Present Fresh Wakefulness – a review and contest

Present Fresh Wakefulness: A Meditation Manual on Nonconceptual Wisdom

By repeating the recognition of innate suchness, totally free of mental constructs, we lay the basis for accomplishing the mind of the buddhas.

Present Fresh Wakefulness is  straight-forward advice from Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche on how to do away with dualistic thought and awaken. It is a very practical approach to meditation and non-dualism which actually surprised me given the little experience I’ve had with Vajrayana Buddhism. I don’t have much of a knowledge base when it comes to the Vajrayana vehicle, and that was a small hurdle at times with this book. But Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche cuts through the “trappings” that might shy a novice away and delivers a message that is clear to all, regardless of tradition.

The book is written from a series of talks that Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche has given, and as such the dialogue can be informal at times, as one would expect when talking face-to-face with one another. He is very clear that committing yourself to nibbana is not a weekend retreat, hobby, or something to be done in your spare time. Awakening is a process that is inclusive of our every action and pattern of thought. The first part of the book dives into this deep, emphasizing time and again that there is “no samsara apart from thoughts”; and that it is dualistic, conceptual thinking that binds us to samsara. He then goes on to tell about the how of awakening in the Vajrayana vehicle. About this he says

Vajrayana is a very swift path, and to make it real, to actualize it, we need to use all sorts of methods. The Vajrayana approach has great advantages, but it is also very risky.

Anyone that can be this upfront and honest about their path earns a few gold stars in my book. He explains the methods used in Vajrayana without putting them on a pedestal above other schools/methods, which is something I greatly admire. Let your practice speak for itself, without disparaging others.

One thing about this book that I found difficult was that it was transcribed from talks that Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche gave, and in the transcription, something gets lost. When you write a book or blog post or article, it is true that you attempt to write using your own voice. But there was something choppy and slightly disconnected about it. It was as if the talk was happening in the next room, and you could only hear it through the wall. As a result, you’d miss out on his presence, eye contact, and all those other non-verbal modes of communication that accompany speech. So the “voice” of the book seems to stumble at times, and I think this leads to a little dryness as well.

But it is still well worth the read. I think a newbie Buddhist such as myself would be able to learn from it, but someone with a little bit more of a base understanding around Vajrayana would find it even more valuable. And as such, I’m going to give this book away to one of my readers.

All you have to do to win this book is to leave a comment on this post naming one book that has both challenged you and helped you on your path. I’ll use on Sunday June 27th to pick a winner, so be sure to comment before then!


Present Fresh Wakefulness: A Meditation Manual on Nonconceptual Wisdom
Author: Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche/
Translated from the Tibetan by Erik Pema Kunsang
Compiled by Marcia Binder Schmidt
This book was provided at no cost via North Atlantic Books for review.


Filed under Book Review, Buddhism

13 responses to “Present Fresh Wakefulness – a review and contest

  1. zenfant

    sounds like an awesome book Adam

    the book that moved my practice to a new level was The Method of No Method by Chan Master Sheng Yen. it is also a transcript of dharma talks and has the same limitations you mentioned above but is well worth the read.

  2. Looks like an interesting book!

    The book that sticks with me most is The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. While not exactly a book about Buddhism, it was the book that first exposed me to some basic tenets of Eastern thought and philosophy. My practice has evolved and matured since then, but I still have much respect and reverence for Mr. Watts!

  3. nathan

    Jan Willis’ Dreaming Me, which is a memoir of an African-American Buddhist really pushed me to consider more deeply connections of practice to social justice issues.

  4. James

    Sounds like a good book, thanks for the review!

    The latest book to really challenge me was Daniel Ingram’s “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha,” which I read online and later bought in hard copy. You can find it as a pdf file here

  5. Gus

    Tao Te Ching

  6. Jason

    I’m always looking for new reading material, I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    One book that had a big influence on my practice is one I got when I was a teenager. The Zen teachings of Master Lin-Chi straightforward no nonsense approach to Buddhism really appeals to me, and I always find myself coming back to the book throughout the years.

  7. Avery

    I have to say, the book that’s challenged me the most as a Buddhist is also the one that’s helped me the most: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness. I feel like it sets a very high standard for how to really be mindful.

    • Thanks. I have only one Thay book, No Death, No Fear which I have yet to read, though I’ve read plenty of other essays/excerpts of his. I’d agree that he definitely sets a high standard in terms of practice/mindfulness.

  8. karmadorje

    Plenty of Buddhist books have challenged & helped me, but the one which shocked me was Wheel of Sharp Weapons composed by Dharmaraksita. It’s a Library of Tibetan Works & Archives book and was translated into English by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey.
    Because I can never stop at one, I also nominate Gently Whispered by Kalu Rinpoche. It is a compilation of oral teachings covering a wide range of Vajrayana subjects. It is easy to understand and one of those books you get something new out of with repeated readings. Postage would be an issue if I won, so don’t include me in this competition. I just wanted to share a couple of books which may benefit others.

  9. Zen Jewitch

    The most recent book that has kicked me down the path is Gil Fronsdal’s translation of The Dhammapada. Another good one was “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” which is currently in storage.