book reviews

A Book Preview

mb29-BookTransformation at the Base:Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2001

Introduction

The twelfth-century Vietnamese Zen master Thuong Chieu, "Always Shining," said, "When we understand how our mind works, the practice becomes easy." This is a book on Buddhist psychology, offered to help us see how the mind works through understanding the nature of consciousness. These Fifty Verses can be seen as a kind of road map to the path of practice. Through meditation, the Buddha came to understand his own mind deeply, and for more than two thousand five hundred years his followers have learned how to take care of their own minds and bodies in order to obtain transformation and peace ...

As a novice monk, I studied and memorized Vasubandhu's Twenty and Thirty Verses in Chinese. When I came to the West, I realized that these important teachings on Buddhist psychology could open doors of understanding for people here. So, in 1990 I composed the Fifty Verses to continue to polish the precious gems offered by the Buddha, Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, Xuanzang, Fazang and others . ..

I have tried in this book to present the Manifestation - Only teachings in a completely Mahayana way. If, while rea ding, you don't understand a particular word or phrase, please don't try too hard. Allow the teachings to enter you as you might listen to music, or in the way the earth allows the rain to permeate it. If you use only your intellect to study these verses, it would be like putting plastic over the earth. But if you allow this Dharma rain to penetrate your consciousness, these Fifty Verses will offer you the whole of the Abhidharma teachings " in a nutshell."

- Excerpted from the Introduction written by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Ripening

Store consciousness ripens in two ways - as our person (the world of sentient beings) and as our environment (the instrumental world). In the moment, we ca n touch the ripen ed fruit that is ourself, our friends, and our world. Tomorrow, that ripened fruit will be different - better or worse, depending on our individual and collective actions. In Buddhism, action (karma) takes three forms: body, speech, and mind. Our actions of body, speech and mind, when brought together, create the qualities of our happiness or suffering. We are the author of our destiny. The quality of our being depends upon the quality of our prior actions. This is called maturation.

Some seeds take longer to ripen than others. Some maintain the same basic nature before and after ripening. Some are completely different before and after ripening. Someone could sow a musical seed. Before that seed ripens, we do not sing well and the melodies we compose are not very beautiful. As we practice more and more, the seed ripens and there is a change and the music we create becomes more melodious. Ripening takes place in every moment. Our body, our consciousness, and the world are the matured fruits of this ripening.

Consciousness is at the heart of everything. Space, time, and the four great elements are all displays of consciousness. All six have the nature of interbeing. If we look deeply into one, we find the other five. We have the power to create and arrive at a new maturation when we know how to transform the seeds in our store consciousness. We may think that a new maturation only takes place after we release this body, this actual manifestation of our eight consciousnesses. But looking deeply, we see that maturation takes place in every moment. We have the capacity to renew ourselves in every moment.

~ Excerpted from Chapter Thirty Five: Ripening


 

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames Thich Nhat Hanh Coming out in Fall 2001 by Riverhead Books

This book is a love letter to us all. Written in simple language, full of concrete methods and practices, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us with great compassion and wisdom that we can transform the fire of anger in us into a cool, refreshing lake.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that if we love someone, we must tell him or her when we are angry, not only when we are happy. We must learn to speak lovingly about our hurt and anger, and within twenty-four hours. The stories and step-by-step instructions guide us towards expressing our anger wisely, with great patience for ourselves and the other person. When we look deeply into our situation, we see that we are not the only one that suffers. Our partner, child, parent, or friend is also in great need of our understanding and compassion. Learning to care for our own anger is at the same time learning to care for our beloved ones.

Many stories of reconciliation and healing are artfully interwoven with the down-to-earth teachings. We meet a woman on the brink of suicide because her marriage is so painful and explosive. She encounters the Dharma and she gains deep insight into how she herself has helped to create her situation and caused her husband tremendous suffering. Through the practice of deep listening and loving speech, she is able to transform her relationship and restore communication in her family. There are parents and children who hadn't spoken to each other in years who were able to reestablish love and trust.

This book is about making happiness a reality, making peace and compassion manifest again in our lives, our relationships, our communities and society. We need the teachings and the methods presented in this book. .. badly. How we deal with our individual anger has everything to do with the reality of violence and war in the world. Practicing these teachings is stopping wars before they start.

If you want a book that will help you heal yourself, your relationships, bring peace, joy and insight into your everyday life through very concrete, simple practices, this is it.

by Sister Chau Nghiem

Excerpt: Caring for Your Baby, Anger

When anger begins to surface, you have to be like a mother listening for the cries of her baby. If a mother is working in the kitchen and hears her baby crying, she puts down whatever she is doing, and goes to comfort her baby. She may be making a very good soup; the soup is important, but it s much less important than the suffering of her baby. She has to put down the soup, and go to the baby's room. Her appearance in the room is like sunshine because the mother is full of warmth, concern and tenderness. The first thing she does is pick up the baby and embrace him tenderly. When mother embraces her baby, her energy penetrates him and soothes him. This is exactly what you have to learn to do. You have to abandon everything that you are doing, because your most important task is to go back to yourself and take care of your baby, your anger. Nothing is more urgent than taking good care of your baby.

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Remember when you were a little child and you had a fever; although they gave you aspirin or other medicine, you didn't feel better until your mother came and put her hand on your burning forehead? Thatfelt so good! Her hand was like the hand of a goddess. When she touched you with her hand, a lot of freshness, love and compassion penetrated into your body. The hand of your mother is your own hand. Her hand is still alive in yours, if you know how to breathe in and out, to be mindful. Then, touching your forehead with your very own hand, you will see that your mother s hand is still there, touching your forehead. You will have the same energy of love and tenderness for yourself . ..

As practitioners, we have to be anger specialists. We have to attend to our anger; we have to practice until we understand the roots of our anger and how it works. We hold our baby of anger in mindfulness so that we get relief We continue the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking, as a lullaby for our angel: The energy of mindfulness penetrates into the energy of angel; exactly like the energy of the mother penetrates into the energy of the baby. There s no difference at all. If you know how to practice mindful breathing, smiling, and walking meditation, it is certain that you will find relief in five, ten or fifteen minutes.

Permission was given by Riverhead Books to print this excerpt.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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Book Review

A new book from Parallax PressAvailable in December 2002

I have arrived, I am home Celebrating Twenty Years of Plum Village Life By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Global Plum Village Community 

In this moving history of building and sustaining a vibrant, multicultural mindfulness community, we hear voices ranging from children, war veterans, practitioners in prison, and social workers in Vietnam, to Israeli and Palestinian practitioners, Western and Asian monks, nuns and lay people. The sharings are grounded in Dharma talks by Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong and Sister Annabel (True Virtue) who openly share their challenges, wisdom and joy in their journeys with Plum Village over twenty years. The book is richly illustrated with color photos and art as well as poems, songs, and short stories. To order contact Parallax Press: www.parallax.org

This special issue of The Mindfulness Bell is an appetizer to this forthcoming book that will be available in full color at the end of 2002.

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Book Reviews

Friends on the Path—Living 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."

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.

Book Reviews

Spiritual 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 Vaughan-Lee 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.

Zooburbia Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us

By Tai Moses Parallax Press, 2013 Softcover, 128 pages

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

Part memoir, part urban field 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.

Active 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.

Book Review

By Barbara Casey

I Have Arrived, I Am Home: Celebrating Twenty Years of Plum Village Life
By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Global Plum Village Family, Parallax Press, 2003, 256 pages

The editors tell us in the Introduction, “This book is a delicious buffet of stories, teachings, poems, and images that offers a taste of the harmonious life possible through practicing mindfully as a Sangha.” Slowly turning the pages of this keepsake, tea table book, I feel the editors were too modest. Filled with color photos and artwork, this is a rich feast for the eyes and the heart.

Enjoying this book helps to deepen my understanding of the interbeing nature of the historical and the ultimate dimensions. Rooted in space and time, the words and pictures are my vision of the Pure Land, the Kingdom of Heaven. Shining through this marriage of the historical and ultimate dimensions comes the action dimension, exemplified by heartfelt stories of love and gratitude from practitioners all over the world. This book is an antidote to loneliness: it offers myriad threads of connection through time and space to lay and monastic brothers and sisters everywhere. For the first time, I see and hear the voices of those who came before me – those who were present in the early days of Plum Village life, those who built the buildings and the pathways at Plum Village that I enjoy now. I hear the visions of my teachers, Thay and Sr. Chan Khong. I listen to Sr. Annabel’s story of hardship and grace as she came to find her teacher and her true home.

And my teacher, Thay, blesses me with the understanding that “I have arrived, I am home,” is the Dharma seal of Plum Village, the heart of the practice. For those of us who have always felt a bit alien and homeless in this world, it is the most precious gift. Being close to this book, having it smile at me from my living room table, helps me understand and appreciate the treasure of practice, the treasure of friendship, I am being offered with each conscious breath.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication.

Award Given to Parallax Press Catalog

The 2002-03 Parallax Press mail order catalog has won first prize in a nation-wide competition of printing and graphic art firms promoting excellence in print communication. This award recognizes companies and individuals who create the best in print media. Our current catalog won amongst 632 other entries.

If you would to receive a copy of our “award winning” catalog please visit our website at www.parallax.org or call 1 800 863 5290.

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Book Reviews

mb35-BookReviews2New version of the UK Practice Manual Reviewed by Kate Atchley, Vow of True Virtue

The UK Manual of Practice has been recently revised. The Manual is a valuable resource for anyone who follows Thay’s teachings.

After an introduction, detailed guidance on many aspects of the practice is offered, including the Daily Practices, the Mindfulness Trainings, the Touchings of the Earth, planning and facilitating a Day of Mindfulness, and even a Tree-Planting Ceremony. Beginners will find explanations of the Dharma and mindfulness practice; experienced practitioners will find texts and advice to support their Sangha activities.

With Internet access, you may download all or some of the Manual at http://www.interbeing.org.uk. If you experience technical difficulties, please e-mail technica.help@interbeing.org.uk. Updating of sections will be done from time to time. Please send any suggested changes to manual.editor@interbeing.org.

Mac users can download the manual in:

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The Essential Spiral Ecology and Consciousness After 9-11

By Ian Prattis University Press of America, 2002

Book Review by David Percival

This is a remarkably personal, honest, and passionate trip into the mindless violent world we have created, and an offering of how, through meditation and mindfulness practice, we can change ourselves and our world. With clarity and vision Ian Prattis illustrates that what the Buddha realized 2,600 years ago is directly applicable to our current quest for peace and justice.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence is in this book through numerous references to his teachings and writings. Prattis’s multidisciplinary approach covers everything from deep listening, problems of unmindful consumption, and

the global ecological crisis to globalization. The final chapter is a moving discussion of the Five Mindfulness Trainings as ethical guidelines for people of all faiths. Also included are ten mindfulness meditations, offered for the reader to practice. A comprehensive bibliography ends each chapter.

