Book Reviews

mb67-BookReviews1Spiritual Ecology
The Cry of the Earth

Edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
Golden Sufi Center, 2013
Softcover, 264 pages

Reviewed by Jayna Gieber, True Recollection of the Mindfulness Trainings

In Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, Llewellyn VaughanLee proposes that we are facing ecological and spiritual crises caused by our forgetfulness of creation’s sacred nature. “Do we feel a part of this beautiful and suffering planet, do we sense its need? The connection is a living stream that flows from our heart, embracing all life…. Every step, every touch… a prayer for the Earth, a remembrance of what is sacred.”

This anthology is a transmission of diverse perspectives—from indigenous visionaries, Buddhist scholars, and Christian mystics to scientific theorists. The reader is taken on a journey of oneness with all, including planet Earth. Teachings from around the world—Shamanic healing, Zen meditation, the Cosmic Christ, plus Persian and Hindu planetary cosmologies—inform us of ways to wake up and take right action now.

Many of the points regarding climate change are not new. However, I welcomed a fresh addressing of how to deal with the gravity of our times, not just through science but through eyes of compassion empowered by love, faith, and determination—so we can “dream a new dream…holding a good vision no matter what we see happening in the world.”

Spiritual Ecology looks to wisdom elders. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh offers, “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the Earth crying.” Eco-spiritual activist, Joanna Macy, suggests opening to grief and despair over the climate crisis our planet and all species face. She cautions humans to avoid what appears to be apathy but is actually fear of suffering: “The bodhisattva knows if you’re afraid to get close to the pain of our world you’ll be banished from its joy as well.” Throughout the book we are counseled to behold the beauty of this world and the horror, while looking to a future that embraces the innocence and wonder of children. As a new grandmother, I was moved by wilderness guide Bill Plotkin’s poignant words, “Caring for the soul of children is one of the keystones of responding, in both a practical and spiritual way, to our current ecological crisis.”

This book stirs the heart, charges the spirit, and inspires motivation to protect all life and the Earth from a place of deep love. Guided by that love, we can weave a prayer basket, one that embraces both the scientifi and spiritual dimensions of life, as the way to heal ourselves and the world.

Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us

By Tai Moses
Parallax Press, 2013
Softcover, 128 pages

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

Part memoir, part urban fi guide, Zooburbia is a sweet and humorous dive into Tai Moses’ worldview, in which animals take center stage. Moses describes Zooburbia as “the extraordinary, unruly, half-wild realm where humans and animal lives overlap.” It is apparent she feels at home in this world.

As a youth, Moses longed to leave her smog-covered city of Los Angeles in search of wilder landscapes. Only when she returned to a different city did she discover that an urban environment can and should hold space for wildlife. Looking deeply, Moses saw that her home was located in an important urban wildlife corridor. Inspired, she transformed her backyard from a food garden into a place where she could “help support my wild neighbors by cultivating the habitat they needed to survive.”

Her musings bubble up through a Zen Buddhist framework. Moses writes, “Observing these wild creatures has helped me to cultivate the habit of mindful attention.” Her conditions for happiness include “the hawk, the wild turkey, the monarch butterfly.” At the same time, she admits to being a daydreamer and goes on to chronicle one of her most dramatic calls to mindfulness—being butted by a bull. Her humorous account of that story ends with a renewed call to mindfulness: “The bull had shaken and awakened me into a heightened state of awareness and it felt…wonderful.”

Powerful life lessons are peppered throughout. Moses’ relationship with an octopus in a pet store becomes a lesson about love and understanding; her fear of spiders turns into a meditation on equanimity; the witnessing of animal suffering becomes a clarion call to compassion. The author weaves in stories of others who inspire her (and us in the process) with their capacity for caring. She tells of a friend who is able to view the owner of a chained dog with compassion, develops a relationship with the owner, and ultimately inspires the whole neighborhood to watch over the dog as their own. In another story she recounts how her schoolteacher took in a cat that jumped through a school window; it became a well-loved school pet.

Even Moses’ footnotes are engaging, whether they are offering educational resources on issues impacting animals or providing interesting facts. If you’re inspired by animals as esteemed teachers, you will greatly enjoy Zooburbia.

mb67-BookReviews3Active Hope
How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy

By Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
New World Library, 2012
Paperback, 288 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hunter, True Ocean of Teachings

If you have ever despaired about our current condition, grieved about the looming losses on our planet, or worried about future generations, then you’re in luck—Active Hope is just the medicine you need! This book provides a relevant, practical way forward for all of us who care about our planet. “Active hope” is not the “wishful thinking” hope that looks for someone else to save the day. Instead, it “involves identifying the outcomes we hope for and then playing an active role in bringing them about.”

Active Hope provides strategies we can use to take in the beauty of the world and then face its suffering without being overwhelmed. There are chapters on how to cultivate active hope, see reality with new eyes, build support for the work we do, maintain our energy, and protect our spirits. Importantly, it offers us a way to know how to continue to act in the face of uncertainty and non-knowing. For me, it was only after reading Active Hope that I was comfortable with not knowing the outcomes. In fact, even though I will never know, I can continue with joy and commitment. The book offers many concrete practices that can be done alone, with a partner, or with a group, to help us ground ourselves and act on the best of our aspirations for society and the world. The practices of asking, “What is happening through me?” and of creating a “Support Map” helped me realize how many people were there to encourage me, and to be encouraged by me, on this path.

Active Hope also explains the 1,200-year-old Shambhala Warrior Prophecy. This Tibetan Buddhist prophecy speaks of a time to come when all life on Earth is in danger. Shambhala Warriors emerge to change destructive ways using deep compassion and the insight of “radical interdependence.” The book also invites us to look deeply into the nature of hierarchical power and explore new ways to build power and influence that work with people and not over them.

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.” It may seem impossible to improve our situation, but by cultivating active hope, community, and a new vision, we might just turn the wheel enough to move the world in a more promising direction.

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Book Reviews

mb39-BookReview1Peace Begins Here
Palestinians and Israelis Listening to Each Other

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Reviewed by Lois Schlegel

Peace, it’s something all human beings want. Yet, when most of us think about the painful conflicts in the world, we feel helpless and full of despair. The problems seem far too big and our resources inadequate.

In this new book by Thich Nhat Hanh, however, we discover ways of creating peace that seem within reach. We learn practical, day-to-day processes that bring peace first to our own lives and communities and then offer the possibility of peace in places like the Middle East.

Nhat Hanh says, “Reconciliation needs to take place in yourself, then with your beloved, and then with your group. We usually begin by going to our beloved and asking her to change, trying to force her to change. This is not the real peace process. The real peace process is to go home to yourself, be reconciled with yourself, and know how to handle your difficulties: how to deal with despair, suspicion, fear and anger.”

Peace Begins Here is a guide. It offers instruction in core practices such as mindful eating, walking, and speaking and in the more challenging processes such as deep listening, taking care of our feelings, beginning anew, and use of a personal peace treaty.

Sprinkled throughout this hope-filled book are the voices of Palestinians and Israelis who have chosen to take steps toward their own peace, who have chosen to listen and speak with compassion, who have stopped watering the seeds of despair and anger and stepped instead toward reconciliation.

mb39-BookReview2Still the Mind
An Introduction to Meditation

by Alan Watts

CD review by C.K. Richards

An icon of the Beat Generation, Alan Watts became interested in Buddhism in the early 1930’s when he was only sixteen. This wonderful reproduction of a classroom lecture, in his own words, takes the listener on a simple journey down the river of thinking about reality to experiencing reality through meditation.

His understanding of the meditative process is conveyed clearly and concisely, coming from his own daily practice experience. He describes how our “chatter in the skull” has caused us to lose touch with reality. We are encouraged to see this not as a blind alley but as a very important communication that “this is not the way to go.”

