What Color is Your Mind?

Thubten Chodron
Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca, New York, 1993.
189 pp., $12.95 (paper).

Designed to clarify points of practice rather than to be a comprehensive introduction to Buddhism, What Color is Your Mind? is largely made up of questions and answers. Thubten Chodron uses this format to full advantage, offering clear, concise responses (usually a page at most) to questions that run the gamut from rudimentary to complex: e.g., “If there are people alive today who have attained Buddhahood, why don't they demonstrate their clairvoyant powers?"; "Can we receive grace from the Buddhas?"; "Do we create karma together as a group?"; and "Isn't it selfish to do positive actions just to get merit, as if it were spiritual money?"

Chodron, an American nun in the Gelugpa tradition, speaks with authority and clarity and puts metaphors to excellent use in illuminating subtle aspects of practice. Sometimes her images are refreshingly simple: in response to the question "Wouldn't life be boring without attachment?" Chodron launches into a description of eating chocolate cake. She writes that if we weren't so attached to the cake, we wouldn't be distracted by comparisons with past cakes, or concerns about our weight, or angling for another piece. True detachment, she says, would breed perfect enjoyment and openness to the possibility of what is.

After one hundred or so pages of these brief considerations, however, the reader is left wanting a more extensive discussion. Fortunately, this desire is satisfied by a longer section on anger, which concludes the book. In it, Chodron explains that Buddhists speak not of emotions but of "mental events," which are faulty perceptions that agitate the mind. She goes on to define anger, evaluate its merit, and examine whether our choices of how to deal with anger are limited to expressing or repressing it. She then looks at anger in specific situations, such as that of the sports enthusiast: "Is it worthwhile to reinforce a negative characteristic just to get a trophy?" Chodron's work, frank in its questions and precise in its answers, is a welcome, welcoming addition to the introductory literature on Tibetan Buddhism.

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