The Essential Spiral is a bold, no-holds-barred application of Buddhist practices to both our personal lives and to our world. Prattis is deeply committed to his personal mindfulness practice and his writing reflects his honesty and integrity. He uses many wonderful stories and anecdotes, often from his own life. He appeals to us all, Christian, Jew, Moslim, or Buddhist, to develop our own mindfulness practice based on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

I am concerned that his somewhat academic style and direct Buddhist approach will lessen the book’s appeal to a broader audience. It needs to be read by people not familiar with Buddhism.

To some readers, Prattis may seem to propose radical practices and methods. Yet, if we truly want to transform the violence, anger, hatred, and despair that are in us and in our world, his prescriptions do not seem radical at all. We desperately need a “Consciousness Revolution grounded in mindfulness practice.” What would happen if we, as a nation, could stop, breathe, and really look deeply at the causes of violence and terrorism? What would the world be like if we really practiced the Five Mindfulness Trainings? This would be the revolution and transformation we are searching for. As Prattis says, “all that is required is that you do it now.”

mb35-BookReviews3The Practice of Wholeness Spiritual Transformation in Everyday Life

By Lorena Monda Golden Flower Publications

Book Review by Barbara Casey

Lorena Monda is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, psychotherapist, Hakomi trainer, and Order of Interbeing member. The Practice of Wholeness reflects her insight from these varied commitments. In the introduction, she states, “It is practice that is at the heart of transformation.” Unlike many texts that offer philosophies about the world and our lives, Lorena takes us on a practical, exploratory journey, offering guided meditations and daily exercises to help us come to a greater place of wholeness within ourselves.

Before writing this book, Lorena asked, “What do people who make core changes in their lives do that other people don’t?” This became the basis for the teachings she offers. A gentle and clear guide, Lorena helps us learn to accept our bodies, emotions, thoughts, attitudes and beliefs, longings and aspirations.

We learn to come to peace with our humanness, and with the unknown. As we move through this process, we gain a greater ability to invoke wholeness, and to give it creative expression in everything we do. Individuals, couples, families, and even communities will find this book an invaluable resource for learning to live in harmony through simple, new ways to connect with the wisdom and compassion—the Buddha nature—within each of us.

Barbara Casey is an editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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Book Reviews

mb66-BookReviews1Zen BattlesModern Commentary on the Teachings of Master Linji

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2013 Softcover, 266 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

This re-issue of Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go: Waking Up to Who You Are, originally published in 2007 by the Unified Buddhist Church, is lightly edited, re-titled, re-designed, and refreshed. It is curious that the publishers chose the title Zen Battles, as Thay and all of his students in the Order of Interbeing are well known for gentleness, peace, and reconciliation. So the word “Battle” in the title is not meant in the usual sense. While in Master Linji’s teachings, the master often strikes his students and sometimes shouts at them, we can absorb these teachings as a metaphor, much like the sword-wielding bodhisattva Manjushri who has the capacity to cut through our bonds of delusion. Thay tells us that the spirit of our Zen ancestor, Master Linji, is in everything we are taught and everything we do.

Born during the Tang dynasty in ninth-century China during a time of political unrest and repression of Buddhism, Linji studied with a recluse master and gradually developed his signature direct and dramatic teaching style: “If something has arisen, do not try to make it continue. If something has not arisen, do not try to make it arise. This action is more valuable than ten years’ pilgrimage.”

Reading these cases is like cracking a code. Yet it cannot be done with the mind. Each case presented by the author is a koan. First, we encounter Thay’s translation of twenty-three of Linji’s teachings, known as the Record of Linji, followed by the bulk of the book, Thay’s commentary on each of the cases. The author suggests we first read through Linji’s teachings completely, then repair to the commentaries.

Master Linji emphasizes that his insight was not with him from the time he took birth, “...but came about through polishing, refining, training, experience and investigation, and then one day I broke through to the truth.” Eventually, Master Linji let go of his studies in order to follow true Zen practice. The wonderful irony is that we read the book so we can throw the book away.

There is one paragraph in this book that is the only Dharma talk you’ll ever need. I leave it to the reader to find that paragraph for herself.

mb66-BookReviews2The Mindfulness Survival Kit Five Essential Practices

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2014 Softcover, 160 pages

Reviewed by Leslie Rawls, True Realm of Awakening

Kits contain tools useful to a particular purpose. So too, The Mindfulness Survival Kit is filled with tools to help us practice with the Five Mindfulness Trainings and explore how they can be meaningful and useful in our lives.

The book first examines the historical background of the Five Mindfulness Trainings—the Plum Village version of the five precepts given by the Buddha. Having rooted readers historically, Thich Nhat Hanh then invites us to let go of any attachment to these practices as Buddhist concepts or dogma. Instead, he encourages readers to five ways to practice with the trainings that transcend divisive labels. “One of the deepest causes of our suffering,” he writes, “is our insistence on seeing reality in a dualistic way and our attachment to our beliefs.” Throughout the book, he invites the reader to use these trainings diligently, mindfully, and openly, “with an awareness of your capacity and of what is possible.”

The book examines each training individually, including commentary from Thay’s experience, as well as specific practices for the reader. Each commentary examines the training’s purpose, reminding us that practice is more than memorization and that we engage these practices for our own healing and for healing the world. Thay show us ways that he envisions such healing, and invites us to be open to new ways of practicing with each training and to explore these ways individually and within community. His commentaries show the interweaving of the trainings and the interbeing nature of all life.

The second part of the book is a study of comparative ethics and the mindfulness trainings. Here, Thay offers details about different ethics structures as a way of exploring how the Five Mindfulness Trainings fit with other structures and how we might practice with them. Again, he invites us to connect with others, not to set ourselves apart by labels and dogma.

Thay’s earlier commentary on the trainings, For a Future to Be Possible, included commentaries from many practitioners. I had found a great deal of meaning and support in this material and thought I’d miss it here. When I finished this rich book, however, I rejoiced that Thay repeatedly encouraged us to explore these practices, individually and as communities. And I recognized that the earlier commentaries were just one method of such collective sharing.

It is easy to lose oneself in a book, to think all the “answers” lie between its covers, that all we need do is read and understand the wisdom there. In The Mindfulness Survival Kit, Thay doesn’t let us off so easily. Instead, this toolkit offers guidance as a map might, and holds a light up for us to find our own ways to make these trainings come to life.

mb66-BookReviews3In the Garden of Our Minds and Other Buddhist Stories

By Michelle L. Johnson-Weider (White Lotus of the Source) Softcover, 108 pages Blue Moon Aurora, LLC, 2013

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

In the Garden of Our Minds and Other Buddhist Stories is a collection of children’s stories that bring traditional Buddhist teachings into the context of modern life through the lens of a western Buddhist family of four.

Five of the seven stories introduce classic tales from the Buddha’s life and teachings in a way that illuminates modern-day issues. When Mama tells the story “Prince Siddhartha Renounces the Throne,” the children, Briana and Alex, have a chance to explore what constitutes true happiness.

In “Fighting the Demon Mara,” the story of how the Buddha overcame doubt is transformed into a lesson about dealing with difficult emotions. “Mara is a name we give to the emotions that make it hard for us to do the right thing,” Mama explains.

“The Value of Persistence, the Story of Mahaprajapati” demonstrates perseverance and creative problem solving. Mahaprajapati, a follower of the Dharma, successfully convinced the Buddha to ordain women as nuns despite his original resistance to the idea. This story helps Briana to discover that “Persistence, determination, and allies can help you succeed in almost any situation if you have a worthy goal.”

“The Doorway of Death” tells the story of Kisagotami, a mother who begged the Buddha to bring her dead son back to life. The story brings valuable perspective to the topic of grieving and fear of death by encouraging us to fully appreciate this life while we have it.

“Lessons in Stopping” is the story of Angulimala, a murderer who renounced violence to become a monk and follow the Buddha’s teachings. Mama tells this story to demonstrate to Briana, who gets in trouble for talking in class, that “we can stop doing any bad action, even really really bad actions, once we make the decision to start acting correctly.”

The title piece, “In the Garden of Our Minds,” takes us through a Thich Nhat Hanh-inspired guided meditation in which children think of good qualities they have cultivated and imagine them as fl wers in a garden.

In the final story, “A Visit with Rinpoche,” the family goes to hear a Dharma talk by a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. The children’s questions provide an opportunity to explore the complexities of being Buddhist in a mostly non-Buddhist society. Briana and Alex are inspired by the teacher’s description of a bodhisattva as “a great hero who lives with a heart of love for all sentient beings.”

In the Garden of Our Minds includes a glossary of Buddhist terms, as well as a section called “Conversations with Children,” which offers questions designed to spur discussion. This book is a simple but entertaining way to teach children about the Dharma in a home or classroom setting. Colorful illustrations by Brian Chen show an interesting mix of scenes of modern family life as well as from the time of the Buddha. Even though the book is designed for children, adults will find it an enjoyable way to learn about the Buddha’s teachings.

mb66-BookReviews4Teaching Clients to Use Mindfulness Skills A Practical Guide

By Christine Dunkley and Maggie Stanton Routledge, 2014 Softcover, 104 pages

Reviewed by Miriam Goldberg

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is a gem of mindfulness practice for everyone. Consistent with engaged Buddhism, it demonstrates deep listening, mindful speech, and right diligence, foundations of healthy Sangha practice.

For readers interested in teaching mindfulness, the book offers an organized sequence with “key tasks” and “stylistic factors” noted at the end of each chapter. For experienced practitioners, the five exercises on sensation and perception may be a review, but their variety and explanations support fresh eyes and the more complex practices that follow. Therapists and anyone interested in the intrapsychic value and effects of mindfulness will find concise descriptions and applications to some challenging habits of mind. Everyone can benefit from the authors’ focus on mindfulness in daily life to experience present moment, wonderful moment.

The book begins with definitions of mindfulness, a psychological context, and resources—from books and TV shows to recent research. All the practices suggested in the book address mindfulness as an experience of purposeful, present-moment, nonjudgmental awareness that helps us choose where we focus our attention and how we relate to experience while cultivating acceptance, compassion, and open inquiry in our thoughts, speech, and actions. With many examples of therapist-client interactions and commentaries that show kind and respectful inquiry, presence, and reflection, the authors demonstrate deep listening and mindful speech.

