Book Review: Mindfulness in Plain English

Mindfulness in Plain English - Book Review

As a meditation teacher, I've encountered many mindfulness and meditation books, but Bhante Gunaratana’s "Mindfulness in Plain English" stands out for its refreshingly down-to-earth approach.

This book steers clear of out-of-body experiences, Sanskrit mantras, Kundalini energies and chakra meditations. Absolutely no esoteric flavor. Its focus is firmly on practical mindfulness techniques for everyday life of the modern meditator – busy, stressed, and likely struggling to find focus and peace in our information-overloaded world. 

It skillfully bridges ancient Vipassana meditation system with demands of modern life, offering a clear path for creating a meditation habit from the ground up.

A Masterclass in Mindfulness, Taught with the Beauty of Simplicity

Mindfulness in Plain English Book

What sets this book apart is Gunaratana's gift of clarity for explaining profound concepts through a very engaging, easy to follow and witty style. While tackling serious subjects like the nature of suffering and pain, his voice remains warm, yet razor-sharp and even humorous at times. It serves as a good reminder not to take ourselves too seriously on the spiritual journey.

“When you are truly mindful, your nervous system has a freshness and resiliency that fosters insight. A problem arises, and you simply deal with it, quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss.


You don’t stand there in a dither, and you don’t run off to a quiet corner so you can sit down and meditate about it. You simply deal with it.”

Great Meditation Book for Beginners 

It is no surprise that "Mindfulness in Plain English" has become a staple in mindfulness training programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses: it covers pretty much everything from establishing the proper posture and mindset to working through common obstacles like restlessness or mental chatter.

It is such an excellent resource for those seeking a clear and practical guide to mindfulness. The book demystifies meditation, guiding readers through the what, why and how with Gunaratana's signature clarity. He debunks common misconceptions about mindfulness, ensuring the practice feels accessible rather than shrouded in mystique.

Read more: We tested popular meditation cushions and here are the best ones

How to fit meditation in: for those who just don't have the time

For the busy professional or harried parent, Gunaratana's approach focuses on cultivating "life management" skills.

“Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smoothes out.”

His methods don't require retreating from the world. Instead, they build resilience, equip you with tools for navigating life's stresses and distractions with greater presence and deeper intimacy within yourself.

Gunaratana's approach is grounded in the understanding that meditation, like any skill worth mastering, requires consistent practice. His analogy is very spot on:

"Every musician plays scales...The finest concert pianists in the world still play scales... Basic skills must always remain sharp... Seated meditation is the arena in which the meditator practices his own fundamental skills."

Meditation Book Review - Every musician plays scales. Photo by Suzy Hazelwood
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood

A Practical Roadmap to Mindfulness

Perhaps the book's greatest strength lies in its pragmatic, step-by-step instructions on developing mindfulness through meditation. From explaining the basics of setting up your posture and your meditation space to guiding the reader how to tackle common challenges like distractions, drowsiness or boredom, the book truly answers the question:

"Just how do we go about this thing called meditation?"

Bob Stahl, PhD, a renowned MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) teacher trainer and founder of 8 mindfulness centers in the US, also calls "Mindfulness in Plain English" one of his favorites. In his own words, "There are so many books, but this is one of the best."

What you will learn

  • How to watch the functioning of your own mind in a calm manner
  • Get insight into your own patterns of behavior and change them
  • Develop awareness, a prerequisite to “mental art of stepping out of your own way”
  • How things actually feel. Experience the world in an entirely new way
  • How to use your body as a tool for creating desired mental states
  • How to free yourself from the main cause of suffering: running from our problems and chasing our desires
  • How to slow down and stop negative thinking
  • Mental Jiu-Jitsu: deal with whatever comes up “quickly, efficiently and with a minimum amount of fuss”

How you will feel after reading this book

While I cannot tell you how it will feel after reading this book since your experience with "Mindfulness in Plain English" is going to be uniquely your own, I hope it will provide you with more clarity, tools, and inspiration to the why and how to bring more mindfulness into the everyday. Take what resonated with you and leave the rest.

Here's a mood board I created in an attempt to capture how this book makes me feel: clear, spacious, and grounded. But I am curious, how do you feel from reading it? Please share in the comments or send me your Pinterest pin for more visual thoughts.

