keep popping into my head? Because of subminds.

And what's a submind when it's at home? That's the other thing I very much liked about TMI: in a series of interludes between the chapters on the ten stages, the book lays out a theory of how the mind seems to work. It's somewhat science-based, in that it is in line with some of the most current theories in neuroscience. The model presented is of the mind as a group of many smaller subminds or "agents", each with a specific purpose, which compete for attention. (If you want more on this, the best popular explanation I know of is Marvin Minsky's The Society of Mind .)

Finally, if you do get into this book, there is a wealth of other material around TMI out there - of particular note is the subreddit, and various YouTube guided meditations or dharma talks by the author, Culadasa.

And really, yes, it's a great book.
1 review47 followers
March 16, 2020
I don't trust writers or anyone who capitalizes the word truth. Something is either true or not. If it is true, it's simply the truth, and not "the Truth". Once you capitalize it, it's no longer universal, it's a dogma that can only be accepted by indoctrinated people. I'm no longer interested in reading the book after the capitalized word has been used three times in the introduction. I only care about the simple, ordinary truth. The scientific truth. Nothing more, nothing less.
Profile Image for Henry Cooksley.
159 reviews50 followers
June 19, 2021
---- second review 19/06/2021

Ok, so I've now spent a couple of years trying to implement the things in this book. I haven't meditated every day of those past two years but I've been regularly meditating for at least the past few months. That's not the problem I have with this book (which I originally gave a 3/5). It's the pseudoscience. I would have no trouble with the author if they didn't claim so often to be following the science. As a piece of fiction, or as a quasi-historical account of one area of Buddhist meditation, this works fairly well. I just don't have time for people that claim to be something they are not. Also, the meditation techniques can mostly be gained from a careful reading of the one chapter at the beginning when the 'stages' are all set out. You don't really need the remainder of the book if you just want a meditation textbook.

---- original review 03/07/2019

I think that for a first read, I’ve got the most out of this book that I can for now. As this is a book that you really need to refer to repeatedly over a number of months (or years) I can’t say I really know what the long-term effects will be after following these meditation guidelines. There’s a lot of information here, and I appreciated that Culadasa’s theory of mind mostly derives from contemporary literature in cognitive psychology. This book may reward the more adventurous reader. I’m sure I will return to this again when I am older, wiser, and more willing to receive its advice.
Profile Image for Robin Jose.
146 reviews2 followers
November 9, 2018
If you’ve been practicing meditation for decades and want to be on the “cutting edge of meditation”, then I guess you’ll find value in this book. It could be the best book on meditation for all I care. But it was lost on me. I am a mere dilettante at this, and the best I can do is 10 minutes of morning meditation. If I must start thinking about stages and characteristics and paths - I’m overanalysing mediation. Which, to me, kind of beats the purpose.

I guess I am better suited for "Meditation for Dummies" or "Complete idiots Guide to Meditation”. It’s not a critique on the book. It’s a critique on me. However, since it’s my review of the book, I'm going with 3 stars. 
Profile Image for Natalie.
547 reviews
April 3, 2020
I laughed when I read about how many women this guy slept with. I still can’t stop laughing. I like the “method” all right, and there are useful points, but I can’t get past the vow breaking since it calls the whole method into question.
Profile Image for Alok.
25 reviews3 followers
June 20, 2019
**GOOGLE MAP FOR MEDITATION**

Let me give a little background. In 2018, I did a 10-day Introduction to the Buddhism course at Tushita Meditation Center, Dharamsala, India. It’s run by Tibetan Buddhist monks. The most useful part for me in the meditation course at Tushita was the day when Glen (our teacher) talked about the various stages of Shamatha (the meditation technique of watching the breath). I have been practicing Vipassana for many years, and I have been immensely benefited by the daily practice in various ways. But my experience was like roaming around in a forest which had beautiful parts as well as not-so-beautiful parts. I could enjoy the tranquillity and exotic beauty offered by the forest, but I didn’t know where I was going.

And it’s important on any path to know at what milestone you are and where you are going. Glen’s explanation of various stages was like meeting a traveler who relieves you of your ignorance to some extent. Then I read the book recommended by him, THE ATTENTION REVOLUTION, which gave me a detailed description of the journey. It also gave me insights about the stage I’m currently at as well as the stages I’m going to come across in future.