Watts guides the listener through our personal perception about reality into a guided meditation where we can experience reality without thought, without past or future. First through drumming, then a ringing bell, and finally using breath as an instrument of sound, you are gently guided into free mantra chanting. He encourages us to notice our experience while meditating, to watch without judging what is going on both inside and outside ourselves.

Alan Watts reminds us that like the acorn, sapling, oak tree, or snag, we are perfect at every stage, whether new or seasoned in the practice of meditation. Anyone interested in meditation can find benefits from his clarity of thought and simple presentation of meditation in daily life. His guided mediation gives the listener a good idea of what the meditative state is.

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Book Reviews

mb46-BookReviews1For a Future to Be Possible
Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2007
Softcover, 148 Pages

Reviewed by Hope Lindsay

All Buddhists express the precepts in some form. They are the core of our beliefs. In the tradition of our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, the precepts for lay practice are the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the focus of this new edition of For a Future to Be Possible. Almost analagous to commandments of many faiths, here the precepts are infused with compassion and loving kindness for all beings — people, animals, plants, and minerals. Each training begins with the introit, “Aware of the suffering caused by….” Each is followed by an all-encompassing phrase exhorting us not to kill, steal, lie, use intoxicants or sexual energy in an exploitive way.

We help others on this path, also. These five trainings are the very center of interrelatedness. Thus they’re indispensable if our troubled planet is to continue.

In her introduction, Joan Halifax asks, “What must be done to retrieve our natural virtue?” I think we all long for a state of natural goodness, the lack of which is at the root of so much fundamentalist turmoil today. When I balked at going to Sunday School a beloved aunt told me that religion is necessary for people to become moral and honest. What else would make human beings behave? We had to have the fear of God instilled in us, or else. But the gentle practice of mindfulness brings its own reward — happiness.

If, as Thay asks, we “live in a way that protects us and those around us,” what he calls the fruit of our own observation will inspire us to choose the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a way of life. Thay also writes that we will be able to express our generosity when we are assured by the trainings that we can “help people feel safe” — ourselves and others — “less afraid of life, people, and death.” The trainings give us the gift of non-fear. They are not presented as The Truth. Instead they are a joyful gateway to the Dharma.

Caitriona Reed writes in a sidebar, “There is a wonderful aspect to the mindfulness trainings: they are impossible to keep. We express our willingness to begin again time after time.” Sister Chan Khong also reminds us that we cannot attain the sun, we can only go toward the light. We are not asked to be obsessive, rather to know that practicing the trainings becomes habit, replacing less healthy habit energy. One of the primary purposes for meeting in sangha is to reinforce and support each other in this aspiration.

Jack Kornfield’s afterword lists exercises we can use to begin or renew the practices. Until we reach enlightenment, we mortals are, by nature, forgetful. We need reminders to be mindful! I must confess the trainings opened the door to Thay’s tradition for me. in the original 1993 edition of For a Future to be Possible, there were commentaries by several authors that helped me understand Buddhism without dogma or doctrine. This edition is trimmed, almost like a missal — to carry with us everywhere. In gratitude to Thay for giving this gift once again, I feel like I am traveling with an old friend.

mb46-BookReviews2Sweet Zen
Dharma Talks from Cheri Huber

Edited by Sara Jenkins
Present Perfect Books, 2000
Softcover, 200 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Smiling, I stood in Borders Bookstore perusing the long row of Thay’s offerings on the book shelf. Then a book of Dharma talks edited by Sara Jenkins caught my eye. As I skimmed the one-to-two-page Dharma talks offered by Cheri Huber, I asked myself whether I need another book on the practice of mindfulness. And I heard a resounding “Yes!”

The talks in Sweet Zen were presented as answers to her students’ questions by Dharma teacher Cheri Huber, who practices in the Soto Zen tradition in a monastery in Northern California. Sara Jenkins and Cheri Huber met at a month-long retreat in the mid-1980’s. There, Huber gave Jenkins, an editor by trade, the transcripts of all her Dharma talks, instructing her to “do whatever you want with these.” The result is five books of talks lovingly crafted by Jenkins. Sweet Zen is the fifth of these books.

One of Huber’s great contributions has been helping her students see how conditioned mind gets in the way of our happiness, freedom, and joy. On “saying no to suffering,” Huber says, “If we watch closely, we see that suffering begins when we leave this moment and allow our minds to project into the past or the future. We can watch ourselves start the slide into suffering as we begin to imagine dire happenings and sink into doubt and fear and hopelessness. Then we can bring ourselves back and just say no. Each time we are tricked again by egocentricity, we can see the result is suffering.

“In the refusal to indulge in what leads to suffering, there is nothing hard or harsh. On the contrary, it is the kindest, most compassionate approach to life.”

Each chapter can be read as an inspirational daily meditation or as a brief reading to be shared in sitting groups during deep listening sessions. These stories have relevance to new practitioners and to those, like me, who have been practicing for many years.

As a Westerner and a woman, Huber speaks about the many ways we get stuck in habitual thinking. How do we work our way out? She uses the language of popular culture to direct us toward the freedom that comes with breaking out of chronic running commentaries in our minds. I especially like her retelling of the Buddha’s story of the knotted scarf. On the path of practice, we untie many of our knots and continue to encounter more. The more experience we gain,  the harder the knots tighten, but the better we are at untying them. “The experience you gain each time you untie a knot gives you the encouragement you need to take on the next one. After a while, you approach the whole process with confidence and lightness and, increasingly, gratitude.”

The title Sweet Zen refers to the inherent beauty and joy of our practice, and how, in our daily lives, our practice can help us show extreme kindness to ourselves and others.

mb46-BookReviews3The Best Buddhist Writing 2006

Edited by Melvin McLeod and the Editors of the Shambhala Sun
Shambhala, 2006
Softcover, 317 pages

Reviewed by Janelle Combelic

“I have heard some people predict,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, “that the twenty-first century will be a century of spirituality. Personally, I think it must be a century of spirituality if we are to survive at all.” Thus begins the closing essay in Best Buddhist Writing 2006. Excerpted from Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism, this essay reads like a fresh-picked strawberry served at the end of an exquisite meal — each bite more satisfying than the last.

There are many gems in this compilation, not the least of which is a piece reprinted from the Mindfulness Bell by our own Judith Toy, now associate editor. In “Murder as a Call to Love,” Judith recounts the tragic loss of her sister-in-law and two teenage nephews, and her long path to healing. “I did not plan to forgive the boy who murdered my family. But after five years of stopping, enjoying my breathing, and relaxing every day, I was able to look deeply and understand Eric.”

The thirty-three pieces range from the deeply personal, like Judith’s, to the scholarly, like “Studying Mind from the Inside” by the Dalai Lama: “The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact.”

The joy of reading a book like this is that you can pick and choose. But what treasures to choose from! Here’s from “Hair-Braiding Meditation,” a humorous prose poem by Polly Trout: “May my daughter, who wants a billion tiny braids this morning, be filled with loving kindness. May she be well. May she be peaceful and at ease going to school with a billion tiny little braids.”

In “Searching for the Heart of Compassion,” Marc Ian Barasch writes: “I’ve become suspicious of the unblemished life. Maybe the heart  must be broken, like a child’s prize honeycomb, for the real sweetness to come out. Although something inside us yearns to walk on air,  never touching the ground, compassion brings us down to earth.It has been likened to the lotus, whose exquisite, fragrant blossom grows out of the muck and mire.”

Other authors represented in the anthology include Sharon Salzberg, Christina Feldman, Norman Fischer, Frank Olendziki, the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Pema Chödrön.

In one of my favorite essays, “Coming to Our Senses,” Jon Kabat-Zinn echoes Thay’s concerns: “When cultivated and refined, mindfulness can function effectively on every level, from the individual to the corporate, the societal, the political, and the global. But it does require that we be motivated to realize who we actually are and to live our lives as if they really mattered, not just for ourselves, but for the  world.”