Buddhist instruction includes mindfulness of thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and breath. The authors here succinctly address the seldom-mentioned problems of teaching mindfulness of the breath to people who have a history of trauma or anxiety. Step by step, they show us how to bring clarity and compassion— rather than blame, shame, defensiveness, and/or denial—to our mental logjams and emotional upheavals. Their approach to habit-driven thoughts and emotions focuses on the thoughts that fuel the emotions. This is one effective way to cool down heated responses. Its success, however, is rooted in the underlying equanimity, compassion, and understanding consistent with Thay’s teachings to hold in mindfulness those parts of ourselves that get activated and need our steadiness.

In later chapters, the authors help us move from habit to choice and pick the best modality for a given moment. We can water mindfulness with emotion mind or reason mind, doing mode or being mode, internal or external focus, thoughts or feelings or sensations, and by recognizing effectiveness and using wise mind.

This book is not a quick read. Whether it is taken a chapter at a time, example by example, or straight through, one can absorb an approach to mindful awareness that can open transformation at the base, bring compassionate eyes to oneself and others, cultivate inclusiveness—rather than divisiveness, comparison, or isolation—and nourish communities with understanding and love.

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Book Reviews

Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness

By Andrew Weiss

Published by New World Library

Reviewed by Richard Brady

“How do I practice with this?” Often, when I am confronted with a serious issue in my life, I will go to an experienced practitioner and ask this question. The advice I have received has often led me to embrace a variety of informal, daily mindfulness practices.

Andrew Weiss’s Beginning Mindfulness, based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, is a wonderful vehicle for just this kind of learning. A long-time member of the Order of Interbeing, Andrew developed this material as a textbook for his ten-week Mindfulness Meditation course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.  Readers will find suggestions for practice such as downloading the Washington Mindfulness Community’s mindful clock computer program as well as classic practices like using gathas throughout the day.  Each lesson ends with a “homeplay” assignment, directing the reader to experiment with both formal and informal practices in a variety of ways.

At retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh,  I often meet folks who are looking for ways to form Sanghas of practice when they return home.  I suggest offering a study/practice group using this book, which is suitable for both novices and experienced practitioners.  Beginning Mindfulness can play a significant role in making mindfulness practice more widely accessible.

Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind

By Frank Jude Boccio

Published by Wisdom Publications

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

This book is a must-have for all mindfulness practitioners who also practice or teach yoga.  In his introduction, Frank Boccio says, “I owe a special debt of gratitude to Thay Nhat Hanh for introducing me to the teachings of the Buddha on anapanasati and the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. They were just the medicine I needed at a desperate time in my life, and they have gone on to transform my life, my practice, and my teaching.”

In Mindfulness Yoga, Boccio takes us through the four sections of the Anapanasati Sutra (the Full Awareness of Breathing) and outlines a course of asanas to practice according to each teaching. Rich with personal stories, and interspersed with guided meditations, this text offers a way to deeply connect with our bodies and our feelings through the practice of yoga.

The design of the book is a pleasure. The photos of the poses are clear.  Each page stays open so you can practice the pose while referring to the illustration. Both content and design are richly inviting.

As a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, I have learned that the two sutras on the Full Awareness of Breathing and the Four Establishments of Mindfulness are at the heart of my practice.  Every year I try to spend some weeks focusing on each one, and each time I learn a bit more about myself. This book makes me want to join with Sangha friends and return to these teachings in a new way, using my body as explorer. Anyone want to join me?

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Book Reviews

mb39-BookReview1Peace Begins HerePalestinians 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

mb37-BookReviews1Dharma, Color, and CultureNew Voices in Western Buddhism

Edited by Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín With illustrations by Mayumi Oda Parallax Press, October 28, 2004, 200 pp; $16.00 (paper)

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

A Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the editor is the founder of the People of Color Sitting Group in San Francisco. The book is a compilation of writings by people of color in various Buddhist traditions, and includes such notable writers as Thich Nhat Hanh, Alice Walker, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Structured around the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, this book focuses on both the suffering and the path to the transforming of suffering encountered for people of color and for all people dedicating their lives to an investigation of the Dharma. It takes us into the issue of needing to find a way for people of color to feel at home in the primarily white Western Buddhist Sanghas; and then brings us full circle by reminding us that the Dharma has no color; that when you think you have found the Buddha in a form, you have lost the Buddha.

Dharma, Color, and Culture is an important book for everyone to read. For this white girl, hearing the voices of people of color, especially those with Western roots, gently expanded my view of practice and of the richness, depth, and diversity of the greater Sangha, the Sangha in which I take refuge every day.

mb37-BookReviews2The Hermit and the Well A Skipping Stones 2004 Honor Award Winner

By Thich Nhat Hanh Illustrations by Vo-Dinh Mai Parallax Press, 2003, 34 pp; $15.00 (hard cover)

Reviewed by Lois Schlegel

Based on an event in Thay’s life as a boy in Vietnam, The Hermit and the Well reminds young readers to fully experience the journey of life, rather than hurrying towards a goal.

This is the story of an outing Thay took with his classmates to the top of a mountain, where they expected to meet a wise hermit. They were excited and ran all the way, ignoring the beauty all around them. Thay writes, “There were many beautiful trees and rocks along the path. But I did not stop to look at them because I wanted to reach the top of the mountain. I ran past flowers and trees. I rushed past the bright blue sky.”

By the time the children reached the hermit’s hut they were tired and thirsty and the hermit was nowhere to be found. But Thay did not give up. He continued searching, hiking deep into the forest. Finally, he discovered a beautiful spring and drank it in: its beauty, its sound and its taste. In that moment, the boy who was to become our teacher, realized, “I felt completely satisfied. I did not need or want anything at all…”

Thay had met his hermit. He had found peace. Near the end of the story he writes, “You too may have met your hermit. Maybe it was a rock, a tree, a star or a beautiful sunset. The hermit is the Buddha inside of you.”

In this simple, beautifully illustrated book, Thay recounts, in the form of a story, the core message of his teachings: enjoy and be present in each moment and you will find the Buddha within.

A reviewer from the award-winning multicultural magazine, Skipping Stones, says about The Hermit and the Well: “I would like to give this book to every child I know in order to acquaint them with moments of spiritual awakening.”

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Book Reviews

mb38-BookReviews1

mb38-BookReviews1

Journeying East: Conversations on Aging and Dying

By Victoria Jean Dimidjian

Parallax Press, 2004

Reviewed by Lois Schlegel

For as long as I can remember I have been afraid of death. Even as a child I wrestled with this unknown. At night, when the house was quiet I lay awake trying to figure it out, trying to touch the mystery of it somehow, trying to understand.

None of the conventional answers satisfied me. I searched and questioned and suffered for years, as both my parents died before I was twenty-five and I witnessed the fragility of life from a mother’s perspective when my own children were born.

So, it was with a sense of kinship I read Victoria Jean Dimidjian’s outstanding collection of interviews on this subject. She too was touched by death as a child and her experience seems to shape this far-reaching book. Devoting her entire sabbatical from teaching at Florida Gulf Coast University to this project, Ms. Dimidjian traveled the globe to bring us insight from many of today’s prominent philosophers and death and dying practitioners.

Journeying East includes conversations with Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael Eigen, Norman Fisher, Joan Halifax, Sister Chan Khong, Frank Osataseski, Rodney Smith, and John Wellwood. Each interview is at once intimate and transcendent, as if we too have been sipping tea with these masters and come away not with answers, but insight; not knowledge, but peace. As Rodney Smith so aptly tells the author when she asks him about his own fear of death, “You live it consciously; you live it actively; you live the open question of death. We access the true spirit of Buddhism by living the question of life.” This book is an invitation to that awareness and practice. It offers ways to tolerate and even find joy in the mystery of death.

Fill your life with music! Sing your blues away! 2
new COMPACT DISKS

Rivers & Oasis
Available through the Deer Park Monastery Audio Visual Department

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

www.deerparkmonastery.org/

Wonderful new songs and chants are available as a gift from the fourfold Sangha. Through the direction of Sr. The Nghiem, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen have come together to produce a CD of twenty-seven practice songs called Rivers. These songs clearly reflect the personal practice of the participants, watering seeds of peace, freedom, lightness, and joy in the listener.

For those who love singing and are looking for fresh songs to enjoy and to share with your Sangha, Rivers is the CD for you! There are fourteen songs in English, nine in Vietnamese, and four in French. Included in the English songs is the popular, In Gratitude, which many of us have learned. Most of the others were new to me, and a complete delight. My personal favorites include Alone Again, adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Recommendation, and put to music by Christian monks; and No Wait, an acapella, two-voiced song encouraging self-reliance, which makes me cry with happiness every time I hear it. There is also a wonderful talk-story song by Sr. Chau Nghiem, called Peace is the Way. The CD’s name comes from a lovely song featured first, and also reflects the many sources that came together to form the beautiful music which now flows out to all of us.

Oasis is a compilation of some of the chants we already know in fresh arrangements, plus some new ones. By far the most notable is the Discourse on Love, which I am now listening to as part of my daily practice. I have always wanted to memorize this wonderful sutra, and by putting it to music, I am learning it without effort. I find that listening to and singing this beautiful chant is watering seeds of deep love and happiness in me. I look forward to experiencing this chant with the worldwide Sangha. I hope we will all learn and enjoy it.

Best of all, you can sample these musical offerings online, at: www.deerparkmonastery.org

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Book Reviews

mb41-BookReviews1We Walk the Path Together:Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh & Meister Eckhart

By Brian J. Pierce, O.P. Orbis Press, 2005

Reviewed by Chan Phap De

This is not another academic comparison of two great mystics; rather, it is a love affair, a meeting of two brothers in the heart of the author. Friar Brian is a Dominican monk and Zen practitioner who has been guided through his own spiritual journey by these two teachers. “Permeated by the flavor of living experience,” comments Bhikshuni Annabel Laity, “this book provides a freshness of insight and the deep humility that we need on the spiritual path.”

After years of reading Thay’s books, the author was finally able to join the Plum Village community for the 2004 winter retreat. He writes, “Meeting Thay and practicing with his monastic community have been a gift that I shall never forget, and in a surprising way, it brought me face to face with Eckhart. I realized with great delight that, through the person of Thay, I was sitting at the feet of both of these beloved teachers, drinking in their teaching in a profound way.”

Focusing mainly on Thay’s teachings in Living Buddha, Living Christ and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, the author explores the common ground between Christianity and Buddhism, finding many intersecting points in the spiritual wisdom of Thay and Eckhart. For example, the following statement of Eckhart’s sounds like Thay: “God’s seed is in us. If it were tended by a good, wise and industrious gardener, it would then flourish all the better, and would grow up to God, whose seed it is, and its fruits would be like God’s own nature. The seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree,...the seed of God grows to be God.”