THE ATTENTION REVOLUTION was an excellent road map on the paper. Nice and useful. But in this digital age, you won’t mind having something better than a paper map. Maybe a Google Map. The Buddhas were nice to me, and they guided me to a more helpful book called THE MIND ILLUMINATED by Culadasa (John Yates PhD). Let’s call the book TMI to save space in this write-up.

Like Google Map, TMI doesn’t tell you only about where you are and where you are going, it also informs you about the traffic and the kind of problems you are going to meet on the street. Or maybe TMI is an advanced version of Google Map which hasn’t come to the public as yet. The initial stages of meditation are like travelling on a suburban street in India which is full of potholes, unruly bikers, immense dust and cows. TMI shares detail about each of them so that you make very few mistakes and you make your progress faster. The book makes you aware of the limitations of your vehicle (your body and mind) and how to get the best mileage from them. It also tells you where you need to slow down and where you need to use the accelerator.

This book is full of many wonderful qualities which you will discover while reading it, but let me share some of them with you:

1. I have done a few 10-day retreats at Goenka’s Vipassana, and they are excellent at teaching meditation and transforming your mind. But they don’t talk about the milestones on the path of meditation. They just teach you how to kick-start your practice and keep moving. Similarly, I have read many books on meditation written by renowned spiritual masters. Again, those books were excellent for beginners. But TMI is helpful to you whether you are going to take your first step or the five thousandth step. This book works as a guide at every stage.

2. The writer, Culadasa, works really hard to make you understand the most basic and the most advanced things about meditation. He literally holds your hand, and shows the way. Since he has been a serious meditator, he exactly knows about most of the problems you might face. So he makes you aware of the solutions you might need.

3. THE ATTENTION REVOLUTION says that you will have to take very long meditation retreats after crossing the fourth stage of Shamatha. Otherwise you won’t able to move ahead. It disappointed me a bit since I didn’t find it possible to take months or years long retreats. TMI says that if you are ready to put in one to two hours every day into quality meditation and live a simple life, you will be able to reach the most advanced stages. This book gives me hope.

4. TMI has beautiful illustrations in every chapter to make the points easily understandable. Despite being a serious book, it doesn’t have the heaviness of a serious book. I also like the page layout of the book which leaves a lot of space to make notes with a sharp pencil.

5. Culadasa is a neuroscientist, which means he has studied the mind from outside as well. Although he doesn’t bring neuroscience frequently in the book, his experience makes him more insightful about the workings of the brain and the mind.

6. The beauty of this book lies also in the fact that it can be useful even if you are using some other form of meditation like mantra or mental visualization. Although it doesn’t guarantee that you will have the advanced benefits of Shamatha from any other technique.

No book can ever be the substitute for a real teacher. But since our chances of finding a full-time spiritual teacher in the modern city life are as rare as finding vanilla ice-cream in a desert, this book can be the second most helpful thing for us. I wish I had got it years back, but maybe everything comes to us at the right time.

If you had a short fling with meditation, this book can convince you to get married to it. And if you are already married to meditation, it can make your marriage happier and more successful.

***
You can get the taste of the book by reading this article which is taken from the introductory chapter: https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com...

Profile Image for Michael Gardner.
Author 21 books71 followers
June 26, 2018
The Mind Illuminated is a book which achieves exactly what it sets out to do: to be a practical guide to meditation. Culdasa (John Yates Ph.D.) comes at the subject from his unique perspective as a Buddhist and brain scientist, making the subject very accessible for people who might believe the practice is imbued with religion and mysticism. While this may be where meditation has its roots, its simply an exercise that helps to train the mind. Culdasa explains the process clearly and concisely in 10 steps, particularly to make the practice easy to understand and adopt for Westerners.

Even though I’m familiar with meditation from my days studying drama (which uses many meditation techniques to help actors prepare for performance), I always thought that ‘proper’ meditation was something only devout Tibetan monks sitting on top of mountains could do. The truth is quite the opposite. It’s a practice anyone with any level of skill can do. The only equipment you need to get started is your breath.