I was inspired to go out and buy Kabat-Zinn’s book as well as Thay’s. And that’s the point of a compilation like Best Buddhist Writing. You get a taste of something extraordinary, and it makes you want to indulge more deeply in the fine cuisine of Buddhist thought.

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Book Reviews

mb49-BookReviews1Mindful Movements
Ten Exercises for well-Being

Thich Nhat Hanh and Wietske Vriezen
Parallax Press, 2008
Hardcover, ringbound, 61 pages
With DVD featuring Brother Michael, Thich Nhat Hanh, and monks and nuns of the Plum Village community, produced by Sounds True — 36 minutes

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

What a joy, this colorful new offering by Parallax! With its ringbound format, it lies open easily on a table or on the floor, so we can read what to do and see how to move. Thich Nhat Hanh developed these ten low-impact exercises as a comprehensive way to stretch between seated meditation sessions at his monastery. Like a simple, gentle yoga, they focus on the breath. Wietske Vriezen is a Dutch illustrator who has practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh; his full-color childlike illustrations appear on every page. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold goes to support nonprofit projects in Vietnam.

I’ve often enjoyed Thay’s ten mindful movements: outdoors while waiting for breakfast with the monks and nuns at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California; outside our “hermitage” with a Sangha of strangers in the sacred pre-dawn of the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado; alone in our cottage in Black Mountain, North Carolina; in the zendo at a retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center in Hot Springs, North Carolina; and with my Dharma “family” in the bamboo grove in Plum Village’s Upper Hamlet. I bought this book for my ten-year-old granddaughter who plans a year-long peace project at her Montessori school in Charleston, South Carolina, to teach her classmates seated and walking meditation and mindful movements.

What an inspiration — to teach mindfulness to children and adults through movement! Thich Nhat Hanh tells readers, “The exercises are easy to do at home, by yourself, or with others… Do each movement four times before moving on to the next one. Have fun!”

The book begins with an introduction by Thich Nhat Hanh that explains mindfulness practice and its results, the “seven miracles of mindfulness.” A short, illustrated biography of Thich Nhat Hanh is

followed by a more detailed story, showing how Thay relates ancient wisdom to everyday life. The book closes with an illustrated poem by Thay, “The Virtuous Man.”

A sunshine-striped cat pads in and out of the pages of Mindful Movements, as does the occasional frog or bird or flower. People of various sizes with varying hues of skin and hair and clothing keep these simple drawings diverse and happy.

The bonus DVD tucked in the back of the book engages us in the ten movements with the monks and nuns of the Plum Village community. Brother Michael leads the movements in the first session on the DVD and Thich Nhat Hanh leads the second. The music is soothing and the movement therapeutic. Surely we all know someone who would benefit from receiving this book and practicing the ten mindful movements.

mb49-BookReviews2Hello at Last
Embracing the Koan of and Meditation

By Sara Jenkins
Windhorse Publications, Ltd.
England, 2007
Softcover, 123 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Hello at Last is a literary memoir that focuses on the author’s friendships with several Dharma companions as they travel the path of practice together. What results is a book of insights into the nature of spiritual friendship that offers specific techniques such as Insight Dialogue, for engaged mindfulness with friends. Indeed, it is among friends that our right mindfulness and right speech are often challenged, and it is among friends and Sangha that we can learn some of our most profound spiritual lessons. Jenkins shows true courage by revealing herself — doubts and defeats, joys and triumphs— to tell the lessons she has learned.

“Deepen your relationships,” the author’s Zen teacher told her. A Zen student for over twenty years, Jenkins has edited numerous books of Dharma talks by Cheri Huber, who generally recommends that her students not socialize with one another — that they practice in silence. In reply to this koan from her teacher, the author asks herself, “How does one deepen one’s relationships and build Sangha in a Zen tradition that emphasizes silent practice?” The answers bring us lessons that can easily apply to practitioners of various traditions.

In the story about Jenkins and her friend Faith, Jenkins struggles with accepting spiritual guidance from an elder sister in the Dharma rather than from her root teacher. Yet she slowly acknowledges the capable teacher within herself who can offer guidance to her elder sister in a time of need. “Suddenly the dark hole of suffering that Faith and I had fallen into dropped away, and within us opened the understanding that, no, we were not and never would be who other people wanted us to be. And striving to be different from the way we are only creates suffering. Who we are is not only inevitable, not only tolerable, but just fine. Perhaps, in fact, for the simple reason that it’s

what is. It may sound exaggerated, romanticized, to say that we found ourselves then in a glorious field of open air and vast sky and infinite ease — we were, in fact, still talking on the phone — but that was my experience. It was as if we were embraced in the all-encompassing silence in which our friendship had begun, expanding outward in every direction.”

Throughout the book, which also chronicles the author’s journey to India, Jenkins plays with apparent contradictions. In this vein she notes, “Solitude is the ground against which companionship blooms most beautifully.” Finally, she recognizes how important it is in true friendship to leave other people to themselves.

“By that I mean letting go of the notion that other people’s happiness depends on us, or ours on them, and taking full responsibility for our own happiness and knowing that others can do the same.”

mb49-BookReviews3Love’s Garden
A Guide to Mindful Relationships

By Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward
Parallax Press, 2008
Softcover, 177 pages

Reviewed by Philip Toy

In the heat of a household disagreement that’s not really about the conjured topic, my soul-mate wife proposes: “Do you want to listen to each other?” Here we stop to make ground rules: twenty to thirty minutes, one speaks while the other listens, no mixed-messaging body language and facial expressions, no groans or eye motions of assent or disapproval. Neutrality. Non-judgment. One of us pours only the water of self-revelation, the other simply receives. This

practice continues weekly for a long time and life happens, or more to the point, explodes.

What comes is the unfortunate return of a long-arrested life-threatening illness, coupled with the sudden death of my thirty-six-year-old son. I am rocketed to a realm of exquisite pain where all things became blindingly clear. The kettledrums of karma are deafening. I am forced to re-evaluate everything: my self-esteem, my thirty-year relationship with my wife, my lack of forgiveness, my Sangha leadership, my vocation. With much loving help from others, I am slowly returning. My son’s not here, but he continues in me. I am here, alive. My wife, too. And we are soothed by the many listening ears of the Sangha. Here is a garden of all things — seeds, weeds, insects, and disease! A garden of relationships in need of the tending methods so clearly addressed in this little book of sunshine by Larry Ward and Peggy Rowe Ward.

The Wards have indeed grown a garden: a colorful, eclectic, variegated anthology of quotes, epigrams, poems, and short essays to support basic teachings: the Four Immeasurables; the Nine Lovingkindness Prayers; Taking Refuge; Coming Home; Reflecting on the Hells; Befriending the World; Watering Positive Seeds. These are the compost and the tools they offer to help us cultivate the ground of mindful relationships.

As carefully organized as a textbook, Love’s Garden unfolds in three parts subdivided into chapters, twelve in all, with “practices,” exercises to guide readers in demonstrating what they have learned from the anecdotal material at the head of each chapter.

The Wards frequently remind us of the seeds of good practice, for example: self-care is a prerequisite to caring for others; forgiving oneself is the fertilizer for the fruit of forgiving others.

“Lovingkindness … practice is designed to uncover … light and love that dwells in each of us. This radiance is just covered up with ignorance, fear, anger and the red dust of life.

“We begin by befriending ourself, … talk kindly and sweetly … offer ourselves a blessing instead of a curse or a complaint….”

Wrapped as it is in glowing accolades from many sources, and launched by a nine-page foreword from Thich Nhat Hanh, this book lives up to its praise as a fine compilation of teachings. I pick it up, take a breath, jump in and shake off that “red dust of life.” If I am to heal, I must first be a friend to myself.