Friar Brian credits the simplicity of Thay’s teachings on the practice of mindfulness and contemplative meditation with helping him understand the theologically rich and dense sermons of Eckhart, who, seven centuries ago, was “easily misunderstood and labeled as dangerous.” Whereas Eckhart emphatically said “What does it avail me that this birth of God is always happening, if it does not happen in me?” Thay simply says, “We are all mothers of the Buddha.” Thay also uses the birthing metaphor: “Waves are born from water. That is why we adopt the language that waves are sons and daughters of water. Water is the father of waves. Water is the mother of waves.”

Thay warns against trying to grab onto the Buddha: “You believe that going to the temple you will see the Buddha, but by doing so you are turning your back on the real Buddha.” Eckhart says, “If a person thinks that he or she will get more of God by meditation, by devotion, by ecstasies or by special infusion of grace than by the fireside or in the stable—that is nothing but taking God, wrapping a cloak around his head and shoving him under a bench. For whoever seeks God in a special way gets the way and misses God, who lies hidden in it.”

What Thomas Merton said of Eckhart can be said of Thay: “He breathed his own endless vitality into the juiceless formulas of orthodox theology with such charm and passion that the common people heard them gladly.” In this book, Friar Brian taps into the good juices seemingly hidden in the Catholic tradition. He offers meditations on subjects such as suffering, the Cross, the Trinity, baptism, the Mystical Body of Christ, equanimity and grace.

As a former priest, a current Catholic, and a “beginner” monk, I felt great joy in reading this book. It not only helped me tap more deeply into my Catholic roots, it also connected me more deeply with Thay’s teaching. Like Thay, the author has made a significant contribution to helping Christians connect with their roots and spiritual ancestors.

mb41-BookReviews2Pine Gate Meditations

By Ian Prattis & Carolyn Hill

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

The guided meditations and chants offered in this CD come from the weekly practice at Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario. The hour long CD contains two chants, performed by Carolyn Hill, and four guided meditations offered by Ian Prattis.

The two chants, from the Plum Village Chanting Book, are the evening chant and the incense offering (the variation that starts,  “The  fragrance  of  this  incense”).

The guided meditations are each from twelve to fifteen minutes in length, making them a useful way to enjoy an extended guided meditation in solitary or in Sangha. There is a meditation on the Four Brahmaviharas, one on the Five Remembrances, an Earth meditation which helps us be in touch with our connection  to Mother  Earth, and  an Indian based So Hum healing meditation that comes from Ian’s practice in India. Prattis’s soothing voice and the gentle background sounds of water help to bring the hearers into a state of calmness and centeredness.

Though this presentation is rooted in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh practice, it also offers some new ways of exploring our spiritual connections. Ian encourages us to be creative in our use of these chants and meditations, and invites us to share them with family and friends.

A practical tool for Sanghas everywhere, the Pine Gate Meditations can be purchased by check or money order to Ian Prattis and mailed to 1252 Rideout Crescent, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K2C 2X7. Costs are $23.00 US, including shipping; $23.50 Canadian. Or contact Ian at iprattis@cyberus.ca.

mb41-BookReviews3What the Stones Remember A Life Rediscovered

By Patrick Lane Trumpeter Books, 2005

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

Patrick Lane is a recipient of most of Canada’s top literary awards and considered one of the finest poets of his generation. He has also been an alcoholic and drug addict for over forty years. This book is the story of his first year of recovery as he emerges from a rehabilitation facility.

Lane finds his salvation in his half-acre garden, and shares intimate details of the lives of the flora and fauna that are his closest friends. Month by month, we track with Lane the change of seasons in the garden, and explore his circuitous path to healing and transformation through the gentle but unyielding examination of childhood memories.

The book flows seamlessly between childhood and early adulthood memories, usually painful; brief but sharply aware observations of a body and mind coming out of a lifetime haze of addiction; and intimate observations of the natural world. But perhaps more remarkable is the honesty that comes from deeply chosen words which reflect both the beauty and the pain of this man’s story. Lane tells us what his discovery of language meant to him: “Poetry was more important to me then than food or sleep, my wife or my children. I found my place in the world with language. I was certain that with language I could heal myself and control what surrounded me. If the house should burn down what would be most important was how I would describe the flames the next day. Love for me lay in imagined places, not in the real world. Death’s only dominion was in a poem.”

Walking through these stories with Lane––sitting with him by his pond with a cup of coffee in the early morning; watching the arrival and departure of the many spiders and birds that inhabit this territory; gathering boulders at a far-off quarry––weave this man into the reader’s heart. Though the stories focus mostly on his challenging early family life and his refuge in the natural world, the brief but stark reminders of the addiction he has just stepped out of remind us of his fragility and vulnerability.

In one of the many short paragraphs that sear with the challenge of freeing oneself of addiction, he states, “This is a fearful time for me and this first morning I stare at a whirl of flies and think the mad thoughts of an alcoholic. The absence of others has always meant excess to me. Bottles of vodka clink in my mind like wind chimes. I know my sickness will abate, the sickness of drinking will slip away, but I pray to the garden that I live this one day sober.”

As the months go by, it seems that Lane goes through a softening, an increasing sensitivity to the beings in his world. One story tells of his starting to drive down the road in his pickup, only to discover a small spider in her web on the outside mirror. Knowing that increasing his speed as he approaches the highway would kill this creature, he pulls to the side of the road and finds a place to gently put her in the bushes.

The final garden project is the creation of a meditation garden. Though at first its location is surprising––in the front yard, near the road––this choice seems to represent the final stage of healing, returning to the world, centered and imperturbable.

In this remarkable book, we witness the suffering of one man, healed and transformed through a deep awareness of the world around and within him. A model for us all.

mb41-BookReviews4A Mindful Way A Simple Guide to Happiness, Peace and Freedom in Eight Weeks

By Jeanie Seward-Magee Trafford Publishers, 2005

Reviewed by Constance Alexander

A Mindful Way offers an eight-week course combining mindfulness meditation with writing exercises as a means to self-exploration. The three-part program includes a daily ten-to twenty-minute sit with emphasis on breathing, two to four pages of free writing (in the tradition of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), and a nightly gratitude recollection. The layout of the book, wide margins with sidebar quotes from many traditions, makes for easy reading. The central five chapters each take one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings as their focus.

The author has practiced in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition for a number of years, and Thay has written an introduction to this book. All profits from the sale of the book go to support Plum Village.

As a practitioner for four years, I decided to undertake this program as a way to deepen my own practice. I like to write—a bonus, given the many writing exercises. For those of us in a post-therapy era of our lives, going back to write about childhood and family may feel like “been there/done that.” However, the author raises enough interesting questions to keep one writing; for example, “Describe your life for the past ten years, but do it as though it’s ten years from now.” Talk about confronting all your hopes, dreams, and fears of the future!

I also enjoyed taking time before bed to remember five things for which I was grateful that day. I realized how often I prepared for sleep feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Remembering the small treasures of the past twenty-four hours and writing them down helped recast things in a brighter light. That little gratitude book became my reverse “to do” list—instead of guiltily reviewing what I hadn’t “crossed off my list,” I could refer to the list of blessings which had been heaped on me (many of which, I realized gratefully, were out of my control).

The author recommends that anyone using this book, if not already in a spiritual community, join with like-minded friends for this eight week journey. I agree. Sharing what arises will sustain and enrich the experience. In the early days of my practice, I dreaded reading the Five Mindfulness Trainings as, coming out of a strict religious background, I tended to see them as the Five Commandments (think stone tablets backlit with flashes of lightning!). It was only in sitting and sharing with my Sangha that I learned the beauty of the Trainings.

The author’s personal reflections, the stories she shares from her life, are an integral part of A Mindful Way. For me, these are sometimes not quite on target as illustrations of her point. This cavil aside, I found A Mindful Way a useful practice tool. It is an ambitious book, seeking to combine a spiritual guide with a more conventional self-help manual. But as such, it may also garner readers who would not otherwise pick up one of Thay’s books. There are many doorways to the practice.

mb41-BookReviews5No Time to Lose A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva

By Pema Chödrön Shambhala Publications, 2005

Reviewed by Judith Toy

The night the Buddha died in the tiny village of Kusinara, nearly three hundred bhikkhus lit torches. Until dawn they told stories of the Buddha’s life in the presence of his body in repose, while sal blossoms floated to earth. It was as if the torches symbolized the light of the Buddha himself entering the bodies of his disciples. Pema Chödrön has lit such a torch for us with her book, No Time to Lose, A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, her commentary on the Tibetan Buddhist classic, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhisattvacharyavat ara) by Shantideva, an eighth-century Buddhist master from the monastic university of Nalanda, India. The author calls Shantideva’s work “a rhapsody on the wonders of bodhicitta,” the mind of love.

Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group into quatrains with the accessible cadence of iambic pentameter, Shantideva’s words sing: And may the naked now be clothed,/And all the hungry eat their fill./And may those parched with thirst receive/ Pure waters and delicious drink.(10.19) Shining the light of her wisdom on small groups of stanzas, Chödrön brings the twelvecentury old teachings home to present-day Westerners.

The emphatic and pragmatic title gives us a no-nonsense summons to get down to business in our own life and practice. Shantideva and Chödrön encourage us to use our lives to water seeds of love. As we set out on the bodhisattva path to free endless beings from their suffering, Chödrön offers, “Everything we encounter becomes an opportunity to develop the outrageous courage of the bodhi heart.” The authors repeatedly remind us to fall back on our essential Buddha nature.

Chödrön offers a helpful study guide at the end, which is useful while reading. Our Sangha’s aspirants to the Order of Interbeing will use this book as they enter the bodhisattva path. Compared to two previous translations of Shantideva, I found this one the most helpful for its rhythmic, poetic translation and for Chödrön’s down-to-earth commentary. Allen Ginsberg’s translation of the last famous lines of the Heart Sutra captures for me the imperative of this book: “Gone, gone, to the other shore gone, reach (go) enlightenment accomplish!”

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Book Reviews

This Tender Place

The Story of a Wetland Year

By Laurie Lawlor

University of Wisconsin Press, 2005 Hardcover, 166 pages, $26.95

Reviewed by Janice Rubin

In a volume of fewer than 200 pages, Laurie Lawlor, author of thirty-three books for children and adults, writes the story of a love affair with a swamp that is ultimately a clarion call to preserve our wetlands if we wish to ensure adequate supplies of potable water. Lawlor and her husband, Jack, bought the eleven-acre property in southeast Wisconsin as a way to “reconstruct” themselves following the deaths of their fathers within months of each other. In spring they planted a pin oak, beneath which were placed her father’s ashes.

This Tender Place is permeated with Lawlor’s deep practice of mindfulness in nature. As a Dharma teacher who has received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh, her stories reflect her ten-year intimacy with the vegetation, animal life, and minerals in this 14,000-year-old fen. In an enchanting tableau of the four seasons of the year, beginning with winter and going back to the start of the Ice Age, she chronicles the gradual formation of the current wetlands landscape and its seasonal changes.