Regardless of what you want to achieve through meditation, the proven benefits of a regular practice is a subject that deserves wider attention, especially in this mad, frantic world in which we live.
Profile Image for Harold.
74 reviews3 followers
May 27, 2022
This will take me a lifetime to finish, so just gonna go ahead and rate it. It's written in a really clear, positive, explicit way that I like a lot, and has vastly improved my meditation practice.
20 reviews
April 20, 2020
I use apps to meditate, but none seem to fit the bill.

There's Andy from Headspace, I like his simple instructions and British accent. But I never end a session feeling like I've made any progress.

Then there's Sam from The Waking Up App. He's a lot more credible than fictional Andy, but he's confusing with his teachings. "Gaze into your mind. Look for the one who's looking". ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That's why I prefer Culadasa in The Mind Illuminated. Prior to reading this book, I didn't know what there is to gain from meditation. Andy says you'll feel better. Sam says it's for enlightenment. But I can't help but ask... how will I feel better? And what is enlightenment? Culadasa frames meditation as training your brain to focus. He takes you on a 10 stage journey - carefully explaining what you'll feel and what your goals are for each stage. The first 6 steps describes how to focus on your breath while ignoring distractions. The last 4 steps pinpoint what your brain can do upon having the ability to focus on your breath while ignoring distractions. Things like intense spasms of happiness. And gaining Insight (with a capital I) into reality. I'm still stuck on step 3 so I can't vouch for most of the claims. However, each stage holds your hand to get to the next with modern words and simple pictures modeling your brain on meditation. Admittedly, at the end of the read I still don't know what it means to experience Insight. But I do know what it is intellectually and therefore I can strive to reach that feeling in my practice. That, to me, is what is excellent about this book - it gives you a clear roadmap of what to expect. In retrospect, Andy and Sam were right, meditation helps you feel better by leading you to enlightenment. I just needed Culadasa to tell me how.
Profile Image for Nick.
32 reviews3 followers
February 29, 2016
The mind is pabhassaram (pali), luminous, reflectively known. This book details 10 stages of meditation, a framework based on Asangas 9 steps of samatha (and other sources). Interludes and appendices include additional content. This is among a handful of books I'd recommend to start practice for dedicated meditators. A strong and detailed introduction to meditation & samatha albeit with some issues. For example, "anatta" is translated as no-self, search for the article "no-self or not-self". The goal of the path is sometimes described in terms of discovering reality, search for the article "jayarava the nature of reality". While the book is about the elephant taming pictures, no mention of its closest counterpart, the ox-herding pictures of Chan. Some quibbles here and there, but good to have practice described in terms of overcoming forgetting, dullness, distraction, and developing peripheral awareness, introspective attention, etc.

If you are interested in this book you can first search and read Culadasa's older freely available articles "lightonmeditationhandout", "jhanasandmindfulnesshandout", and "LOM Reading February 2012" for the gist of it.
37 reviews
May 7, 2021
This book promises much and the introduction talks of the ‘higher goal of awakening’ & concludes the intro by saying ‘you’ll discover an unprecedented inner calm & gain a deep understanding - even a direct experience - of ultimate truth’. How many readers of this book have found that the reading of this book has led to the tasting of these fruits?

Yates’ own challenges including the divorce from his wife Nancy (who the book is dedicated to) and removal from the Dharma Treasure Board are food for thought

https://engagedharma.net/2019/08/19/c...

This a long & complex read, so before spending time on reading the book it is worth thinking about

* what do you want to achieve from reading this book?
* how likely is it this book will help you achieve that objective?

If you seek ‘awakening’ and can find any examples of anyone (including Yates) who you think have achieved it through this book then let us know! 😀

If not, your time might be spent better elsewhere.

For me, I am abandoning (or ‘letting go’ if you like 🧘) this book about 1/4 of the way through and reading ‘The Book of Joy’ by the Dali Lama instead.
Profile Image for Anastasia Bizyayeva.
136 reviews2 followers
June 12, 2021
This is one of the best books I've read - shoutout to Brian for the recommendation long ago!

Yates approaches meditation so incredibly thoroughly and walks the reader through the advantages to expect as well as incredibly detailed specifics of the challenges you'll phase in each of the stages of the journey. This is a book that I'm constantly going back to - I'm glad I have it on my Kindle for constant consultation.