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Book Reviews

mb50-BookReviews1The World We Have

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Paarallax Press, 2008
Soft cover, 142 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

For many years, Thich Nhat Hanh has offered teachings about how we can make a future possible for ourselves and our descendants. Now people around the world have become acutely aware of the shaky ground on which we stand. Global warming, carbon emissions, soil depletion, extinction of species, deforestation, and dwindling of natural resources threaten our earth. The recent presidential election in America underscores that this is also a time of great hope and potential change. In this new book, Thich Nhat Hanh calls for a collective awakening. He offers clear instructions to help us give birth to that awakening and bring healing to ourselves, our human family, all species and Mother Earth.

Thay invokes the bodhisattva Dharanimdhara, or Earth Holder, who preserves and protects the earth — the energy that holds us together as an organism. She is a kind of engineer or architect who creates space for us to live in, builds bridges and constructs roads that lead to people we love. Her task is to promote interspecies communication and to protect the environment. We can empower engaged Buddhist practices in the twenty-first century, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, with the tools that include the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Four Noble Truths, the Four Nutriments, and the Five Remembrances.

Expanding on talks he has offered at retreats, our teacher tells us we can actually reverse the collision course on which we find ourselves. He writes, “When we begin this practice, we want things to be permanent and we think things have a separate self. Whenever things change, we suffer. To help us not to suffer, the Buddha gave us the truths of impermanence and non-self as keys. When we look at the impermanent and nonself nature of all things, we’re using those keys to open the door to reality, or nirvana. Then our fear and our suffering disappear … that is why it is very important to deal with our fear and despair before we can deal with the issue of global warming or other environmental concerns. The Buddha is very clear about this: we have to heal ourselves first before we can heal the planet.”

The World We Have concludes with a section called “Practices for Mindful Living.” Here, we are offered Earth Gathas, Touching the Earth and Deep Relaxation exercises, and an Earth Peace Treaty Commitment Sheet — this can be submitted to Deer Park Monastery along with the treaties of thousands of others who have made their commitment to heal the planet. We are given the hope to simplify our lives, conserve natural resources, eat lower on the food chain. This deep and meaningful text is published in a small pocket-sized edition, and is printed by Parallax on 100% post-consumer fiber.

mb50-BookReviews2What Book!?
Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop

Edited by Gary Gach
Parallax Press, 2008
Softcover, 248 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

Reading Zen poetry is like turning yourself upside-down and letting all the change fall out of your pockets. Gary Gach, editor of The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism, edited this anthology of Zen poems first issued in 1998, and now reissued by Parallax Press, What Book!? Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop.

Indeed, what poems? As I read these pages I smile, finding that the space around the words is the poem, or as integral as the words themselves. I feel a little like Mahakashyapa when he saw the Buddha holding a flower. From Lew Welch: “I saw myself/a ring of bone/in the clear stream/of all of it.” And from Arthur Sze: “We step outside, and the silence is as/water is, taking the shape of the container.” And from the celebrated Korean poet, Ko Un (pronounced Go Une), an answer to the classic koan, what was your face before you were born? “Before you were born/before your dad/before your mom//your burbling/was there.” A burbling of the preverbal word.

“A poet once located poetry as somewhere before or after words take place,” the editor writes. Thus one of the 84,000 Dharma doors is generously flung open to mindfulness, to liberation: verse — the root of which means turning.

With an introduction by Peter Coyote, who writes this collection helped him understand the scale of Buddhist influence on the “popular mind,” here is a Who’s Who of 143 poets of Buddhist renown and unknowns, alive and dead, beat and monastic and both. Offering verses that are keenly alive and well grouped under one cover, we hear the voices of Czeslaw Milosz, Maxine Hong Kingston, Philip Whalen, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Chogyam Trungpa and Thich Nhat Hanh, almost as one voice. M.C. Richards and Eve Merriam are among non-Buddhist westerners selected by Gach whose poems greet us with zen haiku and the reality of impermanence, respectively.

Allen Ginsberg says what this book means: “The whole body of the One Thus Come/falls in the raindrops and drips from the eaves.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s well-loved prose poem, “Interbeing,” excerpted from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings, says what this book means: “If you are a poet, you will see a cloud in this piece of paper.” These are poems that allow us to transcend them. “As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe….”

Of special note is the “Visible Language” section, a short but sweet exhibit of calligraphy, altar (shape) poems and brush drawings, including work by Thich Nhat Hanh, Peter Bailey, Shunryu Suzuki, and my old favorite Paul Reps, among others. One of Reps’ drawings shows a Buddha in brush strokes with a straight, ruled line down the center of his head and body. “Open Here,” is the inscription below. I heartily recommend to students of the Buddha to Open this book Here.

And of note…

By Judith Toy

Worlds in Harmony: Compassionate Action for a Better World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Parallax Press, 2008, softbound, 108 pages, abridged from three days of dialogue between His Holiness and seven renowned helping professionals at the Harmonia Mundi conference in Newport Beach California, October, 1989. In his foreword, Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of Emotional Intelligence, reminds us that those of us alive now are the first generation in human history to glimpse the possibility of the end of our world. From the premise that this insight is of no use unless it results in action, His Holiness speaks with us person to person to teach us precisely how to save ourselves and the planet through compassion and loving kindness. He teaches us to be, think, and act as citizens of the world in ways that are based on equanimity and understanding. This book is also a guide to the practice of healing and compassionate action in daily life.

Hope Is An Open Heart, by Lauren Thompson, Scholastic Press, 2008, hardcover, 32 pages, illustrated by various photographers; a children’s picture book. Lauren Thompson practices with Rock Blossom Sangha in Brooklyn, New York, part of the New York Metro Community of Mindful Living. She is a best-selling, award-winning children’s author. This book is dedicated to her Rock Blossom sister Alison who died at age 42 of brain cancer. The author wrote to me, “Though she was not ready to die, and had little reason to hope for a future at all, she found the most peace by focusing on the joy of the present moment.” This gorgeously illustrated book of few words invites its readers into the beauty and wonder of the present moment.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism, Second Edition, by Gary Gach, Alpha, 2004, softbound, 390 pages. In a light-hearted voice, this chock-full compendium presents the life and teachings of the Buddha and explains how they spread and adapted to different cultures. It includes an introduction to meditation and explanations of the Three Jewels, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path. Gach, a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, also includes insights into Buddhism’s cross-religious influences and a chronology of Buddhist history. Most important is the Buddhist perspective on why we suffer and what we can do to be free. As Thich Nhat Hanh says about this book, “It will bring a smile to us all.”

The Plum Village Cook Book, by monks and nuns of Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in Southern France, published by Plum Village, 2008, softbound, 66 pages; illustrated with full-color photographs. In this little kitchen treasure, readers are invited to visit Plum Village to see firsthand how the brothers and sisters “cook vegetarian food mindfully, joyfully and calmly, which might be an inspiration for you.” Most of the ingredients used in these all-veggie recipes can be found at your local [American] grocer; some items such as black and white fungus, veggie ham, and veggie fish can be found at an Asian market or online. Recipes use the European metric system, so some cooks may need a U.S.-to-metric conversion table. But it’s well worth it to experiment with these tasty dishes that many of us have enjoyed at Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries.

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Book Reviews

mb64-BookReviews1Love Letter to the Earth

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Softcover, 120 pages
Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Love Letter to the Earth includes ten beautiful love letters that are poetic, deep, and inspirational. Thich Nhat Hanh explains how we can heal ourselves and the Earth. “We cannot wait any longer to restore our relationship with the Earth because right now the Earth and everyone on Earth is in real danger…. Only love can show us how to live in harmony with nature and with each other and save us from the devastating effects of environmental destruction and climate change.” According to Thay, by healing ourselves, we heal the Earth. He recommends walking meditation as a powerful tool for healing ourselves and the Earth simultaneously. Other practices for falling in love with the Earth include mindful breathing, deep listening, drinking and eating mindfully, and reciting the Five Contemplations before each meal.