We are with her as she travels by kayak or canoe along the streams and passageways of the fen to the lake, or walks the paths and slogs through mud, observing the changes in water quality, vegetation, and animal life at each season of the year. We note the coming of spring in the water bubbling up through cracks in the ice on the marshes as winter ends, the incipience of summer in the return of mated pairs of cranes in early spring, the crackling of the drying water-lily pads and the presence of scum, white swan feathers, and dead insects on the pond foretelling the coming autumn and “the long slide into the beginning of silence.” On her last kayaking trip of the year, she finds herself cutting through a thin film of ice; the turtles and frogs are gone, vegetation is floating loose, and snow begins to fall.

Unrestricted hunting led to the extinction in the area of elk, white-tail deer, black bear, wild turkey, sandhill cranes, and massasauga rattlesnakes by 1850. Past practices of draining wet areas to create land that can be farmed or developed for housing, shopping centers, or industrial uses have resulted in the diminished availability of fresh water as the population grows. Grassroots conservancy groups are now involved in promoting the reclamation and preservation of watersheds, prairies, woodlands, shorelines, and other sensitive areas from human indifference.

We feel, with Lawlor, a growing sense of oneness with the environment as she makes her way. Twenty-two photographs, most of them taken by her, reflect the peaceful aspect of this tender place even when animal and plant life are most abundant. For this, if for no other reason, wetlands areas must be preserved as places where people can find refuge from the hurly-burly of everyday life.

Little Pilgrim

By Ko Un

Parallax Press, 2005 Softcover, 381 pages, $18.95

Reviewed by Judith Toy

A novel twenty-two years in the writing by celebrated Korean poet and former Buddhist monk Ko Un (pronounced ‘Go Oon’), this book is a Dharma treasure brought to us by translators Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim. The protagonist is a tenyear-old boy, Sudhana, who during his life’s fantastical journey, morphs more than once into an adult and even once into a leper.

He encounters fifty-three teachers in all, sometimes in dreams, from gods to singing snails to a boy who becomes a girl, to bums and bodhisattvas (sometimes the bums are bodhisattvas), a giant, an underworld, heavenly realms, vanishing beings, and a kite that points the way on his travels.

Ko Un’s fiction without a plot is based on the thirty-ninth, the last and longest section of the Avatamsaka Sutra, known as the Garland Sutra––a teaching that’s had an extraordinary impact on East Asian Buddhism since its introduction into China in the sixth century.

Supposedly derived from a series of sermons by the historical Gautama Buddha––or possibly by his disciple, the bodhisattva of Great Action, Samantabhadra, Ko Un’s poetic rendering of the pilgrim’s journey is like a string of wisdom pearls.

Like St. Exupery’s Little Prince, who always felt he was at home, the little pilgrim Sudhana teaches us two crucial lessons: how to see the signposts that show us where to go next on our life’s pilgrimage; and how to let go. At each stop, someone or something directs the boy to his next destination. He only hears them because this child without parents or roots is able to move through the universe with an open heart. He simply allows each teaching to enter him, and then the young pilgrim moves on.

The setting is India in the Gautama Buddha era, and some place names are familiar to us from the life of the Buddha. While the Buddha is not a character in the novel, there are increasingly frequent references to his teachings as the boy’s journey unfolds. To fully receive the sweep of Ko Un’s novel as a metaphor for our lives, it’s probably best to read it through at once, rather than piecemeal. Readers will want to linger at the striking papercut illustrations by Jason DeAntonis that pepper the text.

As a sangha body we can apply these two lessons––trusting the way enough to be available to the teachings that abound in every moment and becoming still enough to know where as a sangha our path is leading us next; and allowing ourselves to let go of the many people who come and go in a sangha, loving them in a nonattached way. Allowing the comings and goings to happen without any resistance, without clinging. With the Buddha, Ko Un shows how to let go and join the dance!

The Wonder of the Tao

A Meditation on Spirituality and Ecological Balance

By James Eggert

Published by Humanics, Lake Worth, Florida Hardcover; 90 pages; $14.95

Reviewed by Hope Lindsay and Barbara Casey

James Eggert is an emeritus faculty member of the University of Wisconsin. As both economist and ecologist, Eggert offers a singular perspective on the workings of our world and our relationships in it. For example, he suggests that we consider the concept of market capitalism as a flawed gemstone. Inspecting it for defects from the viewpoint of an economist and then an ecologist, Eggert offers a vision to bring balance and harmony back into our economic system.

Eggert’s simple stories offer a wise view of life and practical methods for deepening our understanding of interbeing. To help develop balance and an increased awareness of other species, he describes simple t’ai chi exercises that embody qualities of bear, crane, monkey, deer, and tiger. Opening our eyes to a larger view of the world, Eggert describes the unfolding of the universe, through stellar contractions and expansions, the origin of water, the moon’s influence, and the development of life forms.

Each chapter begins with a verse from the Tao Te Ching, a slim volume written by Lao Tzu 2,400 years ago, and woven into the heart of Buddhist teachings. The wisdom of simplicity, balance, and letting go show us a way through the complexities of modern life and the confusion of searching for happiness outside ourselves. The last chapter, “The Wonder of the Tao,” begins with the verse:

“If you don’t realize the source, You stumble in confusion and sorrow… Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, You can deal with whatever life brings you, And when death comes, you are ready.”

Eggert gently leads us back to the source of true happiness, through his stories of connecting with nature and seeing the world in all its remarkable beauty. In the book’s foreword, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Please enjoy this offering of our friend, James Eggert, as an invitation to enter into a deep relationship with our home the earth and all her creatures, to cultivate our awakened wisdom to find harmony and balance.”

The Wonder of the Tao is generously illustrated with calligraphy and brush paintings by Li-chin Crystal Huang. A lovely snapshot of one man’s walk in mindfulness through our world, this book reflects the simplicity and fullness of which it speaks.

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Book Reviews

mb43-BookReviews1The Energy of PrayerHow to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2006 155 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

When Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “You are a cloud,” this sounds very poetic. What he means is that our bodies contain cloud elements,  a fact that science cannot dispute. Taking the same no-nonsense approach to prayer in his new pocket-sized book on the subject, our dhyana master begins with the facts. In the book’s introduction, Larry Dossey, M.D., writes that there are currently 200 controlled experiments “in humans, plants, animals, and even microbes” suggesting that the energy of prayer can affect another individual or object, even at great distances.

But does prayer really work? In the first chapter, Thây offers readers the story of a double healing through prayer—a boy’s skepticism is healed at the same time that a woman’s brain tumor disappears. Reading this book proves what I, too, know, as I once healed completely from fibromyalgia and stomach ulcers through prayer. I have been present in the dharma hall when Thây requests that we “send energy” to someone who is sick or dying. We do not ask for the person to be healed; we simply send our concentrated, loving energy, sometimes long distance. And we know this has its effect, just as the moon has an effect on the earth.

Prayer is not meant to be a wish list; it’s a state of being. The secret is to pray with a mind of no attainment. While our teacher gives us many classic chants and prayers to choose from, as well as an appendix with exercises in meditation, he tells us that prayer can be realized not only in words, but in action. This is important especially for those who think they need “an answer” to prayer. The prayer itself is the answer. Prayer transforms the pray-er.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s greatest pedagogical gifts to the world has been tying East to West, Judeo-Christian to Buddhist practice. We need not drop our Judeo-Christian roots; our mindfulness practice makes us more sincere Christians, more deeply reverent Jews. In two of his watershed books, Living Buddha, Living Christ, and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, the author marries Christian and Buddhist practices. For me one of the most exciting chapters is Thây’s discourse on the Lord’s Prayer, which I’ve been praying for six decades.

Love is reflected in love. With “And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors,” Thây exhorts us to pray in such a way that we “go beyond birth and death.”

What is prayer, then, but a raising of the mind and heart to God? And who is God but our very interbeing, the eternal flame that illumines everything, including the cloud. Our meditation and daily mindfulness practice is prayer. So prayer is a lightening and a lifting up. “We will lift her up [to God],” says the Christian. “We and God are not two separate existences,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh. I know this to be true.

mb43-BookReviews2Mindful Politics

Melvin McLeod, editor Wisdom Publications, 2006 Paperback, 304 pages

Reviewed by Svein Myreng

In the introduction to Mindful Politics, editor Melvin McLeod writes, “This is a handbook, a guide, a practice book, for people who want to draw on Buddhism’s insights and practices to help ... make the world a better place.” A long-time Buddhist practitioner with a background in political science, McLeod has gathered 37 prominent Buddhist teachers, writers, and practitioners for this book.

At the core of mindful politics is the importance of stability and calm and how Buddhist practitioners can make this contribution to politics, especially in connection with anger and conflicts. In his essay, Roshi Bernie Glassman states: “I don’t believe in a utopia of non-conflict. Whatever you do is going to create conflict in some ways and peace in other ways.”

Also central to the book is Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice on understanding and compassion in all walks of life—familiar teachings to Thay’s students, but well worth re-reading. These are teachings of an uncompromisingly radical nature; just look with fresh eyes at a statement like “Compassion is our best protection.”

Other contributors bring perspectives from their own traditions, with Vajrayana and Zen perhaps a bit overrepresented. Buddhism is not monolithic. At times, however, the book’s perspective feels a bit too narrow, tipping the scale with people who are popular authors in U.S. Buddhism right now. For instance, I miss the fearless words of an Aung San Suu Kyi, or the old-time political commentary of Gary Snyder.

Especially interesting to me are the articles on racism and economy. Sulak characterises “free market fundamentalism” as “akin to other kinds of fundamentalism.”

Rather than GNP, Gross National Product, Jigmi Y. Thinley, Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs in Bhutan, suggests we use GNH, Gross National Happiness, as an alternative for measuring real weath. Thinley suggests four vital elements to GNH: “(1) sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, (2) conservation of the environment, (3) preservation and promotion of culture, and (4) promotion of good governance.” I would like to read more on these topics.

I write this review as a Dharma teacher, a father, and someone who wishes to make a positive contribution to the world. Though my wife and I try to live a simple, non-harming life and protect our son and ourselves from the greed-and-speed society, it is difficult. We neither wish nor are able to live in a cultural cocoon. We want to influence society, even in a small way. Mindful Politics is definitely helpful in this respect. It makes me think more deeply about aspects of my life and society.

Three Poetry Books

Reviewed by Susan Hadler

Something wonderful happens when we slow down and take the time to wake up to our bodies, our minds, and the world around us. We see things in the light of interbeing. We are able to touch the true nature of reality. The poets whose work is reviewed here devote themselves to noticing and connecting deeply with life in the present moment. They’ve put into words their experiences of delight and transformation and insight. It is a joy to find so many images that bring together the historical and the ultimate dimensions.

