Q: There are lots of Buddhist resources available for the beginner or the person with modest experience (and a good income). But one can only read so many books and attend so many retreats. How does one get through that middle-to-later phase if one can’t go live in a monastery or sit with a teacher for several years?
|Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism
By Richard Hughes Seager
University of California Press, 2006
Reviewed by Martin Baumann
Ten years ago, I ran into a fellow from my school days. He was known for being a rigorous handball player, tough and uncompromising. At some point in our conversation, he mentioned that he had read bits of my work on Buddhism in the West, as he was now a practicing Buddhist. This was completely unexpected. Adding to my surprise, he explained that he had joined the Soka Gakkai, chanted "Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo" every morning, and served as the contact person of a Soka Gakkai regional chapter. All this was out of character for the man I once knew. I also noted the change in his manner—his style of speech had softened and his body language was smoother. As we parted, I remained perplexed by these changes and by the obvious impact Soka Gakkai had made on his life.
|The Madman’s Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendün Chöpel
By Donald S. Lopez Jr.
University of Chicago Press, 2006
Reviewed by Felix Holmgren
One morning in the early 1940’s, when the Tibetan monk Gendün Chöpel was about forty years old and his travels had taken him as far as Sri Lanka, he accompanied a group of Theravadin monks as they went on their daily round of alms-begging. Although he had been ordained as a Buddhist monk for most of his life, he had never before witnessed or engaged in this practice. In Gendün Chöpel’s native Tibet, only genuinely destitute monks were ever seen begging. Stories of groups of monks approaching towns and villages to beg for alms were something one might come across in old books, something that belonged to the distant and long-lost Golden Age in the holy land of India. Seeing the Sinhalese monks re-enact this ancient tradition inherited from the Buddha, he thought, "I alone am seeing this legacy of our compassionate teacher," and he sat down on the ground and cried.
By Benjamin Bogin
Sayadaw U Pandita is one of the foremost teachers of the insight meditation method taught by the Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982). His first book, In This Very Life (1990), quickly became a classic guide to vipassana. Sixteen years later, The State of Mind Called Beautiful (Wisdom Publications, 2006) offers some less commonly taught meditations and technical discussions related to specific aspects of vipassana practice. U Pandita’s instructions on the practices of recollecting the Buddha’s qualities and cultivating loving-kindness (metta) fill the first half of the book. These meditations, prescribed for a few minutes each day, are essential for a meditator in retreat, but they are also useful to the “working Buddhist” with a few minutes to spare. In the second half, the instructions on insight are more technical and will be of greater interest to readers actively engaged in vipassana meditation. However, editor Kate Wheeler’s evocative preface and translator Vivekananda’s consistent precision and helpful glossary make the entire work accessible to any reader.
By Barry Boyce
During the Dalai Lama’s first visits to America—in 1979, 1980, and 1981—he presented carefully planned and recorded talks that would become the basis of a book. To the surprise of the publishing world, the Dalai Lama and his translator Jeffrey Hopkins decided to give the project to Snow Lion Publications, an untried start-up struggling to get off the ground. The book, Kindness, Clarity, and Insight—reissued this year in a 25th anniversary edition—became the spark that ignited the small press and helped it to become the leading publisher specializing exclusively in Tibetan materials, with over 200 titles, most of which are still in print.
By Steven Goodman
The famous Buddhist scholar Herbert Guenther passed away on March 11, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, at the age of 88. He was a pioneer in the English translation of the rich traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism, and particularly Mahamudra and Dzogchen. He was also a man who lived life to the fullest: "Engagement with what matters" was his motto.
Q: I am relatively new to Buddhism (I have been practicing for about a year) and I’ve been struggling with the balance between study and practice. How should I go about setting up a plan of study for myself? How do I decide what I should study when there is so much material out there, and are there things that I absolutely must study before going on to more advanced material? Also, do you have any suggestions on how I should balance practice and study? Is there an ideal balance between the two?
Charles Prebish examines the emerging role of Buddhist scholar-practitioners and how they are deepening our understanding of Buddhism. Plus, a look at some of the key scholar-practitioners who are leading the way.
When I was young graduate student in the Buddhist studies program at the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 1967, I heard my very first scholar-practitioner story. It was about a recent visit to the university by Edward Conze, then considered to be the world’s foremost authority on the complicated form of Mahayana literature known as Prajnaparamita. This story, however, had nothing whatsoever to do with Professor Conze’s academic passion.
Too often, says Judith Simmer-Brown, Buddhism’s principles of emptiness and aloneness lead us into the extreme of nihilism. She looks at the pitfalls of the nihilistic view and recounts her own journey from depression and despair to a more profound aloneness marked by celebration, joy, and an experience of basic goodness.
The lonely child who travels through
The fearful waste and desolate fields,
And listens to their barren tune,
Greets as an unknown and best friend
The terror in him, and he sings
In darkness all the sweetest songs.
—Chögyam Trungpa, from “The Silent Song of Loneliness” in Mudra: Early Poems and Songs
Introduction by Daitsu Tom Wright and Jisho Warner
Kosho Uchiyama Roshi was one of the great Zen masters of the twentieth century. He centered his life on zazen, and, at his temple Antaiji, on the outskirts of Kyoto, he taught a life of the highest culture to everyone who wanted to practice with him, monk and lay, Japanese and foreigner.
For Uchiyama Roshi, leading a truly rich spiritual life meant leading a life grounded in zazen and following a lifestyle of material minimalism. He did not see material simplicity as some sort of asceticism, but he often spoke to his disciples and followers of the importance of never being afraid or ashamed of material poverty. He saw how the very abundance that people seek confuses them and becomes the cause of so much suffering.