Thay describes Mother Earth as a bodhisattva. “A bodhisattva is a living being who has happiness, awakening, understanding and love…. Anyone who cultivates love and offers a lot of happiness to others is a bodhisattva…. When we look at our planet, we know that the Earth is the most beautiful bodhisattva of all. She is the mother of many great beings. How could mere matter do all the wonderful things the Earth does? Don’t search for a bodhisattva in your imagination. The bodhisattva you are looking for is right at your feet.”

The calligraphy and writings in this book instill hope in the regenerative power of the Earth and in the potential Buddha nature in each living being. We all have the potential to take refuge in the Earth and to become awakened, Thay reminds us. As we practice mindfulness, “relaxation will come. When you are completely relaxed, healing will take place on its own. There is no healing without relaxation. And relaxation means doing nothing…. This is the practice of non-practice.”

Thay urges us to accept responsibility for what is happening to the Earth. “We need to realize that the conditions that will help to restore the necessary balance don’t come from outside us, they come from inside us, from our own mindfulness, our own level of awareness. Our own awakened consciousness is what can heal the Earth.” Thay invites us to join the revolution to “ease our suffering” and in turn to treat the Earth with love and respect.

mb64-BookReviews2Peace of Mind
Becoming Fully Present

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Softcover, 180 pages
Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

The thesis of Thich Nhat Hanh’s newly published book Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present is this: “The basis for healing is to be in touch with ourselves, with our bodies.” He explains how each of us can generate the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, and shows that happiness is available to everyone in the present moment.

Thay returns to simple and poetic language reminiscent of his early books, The Miracle of Mindfulness and Peace Is Every Step, to guide the reader in the practices of Plum Village, including mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful eating, deep relaxation, touching the Earth, and body scan meditation. He introduces new metaphors, such as the following: “A mindful body is a body with awareness. The embodied mind is the mind that is fully present in the body. It’s like software and hardware. If your software and hardware aren’t communicating with each other, you can’t do anything.” There is a wonderful chapter on how to use the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing to create “peaceful, harmonious and pleasant” breathing, which in turn leads to harmony and peace.

Reading this book evoked a memory from the first Day of Mindfulness that I attended with Thay and Sister Chan Khong, when I received the Five Wonderful Precepts (as they were called at that time). On my application form, I indicated that my aspiration was to experience “inner peace.” At that time, I had rarely felt inner peace and doubted that practicing the precepts would help me, but I took a leap of faith. Looking back over the past twenty years, I see that the practices of Plum Village and the mindfulness trainings have in fact transformed my suffering and led me to more continuous experiences of inner peace. Thay’s latest offering, a clear and profound manual for becoming fully present and establishing peace of mind, will be appreciated by beginning and experienced practitioners alike.

Thank you dear Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and the fourfold Sangha for sharing these practices around the world at Days of Mindfulness, public talks, peace walks, retreats, and practice centers, on the Internet, and in print.

mb64-BookReviews3Unfinished Conversation
Grieving and Healing after a Loved One’s Suicide

By Robert Emile Lesoine and Marilynne Chöphel
Softcover, 160 pages
Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Elenore Snow

As a trauma psychotherapist, I so appreciate Unfinished Conversation: Grieving and Healing after a Loved One’s Suicide. This book offers itself not only as a resource but also as a companion, guiding the journey of loss from a loved one’s suicide. Written in short chapters that open with a personal narrative about author Robert Lesoine and the death of his best friend Larry, it is written in an accessible, engaging way that supports the reader in understanding some of the themes unique to this kind of loss. Each chapter walks the reader through journal exercises to help create meaningful closure and healing around the gaping wound of a sudden and devastating loss.

Although the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention documents twenty-five reported suicides a day in the U.S., we often feel isolated in the wake of a suicide loss. Early chapters of the book look at the ways in which a suicide leaves us with feelings of “unfinished business,” such as disregarded warnings and an incompleteness that comes from unanswered questions. Each chapter ends with a simple exercise to return to the present moment. We have a chance to write an uncensored eulogy, sit with the positive and negative influences of this person in our life, explore our loved one’s shadow (and our own), and reflect on dreams in which we are visited by the one we lost.

The book takes us beyond the initial shock and disbelief and into a richer way to know ourselves and our loved one, working with the suicide as an opportunity for post-traumatic growth. Perhaps my favorite chapter, “Discovering Interbeing,” touches on one of the most meaningful themes of Thay’s teaching. Lesoine writes, “What I am discovering is that the more I release him, the more I can connect with an affection and love for the Larry that transcends form.”

The way we choose to respond to suicide determines the quality of our consciousness as we make our way. Unfinished Conversation helps us see how to make choices that can heal us from the devastation of suicide with meaning and grace.

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Book Reviews

mb59-BookReviews3The Novice
A Story of True Love

By Thich Nhat Hanh
HarperCollins, 2011
Hardcover, 160 pages

Reviewed by Chau Yoder

Edited by Lyn Fine and Natascha Bruckner

I felt really touched by the new English version of The Novice: A Story of True Love. When I read this story of the novice Kinh Tam in English, and then reread the original Vietnamese version (Su Tich Quan Am Thi Kinh), I felt strongly that many readers would benefit from the tale of injustice, patience, and the four immeasurable minds of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Thich Nhat Hanh’s version of this ancient Vietnamese story has many deep teachings to transform our suffering.

When I was about fifteen years old, I went with my mom to the Vietnamese opera (Cai Luong) and saw many touching stories. This one penetrated deep into my subconscious, planting seeds about Buddhism, patience, and realizing the great vow to live a free life. I used to hate the character Mau, who falsely stated that Thi Kinh was the parent of her baby. Now, reading Thay’s novel, I feel more compassionate toward Mau. As I read this book, I felt my heart opening—especially toward the end, when I read Thi Kinh’s compassionate letters to her parents, teacher, husband, and Mau. Thi Kinh wrote these love letters at the time she knew she was dying, and I felt she was passing her generosity on to us. Her letter to her parents inspired me to think about my parents. They sacrificed so much for me, and at times I wonder if I was good enough for them. I created suffering for them when I decided to marry my husband Jim and live far away from them. Yet when we became engaged, they generously opened their hearts to Jim, and we all happily lived near each other when Jim and I sponsored them, my grandmother, and my siblings to come the U.S. in 1981.

I felt touched by Thi Kinh’s letter to the abbot, who had accepted Thi Kinh as his student, thinking she was a man. Thi Kinh wrote that in order to go to the pagoda to study, she had to pretend to be a man because there was no nunnery. She asked for forgiveness for the deception. She begged her teacher to build a nunnery so that young women could be students of the Buddha’s teachings. She was thinking about the future, “paying it forward” on her deathbed!

A key teaching in the novel relates to the question of how to be magnanimous without being a victim. Why do people have to be tolerant of injustice in the world? Why do we have to live in the patient way that Thi Kinh lived? Thay writes that being patient does not mean suppressing suffering. We have to be patient in order to understand with loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

Near the end of Thay’s retelling of this ancient tale, the abbot visualizes that Thi Kinh is really a bodhisattva. Her loving kindness is not only for human beings, but for all beings—a grand aspiration. This is the ultimate goal of the true awakened person; how can we live it in our lifetime? This story offers a lot for us to think about: the meaning of equanimity, letting go, nondiscrimination, non-self, patience, and magnanimous living.