Fruits of the Practice

By Emily Whittle Self-published, 2004 222 E. 5th Ave., Red Springs NC 28377 Soft-cover, hand-bound, 25 pages

The author of this beautiful earth-brown hand-bound book is a gardener of the heart and mind. Trained as a fine artist, primarily in book arts, Emily has taught all aspects of book making, and she brings her skills to the construction of this book. Her poems offer delicious fruit ripened in the sunshine of awareness. Playful images and fresh connections abound, this one from “A Break in the Weather”: “After seven days of rain, dawn serves up a new day, round as an egg, sunny-side up,” and this, the opening line of “Zafu”: “My church is a round cushion.” Still other poems astonish us with reality, as in the last line of the poem entitled “You Asked About My Anger”: “Even with remorse it takes a long time before the birds come back.”

Most of all, the poems live as stories of life on the path of awareness, bright with surprise and clarity of insight and transformation. Here, from the first poem in the book, titled “Origami”:

Watch this! A square of paper folded on itself becomes a crane. . . When my spirit lies flat and limp, a lost scrap under my heart’s table, I must bend and stretch, touching all my corners. Aha! I see the tiger emerging already!

mb43-BookReviews3Bird of the Present Moment

By Pamela Overeynder Plain View Press, 2005 Soft cover, 79 pages

A sense of belonging, “each thing to every other,” infuses the poems in Bird of the Present Moment with the beauty and truth of nature; grasses “flowing nowhere in great waves,” and oaks that “go gladly with the wind,” and this from “Hillside Theater”: “The sun takes its final bow and melts down into the rock. Then like a child who doesn’t want to sleep, it peeks upward just before the chill.”

There are poems that declare the narrator’s delight in simple things like swimming “comfortable as a fish” and in brushing her teeth “to the rhythmic sound of crickets.” Other poems, like “Bird Island,” state in elegant simplicity what the poet knows from connecting deeply with herself and the present, in this case terrifying, moment:

What slowly seeps into both of us during this longest night. . . is the irreducible and indestructible truth that the present moment is all the life we have.

mb43-BookReviews4Gateways: Poems of Nature, Meditation and Renewal A Self-Guided Book of Discovery

By Sylvia Levinson Caernarvon Press, 2005 35 pages

Each of the 15 poems in Gateways is like a dharma sharing that opens mind and heart. The poems come from stopping, Levinsontells us in the introduction, and attending to life around and within. A withered fern offers a “meditation of resting.” During walking meditation a young monk “places a finger below a single droplet [and] waits for it to fall.” Sitting in the quiet of early morning, a finger traces “a sifting of pollen that has settled like powered sugar on the blue bowl”; ordinary experiences brought to life with attentiveness and shared as poems.

The poet is our guide to what may lie unnoticed, yet is alive within us right now. She does this by introducing each poem with a short prose description of the discovery that inspired the poem. Before “What Feeds My Soul,” she writes, “Things all around us can give moments of pleasure and peace.” Here, a fragment:

Yesterday, it was the little redheaded bird that lit on my balcony and poked its beak among the sweet alyssum.

Last month, the bowed head of a classical guitarist suspended over his instrument, waiting as the final note disappeared. . .

After each poem, the author poses questions. For this poem, she asks the reader, “What ‘something’ takes you out of the routine and mundane and feeds your soul?” Opposite each written page is a  lined blank page, space for the reader to try writing poems of her own.

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Book Reviews

The Garden at Night Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life

By Mary Rose O’Reilley Heinemann

2005 Softcover, 96 pages

Reviewed by Richard Brady

In case she’s not already known to you, it’s my happy task to shine the light on one of Buddhism’s hidden Dharma teachers, Mary Rose O’Reilley. O’Reilley is a poet, a teacher of English and rhetoric, and the author of books that include The Peaceable Classroom, Radical Presence, and the autobiographical The Barn at the End of the World. Her new book, The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life, is in reality a series of four very personal Dharma talks on engaged practice. In this short gem of a book O’Reilley calls on the wisdom of teaching from Thây, the Bible, and a panoply of writers and friends to inform her practice as an English department member in a Midwestern America parochial college. As the title suggests, Garden is a book written in response to suffering, suffering brought on by departmental meltdown, deaths of students, and inhospitable working conditions.

The lessons O’Reilley works with are ones that will be familiar to mindfulness practitioners. Each person constructs his or her reality. Your awareness of your authentic self is easily lost in busyness and your struggle to do it right in the workplace, even just to survive. Receive whatever comes your way as an opportunity for practice. Don’t get caught in characterizing your experiences as “good” or “bad”; they’re just your experiences. Change your relationship to time: live slowly enough to encounter life with mindfulness. This makes freedom possible, your one true freedom, which is to be authentic.

In my experience, these changes are easy to articulate and challenging to accomplish. O’Reilley agrees. She receives a great deal of support from regular times of retreat and from spiritual friends. When the next suffering comes along, hers or that of someone close, to test these lessons, her supports make it possible for her to remain present to the suffering. And it is particularly in the contemplation of suffering that O’Reilley finds the impetus for personal transformation and prophetic witness.

For readers who wonder how to grow in the absence of major suffering, O’Reilley describes practice with some of her personal koans and questions. Searching for guidance on how to carry on in her profession, she ponders the tension between Jesus’ advice to “Be therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and the imperative to be herself. Recognizing her inability to control or even truly understand what her students are learning, O’Reilley asks herself the “painful” question, “What did I just learn?”

Suffering is suffering. So whether or not you’re an educator, you’ll likely resonate with the reality O’Reilley describes. This is the book to share with friends who wonder what mindfulness practice has to do with life. More than that, it’s a wonderful reminder and teacher for us all. Approach this book with an open heart. Its humor, its humility, its poetic truths will water your seeds of compassion and hope.

Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life Collected Talks 1960-1969

By Alan Watts

New World Library, 2006 245 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

Our beloved hippie icon, the late Alan Watts, is back. Thanks to his son, Mark Watts, keeper of the family archives (see www.alanwatts.com), a new compilation of his radio and TV broadcasts and recorded public lectures is out in book form: Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life, Collected Talks 1960-1969. With its vintage excess of language and Wattsian wit, this is another exciting collection from the British-American philosopher and theologian who beguiled multitudes of flower children, setting many of us on the Buddhist path with manuals such as The Spirit of Zen, Square Zen Beat Zen, and The Way of Zen.

As a small child, I remember losing sleep one night because I was imagining the “forever-ness” of death. I envisioned eternity as a scary, endless corridor of doors where one door always led to another. One of the great things for me about reading Alan Watts as a young adult was that he knew his young readers still harbored such fears. From the new collection:

The idea of nothing has bugged people for centuries, especially in the Western world. We have a saying in Latin, Ex nihilo nihil fit, which means “out of nothing comes nothing.” It has occurred to me that this is a fallacy of tremendous proportions.... It manifests in a kind of terror of nothing, a put-down of nothing ... such as sleep, passivity, rest, and even the feminine principles.

And from another essay, “Our fascination with doom might be neutralized if we would realize that every new doom is just another fluctuation in the huge, marvelous, endless chain of our own selves and our own energy.”

He persistently sees the universe as a deep and harmonious whole. Calling on his complex knowledge of history and quick deductive reasoning, Watts reassures:

But to me nothing—the negative, the empty—is exceedingly powerful... [Y]ou can’t have something without nothing. Imagine nothing but space, going on and on, with nothing in it forever. The whole idea of there being only space, and nothing else at all is not only inconceivable but perfectly meaningless, because we always know what we mean by contrast.

Where to begin?! I was like a kid in the candy store with his new book. His subject matter covers the gamut from “Divine Alchemy” to “Religion and Sexuality,” frolicking through “Philosophy of Nature,” “Swimming Headless,” and “Zen Bones.” Although these essays show only a handful of the talks Alan Watts gave in the sixties, they embody the whole, highlighting a distinguished career that reflected the counterculture of the sixties and paved the way for the Western flood of interest in Far Eastern traditions that has not abated since.

Buddha or Bust In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found Them All

By Perry Garfinkel

Harmony Books, 2006 Hardcover, 320 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

In an inquiring-mind style that Perry Garfinkel calls Zen journalism — “a kind of karmic random access, driven by Google...ramped up by coincidence and luck, inspired by jazz improvisation, necessitated by an incurable case of procrastination” — he circles the globe looking for manifestations of engaged Buddhism. Expanded from a piece for National Geographic, this book describes the author’s nine-nation pilgrimage with visits to major Buddhist shrines and dharma teachers, including Thich Nhat Hanh.

Through the internet, Garfinkel locates Order of Interbeing’s Shantum Seth, who becomes his tour guide in Bodh Gaya, India, where Shakyamuni Buddha found enlightenment. At Bodh Gaya, the sensory bombardment he describes is like a synthesis of Garfinkel’s whole trip: “The deep voices of a hundred Tibetan monks, their chanting amplified by tinny speakers, ...wide-eyed American neophytes, ...stern Japanese Zen priests, ...curious Indian Hindus, ...ebullient Sri Lankans.” Surrendering to his senses, Garfinkel does find peace in Bodh Gaya.

Some of the koans he carries with him around the world are: Why the meteoric rise of Buddhism in the west? Why now? How is it that monks can enter politics and Buddhists be at war in Sri Lanka, “a country hemmorrhaging from within.”? What would the Buddha think of the Taco Bell TV ad touting “enchilada nirvana,” the Madison Avenue-ization of the dharma? As compelling as these questions are, the author’s honesty is equally so. He tells of the headiness of being granted a one-on-one interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He compares the austerities of Japanese “marathon monks” to the asceticism rejected by Buddha. He wonders if ritual as practiced in some Buddhist cultures may cancel out its original meaning.

At a Vietnamese-speaking retreat at Plum Village, where he felt “like a fish out of water,” Garfinkel managed to sit with his “mishigas,” fall in love, and have a sudden gestalt of compassion through listening to a Vietnamese victim of war torture. Finally at Plum Village, the author has a revelation when he asks Thây, after a dharma talk on relationships, “Aren’t there more important issues to discuss than relationships?” Thay answers rhetorically, “Such as war, violence, death, economic problems, terrorism?” Misunderstanding, explains Thây, begins in the microcosm, between two people. It creates fear, and fear creates violence in the world at large. “Peace in myself, peace in the world,” is indeed a Plum Village mantra.

Does the author find truth, meaning, happiness? Yes and no. Summing up his fantastic voyage, Garfinkel ironically quotes eighteenth-century Japanese poet Ryokan: “If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.”

