Sunday, March 17, 2013

Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan

A young man takes up meditation. He’s an engineer. He has a zany sense of humor. (We’re getting into some weird combinations here!). He works at Google. He met the Dalai Lama, while his photo with President Obama and Lady Gaga adorn the back cover of his book. And, last but not least, he wants to bring world peace. There are some details that I’ve left out, but this should give you a sense of what makes SearchInside Yourself a truly enjoyable and beneficial read. 

What Tan has done is to translate the wisdom of Buddhist mediation practice and insights from Western psychology, such as Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence and contemporary neuroscience research, and packaged it for the contemporary workplace. In his case, and as the example that motivates the book, he developed and offered this program at his work place, Google. The fact that Google president Eric Schmidt’s endorsement sits on the front cover suggests that the program went well, and not surprisingly so. 

What Tan has done has been done by a number of others, including the Dalai Lama: taking the essence of Buddhist wisdom and practice (which is in large measure compatible with other religious and philosophical traditions), confirming its usefulness with science, and offering it up to the contemporary workplace and wider world. Moreover, I think, Tan succeeds in this enterprise. Tan succeeds not because he’s unique in his quest or insights. He doesn’t break any new theoretical grounds. Indeed, he draws heavily on the work of others and freely acknowledges those sources. Instead, through his personal charm and zaniness, he seeks to disarm those who are skeptical of his ways and means. I believe that he succeeds in this very well by using cartoons and humorous, sometimes even corny, asides. The man is on a mission—he’s a missionary—but he’s not peddling a missionary position or some dour set of restrictions; instead, through humor and careful review of the evidence, he’s suggesting practical, rather easy, ways to make life and work better. 

I suppose that the criticism that some might make of this book is that it is “Buddhism lite”. In one sense, that’s true. But Tan isn’t out to peddle Buddhism, he’s out to peddle world peace (starting with personal and workplace peace), so I don’t know if he’s care about such a charge. I don’t. In fact, the list of persons whom he’s worked with or cited is an honor role of Buddhist practitioners (Alan Wallace, Joan Halifax, Mathieu Ricard), academics and scientists (Daniel Goleman, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Davidson), a Benedictine monk (David Steindhl-Rast), a Jewish Zen master (Norman Fischer) and—oh, yes—the Dalai Lama, among others. Not bad company, I’d say. 

So, only read this book if you think that you can live a better life, enjoy those around you more (even work colleagues!), and you’re willing to enjoy some good chuckles while doing so.


Tom said...

Happy Birthday, Steve. I don't have your email address so hope this gets to you. Paul and I are so embarrassed we forgot to film a dancing sequence for your birthday video. But we did have good intentions until we just simply forgot. Hope your day is wonderful. You look great in the turban! Happy Birthday!- BJ and Paul

Tom said...

Happy Birthday, Steve! I just wrote a long comment here about how embarrassed we were that we forgot to film a dance sequence for you HB video. But I think I messed up and it didn't get posted. Nonetheless, we wish you a very happy and auspicious birthday!

Love, BJ and Paul