In the English edition, a chapter by Sister Chan Khong offers an interesting comparison of the life stories of Thi Kinh and Thich Nhat Hanh, who both have a grand patience and an inclusive heart. Additional chapters describe the activities of the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS) founded by Thay in 1964, and the situation in Bat Nha (Prajna), a monastery in Vietnam that was offered to Thay in 2005 by the abbot of a temple in Lam Dong Province, but ousted by the Vietnamese authorities in 2008.

I’m thankful that Thay published The Novice in English, so that young generations in the United States will get to read it and understand their Vietnamese roots a little better. My hope is that when people read this novel, the nectar of compassion in Thi Kinh will drop into their mind, body, and spirit to help them become more compassionate, ethical, loving people who will, in turn, help us live a more harmonious life.

mb59-BookReviews1The Seeds of Love
Growing Mindful Relationships

By Jerry Braza
Tuttle, 2011
Soft cover, 192 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

The foundation for developing mindful and healthy relation- ships begins with ourselves. Three practices—Seeing, Renewing, and Being—will support you as you become the master gardener of your life and your relationships.” This opening passage from The Seeds of Love, by Jerry Braza, reflects the accessible yet deep lessons shared by the seasoned Dharma teacher in his new book. Braza emphasizes teachings and practices that help us nurture positive seeds in ourselves and our loved ones. He writes about how to transform seeds of fear, anger, jealousy, and doubt into love, compassion, and understanding.

While many of the teachings in The Seeds of Love reflect the wisdom of the Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh, Braza brings a unique, modern, and American perspective to his presentations. He offers the insights of an experienced lay practitioner and college professor who has practiced with a Sangha for many years. The practices explored are not only for the pur pose of individual self-healing, but also for promoting healthy relationships with our families, friends, and co-practitioners. As the Buddha teaches, we inter-are with each other, so heal- ing within and without cannot be separated.

This book is both simply presented and dense in content. Braza includes beautiful poetry and illustrations that make the book an excellent practice companion. Furthermore, the teachings are accessible to people of all faiths, and Braza incorporates the lessons of many wisdom traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism. Appropriate for beginners and experienced practitioners alike, this is a wonderful continuation of the author’s first book, Moment by Moment: The Art and Practice of Mindfulness.

As a gardener, I find the book’s gardening metaphors and themes beautiful. They bring to mind the fact that one translation of an ancient word for “one who meditates or practices mindfulness” is “a cultivator.” The Seeds of Love would be a great book for Sanghas or book groups to read together and use as a basis for meaningful sharing and discussion.

mb59-BookReviews2Walking the Tiger’s Path
A Soldier’s Spiritual Journey in Iraq

By Paul M. Kendel
Tendril Press, 2011
Soft cover, 247 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

“As the gardener, such is the garden.”
— Hebrew Proverb

Until reading Sergeant Kendel’s book, I’d only heard news accounts of the war in Iraq. Although my two nephews have each done two tours in Iraq, they don’t talk about their experiences. Kendel describes the precise type of hell realm this war has been. The “enemy” is both everywhere and nowhere, and compassion is considered a weakness. In the course of serving with the Georgia National Guard, Kendel became a student of the Shambhala Buddhist teachings. He learned that the mind of a tiger, according to Sakyong Mipham, is a “mind of discernment,” allowing us to “stop and think and make a decision based on wisdom and compassion, rather than on hate and fear.”

With story after hair-raising story, Kendel outlines his gradual battlefield enlightenment through correspondence with Buddhist teachers, and through reading Pema Chodron’s Awakening Loving Kindness while on patrol. He came within a fraction of an inch of blowing away a father and his little girl, but made split-second eye contact with the child. Instead of seeing the enemy, he “saw something positive. I saw hope in that little girl’s eyes. Hope…even when the world around her seemed to be in total chaos.”

When Kendel came home, his wife was having an affair and not only ended their marriage, but changed his close relationship with his two sons. And then his mother died. These events, along with haunting incidents in Iraq, constituted for Kendel both a crisis and an opportunity.

His saving grace was the Shambhala practice, along with Margot Neuman, a senior student who reached out and gave Kendel a peaceful place to take refuge. His subsequent visits to the Shambhala Mountain Center, and meeting Pema Cho- dron and Sakyong Mipham as well as Shambhala President Richard Roech, cemented Kendel’s inner peace and gave him a Sangha. The Shambhala warrior, he learned, does not create war at all. The tiger sees with clarity how to act.

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Book Reviews

mb63-Books1Ten Breaths to Happiness
Touching Life in Its Fullness

By Glen Schneider
Foreword by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2013
Soft cover, 108 pages

Reviewed by Louise Dunlap,True Silent Teaching

“Our hands imbibe like roots, so I place them on what is beautiful in this world” (Francis of Assisi). So begins Glen Schneider’s chapter on the Ten Breaths Practice. We place our hands on our bellies. Our hands are like roots touching deeply into ourselves. And we use them to count ten breaths, completely bypassing words and brain. We do this practice at moments when something beautiful touches us—the moon shining through bare branches, a dear friend’s compassion and goodness. As we train our mindfulness on beauty for the span of ten breaths (thirty seconds), we open new neural pathways to happiness, which can—with practice—replace habitual negativity, pain, and even trauma.

While the Ten Breaths Practice is ancient, Schneider connects it to neuroscience with explanations that flow easily enough for beginners. As Einstein once said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This fifty-page book is like a poem in the sense that every word resonates, nothing is out of place, and the images carry us beyond our usual thinking.

For me, what’s especially beautiful is the way Schneider, a trained naturalist, helps me touch what seems “out there” in Mother Nature. For instance, he happened to look up at a 152-foot redwood tree that stands outside city hall in his home town, and he realized it was time to stop on the busy sidewalk, place his hands on his belly, and practice. “On the eighth breath,” he tells us, “a glowing feeling arose in my chest and spread to my face with a huge, blossoming smile. I felt a barrier in myself dissolve and the tree became alive.” As Thay tells us, Mother Earth is not just “out there” but also inside ourselves.

Ten Breaths to Happiness deepens one of my favorite themes in Thay’s teaching, his use of the word “touch.” When Thay urges us to “touch the wave, touch the water,” there is something beyond philosophy about this, something very much of the body. With hands on the belly for ten breaths, and those mysterious neural pathways actually opening up, I can feel my body at one with my mind.

Besides talking us through ten breaths, Schneider (a Dharma teacher ordained by Thay in 2011) offers appendices of other Earth-centered practices, including a beautiful Touching the Earth.

mb63-Books2The Green Boat
Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture

By Mary Pipher
Riverhead Books, 2013 Soft cover, 240 pages

Reviewed by Louise Dunlap, True Silent Teaching

Mary Pipher is widely known for her healing book, Reviving Ophelia, about teenage girls in crisis. Now—amidst extreme weather, disappearing species, and fouled water—she turns her attention as a skilled therapist to our relationship with Mother Earth. As climate change and related crises accelerate before our eyes, she hones in on some crucial questions: Why do so many humans seem frozen or indifferent, caught in cognitive dissonance? How can we move beyond our own shock and paralysis toward actions that shift the balance and avert suffering?

Pipher’s hallmark is real-life stories—wise teaching tales of young mothers, grocery clerks, ranchers, and artists—mostly from her beloved state of Nebraska. But the story at the heart of this book is Pipher’s own. After reading the truth about climate disaster in Bill McKibben’s Earth during a summer of record heat waves, this grandmother and longtime friend of Mother Earth was devastated. She recalls the night her grown daughter, a mother herself, asked point-blank: “Does this storm mean climate change?” Pipher had to gently tell the truth and watch the pain in her daughter’s face.

Afterwards, she called a small group together to begin a coalition that would temporarily stop the Keystone XL pipeline from promoting climate-threatening tar sands fossil fuel. This group worked hard but caringly, even joyfully. They shared meals, played with children, and walked out on a bit of remaining prairie under the stars. Through actions such as appearing at statewide festivals and carrying wildflowers into their State Capitol, they spoke truth in ways others could hear. Their movement created a common cause between conservative ranchers and environmentalists. Separation and discrimination melted away in shared concern for Mother Earth.