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Book Reviews

mb45-BookReviews1Journeying EastConversations on Aging and Dying

By Victoria Jean Dimidjian Parallax Press, 2004

Reviewed by William Menza

Journeying East is an extraordinary primer on the spiritual, psychological, and physical components of getting old and dying — and living a mindful life. Author Victoria Jean Dimidjian is a professor of education at Florida Gulf Coast University and founding member of the Naples, Florida Community of Mindfulness. She has assembled a profound and practical collection of insights from Ram Dass, Frank Ostaseski, Joan Halifax, Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael Eigen, Rodney Smith, Sister Chan Khong, John Welwood, and Norman Fischer.

In interviews with Dimidjian these teachers transmit a remarkable blend of Eastern and Western wisdom. They tell us that to understand death or prepare for it we have to be deeply in touch with what is happening in the present moment, even as the body dissolves.

Thich Nhat Hanh says: “There is no journeying east, there is no journeying west. We live in the now.” Frank Ostaseski tells us: “You cannot go into the room where someone is dying and not pay attention. Everything is pulling you into the moment.” Norman Fischer says: “I think that death is our greatest teaching. Dying is a way of living, a meditation practice, the most fundamental and most profound of all meditation practices.”

We are cautioned by John Welwood to “be careful with what the death industry might be trying to package for us about knowing what death is all about.” If you have an idea about “a good death” you are creating expectations that will interfere with your unique experience of death. We each need to find our own individual death. “This is an important moment in your life — the final passage — and you don’t want to “live someone else’s version of that!”

The book has an appendix on Internet resources and another on suggested activities such as writing or videotaping a living will, an advance health directive, a durable power of attorney, a will, a good-bye letter. To demystify death and make it normal and natural Dimidjian suggests taking classes on aging and dying, visiting a local hospice, and talking about death with your family. This reminds me of the Meditation or Contemplation on Death, like the one detailed in Thay’s book The Blooming of a Lotus, where we envision the various stages of a decaying dead body — one day this is what we will be.

mb45-BookReviews2Understanding Our Mind

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2006 Softcover, 251 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

The first time I encountered the Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness was in Thich Nhat Hanh’s previous book on this subject, Transformation at the Base. About midway through the text, I got into trouble trying to intellectually grasp the teachings. While I did finish the book, it was with scant understanding. Now Thich Nhat Hanh has made these teachings from the Abhidharma (literally super-Dharma) more   accessible. In Understanding Our Mind, Thay provides an in-depth look at this primary text of original Buddhism on the nature of consciousness, applying it to modern life. The verses, and thus the book, are divided into six sections: store consciousness, or the seed bed; manas, or the mind root; mind  consciousness; sense consciousness; the nature of reality, or non-self; and the path of practice.

Breathing in, I approached this new book by first reading the Fifty Verses. Breathing out, I made some notes. For example, verse Ten refers to the five universal mental formations. For handy reference, I penciled them into the margin: 1) contact; 2) attention; 3) feeling; 4) perception or conceptualization; and 5) volition. I thought of how these work in succession: When we smell a tasty food, the odor commands our attention: contact and attention. Often, then, we feel hungry: feeling. Next we approach the stove and take the lid off the pan. We see the food: perception or conceptualization; and finally, we decide to taste it: volition.

Mind root, manas, the verses explain, has its interbeing with these five universals. In fact, manas inter-exists with all thinking and affliction. Further, all that stems from the mind root is indeterminate and obscured. In his commentary, the author uses the metaphor of the ocean to explain indeterminate and obscured: “The ocean is salty, so all drops of water in the ocean are salty at the same time.”

Verse Twenty-Two refers to the stages of the bodhisattva path. Many of us have experienced the first stage of the bodhisattva path, transforming afflictions. And perhaps when we are well focused, we enjoy a preview of the tenth stage, transforming our belief in a separate self, nirvana.

Understanding Our Mind contains the central illumination of Mahayana Buddhism — that we are all buddhas-to-be. Much more than an intellectual exercise, Thich Nhat Hanh’s discourse is a deep inspiration, underlining for those of us raised in the Christian tradition our early, child-like belief in resurrection. Afflictions, we learn, are none other than enlightenment! We can see how this great mirror wisdom works in our own lives.

When our beloved says something that hurts us, Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to practice by closing our eyes, breathing mindfully in and out, and imagining the two of us one hundred years from now. After three breaths, when we open our eyes, we’ll no longer feel hurt; instead, we’ll want to hug our beloved. What I find continually amazing is Thich Nhat Hanh’s ability to bring liberation into daily life. When we go from being hurt to being mindful and loving, he tells us we are touching nirvana!

“Samsara [the endless cycle of birth and death and its inherent suffering] and suchness [the nature of nirvana] are not two; they are one and the same.” Once we realize this, we can smile “the smile of non-fear.” Even in pain, when we are centered, we can give ourselves fully to peace.

mb45-BookReviews3First Buddhist Women Poems and Stories of Awakening

By Susan Murcott Parallax Press, 2006

Reviewed by Phillip Toy

“Why has Gautama come here? To take away our sons and make our daughters widows!” — The Mahavagga

This masterful re-issue of a 1991 original — ten years in the making, five of which it took to write — showcases Susan Murcott’s scholarship, coupled with considerable poetic sensitivities. This marriage of talents seamlessly brings to life a pivotal period for buddhadharma in general, but more specifi y, the religious, social, and political context for Buddhism’s first enlightened women. The common threads of loss, estrangement, marginalization, madness and, finally, liberation are eloquently and simply woven and illustrated in the enlightenment poetry (the Therigatha) of eight of the most important groups of women of that day.

Pajapati, the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother who raised him, and consequently lost him to “the homeless life,” became the first ordained woman and the first woman teacher. She founded the first order of nuns. She writes: “I have reached the state where everything stops.” Early in her nunhood she challenged her famed foster son, via his chief disciple, Ananda, on the first of The Eight Special Rules: even the most senior nun must bow down before the most novice monk.

The privileged Patacara (meaning “cloak walker”) having lost her son and entire prominent family in a fire, went mad and wandered in circles dragging her clothes to ribbons till they fell off her body. Townsfolk drove her off with sticks and rubbish. Gautama tracked her down: “Sister, recover your presence of mind!” She says, “I concentrated my mind the way you train a good horse.” Eventually Patacara’s following was second only to Pajapati’s.

The pabbajita, or wandering heretics and disciples, some of whom were forest-dwellers, write a curious mix of diligence and desperation. Frequently, as with the other groups portrayed, traumatic personal events were springboards for deep religious experiences and new beginnings — even, indeed, enlightenment: “I have ended the hunger of gods and humans, and I will not wander from birth to birth. I have no thought of becoming.”

Whether wise woman and teacher, mother, wife, old woman, prostitute, courtesan or beautiful woman — each role’s poetry describes its unique path to yet a common destination. Murcott’s ardent, scholarly grasp of her material is polished by an unspoken, intensely personal treatment that hints at her own journey — obviously similar in many ways to her book’s subjects’.

Supported as it is throughout by copious notes and footnotes, by an exhaustive bibliography including unpublished theses, an index of poems and poets, a pithy glossary, and a striking appendix of “The Rules of the Nun’s Sangha,” this volume belongs on every serious Buddhist student’s bookshelf. A compact and artful explication of the Therigatha, sixth century B.C.E. enlightenment poetry of the Buddhist nuns and the earliest known collection of women’s religious poetry, it delineates the way so many of us come to the Dharma — out of brokenness, irretrievable loss, confusion and sorrow.

These eloquent lines, which appear in some form in almost every poem, express it poignantly: “I remove my shoes/ wash my feet/ sit down beside the Buddha/ I am quenched, I am cool.”

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Book Reviews

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For 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.

Sweet 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.

The 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 Reivews

mb47-BookReviews1Nothing to Do, Nowhere to GoWaking Up to Who You Are

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2007 Softcover, 204 Pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

In this book we receive two gifts tied up in one package: twenty-three teachings of Master Linji and twenty-three commentaries on those teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh, with a bonus of five practices offered by Thich Nhat Hanh based on Linji’s teachings.

In Teaching 14, Master Linji outlines for us the Holy Grail of mindfulness practice — the promise that we can indeed realize our clear original nature. That each of us can roam freely through the world and reach all the Dharma realms. That if we meet the Buddha, we can speak to the Buddha; if we meet a hungry ghost, we speak to the hungry ghost. Wherever we go, we are at home. “Everywhere is pure, the light of clarity illumines the ten directions, and you see the oneness of all that is.”

Master Linji is famous for saying that when we meet the ghost Buddha, we should cut off his head. Thay always tells us, whether we’re looking inside or outside ourselves, we need to cut off the head of our views and ideas, including our notions of Buddhist teachings.

This book finds me at a time in my life when I am physically exhausted because of all my Dharma activity and my involvement in our sangha. How ironic — and, gulp — unskillful for a teacher of mindfulness! Perhaps I need to cut off the head of the notion that I must launch and do so many worthy projects.

Master Linji might well have hit me with his stick! That was the effect of reading this book. I am stunned into noticing the present moment. I am stunned into realizing that I am so busy teaching others to stop that I do not stop myself! In a recent article by the president of Shakyadita, the International Buddhist Women’s Association, Bhikshuni Karma Lekshe Tsomo warns of this paradox in monastic life as well as lay life: “[We]... cannot become genuine models of simplicity and contentment unless we live simple and contented lives.” St. Francis of Assisi said, “Always preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”

What does this mean to one who is worn out from over-activity? Again and again, Master Linji, as well as Thay, warns us about the “busy” trap, suggesting we should become “busynessless”— a term coined by Linji. So we can conclude that even in the ninth century during the Tang Dynasty, in Jiangxi province, just south of the Yangzi River, folks were caught in too much to do! In 2000, when I visited Plum Village, then too, I felt struck by the stick when Thay said to several hundred people, “You do not have to be the director of anything.” I felt as if he were speaking directly to me.

After mastering the teachings, our ancestor Linji threw away his books to live the Dharma! In his commentary on Linji’s Teaching 14, Thay tells us, “A sutra is only a supporting condition to manifest our own wisdom.” The same could be said of the Buddha and the Sangha.

Linji states very clearly that learning a sutra or even practicing seated meditation in a spirit of attachment only creates more karma. What indeed, keeps us busy if not ego and attachment? What an inner revolution! The spirit of Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go can free us from samsara, the vicious cycle of birth and death and suffering, and lead us to the Pure Land, which is none other than right here, right now.

mb47-BookReviews2The Buddha’s Diamonds

By Carolyn Marsden and Thay Phap Niem Candlewick Press, 2008 Softcover

Reviewed by David Flint

As The Buddha’s Diamonds begins, ten-year-old Tinh sits in the village temple and “sighs, the knots inside him relaxing” as the monks and nuns begin to chant. The Abbot offers a teaching about how “The Buddha’s Diamonds” — the sunshine, the ocean, our loved ones — are always available to us, even in a poor fishing village. And yet a few minutes later Tinh encounters his first remote-controlled toy car —sent to his cousin by a rich uncle in America:

“Tinh reached for the remote control.... He tapped the button on the left and the car drove toward a palm tree. He maneuvered the car around the base of a tree.... He loved the feeling of power in his hands.... This car was a diamond the monk didn’t know about.” Tinh spends much of his time daydreaming about having a life-sized car like this.

