In Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment, Ezra Bayda maintains a calm, practical tone that embodies much of what he teaches. Bayda has a wide collection of knowledge, from personal experiences to the teachings of Zen wisdom, and he includes everything in this book. He is no newcomer to the practices of Zen or the multitude of obstacles that can arise on a path to personal fulfillment. His many works include Being Zen, At Home in Muddy Waters, Saying Yes to Life (even the Hard Parts), and Zen Heart.
Bayda’s deep understanding of his topic allows him to keep a conversational tone and tie his wisdom into everyday practices. Beyond Happiness seems best suited for people with little to no knowledge of Zen because Bayda carefully explains each element that he refers to (although Bayda’s thoughts on happiness would be useful to anyone).
Bayda divides the book into three main sections: What Blocks Happiness?, The Roots of Happiness, and Cultivating Happiness. Within those sections, there are further chapter divisions that help keep his message clear and make it easy for readers to return to certain sections in the future.
Bayda is always practical and realistic, which is perhaps the best feature of the book. He really tries to begin a conversation between himself and the reader (as well as to open up a connection between the reader and their inner self). He fosters this communication by guiding the reader with meaningful questions and suggesting ways to go about answering them. For example, he divides the opening question, ‘what blocks happiness?,’ into three questions that are easier to answer: am I truly happy right now? if not, what blocks it? and can I surrender to what is? The process of answering these questions frees a person from the confines of negative thought. Bayda guides readers so they can begin to manage their emotions, instead of letting feelings define who they are and how they think.
In the first chapter, Bayda deconstructs the idea of happiness, eventually proving that many of the things we do to achieve happiness actually stifle it. He reminds us that happiness should be a by-product of a fulfilling life and not the goal. For example, many people think they will be happy if the get a better job, but this makes happiness reliant on the future and keeps the person unsatisfied in the present. Bayda ultimately concludes that the main causes of missing out on happiness are “our sense of entitlement, our expectations, our believed thoughts and judgments, our fear-based emotions, and our attachments and addictions.”
After breaking down the misconceptions of happiness and the obstacles that stand in the way, Bayda moves into how to deepen and maintain happiness. Bayda works hard to keep his material practical and easy to relate to. He admits that there is no way to be happy all the time, but that the idea of true contentment exists beyond everyday emotion. He explores more questions that people can ask themselves in order to maintain happiness and includes ways to incorporate them into daily routines: i.e. in the car, at work, etc. One example includes, “what is this moment?” which draws people away from intellect and brings “attention to the physical reality of our experience.”
Bayda’s book is a genuine attempt to help people to see beyond their daily preoccupations and move towards a path of fulfillment. The questions Bayda poses are an important part of his teachings, but there is something else that holds this book together: his personal experiences and the many anecdotes he includes. His personal information maintains a delicate balance; it isn’t too much that it feels like an autobiography, but enough to show his knowledge comes from practice and not from simply theorizing.
It also makes him a more approachable teacher, because he understands that the path to contentment is a long one and he has struggled with it himself. The anecdotes cover a wide range of material from cooking breakfast to Buddha working at a retail store. The anecdotes are never more than a paragraph or two, but are enough to exemplify Bayda’s points.
If you are not familiar with Zen practices or meditation, this is a wonderful way to get acquainted. In this book, Bayda tells the story of happiness, and along the way he includes ways to begin meditating and being truly in the moment. He is a calm and ever-present guide. He can be a bit verbose at times, but it is all in the name of guiding you exactly. You can read this book anywhere, but don’t expect a quick read. Take your time with his steps. If you do as he instructs, you will see the benefits.
By Ezra Bayda
Published by Shambhala Publications, Inc.
164 Pages; Hardcover
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Tomasulo, D. (2011). Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 27, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/beyond-happiness-the-zen-way-to-true-contentment/0005846
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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