Thay’s teachings on interbeing and ecology permeate this book and are often quoted. When Pipher writes of how she deals with the painful feelings that come with full awareness of climate catastrophe, I hear Thay’s voice reminding us of the Pure Land available in the present moment. Pipher cultivates “the sparkling moment” and knows “how to step outdoors and look for the green heron or the redolent milkweed blossom.”

For those of us called to revive Mother Earth, Mary Pipher re-minds us that reviving ourselves is part of the process, and that this practice is the essence of hope.

mb63-Books3Awakening Joy
10 Steps to Happiness

By James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander
Parallax Press, 2012 Soft cover, 294 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

In the words of author and teacher James Baraz, “Joy and happiness are more than just good ideas. They can be the baseline on which we live our lives. The purpose of this book is to show how to access that switch inside and live life with greater joy.” Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness is based on the wisdom gleaned from twenty years of teaching this ten-session course in person and online to thousands of participants. It emphasizes the key principle that our joy and happiness are up to us. This is not a workbook, but it is a self-led course that can be read individually and also used as a guide for leading the effective ten-week class in Sanghas, jails, prisons, schools, clinics, and book groups.

Each chapter focuses on one of the key steps for awakening joy, such as: “Inclining the Mind toward Joy,” “Mindfulness,” and “The Bliss of Blamelessness.” Each chapter contains a self-contained teaching on the selected topic in a readable format, offering practices that can be implemented one week at a time. The authors integrate a balanced and seamless use of anecdotes highlighting successes of past course participants, their own personal insights and transformations, current findings in neuroscience, and the teachings of the Buddha, along with modern-day applications for everyday life. The readings evoke the feeling of sharing an intimate conversation with a wise teacher over a cup of tea. They are gentle, personal, and helpful.

My favorite part of the book is the story of Baraz fathering a son when he was in his early twenties. He shares about his pain of being estranged from his son for over twenty years and then about their reunion and reconciliation using many of the principles shared in this book. It is a beautiful example of how we can use our own suffering as the impetus toward compassion, healing, and especially joy. In the introduction to the paperback edition, Baraz shares several letters he has received from past course participants. The best testimony for the healing power of joy is expressed in this excerpt: “Seeking joy after thirty-one years in prison can be a daunting endeavor, but your insights have helped.” The lessons offered in Awakening Joy are highly relevant for beginning and experienced practitioners of mindfulness because they bring a fresh and unique perspective to many of the core teachings and practices of the Buddha.

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Book Reviews

mb60-BookReviews1Awakening of the Heart
Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries

Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2012
Softcover, 608 pages

Reviewed by Fred Eppsteiner, Brother True Energy

Several weeks ago, a Sangha member told me she was interested in delving more deeply into traditional Buddhist teachings and asked if I could suggest an anthology of Buddhist sutras. Fortunately, I had Thay’s latest book in my hand and enthusiastically recommended it to her. For decades now, Thich Nhat Hanh has been known worldwide as a wonderful popularizer of core Buddhist teachings (especially mindfulness), with a rare genius for making these traditional teachings and practices understandable, accessible, and easily practiced by everyone.

It is less well known that Thay is a profound scholar of Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and history, and is deeply versed in the Buddhist sutras. For years, Parallax Press has published individual books of Thay’s translations and commentaries on these texts. These have now been gathered in the newly published anthology, Awakening of the Heart.

A unique feature of this anthology is that it contains sutras (or suttas) from both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. Thay has always been a teacher and scholar who searched for common ground, even in relationship to the seeming differences in the canonical texts of the southern and northern schools of Buddhism. In 1966, when Thay founded the Order of Interbeing, he wrote in its Charter:

The Order of Interbeing does not consider any sutra or group of sutras as its basic scripture(s). It draws inspiration from the essence of the Buddhadharma in all sutras. It does not accept the systematic arrangements of the Buddhist teachings proposed by any school. The Order of Interbeing seeks to realize the spirit of the Dharma in early Buddhism, as well as in the development of that spirit through the history of the sangha, and its life and teachings in all Buddhist traditions.

The Order of Interbeing considers all sutras, whether spoken by the Lord Buddha or compiled by later Buddhist generations, as Buddhist sutras. It is also able to find inspiration from the texts of other spiritual traditions. It considers the development of original Buddhism into new schools a necessity to keep the spirit of Buddhism alive. Only by proposing new forms of Buddhist life can one help the true Buddhist spirit perpetuate.


This anthology is a fulfillment of his vision of a non-denominational developmental approach to Buddhist teachings. The book contains nine sutras combined with Thay’s commentary, often line-by-line. In these sparkling commentaries, the uniqueness of Thay’s capacities as a Dharma master continually shines. Sometimes he is the sutra master, presenting Buddhist philosophical tenets, historical antecedents, and psychological insights. Then he is the skillful modern teacher, using personal stories, anecdotes, and present-day insights and examples to enliven and illuminate the traditional formulations of the sutras. Finally, he is the meditation master, showing the reader the clear way to practice the teachings and inspiring him or her towards realization. What a joy!

In Thay’s commentary on the Diamond Sutra, he reminds his Western students that for traditional sutra teachings and practices to be relevant for today’s world, American Buddhism must be “built from your own experiences and with your own cultural ingredients.” For this integration to occur, we must be deeply acquainted with Buddhist foundational teachings and practices so as not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Reading Awakening of the Heart is a clear step towards the fulfillment of Thay’s heartfelt advice to us.

mb60-BookReviews3Pulling Up Stakes
Stepping into Freedom

By Harriet Kimble Wrye
Chanslor Press (Rare Bird Lit), 2011
Softcover, 426 pages

Reviewed by Victoria Emerson, True Sangha Mountain

Pulling Up Stakes is a travel guide to life. Born from the author’s sabbatical from her work as a psychoanalyst, this account of a riveting, off-the-beaten-path adventure is also a deeply spiritual reflection on mindful living. As the author journeys from the depths of her somatically buried fear to the summits of freedom from attachments, she provides readers with a road map for cultivating awareness and compassion in our own lives.

Wrye’s vivid descriptions of her encounters with foreign peoples and environments bring an intimate inclusiveness to the reader’s experience. We truly share in her adventures, whether she is cradling an infant orangutan or undergoing a frightening reception by “stone-age” tribesmen in the Borneo jungle. We experience her delightful first visit to Plum Village, as well as her terrifying brush with a scorpion before her ordination into the Order of Interbeing. As Wrye’s exploits bring repressed memories to the surface, her expert analysis creates a common ground to connect readers to our own traumas and healing.

mb60-BookReviews4The author describes forays into “the back of beyond”—Sir Walter Scott’s term for a remote place, real or imagined— from her ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro to her odyssey through the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Along with Wrye, we learn many lessons: that wearing what the natives wear kindles compassion; that crossing into a land of disorienting rituals can remind us of the polyglot oneness of human existence; and that noble silence forges presence and peacefulness, even in first-time visitors to Plum Village.

In his endorsement of the book, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Full of compassion and wise vision, psychologist Harriet Wrye’s compelling adventures and spiritual pilgrim age in Pulling Up Stakes offer a map of how cultivating mindfulness can help us all to truly ‘Step into Freedom’ no matter who we are or what obstacles we face.” This book invites us to recognize that we are all capable of stepping into freedom and living the miracle of life. Visit

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Book Reviews

mb61-BookReviews1Good Citizens
Creating Enlightened Society

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2012
Softcover, 129 pages 

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg and Alex Cline  

At the age of eighty-six, our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh continues to actively teach around the world and to publish several new books each year. His latest offering, Good Citizens, is profound. Deliberately published before the 2012 elections in the United States, this handbook offers guidance to take the practice of mindfulness and the reality of interbeing to a global level. Without being dogmatic or philosophical, Thay clearly explains how individuals can live an ethical way of life that will contribute to personal and societal well-being. This book is targeted to a broad audience and is sure to have very wide appeal.