Mood Board inspired by Mindfulness in Plain English


Bottom Line

While "Mindfulness in Plain English" doesn't promise instant enlightenment or magic fixes, it offers something far more profound - a roadmap for sustainable personal transformation through meditation, which is the main purpose of meditation according to the book.

While rooted in the Buddhist practice of Vipassana or insight meditation, its approach feels inclusive, secular and accessible to all, regardless of religious beliefs or experience levels.

The book sets realistic expectations, steering clear of lofty ideals. Instead, it emphasizes the pragmatic benefits from consistent practice:

"In meditation, you become sensitive to the actual experience of living, to how things actually feel. You do not sit around developing sublime thoughts about living. You live."

By establishing a sustainable meditation routine, readers can cultivate a deep intimacy with the present moment - an intimacy that allows for genuine transformation, which is simply living in alignment with your optimal state of being, to take root.

“The result is freedom.” the book states in plain english.

Frequently Asked Questions about "Mindfulness in Plain English"

Is this book suitable for complete beginners to meditation?

Absolutely. "Mindfulness in Plain English" is widely regarded as one of the best resources for those new to meditation practice. Author's instructions are clear, systematic and beginner-friendly.

Can experienced meditators also benefit from reading this book?

Definitely. While a wonderful starter guide, "Mindfulness in Plain English" goes far beyond fundamentals and ensures its value even for experienced meditators. Gunaratana provides insightful no-nonsense explanations of core meditation concepts like impermanence, non-self, the nature of suffering, and loving kindness. It can reignite inspiration and correct any deviations that may arise over years of practice.

How often do I need to meditate according to "Mindfulness in Plain English"?

While the book doesn't specify a strict daily requirement, it emphasizes the importance of consistent practice - "It's crucial to sit regularly" to build the habit and actually enjoy it.

Daily practice is ideal: The book suggests striving for daily meditation sessions, but acknowledges that life can be busy. Even a few times a week is beneficial.

Find a rhythm that works for you: Whether it's daily, a few times a week, or even just a couple of minutes a day, find a frequency that fits your schedule and you can stick to.

How long do I need to meditate according to "Mindfulness in Plain English"?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for the ideal meditation time. Even short meditation sessions of 5-10 minutes can be very beneficial. As a general recommendation from the book: "Sit as long as you can, but don't overdo."

Key takeaways:

  • Start with a manageable time: Most beginners start with twenty or thirty minutes according to the book. However, most beginners we know, start with under 10 minutes so it varies. Begin with just 5 minutes of meditation and stick with it - it will grow from there!
  • Focus on comfort: Don't push yourself to pain or discomfort. Aim for a time you can sit without pain.
  • Gradually increase: As you get used to meditation, you can slowly extend your sessions little by little like adding 5 more minutes at a time. 

Do I need to be Buddhist to use this book?

Not at all! "Mindfulness in Plain English" is open to everyone, regardless of religion or beliefs. Even though the techniques come from Buddhist teachings, the book explains them in an inclusive, clear and simple way, without any religious rituals or ideas. It focuses on practical ways to learn mindfulness through meditation.

What are some common misconceptions about meditation discussed in the book?

Here are some of the key meditation myths addressed:

  • Meditation is just a relaxation technique.
  • Meditation is a way to achieve bliss or get high (they may occur but are not the goal)
  • Meditation is sitting around, doing nothing or running away from reality.
  • The purpose of meditation is to become a psychic superman.

What are the main benefits of practicing Vipassana meditation according to the book?

The key point is that "Mindfulness in Plain English" roadmaps meditation as a powerful tool to cultivate awareness on and off your cushion or yoga mat, to experience the world in a new way, build stress resilience and integrate mindfulness into everyday living. Meditation as a personal transformation tool is the main purpose of this practice according to the book. 

What is Vipassana meditation?

Vipassanā means “insight” or “seeing things as they really are” in the ancient Pāli language of India. It teaches the path to liberation from suffering and living in peace through self-observation. Vipassana is not tied to any religion and offers a simple and effective self-awareness tool that can be successfully applied by anyone.  

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