Book Review: “Not for Happiness” by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

2012 December 30


After judging a book by it’s cover and wondering what the honk was going on with this design and thinking I had a few too many of those cocktails in my years of practice and study, I was anticipating what Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche had in store with his most recent book “Not for Happiness : A Guide to the so-called Preliminary Practices”.

From the start, I have to say that this book knocked me on my arse like a stiff cocktail. If there is anyone out there dispensing tough love, it is Khyentse Rinpoche and I do love and admire him for it. With his previous book, “What Makes you not a Buddhist” he dismantled the romantic fantasies that many hold about Buddhism – all the glorious pomp and circumstance, showmanship and fancy doodads that can seem more appealing then the ass on cushion, eyeballs to sutras and full-throttle application of the dharma.

In “Not for Happiness” Rinpoche goes quite a bit further and drops readers into an exploration of the preliminary practices (aka Ngöndro) and provides a guidebook for what this aspect of the path entails. Readers will get a glimpse into practices but it should be forewarned that in my personal opinion, it’s always best to consult with a teacher before dabbling in these kinds of spiritual endeavors. It’s also not really a book for the newbies. That’s not to dissuade you from checking it out if you’re new to the dharma, but I think that there’s quite a bit of language and terminology that requires a good base of an understanding of some degree of Buddhism in order to grasp the wisdom within this book’s pages. It is fairly heavy material and no doubt, I will be re-reading this book several times to get at its full richness.

Rinpoche speaks a great deal to the customs surrounds spiritual practice and how many look at ngöndro as something to ‘get through’ in order to get at the juicier teachings or the danger of this practice becoming ‘meaningless ritual’. Techniques and suggestions are given throughout the book and it is truly a gift to have read these teachings and been allowed some insight into how I can seek to apply them to my own practice. The book covers the topic of ‘Why study and practice’ and gives enough of a sense of urgency to put the pedal to the metal. Again, a feature of Rinpoche’s writing that I value so very much.

The book is an honest look at how modern dharma students can explore ngöndro practices given the distractions us laypeople face while we engage in spiritual practice and how we can embody and live in the dharma. It’s a no-holds barred look at how Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche himself has struggled with motivation, emotions and renunciation.

Speaking of no holds barred…

So, if you are only concerned about feeling good, you are far better off having a full body massage or listening to some uplifting or life-affirming music than receiving dharma teachings, which were definitely not designed to cheer you up. On the contrary, the dharma was devised specifically to expose your failings and make you feel awful.

Hence the title “Not for Happiness” I guess….**

**I have to add here that after a great exchange on Twitter with @chagmed I am left even more curious at the origin of the book title but received a bit of support in that my twitter friend added that “the objective of Dharna is enlightenment, not happiness.” I’d love your thoughts on this newly formed koan that has been created for me.

DKR_byMT-258x460Overall, I have to say that this was absolutely the best dharma book I’d read in 2012 and one that I will rely upon heavily for both demoralizing me and uplifting me in my practice. I’m not sure if this is the outcome that Rinpoche had hoped for from those reading his book, but seeing as I’m somewhat new to ngöndro, it’s what I’m left to work with.



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