And so it goes in this lovely and evocative children’s book, set in a Vietnamese fishing village not long after the war has ended. Through Tinh’s eyes we experience the effect of consumer goods and consumerism on one fishing village. We see the subtle and unspoken shifts in the relationship of a father and son, in the warmth of a child’s life lived within an extended family. This story takes us into a huge, exciting, frightening and dangerous ocean storm. And it shows us the possibility of dwelling in happiness in the present moment.

We see Tinh learning lessons in wise attention as he accompanies his fisherman father: “You’re daydreaming again, Ba said. When the boat is moving, pay attention.”

Later, after the storm has damaged many homes and boats, including his own, Tinh sees the statue of the Buddha. “He even felt the beginnings of a glow around his own heart.” And then Tinh “refused  to look at the Buddha’s face. He turned away from happiness and started home,” feeling it is wrong to be happy at such a time.

This is not a book of good advice all dressed up as a children’s story. Life itself teaches Tinh about wise attention and how the mind can be happy in difficult situations. One eleven-year-old said of The Buddha’s Diamonds: “I liked it. It has lots of descriptive words so you can really get into it.”

This book can be enjoyed by children and adults, and is good for reading out loud. It can also be used as the basis for discussion in a children’s group in a Sangha.

mb47-BookReviews3The Dragon Prince Stories and Legends from Vietnam

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2007

Reviewed by Emily Whittle

“Long ago, when earth and sky were still covered in darkness, a great bird with wings like curtains of night....”

Before the end of the first sentence in The Dragon Prince, the wide-eyed child in me is awakened and I am hanging on every word, enchanted by a rich story that unfolds like a compelling dream.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking these stories are mainly for children. These are stories that resonate on deep levels, weaving myth, legend, and Vietnamese history into an intricate tapestry to delight and inform all ages. Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple, straightforward prose refreshes my literary palate like a piece of fresh fruit after a meal.

In keeping with the author’s lifelong dedication to mindfulness, these stories emphasize interconnection, cooperation, and the resolution of conflict through understanding. Without being saccharine or scolding, they water good seeds in us. At the same time, we are educated about Vietnamese culture, with details such as the origin of traditional earth and sky cakes and the practice of chewing betel nuts.

The third story begins, “It had not rained in over six months.” Again, I am hooked. It has not rained in my town in North Carolina in five months. Maybe this story will give me a clue to the meaning of this terrible drought that signals the growing imbalances of nature.

Perhaps we need to dive down into the store consciousness to awaken the Dragon Emperor that resides in us all. He’s been napping, waiting for us to make the inner journey. We only need to ask his help to slay the monsters of greed, jealousy, discrimination, and hate. It will take courage, cooperation, and concentration but we can do it. Then the rains can come and the parched fields will turn green again.

Maybe this is not the meaning intended by Thich Nhat Hanh, but that’s the power of myth and legend. Although Vietnamese, these stories are timeless and placeless. They rise up from the collective unconscious like deeply rooted trees. I read them hungrily. They feel like good medicine.

The last story, “A Bouquet of Flowers,” goes right to the heart of my own suffering and the suffering of my friends. A dying father leaves his son and daughter a poem from the ancestors that will help them find a buried treasure. On his deathbed he instructs them, “…Don’t be as busy as I have been. Work just enough to live, and take the time to find the deep meaning of the poem and uncover the treasure.”

The son, who ponders the poem in a literal way, fails to understand, despite three years of contemplation in a monastery. It is the daughter who penetrates the meaning of the poem, simply by tending the rice fields with concentrated mindfulness. Without looking for the treasure, she finds it in the details of her daily life.

There is treasure embedded in the stories in The Dragon Prince. Read them and it can be yours!

Books of Note

Compiled by Judith Toy

New Edition of World As Lover World As Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, by Joanna Macy, Parallax Press, 2007, 206 pages, paper. A visionary ahead of her time, in this modern classic the author sounds a call for us to wake up to a deeper relationship with the Earth or risk its destruction. Includes spiritual practices for activists.

First Snow, by Helen Coutant, with pictures by Vo-Dinh, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1974. A picture book for children age five to nine. A charming story about a little girl whose grandmother is dying, a story that grew out of the shared belief of Coutant and her husband, Vo-Dinh, that many of the ancient ideas and traditions of Buddhism can have meaning for all people. Available through out-of-print book searches online.

Modernity and Re-enchantment: Religion in Post-revolutionary Vietnam, edited by Philip Taylor, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 2007, 491 pages. Part of the publisher’s Vietnam Update Series of annual conferences that focus on recent economic, political, and social conditions in Vietnam. An academic textbook, with a fortytwo-page chapter by sangha member John Chapman on Thich Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam in 2005, as well as some details of Thay’s early life.

Trauma Stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk, Las Olas Press, 2007, 263 pages. Helps us recognize how we interact with others’ suffering, pain, crisis, and trauma, and the effects of trauma exposure everywhere: in ourselves, our organizations, and our society. “Reading this book is like looking into a mirror,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in his endorsement. “We will see ourselves much moreclearly, will understand ourselves much better…” For information go to www.traumastewardship.com.

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World As Lover, World As Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal

By Joanna Macy

Revised edition Parallax Press, 2007 Paperback, 202 pages

Reviewed by Emily Whittle

Every once in a while a book falls into my lap that I want to purchase by the case and give away at busy street corners or drop from airplanes like packages of medicine. World As Lover, World As Self by Joanna Macy is one of those books.

This is how Macy describes her book: “Carl Jung said that at the core of each life’s journey is one question we are born to pursue. The one question threading through my life here on this beautiful Earth is about how to be fully present to my world — present enough to rejoice and be useful — while we as a species are progressively destroying it. This book is my attempt to answer this preoccupation, as well as insight into the relief and guidance I have found in the teachings of the Buddha.”

Joanna Macy looks unblinking at the feeling of despair over the rapid extinction of species and the unprecedented plundering of our planet’s lands and waters. Giving voice to the pain of being alive in a special time when human beings have lost the certainty of the continuity of our species is an act of courage and of compassion. Her words brought me to tears, but they were tears of relief — the relief of honesty and clear naming.

Once named and honored, she proceeds to outline a path to heal our grief by first mining the past for wisdom that can help us, finding inspiration in the Buddha’s teaching of interdependent co-arising. This teaching “first shows us how profoundly we’re entangled in the web of life, thus relieving us of our human arrogance and loneliness. Second, it frees us from having to have it all figured out ahead of time, for the solutions arise as we walk the path and meet each other on the road. And lastly, it reveals our distinctiveness as humans: our capacity to choose.”

Ahhh! Already, I feel lighter.

Moving on to the present, she shares practical exercises to cultivate our gratitude, a sure antidote to despair. The Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer gives me goose bumps and draws more tears. Reading it at sangha, I hear scattered sniffling and know a nerve has been touched.

She addresses the problems of apathy, burnout, and overwhelm that plague social activists, offering additional practical strategies for collective strengthening and awakening. Her suggestions provide a scaffold that can be creatively adapted to groups of many persuasions and focus.

In the final section, Macy addresses the future, challenging us to alter our sense of time through a powerful guided meditation, telescoping our life as Gaia into twenty-four hours. Seen in this context, our human history begins at one second to midnight. Then, rendering that final second into another twenty-four-hour day, the Buddha and Jesus arrive at six seconds to midnight; our industrial age bursting on the scene only in the last microseconds. But what swift changes those microseconds bring!

If the threat of our annihilation is the catalyst to our birthing as compassionate guardians of the Earth’s future, then even toxic nuclear waste can be viewed as a great gift. We can wake up. Books like this can be a valuable guide on the path of transformation.

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body Walking Toward Enlightenment

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Parallax Press, Berkeley, 2007 Softcover, 146 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

I am reading this book in the second month after the sudden passing of our thirty-six-year-old son, Jesse. I chose it because the back cover reads: “In... this follow-up to his classic book, Understanding Our Mind, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how we can instill the habit of happiness in our consciousness.” I want my happiness back. I am reading it because, just as in the days when I first fell into the arms of Zen, I am desperate.

Back then, my sister-in-law and her two sons, my teenage nephews, had been murdered. Now our son is dead of a heroin overdose. The rhythm of Thay’s syntax in this book calms me. And his incredible clarity, as always, brightens my mind.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s great gifts to the world is a group method of outdoor walking meditation which he adapted from Shakyamuni Buddha’s first alms rounds. In Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, which would serve well as a primer for new students, Thay weaves in and out of walking meditation. “You can take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment, and you will arrive in the here and now. You don’t need to make any effort at all.” A good place to begin.

To this practice, he adds the basics of Buddhist psychology and the way to happiness through the Six Paramitas, which he supplements with a lucid explanation of the importance of Finding Wise Friends and the Four Elements of Love, the ground of our Bodhisattva path. Walking Meditation, Touching the Earth, and Total Relaxation are exercises offered by Thay so we can make manifest the words of this wisdom book, which includes the Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses in both Chinese and English in Appendix I, and a Sanskrit key in Appendix II.

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, is comprehensive. Thay tells how our minds work and how our feet work, and he shows us how we can use both body and mind to walk into the realm of happiness and reclaim our sovereignty, our free will. He shows us once again that happiness and freedom are not an individual matter. We will be liberated only when we can inter-be with all forms of life.

Yet this is only speculation until I can put into practice what our teacher so clearly articulates here through poems, stories, sutras, and scientific studies. So I put down the book and head for the mountain wilderness to walk with my late sister-in-law and my two nephews and our son, Jesse. “Jesse,” I say, “walk with me.” I call to Dougie, Danny, Louise. “Please walk with me.” I follow my breathing. With my boot soles, I kiss the red earth where Cherokee once roamed.

They are with me, too. And the mica strewn on every path in southern Appalachia — like glitter on the clay-red soil and decomposing leaves — shines as tiny mirrors, the net of Indra reflecting all Buddhas everywhere, each a window to the cosmos.

I am thinking of my Sangha friend Susan when on the path I spy a heart-shaped rock. Susan collects these! I pick it up and hold it in my palm. Its temperature is cold, but I know that, like my heart, if I continue to hold it, its original warmth will return. Suddenly I notice I feel happy, even in my sorrow.

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Book Reviews

mb49-BookReviews1Mindful MovementsTen 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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