Book Reviews

Friends on the PathLiving Spiritual Communities

by Thich Nhat Hanh Compiled by Jack Lawlor

Review by David Percival

This book is an invaluable resource on Sangha building for beginning and advanced practitioners around the world. We are told that even the smallest Sangha nurtures and continues the living tradition of Buddhism. For those of us who are shy or introverted and were brought up in the Western tradition of individualism, a Sangha is a powerful force that pulls us away from our ego to community, togetherness, and freedom.    As Jack Lawlor says, "we have to be willing to let go of a bit or our desire to be anonymous and private." And it is so much easier to let go of our old self-centered baggage when we are with a group of loving friends. It has been a wonderful experience for me to feel the support of Sangha members as, from time to time, stumble along. The Sangha doesn't let me fall. As Thay says, "The Sangha is there to support you in your practice.  So building the Sangha means building yourself."

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Part of the message of this book is to seek out a Sangha and if there is no Sangha in your community, to start one. Enter whole­ heartedly into a mindful practice with spiritual friends. Lawlor offers words of support to all of us plagued from time to time with doubts and discouragement.  His section on "Sharing the Path: An Overview of Lay Sangha Practice" is full of advice, instruction, ideas, and encouragement. And, most of all, be makes us realize that we can do it. We don't need years of experience, a massive library of Buddhist texts, monastic or lay teachers or advisors-­we need just one friend who wants to practice in a community.

As I read this book, I thought back to the beginnings of the Rainbow Sangha here in Albuquerque. A few months after returning from my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in 1997 I got together with Greg Sever, another Albuquerque retreat attendee. We put up a few fliers around town, set a date, and met in one of our homes. We didn't do much planning, we didn't worry, and we didn't have any guidelines or books on Sangha building. We just started. We structured our meetings based on our observations at the retreat. We invited a bell and began. Some of the advice in this book about starting a Sangha includes: start now, don't put it off. Don't get caught up with planning. Bring together one or more friends and begin.

The remainder of the book offers inspirational and practical chapters written by thirty-five monastic and lay practitioners including sections on Practicing in the Community, Sangha Building, Sangha Practice, Practicing with Young People, and Engaged Practice. Three Appendices include the Mindfulness Trainings, Contemplations, and various practices.

In Chapter Two, "Go as a Sangha," Thay explains what a Sangha is, why we need a Sangha, and how to practice with a Sangha. Thay concludes by telling us that in building Sangha we are continuing the work of the Buddha. Our Sangha is the living Buddha. Even ordinary folks in a small Sangha "can achieve things the Buddha has not achieved, because there are many Dharma doors to be opened. There are teachings yet to be offered." Thay has observed that our task is to invent new Dharma doors that address contemporary needs.

All of us individually, and as a Sangha, are the continuation of the Buddha. Sangha building is our task. Our Sanghas, built on a foundation of love, compassion, mindfulness, freedom, and wider-standing, are torches of inspiration, shining their light on the darkness of despair, and transforming the suffering of the world.   Treasure this book, but more important, use it. Let it inspire you to step into the joy and challenges of Sangha building. This is our practice, this is the way to healing and transformation, this is the way out of despair.

Printed by Parallax Press: To order www.parallax.org

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, lives and practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Under the Rose Apple Tree

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Review by Barbara Casey

Reading this book I realized that a primary reason I am so attracted to Thay 's teaching is that he speaks directly to the child within me. Though the material found here is a compilation of talks he has given to young people over the years, for me it is a comprehensive explanation of the Dharma, in the simple and clear style I have grown accustomed to from Thay. Though he may use some different words and longer explanations when speaking to adults, I see from reading this book that all the wisdom, all the stories that help us understand with our hearts and not just our minds, are right here.

The book begins with explaining that we are all Buddhas to be, and how we can touch the Buddha inside us. Specific mindfulness practices of stopping, hugging, looking deeply to identify our habit energy and planting seeds of happiness are offered. We are taught in detail how to invite the bell. Sitting meditation is explained through the story of Siddhartha sitting in meditation for the first time under the rose apple tree swing the ceremony of plowing the fields. The concept of interbeing is taught through the story of the Buddha and Mara, followed by practices to help when "things get difficult, "including how to deal with anger and how to practice when family members are unhappy. The two promises are offered as a way to learn to love, followed by a frank discussion of how to treat our bodies with respect when making choices about sexual activity and consuming drugs, alcohol, and food.

Filled with hints and reminders of simple and effective ways to practice, two of my favorites are, "the secret of the practice is to do one thing at a time," and the last line of the book, "each of us is a river."

The last chapter, "Chasing Clouds" is a beautiful story of a stream that at one point wants to commit suicide after losing the clouds that she has been chasing. But as she looks deeply, she sees what she has been doing:

"It was strange. She had been chasing after clouds, thinking that she could not be happy without clouds, yet she herself was made of clouds. What she was seeking was already in her. Happiness can be like that. If you know how to go back to the here and now, you will realize that the elements of your happiness are already available to you. You don't need to chase them anymore.” If there were just one book on the Dharma I could offer someone, this is the book I would choose.  I hope that every young person will have the opportunity to become friends with this book. I encourage each of us to make Under the Rose Apple Tree a gift to every young person we know, and perhaps we can create a way to offer it through organizations as a gift to many children.

For its simple beauty, lightness and depth, of all of Thay's books, Under the Rose Apple Tree is my favorite.

Printed by Parallax Press: To order www.parallax.org

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, lives with her husband in Santa Rosa, California, where she practices with the Fragrant Rose Sangha. She is an editor of the Mindfulness Bell and loves to practice hugging meditation with her two young nieces, Natalie and Dru.

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