If you're looking to get into meditation I couldn't recommend this book highly enough. It really provides the structure and framework that it feels like apps are lacking. You aren't guided through a single practice devoid of any connection to the rest of your meditation journey - Yates really contextualizes what you're feeling and why, and the expectations you can have along the way.
Profile Image for Nex Juice.
252 reviews17 followers
July 13, 2017
Stop over-complicating meditation. We don't need 413 big pages of text to figure it out. Read Soul-Centered by Sarah McLean instead. Much shorter and more practical. This is mainly a theological book - there are a couple meditations at the end. If you've read about meditation before, you probably won't find much new in here.
4 reviews2 followers
August 15, 2018
The only book on meditation you need. Truly lives upto its title in being "A Complete Guide".

One of the most important works on meditation ever published. This book is a sleeper smash hit. It is absolutely criminal for it to be so lowly marketted.

Do not go for popularity's sake to other books. This simple english guide has helped me more than any other book on meditation.
Profile Image for Nick Imrie.
286 reviews122 followers
Shelved as 'on-hold'
February 16, 2018
This book is great and will probably sit on my 'currently-reading' shelf forever, since I am always coming back to review the current chapter and may take a long time to finally progress to the end.
Profile Image for Lucinda Hannah.
6 reviews26 followers
December 11, 2019
Superb! Culadasa describes in clear, succinct terms what you're actually striving for when you sit down to meditate. I was kind of floundering before, going around in circles, getting distracted by the mildly esoteric sensations with no clear idea what thread I should be pulling to develop. This took me a while to read; I wanted to let each stage with its attendant nuances and difficulties sink in. I loved the neuroscience and the cool pragmatism of his approach, both reassuring and productive for practice. When you know why you are remorselessly reverting to your object of attention, and how this alters neurological correlates in your mind, everything falls in to place.

He lays out a theory of mind with multiple sub-minds (below consciousness) devolved to various specific tasks: sense objects, mental objects, binding moments (combining sensory phenomena and memories perhaps). These sub-minds are autonomous; they determine the salience of the the sensory input or other processing and if significant they push to conscious awarenes. This may sound peculiar at first but on observing your mind you realise thoughts do just pop up/in unbidden; some internal mechanism must be weighing and evaluating at a lower level (below consciousness) and only pushing those requiring additional computation power or input from the other sub-minds in order to arrive at a resolution. Ultimately the goal of meditation (initially) is to subdue this sub-minds so they stop mindlessly escalating details into consciousness. Constant pulling back to the object of focus 'trains' your sub-minds this is futile, and with practice your mind wanders less and less so all sub-minds remain engaged and drawing on the observations of consciousness; the mind grows 'unified'. As more and more sub minds are subdued and trained on conscious awareness this frees up more mental processing power to explore the details of minute physical sensations and for developing metacognitive awareness (watching the mind watching sensations). Ultimately, you can see to what insight is tending; reality stripped of all the trappings of your mental reinterpretations and with super-charged levels of concentration.

This book is a big fat, clever elucidation of how to meditate; a technical guide to put you in the best spot to glean insight. Mind-blowing achievement. Oh, the dude also has a PhD in neuroscience, just for fun.
Profile Image for Chris.
334 reviews16 followers
February 11, 2022
This book has changed how I think about meditation and given direction and depth to my practice. The book illuminates 10 stages of meditation, and looks at how the brain works along with them. The brain science fascinates me and makes so much sense with what I had noticed about my meditation but didn't have words to describe. I am not moving towards stage 10 of the outlined stages, but I will always be grateful for this book showing me that so much more was possible with my meditation. I do not suggest this book as an introduction to meditation. I do suggest it if you've been meditating a while and are wondering what else is possible with your meditation. The book is about breath focused concentration meditation, and also includes sections on related styles of meditation that support this main practice.
Profile Image for Varsha Rao.
18 reviews19 followers
October 27, 2020
Brilliantly crafted, thoughtfully organized, and very well explained. This book is a must for anyone seeking to understand what meditation is, why it works, and how it transforms oneself. I will not comment on the practice aspects as I am following Bhante Vimalaramsi's loving-kindness meditation which has a very different approach in terms of the techniques used. But otherwise, I found the descriptions and explanations extremely helpful in deepening my understanding and further keeping me motivated for practice.
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