Thay’s teaching works equally well for non-Buddhists and Buddhists. This book is a wonderful introductory text that clearly explains the practice, the logic, and the relevance of mindfulness in plain English. Thay presents the Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path in a manner that is clear and relevant to our modern lives. He spells out how we can live our lives in order to contribute to an enlightened and peaceful society.

For readers who are familiar with Thay’s teachings, this book presents the essential elements of Buddhist practice in fresh and inspiring ways that are applicable to our daily lives. Thay shares meaningful and thought-provoking reflections on historical events in the context of a new global ethic. He offers insights into President Obama’s speech at Cairo University in 2009 and the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His pithy commentary on the Five Mindfulness Trainings toward the end of the book is breathtaking in its lucidity and relevance.

mb61-BookReviews2Peace is Every Breath
A Practice for Our Busy Lives

By Thich Nhat Hanh
HarperOne, 2012
Hardcover, 147 pages
Softcover, 147 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

Under one cover, in one small primer, are Thich Nhat Hanh’s most poignant teachings, peppered with his charming calligraphy. Out of his great compassion for all beings, our teacher addresses the difficulties and suffering of modern society by offering us clear, concrete practices to transform pain and agitation into joy and serenity. “Allow this book to be your companion,” he writes in the Author’s Note. Designed to encourage us in the development of mindfulness and concentration, “the core energies of spiritual practice,” this handbook for living has the potential to lead to a deepening spiritual practice for all of us.

To introduce the wondrous practices of this book, Thay offers a sketch of his typical reader, describing all of us: “You have lots of work to do, and you like doing it. It’s interesting, and you enjoy being productive. But working too much, taking care of so many things, tires you out. You want to practice meditation, so you can be more relaxed and have more peace, happiness, and joy in your life. But you don’t have the time for daily meditation practice. It’s a dilemma—what can you do? This book is your answer.”

I keep Peace Is Every Breath by my bed. As I need them, I can turn to sections such as “Loving Speech,” “Boundless Love,” and “Contemplating No-Self and Emptiness,” and fall into a calm and quiet sleep. I cannot be reminded often enough to take care of my emotions, and that I need not be caught in pain. I can walk in such a way that each step is a miracle. In this small book are as many ways to wake up as we shall need for a lifetime—to touch enlightenment from moment to moment, even in our very busy and very ordinary lives.

All those on our Christmas list will receive a copy of this book in 2012, the most thoughtful gift for any loved one. It is our sincere hope that Peace Is Every Breath will be translated into every earthly language. And then we shall send it to the stars.

mb61-BookReviews3Not Quite Nirvana
A Skeptic’s Journey to Mindfulness

By Rachel Neumann
Parallax Press, 2012
Softcover, 182 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

With great humor and a talent for anecdote, Rachel Neumann has compiled honest and homespun autobiographical essays, with snippets from her unusual childhood, on how she tripped into mindfulness practice by landing the job as full-time editor at Parallax Press.*

Raised on a “rural commune, surrounded by trees, goats, water, and a roving gang of other dirty, half-naked children,” the child of a father named Osha who works with the homeless, Neumann as we meet her is a self-proclaimed “outsider” and a skeptic. With daughters named Luna and Plum, and their father, she navigates the complicated waters of family life. She edits books about the Dharma with a babe in arms, learning to simultaneously nurse her baby and type. She admits that sometimes “the current moment is just in the way.” Yet it is clear that she learns as she goes.

Neumann, prompted by her early years on the commune, makes of her Bay Area home an international community center. She rents out a room to those who show up and gathers her neighbors for nettle tea and meals. One has the sense that her life is one happy accident after another—all of which she makes the most of.

Neumann is everywoman. We can all identify with her foiled attempts at mindfulness and compassion, as well as with her moments of true awareness. She begins one wonderful story like this: “I am walking to my office to work on a book about how interconnected everyone is and how we all need each other, when a man starts yelling at me out his car window.”

Neumann’s credits are amazing. She has worked as an editor with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sylvia Boorstein, Sulak Sivaraksa, and for the past ten years as primary editor for Thay. She has written for Shambhala Sun, Village Voice, and The Nation. But reading her book, you would never know of her resume; you’d only know the truth of her everyday life with those who happen by. To get a sense of her storytelling abilities, visit Neumann’s blog at

* Parallax Press publishes the majority of Thay’s books in English.

mb61-BookReviews4Murder as a Call to Love
A True Story of Transformation and Forgiveness

By Judith Toy
Cloud Cottage Editions, 2012
Softcover, 263 pages

Reviewed by Beth DeLap, Compassionate Path of the Heart

Judith Toy’s book, Murder as a Call to Love, will leave you forever moved and inspired. Her story is one of grace, courage, and diligence in the face of unspeakable loss. She does not portray herself as a super-human saint who is here to tell us what to do when someone we love has been murdered. She takes us with her. You’ll be amazed when you arrive, with Toy, at an unlikely and seemingly impossible teaching: forgiveness. This is a forgiveness for ourselves and for others. It is not stuck, like anger—it flows, like love.

Woven throughout are the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Like gems in a tapestry, his words are placed in the story just as the author found them. We hear how she set out to apply them. As her story deepens and unfolds, Thay’s teachings on interbeing deepen and enfold into our hearts, his words taking on the nature of street signs that we notice at first, then begin to internalize. In our walk with Judith we discover the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We turn another page and there are the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings. Rounding a corner we find this reminder: “The Buddha gave us very effective instruments to put out the fire in us.” Thay patiently repeats his message of interbeing until we discover, along with Toy, that there is a powerful path to peace that is available to all.

There are personal letters from abuser to victim, from victim to abuser. An appendix provides resources for those interested in the forgiveness path. I found much that I could relate to, much food for thought, and such an insistence on love that I remain captivated even now, after closing the book.

Toy has unwrapped, examined, suffered, and loved her way through to a personal peace that has the power to heal many. With her lovely word-crafting and talented storytelling, the author pulls us into what may be a lifelong practice of forgiveness. This book will benefit all beings as we continue our collective journey to peace.

mb61-BookReviews5Mindfulness in the Garden
Zen Tools for Digging in the Dirt

By Zachiah Murray
Parallax Press, 2012
Hardcover, 151 pages

Reviewed by T. Ambrose Desmond

Tending a garden is one of the core images used in teaching the path of mindfulness. We are taught to see our mind as a garden that needs tending, and we are taught how to play the role of gardener. Thay often speaks about his love of growing vegetables and how great a teacher a garden can be.

In Mindfulness in the Garden, Zachiah Murray invites us to fully experience all of the teachings that our gardens are trying to give us. The book includes a foreword by Thay and is structured around a collection of lovely new gathas that invite us to bring our practice into every aspect of gardening. From entering the garden to working with weeds to the harvest, we are guided to see the realities of impermanence and interbeing shining through our experience in the garden.

One of my favorite gathas in the book is the one for practicing with seeds that do not sprout:
Sometimes even with mindfulness,
my garden fails to thrive.
With breath, mind and hands free,
the seed of my equanimity emerges.

In her commentary, Zachiah reminds us that our practice is most strengthened when we are challenged. She calls these challenges “good medicine” and encourages us to see them as opportunities for learning and growth. With a calm and soothing voice, she helps us to let go of our attachments to outcome and arrive in the beautiful present.

Transforming our garden into both a meditation hall and a living sutra, the gathas contained in Mindfulness in the Garden help us to bring a sense of wonder and depth to our relationship with the natural world.

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