Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana explains the myths, realities and benefits of meditation and mindfulness. The book provides a step-by-step guide to cultivate mindfulness for greater focus, clarity, peace and happiness. The book focuses on Vipassana meditation (a Buddhist meditation practice), but the insights are applicable regardless of your religious affiliation. In this free Mindfulness in Plain English summary, we’ll explain what’s mindfulness and meditation, followed by an overview of the key techniques and tips shared by Bhante G.
Mindfulness in Plain English: An Overview
Why Bother with Mindfulness?
It’s human nature to feel dissatisfied with life and to want more. We enjoy temporary highs from pleasures or successes, but regularly slip back into stress, envy or discontent. That’s because we’re stuck in a mental treadmill of desire vs aversion.
We tend to mentally categorize our experiences into 3 boxes: good, bad or neutral. Then, we cling on to what we think is “good”, avoid/ reject what we think is “bad”, and ignore/neglect everything else. We end up chasing pleasures, avoiding pain, and ignoring 90% of our experiences.
We become prisoners of this mental treadmill. We suffer when we face mishaps/losses. We even suffer when we experience success, since we’re afraid to lose what we’ve gained. So, we’re constantly trying to protect what we have, get even more, then cling on to what we’ve gained. We tell ourselves: “If only I had X, all my problems will be solved” or “If only I had Y, I’d be happy.”
Ultimately, all of us want peace and happiness. Meditation can help us achieve that by stepping outside our mental treadmill. When you’re acutely aware of your thoughts and actions, you can recognize your desires without obsessing over them, face your fears without being crippled by them, see yourself without illusion or judgment, and understand how you fit in with other human beings. These help you to think/act with greater focus, clarity and intuition.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word sati, which can also mean “bare attention”. We first become aware of something through a subtle, fleeting state of non-conceptual awareness. This happens for a split second before our mind starts to process it consciously and attach labels and concepts to form conscious thoughts (e.g. “it’s a dog” or “it’s a cute dog”). Mindfulness is about seeing reality as it is without judgment or biases.
During meditation, you seek to watch your own thoughts and responses with calm detachment (instead of being caught up in them). It trains your mind to prolong that moment of full awareness when you see things as they are without distortion.
There are many approaches to meditation. This book specifically presents the vipassana system of meditation, which is the oldest Buddhist meditation practice.
In a nutshell, vipassana is about observing your mind in a calm, detached way to gain insight into your own actions. Specifically, vipassana teaches you to direct your attention to 1 aspect of your existence each time, examining it with such precision and clarity that you can see right through to its fundamental reality, thus gaining deep insight.
In our full version of the Mindfulness in Plain English summary, we further elaborate on:
- The key characteristics of mindfulness and 2 essential ingredients of meditation: concentration and mindfulness;
- Why our mental distortions create worry, anxiety and misconceptions, and how meditation works to counter them;
- The various myths and misconceptions of meditation: what exactly it is and isn’t;
- The concepts of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness; and
- The benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
Cultivating your Mindfulness Practice
Besides explaining meditation and mindfulness in plain English, Bhante G. also breaks down how to start meditating and cultivating your mindfulness practice. This is like a step-by-step guide that walks you through how to (i) adopt the right attitude, (ii) get started, (iii) manage your body and mind, (iv) deal with distractions and problems that come up during meditation, and (v) structure a sustainable practice. Here’s an overview of the key areas addressed in the book. You can also get a detailed walk-through from our complete 17-page summary:
Your end-goal is to use the seated sessions to train your mind and cultivate new mental habits. That way, you can be mindful throughout the day, and remain calm and strong in face of daily pressures.
In our full version of the Mindfulness in Plain English summary, we also explain how to go beyond seated meditations to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life (e.g. using walking meditations, observing your postures during daily activities etc.). With practice, you’ll (i) develop the mental habit of “catching” your mind when it drifts and bringing it back to your object of focus, (ii) see things as they are (without adding or subtracting from them to distort reality), and (iii) perceive the true nature of all phenomena without conscious thought.
Getting the most from Mindfulness in Plain English
This is a detailed guidebook that demystifies the concepts of mindfulness and meditation, and explains how you can cultivate your mindfulness practice with clear, simple steps. In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 17-page text summary, and a 28-minute audio summary. Regardless of whether you’re a novice or a seasoned practitioner, you’ll definitely find some useful tips and insights from this book.
Besides the tips captured in this summary, the book also includes background on the origins and concepts of meditation, how they relate to Western scientific discoveries, and how to address common concerns or obstacles to mindfulness. It also includes stories and daily examples to explain various Buddhist concepts (e.g. impermanence, loving friendliness, dealing with anger etc.). You can purchase the book here for the full details.
About the Author of Mindfulness in Plain English
Mindfulness in Plain English is written by Bhante G–also known as Bhante G. by his students, is a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk. He was born in 1927 in rural Sri Lanka, became a monk since age 12, took full ordination in 1947 and went to the United States in 1968. He’s the founding abbot of the Bhavana Society, has written a number of books, and used to lead regular retreats on vipassana, mindfulness, metta (loving-friendliness), concentration, and other topics both at the Bhavana Society.
Mindfulness in Plain English Quotes
“The process of becoming who you will be begins first with the total acceptance of who you are.”
“Meditation brings the mind to a state of tranquility and awareness, a state of concentration and insight.”
“The irony of it is that real peace comes only when you stop chasing it.”
“Meditation teaches you how to disentangle yourself from the thought process. It is the mental art of stepping out of your own way, and that’s a pretty useful skill in everyday life.”
“Concentration is the sun’s parallel rays, and mindfulness is the lens that focuses the rays onto an object.”
“Nothing worthwhile is achieved overnight….Patience is the key.”
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is not.”
“Emptying the mind is not as important as being mindful of what the mind is doing.”